The Baltic Sea, Pt. 2
June 29th, 2010
Olympic Marina, Tallinn Estonia 59 28.2 N 24 49.2 E
Kelly and Jos Archer, Onora's Kiwi builders, just left. They joined us in Riga ten days ago. It spoils us having crew members that know the boat as well as us. Everything gets done quickly and without a word being said.
Both Latvia and Estonia are coping with the economic downturn but are happy to be cut loose from the Soviet repression and realize that economic swings are part of freedom. The European Union's investment in two of its newest and least developed members is evident in the restored old towns of both capitals. The narrow cobble stone streets are lined with medieval and Art Nouveau buildings which open into large sunny squares, packed with outdoor cafes. Twenty years ago Riga was supposedly packed with spies. Now it has camera toting cruise passengers.
We entered Estonia in Kihnu Island, a quiet place where the women still wear the long red dresses embroidered with blues and yellows. Traditionally, the women harvest the crops while the men go to sea for fish and seals. Today there is not much sea life and sealing is banned. The women continue their jobs leaving little for the men to do. "It is a problem for the men," we were told by an observer."The women now run everything."
We dropped the anchor at Muhu Island June 24th. A man arrived in his row boat five minutes later. "Today is St. John's Day and we will have a bonfire. Come." This was the day that most of the Baltic people celebrate mid-summer with bonfires and sausages and beer. Olav showed off his little harbor and introduced his family and several others who had gathered. More celebrants arrived as the shadows lengthened. At 10:00, Olav threw a torch into the mountain of branches. The flames quickly spread to light not only tonight's sacrifice but the adjacent pile designated for future festivities.
An Estonian career diplomat and his Columbian wife introduced themselves. They met when he worked at the Estonian Embassy in Washington. "It was a shock to come to live here fifteen years ago", she told us. "Everything was frozen and the Russians controlled everything. We could not come to this island without a visa even though we lived in Tallinn, in the same country, just thirty miles away. You never knew if you would get permission. Everyone was depressed. The changes since the Russians left in the 90's are amazing. The economic downturn has slowed things but this country has come so far."
In what must be a reaction to Soviet repression comes the statement in The Estonian Cruising Guide that lists "Everyman's Right". One may "spend the night on public land....light a fire...move around on private land from sunrise to sunset...anchor...etc." That right has been further extended to Internet which is free in the country. All public telephones have wifi antennas.
We arrived at the Olympic Marina here in Tallinn two days ago and are tied up next to the Olympic Torch. This crumbling complex was built by the Russians for the 1980 games and appears to be deliberately abandoned to ruin by the Estonians. Even the marina office is in a trailer while the huge glass and concrete Olympic headquarters looms empty like a sleeping giant transformer guarding the harbor. Meanwhile, the bustling old section of the city has been rebuilt from the devastation of WWII and neglect of the Russian occupation.
July 4th, 2010
St. Petersburg River Yacht Club, Russia 59 57.9 N 30 14.2 E
We entered Russian waters on the 30th and, as required, radioed the Russian Coast Guard. They controlled us for the hundred miles to St. Petersburg where an escort boat was sent out to direct us to the customs and immigration dock. A fit grey-haired man with a mustache and a checkered shirt took our lines. "Hi, I'm Vladimir." And so we met Vladimir Ivankiv who had arranged for our visit. The prevailing wisdom in the sailing community is to sail to Helsinki and take the train to St. Petersburg. Our friend, David Dillard, who we sailed with in Norway last summer, had sailed up the east coast of Russia and crossed to Alaska. He had also sailed to Russia in the Black Sea. The first trip cost him $50,000 for permits and the obligatory state sponsored tour guide to sail with him. In the Black Sea, he was offered the choice of paying $300 to the customs official or go to jail for 'unspecified crimes'. Vladimir, a retired civil engineer, sees to it that St. Petersburg is a good place to for sailors to visit.
A heavily uniformed middle aged lady in a red banded peaked hat came on board to inspect our passports and search the boat. Then Jim followed Vladimir into the ferry terminal and up the stairs to immigration where a room full of similarly uniformed but younger women was watching cartoons on TV. One escorted us into a separate room where our documents were inspected. She took our crew lists, passports and visas which were stamped and copies filed. Next, we visited Customs for more of the same. We left as legal visitors and followed Vladimir's directions to the Saint Petersburg River Union Yacht Club. It is populated by several very large power boats, a collection of sailing and smaller power boats and four international visitors. The odd item is a small submarine which must be hard to operate here as it is so shallow.
The Yacht Club is a favorite of politicians and oligarchs. The limousines and helicopters arrive at dinnertime, driven by the kind of men you would not want to be mad at you. The awful racket disco runs until 5:00am but nobody bothers to complain.
The next day Vladimir picked us up and gave us an overview of the city. The scale of the city is something that we were not ready for. Not just a palace but dozens line the river. Not just a Rembrandt but a room of them. The cathedrals soar above the skyline. I knew the story, all built by Peter the Great for Peter the Great with additions by Nicolas, Catherine, Alexander, etc. When each felt the need to build something memorable or needed more room for the ever growing art collection, a new palace was added. "It is easy to see why there was a revolution" mused Vladimir. It must have been great to be Czar.
- Click here for Part 2 -