Odessa: Life in the fast lane at our last Ukrainian port

Photo: Odessa, Ukraine. Credit: Lisa Borre.
Odessa, Ukraine at night. Photo by Lisa Borre.

Black Sea Logbook Entry

Date: 8/15/2010
Distance: 109 nm
Sailed from: Skadovsk (Dzharylgach Island), Ukraine
Lat: 46° 29.6’N
Long: 30° 44.9’E

The crews of Gyatso and Makani, the German-flagged yacht we’d been traveling with since Balaklava, awoke in the early morning hours as the northeast wind began to build, putting both yachts on a lee shore in an exposed anchorage at the eastern tip of Dzharylgach Island. Just as we were deciding whether to get underway before the anchorage became untenable, we noticed movement on Makani’s decks. Felix and Monika were on deck and had turned their running lights on. We had just decided to do the same and followed them out of the anchorage and around the sand spit which forms the end of the barrier island at 2:10 a.m. in total darkness.

We rolled out the headsail but were too tired and uncertain of the wind conditions to go on deck and raise the main. It was one of those times we wished we had a modern mainsail furling system like our sailing partners’ Bavaria 42 was equipped with. Lisa went back to sleep while David stood watch until dawn while we glided comfortably along the southern shore of the island in a heaven-sent offshore breeze. When Lisa came on deck to watch the sunrise, she could see how much David was enjoying the sail. He remarked, “That was one of the most enjoyable nighttime sails I have ever had!” The bureaucracy in the Ukraine is not so great, but we’ve had much better sailing along this coast than we did along the southern coast of the Black Sea.

With northerly winds in the forecast, we decided to bypass the exposed anchorage of Mis Tendrov at the western end of the 80-mile long sand spit and continue on to Odessa, even though it meant a night entry. The wind dropped off and we had to motor sail and then motor for a few hours to reach the busy commercial port just after sunset on a relatively quiet Sunday evening. The port control dispatcher gave us permission to enter the port and notified the yacht club of our arrival. They did not respond to our radio calls, but we found Makani already berthed inside the harbor and they waved us alongside until the marina assigned us a berth.

David was asked to go ashore to conduct clearance formalities, and the final chapter of our saga with Ukrainian bureaucracy began. The marina in Odessa handles the formalities, so we are not required to employ an agent. David completed what he thought was a straightforward process of clearing into the harbor, but just as he was about to step back onboard, a border police officer asked him to return to the office for a few minutes. The female officer in the standard Ukrainian uniform of black stiletto heels, short wool skirt and green blouse who was handling our paperwork explained that there was a “big problem” with one of the key papers. It turned out that the hostile female officer in Skadovsk re-did our paperwork from Yevpatoria in such a way that we were required to visit all of the ports on our list. She said, “You are not supposed to be here in Odessa and need to go to Kherson instead.”

To her surprise, David insisted, “You are going to have to arrest me if you want me to sail 300 miles out of my way against the wind to Kherson right now!” After more discussion, she retreated from her demand but not without letting David know that her superiors might torture her because of his actions which was illustrated with gagging noises. David said, “You Ukrainians sure know how to create problems where they do not exist.” She replied, “Everyone says that about us.” He returned to Gyatso after midnight and nearly 24 hours after our longest “daysail” began. Once the formalities were complete, we relaxed and began to recover from the long passages and excessive paperwork of the past week.

Photo: The Potempkin Steps in Odessa, Ukraine. Credit: Lisa Borre.
The Potempkin Steps are the site of the famous scene from the black and white film Battleship Potempkin. Photo by Lisa Borre.

The Potempkin Steps are the site of the famous scene from the black and white film Battleship Potempkin during which a baby in an carriage is accidentally pushed from the top of the steps and is shown bouncing down in slow motion during a massacre of innocent civilians. The steps are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Odessa.

Walking up the Potempkin Steps from the modern yacht club at the passenger terminal in the commercial harbor and into the heart of Odessa’s city center was like instantly stepping into the fast lane of Ukrainian urban life. Fancy hotels, cars and restaurants line the well maintained, tree-lined streets. You feel as though you are in Europe, except the people around you are mostly Russian and Ukrainian with a few foreign tourists tossed in. Well dressed men and beautiful women linger in the streetside cafes drinking chilled champagne or vodka and nibbling on caviar. Nightclubs and casinos abound. So do restaurants of all types, including Italian, Turkish, Chinese, Thai, Mexican and the usual fast food joints.

For David, Odessa had a similar feel as St. Petersburg, which is older but also a former showcase Russian city. Although the city has a very European look and feel, it also reminded us of Washington, DC. Both cities were built in the 1790’s and designed by French urban planners in the neoclassical style.

Photo: Odessa Yacht Club, Ukraine. Credit: Lisa Borre.
Odessa Yacht Club, Ukraine. Photo by Lisa Borre.

The Odessa Yacht Club is a modern marina facility in the middle of a huge commercial harbor. Except for the accumulation of coal dust on our decks, we enjoyed our one week stay amongst the fancy motor yachts staffed by professional crews. Unique in the yachting world, professional crews are not usually friendly to cruisers like us. This was especially true in Ukraine where we found the people in general to be much less friendly than in other countries on the Black Sea. A Ukrainian sailing regatta took place while we were there which increased the number of sailors in the marina, but since they were busy with their daily races, we didn’t get to know any of them either.

We did befriend “Jimmy,” the head of security for the marina who lived and worked in Brooklyn for 17 years and spoke excellent English. He helped Lisa on numerous occasions, including to cut-off the all night partying on the boat next to us which would inevitably spill-over onto the quay. Having 20-something drunk Ukrainians within a few feet of our sleeping berth was more than our nerves could handle. Since we were paying the going rate to be in the secure area of the marina, we complained, and the parties ended immediately.

Photo: Clearing out of Odessa, Ukraine. Credit: Lisa Borre.
David was escorted back to Gyatso after clearing out of Ukraine. Photo by Lisa Borre.

After clearing out of Ukraine in Odessa, David was escorted back to Gyatso by a border police officer and handed our passports once he was back onboard. The officer stood guard until we dropped our docklines and left the harbor. The formalities took 3.5 hours but were completed in time for us to depart in daylight for the overnight sail to Sulina, Romania.

While on passage to Romania that night, we had one final call from the Ukrainian Coast Guard. They could see us five miles offshore on their radar and called to have us report our boat name, flag, etc. Lisa handled the communications with the polite radio operator, and when he signed off, he said, “Thank you, bye-bye!” Lisa responded, “Bye-bye! Gyatso clear.” We were glad we visited Ukraine but were ready to say goodbye to the excessive bureaucratic procedures we had to endure while cruising there.