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Archive for June, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA

June 15th, 2012 No comments

In our wildest dreams, our Med Adventure did not include North Africa. . .but the thing about “adventures” is that they take you to places that you never imagined going. 

After spending considerable time in Sicily and hearing cruising tales of Tunisia–including the fact that diesel fuel and yard work are super cheap–how could we not make a 132 NM overnight passage to Africa–leave at noon, and arrive the next morning.  Besides, some dolphins accompanied us on the way to Trapani where we planned to check out of the EU, and every sailor knows that dolphins bring good luck.

Dolphins racing Destiny. . .guess who won!

Trapani is a large commercial port on the west coast of Sicily and makes a good jumping off point for a passage to Tunisia. 

A fort greets visitors to Trapani.

The harbormaster in Trapani runs a very tight ship and fines of 300 euros are handed out to any captain who dares to enter the harbor without calling in.  The dolphins must be lucky because we poked into the first marina we saw and were immediately told to “radio in”–a savings of 300 euros right there!

Once settled into Marina Vento di Maestrale (highly recommended for our cruising friends) I went to check out with the Guardia Costeria.  The English speaking marina manager arranged for the Immigration officers to come to the marina to stamp our passports, and we were off.

A fishing boat accompanied us out of the harbor. . .arrivederci Sicily!

We have frequently left the EU for other countries, but this was our first voyage to another continent.  Thankfully, the wind Gods cooperated and we were able to sail for the first half of the trip.

Making 7 kts. in 15 kts. of breeze.

As sunset arrived, we were motorsailing and the passage through the straits between Sicily and Tunisia took us through a heavily travelled shipping lane.  We were very glad to have AIS which allowed us to track up to 22 vessels at a time that were converging on us, and even communicate with one or two whose paths were dangerously close.

As the sunsets we are out of sight of land and any other ships. . .but only for a while as AIS targets start popping up.

When we are on overnight passages we take turns doing “watches” although I think Kent sleeps with one eye open.  My watch is usually until midnight and Kent does midnight to 4 a.m. after which I come back on watch.

At 5 a.m. we were within 27 NM of our destination–Marina Yasmine, just south of Hammamet.  There were small fishing boats off the coast, dotting the horizon with red and green lights.  Then sunrise–my favorite time of day.

As dawn breaks, only Destiny's wake disturbs the flat calm water. . .

until the African sun is above the horizon erasing the pink of morning.

As we entered the marina we had our first “Barbary Coast” sighting as a pirate ship filled with boistrous vacationers blasted its way past us.

We entered Port Yasmine. . .

as a pirate ship was leaving. . .

loaded with vacationers from one of many hotels that line the beach.

After checking in at three offices, and being boarded by customs and immigration police with their hands out for “gifts”, we were officially in Tunisia.  Jolie, for one was glad to be back in sight of land.

Jolie's nose starts twitching after a passage as we get near land.

Our first impression?  Marina Yasmine in Hammamet is to Tunisia what Fort Lauderdale is to Florida.  More Tunisia to follow.

Categories: North Africa, Tunisia Tags:

STORMY WEATHER

June 15th, 2012 No comments

Late spring weather in the Med can be unpredictable, and we have learned the hard way that anchoring in an unprotected spot can have unexpected consequences.  However, anchoring in new seemingly protected anchorages can also have unexpected consequences.  That was the case in late May at Castellammara del Golfo on a large bay on the northwest coast of Sicily.

Castellammare del Golfo sits at the base of a steep mountain. . .

with a high concrete breakwater and pier still under construction.

We arrived in the man-made harbor about 7:25 p.m. just before sunset and were greeted by a local boat directing us to a dock.   The weather was supposed to be benign overnight with strong winds forecast by mid-day the following day, so we begged off and said “tomorrow we will come to the dock”.  BIG mistake

There were several marina pontoons in the harbor. . .

but we opted to anchor out to enjoy the privacy and view of the town at night.

We anchored, had a nice dinner aboard and were very proud of having saved a few euros by delaying for a night heading to the dock. . .that is until we were awakened from a sound sleep at 11:25 p.m. by the roar and vibration of the wind.  The strong winds arrived about twelve hours early sounding like a freight train.  

The rest of the night we spun around on the anchor in gusty wind that averaged 35-40 kts., while Kent sat in the cockpit on “anchor watch” and I checked GPS coordinates at the nav station.  The steep mountain rising up from the town funneled the wind into the anchorage making the breakwater just one more threat to our safety.

At dawn our stern was about two boat lengths from some nasty looking metal pilings that were intended for a new quay.

At dawn we could see just how close the metal pilings were. . .time to move.

The wind died just enough for us to make a break to the dock–the one we could have been safely tied to all night. . .and slept.

Once the stormy weather arrived, it hung on for a couple of days, with sporadic pouring rain and occasional peeks of sun during which we explored the small fishing village. 

A fisherman mends his nets. . .

while tourists sit under palms in the park. . .

or enjoy the small beach near the marina.

Black clouds hung over the town, with a few sunny breaks, but eventually a rainbow arrived.

Finally a rainbow appeared that stretched from the harbor entrance. . .

to the town.

That evening a pink sky signaled the front had passed and we could head south.

Pink sky at night. . .sailors delight!

All in all May in Sicily was not our best month in the Med.  The weather systems come through frequently and last for days.  We were pinned down for several days in the Aeolian Islands due to strong winds, and spent days in Riposto trying to get through the Straits of Messina.

Tunisia here we come!

Categories: Europe, Italy Tags:

CELEBRATING FRIENDSHIP

June 6th, 2012 No comments

Kent has known Ann and Dudley Welch for almost the entire 40 years that they have been married as of April.  We were delighted that they decided to share their special anniversary trip by spending a week with us on Destiny in Sicily.

