Kerch as a test: a storm at the crossing

Kerch as a test: a storm at the crossing

Kerch ferry crossing storm

Departing from the Crimea ate up a day and completely exhausted us, depriving us of all our strength. There was a storm at the Kerch ferry – the traffic on the ferries stopped, and people had to wait in lines of thousands. It was a great ordeal.

The Kerch crossing (port Kavkaz – port Crimea) is the gateway to the cherished peninsula. Not counting the Simferopol airport, the Kerch crossing remains the only way for Russians to get to Crimea. It has already become a legend – I think everyone is aware of the difficulties that people who risk traveling to the Crimea have to endure (especially those who bring their own car). The Kerch Ferry became a purgatory through which to pass, humbly enduring all the hardships and deprivations to deserve a vacation in the Crimea.

We were going to the Crimea at the very end of August with the expectation that there would be no big problems on the crossing – after all, the season had already ended, and the pressure of tourists should have decreased. Our expectations were met, but only in half: the way there was really easy (except for a two-hour delay of the departure of the ferry), but the way back, contrary to all expectations, was a severe test.

The ferries in Kerch stopped – it had become too dangerous to cross. There were only one or two small ferries plying between the two coasts, the Crimean and mainland Russia, with a capacity of only two hundred people, and at long intervals.

Kerch ferry crossing

At two o’clock in the afternoon we joined the queue. More precisely, we joined the crowd, because the queue as an organized line of people did not exist in principle – the proximity to the cherished entrance to the ferry was hampered by jolts and tactical cunning (we had to figure out which part of the crowd is the least dense, and to force our way through this part).

At ten o’clock in the evening we squeezed our way to the pier exit. All that in between was continuous standing on our feet and tedious balancing to keep our balance and fight swollen feet.

Every two or three hours there was a burst of excitement as people began to enter the ferry. It was possible to watch the body movements of people spread in the crowd as a wave: first a row of people would lower themselves to pick up their bags, then they would straighten up and begin to move forward, then, having reached the limit of possible progress, they would stop – each row of the crowd would repeat these movements with mechanical clarity with a millisecond delay.

Surprisingly, there was no outright madness or wild chaos during this wait in line for the ferry crossing. Still, human nature suggests that when the crowd is formed, each of its elements loses its mind and spits out aggression. For some unknown reason, this time everything went fine – people did not reach the extreme level of despair, many joked (and this is very important! Laughter and irony well drown out hatred and rage), talked to each other, got acquainted with their neighbors in turn.

I can’t answer what caused it. It is a double mystery, because during these events there was absolutely no organization on the part of the crossing staff and police – by and large everything was left to chance. People were relentless in their outrage, but no rocks or even foul language were thrown at the men in uniform.

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But we should not have any illusions about this line either. The clouds gradually thickened: madness and fury increased in direct proportion to the approach to the desired entrance to the pier. At the beginning of the line there was the highest density of people (it was already impossible to step from foot to foot, and often even to move a hand), and here was also the biggest crush – the pressure from behind knocked us down (fortunately, we did not fall, otherwise it would have been the end). Many people were swearing and pushing. But all the bad stuff happened only in the moments of general animation, because of the opening of the doors to the ferry exit. During the long waits, peace was invariably established.

Oh, how lucky we were with the weather! There was no rain, no heat, and the wall and the bodies of our neighbors took turns sheltering us from the hurricane wind.

Kerch ferry queue

(photo © mediotanque / flickr.com)

So, at ten o’clock in the evening, at great cost and suffering, we made our way through the doorway separating the crowd from the pier. We could stretch our legs by walking and finally sit down. An hour later the ferry arrived. After another hour it sailed.

When you are on the shore, the existence of the storm is in doubt – you can’t see the waves, you can’t hear the noise. The storm as a fact is realized only when you start sailing through the Kerch Bay: a strong rocking begins, and as soon as you get out of the ferry interior you come face to face with the raging sea. The wave was really big and the wind incredibly strong. On one side of the ferry the waves were particularly high, crashing down to the deck with the power of hundreds of liters of water. One could feel what the elements were, what the power of nature was, and what man could do nothing against it. But it was beautiful, and in a Kantian way sublime.

