Episode III - Lake Ladoga and return to Helsinki

4 July. Today we prepare our assault on Lake Ladoga, 40 miles upstream Neva River.  To sail to the Russian inland waterways the bridges over the Neva are serious obstacles for tall masts and ships. For these boats they open only once a day during night time from 2 till 4 am. Convoys up and down river have to pass the relative narrow openings, while the inland traffic is heavy with cargo and petrochemical carriers of short sea category up to 5000 DWT . All traffic inland through the Port of St Petersburg v.v. via the Wolga to the Black and Caspian Sea, the White Sea onwards and to the big lakes Ladoga and Onega have to pass here. We therefore decide not to take the night time opportunity, but lower the mast and sail under the bridges till east of St Petersburg.

Lake Ladoga and return to Helsinki

In 2010 a landing was created for ‘t Gauwe Haentje to moor at the inland passenger terminal, the pier for the Viking River Cruise longboats, near the high bridge on which the east ring motorway passes. We plan to go and hoist the mast upright again there. We are fortunate Christiaan and girlfriend Kathelijne join us for this event on 3pm in warm sunny weather, 28*C, and moreover Steven doesn’t feel well. 

In half an hour we are off, river upstream and with a blazing sun we pass under the bridges, along the Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress and the cruiser “Aurora”, which is considered having given the “spark”, a blank shot, on 25 October 1917 signalling the attack on the Winter Palace  and together with the “Potemkin” (on which the 1905 revolt of the Kronhstadt naval garrison started, the precursor of the 1917 October Revolution) the most famous Russian battleships. 

At 6pm we arrive on the landing of the passenger terminal. No longboats to protect us this time from the wave motion of big ships passing by, as they all sailed inland to Moscow over the past days. 

Satcha’s office is nearby and he helps us to find a quiet mooring in the harbour nearby where many hydrofoils are “stored” during the night. Fortunately Steven’s illness passed, tomorrow we will be the two of us for some days to sail the ship till Martine’s arrival. We put the mast upright and after thanks and wishing farewell to Chris and Kathelijne we retire early to our bunks to be ready 6am next morning.

As we have to sail against the current, our speed will be reduced to 3/4 to 6 knots. When we start the engine at 6pm the harbour is still quiet, but some of the hydrofoils start heating up their noisy turbines. The weather again is fine. Martine calls: she received her passport with visa back. She will be taken by Nicolai at the Pulkova Airport and joins us tomorrow evening somewhere on the western shore of Ladoga. On both sides of the shores new datchas have been built over the last 3 years, a sign of increasing wealth spreading. 

Before arriving at Ladoga we partly have to lower the mast for a railroad and a motorway bridge, which doesn’t take much time. At 1pm we arrive near Schlisselburg and after filled the tanks with diesel at a floating fuel station we moor just near the remnants of the old lock system. A yacht has sunk in front of us, lines still attached to shore. Steven is looking for a bank or ATM and to buy bread and vegetables. We now have to plan our food supplies, as we don’t know where the next  shops till Priozersk will show up. At 3pm we enter the biggest lake of Europe, Ladoga, while we pass the awesome Oreshek fortress, a sentinel in the Neva’s mouth. At the turn of 13th century first the Swedes built a wooden fortress on this island, then about a century later the Novgorodians reinforced the fort. It changed hands again and it was finally Tsar Peter the Great, who threw the Swedes out of their province Ingermanland after returning from Holland and England in 1699 and during the Great Northern War after losing the battle of Narva starting with conquering Nöteborg fortress, its Swedish name. 

Since the 1825 revolt many Decembrists rebels were imprisoned there, later in the 2nd half of the 19th century, among others a brother of Lenin. During WWII the fortress played an appalling and important role in the defence of St Petersburg. From September 1941 till mid-January 1943 it was under permanent siege and attacks by the German army located at 200 meters across the river. Although almost completely devastated, it was never taken.

For many miles the enormous lake is shallow on the south shore near Schlisselburg, totally covered with thick weeds. A channel to the Neva is kept open for the ships, which we see disappear slowly beyond the horizon. We pass the “Road to Life”, the only supply route over the ice for weapons and food to St Petersburg for many month in the winter `41-42 during the Siege of Leningrad. The weather becomes menacing, and when we just anchor in the bay north of Cape Morjin Nos a thunderstorm hits us with heavy rains. The anchor slips; more chain till it finally holds; rain, nature becomes peaceful again, except on shore where the summer partying, part of the extended “White Nights”, is continuing till in the early hours. Next day, July 6th, we proceed north and around noon we see a number of Ladoga seals near Pogaz. This rare fresh water seal is threatened to disappear, the population estimated coming down to 2000. This species is smaller than the seals we know in the North Sea. Two other lakes have fresh water seals: Saimaa Lake in Finland, where they are almost extinct, and Baikal Lake in Siberia. The wind increases fo 4 Bft and we make good progress. With our logistics man Nicolai we plan to meet him and Martine at a pier in Vladimirovsky Bay around 5pm. Only 15 minutes after we are moored and having bought some vegetables.

