After an aborted fuel run – we decided it was just too far to haul diesel and we had enough for the day, we left Braila at around 9 am. As we departed, the skipper and the engineer of the boat we tied to stuck their heads out for a chat. It transpired that it was a private fishing vessel and not a port boat as we had initially thought.
We passed through Galati on the way, where we started seeing large sea-faring vessels for the first time and at some point, the distance countdown switched from kilometres to nautical miles.
We had to pinch ourselves more than once, as we couldn’t quite believe it, almost at the Black Sea.
We passed the 500 metre stretch of border with Moldova and for part of the day, the left bank was Ukraine.
On arriving at Tulcea, there was no obvious place for mooring. Several blogs had recommended a restaurant boat, but when we saw it it looked like it was no longer operating. Towards the end of town, we spotted a fuel barge, so we availed ourselves of the opportunity not to trudge to a petrol station carrying 20 litres of diesel each. We had read there was a marina a bit further downstream but the lady at the fuel dock very emphatically indicated that was not a possibility and pointed back the way we had come.
By this stage in the journey, a method had been developed. Cy drives the boat slowly along whilst I stand on deck looking purposeful with a rope or two. Generally, this results in someone noticing we are looking for a mooring and calling us in. Once again, it worked like a charm and by 7 pm we were safely secured to a pontoon owned by an outfit offering Danube Delta trips. There was a bit of shuffling around of their boats but room was made and we were welcomed by the two guys who ran the business, George and Michael, and their mates who were all having a bit of a knees up on the pontoon. We were a little dubious initially, especially when Michael explained that there was no water supply to the pontoon but thought he might be able to get someone to rustle up a ton of water to fill the tanks in the morning. This was important, as we needed to ensure our water tanks were full ready for the Black Sea.
An evening stroll revealed a small town, but with a market and good grocery store to stock up the following day.
It wasn’t the best night’s sleep ever as the nearby hotel had a wedding party on, which had live music throughout the night, until dawn. All things are relative though and at least we were secure (Michael had showed us how to hang the padlock so it looked like the gate was locked…?).
We stayed in Tulcea another day. Sourcing some Black Sea charts was top of the priority list because, when Bojko had given us some pointers as to where to visit, it had become apparent that the electronic ones Cy had sourced didn’t go into enough detail. This proved to be impossible. Instead, we headed to the Danube Delta museum and then spent the rest of the afternoon in an air conditioned cafe. Full use of the wifi was made – Cy downloaded a phone app (Navionics) with Black Sea charts and I caught up on emails and applied for our Turkish visas.
Later on, Michael had arranged for us to fill our water tanks from the next door houseboat. They take their water straight from the river and pass it through a filtration system, probably not good enough for drinking, but fine for boiling, cooking, washing etc. For drinking, we tend to boil water or use bottled anyway. We also have a ‘lifesystem’ filter bottle which has been brilliant, as it filters well enough to make pretty much any water safe for drinking.
There are three main routes forming the final stage through the delta section of the Danube. The northernmost runs through Ukraine, and we had been advised that border procedures are a bit tricky, so best to avoid that. The most scenic is the Sfanti George channel, although this apparently requires a permit as some sections form part of a protected biosphere. We had received conflicting advice about whether this would be navigable for us, Doris is quite shallow drafted so it may have been possible, but the majority of people had advised us to take the Sulina canal route. In addition, our inland electronic charts had no information for this route, so we opted to play it safe and head to Sulina.
Saturday 22nd July – our last day of travel on the Danube. We left Tulcea at 8 and by 9 had reached the junction with the Sulina canal.
It is straight and narrow, in fact very narrow in places, thankfully we didn’t meet any large ships.
We were passed by the same hydrofoil about four times during the day as it zipped up and down between Tulcea and Sulina. This is the last one working (we saw three or four in various shipyards) from the Soviet era. We were glad there weren’t four of them using the route!
It was also really busy with small boats but there was plenty of bird life to look out for.
We arrived into Sulina at around 14:30 on a busy Saturday afternoon. There is a long town quay, but with very little free space. We eventually found a spot and proceeded to secure the boat. The wake from all the passing powerboats makes for an extremely uncomfortable mooring and we spent a long time making sure lines and fenders were OK. Just as we were finishing off, a taxi boat pulled in behind us and knocked the stern, managing to smash one of our lights. The guy was rude and unapologetic, instead blaming us for being ‘in his place’. There were parking signs beside the river and nothing to suggest it was a private mooring. Also, nobody had said anything earlier. It developed into a slightly unpleasant scene, with a few guys arriving and telling us we could not stay and we must go elsewhere. Not so easy, as we had struggled to find that place. Anyway, we cast off lines, and unsure what to do, Cy dropped me off at a pontoon so I could go to the office of the harbour master. I explained our predicament and how upset we were as we had been so far and through so many countries and the only problem was at the end. Once again, persistence paid off, and he got someone to move his boat (feel guilty for that!) to create a place for us close to the office. Cy brought Doris in and we got her secure.
I then headed back into the office to complete the necessary paperwork. The harbour master, Stefan, was so kind and helpful that I invited him for a glass of wine when he finished work.
Stefan took us up on the offer and despite our original intention to leave at midnight for an overnight passage, he persuaded us to stay a day.
There was also a parade involving the different communities of Sulina in traditional dress which went right by the boat – our negative experience had been completely transformed into something postive.
The next day, Sunday 23rd, Stefan was true to his word and called by later on in the morning. He took us to his home where we met his wife Mariana, his grandson Ciprian and his father-in-law. We were treated with such kindness and hospitality – we had lunch with home-grown sweetcorn and home-grown and made wine. After, we visited Stefan’s allotment. He furnished us with a bag of freshly picked produce, including corn on the cob, to take with us for our trip on the Black Sea. Finally, we had a beer together and then headed back to Doris for a bit of a rest and to get ready for the overnight passage.
About an hour later and there was a knock on the side of the boat, Cy stuck his head out and it was Walter, Manfred and Ursi from Vienna. They had just arrived into Sulina and would be heading back to Austria – Walter overland with the boat on a trailer and Manfred and Ursi were flying from Bucharest. It was really lovely to see them again at the end of their trip, we had overlapped several times since meeting in Belgrade and had wondered how they were doing.
After such a rubbish introduction to Sulina, it turned out to be a wonderful time and we were so pleased we had been persuaded to stay another day.
After dinner on-board, final preparations were made and we left Sulina at 8 pm, and out onto the Black Sea for the overnight passage to Constanta.
It is difficult to sum up our feelings at this stage. We had left Pensarn harbour on the 2nd April, our journey from the Irish Sea to the Black Sea had taken 112 days. Along the way, we had been through Wales, England, France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. We had also passed, but not entered, Croatia, Moldova and Ukraine.
We had encountered a few challenges not least of which is living together in a confined space. We have also experienced beautiful cities, breathtaking countryside and interesting towns, but above all, met amazing people. The warmth and friendliness received all along the way has left us both humbled.
Leaving the Danube and entering the Black Sea marks the end of one stage of our journey and the beginning of the next…….