Aisling I

25 June 2016 | Porto Azzurro Elba
11 April 2016 | Marina di Ragusa
14 January 2016
25 September 2015 | Crotone Italy
18 September 2015 | Erikoussa
10 September 2015 | Preveza
10 September 2015 | Preveza
24 July 2015 | Preveza
13 July 2015 | Vlicho Bay
03 July 2015 | Preveza Greece
21 June 2015
28 April 2015
09 April 2015 | Marina di Ragusa
16 October 2014 | Marina di Ragusa
25 September 2014 | Licata Sicily

On the Move!

25 June 2016 | Porto Azzurro Elba
Bonnie and Rick
Rick started this blog in 2007, mainly as a way to communicate with our family and friends during our eastward passage across the Atlantic. The early postings spoke of sea state, boat speed and course, meals eaten, crew morale and equipment issues. We uploaded our posts through Sailmail, using the single side band radio, without photos. Typing on a portable keyboard as the boat heeled and bucked, we paid little attention to spelling or grammar. Inexplicably, a large number of people began following our journey. Later, the blog evolved into a travel diary, with descriptions of the things we experienced on land overtaking the sailing stories. We added more photos, provided detailed cruisers’ notes of the places we visited and paid more attention to grammar and spelling. Suddenly the posts were taking longer to write.

Then life got busier. Caring for elderly parents meant that our sailing days became less carefree. Rick’s mother died in the fall of 2014, and his father less than 4 months later. In addition to the grief of their loss, there is a long list of tasks that must be completed. My mother developed a relentlessly progressive dementia, which makes me sadder than I can possibly explain. Care arrangements must be made, houses must be sold, and belongings must be sorted. We are not complaining. We know that sooner or later, everyone encounters such difficulties. But somehow, we lost our enthusiasm for writing blog posts. Eventually I hope to fill in the gaps, because this has been a very special time in our lives. But this post will skip ahead to what’s happening now, complete with grammar and spelling mistakes.

This year will mark the end of Aisling I’s Mediterranean adventures. Several months ago, we decided to ship her back to North America to be sold. Unfortunately, instead of sailing her to Genoa to meet the ship in May as we had planned, we got sidetracked by a tantalizing offer to buy her where she sat, in Sicily. That came to naught. We ran out of time and flew home to Halifax. Then we received word that a Seven Stars transport ship would be leaving Genoa during the last week of June, bound for Sydney Nova Scotia. This was an amazing turn of events, since the usual destinations are Florida and Pennsylvania. But we weren’t sure we could get Aisling to Genoa fast enough. We were still in Nova Scotia, and Aisling was on the southeast coast of Sicily, over 600 nautical miles from Genoa . The forecasts said there would be winds from the north of varying strengths. Could we make it on time? We decided to give it a try.

We arrived in Marina di Ragusa on June 17thth, after a 24 hour journey that included far too many stops. With the forecast showing a nasty weather system headed for the south coast of Sicily, we had no time to lose. “Wash the boat and leave” our friend Goran advised.

Washing the boat was essential: a nasty scirocco had come through, leaving Aisling coated in a layer of Sahara sand and mud. Otherwise, the boat was almost ready to sail. We quickly bought provisions, took a drive to Comiso to buy new fire extinguishers, and tested our life vests. Less than 30 hours after climbing aboard, we were underway. Other than Saro, the marinaro who helped us untie our lines, and Porto, the goofy yellow lab who masquerades as the port’s watchdog, no one saw us leave. Most of our friends had left weeks ago for their summer cruising. It was an anticlimactic way to leave the place that had been our home away from home for nearly 5 years. Rick seemed a bit sad, but I felt strangely energized. If we could land Aisling in Sydney, the payoff would be big. This would put us a stone’s throw away from the Bras d’Or lakes, one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world. For a Cape Bretoner, nothing beats coming home.

