Helsinki - St Peterburg
It is Gunnar's last day on board. For days already, he had been
fine-tuning a plan to bake cinnamon buns at midnight, to welcome
our new crew. But ... they had decided to spend the first night
in a hotel! The buns are happily consumed by those on-board, aptly
assisted by Maciek from the neighbouring boat, who turns out to
know Sebastian Lopienski from a regatta a few years ago.
In the morning, the new crew (Yvonne, Helen, Ruben and Haude)
arrives, with a staggering number of bags ... We spend the day
refueling, checking the rig, cleaning the mast rails, storing
the dinghy, buying food supplies, picking up an Estonian chart
portfolio, visiting the town etc...
And then ... a bit before dark, departure for St Peterburg. We
follow at first the scenic Finnish internal route, enjoying a
truely remarkable salmon dinner. Soon after the TSS with its string
of cargo ships comes in sight, we stay North of this for now.
We're lucky with the wind: mostly between close-hauled and beam-reach,
enabling us to sail rather than motor. And then, on August 10th
at 2:52 UTC comes the long awaited moment of entering Russian
waters, as required between the 2 entry buoys on the GOFREP Eastern
Reporting Line at 26°30' E. The event is accompanied by a strikingly
beautiful sunrise over Gogland, the first Russian island we pass
by (the name is said to be a transformation of Hochland, or "high
land", even if only 173 m high).
The maritime borders in this region are surprising: Russian territorial
waters begin well to the W of the straight line connecting the
land borders between Russia and Finland and between Russia and
Estonia. As a result, there is still 130 nm (and 150 nm on our
return) to go to St Peterburg. Another interesting feature is
that the entry buoys, just like the cardinal marks that delimit
forbidden zones, exist only on the charts, not on the water. With
the numerous islands, such as Gogland, it is fortunately not a
problem to position oneself using bearings and radar. GPS doesn't
seem to be the method of choice here since there regularly is
no adequate signal, and the charts are anyhow not drawn in the
On entry, we make the first of a number of calls with the Russian
coast guard. They will keep tracking our progress until arrival.
Every few hours, we are handed over from one coast guard station
to the next. The coast guard turns out to be friendly, provided
one sticks to the rules, and they consistently wish us a good
watch. The name of the game here is to follow the fairways, without
entering the TSS nor straying into the forbidden zones alongside
the TSS. In addition, it is forbidden to approach, left alone
land on any island before Kotlin. To add some spice to it all,
we were warned in advance that a mistake costs 100 €. Apparently,
we managed to stay clear of all traps and reached Kronshtadt in
There, the Russian coast guard tried to guide us to a waiting
mooring in town, between Fort Constantine and Fort Alexander,
but the charts turn out to be perfectly right in that area is
truely foul ... After a 2h30 long, almost comical ballet with
the coast guard, we decided to continue to a waiting area outside
Kronshtadt and anchor there awaiting the morning and the opening
hours of the customs, who nowadays are at the Sea Terminal in
town. At the customs, we meet Vladimir Ivankiv thanks to whose
priceless services, the formalities are completed in an hour.
Two hours later, we arrive at the St
Peterburg River Yacht Club
, where there is indeed mooring
available, as promised. The harbour is guarded day and night,
impeccably clean showers are available nearby, and the bus stop
is only a short walk away.
A Finnish and a Lithuanian boat are already in the harbour and
a day later, Maciek and a Dutch boat arrive too. When we came
in, the flags of the foreign boats were hoisted at the sailing
club, but soon after our arrival, they take them down ... they
didn't have a Swiss flag!
In the evening, we visit the town a first time, spending some
time looking for a chic Georgian restaurant which turned out to
be not only closed, but the building in which it stood had been
demolished. The day after (12/8) we go to the Hermitage, admiring
Rembrandt, Matisse, El Greco and every artist one can imagine,
as well as several goden rooms constructed in the style of Catherine
the Great and in the evening to the ballet (Swan lake, in the
Alexksandrinskii theatre, performed by the troupe of the conservatory).
