Gladlee of Guernsey
June 1994 - July 1994
19th – 25th June
We said our goodbyes over coffee on board to Ivo and to “Seevogel”’s Jan and Micke – the latter having managed to get bitten by the club dog – this after checking out with the immigration police, who were conspicuously uninterested in where we were going as long as we came back to Varna. Penko gratefully accepted our dead third service battery as ballast for a boat he was working on! We had quite a good sail out of Varna bay, but as soon as we headed northwards towards Balchik the wind died. By 16.00 we were moored stern to the quay at Balchik, though later we started rolling and hauled ourselves in to lie alongside. We had a nice first stroll up through the town – a pleasant street of oldish houses with balconies leading up from the waterfront to a square above, and some good views out over the harbour. Next day was very hot and humid: we tried unsuccessfully to find meat and to ring Norma in Bucharest from the post office, but we did find some fruit and veg at a small market and some grossly overpriced mackerel at the harbour. Hristo turned up later for a chat and took us on an abortive search for meat further up the hill – apparently prices were about to be changed and nobody had any! In the afternoon we walked along the shore to the former Queen of Romania’s summer residence, quite unintentionally missing the official entrance to the grounds and scrambling up a path round the back. The complex of modest villas and lawns surrounded by woods is very attractive and is kept as a public park-cum-museum, but it would make a superb luxury resort if a developer got his hands on it ….
After hanging around waiting for bread to arrive we managed to spring off the quay into a stiff NW breeze, which increased to F6/7 as we headed out on just a reefed genoa. Half an hour later the wind virtually disappeared and we reeled the genoa in again. Just before midday we had both sails up for 10 minutes as the wind came round briefly to ENE, and a couple of hours later we had the cruising ‘chute up with the main goose-winged. 20 minutes of that and the ‘chute had to come in again with a NNE wind gusting F5. Things settled down a bit (apart from a few gybes) for the remaining two hours of our passage to Byala, where we found plenty of room alongside a metal pontoon attached to the outer jetty. Ashore there were only a few fishermen’s huts, but above the harbour, among the trees on the road leading inland, there was a restaurant with a fine view from its terrace overlooking the bay, where we enjoyed some remarkably potent evening beers. Next morning we walked the 40 minutes or so through vineyards up to Byala town, with fine views over the bay to the south and along the coast northwards: the town had little to offer, though, except bread and (eventually) some cold meat and frozen mince. We were mildly amused to be charged a mooring fee by the parking attendant in a caravan at the end of the quay, for which we duly got a bunch of car park tickets as receipt! Having passed up a nice NW breeze on our “day off” we set off early the following day in a light WSW which didn’t give us the glimmer of a hope of a sail, so we wellied it down to Nesebar and (on Ivo’s recommendation) headed for the harbour north of the causeway instead of the official yacht “marina” on the south side. We thought we had been directed alongside the quay by a rather excitable-looking old Bulgarian yachtsman already moored there, but this turned out to be a misunderstanding (the berth belonged to an excursion boat), so we moved further in alongside a large charter yacht, “Anaconda”, and its genial skipper Ivan. After lunch we explored the picturesque but very touristy old town on the peninsula, then crossed the causeway to the new town to shop for food. Back at the boat we got to know the patter of the boatmen waiting to ferry the punters back to the nearby resort hotels (“Your boat to Sunny Beach, welcome aboard – lhr Boot nach Sunny Beach, bitte schon!”), and tried to look inconspicuous as a couple of militiamen came by, in case they might report our presence to nearby Burgas. We completely overlooked the fifth anniversary of our buying “Gladlee”!
In the small hours of the morning a stiff NE breeze got up and was gusting up to F6 by first light – less enthusiasm from the boatmen across the way! We crossed over to the new town to do some more shopping and saw several small boats in a regatta from Varna beating in, heavily reefed. It was impressive to see their boat handling inside the small harbour without benefit of engines – no chance of coming up into wind, so fine judgement required to spill the wind from the sails and chuck an anchor off the back to avoid cannoning into the boats already moored there. We called in at the marina on our way back and had a brief chat with Ivo and friend on “Andromeda” – everyone seemed to have arrived unscathed apart from some minor rigging damage and a snapped forestay (the mast survived, fortunately). A last visit to the old town, after finding the museum shut, turned up a nice little swindle on the part of a postcard seller who was charging extra for airmail stickers supplied with stamps – we got a rather surly refund after checking this out with the nearby post office! By mid-afternoon the wind seemed to be moderating, so after disentangling a fouled anchor we set off back to Byala into what was by then a light headwind. Arrived at Byala our car park attendant was quickly round to collect his fee again (Ivo assured us subsequently that he had no right to charge us anything!) – just as well for him, since we got up early in the hope of an offshore breeze, found none, but left anyway, motoring back to Varna in a virtual flat calm. Back by mid-morning in what was now a familiar berth we cleaned up, went shopping (hauling more wine from the market) and got back in time to meet “Andromeda”, returning from Nesebar with a nice afternoon breeze!
26th - 30th June
Sunday morning saw us being interviewed on “Radio Galata” by Ivo’s lady friend, with amiable young American-accented Alex interpreting. In between musical interludes we were asked about the cruising life in general as well as for our impressions of Bulgaria. This allowed us to put in a plug for more sensible procedures for visiting foreign yachts, which was the real object of the exercise. After the interview we wandered back to the harbour, where most of the younger yacht club members were pushing off (literally, in light wind) for a day sail – later there was a cheerfully noisy prize-giving for the regatta. We had a visit from a journalist and photographer who picked up the article Nigel had written at Ivo’s request and took a couple of photos to illustrate it. After diner we went up to the YC bar to watch football on TV and met Stefan, a German yachtsman who’d come down the Danube the previous year, had liked Bulgaria and decided to stay on. We presented our retired Royal Temple burgee to the club, where it would join one from the royal western and various others from Eastern Europe – Penko seemed pleased by the gesture.
Stefan called by the following morning, showed us some photos of his trip and gave us a tip or two about moorings at Sulina. He turned out to have a car, so kindly took us into town to pick up some diesel, then dropped us off by the market, where we bought as much wine as we could carry and whatever food we could fit in on top! Back at the port Hristo had promised us that he would arrange for us to clear out of Bulgaria at Balchik, but this turned out to be too difficult for Varna police, who stamped us out but raised no objection to our calling in at Balchik on our way up to Romania. We were sorry to say goodbye to Penko and the hospitable Yacht Club – we had come to feel quite at home in Varna second time round – but conditions looked perfect for the run north, so soon after 15.00 we cast off and headed out into the bay. The sea was calm on a clear and sunny afternoon, and we had a very pleasant sail in a light to moderate SE breeze, finally setting the ‘chute as the wind veered a few miles off Balchik. We spent the next morning working on the boat – Julie varnishing while Nigel stuck together various bits of photocopied Black sea passage chart – until Hristo turned up, took Nigel off to get more diesel and then invited us to supper at the neat little hut serving as his bar cum “Yacht Club” on the end of the quay. We had a delicious meal prepared by Hristo, Nikolai, his manager, and Russko, the boatman, with lots of good booze to wash it down, and then adjourned to one of the restaurants over the road to watch World Cup football on TV until well after midnight.
Our final day in Bulgaria featured last-minute shopping and a return visit to the Romanian Queen’s summer palace: in between times we managed to persuade Hristo that it would only cause confusion for us to check in (or out) with the local police. We also promised to try and sort out a muddle over his appointment as CA HLR and presented him with a visitor’s book for his marina – a nice man, and we promised that we’d be back to see him again. With a good pork chop dinner under our belts we set out for Constanta just after 21.00: flat calm to begin with, but early in the morning a gentle westerly breeze got up, and we were able to sail for almost seven hours, reaching Mangalia soon after dawn and passing and anchored Romanian warship a little later on. By breakfast time we had the huge outer breakwater of Constanta port in sight – we had to keep a careful eye open for ships coming in and out, but got round safely and into Portul Tomis, the yacht harbour on the north side, at 10.40. Hristo had given us some information about the harbour (as well as dire warnings about the Romanians!), so we were prepared to be waved in to the quay by soldiers on duty at the pierhead and told, pleasantly enough, to sit tight until we could be officially cleared in. Adrian, in charge of the yacht moorings, turned up to welcome us, followed by a trio of officials, speaking very adequate English, who seemed delighted to see us. The usual paperwork followed, with much wielding of rubber stamps, as we produced refreshments and asked tentatively whether we might be allowed to visit the Danube Delta. No problem, they assured us: provided we checked in with harbour authorities as appropriate we could anywhere we liked (“we are a democracy now – you are welcome!”). We were cautioned against taking Romanian money out of the country, to which Nigel replied that we should be happy to spend any balance on Romanian wines: this caused slight incredulity, since we’d just declared 45-odd bottles of the Bulgarian variety on board…… having said goodbye to the officials we were greeted in good English by “Micky” from a neighbouring fishing boat, and after chatting to him we decided to ignore Hristo’s advice and moor further along the quay, where we would have less security (no soldiers on guard) but could get access to electricity and water. There were a few local boats there, with people on board who seemed friendly enough, and a popular small quayside café/restaurant which created a pleasant ambiance in the evenings. The surroundings are quite attractive, too, with a few handsome older buildings on the higher ground overlooking the harbour and some grassy areas below them. The harbour itself was reasonably clean and tidy, with work going on to repair the breakwaters, and Florian was at pains to assure us that it would all soon look even better. Later we ventured a little way in to the old part of the town, changed some money, and found a PTT and a few food shops (rather more obvious than in Bulgaria, where it sometimes wasn’t always easy to identify shops at all!)
1st – 5th July
We spent most of the weekend in Constanta entertaining Norma, whom we’d managed to contact in Bucharest by telephone and who arrived on Friday evening with a couple of Romanian girlfriends, fellow employees at the Embassy. Meanwhile we’d been on board the fishing boat “Micky” was looking after and had tea with him and colleague Valentin. “Micky”’s real name turned out to be Metin, and he said he was mixed Turkish and Tartar stock: he’d sailed in merchant ships all over the place. Valentin had little English, but he kindly produced a chart of the Delta for us as a present, and Metin offered to supply us with some diesel after dark! We duly took on three cans full after Norma had joined us for dinner, bearing gifts of wine and (even more welcome) a case of Fosters, as well as our mail. Next morning Norma drove us out to her hotel opposite a beach, where we rang James in London – Norma was less successful in getting hold of a contact who had offered a tour of the port in his boat. We joined Norma’s friends Magda and Micki (and Micki’s son Colin) for a sandwich lunch on the beach, courtesy of Magda’s parents who turned out to be running the small café there. Afterwards we visited the museum, a fine façade behind the statue of Ovid in the main square of the old town, and then had a look at the Roman mosaic uncovered nearby. Back at the harbour we found a single-hander Brit, Geoff, who’d just come down the Danube with his catarmaran and dog Tilly, but we couldn’t really offer more than token hospitality (or hear his experiences) without boring Norma – not that he looked quite our type anyway. We had a good dinner at the restaurant on the quay, which was packed out with cheerful Romanians and overflowing on to tables outside. On Sunday Norma was supposed to bring her friends down for a sail – they had sounded very enthusiastic the previous, but a somewhat flustered Norma eventually turned up alone, having given up on Magda and Micki (they had apparently gone off shopping). Conditions were ideal for a trip round the bay, though, so we took Norma out for nearly three hours, somewhat to the consternation of the soldiers on duty at the pierhead, who obviously thought we shouldn’t be leaving without permission! We hove to for lunch and had a thoroughly enjoyable outing – Norma said that it was the best treat she’d had in months. Nigel polished off some letters for Norma to send back in the bag, and we said our goodbyes as she set off, rather reluctantly, back to Bucharest and another week’s work. Later a large Australian yacht pulled in on its way up to Ukraine – they didn’t have visas, so weren’t allowed off the boat, but “Micky” fixed them up with some diesel and we scored a definite hit with a few cans of Norma’s Fosters!
Our first impressions of Romania had been very positive. Though “Micky” and others had told us that life was still very difficult even without the Çeauçescus (“so now we have Ionescu – Çeauçescu, Ionescu, what’s the difference!”), the people we had come across were openly friendly and keen to strike up a conversation – more so than the Bulgarians, though this might have been partly due to the surprising number of people at Constanta who spoke some English (or at least French). We were warned not to leave the boat unattended for too long, and we experienced what might have been an attempt to relieve Nigel of his watch, but Norma told us that the place was a good deal less lawless than it had been even six months earlier. Her friends seemed completely relaxed, though it had been sobering for her to hear them confess how relieved they were not to have to report on her anymore!
We had a final shopping trip up towards the newer part of town, with “Micky” as escort for part of the way, before topping up with water, cleaning the boat down and getting ready to clear out on Monday afternoon. Florin from the HM’s office turned up promptly, followed by the same courteous representatives of Customs and police, and we were out of the harbour in a gentle SE breeze by 15.30. We’d been warned to head well out to sea to avoid a naval exercise area to the north, which gave us a nice beam reach out towards a group of oil rigs about 45 miles offshore. Once past rig “Gloria” we headed northwards, goosewinging in what was by now a SW4, and had an easy run past the light of St Georghe and up the low- lying coast until we could see the long breakwaters and the tall lighthouse marking the Sulina channel. There was a strong current at the end of the channel, but it eased off once we got inside and plugged up the four miles or so to Sulina. An interesting selection of birds up this stretch, starting off with lots of mute swans in the shallow waters and then pelicans and many water birds. The rusting hulks in various basins off the channel as we approached town weren’t very encouraging, but the place itself didn’t look too bad, with low buildings behind a tree-lined waterfront. We identified the port office in the first clump of trees and tied up on the quay alongside – a thoroughly uncomfortable place to be, with small boat traffic creating constant wash on the river (which is the main means of access to the town). Still officialdom was obliging again, we managed to get ourselves cleared through within half an hour or so, and by 11.30 we were heading up river, soon passing through flat meadows with lots more birds for Julie to get interested in. We decided to turn off at the first navigable junction with the old Danube river and found ourselves a pleasant anchorage a few hundred metres north of the main channel between reed beds and the odd willow – very peaceful.
