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11 November 2013

Romania and Bulgaria

Hello Again
Yacht Club, Odessa

Romania and Bulgaria were two of the countries we had not done a lot of homework on.  We had just not had the time, so we really were venturing into the unknown.  First we had to get there. 

Romania has a population of 22.2 million.  Its Communist Government was over thrown in 1989, and, they joined the E.U. in 2007.  It covers an area of 238,000 square kilometres, and its coastline is 225km’s long, from the Danube Delta in the north to the Bulgarian border in the south.  Along the coastline are miles of beautiful sandy beaches which become packed in summertime with holidaymakers.  There are no natural anchorages on its coastline, and, only four ports which yachts can use.  Still each of our stops – three in all – were interesting experiences. 
Harbour Masters Office,
Odessa

Checking out of the Ukraine took a little longer than we planned, then we had some local currency we wanted to spend.  A final coffee down on the waterfront is always a nice way to say goodbye to a place and that is just what we did.  I was also able to get Alec some very yummy pastries for the trip ahead.  So it was not till mid-afternoon that we untied our lines and sailed out of Odessa Port, turned south to run down the coast towards the border with Romania.  Yes another night passage. This leg was 102nm.  It was now overcast and the temperature 19 deg. C.  At first we had to motor as once outside the port we had head winds, and that current, yet again, against us.  This part of the coastline is rather low-lying and once we had passed the large commercial port of Ilyichevsk, it becomes difficult to see much.  Just before dark we were able to raise the sails and move along a little more quickly. Then during the night it started to rain, and yes off in the distance some very active thunderstorm clouds, but this time they stayed well away.  




 

 

We stayed close to the coastline as we had quite a bit of shipping around and by doing this we kept out of their way.  By midday the following day the seas were building and we were now two miles from the final approach to the Sulina channel fairway, a buoyed entrance which takes you up into the Danube River.

Entering the Danube River
Following Seas as entering
the Danube River


It was the river port town of Sulina, five miles up the river, that we were heading for to check into the country.  But first we had to navigate the entrance.  We followed the shipping channel and where it reaches the channel breakwater made for some “very interesting” seas here.  Sails had been taken down and Alec had both engines running.  We had three metre seas following with breaking tops - we had wind against a strong current as the Danube flows into the Black Sea.  I was much happier once we had passed that first mile through the buoyed area and were in behind the breakwaters.  See photos.

 

Following Seas as entering
the Danube River
The trip up river to Sulina was now much more enjoyable.  We passed the weather station and new lighthouse on our port side as we motored up the river.  Also a small coastal freighter was making its way down river.  Sulina town then comes into view.  It is believed that the first settlement here was around 1,600 B.C.  It is situated on the largest of three main channels.  Another, the Chilia channel lies to the north and borders with the Ukraine, then in the southern region the Sfantu Gheorge (Saint George) channel.
Passing Ship on Danube

The Danube River flows for 1,788 miles from springs in Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea.  Just before reaching the Sea it forms Europe’s second largest delta, 2,200 square miles of rivers, canals, marshes, tree-fringed lakes and reed islands.  It is a bird-watchers paradise, but also its geology, geography, botanics, zoology, ecology and history draw thousands of visitors to the area each year.  And not to forget the anglers, it was just the start of the fishing season when we were there.
SHAMAL in Sulina

After a little confusion as to where we could tie up on the town quay, which is packed with commercial vessels, small fishing boats, tour boats and ferries, room was made for us in this river port town.  We were parked in front of the water-melon stall.  We really did feel sorry for the seller as the weather changed while we were here and it got colder and rained on and off.  He had a huge pile off melons stacked to the top of the quay wall, and I felt for sure he would set off for home once he sold them all.  No the guy slept in a tiny tent beside his pile of melons, and I was horrified to see the following morning another load had been delivered and piled on top of the existing ones.  I made him hot tea which he was most grateful for and insisted on giving us a melon!!  Trade was slow for him as (a) it was cold and wet, and (b) the tourist season was nearly over.
Waiting for goods arriving
into Sulina by boat

Sulina is a pretty town with a tree-lined riverfront promenade.  Everything and everyone, comes in or out of the town by boat.  It has some interesting historical buildings, one being the old lighthouse which was built in 1802, and now stands in the middle of the town.  Once it was located out on the coast, but due to the silting of the Danube it now stands in the town, and, the coastline is now downstream. 
Mop up during rain storm,
Tulcea

