|-- June 23rd to July 2nd 2018 --
|Two long legs and various
administrative stops to reach the Eastern end of the Baltic Sea and the
former capital city of the tsars. An amazing city, vibrating from 300
years of history, both familiar and exotic. Also a new record for
Saltimbanque: 30°14' longitude East ! This is 94° eastwards from our
most western position: 64° West in the British Virgin Islands. More
than a quarter of the globe around...
More pictures of marble and gold on our page “Pictures”.
305 miles sailed
1597 miles since the start
|23rd June : Tallinn - Haapasaari (103 M)
second storm of the week is dying out, a good westerly breeze sets in
for a few hours. Seizing the occasion, we leave Tallinn at full speed,
all canvas out in a 20-knots wind from the back. We cover 20 miles in
less than 3 hours – not bad! This brings us to the traffic separation
scheme in the middle of the Gulf of Finland.
Helsinki is only
25M from here but we don’t want to stop now that there’s such a
favorable wind. As soon as we cross the TSS, we send the big spinnaker
up and continue our route to the East, sailing at 5-6 knots in less
than 10 knots of wind. We bless our big spinnaker and our (almost)
Entering in Finland powered by our beloved spinnaker
NIghts are short but chilly, we resort to our warmest gears...
when doing the dishes we use the seawater tap. Brrr it’s cold. A quick
look at the sonar thermometer: 10.5⁰C !! Blimey, we lost 8⁰C since
Tallinn! Such a difference, and only thirty miles away.
dies completely around midnight and we motor-sail for the last 15 miles
between the Finnish islands. We are further than 60⁰ North now and the
night is really not dark. On the weather forecast, they call it
the early morning we are reaching Haapasaari, between granite blocks
that could be Norwegian if they were not so pink ... where has all the
sand disappeared?? The entrance to the bay is as pretty it is narrow:
12 m in theory, but when you remove the space used by the reeds and
seaweeds, you could not fit two Saltimbanque! (only 3m wide).|
In the harbor, it is 3m deep, then 2m at the pontoon (towards the church).
Haapasaari channel: 3,5m deep and hardly wider
Saltimbanque in Haapasaari
is a tiny island off the coast from Kotka, which differs from all the
other tiny islands in the area by the presence of a customs office
conveniently located on the road to St. Petersburg. It is also
"the deadliest island of Finland" – as we will learn from a rather
proud customs officer... what is the danger, on such a small rock, one
might ask? Ticks of course, and the Lyme disease they carry.
it is a charming little rock, with some cabins and a lake habited by
dozens of birds. The berth costs € 10 to pay at the shop (the only one
on the island), no electricity, tap water is onshore, but "unavailable
for the moment" and there are dry toilets a little further.
|At the end
of the day, we sail to the pontoon reserved for customs inspections.
Two officers in shorts and t-shirts help us moor. "Yes, we'll control
you, but in an hour. First, we go to the sauna! (Note to readers who
are not familiar with Finland: sauna is the national activity, an
inalienable right and an essential ritual weekly - or even daily)
hour later, there are the same officers again, in uniform, sounding a
little more formal... well, almost formal: between two paper forms to
fill, they tell us that they are smoking their fish, and that the
island next door is really worth a stop-over. Everything is in order,
you can move on, but take these two small welcome gifts: a floating
keychain with the logo of the customs and a tick-remover. Funny mix,
customs officers / tour guides ...
24th June : Haapasaari – Saint Petersburg (102 M)
usual in the Baltic, we have an eight-hour wind window between too much
wind and no wind at all. So, we leave at 4am to make the most of it and
we cross the Russian border at 8am, on the first day of our 30-day
visa. What a timing! A Russian patrol boat calls us to the VHF to check
our identity. He has already received our description (from our Russian
agent Vladimir) and does not ask anything else.
Right from the buoy, Russian waters, properly guarded...
Hoisting russian colours (not the warmest day indeed...)
Russians require foreign vessels to follow the channels defined for
commercial navigation, so we have to sail close to the cargoes. There
is fortunately little traffic and we do not need to tack, so the whole
60-odd miles is eventless.
The wind dies in the afternoon as
expected, and we reach at 2am the approach to Kronshtadt. This
fortified island guards the entrance to St. Petersburg Bay. Customs
control takes place there. The pontoon is a little hard to find in the
dark and without a precise map: it is a high wooden platform at the
foot of a building with a large green sign, on the left after passing
what looks like flood-gates and after a small harbour. Immigration
officer register our passports and search the boat as soon as we
arrive. However, we have to wait until 10 am the following morning for
Customs. No right to step out of the boat ... oh top bad, we are forced
to sleep for the rest of the night then :o)
|On the next
day, Vladimir joins us to facilitate communication with the officers.
(We communicated through Google Translate during the night). Vladimir
Ivankiv represents many European yacht clubs and facilitated the entry
to Russia of most foreign boats since 1992. At the time of the opening
of the borders after the fall of the Wall, he was an engineer at the
Yacht Club and he happened to speak English. He was thus charged to
communicate with foreigners, to promote and facilitate sailing tourism.
