Estonia (June 2008)


Our plans to cruise in Estonia for two weeks before heading east to St. Petersburg were dashed when we experienced severe problems with our engine transmission.  We may go back to some of the harbours, and if we do, we will amend this log.


We left Riga at noon for the overnight 100-mile passage to Saaremaa, the largest of the Estonian islands in the Baltic. 


Riga to Saaremaa was quite a ride … I don’t think the old saying was “Life is a close reach”


The wind livened up from the SW and veered west at 16-25 knots with gusts to 30.  The waves matched the wind, but started out being confused because the previous day the wind was strong from the NW with no calm period in between.  There were not too many freighters, ferries and cruise ships to dodge.  We had only 6 hours between sunset and sunrise, and the moon was shining for 3 hours of that.  We sailed with double-reefed main, staysail and mizzen for a short period of time, but the mizzen was overpowering us, so it came down.  We were on a close reach most of the way, since our destination, Roomassaare, on southeast coast of Saaremaa, is NW of Riga.

The difference between Latvia and Estonia regarding boarder control is night and day. In Latvia we had to check in and out with boarder control for each city except Riga.  Our passports were stamped, and crew list forms collected at each city.  Here in Estonia, a telephone call was made; Latvia had already informed Estonia we were coming, that was that.  No visit.  We think Latvia is still under an over-controlling, Soviet-style culture, and is keeping all these border control people on the payroll to make unemployment look "not too bad."  Socialist dictatorships seem to have a full-employment policy, which is not usually good for the economy (and in our case, for tourism)


A modern facility built for boats less than 38 feet … we take up two spots


The marina is next to the commercial harbour where huge stacks of cedar logs are waiting to be carried away on cargo ships.  When we entered the harbour we were downwind of the logs; it smelled like a sauna. 

Woodpecker heaven


We spent one day in Kuressaare, the capital city of Saaremaa, a 5 km walk from the marina.  This island is so different from Latvia; although the island (and country) was occupied by the Soviets before WW2, then occupied by Germany during the early days of WW2, then occupied by the Soviets again at the end of WW2, the destruction of buildings and community is not blatantly evident. 


We enjoyed the walk into town.  The roadside wildflowers were beautiful:  buttercups, wild daisies, forget-me-nots, thistles, clover, poppies, lobelia, bindweed, snowball bushes, wild strawberries, wild rose bushes, sweet-smelling grasses, and Brian’s favorite allergy, lilacs. 


A weed lovers delight … sorry … an eco-friendly environment


Roomassaare used to be an island until a causeway was built across the shallow water.  The area around the causeway has become a marshy area full of birds.  Hooded crows, barn swallows (the national bird), and lapwings. 

Plenty of bird life and “hides” for observation


Unlike in Latvia, pedestrians have right of way, and there are designated crossing spots on major streets, and bicycle / pedestrian paths clearly marked in both the countryside and in the city.


The yellow car is parked in a non-car lane … the boy is parked picking flowers for mom


Saaremaa  has become a holiday spot, with spas, resorts, guesthouses and rental holiday homes. Kuressaare is a tourist town, but charming.  The buildings are mainly one or two stories, made primarily of wood, but sometimes stucco.  New buildings have modern architecture. 

Common wood structure of the last century


Current style of wood and concrete construction in the new suburbs


Hotel, guesthouse of wood construction in town

Restored estate beside the castle … serves as an expensive hotel


There were a few abandoned buildings, and a few that were occupied with peeling paint, but those were the exception.  Two old churches in town were the Orthodox St. Nicholas and the Lutheran St. Lawrence Church (1836).

St. Nicholas was having its steeple repaired, but the domed tambour (lower than the steeple) showed the classical 18th century architectural lines


The forged gates to the churchyard are beautiful.


We had lunch at a Dutch windmill that was in operation until 1940.  We had an excellent fish platter and local dark beer that reminded Brian of a brew his great grandparents made on the farm in Waboose north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, when he was young. 

Restaurant and tourist attraction

Jane playing tourist


The most fascinating time was at the Episcopal Castle, surrounded by a moat.  It was completed in the second half of the 14th century.


