02/06/2011, Mediterranean Sea
From Sardinia we headed towards the northern coast of Sicily, passing just south of a small volcanic island called Ustica, which is about 30 nautical miles north of the Sicilian capital city of Palermo. We had a reasonable current helping us along and made the waypoint during the night. The watch keeping was "interesting", in that there were a large amount of fishing boats in the area, all with nets marked by flashing strobe lights. In daylight we were passing more islands on our port side, heading towards the Straits of Messina. When passing the final large group of islands we passed a number of yachts with the Sunsail logo, all coming from the Sicilian mainland - there must be a Sunsail base there somewhere.
Just as it was getting dark on Wednesday evening we made our approach to the straits and called into the traffic control to notify them of the start of our transit. For those not aware, the Straits of Messina is the narrow section of water between Sicily and the Italian mainland. It is quite a busy stretch of water with a large amount of shipping traffic making use of it. Have a look on Google Earth to get a better idea. The transit only took just over three hours but all three of us were on watch to ensure we did not get in the way of any of the main shipping. It was an experience for both Dave and Josh - I have done the transit previously.
Soon after midnight we were through the straits and are now heading east-southeast towards the Aegean Sea and Greek waters. All going well, we should get there by Saturday night. We then have to cross the Aegean Sea and complete our delivery on the western coast of Turkey, with an ETA of Wednesday June 8.
At the moment we have no wind and are motoring, averaging 5.5 knots. When I say "no wind", I mean just that - the sea is flat and like a mirror. These conditions should remain until tomorrow evening and then we should, if the predictions are correct, start picking up light head winds, which should build to about 15 knots by Saturday evening. Hopefully we can get into the Aegean Sea before the winds get too strong as the winds in the Aegean are light and from the south, which will suit us well. We then have another three days to the Turkish port of Fethiye, where we will clear customs and immigration before sailing the boat the last 15 miles to the small harbour of Gocek, where the Sunsail and Moorings charter company have their base.
Before I sign off, I need to mention that since leaving Sardinia, we have come across so much garbage floating in the sea, it is frightening. Most of it is in the form of plastic bags and plastic sheets with many bottles and plastic containers thrown into the mix. The human race is really messing up the environment with no care in the world. We, on the other hand, have a number of garbage bags in our forward lazarette, ready to dispose of at our next port of call.
Now you know where we are and what our schedule is. So, until the next blog report, regards from Josh, Dave and myself, John.
30/05/2011, North Atlantic
Last week we changed course towards the southern end of Sardinia and on Sunday morning arrived in the beautiful small port city of Cagliari, Sardinia. There were two reasons for this. The first was to discharge Mathys off the crew list, as he had decided that he had had enough and that sailing was not his idea of fun. We went through the formalities and by that evening he was sharing accommodation in the city with three young American girls and one American male. We wish him well on his land-based adventures.
The second reason was to take on more fuel. We have basically motor-sailed all the way from Gibraltar and were getting low on diesel. It was quite shocking to have to pay Euros 1.58 per litre for diesel, which is equivalent to R15.00 per litre back home, where we paid R8.00 when we departed Cape Town - basically half of the price I just paid in Italy!
We departed again at noon on Monday and are now making our way east with a slight bit of south thrown in, heading for the Straits of Messina. This is the narrow stretch of water between Sicily and mainland Italy. The weather forecast is very light winds from the east-southeast for the next few days, which means we are motor-sailing again.
It is quite tiring running a watch system with only three persons on board, but it will only be for a week or so during this final 1000 nautical mile leg. We expect to arrive in Turkey, all being well, around the 7th or 8th of June. We then spend a few days cleaning the boat, giving it that final "spit n polish", before handing it over to the base for charter. Dave will be flying to the Caribbean, where he will be joining his wife for a months sail around the islands on his own catamaran, whilst Josh is wanting to get some work on a large charter boat. I will be flying home to Cape Town.
Since leaving Gibraltar we have had an endless chatter of moronic nonsense on marine VHF channel 16, all appearing to emanate from the North African coast. This includes a bunch of pea-brained idiots playing Arabic radio stations, swearing continuously, making animal sounds and trying to block out ship to ship communications where ships are trying to avoid collisions. I do not know how the civilised European countries put up with this continuous interference. Something urgently needs to be done about it as it is causing a serious danger to shipping. It has become so bad, especially at night, that we have to turn the volume of our VHF radio right down to try and minimise the continuous babble, which means being extra vigilant during our watches.