Our second day there we decided to take the hydrofoil up river for the 35 mile trip to the city of Tulcea.  So at 06.45 we were on our way up river to the Delta’s capital.  It was a cold dull morning and we did not see much in the way of scenery as there was low cloud and the windows of the hydrofoil were all crazed.  We arrived in Tulcea and it was coffee time.  We also needed another weather report, so we headed for the Hotel Delta right on the river front with lovely big picture windows looking back over the river and town up stream.  We had just ordered coffee when it started to rain, then really rain – a real down pour.  Within minutes we had water coming down onto our coffee table through the light fittings, the speaker fittings, the vents, and any other gadget that was attached to the ceiling.  Yes we moved seats very quickly.  The whole thing was all over within half an hour so we left to explore the town.  We arrived at the entrance to the hotel to find the car park and streets outside flooded.  In parts the water was waist deep.  Oh what a mess.  Shops and cars were awash.  We later learnt that during the night the rains had been further upstream and the river had flooded a couple of villages where nine people had very sadly drowned. 
Floods, Tulces

There was nothing too special about Tulcea.  It is a busy port town and tourists were still about taking trips into the delta.  The river bank has barges tied up and used as floating wharfs.  We decided to take the slow ferry back as by midday the sun was out and it was hot.  It sits much higher out of the water than the hydrofoil, with a big open back deck and we would have a better chance of seeing more of the delta, and that was just how it turned out.  We stopped at numerous places and spent a lovely afternoon watching life along the river.
Floods, Tulcea

On arrival back in Sulina we were told that a “code orange” had been issued by the weather station as large thunder storms were going to pass through the area that night accompanied by high winds.  This meant we could not leave.  Alec went around the boat tying everything down and securing all our four mooring lines.  Then we went out to dinner.  On returning to SHAMAL we found three men chatting with the watermelon seller.  They had wondered where we were as they wanted us to move the boat along the quay yet again.  This time it was because a ship was on its way up river as it had engine trouble and needed our berth.  Along with us, three or four other boats had to be shuffled about to make room for her. With great gusto these guys decided we needed help so started untying our lines, pulled us along the quay and tied us up again.  Strange but one of our lines was missing.  One guy in particular said no we only had three not four.  We disagreed.  It was a ‘springer’ line with a lovely big rubber bungee on it that went missing!!!  I set off along the river looking for it.  Soon the guys disappeared.  When I returned empty handed Alec and I decided to take torches and have a good look.  Alec found it thrown over the quay wall and waiting to be collected later when all the fuss had died down!!!!!!  This is the first and only incident that we have had someone trying to pinch something off the boat since we have had her.  We feel very lucky as we have heard some horrific stories from other boat owners.  Tenders and outboard motors being stolen etc.  
Danube Delta
 
Danube Delta
 The following morning we woke to rain but the storm had by-passed us thank goodness.  The winds were off shore so that meant the seas at the entrance should be nice and flat, not standing waves like when we had entered.   So we decided it was time to move on.  It was not till mid-afternoon, with check out formalities completed, that we actually untied our lines, with the help from our water melon seller whom Alec had given a NZ silver fern cap to which was now his prize possession, and we headed back out of the delta.  This was yet another overnight trip of just over one hundred miles.  We were heading for the sea port of Constanta.
Danube Control Tower

We had the engines just in idle as we were carried with the current down river towards the river mouth doing 6kts.  Once clear of the river mouth we were able to hoist the sails and enjoy pleasant sailing conditions till just before midnight when we had to reef down again.  Winds had strengthened and changed from a westerly to a south westerly.  Oh yes and out to sea we had again a very active thunder storm with lots of fork lightening.  More coastal shipping and an Oil and Gas field to pass through.  The gas and oil platforms were lit up like mini towns and caused no problems.  Off on our starboard side we had hundreds of red flashing lights which I thought were indicating fish farms as they seemed so low to the water, but no it was rows of these modern turbine windmills on the shore.  Reading back through my log, this was not one of our better nights sailing.  I have written, ‘B’ tack to nowhere!! and, put sails up and down all ‘B’ night, and,  little or no sleep for either of us!!!!   It is funny how when you arrive in port and that particular leg is behind you, and the sun is shining, even though it is now behind you, it wasn’t that bad really.  At the time it was though!!!!!
SHAMAL in Port Tomis,
Constanta

By early afternoon we were tied up in Port Tomis, Constanta.  This is a purpose built yacht harbour with a modern marina away from the huge commercial harbour.  But visiting yachts were all being directed to tie up along the concrete quay on the inside of the breakwater.  It seems only local yachts could use the marina, and there were not too many of those.   The staff at this marina were also not really interested in our needs.  They seem to run other facilities around the marina which took their interest.   Oh well never mind Alec was able to hook us up to the power and water, and give the boat a big wash down.  The sun was shining, the winds had dropped, and it was here in Constanta that our good friends from Dubai – Judith and Graeme, were joining us.
Old Town Hall, now a
Museum, Constanta

