The Baltic States were, until 1991, part of the now defunct USSR, and as such, were closed to Western yachtsmen. After independence, yachting facilities were almost non existent, but gradually things have improved. Many of the harbours have been modernised, and the result is much improved, particularly in Estonia, where the ferry company Saarte Lind has built marinas next to their ferry terminals. The number of local yachtsmen is small, but steadily increasing. This has had the effect of helping to improve the facilities, but means that there is less room in harbours than in the past.
The season is also much shorter: mid May is considered to be early in the season, and it is effectively over by the end of August.
All the Baltic States have now adopted the Euro, and with the expansion of the banking system and 'hole in the wall' machines, obtaining cash is now quite easy.
Mooring is often by stern buoy, although many new developments are fitting finger pontoons, which makes life easier. Alongside wooden staging or sometimes concrete walls are also common.
Obtaining supplies is also easier, with the opening of new supermarkets. Unfortunately, these are often out of town, but shopping is not usually a problem.
Each country has its own unique language, but most harbour masters speak a little English. In Estonia, English is quite widespread (signposts in some towns often have an English subtitle).
This site derives from my own personal experiences, and I cannot claim to be an authority after a few brief visits. However, I hope it will be helpful for yachtsmen visiting this part of the world. This page only covers a handful of the harbours in the different countries. For a full guide you need to get a copy of Harbours of the Baltic States by Fay and Graham Cattell.
This was once a major fishing port, judging by the derelict fish factory on the south side of the river. It is also a holiday resort, but a lot less 'trippery' than its Polish neighbours. The town itself is small and sleepy, although there is a reasonable grocery. In many ways, it is a welcome change from the large commercial harbours which dominate the coast along here.
Coming north from Liepaja, the harbour lies a little beyond the headland and large lighthouse at Akmersrags. Coming south from Ventspils, the harbour is about 20 miles sailing. It is easily recognised by the aerials and watchtowers. A new large, prominent radio/radar mast has been constructed recently, dwarfing the old Communist-era watchtower (see right).
The entrance is through the usual breakwaters which run straight into the harbour. It must be very exposed in onshore winds above about F5.
There are two places in which to moor: there is the recently renovated harbour to port, or, on the opposite side is the Pavilosta marina. Both have their pros and cons.
The marina gives you rather more shelter from a strong westerly as it is tucked away to one side, and from that point of view is probably the better bet in an onshore breeze above about F5. It has water and electricity. There is a washing machine and drier in the somewhat portakabin type marina office, and ablutions which are adequate. Mooring is by hoops rather than cleats.
The town quay as recently been renovated, and there are new pontoon moorings for yachts. New facilities have also been built, and so this is really a more viable proposition than the marina. The restaurant behind the moorings burned down a few years ago and has been rebuilt. It is only a short walk from here to the centre of the village.
The town itself is a pleasant and peaceful place, but not very big. There is one main street, which runs up from the harbour to a cross roads where there is a bus stop, and just down to the side, a small grocer's shop which stocks essentials, if not luxuries.
The other great asset to Pavilosta is a fuelling station another 200 metres or so down the river. This is the last chance to get fuel (other than carrying cans back from a petrol station) if you are heading south: Gdynia or Gdansk will be the next opportunity. Going north, you may possibly get fuel in Ventspils, but your next fuelling stops will either be Roomessaare/Kuressare in Saaremaa, or Riga.
Ventspils is at the top of the western coast of Latvia. It is a large commercial and fishing port. The harbour itself is quite heavily industrialised, and new installations rub shoulders with some very crumbly communist concrete.
The entrance is quite straightforward, although it is wise to call Ventspils VTS on Channel 9 - call-signal “Ventspils Vessel Traffic”, phone number: (+371) 36 210 40. They may ask you to wait if there is something large on the way out or in the approach channel.
Once in, you keep to starboard side of the harbour and head for the river entrance, then you turn into a large fishing harbour, and keep going round (you will see masts), until you see the yacht club.
