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.
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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.
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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.
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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”.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Last picture of captain of Joy at Sozopol Port Marina

Author: nilsassarson

Retired child psychiatrist but still working part-time. I am recently married to an american woman and we are living halftime in Stockholm, Sweden halftime in Palo Alto, Ca, USA. Have three kids and nine grandkids from earlier marriage.

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