14/10/2008, Marrakech, Morocco
We got up rejuvenated, the sun pored in as we opened the shutters and we had endless hot water for our showers and breakfast was made for us and there were no dishes. We had coffee and hot chocolate, freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh jams, crepes and bread. We decided today we would do our shopping; we would meander the souks until dark. We had several things on our list - early Christmas shopping, some thank yors, some souvenirs. We took our usual route until we reached the crooked tree where we made a right to the leather souk.
Let the bargaining and bartering begin! Mom was looking at belts, dad at bags and the prices were getting lower by the minute. Dad was first to strike a deal and with help from Dad, mom was next. We tried our best to find the silk market but stumbled upon some wood shops instead. The man at the wood shop was making chess pieces using a bow in his hand to spin the wooden circles and with his other hand and foot carved the chess pieces. We admired his artistry and with his small audience he quickly carved two pendant necklaces for Jenny and me. The pendant resembled a two-headed chess piece, but the really remarkable part are the two rings that float around the middle shaft. From this nice man we purchased small and large Puzzle Boxes which appear to be securely locked until you figure out the secret behind their hidden key and key hole. We passed by the Souk des Teinturiers where men dyed the wool in large vats turning out vibrant indigos, yellows and reds. We sought some peace in Bougainnevillia Café where we dined on kefka, a sausage made of minced meat, kebabs, pizza and goats cheese salad.
To the untrained eye the souks seem to be a maze of alleys and warrens, but over time, we discovered their routes and order. Closer to Jemaa El Fna, the stalls are a mish-mash of knock off purses, spices, lamp shops, carpet shops, scarves, wood and silver. But as you get further away from the square, the souks form small specialized groupings - all the leather in two rows traversed by an endless row of babouche shops, the traditional leather pointed toe, backless shoes of Morocco. From there you pass countless silver shops selling tea pots, tea sets and hooka pipes. Further on, nothing but wood shops with the thuya wood carvings from Essaouira.
We had to go see about some snake charmers in Jemaa El Fna. On the way however, Mom spotted a scarf shop, the prices there were high but Mom was all smiles when she learned the entire street was scarves and after the typical haggling, left with a few cashmere scarves. We made it to the square just on time, for the performers were just returning. Mom spotted a snake charmer but became side tracked by a henna tattoo artist to whom we paid far too much money, but Jenny, Mom and I all left with the traditional black patterns on our arms and legs. Next were the rip-off snake charmers who allowed us to photograph the man and the black cobra he charmed but thought that 20 dirham was not charming enough. We thought differently and after paying him, headed back towards Riad Dar Hanane, stepping over skinny kittens and garbage piles all the way home. While we hung out, Mom went for a hammam, a traditional Moroccan steam and massage.
(Ziggy's Hammam Experience: I walked the 200 meters to Riad Tzarra, the sister riad of Dar Hanane. Three young boys helped me find my way and I promised them upon my return to give them something for their efforts. I was greeted at the door and led up the narrow stairs to a massage room. With little words and none of the privacy of a North American spa, the woman told me to undress, handed me a robe and a pair of shoes. There she led me down the stairs to the private hammam, a room no bigger than a closet with a bench at one end and deep basin at the other. Once again, I was told to undress and be seated. With no formalities, she began to scoop deliciously hot water from the basin and pour it over my head, shoulders, back, stomach and legs. Then she left me alone to relax in the tepid misty warmth of the room. Returning five minutes later, she rinsed me off and then scrubbed me down from head to toe with a rough loofah. She completed the cleansing with soap, then led me once again to the massage room where I drifted off into a dream state in the warm, soothing rose cream. At the end of the massage, I once again dressed and returning to our riad, picked up some candies and note pads for the boys who had helped me.)
The adults had booked another restaurant for the evening, the only catch; they did not book for us. So back to the Jemaa El Fna Square for dinner. I cannot complain though, my favorite fish, sole, is quite expensive in the Med and in the market they were a plenty and cheap. After dropping us back at the riad they continued on to Le Foundouk, a fashionable restaurant with a roof top terrace and serving traditional French and Moroccan cuisine.
Moroccans can fit a heck of a lot of people in a taxicab. On the morning of the departure for our excursion in-land to Marrakech every taxi going by was full to the brim. With the help of our friend in security we got a taxi to take us to the "centre ville", or, in other words, the city center. Our train was 45 minutes from arriving at the station so dad and I ventured to get bread. Though some Moroccans I met were not fond of the French and their influence, bread-wise, there are no complaints. We booked first class for the train to guaranty us a spot and to ensure comfort on our 4-hour passage.
The train was 10 minutes late and we scurried on at the closest car to avoid being left behind. We settled in the first empty compartment where we hunkered down. When the conductor came by to check our tickets he began to ask us to move to our correct compartment but reconsidered after seeing our luggage already placed on the racks. This kind gesture by the conductor lead to a group of people pointing to our seats and waving their tickets. Finally a man living in the Middle East joined us and took up the final seat in the compartment. The compartment was air-conditioned and was equipped with seats that could fold down into a bed. The train ride passed with the help of an ipod, a cribbage board, playing cards, a book, a pink Nintendo D.S., a camera, a laptop computer and a stack of DVD's. After 2 hours we got into the desert, with sand dunes and little huts as far as the eye could see.
Once in Marrakech, we got a taxi to take us to our riad. Unfortunately for us the riad was a hefty walk from the spot the taxi left us. However, every body knows everybody and if you want, the taxi driver can and did arrange for a tiny thin man with a cart to take our luggage. The man ventured into the Jemaa El Fna Square, a square famous for it's snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, and nighttime food stalls. The man with our luggage walked up a side street, stopping to ask his friends for directions. After a long discussion including four or five people, none being us, we turned around and headed the opposite way. Across Jemaa El Fna we trekked in the opposite direction on our way to the Dar Hanane, our riad. We ventured through the souks, up and down winding passages until we got to the Dar Hanane. We knocked on the nondescript door and were greeted with open arms, and as promised, cold drinks. In the courtyard of the riad we sat in the shade of the trees and spoke with the manager, Chris. Chris supplied us with maps and keys to the riad. We ventured to one of six rooms entitled the Grande Suite. The Grande Suite was a beautifully lit room with three door-sized windows. There was a single bed along the wall closest to the door. In the middle was a double bed and at the far end was a smoky blue wood set of stairs leading up to a loft with another double bed. Under the wood enclosure was a stone bathroom. The high ceiling was also smoky blue and was neatly designed. Across the hall was a library with a fireplace, WIFI, and an honor bar. Up the stairs was a roof terrace that overlooked the medina. Most of the floors were stone and all around the riad were the famed keyhole arches. The staff at the riad made us breakfast every morning and it could be eaten on the roof terrace or in the courtyard. There would be coffee, hot chocolate and as Mom would say, freshly "squozen" orange juice waiting for us. The riad was a 20-minute walk to the Jemaa El Fna Square. The air conditioning was essential for sleeping and the fitted sheet, which Jenny and I never use, was also needed because the blanket was warm but itchy.
Uncle Mark convinced my sister and I to allow my Parents to have some adult time walking around the souks by themselves. I am a do everything, experience junkie so letting Mom and Dad go by themselves was a feat but it turned out to be in the best interest for everyone. Mom and Dad returned with two, leather rimmed, straw grocery bags mom had searched the Mediterranean coast for. With a map in hand we set out for a Moroccan restaurant entitled Topsil. We walked through the souks that were in the process of closing down, some remembering Dad from his bargaining earlier, through the Jemaa El Fna Square we tried to resist the aroma of the market vendors stalls and the calls of vendors after us "Canada, Oh, Hello John Candy" or " High Five, stall 85". We left the square and headed up the street to the Topsil. Unable to find the restaurant in the maze of alleys, and feeling tired and hungry, we returned to the Jemaa El Fna Square and sat at number 123 for dinner. We did have a good meal after all, the food was greasy but was quick and kept coming, olives then bread then couscous then kebabs, it filled us to the brim like a parched desert dweller filling their canteen with fresh ice water.
Returning to Dar Hanane in the dark we passed the closed stalls, stepping over garbage and street kitties. Following the markers we had identified for ourselves, we passed the Spice Market with the hanging boa skins, the vegetable stand, past the crooked tree, in front of Salon Jihad, in front of the water fountain, past 'our personal garbage (the closest to our riad), stopped at the next fountain, took a right at the daycare, fast right and then a left before landing in front of the welcome keyhole arch doorway of Riad Dar Hanane. For the first time in 122 days we slept on dry land and all fell exhausted into our beds.
10/10/2008, Medina, Rabat, Morocco
It has been almost a week since we last touched base and during these seven days we have seen amazing sights, eaten world class cuisine and experienced the Moroccan lifestyle. Last Friday, we arrived in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. We docked in a very modern, well-appointed and extremely secure marina amongst many other English, American, and German sailors making their way to the Canaries for their crossing to the Caribbean. Jenny is thrilled as there is a catamaran with 12 and 10 year old American girls docked nearby and they have fast become mates.
Rabat itself isn't the most beautiful city with a combination of French influenced architecture and the hustle and bustle of the medina. On our second night here we ventured to the medina in search of Darjinet, a restaurant recommended in our guide book. After making a short stop at the train station to purchase return train tickets from Rabat to Marrakech, we walked down the main road, Mohammed V into the medina. Along the way we stopped at a patisserie where for 1dirham 20 (about 20 cents) we bought a fresh, soft French baguette to tie the kids over. We continued through the medina passing vendors hawking pirated DVDs, knock-off purses, jeans and shoes and traditional Moroccan cuisine including sesame with honey slices, figs and dates and meats and chickens displayed on open air carts buzzing with flies.
Crossing almost the entire length of the medina, we still had not found our restaurant, and ventured into a rather deserted, dirty street. Suddenly we saw Dirjanet painted on a wall and turned into an alley. We knocked on door #6 and two doors down, a woman poked her head out, asking (in French), "Are you looking for Dirjanet? Three doors down." We walked a little further when another woman offered assistance, and then, standing at our side, was a very slender man in traditional dress carrying a kerosene lamp, who asked, "Dirjanet?" Oui. Leading us through a maze of alleys, he stopped in front of a very non descript door within a door. Knocking, we were greeted by a beautiful woman who led us into Dirjanet through the open courtyard under the black Moroccan skies to a low table. Dirjanet is a 17th centure home converted into a restaurant and run by a French woman. Once seated, our waiter came by with a pot of rose water which he poured over our hands - a traditional Moroccan greeting when guests arrive in your home. We order kefta (Moroccan mince meat), kebabs of lamb, chicken and soup). Restaurants may serve wine and we order the 'suggestion of the sommelier', a lovely full bodied red wine.
