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-- 6th to 13th June 2018  --
More than 300 miles to reach the Latvian capital, the equivalent of the Bay of Biscay. Our longest navigation along a coast, with its traffic, coastlines to keep at a good distance, and the ensuing many maneuvers. After that, we deserved a few days break in the largest Art Nouveau city in Europe.

Pictures of the sea, small village and nordic capital, all in our page "Pictures".

376 miles sailed
1083 miles since the start

Our stops, click on the names for more details:
Mersrags (marina) - Riga (marina) 
6th – 9th June 2018: Hel – Mersrags (334M)
Saltimbanque is tugging on its mooring lines. The wind, firmly anchored in the northeast for three weeks, finally seems to be veering to the south-west. The window is not ideal: a large area to cross first before reaching our long-awaited goal: wind from the back! Then we should enjoy a perfect wind for 24h, before 12h of strong wind, and wind in the face again ... but hey, it should do, let's go! 
Day 1 (109 M). Almost no wind, we start with 8.5 hours motoring. From time to time, we unfurl a little genoa with the hope that a light breath of air would inflate the sails and help Junior a bit. Good time to practice picking up the plastic waste that floats within our reach. We have a small fishing netat hand, and there is no fish here anyways... (the Baltic Sea is not very suitable for fishing from the boat as we usually do, trawling a line: most species live deeper). The next item we see floating towards us is a bit too… it is a dead farm animal, a pig or a sheep probably…yuh, a bit disgusting!

Weird floating objects here….

And a submarine too
The wind finally rises in the evening and we continue our route north along the Russian waters - taking good care to stay on the right side of the border! We are not alone: cargo ships, oil rigs, ferries, and even an American warship rebuking a fisherman on the VHF. 
The wind increases even more than expected, very quickly raising a messy choppy sea, rather painful. The dark night is only a distant memory. The beautiful stars appear for two brief hours before daylight comes back - this is not that bad when one needs to maneuver actually!

Day 2 (106 M).
The night was much windier and the sea bigger than expected based on the weather forecast we noted before leaving. If the wind that was forecasted already strong tonight between Gotland and the Latvian coast increases in the same proportion, it may become a bit dangerous...

Understanding the weather in the Baltic Sea is not natural for us. While we are in a high-pressure environment, isobars often tighten for no obvious reason, sometimes creating short periods of strong winds. The forecasts (Swedish, Danish and Passageweather) are generally reliable for 48h. Beyond that time horizon, it's less certain. The Danes actually display only 48h on their website.

Crossing the Latvian border
Out of range from the coast, we are trying to get an updated weather report by calling the passing cargo ships on the VHF - but without success. In doubt, we decide to delay our progress to the North a bit and get well behind the strongest of the wind expected there.

Follows a slower day, but very pleasant, downwind under the sun. We realize that we have not sailed such a long distance downwind since sailing back from the Azores. We mostly had the wind against us in the last 5 years in Europe. This is a calmer rhythm, which allows reading and resting. Laure begins the audiobook saga "War and Peace" in preparation for our Russian stop.
Day 3 (97 M). In the end, the strongest of the wind passed a bit earlier than forecasts and the night is quiet. Unfortunately, the northeasterly wind is also early, and we are back to beating against it, along the coast by Ventspils’ industrial complex. It takes a few hours for the swell to adjust to the change of wind, and we enjoy the funny situation to sail against the wind but surfing on the waves :o) At first sight, the Latvian coast seems low and sandy, topped with a dense pine forest.

A few sail maneuvers later (Genoa / jib and back), we enter the Strait of Irbe which leads to Rīga Bay.

Back to sailing against the wind ...
We are now almost at 58 ° N, the sun takes forever to set… and then gets up again! All the "night" the sky will be orange, a fantastic light to accompany our slow progression (as the wind is slowly dying too)

The sun sets... almost ... then rises again
Day 4 (22M). We are now in the huge bay of Rīga, always following the never-ending forested coastline. Except for the cargo ships and a few ferries we meet, we did not see a town, a village or a fisherman boat since passing Ventspils the day before. The wind ends its slow agony and leaves us with the water flat as a lake ... and the water becomes completely fresh this time! It smells like a lake and takes the brownish color of the Dutch inland waters. And yet, we have not passed any lock, Saltimbanque pushed through continuous waters since the Caribbean Seas ...
After motoring for a few hours, we decide to call it a day. Better wind is expected tomorrow, we should rest and wait. The Imray guide indicates a small harbor offering "all the facilities", called Mersrags. Indeed, we can make out two wind turbines on the coast as a sign of a human presence in this endless forest. 
Entering Mesrags, on the right side of the wind mills

Mersrags marina, visitor berths
The channel is well buoyed, we reach safely the moles. On our right-hand side a rusty buoy, then a derrick in the same state at the end of the starboard mole. On the port side a small fishing boat is wondering if she is still floating. On the quays huge piles of sawdust and tree trunks as far as the eye can see. Not a sound (except our engine Junior who is not very discreet) but a strong smell of wood.

