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24 October 2013

The Ukraine

Arriving into Yalta

The Crimea Peninsula


Hello Again


We sat in Samsun waiting for the winds to change to leave for our sail back along the coast of Turkey to Sinop.  The winds were light and variable and the seas rolly with white caps.  This seems to be the norm in the Black Sea, so we decided on a 06.00a.m. start for the 87nm run.  With some tacking, then some motor sailing ( wind and current against us ) we arrived back in Sinop just after midnight.  We anchored outside the fishing harbour as there was no room inside.  Not that we would have entered at that time of night anyway. The following day we took the tender ashore for supply shopping, coffee and to download the weather.  Not sure if the latter will really help as we have found with the three different forecasts we use, they invariably are totally different, and, so is the actual weather from what is reported anyway.  Never mind, we need some guide lines for the trip.  We then proceeded with our check out formalities from Turkey.  Once that was done it was back to SHAMAL for an early night as we will leave on daybreak the following morning.  We are now crossing to Yalta on the south eastern coast of the Crimea – Ukraine.

Fancy Dress Anyone

You may be asking why on earth would anyone want to visit the Ukraine ?  We came into the Black Sea as it is “off the beaten track”. As you will have noticed we like to visit these out of the way places, and the Black Sea is described as one of the most isolated of all the world’s great bodies of water.  We had been forewarned about the challenges of dealing with former communist bureaucracies, but we were up for the challenge.  Also Russia is still closed to cruising yachts on its Black Sea ports, and we felt its boarding countries that were part of the old Soviet Union would give us a taste of what life is like in this corner of the planet.


Three Pretty Ladies
Ukraine – population of 45 million.  It is the largest European country.  It still has strong ties with Russia with ethnic Russians making up 17% of the population, and Russian being spoken widely.  We still could not tell the difference between Russian and the Ukraine language.  One thing that still intrigues us is that to visit countries like this one needs a ‘letter of invitation’ to get a visa.  In our case it was our yacht agent in Yalta who wrote it out for us.  Never met the man before!!!!!

This leg took us just on 30hours.  Winds were light and seas with the familiar Black Sea roll.  We had dolphins with us on and off during most of the crossing.  That first day out we saw a bright yellow object floating by so went over to investigate.  One get curious when all you have around you is blue sea.  It was an inflated Lilo.  No there was no one on it.  We did pick it up.  Murray, it will make a good mattress out on the deck for you as it even has a pillow!!!!!  The way the winds were blowing and the current running it must have come from the Crimean side!!  During the night we had a cargo vessel coming up on our port side, and he should have given way, ( power gives way to sail, yeah right ! ) but no I think the man on the helm had fallen asleep.  I called and called on the radio and eventually got a very sleepy answer, so gave him our position and asked if he could see us and would he please change course to pass behind us, as we were sailing.  He said OK, but changed course to pass ahead of us, so, it was us who took evasive action to avoid him!! 

Standing room only,
Yalta Beach 
The Crimea is seen from a long way out with the high rocky mountains climbing to 1,233mts above the sea.  As you get closer you see greenery dripping off the mountains and stark craggy cliffs which in places drop abruptly into the crystal clear sea.  It is quite a stunning landscape. 

Jason's Ship Argo,
in dry docks!!
On arriving into Yalta – which sits on this spectacular shoreline – there we saw Jason’s ship the Argo, up on huge piles.  It is called the Golden Fleece Restaurant!!!  We are directed to the Cruise Ship Customs Dock.  Our young agent, Vladimir, is there holding his brief case.  I throw him a line to tie us on, which he picks up, still holding his brief case with the other hand, then proceeds to wind the rope around one of those huge ship bollards!!  Great help as he does not actually tie us on.  Another guy turns up and I throw him a second line which he just holds onto!!  Time for me to jump off and actually tie us to something!! I am then told to stay on board while the ‘captain’ is to go with Vladimir.  A woman security officer is sent down just to keep an eye on me.  She keeps her distance, more than likely terrified I will start up a conversation with her and I doubt she speaks any English.  Alec is away for over an hour filling in forms.  He says he used our ships stamp at least 38 times, and signed his name to everything.  An example of the bureaucracy was a form Alec was handed to fill in issued by the “Ministry Of Environmental Protection And Nuclear Safety Of Ukraine”.  Well we all know about Chernobyl, but I don’t think Seawind has produced a Nuclear Powered yacht yet.  If that was the case we would not be allowed back into N.Z. !!  Not sure why we paid the agent a U.S. $200 fee, as he just dropped Alec off at an office then disappeared.  Then there was the U.S. $150 arrival and departure fee, and, then there was the U.S. $1.00 fee for using the VHF radio!!!   We knew about the costs before we arrived, and one has to use an agent as that was the only way we could enter the country.  Patience with bureaucracy was required and eventually we were checked in.  Even though it took some time everyone was very pleasant.  Alec also said that he had never seen such short skirts as part of a uniform before!  These were being worn by the customs and security girls.

