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’.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.