We spent four days here, cleaning, washing, mending sails, site seeing, and then there was the ‘take your life in your hands’ trip out to the big supermarket Carrefour for a stock up on supplies.  Yes another one of those car trips where the driver has a ‘heavy’ foot and road rules are made up as you go along.  When we passed a comment like ‘no hurry mate’, he would smile and repeat ‘no hurry’.  Funny, Graeme did not enjoy being his co-driver in the front seat !!
The Forum, Constanta

Constanta is Romania’s largest Black Sea Port, and also one of the top ten ports in Europe as it opens the trade routes between Central and Eastern Europe with Central Asia and The Far East.
The 1910 Casino, Constanta
It was founded in the 6th century B.C. by the Greeks.  It is also a major tourist attraction with beautiful sandy beaches and lots of historical and archaeological sites in and around the area.  Poor Alec is dragged off to see yet ‘another plié of old rocks’ as he puts it!!!  The old city centre is in a sad state of repair, but they were working on it.  New paving and roads were being laid, the museum was in the process of having a spruce up.  One building we visited, the Casino, built in 1910 by a French architect, is of stunning design, but is now only home to pigeons at present.  It is on their list for restoration.
The Birthday Boy

Also while we were here we had to celebrate a ‘MAJOR’ birthday for Graeme.  Judith came armed with a banner and candles.  So it was out to dinner to a restaurant of Graeme’s choosing.  We all enjoyed a seafood dinner followed by a rather obscure desert decorated with the candles.

Also in Constanta we met people off two different yachts who had just come down the Danube from northern Europe.  One of the couples, Ann-Christin and Dean off S/Y ‘Maringret’, were most interesting telling us stories of their adventures down the river.  They plan to explore the Black Sea next year.  We met them again on a number of occasions in harbours and anchorages on our way south as they were making their way into the Sea of Marmara to winter over.
Holidays Over, Mangalia

So south we continue.  Our next port of call, and last in Romania, was Mangalia.  It is a commercial port with a new marina built in the inner harbour.  A Border Control officer met us in the marina and was most helpful at getting us tied up and informing us of the procedures.  We had arrived late afternoon and wanted to check out early the next morning.  This was no problem for him.  We had just enough daylight left to have a quick visit of this touristic town.  It is now 19th September and the holiday makers have left.  The beaches were empty and many of the seaside restaurants had closed up for the season, but we did find a place for dinner.  Alec ordered steak, but we were not quite sure what he was given, anyway he fed the local dogs with it on the way back to the boat!!!
Public Water Taps,
Varna

Next morning Alec and I are checking out at 05.30.  That done we slip out of the marina and are on our way into Bulgaria.  Our check in port is Varna.  This was the easiest country to check into.  Only one form was filled in and a stamp in our passports, and it was complete.  No money was asked for so it was very simple.

Bulgaria is situated in the heart of the Balkan Peninsular.  Its coastline is 354km long sitting on the western side of the Black Sea.  It covers an area of 110,879 square kilometres.  Like Romania, its Soviet system came to an end in 1989, and it joined the E.U. in 2007. 
Naval Museum, Varna

Varna is Bulgaria’s third largest city.  Its history goes back 6000 years, so along with its sandy beaches, there are many historical and archaeological sites to visit.  The following day we walked into the town to find a money changer and visit the information centre to find out about a trip inland the following day.  The city square was just as busy as one would imagine it to be in the middle of summer.  We were having lovely warm sunny days again and everyone was out and about.  We wandered about and eventually found the Navel Museum which had an interesting collection of all things nautical. 
Looking down on Shumen
from Fortress

Our trip inland was to the first Bulgarian Capital of Pliska.  We took the train to the town on Shumen where after breakfast we hired a driver and set off to visit The Shumen Fortress.  It is believed the first fort was built 3,200 years ago.  Conquered and destroyed repeatedly it was occupied till 1444.  It is one big open air museum with lots of ‘old rocks’ for Alec to clamber over.

We then moved onto Pliska about 30ks northeast of Shumen.  This is the ancient Capital, and was huge covering an area of over 23 square kilometres, and, no we did not walk around that whole area.  The inner town where the fortress and Palaces once stood is the area we visited.  There was also a very good on site museum.   Graeme being a surveyor finds these old places of particular interest. 
Shumen Fortress

The Madara Horseman
Sorry Alec yet another pile of rock foundations, but very interesting ones!!!  Our last stop was to see The Madara Horseman.  Now this is an impressive monument of the early middle ages.  It is a rock relief which depicts a horseman, an injured lion and a dog following the rider.  It has been carved 23metres up on a sheer rock face.  In 2008 it was elected as the global symbol of Bulgaria.  Then it was back into Shumen to catch the train back to Varna, along with all the university students returning after the weekend.  Standing room only for the hour and a half trip back.  None of the young offered any of us over 50’s a seat!!!!
Bulgarian Countryside

Back in Varna we made a decision to have dinner out.  I think one of the stray dogs heard our conversation as he followed us right back to the wharf which was over a kilometre away and even climbed the stairs on the outside of the building with us.  Here we dined at the ‘Captain Cook’ restaurant.  Didn’t know he made it to this part of the world!!!!

