Feodosia: No gift from the gods for us

Photo: sunset in Feodosia, Ukraine. Credit: Lisa Borre.
We watched the sunset as we waited for permission to enter Feodosia’s commercial port. Photo by Lisa Borre.

Black Sea Logbook Entry

Date: 7/31/2010
Distance: 335 nm
Sailed from: Poti, Georgia
Lat: 45° 02.3’N
Long: 35° 24.2’E

As we neared the end of a long, Black Sea passage and entered Ukrainian territorial waters, we began to call the Ukrainian Coast Guard at 12 miles out. Their VHF radio call sign is “Lebed” which means swan in Russian. No answer. We tried again at five miles out but could only hear Ukrainian and Russian being spoken on the radio. David’s Russian was coming back to him after our time in Georgia, but it was not enough to handle radio communications.

The coastline was hidden behind the afternoon haze. When it began to appear, we could see a small warship shadowing us in the distance. As we reached the entrance to the commercial harbor of Feodosia, we finally received an answer to our calls, “Station calling, this is Feodosia Traffic Control.” The cargo port dispatcher seemed to be the only one on duty who could speak English on a Saturday night in late July. As soon as we made radio contact, the warship disappeared into the inner harbor.

The ancient Greek name of this port was Theodosia which means “gift from the gods.” The rocky cliffs of the Crimean Peninsula give way to a low, flat plain with sandy beaches stretching to the Kerch Strait at the entrance to the Sea of Azov. We asked the dispatcher for permission to enter the harbor, explaining our last port of call and other information that formalities require. He asked us to stand-by. We watched the sunset and began to get nervous about negotiating an unfamiliar harbor after dark. A half hour later, he came back to us and explained that Feodosia is no longer a port of entry for private yachts, “We have no yacht harbor and no agents who can handle your formalities.” He must have spoken to the elusive Lebed swans because he politely explained that we were not permitted to enter the port and that we should proceed to Yalta 75 miles away. This was not the answer we were expecting to hear after sailing 335 miles from the Republic of Georgia. Apparently there would be no gift from the gods for us in Feodosia.

We were pretty sure that our outdated cruising guides would need some serious updating for the Ukraine, but we didn’t imagine that the situation here would be quite as different as we found it. Since most people who sail to Ukraine do so by sailing from Istanbul through Bulgaria and Romania to Odessa or from Sinop in Turkey to Yalta at the southern tip of the Crimea, we couldn’t find any first-hand accounts of people entering the Ukraine through its easternmost port of entry in Feodosia. In all three pilots, it was listed as a port of entry and came highly rated as a convenient place to go through the extensive bureaucratic procedures for arrival by private yacht. The guidebooks said they would find space for foreign yachts.

Having the Ukrainian Coast Guard order us to “proceed to Yalta” was a bit like drawing the “Go to jail” card in the board game Monopoly. Instead of not passing “Go” and not collecting $200, we were faced with not being able to find a safe harbor for the night and not knowing if we had enough fuel in case we had to motor the 75 miles to Yalta. After sailing for 2 ½ days, we were in serious need of sleep, but the bigger problem was that it was now after dark and there was no wind. We explained the low fuel situation and our need for sleep, and then asked permission to anchor out for the night.

“Please stand by,” said the helpful dispatcher of the cargo port. Fifteen minutes later he came back to us on the VHF and granted permission to anchor outside the harbor. He then proceeded to guide us to an exact position as if we were a supertanker or a 747 landing at Chicago O’Hare. Lisa’s heart began to sink as we inched our way to the designated spot which seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. We dropped our anchor in 60 feet of water (a record for us) and comfortably spent the night among the other ships that were awaiting entry to unload their cargo in the port.

The dispatcher asked us, “How many shackles do you have?” At first we thought he was asking what depth of water we were in, so when we answered, he replied, “Put more shackles out.” We finally translated his question as “How much anchor chain have you put out?” We didn’t try to explain that we were using rope not the kind of chain that is big enough to count individual links. We later learned from a friend that a “shackle” in the shipping world is 10 meters of anchor chain.

Saturday night anchored off a major Crimean resort town at the height of summer meant that we were treated to a spectacular fireworks show and could see and hear everyone enjoying the big amusement park ashore. We figured that we were safe for the moment and that a good night’s sleep would make all the difference.

We awoke on Sunday morning, ate a big breakfast, ran through fuel calculations and then dipped the tank. Because of the shape of our tanks, we do not have a fuel gauge. With the old tank, we used a calibrated dip stick to get a close estimate, but with the new tanks we installed over the winter, it is no longer calibrated. We can only rely on our own calculations — our conservative estimate was that we did not have enough fuel to get to Yalta if we motored the whole way. But we didn’t have much choice in the matter. If the Ukrainian Coast Guard instructs you to do something, you do it. Even though there was not a breath of wind when we pulled up the anchor at 9:00 a.m., we hoped it would come up in the afternoon as it often does and that it wouldn’t be on-the-nose. We kept the engine rpm’s low to conserve fuel and gave up any hope of arriving in Yalta in daylight.

We thanked the helpful dispatcher from the night before, and he wished us, “Good luck!” Sure enough, luck was with us and by late morning we were sailing along comfortably in 8-10 knots of wind abeam with a 0.5 knot coastal current pushing us along to Yalta. Even though it dropped off again in the late afternoon it was enough to take the edge off our high anxiety and help us arrive before total darkness had fallen. Our saga of entering the Ukraine continues in Yalta…