THROUGH THE GÖTA
CANAL AND BEYOND
Some Doggersbanks traverse the treacherous Northwest Passage. Others head to the iceberg-flanked passageways of Antarctica. But in 2022, the 27m Moonen-built Trooper, captained by Darren Monk, chose to navigate Sweden’s infamous Göta Canal.
Often referred to as Sweden's Blue Ribbon – or as locals call it, the ‘divorce ditch’ – it forms part of a 390km long waterway that links up lakes and rivers to provide a route between the city of Gothenburg and the Baltic Sea. Its tight channels can prove problematic for the smallest of pleasure boats. In a yacht that pushes the perimeters of the narrow canals, 58 locks and 65 bridges, it’s a nail-biting test of skill and judgement that rewards with immeasurable scenic beauty.
“The owner wanted to get out on his yacht but didn't want to do the usual Mediterranean thing,” says Monk. “Our first trip straight out of the yard was to the Baltic, where we had the idea to do the canal but weren’t sure if the boat would fit. We rang the canal authorities who said similar sized commercial boats manage it fine, but on arrival it transpired we were the largest private boat to ever attempt it.”
The nine-day journey took Trooper down the length of the Göta, through the large Vänern and Vattern lakes and into the Trollhätte Canal. To add to the excitement, following 16 years in yachting largely in the role of chief engineer, Trooper is the first yacht that Monk has captained.
“I know the owner from New Zealand which is where I’m from, and he said, ‘I’ve bought a boat, I want you to drive it and I want to do the canals.’ I said, ‘You know I’m an engineer, right?’ And he replied, ‘The boat’s going in for a paint job at the end of the season, so it’s the perfect time to test your driving skills.’ It was a complete baptism of fire.”
Monk took to the helm as soon as Trooper left the yard in South Hampton learning to handle the boat in Germany’s Kiel Canal. “Four months later cruising in the Göta with barely any room either side.”
Built with a steel hull and aluminium superstructure, and exterior designed by Vripack, and built by Moonen yachts Netherlands, Trooper has a 6.8m beam and a 1.73m draught. Sighting the yacht during its Göta journey became a thrill for the locals and many tourists that visit the canal each year on pleasure cruises. As the biggest infrastructure project ever built in Sweden, the canal is flanked by clear blue lakes, pine forests and open fields.
The route began in the rolling countryside of Sweden’s archipelago, surrounded by islands, rocks and providing daily trips to wood-fired saunas. Once in the canal and travelling at an average of six knots, the slow journey gave the hands-on owners and Monk the chance to savour the ever-changing surroundings, stop off at villages and enjoy their time on board.
Navigating the many locks also became a real team affair of managing lines and fenders, with the owner on the port side, the deckhand on the starboard side and Monk at the helm.
“There’s no room for error, but it’s all part of the enjoyment,” he says. “I’ve travelled around the world during my yachting career, from Canada to the Caribbean, but this was something else. It’s insanely beautiful and we had a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments.”
With a limited contingency plan if the yacht became stuck, the focus was on getting through a day at a time. Monk credits the Doggersbank design for its suitability in all scenarios, from blue water cruising in Portugal and Gibraltar (where Trooper cruised this year) to its easy handling in the trickiest of tight spaces, especially with a shallow draft.
“There were some locks that curved around bends, others where we collectively breathed in as we didn’t think we’d fit, and the amount of water that we were sucking out from under the boat meant we were pulling water off the banks,” he recounts. “We busted a few fenders, and our deckhand had to jump in and retrieve a few before swimming ashore and re-joining the boat when we went under a bridge, but it was just so much fun.”
“Every day was an adventure,” he adds, “and we felt like we’d climbed Everest by the time we reached the end. It was a real trip of a lifetime.”
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