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!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
We didn’t end up where we had intended at the end of the day, but were glad we changed our minds.
We had flip flopped over where to stay the night before, and had eventually settled on an island in the middle of the Archipelago sea. We slipped our berth on a misty morning about 0930 in Turku, and retraced our steps back down the river towards the archipelago.
By late morning our sails were back up and we were making around 5.5 knots – Suzanne had slipped back to bed, still full of cold.
Around this time another yacht said they would be going to the island of Baro, which had an excellent restaurant and a barrel wood sauna – would anyone like to join them. So at just before 4pm we altered course to head up to meet them. In doing so we got to see another pair of sea eagles.
Dinner was booked for 7pm, and our sauna for 10pm – so to make sure we were there just in time, we washed and changed as we motor sailed along.
Berthing was a bit of a cockup – Suzanne trying to catch the stern buoy with the wrong side of the hook (she blames her cold), the guy in the boat next door wanting to engage in conversation, and the stern buoy rope getting caught on a cleat and stopping our approach to the pontoon rather abruptly. With the other yacht watching…. why is no one ever there when you boss it?? Still no-one was hurt and we arrived with 15 minutes to spare for dinner.
Dinner was delightful, the usual fish and vegetable fare we have come to love and enjoy during our time in Finland. We also paid our berthing fee of 30 euros and sauna fee of 20 euros at the restaurant. The normal sauna was free, as was the laundry.
After dinner, we pottered across to our barrel sauna. A small ante chamber to change out of your clothes and then into the sauna proper where a small stove blazed with a wood fire, heating the stones on the top. We then spent a blissful hour, over heating in the sauna and then popping out onto the verandah, to dip our toes in the sea. And dodge the mosquitos.
Andrew, as ever, got bitten – and the bites blew up to the size of small golf balls. So big, the other yacht could see them the next morning from about 40 feet away!
Needless to say we both slept like logs that night.
No image of our track, we forgot! We took just over 9 hours to make 55 nautical miles, with an average speed of 5.9 knots. We sailed for 2 and a half hours, and used 5 gallons of fuel.
Today was the day we reached the destination the last few days had been about. And Suzanne missed most of the day – struck down with the Helsinki flu bug. She got up to see us out of the Helsingholm berth and then retired to her pit.
Andrew had booked the berth online in Turku, so knew that it wouldn’t be available until 2pm. So he enjoyed a very leisurely sail drifting along downwind. More seals spotted, more beautiful islands and cute painted wooden summer houses.
Suzanne was kicked out of her sick bed to help with the arrival into Turku – which she didn’t begrudge as it was a great entrance. A long river, with the castle on the corner as you turned into the main straight through the town. On the port side the maritime museum, with a number of interesting military ships and an old tall ship berthed alongside.
The city marina was a short way from this, and before the first low bridge that prevented exploring any further up river. The box berth was 5m wide, but the actual piles only came up to cockpit and were no where near our stern – so we had to put on springs – which was odd but worked.
The little cafe/kiosk was also where we paid our fees, 47 euros all included, and picked up the local info. The toilets were behind the kiosk, and the excellent showers/saunas and laundry were across the road in a former ceramics factory, down in the basement, with exposed stonework and tiles.
We pottered into town to visit the living museum, the cathedral and grabbed dinner at a vegetarian restaurant beside the river. A very pleasing town, with life centred on the river. A great art museum that we didn’t have chance to visit. And a cool looking castle that we saw only from the outside.
It would have been great to spend a few more days in Turku – but we were on a timetable – so had to content ourselves with the few short hours we had. We hope we get to visit again soon.
Our daily stats
We travelled 32 miles in just under 8 hours making about 4.1 knots, of which over 4 hours was sailing. We used half a gallon of fuel.
By 0730 we had raised both our anchors and retraced our steps to rejoin the fairway. A grey and cloudy morning, but lifted by the stunning scenery of the national park we seem to have all to ourselves. We saw seals, great flocks of cormorants and perhaps even more rare a sighting, Suzanne steering.
Around 0930 we were able to start sailing, make a good 6 knots and a for a brief period we even put up the cruising chute – although that didn’t last long. Throughout the day military launches swiftly passed us.
