07/28/2012, Mahon - Cala Teulera
Pic shows Saraoni on passage between Sardinia and the Balearics courtesy of Kit and Belinda on SV Quilcene
We finally left the tranquilty of Porto Conti at the crack of dawn and set sail, almost in convoy, with yachts Ice Maiden, Katanne and Quilcene. Sailing was probably the wrong word as the motor was switched on immediately.
The sea had calmed down considerably since the windy conditions of the last three days and it was reasonably comfortable as we rounded Capo Caccia and set a course directly for the entrance of Mahon harbour on Menorca, 180 miles away.
The weather indicated unfavourable winds to start with, but fortunately we could actually set the sails and the engine was soon turned off and we could just about make 5 knots under sail. Whoopee! We found out that Katanne had left 4 hours earlier and were already well ahead and Ice Maiden streamed off into the distance while ourselves and Quilcene drifted along determined to sail at least some of the way. The wind dropped after a few hours as we drifted through the centre of a small high and it wasn't until at least 6 hours later that we picked up the expected easterlies on its western side.
They didn't really amount to much but kept us on course and with the engine on we managed to reach the frighteningly overcrowded inlet of Cala Teulera. The summer boating fraternity is certainly out in full force. Flags of many countries are bobbing up in the anchorage around us.
07/23/2012, Porto Conti, Sardinia
Pic above shows Saraoni gamely tacking through the Bonifacio Strait between Sardinia and Corsica against a moderate westerly wind. Photo thanks to Nicolette on SY Katanne.
Anchored in the safe, but large bay of Porto Conti on the west coast of Sardinia, waiting for suitable conditions to sail to Minorca in the Spanish Balearic islands. There was no swell and it was so easy to get ashore and go for a bike ride as well as a steep climb through forest to a weather station high above the bay with views up the coast with roaring seas breaking on the shore. Glad we were safely anchored in the bay.
We have had a mistral - the second since in Sardinian waters - affecting this part of the Med although it has been flat in the bay with grey skies and a little drizzle.
We have now spent over two weeks in Sardinia and have slowly made our way around the top of the huge island and through the Bonifacio Strait between Sardinia and Corsica to Capo Testa a reasonably sheltered bay behind a rocky promintory. We sailed across to Bonifacio in Corsica for the day - a magnificent natural harbour naturally cut into the chalk cliffs with its mediaeval old town perched high on the cliff top. With an internet work schedule to keep we could only sail up the French coast and then anchor in a deserted bay for a few hours surrounded by clear warer and rocky mountains and then we sailed back to Italy.
Our time here has been quite relaxing and the cruising in both Sardinia and Corsica worth more time because of the number of good achorages, but we now have to move on to Spain - our last Mediterranean country.
We will be leaving the boat on the Spanish mainland for a month while we fly to South Africa on safari and then the boat has to be readied for its Atlantic crossing.
07/12/2012, Golfo di Arzachena, Sardinia, Italia
Pic shows the remarkably bold and bald Isola di Tavolara off the East coast of Sardinia.
Currently anchored in a lovely gulf in the Straits of Bonifacio at the Northern end of Sardinia near the archipelago of the Maddalenas. Corsica is a few miles to the North of us. A mistral is developing in the Golfe de Lyons which will affect us over the weekend, but we may sail up to Porto Vecchio in Corsica if we get a chance.
Have now been in Sardinia for a week. We had a long trip over from Ponza island nearer the Italian mainland. The winds promised on the forecast never materialised, so we motored the entire 170 nautical miles. Don't ask what this cost in diesel. The trip was uneventful and a little monotonous, but comfortable, and we did make a lot of water with all the power available.
Sardinia is certainly different from anywhere else in the Med so far - geologically anyway. More like the Queensland coast - very pretty with scrubby hills, mountains in the background and granite boulders everywhere. Nice beaches, although everywhere in Italy is crowded now with the summer holidaymakers - not so like Australia's coast!
We spent some time anchored off the city of Olbia and then pottered up the North East coast past the Costa Smeralda - fabled land of the rich and famous. There were certainly plenty of huge boats - mostly gin palaces - around. We will do a big cycle ride tomorrow, then hopefully visit France for "le weekend".
07/03/2012, Ventotene, Pontine islands, Italy
Pic shows crater rim of Vulcano island in the Aeolian islands.
Presently anchored just in the lee of the harbour wall at Ventotene island in the Pontines. Crawled here at about 3 knots for 6 hours with wind and swell on the nose all the way from Ischia. The Pontines are our stepping stone to Northern Sardinia, where we are headed next.
