On the Move!
25 June 2016 | Porto Azzurro Elba
Bonnie and Rick
Rick started this blog in 2007, mainly as a way to communicate with our family and friends during our eastward passage across the Atlantic. The early postings spoke of sea state, boat speed and course, meals eaten, crew morale and equipment issues. We uploaded our posts through Sailmail, using the single side band radio, without photos. Typing on a portable keyboard as the boat heeled and bucked, we paid little attention to spelling or grammar. Inexplicably, a large number of people began following our journey. Later, the blog evolved into a travel diary, with descriptions of the things we experienced on land overtaking the sailing stories. We added more photos, provided detailed cruisers’ notes of the places we visited and paid more attention to grammar and spelling. Suddenly the posts were taking longer to write.
Then life got busier. Caring for elderly parents meant that our sailing days became less carefree. Rick’s mother died in the fall of 2014, and his father less than 4 months later. In addition to the grief of their loss, there is a long list of tasks that must be completed. My mother developed a relentlessly progressive dementia, which makes me sadder than I can possibly explain. Care arrangements must be made, houses must be sold, and belongings must be sorted. We are not complaining. We know that sooner or later, everyone encounters such difficulties. But somehow, we lost our enthusiasm for writing blog posts. Eventually I hope to fill in the gaps, because this has been a very special time in our lives. But this post will skip ahead to what’s happening now, complete with grammar and spelling mistakes.
This year will mark the end of Aisling I’s Mediterranean adventures. Several months ago, we decided to ship her back to North America to be sold. Unfortunately, instead of sailing her to Genoa to meet the ship in May as we had planned, we got sidetracked by a tantalizing offer to buy her where she sat, in Sicily. That came to naught. We ran out of time and flew home to Halifax. Then we received word that a Seven Stars transport ship would be leaving Genoa during the last week of June, bound for Sydney Nova Scotia. This was an amazing turn of events, since the usual destinations are Florida and Pennsylvania. But we weren’t sure we could get Aisling to Genoa fast enough. We were still in Nova Scotia, and Aisling was on the southeast coast of Sicily, over 600 nautical miles from Genoa . The forecasts said there would be winds from the north of varying strengths. Could we make it on time? We decided to give it a try.
We arrived in Marina di Ragusa on June 17thth, after a 24 hour journey that included far too many stops. With the forecast showing a nasty weather system headed for the south coast of Sicily, we had no time to lose. “Wash the boat and leave” our friend Goran advised.
Washing the boat was essential: a nasty scirocco had come through, leaving Aisling coated in a layer of Sahara sand and mud. Otherwise, the boat was almost ready to sail. We quickly bought provisions, took a drive to Comiso to buy new fire extinguishers, and tested our life vests. Less than 30 hours after climbing aboard, we were underway. Other than Saro, the marinaro who helped us untie our lines, and Porto, the goofy yellow lab who masquerades as the port’s watchdog, no one saw us leave. Most of our friends had left weeks ago for their summer cruising. It was an anticlimactic way to leave the place that had been our home away from home for nearly 5 years. Rick seemed a bit sad, but I felt strangely energized. If we could land Aisling in Sydney, the payoff would be big. This would put us a stone’s throw away from the Bras d’Or lakes, one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world. For a Cape Bretoner, nothing beats coming home.
Quick overnight stops in Porto Palo and Siracusa allowed me to gain my sea legs before we embarked on longer passages. (Rick’s sea legs are always with him, even after months on land.) In Porto Palo, we experienced an intense thunder storm. Unfortunately, since the dust from the scirocco was still in the air, this deposited more brown mud on Aisling’s decks. Argh. On Fathers’ Day evening, we ate spaghetti alla carbonara while gazing at the view of Siracusa from Aisling’s cockpit one last time. Rick assured me that we’d be back. But Aisling wouldn’t be.
From Siracusa, it was an easy run into the Strait of Messina. Here the conditions ranged from flat calm in the approaches, to a 20 knot headwind off Reggio di Calabria, complete with countercurrents and eddies known locally as “i bastardi” (I’m sure you’ll have no trouble guessing the translation!). With “stanka” (slack tide) projected for 8 p.m., we began to worry that the current would turn before we made it through. But when we hit the narrowest part of the Strait, the current grabbed us and hurled us into the Tyrhennian sea at an astonishing 10 knots of speed! Around us, waves broke as though we were white water rafting on a tidal bore. Then we escaped into calmer waters and pointed the bow toward Stromboli, hoping for a midnight sighting of its active volcano. Our next stop would be the island of Ponza, 140 miles to the north.
Just before we sailed out of cellphone range, we received the news that our daughter Katherine would be having an appendectomy the following day. Not wanting to be out of communication with her, we contemplated turning back to Tropea. Then I realized that we could use the satellite phone to stay in touch, so we were able to continue. I had lots on my mind as we approached Stromboli on my midnight watch, but two eruptions from the summit at around 2 a.m. and the brilliant full moon behind us made it impossible to stay glum.
On the way to Ponza, I scribbled in a notebook “The sea is lumpy and the wind is light but on the nose, as usual. We are under motor with only the staysail up to steady us, but it is actually quite pleasant. The water is a brilliant blue, and a large pod of dolphins just came to visit, cavorting at the bow in a graceful ballet. Each time the boat leaps through a wave, they leap too. Rick said it is as though they were saying “I can jump higher than you can!” As they passed the bow, each dolphin would roll a quarter turn and look at Rick, eye to eye.
At 10 a.m. on June 22nd, after two nights at sea, we approached Ponza, with its surreal rock formations and steep cliffs. This would be the second time we had approached the shoreline of this island without exploring ashore. We were feeling reasonably rested, and decided to push on. We pulled up to the fuel dock, filled our tanks with 400+ euro worth of fuel (gulp!) and made a quick run up the dock to buy some bread and fresh milk. Then we were off again, heading up the coast toward Rome.
But a big disappointment was in store. Shortly after leaving Ponza, we received an email from Seven Stars saying that the ship that was going to Sydney would be bypassing Genoa due to lack of cargo. The next potential load date would be mid-July, and Aisling would have to be shipped to Florida or Pennsylvania. The only silver lining was that there was no longer a need to rush. We continued to sail through the night, but the following morning, rather than sailing straight through to Elba, we dropped our anchor at Porto Ercole.
Porto Ercole is a charming little town, overlooked by several forts against a backdrop of beautiful mountains and forests. Our lunch at il Gambero Rosso was memorable: if this is only the 11th best restaurant in Porto Ercole (as Trip Advisor claimed) I can’t imagine how good the best restaurant must be!
The next morning, we decided to continue to Elba. We knew it would be an upwind sail, but it was less than 45 miles away. Surely we could just tack our way there. Unfortunately, we hadn’t bargained on the 20 knot headwind and the short steep seas up to 2 meters in height that we battled all the way. When your boat is 43’ long and the waves are only 20’ apart there is lots of banging and crashing, with speeds sometimes dropping abruptly from 6 knots to 2 knots as the boat slammed into the waves. We were pretty tired by the time we arrived in the beautiful anchorage off Barbarossa beach in Porto Azzuro on the island of Elba last night.
But we’re here! We’ve intended to come to Elba since our first year in the Mediterranean, and we’ve finally managed it. Ciao amici, we’re off to do some exploring!