Gibraltar to the West Indies, across the Atlantic
08 January 2020
We had six weeks to ready the boat for the sail across the Atlantic ocean. This sounds like a long time for a boat that is supposedly already shipshape, but the to-do list was long. It began with a keel to masthead inspection in the boatyard, including removal of the rudder, the most indispensable piece of equipment on the boat. Bearings were replaced, and the many through-hulls and the propeller were serviced. After launching we took a short trip to Gibraltar to load fuel and buy a new set of batteries, six in all, weighing some 500 lbs. Mike went up the mast and replaced two radio antennas and spent a whole day relearning how to solder circuits on the single side band radio. The ssb was once the mainstay of our communications on long voyages, but now it would be just a backup to satellite telephone. All the safety equipment including life raft and search and rescue beacons had to be inspected and serviced. A inside and out servicing of the engine including all filters and water pump impellers was also done. Before sailing, our crew had a two hour briefing on all the equipment and man overboard and emergency procedures.
But first, a little fear-conquering exercise
Before leaving Gibraltar we took a tour of St Michael's Cavern, one of the biggest caves inside the "Rock". For this we enlisted the service of cave master Pete, who guided us about 4 hours through the dark and mysterious grotto. Our friends Rick and Kevin, the two guys who would sail across the Atlantic with Mike, and Rick's wife Laura joined in this adventure. The tour began with a rather scary narrative from Pete of all the things that could go wrong in a caving tour, and cautions against anyone with claustrophobia or heart issues. We gulped and accepted the risks. After donning helmets and headlamps we descended into the darkness.
Upon entering the many stalactite and stalagmite pantheons we realized there was actually a lot of color in the cave rock once it was illuminated.
Before entering the cave we also had another encounter with the Barbary Apes that inhabit the slopes of Gibraltar, many of which were congregating just outside the Europa Gate cave entrance. The little ones were playfully rolling on top of parked cars. Having been cautioned against getting too friendly with the animals that are known to bite, we watched from a few feet away.
The Ladies Tour begins
Debby and Laura parted company with the guys two days before we sailed out of Gibraltar. They rented a car to drive to Cadiz, then Seville, before meeting us in Canary Islands. After we sailed from Canary Islands, Debby and Laura flew to Marrakesh, Lisbon, and Madeira, later joining us again in St Lucia.
Deva sets sail to cross the Atlantic
Mike, Rick and Kevin set sail on November 16, a day later than originally planned due to high winds in the area. The Equinoctial gales of the North Atlantic had set in, with 40 knot northerlies sweeping down the coast of Portugal, generating large swells. The winds bent around the corner of Southern Portugal and Spain to become 40 knot Westerlies in the Straits of Gibraltar. Starting our transoceanic voyage in gale force headwinds did not seem like the right way to begin our adventure, so we waited.
We did not want to wait too long as there was a three day window before the winds on the coast of Africa would turn to strong Southerlies. Deva headed out into the Straits on the edge of the densely populated shipping lanes, just as the West wind dropped to a modest 25 knots. For the first 5 hours we were only making 3 to 4 knots against a strong current and headwinds...
Thankfully we found a Counter current
Passing the infamous Tarifa Point, where the forces of wind and current are known to accelerate, we changed our course to cross the shipping lanes at a right angle, directly towards Tangiers, Morocco.
As we crossed the traffic lanes and neared the African side of the straits, a wondrous 5 knot Westbound current found us. So we went from 3 ½ knots to 9 ½ knots under sail and engine, as fast as our sea legs could carry us. Deva plowed through tide rips and chop as she pressed outward from the grips of the Strait of Gibraltar. By nightfall we found ourselves in the open Atlantic Ocean, where we would spend the next three weeks frolicking along the wave tops. The winds lightened a bit as they no longer funneled between the European and African continents. We continued under sail and engine power for most of the next five days in order to stay ahead of the next North Atlantic storm coming across from America. Aside from the constant drone of the engine, this part of our passage was relatively easy. One of our crew was seasick for 2 days while the remainder ate very little as gained our sea legs.
Going South "until the butter melts"
The conventional wisdom, both in Atlantic and Pacific, when leaving the higher latitude Westerlies and seeking the Easterly trade winds closer to the Equator, is to go South til the butter melts. And so it was for us, as the morning we left Gibraltar it was 42 degrees F and we wore foulies and woolen caps. When we would approach the trade winds near Cape Verde islands the temperatures would be over 75F.
Closer to our destination in the Caribbean, the sea and air temperatures would be in the high 80'sF.
We followed the coast of Morocco only about 60 miles offshore, mostly because we could not sail closer to the wind...As we neared the Canary Islands in four days, the high outline of Lanzarote came into view.. For almost 100 miles we experienced a "bounce back" swell coming from the opposite direction of the Northerly Atlantic swells we had become accustomed to. This was a result of the big Ocean swell from the NW crashing against the shore of Lanzarote, and bouncing back. This resulted in a hobby horsing motion as the boat plowed into a shorter steeper wave pattern. It was uncomfortable and slowed us down on our final approach to Gran Canaria. As luck would have it we ran out of fuel about 5 hours from our destination at the little port of Pasito Blanco. Debby and Laura were hailing us from the breakwater only a few feet away, but we would have to spend the night at anchor because we would not enter the little harbor without an engine.
Despacito at Pasito Blanco
Deva came to her temporary resting spot in this little harbor after we transferred a few gallons by dinghy into her fuel tank. We were fortunate to find a tie up here as the entire Island of Gran Canaria was overcrowded with about 500 boats in the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, or more commonly known as "the ARC". Mike booked this space 6 months earlier knowing it would be impossible later.
Debby and Laura had arranged a nice little apartment close to the harbor for 5 days so we could enjoy a rest stop before continuing across the ocean. Hurray for big beds, warm showers with abundant water, and air conditioning!...On Gran Canaria we took water and fuel and re provisioned the boat for the longer passage ahead. On November 24 we watched the grand departure of several hundred sailboats from all over Europe setting out to cross the Atlantic ocean, many of them for the first time...It was quite a spectacle, with a parade out of the harbor, live music and a DJ shouting out the names of each as they crossed the starting line... Our own departure two days later from Pasito Blanco would be without any fanfare. Just three guys on a little boat sailing away into the big ocean.
Crossing the Pond
There is a lot of lore about sailing the Atlantic. Most people have seen the pictures of storm waves and utter destruction caused by the Atlantic. Whenever we set out to sail on the big waters, we have to put our fears into context. Naturally we avoid places and times which are unsafe, either by delaying our departure, or steering a route that takes us clear of danger. Fear itself is often what keeps people safe in the wildest parts of nature. Rogue waves can be explained and understood and even avoided. For example, the largest ocean swells do not break in the open ocean, but only when they reach a shore. Standing waves can be dangerous in places where currents or points of land cause a collision of those forces of nature. We give such places a wide berth. When despite all our planning we find ourselves in gales or standing waves, we yield to these forces and go off the wind and the sea. Lastly we reason that people have been crossing oceans safely in small vessels such as ours, with much lesser equipment, for millennia. If they could do it, we can do it.
Our voyage plan called for a route nearly straight South towards the Cape Verde Islands, an island group off the West coast of Africa nearly at the same latitude as our destination. This strategy would take us directly towards the favorable trade winds, and offered a rest stop if needed. After five days, as we neared the Island group we found the weather forecast was reasonable and we had no gear malfunctions or crew illnesses, so we decided to continue directly to St Lucia. We would have lots of company on our voyage, as the several hundred boats of the ARC rally as well as others on independent voyages all left Europe headed for the Caribbean about the same time.
The ARC Phenomenon
The size and popularity of the ARC rallies is impressive. The transAtlantic Rally for Cruisers was the original ARC , started in 1986, with just over 200 entries. In 2019 almost 300 boats started and most finished within three weeks. The World Cruising Club is the organizer of 9 such rallies all over the world.
For comparison, the entire boat harbor complex in Ketchikan might have space for 300 sailing yachts if it was emptied of its regular occupants. Oak Harbor marina has about 225 slips that can accommodate sailboats.
So over 300 boat owners including families, couples, friends, and crews of 2 to 15 mostly just get together and sail across the Atlantic for fun. Average age of skippers is 55. Many of them return to Europe in the same year. Some of them continue in a second rally which starts in St Lucia where the ARC finishes, called the World Arc. Rally organizers sponsor lots of social gatherings before and after the events, so there is a lot of camaraderie among participants.
The world ARC is a multi-leg around the world rally that takes 15 months and has a defined schedule.
The start of the World ARC is today, January 11, 2020, in St Lucia. The participants expect to sail around the world with short stops in Colombia, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, other Pacific Islands, Australia, and South Africa before arriving in the Caribbean in late 2021. So, in 15 months they cover the same distance (almost) as we did in 12 years. So how is this even possible, you might ask?
The answer is the World ARC participants do a lot of sailing, and not much else. Port calls are relatively short. There are no day hops, only long oceanic sailing legs. For people who can muster only limited time away from work or other commitments, a rally like ARC makes such a voyage possible. They sail according to a defined schedule. For example today the start of the ARC world rally it is blowing a steady 30 knots in St Lucia, with winds over 40 knots off the Colombia coast. Downwind sailing in tradewinds, to be sure, but still nearly gale force winds at the start of the event, predicted to last for 5 days or more... If they are not die-hard sailors at the start of the event, they will be in a few days.
The increase in number of boats and people undertaking long ocean cruises can be attributed to a few factors. One is satellite navigation, or GPS. A few decades ago a person desiring to sail trans oceanic voyages had to know how to navigate with a sextant, which required taking a course in celestial navigation and some math skills. Now anyone can buy a $75 gps receiver and plot a course on a map.
Many countries, like the USA, do not even require a boat drivers license to go to sea.
Mass production of yachts has lowered the price of cruising boats, such that many boats capable of long voyages are affordable to people of modest means. In Europe several thousand boats of over 40 feet are produced every year, and few of those boats are ever scrapped. They are resold again and again at lower prices (when factored for inflation), than boats cost in the 1970s and 1980's.
The Atlantic is still Bigger than All of Us
We sighted several cargo ships on the coastal trade routes off Africa, and checked our AIS tracking equipment by talking with them. We also started seeing some of the boats from the ARC fleet that left two days before us from Gran Canaria. Mostly we could see them on our AIS radio and computer navigation, showing their AIS beacons. Occasionally we sighted some boats visually, but none of them answered our radio calls. We settled into a routine of standing watches and resting, as the boat mostly steered itself. Occasionally we had squalls pass over in which the wind would increase to 30 knots or more, and we had to reduce sail accordingly. For two entire days we sailed with just our little stay sail and reefed Genoa sail.
