18 augustus 2013

New Pictures!

look at all the pictures from my Russian adventure. On the right there's a link to 'new pics' with pictures from Arkhangelsk to Murmansk via Franz Josef Land. Below that, you'll find a link with "diavoorstelling" which will lead you to all pictures from the first stage, from St. Petersburg to Arkangelsk.  Just click on the picture.
With many thanks to Paul, Heinz and Petra who made some of the pictures!

4 augustus 2013

Bathing in the Banja

Around 10 o'clock in the evening, we finally arrived in the bay were two other boats of the regatta were already waiting.  Our first night on Frans Jozef land was nice and interesting with walruses and drift ice surrounding us, but if we want to see some more and actually go on land, we have to stay with the leader of our pack, Peter I, who has a ranger on board without whom we cannot go ashore. So all five boats that of the big Regatta fleet that made it above 80 degrees North, came together in a bay close to Tigaja Bay were an old radio station stood.

Around 11 at night the fourth boat, Barlovento, joined the group and finally, around 2 in the morning, Peter I joined as well.  Everyone had dropped their anchor and it seemed that it would going to be a quiet night where everyone could catch up in sleeping again. I was still awake on duty for the 'anchor watch' and around 2.30 a radio call came in from Peter I: "all yachts all yachts, we can go to the station now and go to the banja". A banja is a Russian bathhouse.

Uta and Heinz, who were still awake as well, and me looked at each other:" did he really told us to go to the banja right now??? It's in the middle of the night!"
Heinz politely replied that all guest were sleeping at the moment, and that we would join the next day after a nice long sleep.
Three of the boats got their anchor up (again) and went 1,5 miles to the west to drop it (again) and go to the banja. It's the Russian style (at least of our regatta); when it's time to do something, it's time to do something, no matter what time it is.
The other thing is that the continuous light nights totally destroy the idea of night and day.

The next day we got our anchor up as well and joined the rest on the other side of the bay.  Apparently the station was not abandoned at all but occupied during the summer by four students and a ranger. After a guided tour along the once glorious radio-station on Hooker Island, most of us went back to the boat. Since we have hot showers on board, the need for a banja is not as big as on other boats. But let's be honest, how often do you get to go to a private banja on Frans Jozef land?

Andrei (the ranger in charge) showed us all around his banja. While standing in his bedroom we could just peek into the tiny room next-door where a big stove filled up half the room on the one side, and a big ton of water the other.  Where we were to sit with the three of us was not quite clear, but asking Andrei was not an option as he quickly left the place to get away from us since we were already starting to take off our 10 layers of clothes in his bedroom.

I wonder if the tourist that come here once every two weeks with the nuclear icebreaker "50 let Pobedy" (120 passengers) get the same treatment from Andrei.

24 juli 2013

rolling around

We just left the inspiring and magical Frans Jozef Islands behind us and are on our way to the normal world of Murmansk city. We said goodbye to the inaccessible shores of the impressive glaciers and the basalt mountains, to the polar bears that were mostly fast asleep, to the walruses that curiously swam around us, the many birds on the birdrocks and the narwhale that didn't show itself and to the ten people we met on the two stations that were still run (more on that in the next update). We are back on the wide open Barentz sea.

It's unbelievable what the ocean does to you body. The moment you enter the ocean and big rolling waves make the boat go up and down. Up front, where my own bed is, you feel your body being lifted from the bed every time the boat goes down again. It's as if your bed is put inside some rollercoaster. And it doesn't last for just a few minutes, it lasts for days...

Walking is difficult, dressing is almost impossible. The only comfortable position is actually either in your bed (despite being turned upside down all the time) or outside behind the steering wheel. But after half an hour the steering wheel position start to feel less comfortable as well because of the cold and wet wind blowing in your face and your feet slowly getting cold. And these are the phenomenon's which are actually quite comfortable, while I did not mention sea sickness yet. The stomach has no idea what's happening and why you have to be up in the air constantly and you can't just sit still. For some people on board the first few days are spend in bed.
I'm lucky I don't feel any sea sickness at the moment, and still, it feels like I ran a marathon the last few days. As soon as we hit the ocean waves, my body decided it was in big need of sleep and I could not keep my eyes open. The days consist of a four hour watch, then sleeping and eating. But then again; don't get all the up to the Arctic in a day!

Luckily it's only another four long days till we reach the shore again.

