11 December 2020
We have Plan A ... [yeah, yeah the usual Plan A situation. Ed]
It will be back to Minnie B once we have had vaccinations and EU countries allow us in. Then off to the Adriatic all being well. In 2021? In 2022? Who knows but we live in hope.
Brexit will have a big impact for many British cruisers and their boats. Fortunately, Norma has an Irish passport which means Phil can accompany her so we are not affected by the Schengen regime that means spending only 90 days in any 180 days in Europe. Minnie B will be in the EU on Brexit day so will retain VAT-paid status. Sadly though, the UK tax authorities have stated that they will enforce payment of VAT for a second time if any British boats are brought back to the UK after the end of 2021 - the rule that VAT must be paid a second time on a boat that has been UK VAT paid but outside UK waters for more than three years has never been enforced ... until now. This means that Minnie B is unlikely ever to return to the UK. Brilliant Brexit eh!!
Anyway, the trees outside the window of our apartment in York had some nice autumn colours, even tending towards being Christmassy, so that cheered us up.
We continue to be cautious - Christmas and New Year celebrations will be by Zoom and we will practice the arts of patience and stoicism.
Best wishes to all.
To Sicily again
11 December 2020
With the incidence of Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths having reduced dramatically we decided it would be alright to go to Minnie B, but we were not enthused by the prospect of airports and aeroplanes. Car it was then: overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam (good Covid protocols); drive via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, stopping one night near Bourg-en-Bresse in France, to Genoa; overnight ferry to Palermo (also good Covid protocols and behaviour); drive to Licata.
On Minnie B
We were relieved to find Minnie B in good shape. The priority was to sort out the injection pump. A different company was brought in and all was well, so we determined to go cruising to the Egadi Islands at the western end of Sicily. Sails and running rigging were re-installed, provisions bought and we were set. Up at 0600, lines ready to slip, instruments on, start engine. Nope, engine will not start. This was Friday, so over the weekend we had photos and diagnostic instructions and answers between us and the mechanics until we eventually pin-pointed the problem as a sticking fuel shut-off rod inside the injection pump.
We were just thankful this had not happened when at anchor in the Egadi Islands. By the time we got it sorted we were out of time for a cruise so we concentrated on more boat servicing and enjoying being in Sicily.
Being fans of the TV series 'Inspector Montalbano' which is set in Sicily we went location spotting - well, Norma wanted to do this, Phil simply wanted to have a look at Ragusa Marina [this is so untrue Phil was keen too. Any more misrepresentations and your writing privileges will be withdrawn. Ed].
First, we did call at Ragusa Marina to compare it with Licata, and stopped for coffee at Punta Secca, the site for our dear Inspector's house. Then to Scicli, about 60 miles from Licata, and it turned out to be delightful. We had a guided tour of the set for the police station which is in the town hall of Scicli - much to our amusement, our guide insisted that we had our photographs taken at every desk and office on the set. The town is full of more Sicilian Baroque architecture and yet another marvel.
With the second wave of Covid infections sweeping across the countries on our route to the UK and greater restrictions being introduced, we felt it was time to head back. Our route was the same but as the ferry from Palermo did not leave until the evening we could squeeze in a stop at Cefalu on the north coast - a beautiful old town and we had a splendid lunch looking out over the sea. We also had time for the cathedral and monastery at Monreale near Palermo - truly Baroque on steroids.
The timing of the ferries meant we had to overnight in Genoa at an excellent B&B, and then we stayed one night in Dijon. Arriving late afternoon, we were able to stroll around the quarter that is home to the palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, pausing for a kir at a café and dining at Le Grill du Marche. France had introduced a 21.00 curfew so all the bars and cafes were busy by late afternoon and the restaurants filled earlier than usual. The staff at the restaurant were brilliant, running around at high speed to get everyone fed in time.
The next day we drove to Rotterdam for the overnight ferry to Hull, and back to our flat in York for 14 days of quarantine. As we have said to others, quarantine was no hardship if you think about it as a 2000nm ocean passage but without the night watches and with the beer and wine ... and Netflix.
More photos in the Gallery.
York and Yorkshire in the time of Covid
11 December 2020
Lockdown and Ease Up
We had just enough time for friends Brian and Sue to fit in a visit and enjoy some York and North Yorkshire tourismo, with a trip to the North York Moors and Whitby, which lived up to its reputation for being "bracing".
We were quite lucky with the lockdown and have avoided catching Covid 19 and also family and friends becoming ill.
The first priority was supplies, so we but within that what came first? With local businesses under pressure we felt the need to do our bit and what better way than home delivery from a couple of local breweries: Rudgate and Brew York. Both supplied cask or draught beer and we have continued to support them ... oh, yes and getting in wine supplies was also very important ...
Next was staying fit. No more gym but we had exercise bands and Phil had a Damascene conversion and took up .... Yoga. He is now a fanatic albeit he has not progressed from Yoga 101. The exercise is the thing and not all the "feel the energy of the earth entering your body through the soles of your feet" and "as you breathe in feel your breath moving down your spine and as you exhale feel it rising through the whole of your body" rubbish.
University of York campus
We have been very fortunate in having easy access to the University of York campus which is set around a series of lakes and has very varied plantings of shrubs and annual flowers. There are lots of geese and wildfowl including Snow Geese, Greylag Geese, Barnacle Geese and the more common Canada Geese. Pochard were new to us and we had a raer sighting of a pair of Great Crested Grebes. Moorhens and Coots have been in abundance and it has been delightful to watch them building nests in the most unlikely places and see their young arriving and growing.
There is a huge range of trees and the Campus Tree Trail provided us with much entertainment tracking down the different species and seeing them come into leaf and blossom.
We also have easy access to an extensive network of footpaths and bridleways into the countryside to the south and east of York. Our Ordnance Survey map has been an absolute necessity. We have walked these paths so many times, taking us through arable farming and some livestock farming, that we are now on first name terms with some of the cows ... most seem to be called 'Daisy' ...
The easing of lockdown at the end of June brought a major and welcome change for us. The countryside around York is ... well ... flat. We craved a hill to walk up, a valley to look out over and we were running out of topics for conversations with the cows ...
Essentially over the last 11 years we have either hired a car or used public transport when back in the UK. However, the prospect of getting on a bus or train was not too appealing and we needed to get to a hill or two. We took the plunge and bought a hybrid - with no charging points in the car park at our flat an all-electric car was not possible.
Suddenly, the walking options expanded dramatically and we are now on first name terms with some sheep in the Yorkshire Wolds. It has been absolutely wonderful to explore the Wolds which are an elevated, gently rolling plateau, cut by numerous deep, steep-sided, flat-bottomed valleys created by glacial melt. With the pubs being open and some decent weather, summer for us was pleasant enough, and we were able to meet up with friends in York.
We had two trips away, to Montgomeryshire and to Hampshire to see friends, abiding by the guidance on mask wearing and social distancing, and both involved extensive walking.
Photos of York and North and East Yorkshire are in the Gallery.
January-February 2020 - such promise but ...
11 December 2020
The year started with such promise - we would go to the boat in Sicily for a month from early January to early February and do some boat servicing and some Sicily tourismo, plan our spring, summer and autumn cruising, and visit family and friends. What could possibly go wrong?
Our Sicily trip was good on number of fronts: a winter break, some tourismo, some planning and some boat maintenance. It was not good on a number of fronts - a poor mechanic and the gathering gloom of Covid.
Our plan for cruising was to sail around the Adriatic and we made a reservation at Certosa marina in Venice for a month in July, and a trip back to the UK to see family and friends.
The boat maintenance was successful in that we got our anchor re-galvanised and the diesel tank thoroughly cleaned, changed the fuel lines and installed a diesel water separator whereby we could cycle the diesel to help prevent fuel bug. Less successful was the engine service when the mechanic who removed the injectors damaged an O-ring and seal between the injection pump and the fuel lines to the injectors, causing fuel to leak when the engine ran. Subsequently we also found that he had failed to detect a faulty voltage regulator in one of the alternators.
However, we were not downhearted as our maxim is "any problem can be solved if you throw enough time and money at it", which of course is fine if you have plenty of both. Having retired we find ourselves time rich but not quite so flush with the other. Oh well.
We joined a gym in Licata and the other users and staff made us very welcome - there was much use of google translate.