Quick overnight stops in Porto Palo and Siracusa allowed me to gain my sea legs before we embarked on longer passages. (Rick’s sea legs are always with him, even after months on land.) In Porto Palo, we experienced an intense thunder storm. Unfortunately, since the dust from the scirocco was still in the air, this deposited more brown mud on Aisling’s decks. Argh. On Fathers’ Day evening, we ate spaghetti alla carbonara while gazing at the view of Siracusa from Aisling’s cockpit one last time. Rick assured me that we’d be back. But Aisling wouldn’t be.

From Siracusa, it was an easy run into the Strait of Messina. Here the conditions ranged from flat calm in the approaches, to a 20 knot headwind off Reggio di Calabria, complete with countercurrents and eddies known locally as “i bastardi” (I’m sure you’ll have no trouble guessing the translation!). With “stanka” (slack tide) projected for 8 p.m., we began to worry that the current would turn before we made it through. But when we hit the narrowest part of the Strait, the current grabbed us and hurled us into the Tyrhennian sea at an astonishing 10 knots of speed! Around us, waves broke as though we were white water rafting on a tidal bore. Then we escaped into calmer waters and pointed the bow toward Stromboli, hoping for a midnight sighting of its active volcano. Our next stop would be the island of Ponza, 140 miles to the north.

Just before we sailed out of cellphone range, we received the news that our daughter Katherine would be having an appendectomy the following day. Not wanting to be out of communication with her, we contemplated turning back to Tropea. Then I realized that we could use the satellite phone to stay in touch, so we were able to continue. I had lots on my mind as we approached Stromboli on my midnight watch, but two eruptions from the summit at around 2 a.m. and the brilliant full moon behind us made it impossible to stay glum.

On the way to Ponza, I scribbled in a notebook “The sea is lumpy and the wind is light but on the nose, as usual. We are under motor with only the staysail up to steady us, but it is actually quite pleasant. The water is a brilliant blue, and a large pod of dolphins just came to visit, cavorting at the bow in a graceful ballet. Each time the boat leaps through a wave, they leap too. Rick said it is as though they were saying “I can jump higher than you can!” As they passed the bow, each dolphin would roll a quarter turn and look at Rick, eye to eye.

At 10 a.m. on June 22nd, after two nights at sea, we approached Ponza, with its surreal rock formations and steep cliffs. This would be the second time we had approached the shoreline of this island without exploring ashore. We were feeling reasonably rested, and decided to push on. We pulled up to the fuel dock, filled our tanks with 400+ euro worth of fuel (gulp!) and made a quick run up the dock to buy some bread and fresh milk. Then we were off again, heading up the coast toward Rome.

But a big disappointment was in store. Shortly after leaving Ponza, we received an email from Seven Stars saying that the ship that was going to Sydney would be bypassing Genoa due to lack of cargo. The next potential load date would be mid-July, and Aisling would have to be shipped to Florida or Pennsylvania. The only silver lining was that there was no longer a need to rush. We continued to sail through the night, but the following morning, rather than sailing straight through to Elba, we dropped our anchor at Porto Ercole.

Porto Ercole is a charming little town, overlooked by several forts against a backdrop of beautiful mountains and forests. Our lunch at il Gambero Rosso was memorable: if this is only the 11th best restaurant in Porto Ercole (as Trip Advisor claimed) I can’t imagine how good the best restaurant must be!

The next morning, we decided to continue to Elba. We knew it would be an upwind sail, but it was less than 45 miles away. Surely we could just tack our way there. Unfortunately, we hadn’t bargained on the 20 knot headwind and the short steep seas up to 2 meters in height that we battled all the way. When your boat is 43’ long and the waves are only 20’ apart there is lots of banging and crashing, with speeds sometimes dropping abruptly from 6 knots to 2 knots as the boat slammed into the waves. We were pretty tired by the time we arrived in the beautiful anchorage off Barbarossa beach in Porto Azzuro on the island of Elba last night.

