Grumpy granny travels

Thanks for joining me!

Why my blog?

So, you may be asking yourself why you should check out my travel blog when there are soooo many out there?

Well, for a start, I’m no spring chicken – with a lot of mileage under my belt.  I’ve lived and worked in Europe, South America and Asia, and constantly travel for work and pleasure.  So I know what great looks like, equally I know when I’ve received shoddy service, and am happy to call it out.

Grumpy granny travels?

I suppose you could call this a grumpy granny who travels blog. I’ll be providing you with warts and all coverage of my travel experiences.  This will be from the point of view of someone who is older than your average backpacker travel blogger, likes to have some of life’s creature comforts, but doesn’t have a huge budget to spend.  And yes, as I’m from Yorkshire originally, I do like to be sure I’m getting great value for money.

What do you get?

Although I travel a lot, or maybe because of it, usually something goes wrong.  I have an uncanny knack of falling into  loopholes or breaking poor processes and procedures.  So hopefully you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes and avoid the stress and hassle that I’ve gone through on your behalf!

What do I get?

In my wildest dreams my hope is that by sharing my experiences I encourage someone to have their first real travel experience.  I have friends who have never travelled out of their own town or village.  And others who are nervous about trying things for the first time, such as catching a train in Europe.  From talking to them I realised that I have a lot of experience to share.

What can you do for me?

If reading my blog inspires or helps you take a journey, please let me know.  If you want to know more about a particular journey or destination, then let me know.

I’d also be interested to hear of your experiences, especially where they may differ from mine.

Thanks for sticking with me so far.  Next blog post I might even explain what the capybara obsession is all about!

Bon voyages!

Grumpy Grandma

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

 

Day 20: Leaving St Petersburg

We’d had a late night and a long day – metro tour, bike tour, dinner out, final provisioning shop, then the usual pre-departure checks and preparations before bed.  So a 5.30am start wasn’t particularly welcome.  Still it wasn’t raining, and most of the other boats were also up and at ‘em – so we were in good company.

The first three hours were the schlep back up the fairway from the yacht club to check back out of Russia at Kronstad.   No sniffer dogs, just a man with a camcorder recording his search, a quick passport check and we had 15 minutes to leave our berth.

Again we had to stick to the traffic separation scheme, and in a convoy of yachts we made good progress, with a helpful wind, making an average of 7 knots on a beam reach.  There was some chop and a few waters off the bows, but generally it was a good sailing day.

That said, it was very windy and cold.  Suzanne spent most of the day at a 45 degree angle in the saloon and galley – trying to cook or to eat what she’d made.  From fried egg sandwiches in the morning, to fresh baked cheese baguettes and soup for lunch, and asparagus risotto with homemade apple, blueberry and cherry crumble and custard – we were well nourished on this long leg.

The water in the measuring jug (bought in Visby) says it all…

We crossed the Finnish/Russian border around 9pm, and duly raised and lowered our courtesy flags.  We regretted that we hadn’t recordings of all the appropriate national anthems to play at this particular point.  Now safely back into EU waters, we could switch our mobile devices back on and use our mobile data roaming, without fear of breaking our bank accounts.  

Putting up the yellow Q flag and the Finnish flag

Our plan was to find an anchorage close to Hapasaari, the customs and immigration point, a small island in the Gulf of Finland, and the most tick ridden place in the whole country.  We were advised they were only open from 8am to 8pm, and not knowing the rock strewn area, thought that as we would now start to experience real night darkness, it was probably the most sensible option.  It also meant we could keep taking advantage of the favourable wind and sail all the way (and keeping our incredibly cheap Russian fuel for as long as possible!)

Bit fresh up on deck

Our plan was thwarted, when a message came through to say customs were expecting all 15 yachts to check in that night.  So we turned on our engine, to try and get to the island before night set in.  It was not to be.  We arrived with our navigation lights on and with difficulty picking out the guiding withies and buoys.  Luckily most of the rally yachts were already at anchor, and these provided a useful guide to the direction in which we should head.

We waited our turn to dock and handed the lines to the two waiting officials.  Our papers and passports were taken away to the office, and returned about 10 minutes later, along with a free gift of two glasses cleaners.  No, I don’t know either.  Perhaps it was an oblique reference to our berthing style – although we’d done it fairly smartly?  Who knows.  But I wish I’d used mine immediately.

After leaving the berth we then set about trying to find a suitable anchorage in the pitch dark – and our first starlit night of our whole trip in the Baltic.  Sailing at night plays with your sense of depth – making it really difficult to judge just how far away you are from another boat or boulder.  Anchoring means trying to find somewhere not too deep, so you don’t have to put out miles of anchor chain, and also in the right kind of sea bed, so you don’t get stuck.

We had two aborted attempts to anchor – one we realised there was a rock looming, the second because we realised we were directly over a cable.  We moved around and tried to moor near the customs pontoon – but they were having nothing of it – shinning torches directly at us.  

As we looked for other options, the customs launch came straight for us, and we thought we were going to be boarded, but we think that once they saw the boat name, they realised we had checked in.  We’d forgotten to take down our yellow Q flag, that indicates you still have to clear customs.  Doh!