The service was impeccable, the decor calming and the food delicious. The kids loved the washroom painted red from top to toe and larger than most hotel rooms. Upon leaving the restaurant, there was the gentleman ready to guide us to the street. After a short negotiation we hopped a 'petit taxi' (for three people and only allowed in city limits) to take us back to the marina, which technically lies in Sale, the city to the north of Rabat. Our first dinner was delightful and left us dreaming of what may come.
05/10/2008, Tangier, Morocco
After a short morning sail with Captain John at the helm while the crew slept we arrived in Tangier, Morocco at about 9 in the morning (Morocco is 4 hours ahead of EST and we picked up 2 hours from Europe). Although once a lively hotbed of international intrigue and partying and playing for the likes of William Burroughs, Matisse and Barbara Hutton (not all together that is), Tangier looked sad and rundown. If the town were anything like the marina, Tangier wouldn't make it in our must-see list. The marina was very small, very dirty and mostly filled with military patrol boats, ferries and local fishing boats. We rafted side-to beside Cool Runnings, the Austrian boat we had met in Tunisia, and after clearing customs/police/immigration upon which they come aboard, saw what you had, inquired if we had any bazookas or AK47s, cocaine or hashish, then subtly asked for a gift. We parted with two WIndancer t-shirts and a bottle of wine which were well worth it, as the local officials and dockhands were helpful and friendly.
Later that day we ventured ashore although we weren't planning to see much as once again we had landed on a national holiday, the end of Ramadan. We hiked up a hill to the modern part of Tangier, wandered the main drag on the way to the Medina, the old walled part of any Islamic city. We stopped at the magical cash machine, where no matter where we are, we stick in our card and miraculously, out comes the local currency. We headed into the medina and were instantly accosted by two teens who 'offered' to take us through the souk - no problem, no have to pay, no problem. Chewing on sunflower seeds and constantly barraging us with no problem, this way comments, we continued to decline their services. The tour books warn about these illegitimate 'guides' who are frustrating to tourists and leave many with a sour taste of the city. Wandering the tiny streets, it was only when Mark was a few feet behind us that he was offered hashish, Morocco's top export. (By the way, he declined.)
Later that evening, after we had made Uncle Mark his honourary birthday cake in the shape of a cathedral, but more resembling a volkswagon bug popemobile, we met Moustafa, an older gentleman who offered us his tour services the next morning. We decided to take him up on his offer, as some of our fondest memories were with guides, and Said in Tunisia had ensured we were free of haranguing.
At exactly 10 am, Moustafa arrived on the dock, greeted us and led us up through the medina and to the Kasbah. He shared stories of Tangier and the culture of the Moroccan people. And along the way, he greeted countless people from officials to shop keepers to children - we had landed the unofficial Mayor of Tangier. At the end of the tour, we also landed in the typical 'carpet shop'. Moustafa admitted that this is one of the ways in which he earns a living through the commissions off sales of carpets to tourists. We were led upstairs, offered coffees and juices and treated to a carpet education starting with the lowest quality and cost to the most beautiful combination of mohair and wool in traditional Berber patterns. We helped colourblind Mark buy a runner for his loft (had we not he would now be the proud owner of a rose and baby blue carpet) and along the way, I fell in love with a deep burgundy carpet with a light green edging and centre pattern. And the haggling began - walk away, scoff, "we don't have a home" "we can't store it on a boat" to which the salesmen would respond, "Decide on a price, no worries, happiness and long life". Turns out their tenacity (and my pining) trumped John's steadfast refusals and we now happily own a carpet which we are sending home with Mark where it will reside in his office untrodden upon (as no one ever comes in Marks office out of fear).
We returned to Windancer with our goods including a few new small wooden boxes and an onex chessboard to support Connor's latest addiction.
Under the sunny African sun we set out for an overnight sail to Rabat, the capital of Morocco.
03/10/2008, Gibraltar and Morocco
What is happening? you ask. We are currently sitting in a very modern marina in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. It is a beautiful sunny day, which is welcome after almost two weeks of rain and cold days.
When we last touched base we had just left Palma, Mallorca on our way to Gibraltar. In 90 days we had seen less than 1 hour of rain and then, almost as if someone turned on a switch, it began. First in Tunisia and then, almost every day in Palma a torrential downpour let loose. We timed our three-day passage to Gib perfectly and avoided most of the bad weather except for one night when we could take refuge in the salon.
Once we arrived in Gib we were warned the weather was coming in - strong winds and rain. The weatherman was on his game for between Friday afternoon when we landed and Tuesday morning it rained so hard the water came through our hatches on the deck. But, in small windows of dry, we ventured back into town and re-acquainted ourselves with the very busy enclave. We had returned specifically to Gib to pick up Mark Fletcher, our friend from Toronto, who has joined us for two weeks as we explore Morocco. We finally said Hello to Mark very late on Sunday evening after his flight had been rerouted to Malaga, Spain from where a bus took him to La Linie, on the Gib/Spain border. Mark crossed by foot with suitcase in tow across the border where John met him and the two walked back to the marina. Mark came bearing a much anticipated new computer for John, books for Connor and other 'hard-to-finds' from home. He also brought with him cat toys our friend Steph had so kindly packed along for our kitty, Boo.
Now we come to Good Bye. The beauty of a blog is it keeps everyone up to date on our comings and goings. When brother Bruce and sister-in-law, Marlene read about our new little crew mate, they regrettably informed us that Mar is highly allergic and that it would be almost impossible for them to join us for the six weeks in late November when they will do the Atlantic Crossing with us. Upon learning this, Connor, Jenny and I thought of ways we could get Bruce and his daughter to come without Mar, but to no avail. Boo would have to go. After only two weeks with our sweet (yet sometimes psychotic) kitty, we would have to say good bye. We had come to love the way she cuddled up in your covers at night, boxed with your fingers, lay on her back and let us play with her kitty tummy (which was fattening up nicely) or waited for her to attack when you least expected it. We decided it would be best to try to find her a home in Gib, as in Africa the cats are left on the streets to fend for themselves. When we cleared in through the marina we shared our kitty woes only to be told that the marina works with a professional cat rescuer. We connected with Pat, arranged a meeting time and said our final farewell to Boo. As sad as it was, and it was sad, even for me, the more of a dog lover type, we felt good about Boo's future. The rescue group works with the vets in Gib where they are checked over, vaccinated and cleaned up, if required. Then working with a group in Spain, they find homes for the cats in Holland and Germany where families are happy to adopt a kitty. We couldn't have wished for a better solution.
And in every cloud there is a silver lining. We have learned that we could be a cat family, although we have decided to wait until we return to Canada. Gryffen, get ready to share the love!
So, after two days exploring Gib and showing Mark around the rock, revisiting the monkeys and exploring the St Michael's Caves and Great Siege Tunnel, we set sail for Morocco, a mere six hour sail.
We wish we were in the Med
And I can tell you why
There are so many things we saw and did
That money just cannot buy
Now, there will be things we just won't miss
Like melting under the midday sun
And naked sailors on the stern of the boat
To the imagination he left none
In the south of France along the Cote d'Azur
There were far too many on the beach
With sun umbrellas, towels and games
Speedos and topless bathers all within reach.
But there is so much we fondly recall
In our four months in the Med
Forever our lives have changed
In Windancer's blog it has been said.
Together we became better sailors
And motoring we can do
For in the Med there is no wind
And docking is all stern to.
The sea shared all of herself
Her salt, the warmth her brilliant hue
The dolphins swimming, the jellyfish stinging
Garbage floating in the Med so blue.
Our trip began on the Rock of Gibraltar
The Barbary Apes crackers we fed
Crawling in Lower St Michaels Caves
Fondly farewell off we sailed to the Med.
The coast of Spain we quickly sailed by
Stopping in Valencia for a day or two
Taking buses to town and wandering around.
The Oceanarium, the market, the zoo.
The Cote d'Azur was filled with boats
For the sun and the cities you just can't beat
From St Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Villefranche
Not a mega yacht under 100 feet.
Monaco is a whole other story
From the shopping to the casino in Monte Carlo
Drove a Ferrari along the race track
With Dan and the family Farslow
We never planned to go to Italy
But were told "you just hasta"
How could we ever pass by the home
Of ice cream, pizza and pasta?
In every port an adventure we had
Saw sights and tours we took
Rome was magnificent, the Vatican too
Art and sculpture to fill a book.
In Pisa we docked in a small town
Rented a car and drove less than an hour
To see one of the wonders of the world
Took our breath away, that Leaning Tower.
Portofino, Siestri, Porto Venerra
Lavorno, La Spezia, Grazie, Lavagna
Four towns we walked in the Cinque Terre
Stopping for vino, Caprese and lasagna.
In each city, each land, each port of call
To markets we did journey in haste
To explore new foods, buy the best of the best
The aromas, the sights, the samples to taste.
In France baguettes are soft and squishy
Herbs and chevre fresh every day
The Rose is cold, the coffee's hot
More, if you will, s'il vous plais.
In Italy, we fell in love with the food
Pesto, pasta troffi, the Zuppa di Cozze a dream
Gelaterrias with Limone, calzone diavlo
Even the simplest spaghetti pomodora a scream.
Good bye to Italy Jenny shed a tear
Without pasta she was at a loss
As we sailed southeast in the evening sun
To the island of the Maltese Cross.
We anchored in St Julian's Bay
Valletta's giant sand castle in our sights
In St John's Co Cathedral we marveled and stared
At the splendor and glory of the knights.
For a brief moment we had a boat in Africa
In Tunisia we had hit land
In the souks we bantered and bartered
Under the mosques, the rain and the sand.
With a kitty named Boo stowed away
For Sardinia we once again set sail
Unknowing the weather and tempting the fates
We were punished with a Force 9 Gale.
But our skipper John led us to safety
And after pasta in Italy once again
We headed back to Palma, Mallorca
To rest, relax and, the pool in the rain.
We had been here once before
With Aunt Karen, Cousins Kate and Em
When we sailed the Ballearics together
Exploring the islands and finding a gem.
Mallorca has its spot in our memories
We played in Soller under the sun's rays
Off to beautiful Deja and exploring the sights
And driving the hell highway to Valdemossa Bay.
But two favourite places with my family
Remain fondly tucked in my heart
First there is Las Illettes, Formentera
A perfect beach, paradise it is a part.
Barcelona, my city, my favourite for last
Where she surprised me turn after turn
The Bari Gotic, the Rambla and Gaudi
Call me - I promise to return.
As a family we have become closer
Jokes, dreams and stories we have told
Into the souls of my family I have looked
And onto these memories tightly I hold.
27/09/2008, En Route to Gibraltar, on final approach to
As you may have figured out, since we've been offshore for three days en route to Gibraltar, we loaded several blogs prior to departing Palma de Mallorca.
We really appreciated all the comments for Connor's brithday and just wanted to let everyone know that we'd love to heard more feadback via the comments section. Positive or negative, doesn't matter to us, it'll just make us better "blog" writers in the end.