Back view of the Episcopal Castle, with the moat in the foreground


  It houses a museum that includes many topics.  There were displays of animals, birds and plants on the island


I could say “bear hugs anyone” but I won’t 


and information on meteorite craters that have been incorporated in folklore.  There are 8 craters, one large enough to be filled by a lake.  Another display describes the medieval trades that flourished:  mining and metalwork, tanning and leatherwork, carpentry and carving wood, weaving, both cloth and bands, knitting with just one needle creating loops that do not unravel, and musical instruments.


A variety of recovered artifacts used in the manufacture of wearing apparel


 A third display area focused on the recent history of Saaremaa.  It began with post WWI when Estonia became a republic, through the Soviet occupation in the 1930’s which included deportations to Siberia, especially of people who were nationalistic or strong leaders, through the invasion by Germany, then the Soviet “emancipation” and occupation.  Most of the signage was in Estonian and English, so we were able to get a great insight into this recent history.

An extensive collection of memorabilia from the Soviet and German eras


We wanted to have more information about the castle itself, but there were no guidebooks in English.  It was the bishop’s residence for several hundred years, which is why it is called the Episcopal or Bishop’s Castle.  It would have been either an Orthodox or Roman Catholic bishop. 

1228 to 1589 record of Bishops … there was no further record

Chapel interior with beautiful religious relic restorations






Our second port in Estonia was nothing more than a ferry terminal on the mainland, but it was a convenient stop on our way NE.  As we left the dock for our next port, the engine transmission stuck in forward.  We had no neutral or reverse, both of which are needed when docking a boat. 


Wind blowing us on the dock … rocks in front … no reverse … no neutral … interesting


Our plans changed; we sailed through the night all the way to Tallinn to see if we could get a mechanic to diagnose and repair the problem.  This was the third engine problem within a week.  Going into Riga we broke the bracket that supports the alternator (generator) on the engine. When we got the bracket repaired, Brian noticed that one of the engine mounts was cracked, so we spent 2 days extra in Riga having a new one fabricated.  This third problem in such a short time was frustrating.  We conjecture that as we left Borkum (Germany) going down the Ems River with the current, but with a strong contrary wind, we “fell” off a large wave (20 feet or more).  The boat shuddered.  The shock must have started the series of engine problems we were experiencing.


Tallinn / Pirita


Once off the dock we had good(?) winds all the way into Pirita


We arrived outside the harbour at Pirita Sunday morning and radioed the border control for assistance getting into the harbour.  The wind had increased throughout the night to 25 knots from the west, and even in calm conditions, docking a boat without reverse gear is risky.  Border control responded quickly and once inside the harbour breakwall, they gave us an along-side tow to their pier.

The winds had picked up overnight to 25 knots …

We needed help to get to the slip beside the customs office


 The guest harbour was filled with Finnish sailboats waiting for the wind to drop or back further south so they could get back to Finland.

Everyone waiting for calmer conditions for the trip back to Finland


The pleasure yacht harbour in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is in a suburb, Pirita, a few kilometers outside Tallinn.  It was the boating venue for the Moscow 1980 Olympics.  The building complex is unattractive and crumbling.  Docking charges are reasonable, but the $6 charge for a shower is a bit exorbitant. 


Young sailors having a blast in the high winds … 3 broken masts were the only casualties

Moscow 1980 Olympics sailing venue …everything needs a bit of TLC

The main Olympic building …


Graffiti seems to be more abundant and of lesser artistic merit


We never took the bus to Tallinn because our focus was on getting a mechanic to assess the damage and start work on fixing our engine.  After two days waiting to hear if the repair could be done in Estonia, the recommendation was that we sail the boat to Helsinki and have the work coordinated by Leevene, located on Lauttasaari, an island west of downtown Helsinki.  We made arrangements to stay at the Helsingfors Segalklubb (HSK), just across the channel from Leevene.  Gale-force winds and rain caused another day’s delay in our departure.  We were able to walk to the ruins of a convent in the area.




The story of our engine failure would bore many, so we have put it in a separate log on our website:  Engine Saga