Batumi: Welcome to Georgia!

Photo: Batumi, Georgia yacht harbor on the Black Sea. Credit: Lisa Borre.
Gyatso berthed in the yacht harbor of Batumi which is also home to several tour boats, including Sea Star, the one shown here, as well as a fleet of pilot boats serving the busy commercial harbor. Photo by Lisa Borre.

Black Sea Logbook Entry

Date: 7/18/2010
Distance: 36 nm
Sailed from: Hopa, Turkey
Lat: 41° 41.3’N
Long: 41° 29.8’E

After clearing out of Hopa, Turkey this morning, we carefully steered around the “prohibited zone” extending from the Turkish/Georgia border out 12 miles to international waters on passage to Batumi, Georgia. It was a 24 mile detour which we had been instructed to take by the Turkish Coast Guard but didn’t mind because we had a nice breeze for sailing most of the way. Afternoon rain showers moved in and the wind dropped and then shifted to the south, so we dropped the mainsail and turned on the engine as we made our final turn toward the Georgian coast.

We were having a pleasant day of sailing, but just beneath the surface, tensions were running high on Gyatso. We were a bit nervous about entering Georgia by yacht because earlier guidebooks were written with numerous cautions and warnings at a time when the situation in this former Soviet Republic was less stable than it is today. When we mentioned to our yachting friends that we were planning to go to Georgia, most replied, “Are you certain that it is safe?” or “You’re crazy!” We also planned to enter the country in Batumi instead of Poti, as the previous guidebooks had advised, based on new information that we received from Georgian officials that Batumi is now a port of entry on the Black Sea and would welcome foreign yachts.

We were about 7 nm from Batumi when we were met by a Georgian Coast Guard Cutter which inspected us and eventually gave us the “Okay” to proceed into the port. We contacted port authorities on arrival in Batumi, and they sent a pilot boat out to guide us into the small yacht harbor where we were met at the quay by port police who exclaimed, “Welcome to Georgia!” Ten minutes later, three officials were sitting in the cockpit with their laptop computer and digital passport reader conducting entrance formalities in a professional and courteous manner . It was the first time that we had to undergo these formalities onboard, but it was much easier than the process we had to go through in Greece or Turkey. Our documents were carefully reviewed and our passports were stamped and that was that — we were cleared in. No agents, no fees, and no transit logs necessary.

During the clearance formalities, members of the local yacht club came by to welcome us, introduce themselves and offer assistance with anything we needed. We met David who owns two small power boats in the harbor and Ruslan who owns the only other sailing yacht in Batumi. The port authorities contacted a local ship chandler to ask that he fulfill our request for a Georgian courtesy flag. Dimitri arrived an hour later with the requested flag and with the offer of assisting us with any necessary yacht or travel services — all of this on a Sunday evening. He was surprised when we handed him a letter and USB modem which another yacht had borrowed and not returned during their stay here two weeks ago. We thanked everyone for the warm welcome, made arrangements for the following day, and then retreated to the cabin for a light dinner and much needed rest.

It wasn’t until two days later when we met with the head of the Coast Guard in Batumi that we learned the current procedures for yachts entering Georgian territorial waters so we can include it in the updated cruising guide. He reassured us that our American-flagged yacht was most welcome in Georgia. With this information, we can definitely declare that the welcome we received is genuine — the Republic of Georgia is open to receiving foreign yachts.