Nicolai, his wife Irina and their young dog bring Martine, who seems to have almost missed her plane due to a traffic infarct in NL. 

We are very happy to see all again; Nicolai and Irina last week in St Petersburg and Martine since 3 weeks back on board. 

While we decide to stay moored for the night, Nicolai and Irina leave to their datcha somewhere in the neighbourhood. Nicolai is also a diving instructor and knows Lake Ladoga even below the surface. We receive suggestions for special locations for anchoring in the skerries in the NW part of the lake. Nearby the classic yacht “Anastasia” throws anchor. On our way on the Neva we have already seen her cruising behind us. Immediately the music “Barcelona” resounds over the bay. 

The night has been very quiet. Our next stop is the monastical island Konevets and we approach the island 4 miles off the shore in a mist which slowly disappears. 

We visit the monastery, founded in 1395.

We visit also its museum and surroundings with the Horse Stone chapel under interesting guidance of Anna, who is in charge of the museum. 

The weather is beautiful - 24*C - when we continue our trip to Priozersk on motor by lack of wind. Around 6pm we moor in the yacht harbour “Laguna”. S/Y “Anastasia” is already there and we have to listen for some time again to “Barcelona”. When Steven asks the harbour intendant where he can find the fresh water hose, he points outward to the lake. The Ladoga water is always used for drinking water on cruise ships. For the evening we go out for dinner to restaurant “Captain Morgan”, who apparently has impressed some local sailors and which I visited already 3 years ago. Back on board I pay a visit to the “Anastasia” and in my honour we have wodka and “pata negra”, while I offer them a CD with Tchaikovsky. On 8 July we get off late continuing under brilliant weather with all sails set and 4Bft North and in the beautiful skerries we moor against steep rocks on a spot indicated by Nicolai (pictures 42 - 45). All nature around we enjoy our drinks and meal, with the birds and leaves humming. 

Next morning we swim around the ship and after discovering old Finnish defence structures dating back from WWII we sail to the Valaam (Valamo in the Finnish period 1918 – 1944) Archipelago, some 20 miles ENE. The Valaam Monastery, founded some years before Konevet’s, is one of the most important sanctuaries of the Russian Orthodox Church, together with the Kirillov and Solovetsky monasteries.

 Martine is doing the laundry using the boat and lake. 

The weather is very clear and from great distance we notice the reflection of the sun on the bulb of the Valaam cathedral. The main harbour is situated in a fjord you enter from the north, passing two chapels on each side of the entrance, one bigger and clearly visible on portside, the other more retired and recently finished on starboard.

Higher up the Monastery itself, blue and shining gold roofs, imposing especially brilliant under the clear sky and sun. The harbour is totally protected and regularly boats with visitors and cargo sail on and off. Entering this basin I recognise the harbourmaster of 3 years ago, as he does me. We had some unpleasant encounter before leaving. Immediately he indicates an anchorage on short distance from a pier, where I happened to moor last time. 

We inflate the dinghy and start off for our visit to the cathedral and monastery, still under renovation.  

Also the chapel at the entrance of the fjord is visited. Now there are more shops exposing mainly religious items for the tourists. Groceries are available in limited quantity as the majority of visitors spent only a few hours on shore. We return for our customary drinks and dinner on board and enjoy the beautiful  setting of the evening, when everything comes to peace, while the monastery touched by the late sunshine is reflected in the bay. Next morning 10 July at 10am we leave Valaam with favourable winds with a speed of 3 to 5 knots. Sometimes you see the cross of the Russian Orthodox Church on shore, indicating church property. 

Around 2pm we enter a beautiful bay on sail SE of Sortavala with a kind of resort with new chalets and people taking care finishing their gardens. We continue north through the sound where we moor against a rocky island on N 61* 29’ an E 30* 56’, our most northerly point for this trip. Steven prepares a very tasty meal, while we enjoy our drinks. Today the temperature is lower and stays around 20*C, a bit chilly for us now, while the wind is increasing from S - SSE. A little dinghy comes along and when we ask our way to our next stop Sortavala, we hear some “njet” and “dam”. Alerted we study the charts again and come to the conclusion that there is a barrier in the sound we plan to sail to this Karelian town on the north tip of Ladoga. Tomorrow we have to sail back for 10 miles and take the more westward sound to the town.

During the night it rains and in the morning the wind has shifted 180*. The ship was well fixed on a stern anchor and a back line on shore. It is Steven’s last full day on board. We take the sound back south, benefitting from a nice northerly wind and happen to be able to sail almost to our landing, close to a bridge,  alongside two boats. 