Past midnight, tired and just a little rattled, we finally found a spot, dropped anchor and set our anchor alarm.  Andrew slept in the saloon in case there were any problems in the night.  In fact, there were none – the boat barely moved.  However the closeness of the rocks and boats surrounding us when we awoke next morning were a bit of a shock!

Welcome to Finland – land of lakes, ferns – and rocks!

Our daily stats

No map again for this leg, but it was a long one! 102 nautical miles, which we sailed, and sailed and sailed – and only 4 engine hours.  

You can hear us chew the fat on this journey in Episode 26 ‘Tall tales of Russian sailing’ in our ‘2 in a boat’ podcast.

A few days in St Petersburg

One of the main drivers for doing our Baltic rally was to sail into Russia and in particular to St Petersburg.

Our arrival and entrance into Russia did not disappoint.  Multiple uniformed officials with oversized peaked caps, sniffer dogs, and copious paperwork and stamping.  The Jetsons style hydrofoils ploughing back and forth at breakneck speed between St Petersburg and the Peterhof summer palace.  And the warships, submarine and other naval vessels that put on a parade, and accompanied us into Kronstadt.  Quite superb.

Immediately before entering our marina, there is a large suspension bridge, with a 22m clearance – and disappeared and oddly placed buoys.  We made it through, but 6 other boats on the rally managed to ground themselves at this point.  Doh!

Crystelle Venture third boat on the right

We took advantage of the incredibly cheap (about 60 pence) number 7 trolley bus outside the marina gates that ran into town and down the main shopping street – Nevsky Prospect – the equivalent of Oxford Street in London. 

In fact, there was a lot about St Petersburg that reminded us of London.  The large square with column in the centre in front of the Winter Palace/Hermitage, had the feel of Trafalgar Square.  The bridges across the river, including one built by Mr Eiffel, had a similar rhythm to those across the Thames. Many of the buildings built over the last 300 odd years, have brother and sister buildings in all the major capitals across Europe.  So there was an odd sense of familiarity about the place.

And then there was the Russian twist to it.  The onion domes, the gold plating.  The over the top interiors of the Hermitage and the summer palace – all copies or pastiches – a sort of nouveau rich meets mid 70s Elton John style of decoration.  You really had to be into Baroque to enjoy it. War damage meant that most of the summer palace was a complete reconstruction – and parts of it felt almost as flimsy as a stage set.  Perhaps that’s why there were fearsome women guarding the roped off areas in every room – keeping you out or ushering you through – just in case you accidentally knocked a wall over!

Oh the crowds!  Not as bad as Tallin in the city itself, but in the main tourist destinations like the Hermitage and the summer palace, it was unbearable.  Even the guides complained about the number of Chinese now overwhelming the place.  Apparently it’s due to the Chinese that photos are now allowed to be taken in the royal palaces. So that’s something to thank them for, I suppose.

Away from the guided tour to the Hermitage – the best bits being the Rembrandt collection and the modern art gallery housed in a separate building (with fab air conditioning) – we got more of a sense for the real St Petersburg and its people on two tours we booked via AirBnB Experiences.

Our first was an introduction to the best of the metro (subway/tube) stations.  This might sound strange, but the stations are a great reflection of the art and political situation at the time each station or line was built.  There is some fabulous art, sculptures and mosaics, not to mention chandeliers and columns, underground.  Check out the oldest line, the red one – obvs – if you want a quick introduction. 

Our guide was Irina, a qualified tour guide, who fed up of the impersonal nature of taking cruise tours round, opted to introduce this tour herself.  We certainly learnt a lot about St Petersburg, the metro, and the habits of the locals.  We ended our tour with a visit to one of a few donut houses left over from the Soviet era.  

Our second was  about a 9 km bike tour around the centre  We wish we’d done this when we first arrived, instead of on our last day – as we were introduced to areas and places we would never have found on our own and would have liked to return to spend more time.  It was slightly hair-raising at times, as there is only one cycle lane in the whole of St Petersburg, the rest is pavements and traffic dodging!

The bohemian courtyard, with a maze of coffee shops, clothing, jewellery, food outlets – all owned and run by young people – who for a peppercorn rent could run their own business in old buildings that the state no longer had a use for.  Achingly hip, and lovely and warm too – I could have spent my days there too with my mac and my tea!

The other was an area deep in a warren of back yards and courtyards, where the locals had decided to create their own gaudi-esque mosaic sculptures and murals.  Intriguing.   Although it was at this point, when I asked why there was so little natural entrepreneurship – Scandinavia is awash with small boutiques and artisanal crafters from bread, to beer etc, in direct and close comparison.  They are clearly influenced by western social media, with their faux (or possibly not so!) gangster chic – big blacked out top of the range cars, moll and thug outfits.  But the blossoming of creativity and entrepreneurship hasn’t quite yet made it.  Our guide said he would explain later, as 2 guys looking like security guards started to take a little bit too much interest in what we were doing.

So it was that our guide pointed out how in the soviet era everything had become homogenised and industrialised.  No longer a baker on the corner, but a large factory churning out all the bread.  Those skills and way of being were lost.  Hence why the donut places we had visited earlier in the day were so significant.  A little bit of entrepreneurship and craft that had survived, a sweet reminder of what had been and could be again perhaps? 

