Sycorax in the Med

23 July 2013
09 July 2013 | Milazzo, Sicily
09 July 2013 | Sardinia
29 June 2013
28 June 2013
18 June 2013 | Granada
18 June 2013
15 June 2013 | Marina Bay, Gibraltar
04 June 2013 | Povoa de Varzim
29 May 2013
27 May 2013
10 May 2013 | Seaview, Isle of Wight
03 May 2013 | Chichester Marina & Hayling Bay

A Final Word

23 July 2013
It is now ten days since we dropped anchor in Tranquil Bay across the water from Nidri. As planned Gerry and Sue (Morrell) flew out to join us – Gerry joined me on the boat whilst Pat and Sue had the luxury of a shore-based apartment – with air-conditioning!!

The last week has been spent sorting out the Transit Log paperwork, required by yotties cruising Greek waters, and visits to a number of attractive locations in the area. Back in the UK we are used to being charged every time we moor up, so here it has been a treat to visit a number of excellent little harbours and anchorages and not been charged one penny (perhaps I should say, cent). Everywhere we have been where we have moored on a quay using the stern-to Mediterranean mooring style someone has been on hand to take our lines and provide any assistance required. Two locations stand out so far – Kalamos and Spartachori.

We arrived in Kalamos Harbour at around 5pm local time. There were already quite a number of boats tied up – stern-to. The harbour is quite shallow at little more than three and a half metres and there was quite a strong cross-wind blowing. We could see someone on the quay indicating where to aim for (this turned out to be George who owns the local taverna). I set the boat up for my approach and called to Rob to drop the anchor when we were about mid-way across the harbour, and motored back to the position where George was waiting to take our lines. All went well and I was pleased with how things had gone. George hooked up both our port and starboard stern lines but shook his head and said “that anchor is no good. Please try winding it in.”

Rob pressed the button and the anchor simply pulled across the harbour and appeared at our bow!! I was a little disappointed to put it mildly but recalled that the pilot book refers to poor holding in Kalamos. I feared we would have to untie and try again but George said “No” he would reset our anchor for us. A few moments later he appeared in his boat, took our anchor and the full length of our seventy metre chain all the way to the other side of the harbour before dropping it in the best spot. Local knowledge is a wonderful thing!

As the early evening wore on more and more boats arrived and George saw every one into position, on many occasions taking anchors out in his boat as he had for us. By the time we went ashore to eat (at George’s Taverna, of course) there was a veritable cat’s cradle of anchor lines crossing the harbour. Fortunately George is also an early riser as all the first four boats to leave (we were the fourth) needed assistance to untangle the anchor lines but this was done with good humour all round – just part of the routine, I suspect.

We had a similar experience in Spartachori, on Meganissi. On this occasion we arrived in a flat calm and headed in to a quay where there were already several boats tied up. The Taverna owner called over asking if we had made a reservation. I replied that we had not but hoped to eat at his establishment. He said he was fully booked but would squeeze us in. He called over instructions where to go and was there ready to take our stern lines and hand us the laid-line for the bow. We were soon comfortably tucked in and off ashore for a cold drink. All afternoon things were quiet then at around five o’clock the wind picked up and we could see white water out across the bay. There was soon quite a swell in the harbour and boats were pitching and the pontoon writhing. It was a testament, however, as to how well the Mediterranean mooring system works as there was no damage done and the lines kept sterns from banging into the pontoon.

The wind stayed in for a good couple of hours during which time a large Sunsail flotilla arrived along with a number of other boats. I was able to watch as the tavern staff, along with representatives from Sunsail, guided each boat in and made sure they were safely tied up. By the way, the food at the taverna was excellent and only cost 35euros for two people including two courses and drink!! We will certainly come again.

