Sailing the Black Sea
Our adventure sailing the Black Sea started in Constanta, Romania. We rented our sailboat from a local family via the Internet and loaded in at Tomis Port. Our research told us that late summer would be the best season to travel the Black sea with calmer winds and seas. The weather was perfect and warm and offered plenty of beautiful days to explore the ports when not out to sea.
We flew from Heathrow to Bucharest, then took a short 4 hour flight to Constanta. We had already decided to spend a couple days in Constanta and our new local friends insisted that they be allowed to host us. We learned that Constanta’s port had been a favourite target for Allied bombers during World War 2 because if its importance as a supply port.
On our first day in Constanta, we all loaded onto one of the brightly coloured public buses and did some site-seeing. I was most impressed with the Roman Mosaics. We also enjoyed local meals, including lots of seafood, amazing vegetable dishes and local wines (who knew Romania had local wines?).
On our third day, it was time to set the main sail. Because we only had a few weeks to explore, we chose to sail across a large swath of the Black Sea to Sevastopol so we could experience some culture nearest to Russia. While underway, we enjoyed fresh seafood we had purchased in Constanta.
We had amazing winds on our leisurely two days at sea, trolling into the port late in the afternoon. We often found our sail to be accompanied by pods of dolphins, which was a great treat. Our rental craft was solid and comfortable. For anyone who hasn’t spent time on or around the Black Sea, I can tell you that a “calm” sea is relative, so we didn’t see anything remotely resembling calm seas, but the swells were minimal and our craft cut through them well.
Sevastopol was extraordinary. There are ships of all sizes, including many Soviet-era military vessels that appear to be falling into disrepair. Large container ships were everywhere, confirming the city’s importance to the new Soviet Union’s trade. As we tied up, I was perhaps surprised to see a beautiful sunset looking back to the West.
We slept on the boat after a tedious process where our documents were checked. It seemed that the boat rental was the most difficult to navigate, but other travellers had warned us that there is still a fair amount of piracy on the Black Sea and no self-respecting harbormaster wants to explain how he let a stolen yacht enter and exit his port.
We awoke planning to visit the tourist attractions, particularly the churches and they did not disappoint. The Assumption Monastery, perched in a hillside, was probably my favourite. The fully restored church is truly beautiful and the small section of the original monastery carved directly into the rock wall was impressive. We chose to visit without a guide, but we were disappointed that picture taking is not allowed inside.
We also toured the Panorama Museum on the Siege of Sevastopol. Like much of Europe, this city often marks time based on wars, but the museum is unlike any I had seen before, because objects placed close to the viewing area blend into a giant and very old mosaic depicting the French and British siege on the city. The huge painting was completed in the early 1900s and the detail is beyond explanation.
We ate at Tractir, a local favourite that was also well-reviewed online. We enjoyed pancakes with meat (who knew?), Solyanka soup (think anything lying around the kitchen in a pot) and Kulebyaka (pie with meat and cabbage filling). I thought it fun that the staff all dressed in naval attire and we had a great time after we joined a table of Americans from a Black Sea cruise ship.
I could have stayed longer, but we were underway again early the next morning. Our next port of call was Istanbul, a long four days sail away and my husband was anxious to get underway. The winds were favourable and the dolphins often present. I focused on avoiding tan lines while tempting my husband to focus on sailing.
We made excellent progress and he had mapped our journey so that we could stop at night while avoiding the many major shipping channels. Dinners were seafood grilled on a small barbecue we brought with us, fresh vegetables we had bought in Sevastopol and more than one bottle of local wine.
When we originally plotted our trip, we had intentionally left a large chunk of time for Istanbul. Even with the six days we spent, I still felt like there was so much we hadn’t seen when it was time to fly back home.
Istanbul, despite all of the conflicts and sieges on the city, is a city where ancient meets modern in the same space where the Middle East, Far East and Europe all connect. We spent time touring the Grand Bazaar and many mosques and we weren’t afraid to jump off the beaten path and explore.
In our side travels, we discovered many shops not known to the tourists and a wonderful book market. An English-speaking merchant explained that the market sat on the same ground where the original book publishers and paper merchants had once worked. He also showed us a little known gate that lead to a small band of merchants who buy and sell coins and we added a few old ones to my husband’s collection.
What most surprised me about Istanbul were two things. First, the sheer size of the city is amazing and the bustle of a modern metropolis is everywhere. More surprising was how much construction there was. We couldn’t travel more than a few blocks without seeing a new condominium, office building or shopping centre being constructed. Despite all of the construction, Istanbul still appeared to protect its parks and green spaces and we enjoyed afternoon tea in many of these locations.
The family who we had rented the sailboat from had business in Istanbul and had already agreed to meet us there, but I was sad to leave our small craft after the short time we had lived aboard her. The good news is that my husband agreed that we should sail the Black Sea again, perhaps journeying further East towards Georgia on our next voyage. I can honestly say that our Black Sea voyage ranks near the top of our global sailing adventures and I would highly recommend it to any sailor.