• Martijn

Russia part 7: Vladivostok

I am writing this post in Medellin, Colombia, and feeling a little bit ubiquitous because it is almost at the antipodes of Vladivostok. In the meantime we have visited Kamchatka, Alaska, Canada, USA, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama and I will report on ALL of those places in due time, but I still prefer to tell our story in chronological order and in my last episode, we were in Lake Baikal.

After Lake Baikal, our destination was Kamchatka but to get there we needed to make several stops because they are more than 1800 nautical miles (3400 km) apart. The first stop was Blagoveshchensk (object of my previous post) and for the second we could choose between UHHS Khabarovsk, UHWW Vladivostok and UHSS Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, to be able to get Avgas by drums. Neither of us had heard of Khabarovsk or Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Evgeny from MAK Gas had marketed Vladivostok as “a nice province capital city on a sea with great nature, beaches, same latitude as Monte Carlo”, so we chose the latter which also resonated as one of Russia’s great ports.

Apart from the usual smoke and haze due to Siberian fires, our flight to UHWW was rather uneventful, even though we needed to go around China airspace again, i.e. over Khabarovsk, versus direct.

Our itinerary in Foreflight version and "track up"(the border with China is the white line on the river under our track)

This was our 10th leg in Russia and we were getting used to flying there and in particular to switching between QNH and QFE, not like in the beginning where we were all confused and even had a small incident: during the approach to one of the airports, the controller had given us the QNH but at some point, instructed us to descend to a certain height in meters which we programmed after converting it into feet. However, we were getting uncomfortably close to terrain and Alex also noticed that the altitude we were given was lower than the levels indicated in the approach chart which made him realize that the controller had meant height above terrain (QFE) and not above sea level (QNH). After that, we changed our technique: we would write down both the QFE and QNH we were given. If ATC indicated height (or altitude) in meters, we would input the QFE on our screen, and if they used altitude in feet, we would program the QNH. That made things easier, although we would still pay attention continuously because we knew that the controllers were still in transition between the two systems and we weren’t too familiar with the area…

As we got further into Russia’s Far East, a new challenge appeared. After Blagoveschensk, we would only find Avgas in 200 liter (53 US gallon) drums which in some cases were shipped to the airports just for us. This meant that we had to make very precise calculations regarding our fuel consumption and decide in advance how many drums we needed in each port. To complicate matters, we had long legs ahead of us: first from Vladivostok to Kamchatka and then from Kamchatka to Alaska, which really required leaving with full tanks. The mathematical challenge resided in the fact that the capacity of our tanks is 92 gallons (i.e. less than 2 drums), and we always want to land with a reserve of minimum 13 gallons, meaning that our maximum fuel needs are 79 gallons, i.e 1.5 drums, and throwing away half a drum (around US$300) is a problem for a Dutch person like me (for those who do not know this, the Dutch have a similar stingy reputation as the Scottish with jokes like “who invented wire?” “Two Dutch people fighting over a coin”).

The solution to the problem was either flying shorter distances, i.e. making do with 1 drum and leaving with less than full tanks, or biting the bullet every now and then... The only thing we could do was try to limit the number of times where we had to throw away fuel, so we developed a clever excel sheet with all kinds of distance and fuel calculations and even considered at some point to take the left-over fuel with us inside our “Turtle pack”. A turtle pack is an Australian made rubber bladder that serves as an additional tank but can be folded when not in use. The bladder can either be used as a jerrycan (on the back or front seats), or as a true extra tank, connected to the wings so that the fuel gets transferred from the pack to the wings in-flight. Connecting the equipment was our original intention, but we had not been able to find a service center willing to do that for us in Argentina because it is not a common procedure and no one wanted to put their name under such a risky operation. If we had done it in the US, we would have needed to go through FAA approval which involved a considerable amount of time and money, so we gave up. Interestingly, and much more recently, we met a service center specialized in that kind of installation when we were in Merced, California, but by then it was too late… Russia was behind us and we would have access to metered Avgas all the way back to Buenos Aires.

For our final legs in Russia however, we had to make many simulations and calculations and we took advantage of the flight from Blagoveschensk (UHBB) to Vladivostok (UHWW) to experiment with one of the variables of the excel sheet: the fuel consumption. We usually fly “lean of peak”, using between 12.5 and 13.5 gallons per hour at a speed of 160 knots, but according to the manual, there is a “max range” option which allows you to use as little as 11 gallons per hour if you are willing to compromise on speed (ideal being 125 knots Indicated Air Speed according to manual). In order to have all the variables to determine our fuel strategy, Alex wanted to establish the “max-range” consumption and speed for our LV GQF whose ideal configuration ended up being 11.3 gallons per hour at 12000 feet with a True Air Speed of 155 knots.

