Poti: Georgian hospitality, photo ops and a local sailing regatta

Photo: Poti, Georgia sailing regatta. Credit: Lisa Borre.
Juki (in green shirt), the founder of the Poti Yacht Club, poses with the young sailors and coaches participating in the local regatta. Photo by Lisa Borre.

Black Sea Logbook Entry

Date: 7/23/2010
Distance: 33 nm
Sailed from: Batumi, Georgia
Lat: 42° 09.2’N
Long: 41° 39.3’E

As we motored north today, the rugged, mountainous shoreline gave way to the low flood plain and delta of the Rioni, Georgia’s largest river. The heat and humidity of this sub-tropical environment seemed to intensify as we went. The threat of thunderstorms loomed in the distance, but thankfully held-off until after we arrived in port when they let loose with cracks of lightening and heavy rain later that night. By then we were safely moored with many tall cranes and towers in the vicinity.

We had to clear-out of Georgia and back in today for the passage between Batumi and Poti, but all went smoothly with our pre-printed copies of the various forms that the officials require here on the Black Sea. The well-established yacht club in Poti sent a RIB to meet us as we entered the harbor, and then they had several people on-hand to help us tie-up to one of their finger piers. The Poti Yacht Club is like a small oasis in the middle of a large commercial port. The officials were waiting for us and set-up office at a table under the shade of an umbrella at the quayside restaurant. We were cleared-in in what seemed like record time.

Juki, the founder of the club and our local contact for Poti, appeared on the dock shortly after we arrived. He is no longer involved in the day-to-day activities of the club since the port was sold to new owners a few years ago. What he designed and built as a traditional yacht club is now mostly a dockside restaurant and bar, but the basic services (especially the 24-hour security) and welcoming staff made it a much better facility than what we had in Batumi. We enjoyed time with him and hearing stories about his adventures, including as the skipper of Phasizi, the Soviet Union’s entry in the Whitbread Around-the-World race and his three years on a goodwill sailing mission in the United States immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The officials had barely left, and we had not even finished securing the docklines before Gyatso became the backdrop for the first of hundreds of photo ops at the Poti Yacht Club. A bride and groom and their family were video-taped walking out to the end of our pier where more wedding photos were shot. We were caught by surprise when the bride’s father jumped aboard with his black-soled shoes for one last photo. We read in our guidebook that Georgians love having their photos taken in front of famous sites and view points, and on a wedding day, much time is spent going around town taking photos at as many famous places as can be managed.

During the busy lunch and dinner hours at the club’s restaurant and bar, there was a steady stream of people lining up alongside Gyatso to have their pictures taken, many asking if they could step aboard like the bride’s father. Unlike our time in Turkey, very few of the dock walkers greeted us or asked about our voyage. Although foreign yachts are still a novelty here (we were the second or third this year), most people just wanted to have their photo taken in front of a yacht — any yacht would do. Although we are usually quite generous about inviting people onboard to see our boat, we thought it best to stem the tide of what might become an unmanageable number of requests. Although we wished they had created a small barricade to prevent people from walking out onto the finger pier where we were moored, the security guards kept a close eye on things. We had no problems other than a total lack of privacy and the occasional overly curious late-night visitor who would then get shooed away. We turned our attention away from the onlookers and toward the regatta.

About a dozen Optimist and Laser sailors were busily preparing for the first regatta the club had sponsored in four years. We had front-row seats to the practice sessions and the first few days of the regatta itself during our stay. We snapped many photos of the enthusiastic boys as they tacked their one-design sailboats near Gyatso‘s stern. We also attended the opening ceremony and met Marika, the pleasant and friendly manager of the Poti Sea Port administration there. She later provided us with very useful information about the sea port, and we invited her and her colleagues aboard Gyatso for a visit and more photo ops.

Escaping from life at the yacht club for a day, we hired a taxi to take us to Kolkheti National Park where we had arranged to tour the internationally important wetlands and explore more of the the subtropical environments in the Rioni River Delta. Poti was considered to be the end of the world by the ancient Greeks, and we were hoping to be transported back in time in the nature preserve. This is the land where the powerful Colchis people lived and where the legend of the golden fleece originated. It is believed that Jason and the Argonauts sailed to this stretch of coast in search of the golden fleece, continuing up the Rioni River to obtain their treasure with the help of the Colchian King’s priestess daughter Medea.

It turned out that the tour boats weren’t available on the day of our visit, and in subsequent days, it was either too windy or too hot for us to make the four hour-long outing on the shallow coastal lagoon which is said to kick-up a mean chop in high winds. The treasure we discovered at the Kolkheti wetlands was not a golden fleece but a staff member with a heart of gold who helped arrange an impromptu briefing by the park’s natural resources specialist and a tour by taxi of the sights we were most interested in seeing.

Khatuna, an environmental educator, informed us that she had recently participated in an exchange program with Point Reis National Park in California. She offered to help us with anything during our stay in Poti. Having felt our time was too short to talk with her at the park headquarters, we invited her to visit Gyatso after she finished work. She arrived shortly after the opening ceremony for the yacht regatta, and soon we were entertaining Khatuna and several of her friends onboard Gyatso. They were thrilled to spend the evening sipping Georgian wine in our cockpit, and we both enjoyed the female company after interacting with mostly men in the ports we had visited on the Black Sea up to this point.

Khatuna told us something we had also read in the guidebook: Georgians believe that a guest is a gift from God. Perhaps this explains why she and her friend Katia invited us for a home-cooked Georgian feast the following night. They showed Lisa how they wrap and boil the special Georgian dumplings while we all watched a nearly full moon rise from the window of the ninth story apartment — a wonderful evening that will last in our memories.

Having met such nice people while visiting Georgia, we both left this small country with the feeling that the reciprocal was also true: For the foreign guest, our Georgian hosts seemed like a gift from God.

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