From Milazzo to here we have followed the arc of volcanos from Mount Etna on Sicily through the Aeolian islands of Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea and Stromboli to Naples with its explosion craters and Mount Vesuvius.
The Aeolian islands was a surprising highlights of our time in the Med. We have visited many volcanos over the years and have often been anchored in a dormant or extinct one, but at Vulcano it was the first time that we had anchored right next to a real live smoking version with the sulphurous smell of mud baths and fumaroles. A short steep walk brought us up to the crater rim with its fantastic view in all directions out to sea and of course into the crater. Good winds prompted us to sail first to Panarea then make an overnight passage to Cape Palinuro on the Italian mainland. This took us past close to Stromboli, which belched fire and brimstone from time to time as we passed in the dead of night.
Cape Palinuro was an attractive stop inside the port, but anchored. Steep cliffs and grottos nearby. We motorsailed up into the Gulf of Salerno at Agropoli - with its mediaeval old town - and tied up for the night on the town wall at no cost. From there we had along day across the gulf, past the Amalfi coast, Capri and into the Bay of Naples, where we anchored for a few days in Porto Miseno - one of the better anchorages we've had so far in Italy.
Our last days have taken us to the island of Procida and Ischia and out to the Pontines. The Lamma forecast indicated that the wind would be on the nose so we just bashed into it rather than waiting a day. Hope to make the passage to the North East coast of Sardinia in 2 days time - a 150nm trip.
We are now anchored just off the main promenade of the town of Milazzo on the North coast of Sicily after a tough but successful passage through the narrow Messina Straits that still physically separate Italy's largest island from the mainland.
We had a good passage down the rest of Italy's "foot", although too much diesel was burned in the process and it was hard to get a really good night's sleep in the exposed anchorages we had. We timed our last 60 mile trip to coincide with the rapid tides that swirl through the strait but somehow came unstuck with a surprisingly strong northerly wind, which blew, perhaps predictably, right on the nose.
Luckily we managed to find an anchorage tucked behind a sand spit and stayed there the rest of the afternoon, accompanied by two other yachts and we were able to get ashore and explore the nearby village.
Having made the transit with the tide and a little less wind yesterday we now have both Mount Etna poking through the summer haze not so far away - all 3,300 meters of it, still with a little winter snow left on one side and smoking - as well as a bevy of volcanic islands a few miles away to the north east. These are the Aeolian islands of Vulcano, Lipari, Stromboli and their less wll known neighbours.
Tomorrow we will catch a few buses and see what we can of this part of Sicily and get close to Etna and then take off for Vulcano.
As Sardinia seems to have Italy's best natural anchorages we will probably make this our next goal - possibly first hopping up Italy's west coast. The weather on this side of the country is supposed to be very calm in the summer. We do not want wind on the nose of course but some favourable winds would be useful to spare our wallet and our old engine.
After leaving Otranto we just went twenty miles down to Santa Maria Di Leuca with the vague intention of anchoring and then setting off before dawn. On arrival it is possible to anchor out but it was not much good for us as we would have been rolling from gunwale to gunwale all night long. One French catamaran happily sat in the swell, but we went into the marina, the most modern we have seen yet with wide pontoons. You still have to med moor despite the huge vacant areas and the ormeggiatorri , by the end of the day, had two yachts squeezing us like a sardine sandwich.
We somehow managed to depart early without too much noise or fuss ( unusual for us) The small community seemed rather devoid of useful services and there was rather a lot of concrete on the esplanade for the local tourists and some paying beaches.
06/15/2012, Crotone, Calabria, Italy
Pic shows friendly common dolphin pod met with across the Gulf of Taranto
Now anchored just outside of the old port at Crotone on the toe of Italy in the Calabria region. Quite a lot has passed under Saraoni's keel since the last entry at Corfu. We had an easy run up to the last Greek island of Othoni - perhaps one of the nicest of the 31 islands we have visited in that country. A lovely, shallow anchorage under the green hills and not a tourist in sight. The next day we motored the 45 odd miles to Otranto in Italy - the only wind was a flutter as we approached the mainland.
Otranto was a great anchorage as the port was protected from all winds except North East. We were expecting a few days of southerlies so the port was just right. Otranto had the old fort and mediaeval "old town" but it was crowded out by local tourists and the beaches full of young people.
Italy seems to be affluent and westernised compared to Greece - lots of people doing what they would do anywhere in the western world. We made an interesting trip inland to the city of Lecce by train and wandered around the old town there and, more importantly, got our Italian modem and sim card sorted out properly.
Next was a run down the heel of Italy to Santa Maria di Luca, starting in sea fog - the only time that has happened in our 25 years on the sea!
Santa Maria was a quiet little spot and we had to tie up in the marina as it was uncomfortably swelly outside.