This is the usual Baltic stern buoy arrangement, with bollards on the high wooden staging (see photos below). Warning - the buoys are set some way out, and a long mooring line is advisable. You could try going alongside one of the adjacent quays, but you may be moved on, as some of them are reserved. Another caution: these are made of very crumbly concrete, and you should be well fendered.
The facilities were adequate and reasonably clean. The yacht club has deteriorated considerably over the past few years, and needs a considerable amount of maintenance. Electricity (providing it is switched on!) is via the continental round pin plugs. Water is available if you have a long hose.
There is a fish processing plant about 100m from the yacht berths. When in operation - which is quite often - and the wind is in the wrong direction, there is a very distinct smell!
It is quite a long walk into town, but fortunately there is a small supermarket just outside the dock gates, which sells the necessities. A much better supermarket with cash machine is about a kilometre's walk
The main street into town is wide and leafy, but it was quite a way into the centre. There are shorter routes through the back streets, which are quite interesting. Although very neglected, there are buildings which look as if they predate WWI, and also some art deco buildings. The centre square has an impressive and well restored church.
The 13th century Livonian Order Castle, near the centre and by the river, has been converted into a museum, and if you are in Ventspils, this is something not to be missed. More about the castle here, here and on Wikipedia.
The harbour of Kuressaare should not be confused with the new marina at Kuressaare, which is only a few miles away. Both are on the island of Saaremaa, which is about 50 miles end to end, and forms the northern part of Riga Bay.
Coming up from the south, it is about 64 miles from Ventspiles in Latvia, a fairly straightforward day's sail, particularly given the length of day in the summer in these high latitudes (Kuressaare is about 58°20' North) Coming from Sweden, you are in for quite a long journey - maybe 200 miles. You can stop off at Montu, which is about 20 miles short of Kuressaare, but there is just a long quay for ferries there, with a few spaces for yachts, and is really in the middle of nowhere.
The approach to the fairway buoy is relatively straightforward - the island of Abruka will be about a mile away on your starboard side. This is where it becomes interesting!
At some time in the past, the harbour became completely silted up. However (and no doubt with plenty of EU money), a 2½ mile channel has been dredged out. At some points this is quite narrow - perhaps 30m or so - but is arrow straight and very well buoyed. Minimum depth is just over 2m - I had no problem at 1.8m. The spoil from the dredging has been dumped either side to form banks either side of the channel, which would help in rough weather. (A chart of the channel can be downloaded here.) At the end, there is a slight dogleg round the breakwater where you will find three pontoons with stern buoys (the third pontoon is recent - many charts and pilot books will only show two).
Once round the corner, you see three pontoons with stern buoys on your port side. (On the opposite side of the harbour there is some new wooden staging, complete with electrical points, but you'd have to walk about a kilometre to get to the facilities from there!) There are a few local boats, but not many: the locals tnend to keep their yachts at Rumessaare, which is only a few miles away.
The harbour itself has been landscaped very effectively, and there are no other moorings apart from those at the yacht club, so you have the place to yourself, with no fishing boats or commercial traffic. as well as the usual facilities, there are washing machines and dryers, and a fuel berth.
The harbour has an excellent website, (available in Estonian, English, Finnish, Swedish and German!). As well as charts (in pdf form) of the harbour and the approaches, there is an excellent photo gallery, price list, webcam and links to other sites.
This is such an extraordinary building, it is difficult to do it justice. The main castle was built in the form of a square, with forts at each corner, and a moat which looks more like a river!
Inside the castle grounds is the bishop's palace, built in the late fourteenth century. There is an excellent museum, and you can even go onto the roof.
(Museum website in English, giving a full description of the castle and its history.)
There is a cash machine quite close to the yacht club, a small grocers and an alcohol shop. The town is about a kilometre walk, and there is a small arcade with quite a good supermarket. The town itself is quite pleasant, though not that big. It is worth talking a walk round the outskirts, to get a feel for the more traditional Estonian way of life. There is obviously still quite a lot of restoration going on following the Communist era, and the inevitable Soviet style apartment block, but overall, the town has survived the twentieth century quite well.