On the 13th, most of us visit St Peter and Paul
and the Spilled Blood cathedral, and ont 14th, we go to Peterhof,
another understated palace to suit the simple taste of Peter the
St Peterburg - Vergi (15-16/8)
Leaving St Peterburg is argueably more thricky than entering:
once one has passed the customs in town, there is no(cheap) way
back since the single-entry visa for entering Russia will have
expired. Fortunately for us, the weather forecasts announce settled
weather for a number of days to come, the boat looks in good shape
and we have ample supplies of Diesel.
Exit through the customs turned out to be a simple affair, taking
less than 1h. On the way to the Eastern Reporting Line, we stay
mostly on the North of the fairway, a somewhat longer route, but
this area is much less infested with forbidden zones, one merely
crosses 2 TSSs which are not much used.
The only event worth reporting is the coast guard making contact
with us in the middle of the night not via radio, as they had
so far done, but using ... green signal rockets. Maybe we had
missed a call in Russian? At any rate, they are perfectly friendly
and wish us a good trip. They keep a close watch throughout though,
to the extent that they observe that we are at some point using
the motor in addition to the sails in order to cross a TSS at
right angles, wondering whether we carry the mandatory daymark
(a black triangle).
And then, on August 16th at 11:36 UTC, after a final radio call
to the Russian coast guard, we leave Russian waters, passing again
between the virtual entry buoys on the GOFREP Eastern Reporting
Line. All of a sudden, no need anymore to know our position to
better than 1 nm (a strange feeling) and a good occasion for an
We proceed to Vergi, Estonia, only 25 nm away, we could have gone
there much more directly, but the Russian Coast Guard won't allow
entry or exit via the (disputed) border with Estonia, one may
enter and leave Russian waters only through the central GOFREP
international waters zone.
In the tiny port of Vergi, a particularly friendly Estonian coast
guard officer awaits us, surprising since there are no other visitors
and the activity seems low otherwise, to the extend that the main
jetty has been dismounted. Clearing the Estonian customs is a
matter of minutes. That being done, the officer switches to more
serious matters and points out where the showers are, where to
go for a walk etc...! Near Vergi are some small villages, with
manifestly good restaurants. The delicious mushroom salad and
breaded sardines, which the restaurant had put into a box for
those who didn't leave the boat, are still engraved in my memory
... and this was only the first of a number of positive gastronomic
experiences in this country.
Vergi - Tallinn (17-18/8)
A priori a trivial leg, which started out with some sight-seeing
in the natural reserve near Vergi. But in the middle of the night,
on approach of Tallinn, there is first a Mayday call from a sailing
boat, not far from our position. The boat had broken its mast,
there was a steady 6 Bf breeze combined with the swell of the
near-gales and gales a bit further to the W. The Estonian coast
guard took charge and the boat later returned on its own to Finland.
Soon after, we feel like the pirates in Asterix
as we are overrun in the pitch dark by a fleet
of sailing boats, several of them without any lights, many with
barely visible lights. They turns out to be taking part in an
annual regatta from Helsinki to Tallinn, not announced on the
Navtex. The first boat crosses in front of our bow within 2 boat
lengths. Soon after, we're on all sides surrounded by sailing
boats and we remain on alert for hours, watching for boats that
may suddenly tack for tactical considerations, not realising that
we're not taking part in the race and that the Imram doesn't tack
anywhere nearly as easily as a regatta boats! We probably tacked
as many times that nights as during the whole rest of the trip.
Our host port was Pirita, previously host to the sailing events
of the 1980 Moscow olympics. Tallinn is a laid back capital with
dozens of charming coffee shops and splendid restaurants. In between,
one can visit art galleries, churches and admire the medieval
architecture, interspersed with Art Nouveau and some very modern.