The next day we took off across the Italian "instep" - the Gulf of Taranto - with good beam winds forecast. Ten miles out into the gulf we came across a French boat that had just dismasted, so we hung around coordinating rescue procedures with the emergency station in Italy. It was quite bouncy and it was impossible for us to do anything to help directly, but eventually a navy boat turned up, so we sailed off with good winds. The wind petered out twenty miles from the other side of the gulf and we had to motor into Crotone for the last few hours.
We are now only a day or so away from the Messina Straits and Sicily with Northerly winds forecast for the next few days so should have good conditions until we reach the Sicilain coast.
We weighed anchor early from Tranquil Bay with the intention of anchoring at Paxos after transiting the Lefkas Canal. We cleared the canal after waiting for another yacht to pass us so that we could follow it through, after reading about other yachts hitting rocks in the channel. Not on our wish list! The sea was calm as it often is when we decide to leave an anchorage or port and with our Cosmote 3G connection we keep a sharp eye on the weather, especially as it seems to be virtually always coming from the direction in which we wish to go.
That night we anchored at Lakka Bay, Paxos island, half way between Lefkas and Corfu. A good calm anchorage, but somewhat overcrowded after being asked to move on by the port authorities in the well protected inner passage further south on the island.
The next dawned overcast and drizzle but the forcast only indicated up to F 4 favourable winds. As we approached Corfu an enormous thunderstorm bore down on us, thunder and lightening - the lot in fact. The wind shifted from south through to north then F 7 NE...nowhere to hide. The normal Corfu fort anchorage was a raging mass of white water so we headed further north using the GPS only and finally managed to anchor just off Gouvia Bay tucked in behind a resort and that is where we stayed for two days. The sea finally abated and the sun came out and the green and lush landscape of Corfu penetrated through. Not so bad after all. We stayed comfortably at anchored and left the dinghy in the marina while going on a bus to the town. Gouvia Bay is a lovely sheltered bay but unfortunately yachts are not allowed to anchor there.
Now we are on our way to our last island in Greece - Othoni - nearly half way to the Italian mainland. We will have an overnight stop there and this will be the end of the more than 12 months of stay in Greece which saw us visit more than 30 islands.
06/01/2012, Lefkas island, Ionian
Pic shows the 3 mle long Corinth Canal from one of the several roads that cross it from above.
Emerged into the Ionian side of Greece a few days ago after quite a long struggle through the two gulfs that separate mainland Greece from the Peloponnese massif. To get through into the gulfs first meant traversing the amazing Corinth Canal. This is only three miles long, but is incredibly narrow and is surrounded on both sides by high limestone walls.
The Aegean side is relatively protected and we anchored off Isthmia for two days waiting for the winds to ease before making our way through. The canal was built over a hundred years ago but is relatively little used today as it is too restricted by depth and breadth for most commercial traffic.
Once into the Gulf of Corinth we battled the westerly winds through to several good anchorages at Antikirion, Galaxidi, Itea and Trazinion island. With a 11/2 to 2 knot current against us we eventually passed under the Patras suspension bridge - the world's longest - into the Patras Gulf and the strange lagoon at Messolonghi. Here we cycled past the huge sea lagoons looking for birds but we saw more when anchored behind the sand spit that marked the mouth of the Acheloos - Greece's longest river.
We are now anchored in the quiet and extremely sheltered waters of Vlicho Bay on Lefkas island waiting for our ancient anchor winch to be fixed before making the short crossing over to the Italian manland - between 50 to 150 miles across the Ionian Sea, depending exactly where we start and finish.
05/10/2012, Poros island, Saronic Gulf, North East Peloponnese, Greece
Photo above shows Saraoni ploughing westwards across a glassy sea along the Northern Crete Coast
Crete, we had discovered was a windy place. The summer meltemi winds from the North are replaced by strong southerlies in winter. We knew that our route westwards towards Gibraltar lay naturally counter to the prevailing Mediterranean winds, so our exit from Crete was always going to be problematic. The North Coast of Greece's largest island has only one all weather anchorage and a harsh, bold mountainous, if beautiful, coast.
It wasn't until we had motored out from Spinalonga lagoon, just to the north of Aghios Nikolaos, that we finally made up our mind to turn directly west rather than head north to Santorini, or even north east to Astypalaea. As it happened, the next two weeks saw hardly any wind at all - every day as we made progress under motor along the Crete North Coast and then over the normally windy Kithyra strait and up the Peloponnese east coast we were met with calm seas and cloudless, windless days.
