Richard Bessey August 2003
Having explored the Southern Baltic coast, from Kiel to Gdansk, we had headed for the Eastern Baltic States. First stop was Kliepeda, Lithuania' only significant port, after a blowy night off the Russian coast. Then on to Latvia with it's hundred mile beach of fine white sand, backed by coniferous forest and hardly a sign of human presence (apart from the ubiquitous radar towers). We called at Liepaja (a very pleasant visit, though brief) and Ventspils. It was time for a decision - to head for home, or to overwinter Philomelle in the Baltic. To turn back now would have meant missing the jewels of the Baltic - the archipelago of Estonia and Finland. The decision was made.
Riga, Parnu, Tallinn, Helsinki, Marieholm - choosing a suitable port proved a challenge. Jon's Cruising Club contact list had proved invaluable in Gdansk, but now we spent expensive minutes on the mobile in vain. In the end we plumped for Tallinn on the strength of good reports of facilities in the Baltic Pilot. Also we would keep company with Jon for longer, as Tallinn was on his route to St Petersberg.
Getting there was another matter. The weather turned wet and squally as we crossed the Bay of Riga, and it blew from the NW throughout our stay in the Estonian Archipelago. This area is wonderful for sailing, though your navigation has to be spot on since there are rocks everywhere, often with steeply shelving channels giving you no warning of shoals. The local portfolio charts are excellent but expensive; unless you plan to cruise the islands extensively, buy conventional charts ahead, and stick to the better marked channels.
We found ourselves hemmed in by weather at the ferry port of Virtsu, a place with few attractions and a really awful harbour for yachts. On one day we beat up the rock-bound NW channel for 7 hours, only to turn back after Imothes engine packed up (the incessant spray having penetrated the fuel supply).
Eventually the weather abated a little, and we set off non-stop for Tallinn. The long day allowed us to clear the islands and get some offing in the Gulf of Finland before darkness fell (even then the loom of the arctic circle can be seen in the North. Dawn saw us rounding the last headland and a few hours later we entered the 1980 Russian Olympic harbour at Pirita - Philomelle's home for the Winter.
Winter at N 59º30' away from the warm Atlantic presents different challenges. Philomelle could expect temperatures of -20º, long periods of rain and snow, and ice-locked harbours. Fortunately reports proved correct, and at the Kalev Yacht Club we found people who know about boats. They have workshops on site, where a fleet of Dragons are beautifully maintained. There is also a rigger and a sailmaker in the yard, and a chandlery nearby.
Communication was difficult at first, though having made contact with the club Director, Olev Roosma, we were able to arrange for Philomelle to be lifted out, have the mast lowered, and the boat covered. Also we arranged quotes sails, and for some extensive work on the decks. The cost of laying up would prove a fraction of the cost in England, and watching their work on other boats we gained confidence in the yard.
Meanwhile the boat had to be cleaned and prepared. Any clothes and bedding had to be laundered, dried and double-wrapped. Books and charts were sent home with us, some carried by Imothes. No foods that might freeze could be left. Water tanks were emptied, and 50% antifreeze filled the engine cooling circuits, heads and sink drain. Engine oil was changed and new filters fitted. Sails dried and packed, boom fastened on deck, and the upper hull primed and painted wherever it showed scratches or wear. I also removed head linings and wiring from under the decks, and took measurements for a new switch console to be made up at home.
We spent about 6 days at Pirita, seeing Tallinn and laying up the boat, before flying home (Estonia Airlines £140 return). We'll miss Philomelle in the Winter, when she would have remained afloat on the Crouch, but we still get to sail with friends in the RSA occasionally, and I have Pudmuddle to get afloat in the new year. Next Spring, Philomelle will be launched, we hope to get a few days sailing before the ice has all gone. Then in July we set off for Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Home.