It became a lot warmer, as the sea temperature gradually rose to 88 degrees F., and the sky was nearly every day sunny with puffy little white clouds. We did not wear our foul weather gear or long sleeves for two weeks. Despite our fans running 24-7, the temperature in the cabin was very hot and made sleeping difficult.
After 19 days at sea we made landfall, sighting the islands of St Lucia and Martinique on our port and starboard bows. On the last day, around ten sailboats were converging with us in the straight between those islands. Most of them were going towards Rodney bay on the North end of St Lucia, just like us.
We rounded the headland and sailed into the calm lee waters of Rodney bay, the first moments DEVA would stop rolling in nearly 3 weeks. It would take her crew a couple of days to stop leaning to and fro with the motion of the ocean, even after it was completely calm.
Welcome to St Lucia
It was anticlimactic at first. We were allowed only to come to a dock temporarily to clear customs and immigration. The crew celebrated with what was left of our Spanish supplies of Rum and Tonic. Then we had to leave that dock and go to a mooring ball in the lagoon because there was no space in the crowded harbor. We untied the many lashings on our dinghy that kept it attached to the deck in the open ocean. Upon trying to start the outboard motor however, it would not start, so we rowed to shore. A kind local fisherman came to our rescue and towed us the last hundred meters or so.
Then we tried to make contact with Debby and Laura, who were arriving about the same time at the airport two hours away. We paused for more celebration at one of the eateries in the harbor, and tired the rum punch that the West Indies is famous for....
Once we rested a day we started to celebrate our crossing. This was also a celebration of Deva "closing the loop", or crossing her outbound track of 11 1/2 years ago, when she sailed South and West across the Pacific. Our instruments showed 33,395 miles had passed under her keel since then. We visited 43 countries in that time. The voyage actually began in Florida on Dec 1, 2007, over twelve years ago.
Barcelona to Gibraltar
15 July 2019
Each time we return to Europe we have exactly 90 days to get where we are going. This time it seemed fairly simple, just750 miles down the East coast of Spain with a possible visit to the offshore Balearic Islands. Simplicity is often complicated by details, however...
Our stay in Port Ginesta near Barcelona was longer than planned or expected. We had the usual maintenance jobs upon returning from our 90 day absence in March, such as painting the bottom, replacing the floorboards in the fore peak, and getting our rigging inspected. We had an apartment for two weeks while this work was done, on the waterfront not far from the boat. And then we had the week-long bike tour in France that took us away from our boat preparations. Upon returning from France, our friends Mark and Merrily from Houston visited Barcelona and we joined them on a few days' of recreation in fabulous Barcelona and nearby Sitges.
The last delay was the weather. After months of calm, warm and dry, suddenly mid April unleashed a week-long torrent of wicked winds and rain. Our first leg was hope to be from the mainland to Mallorca, a distance of 100 miles nonstop, which required a good weather window. It finally came in late April, and we reached across the water in good speed into the lovely anchorage of Soller on the largest of the Balearic Islands.
Mallorca and her sisters
Mallorca has everything, Big mountains, picturesque towns and villages, nice beaches. We arrived on the mountainous side of the island, sighting land at 50 miles away, and slipping into the protected little port of Soller just as the sun set behind us. The initial problem was finding a calm spot in the anchorage which was crowded with other yachts. As sometimes happens the only calm spot was right in the middle off of the busiest dock...sandwiched between a motley collection of other craft. We knew as soon as we arrived it would not be for long..as we wanted to see the more remote fords to the North of Soller and time would be limited... The next morning we sailed out of Soller and a short distance up the coast to the magnificent “Calas”or bays of Tuent and Calobra, just 15 miles away...Since the two bays are close to each other we cruised inside of both before deciding which one we would stay overnight. Both of the bays resembled the Misty Fiords Monument of Alaska, with vertical shores going up more than 3000 feet. Calobra had a hotel and a tour boat landing which was very busy, with boat wakes churning the waters like a washing machine. So we chose the calmer Tuent to drop our anchor off of a lovely beach. A coastal road accesses this area from the more populous parts of Mallorca, so it was not exactly desolate. We landed our dinghy on the beach with enough distance from the sunbathers so not to annoy anyone. Then we went for a hike around the shoreline where we could look down on our anchored boat from the hills above. Orange and olive groves dot the landscape.
From Tuent we sailed about forty miles, or nearly all day, down the coast to the SW corner of the island. We thought we might anchor in one of several coves on tiny off lying Dragonera Island, but found them too small for even our little boat. Instead, we cruised into the larger bay of Adreatx, pronounced with a “ch” at the end. This bay was quite populated both on shore and on the water, with many yachts and many villas. We chose to tie up at a mooring buoy off the marina after the marina office told us by radio that they were quite full. It turned out to be a very calm and restful spot, with easy access to all the activities ashore. Adreatx is one of several larger communities on the developed S coast of Mallorca. Lots of nineteenth century buildings, restaurants and tavernas line the shore. We found we could easily take a bus into the larger town of Palma just a few minutes away. We spent several days in Adreatx as it enabled us to take a closer look at the culture and life on beautiful Mallorca. It became immediately apparent that German, English, and Dutch languages were heard as often as Spanish. Their is a thriving expat population on Mallorca with folks from all the Northern European countries living their either in retirement or seasonally. The boat marinas in Mallorca are massive, with several thousand boats lining the shore of Palma and nearby bays. Palma itself is a modern resort city with centuries old architecture. The large Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria dominates the city. Many narrow winding cobblestone streets emanate outward from the center. Recreation is the dominant theme of Palma, with people from all over the world milling about its restaurants and shops. We toured the cathedral and wandered all over the narrow streets. This part of Spain is part of Catalonia, as is Barcelona and places farther North. Catalan is the dialect of Spanish most widely spoken, but we found that most locals spoke 2 or 3 languages. While in Mallorca we consulted with a yacht agent about the clearance requirements for our boat in Spain as it was nearing the end of its 18 months customs permit in the EU, which started when we entered Italy from Montenegro. The agency called the Spanish authorities and then informed us that we had to exit the EU to one of the North African countries by May 16 or face a fine of about $25,000. This put pressure on us to make speed Southward towards Morocco as we had about 12 days to cover nearly 600 miles.
From Adreatx we sailed a Southerly course to the island of Ibiza. Most known for its beachfront resorts and many night spots catering to the the 20 to 30-something young people of Europe, Ibiza is the smaller sister to Mallorca and Minorca. Both islands have a milder climate than the mainland of Spain. Warmer in Winter, cooler in Summer, and predominantly dry. Great for wine and olive production and enjoying the outdoors. With limited time to dally in the Balearics, we chose to anchor off of a white sand beach on adjacent Formentera Island, where we lingered for several days. We anchored next to our old friends Love and Angelica on Sigma from Sweden, who we met in Greece and later Sicily. We had some fun beach combing with them and enjoying a few sips of wine, and comparing notes on our travels since we last saw each other... Formentera is one of those anchorages where one can see every feature on the bottom in about 10 to 20 feet of water.. It reminded us of the last time we were in such a lovely anchorage in Poquerrolles, France about a year earlier... There was no village on the island, so it was really a spot to enjoy the water and the beach. The water unfortunately was still too chilly for swimming.
Back to the Mainland
Deva showed good form covering the distance quickly back to the mainland of Spain. With most of the harbors on the Costa Blanca being breakwater ports, not natural harbors we had to be careful to arrive during daylight .. Ideally we would not be in such a hurry that we could not venture ashore for exercise and to view the attractions, so this called for some early morning departures... We covered the 62 miles to Morayra harbor in a little less than 10 hours.. The town was hosting a music and food festival as we arrived, so we had instant entertainment ashore! Tapas and Sangria and wine of every type at food stands lining the harbor.. We could have stayed at Morayra several days as it was very pleasant, but our deadline meant we had to sail the following morning.
From Morayra we had a shorter sail to Alicante. Michael had sailed from Alicante before in 1972, so it was a nostalgic visit. The wide boulevard with stone mosaics on the pavement was still just as beautiful. The port has grown up a lot, with three marinas and a large commercial harbor for cruise and cargo ships. We spent a couple of nights as there was much to explore. We even found a nice well- equipped gymnasium next to the marina.. so we could get some exercise after several days cooped up on the boat.
From Alicante we had a fairly long day in stronger winds. We rounded the notoriously rough Cabo de Palos and rode a large swell into the large commercial harbor of Cartagena. We found shelter inside one of the marinas inshore of a large cruise ship dock. Sheltered from wind but with a persistent surge from swell coming in from the open sea. We stayed another couple of nights in Cartagena, to rest after the long day, and because it is a city with much history and places to walk and explore. It was the principal port of the Carthaginians in the Iberian peninsula in the time of Hannibal, or about 235 BC.
Most Americans know that 1492 was the year that Columbus sailed to America. What is less commonly known is is that year also marks the beginning of Spain as we know it today. For 800 years prior to 1492, the Southern half of Spain was controlled by the Moors, the Berbers, and other Sultanates based in Africa.
Leaving Cartagena we motorsailed towards the “Costa del Sol”... Coincidentally it became more Spring or even Summer-like as the temperatures rose with longer days. We spent one night anchored off the breakwater of Garrucha. With no time to even go ashore, we pulled anchor the following morning to sail Westward along the vast agricultural area of Almeria. The coast has a surreal appearance, with miles and miles of plastic-covered greenhouses, with hardly a space between them. When we looked at Google Earth to visualize the area before we sailed there, it appeared almost as if giant rectangular areas were erased from the picture. They appear as large white blocks. We visited the port of Almerimar, a resort community covering about 10 square miles. We walked to the edge of town, where the plastic greenhouses covered the landscape as far as the eye could see. We read that the area of the coast of Almeria is a major source of hydroponic vegetables for Northern Europe..The good part of it is that the yield of vine ripened produce is exceptionally high. The bad part is that artificial fertilizers and pesticides are added to the water may not be adequately regulated for food safety. The other food source that we saw along this coast is fish farms. Bream and Sea Bass are the principal species that are farmed. The fish and produce markets we visited throughout the region have vast quantities of seafood, but rarely is any of it marked as farmed or wild caught. We learned to look for small labels on the few fish displays that say “Sauvage” or “Salvaje”. Tuna and Cod became our favorite seafood as they are abundant and wild caught in the Mediterranean.
As we neared Malaga it became apparent that we would have to clear customs and immigration there and sail across to Morocco to make the deadline imposed by EU customs. The guidebooks told us that it was an official port of entry/departure, and there were government offices there. The same guidebooks told us that yachts were not welcome in the port as it was too busy with commercial traffic.
