The Black Sea. I’m in now. I sailed for 230 nautical miles, more or less 420 km. I was rather worried, this sea seems even blackest than I thought: Waves, sudden thunderstorms, traffic.
I’m in Sozopol, a wooden and rocky castle built over a bay that provides a safe port for sailors from centuries. The safest harbour of the Pontus Eusinus. But why is this sea called Black?
The Turkish gave it this name, in contrast to the “White Sea” aka the Mediterranean. As a matter of fact, the Aegean Sea is often white because of foam and rollers. But why Black? I can’t find an acceptable explanation yet. Its colour is blue.*
The water, from Constanta to here, is transparent. In Sozopol you can see deep under water for four metres. Going south even deepest.
So why? I believe “black” is in the mind of men who love to fright their siblings. As many sailors very well know, the most dangerous sea is that where you are at the moment. And the locals tell that, despite you have sailed across the Northern Forland (Great Britain’s hell, 7000 wrecks in a few miles) and the English Channel with its current, it’s nothing compared to the danger of this coast…
From menace to menace, seafarers kept sailing anyway. Everywhere. And everywhere they experienced wrecks. The sea doesn’t care about us. I prefer rivers. Probably in my Vikings genes there’s too much sea. All in all, even Vikings loved to sail through rivers as soon as they could, to find drinable water and food. The sea is a desert, as charming as high peaks. But who knows it, is aware that you’re safer elsewhere. Especially when it’s rough. As Englishmen say, the best place to be during a thunderstorm is… under an apple tree.
But am I looking for quietness? Am I looking for easy rivers? Safe waters? Yes, of course. Unfortunately from time to time I have to sail across seas. All my previous six projects before Man on the River have taken me (with the great and unvaluable help of Bruno Porto, great skipper) to navigate on the sea. But I’ve always favoured rivers.
These waves annoy me. Even if, until now at least, I’ve never suffered for seasickness. The river is more lively and more various. I have to admit it: The sea bores me. I just like coasting.
The 150 miles of waves and whirlpools between Constanta and Sozopol have worn me out. I get older and my eyes are tired after so much water and sun. And ice too. I can’t keep my eyes open for long.
After 10 days of friendship and happy encounters in Constanta, I’ve left this nice city behind me. I’ve truly loved it. I’ve found good friends. Such as Art and Marty, form the States, Washington DC (Marty is the skipper). They’re sailing from months on a boat bought in Turkey. And Ed & Sue who have crossed the Atlantic aboard a catamaran. Quite nice. One morning we’ve helped them in rearming the mast. Their boat is full optional!
They’ve come down the danube very fast, since time is running: A 90 days visa. A shame, as usual. If you visit the Louvre aboard a scooter, it’s likely your’re going to miss something.
Yet Kurt and Ariel, from Sweden. They too have come down the Danube to set the masts here. Both sweet. Manfred and his wife are German. He’s a great skipper who traveled all across the world. I’ll meet them again in Sozopol.
And so many others. At “Manarola” Gabriel, a wonderful cook, spoils me. he offers me his dishes, often for free. He knows I can’t afford them. I film him while he displays his cooking art, fresh and fast. Withouth changing the true taste of ingredients. And so much raw food. A paradise.
All the beauty of the guys from Manarola is a great sample of how a restaurant can bring food, culture and style in the mouth of many people. Thanks Aida, Gabriel, Dan and all the nice boys and girls who’ve alwayse helped me.
Such as Bianca and Maria from Marina Port Tomis, who’ve hosted me and Closia for all this time, extending this privilege to Carina too. They’ve helped me in this journey too. A safe and beautiful port, rich in life and sounds, a vital resource. A big hug to you.
I spend a fwe days with Ionel, that I meet while buying a good binocular at his antiquarian desk. We visit Techirghiol, a sanctuary with sacred water. A black wooden church. A salted lake with a miracolous black mud. I’m astonished by the high number of black people on the shores. Very rare in Romania. Then I see one of them who dives into the water and… resurfaces white!? Miracle. If the late Michael Jackson would have known it, he surely would have bought the whole lake.
Then I understand and I laugh. The mud is very black and is quite healty for skin and bones. You can imagine the rest.
A nice young journalist interviews me. From her mail I believed she was a male. Her name’s Andreea. Magic eyes. She’s a sailor and with her dad and other friends they’ve founded a Sailing Club, still under construction, on the salted lake of Techirghiol. Without money they’ve been able to make real a dream that will awake many people. Bravi.
The air temperature is quite hot. One night we’re surprised by a thunderstorm, strong and sudden. the port becomes frantic and Sherpa, Art and Marty’s boat, breaks a docking rope and turns dangerously. I was sleeping on Clodia: As soon as the wind started blowing I’ve jumped out with my bag to avoid the worst. I’m used to Venice’s tornados and I know that Clodia would fly away. So my reaction is to find a shelter. Thaksfully, it’s not as bad as it seemd, but we have a hard time to bring Sherpa back to the pontoon. Then, it gets quiet.
Other days of waves and strong wind, so we’re forced to keep at bay. I wobble and have little sleep. That’s the sea: Despite the harbours, it’s normal… “Quell’acqua nera che si muove anche di notte non sta ferma mai” (that black water that moves, eve at night doesn’t never stays still). A quotation by Paolo Conte in “Genova per noi”.
