Back in the USSR

“Back in the USSR, you don’t know how lucky you are” – so say the Beatles; but no more the USSR, it’s now the Russian Federation, with lots of changes. 

WOW! The ‘Pearl’ has been on the move. We left London May 22nd and since have landed in 10 countries at 14 ports. We finally arrived at St. Petersburg, Russia, the furthest east we can travel. Check the charts, hard to go by sea any more towards the sunrise.

Some voyage highlights:

Klaipeda, Lithuania

– we left Gdansk, Poland for an overnight passage east to Lithuania. Klaipeda port is a quaint small old town off the River Dane. We spent a day exploring the Curonian Spit which is a constantly shifting sandy peninsular between Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea – a UNESCO Heritage site. Goggle how the movement of the sands has swallowed entire villages and forced evacuations in the past.

On the way to Klaipeda we passed Kaliningrad, a sliver of land bordering on the Baltic. It is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania but belongs to Russia. Having previously been on our boat in the Russian Far East (Kamchatka) we know that Russia considers ALL its seacoast strategic. So we stayed off the customary 12 mile limit and added another 8 miles for good measure – a total of 20nm from the Russian coast. We know of other sailors that have had issues coming too close to the 12 mile limit.

Our caution did not prevent a fly over or “dusting” (nautical speak for an unwarranted close inspection, power trip). Take a look at the pic below to see who came to check out the ‘stars and stripes’ on Ocean Pearl. Two Soviet helicopters took turns hovering over us for half an hour. Strangely, they never hailed us on the VHF radio or made any contact. And I showed some restraint by not waving like a fool out the window. The captain told me to pretend they were not there! Really?

Russian helicopter over our boat off Kaliningrad

Riga, Latvia

– Walking through the labyrinth of cobble stone streets in the heart of old Riga is a journey back in time. Gothic churches and ancient buildings evoke the relatively peaceful middle ages. But lots of bad stuff has occurred in the 20th century.

This became clear during our visit to the Riga Occupation Museum. On June 17th, 1940, Hitler and Stalin made a secret pact and the Soviet Union annexed and occupied Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. A year later, National Socialist Germany invaded the Soviet Union and snatched Latvia. After WW II, Latvia was re-occupied by the Soviet Union. A trifecta mess!

Tens of thousands lost their lives in the Holocaust, political murder, and inhuman conditions in the Gulag and Nazi concentration camps. One third of Latvia’s population was wiped out. Only in 1991 did Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia regain their independence. You can bet they are carefully watching the Russian/Ukrainian developments of late.

On a lighter note, we were in Riga during the summer solstice festival. It didn’t feel like summer, cold and wet! But it was quite festive, with the sun setting after 10:00pm, and lots of celebrations.

Here is some Riga’s beautiful art nouveau architecture:

Tallinn, Estonia

– Estonia is the smallest of the Baltic States – slightly larger than Denmark. It borders on Russia to the east and Latvia to the south. We visited Estonia’s capital, Tallinn which lies 45 miles south of Helsinki, across the Gulf of Finland. Tallinn Old Town was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997 – well deserved!

Our view from the sea was an impressive historical skyline of the Toompea Ridge along the town’s old walls and towers; the highest being St. Olaf’s church’s spire dating back to the 13th century. The old town is divided into a lower and upper part. The lower town was inhabited by rowdy Hanseatic traders and the upper town was populated by staid nobility. As in ancient times, today the cool action (restaurants, bars, cafes, street life) is in the lower town, with the upper town having government buildings and bureaucracy – ugh.

Estonia has a definite Russian influence and we started enjoying typical Russian cuisine, borscht, pelmenis (fish or meat filled dumplings) and, of course, caviar, blinis and vodka.

A pic of the 2014 Ocean Cruising Club Baltic Rally group in Tallinn. We lucked out with an unusually warm, dry and sunny day for a cocktail gathering – 46 strong on the OP! Many of these nautically seasoned couples have circumnavigated on their own boats.

Technical trivia

– lower right is a 5 gal pail of used oil, one of three from our recent oil change maintenance.

Domed St. Alexanders Nevsky Cathedral – erected as a symbol of Russian power in Estonia. Not mosquito netting – construction scaffolding.