Day 18 – Part 1 – Tallinn to St Petersburg

Tallinn to Vergi, Estonia

Stamp, stamp

Our first priority of the day was to clear out of the EU.  This entailed queueing up outside the immigration and customs portacabin on the dock at the marina.  This needed all crew to be with the captain when passports were checked, and then only the captain going into the office with the crew list and official boat papers.  Lots of stamping, signing, stamping, and signing ensued.

Finally by midday we were ready to leave.  A slight debacle with one of the mooring ropes tying itself back onto the mooring ring, meant less than a clean exit – but we managed to recover in order to moor up at the fuelling dock in good order.  

Diesel head

Unfortunately Suzanne got a face full of diesel, as the pump needed Andrew to push a button to start it on land, and the nozzle had been left on automatic, unbeknown to us.  15 gallons in, to the tank not Suzanne,  and we finally were on our way out of the EU.

Sails away

Just our luck, another race was on just outside the harbour.  Safely skirted with set off under sail but with the wind behind us, progress was slow, so we started to motor sail.  After an hour or so, we decided to goose wing using our spinnaker pole, and making a good 5 – 6 knots under sail.  

So it was that a stream of rally yachts sailed out of Tallinn, heading towards Russia.  We had been given a timeframe in which to arrive at Kronstat, where we were to clear customs and immigration.  The slower boats, ourselves included, therefore headed off first.  The faster boats had a leisurely extra day in Tallinn.

Around 11am our GPS decided to die on us, never to reappear for the rest of our trip.  Luckily Andrew’s tablet and our chart plotter gave us two alternatives.  Still, annoying.

Pizza night

We opted not to do an overnight sail, and instead pulled into a tiny harbour, Vergi, the last one available to us in Estonia that would give us easy access to the fairway we must follow into Russia.  We spent a pleasant evening having home made pizza on one of the other yachts, and Suzanne made a mango and passion fruit mousse on the go, to take as our contribution. A boozy late night ensued.

It was a beautiful little harbour, but had the worst insect headcount of anywhere we’d encountered so far.  And they were vicious – if you were Andrew.  Bites came up the size of golf balls.  

Daily stats

We had a good days’ run of 55 miles, in just under 9 hours, averaging just under 6 and a half knots.  We sailed for 5 hours, and used 3 gallons of fuel.

We’ve no map for this leg, or the next – as we didn’t like to use any data while we were in Russia – no idea what the roaming fees would be – so didn’t even try! So if you’re interested, please do check it out via google!

You can hear more about our journey out of Estonia and our thoughts on Tallinn in Episodes 24 and 25 of our ‘2 in a Boat’ podcast.

Day 19 – Part 2 – The day we joined the Russian navy

Vergi to St Petersburg

We didn’t rush this morning to get away, as we knew that there was no point getting into Kronstad early. Besides we had sore heads and Andrew massive bites to nurse.  We finally got away around 11ish, and set off motor sailing on a carefully followed track to avoid slipping into a military zone.

Kronstadt is a town and naval base on Kotlin Island, just west of St. Petersburg, Russia, where we needed to gain clearance to enter Russia. (It is also spelt Kronshtadt.)

It was at this point on our journey that the GPS above our companion way in the cockpit and also displayed by our chart table decided not to work, forever.  Unfortunate as this was the one Suzanne used to write our log and to keep track of our mileage.  So she used the time to ‘de-soil’ her herbs, as the advice had been no soil to be taken into Russia!

de-soiled herbs means dirty fingers!

Our aim was to get to Kronstadt for noon the next day, and with a lot of miles to get under our belt, within a restricted fairway, we settled into some decent sailing making between 4 -6 knots.

Crystelle Venture making her way to Russia

Around 5pm we crossed the border into Russia, and raised our courtesy flag.  Our journey was then made up of a mixture of sailing and motor sailing.  Andrew took the night watch until around 3,30am when Suzanne came up to take over.  

Raising our Russian courtesy flag and our Q flag

Around 4 in the morning, some of the faster  yachts started to over take us, one by one.  And at 5am the sun came up.  Suzanne put on some home made croissants, but managed to burn them.

On watch, with the yacht motor sailing and on auto pilot, and the wind in a steady position, there isn’t too much to do, other than look out for other marine traffic, and avoid it if there is any likelihood of a collision.  

Our track was alongside the main fairway for large container, bulk carrier and cruise ships – but far enough out that we didn’t cross paths.  At various intervals there would be channels leading into it from either Russia or Sweden – and it was those that you mainly had to keep an eye out for.

At 7 am Suzanne had just done one of her periodic sweeps of the sea, looking ahead, behind and to the sides – with nothing untoward, and settled back to loading up photos onto her laptop.  A strange noise made her turn to look behind – and there was a surfaced submarine!  It gave her such a fright that she called down to Andrew, who was still resting, to say that a submarine had surfaced behind the boat!!

Clearly it hadn’t, in only a 100 feet of water – and another yacht later confirmed they had watched it move across to be behind us.  Still at that point in time, it felt like it had!  And thinking back, Suzanne had spotted a strange looking craft close to the coast, but unable to make out what it was, had dismissed it as some kind of fishing vessel.