26/09/2008, En Route to Gibraltar, approaching Gibraltar
Old friends, New friends AND BOAT friends...
This blog is a compilation of our many friends that both made this trip possible and continue to make the voyage our little "adventure". It is also a testament to the fact that no matter how large the world seems, or how far away from home you are (after more almost six months away from 'home' (our house in Lorne Park) I'm a little out of sorts as to where home is now!) it never ceases to surprise me when we run into a smiling face or familiar vessel that we've seen before.
I don't even know where to begin with regards to old friends. This trip, well our lives for that matter, are filled and made possible because of the amazing group of friends (and yes that includes our family). The world continues to turn as we float around the Mediterranean, and "life's responsibilities" require attention. Much of our mail is being redirected to Camino and Richmond, BC where Dragan or Inge and Bill (respectively) sort thru the junk and advise us of matters that require urgent attention. Notes flow in regarding tenant issues, many thanks to all who made our temporary "Blue Jay" resident 'at home', including Diver Dave, who's Bushwacker awaits his arrival aboard Windancer in December. And then there's our Griffy - Jennifer and Tony rescued us by taking our 'love hound', and now we hope she's helping their family recover from the loss of their Lab Riley. The Lepage family provided a summer retreat for our puppy at the cottage - fun times for all. And of course Bruce and Steph continue to help out with all the things life throws at us. Many thanks to all.
It has also been so amazing having our family visit us on the trip. From the huge part Uncle Bob played in the "delivery phase" of the trip, getting Windancer IV to Lagos, Portugal to when we were so luck to have sister-in-law Karen Walker bring Connor's and Jenny's cousins Emily and Kate to play in Barcelona and the Balearic Islands of Spain. To finish off the summer months, Uncle Dan, Aunt Nancy and Misa explored the French Riviera, Monaco and the border of Italy as Windancer sailed throughout southern France!
And blog comments and e-mails are also so comforting. Sure we're in the Med, exploring places and things I never thought we'd see, but the life of a nomad, no fixed address so to speak, is also sometimes "lonely". The comments, blog responses and emails provide that 'glue' that confirms our connection to HOME.
But new friends are always to be found. [Note to readers, this may mean nothing to many readers but a lot to some who took part in the trip so far]. Sure, the oceans are huge - well huge cannot even come close to describing the vastness of the open ocean - hundreds, actually thousands of miles of open water with NO land - NOTHING. Except every now and then a vessel, sometimes a cruise ship or commercial vessel that may respond to a VHF radio call and provide weather info on the upcoming passage. Others are private boats, like "Summer Breeze", a 40ish foot training sloop Windancer spotted on the horizon more than 300 miles from the Azores. As we motored towards a welcome landfall after our longest passage to date (1880 nm), we maneuvered within 50 feet of the vessel, exchanging kind words and requesting a meeting spot in Horta - Peter's Café Sport. A few days later we were reunited with Colin Thomas (captain and Yachtmaster Instructor) and his crew/students Simon from the UK and FBI American (whose name is withheld for security reasons) at the famous Azorean 'sport' establishment and enjoyed a potluck dinner aboard Windancer IV with other ARC participants. Why should I be surprised when I was walking down the dock in Gibraltar to have a 'friend' say "JOHN", and have Colin shake my hand. Of course, later that same day, Simon and American yachtmaster student also were reunited for beers at the local watering hole. Who knew we'd have friends in Gibraltar.
Then there was the sloop "Blue Jay" (no relation to the baseball team), that was rafted outside Windancer during our stay in Horta. Stefan was her captain and we enjoyed a few niceties as he and his crew utilized our boat as a platform to access the dock. Should I be surprised when I was motoring the dinghy towards the stern of Windancer while in Soller, Mallorca, only to have a guy rowing his tiny dinghy with two female passengers call out "JOHN"? I looked over to see Stefan with new crew/friends aboard, one of whom had been recently stung by a massive jellyfish leaving a foot-long whelt over her shoulder and chest. "Would you mind running us to shore?" No problem as I assist the injured crewmates to shore and find out that Stefan lost his dinghy motor on the crossing from the Azores to Gibraltar.
And new friends are always welcome. The sailing world is very close, and the catamaran sailing community even closer. We continue to run into (oops, since collisions are one of the biggest concerns for all boats - I should have said "happened upon") friendly vessels who welcome our attention. Our new friend and crewmate Steve Southwood is also well known for his vocal comments and insight into the Lagoon 420 Hybrid (I have met three L420 owners who all know or know of Steve).
The ARC Europe group provided the perfect atmosphere for developing new found friendships. We met some amazing people aboard participating ARC vessels - Sea Squared, Fuerte, Kalliope and Spica, just to name a few. As it turns out, several of them talked us into extending our cruising sights to include Italy. In particular, SPICA crewmember Maris Lyons opened her doors to us in Lavanga (read previous blog entries on Italy). We are now finalizing plans to have Maris join the crew of Windancer on the return ARC voyage to St. Lucia in November. And her partner (and my new dentist) Michel is threatening to meet us in Caribbean to sail/race aboard his J109 that is berthed in Antigua. Maybe Windancer will return to another Antigua race week in 2009.
And then there is the Canadian couple aboard Quickbeam who assisted Windancer in mooring in Marina d'Roma. John and Roberta (Bobby) hale from Queen City Yacht Club on Toronto Island and live(d) [they have sold everything and moved aboard their C & C 38 fulltime two years ago] in Oakville, less than 20 minutes from our land-based home. It's also not surprising that John, after selling his advertising company, worked for a short time at West Marine in Oakville and remembers not only me, but Wildchild skipper Dave Joakim - what a small world.
And recently we've happened upon new friends in every harbour over the last two weeks. In Siricusa, Sicily we met John and Jillian who are delivering their Lagoon 420 "Stevee Jean" home to Sharks Bay, Australia, then our Maltese connection where we met Jim and Ged who are heading home to the UK after completing a three year global circumnavigation aboard their Westerly 42, and George and Sandra aboard their 42' sloop who rafted outside Windancer in Marina de Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia due to lack of space in the marina. George and Sandra were Austrian and traded ½ English and ½ German stories with Ziggy, Connor and Jenny over several bottles of wine and George's homemade (BOATMADE) fresh bread and local Parmasan cheese - ohhh how we will miss Italy.
So now we're continuing on towards Gibraltar to complete a few, much needed repairs (mostly only minor in nature) and meet our buddy Mark Fletcher on the 28th and onwards to explore Morocco, say goodbye to Mark and make our way to the Canary Islands to welcome brother-in-law Bruce and family for the return ARC crossing to St. Lucia.
24/09/2008, En Route to Gibraltar, passing Cabo Gata, Spain
Boat school is moving along, sometimes at a snails pace, but other times both Connor and Jennifer plug away at their studies and their efforts are rewarded. It is only the third week of September and most kids are jsut getting beck into the "groove" of school work after a long summer spent "NOT THINKING" about their studies.
Not so for the lucky (or some may say "not so lucky [since they had to do school work all summer]) student aboard Windancer IV. The rule we ave is that boat school started almost immediately after Uncle Bob left the boat in Lagos, Portugal, and has continued uninterrupted throughout the summer - EXCEPT for the teacher's rule that we have NO school work when guests are aboard. So when family visited in Barcelona and Nice, boat school was suspended.
We have also taken a slightly (actually opposite) tack [sorry for the sailing term!] than most sailing/cruising families. We spoke to a number of families and read stories of countless others that utilized various methods of "home" [boat] schooling their children. Most proceeded with a rough curriculum that followed their land based counterparts for the geographical region they left. Some chose to rigorously adhere to the school course layout, other do very little and hope their children catch up as needed. We chose a route somewhere in the middle.
However, unlike most of their sailing friends, Connor and Jennifer found the "easiest" way to complete lessons was during open water passages, choosing to use the time at sea, when, for the most part the kids always felt fine (even inside the cabin) to complete their school chores. This allowed them (and us) free to explore the sites ashore as a family, and in them end augmenting their general education of the world around them.
So this morning, Jennifer wrote an "exam" covering the material studied in Term One of Grade Five MATH, and after only 90 minutes, obtained a "passing grade" - with many colours! 93% - GREAT JOB Jenny and keep up the good work!
23/09/2008, RCNP - Palma, Mallorca, Spain
One day after we celebrated the arrival of our NEW teen (okay, it was just Connor's birthday), I awoke early this morning wondering if my boat parts would arrive (maintenance parts for the master head).
So, after a great breakfast, I headed to Yacht Centre Palma S.L, the nearest chandelry to the marina, and sure enough, THE PARTS ARRIVE _ EARLY!!!!!
We now have three functional heads (toilets) aboard Windancer and Jennifer gets to have som well earned privacy since her head was the dedicated washroom on board for the last week or so.
After completing final checks on the weather forecast, it looks like we will have favourable weather for most of the trip to Gibraltar - close to 450 nm or about 72 hours underway. We intend on stopping tomorrow for a few hours in Formentera, our little paradise outiside of the Caribbean before continuing along the coast of the Costa del Sol, following the coast towards "The Rock". Then we'll enjoy a much earned rest before the arrival of our good friend Mark Fletcher on Sunday night!
22/09/2008, Palma, Mallorca, Spain
Happy 13th Birthday - Connor MacKenzie! We had been planning on having Connor's birthday on the island of Formentera, about 76 nautical miles from Palma but we are "holed-up" in Palma awaiting the delivery of replacement parts for Windancer IV.
Fortunately, the marina, Real Clud Nautico de Palma, where we are berthed, is the nicest marina we have seen so far on the trip - and that says something. Not the Monte Carlo Marina in Monaco, nor the Marina de Nice or Cannes can stand a chance when compared to RCNP.
Amazing pool, pool bar and restaurant, the best shower and bathtoom facilities in the Med, and even a shuttle "golf cart" that putters around the facility waiting to pick up passengers and deliver them to their required destination.
Ans the best marina chandelry companies anywhere, well stocked, English speaking and very intelligent staff. The perfect recipe for correcting all maintenance issues aboard Windancer.
So we are waiting for parts to arrive tomorrow, I was assured it left Barcelona today! In the mean time, an excellent birthday brunch for Connor, complete with the best "boat baked birthday cake" yet conceived. Check the photo gallery for pictures of the cake - exactly as Connor requested - an 8-layer pyramid cake.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CONNOR!
20/09/2008, Stuck between Tunisia and Sardinia
Note: as you read the following introduction, imagine it being told in a Scottish accent (a la Shrek or Mike Myers father in So I Married an Ax Murderer, or simply listening to my father, Bill, tell a story. This is told by Connor two days after a really rough sail; the lead up to the sail follows.)