Ann & Dudley still smiling after 40 years!

We had a rather aggressive schedule planned that included Siracusa to the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily, but the unpredictable weather near the beginning of May kept us in port rather than cruising for several days.  Welcome to the Med, where there is “too little or too much wind” and it is always on your nose. 

Ann and Dudley met us in Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily, and for the next week we were on “vacation” with friends doing all the stuff that tourists do.

We walked along the sea. . .

like tourists do. . .

visited cathedrals. . .

shopped in the outdoor market. . .

and ate gelato.

Siracusa is one our favorite towns in Sicily and it was fun to share it with friends.

Siracusa has ornate baroque buildings. . .

colorful flowers. . .

and parks with ancient trees.

Our next stop was Catania just 30 NM north of Siracusa.  We had a lovely motor sailing passage to Catania with Mt. Etna as our visual reference.

Mt. Etna is visible under the jib. . .

and off the bow.

As we approached the harbor, Mt. Etna dominates the landscape.

Mt. Etna is clearly visible as we approach Catania harbor.

Catania, like Siracusa, has more cathedrals and statuary than you can count.  Oh, and tourists.

The cathedral steps are a gathering place for locals. . .

under the watchful eye of saints. . .

while tourists tend to travel in packs.

You can’t visit Sicily for the first time without visiting both Mt. Etna and Taormina, and we were anxious for Ann and Dudley to see both. . .by car.  The nearest marina from which to land tour was located at Riposto. 

The marina at Riposto is first class. . .

but its proximity to Mt. Etna leaves boats and streets covered with volcanic ash.

Mt. Etna had erupted covering Riposto and the marina with gritty, black ash just a week before we arrived.  Piles of ash were swept up in various spots, but much remained on the streets and covered boats in the marina. They use leaf blowers to blow the ash off boats and into the water.

Unfortunately, we got lost getting to Mt. Etna, our sense of direction being better on water where we rely on the GPS.  Once there the lovely snow covered fields were blackened with volcanic ash.

Mt. Etna's snow covered sloops. . .

are covered with volcanic ash up close.

Taormina may be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Kent and I first visited it on our honeymoon and it was great fun to see it again through fresh eyes.  The last time we were here, Destiny was anchored below the town. This time of year the anchorage is too exposed and the weather too unpredictable to safely leave the boat on anchor.

Entering Taormina is stepping back into the past. . .

replete with gates. . .

and piazzas. . .

and the remnants of a Roman amphitheater which I explored with Ann & Dudley. . .

while Kent & Jolie hung out at a cafe.

Taormina also has expensive shops and restaurants with lush garden terraces and fabulous views.

Boun Apetito!

 The balance of the week was spent waiting for a weather window to head north through the Straits of Messina. 

Destiny kept coming back to the same slip at Riposto. . .

after aborted attempts to leave.

In fact, we left the marina at Riposto three times before we actually made that passage.  Once we barely cleared the breakwater before turning back and the next we made it all the way to Taormina before turning back.

Finally, on the third try we made the Straits of Messina. . .

and while it was good to be sailing. . .

the kite boarders were probably having more fun.

All in all it was a wonderful week made all the more enjoyable by sharing it with Ann and Dudley. 

Congratulations on 40 years, dear friends!

Categories: Europe, Italy Tags:

SICILIAN SPRING HAS SPRUNG

June 6th, 2012 No comments
By late April Sicilians are drawn outdoors by the brilliant sunshine and bright blue skies, just as we are drawn to leave the security of our berth at Marina di Ragusa and continue our “Med Adventure”.

At our farewell dock party. . .

Kent proposed a toast to all the Marina di Ragusa cruisers.

And then we were off–leaving friends is bittersweet.

Arrivederci, old and new friends at Porto Turistico Marina di Ragusa!

Our route took us back north along the eastern Sicilian coast where we were scheduled to meet our friends Ann and Dudley Welch in Siracusa.  Along the way we had a chance to see how Sicilians enjoy spring’s arrival.
Boats of all sizes and shapes leave their winter homes.

Square-riggers set sail. . .

like "Star Clipper" from Malta.

 But there are other ways to enjoy the sea

Day excursion boats transport tourists to caves. . .

or students on school trips. . .

and families enjoy fun in the sun on small inflatables with BIG engines.

There are some more unusual outdoor sports this time of year as well.  Take for example the waterpolo competition we saw in Siracusa–using kayaks (called canoes locally)–I kid you not!

Siracusa Canoapolo is a big, well organized event.
The field is between two bridges with nets suspended from each.

As they scramble for the ball. . .

under the watchful eye of the official. . .

it is easy to see why they wear helmuts.

While “canoapolo” is a sport for the young, there is sport for the “young at heart”.  While sitting at an outdoor cafe we heard the roar of motorcycles–at least 50 by count that roared into the little square and proceeded through the gate into the Old Town of Siracusa.  These elegant bikes, ridden mostly by couples, appeared to be on excursion together–what a way to travel!

One by one. . .

all equally elegant. . .

they disappeared through the town gate the noise of their engines echoing off the walls.

But some fun in the sun is more sedate.

Little girls tool around on little pink trikes. . .

while fashionable young women chat on cells and promanade in treacherously high platform shoes.

 The local monuments are dramatic against the azure blue spring sky.

And there are plenty of cathedrals. . .

and forts to visit like this one at the entrance to Siracusa.

 Tourist season has begun in earnest.

Accordian music wafts through the air. . .

for the enjoyment of outdoor cafe patrons.

There is a universal appeal to spring and the anticipated arrival of summer that transcends culture and geography.  Sicilians are doing what Bostonians, and Croatians, and Turks are doing this time of year.  Awakening from their winter hibernation and soaking up the sun.

Categories: Europe, Italy Tags: