Log #32k Constanta into the Danube River

June 13, 2004 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 32 Istanbul and The Black Sea, The Logs

Odessa, Ukraine

June 13, 2004

Hi Folks,

We are still very frustrated at the horrible bureaucracy in Ukraine, especially after having waited for over 34 hours to be cleared out of Ismail. Avoid Ismail! At one point we were considering giving up on Ukraine and just heading back to Turkey. However we like Odessa very much, even after having a six hour wait to go through the bureaucracy before we could go ashore.

We are going up to Kiev for a few days on Monday on an over night train. All is well, and we have found a few computer places where we may even get our modem connection fixed to send E-mail from the boat. I’ll keep you posted on that progress. We had a great sail getting here, the best we have had for a long time.

This log gets us into the Danube River from which we went down to the delta, an enjoyable trip through Romania.

More to come after we get back from Kiev.

All the best,


Log #32k, Constanta into the Danube River

Izmail, Ukraine

June 8, 2004

At Constanta, the second largest city in Romania and its largest port, we went past the immense commercial harbor to go alongside in Port Tomis (44˚ 10.6’N, 028˚ 39.7’E), the smaller yacht harbor. The officials came within the half hour, were most pleasant as they completed their paper work and were appreciative of the fact we had a ship’s stamp to seal my signatures with. They also indicated there was to be a festival that night on the end of the dock celebrating Constanta day, a date significant to the city. Sure enough there was loud music, refreshment stands, and crowds until late in the night, including an impressive fireworks display. We wandered down for an hour or so and had some mici, spiced ground beef sausages, in the barbecue smoke saturated crowd.

There was a British flagged boat astern of us, Rocquette, that helped us in, but it was crewed by Romanians, some of whom spoke English. They invited us over for drinks and some mici, while giving us much local knowledge. We had read about the Black Sea-Danube Canal going from Constanta inland to Cernovoda on the Danube. The thought of taking it and going 150 miles or so down the Danube instead of going outside to the Danube delta appealed to us. The main consideration was whether there was enough air draft for our mast without having to take it down. The skipper assured us the few bridges were quite high as ocean ships transit the canal and the river. He was taking the higher masted Rocquette, a 15 metre wooden sloop through and up stream towards Bucharest in a couple of days, to a boatyard where he was commissioned to do a major overhaul of this old classic vessel. We hoped we could accompany him through and have him help us as an interpreter, as we had no information on the canal other than the Lonely Planet’s explanation that it was referred to as the DEATH CANAL. It as called this as during the communist purges of 1949 to 1953, 180,000 political prisoners, of whom 40,000 died, were interned in forced labor camps to build it. It was abandoned in 1953 and not completed until 1975 when a more suitable route was followed. However, we had no charts for that stretch of river from the canal to the Danube delta.

While we were visiting with them, a Swedish trawler came alongside, and we helped them in. They had just come down the Danube, all the way from Stockholm, breaking ice from the harbour two months ago when they set off. We got together with them to discuss our travels. They were going into the Black Sea, and we were able to show them some of the ports we visited and update their Black Sea Pilot, as they had an older version. In exchange, they gave us their charts for the lower Danube from Cernovoda to Sulina in the delta approaches to the Black Sea. This was a great gift as we had no information on the lower Danube, and now could navigate down the Danube to the Delta. They would accept no money for this set of charts.

Next day we toured the worthwhile Archeological Museum, which had some interesting displays and artifacts dating back to Thracian, Greek and Roman eras. The museum’s primary display were of grave remains of statuary of a dual representation of Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance; Fortuna and Ponthos, patron divinities of the ancient Greek town and harbor of Tomis; and the Glykon coiled serpent, guardian of the temple, all of which were complete and in good condition. Beside the museum we visited a recent (1959) discovery and excavation of a Roman agora, with mosaic tiled main hall and foundation remains of the merchants stalls. We had not seen such marketplace remains since Knidos in southwest Turkey a couple of years ago. Again, we were the only tourists visiting these sites early on a gray Sunday morning, and the museum was opened up room by room for us.

At 1100 we were met by one of Rocquette’s crew and his wife, as she had offered to drive us up to Histria, an important port of the ancient world settled by Greek merchants in the 7th century BC.  However, Rocket wanted to leave that day, and we needed to return some borrowed charts and pilot books of the Danube to them. We were undecided if we wanted to leave with them and forgo our visit to Histria. We decided to continue our touring as we were fortunate to have an English speaking Romanian to drive us around for the day. After returning to Veleda to get the charts for them, we left for Histria, 70 km up towards the Danube delta.

We stopped several times en route to bird-watch as we approached the delta. We saw large flocks of storks nesting out in the marsh flats, as well as pristine white egrets. I got a lovely picture of a flight of a dozen storks soaring on the updrafts, their wings flared out, unmoving as they glided across the sky like a flight of bombers. It was fascinating to watch these wide-winged creatures drifting so effortlessly on the air currents staying aloft, circling in the updraft convection currents like engineless gliders.

Histria was an important port, with a fortified walled city, in this part of the world 2000 years ago, dominating the delta for mercantile trade, even more important than Tomis (Constanta). We have seen this name at several museums indicating the major cities of the ancient world in the Black Sea, and we are privileged to be sailing through several of these historical ports. However Histria was abandoned by the 7th century AD as a result of Goth attacks and silting of the Danube delta. The remains of this city are now land locked on the shores of a large inland lake.