His services now include sending an official invitation (mandatory to
get a visa), booking of a berth, and then facilitating all contacts
with coast guards and officials of all kind (immigration, customs,
harbor…) – including any information regarding facilities and
practicalities around the city. He has seen 1,500 boats since the
beginning, about 50 a year in recent years but only 30 this summer. We
are the first female crew, as far as we understand - probably the first
foreign female crew to visit St. Petersburg then. Nice!
Saltimbanque under yellow flag, waiting the clearance to Russia
Typical view from Kronshtadt: military ship, brand new lighthouse, golden dome of an old church
papers are stamped, we can leave Kronshtadt and sail the last 15 miles
in St. Petersburg Bay, very shallow and almost completely closed behind
a long fortification. The wind is weak but sufficient for a small
Saltimbanque and his asymmetric spinnaker.
the sea, the size of the city is progressively revealed: it is
gigantic, and it extends as far as the eye can see on all sides. There
are groups of concrete buildings and factory chimneys, but also the
sparkling modern buildings of Lakhta center and Football Stadium (where
they’re playing the World Cup match Argentina-Nigeria, on the same
evening!). The yacht club is located just after the bridge, behind the
stadium, on the Neva River.
Hydrofoil heading to Peterhof passing by the Lakhta center
Saltimbanque with the restaurant and the football stadium, under a surrealistic pink sky
observation: there is a strong current! About 2 knots. Second
observation: there is no mooring line at the spot indicated by the
harbor guy... we end up mooring alongside, perpendicular to the
current, and just under the restaurant hosting the “liveliest” parties
This is the "Central River Yacht Club", just to the
west of Petrovsky Island, where Vladimir directs all foreigner boats.
And indeed, there are only foreigners at the pontoon. Another Belgian
boat "Big Foot", the Norwegian "Gentle" (with whom we are in contact
since we met them in the Estonian Monn Sund), a German crew, and a
Dutch sailor who cleared the customs at the same time in Haapasaari and
Kronshtadt. Water and electricity on the pontoon, no wifi easily
accessible, but showers and toilets in the yacht club building. The
showers in particular are worth a visit: they are located in the
basement, in the otherwise disused premises of what has been ...
something... There remains a counter decorated with moldy artificial
flowers, two washing machines (unfortunately broken) and a large,
half-torn map of the USSR on the walls. But the showers work and we are
real adventure begins when we want to check in by the harbor master. We
must first pass by the surveillance officer (who points us to the first
floor), then say hello to the secretary. She invites us to sit down and
calls an assistant. The assistant will see in the neighboring office if
a port official is available. The gentleman is there, so he can go to a
third office himself and ask another colleague who speaks two words of
English to make sure of our intentions. We repeat that we just arrived
and would like to check in. He disappears behind another door, looking
for someone else. At this moment there is a little confusion (and about
six people running in all directions in the corridor). It turns out
that the Harbor Master is the first gentleman we met on the stairs. He
invites us into his office, gives us to fill out the standard form with
name, flag of the boat, dates etc. Very cordial, he makes big gestures
to explain everything we need to know ... in Russian mostly ... and
then ends up calling an assistant to translate. The latter is a young
man who lived in Strasbourg and speaks excellent French, perfect
English and probably reasonable German too. He is on duty day and
night, seven days a week, and is called as soon as a foreigner is
trying to communicate (and also often just to open the door to the
A berth here costs about 16 euros / night for 8.5m
(it's proportional) - and sincerely, we would not know where to start
if we wanted to look for an alternative!
The yacht-club building with the newly renovated first floor.
|June 25th - July 1st: Visit of St. Petersburg (ashore)|
Pierre the Great, the enlighten tsar who built the city
in 1703 by Peter the Great, this superlative city is the most eastern
of European capitals, or the most European of Russian cities. A few
wooden huts in the middle of the marsh turned into the empire’s capital
in less than ten years, by the will of the great tsar. He ambitioned to
take Russia out of the Middle Ages and compete with the other European
powers (especially to stand up to the Swedes, masters of the Baltic).
centuries of intense and fascinating history, at the epicenter of
empires and revolutions, have built a city of fantastic heritage and
unique atmosphere. We spend five full days, from 9am to almost
midnight, strolling through the streets, canals, operas, palaces,
churches, museums, in the footsteps of the Romanovs (whose dynasty we
know by heart now!) and retracing the events of a tumultuous twentieth
We even see Tchaikovsky's opera "The Queen of Spades",
based on Pushkin's poem, at the Marinski Theater II: a more
Petersburgian experience doesn’t exist.
Saint-Nicholas church, close to the Marinski theater
The winter palace, residence of the tsars and now the Hermitage museum
palaces of the great princes and of the imperial family are sumptuous,
their rich and refined decorations rivaling (and inspired by) Italy,
Paris of the Enlightenment and the wealthy Flanders. We visit, by
increasing order of awe: Stroganov, Yussupov, and the Hermitage. |
Nowadays, who doesn't have an italian theater home honestly ! Yussupov palace
2 the Great visiting Vatican fell in love with the paintings. She
brought back in her suitcase the assistants of Michelangelo to get the
same home. Hermitage palace.
