Day 82 – Erling had a nice theory that the rapids would slow the flow upstream, unfortunately that turned out to be nonsense – 22 May

Day 82. 22nd of May. Rybatskoye yacht club to Kuz’minka a couple of kilometers above the Ivanskoye rapids. 26.2 km 5.2 km/hr average speed.

We took our time this morning and did not bid farewell to Valentin and his staff and paddle off until 11 o’clock.

Stein in particular noticed that the stretches we paddled on peak intensity took their toll on his arms. Health first and easy does it.

Once we were on the water, we followed the same procedure as yesterday: Keep extremely close to the riverbanks. This resulted on some intense communication with some of the many fishermen along the river. But nothing unpleasant. (And yes fishermen, only one fisherwomen observer to more than a hundred men.)

The paddling tactic served us well. We made good speed to our first break at the site of the battle of the River Neva, won by Alexander Nevsky in 1240.  A curious thing about that battle, is that it is only mentioned in Russian sources. Nothing from Sweden, the adversary. But no one on likes to describe a defeat.

When it and Alexander Nevsky got such a central position in Russian history, it may be because it was the first significant military victory by Russian forces since they were over run and conquered by the Mongol “Golden Horde” just a few years earlier.

While Alexander Nevsky was a great military leader and won significant battles against western adversaries, he knew better than take on the Mongols. Russia paid tax to the descendants of Djengis Khan for 240 more years.

A church has been built on the site, and it is still there, renovated or almost new built after it was in total ruins after the war and soviet neglect.

We walked around in the graveyard and met Irina and her school class. We struggled with language, but Svetlana’s small articles from Primorsk is a great asset we can show people on our phones. (Link to her second piece at the end of this update).

We paddled on and took one more break before the infamous Ivanskoye rapids. Where the Neva is at its shallowest and narrowest.

We had been giving these rapids quite a bit of thought. If the water flows faster than we can paddle, we have a problem. In the end it was really hard work, but we can handle a bit more if we must. Hopefully not though. And even here it may be easier at another time, since the water level above the apids is at least about 50 cm above normal. Erling had a nice theory that the rapids would slow the flow upstream, unfortunately that turned out to be nonsense.

We struggled a bit to find a place to pitch the tent. Too much money around here maybe? But at our third attempt, we found a group of ordinary datchas. And the hospitality we have become almost accustomed to was there, and we were welcome to pitch the tent.

Tomorrow the last 22 or so kilometers to Shlisselburg and the beginning of river Neva, which means the end of Neva for us.

A Svetlana’s second piece:


Day 81 – The first hour we paddled through central St Petersburg, but parts of some canals were almost like wilderness all the same – 21 May

Day 81. 21st of May. St Petersburg central yacht club to Rybatskoye yacht club (just beyond the last St Petersburg bridge over the Neva). 26.0 km, 5.7 km/hr average speed.

After breakfast, final packing of boats and farewells, we were on the water about 1215.

The first hour we paddled through central St Petersburg, but parts of some canals were almost like wilderness all the same. Mostly in areas with closed down factories. Change is coming though, like in so many cities around the world, what was once industrial areas are turned into offices or apartments. In contrast to Vyborg, St Petersburg is an expanding city.

We eventually got to one of the main Neva channels, and the going got a bit tougher. Still with kayaks, we can go very close to the river banks where current is mostly less strong. So we managed to keep up average speed around 6 km/hr, only falling a little towards the end of the day when we had to pass some lengthy sections with strong currents.

All in all Stein’s theory was confirmed; paddling was quicker than feared and that was a positive experience.

We found a yacht club recommended by Vladimir, just after the last bridge over river Neva, before we leave St Petersburg.

A short distance. But we had a late start and we had to work hard at times. Also we have maybe gotten soft form slacking so long in St Petersburg, at least we can feel the 26 km quite well in our muscles and sinews.

Again we were received with great hospitality when we arrived unannounced at the Yacht club: Kayaks moored and we got a roof over our head in a sort of detached living room the staff at the Yacht club can use, mainly in winter we believe. Perfect for us.

Summer is still here and even at sunset as this is written, it is warm and comfortable outside.

