I get out of Russia across the Black Sea. I participated in the regatta as trainee at the Ayla Training Ship. A Vanuatu vessel from Bilbao, Spain.
The Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta
This Regatta takes place in September every year. The goal is to sail across the Black sea and every year the ports change due to political reasons. This regatta is sponsored by Russia and one of the companies which chairman it’s Putin itself.
In 2016 the Regatta started in Constanta, Rumania to Novorossiysk, Russia, then to Sochi and ending in Varna, Bulgaria.
Among the vessels that participated in the Regatta there where most of the emblems of Russia: MIR, Kruzenshtern, Nadezhda, Akela; the emblems of Bulgaria: Royal Helena, Kaliakra; from Poland: Pogoria; from Rumania: Adornate; and other small vessels.
As every regatta, most of the people know each other. Sailors, as Jan has told me many times are a big huge family. Not only because their shared passion to sail, but also for the social events beyond the sailing legs. In the regattas, since the vessels get to port, there are events every single day for the crews and the visitors. Almost a non-stop party.
I was in need to find a way out of Russia before my visa expires the 28th of September. It was already the 24th and to cross by land to Georgia I would need to surround the region of Abkhazia. For this I would need to be leaving Sochi without visiting it as the journey might take a couple of days.
However, there is always another way. In Sochi I met with my big friend Jan. He is another crazy traveller. Originally from Antwerp but adoptive son of Malaga. We met for the first time in Malaga and we came to be close friends. He was in Sochi due to the Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta of 2016 where he was about to volunteering.
As he knew about my issue getting out from Russia, we both get to the point that if there was a regatta from Sochi to Varna, Bulgaria, probably I can get out of Russia in a vessel. As he was working with the organizers, he checked If I could join any of the vessels and contacted with the captains.
He found a place for me in one of the Tall Ships. The Atyla Training Ship. It is a top sail schooner with two masts. It was built in Bilbao, Spain but due to politics it sails under the flag of Vanuatu. It seems that Spain has struggles considering timber boats in his maritime regulations. How funny that the captain, Spanish, had my same name.
with Maremoto Jan next to Atyla
Atyla wasn’t the fastest vessel in the regatta. Moreover, it might be the slowest, but it had other qualities. It was for sure the funniest and the one with the more international crew.
As it was about to be my first sailing experience I joined the crew as a Trainee. That means I was about to learn about what is sailing during my week on board. After Captain Rodrigo told me the terms and conditions of joining their crew, it took me 20 minutes to call my mom and tell her that I would be out of network the next week as I might be crossing the Black Sea.
The day I joined Atyla I first had to cross the hard control of access to the port. Seriously, the security is madness in Russia. Normally it was hard to get in, but that day Vladimir Putin was about to visit the Regatta. For that I came early morning and I had to leave behind to the security the cognac I brought for the crew. Pity!
At the time I joined the crew there were preparing for the events of the day. A Crew Parade and Putin’s speech. We took it really seriously and as we hadn’t a uniform as the other military training vessels, neither an anthem or march, we disguised like pirates. Our vessel looked like a little pirate ship, why not us?
We parade across Sochi playing with the people and dancing at the rhythm of the other crews bands. We hadn’t our band, but we sang pop songs a cappella. We were the fun of the parade and maybe because of that we won a couple of trophies.
After the parade was the speech of Putin, We wait for him hours and due to the wind, and the security, they whole event was spoiled. There where dancers, singers and people dressed for a big event that never took place.
After the parade, when Putin has left the area and the security let us get back to our vessel, we opened to the public. That day was my first duty as member of the crew. I had to welcome the visitors to the vessel and watch for their security. Not at all a hard job.
When all the visitors had left the vessel, some members of the crew, we went out for dinner a night walk a fish massage and back. Next day we would depart from Sochi.
As you might see, the first impression I had is that the journey on board of Atyla was about to be a great journey.
Once the ship was ready to depart we waited until the custom control double checked our passports and visas. They even checked with magnifying glass and blue light to be sure of the authenticity of our documents. In terms of security in Russia, it is never enough.
