Our first time in the Baltic States

 

We cleared Farosund at the top of Gotland, and the wind settled to about 20kts on a close reach.  We set the autopilot and settled down for a long over-night leg.  Darkness only lasted about 3 hours, and by 02:30 I could turn the nav’ lights off again!  We saw a few ships in the separation scheme off Gotland, but other than that it was just a rolly ride, in the heavy swell from the earlier gale, all the way to the approach buoys off Ventspils some 80 miles away. We entered the harbour about 06:00 and quietly picked up a stern buoy mooring. We felt smug that we had noticed that the buoys were a long way out from the quay, necessitating a long rope and avoiding the schoolboy error of running out of rope.  Several other boats coming in later that morning had various mishaps due to short ropes.  (More of this later…..) Amazingly the harbourmaster, a young lad, was up and about at 06:00 and welcomed us in perfect English. Ventspils proved to be a lovely town with well tended parks,  a modern shopping centre (where we were very pleased  to find a replacement for our fried laptop charger!),excellent transport links and friendly people.  It’s a big commercial port, but the little corner of the fish harbour that had been turned into a marina was neat and tidy with a grassed area and an open-air bar/ cafe. The prices, and the dark beers, were a treat after Sweden.

 

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Re-purposed area of Fish Dock

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Ventspils has lots of cow statues, not sure why

Our original plan had been to sail on to Riga, but more bad weather forecast for several days ahead persuaded us to make the journey by bus instead. We picked up some useful travel tips from Cruising Association friends, including a good hotel recommendation, so we left the boat for a couple of days in Ventspils, and did the tourist thing in Riga. We could thoroughly recommend a visit, there is lots to see and do and it felt very welcoming. We witnessed a ceremony at the peace statue commemorating the people who were deported to Siberia during the Soviet take over. We also visited the Museum Of The Occupation, which brought home to us how much this country has overcome since their liberation in 1991.

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Beautiful Riga

 

When we eventually left Ventspils, we sailed across the mouth of the Gulf of Riga to Montu on the South West corner of Estonia. It’s really a fishing harbour, but with the decline in Fishing, yacht facilities are being developed. There’s not much there, but the sunsets are pretty, and the harbour master was friendly.

GW tied up in the fishing harbour of Montu

GW tied up in the fishing harbour of Montu

We were due to join a CA Rally with other UK boats in Kuressaare the following week, and as the weather was looking, as ever, unsettled we decided to just get there and have a few days R&R.

Montu and Kuressaare are on the large Estonian island of Saaremaa about 20 miles apart.  We had an easy trip in light winds.  When we arrived, we selected a stern buoy, misjudged its distance from the quay, and ended up doing the thing we’d smugly avoided in Ventspils!  Oskar, the ever helpful Harbour Master came down to greet us, and saved our embarrassment by summoning a nice man in a RIB who whizzed round and retrieved the end of our stern line for us. We felt a bit silly.  Pride does indeed come before a fall….

Kuressaare was our home for the next week, and as other CA boats arrived for the rally we had meals and events to go to. We had a tour of Saaremaa by minibus, taking in some ancient monuments, a huge meteorite crater, and the remains of the Soviet Ground to Air defence bunkers. We also had a visit from the Deputy Mayor, a tour of the castle, and the mid-summer celebrations in the park – we even had a dance!.  A lovely place with very friendly people,  which we were sorry to leave.

 

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Mid-Summer bonfire

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The CA fleet dressed overall for mid-summer

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Old Soviet-era bunkers

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Celebrating mid-summer

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Kuressaare castle

After much discussion about the weather, which had taken a turn for the worse again, we left Kuressaare, along with the other members of the Rally fleet very early one morning to avoid sailing through the trickier navigation and shallows in the stronger winds which were forecast for later that day.  We arrived in the ferry port of Kuivastu, on the island of Muhu,  about 8 hours later. The wind had been quite strong at times and we were glad to be in.

The next morning, up again bright and early bound for Haapsalu on the Estonian mainland.  The weather was stronger than forecast, and at times the Wind Speed was hitting 30 knots. Fortunately we were not bashing into it, and the various islands of Moon Sound gave some lee from the sea state, if not from the wind itself. If it had been a bright and sunny day, you might have been able to call it exhilarating when the boat speed was up around 8 knots or more, but as the squalls came through with rain and hail, I’d probably use a different word…….. We arrived tired and grateful to be in.  Also, grateful to Nicholas the rally organiser, and Graham and Fay who run the CA Baltic section, who were standing on the pontoon in the wind and rain to take our lines, having arranged berths for 11 boats. Thank you.

 

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Soviet-era loco

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German WW2 loco

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Haapsalu castle

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A beautiful restaurant in the style of a summer palace

The whole CA fleet was stuck in Haapsalu for about 5 days with strong winds. But we made the most of it with trips to the castle, the railway museum, the local craft and historic boat museum, various bike rides, and group dinners and drinks in the evenings. It’s a lovely town with some touches of Tzarist Russia, and strong connections to Sweden. We would definitely recommend a visit. But, when the wind dropped we were all pleased to get moving again.

By now the rally was behind schedule, so we had to cut out a couple of planned stops. We sailed to the port of Dirhami and tied up overnight to a huge concrete ship quay. The Harbour Master told me that it is used by trawlers in the winter, but in the summer months it’s just used by yachts. So we were comforted to know that we wouldn’t be woken by a trawler in the middle of the night demanding it’s berth. I assume they are iced-in here in the winter. Dirhami is a pleasant place with camping spaces and summer apartments in the surrounding woods.

The following day we set sail for Tallinn and the end of the Rally. We stayed in a brand new marina which had just been opened on the outskirts of the city at Kakumae. We were almost the only boats in the harbour. For here it was a short bus ride into the city centre and old-town.  Estonia seems to have really embraced new technology, and we easily found our way by downloading the Tallinn bus ‘ap.

Tallinn old town was beautiful, and we managed to go on a day when there were no cruise ships in. So we had an uncrowded and very enjoyable time.

Tallinn at last

The new empty marina

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Images of Tallinn old town

We loved our time in Latvia and Estonia, and hope to return again some day.

Next stop, Helsinki.

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