Little did we know at this stage that this was not going to be our only encounter with this submarine.

After this we noticed a number of large naval vessels at anchor in the distance.  Over the next few hours, they formed up and appeared to be practicing their display for Naval Day on 28 July.  We watched as they manoeuvred and two large white launches with what appeared to senior naval officers in white uniforms and lots of gold braid raced up at 30 plus knots we guessed to inspect them.

As the fleet came closer, we watched as they rounded a buoy, and headed off back up in the opposite direction.  We could see the sailors standing to attention in their white uniforms on each ship, and  hear them as they sang and cheered.  It was pretty cool to witness.

We had slowed our pace to be able to watch and take photos, and we now continued on our final miles into Kronstadt.

As we were in the final lead up to Kronstadt we called Graneet on the radio, as instructed, to let them know of our arrival, but without success.  By this time we had been caught up by one of the American yachts.  As we approached the gateway into Kronstadt we heard a message on the radio for the two yachts approaching, but without giving any instruction.  We tried calling again.  We then heard a message from Radio 1, naming us and the other yacht. We tried calling radio 9, Graneet and our rally control – without success.  

At this point we looked behind us and realised that the naval fleet we had past earlier practising their display were now in a convoy and closing in on us at a great rate of notes, clearly heading into St Petersburg as well.  We radio’d again and said we were moving out of the way of the fleet.

At this point one of the two white launches we had seen early came racing at over 30 knots towards us, looking as if it might ram us.  As it approached, one of the officers ran up to the podium on the side, and using the microphone on its stand, hailed us in Russian.  Andrew responded with ‘niet’ i.e no.  What he was saying no to Suzanne still isn’t sure. But if it was to say no, I don’t speak Russian – clearly that wasn’t true – because he’d just answered in Russian (he can actually say 3 words) and if the chap had been asking us to move the boat, then clearly it wasn’t the right answer.  Some gesticulation went on, and Andrew moved the boat further out of the way.  The launch then raced across to the American boat, clearly to have the same kind of none conversation.

We then sat back and enjoyed the fleet passing with our submarine taking up the rear.  Once clear we continued into Kronstadt and the fun of clearing immigration and customs.

So the German boat full of Swiss seemed to have rattled customs.  They had prescription drugs they wanted to declare, but the sniffer dog had been put on the boat before they were allowed off the boat to declare – and so a Mexican stand off ensued for the next 6 hours.    As a result we had two sniffer dogs, one for customs, one for immigration, as well as a search by two uniformed men which seemed to be a half hour english language lesson.  All passports and ship paperwork duly checked and stamped, we were free, after about an hour – to head on into St Petersburg.

It takes 3 hours from Kronstadt to head up the fairway to St Petersburg.  On our way in, guess what – the fleet passed us on their way back out!  An even closer encounter than the first two times that day!

We weren’t prepared for the Jetson style hydrofoils ploughing their way to and fro on the fairway, making at least 30 knots, but unnervingly leaving no real wake. 

We dodged men fishing in inflatables right in the fairway, and just as we approached the new bridge to make our final few hundred metres into the yacht club, the leading buoys seemed to disappear. 

We then noticed that they were off to the left, making a big kink.  This was different to what was on the chart, and that we had been told – and we quickly debated and decided to follow the buoys as we saw them – ie swing to the left and then back through the buoys under the bridge.  This worked fine, but we were then presented with a load of buoys that were missing – the channel supposed to lead us to the club.  We found out later how lucky we were.  Others had missed the kink to the left, ploughed straight on and grounded – about 6 in all – so half the fleet (as the 2 larger yachts couldn’t fit into St Petersburg).

We went straight to the fuel barge and filled up with 165 litres of fuel.  At a third of the prices of the UK – it would have been crazy not to.

getting fuel in St Petersburg

So it was that finally, at 5pm the day after we set off, we berthed by stern buoy at the Central City Marina amid all the sun, noise and chaos of St Petersburgers at play in the water.

Daily stats

We were underway for 30 hours, making 131 nautical miles, sailing for 7 hours, motor sailing for 16 and motoring for 7.  We used 12 gallons of fuel and 23 engine hours.

The map of our journey is an approximation, as we don’t have the actual AIS captured for the trip.

You can hear us talking about our entry into Russia on our podcast ‘2 in a Boat’ episode 25 ‘How we almost joined the Russian navy’.

Day 17 – we’ve got ourselves a convoy

We left Dihrami as a three boat convoy, slipping lines at 0900 ish and motoring out into the bright Estonian sunshine.  The journey was to be straightforward, with no shallow bits, no rocks to hit and no fog.  Unfortunately no wind either. 

Mains were raised, motoring cones hoisted and onwards we chugged.  Another Rally yacht proposed a lunch spot, but on investigating the water was algae ridden and foul, and there were a disturbing number of wrecks on the shoreline and in the hidden depths.  A nice idea but the Baltic seems to be full of algal bloom this year. 

 A little later, and within a few hours of Tallinn the wind filled in, and sails billowed out as we tried to get at least a few hours of sailing in; but it was not to be.  It veered and with such a header all we could do was fire up the iron topsail i.e the engine and motor once more.  