We continued Westward a few miles to the “porto turistico” of Belamadena, which was close enough to take a taxi to Malaga, and actually shortened our next sail to Morocco. The same afternoon we entered Benalmadena and tied up, we took a taxi to the busy Malaga port. When we arrived at the area where a phone call to customs told us to go, no-one knew of the existence of a customs office. After an hour of wandering the waterfront, we found a immigration office in the Ferry terminal. There two officials said they were willing to stamp our passports, but could not give us clearance documents for the boat.
We found this confusion annoying but not entirely surprising as we had seen the same situation when we looked for customs in Corsica a year earlier. So few non-EU boats transit the area that the law enforcement agencies do not have a place set up to process the papers. We took a taxi back to our boat with the stamped passports and reasoned that perhaps the papers from the marina that would reflect our last port in Spain would be sufficient when we arrived in Morocco the next day. Early the morning of our last official permitted day in the EU, we set sail for a 70 mile passage to Tetouan, Morocco..
A brief Passage to Africa
For the first time in her travels at sea, Deva would visit the continent of Africa. We could actually see the high coast of Ceuta and Morocco from 50 miles away. We put up all sails and motorsailed to make maximum speed across the shipping lanes in the channel between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Two long lines of ships, one Westbound, and one Eastbound, with each vessel spaced about 12 minutes apart from the next, reminded us of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore Strait where we had traveled several years earlier. We altered our course to cross the traffic lanes at a 90 degree angle, to get out of the way of the big ships as quickly as possible. As we neared the prominent headland of Ceuta, we started to encounter a predicted adverse current and tide rips. Because of the high evaporation in the Mediterranean Sea, the currents flow nonstop from the Atlantic into the Med.
It was nearly dusk when we entered the breakwater of Marina Smir. No one answered our radio calls but we were met by several soldiers at the clearance dock when we arrived. We were directed to a small office where several officials conversed with us in Spanish and French, while talking among themselves in Arabic. One of them asked “You are from United States?” and “we have few visitors from your country” They were very friendly and explained that we could stay at the clearance dock as long as we liked.
The following day we were visited by a man named Jamil who introduced himself as the guide to the harbor. He could take us by private car to see the interesting sights in nearby Tetouan the following day. We walked a mile or two along the road towards Tetouan, and notice the hotels and shopping areas were mostly closed. We spoke with some locals who informed us that during Ramadan nothing would open until sundown. We did manage to visit one small store that was open to buy some mint tea.
Jamil and his driver showed up at 11 the following day as promised, He took us for a nearly 4 hour tour of the small city of Tetouan, his home town. We visited all of the historical sights and the central square, and had a lunch in a lodge that catered to non-Muslims. The food was good, mostly vegetarian.
Jamil then took us to two of his shopkeepers connections. This was a practice we observed in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, in which the tour guides had contracts to bring customers to certain shops. Ine was an herb shop, where the salesman spoke good English and educated us about many herbs that were indigenous for food and medicinal purposes. The other shop was a rug merchant, where we were given a similar demonstration of all kinds of Moroccan and Berber rugs, with offers to buy them at “special prices”. We felt a little adventurous and negotiated a price for one small rug, which was to be shipped to the states. In Morocco as in Turkey, the government has developed a shipping for free scheme to promote their products. After we were taken back to the boat we realized we had not agreed with our guide and his driver on the price for the tour. It turned out to be more expensive than we expected at $120 for the two of them.
When arriving at the dock where we left the boat several hours earlier we had an unpleasant surprise that our Deva had poppped her fenders above the dock and was rubbing against the rough concrete...like a giant carborundum stone. It had worn through the gelcoat to bare fiberglass in an area about 2 feet by 6 inches, which I would have to repair in our next port. Not a major damage, but the first time in nearly 4 decades of sailing that it happened. The guards at the check in dock told us it had happened but for some reason did nothing to replace the fenders while it was happening...
After 3 nights in Marina Smir we had a relatively calm window to sail across the channel to Gibraltar, some 20 miles away. We left early enough to encounter any early and still make it in time to check in with the authorities in the British enclave. We encountered the same tide rips, adverse current, and vast numbers of ships as we did a few days earlier. We also had quite strong winds on our beam, such that we were making nine knots for most of the passage, with spray coming over the bow. The massive and iconic Rock of Gibraltar loomed ahead as we got closer. We got very close to Europa Point, so called because it marks the Southern tip of Europe, where again we encountered sloppy tide rips. Finding our way through the big ship anchorage crowded with cargo and tanker ships of all sizes, we checked in by radio and entered the little marina of Ocean Village. The staff of the marina were very businesslike and efficient and cleared us both with Immigration and Customs at one time by internet. Surrounded by mega yachts and restaurants, we stayed at Ocean village for a week and enjoyed all of the attractions of Gibraltar.
We took the cable car to the top of the rock where we could see many miles towards Algeciras, one of the largest ports in Spain, and the whole Moroccan coast to the South. We walked all over the fortified inner city, and took a tour of the tunnels that penetrated seemingly endless miles of the mountain.
Gibraltar has a long and storied history of occupation by English, Moorish, and European countries,because of its strategic location at the narrow choke point of the Strait of Gibraltar. Literally the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. Similar to Malta, farther East at the entrance to the Adriatic, many seiges were carried out by enemy nations and pirates, and much blood shed to defend the ramparts against invasion. Underscoring its strategic importance even in modern times, as recently as July 2019 a super tanker full of Iranian oil was seized by British commandos as it entered the Gibraltar Strait on its way to Syria.
Despite its imposing appearance, the land area of the Rock of Gibraltar is quite small. The border with Spain is open for easy transit by Gibraltarans and Spanish alike, as they are both member states of the EU. We walked across the border several times in the course of our stay as we found it necessary to do certain things. Car rentals, for example, are mostly done on the Spanish side by the airport. The airport runway, large enough for big passenger jets and military aircraft, lies right at the British edge of the border. When planes land or take off, the road an sidewalks close with audible alarms, and foot traffic, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles all stop for a few minutes. When the all-clear signal is given, the busy thoroughfare opens again and throngs of people stream across in both directions. While the border is relatively open, everyone has to show their passports, and occasionally have them checked and stamped. Out of about a dozen times we crossed, we were stamped only once.
After a week in Gib, as its called, we motored about a half mile across the border to the large yacht harbor of Alcaidesa Marina. Spacious and modern, it is one of the few marinas we have found in Europe that has pontoons on the side of each boat, similar to marinas in the USA. We found this refreshing as it prevents the constant wear and tear of boats rubbing ups against each other. We had another 2 ½ weeks left on our visas but we decided to keep the boat in this harbor for the duration for several reasons. One, we found there is a modern aquatic center/gymnasium about a 10 minute walk for the harbor. Another was it is a secure place to leave the boat while we made overnight excursions, or rented a car to travel to nearby attractions in Southern Spain. In our necessary haste to make it to Morocco, we did not have time to visit Granada, Ronda, or other places on the mainland. We also needed a few days to prepare the boat for a 100 day haulout in the boatyard when it was time to fly back to the states.
We took full advantage of “staying put” as we drove on the modern highways to Granada and saw the Alhambra Palace and the gypsy neighborhood of Sacromonte. We visited one of the “cave taverns” in Sacromonte where we watched a soulful performance of Flamenco, in the place where it originated in Moorish times... We were utterly enchanted by Granada. On another day we drove to the mountain village of Ronda, famous for its bullring and the high arched bridge over the gorge in the middle of the village. Ronda was popularized in the writings of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles in the early 20th century. We also toured Mondragon palace, a prize of the conquest of the Moorish empire in Spain by King Ferdinand in 1492. Much of the architecture and art of both the Alhambra palace in Granada, and the Mondragon in Ronda is from the 800 years of Arabic occupation prior to 1492.
Another attraction we experienced in Ronda was the hike to the bottom of the gorge under the famous bridge. There we wandered through some 17th and 18th century ruins, where the trail meandered through basements of ancient buildings with the stream running underneath and tree roots descended from above.
As we approached the end of our visa permits in the EU, we rented a small apartment in Gibraltar to facilitate working in the boatyard. For our last week we walked twice a day across the runway and the border in and out of Spain. The ride to the airport to catch our flight to London and back to the USA was a mere five minutes.
Cyclo Cruising the Canal du Midi
24 May 2019
Cyclo-Cruising the Canal Du Midi
The Canal du Midi is one of the oldest shipping canals in Europe. Originally started in 1666, over centuries it became the subject of much romantic lore and even some impressionist paintings.
It was planned to join the two seas, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, and in the 17th century it was considered an engineering marvel. Mike had read about it for many years and thought we could transit on our Deva. Unfortunately it is only 1.3 meters deep, and Deva draws 1.6 even without the weight of her mast and rigging. We decided to instead ride bikes along the route of the Canal, which conveniently has paths along each side for its entire length. The reason for the paths was not for pedestrian or bike access, but for the simple purpose of a towpath for horses and mules to pull the barges along the waterway. One has to consider that navigation on this canal started 150 years before the advent of motorized and steam driven propulsion. Since many bridges and at least one tunnel were of necessity included in its design, a height restriction of about 2.5 meters limited sail power, although some of the early barges did have masts and sails that lowered to deck level when passing under them.
We learned that we could easily organize an unguided tour by hiring a French company called "Relax bike tours", that provided the bikes, luggage transfers and all lodging arrangements. All we had to do was take a train from our boat in Spain to the start of and at the end for the week-long journey. And of course do the cycling for 120 miles in the middle. So began the journey from Ginesta, Spain to Carcassonne, France by train. Sounds simple, but it took all day. Taxi to train station, 1st train into Barcelona transfer to another train which made several stops and we had to transfer trains twice in route. Finally another taxi to our hotel.
Our first day was spent exploring lovely Carcassonne, a medieval city in the Languedoc region of Southern France. Carcassonne has a history too long and complicated to describe here. It was originally fortified by the Romans in 100 BC, increasingly rebuilt and by the 8th century AD was known to be one of the strongest fortresses on the route from Europe to the Iberian Peninsula. Many kingdoms and fiefdoms occupied the fortress over centuries. In 1258 it was a border defense between France and The Kingdom of Aragon. Because it lies on the Aude River and the present day Canal du Midi, it was a port city for the woolen trades and wheat transport and more recently wine transport in the Languedoc valley.
It was a windy 42 degrees F on the morning we met with our tour organizer Timo. He delivered our bikes, provided maps and took our luggage we began our journey from the hotel to the canal where we would officially start. We made it about 6 blocks before needing to stop. Our hands were so cold we knew we wouldn't be able to go the distance. We began our search shopping for gloves. We had biking gloves, but they were inadequate. After finding hand protection our next big decision was made: To wait until noon when things warmed up. Therefore, our next stop was to a cafe where we enjoyed tea and coffee while waiting for the kitchen to open for lunch. Fortunately we only had 45k to travel so leaving at 12:30 was not a problem.