Horrid Sea Wall, Yalta
Vladimir returned to SHAMAL just as we had sat down to a late lunch.  He said we could spend the night tied up to the Dock for free but would have to move by 0700 the next morning as a cruise ship was coming in.  A little later he returned saying it would be best to move over to the town quay now.  Cost, U.S. $1.00 per night.  So we untied and moved across the harbour.  This was interesting as we are now Med Moored – that is backed into – yet another concrete quay which was far too high for us to get off the boat!!! Even with our 3 meter passerelle. Over the wall on the quay is a children’s amusement fun part. 

Fairground beside quay
You know one of those places that have merry-go-rounds, and a ton of other noisy attractions.  That first day we stayed on board and rested and tried to work out how we were going to get on and off the boat.  We were the only foreign boat in at the time.  The others were local charter boats and they had small ladders attached to the quay behind their boats for boarding.  I just sat back swigging down cold drinks, as the temperature was now well into the mid-30’s, and, people watching in Yalta.  The first thing that struck me was the odd person with gold fillings.  You would see a beaming glittering smile.  Not very attractive, but it obviously is a sign that you have a couple of bucks to rub together.  Must have been some of the elite class of newly rich Russians who come to the Crimea for their summer holidays.
Alec and Yury,
Massandra Palace

A little later a young guy turns up who can speak good English, and welcomes us to Yalta.  His name is Yury and he has come down from Moscow to work the summer season on one of the charter boats.  He is most helpful passing on useful information. 

Next day we lower out tender into the water and take it over to one of these ladders attached to the quay, tie the painter on to the ladder and scramble ashore.  We are off to explore Yalta.  The Embankment is Yalta’s main street, and runs along the waterfront.  It is lined with cafes, restaurants, souvenir kiosks and modern shops. Back from the main street we find the cable car which takes you to the top of Darsan Hill for a bird’s eye view over Yalta. We wander through the lovely tree lined streets, and parks and find a café for coffee.  Then we head back to the boat to find the ladder which the tender was tied to is missing, but the tender is still there!  A second and better look reveals that the ladder has become the tenders anchor!!  Oh help, the ladder was only held in place by sliding it sideways on two bolts.  The surging of the charter boats has caused the tender to bounce about and pull the ladder off the bolts.  Alec, with the help of a couple of other guys now retrieve the ladder with some difficulty. 
Yury turns up again saying he will take us on a tour the following day.  He organises a taxi and we set off first to visit the Massandra Palace.  Construction began in 1881, then stopped.  Then it was brought for Emperor Alexander 3rd who never saw it finished as he died.  It resembles an elegant French Castle and is set in the hills overlooking the sea. It is quite beautiful. 
Massandra Palace

It was then off to visit the Livadia Palace – or the White Palace as it has become known as.  This was the summer residence of Emperor Nicholas 2nd.   It is set in a beautifully landscaped park, and became the place of the Yalta Conference held in February 1945, where “the Declaration about the Liberated Europe, and the historic decision about the UNO’S creation” was made when President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin met.  Our taxi driver kept feeding Yury interesting bits of information about Yalta which Yury passed on to us.  One in particular was from his Father who remembered the 1927 Earthquakes where fiery flares were seen erupting from the sea and where boats caught fire.  It is believed combustion caused methane eruptions which were triggered by the earthquakes.  He also pointed out the building the Gestapo used during World War 11.
Livadia Palace

