11 June 2019 | Port Napoleon
Good morning. My last post was leaving Toulon and headed for Port Napoleon. Since that was more than a month ago, folks may be wondering if we dropped off the edge of the planet. The real story is that the last 25 miles of transit was really uneventful, and I never got back online to provide an update. So here it is:
I left in the wee hours from the anchorage at La Ciotat, in light winds and flat seas. The sun coming up over the massive rock faces was spectacular. The area here is a natural park, and besides have some amazing sedimentary rock features, it serves as a major bird refuge and nesting area. Beautiful place to visit, and a sharp contrast to the Golf de Fos-sur-Mer, which is home to Port Napoleon and to some major oil refineries and transfer stations.
Port Napoleon is in the flats of the Rhone estuary, and the approach is in a well marked channel. Best to stay in the channel, as it shallows up to a foot or two outside the channel. A good reminder of this is the sunken ketch just off the approaches, with the main and mizzen still marking the wreck after many years.
Berthing in Port Napoleon was interesting, as I was directed to the end pier with no visible slips in sight. Some of the other boaters on the pier told me that there was a spot at the head of the pier, so I poked my nose in, and was soon tied up at the end of the voyage. not a bad spot, though it would be a tough spot to exit in any wind.
I spent the next couple of days getting the boat prepped to go ashore. Taking down sails by myself was tough, but not as difficult as getting them folded and stowed below. That new mainsail is pretty heavy! I have arranged to have mast and solar arch removed by a local rigger, as well as getting some voyage repairs completed. The rest was a matter of cleaning and stowing gear, which went fairly quickly.
I met some great folks while in Port Napoleon. In particular, Horst and Janet, who had me aboard for drinks and conversation. They are from the Baltic, so were a great source of information for the next phase of our journey. Janet has written a sailing guide for the Baltic, so I'll be using that in the coming months as we enter our new cruising area.
Horst and Janey helped me get the boat moved over to the travel lift on my haul out day, as getting out of that slip unassisted would have been really difficult on my own. I owe them a debt of gratitude for their help and friendship. I look forward to seeing them in the Baltic next season.
With the boat out of the water and stowed, there wasn't much to do except head for home. All preparations have been made for shipping the boat in June. I'll be back for the loading onto the truck, and then will meet the boat in Dunkerque at the beginning of July.
I'm looking forward to cruising through the canals of Holland, via the Standing Mast Route. The boys will join us for this leg of the trip, and it will be great to have someone to help handle lines as we go through the many locks along the way. The plan is to transit through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic by the end of July, and put the boat up in Germany on the other side.
That should catch us up for now. More in July.
The Final Slog
01 May 2019
Today finds me anchored up off the town of Ciotat, still 40 nm from delivering the boat to Port Napoleon. The last week and a half has been spent mostly in port, waiting out the weather.
We had crossed quickly from Italy to avoid the mistral (winds out of the west). Then once we got into Nice, saw the formation of the Marin (east winds). So we headed to the other side of Antibes, and waited out the Marin. Those high winds went on for days, and we finally left thinking that we would have a good transit day. But that only lasted part of a day before strong winds and waves from the south tookover.
We found safe anchorage in a cove called Canebiers (Can of beers?) for the night. Evidence of the recent Marin was in the form of a boat washed ashore. Nice spot next to the city of Cannes, but no time to explore. Knowing that the mistral would be blowing over the upcoming weekend meant that we had to move on. So we got underway at first light and were soon sailing in storm force winds and waves from the south. It was fifteen miles to shelter from the outlying Porquerolles islands, and it was nice to have a bit of calm for a bit. We chose to anchor for a few hours so we could all catch some rest. Well worth the stop, and there were lots of charter boats out and about in the area protected by the islands. But we still had about 70 nm to go to Port Napoleon, and that wasn’t going to happen with us sitting at anchor. So back underway, and we rode the south winds into the harbor of Toulon.