"Aaah laddie, You think you have it bad, a tummy ache you say. Did I ever tell you about the time I was caught in a Force 9 Gale off the coast of Tunisia. There we were taking the wind and the waves on the nose, water pouring over the decks. Me dad popped his head into the cabin and told us it was going to be rough. Me sister and I were okay, but at that very moment, Mom headed to the crapper. She went to Old Faithful, my head, and after emptyen' her bowels Old Faithful wasn't that faithful and wouldn't flush. Trying desperately to empty the head and get back on deck as soon as possible, she scooped the poop into a bag, tied it up and ran onto the deck where she tossed it into the ocean. By now she was green and turning to the kitchen sink, hurled. BLAAAH. Then Jenny went BLAAAH right beside Mom. "It hurts, it hurts," she cried, but Mom didn't hear, she just grabbed Jenny's head and shoved it aside. BLAAAAH. I couldn't help her as I was cleaning up Boo poo after she shat in her bed. I threw it overboard but it got caught on deck. I go to wash me hands but there was vomit in the sink. Jenny was crying and Mom was dying on the couch. My iron clad stomach was not so iron clad and BLAAAAH right inta' the sink. So, what do you think about your stomach ache now, laddy?"
Before I tell you the rest of the story, let me give you a sense of timing. The above tale was told two nights after we safely docked in the port of Villasimius, a quaint touristy town where we holed up for 2 days to clean, pick up, wash down and generally recoup. We had arrived safe although it took three marina workers and Windancer's two engines at full power to dock side-to in the 35 knot winds. I was never so glad to see land. Our safety was a result of John's captaining and tenacity. I was useless for most of the trip and we didn't want the kids on deck. In the light of the day, as we headed to land, John went for a nap and Jenny and I sat in our wet gear, soaked to the bone as we took wave over wave full on. The water burned our skin and we took refuge in the cockpit. Once in the safety of the modern marina, John got some much needed sleep and we had explored the town and enjoyed Italian food once again. Walking out of the restaurant that night, Connor told his version of the storm at its worst and our experience. I laughed so hard I cried, but could only do that after the worst was over.
Here is how it began: Rising in the rain, John went to check out of Marina de Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia while the kids and I went to check out the kitties after such a cold and wet night. John and I had made the decision that if the kids still wanted one, then now was as good a time as ever. Jenny spied a little orange, white and black kitten mewing and shivering in the cold and we scooped her (him?) up, dried it off, fed it some milk and rice and name it Sidi Bou or Boo, as we now call it.
Not having access to internet for the last four days we made the mistake of leaving without really knowing the weather and sea forecast and for the next 24 hours we paid the price of our mistake as we sailed northwest to Sardinia. Early in the day it was bumpy, with 5-8 foot rollers and although taking the wind and waves on our nose it was manageable. Boo slept in its basket, the kids hung out in the galley and I dozed off. As the day went by, the wind picked up and walls of water crashed over the foredeck and onto the flybridge. Baskets flew off shelves, drawers emptied, cupboards banged. We were unprepared and were taking a beating. John donned his wetgear and each time he entered the galley, pealed off a soaked underlayer. For the first time as a family, we agreed not to cook nibbling on crackers and cookies.
Around 6pm John entered the cockpit and said, 'okay, here is the choice, either we turn around and head back to Bizerte in Tunisia or we keep going, either way it will be rough, but it will definitely be rougher heading to Sardinia." We agreed to keep going onwards in 40 knot winds on the nose (maxing at 47), but altered our course to head directly north to the most easterly tip on the southern coast. By now, I was feeling brutally ill and had downed a gravol or two. And then all hell broke loose and you know the rest of the story.
(PS. I type this now LYING on the flybridge in the setting sun on the way to Palma, Mallorca from Sardinia. In the course of two days, the winds have died down and we are flying the gennaker making about 6 knots. We learned a lesson or two and, although we suffered some damage to our main, we came through it safely and Windancer once again proved herself to be strong and determined. I leave you then, with the sincerest sailors' blessing and never have I appreciated it more...Fair Winds and Following Seas.)
18/09/2008, Medina (the Old City), Tunis, Tunisia
Ooh, What a Day
Saturday in Tunisia...what to do? Aah, a little retail therapy perhaps. Said, our driver for the day, picked us up around 11 and as he drove us into Tunis, pointed out the buildings and monuments in half French-half English. We walked the main street, a very European influenced Avenue de France, lined with embassies, hotels and a very large cathedral. Who knew two popes were born in Tunisia and another one's family originated from here? The streets were packed with locals shopping and wandering but not eating. It is Ramadan and from sun up to sun down, neither food nor water shall pass the lips of a Muslim.
As soon as we crossed through the archway of the medina (old walled town around the Mosque) we were in retail heaven. The narrow alleys lead us into the souks where different alleys or sections were dedicated to different wares - clothing, jewellery, leather, ceramics. We had been warned about the aggressive vendors and that bargaining was expected. We had a field day bargaining for wooden bowls (yes Karen, Em and Kate, I finally got my olive wood bowls), dishes, framed scorpians, camel bone bracelets, and necklaces. Each vendor tried a different tactic, but we stuck to our guns, walked away, returned when called or chased, offered a new price and finally settling on something we both felt fair. Said would interject every now and then, in Arabic, sometimes early in the negotiation with a look and short expression that, even not knowing Arabic, you knew meant, "way too much". Sometimes he sided with the vendors and picked out pretty items, taught us about their religious or ceremonial meaning and tried to get us to buy.
Said remained by our side throughout the day except for a 45 minute break midday when he left us in a tiny café while he went for prayer at the Mosque. We plunked ourselves down amongst what could only be tourists for no locals would dare be eating and ordered coffees, tea avec menthe (served with pinenuts floating on top) juice and sandwiches. We watched the souks empty except for a lone shopkeeper who stayed back while all the Muslims went for prayer. Said returned at 2:45 and after a few more souks, he met up with another 'guide' who led us to the government house. A fellow Canadian we met in Rome had warned me about this approach, whereby they hand you off to friends or brothers who eventually lead you to a carpet shop. It turns out that "this was the Government House, formally the King's Palace and now home to the most exquisite carpet 'museum' only open one week a year and this was the last day of the week, but first you come up and see the view". Peering over Tunis we could see the different mosques, the whitewashed buildings, the hundreds of satellite dishes and loads of garbage on the roofs. After sitting on the King's bed and making a wish, we were lead into a room filled with the most beautiful carpets, but after explaining we live on a boat and have no home, they shewed us out the door.
It was closing on 5pm and Said wanted us to return to Sidi Bou Said, as the evening was approaching and he wished to return to his family for dinner. We hurried through the souks as some vendors closed for the day only to be replaced with food stalls selling pastries and desserts for the evening. We sampled a few but didn't take to the almond, honey and fig treats.
As we drove back to Sidi we passed a pick-up truck with a goat in the back - an offering from the bride's father to the prospective groom. (John, you should have held out for at least a goat from Bill!).
We ran from the car back to the boat in the torrential rain - the first we had seen in months since Barcelona. Pulling our wares out of backpacks and bags, we displayed all our goods and spent the next hour retelling the bargaining stories behind each item - from the 2 toothed jewellery vendor to the guy who asked "30 dinar for 1, 2 for 75" and then sheepishly shrugged his shoulders when John pointed out his flawed math, to the man who asked John how many wives to the vendors yelling "John, hey Canada" as I tried to find him amidst the crowds.
17/09/2008, Sicily and Malta
The following blogs are slightly out of chronological order and occurred prior to our arrival in Tunisia.
Sailing out of Riposto, we made our way in the evening sun to what we thought would be our last stop in Italy. Under Johnnie's watch we navigated the coastline and anchored perfectly at midnight in the harbour of Siracusa on the southern tip of Sicily. The next morning a Lagoon 420 anchored close by and John, who doubles as Social Director, dinghied over to greet John and Gillian, a couple from Australia who had picked up their Cat in France and were making their way slowly back to Oz.
After a quick chat, the crew of Windancer dinghied into Siracusa where for the first time in Italy we experienced the locals' market lined with vegetable, fruit, spice, cheese, meet and fish stalls. The fish vendors were the liveliest hawking their fresh catch upon tables laden with fish, mussels, squid, octopus and swordfish whose heads were proudly on display. At the end of the market was a beautiful wine, cheese and meat shop where we sampled all our goods before buying and walked out with delicious cheeses, salami and a few bottles of wine. Our only regret was that we didn't know how good one of those bottles of wine was, for had we known then, what we now we would have bought a case. (We shared it a few days later in Malta with some other sailors and fell instantly in love - velvety smooth and rich. And in case you are wondering, what is it called, that too is a mystery for we tossed the bottle.)
That evening in Siracusa we had dinner with John and Gillian at a local restaurant famous for its spaghetti. Dinner was slightly delayed as our Australian friends had to return to the boat for Gillian to change after she fell in the harbour while navigating her way out of the dinghy - the 5th time in three months!!! And the kids think I have a tough time getting in and out of the dinghy. We couldn't leave Italy without one last visit to the gelateria where the kids dined on a local favourite - brioche con gelato, a puff pastry filled with your ice cream of choice.
That night we bid our friends goodbye and set sail for an overnighter to Malta in calm seas and wind.
As you sail into Malta, you get the feeling you have just come across the largest sandcastle in the world. The capital Valletta juts out from Grand Harbour and her sandy coloured buildings blend together into a blur of beige. We arrived on Sunday, September 7th, a national holiday in Malta commemorating their battles in WWII. Everything was closed and while John went exploring in St Julians, a small tourist town, the kids and I swam until Jenny fell victim to a jellyfish sting. There we were peacefully swimming in the refreshing waters until Jenny's ear piercing scream broke the silence "OWWWW, something bit me!" We swam quickly back to the boat, applied afterbite and a special ointment and after 30 minutes the pain dissipated leaving a perfectly circular silver-dollar sized mark which lingered for the next few days as a reminder of those nasty beasts.
That night, the local pyrotechnics team set off their fireworks a mere 100 feet from our boat. We had watched them get ready during the day, but had not been told to move our anchorage. With Jim and Geb, a young English couple just returning from a three year circumnavigation, aboard we shared that delicious bottle of wine and watched the festivities amidst the deafening roar of the show. It was only towards the finale that we got a bit worried as some of the final rockets shot sideways and sprinkled over Windancer.
Monday, as it turns out, was also a holiday, so we gathered up all our pool gear, dinghied to the local hotel, plunked ourselves into a few loungers and dove into the refreshing pool. Craving freshwater, we were shocked and somewhat disappointed to discover the pool was salt water. All was not lost though, for the indoor pool was fresh water and after lunch we discovered two free computers with unlimited internet access where John and I spent most of the day catching up, checking email, blogs and world news.
Tuesday, Malta was 'open' and we jumped the local bus and headed to Valletta, a 30 minute ride. The buses of Malta are famous, vintage 1950s yellow lories with rounded front ends and no air conditioning. (Note to self - pay attention to the locals for there is a reason they all carry fans. It was brutally hot on the bus and we couldn't wait to get off in the central bus terminal outside the main gates of Valetta.) We wandered down Republic Street, the main thoroughfare and a rather disappointing touristy haven lined with tacky shops and clothing retailers. There were a few gems though - English bookstores and a Mcdonalds where we treated the kids to lunch. We continued to wander the town and after passing the nondescript entrance, made our way to St. John's Co Cathedral.
One of the few churches to charge admission we paid our entrance fee, received our individual audio taped tours and I donned the polyester scarf for my shoulders and wrap skirt to cover my knees. The contrast between the drab sandy exterior and interior took our collective breath away. There wasn't a square inch of floor, wall or ceiling not adorned with sculptures, carvings, inlaid marble or frescoes. We journeyed from station to station listening to the narrative of this remarkable church. The following is from the visitor's guide:
"St. John's Co-Cathedral is a unique monument of international importance. It owes its rich history and artistic heritage to the fact that for over 200 years it was the conventional church of the Order of the Knights of St John. The Grand Masters and Knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art by leading artists available to them. As a result it is a most glorious ad magnificent artistic expression of the High Baroque era. The Knights were noblemen from the most important families of Europe and they had a mission - that is to protect the Catholic faith and Europe from the attacks of the Ottoman Turks. After the attach known as the Great Siege in 1565 it seems that the Knights vowed to turn Malta into a fortress that befitted a military Order with a capital city worthy of so illustrious a group of noblemen. Pride of place in the centre of the new city Valletta was reserved for their Church. The building was completed in 1577 and dedicated to St John the Baptists, the patron saint of the Order.
The plain façade flanked by two large bell towers is sever and has the character of a fortress reflecting the sober mood of the Order after the Great Siege. In the 17th century, the Grand Masters ordered the redecoration of the interior ushering in the dawn of the Baroque style and its flamboyant character. Under the Calabrain artist Mattia Preti, the naves were decorated to honour the Grand Masters and the walls were carved with elaborate motifs characteristic of Baroque ornamentation transforming the walls into a riot of gilded foliage, flowers and angels."
Back to me: the two sections of the church we loved the most were the inlaid floors and the Oratory housing the paitings of the renowned artist Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio. The floor throught the cathedral consisting of a collection of tombstones. They reveal the stories of important knights, their acts of chivalry, religious fervour and their desire to be remembered. In the Oratory, the largest painting eer done by Caravaggio and the only piece signed (in the blood of the slain St. John) hangs above the altar. The Beheading of St John the Baptist is remarkable in its harsh reality and chiaroscioro technique (the use of light and shadows) that makes it almost look like a photograph. Other treasures in the cathedral included a room of tapestries on the cartoons of Flemish artish Rubens.
We must have spent over two hours in the cathedral and the entrance fee was worth every penny. We couldn't get over the amazing contrast between the plain exterior and over-the-top ornate interior. (I encourage you to google both the cathedral and Caravaggio for examples of the beauty.)
We continued to explore the old city and headed down to the harbour where we picked up an authentic Hard Rock Malta t-shirt (we thought it was a rather cool one to own, couldn't be that many people who have been there, but then, in Connor's twisted thinking, he did think the Hard Rock Vatican City would be cooler!!)
Returning to the boat via the still boiling bus, John and Connor got off in the main town to pick up boat parts while Jenny and I returned to the boat. We joined Jim and Geb for a drink on their boat that night and then next day, after a bit of parts and food provisioning and saying good bye to our sailing mates (including the Australian couple who had just anchored in the same bay), we set sail in the evening. We headed away from Europe and made our way to Africa!
07/09/2008, Marina de Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Note: we are a few cities back in our updates and will be posting Syracuse and Malta in the next week. While it is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share an evening in Tunisia.
We sailed from Malta on the evening of September 10th and had a relatively quiet 36 hour passage (ie motoring) with the exception of a six hour spurt on the night of the 11th when we picked up some wind, shut down the motors and sailed for the first time in weeks. Did we mention, that besides the heat, there is no wind in the Med?
Arrived in Tunisia into a small port town, Sidi Bou Said, about 10 km up the coast from Tunis. With no space in the marina we docked side-to at the fuel dock and shortly thereafter a 38ft monohull rafted along side us. The pace in Tunisia is very slow; the gas station operator was sleeping in his 'office' and if you really needed him, you could knock on the window and wake him up. After a rather lengthy check in process during which John had to explain in broken French what I did for a living, John and the kids returned to the boat with a customs official in hand who boarded the boat (a first for us) and looked around and, using hand signals, inquired if we had any weapons on board.
Jenny and Connor played with the countless kittens hiding in octopus pots along the dock. Tempting, but we are still holding out on taking one on board.
With the official check in behind us, John and I switched on the generator, fired up the air conditioning and went back to sleep to catch up on the watch schedule confusion our bodies always suffer. Later in the day, the four of us took a taxi into the Sidi Bou Said, a very small touristy town lined with white buildings, blue shuttered windows and colourful doors. We wandered the market and very quickly experienced the friendly harassment of Tunisian vendors. Here is a typical conversation:
"Hello, where you from?"
"Ah, Canada, you capitalists? What do you like?"
[I pick up an olive wood salad bowl - I have been searching for them for ages and am looking forward to striking a deal in Africa]
"How much you want to pay?'
"How much is it?"
"How much you want to pay? Dinar or Euro?"
"Tell me lady, how much you want to pay?" [Takes my arm and guides me further into his store]
"I don't want it. It is too much."
"Lady, I make you a good deal. Buy two."
"No, I am not interested"
"Lady, it is the end of the day, I shut down, not eaten all day [ooops, forgot to mention, we arrived during Ramadan], I make you good deal."
[We walk away slowly; he follows]
"Lady, tell me, how much you pay? 70? Okay for you, 60, 50...."
And so it goes, in each stall, each store, each item. We have spied some lovely dishes we like and a chess board for Connor, but we are saving ourselves for Tunis.
After the market we hop a cab to the Carrefour, a large grocery/department store (like Loblaws or Real Canadian Superstore) and do some provisioning. The store is buzzing, as it the hour leading up to sundown, and the locals are stocking up on food for their evening feast. While John starts with groceries, I head into the department store looking for acrylic wine glasses and sunscreen. I cannot find either and suddenly, smile to myself as I remind myself we are in a Muslim country where drinking is forbidden and sunscreen is not required (as we glimpsed earlier in the day as women waded into the waters off the beach fully clothed from head to toe). I find John and the kids standing at the bakery counter anxiously awaiting the fresh baguettes. The baker drops the first dozen from the rack - steaming hot, we scoop up two. In a matter of minutes, 12 dozen baguettes disappear in the hands of the shoppers. (The kids, hungry and unfed, quickly demolish them and after we pick up the rest of our groceries, we line up for two more baguettes.)
We also picked up a chocolate cake to celebrate our 100 days aboard Windancer as a family.
As we exit Carrefour, we inquire about a taxi to which the locals roll their eyes and reply, "One hour, it is time to eat." Well, nothing we can do about it, so we reenter the mall, sit down, pull out our roast chicken and devour it followed by icecream. If you cant beat 'em, might as well join em.
After about 30 minutes, a taxi arrives interrupting John's trip to the Asia Food stall in the food court where hundreds of Carrefour employees line up to have dinner. Returning to Windancer, the Austrian couple rafted alongside invite us over for a drink. We convince them to join us in our salon amidst the air conditioning and were sharing a late bite (George's homemade bread and real parmesan from Parma) and a few bottles of wine. Our evening was briefly interrupted when the wind suddenly whipped up and the lightening lit up the skies. Pushed into the cement fuel dock, we quickly reset the lines, added a few more lines and fenders and, after stowing some cushions, returned to another bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
05/09/2008, Riposto, Sicily, Italy
After two and a half exhausting days in Rome, we left the port around 5 in the evening and set out for an overnighter to Capri on the Malfi coast. We had intended to leave a little earlier, but we had run into a couple from Oakville in the marina who had set sail a year ago from Toronto as part of a three year journey. Pretty small world - here we are in a 900 slip marina and we dock three berths down from John and Roberta. After sharing sailing stories (they had come from Malta and Tunisia), we headed out into a beautiful peaceful night.
We came across Capri mid day on September 2nd and anchored on the north coast outside of some grottos famous in the days of the Roman emperors who created nymphariums (your guess is as good as mine as to what took place there). We sailed past the famous Blue Grotto and anchored outside of the Capri marina. Jenny and I dinghied ashore and took the funicular (a sideways cable car) up to the top of the town where we wandered the streets and window shopped for that is all you can do in a town laden with every boutique you can imagine. The whitewashed buildings lined with bouganvillia reminded me of St Barts (okay, sorry about the name dropping, but if any of you have been there, you would get the picture).
The next morning our Captain got us underway very early for John had planned a brilliantly timed 32 hour crossing that took us past Stromboli at 2 am. We woke the kids and from a mile or two out we watched the glowing tip of the volcano spew lava every fifteen minutes. As an active volcano, Stromboli burps constantly and the people of Stromboli go about their day to day activities without fear of a major eruption.
That afternoon we entered Marina d'Etna in the town of Riposto on Sicily. Riposto itself is rather unattractive with crumbling buildings and pothole riddled streets and as we were in Sicily for the first time, we couldn't help but imagine the Costra Nostra gathered around checkered table clothes in the backs of bars discussing Luigi's business ventures and Mario dating cousin Maria. We saw none of the Mafia and while the government and tourism will tell you they aren't a problem, the locals will tell you they are just a part of life; in fact, the entire Italian economy is founded on white money (legitimate, taxable income) and black money (a cash society) and we were warned the further south you went, the more you needed cash and credit cards were virtually non existent.
After a lovely dinner of calzione, pizza diavolo, cozze (muscles) and pistachio pesto pasta and a litre of local wine, we retired early to get ready for our adventure up Etna the next morning. For the second time in a week we set our alarm, had a quick breakfast, packed up our warm clothing (as it can get cool at the top of the volcano) and bathing suits (for swims in the Alcantara valley river). We were picked up in a Land Rover Defender and greeted by our tri-lingual guide, Marcello. With another couple in tow we started out of Riposto through the tiny towns heading towards Mt Etna, Europe's largest active volcano. It covers approximately 1250 square km and reaches a height of 3350ft above sea level. We stopped briefly so Marcello could put the jeep in 4X4 and started along the "Land Rover Highway" where we bumped and rolled and jarred our way up the hill. Along the way, we stopped a few times to walk up trails and see the lush lava valleys around Etna covered in citrus groves, vineyards, and pine forests reminiscent of BC's Stanley Park. Unable to go to the top of Etna, we walked along a trail to one of the many surrounding extinct craters. Along the trails you could pick up lava rock sparkling with reds, blues, gold and silver minerals. We continued to a cave that dropped down 8 metres and extended 200 metres underground. If you sat quietly, you could drop a stone down the cave and hear as it bounced along the walls to the bottom.