Tomorrow we plan for another 25 km or so. We’ll stop at the site of the Battle of the River Neva in July 1240. Before we call it a day we also hope to be able to pass up the Ivanovskoye Rapids, the most difficult part of paddling the Neva.

Day 79 and 80 – According to Stein’s hypothesis we will be positively surprised – 19/20 May

Days 79 and 80. 19th and 20th of May. Slacking in St Petersburg.

Just a few glimpses that might interest some of you from a couple of summer days in St Petersburg. First, it is fair to say that Russia isn’t necessarily regarded as a champion of diversity. That said, the Russophone world is in itself very diverse thanks to the wide reach of the Russian empire(s).

One example we found just a couple of blocks behind the hotel. We entered an unassuming portal and all of a sudden we went from a St Petersburg avenue to something that resembled a mid Eastern souk more than anything. A diverse set of goods with probably equally diverse provenances. Manchester and Kiev brand cigarettes beside possible Marlboros for instance. Erling saw an opportunity in this; surely somewhere in this labyrinth, there must be the elastic luggage straps that he need to strap the dry suit onto the kayak as deck cargo?

But how to find them? Looking into various shops gave little result, so he had to do the unmanly thing: Ask. First in a suitcase/luggage shop. They did not have such things. But one of the people tending to (owning? ) the shop immediately led us out and in zig zag for quite a bit and a number of questions until he found a shop that sold wrapping plastic. So much for Erling’s ability to communicate. Try again and get some help from the ladies in the plastic shop. A new zig zag and hey presto! Exactly what we were looking for. At a cost of 150 roubles. Many thanks to the guy who took almost 30 min off to help us find something he did not sell.

If we continue on the diversity track it leads to Adim who almost sold us a boat trip (the boat was full). The sales job was something he did besides his economy studies. Adim is from Senegal and has studied almost four years in St Petersburg. One year to learn Russian. A very difficult language according to Adin, who spoke four languages: Indigenous Senegalese, French, English and Russian. Then three years economy studies. He was adamant that he would go home to Senegal as soon as he had his degree. Erling has seen something of the same in Petrozavodsk: Russia is  major provider of education on the international scene.

We eventually found a boat trip with free space and English guide. It was interesting to navigate through the canals. We got to see the city and hear parts of its history from a new perspective. In addition, the maneuvering of the boat was impressive. It was a big boat and the bridges were low and the canals narrow. And literally queues of boats like ours, albe not as large. Our captain managed without incident, but many of the bridges bore marks indicating that not all captains had been equally adept.

Both days we have sampled the various cuisines along Rubinstein street, on the recommendation of Katrine from the Consulate.

Quality food from most corners of the world based on our sampling. A must street to visit in St Petersburg. If one walks more than two blocks in from the main street (Nevsky Prospekt), it gets less noisy and more interesting.

For our last dinner in St Petersburg we stayed with Katrine’s list and chose Hamlet+Jack’s. A new restaurant specializing in innovative food based on Russian traditions and produce. A tasty and memorable meal, with excellent service from our waiter Maxim. If any of you get the chance, don’t let menu items like “baked potato ice cream” frighten you off, these guys know what they are doing.

Anyway. Enough slacking. Tomorrow we paddle on, up the Neva. We have agonized so much that according to Stein’s hypothesis we will be positively surprised. Tomorrow’s stretch goal is to get out of St Petersburg before we need to rest for the night.

Day 78 – Margaret and Erling was crawling on the floor of a crammed office in the loft of a next door building – 18 May

Day 78. 18th of May.

We did not find the right personnel entrance to Kunstkammer right away, and ended up being late for our appointment with professor Sergey Korsun and his team. When we finally got there we were very well received. A little extra paperwork was needed to get access to the paddles, and then we split. Erling and Margaret to measure paddles, while Stein and Karianne got a VIP tour of the Kunstkammer.

Kunstkammer is an important institution in Russia and has been so since Peter the first (the great) founded it as Russia’s first public museum. It was a key part of his drive to bring science and enlightenment to Russia. The building which the Kunstkammer occupies, dates back to the funding of St Petersburg and was the first office of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

As Kunstkammer grew it spawned numerous other museums like the Zoological Museum next door. Kunstkammer’s current collection is focused on ethnography and antroplogy. But it has some other interesting items; like a huge globus with room for 12 people inside. Kunstkammer is interesting both for its exhibits and for its role as a foundation of Russian science.