The thunderous wind brought bad news – a call to my parents’ house, so distant at that moment, informed me that my grandmother had died today. The elements were raging – now of the two of us only she had strength left, and I was dried up.

Consciousness somehow cleared, the only thing swirling in my mind was a phrase from some old Soviet movie that for some reason I was afraid to write, utter, or even utter in my thoughts. Maybe it was from Tarkovsky, from “The Mirror,” for example. Or maybe it was “Flights in Dreams and Dreams” with Oleg Yankovsky. These words were accompanied by a feeling of dampness, as from the dew, and green, grassy color, scattered through the moisture of the fog, which is only in the early-early morning, when the sun is still just rising. But I can’t remember exactly where this phrase and its accompanying images come from. Maybe someday I’ll see it again in a movie, but I don’t want to look for it on purpose.

flights in dreams and in reality

(Still from “Dream Flies and Dreams”, 1974)

mirror tarkovsky

(Still from “The Mirror”, 1974)

Now, when I think back to that evening, to those moments when I was on the phone with my parents’ house, it seems to me that lightning was flashing outside, and long drops of rain were whipping against the ferry window pane, though I know for a fact that none of this happened-it was just the wind and the waves. Apparently, the mind itself completes the picture, adding elements to it that it thinks are missing. Thunderstorm and downpour with whipping drops, I think, came from the fact that memory needs a clear image to hold on to in order to preserve for many years the complex feelings experienced at that moment. Memory is a strange thing. I suppose that as time passes, the knowledge that neither the lightning nor the downpour really happened that night will be erased, and I will remember it in inseparable fusion with them. And then one day I will read these lines and be confused by not knowing what to believe.

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Kerch storm

(photo © vladdythephotogeek / flickr.com)

At 1 a.m. we were already on the opposite bank of the Kerch crossing, in the port of “Kavkaz”. The task was to find a bus that would take us somewhere. All of the buses that we could find here at night were for “single ticket” holders from Russian Railways, so we had to negotiate with the drivers to take us for a fee.

As is often the case, the people brilliantly displayed their rotten character trait of profiting from people’s misfortunes and problems. Bus drivers and cab drivers, catering staff – everyone who was lucky enough to be in Kerch or the port of Kavkaz during the storm raised the prices of their services and goods several times over. Help, support, solidarity – no, we haven’t heard of that in this country. When it comes to earning extra money, the Russian brother will do anything not to miss such a chance. The fat-faced driver of one of the buses offered to take us for 1000 rubles per person, overstating the normal fare by about five times. After a while we found a driver who “graciously” agreed to take us for 1000 rubles per person.

Then there were tedious hours in the bus with short fails in a restless sleep, changing the bus and waiting at the bus station, a new bus, a few more hours of travel, and in the morning – arrival at the end of the road, in Abinsk.

At the Krasnodar bus station, where we waited for our bus at night, the whole environment took on an utterly ghostly and unreal character. Among the benches and bus stop areas stood a completely alien element – a slot machine. It sounded incessantly with a strange and irrelevant melody, looped and endless. Both the music and the machine itself were not supposed to be here and now. It was like some sort of glitch in the matrix, as if our universe had crossed paths with its parallel sister. Of course, because of the weight of what had happened, my very perception was broken and confused, but you can’t argue-this tune can get to anyone.

About the crowd

– Being in a crowd is scary and dangerous. But I think everyone knows that. When the crowd is in the waiting phase, it is very crowded, almost impossible to move. When it comes into motion, it can trample and tear – it is useless to fight with the pressure of the crowd, no muscle power can resist the pressure of hundreds and thousands of people. That’s why you have to watch very carefully where you are standing and where the pressure will come from, calculate your movements, try hard to balance competently and look for points of support. But it’s better not to go into the crowd at all. If I had known in advance what we would have to go through in Kerch during this storm, I would not have lined up, but rather would have found a place to live in Kerch or gone back to wait out the problem days.

