At the southern end of Lake Onega we join the Volga-Balt canal system. To the west lie St Petersburg and the Baltic Sea, while on the eastern shore the Vytegra River leads to locks through White Lake and south east to the Volga.
Excellent transit leads take us though shoals into a narrow, lovely river in company with impossibly long, 5,000 ton ships. 5 miles later we burst out of the forest into Vytegra’s small, busy and colourful roadhead. There are huge piles of freshly milled pine logs on both sides and the resinous smells are heady. Cranes, barges, tugs and odd-looking small vessels adorn the shores. No McDonalds, no neon lights, no marinas, no yacht masts.
Now Tainui is tied up about 500 m short of the first lock, next to two huge floating cranes. This is all a bit overwhelming. In the best possible way. Full bottles of melatonin and Prozac languish unopened in my toiletry bag and I am sleeping well. Not speedy, just engaged and productive.
The crane owner and Maxine are in the middle of a protracted negotiation, of the kind which reaffirms once again how impossible this trip would be without a sailor who is a lawyer, who speaks Russian, who knows the way to achieve appropriate ends with Russian officials, and who is infinitely patient.
The crane people have two worries – indemnity, which we have offered to provide them with, and a general concern that they will be changing the measured length of Tainui when the mast is on deck and then we will not have correct measurement papers. I mean, really!
I have assembled the cross frames to support the mast while endless negotiations continue in Cyrillic. Onc again I have to relinquish control over proceedings. I am learning to do this with grace, and I retire to a small therapeutic cognac. The dialogue is fascinating to watch and listen to, and Maxine’s negotiationg skills are masterful. Russians soon learn that they are talking with a professional, not a bimbo, and I love the way their demeanour changes as they do so.