19 juli 2013

Up 80 degrees North

We've been standing outside in the cold and light snow for quite some time now. It's still 50 miles till we are there, but our anxiousness to see some land is unstoppable. But nothing can be seen. Thick clouds of fogs keep us from seeing any further than 250/300m. A tiny iceberg appears at the horizon and slowly drifts by. As we are going higher up the North we see more and more of them. Besides the temperature dropping from plus 25 degrees to around zero degrees, the icebergs are another sign of us getting closer to the Arctic and Frans Jozef Islands. We all read about the sailing vessels the '√čira' and 'Westward' and many others that sailed up here in the 1890's looking for new land and adventures, no idea if there was any and where to look for it. Now we find ourselves staring into nothingness not sure when to expect what (fortunately we do have a map which show us that there actually is land quite nearby thanks to these adventurous minds 120 years ago). We sit and wait excited and eager to see land after 7 long days and nights at sea. The midnight sun tries to sneak through the thick foggy clouds and gives a beautiful sight. And then there's land. The fog slowly opens up as if it was a curtain on a stage and shows us Frans jozef land. It seems that the closer we get, the more we get to see. It's a beautiful sight to have the bleak midnight sun and the foggy clouds around the impressive glaciers and black basalt cliffs rising up from the sea. What an impressive entrance to this faraway land where nature reigns. Beautiful sculptures of ice drift by while we drop our anchor and walruses curiously swim around us to see what's happening. Meanwhile the clouds break open and the glacier right in front of us reflects the bright light back to us. The sky is an constant changing mixture of blue skies, white and dark clouds and foggy horizons which makes an impressive show to watch. After half an hour we see a big carpet of ice coming towards our boat. Luckily the big growlers stay behind or go around and we can just enjoy the sight and the ticking sounds of the ice bumping against our steel ship. Combined with the sculptures that simply drift by while you look outside and the curious walruses makes that you feel how close nature is. It makes all of us immediately forget about the long 7 days at sea,. It's time to enjoy Frans Jozef Land. (Send by satellite connection, so no pics yet!)

7 juli 2013

The Adventure Race part two

The first stage of our "Adventure Race" has ended. From many boats the crews are changed and the boats are filled again with groceries, new guest, diesel and water. Daniil, the big organizer from the yacht Piotr I tries to organize everything for all the boats. There are some Russian students standing on the quay that are willing to give us a help translating or to go shopping with us and help us carry the 20 bags full of food we have to get. They are quite surprised when we take all the milk packages that are on the shelves and leave none for the other customers. No more milk, no more juice, no more toilet paper, it's all on the Anne Margaretha.

The water we get from the restaurant next to us. The yellow hose coming from the kitchen look promising, but when we turn on the tap, it comes out drop by drop. That's gonna take a long time before we have 2000 liters of water. I guess we'll just have to skip some showers...who needs a shower anyways when you're on your way to the Arctic?

At first the diesel would come at night. Why it would come by night nobody knew, and whether it would come by boat or by truck was also not known. We call it the Russian style; everything is possible, let's keep all options open. Around 10 o'clock a van arrived on the quay. The back of the van was a bit low to the ground and it seemed quite heavy loaded. The chauffeur got out and opened the back and indeed, it was the diesel truck! In the back of his truck there were two 1000-liter containers full of diesel. With the conditions of the roads in this country, I am happy I don't have to drive that car around filled with fuel.
Anyways, the Anne Margaretha took all the diesel and the other boats had to wait for the second round and share it between 8 boats. It's a matter of big diesel tanks versus small diesel tanks, and the big boats versus small boats.

According to the weather forecast there's no ice on our route for now, we are filled up with food, we are fueled up with diesel and we just have to be sparse on water.  Franz Josef, we are on our way! Up North to the polar bears, the walrus, the snow and ice.

More adventures to come in a few weeks time.

And I uploaded new pictures! check the link on the right.