After three days in Yalta it is time to move on.  Vladimir turns up again with more paper work for us to show at each of the ports we have nominated to visit along the Crimean Coast.  He reminds us that we are required to stay within 12nm of the shore, and to report in and out at each port to the Ukraine Coastguard – Lebed.  We learnt that coastal Ukraine is divided up into zones, each with their own Border Control Guards who like to be kept informed of a yacht’s movements.  It was obvious they follow you on radar as we found they often called us before we called them.  They were always very professional and polite, and we did not find this offensive in any way.  Our cruising guide said we would be required to stay 2-3 miles offshore between Yalta and Sevastopol as the President and other Government officials may be in residence in their summer holiday homes.  This must have changed as Vladimir gave us one such area of only a mile where there was some militarily installation which we were required to keep away from. 
The Swallow's Nest

So we were able to sail close to shore and see many of the Crimea’s famous landmarks along this piece of coastline.  One of these included The Swallow’s Nest.  It is a castle precariously perched out on a sheer cliff.  It was built in 1912 for a German oil magnate.

Our next port of call was only 27nm along the coast in the port town of Balaklava.  It has celebrated its 2,500th anniversary.  It is hidden away in a very sheltered bay surrounded by high rocky hills.  During the Crimean War of 1853-1856 it was the base for the English and French expeditionary forces.  Florence Nightingale developed a standard of nursing care for the allied troops here, and Tennyson’s poem ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ was written about one of the hideous battles that was fort just outside the town.  In Soviet times the town was closed for visits.  Not even family members of the people who live and worked at the secret submarine base were allowed to visit.  In the rocky cliffs in the bay a 500 metre pass-through tunnel was built which housed up to six submarines at one time. 

Map of the submarine base
Balaklava Harbour
Entrance to underground
submarine base
It was built to withstand a direct nuclear attack.  Today it is a naval museum which is most interesting.  Yes I did manage to survive my underground visit.  As I have mentioned before I am not very happy venturing into ‘mole’ country!!  Above the town we visited the ruins of yet another fortress.

Our next stop was the city of Sevastopol.  Here we sailed into the Alexander Bay Yacht Club.  A guy came out and helped tie us up and then disappeared.  No one about.  Then Alec looks up at the flag flying over the Yacht Club.  It was Russian.  Yep, we had come into one of the small Russian enclaves that still exist in the Ukraine.  Later other members of the club introduced themselves and were most helpful.  One guy who introduced himself told us he had visited Auckland, NZ when he represented the Ukraine in the World board Sailing Champs a few years ago.  He returned just before we left with his son and a friend to show them the boat, and also a huge watermelon as a gift.  Another guy – Sergey, also passed on lots of helpful information and even drove us to the Border Control office to complete our check in procedures.  Again it was handy having someone who spoke the local language to help. 
Ailing Russian Fleet

Sevastopol was another closed city and run entirely by the Soviets until 1996, then the Russian navy.  It is still home to the Russian Black Sea Navy Fleet, which, we were able to take a tour and see.  Many have been moth balled and lie in a sad state rusting away at their moorings.
Russian Sub,
but going nowhere!!
Sevastopol is a relative young city compared with others around the Crimea being only 225 years old, but with a rich history.  Only 14 of its buildings survived the Crimean War but then a new city was built, only to be attacked again in 1941 when the Nazis made air raids to destroy the Russian Fleet base, and the city.  We spent a couple of days here visiting the city and its sites. One of our visits was to the Naval History Museum which was beautifully set out and most interesting.  The seafront boulevard with cafes restaurants and shops makes for a nice place to visit and have drinks and a meal.  The city it’s self is again set out with wide tree lined streets which give wonderful shade during the hot summer months, and it is clean and tidy.  The weather was beautiful while we were here.
Sevastopol Waterfront

Alec with new friends
Then we untie our mooring lines and sail on up the coast to the holiday resort town of Nikolaevka.  It was a late start as this was to only be an overnight anchorage.  Rather a rolly one as we were out on the open coastline.  We did not go ashore here.  Next morning we were on our way early for a short hop to Yevatoria.  This is a pretty summer resort town with wide tree lined streets.  It even has tram cars.  During Soviet times there was a large children’s health resort here.  We set off again to check in with Border Control.  I keep mentioning this, but when we first checked into Yalta we had to produce a list of each town or port we would like to visit along the Ukraine coastline.  This is not as difficult as it sounds, and at each place we stopped at we would find the Border Control office and say we had arrived and what our next port of call was to be. Nikolaevka town was on the list but we did not go ashore.  That did not cause a problem.  Our next port was Chernomorskoe, and we were told as it was still within Yevatoria’s border we would not have to check in there and were given the clearance through to Odessa.
Yevpatoria Waterfront