Mid afternoon, just past Hanko, we caught up with another rally yacht – who attempted to offer us scones it turns out – though we couldn’t make it out at the time! The wind had picked up a little and we were making up to 7.5 knots under sail.
Andrew had found our berth for a night on a website called viking islands. It sounded promising, with a kiosk, sauna, showers and fresh fish. We arrived about 4.30pm, and slowly motored into a sheltered bay on the island of Helsingholmen.
Our first attempt to moor was rebuffed by another yacht – who said it was too shallow and directed us to the other side of a pontoon. However when we got there, the boats were too close together and there was no room at the inn. We spotted a gap further down, and slowly nudged our way in, until we slowly touched bottom. Nope that was no good.
We reversed back and ended up tying up on the rubbish pontoon in a space reserved for the refuse ship. Unfortunately Suzanne had just started to cook dinner when the said ship arrived in the harbour. It had a small crane and was busy working on the round waste containers that were moored in the centre of the small bay. Everyone watched intently as they made a lot of noise and put in a lot of effort into doing quite what, no-one knew.
The boat then put across towards us, and Andrew asked if they wanted us to move – no they were ok on the end. They let their dog off to pee and then they were off again. Bin men of the waters still working at 7pm at night.
We had a similar non event with the harbour office. It was 10 euros to stay, another 5 euros if we wanted electric. However no shower without the sauna, and that was booked until 1am. There appeared to be nothing for sale in the small kiosk. Armed with only a card, Suzanne slunk back to the boat, and we spent the following half hour rummaging through drawers and clothes pockets to scrape together enough coinage to pay the 10 euros.
Nevertheless it was a peaceful spot – with an amazing display of fish jumping out of the water. It also, inevitably had a similarly large number of flying insects to tempt the fish…
Our daily stats
We made 51 nautical miles in 9 hours averaging 5.6 knots. We sailed for 4 and used 4.5 gallons of fuel.
If you’d like to hear more, why not check out our podcast – Two in a Boat?
We set off around 9.30am, put up our sails and were soon sailing the inshore route behind the islands, moving into beautiful clear waters and clear skies. We were sad to say goodbye to Helsinki. We’d enjoyed a fabulous crew meal at the yacht club the night before – as well as a sauna, and a shed load of washing.
Unfortunately the tumble dryer couldn’t match the washing machine, and we left with our saloon looking like a chinese laundry – a makeshift line hung up to try and dry the last load of washing.
Our trip to the island of the street of chandlries had been interesting and fruitful. It’s not often you get asked to leave a chandlery at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon because they are closing. But yep, they all did. We had lunch of the local delicacy of fish soup – basically salmon and potato – very delicious, in a restaurant overlooking another marina. Bit of a busman’s holiday…
Mid morning we caught a glimpse of our first sea eagles, as we wove our way carefully through the guide poles between small islands.
Beware the gusts that come between islands! These are strong and can almost knock you over. We were caught out – and Andrew’s full glass of squash went tumbling down the companion way, over the newly washed clothes – of course!
Others from the rally had taken the outside route, and appeared to be battling against a strong headwind and rain. Around lunchtime they started to move into the inner route and we met and past a number of the other boats.
Barosund had been one of the recommendations of the speaker at the crew dinner. He said it would be like sailing in a swimming pool. Not sure that some of the other yachts would quite have agreed with that on the outer route – but here as we drifted through the islands, we understood exactly what he meant.
Having learnt the lesson the hard way on arrival in Finland – we knew we would want to find our anchorage in day light. Andrew had earmarked a few on the chart – and we discounted the first – as too small and possibly also belonging to someone – there was a buoy.
It was getting close to 6pm, the wind was picking up and our swimming pool was becoming quite choppy. Luckily our next choice proved just the ticket – some carefully following of guide sticks, and we were hunkered down in an anchorage made for one. The small island of Sundskar was to be our berth for the night.
We dropped both bow and stern anchors, and settled down to some mushroom risotto for dinner.
Our daily stats
We made 51 nautical miles in 8 and a half hours, averaging 6 knots. We sailed for an hour, motor sailed for 7 and used 7 gallons of fuel.