Toulon was a working town, quite different from the typical French Riviera cities that catered to high value tourism. The daily market was fun to walk through and see all of the fresh produce, roasted chickens, and street foods. The folks at the port were very helpful, as we explored the idea of leaving the boat in Toulon so that I could fly home on schedule. In the end, that idea didn’t pan out, so flights were changed, and here I am continuing the transit to Port Napoleon. Tracy and Lesley caught the train to the Marseilles airport for the flight home, and I got the boat ready for departure.
The mistral looks to have blown itself out last night, so I headed out this morning. Winds in the harbor were light, and the seas outside the harbor were calm. The only real excitement departing Toulon was the sound of gunfire. I saw a series of hits in the water about a mile away, and figured that I was on the edge of a navy firing range. Probably something worth marking on the chart for those that might have ventured further inshore.
Next, I had to round Cape Cicie and according to the forecast, I expected only a big swell around the cape. Of course, forecast was a bit inaccurate, with 25 kt gusts and heavy seas instead. So I ducked back in behind the cape, and found a nice clothing optional beach to anchor in front of for a couple of hours. Well sheltered, and good holding in the sand.
I figured I’d stay a bit until conditions matched the forecast. After about an hour, it didn’t look to be laying down much, and as I had no desire to round the cape in the dark, I got back underway. Motoring with my trusty staysail, we pushed around the cape, and then went looking for some shelter for the night. My bailout anchorages that I’d picked out beforehand weren’t really suitable, so I continued on to where I’m now anchored at Ciotat. There are a dozen or so other boats all waiting for the winds to drop, so I’m in good company. I’ve been watching the seas off the point, and they look to be dropping as the evening progresses. With luck, tomorrow’s weather will closely resemble the forecast.
Almost there! So close, yet so far.
Coasting uphill to France
19 April 2019 | Nice, France
Since I'm writing this post from the port of Nice, you can see that we made a bit of headway since the crew swap in Salerno. We've had a bit more weather on this leg, so have had a few extra days in each port on our journey. April is still a sketchy month for weather, and I've been watching a huge low pressure in the Atlantic prepare to suck all of the air out of the Med.
Picking up with Robert and Joe departing in Salerno, we (Tracy, Lesley, and I) enjoyed a few more days exploring the Naples area. It is really difficult, and expensive, to stay in ports near Sorrento or Capri, so we rented a car for the day and went out to explore. Roads weren't too bad, though they got successively narrower as we got closer to Sorrento. We had decided to take the ferry out to Capri, as I planned to sail by it on our way north. The ferry ride was a bit rough, and while none of our intrepid crew lost their cookies, there were more than a few that didn't enjoy the trip. Biggest clue that it was going to be a rough passage was when one of the ship's crew started handing out plastic shopping bags to everyone. I'm sure that visual explains it all.
Capri is a beautiful stop, and the stairs up to town make it an easy climb. I enjoy the narrow walking passageways in town, as they always remind me of being in the souks of Morroco. Prices in these shops are not the same as the souks though, as they cater to the very rich, with names such as Cartier and Rolex. Always fun to wander around though. We enjoyed our short visit and decided to catch the ferry back to Sorrento so that we could enjoy the sights there before our drive back to Salerno. We were trying for an earlier ferry than the one that we had booked, figuring we would stay ahead of the crowds. Apparently everyone else visiting was enjoying a Vulcan mind meld, as we all came up with the same idea simultaneously. So, we enjoyed the wait for the next ferry with a couple hundred of our fellow travelers. Ferry ride back was not as bumpy, and we were soon back in Sorrento.
Sorrento also has scores of narrow walking streets, and we found interesting shops with artisan crafts like lacquered boxes and pottery. As we have been decorating the boat interior with art from our travels, Tracy found a nice piece to cover the hole where the old depth readout used to be in our stateroom. Then it was the drive back to Salerno, winding our way back out of the narrow Sorrento streets, with a stop enroute to the grocery.