Moving on again we headed south for the town of Nessebar.  The first part of this trip we had a lovely sail.  Broad reach and we were skimming along at 8kts.  Our first night
Old Church, Nessebar
here we anchored outside the marina as we were not too sure where to go, so next
Looking towards Old Nessebar
morning Alec and Graeme set off in the tender to find out where we could park.  Once that was sorted it was time to set off and explore the place.  The old town of Nessebar is located on a small rocky peninsular and joined to the mainland by a causeway.  It is the only UNESCO World Heritage site on the Black Sea coast.  It was founded as a Thracian settlement B.C.  It is very picturesque with the ruins of many buildings to discover as you wander through its narrow cobblestone streets. 
Judith and Alec waiting
for Graham and Ann !!

Our next port of call, Sozopol, was only 15nm away so we made this an afternoon sail.  This turned into another fast trip.  In fact at one point just before the marina, we were hooting along at 9kts with white water all around, when we noticed a row of buoys ahead marking a fish farm.  That made for a quick choice of action where we rounded into the wind and dropped the sails as the winds were now increasing and we were just outside the marina.  There was Dean again who helped us tie up alongside. 
Nessebar
It was here in Sozopol that Judith and Graeme, after many phone calls, and even a visit to a travel agent which proved to no avail, were able to make changes to their return tickets to Dubai which was to enable them to continue with us as far as Istanbul.  I had really wanted them to experience the Bosphorus with us.  That is quite an experience.  Back to Sozopol - it is the oldest settlement on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.  Again the old town has much to offer with its cobbled streets, but this time traditional wooden houses of Ottoman-style architecture dominate the town.  It also is built out on a rocky peninsula.
Wooden Buildings in Sozopol

A mid-morning departure from Sozopol and we sail down the coast to check out of Bulgaria in Tsarevo (Carevo).  This harbour is really only a port of entry or departure into and out of the country for boats.  We arrived late afternoon and within half an hour of anchoring out in the harbour and going ashore in the tender we were all back on board and ready to go. 

We decided to wait for the winds to get up which were forecast to come in around
1900, so while doing so we had a leisurely dinner and waited.  Just after 1900 we motored out of the harbour for a night run which would see us crossing back into Turkish waters, sailing down the Turkish west coast and back to Poyraz at the northern entrance to the Bosphorus.  Unfortunately at this stage there are no ports open for yachts to check into on this Turkish coastline and one needs to continue through to Istanbul to do so. 
Check out, Tsarevo, Bulgaria
Mores the pity as this would have made things much easier and cheaper for us all.  So this last leg on our Black Sea cruise was nothing out of the ordinary.  No wind, then around midnight – my watch again – I got a big piece of orange plastic caught in the port prop.  I got Alec up but he did not have to do a midnight swim as when he stopped the boat it just floated off.   A  Bulgarian ‘Law Enforcement’ vessel shadowed us to the border with Turkey.  I am sure they were only on an exercise using us as a practise target.  Graeme stayed up the first part of the night, and later Judith came up to join us as she found sleeping a little difficult.

Jason's "Clashing Rocks"

By early afternoon we were anchored back in Poyraz fishing harbour at the northern end of the Bosphorus.  We had just completed 1,362nm taking 72 days exploring the vast waters beyond the Bosphorus.  Here we sailed the same waters and walked the same paths as the ancient civilisations before us.  We learnt that our impressions of the countries around the Black Sea, created mostly by the modern media, don’t quite match reality.  We met friendly generous people with a passion for their countries.  We visited architectural wonders left behind by their ancestors.  We saw the raw beauty of a corner of this planet which is still off the beaten track and largely undiscovered to most sailors and travellers.  Visiting the ex-Soviet countries   was fascinating.  The only down side we found was the rather ugly Soviet concrete block apartment buildings erected with no thought given to their occupiers.  There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about them at all.  These were found in many of the ex-Soviet towns and cities.  We are glad we took this extra year to explore somewhere totally different.  The sailing was rather arduous at times but we have no regrets at all. 

An acknowledgement must be given here to David Barker, as he is the main reason we ventured back up the Bosphorus, and, continued on into the Black Sea.  David gave a talk in Marina di Ragusa just before the start of this years sailing season introducing us to the area along with his new Cruising Guide he and Lisa Borre had just written.  David a very big thank-you.
Caveman or Madara
Horseman off his horse
 
Seagull watch out!!!

So this is all for this letter

Much love from

The Admiral and The Commander

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