A long walk back to the harbour included a stop at the site of
the singing revolution, where in 1988 more than 300'000 Estonians
gathered to sing and demand independance. Rob had the novel experience
of having to wait while crew members toe nails dried after a pedicure.
Tallinn - Kuressaare (19-20/8)
En route we were warned of controlled explosions by German NATO
warship Datteln, but they do not (yet!) concern us. The approach
to Kuressaare port at night was stunning: a 2900 m long, 24 m
narrow and at most 2.6 deep channel, at the end of which we could
see the floodlit castle, a thirteenth century stone castle which
is the best preserved in the Baltics. The very friendly harbour
master has bicycles for rent, is available day and night for advice,
and has impeccable installations, Oskar clearly is a class apart.
The castle, built from the late 12th century onwards, has largely
been restored and now houses a variety of exhibitions. I was fascinated
by those covering the history of Saarema in particular and Estonia
in general. In the Middle Ages, the area was under German and
Danish rule. The castle belonged to the bishop, until he was evicted
at the time of the reformation. During the 2nd word war, Saarema
was taken over by the Soviets (1939), then conquered by the German
(1941), then recaptured by the Soviets (1944). Many fled to Sweden,
following the route we were to take a day later, but under far
more precarious conditions. The place remained under Soviet control
and some inhabitants have been kept in Soviet prison camps until
the mid 1950s. Seeing these exhibitions makes it clear why so
many Estonians insist on not being "approximately Russian". Estonia
was in my view the most surprising part of the tour: a country
in the process of making a new start, and doing so with great
imagination and unbelievable energy. It shows while sailing, a
cruising guide has been published, chart portfolios of good quality
are available, the guest harbour of Kuressaare has greatly been
improved. And yet, places like Vergi manage to retain their simplicity
and charm. Also Kuressaare remains little visited, perhaps due
to the access channel? Manifestly, Estonia hasn't yet been discovered
as a cruising destination.
We also meet Alex and Ursula of the Silmaril, who where moored
next to us in Helsinki. They had the same problem as us of having
an empty gas bottle, and they had located a place where the bottles
could be refilled ... coffee flowed again!
Kuressaare - Gotska Sandön
Estonia takes its border control serious and since we are about
to leave the country, two Estonian coast guard pay us a visit.
Strictly speaking, they would have to escort us out of the territorial
waters, which we were to leave only many hours later, but they
take our word for it that we really will go to Sweden and explain
that these customs procedures will soon be a thing of the past.
This time the warnings of controlled explosions, now from NATO
, directly concern us since the site of the explosions
is precisely on our planned path out of the Bay of Riga, a bit
North of the TSS. Using an alternative track through much more
shallow waters, we avoid the site (by 3 nm) and in addition shorten
our route by several miles. This probably made our arrival a bit
faster, but the main reason for arriving early in Gotska were
two stretches of a couple of hours each, consistently at 8 knots
on a beam reach in almost flat waters, flying through a pitch
dark night, an experience in itself!
emerges out of the fog when we're not even half a mile
from the coast, with just 8 m of water under the boat. While making
the tour around the island via the South, towards the more sheltered
W coast, we pass by one of the seal colonies the island is famous
for. Otherwise, it seems to be an endless yellow sand beach with
plenty of bright green forest inland, hard to imagine this is
at 58°20' N! Sunny weather during the day, used by most for making
a hike, and for swimming by the rest.
Gotska - Nyköping (23/8)
Departure shortly before midnight, Gotska again shrouded in the
mist, and arrival in Nyköping in the afternoon after a passage
through the Southern part of the Stockhom archipelago.
Sadly, the shipyard turns out to have no berths left for the winter;
in the winter, as a rule, the water freezes here and all boats
are taken ashore. Each boat therefore has its own berth, and visitor
berths are rare, they need to be reserved several months ahead
After some discussion, the boat remains in the Nyköping guest
harbour, awaiting transport further South in a couple of weeks.
Good occasion to use the remaining time to visit Stockholm, Norrköping
In total 815 nm from Helsinki