The entry into Top Marina, host for the sailing events of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, is easy, even with a plump gentleman falling off a paddleboard right in front of us, plenty of room to take evasive action and slide into the Marina.  

Another stern mooring buoy.  But this time we were prepared.  Suzanne hooked it like a pro, walked it to the back as Andrew took in the stern line then walked casually to the front and handed the bowline to Rally control who hooked us on.  Fantastic.  If Carlsberg made berthings they’d make them like this.  A slight rejig of the stern line to straighten the boat up and we were in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city!  

Time to stock up in the fantastic supermarket, carry out some much-needed maintenance, enjoy a crew dinner in the town centre, and visit the seaplane museum!

Our daily stats

We managed a measily one hour of sailing, one of motoring and 5 and half motor sailing, using 5 gallons of fuel. We were underway for 7 and half hours, making 45 nautical miles, averaging over 6 knots. At least the sun was shining!

You can hear about this sail and more in Episode 23 of our podcast ‘2 in a boat’

Day 16 – crazy channels and buoy hopping

Damp start

A beautiful eery damp fog hung thick in the air as we prepared to slip our berth in Kuressaare.  It was more than an early morning mist, although the hour was relatively early – 6am.

Our exhilarating entry the previous day was replaced by a painstaking crawl, as we buoy hopped through the narrow, narrow channel towards the open sea.  

Hitting Estonia

Things did not go according to plan.  The gaps in the buoys widened and the fog thickened to the extent that we couldn’t see the next one, even with Suzanne on look out at the bow.  Andrew reduced speed to a crawl and became concerned he was wandering off course.  He looked behind to confirm that he was indeed veering off to the left, a fact which was further confirmed as the depth sounder dropped to zero and all forward progress stopped with a shuddering bang as we hit a small piece of Estonia 1.9m underwater. 

It is said there are two types of sailor in the Baltic Sea; those who have run aground and those who are about to.  We are now firmly in the former.  Serious concern was expressed by Suzanne at the amount of water on the cabin floor until she realised it smelled of jasmine green tea and was accompanied by smashed biscuits.  Yes, the only casualty was the tea, biscuits and Andrew’s dented pride.  

The yacht behind us was slightly alarmed by the sight of us reversing rapidly out of the mist in front of them.  They thought perhaps we’d decided to return to the safety and sanctuary of the marina.  We radioed to say what had happened and they pressed on, taking the lead.

This is more like it

By nineish the mist had lifted to a beautiful day.  For only the second time bikinis and bare chest were in order.   Now this is what this trip was supposed to be like!  Watching as we past beautiful wooded Baltic islands, the sun beating down, and lying on the cushions in bikini and sun cream.

After lunch both yachts entered the narrow channels, called “leads”, but what we would know as “swatches” or “terrifying shallow small channels”.  Marked by buoys these must be followed religiously, i.e. praying, as we had already found out.  Rocks, looking deceptively like seals, would appear close to the boat.  We were thankful for our electronic charts and the Estonian buoyage.

Flash in the pan

Early afternoon we took the decision to press on further than anticipated.  To keep us fortified for the extra hours, Suzanne went below and baked a lemon drizzle cake, using our new measuring jug bought on Visby, and halving Mary Berry’s famous recipe, substituting milk (which we didn’t have) with hot water.  It was something of a triumph – moist, delicious and very lemony!  Let’s hope it isn’t a ‘flash in the pan’!  

Late afternoon the wind was finally in the right direction to allow us to swift off the engine, and  round off the day with a two hour reach into harbour at Dihrami, a beautiful small Estonian harbour, where we met up with another rally yacht. The harbour master helped us with our lines, and we handed over 25 euros for the night. There was a great looking fish restaurant over looking the sea beside his office.

A short walk through the fragrant pine forest brought us to a Hansel and Gretel shop, where we bought a couple of beers and Magnum ice creams.  The ice creams were eaten by the time we reached the beach, to watch the sunset over Crystelle Venture and drink our beers (Mexican lager imported from the UK..).  The day was rounded off with drinks on the other rally yacht, and sharing Suzanne’s cake.

Our daily stats

We took 14 and a half hours to make 92 nautical miles, averaging 6.3 notes. We sailed for 2, motor sailed for 10 and the rest was motoring in and out of the harbours. We used 10 gallons of fuel.

You can hear more about our travels in Estonia in episode 24 – Talking in Tallinn – of our 2 in a boat podcast. Due to go live on 8 September 2019.

Day 15 – the best of the two halves

Cow staring

It was with only the slightest hangover that hung over Suzanne as we started out from Ventspils at 7am.  She stayed up long enough on deck to bring in the fenders and stow the ropes, take a good long stare at the blue and white cow at the harbour entrance, and then disappeared back to bed.

Out of the breakwater, and with a favourable west north westerly wind Andrew put the sails up, turned off the engine, and looked forward to enjoying a fast close reach towards our day’s destination – the marina at Kuressaare.  

Raising the Estonian courtesy flag

Blistering

Not only was the wind favourable, so was the weather with the temperature gauge already at 24 degrees at 8am.  It was going to be blistering day on both counts – sailing and sunbathing.

