My craft, bobbing gently at the end of the barnacled wooden jetty looked a lot like a canoe, but as guide Ulrika explained, kayaking and canoeing are two very different things.
A canoe, I discovered, is entirely open to the elements, while a kayak is enclosed. Since I’d been mixing up the two forever, I wasn’t too surprised to find I’d been getting the other differentiator – the paddle – wrong as well. Kayaking uses a double-ended paddle rather than the canoeist’s single and as a result, requires an unusual figure-of-eight twist to work. Feeling a bit silly, I stood on the jetty, practising the motion under Ulrika’s eagle eye before folding into my kayak and battening down the hatches.
As we headed towards the mouth of the little harbour, I could see a white-sailed flotilla of boats charging up and down just offshore. The Stena Cup Match was well underway and the quaint paved streets around the docks were thronged with colourful crowds of people and boats. Turning away from the race, we struck out across deep green water towards the maze of islands, islets and lonely rocks that surround Marstrand. Hugging the curves of the next island, we crept around the corner leaving the sounds of the spectators in the distance and steered straight into the wind.
Anyone who tells you that sea kayaking is an easy sport has never tried to paddle against the tide and into the face of an oncoming gale. Splattered with salty sea spray, bobbing wildly on every wave and starting to lose feeling in my icy fingers, I was almost ready to give up when Ulrika waved us towards a small golden sand beach. Sheltered by low cliffs on a tiny emerald green atoll, it was flanked by granite slabs of rock and dotted with clumps of hardy blooms. But it was more than 100 metres away across an open channel.
Swinging wildly in the wind, my kayak skewed to the left, the right and then back again while my biceps cramped. Head down, I ground down the distance stroke by stroke, metre by metre. Then, I hit bottom. Sandy bottom. The beach at last! I dragged my kayak out of the water, leaving a mazy trail behind, and flopped down into the sand at the top of the beach. I’d arrived and I was exhilarated. In the far distance, the white sails were still drifting serenely up and down under the glowering gaze of Marstrand’s mediaeval fortress. But I didn’t care. I’d made it to my own stretch of Swedish sand and Ulrika had a flask of tea and a bag of traditional cinnamon buns waiting. What more could anyone want?