5 juli 2013

a different world

We enter the lock from lake Onega. It's an impressive lock with high walls that rise 15m above us. It's actually a double lock, so as soon as the first lock has filled itself with water, and the doors open, we sail directly into another one to rise another 15m into the Russian Karelian landscape. Obviously reasons to gat out the camera and shoot some nice pictures.
While I look through my camera searching for a nice shot, I hear someone shout out from up above on the lock. There's a man standing in uniform with a kalasnikov on his back. He gestures to me to put my camera down.
Through this lock we enter the Belomorsk-Baltika Kanal, better known as the White Sea canal. It's a canal that connects the White sea up in the North of Western Russia with Lake Onega and that creates a direct route to the south of Russia and the Baltic Sea.
During the whole route of the Belomorsk canal, which is about 260 km long, we are not allowed to take pictures in the locks, we are not allowed to go off our boats in the lock, for example to help other boats mooring, and we are not allowed to go ashore unless we have special permission through Peter I to moor for the night. But don't wander off too far!
Stalin created it. He decided it was necessary to have this connection in order to have a route from north to south without having to go all the way around Norway to get to Europe and beyond. It took Stalin only one and a half years to have it built and in a country where the ground is frozen 8 months a year and where temperatures get below minus 30 degrees Celsius, it's quite a challenge to dig a canal within such a short time.
The story goes that about 200.000 people died while digging this canal. Others say it were at least 1 million. There came from the Gulag camps were they were put for unknown reasons. The canal is still there, and there celebrating it's 80's 'birthday'. But it's quite a thing to celebrate.
There are a lot of mysteries in this country. A lot of things are not being told and are not being shown. Us travelling through this area is apparently a special gesture for which, according to the gossip coming from different boats, Putin personally gave permission for.
I'm not sure what is true and what's not. I see the people in the villages smile and wave at us as we sail by with our parade of boats. There's not many foreigners coming through this area and it is nice to see the joy in the people's faces. But on the other side there are the crooked wooden houses along the river, the worn down villages where it looks as if there was livable society one day, the security along the canal and the history that lingers over this area.
While travelling through this area I get more and more questions. But questions are not to be asked too much in Russia. Did you know that you can't get a truly detailed map of Russia?
In Russia there's a tradition, a practice and a climate of secrecy that rule over the political and social life (Kapuscinski, Imperium, p. 202). And even though Kapuscinski wrote this twenty years ago, this doesn't change within a few years time; it still lingers on in people's habits and tradition. There's something about the Russian people. Maybe the language barrier doesn't help either, but 8 out of 10 times you get an ugly face to start with.
It intrigues me and it's one of the reasons why I find Russia so interesting. You can't grasp it, you don't know and you're not gonna find out. I see a challenge in trying to get the grumpy face to a smiling face.
"Dit is precies de situatie die veel mensen uit het westen radeloos maakt, aangezien zij geneigd zijn om elke werkelijkheid zo te behandelen als deze hun toeschijnt te zijn: doorzichtig, leesbaar en logisch. Met zo'n filosofie raakt de westerse mens die in de sovietwereld terecht komt elk ogenblik de vaste grond onder zijn voeten kwijt, tot iemand hem duidelijk maakt dat de werkelijkheid die hij ziet, beslist niet de enige is en zeer zeker evenmin de belangrijkste, dat hier een veelheid van sterk uiteenlopende werkelijkheden bestaat, die in een monsterlijke en ontontwarbare knoop met elkaar zijn verstrengeld, en dat de essentie van deze knoop is dat hij vele vormen van logica bezit: een zonderlinge versmelting van de tegenstrijdige logische systemen, die door hen die ervan uitgaan dat er maar een logica bestaat, ten onrechte vaak onlogisch of alogisch wordt genoemd."
(Kapuscinski, Imperium, p.237)

25 juni 2013

Sailing Russian style

Sailing Russian style
If you travel through Russia, you need friends. Friends who help you through the city of St. Petersburg, friends that organize a festival on a little island, friends that help you open a bridge which hasn't been opened for a year and friends that give you a place to stay on the ship dock of the village Vosnesenye
And in the end you thank them with a toast...obviously with vodka.
In this case all the friends come through Daniil, the organizer of the Adventure Race 80 and captain of Piotr I, Peter the First, the leading ship in this regatta.
But this till is Russia, and even if he arranges everything beforehand, it doesn’t mean everything goes as planned.
The first part went quite all right. We sailed through the city and all bridges were open and stayed open till we were all through. Even the little festival at the lighthouse in Osinovets was ok even though the hundreds of people that were supposed to give the 'festival' festival feeling weren't there. But maybe my interpretation of a festival isn't quite the same as a Russian. But then again, many friends were involved and we were even allowed to climb the very old lighthouse of 74m high!
I think the friends further east on the river Svir didn't get their bottle of vodka on time. According to what we heard by the time we arrived at the bridge, which would open around 11 am, the bridge couldn't open because of the heat. For 12 hours we anchored while many cargo ships, named Volganeft 3012 and Volganeft 3013 and so on, happily sailed by being just high enough to go under the bridge.
Around 11pm we saw many guys appearing at the bridge and finally after 45 minutes they got the bridge to open. A little squeaky and slow, but it opened!
While being watched by people from the village the parade of yachts continued upstream. We are quite a show for the people alongside the river; sailing boats are not a common thing going up the river.
Since all ships have to go through two huge locks (an ascend of 15m!) it was quite easy to go through them. The next challenge was again another bridge. We were told, 9am it opens. So after 3 hours of anchoring and trying to get some sleep, we all hurried towards the bridge. And what did we do? Waiting. Not because it was too warm, not because we weren't on time, just because they decided that our reservation should be cancelled.
This time we only had to wait for 6 hours and eventually it wasn't so bad after all, I mean, what's six hours on a trip of 3 weeks?
At the end of the river Svir our leader of the troop, Daniil, met some guys who work for the administration of the river and the whole region around it. They were going around in a small boat along the river and were curious about all the sailing vessels that came by on their river. They found the leading ship and talked with Daniil. Through them our biggest friend was found. They arranged a special place for the 12 ships on the floating dock in the town of Vosnesenye so this time we didn't have to throw the anchor out.
We were told there was going to be a crew party so Uta (the other mate of the Anne Margaretha) and me went to our friend Daniil on the ship Piotr I. There we witnessed a small get together with Daniil toasting with his new made friends of the river. The crew party never took place, the organizers were too busy toasting on their new made friends, and we just sat silently with them (since we don't understand or speak any Russian).

