The Scandinavian Passion for Sail


It seems a paradox, a sailing boat goes a third of the speed of a motorboat, but travels three times as far during a season. There must be an explanation. Find out more about the Scandinavian passion for sail.

You will find the explanation when you get out to sea. It’s when we have left our home port and motored out to the wind and the beast below decks (the engine) has been switched off it all happens, every time. Peace descends. All we hear is the wind and the sea, which begins to ripple along the hull.

The Scandinavian Passion for Sail
All we hear is the wind and the sea, which begins to ripple along the hull.

The boat slips through the waves and picks up speed. It’s like flying, but we’re sailing. Hooray, that’s even better!

Related: At the Water’s Edge in Scandinavia

Alone with the forces of nature
It is fantastic to run before the wind. That means we have the wind right behind or slightly to one side at our backs. We are pushed along, and everything is plain sailing. The wind is mild and there is not much to do, apart from enjoy life, perhaps even with the warmth of the sun not being blocked out by the sails.

The Scandinavian Passion for Sail
The boat slips through the waves and picks up speed

But what if the wind is blowing one way and we want to go another? Then we harness the forces of nature and use them against her. We trim our sail and get a good speed out of the boat, even if we are sailing 45 degrees to the wind, e. g. into it. We ‘saw’ our way towards our destination. It is called sailing ‘close-hauled’, and if you are a philosophical turn of mind, you might say that running close-hauled is a metaphor for human life itself.

Noble race
Scandinavians have a long history when it comes to moving from one place to another under canvas. It is scarcely more than two or three generations ago that all movement of people and transport took place by sea, either with oars or under sail.

The Scandinavian Passion for Sail
A race against the wind and the water.

Now, as in days of yore, we want to sail as efficiently as possible, with its inevitable consequence. As soon as we spot another sail, we have to see who is sailing the fastest. It could be said, and only partly in jest, that a regatta is two sailing boats on the same heading. It really is not so strange. We are already engaged in a race which is both intellectual and physical; a race against the wind and the water. So why not test our prowess?

Related: The Little Norwegian Sailboat

Traditionally a ‘man thing’
The great thing about racing is that many regattas, both short and long, can be completed in using the family tourer. But it is mostly with only the man on board. Regatta sailing is pretty much a ‘man thing’, which is a shame because those women who do join the fray can beat the boys. If they try just as hard. There are only one or two female international champions, after all!

So women are not inherently less capable than the men, either at the helm navigating or putting into port.

The Scandinavian Passion for Sail
It is fantastic to run before the wind.

Novice mistakes
A lot of people sail with too much canvas spread. That is a typical novice mistake, which can have a number of unfortunate consequences. Firstly, the boat heals right over, making it difficult to steer. Secondly, the boat will drag through the water, going slower than it should. It is no fun being aboard a boat like that. It may not be dangerous, but it can feel very uncomfortable.

The experienced sailor shortens his sail in time, perhaps even before it is really necessary. Then everything is so much better on board.  The waves no longer seem perilous, they just give a wonderfully lively cruise. Yes, good sport! Now a little sea spray over the deck seems like a gush of champagne. Wow, we’re really moving!

Related: The Rocky West Coast of Sweden

Wind against the current
And here is another mistake that novices make. They don’t take the wind seriously. Those sailing along the coast of Scandinavia, should be aware of meteorological phenomenon whose cause is difficult to describe in detail, but whose consequences are tangible enough.

As the day progresses, the sun sets up a special wind system which blows along the coast from right to left when you have your back to the land. It churns up the waves, with a lot of water spilling over the deck, because the current is running in the opposite direction along most of our coatline. The smart people choose that moment to enjoy life in port, and go out either late in the evening or early in the morning. Then your sailing holiday will be a great experience for everybody on board. And that is the objective, isn’t it?

Easy and hard
Sailing is either easy or very demanding, depending on the size/type of boat, the waters you are sailing in and your level of ambition. But that sailing requires a different kind of knowledge from that needed to pilot a motorboat cannot be disputed. In fact, you have to know rather a lot to get a sailing boat to go where you want it to in all weathers.

The Scandinavian Passion for Sail
Scandinavians have a long history when it comes to moving from one place to another under canvas.

In earlier times such knowledge was handed down from generation to generation. Today, more and more people are out on the water, and many of them know absolutely nothing about boats in general and sailing in particular.

There are several ways to learn. You can go out with an experienced sailor and learn from him or her, while also studying some of the many good books to be found on the market. There are local sailing clubs all over the place, so all you have to is check out the web.


Cath ‘em young
We adults can only envy the young. They learn all that stuff so easily, so easily. Enroll them at a local sailing club and you will soon see. They understand instinctively and become very competent very quickly.

Luckily more and more sailing schools for adults are popping up too, both for singles and couples. Yes, there is even sailing schools for girls. So, if you are worried about making a fool of yourself with a man at the helm, that is the answer for you.

The Scandinavian Passion for Sail, written for Daily Scandinavian by Odd Lindboe