Indeed we saw that entering through the NE channel was not possible, due to a floating bridge, which blocked shipping from that side. A lot of music comes out of the 2nd boat. Inside 3 men are reconstructing a badly maintained yacht, they bought recently in N Germany. The friendly captain escorts us to the new supermarket, where we find all food and groceries we need. 

People are very kind and look quite happy. For no apparent reasons Steven and I receive a kiss from a woman visiting the sailor-carpenters. Vodka must have been the elixir.  Recently the town seems to have come to life again. Not only the church has been restored and a new bridge been built, also buildings and houses are being renovated, while road and new pavement construction is going on.  

ATM’s, smaller shops and restaurants, an open air market - where Martine buys some vegetables -, all indicate an incipient development of prosperity. 

It is Steven’s last day with us and after drinks on board and some hilarious encounter with our carpenter neighbours, we continue  with a “formal farewell” dinner in Hotel Kaunis nearby. 

Nicolai calls us with the news that Romeo van der Borch has arrived and they will travel during the evening to Sortavala. They arrive on 0:30am; it start getting dark during the early hours now. Romeo, during 1999 till 2006 chairman of the SSRP Board, is a tried crewmember and up till recently owned the Lemsteraak “Tramontane”. He knows also our ship for many years and was a.o. twice with me in Russia in 2010 waiting 10 days in St Petersburg for permission to proceed to sail inland and as then his time ran out returned later to sail with me from Petrozavodsk, around Lake Onega and down the Svir River. With the dinghy as a ferry we pull them in. 

While our neighbours still having their party we take our last drink. The morning will be early. At 7am on 12 July Steven and Nicolai say farewell and take the road to St Petersburg. After a last visit to town and the supermarket we wish our neighbours good bye. Sails set and off to Valaam where at the directives of the harbour master we anchor at 2pm. 

We have enough time to visit the monastery complex and a chapel. It looks familiar; under similar weather conditions it is my third visit now. The following day we head W to Lahdenpohja at the end of the skerries of the western shore of the lake. At a distance we see and hear the summer hydrofoil tourist service heading to Priozersk. 

Sometimes  The bay of Lahdenpohja is beautiful, however not yet equipped to receive pleasure boats. The old wooden fishing sheds are slowly sinking in the mud.

To moor at the only approachable landing the guard charges us RRb 200, in Russian proportions this means a lot. The weather is warm now  – 26*C – and inland away from the shore there is no wind. Also here several little shops, some small service businesses and a kind of supermarket, where we do our shopping, indicate a kind of starting open economy. I wonder how the little town will look like in 5 to 10 years. For the night we find a very secluded bay providing protection for almost any winds. The beautiful skerries landscape attract many vacationers with canoes. Early in the afternoon they secure a spot on the shore and set up their tents and barbecues. Still not used to foreign visitors some venture to circle around us at a considerate distance. At a distance summer partying around camp fires is long after sunset to be heard. On 14 July we have a brilliant sailing day with all sails set towards Priozersk. With all sails up we enter in style between the piers up river with many bathers and fishermen along the shore, back in the “Laguna” marina. More motorboats and little leisure crafts now than a week ago. Harbour fee is RRb 900 for the night.
During the month July generally the weather is fine on Ladoga and this time too we are blessed day in day out. Temperature of the water never becomes higher than 13-14*C and with light wind keeps you cool. We now head SSE parallel to the coast back to Konevets island, where we pay a short visit to the monastery. South of Vladimirovsky Bay new luxury resorts are under construction. We decide to visit one and stop there for lunch. 


Along the shore on rocks and around us we observe many seals, as now we know where to look. A thunderstorm passes by in front of us, than the wind is gone and on motor we enter the Taypalovsky river. Just in time we notice a low overhead power line. The current stops us timely and out of the mean stream we throw anchor near Ust-Burnaye village. Many fishermen are out on the river and bay, while camping with family on both shores nearby. Lake Ladoga has 60 different species of fish.  The morning of 16 July is quiet and the sun is blazing again. On 9am we lift anchor and up go the sails. 

With SW 3 Bft we make good progress when at noon heavy rain and gust pass over. The weather improves while the wind increases little by little. Under lee of the shore we approach Morye Nos with a speed of 7 to 8 knots.  

The wind blows even more when we pass the promontory. We take the sails down and start the engine. In the distance we now can see the monument of the “Road to Life” museum on the lake shore near Osinovets. Still more wind and then we see a small canoe with 2 men peddling frantically, drifting rapidly off shore seemingly into oblivion of the enormous lake. Only 2 surfers also with signs of exhaustion, more in the water than up, are the only humans in the vicinity. When we head towards the canoe the yell at us for help. Two drunken, but grateful, tourists with handmade broken peddles are taken in and we drop them off in the harbour of Osinovets nearby. 

