Per points out our route on a curled scrap of a map, so worn it seems likely to disintegrate in his hands. “This may be the last time we use this,” he concedes. It’s no problem, though. Per and his brother Lars know these waters. Within this swathe of the Bohuslän archipelago, they’ve hidden 40 lobster traps and today they’re taking me on one of their famed lobster safaris.
But the storm-tested fishermen look concerned at the elements. Outside, a fierce wind whips around the rickety hut.
There are around 8,000 islands scattered off Sweden’s west coast, and we’re plotting a path through a more protected, tranquil section as the previous night’s storm refuses to cease. Our vessel is a nine-metre, golden wood schooner dating back to 1952. Waves smash into the hull, engulfing us in a salt spray that immediately coats my lips and eyelashes.
“What’s the boat called?” I ask Per. He smiles: “Tuffa.” I ask if it means something in particular in Swedish. “No, it’s just what the boat does,” he replies. He purses then blows out his lips — “Tuff, tuff, tuff!” — mimicking the noise of the engine inhaling water and gushing it out again as we rise and fall with the crested tide, bouncing on each powerful surge.
As a slender eider swoops into view, Lars points out our first stop. Two buoys — a large red one and a smaller black one — mark the spot. He wastes no time hauling a trap from the seabed. It’s a tangle of black rope, scuttling with crabs and topped by starfish — but it’s empty. No lobsters, no ‘black gold’.
Onwards we go. I have a go at pulling up the second one. The undercurrent whips it back from me with every tug. “Watch for the jellyfish,” he warns. He points to a gelatinous string hanging off of the rope right below my hands. “If that flicks up, it can burn your face. It’s not dangerous, but it can burn.” For the first time I notice three pearlescent jellyfish in the water by the rope. I watch them pulse and play and disappear with the next wave as I push the lobster-less trap back into the water.
We swing by the third trap and I have another go. My arms aren’t happy. As I haul it up, I think we’ve failed again. But then, through the gushing water, I spot a snapping claw. Lars pulls the lobster out and grabs the silver measuring tool. They have to be 9cm-long from eye to tail. He flips it over and checks the tail for roe. They can’t be pregnant either. Both check out: we cave a catch.
Next, we have to bait the traps — a pungent bucket of herring heads is brought out. Suddenly the sky is filled with ravenous, squawking gulls. It’s as if a drunken puppeteer is dictating their movements. They jerk and bounce in the wind, trying to get close but not quite having the elegance to do so. Then the baited pot disappears beneath the surface, and they fly off.
Lars points beyond the near islands. “We have pots out there, too, but not today,” he says as the spirited seas smack us back to shore. The trip has flown by, but the delicate film of salt and a sense of adventure linger.
Lysekil: Blushing beauty
Set out on foot from the former fishing town of Lysekil to the nature reserve at Stångehuvud. Rescued from quarry merchants in the early 1900s by the town’s hero, Calla Curman, the area with its distinctive pink Bohus
granite now offers a wild hiking trail. Nestled in between the rocks are fisherman’s huts and minuscule harbours. Go at sundown to see the rose-coloured granite blush beneath the sinking rays.
Grebbestad: A view from above
Around Grebbestad harbour — the epicentre of a region that produces 90% of the country’s world-famous oysters — there are plenty of bustling of bars and seafood joints overlooking the water. Tired of the crowds? Climb Stöberget, the hill that frames the town, for spectacular views along the coastline.
Adventurer’s guide: Lobster law
The lobster season launches at 7am on the first Monday after 20 September. People even sleep in their boots the night before to ensure they’re raring to go fishing! Peak season lasts until November, but fishing is permitted until 30 April.
About 70% of Sweden’s lobsters are fished in these waters, among the 8,000 islands scattered off the shore of west Sweden. Locals call lobsters the ‘black gold’.
Each inhabitant has a personal allowance of six lobster pots each, but this increases to 40 if they’re a professional fisherman. Though lobster season only lasts two months, people can fish for mackerel, shrimp, oyster and seaweed year round.
Published in the Adventure Travel guide, free with with the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)