Well, as the VHF chatters away in the background, greetings, until the next blog report, from Dave, Josh and myself, John.
26/05/2011, North Atlantic
So, here we are, heading in an easterly direction with the marine VHF radio monitoring channel 16 round the clock. It is a never ending chatter of ships trying to avoid each other, coastal stations calling ships and broadcasting weather channels to listen to and other traffic in languages nobody seems to understand. Then we have heard one ship having its crew rescued somewhere near the Straits of Gibraltar - it appeared to be a small vessel that sank.
The Spanish rescue services have also been busy trying to find a crewman that had fallen overboard from a freighter. Yesterday we heard one of the Spanish Coast Guard vessels busy picking up refugees out of a small boat, just over the horizon and in the main shipping lane. I then observed their two vessels returning, coming directly for us, when they shot off at an angle, about a mile and a half from us, and found another group of refugees drifting in a small boat. They then headed back to the Spanish coast and ignored us.
We have had a small twin engine spotter plane fly over us twice and this morning, Wednesday 25 May, had a helicopter with FLIR cameras hover just off our starboard side - obviously we are now in their surveillance file. However, we all did smile for the camera and gave them the required wave.
At noon today (Wednesday 25 May) we have approximately 1460 nautical miles to our destination. At our current speed, this equates to an arrival date of 7 June. However, we have no wind at the moment at the predictions for the days ahead do not look much better. We are burning a lot of fuel at the moment, simply to keep moving. We may have to make a further stop along the route to obtain more fuel, but will leave that decision for over the coming weekend.
At the moment the off-watch crew are mostly either sleeping or reading books in their cabins. It is cold outside and the warmest place is either in the direct sun or in your cabin. There is a bit of general activity around midday, when everybody makes themselves a snack to eat and the main general activity around 5pm, when dinner is being prepared. Tonight it is to be fish caught this morning, tossed with fusile pasta and some vegetables. The fish is Bonita, which really needs to be eaten when mixed with something else. We still have two packs of Wahoo and one pack of sailfish in the freezer, but are keeping those for a later meal.
And now after an overnight break in typing up the blog, we can report that at 10 minutes past midnight last night, during my watch, we were approached by an unlit ship. Soon after I saw it in the dim light available from the clear stars, all hell broke loose and we had four rubber ducks all round us with searchlights and military personnel armed to the teeth. It was a patrol from a joint French/Spanish warship that I had first seen without lights. We welcomed a boarding party aboard and they spent an hour going through the boat and our papers. They were all friendly but efficient in the task they were assigned and departed in a friendly manner. I must point out that we were in international waters and they, legally, were not allowed to board our vessel but, we have nothing to hide, and they were invited to board by myself. It is good to know that the waters are being well patrolled to ensure our safety. The photograph above is of one of the Spanish contingent waiting for his French officer to check all our passports.
Well, from a sleep deprived crew, I bid you well until the next blog report in a few days time - John.
24/05/2011, North Atlantic
We arrived in the Bay of Gibraltar on Saturday evening and tried to moor at a marina on the Spanish side of the bay. Within an hour we had the Spanish police telling us that we were not welcome and must leave. The one policeman could speak a bit of English and told us that we had to go to the British side of the bay. I tried to explain that we had Schengen visas but not British ones, but it made no difference - we left before it was too dark and headed over to "The Rock".
Sheppard's Marina was full and the next one, Queensway Quay Marina, where I had been before, welcomed us. As Mathys and I are South African, we now need visas for Britain and for Gibraltar, so we had to pay Pounds 75.00 for a short stay "letter of permission" plus the marina fees. What the hell, we paid and had a darn good sleep that night with no bouncing and banging.
Sunday was spent checking all our rigging, engines, cordage and a hundred other small items on the boat that could break, chafe or go wrong. Then Dave and I set off to the local supermarket to get some extra fresh provisions, returning with just enough to get us back to the boat without ripping our arms off - we had to walk the two kilometres back carrying everything.
Monday morning we fuelled up the boat. Let me explain that Gibraltar is supposed to be "duty free". Diesel is expensive, so for others following, buy diesel elsewhere and save some money! Then off we went - back to bashing into a twenty knot wind for the rest of the day. As I write this, it is Tuesday morning and the wind has died, the sails are stowed and we are motoring with just a slight breeze out of the east. The weather forecast is that it will remain like this for the remainder of the day and tomorrow we should have even less breeze as we motor into the centre of a high pressure system.
