Free Sailing of Horishni Plavni

Own Business
27 June 2017 20:06

Despite the enormous potential of water resources, there are only a few places in Ukraine that can be called centers of the small shipbuilding. One of them is in Poltava Oblast, in the city called Horishni Plavni. People from all over the Soviet Union came here to “build communism”. The city, the Soviet name of which is Komsomolsk, was one of the exemplary in the region. For the sake of construction of the ore mining and processing plant, some picturesque villages were destroyed here at the time, and the Dnipro River became the Kakhovka Reservoir, so people could get to Cherkasy or Kyiv. Fortunately, reed beds which gave the name to the village, have remained and now they are still encircling the city. The city has recently returned its historical name – Horishni Plavni and it would be strange if there were no people who dedicate their life to this place.

Such a person is, for example, Vasyl Leshchenko, we came to visit him during the expedition. He founded the only yacht club in the city, which quickly became kind of a ‘business card’ of Horishni Plavni, and his own hand-made yacht was recognized as the emblem of the city. It would be possible even to go around the world by his yacht, but so far the captain of a newly launched Frigate-2 yacht has been traveling with his family on the Dnipro River only. He is reluctant to comment the changed name of the city. It feels like Plavni is his thing, not Komsomolsk. Most settlers, who formed the basis of the city’s population are against the renaming and this majority is difficult to contradict.

Vasyl Leshchenko tells who the real yachtsman is

A passion for yachting

– I started yachting because I really wanted to be on the water. It all started in 1972. My salary was then 100 rubles, and a good boat cost several hundred. That is why I bought an ordinary wooden boat for 10 rubles in a shop and put a sheet sail on it. And my young family and me (our child was 5 at the time) went sailing. Later, I decided to build a cabin on this boat so we could spend the night without taking tents with us. I had to make something similar to a yacht, but without a motor, because I didn’t have money for that. I bought the used boat engine “Moscow-10” in Kremenchuk. The guys brought the engine for five kopiiok and some treatment. At that time gasoline cost nothing, but motors were expensive, about 200 rubles. I was always looking for the way to do everything as cheap as possible, and I found the engine only for 40 rubles.

Since then, Vasyl had a small sailing yacht – 4.5 m long with a cabin and a motor. He was considered to be the coolest boatman in Horishni Plavni. If the engine died out, he had to row. And a young and enthusiastic boatman deliberately stopped the engine and went under a sail, because it gave him a thrill. If, however, he had to get home urgently or there was no wind, Vasily started the engine, thus having a fair advantage over ordinary boatmen. Vasil says that they certainly didn’t envy, but played some “dirty tricks” with him. Sometimes they cut the ropes or picked up the halyards.

– Since then, Vasyl had a small sailing yacht – 4.5 m long with a cabin and a motor. He was considered to be the coolest boatman in Horishni Plavni. If the engine died out, he had to row. And a young and enthusiastic boatman deliberately stopped the engine and went under a sail, because it gave him a thrill. If, however, he had to get home urgently or there was no wind, Vasily started the engine, thus having a fair advantage over ordinary boatmen. Vasil says that they certainly didn’t envy, but played some “dirty tricks” with him. Sometimes they cut the ropes or picked up the halyards.

The Biryukovych Brothers

The Biryukovych Brothers ran the Kyiv city cruiser yacht club at the time. In 1968 they managed to create the first in the USSR public sport organization of yachtsmen in Kyiv. Organization’s form and activity methods became nonsense for a cynical totalitarian communist system, the ideology of which did not recognize the smallest signs of independence. The yacht club became a real “phenomenon of a civic initiative that came from the bottom, and not because of the order from the top of the party, and it still survived.”


On the left – the schooner Motherland. On the Right – Captain Dmitry Biryukovych.