Tram Car, Yevpatoria
We spend a couple of days in Yevpatoria visiting the town, and Alec decides it is also time to change the engine oils, so we do that here.  Then we are on the move again.  We decide on a night sail through to Chernomorskoe as it is a 70nm run.  The weather report gave us better winds in the mid-afternoon, so that is when we leave.  My watch, between 2200 – 0200.  Yes things are not going too smoothly!!  We have a lightening show way off to the north west and well ahead of us which should be well past by the time we get into that area.  NO!!!  Thunderstorms are now showing up on the radar about five miles ahead and the storm is becoming more active!!  I get Alec up.  Ok we will head out to sea to avoid them and not worry about going more than 12 miles off the coast.  We are quite convinced the coast guard won’t be out tonight, and if they are they won’t be able to pick us up on radar as we will look like part of the thunder storm!!  We are in the vicinity of a cape which is the north western most point of the Crimea, and so is this thunder storm.  Then, before our eyes it changes course, straight for us.  Nice not!!!  Next thing we have the full force of it, thunder, sheet and fork lightening, and heavy rain and hail.  We get the sails down just before it hits.  The rain and hail flatten out the seas so they are not too bad, and the strongest wind gusts are only 38kts.  But we were glad when daylight broke.  The seas were now ‘confuse’ – waves coming in all directions, and I felt much happier as we sailed into the shelter of Chernomorskoe Harbour.  Once anchored it was time to go to bed and catch up on some well needed sleep.  We did not venture ashore that day. 
Chernomorskoe Boat Club

Lada Anyone,
The following morning we went ashore to download the weather.  We took the tender into the very small boat club and were amazed at how they got their boats in there, as we even ran aground in the tender at one point.  We were met by a member who insisted we follow him to the club house.  No English was spoken but we understood he wanted us to follow him.  Then we were told to sit down and wait.  What for??  About ten minutes later a Border Control officer appears.  Again no English is spoken.   Alec is sent back to SHAMAL for our paper work and I was told to stay seated.  Maybe they thought we would do a runner if we both went back.  Lots of smiles but I am still not sure what this is all about.  Alec returns and we are asked to follow the officer up the road to his headquarters.  Our paper work and passports are taken away and then come back.  All is in order.  I think they were not happy about being missed out as a port for yachts to check into.  We later found out that we were the first foreign yacht to call in there for a couple of years.  We were asked to go into the Commanders office and he could speak quite good English.  He asked what our next port of call was to be – even though he had it written down in front of him – we told him Odessa.  He then told us we must not go more than 12nm off shore, and we said we understood.  If you look at a map of the Crimea and see its position in relation to Odessa, you will see that it is far quicker to sail a direct line between Chernomorskoe and Odessa, but no, we had to head north-east along the coast then turn to the north-west staying within the 12nm limit.  Never mind, those are their rules.  After a bit more general chit chat he turned to Alec and said he would like to make him a presentation!!  Help what could this be.  He then handed him the local Border Police News Paper, all written in Ukrainian saying that someone will read it to us!!!!!  Some gift, but we have kept it.
Alec, Chernomorskoe

Visit from locals,
All was well and we set off to visit the town.  It is very much another resort town but now it is early September and the holidays are over for most.  The little souvenir shops are being dismantled and places are starting to close down.  We notice now the temperatures are getting cooler.  We don’t feel like swimming any more.  Also we have seen flocks of birds heading south.  Now if that is not a sign that autumn is approaching !!!!  We find a café with Wi-Fi to download another weather report.  We don’t feel like another night like the one we have just had.  It does not look too good for the next couple of days.  As we arrive back to SHAMAL a couple of young guys come over in a tender.  They each have a yacht and have been doing charter work with the holiday makers.  They offer to come over in the morning and take us inland to the local markets as they need supplies as well.  Next morning off we go.  Great markets with lots of fresh produce.  We are taken into the fresh meat section.  Lots of pork here and a really good price.  Alec and I buy lovely pork chops.  One of the guys buys a hunk of pork fat.  We asked what he going to do with that!?!  He says shave it thinly and put it in bread with sliced onions, and yes they eat it raw.  OK not quite our thing!!!  We also brought a bottle of Russian Cognac, John we will save that for your visit. 
Catherine the Great.

