Episode II - Focus Ladoga
During the night of 15/16 June it rains heavily. In the morning the sky clears and the sun comes out; at 9:30 MET: over to Finland. On motor we cross Álands Hav, pass along lighthouses Tjärven in the Swedish outer skärs, and 4 hours later Rödjan on Áland’s side. The weather is fine and we continue on sail to Mariehamn’s East harbour, arriving 15:30 EET. Next morning after the necessary shopping around noon we set sail eastbound through the beautiful Lumparn - a kind of inner lake. Meanwhile the clear crisp weather improves even further, the whole stretch between islands sailing, and in the afternoon we moor at the S Seglinge pier.
During Martine’s tasty dinner out in the cockpit we meet 2 boys going off fishing. Much later they return offering a bowl full of fish (aborre and strömming), with which we will replenish the fridge. They promise first to clean the fish for the same price.
Early next morning Alexander Frederikson, just starting his first job as a mechanic on board of a Birka freigther, brings the fish filets. Many men from the Álands are still involved in maritime activities as their ancestors did over millennia such as sailors, shipowner, captain, boatsmen, pilot, lighthouse tender, etc. This morning again the weather is breath-taking fine. Many sailors in the Low Countries go west and south bound. They believe the Baltic and Scandinavian waters have a cold and harsh climate also during summer. My experience of over 20 years sailing up north is the contrary. Like this morning, I can’t imagine a healthier weather type. A fresh northerly of 3 Bft brings us along Kumlinge to Jungfruskär, a classified nature reserve. We moor nearby two German boats, one Ossie from Stralsund, s/y “Heidi” of Eric and Heidi Lehmkuhl, and one from the West along the Rhine River, m/v “Katja” of Irene and Werner Trunk.
During the “borrel” with jenever and strömming, the recent German history is surveyed extensively in the endless night of mid-June…..
Martine has developed a serious cough. Irene has a special “Badischer” honey to cure this! After a walk through the “stigs” of the nature reserve we leave Jungfruskär just before noon, heading SE around Krákskär (NJK), where we perceive a Golden Eagle as if frozen, high on a rock, and a little further some goats, an amazing sight.
We receive a message that unfortunately my old friend Ric Hettinga can’t join us somewhere east of Helsinki, but Caroline, his wife, certainly will. That night we anchor NE of Ruggskär; we enjoy the aborre from Seglinge’s Alexander under a sky turning milky pale blue, then intense red, before the sun sets after 23:00pm. During the night a southerly storm comes over. Between 2 and 4am the anchor drags and keeps me awake till it finally holds. Today we plan to cater food, water and fuel in Kasnäs.
There we happen to meet Martti Santavirta, who owns a fleet of charter sailing boats (Finlandia Sailing Oy). Martti helped us out at the island of Jurmo when our heating system didn’t work in 1996; all what was needed: push a button! Nice to see him back for a second time now. An hour later just before 18:00pm we moor at a pier in Rosala harbour. At the day of Midsommar - 20 June this year - we plan to pick up Roeland Houtman, a superb sailor who joined with his own boat 2 years ago when we sailed the archipelago to Helsinki to pay the honours for our sailing club “Royal Netherlands Yachtclub” (KNZ&RV) during the 150 years Jubilee of my Finnish counterpart “Nyländska Jaktklubben” (NJK) in 2011. Roeland is exactly in time in Hanko’s Östrahamn when we arrive and while still sailing he jumps on board and off we are to a anchorage in the Österviken, 10 miles east of Hanko. In the night we see and hear from the wooded shores Midsommar fires and partying around us.
I call Charlotte Airas, a dear friend, who was the initiator of my earlier voyage to Russia and producer of its documentary “Pá okända vatten” in Swedish language. She invites us for Midsommar-aft at her island Storvaltern nearby. Next morning we leave again under brilliant weather and arrive just after noon at Charlottes landing. Her son Wille and wife, brother Mikael, nephews and friends are to assist us to moor.
We also meet Sandra, Illka and baby Axel from Hanko again. Already many times Charlotte has invited me to the special Nordic Midsommar celebration at her island and it is always a treat. Everybody cooperates and brings something to the party around a bonfire till the sun is up again. At this midday-after, a sumptuous luncheon outside on the terrace in the sun is presented, where Mikael is taking care of the roasts on the grill (picture 9), others peeling potatoes, cooking, etc. A very animated discussion accompanies the good food and drinks.
