Aisling I

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
24 September 2014 | Licata Sicily

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.

An introduction to Albania

14 January 2016
Albania is just a stone's throw from Greece, yet for many years it was a no-go zone for cruisers. For most of us, the unpredictable weather in the Mediterranean provides enough of a challenge: who needs the thrill of sailing through waters that may or may not be strewn with naval mines? Until recently, many marine insurance policies didn't even provide coverage within Albanian waters. But lately, things have changed. We've met several cruisers who have visited Albania. Most, like us, were from outside the EU. Why? Because unless the owners of a foreign-flagged boat are prepared to pay a very big VAT bill, the vessel must leave EU waters at least once in every 18-month period. And the list of places in the Mediterranean to which one might escape is becoming shorter. Last year, we went to Tunisia. This year, after the shootings in Sousse, going to Tunisia didn't seem like such a good idea.

In any case, the idea of seeing Albania really appealed to us. We'd been told that it is a beautiful country, rich with history. In the spring, we'd met an Albanian woman named Adelina who was the cleaner and caretaker of an apartment we were renting. Adelina loved to chat, and she didn't sugar-coat the hardships she'd experienced in Albania. "We were so poor that we were hungry all the time" she said. But her face lit up when she described the beauty of her home country. "Is it more beautiful than Italy?" I asked? "Oh yes!" she exclaimed, "much more beautiful!" Well then. We should go.

Prior to 1992, a visit to Albania would have been impossible. Between 1944 and 1985, the country was under the iron fist of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hoe-ja). The country was poor and isolated, with Hoxha eventually breaking relations even with other communist leaders, believing their approaches to communism to be too liberal. Following Albania's departure from the Warsaw Pact, it seems that Hoxha's obsession with security proceeded into the realm of paranoia. Thousands of ugly bunkers were constructed, not only along the coast and borders, but throughout the country. Hoxha's grip on the country ended only with his death, and it took another 7 years for the country to make the transition to democracy.

We sail less than 15 miles to reach Sarande from Corfu, but it quickly becomes obvious that we've sailed into a different world. Although the widely-quoted figure of more than 700,000 bunkers may be apocryphal, it isn't surprising to see four creepy-looking concrete domes glaring at us ominously as we enter the harbour of Sarande. I dive for my camera as Rick calls Sarande port control on the VHF.

Even after speaking with port control, we aren't really sure where to go, so it's a relief to spot someone waving us in to the dock. It is Gherti, assistant to Agim, our agent, who is also the local port officer for the Ocean Cruising Club. We have emailed Agim in advance to request assistance, having been forewarned that an agent was necessary for the process of clearing in and out.

Gherti speaks perfect English, and quickly deals with the formalities. With our boat papers processed and our passports duly stamped, he climbs aboard to have a drink with us. A few minutes later we are joined by Carl and Mary Beth (S/V Hatty Lee), whom we had briefly met in Marina di Ragusa last spring. Hungry to learn about Albania, we launch a barrage of questions at Gherti, who provides us with a wealth of information. The first surprise is that Albanians don't call their country Albania. The true name of the country is actually Shqiperia (prounounced something like ship-ree-ya). The country's ancient history saw settlement by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, as well as a long era of Ottoman rule. In spite of this, the Albanian language is unique, bearing almost no resemblance to other European tongues. This in itself is a major isolating factor. The majority of the country is Muslim, although most are non-practicing due to the "official atheist" status of the country under Hoxha.

Life in Albania during communist times was very difficult, with those who spoke out against the government subjected to harsh measures. Even relatively minor misdemeanors could mean being assigned to the worst and most menial jobs. Although Gherti is too young to remember it, the official end of communism in 1992 represented a new beginning which allowed the country to begin a slow recovery. After 1992, Gherti's father returned to school and obtained a law degree. "My father has a strong character" Gherti tells us with pride.

One Gherti's most interesting stories involves the return of the gold from Albania's treasury, which had been looted by the Axis powers during World War II. The gold had been held in the Bank of England, but after the war the British refused to return it, because an incident in which two British navy ships struck mines in the Corfu channel, taking the lives of 44 men. It seemed pretty clear that Albania had mined the channel without warning the British, or at the very least had been aware that the mines were there. The British demanded reparations, the Albanians refused to accept responsibility and the matter dragged on for nearly fifty years. In 1996 the gold was returned to Albania, who in turn paid 2 million dollars in reparations to the British (and an additional 2 million to the United States for a separate property claim).

Our little party breaks up early, with Gherti going back to the office and Carl and Mary Beth heading to a waterfront restaurant for dinner. Before leaving, Gherti makes arrangements for a van with a driver and guide to take us touring the next day. The total cost will be 160 euros, to be shared with Carl and Mary Beth. Rick and I decide to spend the night at anchor instead of remaining at the dock. After all, the mines are long gone, right?
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 - October in Nova Scotia
Photos 1 to 15 of 40 | Aisling I (Main)
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Thanksgiving dinner at Lyn and Kevin
Thanksgiving dinner
Lyn and Katie in the kitchen
An after-dinner walk in the woods
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