Plans to develop St Petersburg into a yachting hub have been turned down over security fears

The development of yachting in Russia has hit a stumbling block after a recent decision by the St Petersburg authorities to turn down a project aimed at transforming the city into a centre for yachting in the Baltic. The decision follows concerns raised by the Russian Defense Ministry over the prospect of yachts and tourists in the islands off the Gulf of Finland, claiming it an issue of state security.

General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of Russian General Staff, says that Gogland, Bolshoy Tyuters, Mohny, Seskar and other islands situated along the Gulf of Finland are located in a special protected border zone, being currently used to carry out operational and combat training by the military units of the Russian Western Military District.

Russian and Finnish authorities had been planning to actively develop yacht tourism in the Russian part of the Baltic Sea this year. This latest project involved the launch of several yacht routes around the small islands of the Gulf of Finland forming intermediate stops for passing yachts and boats.

According to Sergei Kovalev, an analyst in the field of yachting and business travel from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, the St Petersburg authorities had looked to Finland and Estonia for inspiration for ways of promoting leisure boating in the region. In recent years, Finland and Estonia have created a ring of small ports and yachting marinas approximately 30 miles apart, around the Gulf of Finland.

Kovalev explains such routes were specially designed for yachting activities, as with an average speed of 5kt-6kt, this distance can be covered in a day’s journey.

According to analysts of the Russian Association of Yachting, the opening of Gogland – an island in the Gulf of Finland, around 180km west of St Petersburg and 35km from the coast of Finland – has been a long-held dream of local yachtsmen. Its rugged coastline, dotted with 19th century lighthouses and large number of untouched bays, make it an ideal place to moor up.

At present, St Petersburg seriously lags behind its northern neighbours in terms of the number of yachts entering its waters. The number of yacht calls in Stockholm, Sweden is estimated at 16,000 annually, while Helsinki and Tallinn register approximately 10,000, and 6,000 visits a year. St Petersburg counts less than 200 visits per year, mainly because of a lack of infrastructure or clear rules for Customs clearance.

It’s estimated that given the right conditions, St Petersburg could attract 8,000-10,000 yacht calls per year.