The island Valtern has also a historical vector, being the most outward island near a bigger island, which the Russians took landing from seaside and held during the Finno-Russian Winter War in 1939-40. Valtern was never taken. Often during long evenings I have discussed the Finnish position since the Great War, through the WW II into modern days and the role of Marshall Mannerheim, real father of the Fatherland. This part of European history is almost unknown to W Europeans. To all good moments unfortunately comes an end. We say fare well at 16pm and on our way to Barösund we throw anchor in a small bay off Mikael’s summer house on W Kälkö at 20pm.
Next morning we continue our voyage through the Barösund and when just passing the cottage of Beatrijs van der Vorm – to our total surprise -we are paged by her and Willem Scholtes, her partner, to come along. Just a few weeks back I spoke with her by telephone, while very busy with sheep on her island in Scotland, hence I couldn’t imagine her here at Eksund. They just arrived with friends the night before and they happen to see our mast passing through the trees. As we approach their landing we also meet Johan and Grada Hellmann.
They have a cottage on opposite of the Eksund, Johan being a born Finn living there during a large part of the summer. Again we enjoy the warm company of good friends, stories, fine food and drinks. Moreover Willem is member of our SSRP Criterium Cie and former owner of a “hogaars” monument. Since 2004 owner of the fantastic classic 1904 Bristol Pilot cutter s/y “Alpha”, well known - and in my eyes - famous in W British waters. At 14:30pm we thank them for their hospitality, say bye bye and eastbound to Porkkala we go.
Just before passing Porkkala Udd we are paged by the Coast Guard: how long are we in Finland, ship’s documents, etc., …while Roeland has to blow in an alcohol tester....! Soon we are allowed to proceed and in honour of Martine’s last day on board we like to thank her for all the good company and fine meals she prepared. Roeland and I drink to her health, while we have dinner in the Dragsviken restaurant. A sudden flur of mist prevents us to continue and we stay moored at the pier for the night.
Around 8pm, 24 June, off we go again. Too bad, the wind changed to NE during the night,. We have to motor, which we do through the inner causeway to Blekholmen, NJK’s beautiful city harbour location in the centre of Helsinki. Immediately we see the “Stampershoek” and we moor alongside, meeting her owners and friends, Jac and Ellen Verbeek, since many years lovers of the skärgárd and Finland, now on the way to St Petersburg!
First Ellen’s coffee and cake. Then off we go for shopping and a last ice cream on the terrace of “Kapelli” in Brunnsparken before she takes off to the airport back home. We had a great time together and she will be back on board in Russia…. At home I hope her cough will cure rapidly. Back on board Roeland and I continue our trip eastbound again and at 19:00pm we anchor in a quiet protected bay at SW Lángön.
As I still am a primitive cook, Roeland prepares a very nice meal, followed by a walk on the island and a healthy swim for Roeland (picture 16).
Next morning 25 June the wind is absent and we motor through the Pellinki passage to the natural hurricane hole Byön where we stop for lunch. Then in the direction of Loviisa through Kejvsalö Västra Fjärd to an anchorage just south of Tjüvö. Tomorrow Roeland will fly home and we have a long chat with drinks and food prepared by Roeland near a huge nest of a vigilant osprey couple and offspring; sounds of light breeze through trees and more bird life all around: owl, cuckoo, moorhen, goose, duck, etc…. wonderful…
In Loviisa we stop for catering and refreshing of the crew. On our way we are spotted by Jac Verbeek of the “Stampershoek” moored at the pier of fortress Svartholmen to protect Loviisa’s entry from sea in earlier days. Roeland has to get off quickly to catch the bus to the airport and in the warm, very sunny noon we say farewell to each other. Then the provisioning and a new bottle of gas on board. While mooring we were helped by the skipper of m/y “Brabander”, Hugo Groeneveld, on his way to St Petersburg and will join up with the Dutch squadron of “Kustzeilers” in Hamina.
When somewhat later realising his name, I remember to have succeeded him– still students both - in the summer of 1970 at the Civil Engineering Faculty and its dredging laboratory of Texas A&M University! We have missed to meet each other then only for days! Hugo and his son Niels offer me - for a few hours on my own - a lunch on board and stories start to flow! Then on 15:30pm Caroline Hettinga and Steven Langeveld arrive and soon we are off. Caroline is the wife of Ric, an old friend since our studies at Delft University of Technology. Unfortunately Ric, who planned to join, cannot participate this time. Steven is the former owner of the beautiful and famous s/y “Mees Toxopeus”; with her for many years he sailed all over NW Europe. We also share membership of the same sailing club KNZ&RV in Muiden since many years. He is an accomplished sailor and together, I’m confident, we will sail the ship safely into St Petersburg. As the wind is light and on the nose we motor to a ferry pier Tallbacka, where we moor. Very soon a motorboat moors nearside to pick up a very international group of people, Portuguese, American, Thai, etc. We discover among them Charlie Duke, astronaut of Apollo XIV (1972), one of the first and last men - nr 10 - on the moon, who is invited by Juka Nurminen, a well-known Finnish entrepreneur and environmentalist to spend the night on his nearby island Boistö. Charlie has seen and been on many places but not yet in a Lemsteraak.
He, his wife Dorothy and Juka visit our boat and exchange ideas and wishes. Not many Dutch traditional boats have received an astronaut and moonwalker on board….
On 27 June the weather looks fine, but out south over the Gulf a serious raincloud builds up. East of Boistö we set all sails and after having passed near two more osprey nests and a short heavy rainy spell we set direction to Haapassaari the outward SE archipelago south of Kotka.
It is a lovely place, which I have visited many times. While more inland we see dense rain and thunder discharging we visit the island, little museum and take a swim before our usual drinks and again a very tasty meal. Next morning we decide to visit Kotka shortly and have luncheon in the clubhouse of Kotka Yacht Club, a nice restaurant. The weather is fine when we do our shopping and back on board we are off to Hamina, where the squadron of the Dutch ‘Kustzeilers” are coming together before sailing to St Petersburg. We there meet the 27 boats and moor alongside “Stampershoek” and “Wulp”, a picture of three Lemsteraken not often made that far east in the Finnish Gulf in Hamina. In any case, very nice to meet old friends once more. Not yet all boats of the squadron have joined. After visiting the geometrically laid out town, a fortress at the former border between Swedish Finland and Tsarist Russia, we have dinner on board. Before retiring to the bunk I visit Joost Geise of the s/y “Wulp” to discuss weather and “strategy” for the coming days.
The next day I like to check the last emails, but unfortunately the wifi doesn’t function here. At noon we leave for Santio, the Finnish border station, wishing the followers a safe journey to St Petersburg. After a very nice journey with light winds veering from SSW to ESE, around 16pm we glide into Santio. Just behind us m/y “Martha Gunn” with skipper Harry Standley comes in too. We met him already on Kökar. Customs arrive at 18pm, all set. Steven and I go for a swim, nice drinks and food and early to bed; tomorrow motor starts at 4am.
And indeed next morning 30 June a half hour later than planned the main sail is up and with motor, while changing the courtesy flag we enter Russian water. It is cloudy and unfortunately almost no wind. Our approach was signalled to the Russian Coastguard by the Fins and we also call by VHF, however no contact then. We have decided to make the shortest possible route to Kronhstadt through the Primorsk Passage, where we have optimal wind and wave protection.
The Finnish Gulf is very open here and wave conditions under S to W wind directions can become cumbersome for our ship. In 2010 I was very lucky the weather permitted a smooth crossing, but I heard and can imagine different conditions to avoid. Just entering the Passage wind increases to 3 Bft and full sail we go all along till past Primorsk, where we are paged by Primorsk Passage Control.
Soon a small Coast Guard boat approaches from starboard aft. The two crew members only speak Russian, however they make us contact the shore station by VHF. An official based in the nearby port control tower instructs us in perfect English how to proceed to Kronhstadt. Directly behind the new floodwater barrage to portside is the new custom station and multifunctional marina “Fort Konstantin”. At 18pm MT (UTC+4:00) we arrive at the station opened a couple of days ago and as far as I understand we are the first yacht to ask permission to proceed to Lake Ladoga. The whole procedure handed by friendly officials takes one and a half hour, contrasting with the almost two weeks three years ago.
We decide not to stay at Fort Konstantin and continue on motor over the 30 km indicated fairway to the Central River Yacht Club (CRYC), where we arrive just before 23:30pm. For a long time this was the only harbour to come to for foreign yachts. Recently it seems another smaller harbour is available opposite the river. The harbour has changed considerably over the past three years. Not due to the geographical lay out and infrastructure, but the amount of new and big motorboats is impressive, while new piers have been laid in the river with all its berthings almost fully occupied. We moor on the pier in front of the club building. We feel a long but rewarding day is over.
