Sailing on the Black Sea to Sozopol, my winter harbor, Sept 6th – 9th

Stockholm, Sept 17th
So now we have come to the last chapter of the second year of this big adventure, a four day sailing on the Black Sea from Sulina to Sozopol, Bulgaria. The afternoon before we left Sulina we took a great tour to the outer part of the Donau delta in an open motor-boat. There is a vast shallow lake with Ukraine in the north and with many miles of reefs in the east, where the delta merges with the Black Sea. And there we saw an amazing sight: hundreds of pelicans and miles after miles of cormorants, we guessed it must have been 100 000.
No good picture, I know, but believe me: on the distant reef are hundreds of pelicans and thousands of cormorants. 
There was also the wreck of a big boat, which had missed the entrance to Sulina and run into the shallow delta five years ago.
So here we got the first glimpse of the Black Sea, waiting for us.
The next morning Lennart and I said good-bye to Anders, who were going home to Sweden.
We then went by engine the last miles from the Sulina harbor out to the estuary with its big lighthouse. And just as we came close to the estuary we had an exciting thing happening: a whole bunch of dolphins came around our boat, playing and jumping, like they were saying: ”welcome out of the Donau into the Sea, here is freedom and great fun”.
Soon after that we could raise our genua and start sailing southwards in the west-wind. What a great feeling to sail on the sea again after having spent six months on rivers and canals! I felt like a bird let out of its cage, letting the winds from the sea fill my lungs. Of course the rivers and canals had been a great adventure in itself, but in a way that has also just been the means to reach this goal: sailing on the sea, first the Black Sea and then the Mediterranean Sea, now soon within reach.
We got a guest, taking a rest
This first day of sailing had to be a long one: the first harbor, Port Tomis in Constanta, is 80 nM away from Sulina, which can´t be done with my boat in just one day which meant that we had to sail also the night. Lennart and I took 3-hour-turns during the night. The wind had already during the afternoon turned to south, so reluctantly we had to take in the genua and go by engine, eventually with quite big waves against us. The sunset over the Rumanian land was magic and we had an almost full moon shining at us during the night before we had an even more magic sunrise out of the Black Sea. We met no other boats but saw at least six oil- and gasriggs out on the Black Sea with burning gasflames. As we had made good progress we decided not to go into Port Tomis, which we would have reached well before sunrise, but to go all the way to the next harbor, Mangalia. The wind had turned to the west again and we could make good speed with sail, supported by the engine. We arrived in the morning, after 104 nM of sailing with some help of the engine and tied up at the modern marina, unfortunately with no shower but with a good beach near the marina where we took a refreshing swim.
As this now was the last Rumanian port before we were going into Bulgaria we had to check out from Rumania here. We didn´t think it should be that complicated as both Rumania and Bulgaria after all are members of the EU. But all the way we had been amazed of what a complicated procedure this is, the checking out and in, especially of Rumania. In Mangalia I first had to go to the harbor office for an extensive check of all my documents and the writing new ones. Then we had to go with the boat over to another part of the harbor to show the documents to the border-police, and then back to the marina. Then we had to go again the next morning to the borderpolice for a final check with one border-police and one customs officer before we were allowed to leave. In Sulina, where there also was a long procedure with harbor office and border police because I was changing the crew and had to get a new crew-list with the right stamps. There I asked the officers what was the reason for all these procedures, which they don´t have any of in all the EU-countries in the western part of Europe. The answer was that different countries have different rules. But later I had a more personal talk with a border police, who came to my boat because he wanted to give me a more revealing answer which he said he could not give when his colleagues were listening. His explanation was that Rumania for a long time up till 1989 had been a part of the Sovjet block and that that kind of spirit and fear unfortunately was still very much alive in Rumania, especially in the older generation, but that he hoped that that would change soon. He himself found all these procedures unnecessary and the fears unreasonable. After all, how big is really the risk, he questioned with good homour, that Swedes wanted to sneak into Rumania or smuggle muslims into the country.
Anyway, the next day we were on our way again and our goal was now Balchik, the first Bulgarian harbor, about 45 nM to the south and west. The wind was now from the south so we had to go by engine most of the day. After we passed the Bulgarian border there came a Bulgarian border-police boat to check us and remind us that we had to change our guest-flag from Rumanian to Bulgarian. And then came a new wonderful surprise: another big crowd of dolphins, many of them for a long time swimming and jumping just close to our boat. We were wondering if they maybe were attracted by the sound of the engine. They made us feel even more as a part of this big sea.

