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100 miles up the Danube

By Sue Richards last modified Jun 30, 2011 12:34 PM

Published: 2011-06-30 12:34:16
Countries: Bulgaria , Romania

We enjoyed the Danube, a different world in so many ways. I put some words together on our experience, to share with others on noonsite.
Con Sprenger
www.sailbigsky.com

Our Nauticat 515 Big Sky has not had much of a chance to travel in fresh water, and especially on famous rivers, so arriving in Sulina, Romania, after an overnight sail from Asamra, Turkey, Barb and I decided we should give it a try, at least as far as Braila, which is as far as commercial ocean going freighters go.

It is possible to travel by boat between Western Europe and the Danube delta. We met a Canadian sailboat that just started such a trip from Sulina and we travelled with them for the first 100 nautical miles, and we also met a Dutch power boat that had just arrived in Sulina from Amsterdam taking 50 days for the trip.

One of the few pilot guides available for this trip, “Cruising Bulgaria and Romania,” by Nicky Allardice, seems to be outdated and lacks much in the way of useful information. Hopefully the following comments will encourage others to explore the beautiful Danube Delta and enjoy its unspoiled nature and birdlife.

The river water seems polluted and is unsuitable for swimming, as confirmed by the tourist office in Tulcea. It is prudent to keep a keen look-out for floating debris; our Canadian friends spotted a dead cow floating in the river.

Navigation:
Good charts are not available locally, our Garmin Blue charts were useless and the Navionics on our new Ipad were the best for detail, but only as far as Reni, Ukraine, after that we had no charts, but the river is generally well buoyed - standard IALA system is used, (green on starboard going upstream). We twice encountered overhead high voltage wires, the first one did not have its height indicated, the second one showed 64 meters. Big Sky has an air height of 23 meters, we had no problems. In some cases the Port Authorities can show details of the river if required. Depth were 7.5 meter or greater in the channel. Distances along the river are marked in NM up to Galati, and then it changes to KM.

Currents:
In June of 2011 we encountered 1.2 to 2 knots; it makes for a slow trip upriver, but fast going back. Steering was hard on the autopilot and hand steering was required in certain sections. Docking is easy once you’re used to using the current, going astern can be disastrous, especially on full keel boats.

Authorities:
Upon arrival in Sulina, Immigration and Customs will visit the boat, and then a trip to the Port Authority is required. Once cleared in no further visits to Customs and Immigration is needed, providing you do not stop in Reni, Ukraine or travel down the Chilia Arm. The Port Authorities in Sulina will issue a permit to stay in port. Before departure this needs to be exchanged for a permit to sail, with an indication of the next port of call. This process is repeated in each major Romanian port along the river, in Galati the port authorities were not interested and in Braila we did not bother. The authorities were friendly, courteous and professional, all spoke some English and no charges were made. Three times we were stopped by the border police on the river, once just before Tulcea and twice just after the junction with the Chilia channel – strictly to check our papers.

Mooring:
I will only describe the places we visited:

Sulina: tie-up against the concrete wharf in front of the restaurant Marea Neagra or anywhere there is space. Cost – 10 US dollars a night, power and water might be available. To provide power, the electrical panel required some rewiring, the water seems to come from the fire fighting system and is suspect, and we did not use it. Tours into the nature reserves of the Delta are available here

Maliuc: A very small hamlet with only one concrete jetty, if available a great place to tie-up. There is a small grocery store here.

Tulcea: Hard to find a place, to tie up. The Republic - an 1883 vintage paddle steamer, the Romanians captured from the Austrians, and now converted to a restaurant, is one option. With some prodding power and water can be supplied. Upon arrival the rate was 20 euro, the next day it had risen to 50 euro – we settled for 25 euro. The manager most likely will offer a tour of the engine room.

Galati: The marine club has a pontoon, but they did not seem inviting us in – another Canadian boat, which arrived a few hours later did tie up there. We found a working boat a little further upstream. After visiting the town, one of the deck hand arrived with a note in English saying we had to pay 33 euro’s – after some negotiating we settled at 10 euro’s.

Braila: A friendly municipal working boat allowed us to tie-up at no charge.

In general it is not always easy to find a suitable mooring place, but we always succeeded. A few bottles of beer or something stronger, the currency used by Nicky Allardice when he explored this area for his cruising guide, no longer works. Romanians know the value of euro’s and dollars and will try to extract as many as possible. Settle the price before hand and if you are so inclined – negotiate...

Anchoring:
There many places along the river to anchor as indicted by signs; make sure you stay on the Romania side of the river if cleared in for Romania, and anchor well clear of the shipping channel. We anchored twice, found good holding in mud and enjoyed the quietness and the call of the cuckoo bird (even at 4 AM)

Supplies:
Groceries are available from small supermarkets or food markets in almost every town/city. Fuel is available from fuel barges along the river, generally just before or after a major town. In Sulina we could only take on 150 liters of diesel, unless a permit was obtained from customs. They advise that it would be much easier to travel 10 nautical miles upstream to Crisan where we could buy as much as we needed without paper work. Restaurants are plentiful, and some offer free wifi.

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