Our first very pleasant discovery was there is no shortage of interesting cafes and eateries along the Canal du Midi. The hard part was not spending the entire day sitting in one of them!
The old towpaths along the shores of the canal where we were to cycle were often challenging and sometimes closed. Traveling throughout the country side along the meandering Midi was however beautiful and interesting. We were fascinated by the engineering of the many locks and aqueducts along the route. We also met a lovely couple from Luxembourg, also cycling along the Canal . They were a little older than us but were covering more miles than we were each day, often not arriving to their hotel until after dark. It was always a treat to run into them along our route.
We ended our first day in Homps just in time to catch the winery still open at 5:02. They hadn't locked the doors yet but we could tell they were getting ready to go home. After tasting several samples and getting the history of the region, the shop owners drove off in separate cars as we packed up our 4 bottles into our panniers. We were pleasantly surprised when we finally found our hotel. Our host and hostess showed us to the courtyard garden which was beautiful and handed each of us a glass of champagne. The hotel was the former mansion of a wine merchant, and the town of Homps and the Canal was important in the shipping of their product. Our room was amazing, with it's high ceilings and large size. The furniture,including a king size bed, desk, and sitting area, looked like dollhouse furnishings.
Day 2 We road from Homps to Narbonne which was a hard ride as we were going into a strong headwind most of the day. After a good night sleep we explored the city which turned out to be a real gem. Our favorite was the cathedral of Saints Just and Saveur which dates from the 13th century. The exterior is striking with it's buttresses and gargoyles, the inside is glowing in light from the stained glass and the museum and treasures kept us entertained for several hours. The cathedral was built in 1292, and to our eyes seemed really, really old. (After all we come from a nation that is less than 300 years old) Curiously, as sometimes happens in this part of the world, a time capsule emerges that is several centuries older. In the square in front of the eight-century old cathedral is a recent excavation about 50 feet square that reveals a section of the Roman "Via Domitia", the ancient highway connection the Roman Empire with Spain, built in 100 BC, a thousand years earlier..
We would have stayed several days in Narbonne, but we had miles to cover ahead.
Day 3 Narbonne to Beziers. Getting out of the city and onto the secondary roads was a real challenge. Mike had to follow the map very carefully, street by street and at one point our road came to a dead end where a new large highway was being built. We cycled up to 3 old men and showed them the map with the direction and they said yes, over there and pointed across the construction zone of a four-lane highway. It had rained the night before so we were looking at an area of mud which lead to loose gravel inclines on both sides of the project. There were several small tunnels under the motorway but they were all flooded to a depth of a foot or two. Not having an alternative route we headed out across the mud. We didn't get far as this mud was like cement. With each step our shoes would gather half an inch. The following step another half inch until our shoes were heavy and it felt like we were walking in platform shoes. Our bikes had similar troubles as with each rotation of the tires the mud was so thick it caught under the fenders causing the wheels to completely stop. We finally had to carry the bikes one by one to the other side where we had to use sticks to poke out the caked on mud.
Noteworthy that the bikes we were given for the tour were heavy mountain bikes, weighing about 25 lbs each, not the light road bikes we are used to that area bout 16 lbs. It was appropriate to have them, though, as our road bikes would not have negotiated the many
rutted paths, and the mud. Our daily mileage was about 30 to 40 kilometers, less than the 50 plus a day we averaged in November along the Rhone, but about right for this Canal.
Once on the other side all went smoothly until we reached our hotel for the night. Mike caused some drama when in the dark hallway which lead to our room he (while feeling the wall for a light switch) accidentally hit the fire alarm which sent the front desk gal running up the stairs. Inside our room we listened to the alarm for what seemed like a very long time while we sipped on a bottle of the wine from our bag. C'est la vie!
Day 4 in the morning we walked around Beziers in the rain. We saw the 14th century cathedral and the old bridge before heading to Marseillan where we spent 2 nights. Marseillan is a small, quiet town known for it's mussels, oysters, clams and other shellfish, farmed in the vast marsh of Le Etang De Tau.... We enjoyed our day walking through the local open market and riding our bikes to the beach.
Our final day we road along the ocean from Marseillan to Sete where we would meet up with our tour organizer and return our bikes. Sete, on the Mediterranean, marked the area we had sailed past a few months ago near where we tied up at Agde and saw our first view of the Canal du Midi. Sete is also called the "Venice of France" as it is a city built along canals and waterways.
The train ride from Sete to Barcelona the following day was very fast, with the train silently reaching speeds of 180 mph. Through its windows we watched as the coastline of France and Spain that had taken us several days to traverse in November went by in an hour and a half.
From the Gulf of Lyon to Spain
10 December 2018
In Cap D Agde we tied up in another very large French marina, (with over 3000 boats) adjoining an amusement park-like area with a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster. The main attraction for us was that we could tie securely about a half mile inside a labyrinth of canals, far from the swell of the Mediterranean Sea. It also features a "naturiste" harbor which is dedicated to clothing optional sailors. We were also interested in getting close to the famous Canal du Midi, which goes across Southern France to the Atlantic and maybe cycling along the ancient towpaths on the canal. Just for fun we had to ride the Ferris wheel up about 200 feet over the harbor, from where we could see many miles in all directions. We walked to the nearby old medieval town of Agde, about 4 miles away, where the Canal du Midi joins the Canal du Sete that travels inside the coast all the way to the mouth of the Rhone River. The Canal du Midi, considered an engineering masterpiece at the time was finished in 1672, a time when the canal barges that traveled on it were powered by draft horses or oxen towing ropes from both sides of the canal. After the industrial age steam and motor powered barges carried freight across the agricultural and wine making region of Languedoc. Today the only vessels transiting the canal are small tourist barges and yachts, and none of them can draw more than about 5 feet. We gazed wistfully at the canal in Agde, and started planning a side trip to come back in the Spring and take a barge and bike tour on the canal when the weather would be better.
From Cap D Agde we thought we were going to make our final push across the Gulf of Lyon, so not to risk being stuck in port due to the high winds so often encountered there. We had observed the Fall pattern of longer periods of high winds from either North or South, with fewer and shorter windows of better weather for sailing. The day we picked to sail Southward started out nicely enough, with gentle Northerlies and sunny skies... We were averaging seven knots plus for the first five hours.
Then Mother Nature gave us new orders, as the wind clocked around 180 degrees to the Southeast, and over a 20 minute period increased to 30 knots. We went from a leisurely pace with a full genoa out to bucking into strong headwinds with decks awash and reduced sails in seconds, and changed our course to go to nearby St Cyprian, a small marina about 15 miles closer than planned.
Saint Cyprian was small, but sheltered enough under the circumstances. As we tied up it became very rainy and windier yet. We decided to stay a couple nights and wait for the wind and sea to settle down. New friends and fellow sailors, however, were getting ready to sail out in the late afternoon to make a nighttime crossing around the fabled Cape Cross that marks the spot where the Pyrenees meet the Sea... I chatted with one of the crews as they were readying to go, and they told me they were going to Guadeloupe, over 3000 miles away in the Caribbean.. and they weren't going to let a little Mediterranean squall spoil their plans. "Bravo and Bon Voyage" I replied, as they let go their lines.
It seems that Guadeloupe was on other people's minds as well. Later that same day I chatted with one of the other boaters that tied up overnight, with a young French couple aboard. They too were departing for Guadeloupe, and hoping not to make any more unscheduled stops... So it seems that late November is the sendoff period for hundreds of yachts setting sail to cross the North Atlantic bound for the Caribbean.
Leaving St Cyprian, we said goodbye to our sailing in France.
Sailing around the edge of the Pyrenees.
Unlike the sailors we met that were on a schedule to get to the Caribbean, we had time to make our crossing into Spain with comfort. From Saint Cyprian, once the clouds cleared away we could clearly see the snow-clad flanks of the Pyrenees just a few miles away. The weather forecast for the area around Cape Cross showed a daily cycle of high winds during the daytime and lighter ones at night. The Cape is a confluence of current and swells that makes transit in high winds uncomfortable or unsafe...So we contemplated a passage in darkness even though there is a nearly 20 degree F. temperature drop at night, from the mid 60s to the mid 40's. We staged our crossing by first sailing over the the quaint natural harbor of Port la Selva (literally translated :"Port of the Jungle"). We anchored in the mid afternoon and barbecued an early dinner, so we could get underway at 3AM, when the wind was forecast to be light.
Crossing over or around the Pyrenees is the subject of some historical significance and much research.. In 218 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal from North Africa is recorded to have taken his army through the Iberian peninsula all the way to the outskirts of Rome in present day Italy, in order to conquer the Roman Empire. It is thought by many that his route across the Strait of Gibraltar, then the Pyrenees, and then the Alps, necessitated some travel on the water. Somehow this was accomplished with his complement of ten thousand plus soldiers, two thousand horses, and some 50 battle elephants. Yes, battle elephants, which at the time were widely respected and feared, like the Abrams tanks of their time... There are paintings of the turbaned Hannibal with a saber and a dagger on his hip, sitting atop one of the elephants as his army made its way across Southern Europe. Scholars still debate the route most likely taken, with scientists today searching for elephant dung in the centuries old footpaths through the mountains. As with most human migrations, the water route is often the most likely, and this gave us something to think about as we navigated through a clear cold night around the Cape of the Pyrenees.
Morning brought us before dawn into the palm-lined Bay of Roses, where we put our anchor down in calm waters to rest and recover before going in to the port itself. Around midday we moved the boat alongside the marina and ventured into the lovely little Catalonian town of Roses, where we were surprised to see and hear flocks of parakeets fluttering from tree to tree. For the better part of a week we enjoyed staying alongside within the comforting protection of a breakwater harbor. We found a very nice public aquatic center and took advantage of swimming in warm water. Most people we met could speak in at least two and often three or more languages. Catalan, which is more similar to Portuguese, is the first language, and the one used in signage on the roads... Castillian Spanish is the national language. Everywhere we saw the flag of Catalonia, and rarely the flag of Spain, reminding us that only a year ago the region of Catalonia passed a referendum vote to become independent from Spain. After the referendum passed the popular vote, the central government of Spain based in Madrid declared it null and void and arrested some of the leaders of the separatist movement. No one we met however, expressed any passion or political ire. Life goes on as it has throughout its long history being part of many Kingdoms and Fiefdoms. After all it was only 1939 when Catalonia first became part of the Spanish nation. In Roses we saw the beautiful tree-lined promenades that most of the cities of Spain are known for. People were out walking every day, and most of the shops and restaurants were still open despite the advent of Winter.