Long days burning diesel were punctuated by short stops in the Cretan cities of Rethymno and Chania, tied up to a pontoon or wall and an open anchorage at Kithyra island. Passing Greece's "Cape Horn" - the infamous Cape Malea, at the very bottom of the Greek mainland - we did get some wind at last - up to twenty knots, predictably on the nose, but a flat sea and the wind dropped off quickly as the cape was passed.
We opted for the more protected eastern side of the Peloponnese as the "forecast" predicted strong north westerlies arriving as far as the eye could see making progress up the western (Italian) side of the huge peninsula difficult.
Instead, we motored, motorsailed or even occasionally sailed, from one lovely anchorage to another. First was the island of Monemvasia, with its ancient fortified town perched precariously on the island's gaunt hillside; next was the little, perfectly protected inlet of Ierakas, with its tiny fishing village nestled underneath the Peloponnese mountains.
A long day saw us up in the Argolic gulf, where we used the daily sea breeze to sail to and fro up the gulf to Napflio and back to the round all-weather anchorage of Porto Cheli.
Another long day took us around the point into the Saronic Gulf and closer to the busy waterways near Athens.
We are now in a well protected anchorage behind Poros isand with northerly winds keeping us at anchor for a couple more days before heading on to the Corinth Canal. Poros is sail and motor boat land in a big way - there are penty of huge motor boats for charter here along the town wharf, but they don't really impinge on our quiet anchorage and we have spent the time cycling around the pine covered hillsides on our bikes.
04/27/2012, Elounda, Crete
Throughout the last four months we have been enjoying virtually everything that Crete has to offer. Pic shows Alison at home in a nylon domatia on the rugged South coast of the island.
The winter is now firmly behind us but was a lot colder than we expected, with the snow reaching almost sea level a couple of times, but all was quiet in the marina most of the time with prevailing north west winds causing an occasional undulation amongst the boats.
Once the days started to get longer, southerly gale force bursts blew through with alarming regularity every week and there was a need to winch Saraoni off from the pontoon a couple of times.
Apart from a lot of rather dull, routine boat jobs, we hired a car for a few days and went to the western end of Crete on a bird watching expedition which was good, but the only migratory bird we saw was a hoopoe and most of the small lakes were full of resident waterfowl and snappy geese. They were all quite tame so they at least don't get pinged with catapaults. Our trip also took us to Rethymno and Chania on the North Coast and up into thick snow in the White Mountains above the Samaria Gorge.
The next trip was a cycle ride around the eastern corner of Crete with just the right temperatures. The first day was almost 60 kilometres from Aghios Nikolaos across the island through olive and orange groves to the southern coastal town of Ierapetra and then onto the small port of Magriagialos. There were no tourists around but we managed to find a guest house that had good rooms for 30 euro.
The second day took us over the mountains at 600 metres in near gale force winds and then back down to the North coast at Sitia. Here we stayed a couple of nights so that we could cycle a return day trip to the palm forest at Vai, which was a bit unusual for Crete as most of the trees here are Aussies, the eucalypt and the wattle, not of course forgetting the uncountable number of olive trees that cover any where that will support any greenery.
March is about the best time of year for cycling and walking as the temperature is just right. There is less rain and the days are getting longer.
Our final land trip took us over the White Mountains again, this time by bus to the tiny coastal port of Xora Sfakion. We walked and camped for several days westwards with the blue Libyan Sea on one side and maquis covered slopes stretching up to the snowy peaks on the other. Our way blocked by sheer scree covered slopes, we detoured up a twelve kilometre gorge and emerged up onto the plateau where small Cretan villages were dotted around amongst the olive groves.
01/29/2012, Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, greece
Photo shows the snow covered Katharo Plateau and neighbouring hills behind Aghios Nikolaos marina
Winter kicked in well and truly here in Crete around Christmas and the high mountains - Dikti, Idi and the Lefka Ori were all covered in snow by the New Year. Now, with every rapidly moving Mediterranean depression the snow advances down the hillsides then retreats with the intervening calm spell.
When the sun comes out and the wind stops blowing, it can be quite warm and the land is now beautifully green with the first of the wild flowers carpeting the olive groves and maquis slopes.
We are still tapping furiously away, planning both for our sailing adventure to come and a possible trip to Africa later this year. We have driven, cycled and walked all over the Eastern part of Crete in rain and sunshine watching the huge, soaring griffon vultures that are nesting in the steep sides of the Cretan gorges.
We are slowly plodding along too with boat jobs. March should see us on a longer cycling trip and a trek along the South Western part of the E4 - the interkriti - this is the long distance path that crosses Crete from East to West from Kato Zakros to Kissamos, then jumps over to the mainland, eventually ending on the Atlantic shores of Portugal.