Blue Dove is slowly getting ready for her summer travels. De-winterisation is taking so much time, not in the least because it is so cold. The nights are still very cold, around zero, with an icy easterly. By the time the boat has warmed up in the morning it is already more or less time for lunch. And time to climb out of sleeping bag and start doing things. At least the sails are up. And anything I might need for the boat has to be ordered in SPB. And more often than not SPB has to order from abroad.
I suffer from a very female problem, I cannot work on the boat before it is clean. And the boat was filthy when I arrived, covered in dust and soot from the factory on the other side of the river. I am told that the factory was built by Germans before WWII when this area belonged to Finland. And Priozyorsk was known as Käkisalmi.
The silliest problem I have is lack of water. And this whilst being in the biggest fresh water lake of Europe, Lake Ladoga. The yard has no water. No water hoses on the jetty or anywhere else. There is a well in the yard but the water is contaminated. Andrey, the yard manager has promised to sort this out for me. But perhaps best is to find a hand pump and source water straight from the lake into the water tanks. We did this in Tainui in 2013 in lake Onega. It was fine.
Now off to Saint-Petersburg and Moscow for a few days of R&R with friends.
The crane turned up at 11am rather than at lunch time. I wasn’t early. The temperature at night had gone down to around zero and it took the small fan heater some time to heat up the boat in the morning. All the more reason to stay put in sleeping bag with hot coffee. A bit of a last-minute rush in the end to get the boat ready for take-off after I appeared bleary-eyed in the cockpit and discovered the crane had arrived. Ah, well…The crane driver and marina guys did a sterling job and Blue Dove was back in the water in no time.
Blue Dove is the first private boat in the water here. Navigation has not started yet. That means that technically you are not yet allowed to leave port. There can still be ice floating in Ladoga.
Now I have to think what to do with the supports which were especially built for Blue Dove to sit on in the winter. There is not even someone to give them to. Too few boats wintering (We talk a maximum of 15, mostly small run-abouts, owned by various public bodies). 34 Ft size Blue Dove plus Aries is huge here. I’ll talk to Andrey tomorrow who is the marina director.
I am back in Priozyorsk, where the boat is on the hard. Priozyorsk is a small town 150km north of Saint-Petersburg on the west side of Lake Ladoga. The weather is beautiful and relatively warm, sunny but still with quite a bit of snow in the surrounding forest
I’m pleasantly surprised that the yard is busily getting boats ready. Lots of people around. Last year was a bit lonely when I was the only one still in the yard at the end of the season. I now even have a neighbour – Sergey- who also sleeps on his boat. That being said most men only use their boats as a variation on a theme – the shed, a place away from their wives. Nobody is in a hurry to have their boats launched. As if sailing is an afterthought. Needless to say I am the only women in the yard. I am not complaining.
Priozyorsk has nothing to offer for visiting yachties in terms of stuff you need for a boat. Everything has to come from St-Petersburg and often from abroad. But everybody is friendly and willing to help.
Blue Dove is wintering at y/c Laguna in Priozersk. Because I couldn’t decide yet where to take her next year. Either, we’ll go down through Russia again as it the quickest way to the Med. But at the same time Denmark and Scotland also beckon. I don’t have to decide yet. For now more important is that she gets through the winter. The temperature can get down to minus 35 but usually not for long, chorussed the men at the yard. Potable anti-freeze is either vodka (to -25) or pure alcohol (to – 40).
Out came the boat by crane. Blue Dove’s supports were made especially for her. That after a zillion question I had no answers to. “Does the design foresee in where the supports should go?” I did get me a bit worried. But the boat ended up on the hard all fine.
The marina is outside of town and feels very much in the middle of nowhere. At the end of the season I was the only only one spending the nights on the boat. The marina is full of security people who are supposed to look after your boat but couldn’t tie a knot if their lives depended on it. There are not about nautical safety but about all thieves and vandals in this middle of nowhere.