But we’re here! We’ve intended to come to Elba since our first year in the Mediterranean, and we’ve finally managed it. Ciao amici, we’re off to do some exploring!

Season 10 Episode 1 (Back to Rome)

11 April 2016 | Marina di Ragusa
Season 10! Can that be right? It's really only nine years since we sailed Aisling away from Halifax, but this will be our 10th consecutive summer of cruising in the Mediterranean. We'd only intended to stay for two or three years, but as it turned out, there's an awful lot to see here. Aisling looks much the same as when we left home, perhaps even a bit better, while Rick and I are definitely showing signs of wear. Too bad we can't take ourselves somewhere for a refit! Never mind, we are happy to be back on our boat, even if we can no longer be considered young cruisers.

We arrived back in Marina di Ragusa on Sunday, after a three-night stay in Rome with our friends Derek and Barbara Kennedy, who have been renting an apartment near the Porta Maggiore since December. As always, we enjoyed our time with them immensely. They are superb hosts who know Rome very well, and with them we tend to see things that are a bit off the main tourist track. Barbara was recovering from a badly sprained ankle, but she was such a trooper that we managed to cover a lot of ground during a short stay.

On Friday, we visited the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio. To get there, we took a bus to the Piramide station where, to our surprise, there really is an Egyptian-style pyramid, the Pyramid of Cestius. This pyramid was built around 12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a Roman praetor (judge), during an era when Romans were going wild for all things Egyptian. Later incorporated into the Aurelian walls that surround Rome, it provides an impressive backdrop for the cemetery.

The cemetery is a quiet and shady spot, with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs. Wisteria tumbles down the walls, and pansies bloom on graves. Although widely known as the "Protestant Cemetery", people of many faiths were buried here, including Eastern and Greek Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews. The graves of the poets Shelley and Keats are here, along with many other prominent individuals.

The remains of Keats lie surrounded by blooming irises in a field near the pyramid. His name does not appear on his headstone. The inscription reads: "This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water."

Actually, Keats had asked only for the words "Here lies one whose name was writ in water". His friends Joseph Severn and Charles Brown decided to add the bit about the bitterness of his heart (which just goes to show that even trusted friends won't necessarily respect your wishes after you are dead). Severn and his son are buried beside Keats.

One of the saddest parts of this story is that Keats' genius was not recognized during his lifetime. He died at the age of 25, of tuberculosis (then known as "consumption") during a time when little was understood about the disease. It is likely that the treatment he received actually hastened his death.

Shelley is another poet who had a short life and a sad death. In fact, his story makes a sea-going person shudder. He drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in northern Italy when returning from a visit to Byron on his schooner Ariel. His body washed up on shore a few days later. His body was cremated but oddly, his heart did not burn. For this reason, although his ashes are buried in Rome, his heart lies in Dorset England in the tomb of his second wife Mary, who apparently had kept the heart wrapped in a cloth for many years. As the author of Frankenstein, she probably didn't find this weird at all. Shelley's gravestone is inscribed with the words "Nothing of him that doth fade but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange". His close friend Edward Trelawny lies beside him.

As a side note, it is fitting that Keats and Shelley are buried in the same cemetery. Shelley greatly admired the poetry of Keats and wrote "Adonais" as an elegy to Keats. When Shelley's body was found, a copy of Keats' poetry was found in his pocket. (see

The graves of many lesser-known individuals were also poignant, with fine sculptural details. We spent more than an hour wandering around, reading tombstones and enjoying the tranquility of the place.

Because we lingered so long at the cemetery, we were very late reaching Il Vinaetto, the little enoteca where Derek and Barbara's friends congregate at midday. Lunch was pizza bought by the slice from nearby Forno Roscioli, which tasted almost as good as the superb vermentino wine recommended by the proprietor Matilde.

Walking through the vibrant neighbourhood that was the old Jewish ghetto, we saw small brass plaques embedded in the cobblestones. These are moving memorials to the many Jews who were dragged away from here by the Nazis.

