Isbjorn's Big Refit in Sweden: First Look Since September

  Inside the main workshop at Vindö.

Inside the main workshop at Vindö.

On Sunday Mia & I made the pilgrimage to the west coast of Sweden to check in on Isbjörn for the first time since September. That was the last time we had seen the boat. Back then, she was still afloat, her rig standing, but stripped bare of sails and gear, on deck and down below. We’d emptied nearly everything off the boat in anticipation of the big winter refit. Sometime in late September, after we’d gone back to the USA for boat show in Annapolis, the gang at Vindö Marin pulled the rig and hauled her out, transferring her into the main heated workshop underneath the Vindö Marin offices.

We’re staying in Goteborg, about an hour’s drive south of the boatyard, with Mia’s younger sister Lisa, who’s taking her master’s degree in engineering at Chalmer’s in the city. On the drive down Sunday we stopped in Eskilstuna to visit Re-Tuna, a small shopping center where everything sold in the place is made from reclaimed or recycled materials. Refitted bicycles are for sale next to a boutique with refurbished furniture and light fixtures, old books, etc. etc. Each of us bought something - myself, a book about polar bears (go figure) and a ceramic coffee cup (my collection of which is growing alarmingly). It is indeed the place that was making the rounds on social media a few weeks ago. Yet another reason why it’s so refreshing living in Sweden! While I’m sure there are reasons NOT to live here, I haven’t found one yet - I’m still in the honeymoon phase.

After coffee in Lisa’s kitchen on Monday morning, we drove up to Orust, discussing how we felt about seeing the boat for the first time and making lists of what we needed to check on. We had a beautiful morning, with temps just below zero, clear blue skies and a thin layer of creamy frost covering most things in the shade. We took the small roads across the island’s of Tjörn and Orust, winding through island countryside and farmland. In the valleys between high granite cliffs, thick layers of fog settled into the nooks and crannies in the land. 

  Crispy, foggy morning at Vindö, and an empty harbor.

Crispy, foggy morning at Vindö, and an empty harbor.

That same fog blanketed the boatyard as we arrived. There was only one sailboat in the water - when we’d left the place was chock-a-block with boats waiting to be hauled, and Isbjörn was docked way on the outside in the only remaining place alongside. A big Najad 570 was hanging in the slings at the travel lift well waiting to be launched. We tried to walk down onto the docks to be closer to the water, but they’d removed the ramp down to the floating pontoons, presumably for the winter. Which probably was best - that same frost was covering the docks low down to the water, and I’m sure it was dangerously slippery, the water dangerously chilly.

Vindö Marin is a serious operation. The boatyard sits at the base of the bridge connecting Vindön, a tiny island almost connected to Orust on the north side, with mainland Sweden to the west. A steep, twisty driveway feeds down to the water, and the facility is kind of built on three tiers of elevation. Winter storage is almost exclusively indoors - down by the water an old red barn - the ‘cold’ indoor storage - houses a dozen or two sailboats. Adjacent to the travel lift well is a large, modern warehouse, 3 or 4 stories high, inside which are HUGE mast racks and a giant sail storage loft. Even the rigs are kept inside.

We saw one Hallberg-Rassy on jack stands outside in the parking lot, and that lonely boat still in the water. Further up the hill, a scattering of warehouses keep all the boats dry and warm for the winter. Each building has varying levels of warmth. Some are kept just above freezing, the ‘frost free’ storage halls; some aren’t heated at all, so the building just keeps the elements out; and others, like where Isbjörn is currently, are proper, heated workshops, warm enough to wear a t-shirt inside.

  Najad 570 in the lift. The Najad factory is just around the corner, where they're built.

Najad 570 in the lift. The Najad factory is just around the corner, where they're built.

Isbjörn is housed in the main warehouse building, a sort of multi-purpose building where Vindö’s main offices are located upstairs, as well as their woodshop. This is, after all, the yard where the old Vindö boats were actually built in the 70’s and 80’s, beautiful sailboats with fiberglass hulls, teak decks and varnished mahogany coachroofs. 