From the craters of Etna we drove through the Alcantara Valley to a bed and breakfast where we stopped for lunch. We had booked a ploughman's lunch (bread with salami, cheese wine and antipasto) whereas the other couple had booked the full lunch. So, while they ate inside we were banished to the outdoor terrace and served a lovely lunch on plastic dishes and cutlery and visited by the local cats from the farm. Due to our smaller lunch, we were finished early and asked permission to swim in the B&B's pool - the first time in a freshwater pool in over 3 months. We all agreed we would gladly trade the indoor lunch for the refreshing dip.
After lunch we drove to the Alcantara River and hiked down to the creek of freeeeezing waters. We watched as tourists floated downstream dressed in full wetsuits, helmuts and harnesses. Not so for the hardy Canadians (well all of them except Ziggy who could make it waist deep but not much further). John, Connor and Jenny waded upstream with Jenny climbing higher and higher on John's back to stay out of the water. Clad only in bathing suits the trio ventured further upstream to a set of rapids, hiked over the rocks and then shot the rapids back towards the pond where Ziggy stood, once again shaking her head as her two, no make that three, kids fooled around and frolicked in the waters.
We drove back to Riposto, said goodbye to Marcello and set sail for an overnighter to Syracusa on the southern Sicilian coast.
04/09/2008, Rome, Italy
Rome wasn't built in a day and you can't really see it in less than a year (to do it justice), but if you only had two days, here are some things to note:
1. Pick your spots. We perused a tourist map and chose to see: the Vatican, Vatican Museum, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Forum, Spanish Steps and Pantheon. Lots to see in two days, but we made it happen seeing all but the Vatican & Museum on the first day. The subways are great - only 2 lines A and B. As Connor noted, they only have 2 lines as every time they excavate a new area, they stumble across the remnants of history and turn the subway line into an archeological dig.
2. If you have to see a lot in a few days, take tours. After our visit to the Coliseum, we crossed the street to the Palatine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Originally where Romulus settled, the hill became the home to the emperors and as each emperor ruled, they extended their territory. Nero, a bit of an egomaniac, extended it through half of what is modern day Rome, by burning the homes of the citizens and rebuilding it to meet his crazy version of an emperor's life. (To give you a little history, Rome was named after Romulus, who with his twin brother, was set afloat down the river Tiber and picked up along the shore by a wolf - or what translates also as prostitute, but the Italians prefer wolf. Rescued by the wolves, but raised by a local family, it was later discovered that Romulus and Remus were the children of emperors. Romulus occupied the Palatine hill, Remus another hill, and like typical brothers they fought over whom the city should be named after. But that really didn't matter, since Romulus had his brother killed and thus ended the argument.)
3. The quality of the tour guide makes a huge difference - our first guide, Roberto, added humour into our tour of the Coliseum, but lacked some of the nuances of the English native tongue, although he did a wonderful job correcting my pronunciation of Michaelangelo (not pronounced like Michael Jackson, I was told, but Meekelangelo). Anthony from New Zealand took us through the Palatine Hill and filled our ears with his passion for Roman history and architecture. We stood on the throne where citizens came before the reigning emperor to ask a question to which they did not know the answer, which ranged from yes to death and somewhere in between. We saw the site commemorating Romulus as the early emperor and saw the home of Augustine which had just opened months before.
4. Wish for rain when you visit the Pantheon, a pagan temple commissioned in 27BC and rebuilt after a fire in 117 and 125AD. Atop the rotunda is an opening, the eye, and when it rains the people of Rome flock to it so watch the water wash over the 2000 year old marble floors and drain through the holes in the floor. It was a remarkable site.
5. Have coins ready when you get to the Trevi Fountain for legend has it if you throw a coin and drink from its water, you will return to Rome. Most tourists throw in 10-20 cents and in the course of a day, they collect $3000EU donated to help the homeless. Neptune sits atop the fountain and below him the settled and rough oceans sit below.
6. Set an alarm and get there early. For the first time on our trip we set an alarm - who knew other than Connor that you can set an alarm on an ipod? We left the boat at 6am, took a bus, a train and 2 subways to the Vatican. Upon arriving to meet a tour group we set our eyes on the line forming outside of the Museum, for on the last Sunday of every month the entrance to the Vatican Museum is free and over 100,000 people lined up to see THE most famous site, the Sistine Chapel. As much as we wanted to spend time with our guide Anthony, we couldn't imagine lining up for 2 hours. So, we sent John on a rekkie (recognizance trip) upon which he was invited to join a tour a mere 100 feet from the beginning of the 5000 person line up and pay 25EU for the adults/free for the kids for a tour of the museum. Our jaded souls told us this couldn't be true, but we decided to risk it and were greatly rewarded. Our tour guide, Jim, from Grand Rapids Michigan was a theology and art history major who had lived in Rome for over 4 years and toured the Vatican and Museum over 800 times and he made every moment worth it, mixing art with history, religion, mythology, architecture, politics and archeology. It was fabulous.
7. Be prepared to be awed. The Vatican Museum houses over 11,000 pieces and is overwhelming. Jim took us outside, sat us in a plaza and told us the history behind why the Vatican is where it is, the significance behind St Peters Square obelisk (where Peter is buried) and a little about the actual principality of the Vatican, the smallest in the world behind Monaco and Lichtenstein. The Vatican has its own EU currency and postage system as well as an army, the famous Swiss Guard. Each year 120 new guards are picked from the applicants who must: be Swiss, between the ages of 18-25, speak five languages, Roman Catholic and have completed military service and then receive special training. Don't let those funny looking clown costumes fool you! Jim delighted us in the stories behind Michaelangelo receiving the commission to complete the ceiling. His rivals at the time felt threatened by his skill and arrogance and one, upon being asked by the Pope to paint the ceiling and figuring out it would take a team of artists over 10 years to complete the vaulted ceiling, (politely) declined but suggested Michaelangelo to get him out of the competitive art scene. Turns out Michaelangelo didn't even consider himself a painter and considered carving marble sculptures the true work of artists. In fact he had never even painted in the frescoe style before starting the ceiling. He was asked to paint saints on the ceiling, but after starting and in frustration, destroying his first attempt, struck a bargain with Pope Julius II - "I'll paint it if you let me choose the subject matter and promise I will be free upon my completion to return to what I love, marble sculptures. Deal." He worked alone for 4 years, building the scaffolding, lugging the materials up to the top and contorting himself into a twisted figure, began what is truly perfection. In the frescoe style which requires working with wet plaster he only completed about an 8X8 inch section a day and for days would remain on the top of the scaffolding, sleeping atop. We took time to revel in the beauty of the most famous section - the creation of man, the famous finger of god reaching out to Adam. [By the way, it appears that there is something anatomically incorrect about Adam in Michaelangelo's rendition - can you figure it out? (Connor could, the first visitor in over 6 months to get it right, but go figure that Cliffy Claven stats boy would know!). Submit your answers in the comment section and, Steve Southwood, no googling the answers.]
8. Be prepared not to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, not for the seemingly obvious reasons that pictures can damage the frescoes, but as a result of a rights agreement between the Vatican and Nippon, the Japanese company who paid for the restoration of the ceiling. Nippon didn't know quite what it would take when the restoration started in 1980; heck if takes 4 years to paint, how long would it take to clean it up? Well, hundreds of people, 10 years and $180 million. In return, Nippon asked for rights to all photos and souvenirs for 50 years.
9. Dress appropriately to enter the Vatican - shoulders covered and no short shorts. In the largest church in the world, you could spend days viewing the art works (it took 80 years to finish the interior). As it was a Sunday, mass was being said and we were told that the Pope was in Rome and would bless the crowds in St Peters Square at noon. Seems it was a rumour for he was still hanging at his summer home in Castel Gondolfo, but through modern technology, they brought him to the square broadcast on giant flat screen TVs. John and the kids climbed to the top of St Peters basilica, the highest point in Rome today and for ever, for Rome has agreed there will never be a taller building in the city. They took an elevator up half way, walked the remaining 320 steps up viewing the city and trecked the 551 steps down.
We finished our day taking a bus (as the subway was out of order) and suffered the crowds and heat. They aren't kidding when they say it is crowded in August and, once again, it was soooooo hot. We returned to Windancer hot, tired and thoroughly awed by the beauty and wonders of Rome. You can't turn a corner without stumbling across another marvel. Thank goodness we threw those coins into the Trevi Fountain, since the city is beckoning for us to return.
03/09/2008, Rome, Italy
In Rome there are 2 subway lines, A and B. Why are there only 2 subway lines for such a huge city? Because of history, there is so much in Roma that it is piling up, literally! The older the history is, the deeper the artifacts are buried. When the city of Rome's government go to dig tunnels they stumble upon something, a statue of an emperor, a bathtub made of an extinct rock or the reminiscent of a gladiator and his or her shield and sword!
As we stepped out of the subway we were stunned, at least I was, at this building that was crumbling. That was the best part of seeing the Roman coliseum, knowing that it has been there for thousands of years! The booing of the crowd, roars of lions and tigers and the clinking of swords seemed to be right there and was pulling you back into time until a Scottish lad pulled us back into reality! The guy was maybe 25 and wore a shirt backing up his accent. " Do you speak English?" he asked. "Yes" we answered, however before we could squeeze another syllable in he blurted out his well-practiced speech on why we might want a tour the cost and other facts. We paid an extra 9 euros each and joined our group of "12" other tourists through security and on into the coliseum! The interior was less impressive, the seats had been taken out by Michelangelo to build the dome of the Basilica in the Vatican and the stage was long gone, exposing the thick stone cages and elevators for the animals. The animals were imported from what we now call Asia and Africa! The tigers were from the orient, elephant and lions from Africa. The animals that survived were killed and eaten. The Romans imported so many lions that they were close to extinction! From what we have gathered, the schedule of the games were as followed:
man vs. animal
animal vs. animal
at noon they had gladiator fights
and in the afternoon were the prisoner executions
Gladiators were 85% prisoners of war, 10% slaves and 5% volunteers! When the Romans pillaged and plundered, their prisoners included families. The men and women fought and the children ran out and agitated the animals with large forks. The gladiators would drink what we would now call red-bull, made of gladiator blood because they believed the testosterone made them stronger.
Part two of our tour was to the palace of the Roman emperors and the forum! Stay tuned for more on that.
02/09/2008, Cavi, Italy
When we sparked our friendship with Maris in the Azores and Lagos Portugal, we were instantly enamored by her friendly, ever-positive nature and shared laughs as she regaled us with her sailing stories. A competitive sailor, Maris, a native of Wales, now lives with her partner, Michel in Cavi, a small town about 45 minutes south of Portofino. Michel moved to Italy (after studying in the US and Holland) almost on a whim and started his dental practice. Sitting in the cockpit of Windancer in Lagos, Maris invited us to visit not only her new home, but lured us in with a visit to the dentist. Now, going to the dentist does not usually rank high on our things to do, but the opportunity to have an English-speaking dentist check out teeth was tempting.