We reach three rickety pontoons where some sailboats are already moored. 2 to 2.5m of depth, electrical outlet on the shore, water up even further, wifi is available by the antenna on the other side of the river. The berth there costs the pretty sum of 25€ a night! (but 100€ only for a month).We must get used to it: marinas in Latvia and Estonia are overpriced (never less than 20€, even for a cute 28 feet). The rest (food etc) is very cheap.

Two men are working on their dry-docked boat and the one who speaks better English kindly welcomes us, shows us the toilet and shower and insists - several times – that we visit the shop in town open until 22h. The other points towards the city - he knows one word of English: "market, market! ".

Ok, let's go to town! Not much else to do anyway, as the access to the beach is forbidden (it’s the port area). A small bridge (and its magnificent concrete disabled-access ramp sponsored by the European Union) brings us to the main road lined with sand. The restaurant is in ruins, the houses are in wood with a tin roof, or in bare concrete. There are a few bigger concrete buildings. The gardens however are beautifully maintained. And nothing else. We forget about having a beer at the local pub and look for the famous shop – the only attraction.

The main street, with dry grass and house of concrete bricks

Our mosquito net is getting crowded...
Back to the boat, the harbor master hands us a brochure describing 12 local tourist attractions. The port of course, but also the child playground, and the magnificent anchor exposed on a rock (same as you can see on any roundabout in Brittany). These small Latvian ports were developed and maintained by the USSR, but since 1991 and the country's new order, economic activity has collapsed. Yachting is seen as a solution, or at least a hope, to find some income for these communities.

There are few inhabitants in Mersrags, we have probably seen more mosquitoes than humans!

10th June : Mersrags – Rīga (42 M)
A little wind is expected early in the morning, so we wake up at 6am local time (5h in Western Europe), and set the course to Rīga. The sea is very flat in the bay. A good force 3-4 blowing from the right direction pushes us at 6 knots on the direct course: bliss! Saltimbanque is so well balanced in these conditions that it steers itself – we don’t need to touch the helm!
Steering with no hand !

Slowly (very slowly...) approching the channel of Riga
The wind drops as expected around 1pm, but we made good progress and there is almost nothing left but the Rīga River to motor up to. It is an 8M stretch through a huge commercial port, modern and active, before arriving in the heart of the capital city.

Two options for the marina: the Andrejosta marina on the same side as the city center (East), and a brand new marina (almost empty) on the left bank - that we choose because of its slightly lower cost. 3.5m of depth at the entrance (do not go near the portside lighthouse – it is very shallow, as indicated by the water lilies :o)

The price is € 0.75 / foot (or € 21 for us). Minimum service: toilets and mixed showers in a block on the pontoon, poorly maintained and not very clean. The staff is usually absent. They operate both marinas and commute between the two. Water and electricity are there but no wifi or laundry.
As soon as we are moored, we set off to discover the old town of Rīga, its old houses, its small squares that look like Southern Europe under the sun… In a typical restaurant we celebrate our crossing with local beers and typical dishes based on meat, potatoes, cabbage and wheat.
Summer spirit in Riga :o)

11th – 13th June : visiting Rīga (onshore)
A little maintenance work is usually required after a long navigation, but Saltimbanque is fine.
Only the GPS surprised us: it jumped back in time and is showing the 28th October 1998 as today’s date. Location and time are fine, only the date is wrong. 1998 is when it was first activated. It had only a limited number of weeks in memory capacity (1024) and exceeded them – and now it is starting again from the start. It’s not that bad since the other functions work well – it makes us feel younger!

So, just some cleaning, a quick check in the mast, a basic check of the engine which is going beautifully, and some silicone on small leaks. We also make small pads to prevent the windvane’s ropes from slowly eating in the aluminum – and that’s all. The painting outside is a disaster, it didn’t survive the -18 ° C of last winter and is peeling away everywhere, we’re a bit ashamed of the state of the deck... This winter we will have our work cut to repaint all that !