It was with some melancholy that we sailed South from Roses after nearly a week of enjoying its many attractions. We steered nearly straight South, past several picturesque little harbors. As we passed latitude 42 we realized we were in a distinctly more friendly climate with softer winds and clearer skies. We arrived in the late afternoon at the town of Blanes and found a welcome resting spot. Next to us was tied up a 55 foot motor yacht with a French owner and a Guadeloupe captain, who we befriended instantly. They were also headed for Guadeloupe, like the boats we met in St Cyprian, but their route was going to Mallorca where they would be taken aboard a ship for the trans Atlantic voyage. We swapped some stories with the Guadeloupian captain about our memorable stays on his island in 2008 and earlier. We waited two days for a passing squall to blow through before sailing again towards Barcelona. In that time we toured the nearby Botanical Gardens. Finally we had some real brisk sailing weather on the stern, so we flew along at 8 plus knots.
Badalona is one of several large marinas in Barcelona area. It is just a few miles North of the heart of the city, with a fast and quiet electric train going into town every 20 minutes or so and taking just ten minutes to get there. We picked this spot to nest for a week or two and enjoy all the attractions of the city. We are not sure that was long enough, so many are the eye-popping things to see. We started with some jogging and walking along the beachfront promenade of Badalona itself, which goes for many miles to the North. As with Roses, it is lined with Palm trees, and the flocks of monk parakeets screech happily as the fill the sky with a green blur. On our first train trip to the city, we got off and walked the wide promenade of the Rambla into the Gothic quarter. We marveled at how the Rambla is over 100 meters side, but only about a quarter of it is for vehicles. Pedestrians rule in Barcelona! We spent some time wandering the Gothic Quarter, especially the Cathedral, a masterpiece from the 14th century with spires reaching hundreds of feet into the sky. We got lost for several hours in the Gothic quarter simply to admire the many shops, cafes and street artists in the area. Somehow we made it back to the Rambla and towards the waterfront where several superyachts were ties up next to a replica of a 15th century galleon and rows of cafes and tapas bars.
The Senegalese Market
Actually there are several "markets" where the Senegalese vendors lay out there wares for the passing public. On the floor of the central train station at Plaza Catalunya, on the grass lawn of the Ciutadella park, and in several spots along the waterfront. They arrive and depart en masse, with twenty or thirty men carrying all their wares in large blankets like knapsacks over their shoulders. Their "wares" are knockoff shoes, ladies purses, football jerseys, baseball caps, and outerwear., mostly "genuine fake" We stopped to visit them a few times in various places and found them to be good natured and friendly business people. Debby bought a jacket from one man, and we learned a few things about their country on the Atlantic coast of Africa. There were also some musicians playing beautiful Senegalese music. In several places we found their markets, the mostly male vendors were all from Senegal. Despite competing with each other selling many of the same products for negotiated prices, there was no appearance of jealousy or bad behavior. It reminded us a little of the Rastafarian market in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, where one vendor said we should buy from the others to "spread the love"...
A City of Monuments
At the foot of the Rambla stands the enormous bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, looking out to sea, atop a hundred-foot tall obelisk. This monument was one of several that were erected in time for the 1888 Universal Exposition, or Worlds Fair, as it is now known. That year marks a significant moment in the history of Barcelona when many of its modern features and even the "Modernisme" movement in art and architecture were started. A few blocks off the Rambla, on another one of our walks in the city, we toured the Ciutadella, a neighborhood where once stood a military fortress. The fortress had become a symbol of oppressive Spanish authority over Catalonia which was very unpopular in Barcelona, so it was razed to the ground and a modern park-like neighborhood erected in its place. The park incorporated a Zoo, a museum of Art and Science, and a Cascade with a gold-clad bronze monument to Aurora, the goddess of dawn, atop a chariot pulled by four horses. Most importantly, the Ciutadella represents the new course of planning undertaken by the city to large green spaces and parks. The shift in urban planning that occurred in the late 19th century is clear when looking at a map of the Gothic Quarter with its three-meter wide streets and comparing it to all the surrounding areas with boulevards a hundred meters wide.
The Majestic Sagrada Familia Basilica
One of the last landmarks we visited in Barcelona is the grandest of all: The Sagrada Familia basilica. Seen from a distance, it looks like an enormous sand castle made by dripping sand mixed with water. ti is different from any cathedral we have see in Europe and almost surreal in appearance. Little wonder that now it is the most visited attraction in all of Spain. It had a humble beginning in 1882, when the cathedral of Barcelona was already 300 years old and a grand structure in its own right. It was conceived as an "alms church", or a church for the poor, funded by charitable donations. The now-celebrated architect Antoni Gaudi labored with its design from his 30th birthday until he died over 40 years later, run over by a tram when he walked nearby. Gaudi had dedicated his last years to the project and received no money for it. Today it is still unfinished, with a completion date estimated around 2026. It costs 25 million Euros a year to maintain and continue the construction, and all of the money comes from donations and visitors who pay to see it.
It took us a whole day to see the Basilica. We marveled at how the internal columns seen from the ground floor are like the trunks and branches of Redwood trees, yet made of stone pieces erected one by one. It is said that Gaudi drew his inspiration from nature, since all of nature is a creation of God. The outside stoneworks and bronze panels are carved with many creatures of the natural world, from lions and birds down to the smallest insects. The story of Gaudi also says he studied other religions and their places of worship, and included features from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. One can easily see the resemblance of his onion shaped turrets to mosques in the Middle East. More unique to Mr Gaudi is his use of colored and enameled mosaics covering the many domes at the tops of the structure, making them look like fruit or ice cream cones. The sheer size of the Sagrada familia, nearly 600 feet tall, is impressive too. It is nearly twice the height of the majestic Barcelona Cathedral. Sagrada Familia cannot be called a cathedral because that title is given to the older Catholic structure which is the seat of the Bishop of Barcelona. Both churches have been visited and blessed by Popes of the Catholic church several times.
Antoni Gaudi was regarded as a genius among architects in Barcelona when he was still a young man. He was commissioned to plan several smaller structures throughout the city, and in particular a planned residential community now called Park Guell, named after the wealthy patron who started it in the late 1880's. The lots in the community are triangular, seemingly the favorite geometric shape used by Gaudi as a building block for his many mosaic coverings. Only one fifth of the land area in the triangles was allowed to be occupied by buildings, the rest was deliberately left open for green spaces.
Many of the Park Guell buildings had the characteristic shiny ice cream cone shapes of enameled tile mosaic. We walked away from our day spent admiring the buildings of Mr Gaudi with our brains saturated.
Our last day of sailing for 2018
Once we felt we had given Barcelona a fair amount of time and several visits by train, we had to take Deva to her nesting place for our 90 day mandatory leave from the EU. The place we chose is a small harbor near Barcelona's airport. It was just a few hours away, and we picked the perfect day for it. Clear blue skies and light winds carried us to Ginesta harbor, which is best known as a beach community. Miles of clean sandy beach stretch in both directions. Tapas bars and coffee shops line the boardwalk. The Senegalese shoe and clothing vendors have spots to sell their wares. There are bike and jogging paths with many people out every day using them. We have almost two weeks to prepare the boat for the boatyard, a very civilized schedule. It was sunny almost every day, despite cooler nights with the onset of Winter. This section of the Spanish coast is oriented East to West, such that we can see both the sunrise and sunset over the same ocean, a rarity in our travels..
Cyclo Cruising in Southern France
10 November 2018
We returned to Port Napoleon after 3 months away and found Deva in great condition. She was promptly launched and once in the water preparations were started to remove her mast for basic maintenance and thorough check as we want her ship shape for making the Atlantic crossing next year. Upon completion and re-stepping the mast we quickly buttoned her up and went on a self guided cycling tour along the Rhone River. This included transforming our road bikes into touring cycles equipped with saddle bags to carry everything we needed for the next 4 days
We had very strong head winds on our first day out which made the first leg of the trip to Arles rather daunting. The bike path along the river was beautiful with few other cyclists about. The first point of interest was Pont du Van Gogh the famous bridge just outside of Arles which Vincent Van Gogh did many different paintings of in the late 19th century. Van Gogh spent several of his most productive years years in Arles including his time in the local hospital after lopping off his ear. Little know facts about the world-reknown painter are that his entire art career in art lasted only 8 years, and only one of his paintings sold during his lifetime
Next up was the Roman Amphitheater and historical city walk. It was fun for us to walk the streets and think about Van Gogh and Gaugain who had cruised the streets centuries before us.
Day 2 carried us 37 miles further up along the Rhone and into the picturesque town of Avignon. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel inside the walled city. We explored the cathedral where the Pope once lived, walked through the busy streets and back out to the famous half built bridge of Avignon. Many do not know that the Catholic headquarters was in Avignon from 1309 to 1376 where seven different Popes presided over the church. At that time Avignon was part of the Kingdom of Arles, in the Holy Roman Empire.
Our only mishap on the biking portion was after our first 32 mile day, a saddle sore appeared on Mikes left butt cheek. We had an interestingly funny time at the local pharmacy trying to explain to a non English speaking French lady that we needed powder or cream for Mike's derriere (now both cheeks due to favoring the opposite side in the saddle the following day). Debby pantomimed riding a bike then rubbed her hand together indicating friction and then pointed to her bum. Ahhh Wee, she said, and went right to the shelf and pulled out the proper ointment. Mike thought it was fun to watch the other people in the pharmacy watching Debby.
Funny thing about that word "derriere". In our country it has only one meaning: a person's backside. In France, however, it is used for many things. The back of the bus, for example, is called Le Derriere. This can be confusing for Americans when the bus driver might instruct them to seat near the rear of the bus, and they think he is saying "sit on your backside". Another word seen on signs in buses and airplanes is "Poussez", or Poussez Ici", not meaning a place for feline pets, but rather "push here" for debarking, etc. A feline pet is a "chat", silly. Another word that aroused our curiosity was told to us some time ago by a Parisian friend when we were in Raiatea. He told us that his favorite pastry is literally translated to English: "a Nuns Fart". When Debby went searching for this delicacy in a Patisserie, she asked for a "Puf de Nonne" to which the shop owner had a quizzical look on her face. After some gesturing, the shopkeeper chuckled and said "Ahhh, you mean Pet de Nonne" Alas, the French word for fart is "pet".
Our third day consisted of a return ride back to Arles. Mike was in serious pain by now and spent as much time as possible out of his saddle and coasting while standing on his pedals,
The Saturday market was a major attraction in Arles as it takes up the main street for an entire day and resembled the great bazaars we saw in Turkey. Our last morning in Arles we had fun walking along the various stands of produce, clothing, baked goods, meats, spices and olives, jams and jellies and massive amounts of lavender products. We left the market with saddle bags full and headed back through the Camargue National park to Port Napoleon. A highlight was spotting the semi feral white horses along the way. Our total distance by the time we arrived back to the boat was 127 miles over the four days..