Tallinn medieval town hall square

Technical trivia. Electrical power hookup in Tallinn

– Among the many challenges presented by international boat travel is connecting to electric service on the dock. Standardization is rare and you must adapt your power cord to the dock supply and receptacle. The trick is to make up “pig tail adapters”. One end with the male plug the dock wants and the other end plugging into your boat’s shore power cord. For most regions of the world, usually 3-4 of these rigs with various dock plugs will get you by and allow you to connect to the local dock pedestals or hookups. We thought OP had an adequate assortment of pig tails for N. Europe and the Baltic.

BUT, not so fast… What if there is nothing to connect to? This happened in Tallinn. We were originally assigned to a regular slip with a nice power pedestal. Got all tied up and plugged in. The dock boy was tipped and went away. Uh oh, then he reappeared. This is always a bad sign ‘cause they are usually never seen again after helping with the lines and getting their tip. As we dreaded, the

“you must move cha-cha” started.

We were relocated to a rough concrete sea wall. No problem because there are no tides in the Baltic, so no rise and fall of the boat along the nasty wall – so a few sturdy fenders and all is ok. But where was the electrical hookup? A call to the dock master and we were told there definitely was power at our wall. He would send someone to show us where.

EMPOWER is on the job. An electrician came and unlocked a heavy steel lid. There was massive voltage inside, big uninsulated industrial copper terminals. You could hear the buzzing of the power!

He is reaching in with bare hands and those copper terminals are live!

Note the two kibitzers standing well to the side. 

He is plugging OP’s shore power cord into his directly wired (inside the red box) pigtail.

The grey item inside the box is a fuse block, so some protection – but only outside the box.

The pro took our pig tail, clipped the plug off, and wired it directly to the oversized terminals, while they were live! He shut the lid, locked it and asked us to call him when we got ready to leave. He would come and undo us. Not to worry. We had good power for our stay and our man cheerfully disconnected the live leads when we left. Very capable.Helsinki, Finland

– Helsinki is younger and smaller than most of the other European capitals. There are no medieval buildings. Although Russian influence is dominant, Helsinki was shaped by influences from both the East and West. The most scenic and traditional way to arrive in this city is by water. This approach is enhanced by an archipelago of hundreds of small islands that create an ideal environment for cruising on the way to town.We had a side tie just across Helsinki’s historic South Harbour on the island of Blekholmen at the respected Nylanska Yacht Club. Finland’s oldest yacht club founded in 1861 – by authority of Tsar Alexander II.

NJK Yacht Club. The green roofed yacht club pavilion was built in 1900. To the left is city center.

A 2 minute launch ride from the NYK puts you at the city center – main Market Square which contains a bustle of colorful stalls some serving local fare such as bream, salmon, herring, and sautéed reindeer (not bad!). Others are selling tourist trinkets, but all are surrounded by historic cobblestone streets.

Helsinki – a thoroughly modern, walkable, pocket-size city. How not to love a place that has cool art museums and hot saunas! And lots of interesting food!

Bear, reindeer meat, sautéed wild boar, anyone?

Salmon galore!

Rising up near the Helsinki waterfront is the stark white Lutheran Cathedral, with green domes and wide sweeping steps. Beautiful but true to Lutheran taste, very austere inside. Such a contrast to the wildly gold gilded Orthodox cathedrals we saw in St Petersburg!

Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki

Fourth of July at anchor in Haasapaari, Finland

– We travelled to this small island and Finnish/Russian border town early on July 4th. Here we cleared out of Finland (customs and immigration).

Then the FUN! The plan was for anchors down by 3pm for a 4th of July celebration (AND my birthday) on board fellow American sailboat boat, ‘Lalize’. We had a beautiful sunny day to enjoy fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, watermelon and wine! We have been fortunate to enjoy my birthday on the boat in some exotic locales – a few previous sites include Dutch Harbor Alaska, Rome, Mykonos, British Columbia, and Gibraltar.

At anchor in Haapasaari, Finland. Finally the sun is setting at 1130 pm!

Braun getting a tour of the Finnish Border Guard’s boat, friendly clearance out of Finland

We left Finland and set out for an overnight passage to Fort Konstantin, Russia – CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION CONTROL. Strict entry procedures are carried out here. Fort Konstantin and the naval port city of Kronshtadt are situated on Kotlin Island. They are all part of an extensive Russian military protective barrier across the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland.

Fort Konstantin border control. Real inviting place…huh?

