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.