In Stockholm's Archipelago, an RIB is the best way to travel.
My list of enemies may not be long, but it is firm. And boats have been at the top of that list for my entire life. I am a seasick, motion-sick mess at the mere thought of boats. I have thrown up in public. I have nearly thrown up on people. I have inadvertently taken too much anti-nausea medication and have fallen asleep on the floor of a whale watching vessel. I have taken too little medication too late on an overnight ferry and have cried myself to sleep.
I even felt queasy on the Amsterdam Houseboat Museum. A docked vessel in an inner city canal designed for human habitation. I take my ginger capsules with a hearty dose of shame.
Needless to say, had I really known what an RIB was and what it did, I never would have gone to the dock in Stockholm. I hate boats. I hate speed. Sometimes I even think I hate fun. I’m an absolute scaredy cat, the saddest wimpiest traveler to ever tentatively hit the road.
Who on earth would have thought I’d have one of the best experiences of my life?!
An RIB is a rigid, inflatable boat. That’s right. A boat. A SPEED boat. For the purposes of this post, let’s call it the fastest boat in the Sweden because that’s TOTALLY WHAT IT IS. From my point of view at least. And traveling on it was the greatest thing ever - even for an anti-adventurist like myself.
Visiting Stockholm's Archipelago is an essential part of any trip to Sweden (and as you can see from my post here, we had an absolutely amazing time on the island of Uto). Most people make their way around by ferry or private sailboat and that's what I had expected for our trip. So my anti-adventurist tendencies were rather rattled when I first saw our sleek, speedy vessel but I needn't have worried - our leaders Andy and Hannah from Oppet Hav had all the logistics and safety details well in hand.
RIBs have historically been used as military or search and rescue vehicles thanks to their light weight, durability, and high speed but nowadays tour operators like Oppet Hav have embraced them as a fun, unique way to move travelers around and show them around Stockholm's Archipelago - this is no sedate sailing experience!
RIB passengers don’t look like your classic sailor either. Guests are loaned comfortable windbreakers and eye goggles to protect against the whipping wind you’ll encounter at high speeds. The goggles might look silly but they're an absolute necessity as they keep the wind from your eyes and prevent an otherwise constant state of tears. I was even able to wear them over my regular glasses.
The company also gave us beanie hats to keep as souvenirs – fun, but also very practical as your ears can get COLD without them. And, most importantly, they fitted us with sports-style life jackets that have a very slim and comfortable profile and I instantly forgot that I was wearing one.
Leaving Stockholm's beautiful harbour and entering the charming waters of the Archipelago had me whipping my head in all directions. There were so many colourful, captivating wee cottages and incredible nature views. The stage was set for us to enjoy a leisurely cruise to Uto - but our guides had something else in mind!
Pushing speeds upwards of 60 knots, Andy and Hannah led us through a series of wild – WILD! – curves and turns, at times pretending to ‘charge’ an island straight ahead of us, only to execute a sharp last minute turn. The bow of our vessel was steered into the waves left by other boats and we bounced up and down on their crest. As we flew across the open water, the front of the boat would jump and skip in the air before crashing back down, leaving us bouncing in our seats and squealing with delight.
Having sensibly never been on a roller coaster before, I feel confident that this would rival the experience. I have never had anything like it in terms of speed, movement, and exhilaration. And wind. Oh, the wind! Let's just say I was glad we had our goggles and jackets, as...
....while I hoped I looked like this in the RIB....
.... I suspect I looked more like this....
Of course, what all readers who are familiar with my previous anti-adventures want to know: did I get seasick? NO! Ultimately, it felt like I was in a race-car, not a boat. The fresh, cold wind was actually helpful and the RIB was much more stable than I expected. I did take anti-nausea ginger medication but I don’t know if it was really necessary. Nevertheless, I’m glad I had it along with me as it helped boost my confidence and reassure me before the trip.
An RIB trip doesn’t just provide travelers with a heart pounding ride. A small vessel like this can take you to less visited islands and into much smaller harbours. Between visiting our two main destinations, the islands of Uto and Sandham, we also stopped to fika (the traditional Swedish practice of relaxing with coffee and treats) on Huvudskar. While disembarking here was rather awkward (you basically fling yourself up out of the boat and onto a rock), it was wonderful to get a sense of what a quiet, tiny archipelago island is like.
An RIB experience with Oppet Hav can be arranged as a custom itinerary, like our group experienced, or, when in season, with their signature seal safari. While we didn't see any seals in their natural habitat during our trip, we did see another phenomenon of nature: A flying penguin.
Now, I know what you're thinking. One: penguins don't fly. Two: penguins don't live in Sweden. But I have a boat load of RIB friends who will swear on their life that there are indeed penguins in Sweden and they do indeed fly. And we saw this happen not once but on two occasions! Go ahead, laugh all you want. We'll see who's laughing when they name an RIB after me and I win a billion dollars as amateur biologist of the year!
Even without becoming the world's most influential animal-myth debunker, I'm prepared to declare that riding in an RIB to be my most successful anti-adventure ever. Had I really grasped what I was going to experience in advance, there's no way I would have gone through with the trip. Sometimes it pays not to study your itinerary too intensely! Boats, speed, skips, turns - absolutely none of these are my thing. But Andy and Hannah were so welcoming and reassuring and professional in the boat that I felt completely safe and relaxed in their capable hands. It's hard to describe, but when you meet them, you just know that they're there to give you thrills through fun, not through scares. They pushed my limits (and I suspect those of a few of my boat-mates as well!) but it was in the name of exhilaration and not so they could show off. They were some of the best travel leaders I've ever had in any country and they were so warm and genuine - whether they were instructing us in the boat or chatting about politics and foodie trends over lunch - that I didn't just love my RIB experience but I felt like I could be entering a period of bigger, bolder travel...
... And if a penguin can fly all the way to Sweden, who's to say where I might go next?
If you enjoyed this post, you'll also like:
Exploring Uto: Stockholm's Friendliest Isle
5 Tips for Stealthy Stockholm Savings
Tales from the Anti-Adventurist: Vanessa Goes Kayaking
My RIB experience was provided as part of the TBEX conference.