Before starting the regatta across the Black Sea there was a last event to satisfy the visitors, a Sails Parade. That means that all the vessels release their sails and sails along the coast in line so everyone can see them, from the coast or from their boats.
The Black Sea – Learning to Sail
On board of Atyla we were a few. As Captain Rodrigo told me, normally they have more crew members, but Russia was a difficult destination. The need of a visa and the Russian security prevent a lot of people from joining Atyla in this part of the Regatta. From Sochi I sail with people from all over the world.
The organization to do the watches was easy. Every time there had to be a Crew member a volunteer – watch leaders – and a trainee on watch. Crew and volunteers had a fix time to do their watches every day, trainees we changed from one day to another. As we were only two volunteers, some of the watch leaders participated in the watches as trainees.
A part from our watches, the trainees we had workshops where we learn about sailing terms, maritime regulations, signals, lights, manoeuvres, knots, etc. – To sail. The rest of the time we had free time to rest. However, when we were about to manoeuver every one awake was asked to help with the sails, the ropes and the control of the boat.
I expected a hard work on board so I was always willing to help. Jan told me that for me it would be an easy thing, that I might be able to be a watch leader at the end of the Regatta. I felt that I could be so half way to Varna. As we were few Volunteers, the workshops weren’t taking place as they were supposed to. My trainee brother felt a bit seasick so was not always available and some watch leaders where lost in other matters. As I really wanted to get deep immerse in what was sailing, I read all the boos about sailing, the manuals and I was continuously asking questions to Captain Rodrigo, Veera, the first on board, and the engineer Henry.
In several days, I get to feel more confident with terms and explanations than some of the watch leaders. Veera taught me the NATO phonetic alphabet. The engineer gave me a steering masterclass.
That night Henry was the crew responsible and I was the trainee in watch. The wind was almost against us and strong. The sea was agitated and we were sailing with engine to get to Varna on time. By then, the leg was already cancelled. We had as every time the order to follow a precise direction. In the sea, it is in terms of degrees from the North.
I had several explanations of how to steer, but it changed regarding who was the watch leader. I was zig-zagging +-10 degrees from my course and so was my watch leader. Henry could saw this and angry came up to the deck to complain. I accepted my mistake and told him to teach me how to do it properly. So in his anger he started teaching me how to put the boat in course and keep it there with few movements.
Since then steering was an easy task. Next day I knew how to steer almost without touching the steering wheel.
I learnt that accepting what you ignore you get to learn how to do it better. To complete this thought, couple of days later I had another experience. I was again Steering, this time with another watch leader. It was night and we were surrounded by dolphins and bioluminescent plankton all around. Every night was like that and it was always impressive. My watch leader who was steering – barely let me do it – wanted to had a look on the bow so she gave me the steering wheel with 15 degrees’ deviation. Trying to take it back to position I over pass other 15 degrees’ in the other direction. That, and the previews zigzag course made the crew responsible call our attention.
I admitted I was trying to put the boat in course, but my watch leader far from accepting her fault, accused me of losing the path. I said nothing. One way or another, she was responsible of my behaviour and the one that was supposes to teach me how to do it properly.
A part from the sailing experience, where I felt I learnt a lot we I had other adventures. One of the most amazing things that happened on board was to see the dolphins in the night with the bioluminescence waters. In the middle of the night you could see them perfectly underwater. They were like torpedoes approaching the cask of the vessel and disappeared when they jumped out of the water.
Also, I climb the mast for the first time in a windy day. The view from the top was amazing and the movements, the rolling of the boat with the waves was such an experience. That windy day I spent most of the day running from one corner to another. I also went to the bow to end up a bit seasick in the coach after the sunset.
The sunsets and sunrise in the middle of the Black Sea where awesome and when looking to the horizon is easy to understand why it is called the Black Sea.
On the way to Varna we had days with fair winds and others without wind. We get to sail a couple of days and the other part of the journey we used the engine.
On board relationships are more intense. As Jan used to say, one week on board with someone is like one month in land. I get to meet the people of the crew and develop strong bonds with them. As everywhere there were people I liked more than others. But in any case, it’s necessary to be tolerant and empathetic to work together with the rest of the crew. At the end, we all have one single goal.