The offices are on the third level - we climbed a metal staircase on the outside of the building that felt kind of like a fancy fire escape - to check in with the yard’s project manager Henrik. Inside, on the top level, there is a long hallway. On the left are the offices. On the right, you can peer down into the woodshop where people were sanding and varnishing various bits of teak. Further down the hallway, the room opens up on the right and about half-a-dozen sailboats were lined up, stern-to a scaffolding, in various states of refit.

  New-old-stock Simpson-Lawrence 'SeaTiger' 555 windlass on the bow, and the refit inner forestay fitting (not finished yet).

New-old-stock Simpson-Lawrence 'SeaTiger' 555 windlass on the bow, and the refit inner forestay fitting (not finished yet).

Henrik led us down an interior staircase onto the middle level, where we walked out along another scaffolding built at the deck level of the three or four sailboats that were housed in this second indoor workshop, Isbjörn among them. The scaffold allowed us to walk right onto the stern of Isbjörn, as if she was floating at the dock. The boat is so high inside the shed that you had to duck under the concrete beams in the ceiling, and they had to remove the radar pole to get her inside! There are even three or four plywood steps to climb up on the stern, as she sits a few feet higher than the other boats (big boats - one of which included a Beneteau 57).

  Vindö's project manager Henrik, with a binder full of items for Isbjorn!

Vindö's project manager Henrik, with a binder full of items for Isbjorn!

Isbjörn is a full-on workshop, probably unrecognizable to most of the crew who have sailed on her. We climbed down the companionway on a simple wooden ladder the yard had placed there since her steps were out of the way somewhere else. Inside, all the floorboards were removed and her new tanks in place waiting for final installation. New teak stringers under the cabin sole looked beautiful against the new white paint in the bilges. 

The old engine is out and the engine compartment was cleaned and painted. Up forward, the headliner in the forepeak was removed so they could un-install the old Swan slot in the foredeck that held the inner forestay in place. We’ve re-designed that to a standard deck fitting. The old windlass is out, the new SL 555 ‘SeaTiger’ ready for installation and looking mighty shiny & strong up forward. It’s situated 10 inches further aft than the electric one it replaces, getting some weight off the bow. 

  Painted bilges, new tanks ready to go in, and new teak under the floorboards.

Painted bilges, new tanks ready to go in, and new teak under the floorboards.

There’s a myriad other small projects under way, and I get emails daily from Henrik asking small questions about how we want stuff done. What should the new water plumbing system look like? How do we want to arrange the antennas on the radar pole? What old junk can we removed, like old A/C units and the broken freezer in the aft cabin? 

  Andy & Henrik discuss the tank installation & plumbing refit.

Andy & Henrik discuss the tank installation & plumbing refit.

All-in-all, it felt both overwhelming and calming to see Isbjörn in the state she’s in now. The boat is dusty from months of work, which bothers me (I’m just generally finicky when it comes to dust), but it’s probably - no definitely - the cleanest boatyard I’ve EVER been to. So she’s in good hands, and work is well under way. The new engine should arrive next week, they’ve started on the tank installation already since we’ve been there, the new radar is going in, things are happening! I’m overwhelmed because man is it a lot of work (and man is it going to cost a LOT of money!). But I’m calm at the same time because she’s in such good hands. To a person - and yes, there are several women working in the yard - the gang at Vindö Marin were friendly and eager to talk to us, and Henrik, our project manager, emails me regularly with updates, questions & photos. 

And best of all, I got to pet Sigge, the yard’s wonderful black lab mascot, who has his bed in a small office overlooking Isbjörn. In good hands indeed. 

How I feel about all this, and how we’ve managed it will come in a later post. Until then, hold fast!

  Beautiful sunset over Orust and the now-frozen channels we sailed through back in September as we left the boatyard.

Beautiful sunset over Orust and the now-frozen channels we sailed through back in September as we left the boatyard.