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An Advantageous Traverse

Vladivostok can rightfully be considered the capital of Far-eastern yachting tourism

This active aquatic sport is one of the priority directions for Primorsky Territory, which point of growth is the region's unique geographic position. The number of small-size vessels has been continuously growing every year. Official statistics aren't required to prove this, as it is sufficient to merely look at the water around Vladivostok and talk to the local yachtsmen.

An Advantageous Traverse
Фото: Igor Bessarab

In the past few years, the largest sea port of the Far Eastern basin has witnessed a radical increase in various yachts and launches of all kinds. During the holidays, devotees of active water recreation relocate to the islands, to their favored places, fishing and rest locations. On weekends, the traffic along popular routes in the Amur Bay recalls images of rush hour in the city center. The residents of Primorsky Territory are lucky: apart from land-based recreation and traditional summer cottages, nature has offered them another opportunity, unavailable to most residents of the country: to travel and enjoy holiday on the sea, using their own vessels.

Over 38,000 small-size boats have been registered in just Primorsky Territory. Several categories can be highlighted among the impressive variety of water crafts: small motorboats (up to 7 meters long) that are, as a rule, stored on the shore; the medium segment of launches from 8 to 12 meters long, which use only the motor as the primary engine; large boats (up to 30 meters), which are sufficiently seaworthy and possess significant autonomy, such as luxurious motor yachts owned by successful businessmen or commercial companies. Also, the sailing sector requires mentioning, as it is not as numerous, but more organized. It has its own sport federation, yacht club union, proprietary infrastructure and rich history. The sailing sector is probably the most long-ranged sector where the routes are concerned, and the most romanticized among those listed above.

Yachtsmen are people light on their feet. They always enjoy long trips and participate in international competitions. For example, in the 1980s, the White Sail of Peace regatta took place, with participants from Japan and Korea. Later, in the 1990s, the Japan Sea Race international competition was arranged, when the yachts of Vladivostok residents visited Hawaii, Fiji, and both North and South America. Historical patriotic trips devoted to the memories of the Far East pioneers have become traditional. Routes to the north, to the Commander Islands, to the shores of Alaska, the Kuril Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula, were almost an annual event during the Soviet period.

In the 21st century, foreign routes have come to the foreground, opening new horizons for the athletes, both geographic and professional. The modern procedure of arranging transit is much simpler than it used to be. Under the USSR, a common trip from Vladivostok to Nakhodka required much more red tape than it does nowadays. Today, yachting fans may easily make long voyages, including international ones, and they enjoy this opportunity 100 per cent.

Vladivostok cannot fit a large number of boats, yachts, launches in its harbors due to… the lack of the latter. This is probably the main deterrent for the development of water tourism, which is important for Primorsky Territory. Abroad, an infrastructure is created around yacht clubs and marinas: service and cruise companies, quay walls, filling stations, exercise centers for training, charter companies, leasing services and much more. In Primorsky Territory though, there are few offers and the prices are high. For example, the cost of moorage of a 40-foot boat at a quay amounts to 30–35 thousand rubles per month. Within a year a considerable sum accumulates.

The construction of quay walls is not in the short-term plans of the regional authorities. Also, there are no investors prepared to participate in such projects. According to Russian laws, the coast line belongs to the state and it cannot be made into private property. Thus, investors are not prepared to invest cash in rental facilities, since this is a question of amounts in excess of tens or even hundreds of millions.

The creation of a full-scale yachting center in Primorsky Territory is a task, to resolve which requires the pooling of the experience, strength and abilities of several players: athletes, representatives of the authorities, and business people. The development of the infrastructure for water sports is also a part of both the Tourism Development Strategy up to 2020 and the federal purpose-oriented program "Development of Domestic and Inbound Tourism in the Russian Federation (2011–2018)". 332 bn rubles have been allocated to the latter program, including 96 bn from the federal budget. State support is aimed at the generation of infrastructure, while private businesses can build hotels, parking lots, and develop the service sector. Naturally, this is a lengthy process, but yachtsmen are known to be patient; they sail in stormy weather and are not afraid of calamities: neither at sea nor on the global market.

Dmitry Nazarov, captain of the Elfin yacht, Seven Feet yacht club:

I have been involved in yachting since childhood. Our generation was lucky: this sport used to be the center of attention; the state allocated funds for the maintenance of clubs. The Academy of Sciences, the Far Eastern and Primorsky Territory Steamship Lines, even the Pacific Fleet used to open their proprietary yacht clubs. Athletes used to actively participate in all-Russian and Far Eastern competitions. And then it all collapsed, though, this was everywhere and in all things… There was no time for sailing. Luckily, thanks to the enthusiasm and financial opportunities of those in love with yachting, such as M. I. Yermakov, the chairman of the Primorsky Sailing Federation, as well as the active approach of athletes from Nakhodka, we have been able to preserve the foundation, on which the future of sailing in Primorsky Territory is being built now.