Meanwhile Margaret and Erling was crawling on the floor of a crammed office in the loft of a next door building. They tried as best they could to capture the dimensions of two Aleutian paddles on graph paper so that Anders Thygesen at will be able to build replicas. This is part of Anders’ effort to understand and resurrect some of the Aleutian paddling tradition and technology.

The Aleutians were the best ocean paddlers of all time, but their tradition was broken mid 20ieth century. In particular, during the last part of the 19th century the Aleutian paddle technology had a last burst of invention, but for dire reasons.

At that point the Aleutians was forced to travel ever further to hunt sea otters for their pelts. Stein and Erling has so far paddled about 2000 km. An Aleut from that time would not have been particularly impressed.

So Margaret and Erling was handling the quite impressive products of master paddlers and master craftsmen. Possibly inventing because their life depended on it. It was food for thought and it will be interesting to test the paddles when we get back to Oslo.

Finally: This is not a travel guide, but if any of you end up in St. Petersburg, we suggest you try the Georgian food at the Rustaveli restaurant. Let a waiter select a set of cold and hot dishes to share. That’s what we did, and it was a meal to remember.

Tomorrow, Saturday we will start packing the kayaks again. We will try to to be effective on Monday, as we will probably struggle to even get out of St Petersburg proper in a day’s paddle.

Day 77 – We went to the Norwegian Constitution Day reception at Consul General Dag Malmer Halvorsen’s residence – 17 May

Day 77. 17th of May. Norway’s Constitution Day.

No paddling, but a lot of walking around St Petersburg in perfect summer weather. (Warm enough so that the shadow is a comfortable place to be)

St Petersburg is a very European city/metropolis and a good place to walk along streets and canals just to see what is and what happens around the next corner. Since the support committee is more interested in discovering the city than the fine details of kayak packing and maintenance, walk is what we did for most of the day. Probably good for Stein and Erling since we have been mostly sitting for 77 days.

Stein and Erling kept looking at the river Neva and how it flowed. It is going to be hard work. Neva is the third largest river in Europe measured by discharge. We have increased our estimate for paddling the 75 km from two and a half days to three and a half. We’ll know how hard it will be son enough.

In the evening we went to the Norwegian Constitution Day reception at Consul General Dag Malmer Halvorsen’s residence. The reception was well attended and several of the guests and staff took an interest in our paddling project.

In particular we discussed the locks in the canals in the interior waterways. In particular we discussed with Vladimir, a Norwegian born in St Petersburg and frequently working as a travel guide in Russia. He had travelled the canals from St Petersburg to Moscow several times, and he confirmed that the water often was let into the locks in a “brutal” way, creating lots of turbulence. This is a problem for us, since it is difficult to keep the kayaks stable in very turbulent waters. And if the turbulence is strong enough to mix air into the water we will loose some buoyancy as well.

One possible solution that came up was to hitch hike with a larger boat. Perhaps a cruise boat. Vladimir recommended s to contact Katja at the consulate and she will help us get a list of relevant companies we could ask. We’ll see how it works out.

Mean time we got some good advice about exploring St Peterburg from Katrine Netland at the consulate, she has taken an interest in our project since before we left. Finally we met her in person.

Tomorrow Margaret and Erling will go to the “Kunstkammer” Museum to measure some Aleutian paddling oars for our good friend Anders Thygesen at He will use our drawings to make functioning replicas of the oars. These oars are relatives of the wooden oar Erling is paddling with, also made by Anders. So we will try to make a contribution to the preservation of the tradition of the Aleutians, the best open sea paddlers of all time.





Day 76 – We have kindly been invited to the Norwegian Consul General to celebrate the day – 16 May

Day 76. 16th of May. No paddling. Maintenance, preparations etc and sightseeing in St Petersburg.

After a quick breakfast we started the day at the Yacht club looking over the boats. The rapakivi granite had taken its toll, but nothing that could not be fixed by gel coat paste. We got help from Sergey, geologist, gold digger, gold Smith and boat builder. 10 years our senior and going strong. Good to see.