On Saturday morning, we made our way to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to see an exhibition titled "The Caravaggio Experience". This exhibit was entirely virtual, with photos of Caravaggio's paintings projected on the walls of several exhibition rooms. Individual characters from the paintings were cropped out and magnified, showing details that could be missed when looking a painting in its entirety. The exhibit was accompanied by music, and (apparently) scents, but we were so caught up in the paintings that we didn't notice the scents. It was a great overview of Caravaggio's work, although nothing can compare with seeing the originals, several of which can be seen free of charge (or for a donation) in the churches of Rome. For example, the painting "the conversion of St. Paul" a section of which is shown in the photo below, can be seen in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, along with the Crucifixion of St. Peter.

From the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, we caught a cab to Trimani wine bar for lunch. Using English translations of Italian menus is always a bit risky, and the tomato "soup" with cod turned out to be nothing remotely resembling a soup, but everything was delicious. After a bit of shopping, we made our way back to the apartment.

The thing that delights me the most about Rome is how many amazing things you can see in a short walk or bus ride. I don't think I could ever grow tired of it.

Of course, no blog posting is complete without a discussion of food. On the night we arrived, we had dinner at the trattoria Fusco on Via Statillia. It was a delicious meal, but the memory of it dims in comparison to the meals we enjoyed at Casa Kennedy. Pasta with roasted tomatoes, sausage and basil, spaghetti carbonara, a stew of wild boar...and we won't mention the wines that they shared with us, lest our friends become envious. We hope to return their hospitality when they visit us in Sicily next week.

In the meantime, we are cleaning , polishing and tackling the usual projects onboard Aisling. Ciao for now amici, more to follow!

Aisling: do we really have to say goodbye?

21 March 2016 | Halifax
Bonnie/in the snow
It pains me to write this, but Aisling is for sale. I've heard people say that the two happiest days of boat owners' lives are the day they buy the boat and the day they sell it. I don't believe it. I fell in love with Aisling the first time I set eyes on her, and I can't imagine feeling anything but sadness when we walk away from her for the last time.

In the 16 years that we've owned Aisling, she has taken us on many grand adventures. While we were both working full time, we had wonderful summer vacations with our family in Mahone Bay and Cape Breton. With our close friend and "science officer" Nancy, as well as our beloved mutt Shakespeare, we sailed to Maine and had an idyllic time exploring gorgeous coves, hiking and eating lobster. Next came a magical journey to St. Pierre and the south coast of Newfoundland. And when we completed our first ocean passage from Halifax to Bermuda, we danced on the dock and felt like we had conquered the world.

Then, in 2007, Aisling safely carried us across the Atlantic to the Azores, and from there to northern Spain and into the Med. She kept us so comfortable and safe that what was meant to be a 2 or 3 year adventure evolved into a 9 year epic. Cruising is a surprisingly affordable way to see the world, especially on a boat of Aisling's size. Her broad beam gave us lots of space below decks, yet her overall length of 12.4 meters kept us in a sweet spot for low docking fees. In most places, we anchored out and stayed for free. Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Tunisia, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania...each new country brought us new learning and new experiences. We did it at our own pace, cooking meals in our own kitchen and sleeping in our own comfortable bed. One evening, as we sailed in a stunningly beautiful anchorage on the island of Lefkada in Greece, our friend Jaap greeted us. "How do you like my garden?" he asked, pointing toward the spectacular mountain view. Or, as another cruiser put it, "It's like owning a condo where you can change your view every day". OK, I admit that guy's boat had more in common with a condo than Aisling does, but you get the point.

Last year, we were already contemplating listing Aisling, and we tidied up to take some photos to send to a broker. Then, she looked so good that keeping her seemed like a better idea.