The brightest memories are from childhood. We, the young boys and pupils of the yacht club of the Far Eastern Scientific Center, visited the port of Maizuru, Japan, for the first time on the Blues yacht under the command of the club's director, Vladimir Rogovets, to participate in a competition. This was when I went abroad for the first time. The Iron Curtain had just opened a bit. I was amazed how close Japan was to us. Only three days on a yacht and we were in a foreign country. Skyscrapers, beautiful cars… The first watch, a storm, calm seas… This was when I fell in love with the sea, the sails.

One of last memories, and not the most pleasant one, is our captivity on the Elfin yacht in North Korea. In spring 2016, we were returning home from Pusan, from an international competition. For us, this is a customary trip, as we visit South Korea a lot. We plot the course with an ample allowance so as to pass 80–100 miles from the shores of North Korea, which border guards do not welcome any seafarers and who add 50 additional miles to the traditional 12 miles of territorial waters, and consider the 200 mile belt their economic zone. The actions of the North Korean border guards recalled a pirate movie scenario. According to the official version that we learned later, some North Korean fishermen, after seeing an advertisement with South Korean script on the side of our yacht, believed us to be a spy vessel and decided to take action, to detain us on their own. We shall remember this adventure for the rest of our lives. It is not every day that we are pursued in the open sea by 50 unshaven Asian thugs wearing padded jackets, in a rusty seiner without identification signs. But all is well than ends well. During the one-sided fight, we used a satellite phone to contact our friends and notified them about the problem. At the same time, we activated an emergency buoy that automatically transmitted our coordinates to the Rescue Coordination Center. Thanks to the quick actions of our diplomatic workers, our stay in North Korea was reduced to a record three days. If this article by any chance is read in North Korea, we beg you: please do not bully our yachtsmen!

Sergei Belyaev, captain of the Karrera yacht:

I discovered yachting as a sport of choice when I was almost forty. It is the kind of sport that can be started at any age. If only you wish to do so. The issue of money is secondary. The opportunities are almost endless. You are yearning for adrenaline, the drive, so you take part in the races, either in Primorsky Territory or abroad. Competitions in South Korea, China and Japan have become traditional for Primorsky yachtsmen. A desire to travel? No problem. What is important is to prepare the vessel for a serious sea voyage and gather an experienced team. Other directions of tourism are being developed as well: sailing, cruise, sports tourism. Thanks to a recent decree on licensing operations involving small-vessel passenger transit, and subordination to the State Small Vessel Inspectorate, we can officially carry tourists. This service is in high demand: foreign guests roam about the yacht club in groups, asking if anyone would take them for a ride. Unfortunately, this service has not reached the proper level yet, and we are only making early steps on this road.

I remember very well my first voyage on my own yacht to South Korea in 2009. I would say that the procedure of processing a foreign vessel is yachtsman-friendly. Imagine that after spending four days at sea, the boat enters the yacht club, moors; the crew goes to the immigration and customs service either independently or accompanied by an agent, goes through a quarantine, all of which take 20 minutes. The red tape is minimal. The first impressions of a visit, of how you are received are very important. Korean customs officers even remove their shoes before entering the yacht! Can you imagine the same in Russia? All in all, South Korea is an amazing place to visit on a yacht. Good moorage, well-developed infrastructure, relatively low prices. It is noticeable that the authorities attribute great importance to this variety of tourism.

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The Karrera takes part in almost all regattas, both in Primorsky Territory and abroad. The backbone of the crew comprises experienced yachtsmen, but we also take young people to sea, young seafarers also need the experience. A beginner sportsmen often gets into funny altercations. For example, during a night race to win the Cup of the Peter the Great Gulf, strong wind was blowing, the sails were reefed. It was so dark that the moon wasn't even visible. The waves were two meters high… All in all, even experienced yachtsmen would be uncomfortable, but we had newbies in the crew. Everyone was sitting on board wearing life jackets, holding onto the lifelines, connected to the security ropes, as required. The anxiety of the team was in the air. The experienced steersman had been keeping the boat on course for hours with the wind against high waves. Wishing to diffuse the situation, the steersman yelled to the crew that the turn sign is getting close and started pointing in its direction, somewhere in the darkness. The boys heard his voice but could not understand what he was talking about due to the strong wind. The steersman, seeing that he wasn't heard, raised his voice. Our boys tensed even more. Then the steersman passed the command on through the crew member closest to him, and so everyone in the chain heard him. After the boat switched to a favorable course, we became more or less at ease, but the newbies remained worried until the finishing line. It turned out that the steersman's command of "Veer away, or I will fall away!" (turn the bow away from the wind) was heard as "Veer away! And I will pray!". Naturally, after hearing this from an experienced steersman, our boys expected the worst. After clarifying the situation, everyone laughed for a while.