The wind eases and at 7pm we enter some type of harbour near Schlisselburg and moor along a rusty and partly demolished tanker, asbestos visibly present. 

In the quiet summer evening with the wistful noise of cargo vessels in the distance on the river we take leave of the biggest fresh water surface in Europe.

Next morning the weather has changed with a westerly wind blowing. We take the mast down and with the current, speed up till 12 knots, we sail down the Neva. At 2pm we pass the Passenger Cruise Terminal. Strong winds against current create big waves when we pass along the Hermitage. 

Almost no boats venture on the river, we pass near the Admiralty where just married couples get their feet wet in the high water. 

At 3 pm we enter the CRYC harbour where we immediately hoist the mast upright. Dmitry and Elena Riabov join us for drinks on board and farewell dinner in restaurant “More”. 

I regard Dmitry, director of Viking River Cruises/Passenger Fleet , as my Russian guardian angel. He has supported us all the time, 3 years ago as well as this time, and I’m absolutely convinced we never could have made these voyages with such an open mind and experience of ultimate freedom to roam without him. I feel extremely grateful to him and his team. Together we take our last “borrel” on board.

In the morning 18 July the wind still blows. Martine takes off home by plane from Pulkova Airport in the early afternoon. After saying farewell to the CRYC staff Romeo and I look for gasoline at the floating bunker station just around the corner: no fuel till next day afternoon! Our tanks are almost empty as I thought to be able to find always fuel here.  I then realise that I saw a new fuel station at Fort Konstantin yacht harbour near the Kronhstadt Custom Station. I call Mikael Alexeev or his assistant Vladimir, the management of Fort Konstantin harbour, and they inform us about their brand new fuel station. We decide to proceed to Kronhstadt.  The weather has become more instable. Tomorrow it seems there is a good weather window to provide for the opportunity to cross the open eastern part of the Gulf of Finland from Kronhstadt till Primorsk. When we arrive we ascertain the fuel pumps are not yet operating, but Mikael assures we will receive the gasoline in  canisters of 50 litres at 8am next morning. We have our last Russian dinner in restaurant-annex pop museum, with name....Reeperbahn. 

Next morning 8am the canisters are there and after first having syphoned the diesel in my mouth – bahh!!! -, I start to become a professional syphoner. 

At 9pm we are at Custom’s where friendly officers help us efficiently through the paper work. Just in front of us m/v “Brabander” sails off first.  At 10:30 am we leave on motor to find heavy swell just outside the storm surge barrier on the outgoing current and contrary wind. Initially we make 1,5 knots but gradually we gain speed heading NW straight to Primorsk, where Channel Control Station friendly permits us to proceed through the inner fairway. Under the protection of the islands the water gets flatter and speed increases. On 7 pm we set course west toward Santio when after some time we are stopped by the Russian Coast Guard. They inquire about the KNZ&RV flag, which they don’t recognise. After checking we are allowed to continue without more ado. At 10:45pm we moor at Santio, where immediately the Finnish Custom officers finish the entry procedure. Although starting in an adversary slow mode this morning we feel we had a full day.

On 20 July once more the weather is fine and wind is favourable with 20*C. Over portside with NNW wind 3 – 5 Bft we sail in one stretch from Santio, north of Haapasaari and Kaunissaari, south of Boistö to a protected bay just south of Bästö – Jalaviken, where just before anchoring touch rocks. It is the second time this season. In Scandinavia they say that you didn’t sail, when you didn’t touch rock during the season. We started off at 11am and after 50 miles all on sails anchored on 8pm! It came out to be the best sailing day of the whole summer. Also the next day we benefit of the splendid weather conditions for sailing. In the Sunisundet m/v “Brabander” takes us over for the last time. We sail south around Bodö into Leppäkari , where deep in the protected bay we drop anchor, while rain showers just pass east of us. We start our last day of our trip 22 july at 9pm. During the night wind started blowing from NW bringing in colder weather; temperature doesn’t  rise above 15*C! When approaching NJK’s Kajholmen I notice s/y “Marlei” of Leif Strandström inside, moored on the island. We take the opportunity to say good bye to him. 

He is joined by two grandchildren, who camp on the island, and we invite him for coffee. At 11pm for the last time this 7 week long journey we set sails again and with one reef in the main and speeding 7 to 8 knots we arrive just in time to pass the opening of the Sandhamn’s bridge. On 1:30 pm we moor on Blekholmen, the centrally located NJK harbour, where we meet our friends Joost en Renée of the “Wulp” again! They invite us for drinks, dinner and a lot of stories, while with them Romeo and I close off our trip together on board of “’t Gauwe Haentje” with the last toast on a brilliant summer sailing experience. Next day I leave for NL.  Romeo’s son Allard and family, working and living in nearby Espoo, arrive and will together sail for some days around Helsinki, taking optimal use of the ship.

The voyage to Ladoga in three episodes



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