But now we've decided to go ahead with it. The biggest reason is that we want to spend more time with our family. We still want to cruise, but we'd like to have a bit more space for our adult children to visit. And as the years pass, we're beginning to think that a boat with some additional labour-saving devices could help us to continue cruising in the years to come. We always thought we would sail Aisling back across the Atlantic, but I'm not in a position to do that right now because of my mother's health. So in May, we'll sail from Sicily north to Genoa and put Aisling on a big ship that will carry her back across the Atlantic. Then we'll meet her on the other side and decide what the next steps are. But if anyone wants to buy her where she is and sail her in European waters, drop us a line.

After all these years, Aisling almost feels like a sentient being to us. When we leave her to fly home each winter, we pat her hull and say "Don't worry, we'll be back in the spring!" We haven't told her yet that she's for sale, and I'm not sure how we'll break the news. So if you happen to see her, mums the word. As for this blog, it's not over till the fat lady sings. We'll be continuing our postings as we make our way up the coast of Italy. After three months of Italian food and wine, I'm sure you can guess who the fat lady will be.

Click here for Aisling's listing on Yachtworld

Click here for more pictures of Aisling in our gallery

A Day Trip in Southern Albania

01 March 2016
I'm sure you've heard the old saying: "So much to see, so little time..." Do you know who said it first? We think it was Samuel Butler, although we're still discussing it. In any case, this quote describes our time in Albania very well. With so little time at our disposal, we wanted to see as much as possible. At 8.45 on the morning after our arrival, we walked up the hill to Agim and Gerti's office, where we would rendezvous with a guide and driver, as well as Carl and Mary Beth from Hatty Lee, who were joining us on our adventure. By 9 o'clock, we were on the road (a well-maintained modern highway) and less than half an hour later we arrived at Butrint.

This UNESCO World Heritage site has been inhabited for millennia, and was at various times a home to Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Christians, Venetians and the Ottomans. Ali Pasha had one of his many castles here. Butrint is located in a marshy area, and since much of the site was covered by mud for centuries it is very well preserved. Archeologists have deliberately left some of the ruins buried, in order to protect them. The fact that we had the peaceful wooded site almost entirely to ourselves made the experience almost surreal. However, we met two Serbian woman, (?Ana and Elena) as we entered the site, and our guide Alma kindly allowed them to join us for our tour. Alma, an extremely knowledgeable guide, has spent a great deal of time conversing with the archeologists who work on the site. We can't explain everything as well as she did, so we will let our photos tell the story:

Below is the Greek Theatre

Carvings in the theatre show the names of slaves who had been freed

The Roman forum

Alma explains that this was the site of a private residence, the Triconch palace.

Here we found the remains of a Byzantine basilica, with a beautiful piece of mosaic on display. The rest has been left underground to protect it from the elements.

The thick city walls have stood the test of time.

Here is Alma beside the Lion's Gate (but I still think the carving looks more like a pig than a lion).

On the well of the Nymphs, the inscription reads "Junia Rufina, friend of nymphs". How charming! I wouldn't mind having something like that on my tombstone.

Our tour of Butrint ended at a reconstructed Ottoman castle. We walked through the small museum, but spent most of our time enjoying the view.

After saying goodbye to Elena and Ana, we piled back into the van for the long but scenic drive through the mountains to Gjirokastra, a stone city that was the home of President Hoxha and therefore has been very well preserved. The grey stone roofs give the city a unique character. Our first stop is at the restaurant Kujtimi, where our lunch is excellent and inexpensive. Alma teaches us the word for thank you: Falaminderit. Unfortunately, since Albanian seems to have no similarity to other Indo-European languages, this will be the only word we master.

Gjirokastra is a university town, and Alma attended university here. How could anyone manage to study with a distracting view like this? I would spend all my time gazing out the window.

Wandering through some the shops, we stopped to speak with the woman in a local cooperative, who were painstakingly embroidering traditional Albanian costumes.