How often does your dentist pick you up from the train station, drive you to the office, open it up just for you (remember, almost everyone is on holidays in August), check out the family's teeth, fill a broken filling and then invite you for a home-cooked meal. Turns out we all need to floss more; Jenny has two loose baby teeth and Connor's molars are pushing some of the last of his milk teeth to the side.
Sitting outside on the terrace of Maris and Michel's apartment overlooking the sea in Cavi, we enjoyed the best meal in Italy - homecooked, wrapped in the warmth of new friends and good wine, we ended a perfect day in Italy.
The next day we invited Maris and Michel to join us in our home and together sailed to Portofino where George (Clooney that is, but after seeing his face on calendars and ads throughout Europe, I feel we are on a first name basis) rides his chopper from his home in Lake Como. A tiny little town an hour drive north of the villages of Cinque Terre, Portofino's beauty lies in her quaint, under-stated charm. Lining the harbour are all the big names - YSL, Hermes, Zegna - mixed with the art galleries, gelaterrias and small touristy shops. Offlimits to most boats, we anchored in the outlying bay and dinghied ashore, wandered the streets, had the requisite gelato and sailed downwind to Siestri Levanti in the setting sun. We picked up Michel's daughter, Mika (sp??) and cooked up a MacKenzie favourite, tacos accompanied by beers, rum and cokes and the songs of Jimmy Buffet.
The oceans may be large but the family of sailors is really quite small; you meet, you share stories, you head off into different directions, but paths are sure to cross. And we are sure we will cross paths with Maris and Michel again, perhaps in the Canaries and if not, in the Caribbean as they compete in the J class races in St Maarten and Antigua.
Between La Spezia and Lavanga lie the five remote villages of Cinque Terre, recognized by the Unesco "Mankind's World Heritage" for their unique man-made landscape carved into the hills of the Ligurian coast. The villages, accessible only via foot or small boat, display the wares cultivated from the hills - olive oil, wine, pasta, pesto. Generations have worked to create this monument in the landscape where the stone terraces stretch from the hilltops to the sea held up with over 7000 stones unaided by cement or modern equipment. Until recently the paths between the five towns were the only communication routes; the rough coastline and harsh seas make it difficult to guarantee entry from the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. Today, the land falls under the protection of the National Park and Protected Marine Area and larger boats are discouraged from sailing, fishing and anchoring close to the coast.
On a gloriously hot day last Tuesday, August 26th we boarded the train in Lavagna with Maris Lyons, our fellow sailor from the ARC who had invited us to share time with her in this exquisite corner of Italy. In 45 minutes we were transported to the most southerly of the villages, Riomaggiore from where we began our day's adventures. The town itself was a tiny hamlet with narrow lanes and streets lined with small tourist shops, fruitteria, enotecha, cafes and pizzerias who beckoned to John like mermaids to a sailor. Unable to resist, we often ducked in to pick up fresh foccaccio with pomodoro (tomato and olive oil).
Each town boasts a harbour (a bit of a stretch of the definition) for here a few fishing boats moored and more lined the road sloping directly into the sea. We quickly set off for the next town, Manarola, a mere 20 minutes away along the Via dell'Amore (the road of love) where locals come to propose and surrounding a sculpture of man and woman, hundreds of padlocks representing their love can be found chained to the walls. Manarola was only slightly larger than the first town and we stopped only long enough to visit a local art gallery displaying originals capturing the light and colours of the local landscape.
From Manarola we walked the 2 km to the town of Corniglia, the highest of the five towns. The hike ended with a steep climb up winding steps where we rewarded ourselves with lunch and a trip to the gelateria. Corniglia is a bit bigger than the previous towns with boutiques and specialty stores of pasta, sauces and wines.
From Corniglia we trekked the hardest route that we thought would take us downhill to Vernazza resting on the sea, but we first had to traverse a steep uphill along rough paths and uneven steps carved into the hillside. Two kilometers took us 80 minutes and we arrived tired, dusty and thirsty. With a visit to the dentist awaiting, we stopped our visit at Vernazza and returned to Siestri Levanti via train. The 5 kilometers between the four villages took our breath away - figuratively and literally. Stopping along the paths to rest in the shade of olive trees we would glimpse back at the tiny towns nestled along the sea in the valley of the hills and feel a great sense of accomplishment to have walked the paths taken by many before us. It is with these images that we ended our day in Cinque Terre.
26/08/2008, Levanta, Italy
The Trifecta di Connor
Life on board appears filled with many little rituals, which over time eke into your family's life. Rituals in the eyes' of strangers, but for those of us in the moment, they become our memories, our fondest moments, and our glimpses of what we dreamed this journey would really be.
Months before we set off while I was hashing out the details of my sabbatical at work, a co-worker and dear friend, Tova, asked me very pointedly, "what do you want to get out of this trip?" I never forget that day, for it caused me to surface three very clear reasons that until that moment I didn't know I had defined.
1. John and I wanted to give our kids, Connor and Jenny, experiences and memories that would shape their actions, thoughts and decisions for the rest of their lives.
2. Time for John and me to reconnect as a couple and accomplish a shared goal and make the dream a reality.
3. Give myself some time to do what I love - read, travel, explore, and see the arts.
Today, we watched as some of the simplest rituals, some of the simplest moments became lasting memories as Connor achieved a never before achieved trifecta - win, place and show.
We started with the ritual of games. When we packed (and over packed), we loaded up on games - cards, UNO, Skippo, Phase 10, chess, backgammon, checkers, crib, brain teasers, puzzles. I have long loved to play games, as have the rest of the family, but John and I make it a rule, that we very rarely play against each other as neither can stand to lose to the other. Crib was one of those games that I love to play, but until this trip John avoided playing with me. This last Christmas, under a tree filled with gifts destined for life on Windancer, I received my favourite Christmas gift - a cribbage board from John. Even though he (in the past) loathed playing against me, he gave me a gift that he knew would make me happy and something we could do in the many hours just the family would be aboard. Under the tutelage of Uncle Bob, Jenny quickly learned all the combos adding to 15 and 31. In the recent past she has skunked not only John and me, but BOTH John and me in the same game. Games are part of boat life.
Scrabble is another game that has its place aboard Windancer. I have challenged most of our guests and relished in winning (usually). It isn't that I have a great vocabulary, but learned at the hands of our contractor to play the board, not my letters. Last night Connor and I dusted off the scrabble, yanked out the dictionary and began. Not only did Connor beat me, but also he scored a whopping 294 points with words like EX, QAID, ZOEA and UNCHAINS. He played brilliantly, searching the board for triple letter and word spots to lay the highest point letters. The first of the trifecta - WIN.
This morning, we stumbled across a gem of a town, Portavenere, just outside of Spezia. Under a black and white striped church from the 13th century, the thin multi-coloured homes line the marina. Hidden behind the homes runs the main street, which houses olive, pesto and wine boutiques. From the cobbler's store emanates the succulent aroma of leather and inside the most beautiful bags hang over the hand made shoes. Further down the way we see the pesto/cheese/olive oil vending machine, in case you have a hankering for the delicacies and arrive when the stores are closed. On the way to the church where a cat sleeps under the altar you come across Byron's Grotto dedicated to the great author who lived here. As is our usual ritual when we come to a town in the morning, I found a café and ordered breakfast - cappuccino, brioche and jus presse (freshly squeezed orange juice). This morning, Connor asked if he too could have a coffee. After adding the requisite sugar to his cappuccino Connor relished in his first coffee. The second of the trifecta - in the quaintest PLACE, a hidden gem, Connor become my partner in this morning ritual.
(As an aside, for those of you familiar with Connor's often endless prattling, imagine it on fast forward as the caffeine jag kicked in. As we wandered the quiet streets and tucked into boutiques and the quiet of the church, there was Connor literally hopping, picking up his sister, bouncing off the ancient walls, all the while spewing facts - all accurate facts, but at times totally unrelated to the moments at hand. Ahhh, the power of the coco bean.)
Later today, we sailed the coast of the Cinqueterra, a series of five very isolated towns linked by narrow walkways and home to man-made terraces laden with vines heavy with grapes and olive trees. Unable to anchor in any of these protected bays, we continued to Lavanto where we anchored just outside the beach area. After swimming and completing our other rituals (homework, blogging and photo archiving), we sat down for an Italian dinner aboard Windancer - pasta, bocconcini salad, fruit, pesto and wine. (Today, while visiting in Portavenere, we purchased the most exquisite pesto from an elderly Italian gentleman who worked the front of the store while his wife made fresh batches in the back. We also bought what looked like a giant pizza without any sauces, that is actually pasta that you cut into 5cm squares and cook for 2 minutes. The result is a bready-type pasta that comes to life under a drizzle of pesto, olive oil or other sauces.)
Now, for those of you who have hosted Connor for dinner, you may be familiar with his food peccadilloes - neither pasta nor rice. But tonight, Connor choose to try the unknown and ate not a piece of pasta, but actually 2 helpings of weird flat pizza type pasta. Trifecta number three - Connor SHOWS his courage and looks his fear of pasta straight in the eye.
These simple moments - a scrabble game, café in the square, pasta on board -rituals to outsiders, but not to us. These are our memories, our triumphs. These are our quiet ways in which we subtly shape our children's experiences and, with any hope, their futures.
Dedicated to Connor for trying, to Tova for asking and to Sandra, Richard and Meghan Mary Barbara for playing a part in our games.
25/08/2008, Pisa, Italy
Pisa Was Meant to Be
Whenever a group of sailors gets together, one of two things happens. The first occurs when two ships are heading in the same direction and an impromptu, unofficial regatta suddenly starts, each claiming "it is not a race". The second occurs when there isn't enough wind for a non-race and then the sailors' tales begin, each besting the other or providing warnings and advice of future ports of call.
When we were just beginning our Med sail, we were often the recipient of an earful about the Cote d'Azur and just how awfully crowded, hot, expensive and snooty southern France could be. Now, the source was often English sailors and it seems the French and English live to keep their love-hate relationship alive. We also had heard how great Italy could be the further south you went, but just how hard it was to find anchorage along the Ligurian and Tuscan coasts and almost impossible to find dock space. And if you have a catamaran whose dimensions make you almost a perfect rectangle, you might as well pack it in now.
So as we meandered along the southern French coastline, we discovered crowded beaches, hot towns where the sweat trickled down your back before you stepped ashore, expensive boutiques and the occasional snooty Frenchman. But we avoided the beaches in favour of the small towns and islands, adjusted our schedules to miss the mid day sun, shopped the local markets and never stepped foot in a boutique and found ourselves charmed by the subtle humour of the French waiters and the patience of the shopkeepers as we made our almost daily market purchases.