Alexander Vodovatov, a promoter of participation of Russian yachtsmen in offshore races:

Primorsky Territory is a unique region. Thanks to its geographic location, Vladivostok has become the Russian center of yachting in South-East Asia. If for us, fans of sailing from Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Mediterranean has become the customary spot, then Primorsky sportsmen sail to Korea and Japan. Back in the day, this was a discovery for me. I have been engaged in the promotion of the participation of Russian yachtsmen in offshore international sailing races; I also participate in many world-class regattas myself. To participate in one of the major sailing races in Asia, the Rolex China Sea Race – 2016 (a regatta from Hong Kong to the Philippines, 600 nautical miles long), a yacht was needed, and I was extremely surprised when the Primorsky sportsmen offered me a boat for the project. The yacht was returning from Thailand, where it had wintered, home to Primorsky Territory, and its passage coincided with our schedule. We rented the boat, prepared it for the competition and performed commendably. We earned third place in the most prestigious category of yachts. This was the first Russian yacht to enter the Rolex Cup at such a scale in Asia; a boat with a Russian crew, sailing under the Russian flag! Before the start, in Hong Kong, we Russians were viewed in the Royal Yacht Club as a gang of playful fellows, not taking us as serious competition. The situation changed after the start. Reports of Hong Kong media covering the event online more and more frequently included images of our vessel and its name. We felt that we were sticking it to Britain, the queen of the seas. Bear in mind that the race took place in difficult, stormy conditions: every once in a while the wind velocity reached 30–35 knots. The promoters had remarked that this had not happened for over 10 years. Well, we were even happier to take the honorable third place in the end! When we finished in Subic Bay, the Philippines, many of the participants approached us to shake hands, remarked upon the skill and experience of the crew, the excellent performance of the yacht, and demonstrated their modest knowledge of Russian.

This was how I discovered Primorsky Territory, and now I understand that the sailing life of the Far East is overflowing with energy. Primorsky yachtsmen race a lot and successfully at that, both in their region and in Thailand, Korea, Japan and China. A lot of interesting places and exotic countries are open to them, while we, the residents of the western reaches of Russian, can only travel there by plane, as tourists. And a voyage by sea or a race double the enjoyment for many. If charter yacht fleets are created in Primorsky Territory, this service will find a 100 per cent demand. From both Russian fans of yachting and foreigners. My dream as a Russian yachtsman is to restore the Aniv lighthouse on the island of Sakhalin. I believe that this lighthouse, the most beautiful in the world, must become the pride and landmark of the island. It is a pity that it has been abandoned. I also dream about arranging an offshore race on the Pacific coast of Russia: from Sakhalin to Vladivostok or Tsushima. This regatta could become a calling card of the region, a magnet, a bright event on an international scale. And it should be a regular occurrence, not a one-time thing. Yachtsmen from around the world should be just as excited about visiting Russia as we are about competitions in foreign countries.

Sergei Yermak, delivery captain:

As the yachting sport and marine tourism develops, a whole niche of additional jobs in the sphere of servicing and maintenance of sail yachts and motor launches is being created. Ferrying boats can be considered a special category. The owners of yachts and launches that spend winters in a warm climate require the assistance of moving crews. After the end of the navigation season in Primorsky Territory, such boats move south: as a rule, to the ports of Korea or Japan, through rarely to the Philippines and Thailand, where the boat can be used during the winter. In spring, when south winds begin blowing, the yachts return to Primorsky Territory. The delivery crew comprises experienced yachtsmen or professional sailors who have extensive experience of such trips. I remember a case when a boat had to be taken from Singapore to Vladivostok not along the customary route, along the Philippines, but through Vietnam and Hong Kong. While at sea, we received a bad forecast, and I made the decision to hide from the wind and wait in Vietnam for a few days. We decided not to enter the closest port of Cam Ranh, but hid ourselves nearby, in the port of Nha Trang, shielding ourselves with the islands. We chose to disembark, stretch our legs and replenish the food stores while at it, and simply rest after a five day trip from Singapore. After calling a local fisherman sailing by in a round "tub" (a basket boat, called thung chai by the locals), I moved to the shore, bringing the documents for the boat and 100 dollars for food with me. So I landed and went to the authorities' office so as to preserve all formalities. I don't know if I did the right thing, but the local officials had a lot of extra work. The office, which was peacefully napping after lunch was energized: they were very interested in how I got to shore, who my ship agent was, etc. While discussing my answers, they were talking excitedly to each other; judging by the intonation, I decided that things were taking a serious turn. I was forced to write an explanatory statement and fill in several questionnaires. After listing my passport number once again, I noticed that one of the officers was looking perplexedly at the cover of the document. He started waving my passport in front of my face and saying something, having switched from English to Vietnamese due to his frustration. The meaning became clear when I caught the word "Russian". In short, the meaning of his tirade was following: why on earth are you wasting out valuable time, when you could have simply showed us your passport? It turns out, the customs officers had thought I was a US citizen. To answer the question why I never showed the passport, I replied, "You never asked." Within five minutes I was granted the right to stay for a month, having paid 18 dollars "for handling", and left to my own devices. It's so nice to be a Russian in Vietnam!