Here come the dolphins
All was not well, though, there were problems with the engine right up to the end. The temperature of the engine tended to go up close to overheating again. And there was another concern: the batteries didn´t load properly but showed a little under 12 V, even if my solar panel and my generator was loading them a lot. And suddenly the engine became really overheated so I had to turn it off. This was really frustrating as failure of the cooling system had persecuted me all summer. We did well all the same, because our course was now west for the last hours into Balchik, where we arrived just after sunset. Now we had to find a border police again to check in. It took quite a while to find them but then it was an easy procedure as it had been all the time in Bulgaria.
Then came the last day of the trip. Here I need to tell the story of the last day in some detail, which might be boring for those of you who are not that interested in the problems of engines in a sailboat so then, please, jump to the next paragraph. Trying to figure out the problem with the cooling system the next morning I found that the oil of the engine was low, which might have been part of the problem with overheating. The cooling water came OK from the exhaust pipe in the back and we decided to try the engine and go south. The goal of the year, Sozopol, was quite far, more than 60 nM, but still within reach, but we had also an alternative, Varna, a big harbor only 20 nM away where I also had got a good offer from a marina to store the boat during the winter. The wind forecast was more favorable this day with winds from south-east and east, which would make it possible to sail southwards. The cooling system was still shaky but suddenly it started to work perfectly again. We then decided to go all the way to Sozopol, even if it meant that we would arrive in the evening well after sunset. With good wind in the sail and with help of the engine we could make good speed. Then something unfortunate happened that I still can´t explain. I decided to turn off the main switch of the batteries to save the failing batteries so that they for sure would last long enough to serve the lanterns which we would need when we were going inte the Sozopol harbor in the dark. Maybe ten minutes after that the engine became overheated again! (Could it be that turning off the batteries also turned off a pump of the cooling system?) We once more had to turn the engine off and just go with the sail. That was no problem though, because the wind had increased considerably and we were making good speed even without the engine. The big problem was, though, that when the engine had cooled off and I tried to start the engine again it was dead, the starter didn´t work. I found that the separate battery of the starter had also low voltage for some mysterious reason, probably explaining the problem. So now we had to go into a foreign harbor in the dark, without engine and with low batteries, which I would never venture to do. The conclusion was: if the engine didn´t start we needed to get help to be towed into the harbor. I was glad to have Lennart as a mate this time, a very experienced sailor, stable and calm with no tendencies to panic, like myself. We saw on my electronic map that when we came near the harbor there was a big bay outside with shelter from the hard wind, where we would have time to take it easy, sailing back and forth and then have time to call for help to be towed into the harbor. The plan worked, it was pitch dark now, we came into the bay, saw the lights from the harbor and got good shelter from the wind. I then started to call channel 16, the emergency channel, on my VHF-radio. There was no answer whatsoever, though, maybe because the harbor people had more fun things to do on a Saturday night than listening to the radio. Then we tried 112, which is supposed to work for emergencies all over EU. Even there it was hard to get hold of anyone who could speak English but I eventually did and was promised help. After almost an hour of waiting and more calls to 112 we decided to make a try to go into the harbor by sail with the now very weak wind. Just then a rescue boat came and towed us into the harbor, where we could tie up the boat on a dock. It was now around 11 p.m. but the ordeal was over, we could relax,take a shower, get something to eat and get a good night´s sleep.
So all is well that ends well. Of course it felt like a failure to have to be towed the last couple of hundred meters inte the last harbor. At the same time I must say that the engine had done an extremely good job, taking me all the way from France to the Black Sea, working hundreds and hundreds of hours, on and on. So no wonder that it was tired now, I thought, needing rest and good professional care. Here we were in a very good marina with lots of good mechanics, specialized in Volvo Penta, the brand of my engine, and perfectly able to take care of the problems.
We spent two days in Sozopol, getting a permanent place for the boat for the winter in the water. The mecanics of the marina started already next day helping us with the battery problem and found that all three batteries was in bad shape and had to be exchanged. I spend a lot of time preparing the boat for the winter, packing and cleaning. But also enjoying the town of Sozopol, a very charming seaside resort, with a definite mediterranean feeling, great ocean views from high cliffs, an abundance of restaurant and a well preserved old center. From there Lennart went to see relatives in Bulgaria.
Lennart leaving Joy
I took a bus to Istanbul and a flight from there to Stockholm. After 3 1/2 months on the boat it was certainly good to be home again.
Last picture of captain of Joy at Sozopol Port Marina

