We left our anchorage just after 9 am on Wednesday 12th July. Very shortly after, we waved at a young lad in a kayak. Doris is definitely not a typical vessel on the Danube and we often get waved at by fellow river users. Something about his manner however put me in mind of the poem ‘Not waving but drowning’ by Stevie Smith and I suggested to Cy that perhaps we were being hailed. This was indeed the case. We came alongside and helped Matthias and his boat onto Doris. He was in the process of kayaking the entire Danube from source to sea and was in need of a day off from paddling. We explained that we were going as far as Ruse, which was 60 km downstream and that he was very welcome to hitch a lift. His travelling companion, Timm, had left a while earlier on his Stand-Up Paddle board and after 40 minutes or so, we caught up and now had two passengers for the day. Timm was aiming to be the first person to paddle board the Danube. They had met in Hungary and been travelling together since. This was marvellous for us, it’s always great to meet new people, and having others on-board to chat to made the journey fly by.
After Ruse, there are only a handful of bridges on the river, and all with enough height to clear with the mast raised. We had heard that the yacht club at Ruse is friendly and helpful to visitors, so had planned to spend a few days here getting the mast up.
We turned into the harbour in the early part of the afternoon and Boyko, who runs the yacht club, was on the pontoon ready to take our lines. We introduced ourselves briefly and then headed into town with Timm and Matthias to have lunch nefore they continued on for the day. We said our goodbyes and tentatively hoped to meet again in Sulina – the end of the Danube and the beginning of the Black Sea.
We stayed in Ruse for four days in total, during which time, Cy was able to prepare everything for the mast hoisting.
This took longer than expected as the weather was so hot, it was impossible to work outside for a large portion of the day. The town has some great architecture and during the time, we managed to source a few things we needed and top up on essentials as well as enjoy the vibe.
The actual lift happened on the evening of the 14th and a friendly local was on hand to help with the heaving on the ropes. It is a significant weight, and even with thorough preparation and a well arranged pulley system, it was definitely useful to have an extra person to lift it.
Boyko was super, really helpful and hugely knowledgeable about boats in general, having been a naval architect. We needed a new wooden wedge to sit the mast on, and this was made for us in a couple of hours, no problem! He also spent time with Cy giving information on sailing in the Black Sea and various Ports of Call as well as useful advice for the remainder of the Danube.
It’s amazing how quickly we put down roots, and as has happened before, it felt strange to leave after being in one place for a few days.
We left Ruse Yacht Club late morning on the 16th July. Our first stop was a nearby restaurant pontoon where we able to fill our water tanks, fresh water not being available at the club. We travelled an uneventful 74km and Cy found us lovely anchorage tucked behind an island (Malak Kosuy) where we stopped at around 6pm. It had been a much cooler day, with some rain, although that had stopped by the evening. It was a peaceful night, with the exception of wolves howling nearby at some point.
The morning was still to start with, so Cy took the opportunity to get one of the sails on as the wind was due to pick up later. Just as he was preparing, a border police boat approached and tied alongside to check our documents. I was a bit worried that we may have inadvertently anchored in Romanian territory whilst only cleared for Bulgaria – the border is usually the middle of the river, but not always. Thankfully, it was just a routine inspection and everything was fine, although they certainly took a lot of time scrutinising passports and boat papers!
After all the excitement, departure from the anchorage was around 10am. Our next stop was to be Silistra, which is the last town in Bulgaria before the border turns away and both banks are in Romania. As such, it is necessary to clear out in Silistra and we also intended to stop for the night. As predicted, the wind had picked up significantly making the river fairly choppy. We located the customs dock at Silistra which for obvious reasons was not possible to secure to.
We turned and headed back to a hotel pontoon a few hundred metres upstream. With the weather conditions and the poor state of the pontoon, it was not a great place for Doris so we resolved to complete the formalities and head off immediately. The hotel were amenable to this and we walked along to the customs house. It did not take too long, the only delay was waiting for a police officer to be called to come and stamp the paperwork.
There are several places along the lower Danube where the channel splits and there are different options as to which route to take. Boyko had advised us to take a particular arm, Bratul Bala, once in Romania as the water levels are low in the natural Danube. This meant bypassing the town of Cernavoda which is where we understood we had to clear in to Romania. While we were waiting for the police officer in Silistra, we asked for advice on this. They pointed to a Romanian police boat directly opposite where we could clear in. This was ideal, so on leaving Silistra, we crossed the river and secured to the Romanian Border Police boat. They were super helpful and we didn’t even have to leave Doris, all the paperwork was dealt with alongside and we were now officially stamped into Romania. They said we could stay tied to their boat for the night if we wished, but we opted to continue as the choppy conditions made it an uncomfortable spot to stay. The officers also advised us to take the Bratul Bala route when we reached the junction and explained that we must get permission via VHF radio contact before entering. It is a busy shipping section and one way passage rules apply.
Finding a suitable anchorage was tricky. Once again, many of the places which looked good on the chart were too shallow. Ideally, a place tucked away is better, but we ran out of options and ended up anchoring on the main river, well outside of the channel, directly opposite the entrance to Bratul Bala. It was still fairly windy when we stopped, but did drop off later and the anchor held fine.
We were ready for departure early the next morning, just waiting for an opportunity to go. At around 07:30 a large push-tow was just going in and following seemed like a good idea. We tried a couple of times on the VHF but received no response and figured that as long as we stayed close to the barge we should be fine. This worked well and we travelled through the one way sections without incident.
At some point during the morning, it dawned on us that all the bridge height information we had checked was for the main Danube and not for the channel we were on. A scan of our electronic charting showed one bridge, but did not give height. Some frantic google searching yielded no further information. As we approached, Cy took the helm, and very carefully we edged through. It is quite difficult to judge, but it looked there was a good few metres clearance.
The channel rejoined the main Danube later in the day, where we passed under the final bridge of the journey to the Black Sea. Not too far afterwards, we anchored at a spot recommended in our pilot notes. It was a still evening and the spot was beautiful. In the brief gap in the evening between the temperature reducing to a tolerable level and the mosquitoes attacking, Cy managed to get the other sail on. The anchorage was at kilometre 216.5 meaning it is that far to the end of the river, not far now!
Wednesday 19th July took us to the town of Braila, a shortish journey of around 45 kilometres. The harbour master has a pontoon here which is a possible mooring place, although there was a large boat tied there, which we assumed was a port work boat. Someone appeared to wave us in and take lines so we moored alongside, the guy on board was friendly and gave us directions into town.
This was our first time onshore in Romania, after travelling along its borders for a few hundred kilometres. We liked the town, there were some lovely restored buildings, although sadly, many were dilapidated ruins.
After our initial excursion involving a late lunch and shopping for groceries, we had dinner on-board and then headed out again in the evening. We had noticed a stage being set up along the river and thought we should check it out. It turned out to be a kind of traditional music festival which was great. It was set in a long square with really super lit fountains. They didn’t look all that great in the day, but in the dark it was a fantastic sight.
As the music had wound down and the Eurovision style presenters were giving awards to everyone, we decided it was a good time to wander home. It was a lovely end to a lovely few days.