We had 2 days to recuperate, pack up and head to the airport as we hurried back to the States for the birth of our first grandchild. Goldie Roux was born on October 12. We stayed 2 weeks to help with baby, mom and dad. A special time for all of us.
We arrived back at he harbor after two days of flying to find things somewhat calm. That night however, a southerly storm rolled through bringing winds of 40 knots through the night, with rain and hailstones. Fortunately we have gotten accustomed to the fickle Med weather and had extra lines rigged. All we had to do was hold on, keep the heater going, and stay snug in our cabin. The cabin always feels particularly cozy when we can hear the wind raging outside and the rain beating against the deck, knowing we are in a safe harbor...
The next day we walked into Port Saint Louis, about 2 miles each way, to shop for a few grocery items... all the way keeping ourselves covered head to toe to ward off the very aggressive tiger mosquitoes that always are worst after a rain. We got a few laughs at ourselves, swatting at the little monsters, and doing a little dance on the way. We have never been anywhere where the mosquitoes, or moustiques as they are called in France were so nasty, stinging through layers of clothing...
Finally we got underway and sailed all day out of the Rhone River delta area towards Port Camargue.
The marina managers there proudly told us that their marina is the largest one in Europe, with about 5000 slips. We soon learned that it was still in moustique territory, so we wandered around town in bright sunshine wearing our foul weather gear.... One of our tasks in Port Camargue was to take fuel at the automated fueling station. Debby got a few giggles out of Mike when he was pumping fuel, and tried to swat a mosquito with the hand that was holding the hose. Needless to say diesel fuel went flying everywhere. Deb said, "seriously Mike, all this mess because of a bug?"
Our stay in Port Camargue was brief, mainly because the Fall weather windows are short and we did not want to get stuck there longer than necessary. As we headed South to cross the Gulf of Lyon, we were greeted with a magnificent view of the snow clad Pyrenees in the distance. Some 70 miles away, they mark the border with Spain, where we are hoping to be in a few days.
Sicily to France
31 July 2018
We returned to Sicily in mid March after our 90 day mandatory absence from the EU. It was the first time in years that we had left Deva in the water while we returned to the states. Fortunately, the harbor of Licata was quite protected and no damage occurred to the boat, save the usual scuff marks on the rub rails from neighboring boats tied up Med-style next to ours
We rented an apartment in the old section of town for the month that we expected to be recommissioning, and to do some land touring to nearby Agrigento and to Malta by ferry. Our apartment was on Via Colegio, a narrow stone-paved corridor with buildings mostly several hundred years old... We had some difficulty contacting our landlord on check-in day, so we resorted to hailing her from the street to her apartment three levels up next to ours... two of the neighbors came out and helped us in this endeavor, so it seemed as if we were serenading Mrs Sorriso to come to her balcony. She eventually did, and not lg after we were admitted to our apartment, a little two bedroom with few windows and rattling floor tiles. Over a few days time we notice other details like a barely adequate heating system and lots of street noise coming form a bar across the street. We learned to ignore those details as it would be more trouble to find and move to another place...
Our adventure really started soon after our flight landed in Catania airport and we rented a car for the two hour journey to Licata. The car rental associate told us that Catania was known for car thefts and damage and strongly urged us to buy their insurance, which we did, even though it cost as much as the rental itself... Her advise proved true as within a few minutes of driving out of the airport area we heard a clunk on the right rear part of our car, and not long afterward a black beat-up looking BMW came alongside the drivers side with its driver frantically gesturing for us to pull over. With some hesitation, I looked for a spot to put over that was in full view of passers by, and parked. The driver who had waved us down was talking very hurriedly in Italian and gesturing' saying "Pagare, Pagare!!" which I understood to mean "pay me!" I got out of our car and asked him what exactly I was being asked to pay for, and he pointed to his drivers side outside rear view mirror, which was dangling from the side of his car. Then we walked around to the right rear of our car and he pointed to a black scuff mark on the door, where presumably his mirror struck. An argument ensued in my broken Italian and his gesturing and I asked how it happened since we never saw him at all and he was behind our car.. I then tarted thinking that if the police were called we might be detained for some time, and maybe a negotiated settlement was in order. I asked him how much he wanted, to which he replied "duo centos Euros", or two hundred Euros. Having just come from the airport and not having a single Euro in my pocket, I pulled out a US 20 dollar note and offered it to him. He seemed a little disappointed, but after a moment he offered to shake my hand and we parted company. I got back in the car and Debby asked "what was all THAT about? I explained as best I could and we took off driving towards Licata, a bit more cautiously than before...
We learned over the time we were in Sicily that the Mafia still had a presence, and there were certain things that once just accepted as business as usual. Garbage collection, for instance, was frequently affected by disputes and simply ignored. Even so, we found most Sicilians to be very friendly and particularly so towards Americans. We learned more later about why this is true.
A good part of staying in a community as long as we did in Licata is we would get to know more of the locals and develop relationships with them. One of our more interesting acquaintances was an elderly man named Alberto, who spoke little English, but picked up on my Hispano-Italian accent immediately and from that moment spoke Ital o-Spanish with us. Turned out he had lived in Cuba for some years and married a Cuban woman who he later brought home with him to Italy. He lamented that it was not a lasting marriage because she was mostly interested in Salsa dancing and sex... leaving us to surmise that he was interested in more than that. We walked quite a bit in Licata after dinner and in cool mornings just for exercise, and we frequently ran into Alberto, who was quite social at some to the coffeehouses and restaurants.
One of the occasions when we spent some time with Alberto was during the week of Easter parades. It started on Ash Wednesday, when a wooden statue of Jesus being tortured was carried by a throng of volunteers along a very elaborate parade route just a few feet from our apartment. A few days later it was Jesus on the cross, and later it was the Resurrection of Jesus, all represented by different wooden statues and similar throngs of people over the same route...
Operations Mincemeat and Husky
Alberto led us to the park in Licata dedicated to as he put it "The Americans". A bronze plaque described that Licata was the scene of the fist Invasion of Sicily by the Allied forces in July 1944, called "Operation Husky". American and British troops landed here in an amphibious assault that changed the course of World War Two. Licata was, according to Alberto, the fist Italian city liberated by the allied forces, which proceeded Northward into mainland Italy and drew the Nazis away from the more Northern battlefields. An interesting footnote to Operation Husky was that the campaign really started two months earlier with a deception operation, code named "Operation Mincemeat" by British espionage agents off the coast of Spain. A corpse was dropped into the sea, disguised as a British naval officer, with a briefcase full of "secret" documents describing plans for an Allied invasion of Greece in June. The papers were found by Spanish military forces, and passed on to the Nazis, who soon diverted their forces under Field Marshall Goring away from Sicily and into Greece. This set the stage for the successful invasion of Sicily by the Allies a few weeks later.
Our apartment in Licata was a former classroom for the Trinity College language school. It had a sign at the entrance that said Trinity College, and many posters inside the apartment of cartoon-like depictions of examples of lost-in-translation situations between Italians and English. We could easily relate as we found few Italians spoke any English, and we had many opportunities to learn a few words of their language.
A few doors down the street from our apartment was the El Diablo Restaurant, which became one of our favorite haunts. It had only 8 tables, inside a very old stone and cave-like building.. We became good friends of the owner Angelo, his wife Rosalba, and their son Elysio. Angelo and Elysio had the same long beard and tattoos, and could easily pass as bikers in our country. They had lived several years in Germany, and their restaurant was decorated with interesting antiquities like puppets and bronze mermaids and seahorses... The food they prepared was all in family style, with one fixed menu that was different every day. One pasta dish, one main course, usually fish, and one vegetable or salad. It was Elysio's job to come to each table as guests were seated, and explain in his very polite manner what was on the menu. He could do this in English, German, or Italian with equal grace. The house wine came in half or full liter carafes, red or white, and "spumante" or still. Every meal we had in their place was delightful and artistic in ways both simple and elaborate. It was tough saying goodbye to their charming family when our month long stay was ending...
The Valley of the Temples
A few miles West of Licata we visited the ancient Greco-Roman city of Agrigento, in what is now known as the Valley of the Temples. Still standing are massive stone columned temples of Concordia, Juno, Zeus and Vulcan. The area was thronged with tourists from all over the world. We walked more than a mile around the perimeter of the ancient city, marveling at the vast marble and sandstone structures and promenades. At one time, around 500 BC the area had been a agricultural center in ancient Greek and Roman empires. Some beautiful life-size marble statues, some discovered only in recent decades, demonstrated that the area is still an archaeological work in progress.. The museum exhibits included many artifacts rescued from tombs going back to 1000 years BC when the area was colonized by Minoans from the Eastern Mediterranean..
A visit to Malta
After a week we returned our rental car to Modica, a few miles East of Licata, from where we could take a catamaran ferry to Malta. We joined friends Barbara and Glen from Washington and Australia respectively for a few days escape from Sicily. Malta, just 50 miles away, is another country altogether, and one with centuries of history. We had learned earlier when we were in Rhodes that Malta was the place to where the Knights of Saint John were exiled in about 1550 when Rhodes was overtaken by the Ottoman General Suleiman the Magnificent. As could be expected, the fortifications built thereafter by the Knights are grand and still standing in various places on the island of Malta. In fact, there are more castles and fortifications per square mile on Malta than anywhere else on earth. This is because Malta besieged many times by many nations, owing to its strategic location in the mid Mediterranean and its excellent natural harbors. The most recent of many wars that Malta played a part was in 1944 when it was the staging point for the allied forces prior to the Invasion of Sicily, from when the allies continued their drive into central Europe and Germany. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and other leaders met in Malta to plot and manage the war in one of the Maltese bunkers of Valletta. Besides the many fortifications and cannon emplacements that are left standing today, we saw some other interesting architectural features. One of them was in the form of rows and rows of stone cylindrical projections on the ground in all of the many plazas and squares, resembling the bases for columns. They are labeled on maps as "granaries", We had to read a bit to learn about them, as they are actually the tops of large cylindrical stone storage containers for grain, buried underground where they could sustain bombardment. Water was stored in similar fashion so that Malta could survive the months-long sieges that were carried out by invaders over many centuries.
Since Malta was occupied alternately by the French, the Italians, the Ottoman Turks, the British, and of course the catholic order of the Knights of Saint John, the language and culture of the island nation is a mix of all those cultures. Maltese language is part Arabic and part European. Christian churches dot the landscape, as do some mosques and synagogues.