“Playing with old stuff was boring and guys wanted to buy a yacht, but in times of the USSR it was quite a difficult task. On the one hand, yachts were owned by boat stations. On the other hand: the Soviet system of economic management required sports equipment to be destroyed after the expiration of its service life in order to buy a new one. The yachts often could still be used but they were discarded, sawn in half and burned. Only if there was a write-off act, the trainer could apply to the organization for the purchase of a new yacht. There was no logic at all in thisl. The main task was to prevent access of inventory to the private owners, because it contradicted the Soviet laws of private property prohibition. It’s better the yacht to be burned, than it would become someone’s property. But the Biryukovych Brothers were lucky: one of the coaches of the boat station “Vodnyk” Oleh Buzovsky helped Kostiantyn to get the sailing boat “Zyb” into private ownership.

In the early 1960s, there were a dozen of  “private traders” like the Biryukovych Brothers in Kyiv. Their boats were docked at various VSS (Voluntary Sports Society) boat stations, covering it all under the state property. The managers of these societies openly hated those who had their own yacht. After series of sport victories of these yachtsmen, the humiliating attitude towards them only increased. They could not leave their boats in the VSS over the summer any more.

The first Ukrainian public yacht club

Therefore, Kostiantyn Biryukovych decided to create a public yacht club, which was independent on any state-owned economic entities. Thanks to the support of like-minded and honest members of the Soviet bureaucracy, he fulfilled the big dream. After hard work and discussions in a close circle of enthusiasts, the “Statute of the Kyiv City Cruising Yacht Club” was born at the Council of Sports Organizations and organizations of Kyiv. However, it was only the beginning because those ones who strived for liberty still had to find the territory, to arrange it and to take care of safety and security. We had to count on our strength, because the club did not receive money from the union budget.


Meeting at the Kiev Cruising Yacht Club, 60s of the 20th Century

Meanwhile, the organizers were increasingly shocked at the time: “You are an independent Ukraine!” The irony is that these sayings were heard from the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, which later gave Ukraine its first president. But accusations of “independence” in the 70s of the last century could cost people freedom.

Expedition of Dmitry Biryukovych

Later, Kyiv city cruiser yacht club contributed again to Ukrainian independence. In 2000-2004 Dmytro Biryukovych went on a sea expedition “Let the world know Ukraine!” by schooner “Motherland”. The length of the route was 1.5 of the equator lengths. He has visited four continents, 14 countries and 70 ports. He has been in the waters of three oceans, many seas, five lakes, six rivers and eight canals. In Turkey people asked the captain of “Motherland” about the strange flag. Then the team made a stand with a map and brief information about Ukraine: capital, population, national currency. And when the ship was docked abroad, they put it out on deck.


When the “Motherland” reached the United States, the news of the expedition appeared on the front pages of The Los Angeles Times and

The New York Times

. The Americans were surprised how we could sail the ocean on such a ship. 50 people took a part in this expedition as members of the crew and several hundred more were as guests.

After coming back Dmytro Biryukovych began to construct another yacht, but soon he fell ill. So he had to hand things over to his grandson Vadym, who was a sailor boy at the age of 14 on the “Motherland”. So Vadym with his friends were building their “Motherland”. When the ship is finished, it will be one of the largest sailing boats in Ukraine.

The Yacht Club in Horishni Plavni

Vasyl Leshchenko was under the impression of what he saw, so he decided to create a yacht club in the Komsomolsk. On October 7, 1978 five like-minded people met and held an organizational meeting on which they elaborated the draft statute and the process started. The administration of the Poltava mining and processing plant (at that time the Dniprovskyi MPP) was quite approachable to them. They provided a room at the technical school for carrying out courses. At the end of December of the same year the meeting of the trade union committee brought up point about the creation of a yacht club at a mining and processing plant.

This yacht club was very rich once. There were olympic children’s classes: “cadets”, “optimists”, “finns”. They were engaged in children’s sport boats purchased in Tallinn. Children and adults liked sailing at the time. There were no age limits, so they took almost everyone:

– There were children from 6 years old, as well as youth and workers. You know, sailing is a fight against the nature, doesn’t matter what the weather is,rain or storm, windy or notб cold or hot. Physical stamina is strengthen in such conditions, a person learns to live in harmony with nature.