Covid was in the news but did not seem to be a pandemic at that stage so it was all relaxed and delightful.
Tourismo 1 - Agrigento
45 kilometres to the west of Licata is Agrigento, sited on a ridge away from the coast, offering a degree of natural fortification. Established 580 BCE by Greek colonists from Gela, who named it 'Akragas'. The town grew rapidly, becoming one of the richest and most famous of the Greek colonies. Plato, upon seeing the living standard of the inhabitants, remarked that "they build like they intend to live forever, yet eat like this is their last day".
Ancient Akragas covers a huge area--much of which is still unexcavated today--but is exemplified by the famous Valle dei Templi ('Valley of the Temples', a misnomer, as it is a ridge, rather than a valley). This comprises a large sacred area where seven monumental Greek temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself. Along with the temples there are tombs hewn out of the rocky cliffs and outcrops by early Christians. The curators of the site have helpfully constructed the types of wooden machines that would have been used to build the temples.
Tourismo 2 - Ragusa
We took our anchor to Ragusa for re-galvanising - 90 km from Licata (Capello Group, 97100 Ragusa, Zona industriale IV Fase, viale 3 n. 5 Ph. +39 0932 660211/ +39 335 186 4290) and then visited the old town of Ragusa Ibla. Having been devasted by an earthquake at the end of the 17th Century, the 18th Century saw extensive rebuilding in the Baroque style, and includes the splendid Duomo San Giorgio.
Tourismo 3 - Modica
A few days later, after collecting our shiny bright re-galvanised anchor we went in search of lunch in nearby Modica. As with Ragusa, Modica was damaged by the late 17th Century earthquake but has some of the most beautiful Baroque architecture in Sicily, including the Cathedral San Giorgio from the front of which a staircase of 300 steps leads down towards Modica Bassa, where there is another notable church, San Pietro, featuring statues lining the approach steps.
Tourismo 4 - Villa Romana
The Villa Romana del Casale lies 75km from Licata and is a large and elaborate Roman villa near the town of Piazza Armerina. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, covering 3500 sq metres of floor and dating from the early 4th century CE. Along with mosaics there are pictures created using marble, mother of pearl, and glass cut in thin pieces, polished, then trimmed to make a picture.
The most striking mosaics include:
• Athletic competition in which several women are shown competing in sports that include weight-lifting, discus throwing, running, and ball-games. Much attention has been given to the competitors' two-piece outfits, which closely resemble bikinis;
• Great Hunt which includes the capture and transport of African animals.
A truly amazing place.
Back to Blighty
All too soon were back on the aeroplane for London - Mount Etna was draped in snow but still smoking away. We had a lovely few days, seeing daughter Julia and husband Tim, dinner with friends Tim and Maria, and our first (and we hope not our last) visit to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to see 'La Boheme' - it was absolutely marvellous.
Photos galore in the Gallery.
To Siracusa and on
28 October 2019
We had been looking at the weather forecast and although Plan A had been to visit Siracusa and for David and Jacquie to go back to Catania from there on Saturday for their return flight to Ireland, with an anticipated westerly wind of F6 for Sunday through to the following Wednesday, it was agreed to move to Plan B: go to Siracusa on Wednesday and then overnight to Licata in a westerly wind of 15kts (F4).
So we did … well, we did the 21nm to Siracusa on Wednesday 2nd October and even managed to sail for 40 minutes.
Siracusa is lovely – we were in the Marina Yacht Club Lakkios very close to the attractive island of Ortigia. We wandered its ancient streets, taking in the Doric temple of Apollo, built in 565 BCE, the magnificent Duomo which is a 5th century BCE temple to Athena and converted to a Christian Cathedral in 640 CE. It really is quite remarkable as the Greek columns have been incorporated in the outer walls of the cathedral. The streets have lovely palazzos and on the south-west side of the island is the Forte Aretusa, a freshwater spring with mythical connotations involving nymphs, Artemis (Diana), a male suitor Alpheius and a long running and alive to-day debate about whether rape was involved or they were consenting minor gods – so #Me Too is not new …
David and Jacquie took us for one of the best meals of our Italian experience at a local restaurant – truly local as we were the only non-Italians there. We dined and drank sumptuously and the craic was mighty.