The last ten days on the Donau

The last two weeks of the trip were so intense that I had no time and energy left for my blog. But now I can do it, sitting comfortably on my couch in Stockholm, after arriving yesterday on a plane from Istanbul, happily reuniting with Joyce, who has been waiting for me here for a month.
From Vidin, where we had checked in to Bulgaria, Anders and I had ten more days on the Donau before it merges with the Black Sea. The Donau had then become such a huge river that it often felt more like going on a huge lake than on a river. For a long time it is the border between Bulgaria and Rumania, mostly a rural and wild landscape, sometimes flat, sometimes hilly but with few villages or cities. Now and then it was a beaming birdlife and we saw pelicans, lots of cormorants and also some eagles, foreboding what we expected to come later in the delta. The weather was mostly hot with some days without any wind and the Donau lying smooth as a mirror.
It was sometimes long between the harbors so we had to find a place to anchor the boat for the night or get the permission to tie up beside a barge which was anchored. One night when we had anchored behind an island in a shallow bay with shelter from the wind we had a challenging experience: when it was already dark the wind turned and grew quite strong straight onto the boat, the boat turning back and forth by the wind from one direction and the current from the other, making a strong pull on both the anchors. As the Donau now is so wide the wind can be quite strong and make big waves. We had a pretty turbulent night but the anchors did their job to keep the boat in place. By dawn we could take the anchors up and continue, now with big waves against us, a rocky trip which reminded us more of a windy trip on the Baltic than on a river.
In Ruse, the biggest Bulgarian city by the Donau, we made a two day stop in the nice marina to fill upp our storage of food, diesel and gas. There was also a Danish couple in their motorboat so we could enjoy talking in our exotic nordic languages. They spent their eighth summer on the rivers and canals of Europe, real veterans!
In Ruse we had passed all locks and low bridges so here was also our first chance to raise the mast and get rid of the big construction on deck. As the very helpful and nice harbormaster, Boyko, offered to assist me I also decided to do that. But this was really a challenge. Here were no special mast-cranes on a dock which we are used to at home. We had to use one of the ordinary huge harbor cranes and there were no dock, only a stony beach, so we had to park the boat outside the beach with anchor and ropes on land which we had to reach by my lifeboat. The crane first lifted the mast ashore so I could prepare it and eventually, after a long waiting when the crane had to do a lot of job for the harbor, it lifted the mast onto the boat. Then it was swinging and turning in ways that were hard to control, but with lots of help from Boyko we eventually managed to get the mast on place. This was quite a very stressful event, especially since it also was extremely hot,  95° F (35° C). Still: what a relief to have this done and the boat now prepared for the sailing on the Black Sea.
Our crane
The mast on the way 
But alas, still an important piece was missing: when I unpacked the mast I found that the boom to the mainsail was not there! I later found out that it was still at the marina in Travemünde, Germany, and by mistake had not been delivered with the mast. Of course I should have noticed that already in Vienna where the mast was delivered but I didn´t. Fortunately I have a jib (a front sail called genua) which is bigger than the mainsail so the sailing on the Black sea could still be done with just the jib, a little slower but still OK.

