We arrived back in the Balkans from our flying visit home courtesy of ‘Wizzair’ – Bristol to Sofia direct.
After a day in Sofia and a couple in Bucharest separated by a very relaxing 10 hour train journey through Bulgaria and Romania, we arrived back in
On our return to Aremiti we found her under the watchful eye of a cormorant perched on top of the main mast, apparently in perfect order. Only later the next day did we discover that a boat with an aggressive bowsprit had rammed the pulpit (safety rails at the front of the boat) pushing it sideways and knocking off the navigation light. The sheepish culprits owned up and were all for bending it back into shape there and then, but we felt the possibility of this causing worse damage which we would not have time to put right, meant we should postpone the repair until the end of our cruising. The damage is more an affront to Aremiti’s dignity than a functional issue. We comforted ourselves with the thought that this is Aremiti’s first bash in 8 years of cruising.
So – back to the decisions: due to uncertainty over bridge clearances, we decided against an approach to the Danube via the canal from Constanta, so would make a sea entry. Re Odessa, much as we relished the prospect of a berth just below the Potemkin Steps, we had to accept that we just didn’t have time to do justice to such a city. Re Turkey, this still appeared to be a reasonable destination in the light of Foreign Office advice – as long as we don’t go near Syria or take part in political demonstrations.
The wind was forecast to blow hard from the north for some considerable time, and local sailors looked doubtful about our plan to head for Sulina – at the seaward end of the Danube. It is a committing voyage – 90 miles along a coastline of ever changing shallows, no port of refuge and a potentially difficult or impossible entry into the river. However after delaying a day and closely monitoring forecasts, we identified a brief window of calm and set off for an overnight passage. A good decision and good passage – with good sightings of dolphins and oil rigs.
The Danube Delta is the 2nd largest river delta in Europe (the Volga being the first), covering 1,603 square miles, most in Romania but part in Ukraine. The Danube splits into 3 arms with the formation of new land occurring constantly at the mouths of each and is said to expand at the rate of 40 metres a year. It consists of an intricate pattern of marshes, channels, streams and lakes and is a mecca for birdlife - the area is managed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Only the Sulina arm is now used for large vessel navigation and the channel built to protect this currently extends 10 km into the sea, the entrance being just a few miles short of the border with Ukraine.
Arriving off the
Keen to progress further into the delta, we motored 42 miles upstream to the larger town of
What Tulcea lacks in architectural charm was made up for by its celebration of the Feast of the Assumption, which is coupled with Romanian Navy Day. The waterfront was busy with food stalls and a concert stage. A long religious ceremony culminated with an anchor wreath being thrown into the water and bobbing gently downstream followed by the appearance of Neptune, complete with trident, arriving on a whale! There followed a long parade of boats from navy and water-based services, all demonstrating what they do – letting off depth charges, firing guns, spraying water from fire hoses, etc. With their crews standing solemnly to attention as they passed, it was all a little reminiscent of communist era May Day parades. There followed a tug of war tournament between the services – something we had thought a quintessentially English pursuit! After the excitement we set off back down river, with the current now in our favour, to settle down for another night at anchor – tranquil bliss once the trip boats speeding alongside us for a closer look had finished for the night.
Time to move on. After waiting out a day for stronger winds, we set off again out through the channel into the Black Sea. This was a mill pond and Chris was disappointed not to be riding the standing waves we had heard about. The passage of 253 miles was an easy one with the huge bonus of a full moon and multiple sightings of bottlenose dolphins. We were a little concerned about shipping in the Black Sea – not just the amount of it, but also the fact that merchant vessels here would probably not be expecting to encounter a yacht – yachts being such a rarity in these waters. We crossed two main shipping routes. During the first night we encountered shipping to-ing and fro-ing from the large Romanian ports up to Ukraine and Russia, and down towards the Bosphorus. During our second night, as we drew closer to the north Turkish coast, we encountered a busy stream of vessels heading to/from the Bosphorus, mainly to ports in Russia and Georgia we have never heard of - Kavkaz, Taganrog, Novossiysk, Tuapse.
After 48 hours we arrived on the Turkish coast into the very spacious harbour of
Most of our time in Eregli was spent on domestic chores in preparation for the final part of this summer’s cruise. However, we had first to face the joys of Turkish immigration procedures, which dominated our first day, taking several hours of traipsing around various offices in town patiently waiting for our papers to scrutinised, discussed in numerous phone calls, and entered on to computers – all under the benevolent gaze of Ataturk whose portrait seemed mandatory. The offer of çay is a charming and hospitable custom, but does not inspire the hope that anything is going to happen any time soon. Possibly the ‘highlight’ was the revelation that we had to pay an unexpected fee for being in port. Having somewhat ungraciously agreed to pay this, and then feeling stupid when it turned out to be the equivalent of about £3, the twist was that it can only be paid by someone with a Turkish Social Security number! Oh joy! The day was made eminently more bearable by our being taken under the wing of the charming and helpful Port Control Officer overhearing our difficulties from his office. Speaking perfect English he invited us to wait in his office where we engaged in conversation ranging from engineering aspects of the British canal system to the author Orhan Pamuk – whose works we have both been reading.
With history going back to the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, the north coast of Turkey was by far the most scenic of the three Black Sea coasts we have travelled, increasingly high mountains going east, densely forested with very little development. However, given the prevailing northerly winds, it is one long lee shore and dogged by swell. The much quoted saying that Turkey has only 4 safe ports: Samsun, Trabazon, July and August - is no longer quite fair in that in recent years many safe fishing harbours have been created – their mighty breakwaters giving some clue about winter storms here. The Turkish fishing industry is the largest in the Black Sea. At the time we arrived the only fishing activity was in the form of myriads of tiny boats dotted out to the horizon, often in considerable swell. The boats, with slender ‘outriggers’ on each side, trolling lines, were driven from a standing position – whether as a consequence of or in spite of the swell we couldn’t find out – but either way, their core body strength must be phenomenal. From 1 September the big boat fishing season starts and from mid-August the fishing harbours were bustling with preparations. It is a serious business involving modern well-equipped steel trawlers 30-40 metres long. Fish we enjoyed eating were ‘hamsi’ – anchovies served like whitebait and ‘palamut’ – a type of bonito.
The main current along this coast flows eastwards, but there is plenty of counter-current inshore to assist passages west-going passages. Dolphins (common) were plentiful – with several sightings on most days – unlike yachts. We encountered no other cruising boats at all along this coast. Typically when ashore in small harbours, people would recognise us as coming from the yacht they’d noticed and greet us enthusiastically. The language problem sadly thwarted our desire to learn more – especially about fishing practices. Though no English is spoken in the small and very basic harbours where we were the only visitors, the welcome was unmistakable. Such hospitable people – çay is offered at the drop of a hat, and we were given fish on several occasions. Someone even turned up at the boat to give us a bag of quinces!
From Eregli we set off eastwards along the coast as far as time allowed before turning back towards Istanbul. Our eastern-most point was
We arrived in
Our passage down the Bosphorus was a very different trip to the stresses of the passage north. This time we had current with us and had done our homework. The timing for the direction of shipping changes every day – the website indicated a stream coming northwards all that day. We had plenty of time to enjoy the sheer magic of this waterway as the scene changed from wooded hills, villages and beaches to more solidly built up shores dotted with palaces, gracious Ottoman mansions, domes and minarets, backed on the European side by the awesome banks of skyscrapers that are modern Istanbul – a spellbinding experience!
Now, after 1392 miles, we are in