We approached the home of pizza, pasta and gelato with a bit of anchoring trepidation - even the chart books showed few anchorages along the coast and we have a date with a dentist in Lavagna on August 26th (that is a whole other story). After we had left Elba and her lovely bays, we were bound for the Tuscan coast and Marina de Pisa, a small town just 10 km from the world-famous Pisa. So far we had pretty good luck, but our captain had his doubts we would find a place to dock and as we started up the River Arno, it looked hopeless. Lining the river were massive fishing nets and not too far ahead were overhead cables that would further thwart our attempts. But to our pleasant surprise, our radio call was answered in broken English, "head to dock 19". We docked stern to, settled in and John, Jenny and I headed to Marina de Pisa, a mere 4 km walk into town. (Connor stayed on board to finish the Da Vinci Code, one of the many novels he is chewing through these days). With the exception of the best gelato and pizza, there isn't a lot in Marina de Pisa, particularly no car rental.
We boarded a bus heading to Pisa with a plan for Jenny and I to get off at our marina and John to head to Pisa to find a car to rent. With no idea where the bus stops and watching for our marina, which in essence looked like a bunch of houses with some masts in the background behind hedges and construction, we rang the stop bell 'now', hoping for the shortest walk possible. Seems we nailed it and literally walked across the street. And seems John nailed the only car rental in the vicinity of the bus station who just happened to be open til 7 and happened to have one car left, a tiny blue FIAT with tires smaller than our fold up bikes. He was home in no time and we happily jumped in and returned to Pisa with a less than detailed map.
With no wrong turns, we parked along the street, paid our money in the meter and walked towards the Piazza dei Miracoli (Miracle Square). We could see the dome of the cathedral up the street and to the left, the Baptistry. But it was only as we entered the square that we spotted the belltower. There SHE stood, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. She is beautiful, clean, simple, and leaning, almost foolishly, but perfectly. It was the strangest feeling to be standing directly in front of her after all these years of seeing her in text books and post cards. The first thing we did was what every tourist does - snap photos of us 'holding' up the tower. We wandered to the ticket office and bought tickets for the tour the next morning and a few souvenirs. We crossed the grounds and then headed to a small restaurant for pasta.
As we returned to the boat John and I just looked at each and agreed, it was just meant to be. First, a dock spot in the most unlikely and ugliest of marinas. Then a bus ride stopping directly in front of the marina. Next, the only car rental in site, stays open and has one last car. We drive into Pisa, get a parking spot a block away from one of the Seven Wonders of the World and pay 1 EU for the meter when it costs $35/day to park in downtown Toronto to go to work. And then, we are greeted by a site that took our breath away, so majestic and pure as the evening sun lit her up. Pisa was just meant to be.
And it gets better. The next day, we got up early all ready for our trip back to the tower to climb up to the top. As we got in the car, John turned the key to ...silence. Dead battery. So what are the odds you can actually communicate, 'do you have jumper cables' in Italian? But lo and behold, the guy looks at our problem, walks back into his workshop and drags out a battery with cables on a cart and boosts the car. We make it back into town with 10 minutes before our scheduled tour, walk back into the plaza, stow our bags and head for the tower. Walking up the Leaning Tower of Pisa is no mean feet. Exactly 300 steps that slope to the outside of the building, then get steeper and then slope to the inside of the tower as you round each level. The view from the top looks over the thousands of Pisan roofs, terra cotta as far as the eye can see. After the designated time, we are instructed to leave for the next tour of guests. Tours run on the half hour and are limited to 15 with a strict no bag policy; they are serious about their Tower and protect her with a maternal love.
We head back to the car and with a full rental day ahead of us, decide to drive into Chianti country and explore a little of the countryside. We are immediately surrounded by fields of sunflowers turning their heads under the Tuscan sun. We speed along the Fi-Pi-Li highway (Firenze, Pisa, Livorno) and in no time land in Firenza, or as we like to call her, Florence. Knowing that this renaissance city takes a good 3 days, we choose to continue to Chianti country, but when we spot the roof of Brunelleschi's famous Duomo, we alter course and vrooming down narrow streets, hit upon the high end fashion district right around the corner of the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore and Campanile belltower. It was meant to be. John parks the car outside of Gucci, while the kids and I quickly venture across the square to take a few pics and marvel at the beauty of the church and Baptistry. We traded positions, I stand guard over our illegal parking spot while John quickly walks around.
We head out of the city making our way through streets spilling over with tourists and market stalls and stop for gas and some of the best pizza we have ever had, made by the guy who works at the Speedy Pizza in the gas station. We continue to Greve in the heart of Chianti country and just before we hit the town square, we turn up a winding road to the small town of Montefioralle, which is just a few tiny streets with beautiful doors and vines and bougainvillea climbing the walls. We turn into an Enoteche, a wine store, and sample the wines from 2004 to 2006 and purchase a few bottles. We wandered the triangular plaza in Greve under the watchful eye of Giovanni da Verrazzano, the statue of the local boy who made good as the first European to see Manhattan in 1524.
Driving back to Pisa we took the scenic Chiantigiana road and stopped in a 'mall' to provision for the next few weeks. Running late, we made the choice to take the car back to the rental place and then take a taxi to the boat, but the rental owner gives us a grace period so John drives us back to the boat, returns the car and catches the bus back to the boat. All in all, Pisa was just meant to be.
20/08/2008, Isola Capraia, Italy
We sailed from the island of Elba (famous for the exiled home of Napoleon) to Isola Capraia 40 miles north of Elba. We anchored in a little bay just north of the town of Porto Capraia.
Mom and I decided that we were going to go snorkeling. On the way there we saw sole fish-a flat fish that will camouflage into what it is on, such as rocks or sand. We kept snorkeling and we saw a jellyfish and thought that we could go back now. When we were heading back we saw a bag but didn't know what it was. Suddenly I saw a head looking at me, then I saw a tentacle. It was an octopus! "MOM! it is an octopus!" And then all of a sudden it stared to move. "CONNOR - OCTOPUS!" Connor swam over and then dad came in the dinghy. We took some pictures. Dad swam down and poked it. When it was poked it turned colours or swam away. Then Connor and I saw sole fish chasing a crab. Later that day, after we dried off and played some cards, we went to town, came back, and had dinner aboard. By far this was the best snorkeling I have seen so far in the Mediterranean.
16/08/2008, Portoferriao, Elba, Italy
I awoke early this morning for no particular rhyme or reason, and began to read my newly started book, The Da Vinci Code. Mom was in a get it clean mood so Jenny and I picked up the mounds of who knows what off our cabin floor, while my Mom "prepared" our cereal breakfast and my Dad worked away on his computer. We had decided to leave on the dinghy at 10:30 for Portoferraio, the town Napoleone was exiled to. We walked along the board-walk eyeing clothes, shoes and perfume stores for Mom and Jenny, WIFI for Dad and Napoleone busts for myself. We trudged up a steep set of 135 steps, Jenny keeps count, to the residence of our short friend Bonaparte. We bought our tickets and headed off to the foyer where I saw the nicest exile I've ever seen, if when my parents sent me to my room it looked like that I would be wreaking havoc every moment possible, as if I don't already. We passed his bedroom, equipped with a tall bed, draped in golden sheets and with beautiful carvings at the head of the bed, unfortunately the bed was so high up that I suspected Napoleone may have needed a ladder to have access to it. Bonaparte had many Tuscan mirrors and pictures of himself and his son, the King of Rome, a goofy name huh, I thought so too! At the exhibition upstairs we saw his hat, clothes, English lesson pages and his travel kit and tooth cleaning kit! We saw the original flag he christened when he was exiled there, and I thought I knew the definition of vain and control freak! He even had an inkpot clock with himself on it. Over all, it was a neat experience to be part of history.
Legend has it Napoleon hated Elba and counted down the days until he could leave. However, my Dad figured out why he disliked his house, beause he didn't live on the beachy west side of the island!
14/08/2008, Bastia, Corsica
We Couldn't in Cannes, But Can in Corsica
Night sails have their rewards. At the moment, in the sheer darkness, it can appear that there isn't anything rewarding about sitting on deck, alone, peering at radar to spot ships, tagging them to check the distance until our paths cross, all the while huddled under a blanket, watching waves crest with crossed fingers...please don't spray on to the top deck...please let me stay dry.
But as the skies slowly lighten, the fear, no, not fear, but more apprehension also lightens. Suddenly what appeared ominous or mysterious, is normal in the light. And then, as the sun crests the horizon, the true rewards arrive. Brilliant sunlight brings warmth along with the early morning stragglers as they stumble out of their bunks. A smile, a little friend to offer a hug. And then the reward of being off watch and returning to your bunk for a few hours more of sleep.
Sighting land is another reward and Wednesday morning after we sailed from Nice we spotted the Corsican shore about 10 am. On course for St Florent, a small town at the intersection where your index finger and thumb meet in the shape of the island of Corsica, we spied a beach and altered course. Like a mini Illettes of Formentera, we were rewarded with crystal clear warm waters and a sandy beach. After a day of playing in the waters, we anchored a short distance away off the St Florent marina. Thursday morning we dinghied ashore for our typical quest for a boulanger for fresh baguettes. A short stop in a restaurant along the marina for a petit dejeuner (café au lait, croissant, orange presse) and then a return to the boat where Connor was still sleeping, a sign of his imminent voyage into his teens (Sept 22 he will be 13).
We sailed up the index finger and around the finger tip in good winds between 10-20 knots until we passed the finger tip taking us from the west to the east coast. At the Cap Corse, we encountered the predictable 25-35 knot winds and anchored in the first small bay offering us shelter. We fell asleep to the stifling heat of a windless night to awaken to the wind whistling through our hatches. After a slow morning we set sail and sail we did.
In Cannes we hunkered down in the marina when the winds gusted to 35 knots, our guests grateful for the reprieve from the potential upheaval such gusts can bring. In Corsica, knowing that Windancer was good for it and the crew were game, we set sail down the east coast of Corsica towards Bastia. With Connor at the helm, John reefing in the main and Ziggy correcting the jib, we reached a maximum of 10.4 knots speed over ground (SOG) with a double reefed main and triple reefed jib. The wind gusted to 47 knots periodically dropping to 35kn. You could see the wind as she gusted over the water bringing with her ocean spray. In the lee of the island we were saved from big waves, but when water sprays over the hull in 40 knots, it feels like being hit by a pea shooter at close range. Oh, the glorious feel of truly sailing after almost three weeks of no wind in Southern France.
After we anchored just south of the old village in a some-what sheltered marina, I glimpsed up at the Corsican courtesy flag, a black profile on a white sail of a bandana-toting pirate-esque figure. In the winds he seemed to move forward and kiss the line holding him tight. Now, at rest, he winked down at me as if to say, "For you see, in Corsica we do things our way, even the wind is better than in France."