When getting to Varna I was on the watch. It was early morning and we were the first vessel to arrive to port. At that time, Captain Rodrigo, tough me about the communication with the horn. In the sea, there are many ways of sending a message.
Once in port it was time to work. We still have watches, but they seemed vanished as al the crew had to work on the maintenance of the vessel. We start fixing sails, ropes, doors, cleaning the deck, shopping and have a shower. To save water in the 6-days journey I had one shower in overseas, one before departing and every day once in Varna.
The following morning of our arrival, most of the other vessels get to port. It was beautiful to see them arriving from our ship. In Varna, the Regatta committee had organized a lot of activities for the crews. I wanted to participate in all of them, unfortunately some competitions we need to be a team and I happened to be the only one of our crew to participate. Pity.
On my day-off, I went for a walk in Varna and I pretty much walk the whole city. But I will tell you more about Varna in the next post.
Almost every night there was a party in one of the Vessels, if not in ours, in Adornate.
One of the first days at Varna we host the party in our ship. But first some of us went for a walk on the shipyard. We met with a Russian drunk guy who wanted to climb to our mast. As he was drunk and it was late we told him that it was late to climb the mast. He happened to be part of a small tall ship in the regatta and understanding our point, he invited us to have a drink in their vessel. There we met with the sailor kids of Akela, a Russian training boat of future sailors. The kids that sails in this boat are part of a sailing school in Saint Petersburg. There we drunk Rakia, Whiskey and Vodka.
To get in the boat we had to leave our shoes out of the vessel in the port. What a surprise when we were coming back to the party in our ship, one of my sandals was missing. Drunk, the captain of our Russian drunk friend fell into the water trying to find my sandal. I simply assume that the sea will bring it back to me, or maybe my friend Sebastian. Who knows?
That night we drunk a lot. Jan was there. And I say that because I hadn’t drink in all my journey as much as I did with Jan. That is why I end up naming him Maremoto Jan.
The following day I felt more sick than any other day sailing. Dam hangover. We welcome new members of the crew that day, I had to do my watch welcoming people to the vessel as I did in Sochi and deal with my headache.
In one of my travels to refresh myself with water, Sebastian started crying my name as crazy. When I get to the deck. Pointing the water, he screamed – your sandal! – what a coincidence I thought.
We get one of the fishing canes and fished my sandal.
That same day was the Crew Parade and the Crew Party. As in Varna there was no security on the port, neither the streets at it was in Sochi, the parade was hundred times better. We could run among the other crews, cheers with them and mixed with the spectators.
The party however was more annoying. They run out of beer really soon. I guess they feared not to get the bar full of Russian drunk sailors. After this failure party, we continued at Adornate. That was a real party. Everyone brought drinks from every vessel and the feeling was as if we all knew each other from long time ago. That night I get to meet one of the new members of our vessel that moved my thoughts and feelings. In so little time we had a really good connection, but not time enough to talk about all our ideas, thoughts, believes and experiences. At this regatta, I really felt like being party of a new family. The family of the seas. I get in contact with so many people that shared similar passions than mines that I bet I will get back to the seas sooner or later.
The parties and event followed a couple of days more until everyone had to say farewell. As in Sochi before the depart, there was a Parade of Sails. As Jan was sailing at The Royal Helena, and Jan arranged with the captain so we could stay on the vessel the following days, I get to sea the parade from one of the Bulgarian tall ships
Sails parade in Varna
It was the end of the Regatta so separately every vessel start departing from port back home. Just the Bulgarian boats, Pogoria and Akela stayed few days more. Jan and I had to find our way across Bulgaria. But that belong to the next post.
Saying farewell to does you get to appreciate in such a few days was again painful. However, I am getting used to it and to the fact that if the winds let us, we will meet in the future someday.
For this experience, I want to thank specially my friend Jan Martinus who welcome me as member of his family of the seas.
I am more than happy to be your winds brother, friend, and travel partner.
Thanks a lot Jan