We pottered in the morning and set off about 0930 – the other rally yacht had left earlier as they had crew to pick up in Helsinki.
We slowly motored our way back down the channel out of Porvoo, where the depth at times dropped to as little as 0.9 metres under our keel. We had hoped to take a sneaky short cut and follow a lead all the way to Helsinki, but the bridge was deemed too low for our mast.
What’s a lead? Sailing the archipelago they are a must. They are lines on the chart which show you the way to go from one point to another – show the depth of the water under the keel, and so help you avoid going aground! It’s a new and different way of sailing for us, and takes up far more energy, nerves and time than we had anticipated. It is also thrilling, exhilarating, and achingly beautiful.
Opportunities to sail have to be chosen with care, but even within the archipelago there are wide open expanses of water deep enough to sail, as long as you keep a close eye on the buoys and the transit lines.
Today we were lucky, with a combination of wind, direction and expanse of water. We sailed, with the westerly breeze pushing us around 4 -5 knots as we made our way towards Helsinki.
On the lead up to Helsinki, the wind was gusting, getting us to over 7.5 knots under sail, and putting us in the mix with some 5.5 yachts who were racing out of the sailing club we were heading for. We even over took a ketch.
Around 4pm we let rally control know that we were making our approach and were told to enter close to the stern of another rally yacht. Unbeknown to us at that stage, that yacht had hit a rock on the entry to the harbour, so we were all now being guided in over known safe water.
We bossed the stern buoy berthing and took the opportunity to take in the stunning setting that we were so privileged to enjoy. The NJK marina is an island that belongs to the oldest yacht club in Finland. Its club house is an Edwardian treasure, with the backdrop of the city skyline behind it. The facilities were perfect, with showers, sauna and laundry. And a half hourly ferry to take you to the main land.
We enjoyed the next couple of days exploring Helsinki – travelling out on the tube to the street with 4 chandleries and eating and drinking with other crews.
Our daily stats
A short day’s run of 38 miles, took us 6 hours and a half hours, we sailed for 3 and made an average of 5.8 knots, using 1 gallon of fuel.
After our late night shenanigans the night before we didn’t rush to leave Haapasaari. We were a little shocked when we looked out of our companionway first thing to see just how close and how many rocks there were round about. Just how we managed not to hit any is still a mystery.
At 0930 we set off with another rally yacht, to make for the town of Porvoo. One of the oldest cities in Finland, it promised to be an interesting sail and deep into the Finnish countryside.
The westerly wind gave us a good lift, allowing us to sail – making a good 6 knots and sailing side by side with our companion boat.
It was a cloudy day, and the wind had a cold bite to it, although the sun did manage to raise the temperature into the low 20s in the afternoon.
This was our first real taste of the Finnish archipelago, and it met all our expectations. Islands, big, small, stone and granite, sand and shore, pine trees, and trees and trees. Cormorants and shags and terns. And endless blue water.
And as we sailed up the approach to Porvoo, the sides closed in with reed beds and fen like landscape. Little culverts and side streams all along the way. We gently and carefully wove our way up what felt like a river within a swamp, up and up towards Porvoo.
Our way was heavily marked with buoys to ensure we didn’t stray, and safely guided us into the small marina at Porvoo. We berthed alongside and paid – for the first time, but not the last, at the local cafe/kiosk for our overnight stay. It was an eyewaterinw 47 euros, which included power, water, showers, kitchen and laundry.
The small marina was so shallow there were water lilies in the water. It nestled close to a road bridge, over which a supermarket was conveniently located.
We took a walk into town, with beautiful old wooden medieval buildings, and luckily fell upon a restaurant in old barns overlooking the river, with a waitress with impeccable English and great customer service. The beers were pretty good too.
We were too late for the bakery, but not too late to see a weird sculpture(?) consisting of old Barbies and other toys naked around a bowl. The streets were also eerily quiet, the roads too. Where was everyone?
Welcome to silent, still Finland.
Our daily stats
We took 9 hours to complete 60 nautical miles, averaging around 6.7 knots, and using 8 gallons of fuel.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.