Armed with this information, the distances we had to cover, the estimated fuel left at the end of each trip (including a safety margin of about 10 to 15% because of funky airways or possible route diversions) and the wind forecasts, we were able to keep our fuel waste to a minimum and, despite the stinginess, we also chose not to use the Turtle Pack to store it. It just did not seem to be worth it: the bladder was complicated to install on the back seat and took a lot of space, when it is full it is very heavy and tricky to manipulate, the idea of having a cabin full of fuel did not really appeal to us either and then there was Ravi Bansal’s experience. When Ravi went around the world solo in 2017 (see my post from May18th), he had a Turtle Pack sitting on the co-pilot seat on one of his flights. As he climbed, the Turtle Pack started to expand and grew so much that he was afraid it would explode! Fortunately, he was in constant communication with his handler Eddy via his In-Reach tracker and after a while he got a message reassuring him that the pack was built to resist the pressure. Of course nothing happened because we met Ravi healthy and well in Buffalo back in May. It still sounded scary however, so we preferred not to take the risk, meaning we would end up going around the world with the most basic version of the Cirrus SR22: without extra tanks, without turbo and without oxygen.

By the time we finished the max-range experimentation, the Siberian smoke-haze finally gave way to blue skies which made for a pleasant 10th landing in Russia after a 4.5 hour flight.

With smoke

Without smoke

Hello Vladivostok! (following the little follow-me car)

Parking next to the big guys

A fuel truck was waiting for us with the drum MAK gas had ordered so we filled the wings (or almost because the single drum brought us to about 85 gallons vs the max 92) as soon as we were parked. They did not have a pump though, so we assembled ours and they liked it so much that one of the fuel managers did almost all the pumping for us!

After booking a studio apartment with sea view via Airbnb, we took a taxi to the city to meet the hosts. It was August 17th, Carmen’s 20th birthday and the unit was on the 17th floor which was a nice coincidence😊 To celebrate, we went to dinner nearby at “Dumpling Republic” and had a long virtual meeting with Carmen (in Buenos Aires) via Whatsapp. To compensate for being 18000 kilometers away on this important day, we ordered “fried ice cream” for desert (a first for me) which offered us a small comfort.

Floor 17 was the highest floor on which we stayed since the beginning of our trip, and we had a WONDERFUL view over the harbor, but it also had the lowest window we had ever seen. It made me so nervous, even when it was closed, that I put a chair in front it.

Morning view

Evening view

Lowest window!!

Apart from the perilous window, the studio was very nice and perfectly situated for our walking tours in the city or short escapes to the beach.

Vladivostok is not very big, it is surrounded by the sea and built on hills which offer aerobic walks and great perspectives. It has lots of bridges, lots of ships, and a beautiful railway station: the terminus of the Trans-Siberian. There are also a few historic buildings like the Disneylandish “Triumphal arch” and a few churches, some of which were rebuilt rather recently, like in many other Russian cities, after having been destroyed by Bolsheviks.

Vladivostok terminal (built 1912)

History lesson inside the station

The Vladivostok GUM, 1907, now home of Zara

Nikolaevsky Triumphal Arch, initially from 1891, destroyed in 1927 and reconstructed in 2003. (Many Russian cities built Triumphal Arches when emperor Nicolas II would visit)

Memorial Submarine S 56 museum, of the Russian pacific fleet

Together with our Russia-crossing-buddies Amir and Tamra (from Vision Jet N16AT), we saw all this in just a couple of hours so we had plenty of time left to go to another famous landmark of the city: Russky island, with its old fortresses, outdated military batteries and its modern cable bridges. We had taken a Yandex (Russian Uber) to the island and had asked the driver, via Google translate, if he could give us a tour. He gladly accepted, and very enthusiastically took us to various places with pushki (cannons), to a beach where people were enjoying the summer weather (in the exact same way as people do everywhere else on earth) and past the impressive Far Eastern Federal University campus. Just like almost all other cars in Vladivostok, his steering wheel was on the right. We were so close to Japan that the penetration of second-hand Japanese cars had reached almost 100%.

Beautiful cable bridge and more pushki

Far East University campus

Before leaving the city, we also managed to do some shopping, go for a swim in Vladivostok Bay below the apartment (very pleasant water temperature, clearly the same latitude as Monte Carlo!), enjoy crab from a food truck on the lively boardwalk as well as a wonderful Georgian dinner at Supra restaurant where the staff suddenly started performing a traditional dance between the tables.

New cap for Alex

The boardwalk

Boardwalk crab

A quick dip in the sea

with music

Stroll on Admiral Fokin avenue, just before dinner

Amir preparing to tackle the special Georgian bread: first you let the air out and then you roll it like a pancake!

The Georgian dance

I have no idea what stopping in Khabarovsk would have been like but I think we made the right choice by choosing Vladivostok.

And we ended up visiting UHSS, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk anyway because Vladivostok was a little bit of a detour to the South and from there to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy meant almost 9 hours in the air. We could have done everything in one day but the weather was not ideal, there was a two hour time difference making our day shorter and both trips were over lots of water, reminding us of our North Atlantic crossing. Back in May, we were not allowed to spend the night in Greenland, so we had to continue. Sleeping in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was a possibility, so we took advantage of it.

PS: post written in Medellin but uploaded in Bogota because Medellin internet was terrible!

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