INTERVIEW SEGLA MÄLAREN
When Claes Lindahl set out to write a book about sailing what is arguably the geographical heart of Swedish history, Lake Mälar, he didn't just write about sailing. His new book, Segla Mälaren, (Sailing Lake Mälar) is as much a book for those with a passion for wind in the sail as it is a book for those who revel in culture, history and a rich diversity of pristine natural environments.
NW: Segla Mälaren is the work of an experienced and impassioned sailor. Describe your first experience of sailing.
CL: I was around ten or eleven years old and tested out my father's wooden centerboard in the calm waters outside Malmhuvud, a small island in Lake Mälar where my grandparents had their summer home. At first it was frightening when it leaned. At some point I let all of the rigging go and my father commented that I was a coward. My subsequent sailing trips were to some extent motivated by the determination to overcome the sting of that comment.
NW: The waters of Lake Mälar are your home waters. Still, it takes more to be motivated to write a book of the caliber of Segla Mälaren about it. What was your motivation?
CL: The archipelago is often cited as THE place to sail in Sweden, and, of course, that is quite an experience. While there are beautiful natural environments in the archipelago, you don't see mansions, castles and other signs of history and culture there. In Mälar you are literally sailing past it all of the time – like a slow-rolling film of Swedish history. Unlike the archipelago, there are also many towns of interest to stop and visit while sailing Mälaren. You could say, that it is a more varied experience than in the archipelago. Like a sail boat shifts with the wind and the waves, in Mälar you shift between contemporary culture, history and nature.
NW: In the introduction to your book, you say that you are particularly indebted to Johan Fischerström, an 18th century author and economist. Tell us more.
CL: Fischerström was assigned in his capacity as an economist to conduct research into the most proficient use of local natural resources. This was a part of the then-king's strategy to boost the Swedish economy. He took a scooter from Stockholm to Torshälla and wrote a diary during his two to three days of sailing. There was hardly any wind and therefore a great deal of opportunity for observation and writing. The parts of his account that have to do with his actual assignment are much less interesting than his observations of culture and nature, which were a great source of inspiration and information for Segla Mälaren.
NW: What periods of culture and history does the Mälar area best represent?
CL: Here you can best see evidence of how culture and life was during Sweden's great power era which reached its peak during the 17th century. Great mansions and palaces were built around the lake using war booty. Drottningholm Palace is one great example. Further back in history, during the 8th to the 10th centuries, Lake Mälar was a major Viking center. The island of Birka is evidence of a major northern trading center based in Lake Mälar.
NW: In so far as the natural environment is concerned, what interest does Lake Mälar hold?
CL: There are very many smaller islands, which provides interest in variation. Although Lake Mälar is vast, it doesn't feel like sailing big waters because of this feature. What I find fascinating is that in Lake Mälar you are sailing the most populated area of this country, yet there are times when you don't see a soul and can feel as though you are out in a wilderness. You can actually have it all in this environment.
NW: What is the quality of the water like in Lake Mälar? Can you swim in it?
CL: Absolutely. In fact, my good friends from London were frightened when their son started drinking the lake water on one of our sailing tours. Lake Mälar is the main source of Stockholm's fresh water supply and is therefore well-protected. It is interesting that fish which have difficulty surviving in transparent water, such as the perch-pike, are having increasing difficulty surviving in Lake Mälar, which is getting clearer all of the time.
NW: Describe your favorite memories of sailing Lake Mälar.
CL: One of my favorite memories is waking up on the deck in front of Gripsholm Castle in harbor of Mariefred. Gripsholm is a medieval castle famous not only for its imposing size, but also for the fact that it houses some of the most outstanding examples of Gustavian furniture available in Sweden. It was a clear early summer morning and the sun rose up to cast its warm light on the deck. My sailing partner was unable to sleep below which, of course, created a marvelous opportunity to wake up to this special scene. I can also highly recommend autumn sailing in Mälaren. Sailing at this time of year is more challenging because there is a stronger wind and the intensity of experiences to be had is high. The colors are breathtaking and it is like sailing in a painting.
NW: Segla Mälaren is an ambitious work with many historical images and an extensive treasure-trove of historical detail. What motivated you to go for this level of ambition?
CL: I'm a writer with a strong historical interest. Segla Mälaren was such fun to produce that I wish it didn't have to end. It is a terrible fact that, at some point, this book had to become ”complete.” I think what motivates me is the multi-layered experience that the places one loves become when one starts to excavate their historical content.
I'm extremely grateful for all of the wonderful images I've been able to use in this book. In particular, I gained access to an extensive collection of images owned by the ”Mälar Admiral,” who ran Stockholm's Sailing Society for fifty years at the turn of the 19th century. The book also includes a map, unique because it shows all of the places worth mooring as a sailor of Lake Mälar. If you are a sailor with some experience, I cannot recommend Mälar more. It is safe and full of interest.