As we rode a taxi from the ferry to our hotel, we asked the driver what dish would be a favorite for the Easter festival weekend., He replied "Savage Rabbit". Surely enough, we found rabbit on the menu at many of the local restaurants. Since the British were the most recent Europeans to occupy Malta before its independence in the late 20th century, English is spoken by nearly everyone. This made communication easier for us than it was in nearby Italy.
Underway on the route of the Volcanoes
Once we returned to Licata from our four-day escape, we set to work on getting the boat hauled out and painted, and provisioned for the next leg of our voyage to France. Sailing towards the Strait of Messina again, we pulled into the now-familiar port of Syracusa, where we picked up our friends Barbara and Glen for three weeks of sailing Northward along the W coast of the boot of Italy. The Straits were relatively tame, with few of the legendary currents and whirlpools mentioned in Homers "Odyssey".
We anchored one night near Taormina, at the base of the mighty strato volcano of Aetna. Her snow-clad peak was a dramatic backdrop to the harbor which is frequently peppered with airborne ash. We got underway headed through the narrowest part of the Strait, and towards the Aeolian Islands, a chain of active volcanic islands just North of Sicily. For a week we hopped from Vulcan to Salinas, then Panarea, and finally to Stromboli. On Vulcan we hiked to the top edge of the crater and looked down into the steaming vents. We watched people bathing in the warm mud baths. Salinas was a good marina stop while we waited for strong winds to pass over, and once again enjoyed hiking along its Eastern shore. Panarea was more rugged, with few natural harbors or ports, so we anchored in a small cove surrounded by dramatic cliffs. Cala Junco, as its is called, is the site of a bronze age (1500 BC) archaeological discovery, a small village of Yert-like structures overlooking our anchorage. Stromboli, the last island we visited was also the most recently emerged from the sea, and by far the most active volcano, with frequent eruptions lighting up the sky. After a night spent on the lee side with little protection from swells, we sailed just outside the lava flows of the West side of the island, which is closed to navigation for a half mile offshore.
Onward to the mainland
A dawn-to-dusk motor sail brought us to the tiny harbor of Cetraro. It was the first of several breakwater harbors we would visit along the otherwise unprotected coast of Western Italy. With few natural bays or estuaries, the Italian and European Union governments constructed many breakwaters encircling small ports to support the commercial fishing and tourism economy. These harbors are typically clearly defined with separate areas for the "porto de pesca" and the "porto turistico". Since the fishing industry is typically subsidized, the fees for commercial boats are much less than for pleasure boats. Nonetheless we welcomed the shelter of the breakwater harbor for a peaceful nights rest. There was little else in Cetraro besides the breakwater and the office of the harbormaster. We walked about 5 kilometers into the nearest village for a meal, but there was no grocery store nearby.
The following day we motor sailed up the coast to the small but beautiful harbor of Maratea. It also was a breakwater port, but with a charming village adjacent to it and a magnificent mountain overlooking it with a giant monument to "Christ the Redeemer" on top, visible for miles around. We received a very friendly welcome from Mario the harbormaster and his son Sabiel.
When Mike brought his documents to Mario's office and discussed the details of the boat, he and Mario both realized they were struggling a bit with communication in Italian with a Spanish accent. After few sentences I asked him if we could simply speak Spanish, to which he smiled and gladly agreed. It turned out that Mario had lived in Panama and the Dominican Republic, two of Mikes childhood homes, and that he had married a Dominican woman. His son Sabiel, eighteen, dark skinned, tall and handsome, showed his obvious Dominican lineage, though he was brought up in Italy. With that introduction, we then spent several days touring the area with the charming Mario as our guide. He drove us up the winding road to the top of the 1000 meter mountain where we saw the enormous statue of Christ and the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Maratea, which was plundered by pirates in the 16th century. Later he drove us to the newer city of Maratea, nestled in a alpine valley above the harbor, out of sight from sea to avoid any further marauding pirates. We learned that nearly all of the villages along this coast where at one time or another raided and plundered by pirates from Turkey and Africa and even from Northern Europe.
A lesson in Italian gestures
We found a lovely little waterfront restaurant in Maratea where the four of us had two wonderful meals.
One of them was a luncheon, with the afternoon's entertainment consisting of a young man having a conversation on his cellphone in front of the restaurant. Dressed stylishly in a two-piece suit, slightly short and tight, and with no socks. For at least a half hour he strutted back and forth along the seaway gesturing with one and sometimes both hands, the other party obviously missing out on much of the communication. During this display we learned at least a dozen different hand gestures that seem to be the essence of Italian discussion. One is is with the middle two fingers of the hand curled inward, (like a bulls horns) the other is with the two hands held as if in prayer, but thrusting up and down for emphasis, yet another is with two index fingers placed side by side, also up and down for emphasis. Another with the index finger pointed high like John Travolta in a dance pose. Lastly, there was also a fair amount of crotch grabbing with one hand while holding the phone with the other. Many of the gestures require the phone to be held between chin and shoulder...The entire discussion was conducted while pacing back and forth about 50 feet along the seawall... We were left wishing we had video-recorded the whole thing as it was very entertaining and educational. It was all we could do to keep from laughing out loud.
Agropoli and Paestum
A passing storm whipped up 3 meter waves outside the breakwater, keeping us in Maratea for an otherwise pleasant 4 days. From there we sailed up the coast to the ancient port city of Agropoli, near the historic Greek-Roman Temples of Paestum. We had heard that Paestum, formerly known as Poseidonia in the time of the Magna Graecia was the first attraction in the area, so we wasted no time hiring a taxi to go there for a day. Surely enough, Paestum was a magnificent site, encircled by stone walls that once stood on the shore of the Tyrrenian sea, now almost a mile away due to changes in the sea level. The three principal structures in Paestum are the enormous temples of Hera (two different buildings) and Athena. Like the city of Agrigento that we visited in Sicily, they were constructed in the 6th and 7th centuries BC, a time when Polytheism was common in the Mediterranean region. The three main temples are on the order of 100 meters long and 50 meters wide, each over the size of a football field. Surrounding the temples were many smaller public buildings like circular theaters and baths, similar to ones we have seen in Greece and Turkey. The construction of the time shows that the ancient Greeks and Romans knew much about running water and how to build lasting structures in a region known for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. When we returned to Agropoli, we spent much of the following day exploring the castle and the old city overlooking the harbor.
Amalfi and Capri
From Agropoli we sailed across the Gulf of Salerno to the Amalfi coast. Steep and rugged, Amalfi is covered with several villages of Venetian-era construction, and the scene of vast modern tourism.
We entered the tiny harbor of Amalfi fortunate to be able to get into a slip where larger boats could not. This we would find in several places to be an advantage of having a smaller boat. Amalfi was crowded with throngs of tourists that had been bused from Naples. We walked into the central Piazza where a bronze statue is dominant of Flavio Gioa, the marine pilot from ancient times who is said to have invented the magnetic compass with a fleur de Lys card showing North. The cathedral of Saint Andrew is also in the piazza, with a steep and side stone stairway leading up to it. Not far from Amalfi, we sailed past the Galli Islands, the fabled spot in Homer's Oddysey where Circe instructed the Commander to put bees wax into the ears of his sailors and to tie themselves to the masts so they would not be tempted by the beautiful voices of the sirens or mermaids. Many a sailor was doomed according to the legend, by the allure of those mermaids, later to find themselves drowning on the rocks of Galli islands. To be safe, Glen and I tied ourselves up to the mainmast as we sailed by...
Our next landfall was the equally steep and precipitous off-lying island of Capri. As we approached it resembled Santorini in Greece, with all the villages and buildings perched on the top of the island, and only a few structures on the shore. We spent our first night anchored off the cliffs on the Eastern shore. Many caves led into the side of the cliffs, which made for some interesting dinghy exploration. Tall cigar-shaped islets called the Faraglioni, one of which has a tunnel through it, are among the most photographed spots of Capri. We sailed around the South shore to get a closer look the following day. Then we entered the marina of Capri proper, with ferries arriving and departing at seemingly every moment. At first contact the marina control informed us by radio that there was no space for us and we would have to lay offshore. We weren't thrilled by that idea as the wakes from all the ferries and tour boats made the area resemble a big washing machine. Within minutes the voice on the radio called back and invited us to come in and tie up. We knew we were not going to stay for more than a 24 hour visit when we were advised that it would cost 155 Euros (about $180 a night). We made the most of our stay by walking and taking the cable car to the top of the island and mixing with several thousand tourists, mostly American, on the waterfront. Later we wondered what all the fuss was about as Capri was certainly no more attractive or interesting than many other islands on the Italian coast.
Across the Bay of Naples
It took a day to sail across the Bay of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance, to the offlying islands of Ischia and Procida. Ischia had a very protected harbor in the lee of a spectacular castle from the time of the Kingdom of Aragon. We spent the better part of the next day walking all over the castle with its many towers. There were two interesting exhibits. One was the museum of torture, where every device every invented for the sole purpose of inflicting pain on people was on display. The other unique exhibit was the Hall of the Departed Nuns from the Poor Clares Convent . In that hall the bodies of the deceased nuns were kept seated in special stone chairs with drainage bowls designed to catch the bodily fluids (also known from the time of Hippocrates as "humours") as they drained out of the bodies as they decomposed. It was believed that the bodies of people were simply containers for their spirits...and those spirits were collected in urns and saved while the skeletons were later put in an Ossuary. This practice was carried on from the late 16th century until early nineteenth.
It was just a short 5 miles from Ischia to neighboring Procida Island. Procida had a calm anchorage next to its Venetian era village. We dinghied into its tiny fishing harbor, where we walked the island and then had lunch in a waterfront "ristorante". The host was the charming Giovanni who had worked on tankers to Alaska before coming back to his home island. He spoke pretty fair English and the Calamari and chips were delicious. He gave us a souvenir of his island in the form of three tiny lures for fishing in the harbor.
From Procida it was another all day sail to the Bay of Gaeta. In Gaeta we ties up to on e of the nicest marinas we visited in Italy. Run by a family, it also had a fine dining area adjacent to the marina, which we happily indulged in. We wandered the town from its waterfront Angevin-Aragonese castle up to the top of a hill where a majestic gothic cathedral dominates the skyline. Gaeta has a history of many battles fought over centuries owing to its very protected and strategic natural harbor, It dates to Roman times, later taken by the French, the Saracen Pirates, as well as the Spanish. In 1849 The US ship of the line Constitution was anchored in Gaeta and hosted a visit by King Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies and Pope Pius IX. (Italy was not a unified country until 1861). This is thought to be the first visit by a Pope to a United States possession. More recently, Gaeta was made home port to the US Navy sixth fleet and the NATO command port when the British left Malta.
Our next stop on the coast was the breakwater port of Nettuno, near Anzio. We were nearly turned away by the harbor authority when they told us they had no space. After putting our lines up near the entrance by a fuel dock for a few minutes we were given the go ahead to proceed into the inner harbor.