The next morning, we made a last minute propane purchase, returned the car, and checked out of the marina. Headed to the island of Ischia on the north side of the Bay of Naples. We motored most of the morning through a few rain squalls, and then hoisted sails after leaving Capri to Port. We had a few hours of nice sailing across the bay, only furling the sails just under the castle on Ischia. I had sent a berthing request, which was fortunate as the marina was packed with boats already. With the wind blowing and Grainne's handling characteristics, there was no way we were going to get into the first space the ormeggiatori (sp? Dock guys) indicated. The other spot was bracketed by mooring balls, with all sorts of lines beneath the surface. They were nice enough (though not happy about it) to provide a little directional assistance with their zodiac, and we were so one berthed in the port of Ischia.
Great little spot with one little problem. The ferries came into port day and night. They scream in through the narrow cut, get near the dock, drop their anchors, and back in hard to moor stern to the pier. Same evolution in reverse upon departure. It is fun to watch, as these guys are really good at working to their anchors. It is not a lot of fun to hear however, particularly when my eyelids are slammed shut for the night. But we made do, and enjoyed the visit up to the castle for the day. Cool spot, and it is being restored beautifully. Tracy and Lesley tried for the local hot springs, only to discover after a long bus ride, and even longer set of stairs, that the hot springs were closed for the day.
The next day we were headed north for Anzio. I am pushing hard with a few long days in order to fit between storm cycles. We had several hours sailing, including flying our spinnaker Big Red. Really nice to finally fly that sail again. We have had few opportunities for spinaker sailing here in the Med due to the constantly changing winds. Since the last time I put Big Red up only lasted about 20 minutes, I was more than happy with a couple of hours. We got to Anzio just around sun down. The Pilot book describes a good spot to anchor as just east of the entrance buoy. And while we expected some silting at the harbor entrance, I was careful to proceed on a slow bell. Good thing, as the depth in the approach was really shallow. We anchored in sand in about 3 - 4 meters, which is not unusual. Good visual marks and anchor drag set on the plotter. We enjoyed a nice dinner at anchor, and then headed off to bed. I don't think I had closed my eyes for more than a minute when I felt the boat motion change. A quick check of the plotter showed that we were indeed dragging, verified about ten seconds later with the drag alarm. It was obvious that this spot wasn't going to work for the night. So we picked up the anchor, and retraced our track out of the harbor approaches. It was shallow about a mile from the harbor entrance. Not sure how they manage to get the larger boats in and out of the harbor. Looks like a night to motor on to Rome.
It was another 4 hours north to Rome, so we settled in and headed for the Port of Rome. I expected to arrive around 3 in the morning, and figured we could tie up to the fuel pier until the port opened. When we entered the port, I was surprised at the shallow bar across the entrance. And as we got out the spotlight to shine on the fuel pier, I was even more surprised that there was a beach in front of the fuel dock. Guess that is not going to work. We continued into the port, which opens up into a huge marina with thousands of boats. There was a good quay to tie up to, so Tracy stepped ashore with the lines, and we were moored for the night. Time to get some sleep.
We had set the alarm for 0800 figuring that no one even comes to work until 0830. So we were surprised to be awoken at 7 am by a rap on the boat. Friendly dock guy, and soon we were moored stern to in one of the slips on the north end of the Marina. Tied up in Rome, pretty cool! Actually we were in the suburbs of Rome, but close enough for exploration. We enjoyed a day exploring Ostia Antica, a port city which had been covered by flooding by the River Tiber, and only recently re-discovered and excavated in the last century. We also had a long day trip into Rome to see the sights as Lesley hasn't been here since she was very young.
The weather forecast looked favorable for a Monday departure, and I've been trying to get across to France before the next major storm hits. We had a banner day of sailing, ending at a well protected anchorage for the night. Great spot to get some sleep before the last push across the Gulf of Genoa. I had looked at several scenarios for the passage, including a long stop in Corsica. But with the forecast looking pretty dire for the next week, decided for a long transit through the night. We sailed for most of the crossing, with strong winds out of the east. And while we were all very tired at the end of the transit, it was great to see the French coast at first light.
