Haapassari to St Petersburg

Al Shaheen
John & Jenny Franklin
Sat 12 Jul 2014 17:01
N59:57.95 E030:14.75

Twelve boats had assembled at the small Finnish island of Haapassari where there is a Finnish customs and immigration post specifically located close to the Finland/Russian border for boats checking out for Russia. As all our Russian visas commenced on 6 July and we were keen to spend as much time as possible in St Petersburg, we all checked out in late afternoon on the 5th with a light SW breeze and sunshine to make the 80 mile passage to Fort Konstantin on the island of Kronshtadt to check into Russia.

The wind soon died and we motored across the border 10 miles out of Haapassari close to buoy 15 and called the Russian Coast Guard on VHF to advise them, receiving the reply "we see you, Al Shaheen". After that we made for the Sommers Roundabout where three TSS join, transiting to join the eastbound lane towards St Petersburg and staying just outside the TSS but not more than a mile away.

It never really got dark that night - sunset at 2230 and sunrise over land at 0350 with a form of twilight in between and a succession of merchant ships, cruise ships and tugs. The sea was glassy and we all reduced speed to time our arrival to coincide with a pre-arranged programme to stagger the load on customs and immigration. We needn't have bothered; it was chaos on arrival! There had been a Finnish rally of 47 boats before ours and all should have left by the 5th. Instead, 11 Finnish boats had changed their minds and left a day late so they were all at Customs by 0800 when the first OCC boats arrived. At one time we had 26 boats all waiting to be processed. To add to the chaos Customs did not show up until 1000 and the first thing they had to do was clear the Finnish boats out. The Russian officials did not work to any order and cleared boats at random and in a very inefficient and long-winded manner. Our agent Vladimir Ivankov was there with his daughter and had very helpfully prepared all the documentation in Russian but it still took us a very frustrating 7 hours to get cleared, including a 1 1/2 hour lunch break for the officials, even with Vladimir's help. All the time we were rafted to other boats alongside a rough concrete dock grinding away in the swell - a most unpleasant day.

We finally cleared at 1630 and then faced a 17 mile trip in very confined narrow channels to our marina. All the time we were being forced out of the channels by small ships and, at the end, were besieged by dozens of hydrofoil ferries screaming around only a few feet away at 40 knots with turbine noise, exhaust fumes and spray. By the time we eventually found our marina we were fed up and exhausted and then found that we didn't have an assigned berth, we couldn't understand the harbour-master on the VHF, and there was even more chaos in the marina with speedboats and jet skis screaming around as we berthed. A 2 knot current through the marina didn't help and we made a disastrous approach.

At that point, this skipper vowed never, ever, to return to this dreadful place, unless by airline!