Nettuno is a large public project harbor managed by five different concessionaires and occupied mostly by local boats. The result being that each of the five businesses that operate their part of the harbor have different procedures for the rare visiting yacht. We were told to tie up in a certain space and then check in at an agency near the harbor. We were told where the bathrooms and showers were, but we did not use them as they were extremely dirty. Otherwise the port was suitable for a few days while we provisioned and prepared the boat. Nettuno was also the place where we would say a warm goodbye to Barbara and Glen as they made their way back home after about three weeks aboard Deva. While in Nettuno we visited the American cemetery where 7800 US servicemen and women are buried dating from the 1944-45 Invasion of Italy by allied forces, many of whom died at nearby Anzio beach in one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. The cemetery was a very impressive and well maintained facility with informative modern exhibits memorializing the sacrifices made by Americans in World War Two. It was especially touching for Barbara as she served in the US Army during Desert Storm. Mike could relate as well as his father also served in the US Army during WW II in France and Germany.
Civitaveccia and Giglio Island
A days sail brought us into the large industrial harbor of Civitaveccia. As the closest large harbor to Rome, it is a busy commercial harbor for cargo and passenger ships of all sizes. Its entrance is guarded by a fort designed in the 15th century by Michelangelo. We visited the local Coast Guard office to revise our documents reflecting our crew change, something the authorities previously told us was important. This office told us that it was not necessary, a further indication of the inconsistencies of Italian bureaucracy. No matter, we shopped for a few groceries and set sail for a tiny island a day hop away... Giglio Island, one of seven in the Tuscany archipelago, was made famous in 2012 when it was the scene of the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, with a loss of 32 lives. We anchored just a few yards from the actual grounding site, off a residential cove. There was not a trace of the ship or any equipment, reflecting the massive three-year effort that cost over a billion dollars to remove and dismantle the 900 foot long ship. The captain is still serving a 16 year prison sentence in Rome for negligence.
Our guidebook warned that the residents of Giglio were proud of the peaceful serenity of their island, and any noisemakers would not be welcome. Taking this advise to heart, we spent a very quiet night at anchor. The next morning we entered the tiny breakwater of Giglio, but were told by the harbormaster there was no space for us. This was regrettable because the island was very picturesque and we looked forward to a visit ashore. Our other choice was to sail on to Elba, some 30 miles away. We went past the dark and steep MonteCristo Island on our way. Made famous by the 19th century novelist Alexandre Dumas in his"The Count of Montecristo", it now is practically forbidden to enter as a nature preserve, and has a reported population of 2 people.
Elbe, a Jewel of Tuscany
Making up for the disappointment, our next visit started with a night t anchor in the lee of the castle at Porto Azurro on the East side of Elba. With clear water and a nice beach nearby, we knew this was a place we could linger awhile. In the morning we entered the little harbor and tied up next to a row of small ristorantes. Despite its obvious attractions to tourism, we found the little port and its village to be quiet and charming and surprisingly cleaner than many other harbors we have visited. We walked around the castle and looked down on our anchorage, then spent a while laying on the beach. We enjoyed one of the waterfront bistros and later took a bus over the top of the island to the larger port and city of PortoFerraio, from where the large ferries run to Corsica and mainland Italy. Lots of well kept Venetian era buildings line its waterfront. Strangely enough, Elba did not seem to have the chaos of motorized traffic that we experienced in other places of coastal Italy. It seemed very civilized indeed. Elba has its own place in history, most remembered as the place where Napoleon was exiled after his forced abdication (something like an impeachment) from France in 1814. According to one account, he attempted suicide and then reached a settlement with the allied leaders from Europe in which he was granted exile, a two million Francs a year salary, and a royal title for his wife. A year later he escaped from Elba and returned to power in France.
We spent a few days enjoying Elba, and we would have stayed longer except for the knowledge that we needed a good weather window for our crossing to the mainland of France in a few days.
Bienvenue a Corse
Corsica, or Corse as it is known locally, is part of France. As such, we fully expected to check in with authorities in the port of Bastia. As we discovered recently in Italy, however, the authorities were not interested in us at all. We were turned away at the customs office and referred to The "Agency for Foreign Affairs". There, after consultations with two officials, we were told not to worry as not clearances were necessary as long as we traveled between countries in the EU. This contradicted what we had read about requirements for citizens of non-EU countries, but we felt we had done our part to report ourselves and called it good. We experienced a two day rainstorm in Bastia, while we walked and visited the markets and our first French restaurant in many years. We found Bastia to be grittier and less charming than Elba, so we made our way North to the best spot for staging the boat for the crossing to the mainland, the tiny harbor of Maccinaggio, so named after the Italian word for windmills common in the area.. There we anchored in lovely clear waters near a sandy beach. It was a delightful place for beach combing and hiking, we found.
We decided that in order to make our crossing to the mainland as short as possible, it would be advantageous to make landfall on the Italian side of the border, and later cross over to France. Knowing that the authorities did not seem to care about crossing the border, it was an easy choice.
It was a dawn to dusk passage of some 85 miles, in nearly calm weather, with a gentle Westerly to help us along. We had gotten used to motor sailing in the fickle Mediterranean. On this passage we encountered thousands of tiny floating jellyfish which we had not seen before. They were about one and half inches wide with an inflated crescent shaped sail, and very short tentacles. We did some reading and found they were called "Velella Velella", derived from the latin word for sail. One of natures more clever designs, they were able to sail vast distances over the sea, not just directly downwind, but sideways to the wind. We also learned that their short tentacles could pack a powerful sting, and that their species was propagating and increasing in all oceans to higher latitudes due to global warming. Mike used a kitchen strainer taped to the boathook to retrieve one from the sea so we could take a picture of it.
Landfall on the Azure Coast
Our first stop on the mainland this time was the little Italian port of Marina de la Aregai, East of San Remo. . A little breakwater port, but nicer and more organized than some others. We were welcomed in by a team of "marineros" who helped us tie up. We were now in that part of the Med that is known for casinos and five-star hotels and superyachts. It was short stopover as we were anxious to get into the French side. By morning we were on our way.
We sailed past San Remo and Menton, the border town in France, and onward towards MonteCarlo, the principality famous for its casino and auto racing and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. On the approach to Montecarlo, more superyachts lined the shore. It was clear that there was a big attraction in the harbor. Mike was busy weaving between the many yachts at anchor as Debby called the harbor on the radio. Their reply was "Sorry Madame but this is the weekend of the Grand Prix, and there is no berthing available". As we should have known, Formula One racing is a very big deal in Monaco, and all of the worlds wealthiest yacht owners had brought their craft here for the event. There were at least 20 superyachts anchored offshore and two large cruise ships. The inner harbor was packed full of more yachts and its tiny entrance was a maelstrom of wakes from all the tenders going back and forth to their mother ships. We did not regret passing by, and instead looking for a nearby alternative.
We crossed the French border again only a few kilometers away, and called on the tiny harbor of Beaulieau Sur Le Mer. Its notable distinction is that the entrance is only about ten feet deep, and the largest yachts that can tie up are about 50 feet long. It was made to order for us. Nestled beneath a mountain backdrop, just a 15 minute ride on a bus or train to either Montecarlo or Nice, it was a perfect stop for us.
One of our first stops was a little restaurant in the marina, where we enjoyed more lovely French cuisine, and watched the steady stream of exotic cars driving past. There were more Ferraris, Bugattis, and Lamborghinis on the road than anywhere else we have been. We spent one day visiting Nice, and anoterh in MonteCarlo. In Montecarlo we visited the Palace and the Princes auto collection of some 200 cars. The palace, we learned is occupied by Prince Albert II, the son of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and his wife Princess Charlene..
Onward to Saint Tropez
A day hop away brought us to another "tres chic" location, the famous harbor of Saint Tropez. In the 1960s it was a place where movie stars congregated. Brigitte Bardot was the native born blonde bombshell who still graces local murals and portraits by street artists. It is also a preferred parking spot for some of the worlds most beautiful yachts, but only ones that are less than about 200 feet. Many of the bistros and restaurants on the quay had live entertainment. We enjoyed walking the sea front promenade and taking in the sights.
A visit to the National Parks
Leaving Saint Tropez we sailed into the Iles du Levant National Park area consisting of three large islands, Levant, Cros, and Poquerolles. The French Navy was conducting an operation off Levant, so we sailed past it and anchored in clear waters off Poquerolles, with white sand beaches just a few yards from the boat. We dinghied ashore and hiked the entire shoreline including a small village where the ferries from the mainland port of Hyeres land thousands of tourists every day. There is little lodging on the island, so the majority of the visitors come in the morning and leave by 5 in the afternoon. The same was true in the anchorage as we found we had the bay to ourselves at dusk. The following morning we were visted by a French customs boat, which came alongside and requested our boat papers and passports showing our length of time in the EU. It was the first itme that we were checked by authorities on the water, and indication either that the French were more interested in compliance with the EU laws, or that there was a policy change about their enforcement.
From Poquerrolles we sailed West to the Calanques national park, a Grand Canyon-like setting on th emainland near Marseille. We chose to come because it looked like the anchorages would be scenic and protected, like desert fjiords. As we got closer we dsicovered that they were also very popular, with thousands of tourists climbing the cliffs, kayaking, scuba diving, and swimming. We had to be careful of the many people swimming far out in the open water. As in Poquerrolles, the crowds disappeared at nightfall and we had our anchorage very quiet with just a few sailboats near us.
Leaving the Calanques, we looked for a quiet anchorage without restrictions where we could do some maintenance on the boat that is hard to do in a marina. Mike used the dinghy to sand and varnish the railcaps and paint the rubrails, a job that took two days. We did this in a calm bay near a large power station outside of the industrial port of Marseille. Not the most aesthetically pleasant scenery, but which suited our purposes well. It also turned out to be a good swimming spot, with no boat traffic. It was also just a short hop away from our final destination on this season's cruising, Port Napoleon on the Rhone River.
At Port Napoleon we had a few days to clean and haul out the boat for storage. We also had time to do some bicycling to nearby Port Saint Louis du Rhone. At Port Saint Louis we watched a water jousting tournament. As the name would suggest, it is like horseback jousing of knights, only on boats with long bowsprits and the "knights" with their lances poised at the ends of the bowsprits. Two boats charge at each other and the jousting knights try to spear their opponent into the water... Of course it was the spectators having the most fun, sipping wine on the shore and cheering their favorite boat and knight.
At Port Saint Louis we were able to watch the first lock of the Rhone River system open and close for a few commercial vessels and a yacht. We were able to meet the Canadian couple on the yacht and learn a lot about traveling the canals into central Europe.