We tied up in the border town of Menton-Garavande and went to the port captain to clear into France. No need he says, we are all one Europe! So we were good to go. With only a couple of hours to Nice, we got underway and headed for this icon French Riviera Port.
The ports fill up really quickly here, but the Marina was able to find a spot for us along the quay wall. The crazy thing was that it was between two super yachts, and we were borrowing the berth of the yacht that was out of town for the next few days. Manouvering Grainne between these walls along either side was relatively easy, and soon we were moored up for the next few days. The laid lines are one and a half inch hawsers, so no worries that we are going to pull them out in a storm. We also weren't easy to see from the town, since we were completely dwarfed by the other boats. But it is a great spot. We are enjoying exploring the town, the 5 minute walk to the boulangerie (bakery) in the morning, and of course, the gelato.
Tomorrow we depart for a storm port for the next few days. Finding a place to moor has been very stressful, as they are all full with other boats all seeking shelter from the wind. The forecast is for one of the powerful levanters that last for several days, so anchoring out is not an option. The marina here was very helpful in getting me a slip a couple of hours down the coast, so we will head out in the morning.
We have been pushing the underway times to scoot between storms on this leg. Getting into a routine has been difficult, so I'm hopeful that we can make the next leg of the trip in several short hops. Hoping that the weather will cooperate as we continue on to Port Napoleon.
Rounding the Boot
11 April 2019 | Salerno
Sitting in Salerno enjoying a beer and snacks. It has been about a week since we set off from Roccella Ionica. Joe and Robert have just departed, and I’ve been joined by Tracy and Lesley. I believe this is called Trading Up.
The seas were flat calm as we transited around the boot of Italy and up through the Strait of Messina. It is an interesting coast that begs for greater exploration, as there was a different hill top town every few miles. I lost track of how many as we rounded the corner and headed north to the Strait. A fairly uneventful transit, with the usual dodging of cross channel ferry traffic and watching the deep draft vessels heading through with ease. No sightings of Scylla or Charybdis on this trip, though we could feel the occasional minor whirlpool. We bypassed Scylla for the night, opting to head a bit further to Porto do Palmi. As the seas had picked up a bit, finding a spot to tie up where we wouldn’t roll around all night was preferable to all.
Porto do Palmi is a small fishing port, and is really the closest place to tie up north of the Straits. We found a spot between some local boats, and managed to get moored stern to without any help. It was pretty late, so we didn’t expect to see anyone from the port. But as we secured the last line for the night, a car came racing up, which we figured was the local port guy. Friendly enough, wanting our ships documents so that we didn’t pull a runner in the early hours of the morning. Then a beer, and turned in for the night.
The next morning, an older gentleman came by with our papers, and exacted the port fee. I don’t mind paying, though would have preferred to have enjoyed a few amenities for the price, such as showers and bathrooms. But no worries, we were then off to visit Amantea, where Joe’s family emigrated from before WW II. The port guide lists Amantea as a new Porto Turistico, and the online pictures of the port we reviewed showed some deeper draft boats tied up in the harbor. I figured that it was worth a peek to see if we could find a berth there for the night. We got there early in the afternoon, and were surprised at how small the port actually was. Approaching at idle, I nosed into the entrance and watched the depth decrease quickly. Robert was up on the bow, and could the sandy bottom clearly, though I’ve been in waters in Greece that were 10 meters deep and looking like only a meter. Not the case here, as we touched lightly on the bow. A sand bar was blocking the entrance, making a perfectly good pier unusable. Unfortunately this is the case in many of the Mediterranean ports that were not properly planned or the necessary maintenance dredging. The planners might benefit from some oceanography training as the longshore current here sweeps the beaches clean of sand and piles it at every port entrance.
So we were obviously not staying here for the night! We backed out and discussed options, which included Joe swimming or kayaking to shore to find a taxi up the mountain to his family’s old house. The only option that seemed realistic was to head north to the next port, and rent a car from there the next morning. So off we went, in search of a berth and a shower. Which we found in the port of Cetraro.