Construction of yachts with own hands

– When the club was created, they didn’t buy the ready-made yachts – they continued to build them by themselves. We saw nice boats in Kyiv and after coming back we decided that we would build even better. At the time any reinforced cement or wooden yacht was the top of the art for us, because we had never seen anything like that before. There were neither TV shows about this, nor Internet. Now I understand that those boats were relatively good. Today it is just a “junk”. My boat  as compared with those, looks like something imported and of a high class. At the time there were no such boats. All boats in our club were handmade. Only three were bought: “Estonia”, “Favourite”, “Mirabella”.

In those days, as now, the magazine “Boats and Yachts” was issued. Its first release was in the 60’s. I did not know at first about its existence. Eventually I saw it in a stall accidentally. This magazine was the only source of new information at the time. Then I started looking for literature. Basically, there were foreign writers-sportsmen: British Francis Chichester, Polish Andrzej Urbańczyk. The last was writing about many sailors who went on yachts and, of course had a lot of pictures of these yachts. I have his books “Alone across the ocean”, “Marine Robinson” and others.

“Construction of Yachts” by the German author Kurt Reinke appeared in 1982 and was translated into Russian. It was immediately flown off the bookshelves:

– I have used it already when I was building my own yacht. I made the project by myself, I took the data from Reinke. For example, the span section, the thickness of the metal, and many other data I just copied from it. I did not have intention to produce yacht  in quantity. In that case I would be required a patent, a project approved and so on. I built it for myself, so it was quite real. I took these data in order to not calculate weighting on the frame, the thickness of the metals. He had two projects of a metal yacht: 10- and 14-meters long. I made a 12-meters one. However, I modernized the project a little bit because it was 60 years old. There were completely other boats at the time.

The classic boat was narrow in front and in the back, but inside it was not as comfortable as it is now. There could not be even cabins, only a bunk. In addition, the trends in yacht construction have changed. It was once believed that yachts should be narrow, but subsequently practice showed that they can be wide, comfortable and with all the conditions. On the yachts of those times there were no toilets, wash basins, not to mention separate cabins, where one could find privacy and go to bed. That is why Vasyl while constructing a new “Frigate”, took into account modern tendencies:

– The idea of constructing a comfortable yacht was born from the experience. Once we were sailing in the sea from Sevastopil for three days without landing. There were three families on board. There was no place for privacy on the yacht: there was no cabin in which you could change clothes or sleep, where nobody can disturb you with conversation. Then I realized that for such sailing you needed comfortable yachts with separate cabins, where you can be alone, read a book, sleep, listen to the radio, and only go out for dinner, or when you have to go on watch. I started to design this yacht because it’s hard to realize all those things in smaller size. A cabin with a bunk bed is for the crew. Sometimes I had to go sailing with men only, but I do not like to sleep with someone else on the same bed. But otherwise it is very convenient, because no one pushes your side. Double cabin is the best option for the family couple.

In the yacht club, Vasyl constructed the yachts “Victoria”, “Queen” and “Frigate” and completed another 13-meters boat:

I have been building my boat for 6 years. I worked for 12-16 hours per day without days-off. My wife has already got used to the fact that I am building yachts throughout my life. “Frigate-2” has been sailing for two years so far. All outstanding yachtsmen do not change the yachts’ names. The yachts are changed, but the names remain the same, only the number is added. I decided to follow the example of Francis Chichester and Eric Tabarly, well-known yachtsmen in the past, and name my future yachts Frigate-2, Frigate-3, etc.

Vasyl on his own developed a sketch project and a model of the future boat. He tested it with sails here, on the bay. You can test the model with the help of a computer and 3D modeling.

– The second model was made on metal pattern. I have increased the model after the test. I have set up the hull for six months on the production space. I made a stamp, marking, made a spatula, cut sheets, weld them, cleaned it on a sandblast, grounded and brought to a yacht club. I have been doing the wooden part, compartments, interior equipment here, in place, for 5 years and 6 months.