Saint-Isaac with its giant iconostasis in malachite
churches, each unique in style, reveal little bits of imperial history.
We contemplate the view from the top of Saint Isaac, we search the
cemeteries of the convent Alexander Nevsky for famous musicians and
artists, we marvel at the 7000 m2 of mosaics of the Holy Savior on the
Spilled Blood ("small private family chapel " on the spot of the
assassination of Alexander II). Finally we visit the tombs of the whole
dynasty in the Cathedral Peter and Paul, a nice family reunion from
Peter the Great until the unfortunate Nicholas II, including Catherine
the Great and the Alexander series. Each of these characters, while
alive, would preside on the fate of hundreds of thousands of people and
they could change the course of history with a wave of their hand. Now,
they are all together, in pretty but modest sarcophagi of white marble,
in front of which herds of tourists are taking selfies. A lesson about
humility and the passing of time.
Holy Savior on the Spilled Blood church, on the spot where Alexander II got assassinated (hence the name!)
The inside is entirely covered with mosaics, this for the sole private use of the imperial family
the Russian Museum we get acquainted with Russian paintings and their
evolution. At the Museum of Political History we try to understand the
events of the twentieth century. Reading on relations with the Baltic
States and Poland is particularly interesting for us who have visited
these countries so recently. There’s always two sides to the same coin.
Finally to finish on a lighter touch, we spend an excellent
night at the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games. In an old warehouse, video
games from the '80s and' 90s were collected and repaired, and can be
played using a stock of vintage 15 kopecks coins handed out with the
entrance ticket. Very nice!
Today’s World Cup game is also
broadcasted on the big screen. Russia meets Spain and the few hipsters
who came to play "space invaders" are hardly interested. But the
Russians are playing well, Spain are playing very badly, people
gradually gain an interest and start watching and shouting. Russia
wins! It’s the first time the national team is making it so far in a
World Cup since the end of the USSR. Even the most bearded of the geeks
in the room is jumping with joy. The streets are filled with flags and
people are chanting and greeting each other, all very friendly.
Laure steering her 6-pixel space ship while the Spanish are slowly loosing against the Russians
Learn cyrillic with american capitalist imperialism !
sustain ourselves through the long days, we enjoy a few soups with
beetroot (borsch) and potatoes, sweet and savory pies (piroshkis) and
ravioli of all sizes (small pelmenis, big Georgian khinkalis). All this
washed down by a lot of Kvas (Russian soda made from rye bread) or with
Nowadays stores have everything and countless international chains have invaded the main shopping streets.
supply of fresh vegetables from ordinary supermarkets however is a
little disappointing (very limited if you do not like cabbage ...) and
we end up with more beer (so cheap!) than veggies.
|1st – 2nd July : St-Petersburg – Haapasaari (100M)|
the wind is strong (but from the North-East, which is very good for
us), and once again it is due to fall quickly, leaving ten hours of
manageable wind at most. We leave the city at 3pm in order to get to
Kronshtadt before the customs office closes (9pm).
berth across from the current without hitting the restaurant wall or
another boat is not easy, but once we are out it’s a quick ride! 20
knots of wind from the side and 2 knots of current with us, we are
sailing at over 6.5 knots in waters 2m deep: three times more speed
than depth on the speedometer screen, this is unusual.
starts as we reach Kronshtadt. No major issue with the admin process
here (crew list, passport, sign, stamp, go out, go in…). This time
however the customs search even more thoroughly the boat, turning
everything upside down and ruthlessly pulling all our gears out from
the storage bunk. Our home is a mess when they leave. We take some time
to clean it, as the rain is pouring particularly heavy outside, waiting
for a calmer time to get out of the bay.
The navigation downwind
is fast and wet. It rains cats and dogs for nearly 6 hours. The traffic
is a little denser than on the way in, especially around 2am when we
cross the caravan of ferries and cruise ships. We counted 15 ships, one
every half mile. The queue will be long at the Hermitage Museum
4am the wind dies suddenly, leaving us to motor on a still chaotic and
very unpleasant sea. It does not rain anymore but thousands of flies
and mosquitoes decide to invade Saltimbanque! The bimini and genoa are
black with flies, it's disgusting... It will take several days and two
full washings and brushing of the deck to get rid of them entirely.|
They are litterally everywhere...
Mission Saint-Petersburg and back done!
the weather is improving as we cross the Finnish border. We head to the
Haapasaari Customs pontoon with a feeling of coming home. Customs
officers get on board, we are used to the routine by now. After a quick
glance at our passport, they pocket the crew list, wish us a good day
and are gone in 15 seconds, returning to their smoking fish perhaps.|
are now back in Europe, a major milestone in our trip is now behind us.
With a nice feeling of accomplishment, we turned around and are heading
West. Slowly, slowly, making our way back home… although, there will be
some detours, no doubt ...||