Paglesham to St Petersberg (and back)

Jon Walmsley

After dipping Imothes keel in the Baltic in 2002, I decided that in 2003 I would make a full scale assault. On the twelfth of July Imothes set out with her usual cruising buddies, Richard Bessey and family, and John Apps, but this time they had new boats; Philomelle and Glayva respectively. Our ambitious plan to head straight for Helgoland was unanimously declared void by adverse weather, (it took us fifty nine hours to reach Terschilling). A few days later than planned we made it to Brunsbuttel, the West entrance of the Kiel Canal, where Philomelle’s crew of Justine, Cat and Naomi were augmented by Jenny and Ben. As usual there was a fair amount of crew swapping between Imothes and Philomelle.

On leaving the Kiel Canal we headed East along the German coast taking the ‘inland’ route south of the island of Rugen. This gave us the opportunity to visit Peenemunde where there is an excellent museum dedicated to the development of the V2 and rockets in general. We continued on through a couple of bridges, with very limited opening times, to Swinoujscie in Poland where we said goodbye to John and Glayva, (see September 2003 newsletter).

From there it was back to sea along the Polish coast via Hel, (and high water!), to Gdansk where we had a couple of days rest and recuperation before setting off on the last day of July, (again via Hel), to Klaipeda; the only port of entry in Lithuania. Here we found an interesting restaurant where Richard ate pig ears much to the horror of Jenny his vegetarian daughter.

Another day, another country, this time Latvia where we cleared customs on Liepaja. This part of the Baltic has beautiful beaches, with very fine sand, which stretch for miles. We took advantage and went swimming in the warm virtually salt free sea followed by a dry off in the sun with beer at thirty pence a can. Richard was impressed by the well stocked supermarket that even sold live fish, I stocked up on ice pops. The next, and last Latvian port was Ventspils from where strong NW winds propelled us to Roomasaare in Estonia. Another windy day meant we were harbour bound which gave the opportunity to explore the castle; where we had a picnic, and the market. Although still a bit fresh the next day, we set off for Virtsu; a ferry port with few facilities and very exposed berths. The next day the wind was still blowing from the NW which was virtually on the nose. We set off at midday and motored hard for seven and a half hours, averaging two knots, before Imothes engine failed due to water ingress through the tank breather. The only option was to head downwind back to Virtsu. Philomelle went ahead so the crew was waiting to catch Imothes as she careered into the marina making four knots under bare poles in the dark. A day off for repairs before we set off again, this time making Tallinn in twenty six hours. This was where Richard decided to overwinter Philomelle, so we said goodbye to Richard Justine and Ben. Imothes set off for Vergi, the last port of clearance in Estonia, with Cat, Jenny and Naomi crewing.

From Vergi it is one hundred and fifty miles to St. Petersburg via Fort Kronstadt; where you officially enter Russia, before clearing customs in the city. We were met by Vladimir Ivankiv, the extremely helpful local representative. Vladimir helped us through the formalities, of which there are many, and we eventually tied up in the Central River Yacht Club.

This was another site of the 1980 Olympics, but is now very much run down. The top floor of the main building has been abandoned and the ‘facilities’ for visiting yachtsmen are in a portakabin. St. Petersburg is a fantastic city on a whole number of levels and is well worth a visit, (you don’t have to go by yacht!). Unfortunately this is where I said goodbye to my crew who caught a coach to Helsinki from where they flew home.

Strange craft

After a week in St. Petersburg and nearly out of water, Imothes headed west for the first time on the trip to Haapasaare in Finland where we cleared customs despite the large quantities of Vodka on board. A couple of hours away is Kotka where Rosemary signed up as crew. The scenery in Finland is unbelievable, (the pictures do not do it justice), as is the navigation. In a typical day we would cross four or more chart folios and up to sixty waypoints. Strong NE and SE winds coupled with the flat water among the islands saw impressive speeds propelling us rapidly to Helsinki via Kaunisaari and Hevossalmi. A day sightseeing in Helsinki, including a dinner cruise, and we were off, ever westwards visiting beautiful empty marinas, (it was the end of August and Finland has a short sailing season), with excellent facilities; especially the saunas.

We reached Mariehamn in the Aland Isles on the First of September where Rosemary departed by ferry to Stockholm and a flight to Blighty. I followed at a slower pace reaching Stockholm on the Fifth. I went to the Vasa Museum for the second time, it is the Swedish equivalent of our Marie Rose but twenty times more impressive. Imothes then worked her way down the East Coast of Sweden where her luck dodging rocks finally ran out. The last port in Sweden was Kalmar from where we set a course for Ronne on the Danish island of Bornholm. Another long leg to Gedser, on the Island of Falster, put me in shouting distance, (seventy five miles), of the Kiel Canal where I met John Langrick who would see me safely home across the North Sea. Bad weather changed our plans from a swift exit down the Elbe to a gentle cruise down the Eider, a route taken by Glayva a couple of months earlier. I am glad it did as this was one of the highlights of this leg. From the Eider we set sail for Helgoland, (got there at last!), followed by a sleigh ride home to Pagleham, (during which we played a lot of Scrabble), with only one other stop on the Dutch Fresian Island of Oost Vlieland.

Imothes was away from her mooring for ten weeks, visited ten countries and logged over three thousand one hundred and fifty miles. Anyone fancy a trip to North Fambridge this year?