Our stop in Siracusa enabled us to wash off some of the volcanic grit and dust that had settled on the boat in Catania – a long-term stay in Catania would not be a good idea.
Our route to Licata was 90nm direct, but we knew it would involve a beat so we anticipated about 150nm. We timed our departure for midday on Thursday 3rd October and slipped our lines at 1125.
There are two ways of looking at this trip which turned out to be 149nm:
1. it was an opportunity for David and Jacquie to participate in the full cruising experience
2. it was bloody awful.
So how was it? Answer: depends who you ask … Well, not really – view 2 was the consensus. So, we motored the 25nm to Isola di Capopassero and then began to sail and that 15kts wind, you know F4, turned into an F6 … oh, lumpy, noisy, lots of slamming into the waves … you know what it’s like …
Well, at one stage the tacking option included visiting Malta, but at 0100 it was decided that as OVNIs are not brilliant at pointing in big winds and waves we would improve matters by having the iron topsail contribute to a higher angle and help push us through the waves.
This was good until we were about a mile off the entrance to the marina at Licata when the turbulence had stirred up some crud in the fuel tank … and the pre-filter clogged up … and the engine shut off …
Well we had been in that situation before, so quick switch over to the clean pre-filter and quick check that diesel was coming to the engine, and the engine fired up fine, and we entered the marina.
We were helped to our berth by the lovely marineros and safe at last.
We had a quiet evening onboard … well, drinking so much wine kept everyone quiet …
The next day we moved to a more sheltered berth, climbed to the castle overlooking Licata and had a very nice lunch at the marina before we had to say a sad farewell to David and Jacquie: it was a wonderful cruise [subject to comments about the trip to Licata from D&J. Ed] and we really warmed to the Sicilian people and all the places that we visited.
For us there is much more time in Licata and the central Mediterranean. We are very happy with our choice of Licata for overwintering: there is a great community of cruisers, the town has lots of great restaurants and bars, lovely old buildings (palazzos and churches) and some of the friendliest people we have met.
The marina staff are great and we have met up with old friends Francoise and Jean-Paul, last seen in Trinidad in 2010, and made some new friends who share our enthusiasm for rugby and everything associated with it and cruising. So far, a great place to be.
However, UK and family and other friends call and so we are now back in York and looking forward to all that is on offer over the winter here.
Back on the blog in 2020.
Photos in the Gallery.
A Big Event
28 October 2019
Mount Etna is like Ailsa Craig in that it is always there [now you are being completely ridiculous; Ailsa Craig is a 99 hectares and 338 metres high lump of granite in the Firth of Clyde, the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano; Mt Etna is an active stratovolcano 3350 metres high and covers an area of 460 square miles; no more silly analogies please. Ed].
Anyway, we wanted to visit and the best plan seemed to be to go to a marina in Catania, hire a car for the day, take the cable car and then special four wheel drive bus to 2990 metres and walk around a crater and watch smoke, ash and steam spew from the top of this mighty volcano. So we did.
Catania was our base for this and we stayed at the Diporto Nautico Etneo which was only OK but it was a case of location, location.
Architecturally Catania is quite fascinating, with 18th century baroque buildings and the Greco-Roman theatre with extensive galleries, evidence of plundered marble, and houses from the 19th century onwards taking advantage of the safe structure of its foundations and walls. Well worth the visit.
We were up early to be at the cable car for opening time at 0900. The ride up was pretty impressive and then it was into a 4x4 bus along with a party of French tourists. On arrival at the bus terminus in a barren landscape of volcanic dust and grit, surrounded by lava flows and with Etna steaming and smoking threateningly, we were met by a guide who took us around a mini caldera or crater from an eruption. We were at just under 3000 metres and with the risk of mini eruptions no-one was allowed to go higher.
We just love volcanoes – they are where one gets up close and personal with the core and essence of our planet and there is a real sense of how puny are human beings and all our constructions and engineering. The power of the natural forces in our planet is beyond anything our science has the capacity to design and build. We are in awe and have our respect renewed when visiting volcanoes.
We took photograph after photograph and really enjoyed our visit, and especially that David and Jacquie had such a great experience too – a must do on Sicily.
We then went out to the coast and visited a few small harbours and villages before returning to Catania.
Photos in the Gallery