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I am sure that this will be repeated at the Kerch ferry crossing every year – hardly anyone will bother to thoroughly work on the organization of the crossing in critical situations, because you can just keep quiet about it on TV, and people will not be unnecessarily alarmed. So if one day you come to Kerch to the ferry, and the weather will prepare a storm – do not rush to take a place in line, it is better to prolong your vacation in the Crimea for a few days until everything is settled. You will save your nerves, energy and do not risk your health.

Kerch crossing: a September nightmare

Kerch Ferry: September Nightmare

For five days now there has been a lightning storm in Kerch. The wind is whistling and huge waves are hitting the pier. The ferry crossing stands still and people cannot get across to the mainland.

For five days now there has been a lightning storm in Kerch. The wind is whistling and huge waves are hitting the pier. The ferry crossing stands still and people cannot get across to the mainland.

In order to somehow calm people down, they started issuing special certificates to all the tourists who were unable to return from vacation in the Crimea on time.

A document stating the good reason – storm in the Kerch Strait – can be obtained at the information desks or on duty at the ports “Crimea” and “Caucasus. This is of little consolation, though.

Back in the middle of the month there were no lines at the crossing at all. It seemed that the main problem of the 2014 holiday season had been solved. A sharp deterioration in weather conditions in the Strait happened in the evening on September 17. That same night all the ferries stopped running. At once 2500 cars piled up on the Crimean coast. In each car – a few people. Everyone was caught up in the storm.

In vain the authorities advised tourists to postpone their return until weather conditions improved, and to wait out the bad weather on the peninsula or on the Russian mainland. The same urgent recommendations not to send customers to the Kerch crossing were given to tour operators and travel agents by Rosturizm.

In fact, no one listened to anyone. The traffic did not decrease, bumping into the barriers of the closed crossing. At the largest accumulation site at the old airport before entering Kerch, even the runway was jammed. This is where all the motorists wishing to cross to the mainland initially get in. Here the data of each car is entered into the electronic queue, and the driver is given a ticket with the time of arrival.

In two days the queue reached catastrophic proportions. As soon as the wind calmed down a little the cars were loaded on two low-capacity ferries: “Jeisk” and “Kerch 2”, without waiting for the storm warning to be cancelled. Compared to large “Greek” ferries these vessels have comparatively low sail and are not afraid to roll over.

Alas, during the day the little guys were able to carry only 566 cars and five thousand passengers. The ferry crossing time increased from 40 minutes to one and a half hours. More than three thousand cars were waiting on the shore.

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The administration of the crossing appeared on the territory only when escorted by armed guards. At night it got cold and we had to warm ourselves with engines on. As a result, many of the fuel gauges dropped to a minimum. How could one go further if there were no petrol stations near ports?

In the morning of the 19th there was the first big riot. People in line, exhausted and angry, refused to tolerate the endless stream of “left-handed” cars, which had been on their way to the crossing all night. The cars were using the opposite lane for loading, even though everyone else had been told that there were no ferries at all.

The so-called “people’s militia” was formed and the road was blocked. The “militia” was headed by mother and daughter. They say they were from Kemerovo. The women raised the men and organized a blockade of the port gates. The militia only let through those who had been waiting a few days for a crossing with “electronic queue” coupons.

The website KERCH.COM.RU published a “blatant” fare – allegedly you can get on a ferry out of line for 10 thousand rubles. The activists started calling to all regulatory agencies complaining about corruption of the port officials, “whose greed knows no boundaries. According to the drivers, as soon as the prosecutor’s office arrived at the crossing, all the guards ran away and nobody was to be seen at all. But immediately a field kitchen was opened and a bus with actors arrived. The acting minister of transport of the republic promised to settle the motorists in sanatoriums of Kerch. Right at the port the railroad workers formed a train of sleeping cars to accommodate women with children. Some of the waiting people were invited on board the ferry “Olympiada” moored to the shore.