Yes another day, another country – and another first time visit not only to Estonia, but also to its largest island, Saaremaa.  With speeds averaging just over 6 knots, it wasn’t long before we could see Latvia behind us and Saaremaa in front.  

Extraordinary

By quarter to 4 we were making preparations to enter the extremely tight and long lead channel into Kuressaare.  Any straying out of the channel could have calamitous consequences.  The channel was intermittently flanked by rocks and grassy knolls on which sea birds were rearing their screeching young. 

 Kuressare is the capital of Saaremaa and the marina must be one of the most spectacularly appointed ones.  It is overlooked by the largest medieval moated castle in the Baltic – and it is beautifully maintained and the grounds manicured.  It made an already interesting and nerve wracking entrance, even more extraordinary.

Kuressare is twinned with Ronne on Bornholm, and about the same size.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore, but what we did see has definitely whetted our appetite for a return visit.

An old pro

Today was the day to try out our new boating hook to pick up a stern buoy.  The harbour master was already waiting for us on the pontoon and pointed at the allotted buoy.  Suzanne stood sentry like on the bow, hook poised and looked like an old-hand, capturing the buoy on the first go.  Bow lines were passed to the helpers on shore and Andrew used the winched stern line to manoeuvre us close enough to the jetty to give us access.  Boom, done and dusted by 5pm.

It was then a small matter of paying our 25 euros to the harbour master, who presented us with the flashiest and smartest of town literature and map.  While Andrew had a shower, Suzanne took the opportunity to try out the harbour bar, and was joined by our rally cruising companions.

Tired, tired, tired

Another boat from the rally had preceded us to the marina, and booked us  all in for a meal at a restaurant overlooking the castle, by the side of the moat. After aperitif on their boat, we took the short stroll to our restaurant, and after an hour’s wait for the food, we enjoyed some amazing local fish and specialities.  

Over dinner we discussed the various strategies that were being adopted to get to our final destination Tallin.  The other boat decided to have a shorter day the next day, and a longer one afterwards.  We opted, with our current sailing companions, to break it into to equal days – and around midnight made a decision on our destination and departure time – 6am.  Quick look at the charts and weather, and it was off to bed.  Tired as tired can be.

Our leg stats

We took 10 hours to make 62 nautical miles, averaging 6.2 knots, not bad considering 8 of those hours were under sail. We used only 2 engine hours and 2 gallons of fuel.

You can hear more about our impressions of sailing in Estonia in Episode 23 of our ‘2 in a boat’ podcast due to launch on 8 September 2019.

Day 14 – A sail of two halves

Cunning plan

While the rest of the rally set sail for the island of Gotska Sandon to view seals and lighthouses, we chose another new country and the prospect of raising a new courtesy flag.  Hopefully without any smelly seals. 

A cunning plan that would break the leg to Tallin, Estonia into 4 bite size chunks, two legs to our new destination, and two to Tallin – a new country and more of Estonia to explore.  No overnight sailing, just long day sails with a bit of time to explore at each new port.  What’s not to like?

Sailing Gotland

We were rafted three deep, so after a bit of boat shuffling, we were alongside to fill up with water and hand in our harbour cards.  We set off at lunchtime, and ate as we went.   For our first leg we decided to break our journey in Farosund, the water that divides Gotland from the island of Faro.  

Can you spot Crystelle Venture berthed in Visby?

We managed some sailing up the coast of this limestone island, covered in pine trees, and seemingly sparsely populated once we had left the historic city of Visby behind.  There was only one incongruous area, as the landscape of limestone rock falls continued on our starboard side.  What we thought was an out of place and uncharacteristic city with high rises, turned out to be a massive silo complex for what we guessed must be a cement factory.  After all, Gotland produces mortar to send to other cities around the world to repair their ancient limestone monuments and cathedrals, as well as cement.

Leaving Visby

Sleeping like logs

After several hours we started to follow the buoyed channel into Farosund, as night started to fall.  There are three perfectly good harbours, but we chose to anchor, for the first time on this trip, just to the west of the town.  It was a beautiful quiet spot and we slept like logs, especially after the bouncy nights in Visby – the middle boat of rafting does seem to get the worst berthing experience.

Off at dawn

Up and off at 5am the next day, as our destination was an hour ahead, and with over 80 nautical miles to go, we knew it would take us a good 14 – 16 hours.  As we past the small town of Farosund dwarfed by the bright yellow ferries that connect the two islands of Gotland and Faro, we noticed another of our rally yachts popping out from one of the harbours.  We streamed past the two small bird covered islands in the middle of the channel and then were out into the east sea.

Ghost ship

Around lunchtime we found ourselves in thick fog, and could no longer see the other boat we were travelling with, apart from the odd ghostly appearance off to our starboard bow.  We both kept a good look out and, luckily, there were no other passing ships to avoid. After 2 hours we came back into sunshine.

It was around this point that Suzanne discovered that we didn’t have a full set of Baltic flags.  Latvia was missing.  Discussion ensued on how a makeshift courtesy flag could be fashioned out of other flags, masking tape and colouring pens.  In the end, rather than cause any kind of diplomatic incident with a badly drawn flag, we opted to go without.