While making sketch of the inside part, Vasyl examined a lot of variants using the photo from the Internet and chose what he liked:

– By the way, the engine of the “Frigate-2” is automotive, converted, because the real diesel for yachts costs from 5 to 10 K USD. But used one like this can be bought for a thousand USD and can be rebuilt. But of course, it’s a lot of work.

In 1999, the mining and processing plant completely stopped the financing of the yacht club and transferred it to the city ownership. The city does not have the funds to keep it. Therefore, they reorganized the club into the Children’s Youth Sports School, as a consequence they changed its status, added many different disciplines.

– Sailing is no longer essential. Now we have tennis and badminton there, and much more. The main thing is rowing. This year, our athlete Yuri Cheban got a medal at the Olympic Games. This is certainly good, but all funding is now aimed at the rowing developed. Therefore, yachting in our country will remain on an amateur basis. The old name “yacht club” has been preserved, but it has been for 16 years now as a Sport School, and the yacht club is just the name. There is a sailing section here and there is a group of people who have been yachting, mainly cruising. We participate in the competitions. By the way, this year in Svitlovodsk competitions among cruiser yachts were held. Our yacht took part and took the second place. This is also good. Self-made yacht but took a place at the Ukrainian championship, when everyone around are on super-boats, it is difficult to compete with.

You could even sail around the world on a yacht made by Vasyl Leshchenko. But actually, you have to be prepared morally and physically, but more morally. For example, the smallest yacht that sailed around the world was from Russia. Eugeniy Gvozdev from Makhachkala built it on the balcony of “Khrushchovka” (type of low-cost, concrete-paneled or brick three- to five-storied block of flats). The length of its hull was 3.5 m.

– This was a really courageous man. When he went sailing he was already 50. He made a second voyage when he was already 70. Unfortunately, when he went to the third voyage, he ran into a storm near the Italian coast and died. This man was a unique person from our part of the world. However, in the West, it is not considered as an adventure. In marine countries people live on yachts for 10-15 years with families. Very often they travel throughout their life.

Vasyl also remembers a dangerous incident on the water:

– Once we got on a 4-meter waves in the Kremenchuk Reservoir. On a small 5-meter boat, we lifted on the wave top, dumped from it, and rolled. By the way, the weather was terrible, though it was in the summer. Rain, thunderstorm, it was getting dark. We found the island and called it the Island of Salvation. It has a very interesting shape of a hoof. There is a very cozy bayt, we spent the night there. The trees bend around, storm waves, and we felt as in God’s pocket. This was the only time of severe storm. And so, actually, we’ve never been in a strong storm.

There should be also a coastal permit for boat trips. Phrase “coastal navigation allowed” must be written in the ship’s ticket. Then the border guards let you go to the sea. Of course, unwillingly, because there are some peculiarities. Currently, sailors are required to have a marine radio station in order to maintain permanent contact with border guards. At their request, you must answer who you are, where you are going to and from where.

Ukrainian cities that used to be industrial giants are actively developing tourism now, thereby opening their second breath. There is everything in Horishni Plavni to get rid of heavy industry – enthusiasts who love it, water and yachts. Formally, Komsomolsk has became a more attractive city, but there is a difficult way ahead. It’s worth to attract people’s attention not only to the formal name, but also to a place, that is so welcoming to those who love the waters.

How we shot

You can find out more about our way from Kyiv to Horishni Plavni and how we met Vasyl Leshchenko watching our video blog from Poltava Oblast:

The material is prepared byText:Alex PortianText:Bogdan LogvynenkoEditor:Evgenia GrynOperator:Dmytro OchrimenkoOperator:Pavlo PashkoPhotos:Taras KovalchukVideo:Iuļiia RubļevskaMontage:Maria TerebusMontage:Mykola NosokAssistant:Ivanna ZarytskaTranslation:Nadia KutynskaTranslation editor:Elina FoinskaTranslation editor:Iuliia Derevianchuk

27 June 2017 20:06