Antipole cruises

Around Kaliningrad to Klaipeda

To understand our passage from Gdańsk to Klaipeda, you need to know about Kaliningrad.

Before WWII Germany extended eastwards to include the Old Prussian area centred on Königsberg, which had been founded by the Teutonic Knights.  In 1945 Stalin took it for the Soviet Union, purging the area of any remaining Germans and resettling Russians there.  Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad.  Its ice-free port became the base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet and during the Cold War there was a big military build up in the area with nuclear capability and it was closed to foreigners.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kaliningrad became a Russian exclave, bordered by Poland to the west and Lithuania to the east.  With both Poland and Lithuania joining NATO, military tensions in the region are high.  Russia undoubtedly feels threatened by this and has threatened to install missile systems in the area.  Following the Russian take-over of Crimea, the Baltic states and Poland both fear Russian agitation.  The UK has recently agreed to contribute to a rapid reaction force to be stationed in Poland and Lithuania to counter the perceived threat.  To us, cruising peacefully along the coast, this all seems unreal and we wonder why everyone cannot simply stop posturing and get along together. By all accounts ordinary Russians are very friendly and welcoming, especially to visiting yacht folk. The history of the region is otherwise and old habits die hard. It is such a shame that the militaries seem so intend on facing each other off.

These days it is possible to call in at Kaliningrad but it involves complex and expensive visa arrangements which have to be made in person in London, so we have decided to give it a miss and sail past. The Russians often close an area up to 70nm off shore while conducting exercises but we found none were scheduled at our time.   Although, legally, we have a right of passage in international waters 12nm off shore, we had been advised to stay at least 20nm off to avoid unwanted attention.  In this July a British yacht was 12nm off and had a submarine surface ahead of it and hover around for a couple of hours criss-crossing in front of it and it was then followed by another navel vessel for some hours.  A couple of years ago a yacht was 15nm off and had 6 frigates,  4 Mig fighters and 2 helicopter gunships about 100 meters away, the helicopters firing live ammunition.  “Frightening! They just ignored us.”

Thankfully, our passage was uneventful – but it was night time and we would probably not have seen any interest.  The passage started with us almost becalmed, followed by a cloud burst with strong wind gusts while we got the spinnaker down.  We then had a steady following wind of F4-6 which made for a fast passage, although the following seas made it tiring.  We had set off in the company of Lotte and at dawn we found ourselves close by her.  During the morning we could hear the thump thump of heavy artillery from the direction of Kaliningrad and other thump thumps from further east in Lithuania.  We imagined this second lot was NATO showing the Russians their guns were just as big.

KlaipedaSo we came safely into the fine harbour in Klaipeda and found a berth in the marina which is in the moat of the old castle.  Stefan had a hotel already booked and so took his leave to enjoy a shower and catch up on sleep after keeping watch most of the night – thank you Stefan!

Lithuania has a short coastline and Klaipeda is its only port.  We liked the town and enjoyed exploring it both on foot and cycle.  It seemed relaxed and rather understated.  A short stay such as ours can hardly do justice to an entire country, culture and language.  One thing that stood out is that western obesity does not seem to have reached Lithuanians yet.

We had hoped to explore some of the Curonian Lagoon.  This very large and shallow lagoon is reached through the port of Klaipeda and stretches some 50nm south into Kaliningrad, separated by a thin spit from the Baltic.  But southerly winds made sailing in the narrow channels untenable and we decided we had to give it a miss.  Instead we sail for Liepāja in Latvia today.

That’s our news for now.  Love to all,

Tony & Ynskje

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