Ali Pasha certainly got around, and the castle at Gjirokastra was another of his acquisitions. Lord Byron (who, come to think of it, also pops up in an awful lot of places) visited him here. The setting can only be described as spectacular.

Inside the castle, a row of German tanks face off against a row of Italian tanks.

On the ramparts is an abandoned American plane, which was forced to land by the Albanians in 1957. It looks incongruous, like something from a movie set.

Alma also shows us a small shrine to the leader of a Muslim sect. This was the religion of her family, she tells us, but fewer people practice their religions now because it was considered unacceptable during Hoxha's regime.

The day is slipping away, and we wonder if we should give the museum a miss, but the staff person seems so anxious for us to visit that we decide to have a quick look. Inside, we see many interesting artifacts and photographs, and learn more about Albania's history. Much of the display is dedicated to the Albanian partisans, who fought against the occupying Nazis and Fascists. Another section explains that the most of the Jews of Albania survived during WWII, because they were hidden by local citizens. I suppose it may have been an idealized version of history, but we learned a lot.

On our way back, we stopped to get a closer look at a bunker.

The last stop on our itinerary would be the "Blue Eye" , a unique blue-coloured spring near Sarande. We had lingered too long at the castle, and Alma began to worry that the sun would go down before we arrived. We arrived in the nick of time, and were rewarded by the sight of the gorgeous blue spring as well as the sun setting over the hills. The water in the spring comes out of the ground at a very high rate and within 5 feet of the spring it becomes a raging river. Alma explained that the intense blue colour is a result of the limestone rock under the water. Whatever the reason, it was an enchanting place.

That night, we walked along the waterfront in Sarande and had an inexpensive and delicious dinner in the Garden restaurant. Arriving back at the dock, we met a fellow North American and his crew, whom we will leave nameless to protect their identities. This group was facing a dilemma: their lovely boat was aground on a rock beside the dock. There was a bit of tide, so hopefully it would float again in a few hours, but this was just the latest of a long litany of woes. No one was looking very happy. Through a series of mishaps, their Greek cruising permit had been left behind in Athens when their boat was taken to the Ionian. For some inexplicable reason, the Greek authorities refused to provide them with either a new permit or a copy of the old one, insisting that they either return to Athens to get their permit or make arrangements to have it sent to them. Having finally decided to make a run for it without the permit, they tried to rendezvous with friends in Corfu, but arrived too late for the party. To make matters worse, their dinghy had disappeared in an anchorage along the way. They had sailed to Albania without checking out of Greece, and now they were contemplating their next move: should they slip back into Greece and try to meet their friends in Ithaca? This would mean sailing under the radar of the Greek authorities, with neither a cruising permit nor a dinghy. Or should they try to straighten out the bureaucratic mess and forget about cruising with their friends? They were still pondering their options, but in any case, they would visit Butrint before leaving the next day.

The following morning, as we were preparing to leave, they sailed passed us in the anchorage. The skipper was at the helm, exuberant. "To hell with it, we're off to Ithaca!" he called. And then, "Butrint rocks!" As we watched the graceful boat sail off into a perfect summer day, we hoped it would all work out for the best.
Vessel Name: Aisling I
Vessel Make/Model: Slocum 43
Hailing Port: Halifax, NS, Canada
Crew: Rick and Bonnie Salsman
Crew from Halifax to Horta: Bonnie and Rick Salsman, Dave Morse, Wally Fraser Crew from Horta to Spain: Bonnie and Rick Salsman, Al Salsman, Rob Salsman We left Halifax, N.S. in June 2007, sailed to Horta, and explored the Azores for a month. [...]
The info below is a copy and paste from some literature about the Slocum 43. Please excuse the platitudes. Although I may like them , they are not truly mine. Aisling I is a 1987 Slocum 43, designed by Stan Huntingford. She has been designed to satisfy the sailor who wants the blue water, "get [...]
Aisling I's Photos - Corsica- Porto Pollo, Filatosa and Tizzano
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Added 4 August 2008