Many moons before this trip was formulated, Alan, the skipper, had visions of sailing up the east coast of Britain, visiting the Orkney, Shetland and Faroe Islands before committing to the long haul across the North Atlantic to Iceland. Then for the sheer fun and challenge, he envisaged sailing around Iceland before heading across to Greenland and perhaps Newfoundland.
But even the best of plans (Alan doesn't do plans) are waylaid, and having consulted with Rex, a seasoned sailor, a sail to St Petersburg and around the Baltic was mooted instead. In early February, Alan, Rex and I had a brief "planning" meeting, and the die was cast.
The schedule was to sail across the North Sea to Germany, then through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic. The aim then was a very long leg up to Finland, and if time permitted, perhaps a brief stopover in Sweden. From Finland, we would head straight to St Petersburg, where my son Dan would join us after flying out. He would stay on the boat with us while we explored Russia, and then fly back. Then, at a more leisurely pace, we would head down by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with the opportunity for others to fly out and join us. Once on the southern end of the Baltic, we would weigh up our options as to whether we should return via the Kiel Canal, travel through Denmark via the Limfjord, or to follow Alan's favoured route and skirt around the top of Denmark via the Kattegat and Skagerrak.
An early priority was to obtain visas for the four of us for our entry into St Petersburg. To apply for visas, we needed up front tourist voucher documentation to forward with the applications; in essence documents from a tourist agency, hotel or sponsor stating the outfit or person extending the invitation, the dates of the duration, and the address where we would be based during the stay. Alan had identified a recommended contact via the Royal Cruising Club Baltic Pilot Guide, Vladimir Ivankiv, who specialised in assisting foreign sailors by providing the voucher documentation, and also giving assistance through the cumbersome, antiquated bureaucratic customs processes when it came to entering and leaving the country. The visa applications required furnishing our Russian friends with a wealth of totally useless information. Amongst the myriad of questions, we were required to advise on all the educational establishments we had attended, complete with addresses and phone numbers (difficult for me since UMIST had long been absorbed into Manchester University), details of companies we had worked for, complete with addresses, phone numbers and the names of those we had worked for, and a complete list of all the countries we had visited in the last ten years, including dates of when visited. Curiously they didn't ask for inside leg measurements. On top of all that, the interface on the internet based submission form left a lot to be desired, the format for addresses and phone numbers had to be precise - no punctuation at all. Of course there were no guidance notes on this, so it was trial and error till it worked. What a palaver!
A month or so later, an army of folks busied themselves carrying out repairs on the boat and applying umpteen coats of paint, in preparation of the big challenge. Time was driving us on, Alan was keen to be out of the Baltic by early July since there would be more pleasure craft swarming around the marinas than you could shake a stick at. Anticipating a two and a half month trip, a departure date of 26th April had been settled on, and we were working our socks off to be ready by then.
This would be the longest sailing trip any of us had undertaken, and we all looked forward to it with gusto.
The actual route taken can be examined on the route link. How the story unfolded can be revealed by following the diary link.
Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!