Ruse was a nice city with lots of boulevards and old houses (some restored, some in bad shape) and statues om one of its famous sons: the nobel laureate Elias Canetti, born in Ruse. We had a nice dinner there on a restaurant and the less nice experience to see on TV Bulgaria beat Sweden in an important soccer match.
When the Donau approaches the Black Sea it suddenly turns north, away from Bulgaria and wholly into Rumania. There were two big Rumanian harbor cities, Braila and Galati, where I for the first time in a year saw big cargo ships and not only barges, a sure sign that we were approaching the sea. The first one happened to be a big brother to my Joy:
The landscape had now changed into more flat beaches where horses and cows were grazing.
Joy with mast on a calm Donau
The last day we went all the way from the city of Galati. The Donau here became the border between Rumania and Ukraine (and for a short while even Moldavia).  Then the Donau was spreading out into its vast delta, where we took the the main branch where all the big ships were coming and going,  all the way to Sulina, the last port by the estuary where the Donau ends. This became the longest day of the whole trip, more than 12 hours. We had a gorgeous sunset
and it was already dark when we arrived to Sulina, where my next mate, Lennart, was waiting for us and had found a place to tie up the boat. So there I was, at last, having left behind me all 2410 km of the Donau. What an adventure, what a challenge, and what a joy!
 But there was still one chapter left before the great adventure of this year would be finished: sailing on the Black Sea.
Joy, the only sailboat in Sulina, Rumania.

Made it to the Black Sea!

Sulina, Sept 6th
There is no time for any extensive blogging but I just want to tell that Anders and I have arrived to Sulina, Rumania, which is where Donau ends and falls into the Black Sea. We arrived on Sept 4th, just according to the schedule, received by Lennart, my mate for the sailing on the Black Sea. Here we have made a tour out on the delta, seen hundreds of pelicans and what must have been 100 000 cormorants, a mighty sight. We have made the boat ready for sailing, said good-bye to Anders this morning and are now on our way out on the Black Sea. What a marvelous feeling to breathe the air from the sea after so many months on rivers and channels! Sailing down to Sozopol will take 4 – 5 days, winds are good and spirits high.

Through the Iron Gate to Rumania and Bulgaria

Vidin, Bulgaria, Aug 29th
The high point this week was our passage through the ”Iron ’Gate”, where The Donau has carved its way through the big mountain range of Eastern Europe, the Carpathians. In the 1960ies Serbia and Rumania cooperated here to build one of the largest dams of Europe, drenching vast areas with cities and villages, from where the inhabitants were forced to move in thousands. It gives both countries huge amounts of electric power and, through the locks, has made it very comfortable for boats like mine to make this trip without risking one´s life in the strong currents. But still it is marvellously grand landscape. Especially the Kazan gorge, a part of the Iron Gate,  was impressive, where the river narrowed to 150 m with 300 m high mountains on both sides.
Approaching Kazan
The whole area has become intensely exploited by the tourist industry, for good reasons. An interesting sight was also the sculpture av the face of king Decibel directly in a rock by the river, a work of 12 sculptors during 10 years and finished 2004.

King Decebalus
The passage through the Iron gate also meant the passage through the last locks of this trip. The first one, a 32 m giant lock led ur through the real iron gate.
Anders and Ann at the lock
The second one, much smaller was the last lock of this long journey through the canals and rivers of Europe, n:o 410 when I count from my start in Lübeck last year.
Nils leaving the last lock, n:o 410
The Donau is here for a long time the border between Serbia and Romania and further ahead it becomes the border between Romania and Bulgaria. We had to spend quite some time to check in and out of these countries and it was fascinating and sometimes frustrating to go through all those administrative procedures. 

In Vidin we checked in to Bulgaria and went for a dinner at a fish restaurant on a boat by the river. This was the last dinner with Ann, who was going to leave us the next day.
An english-speaking Bulgarian neighbor at the restaurant helped us understand the menu. We started to talk to him quite a bit about his connections to Sweden and about our boat-tour, which impressed him immensely. When he heard that Ann was going by train to Sofia tomorrow he immediately offered her a ride because he was going to Sofia by car tomorrow together with his wife. Ann accepted gladly. So now Anders and I will continue on our own on there last part of the trip to then Black Sea.