Saulius and Ruta spoil me. They care after this old man. Such kind people. Intelligent. Minimal but solid life. knowing the value of true things. Learning, knowing, respecting, consuming little. Imparare, conoscere, rispettare. Consumando poco. The happy degrowth by Serge Latouche and Maurizio Pallante. Saulius, who doesn’t have any electricity aboard, says that we could use even less. True. With less we can do more. I live moored to their cutter.
The small maritime museum is wonderful. I’m attracted by the gravestone of a guy named Teocritus, master shipwright. Under the writing they’ve sculpted one of his boats.
Ther’re also an autographic document and a portrait of Vlad Tepes the impaler. If a concept didn’t come into your mind, he, count Vlad, took care to make it enter from some other place. They say that at the time, over every fountain in Transilvania, there was a golden cup. And there it stayed. An itch in the back suggesting honesty and wisdom?
Time to move from Coonstanta to Sozopol. We leave around noon. Beautiful! Fair wind and sea. Then it gets stronger and we sail on askew, discovering a high cliff after a calm night. We’re in Bulgaria but it looks like Dover.
The full moon enlights the far cliffs. Thousand of red lights: The windmills producing tso many kilowatts. By radio, from Constanta they warn us that, in Varna, there’re military exercises. So we decide to go to nessebar, ruined by the tall building from greedy people. It was a gem. We arrive around noon with a stern wind of 20 knot. Wobbling, but the cutter is great. Clodia is towed and dances on the waves. Not a single drop aboard. Saulius is a great skipper. Since the wind is fair, we decide to proceed up to Sozopol.
In Sveti ivan we see the relics of St. John Baptist, found in 2011. A magical place. We get in Sozopol at sunset, it’s wonderful. The old town is nested on the high cliff, with wooden houses and traces of ancient walls. A pity for the ugly building of the new town. Loveless. However, a surprise is awaiting…
Sozopol isn’t an entrance port and, since Bulgaria in not part of the Schengen treaty, we have to apply for a visa. But in Burgas, 15 miles north. I’m sad for these bureaucrats who decide for this sort of annoyances. From their sad offices.
In Burgas harbour, enlightened by a special sun, we moor by sail. Clean moves, in silence. Everyone knows his place. the little worlds between Saulius and Ruta are in lithuanian. I have a better understanding of silence.
Very kind, smiling and young officers come aboard. They lough about these documents, but it’s their duty. Wasted time. Stamps. then the night in the port and Burgas in the morning. A coffee to Ruta and Saulius brought by the captain of a big barge moored next to Carina. Beauty loves to hide.
I wander looking for a coffee. Burgas is nice. Surprises me. Elegant houses, the tall Bulgaria hotel (out of place nowadays, relic of socialist times). old ruins, dolmen, archaeological museum with viking ship. Here too, as always, as me.
Small and large boats along the river and the coast. Men tired and eager to know, a little misfit. Un po’ disadattati. They got drunk by beer, me by beauty. From a park on the top of a hill, I get smashed by the beauty of Burgas’ bay.
We meet two German guys, Liza and Heichel. Nice and likeable. Then, in a typicla (for sure…) bulgarian restaurant (bulgarian pizza, bulgarian pasta la carbonara, etc…), Eugenia very kindly borrows me the money for the ticket to Sozopol. I can’t stand waves anymore, so I let my place to the young guys. It’s just 15 km away, and I catch the bus. In the Sozopol marina we get granted free mooring too. A wonderful marina in the favourite Black Sea port by Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians. And so many others. Thanks once again.
In Sozopol I discover perched, mediterranean looking town. And I see figs, after a long time. Sozopol, city of health, turkish wooden houses and Greek, Roman and Byzantine fortresses. Also, a ship, the best found so far: The Alemana that, seen trom astern, is Viking. A thousand years old.
Then I stumble upon a noticeable Festival: The Apolonia Festival of Arts. It celebrates it’s 20th anniversary.
I listen to Bulgarian musicians, very talented. Such as Antoni Donchev and the Eva Quartet. The mistery of Bulgarian voices mixed to jazz and poetry. A girl very kindly tells me about the Radmila festival.
Two youngsters, Dimeter and Pepa, take me to meet Tita and Lili who have a little atelier shop (Le Petit Salon) making and selling poetical and nice objects. Sozopol is a gem already partially given to porks. Careless merchants destroy everything, and big belly, headless tourust buy everything.
Even the wonderful and so typical Polinesian shells. I would have the guts to turn over their desks full of ignorance.
What would Vlad Tepes do?
Now I’m trying to reach istanbul. 200 km to go, 120 nautical miles. I’m broken, I have to tell you. A life-trip who gives and demands without limits. Always.
A big hug.
* To be honest, wikipedia comes to help about this matter: the Turkish ‘Kara Deniz’ (black sea), and ‘Ak Deniz’ (white sea), were only intended as a geographical indication. In the old Turkish tradition, colours “black” and “white” had the meaning of “northern” and “southern”, looking from the perspective of Turkey.