Ventspil’s cow fascination

The closest port in Latvia is Ventaspil, a commercial port with oil, coal and ferry terminals.  We called ahead and were immediately given clearance to enter.  An incongruous Greek striped cow stared at us from the breakwater as we entered the outer harbour, and then made way along the starboard side towards the entrance to the fishing and yacht harbour.  

Paint donation

We had prepared ourselves for a bow to and pick up a stern buoy berth – and had got out and set up the new hook we had bought at the chandlery in Bornholm.  However as we turned the corner into the marina we saw to our dismay that the other yacht was moored up against the wall, with old tyres against it.

Marina at Ventspils – Crystelle Venture hiding way at the back from yet another concrete cow

We did a quick rejig of ropes and fenders and the harbour master helped us to tie up.  Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that the tyres were tied on with steel rope, that scraped away more grey paint.  Another small donation to a Baltic country.

While Andrew went for a shower, Suzanne went up to pay for our night’s stay and to practice the little Latvian she’d picked up from google translate.  She likes to think it was appreciated.  At 25 euros it was one of our more expensive stays, however electricity, showers and waters were included – so probably worked out much the same.  

Exploring Ventaspil

We walked up into the old town for dinner, to a restaurant the harbour master had recommended, and in the brochure he had given us was shown to be number one in some local award.  We walked through broad streets with pretty parks, cobbled streets with old wooden houses and ancient doors, and finally found a busy restaurant, with outside seating that was clearly full and very popular.

Ventspils
We’re in Ventspils, so it must be another cow

The waitress spoke perfect english and explained we’d have to wait for a table – which we were more than happy to do.  We perused the menu while we waited, and were impressed by the prices.  We took a punt on a Latvian sparkling wine, 10 euros a bottle, and it turned out to be so decent, we had a second.  Unfortunately, when we checked the label, only for sale in Latvia – and the shop was shut when we walked back to the marina. Probably a good thing, as we have to reduce our alcohol on board before we enter Russia. 

The food was tasty, the portions generous. For the four of us, with a starter and a main, two bottles of fizz, and a cup of mint tea – the bill came to just over 70 euros.  Bargain – we like Latvia!

Latvian starter

Over dinner we discussed our strategy for the next leg of our journey – a respectable departure time of 7am agreed.  We then pottered through more of the old town, which was almost deserted – perhaps not surprising in a country of less than 2 million people – and the only noise was that of youngsters on whiney mopeds – in stark contrast to the boom of the Harley Davidsons on Bornholm.  Finally we took the riverside walk back to our marina, marvelling at the giant cow en route, and enjoyed a comfortable night dockside.

Settling down for the night in Ventspils, Latvia

Our leg stats

Visby to Farosund was just under 7 hours underway, making 38 nautical miles, an average 5.4 knots. Farosund to Ventspils was a longer 13 hour sail of 86 nautical miles, with an average speed of 6.6 knots. A total of just under 16 engine hours in total. So our time to get from Gotland to Latvia was around 20 hours of sailing.

You can hear more about our time in Latvia in episode 22 ‘Loving Latvia’ of our ‘2 in a boat’ podcast, due to go live on 1 September 2019.

Episode 21 hears us chewing the fat on Bornholm and Visby.

Day 13 – Scandinavian sailing

Sad departure

After refuelling in anticipation of light winds and getting clearance from port control we sadly left Ronne at 0800.  A close look at Hammershus castle on the North West coast during our transit past the island and Bornholm receded into the distance.

Hammerhus Castle


Bornholm is well worth a visit.  It’s full of cute villages, nice people and it’s great for cycling.  In Gudhjem on the north coast you are allowed to cycle up the hill through the main street, but not down the hill.  Which is interesting, as in Bray, the main town on Alderney you are allowed to cycle down the hill, but not up.  It’s an island thing…

A happy Danish pastry – or as they call them Vienna Cake – absolutely delicious

Sail away, sail away, sail away


The forecast was for light, variable and generally unfavourable winds, so for the first four hours we motorsailed.  As the wind backed we hoisted the cruising chute, which powered us along to an un-dieseled 5 knots, the sun shone and things generally looked good.  Elixir another rally yacht caught us up and as we dropped our chute due to failing wind, they hoisted theirs, in bright pink.

Thunder, lightening


We motorsailed away from them as they were off to Utklippan to spend the night en route but a dark and ominous grey cloud was in front of us.  We heard the rumble of thunder and saw spectacular lightning in the distance. Visibility dropped, the temperature fell ten degrees and the rain started.  Torrential rain, with a strengthening wind. 

Andrew stayed outside as Suzanne went in to start cooking Swedish veggie meatballs in honour of our arrival in Swedish waters.  The sails were drawing well but engine continued to be used to keep us ahead of the lightning flashes.  Water gushed from the end of the boom as it ran down the sails.

Complete immersion


It stopped as sudden as it had started, with blue skies and failing wind, and it was back to motor sailing as the speed dropped to 2-3 knots. 

For the night watch Andrew opted to wear his immersion suit.  Not because of any impending disaster but because it’s been cold at night, and sitting around in the cockpit watching for merchant ships with drunk, sleepy watchkeepers attempting to run you over doesn’t keep you warm.  It does keep you awake though.