This north coast of the Black Sea was colonized by the ancient Greeks as early as the 7th and 6th centuries BC, by several Greek city states, to assure their supply of agricultural products from the present Bulgaria, Romania and the Ukraine, fertile areas. Thus the importance of the control of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles (remember Troy especially in the 12th century BC?). These colonies had varying degrees of independence and citizenship privileges and responsibilities. Tomis (Constanta) and Histria were two such colonies. They were later taken over by Roman domination, then Byzantine and various barbarian invasions.

We enjoyed Histria, but Pompeii it was not. There were walls of the fortified town, traces of Greek and Roman avenues, foundations of various houses, arcades, settlements, and outrageous displays of thistles and local floral coverage that dominates the site. The on-site museum was only OK. More explanatory diagrams and material would have helped.

On returning to Constanta, we went to a local restaurant overlooking the harbor and saw Rocquette still there, alongside instead of Med moored. When we called them on a mobile, we found out that they had been secured to the buoy used by the mayor of the city and had to vacate it. However, they were still planning to head out for the canal shortly, so we finished our meal and set off for Veleda hoping to be able to accompany them through the canal. They had left by the time we got on board, and then we had to wait a half hour for the officials to clear us out, before we could leave to head for Constanta commercial harbor to join Rocquette at the locks going into the Danube-Black Sea Canal. The harbor, mist shrouded in the late afternoon, was immense, with many unfinished docks and woefully unused container pier facilities.

As we approached the canal, we and Rocquette followed a six barge tow, hoping to be able to lock through with it. We asked Rocquette to explain to the lock master that we wanted to do this. We were initially told, via Rocquette, that we would have to wait at the lock approaches until the morning to be locked through.

Aaarrgghhh! That would mean Rocquette would go through tonight and we would have no interpreter or guide next day! We asked Rocquette to explain we had US or EU currency to pay any lock fee. When they had clarified that we had the right change, we were cleared to go through with them. We had no information on the lock or the Black Sea-Danube canal, and had no idea of how much or what was involved, or what we would have done next day, as there was no information center. However in we went, to secure to a floating bollard, not unlike those we experienced in the Mississippi, and secured by a midships line we made fast and were ready fore and aft to fend off as necessary. No problem for us. However, Rocquette was all over the place, unable to keep the boat parallel to the lock wall as we ascended the ten meters plus, up. When ready to leave the lock, Rocquette called us as they had engine problems and could not start their engine. We took them in tow as we exited the lock and went alongside the upper waiting wall with them for the night. The officials came over and collected the 72 Euros, and we stayed alongside for the night, to leave at 0630 next day for the 35.6 nautical mile trip up the Danube Black Sea Canal, the Death Canal, to Cernovoda and the Danube River.

The canal was … a canal, a 40 meter wide ditch, well banked, bisecting the countryside. There were one or two high bridges with over 20 meters clearance, a few side channels home to abandoned barges, and no locks other than that first one in Constanta until the control lock with virtually no rise just before Cernavoda. We waved to people we saw fishing along the banks in several places, passed some nice agricultural land, including several vineyards, and encountered only one tow until we got to the congested intersection with the Danube River. We unfurled our genoa a few times when the wind was appropriate, furling it again at each new bend when we were headed. Once through the control lock we went under the last canal bridge towards the river. On our starboard in a large bay was a nuclear plant, a Canadian Candu reactor. The story is, according to our Lonely Planet guide, that construction started in 1978, but that, “workmanship was allegedly so shoddy that following the Canadian partners’ direct intervention, the plant was closed until international safety standards were met.” The plant was not inaugurated until 1996!

Then the waterway widened out, as this junction is a gathering place for dozens of large gray banged up barges, some empty, some derelict, and some with heaps of sooty coal or sloppy mud scooped up by the dredge deepening the channel. They were moored along pontoons attached to the bank or anchored halfway into the river. It was cool and gray as we maneuvered around following Rocquette, trying to find a place to go alongside. The officials contacted on VHF spoke no English, and we were getting mixed messages from Rocquette as to where they, or we, were supposed to go. The pontoon where the customs officials were supposed to meet us was occupied by a long low luxurious floating river hotel ship, and so we were directed to go alongside a police boat. Rocquette tried to go in first, but had considerable problems with the current, and veered off into the river. We went alongside, expecting Rocquette to raft off us. However they stayed out in midriver and then went upstream looking for another place to moor. This was the last we saw of them as they were heading upstream next day toward Bucharest. We stayed alongside the police boat as nobody was kicking us off.

Judy went ashore for groceries, crossing over the police boat onto an adjacent boat, then teetering the length of two small dories with several inches of water sloshing around in each, over narrow boards, then up a stone embankment with the aid of a mooring rope, rising at a 30 degree angle for 7 metres. Then there were stairs up to the top of the levee allowing Judy a kilometer walk into a grey colourless town with shabby small buildings and drab people, a really depressing situation in that barge dominated riverside town. Judy commented that even the vegetables were discouraging, those few she could find.

By the time she returned to Veleda the hotel boat had left and we were asked to relocate onto that pontoon for customs and immigration checks. No problem. Maneuvering in the three knot river current was quite manageable for us as we had river experience in the Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio, in the US; the Thames, the Deben and the Orwell in England; and the Seine, the Saone and the Rhone Rivers in France. We were there for the night.