6th – 13th July
Next morning we headed further up the main channel to the other end of the same branch of the old river and found very different scenery – willows and aspens lining the winding river which was only 40m or so across in places. We edged up the channel with overhanging trees on both sides, groups of campers on the banks, and found a bight half a mile up. We put the anchor down in the middle of the river and Nigel swam lines ashore. It was only later that Julie saw land snakes swimming across the river! We were only 10m from the bank and found a kingfisher’s nest in it, but they soon got used to us and used our mooring lines as perches before going into their nest. Julie spent most of the day birdwatching and was surprised by the amount of usually shy birds such as cuckoos, all types of herons and bitterns and the odd sighting of a black woodpecker and golden oriole. We took some time identifying the song of a chaffinch nearby. Nigel swam ashore with the camera on a make-shift raft to take lovely photos of the boat, but got bothered by horse flies and mossies: few of them ventured to the boat, fortunately. The next day was lovely and sunny with a light breeze and we spent an idle day with Julie birdwatching and Nigel taking photos of the kingfisher, finishing off last year’s diary and starting a newsletter.
Early the next morning we headed west along Bratul Sulina to Maliuç where we had been told we could get some bread. The approach up stream was not too difficult, but once tied up to the ferry pier, we found a large ship and a ferry boat passing which caused enough wake to bang us against the pier and break one of our stanchions at the base! The proprietor of the small hotel ashore (who happened to host RSPB tours) gave directions to the bakery, where Nigel bought delicious hot brown loaves. We continued up river into an increasingly busy stretch of water, with the weather worsening and some rain showers as we approached the main Bratul Tulçea channel. This was much larger river and a little rough with the weather. We found our way into a narrow channel leading off northwards just west of Tulçea, making our way up past small cottages and allotments (and some grey headed woodpeckers) to a little tributary where we anchored off the bank with a stern anchor out. There was quite a bit of tourist and fishing traffic about, but we were tucked well into the bank out of the way and had a quiet night.
The next day we went up to Tulçea. The approach was interesting, with lots of vessels of all sizes in the river, quite an industrial landscape with grey ugly apartment blocks and a village on the other side that looked as though it hadn’t changed in hundreds of years. We rafted outside some tourist boats, and an off-duty policeman on the boat next door took us to the H.M.’s office: as we were only staying a couple of hours no formalities were required. We then went in search of food and found the small market with people queuing for chickens or eggs (?) and lots of tomatoes but little else. Beans and carrots were being sold by the handful and we felt embarrassed in buying a few of them. We had a good walk around and found the “Museum of the Delta”, which was fairly disappointing but confirmed some bird identifications and had a large aquarium area with tanks full of different fresh water fish such as sturgeon. On the way back down to the boat we passed some rather nice houses before finding a small food shop which sold us some chicken, and then a foreign food shop where we found some wine and champagne. We gave our neighbour some beer for allowing us to tie up to him, which he was very pleased with, and headed back downstream. Turning left after Maliuç we went up to Mila 23 and then up another rather small canal to a lagoon not far from the Ukranian border. We settled on the bow anchor with the Fortress out from the stern after a few attempts. Thunder and rain came across later. We stayed put the next day as there was still some rain about. An odd tourist boat came past but that was all, and Julie watched the great-crested grebes while Nigel worked on an article.
Pottered back down the shallow canal to Mila 23, but no bread seemed available so we continued down to Bratul Sulina, even managing an hour sailing with the genoa out (with a little help from the engine to keep us off the bank). There wasn’t any bread at Maliuç either. We went back to our first anchorage to wait for better weather, thunder clouds were moving in again and the wind was quite gusty. We did an oil change and fuelled up the main tank from cans, tipped spare cans of water into the water tank and did general preparations for the coming long passage. The wind freshened to force 5 overnight and it stayed breezy and showery for the next couple of days, so we stayed put, read, wrote, and even got the backgammon board out! The wind moderated on the second evening and we had a quiet night.