Pre rain and pre immersion suit


Light variable winds all night kept the engine on until 0620 when a bright and cheery Suzanne took the deck and let a cold and less cheery Andrew off to go and get some sleep. 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

By 1100 Andrew had “slept” for a couple of hours and we were back to motor sailing, into a short uncomfortable chop through the deep water shipping lane.  This slowly subsided but with the wind remaining on the nose we motorsailed our way to Visby, alternatively sleeping and watchkeeping. 

We motored past bird island where we could see no birds and inviting looking beaches which lay at the base of precipitous and crumbling cliffs.


Sailing towards Visby, the main city on the Swedish island of Gotland, you could make out the cathedral spires. We asked for permission to enter Visby harbour and after waiting around on channel 25 with no answer, decided to enter anyway, slowly and cautiously following a huge RoRo ferry.

Approaching Visby

Our final berth was rafted up against 2 other rally boats, both American, and more experienced rally sailors.

Our daily stats

It was a long 35 hours, with 27 motor sailing and only 8 sailing, consuming 17 gallons of fuel on a voyage of 204 miles

You can hear more in episode 20 of our podcast ‘2 in a boat’ – Sunshine on a cloudy day – due for release on 25 August 2019.

Day 12 – Sugar, speed and sailing

Our speed potential

At 0900 we listened as rally control gave out instructions for today’s departure from Warnemunde over channel 77. The planned noon departure had been put back to a suggested 1400 – 1500 due to the wind strength and speed of the 15 boats in our rally flotilla, suggesting we’d arrive too soon.  We’re not really used to sailing too quick, so were a bit concerned that they’d overestimated our speed potential.  How wrong we were.

We pottered about getting our usual jobs done, flask of soup, flask of hot water, smoked salmon sandwiches, biscuits, fruit, Doritos, orange squash, and a couple of posh pot noodles. Suzanne had also bought fresh croissants for breakfast, and a marzipan Ritter Sport for Andrew, to keep him going during the early hours.

Jerry can man can’t

About 2pm we pushed back from our berth, hit nothing (which is good as people were watching this time) and set off for the fuel barge. We arrived at the same time as a jerry with a can.  He was really helpful, called on the intercom and refuelling man arrived by bicycle about 5 minutes later.  

Embarrassingly he was refused service – as it is ‘verboten’ to walk around the harbour with fuel cans on show.  “Ridiculous” jerry can man said to us (through clenched teeth) “verboten is the most used phrase in German.  Of course it is very important that things should be verboten” and chuckled (or grimaced, I’m not quite sure) .  

We inquired could we fill them on our boat and deliver them to his boat but refuelling man clarified that he could have his diesel if his cans were in bags, a bit like having alcohol but only if it’s in a brown paper bag.  We furnished him with two “bags for life” and he could now legally buy diesel and walk back to his boat.

On leaving the fuel berth we headed out of the marina, slowly, sorting ropes and fenders knowing that once we were in the maelstrom of surf outside such things would be difficult.  We discovered our imaginary seals were also real at this point.  How embarrassing. (Listen to our podcast to hear more on that subject!)

A Crystelle Venture record

Outside the breakwater things got a bit more serious.  Force 6* onshore wind was whipping up some wicked waves and we set off on a wet, bumpy reach to our first turning point.  This was supposed to take seven hours but we made it in five.  We ducked inshore of the wind farm following most of the other ARC Baltic boats.  The waves weren’t huge but they were big enough to give us a non-tidal assisted Crystelle Venture record of 10.4 Knots momentary surfing speed.  

Proudly flying the Danish courtesy flag (along with our own and that of the Cruising Association)

The waves subsided, night gathered and now Andrew’s watch began.  During the night the boat was barrelling along, with speeds of between 6 and 9 knots.  At one point Andrew considered reducing sail area to slow down as the boat was quite twitchy above 8 knots and it was difficult to get the autohelm to steer a good course.  Sustained by a bar of Ritter sport chocolate (marzipan), packet of choccy biscuits, tomato soup, four slices of bread, a penguin and turkish delight Andrew saw the night through.

watching the sun go down over the Baltic sea

Early the next day, 0700 we reached Bornholm, Denmark, standing off the harbour entrance at Ronne and waiting for permission to enter.  Once the harbour radio operator woke up we were allowed in, berthing snugly against an Oyster 575 who had tailed us by a couple of miles all the way from Warnemunde but passed us at about 0500.

Checking in with the harbourmaster at Ronne on Bornholm

Follow that boat!

To keep tabs on all the boats in the Baltic rally, each boat has been kitted out with a Yellow Brick tracking device. You can follow the Arc Baltic from their pages, or even download the Yellow Brick app. It gives updates refreshed every 4 hours. You can also still view our progress on AIS.

Our daily stats

110 miles in 16 hours, a serious sugar headache and a couple of days to explore the Danish Island of Bornholm!

*Force 6 is 30 knots, 35mph, try sticking your arm out of a car window at 35mph, that’s how strong the wind is.  Don’t put it out too far though, and certainly not your head…that is dangerous.