24 juni 2013

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: A big modern city with big streets, huge buildings and a bustling life. Through the cathedrals, musea and palaces you sense the history of town. The thousands of people, cars, tourists, advertisements, MacDonalds, hipsters, skaters, drifters, wifi-points and coffee shops makes it a modern town. the fact that almost every historic building has at least one facade packed for construction makes you feel that there's money, there's money to restore the city.
It's snowing in St. Petersburg, it's snowing little white fluffy things...I guess it's a sign of the spring, or of the famous Russian white nights you have here in the city from May till somewhere in July, nights that hardly get dark. Before the sun can settle down behind the horizon, it's almost time for it to get back up again. Again a place where you can completely forget about time and forget to go to bed. The next few weeks it will only get lighter and lighter at night tilll we reach above the polar circle and won't see darkness at all.
During these white nights, the bridges in St. Petersburg open up for a few hours. If you happen to be on the 'wrong' side, it's bad luck. You either wait (which can go up to 3 hours) or you have to take a long detour. Like I experienced after a drink in the bar with my fellow mates.

After a few loud nights at the 'yacht club" on Krestovsky Island where the rich and famous drive there big Mercedes to party all night, we sail of on Sunday night. This time the bridges of St Petersburg do not open up just for the big cargo ships that go up and downstream on the Neva river, but as well for us sailing up the river. It's beautiful to experience the city from the water. We can enjoy the few hours of darkness when the city is lit up by small lights and the facades of the winter palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress and many other sites make the town look even more magical.

Upstream we slowly sail up the river Neva to another part of Russia. It's gonna be an interesting ride. There will (hopefully) be some sailing, there will be numerous visits to old monasteries, churches and places of the past in the Karilian area. The Finnish battled the Russian for many years and their past present is still noticable.

Twelve boats, lead by Peter the first, sailing up the river Neva to conquer the Russian waters, I'm curious where this trip will take us.

12 juni 2013

The train to Russia

About ten years ago I stood on a platform at central station in Amsterdam, I can't remember where I was going, maybe Berlin, maybe just some town somewhere in the Netherlands. Maybe it wasn't even ten years ago, but just five. Anyhow, It was some time ago that I was standing on a platform at Central station of Amsterdam. On the other side of the platform there was a train, waiting to go to Moscow.  All the way from Amsterdam to Moscow... The thought I had at that moment was: I want to go with that train one day.

Just two days ago I finally took that train. Unfortunately it wasn't exactly the same train since they split it in half. Nowadays you have to change trains in Warsaw. Somewhere in Hannover they connect 2 wagons of the train to Moscow, which now leaves from Basel apparently, and the rest of it is connected in Warsaw.

My neighbor asked me why I didn't just take a plane to St. Petersburg. Yes, it would be much quicker, but I like to travel slowly, if I can. And a train is a perfect way of transport to go from one place to another. You see the world changing while you stare outside. You can take your coffee in the bar and you can put your head down if your sleepy. it's a different world, and it's a world I like to join every now and then.

In my compartment there's a older Dutch lady who has never travelled with a night train before and is surprised every time she finds another little things that try to help make our stay in the fully booked six bed compartment more comfortable. She finds it quite adventurous, climbing on her bed with the small ladder, finding out that there are different kinds of light you can switch on or off and the possibilities of the beds being made into seats.

It makes me aware of all the nights I spend in trains around the world. Some were disgusting, others rather fancy, some where carriages where you slept with at least 8 people around you, other times I had carriage for myself.  But every night train is a special kind of world. It has it's own rules and regulations, it's own awkwardness. Staying in a couchette means you're sharing your most vulnerable moment with a bunch of strangers in a very small and enclosed space where you constantly bump into each other.

What do you wear when you go to sleep? how often can you go up and down your bed without disturbing your neighbors underneath you too much? where do I leave my luggage, and what about my smelling shoes? Without saying much to each other somehow there's always a way things happen. And the akwardness is the same everywhere, whether you're on a nighttrain in Maroc, in China or in  Poland.

I feel at home in these weird little worlds on wheels where different cultures come together to travel further on.