After the boats had gotten necessary attention, we were picked up by Vladimir, who took us to buy the necessary map atlases for the interior waterways. Without Vladimir we would not even have found the relevant office, much less been able to navigate the red tape.

We went back to the hotel and discussed rapids, overnight places and locks with Vladimir. Conclusion: We shall try to avoid locks with more than about 5 meters lift. Too much turbulence for our comfort.

The evening was spent walking round central St Petersburg. An international metropolis, with a Russian slant of course. But still, it’s a dynamic international city, in many ways more like say Stockholm than (semi deserted) Vyborg.

Tomorrow is Norway’s constitution day. We have kindly been invited to the Norwegian Consul General to celebrate the day. With resupply of wardrobe from Oslo and some minimal tending of beards etc, we hope to be good to go.IMG_0885.jpg

Day 75 – Stage three of the trip has come to an end; we are in St Petersburg! – 15 May

Day 75. 15th of May. Yacht Club Terijoki (Zelenogorsk) to St Petersburg. 45.2 km 6.3 km/hr average speed.

Since this update is written in an open air Cafe on the opposite bank of River Neva from the Winter Palace, it is safe to conclude that stage three of the trip has come to an end; we are in St Petersburg.

Another summer day, with hardly any wind. Sea like a mirror. People on the beaches all along the route. Our main challenge was to drink enough, as it gets quite warm inside the pfd (redningsvest). We had a good night’s sleep on the floor of a boat hangar. Where we felt in our element (as opposed to fish on land).

We paddled out at about 0920. We could see scattered black dots across the sea. It was mostly fishermen in small inflatable craft. When it was not fishermen, it was rapakivi boulders. We had to negotiate several shallows that stretched far offshore. The remains of moraine ridges. We learnt as a rule of thumb that when the sea birds appear to be standing on the water rather than floating, then it is too shallow even for a kayak. We painted some white on several boulders today as well and as usual.

Back to the fisheries. It appears to us that there are more fish and less birds here than in Finland and Sweden. We’ve seen and heard the splash from some sizeable fish. And it was just a couple of comorants today. A grand total of five swans in Russia, also today. We saw one seal. Dead and anchored to the bottom with hemp rope. We also saw some nets apparently floating with literally hundreds of plastic bottles to keep them up. Maybe there is a connection to the seal. We suspect that both the rules and practice in handling of wildlife is different here than in Scandinavia.

Anyway, the Paddling was fast in open waters but average speed slowed down by shallows and some mismatch between map and terrain.

Still we arrived at St Petersburg Central River Yacht Club at 1800, and Vladimir was waiting for us and showing us where to land.

It is a very well kept Yacht Club dating back to 1860, with a purpose of educating young people to sail. And a lot of small craft with kids at the helm were sailing around the club as we approached.

We get to store the kayaks in the boat hall, and a separate room to store our stuff. Excellent solution. Tomorrow we will go over the boats and check for “rapakivi” damage. And we will sit down with Vladimir to discuss our next stage through the interior waterways.

We got a taste of the Neva river as we paddled into the Yacht club. Speed came down from 7 km/hr to about 4.5 km/hr. So we plan for three days (hard) paddling to cover the 75 km length of the Neva. But first rest and tourism in St Petersburg.

Day 74 – We asked about the price, but concluded that it was a bit too much to pay to feel like fish on land – 14 May

Day 74. 14th of May. Yakht-Klub Dubkovaya Bukhta to Yakht-Teriojaki (Zelenogorsk). 46.2 km, 6.5 km km/hr average speed.

We had picked up breakfast in boxes in the evening and got off to an 0900 start. Again perfect conditions. The sea surface like a mirror. And this lasted the whole day. We don’t think we have ever paddled a full day in such quiet waters. And it is warm. 20 plus degrees. It might just have been the most “summery” day we will experience on this trip. So we enjoyed and took long breaks, at long last it is more comfortable on shore than in the boat.

The coast line is one long sand beach but with large boulders lying just outside the beach. This makes it precarious to navigate the kayaks near the beach, suddenly we hit rocks. For the geologists; the boulders are still rapakivi granite. Interesting rocks, but coarse and hard on the boats.

