Balchik, Bulgaria: A Black Sea resort fit for royalty and full of pleasant surprises

Photo: Balchik, Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Credit: Lisa Borre.
Gyatso moored at the marina in Balchik, Bulgaria, a convenient port of entry. Photo by Lisa Borre.

Black Sea Logbook Entry

Date: 9/3/2010
Distance: 65 nm
Sailed from: Eforie Nord and Mangalia, Romania
Lat: 43°24.2’N
Long: 28°09.7’E

Pulling alongside a large tug in the dark of night at the commercial dock in Balchik, we had low expectations for a positive experience with Bulgarian entrance formalities. Our guidebooks indicated that they only process foreign yachts on Mon-Fri from 9-5. It was now 8:45 on Friday night.

After setting out this morning, we realized that there was no way we were going to make it to Balchik before 5:00 p.m. We also needed to stop briefly in Mangalia, Romania to clear-out. It was a beautiful day on the Black Sea, and even though the wind was not strong enough to speed us along the 65-mile passage, it was just enough to keep us stable in the cross-swell left-over from the wind of the previous few days. It was such a pleasant sail, we gave up trying to arrive before sunset.

This is why we were relieved to see two men on the tug waving us alongside. The border policeman and customs officials welcomed us to Bulgaria and requested our paperwork. David asked, “Can we check-in tonight or do we have to wait until Monday?” The friendly officer replied, “We’re open non-stop!” We had not expected to find “24-7” American-style business hours in this Black Sea resort town near the border between Bulgaria and Romania. We filled out a form which served as cruising permit for all ports in Bulgaria. Like Romania, Bulgaria is now part of the European Union — gone are the days of special permissions and clearing in and out of each harbor — we were free to move about the country.

Our next pleasant surprise was finding that a new marina had been constructed in the harbor: the first floating pontoons with finger piers we had seen in years! The owner of the Bulgarian yacht Duke and his English-speaking son, Volen, helped us secure our docklines because George, the harbormaster, doesn’t keep the same non-stop hours as the border officials.

Balchik is an attractive town tucked into a large, south-facing bay with a fleet of small fishing boats pulled up on the shore and day charter boats which serve the surrounding resorts moored along the quay. Soaking up the sunshine radiating off the white rocky cliffs, it’s not hard to understand why Queen Maria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, kept a summer palace here. It’s also not hard to imagine that this has been used as a safe-haven for merchant vessels dating back to the 6th-century BC.

Venturing ashore, we discovered a new marina hotel development with shops and cafes creating a modern feel to the ancient seaside resort. Another pleasant surprise was when Lisa noticed a sign leading to a laundromat less than 50′ from the end of the dock. The last place we found convenient laundry facility was in Turkey (the one in Balaklava, Ukraine was out-of-order at the time we visited), so she quickly gathered up the piles of laundry on Gyatso and made arrangements for them to charge her “by the kilo” versus “by individual piece” as shown on their price list.

When she dropped off the laundry, the women in the laundromat were busy at work washing and ironing white sheets and towels for the hotel. They dumped the bags of laundry on the floor to see what was involved. All the women gathered around and began laughing at the sight of our dirty t-shirts, shorts, etc. Apparently, they had not had a customer like us before. Lisa had no shame — she was desperate to get the laundry done — and used hand signals to explain how she has been hand-washing the laundry as we sailed around the Black Sea. The women seemed horrified at either the thought of sailing, washing laundry by hand, or both. Our laundry was returned, clean and neatly folded, a few hours later.

We wandered around the town and enjoyed a fish lunch at one of the inviting waterside cafes. We were seated among other foreign tourists speaking mostly English and German. No question, we were back in Europe again.