Estonian charts, manually updated by the order... a rare item!

In the meanwhile, we are still looking for Estonian maps, which are now required for our next leg. The marina Andrejosta on the other side is bigger… maybe they have a ship-chandler? But alas, the wharf is deserted and there is no one to be seen in the small kiosk that serves as a harbor office. At the kayak rental place at the end of the quay, a man looks at us with disbelievingly: “a shop for sailing yachts … this is a weird idea… sailing yachts are not that common here”… sorry, our mistake, we thought we were in the main marina of the main city…

In the end, we called a professional shipping supplier UNIMARS, who delivers supplies to the big ships in the commercial harbor, and can import the map from Estonia for us by UPS. We went to pick it up in the suburbs by bus two days later. All this for a map! And what a difference between Latvia and the sailing culture in Poland! 
Groceries also need to be bought, and luckily more easily available. There is a huge commercial center just next to our marina – contrast between sailing life and the shopping paradise in this city of the thousands shops. We don’t find our beloved pierogis, but their smaller brothers the “pelmeni” look very appetizing too. The most striking feature is the dozens of small pastries, sweet and savory, on offer – Latvians seem to be fond of finger food! 
Smoked fish of any kind, quite common since Poland
We also visit the city. Founded in 1201 by a German merchant and / or the missionary Saint Albert, Rīga quickly became a member of the famous Hanseatic League. Then in 1710 the country gets absorbed into the Russian empire. From those times dates back the current “old city”, miraculously spared by the Second World War and with its beautifully restaured buildings.

Riga old town, Liva Laukums
At the beginning of the 20th century, Rīga is the third largest city in the tsarist empire and the demolition of its old walls allows the construction of new buildings. The architects are having a blast, making the streets of Rīga a real museum of Art Nouveau. In the space of no more than 12 years, dozens of buildings are erected along a few large arteries, instead of the traditional wooden two-story houses.

An explosion of "Art-Nouveau" in Riga

In an other style, also "nouveau"

With nasty looking toucans
At the end of the First World War, Latvia becomes independent at last. But through the Germany-Soviet pact it falls back in the hands of the USSR in 1940. A year of terrible repression of the population by the communist government ensued (as we learn by visiting the KGB museum in its original gloomy corner house). Then invaded by the Nazis for a few years, then “liberated” by the Soviets again, until 1991.

A photo exhibition on "Our Countryside" at the Latvian Art Museum shows a little girl in a blouse next to her grandmother, in a farm with a single room with dirt floor. The photo could have been taken in the 1950s in a French countryside. Looking at the date, we realize that the little girl must be two years older than us, the photo dates from 1987. And yet, today’s Rīga is building skyscrapers of glass and steel ...

Nature and modernity...
A beautiful Allures 45 yacht comes into the marina, which we had already seen at Kolberg. Onboard live a friendly English couple, who have gone into early retirement, sold their house and set sails on their "L'escale".

It’s all nice and well in the big city, but we’re starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. We want a little less culture and a little more nature. And sailing! So it's time to open our beautiful newly acquired maps and see what these small Estonian islands look like...

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Mum - 23/06/2018 16:52:23
Produits alléchants, cuisine 3etoiles à bord de Saltimbanque miam...vous êtes splendides !!! bien loin des traits tirés dus au BCG

Marcello... - 23/06/2018 01:39:41
Coucou les Saltimbanques.... une question me tarabusque???? A Riga, les lettons ont-ils un coeur en or, un moral d'acier, une santé de fer dorment-ils d'un sommeil de plomb, est-ce que leur silence est d'or et leur parole d’argent, leur chevelure est-elle blond platine.... et bien sur, comme un certain Sylvain.... adepte du hard Rock?? heavy... METAL ??? Grosses bises à vous deux.; merci de vos récits, tant "marins " que térriens... et ... faut le FER!!!!

Saltimbanques - 21/06/2018 12:41:28
@Aumadatroi: une réponse en forme de teaser, ne rate pas notre prochain article! @La mamou : qui est plus long à écrire qu'à lire ;o)

AUMADATROI - 20/06/2018 13:10:49
Comme d'habitude un reportage juste et intelligent! Mais une question demeure....on ne vous voit pas nager dans ces eaux pourtant de belles couleurs! Ha les Antilles des bons souvenirs. Les photos sont juste superbes! Des bises aux Saltimbanques !!!

la mamou - 19/06/2018 17:27:01
encore un bel article , qui donne envie du suivant !!!

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