In Cetraro the next morning, we got our showers and a rental car for the trip to Amantea and Lago, the nearest towns to Joe’s house. Robert has some work to do for his day job, so Joe and I headed into the mountains in search of his heritage. Joe has been here once before in the early 90’s so had some recollection of the area. It was about an hours drive, but we found the house quickly. Getting up to the house, we elected to drive the car up what appeared to be a goat track. About three quarters of the way up, we decided that was a bad idea, and walked the rest of the way. The house was in ill repair, and looked abandoned. But after announcing ourselves, an elderly (ancient?) woman came out of the house. Joe had a pre-scripted letter from his dad, but it was apparent that she didn’t understand why we were there. As we didn’t want to bother her, we retreated down the road and took a few pictures before attempting to maneuver the car in reverse down the goat track. I think it was good practice for Joe should he ever need to maneuver his car off the side of a mountain again.
As we started to head back on the road, we saw the elderly woman head to the neighbors house and talk animatedly to the occupant there. He came up to the road as we were driving by, so we gave him Joe’s letter to read. Turns out that he was the former mayor of the nearby town of Lago, and he had known Joe’s grandfather. After that, Joe spent some time talking with the mayor and with Fiorina Maria, the current occupant of the home. It was pretty amazing to see pieces of history come together in several generations of Joes family.
We hit the grocery store on the way back to the boat. Due to trouble with the car, Joe got a ride to the next town, and Robert and I got the boat underway from Cetraro. We did a flyby pickup in the port of Maratea just before midnight, and since seas were light, we elected to continue on through the night to Agropoli.
The transit north was fairly uneventful, with the exception of another meeting with the Guardia di Finanza. They intercepted us off the point sometime around two in the morning. They motored around us with blinding spotlights for a bit before finally answering my hails on VHF. After replying to their usual questions, they sped off into the night, and we continued on our way to Agropoli.
We arrived just after sunrise at the harbor entrance, so we dropped the hook and relaxed for a bit until the town woke up. As the fishermen began to depart the port, we picked up and headed in to look for a berth. Each dock (12 docks) is managed by a separate entity, so we had to wait until a representative from one of the docks (ormeggio) showed up to catch our lines. Soon we were secured stern to, and we set out to do some exploring. Just north of town is one of the best preserved ancient Greek sites in Italy, Paestum. We caught the train up the site and enjoyed looking around the really well preserved Greek temples.
The underway portion of our journey ended in Salerno, where we tied up at the new Marina di Arechi. Great spot just south of town with full services. It is still the low season here, so rates are reasonable, which is good as I’ll be here for almost a week.
Lots to see in this area. Pompei, Salerno, Herculaneum, Sorrento, and Capri. We have had a great trip and I’m sorry to see Joe and Robert head home. We had a really good voyage, with some great sailing, and some memorable adventures. I hope we get a chance to sail together again, though I’m sure that we have more than enough pictures to share when we are al back home. BBQ at my house later in the summer!
Tomorrow we continue north, headed to Isola d’Ischia on the north side of the Bay of Naples. We have some storm dodging to do for the next few days, so I expect we will have time to look around more of the coastal towns as we continue our transit to the Rhône.
Across the Adriatic
04 April 2019 | Rocella Ionica
Our visit to Albania is at an end, and time to move on. Before leaving, we visited Butrint. We were fortunate that Robert was wearing his garnet ball cap from Univ of South Carolina, as we stumbled upon a professor that has been studying since 2005. Turns out he got his masters at USC and recognized the hat. We got a phenomenal fifteen lecture on many aspects of Butrint and Albania that we would have never known about, had we not had Robert and his garnet cap with us. Pretty interesting.
In the evening, my friends Tim and JaJa came over and joined us for dinner. Along with a case of Albanian beer to see us off. They are taking a short respite from working on their boat, before it goes back in the water and they head towards Turkey. We also had a short visit from Tara and Dillon on another American boat. Turns out Tara is from Seattle as well. Small world. They are just heading to Greece, so clearing out through Albania as well. It is great to be meeting folks on other boats and swapping stories and ideas.
