Day 1 all over again

So we reached Constanta. The only thing is, we set out to reach Istanbul. What's more, we actually reached the last lock on the 'canal of death', still a fair way from a sea that the policeman at the aforementioned canal explicitly and personally forbade us from going on.

So, day 121 we set out to reach the sea. Rather than celebrating reaching Constanta, we spent our rest day on day 120 buying maps, annotating those maps, hurriedly writing postcards and then using the wifi provided by a classy cafe to plan our route to the sea. We even went so far as to ring hotels near to our decided launch point to ask if there was a supermarket in the vicinity.

So day 121 we walked the 3.72km to the sea. We walked on the pavement. We walked on a dual carriage way. We walked on a farm track. Finally, we walked through a deserted seaside resort. All of this walking involved dragging our 5m canoe on its plastic wheels and carrying two massive rucksacks. But we got there.

And once we got there we set about putting our mapping information to good use by carrying our bags to a small supermarket and, despite being tailed around the shop, buying enough food and water to tide us over till the next big town. Then we walked back from the supermarket to our padlocked canoe. And then we sat down and rubbed our shoulders. Having filled up water in the toilet of an adjacent and obliging hotel, we were ready to embark.

Having grown used to days of pleasant sunshine, it was a bit of a shock to see an October mist roll in from the waves and transform a bright morning into a foggy day. Nonetheless, we'd canoed 4000km to get to this point and weren't going to be turned away by cold, wet sea mist which made sticking close to the shore a necessity.

We squeezed in an hour before lunch and two more in the afternoon. As the day went on the waves got bigger, but having got around most of the outcrops in our first couple of hours, it was easy enough to ride the waves with the comfort of a sandy bank. Although Jimmy did almost fall out of the canoe in shock when a practicing scuba diver stood up a few meters to our right, we had made good ground and camped in a secluded spot behind some rocks.

And so day 122 began in the dark behind those rocks. When the sun finally got around to rising, we could see that the mist had risen and the water had calmed. Day 121 had seen us go far further than our mere hope of reaching the sea and day 122 was not to be outdone. After 4 hours paddling in the morning we had reached the harbour wall of Mangalia - the last Romanian port before Bulgaria.

As we stood on the wall to survey the alternatives to going all the way around the harbour's long spit, the wind and the waves picked up. With that, our decision was made. We canoed back towards the shore, portaged over the harbour wall and paddled into port hoping to be spotted by border police. Fortunately, a canoe with two hairy foreigners that paddles into the middle of a sea port closed because of high waves isn't the most inconspicuous form of transport.

We sat in the portacabin of the port security while the relatively friendly border policeman went to have our crew list (it's pretty long) stamped for checking out of Romania. He initially returned with coffees and an impressed yachtsman but no passports, so we made lunch in the cabin since the security guard had just about run out of amazed questions. Our passports finally returned as we overcame the final sandwiches and, having raided the local corner shop with the last of our Romanian lev, we made to exit the port.

The south side beyond the harbour was still protected by the spit we had portaged over so initially we made a little ground. Then the waves caught us up. Throwing the canoe forward from behind, we took slightly abortive action to jump out before the next spit. Another portage, a 400m walk, a slippery reloading and we were once more in sheltered waters.

This time we made it about 300m before the waves picked up, specifically picking up the canoe. We got out on to a beach, Jimmy volunteered for a reconnaissance run and I unloaded the canoe. He returned with mixed news which we debated over on our windswept beach while eating the Swiss roll bought with our final lev. The next bay was further from the town, but more conspicuous to fishermen. We opted for fishermen. We altruistically gave the last of the Swiss roll to a couple of Romanian kids and began an afternoon of carrying.

We carried the canoe as far as we could without a break, then took the bags twice as far. Then we took the canoe beyond the bags. Then we went back for the bags. And so on. With a 200m paddle in between, we managed to make it around two more bays to one which, while exposed to the now raging wind, was at least secluded from humanity. And there we camped.

And slowly the wind grew. Tucked inside our tent, the wind was whistling and the waves were battering the shore. Everytime I awoke during the night I comforted myself that I must still have plenty of sleeping time because the water would inevitably be calm in the morning. Unfortunately, when my alarm went off at 4.50 am (impressive, I know) the waves were still smashing the shore.

So day 123 started with a walk. In fact, for the first time since we set off from Nantes in July, today was wholly spent travelling out of the water. Nonetheless, we made it through the grotty and deserted resort that we had prioritised getting past by nightfall at mid-morning.

In fact, here in the town of Vama Veche, we picked up a new recruit to the canoeing the continent team. Dogger. Dogger's of unknown age. He's small and black and doesn't really do barking. He squeaks when he's scared. He was won over by a friendly voice and a stroke. He liked salty peanuts and walked very closely to heel even though no-one asked him to.

Dogger lasted as far as what turned out to be the Bulgarian border. As we carried the canoe, the bags and the barrels in an endless relay - cheered on by the faithful dogger - we spotted a border patrol vehicle pitched atop a sandy cliff. Unfortunately he was Romanian, the country we were meant to have left at the port, rather than Bulgarian, the country we wanted to enter. After gesticulations, passport waving, pointing at the sea and then at our canoe and a final phone call; the animated Romanian border policeman came up with a novel plan.

He helped us carry the canoe and the bags to the top of the cliff. At this point. I shouted at Dogger and waved my paddle at him. Unfortunately, I think we'd done more for him than any other human being, and, as such, he followed us before being chased and bullied by the strays that had attached themselves to the police 4x4. Feigning ignorance, we bade silent goodbyes to Dogger from the back of a police minibus. At the time we were holding onto the canoe which now stuck out through the open back door. But, fair play to the border policeman, he had managed to make us look even more strange than two English blokes dragging a canoe along a deserted Romanian beachside resort.

So we arrived at the road border checkpoint, showed our perfect documents and shiny UK passports, and were told we were free to walk from the border station into Bulgaria. Cheers.

We walked down the highway for a km or so. Then we had lunch at a junction, feeling slightly disorientated to have neither sea not river nearby. Then we walked back down a farm track to the sea and continued our slow and sandy progress.

At the end of the day we'd made a mere 6km down the coast. For the three days we've made 49. We're not sure whether the waves here represent bad weather or standard conditions, but today definitely wasn't safe to canoe. We're in touch with a Bulgarian Black Sea kayaking guide 50km down the coast and the plan is to make for his town. If the weather returns to its calm state of the first two days, we'll canoe and if it doesn't then we'll walk.

Either way, we're making progress and we know our deadlines.