We arrived at the border at our assigned time, 9:30 am. Unbeknownst to us there was a rally of 13 Finnish sailboats all trying to clear out of Russia at the same time we were clearing in! Of course this overwhelmed the authorities and became a “cluster” you know what. Not the authorities fault, just bad timing.

 Many boats rafted up at the Customs dock waiting to clear in and out of Russia

Disregarding the pressure, the Russian officials were competent, polite, and cheerful. While there was considerable paperwork involved our agent had taken care of most of it. We were one of the first boats to arrive and due to the cooperation of the authorities and our skillful agent, the Pearl was quickly processed and we beat feet. However; for most of our group clearing in took over 5 hours. For them an unavoidable bad memory of “Welcome to Russia”!

The Pearl temporarily impounded, awaiting clearance.

Come inside, my sweet – Hotel California?

Our terrific Russian agent, Vladimir Ivankiv

From the border at Fort Konstantin we traveled 18 miles to Krestovski Yacht Club on Krestovski, Ostrov (island). A nice marina withgood power, modern WC’s and showers, free WIFI, plenty of nearby restaurants and easy access to town by the amazing metro.

The pilot books described the marina area as “can be a little too vibrant because of the nearby disco-clubs.” This was a huge understatement! ‘White Nights’ (daylight 20 hours/day) leads to LOUD music, often played until dawn. Combine this with obnoxious jet ski’s racing up and down the narrow channel all day and ALL night. And then the hydro plane racing – you get the picture! Very noisy and choppy water! Nevertheless, we did not let the lack of peace at the marina ruin our visit to wonderful St. Petersburg.

Saint Petersburg

– A city rich in history and drama, embodies Russia’s European connection. It ranks up there with the great cosmopolitan cities of the world. The namesake is the founding Tsar Pyotr Alexeyevich, aka – Peter the Great. Peter created the new capital of Russia on the Baltic by relocating it from Moscow.

As he built St. Petersburg he acted as an inspired artist and then, to protect his investment a military strategist. The city was largely his making. He revealed himself with exceptional clarity as a genius, capable of comprehensive vision and creativity. This was unprecedented and at the time very un-Russian.

Peter started with a swamp which he converted to a vibrant city of rivers and canals. And bridges – many of which are world renowned for their original artistic design. There are a splendid parks and gardens that were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Everything in scale is large – I mean BIG. The Hermitage, Peter and Paul’s Fortress, and Peter’s grand and lavish palace, Peterhof. Then there is the over-the-top-opulent Tsarskoye Selo Czars Village which was Peter’s second wife Catherine’s pad. And, the GOLD… everywhere and incredible!

Our two week visit was filled with visiting these magnificent places plus an opportunity to see a ballet and opera (‘War and Peace’…God help us!) at the exquisite Mariinsky Theater.

Here is some of what we saw…

Church of Spilled Blood. Tsar Alexander II was murdered here.

The fountains at the Peterhof Palace. No pumps, the pressure is from gravity.

The old Mariinsky Theater, joined now with the new Mariinsky opera house, below.

The adjacent new Mariinsky opera house

This new Mariinsky was designed and built by our friend Jack Diamond. He is a world renowned Canadian architect and his creation is magnificent. We went to a ballet in the old Mariinsky and an opera in Jack’s new place.

Our good friends and fellow travelers, Pat and Wayne Davis…a night out at the opera!


– St. Petersburg is the furthest east we are traveling this summer and now it is time to turn around and head back west, probably stopping for the winter in England. Details on this return voyage in future blogs.

Ocean Pearl clear…but standing by for an adventure call on VHF channel 16.

Tina and Braun


p.s. Below is some other stuff and “Technical trivia” on fuel and the Kalashnikov:

Other Stuff

– Look who’s gracing the cover of the July 2014 Passage Maker magazine! The ole’ girl still gets attention!

This cover celebrates the 10 year anniversary of the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally. We are lucky-lucky to have covered some water miles in the last 14 years. But we’re young and the ride has just begun!!

Grey Pearl entering Gibraltar after crossing the Atlantic July 2004

Technical trivia. Getting fuel.

Braun always likes to get fueled up. He learned from the US Navy – the only time you have too much fuel is when you are on fire. Fuel is abundant and relatively cheap in Russia. The sign is the price in rubles per liter for diesel. Works out to $3.55/gal. vs. $8.00+/gal. in Scandinavia, the Baltic and the rest of northern Europe. Fully loaded we sank heavy in the water with good clean fuel. Thank you Russia!