The next days 1 till 4 July – with sometimes rainy weather – Caroline, Steven and me plan to visit the city as much as we can. The services of CRYC are still somewhat primitive but made up by very friendly personnel. Laundry can be handed in, showers are in the same abominable state as before, but the restaurant “More” provides not only a nice view, but also good food.
A definitive change with my last visit is the frequency of heli movements to and from the club, showing correlation with the number of modern high speed expensive yachts in the harbour now. Nearby are shops and an instant local taxi service leads us to a well provisioned luxury food store. Then the taxi drops us near the old Maritime Museum building on the Neva opposite the Hermitage.
When we walk over the bridge suddenly I’m blocked physically by Christiaan Paauwe, one of my crew members to the Belo More three years ago, who by accident is visiting St Petersburg with his girlfriend Kathelijne!! We didn’t know from each other’s whereabouts and meet here in a Metropole of 5 million people. In the pouring rain we find a restaurant on the Nevsky Boulevard and have luncheon together. Chris is a student globetrotter and he has a lot to tell about his wanderings in the past years. We separate with the arrangement that he and his girlfriend will help us over the Neva to the east side of the city in a few day’s. We then continue to the Russian Museum and the cathedral Saviour on Blood, “Krasna Krovi”.
The rain has stopped and before returning on board we have dinner in the city. I call Dmitry Riabov, my anchor man in this part of the world. He and his wife Elena are on holidays in Spain, but he arranges seats for us for the ballet tomorrow. Back in the harbour the Dutch fleet arrives and de “Wulp” is able to moor on the same pier. The 400 years of Russian – Dutch nautical relation’s celebration can start.
On 2 July we begin with the visit to the Hermitage. A long waiting line almost discourages us to proceed. We are lucky as suddenly we can get through. This relative short visit is to stimulate our appetite to return in a less busy period of the year somewhere in the future. Each of us makes his own tour of interests among the many options the Hermitage offers. In the past years I have been numerous times but also this time is as impressive as ever. We have an appointment to pick up the seat tickets in the newly extended and refurbished Hotel Europa from Irina, Nicolai’s wife, for this evening’s ballet in the Mikailovsky Theatre (Nicolai already often was our driver when long range logistics were involved and his father works in this theatre, so we happen to be well seated during the performance). During the White Nights of St Petersburg, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” is compulsory entertainment. We all thought it was very much worthwhile seeing. On our way back to the harbour a taxi driver tries to cheat on us; in vain for him. I must say, I have not had this experience before.
Every minute is used to take in as much as possible of this sprawling historical capital of Russia. Next morning our local chauffer drops us on the waterfront of the Hermitage and we take the hydrofoil service to the Peterhof, tsar Peter’s summer residency on the south bank of the Bay of St Petersburg. Again the weather is very fine and we profit at best visiting the palace and garden. In the afternoon we visit, I should say rush through, the Peter and Paul Fortress, where I meet Satcha – as Nicolai part of the back office -, bringing the newest nautical charts of lake Ladoga and the Russian VHF, needed to proceed river Neva upstream. In the Fortress on the embankment of the Neva we decide on the spot to jump on a tour boat to make a little cruise over the Neva, through the downtown canals, Fontanka and Moika; it really is worthwhile doing in this midsummer sun and become aware of the enormous wealth accumulated by the central power structure of tsarist Russia . Then we celebrate the departure of Caroline with a dinner on the lofty heights of restaurant “Terazza”. Back to the boat I get Martine on the phone. Two days ago she didn’t feel well and hesitated being able to join us. She now sounds better, her voice coming back, but at this moment even more important: her passport is traced, not yet back, but she will have her visa in time. Next morning 4 June, I pay the harbour fees which are comparable with prices in W Europe. In the club office I happen to meet the lady, who celebrated with Romeo van der Borch, Christiaan Paauwe and me the 150 years of the CRYC in 2010 with some final drinks on board of ‘t Gauwe Haentje. I show her the pictures represented in the blog on the website of the SSRP. The whole office bursts out in laughter and making fun! Meanwhile Steven does the necessary shopping, at 14pm Caroline leaves for the Pulkova Airport back home. It was great having her on board since Loviisa and with us during the intense sightseeing program of the St Petersburg.
The voyage to Ladoga in three episodes