To Belgrade

Belgrade, August 20th
On Monday morning was the time for checking-in to Serbia in Apatin, where we had to call an agent help us through the steps: showing documents to the harbormaster, going to a bank for payment, back to the harbormaster to sign lots of papers and then to the police. I was concerned that there would be trouble as my ”driving licence” (förarbevis och kanalintyg) as captain on the boat was lost. The Swedish authority in charge of those certificates had just the same day opened after their summer vacation and I had them send a pdf-file of my certificate, which arrived just a moment before we were meeting the harbormaster. My worries were over – and were all the same unfounded as they after all never asked for my certificate!
We, Johan and I, had then a comfortable three day´s journey on the Danube to Belgrade, anchoring one night and the next night staying at a marina in Novi Sad, the second largest serbian city by the Donau.
Castle in Novi Sad
The Donau was very wide most of the way and it felt more like going on a huge lake than on a river:
IMG_2881But still there was a good current enhancing our speed. Oddly enough there was not much traffic, we had the wide Donau to ourselves most of the time, encountering just 3-4 ships (barges or cruising ships) a day. Further into Serbia there were hills and mountains, making the landscape more varied and beautiful.
Cows grazing on the Donau beach
In Belgrade we tied up by restaurant Vodenica, were we were well received by our host with a shot of Serbian Slibovic (their aquavit made of plums). Outside the restaurant there is a floating dock, where Joy was tied up, rocking violently now and then with the surges of passing boats and loud music from a nearby beer festival and passing party-ships. But there were several advantages, nice and service-minded hosts, good WiFi and close to what turned out to be the best sight of Belgrade, their huge castle Kalmegdan, which is turned into a vast area for for walking and amusements and a great view of the rivers Sava (a big tributary) and Donau, especially spectacular at sunset:
Illuminated castle Kalmegdan
Lovely chapel at Kalmegdan with mosaics

Last night we had an unpleasant adventure. Anders, (who together with Ann who had already arrived will be my new crew the coming weeks), arrived late in the evening and we had a late and good dinner at the fancy restaurant at the castle. It was almost midnight before we were back to our boat. But alas, the restaurant was dark, closed and locked, no-one answering the phone. Our boat had to be reached through the restaurant and we were locked out. I hadn´t gotten any warning that this might happen and was facing a considerable problem: a crew of three tired persons with nowhere to sleep. I then approached a neighboring party-boat for help, where they had a big party going on. Eventually I managed to get the attention of a nice westindian-looking guy who tried to help me get hold of the people of our restaurant. When he didn´t manage I saw that they had some small boats tied up by their big party boat and wondered if they could take us in one of them over to our boat. Eventually they agreed and we had the solution of our problem. The four of us, Anders´ still with his suitcase, was shown through the ongoing party to a small open boat. It had an outboard engine, which didn´t work so the driver took the only oar and paddled us slowly over to our own dock, making jokes that this was almost like Venice. The troubled crew was happy again and we could crawl into our beds in the middle of the night, accompanied by the violent music from party-boats around us. There are some unexpected challenges with this kind of trip. But all´s well that ens well.
IMG_2914Happy crew on rescue boat at 1 a.m.

Today it was time to say good-bye to Johan after another of the many good adventures we have had on my boat. Thanks, Johan, for two good weeks and a great job by the rudder!
Johan leaving, here outside our restaurant Vodenica

With good engine into Serbia

Apatin, Serbia, Aug 13th
My good mechanics made the job, cooling-system and generator is now working fine so with 770 USD less in my wallet I was now ready to go, after 6 days in Budapest and a couple of days behind schedule. Thanks, Mati and Vilmos, (see picture) for helping me, even working overtime on the weekend as their workshop was overbooked. Good job!
And here is a picture of the cause of alla my ordeals: the old deficient water-pump.
With Johan and Sofia I got some extra days in Budapest. We enjoyed one of the famous Hungarian thermal baths, Szecheyi, where we spent a hot day in the 86° soothingly warm water in the outdoor pools, where hundres of people meet and socialize (see pictures)
Another high point was an organ concert in the St. Stephen Dome and then a great view of the city from the top of the dome. 

