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Saint-Petersburg
 
-- 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


Our stops, click on the names for more details:
Haapasaari (pontoon) - Saint-Petersbourg (marina)
 
23rd June : Tallinn - Haapasaari (103 M)
As the 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) featherweight Saltimbanque.


Entering in Finland powered by our beloved spinnaker


NIghts are short but chilly, we resort to our warmest gears...
After lunch, 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.

The wind 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 "nautical twilight".
In 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
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.

Nevertheless 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)

An 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)

As 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...)
The 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
Once all 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.
Coming from 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

First 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 at night.

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 happy!
The 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 showers).

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.

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June 25th - July 1st: Visit of St. Petersburg (ashore)

Pierre the Great, the enlighten tsar who built the city

Founded 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).
Three 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 century.

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
The 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

Cathrine 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
The 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
At 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 !
To 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 black tea.

Nowadays stores have everything and countless international chains have invaded the main shopping streets.

The 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.

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1st – 2nd July : St-Petersburg – Haapasaari (100M)
Once again 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).

Leaving our 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.

The rain 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 tomorrow...
At 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!
Finally 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.
We 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 ...

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Your messages:

Sylvia - 10/07/2018 21:03:34
Leuk avontuur voor jullie. Klinkt avontuurlijk en interessant wat jullie hebben gezien en gedaan!

Mum - 10/07/2018 15:22:58
Escales passionnantes ponctuées de clins d'œil humoristiques toujours grand merci pour le partage

la mamou - 08/07/2018 18:50:27
Que de jolies petites îles, que de merveilles dans cette magnifique ville !!! Et que d'aventures !

 
 
 
 
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