KLAIPEDA , LITHUANIA  to GDANSK, POLAND

Let me tell you about Kaliningrad, Russia and the ‘ No Go’ zone P117. Firstly I have decided that the ‘P’ stands for ‘Piss. Off’ – that is we were pissed off that we had to sail an extra 100Nm in order to sail around it and the Russians don’t want you in this zone and tell you to piss off or lock you up for entering the area. Our latest piece of advice was that a yacht had cut the corner and had been towed by a patrol boat to shore and the crew put in Jail for two days until they could sort the mess out. They were Finns and would have connections in this area.  We decided not to test it.  This zone extends way out into the Baltic and is sometimes used as a firing range.  Let’s not use Meg for target practice!  Kaliningrad has the reputation of being a place to leave from and not go to.

The wind was expected to begin in the west then move to the north west and eventually the north east and that is exactly what happened.  We motored against a light breeze and in the early morning we got the change we wanted and the breeze filled in.  In the wee hours of the morning up went the spinnaker and Meg picked up speed running between 7 & 8 knots at 12/13 knots of apparent wind.  After 4 hours the wind had strengthened such that we had to douse the spinnaker before broaching and run with a more conservative sail plan.  An excellent sail.

Gdansk for many years has been about ship building and freight.  The harbour is a network of canals lined with large commercial ships.  After consulting the pilot we entered the Kanal Portowy and followed it for 3 Nm and then passed through a ship turning area and into the Kanal Kaszubski for another 2 Nm before eventually reaching Marina Gdansk right in the heart of the old city.  In the photo below you can see Mike “the monkey” up the mast, with the city of Gdansk in the background.

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The marineiros were there to to catch the lines and the Marina looked as though it had been well maintained.  Apparently it belongs to the city of Gdansk and hence the very reasonable mooring fees (for Meg at 12.5 metres it was just 17 Euros per night).  Less than 100 metres from the yacht was a boutique hotel which had its own micro brewery which according to Mike’s guide (‘in your pocket’) came highly recommended. We sampled the product and it definitely passed the taste test.

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Again the temperature was over 30 degrees and the locals said that the summer had been hotter than normal. In the backdrop to the harbour was a giant wheel with gondolas attached and seemed to be permanently full with people. A crane with a very long boom was regularly hoisting victims skyward in a basket with a bungy attached to their feet. As they bailed out a loud scream of terror could be heard in every direction.

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Gdansk (formerly known as Danzig under German rule) was heavily bombed during WW2 but to walk through the old city you would not know that it had been resurrected from the rubble.  A very European city with lovely old churches and market squares. There must have been more than 200 market stalls dotted about the streets selling Polish sausage cured ham and large loaves of German-style rye bread.  Another popular product is the amber jewellery.  Amber is a gum-like substance that can often be picked up along the beaches of the Baltic after a storm.  The Amber district was a pretty cobbled street lined with jewellers.

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The other thing that Gdansk is famous for was the Solidarity movement which put so much pressure on the Soviets they eventually capitulated and Poland won her freedom.  This was the turning point for all of the Soviet satellites and paved the way for dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  We went to visit shipyard Gate #2 where it all began with Lech Wałęsa and his fellow workers locking themselves inside the shipyard. There is a substantial monument there to mark the occasion and it is a world heritage site.  Going back to the time of the Soviet Era, these little cars called the “Trabant” were ubiquitous throughout the eastern block, and we saw our fair share of them across the area.

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In Gdansk, we had been joined by my cousin Mary Murrow, who I hadn’t seen in, we calculated, 28 years when she was a student at Canterbury University.  Mary journeyed to Poland to meet Meg and Crew from Vienna, Austria where she has lived for more than 25 years working as a Russian and German translator, and was here to do the final jaunt from Poland to Germany with us.

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It was Saturday night and Mike, the entertainment officer had consulted in you pocket and found two bars that were highly recommended. The standout venue was the Bunker Club which had been built as an air raid shelter was five stories tall and had walls that were 1.5 metres thick. It was like a rabbit warren with lots of semi private areas each themed from different countries. Apparently it had sat as a derelict building for decades until a developer decided to throw some money at it and presto it was a roaring success. Mike decided to check out the night scene in Sopot a renowned party spot roughly halfway between Gdansk and Gdynia. Graham and I were tired from standing watch the night before so we retired early and my cousin Mary did the same.  It was Mary’s first time on a sailboat and she could not believe how tiring it can be.

On Sunday we decided to have lunch at a typical Polish ‘Milk Bar’. Milk had nothing to do with it but there was a queue out onto the street and you shuffle forward and choose your dish with extras from a hot food bar.  I had a pork schnitzel with boiled potatoes and a hot beetroot jelly.  It was as cheap as chips but good.

I had bought some postcards and as with many countries the shop that sells the card is not permitted to sell the stamps to go with the cards!  It was a Sunday but in the old city of Gdansk the main Post Office is open 24/7 but only if you know where the single back door and unmarked entrance stands.  It must be only for locals as they were not hoping for a crowd.

The pirate boats were regularly loading up the punters for a jaunt around the harbour. Unlike those in Tunisia who had the music blaring before even leaving harbour, to crank up the party atmosphere, this crowd were particularly subdued. We ate out a a very nice restaurant on the main boulevard. Graham and I had the trout on Mediterranean roast vegetables and Mary had the Bream. Trout can be dry but this was beautiful and we cleaned our plates off. The last thing was to buy drinking water for the next leg and we were ready to sail at just after midnight Poland had been a very pleasant port of call and compared to Scandanavian very cost effective for a Kiwi. We would happily go back.

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