We left Budapest and had a great last view of this beautiful city from the river.
Budapest with Parliament to the left
We were now into a new heat wave with temperatures in the 90ies but we had a lovely day on the Donau when Johan and Sofia took the rudder for long times which gave the captain good relaxation. We found a great marina for the night in Kisapostag.
Johan and Sofia at the beautiful marina in Kisapostag
They had a restaurant for a good dinner and also a beach on the river for a cooling swim. For me it was the first time I was , swimming in the real Donau, all other times had been in different bays without current. It was a great experience to feel with my body Donau´s strong current, which all the time is helping carrying my boat toward the sea. Swimming against the current took you relentlessly backwards and it was very hard even to walk on the bottom against the current. Strong, mighty river!
In Kisapostag Sofia had to leave us to go home. Johan and me went on to Baja, where I met my next ordeal: a violent stomach flue. We had to take another day of rest in Baja (which ironically is kids name in Swedish for n:o 2) 
but had good comfort and service in the Hajoker Bootsclub, close to the center. 
Next day we went on to Mohacs, the Hungarian border station, where we went through all the formalities of leaving Hungary and EU, a very efficient and swift process which only took half an hour with no cost. This in spite of me not having all the required papers. My ”förarbevis”, a certificate on my competence as a captain is lost, I am working with the Swedish authorities to get a new copy but hasn´t got one yet. The Hungarian border police was displeased but let it go. But I am afraid this will be a worse problem for getting in to Serbia. 
We passed the Hungarian border, where the Donau is becoming the border between Serbia and Croatia for a long distance. The villages in both countries looke fine now but it was sad to think of what a cruel place this used to be during the war in the 90ies. 
We were instructed on the phone to pass the Serbian border station, Bezdan, and go to the first Serbian harbour, Apatin, where we were well recieved in the marina. Unfortunately now Johan got his share of the stomach flue, which makes the meal we shared on a restaurant in Baja a very likely cause. We had fried pork filet there but also a delicious tomato sallad, which seems to be the likely culprit. So there will be another day of rest here, which we have to take anyway as the Serbian border police doesn´t work on Sundays.
Apatin marina

With engine problems to Budapest

In Bratislava we had a new change of crew: the happy kids left me and took a bus to Vienna airport. Joyce and Sam came from Vienna with Uber. We then had a lovely but hot day in Bratislava, a very charming city, with a well preserved old town without cars and outdoor restaurants everywhere. I also climbed up, despite the heat, to the impressing castle and got a magnificant view of Donau, the five bridges and the fresh new-built suburbs of Bratislava.
Slovakia is a small country, only half the size of Sweden in population, but is evidently thriving after it became a separate country 1993, when Tjeckoslovakia was divided into Tjeckien and Slovakia.
Then came the first day for Sam on the boat and it unfortunately became a very stressful one. First the front part of my construction for the mast gave in because of some big surges, scary for the crew of course but fortunately no big deal as the front of the mast landed and got good and safe support at the bow (see picture).
Then the problem with the cooling system continued, which meant that I had to go in slow speed, slow indeed as a long part of the day was the canal into the big lock Gabcikovo with no current and the wind against us. I even had to stop the engine a couple of times so the engine could cool down. The lock went well, though, with its swimming bollards and Sam on one of the ropes in his first (and probably last) lock. The day was hot, in the 90-ies, I was stressed by the engine problem an my crew was quite fed up when we arrived at a marina in Komarno, Slovakia after the longest day of the trip, 10 hours. Sam then decided to stay at an hotel to get a good night´s sleep and I was sad that for the first time on the trip my crew had had a really bad experience of life on my boat. The next day was not any better as the problem of the cooling-system continued and we decided to tie up after a couple of hours at a deserted restaurant-ship (see picture).
I had a consultation with a mechanic in Budapest and Sam went into the village and managed to get hold of a local mechanic. He was a nice man who seemed to know his job well and after a couple of hours he managed to get the cooling system to work much better well to my great relief. Sam gave up boat-life at this point and went to a hotel in Budapest but Joyce and I started with renewed hope the next day toward Budapest. But alas, the relief was short, the cooling system deteriorated again. Through a dramatic beautiful landscape with high hills (see picture of Visegrad with its castle)
we managed still to go all the way to the Wiking Marina in Budapest, where the mechanic who had promised to help me was waiting.
Now we got some really good days in Budapest, which is an exciting and very beautiful city. We had a nice dinner at an Hungarian restaurant with music (see pictures).

Joyce now left me and the boat to go with Sam to Berlin and then back to Stockholm. She is really not a boat-person and had heroically endured nine weeks of the discomfort of boat-life, just to be with me and make this great adventure possible. Of course she had enjoyed many parts of it but now she was really ready to leave. I will for ever be grateful, Joyce, for your endurance!
To Budapest came now my grandchildren Johan and Sofia to become my new crew. (see picture with Donau in the background). The mecanics have been working very professionally with my engine problems, found that the water pump of the cooling system was failing and ordered a new one, which hopefully will arrive today. August 8th. So tomorrow we will leave Budapest after some delay, heading for Croatia and Serbia.