Coming through the Straits of Gibraltar is always an eye-opener for those that have not done that trip before. We entered via the northern small craft lane and had no problems with the numerous fishing nets on the southern small craft lane, which we were monitoring on the VHF. Now we are further into the Mediterranean Sea, the shipping is still all around us but far better spread out and a person can see the lanes the commercial ships generally stick to.
At the moment it is cold and we can even see the snow on the mountains well to the north of us. We have about 1600 nautical miles to go to our destination, which should take us about a week and a half, depending if we have to motor or do get some wind up ahead to be able to sail with. More on progress in a future blog report.
Now let's get back to that pigeon. We did not eat it! It spent the night on board and took off, flying south (back to Africa), when we were in the Straits of Gibraltar. It did leave its calling card in the form of guano everywhere it had been on deck, which was washed off the moment it took flight. So far this trip we have had a number of birds landing on the boat - two common noddies, two swallows, a dove and the pigeon. There was one other bird that wanted to take refuge in the sail cover but I have no idea what it was and it only stayed for about half an hour.
I had a query from somebody "down under" regarding how I communicate and send and receive email. It is actually quite simple. I have a small Icom HF radio (IC 706 Mk IIg), which is connected to an SCS PTC-IIpro radio modem, which plugs into my laptop, using Airmail software. The antenna side is cabled aft to the engine room where there is a small AH-4 automatic antenna tuner. The antenna side of the tuner is connected to a 13.5 metre long electrical wire which is inside a length of ski rope, which in turn is taken up the mast. The earth side of the tuner is connected to another 13.5 metre length of electrical wire, which I tow behind the boat and acts as the earth or ground to the system. I work the Winlink station all over the world with this setup, and have been doing so for many years. It is free to all licensed HAM's and has been of great value for email communications. On the other side of the coin, I can also communicate via voice using the radio, if the need arises. If you want further information, drop me an email via the link on the right of this page and I will let you know once the delivery is over and I can sit down and write further about the system.
I wish you all well for now and send greetings from Mathys, Josh, David and myself, John.
20/05/2011, North Atlantic
So, today we had hoped to start our transit of the Straits of Gibraltar but, due to having headwinds for the past twenty four hours, it is not to be! So, as we have been bouncing into the oncoming swell and wind, we received a visitor, in the form of a racing pigeon that has dropped out of some race and decided that flight is bad and catamaran sailing is good!
So, we have pigeon 2010#200689 (pictured above and with a green band), sitting on one of our empty diesel cans, enjoying the ride. We have no idea where he is meant to go but, if it is Spain, he is in luck! Anybody reading the blog who can trace his owner? He landed on the boat at 15:00 local time (20 May 2011) at position 35 degrees 27 minutes north, 008 degrees 04 minutes west.
And back to the transit of the Straits of Gibraltar. Since yesterday afternoon we have had headwinds, varying from 24 knots down to 18 knots, directly on the nose. Basically, we should have been able to get through the straits during tonight and tomorrow morning. However, we have been going so slowly that the transit will only happen tomorrow night into Sunday morning. As I type this, we have about 90 nautical miles to go to the western entrance to the straits. We already know that the winds in the straits are out of the east, which means it will also be a slow transit with a lot of banging and bashing into the oncoming seas - catamarans do not like those sort of conditions!
Thanks for the readers who have sent me updates of the Libyan situation. All of it is very relevant as we need to make the decision of how to pass the area without whacking an unlit refugee boat at night or getting tangled up with some conflict with warships involved. As we progress towards the area, we will reassess the situation, taking the predicted winds and weather into consideration, together with what we have been told. Please note that only a few people know my email address used whilst at sea - it is not the one on the right of this page! Emails to that address can only be accessed whilst I am ashore.
So, as we are all bored and waiting to get into a port for a day or so, nothing really is happening on board. The excitement for the day is the pigeon landing on board (and still enjoying the free ride) and, believe it or not, an empty Styrofoam box floating in the sea, that we passed. A very exciting day, don't you think? Ah, I hear you think, they really have lost the plot!
So, as Josh prepares the pigeon and I make the pie pastry, I bid you well until we have reached the Mediterranean Sea, which should be only a day or two from now. Regards from the motley crew - John.