As we approached the Baltic States (Balticum) which was the objective of our cruise we slowed down and spent more time exploring the waters and harbour cities. It should be noted that the notes are specific to the summer of 2000 and things often change quickly in this area although other things remain annoyingly slow. We intend these notes to supplement the following published works which we used:
- Baltic Pilot by … 1988 and getting slightly dated
- Krissar Klubben … available in Swedish only
- Ellennet website (www.Ellennet.com) Really the definitive source for information on cruising the Eastern Baltic. We met numerous boats who had printed the numerous pages from Ellennet and were using these as a pilot supplement.
The south coast of Sweden (Gislovhammer) is the main Navtex broadcasting station for the Baltic with a second transmitter in Tallinn (which is run by Sweden). We had intermittent reception for Navtex and sometimes suspected that no broadcast had been made (especially on weekends and holidays) as we had already received in that harbour and found it hard to believe that reception would have suddenly stopped. Additionally we were receiving from the Russian, Greek and Turkish Navtex even though we wouldn’t receive from the Swedish operated stations. Germans seem to receive weather forecasts by radio, Finns have a system through their mobile phones whereby the weather forecast is sent as a text message. We used the radio weather forecasts of Denmark but they had pretty well faded out after Bornholm. We did not meet many other boats based in the Baltic who carried Navtex and some seemed not to know what it was. Navtex left us without any forecasts at all numerous times along the coast in the Baltic States. An additional problem with the Navtex broadcasts is that even when they come in, the forecast is time stamped 07:00 but is not broadcast until 11:30. Similarly the night forecasts are time stamped 19:00 but not broadcast until 23:30. Assuming that the forecast is already old when it is time stamped it means that the weather forecast is up 6 hours old by the time you get it and in the case of day sailing, the weather will not reach you until you are well out of the port of the previous night. In summary we found the Swedish run Navtex service (this include the Tallinn repeater) to be virtually useless and next summer will attempt to utilize weather faxes more.
Although we attempted to study weather faxes at the numerous marinas we did not see one in all of the Balticum. Usually what is offered is the daily forecast as a strength and direction. The concept of a 3 or 5 day outlook or a synoptic chart seemed to be a foreign concept. It is hard to believe that the commercial shipping does not have such information. We visited the Harbour Master of some of the larger ports and all they had for yachts was the combination of speed and direction. The yacht harbours seem to be run as an adjunct to the actual harbour and it seems to be the common assumption that yachtsmen only need the current day’s prediction. Most of the domestic boats are only day sailing so this possibly is where the belief originates. In the larger population centres we were able to retrieve information from the Internet but this usually was not an option in smaller harbours with a village nearby.
For boats having mobile phones (as most Scandinavian boats seem to) wind speed and direction predictions are available for a number of predetermined points. The Finnish Meteorological Office (+358 16162) offers predictions for both land based locations and sea areas. We were unable to get our Swedish supplied mobile to work on this number but this may have been caused by our phone model being quite old.Presumably the text menus will be Finnish but once having them translated one should be able to navigate the menu as the choices and their sequence will not change. Our phone provider was Europolitan from Sweden (+44/(0)20-222 222) who offered a service called TextInfo. This service allowed you to get the wind prediction for cities only (i.e. there were no sea areas to choose from unlike the Finnish service) by choosing from a list of cities (be sure you know the Swedish spelling of the city you want). Being land based predictions only this was not the best of services but when the Navtex failed repeatedly this level of prediction became better than nothing.
In general the leading and transit lights are excellent. Every harbour we entered had leading lights which were visible at a great distance. Most times a safe water buoy marked the start of the entrance channel also. Lateral buoys quite often marked the channel but of course are not as necessary with the large and powerful leading lights there. Some harbours turned off their navigational lights during the day, some didn’t. Certainly at night the lights were powerful and very clear.
Most harbours had a safe water mark designating the beginning of the fairway. For the large commercial ports the deep water anchorages would be adjacent to this buoy which made locating the buoy during approach easier as the ships loom over the horizon long before the buoy can be seen.
For the east Baltic which the German Sport charts we had purchased for the Western Baltic don’t cover we purchased Russian Charts through an agent in Stockholm. (Nautiska Magasinet Box 15410, 104 65 Stockholm, Slussplan 5, Gamla Stan www.nautiska.com) The charts are in both Russian (Cyrilic alphabet) and over printed in English. They are quite detailed with exception of harbour entrances where a separate chart must be purchased with the approaches detailed (as opposed to having an insert detailing the harbour). We also picked up some Russian Sport Charts (i.e. charts intended for yachts).
Due to various reasons unrelated to our cruising plans, we traveled using pounds sterling traveler cheques in 2000. The most straight forward method for cash management seemed to be using a foreign bank card in the “hole in the wall” which were available in all 3 countries. Use of the “hole in the wall” avoids the formal process associated with “currency change” which can be time consuming as passport details are transcribed and pages photocopied. Our bank cards worked without fail and the transaction is quick and painless. We did not notice a significant penalty in the exchange rates using the bank cards.
Water and Fuel
Erring on the side of caution we did not take on water in the Baltic States other than buying 20 litre containers of bottled drinking water in Riga at the service station nearby the yacht club. We bought diesel in both Latvia and Estonia and filtered both with a sufficiently fine mesh strainer to catch both dirt and water. We did not experience any problems as a result. Generally the water and fuel improve as one moves north. In Lithuania there is really only one port and then only one marina with fuel. We did hear reports of problems with the Klaipeda water and fuel but as we did not take on either there ourselves did not encounter any problems.
Chandleries and Spare Parts
We saw no yacht chandleries south of Pärnu which has a counter of hardware principally suited for dinghies. Although the marina in Klaipeda has a very large Volvo Penta sign we could not find out if they actually had spare parts available or not. Tradesmen such as welders and sail makers seemed to available at larger ports.
The websites listed below are in different languages, we have attempted to
a) provide the name as it appears in the local language (in round brackets”()”);
b) classify their principal language (in square brackets “”) as follows: E-English, S-Swedish, N-Norwegian, DK-Danish, D-German, BL-Baltic States. Where they are multilingual including English they are only listed as English.
- Sailing with s/y Ellen Around the Baltic (Segla med s-y Ellen runt ostersjon) [E]
A fairly detailed website detailing one Stockholm based Folkboat sailing around the Baltic
- National Library of Estonia [E]
- National Library of Lithuania [E]
- Latvian Academic Library [E]
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