Potyomkin Stairs, Odessa
After three days in Chernomorskoe we wake to yet another morning of rain and strong winds, but things are forecast to improve by midmorning, which they do, so we up anchor.  It is covered in sea grass and takes us 30 minutes to bring it in clearing weed along the chain as we do.  We call Border control and tell them we are leaving.  Ten minutes later they call us and wish us good luck.  We decide to sail with a reef in the main till we are sure the wind is steady as we get gusts between 20-28kts.  By 1400 it is a steady 12kts so we decide to fully raise the main.  No can’t.  The main halyard is caught in the toggle at the top of the side stay on the starboard side.  We spend 15 minutes trying to shake it out but no luck.  Not the time to go up the mast to untangle it either.  The seas are too rolly, so we sail with the reef in the main the whole way to Odessa.   It is a leg of 130nm.
Odessa Sea Port

The following day I am taking a shower and Alec remarks that I will now be glowing.  I am not sure what he means till he shows me on the chart plotter that we are crossing the stretch of water where the Bug and Dnieper Rivers flow into the Black Sea.  Yes it is up the Dnieper River that the city of Chernobyl is!!!!  So I decide we won’t make water on this section of the trip either.  

National Theatre, Odessa
Arriving into Odessa took Alec back to his flying days.  When arriving into ports, especially if it is a commercial port as well, one reports to the local Harbour Master about five miles out, and then again at one mile out.  Here, it was Odessa Port Control we reported to.  We were then given a heading to steer as a ship was leaving the harbour.  Ok, ten minutes later we were given another heading, then another and another.  By the time we were inside the port we had been given six different headings, only to be given yet another to take us into the marina.  As Alec said it is just like being radar vectored onto final approach at an airport.

Moscow Hotel,
Ladies selling sweets,
Odessa.  We really had arrived at “the Pearl of the Black Sea”.  It is charming.  It was founded in 1794 by Russia’s Catherine the Great.  She invited immigrants from all over Europe to settle the city, hence a wonderful cosmopolitan mixture of architecture come from places like France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, Bulgaria etc.  It is a city that was well planned by a French dissident who served in the Russian Army, and later became one of the city’s first governors.  His statue presides over the famous Potemkin Stairs which rise from Odessa’s Sea Terminal to the Primorsky Boulevard, a beautiful wide tree lined street which runs along the top of the waterfront.  Odessa holds that old world charm with most of its original buildings being renovated and brought back to their former glory.  Alec and I took a city tour and were captivated by the place.  We then returned to many of the sites just to see them again.  It also has a wealth of museums, parks and gardens, statues, a wonderful Opera House where we watched a rehearsal for an open air concert, and so many other interesting places to see.
Jellyfish in Marina, Odessa

Our Cruising Guide has a section on the Jellyfish in the Black Sea describing one type as the size of a dinner plate with tentacles looking like part of a jet engine.  Here in the marina in Odessa we saw some of these.  See photo. 

The Marina is part of the Sea Terminal, so access to the city was just a few minutes’ walk away.  It is one of those places which is hard to leave.  It was now 11th September.  The days are beautiful and warm still, but the evenings are cold.  Outdoor restaurants supply their clients with rugs which are placed on the backs of chairs to wrap themselves in while dining, and so do the carriage rides around the city.  Leaves on the trees were changing colour, and again we see birds flying south!!  After four days here it was time to move on again.  Here we checked out of the Ukraine and set sail for Romania.

Rugged up in a
Restaurant, Odessa
The Ukraine, despite the bureaucracy, was a wonderful experience.  The people were friendly and the country has so much to offer.  We were glad we spent the time, and cash, to get our visas to visit this unique land. Also we are pleased we have seen it before modern commercialism erodes away its unique characteristics.

We will sign out.

Much love

The Admiral and The Commander

P.S.  This guy seemed to follow us around!!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the overview. It was nice to meet you in Yalta. The jellyfish we call 'Kornerot', Rhizostoma Pulmo in Latin or something like that.
    Regards, Yury.