Kerch city administration in cooperation with transport workers and the Ministry of Emergency Situations organized tent cities and two hot meals a day. At the storage sites they distributed buckwheat porridge with stewed meat and tea for free. Here in the field kitchen there was always boiling water on wood fire. Rescue workers set up additional tents for children. Cleaners regularly removed trash, cleaned the water closets, cleaned the showers and brought water to the shower stalls. There were also private cafes where you could buy meat pies and broth.

– Of course, we knew that we would have to wait long, so we took some food with us, – told “Kryminform” Sergey Ignatiev, a tourist from Novosibirsk. – And in general, the local food is sold here. You can have a decent lunch with meatballs for 200-300 rubles.

Because of the strong wind the Kerch City Hall stopped work on high-rise buildings. The hurricane literally tore the roofs off. While the East Crimea experienced all this horror, the head of the Republic, Sergey Aksenov, gave an interview to Russian TV channels at an investment forum in Sochi.

– Next year we will create real conditions for tourists. Everyone will be able to get to Crimea freely, not waiting for 10 hours on the ferry, I personally believe it!

According to Aksenov, the main trouble – to serve sufficient quantity of ferries, there is not enough berthing walls now. But by the new season there will be enough walls.

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Where from he has taken data about 10-hour waiting time – is unknown. The current queue is much longer. By September 20 a storm warning was still in effect at the Kerch crossing, over three thousand cars had piled up in the ports. The Unified Transport Directorate recommended to refrain from traveling to the Crimea and back until September 22.

On Saturday, however, the weather seemed to be improving little by little. The strait immediately resumed navigation! A huge number of ships that were waiting out the storm at the anchorages moved toward each other. From the Black Sea – more than a hundred ships, from the Azov Sea – about 70.

On Saturday afternoon the queue on the Crimean side was reduced to 1.4 thousand cars. Waiting time for loading decreased by a factor of three and was about 10 hours. After two days downtime the super ferries “Olympiada” and “Ionas” urgently came to the line. Railway ferries “Annenkov” and “Petrovsk” started transporting cars. And by 11 am on September 20, to the joy of all who were stuck on the crossing, the large ferries “Crimea” and “Glykofilousa III” began their work. So during one day more than 2.2 thousand cars and eight thousand passengers made it across the strait to the mainland.

Sunday was a good day, too. On Sunday 4,285 cars were passed through the strait. On the Crimean coast there were 1100 cars. The queue in the port “Kavkaz” was liquidated at all.

Even at night from Sunday to Monday the weather conditions in the strait were normal, wind 4 meters per second. The storm seemed to be over. Every 10-15 minutes, about 50 cars were sent from the storage pad at the airport to the pad near the seaport. These convoys drove through the city of Kerch with sirens and emergency lights on.

. And here is a new disaster. Kerch is undergoing another storm warning. Bad news for the ferry: on Wednesday, September 24, the weather is expected to deteriorate with heavy rain, thunderstorms and a sharp drop in temperature. And most importantly, with a wind increase to 25 – 30 m/sec.

It is known that wind speed increasing up to 17 m/sec is enough to stop ferry traffic. The wave height in the Kerch Strait is expected to be from 2 to 4 meters. It means that within the next day the ferry is guaranteed to stop. Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov in an interview with ITAR-TASS urged motorists to plan their trips to the Crimea in advance.

A service to calm the bad weather is now underway in Russia’s oldest Byzantine church, the St. John the Baptist Church in Kerch. According to the press service of the executive committee of the Kerch city council, due to the unfolding storm the ferry traffic in the strait is severely limited.

On Monday the ferry crossing time increased again to an hour and a half. Difficult to withstand the weather “Greeks” are again going to be removed from the voyage. In fact, this is a new congestion.

Cars continue to arrive at the accumulation pad at the airport. A special emergency station of the Ministry of Emergency Situations is working there. They put up tents with beds and mattresses, where motorists can rest. We can’t sit in the car all the time and there is a strong wind outside,” complained Elena, a Muscovite from Moscow. – We have to hide in tents. We will probably spend the night there too”.

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