Winds on departure were mixed, as Sarande sits in a corner between islands and mountains, so we motored out towards Othoni Island. Othoni is the most NW Island in Greece, and a popular jumping off point to Italy. We had anchored here late one night on the transit to Albania two years ago. Not a great spot, but allowed for some sleep in the very small lee of the island. No stop for us today, we have a good forecast to cross straight to Rocella Ionica, with 15-25 kt winds on our beam the whole way.
Winds were as forecast at the start, and we were soon flying all sail, which for us includes the staysail. Beautiful sight to see with both headsails flying full. As the winds picked up into the afternoon, we put in the first reef of the new mainsail. This was soon followed by the second reef, and stowing the Genoa as well. We flew along through the night on a double reefed main and the staysail, making good 6-7 knots. Ride wasn’t that comfortable with the seas on our beam, but we managed to catch snatches of sleep throughout the night.
Dawn saw us off the Italian Coast, with lighter winds and the lights of Crotone in the distance. We had the misfortune to get stuck in Crotone the last time with fuel pump problems, so I wasn’t very interested in a return visit. As the morning broke, we added the headsail back into the mix, and managed to maintain an average of six knots over the entire transit. The seas continued to come down during the morning, and by the time we reached Rocella Ionica, we had flat seas, with little wind. The Guardia di Finanza paid us a visit as we were heading into Rocella. Vigilant looking for smugglers, I presume. We motored for the last bit, and I’m happy to have sailed almost 28 hours under sail. Unusual here in the Med.
Plenty of room available at the marina, so we tied up alongside for the night. Beers and showers are the priority, followed by pizza by the meter. Very tasty and our first meal in Italy. Early night for us, as it is time to catch up on sleep from the crossing. Tomorrow, we head around the boot of Italy, enroute Salerno.
Greece in the rear view mirror
29 March 2019 | Sarande, Albania
A windy night tied up alongside the concrete pier in Sarande, Albania. We arrived yesterday after a midday departure from Corfu, Greece. Robert and Joe arrived on Tuesday evening on schedule, so we had a bit of time to get acclimated to the boat and to Greece. It was fun walking back through the old town of Corfu, climbing to the top of the castle, and looking down on the yacht club where we had moored here, two years ago. Corfu was our first introduction to Greece, and we enjoyed learning. A bit of the language, how to drink coffee slowly (that would be me), and finding the rhythm of the typical day.
On the way back to the boat, we made a shopping run, and should have enough food to last us for at least three weeks of our one week trip. A couple final chores completed on the boat, including raising the new main and installing the reefing lines. Happy with the setup so far, and will test it out on the crossing to Italy.
The transit to Albania was all motoring, as the wind has set in right on the bow. I had forgotten how treeless the mountain sides are once crossing into Albania, and no trees allows the wind to cascade down the slopes unhindered. Still curious if the trees were all removed in prehistory and never grew back, or if there just were never any there to begin with. Something to research. The wind was still howling as we made our landing onto the pier. A little rougher than I, or the boat, would have liked. But no damage, and safely alongside. Captain Zholi and his dutiful assistant were there to catch lines, and exchange paperwork for clearing into Albania. This short visit will serve as our checkout from the EU, and rest our clock so we can keep the boat in the EU for another 18 months.
Today will be a visit to Butrint, the UNESCO world heritage site on the border with Greece. It is one of the earliest settlements in the area, having once been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Venetians, prehistory predecessors, and post Venetian peoples. Cool site, and a good way to spend the day as we wait for the weather to moderate. We plan to leave on Saturday morning for Rocella Ionica, Italy to clear in and to enjoy pizza by the meter. It is a longer sail, taking 24-30 hours, weather dependent. This will be the longest transit of the trip.
Time to get moving and start the day. Off to find the bus to Butrint and do some walking around the ruins.