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The Göta Canal is a strange beast, part canal but mainly tourist attraction. Although yachts pay a healthy fee to use the canal, they serve as part of the entertainment for the endless bus loads of tourists and don’t receive the best of facilities in return. Payment for a complete transit of the canal may only be paid for in Mem and Sjötorp, neither of which have a bank. (Funny enough there is a banking machine halfway along the canal at Borg which is the premiere tourist attraction). So should you have come in from sea without the exact change to pay your canal fees you must get yourself to the nearest banking centre at your own expense (rental cars and busses are not an option in Mem). According to the summer staff this happens frequently but the administrators of the canal don’t see it as a problem. Bikes may be rented in Mem to cycle into Söderkoping, from Sjötorp one must get into Mariestad to access banks.
The facilities provided do not warrant the fees charged, especially when compared to the Dutch canal system. Various of the bridges do not have spots to tie up on what is a narrow canal, showers are often coin operated, and toilets are rare. In one of the guest harbours which holds 50 boats, there is one toilet for each sex. The canal seems to be privately run and the printed material it deluges you with is generally advertising and irrelevant (unless you decide you want to pay for a golf and canal package). Some of the material deals with environmental issues, sewage, bilge water, garbage etc. When we went through garbage receptacles were hard to find and all the pump out stations we saw were out of order (and from the state looked like they had been that way for the whole season).
We went through after the official Swedish holiday season (i.e. the month of July) and there was no crowding of facilities although the canal staff will attempt to force boats to travel in convoys to reduce their workload. Should one travel the canal during the Swedish holiday season it must be an absolute zoo as every one tries to get their boat through at the same time. In return for your canal fees very little is provided (other than full colour advertising). There is a handbook describing how to lock up and down (as the Göta Canal locks are something unto themselves). Otherwise a couple of places provide free access to showers and you are allowed to moor for up to 5 nights at any guest harbour between the end locks. Mooring immediately outside either of the end locks, you are only entitled to one night as these two locations are not considered part of the canal proper. There are virtually no interpretative displays or material no matter what the language. Obviously a lot has happened around the canal but traversing it sheds very little light on the historical aspects which is a shame. There is a museum in Sjötorp which is yet another money maker for the canal company. Once in the canal you are basically at the bottom of the pecking order for traffic, bridges often don’t open with no explanation available (the operations staff do not communicate via VHF but rather via a proprietary radio frequency). The canal company runs all sorts of cruise boats for tourists which have priority over everything (including road traffic as the canal operates the bridges). You will be told to moor in the middle of the day in order to let the cruise boats through, the excuse is that you will hold up the ship. This makes no sense as the speed limit on the canal is 5 knots. But then once you trail after the ships operated by the canal company itself you realize that they travel at 7 knots when they want to.
An additional problem for cruisers trying to use the canal is the brief operating season. When we tried to use the canal in 2001 it was open from June 7th to August 20th for a price of 3,200 kroner for a 9.5 meter boat. When we crossed through it in 2000 we actually got through on the last day of the season. There is a shoulder season which in 2001 was May 2nd to June 6th and from August 21st to 30th September. During the shoulder season a charge of 25 kroner is levied per lock (which makes an additional charge of 1,450 kroner) as well as having to book all movements 3 days in advance. Given the price of the canal and how much diesel that would buy (even at Swedish prices) it is cheaper to sail around the southern coast although it will take longer. This combined with the late opening in the spring left us no option in 2001 except to sail the south coast for a second time.
We had also hoped to explore the Dalsland Canal during the 2001 season. It runs in a north by north-west direction 254 kilometers from the north-west shore of Lake Vänern. As it may be accessed from the west coast using the Trollhätte Canal to Lake Vänern there is no dependency on the Göta Canal. However with an opening season from June 18th until September 1st it not an option for the early or late season.
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