Anyway, even if today is a Monday, there were people scattered along the beach for almost all of the 46 km. Some sunbathing, some wading, very few swimming. Erling took a quick dip and joined the latter group. Refreshing.

The size and quality of the holiday houses along the beach suggest that we are moving towards a big city. Wealth will out. Just like Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm (but less so Helsinki).

We were mostly left to ourselves throughout the day, but some young guys came over at lunch and wanted to take some pictures. Very polite and enthusiastic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne piece of really good news: Vladimir has managed to persuade the coast guard to let us drop the detour to Kronstadt and the associated 2 hour open sea crossing, and subsequent entry through the main shipping lane. Very good! It also means we plan to arrive in St. Petersburg early tomorrow evening (19-20), not Wednesday as previously planned. It’s a 45 km paddle from here.

Here is Teriyaki, a very posh place with a nice Yacht Club located (but not associated with) a Hotel&Spa, and a restaurant with white tablecloth and silverware… Not our style exactly. We asked about the price, but concluded that it was a bit too much to pay to feel like fish on land. We found an OK pizza place, and we have been allowed to sleep on the Yacht Clubs premises. Still negotiating details, and hoping to avoid pitching the tent. A quick start tomorrow will give us more time to get sorted in St Petersburg.

Day 73 – Two beers was just right. Had it been any more the boats may have sunk – 13 May

Day 73. 13th of May. Primorsk to Yakht-Klub Dubkovaya Bukhta. 28.2 km, 7.2 km/hr average speed.

We deliberately made it a slow start, since we were planning a short paddle of about 26 km. Now we are bound to the route we gave to the coast guard yesterday. We have made that route in cooperation with Vladimir Ivankiv and it takes us from yacht club to yacht club.

Sergey the harbor master had left after his night shift and Vitaly had taken over. Vitaly spoke English well. And he had a story to tell: He used to live in Vladivostok, and with his wife he had taken his 36 feet yacht from Vladivostok north to the Aleutian Islands down to Seattle, and next year from Seattle via Hawaii to Vaipiri Islands in the pacific. The plan was to sail his boat all the way back to their new home in Primorsk, but he was unfortunate, cut himself on a coral and got an infection that hospitalized him for two months and it still was not OK a year later. So the boat is waiting in Thailand. Impressive. Hopefully the leg will heal and their adventure can continue.

At about 1100 we wished Vitaly good health and he wished us good luck and warned us about the sudden winds in Ladoga. Just as we pulled out Sergey the owner appeared with his wife Olga, en route to spend the Sunday on the sea. They also wished us good luck and gave us a couple of beers to help enjoy our trip. Two beers was just right. Had it been any more the boats may have sunk.

One more thing we had been warned about by Alexey in Vyborg as well as Vitaly and Vladimir, was restricted waters around and oil terminal just south of Primorsk. As we left the harbor we became aware of first one boat, then three, then three more. It appeared to be tug boats and they appeared to delimit the restricted zone for about 15 km. We are not sure if they were there all in our honor(?), but we kept to starboard and had no issues with the coast guard.

This did force a detour and a one and half hour crossing. No problem. Weather was spectacular. If spring was hesitant to the point of absence, summer has come in full force.

About mid crossing we had to make another detour to keep our distance from a tanker on her way to load up at the terminal. Ship traffic is more intense here than any other place we have seen. Then again, perhaps that is to be expected in a natural resource based economy like Russia. A lot of raw materials need to be shipped out.

At the end of the crossing we landed on a beach and took a one and a quarter hour break. Record territory. The beach was a couple of kilometers long and tents were scattered all along in the forest just behind the beach. Russians enjoying the first summer weekend.

From there it was just an hours paddling to the Yacht club. The club was located beside a hotel/cabin complex including a restaurant. We happily took the path of least resistance and booked a room, had a shower and dinner at sunset overlooking the beach.

Tomorrow will be about 45 km to Zelenogorsk. Then the plan is Kronstadt on Tuesday and St Petersburg on Wednesday. Weather is forecast to be really good, so maybe we should say: Coast guard Permitting.

Blog at

Up ↑