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.