The winter ends of April when the ice will have melted and boat will refloat. I hope I will have come to a decision as to where to sail
Blue Dove has been left behind in Priozersk. We are desperate for a break from the boat after three months of sailing. John is flying back to Australia. Max will be back in October for Blue Dove to be hauled out for the winter.
We’ll still be updating these blogs though with all the information we have collected.
More general information about sailing in Russia, you can find in our book “Sailing through Russia”
Since St Petersburg we have encountered just 2 yachts. Both small Russian boats with small outboard motors.
So Priozersk came as a surprise. Entering through a narrow but well-marked channel there are 3 small marinas here in the river, with dozens of small local yachts. We stopped at the first marina on the left, said to be the best of them. A decrepit timber mill looms large on the opposite shore and there is a medieval fortress worth exploring.
The marina has pontoon berths, shore power and rudimentary facilities (no water or fuel, though). Staff are friendly and there is an excellent restaurant nearby. A welcome change.
North from here there are myriad islands, sounds and byways begging exploration en route our northernmost destination, Valaam.
On the far north of Lake Ladoga lies Valaam Island, home to one of the holiest of Russian Orthodox monasteries. A rich collection of churches, sketes and shrines dating from the 14th century dot the island in primeval conifer forest. It is very beautiful.
We found snug anchorage in one of the many fjiordlike bays and collapsed into bed with the sound of carillon bells ringing all round us. Pilgrims flock and Meteor hydrofoils arrive several times daily bringing the devout to worship. We are the only sailing boat.
Unlike so many monastic sites this one was never a gulag. Because of its strategic position Valaam has seen much military action over the last 600 years and its history is complex – Swedes, Finns, Russians and Nazis have taken turns at ownership but custodianship has finally returned to the 600 Orthodox monks.
With bad weather forecast we scurried 30 miles back to the mainland and were tucked into our berth at Priozorsk when the northerly front arrived with driving rain and icy blasts. Maxine is leaving Blue Dove here for a month’s R&R and I will take my leave of this lovely little vessel.
We had not expected to find such a delightful anchorage and wondered how the monastery island of Konevets, our next destination and one of the goals of our Ladoga cruise, could surpass it. After an idyllic sail north to the island the cerulean domes of the 14th century monastery rose above its forested shore.
But as we approached the bay our excitement turned to dismay. A veritable forest of cranes, barges and piledrivers surrounded the harbour. The waterfront and the monastery itself are undergoing an enormous upgrade. It seems Vladimir Putin visited the island a couple of years ago and millions, if not billions of euros have been earmarked for the job.
Just 18 monks are cloistered here. Pious pilgrims – all women in scarves and black stockings, heads bowed – move silently between virile young construction workers in flouro jackets. When the renovations are complete the monastery will be very impressive, though it will take another 400 years and another 200 monks for the patina of time to reinstate the magic of this place.
The hammering of the piledrivers at the harbour was deafening and we decided to stay at the pilgrims’ guesthouse, a lovely ramshackle affair up the hill. In the warm still evening we strolled through ancient forests and explored monastic outbuildings before sitting down to a communal meal for the pious. A plump and rather bored monk sang the prayers.
“…a captivating adventure. I read the book at one setting and was very late to bed.(the book is) beautifully presented and bound, with noble images…half pilot book, half cruising yarn.”
“Vallentine is a semi-retired doctor from Australia with a dry, Aussie humour which he really needs as one crazy nonsense after another gets in his way. He is an unsung hero of ocean sailing.”
– Tom Cunliffe, Yachting World August 2018.
“[whether sailing or taking a river cruise]…this fascinating and entertaining book would be the ideal guide to take along. Everyone interested in cruising off the beaten path…as well as anyone with a specific interest in Russia, will enjoy this book.”
– Ocean Cruising Club book review
“What a fascinating book! Even if you never repeat the history-making voyage of Australian yacht Tainui, this is a great read. If you do plan such a venture, it is compulsory reading.”
– Afloat Magazine
A lively and informative combination journal and cruising guide for those who might follow. Whether you are planning the voyage yourself or just looking for an adventurous tale, Sailing Through Russia is a photo-filled gem that’s well worth the read.