“AT” is diesel. 32.99 rubles per liter.

Technical trivia. Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Braun went to the Russian Artillery Museum, and spent most of the day there. The next day he went back! Go figure?? Here is his account.

It is a huge place. Here’s what the front lawn looks like.

 Exterior Russian Artillery Museum

Interior Russian Artillery Museum Saint Mikhail Kalashnikov

The interior is almost sacred in its décor, reflecting the Russian respect for the military as the protector of Mother Russia. Mikhail Kalashnikov the inventor of the infamous Kalashnikov rifle was prominently featured in the museum. He is highly respected and treated like a saint.

Small part of the huge AK-47 display

Mikhail designed the AK-47 or slang “Kalish”, as a selective fire, gas operated, assault rifle. It is the official infantry weapon of Russia, and many “irregular forces”. More AK-47s have been produced and are out there

than all other assault rifles combined.

Kalashnikov AK 47 – assembled at the start of a disassembly competition

As military men know it is important to be able to take apart a firearm quickly – strip it down to clean it, undo a jam, etc. There is a section of the museum where a competition is held to see who could strip and reassemble a Kalashnikov the fastest. This ease of doing this and the small number of resilient parts (only 8) are key reasons for the popularity of this weapon. It was amazing to watch the large numbers of ordinary passersby that could rapidly strip and rebuild the weapon! They got the experience somewhere!

There were not only contests in the museum. At a carnival I stopped by a Kalashnikov competition.

Experienced competitor rapidly at work

The end result, a stripped Kalashnikov, in seconds

I tried my luck. Took way too long but eventually got it back together and ready to go. The nervous soldier was watching my every move. That’s an armored personnel transport under the Russian flag in the background. No, I did not want to take a ride!

10 thoughts on “Back in the USSR”

  1. SUBJECT: Re: Back in the USSR

    Awesome stories and loved the photos !!

    Reese and I are wrapping up our London visit. Headed to Copenhagen tomorrow.

    Safe travels and enjoy!

    Paul & Reese

    Paul Villella

    > On Aug 6, 2014, at 9:39 AM, “Ocean Pearl” wrote:
    > Border

  2. SUBJECT: Re: Back in the USSR

    Love reading about your journey!

    Sent from my iPad
    On Aug 6, 2014, at 4:39 AM, Ocean Pearl wrote:

  3. Silverburg, Sanford R

    SUBJECT: RE: Back in the USSR

    Fantastic! Pics! You are enjoying the life you certainly deserve and one that makes me jealous. Happy journeys and smooth sailing.

    From: Ocean Pearl [mailto:blog-17828-comments@t…]
    Sent: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 4:39 AM
    To: Silverburg, Sanford R
    Subject: Back in the USSR

  4. SUBJECT: Re: Back in the USSR

    Braun & Tina, looks like this will find you well! Enjoy it all immensely for all of us, and be safe! – Jay Brown & Abby

    Sent from my iPhone
    On Aug 6, 2014, at 4:39 AM, Ocean Pearl wrote:

  5. Tina, you may not write as much as we’d all like, but when you do, you do so to perfection. Thanks so much for another great blog.

  6. SUBJECT: Re: Back in the USSR

    Great cruise, Tina. Keep us up to date! Wink

    Sent from my iPad
    On Aug 6, 2014, at 4:39 AM, Ocean Pearl wrote:

  7. SUBJECT: Re: Back in the USSR

    Magnificent. You really out do yourselves conveying the spirit, the excitement, and apprehension. The pictures really make it. thank you so much. I will write soon to update you on our move back to NYC! we are buried in sorting thru ‘STUFF.’
    Love to see you when you’re back.
    big hug, Lindaformerly Captain, Aries Too, N55-25
    Linda Bialecki917-838-9282linda.bialecki@g…
    On Aug 6, 2014, at 4:39 AM, Ocean Pearl wrote:

  8. Tina and Braun,

    Amazing…you are making me envious!
    I’ve been following your trip.
    FYI, the old Ocean Pearl is pictured in the September issue of “Soundings” page 64.
    Hope to see you back at Spring Cove sometime in the future.
    May you have blue skies and calm seas!
    John from Potomac Falls, Va…”Pelican”…Slip D-10 Spring Cove Marina

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