At the end of our first full week here in the Ionian it was time for Rob, Bert, Pat and Sue to fly back to UK. Gerry and I have just one more week before we too will have to return home. So far everything has gone as planned. The boat has performed beautifully and we have achieved the goal I set of getting her here ready to use when we retire early next year. I am particularly pleased with the performance of the solar panels and wind generator which have enabled us to be pretty well self-sufficient with regards to our power needs. We plan to come out again in a few months just for a short holiday and to winterise the boat and then look forward to cruising the area properly next year.

The adventure is over, the holiday can now begin.

14 July 2013
The adventure is over, the holiday can now begin.

My last entry recorded that we had arrived at Milazzo on the north east corner of Sicily, a fairly expensive marina considering the quality of the facilities, nevertheless, within striking distance of the Straights of Messina. Milazzo offered the opportunity to refuel and stock up for what we knew would be a two day trip, at least. My original plan was to stop briefly on the Italian mainland but with fine weather predicted and no sensible further options to refuel we decided to just go for it.

Initially I had intended to spend to nights in Milazzo and go through the Straights in mid- morning, Thursday, 11th July but after some consideration we decided to bring this forward twelve hours. At 5pm CEST we cast off from the marina and motored out. Initially we were blessed with a very nice breeze and for around three hours we made good progress under full sail. As the sun sank in the sky the wind dropped and our speed fell away. On with the hard worked engine, once again. Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered about the wind as the regulations for yachts passing through the Straights of Messina require you to have the engine running.

It was a beautiful starry but moonless night but we had to be on our toes as there were a number of big ships also passing through. At its narrowest point the Straights are only about one and a half miles wide and with the spring tide we anticipated strong currents, eddies and whirl-pools as mentioned in the pilot book. In fact we had no problems whatsoever, just an occasional kick from the current. Pat handled the wheel while I was glued to the chart-plotter and radar screen checking our position and that of other ships around us. Rob and Bert were on deck using their Mark 1 eyeballs to spot any potential issues. There were lights all around us and it was both colourful and spectacular. One ship passed close by all lit up like a Christmas-tree. In fact it was a five masted tall-ship with all its masts and spreaders lit up.

Once passed the straights the rest of our passage was pretty uneventful, just two days of motoring until the white cliffs of Lefkas finally appeared through the afternoon mist. I confess with all this motoring I was a little concerned as to whether we had enough fuel on board and we did try sailing on a number of occasions. Unfortunately the wind teased us and quickly fell away so that the engine had to go back on once more. Finally we passed the headland to the west of Vassiliki at which point the wind finally filled in!!! An hour earlier we had a tremendous welcome from a pod of dolphins which raced across to play around our bows to the delight of the whole crew.

As night fell we took in the sails for the final time and motored in to Tranquil Bay opposite the waterfront at Nidri. By this time there was no wind and the bay was absolutely still as we dropped the hook, got out the dinghy and prepared to go ashore for our first Greek meal.

The log has recorded around 2680 miles since we left our berth at Chichester Marina. In fact we believe the log to be under reading by about 10% so we have probably covered around 2800 miles. For me it has been an amazing experience. My previous longest trip had been around 120 miles from the Channel Islands to Chichester. I am delighted, relieved and slightly sad it is all over but now Gerry and I can relax and enjoy some time pottering around the Ionian before we move on.

I would like to thank all the crew who sailed with me on this adventure. Without Pat, Richard, Ciara, John, Sam, Anne, Bob, Sue, Rob and Bert this would not have been possible. I hope they all enjoyed their parts of the trip. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the eight, or so, week adventure.

The Final Crew Change

09 July 2013 | Milazzo, Sicily
Bob and Sue were only available for just over a week and were scheduled to fly home from Palermo Airport on Sunday 7th to be replaced by Pat Morrell and Graham “Bert” Pierce so on Friday 5th we left Trapani to sail round to the Palermo area. Once again it was a lovely day but his time there was a genuine breeze – almost bang on the nose!! However, on this occasion there was no time pressure just a great opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of sailing. All through the morning we tacked out and round the headland to the north east of Trapani until by around lunch time we were able to bear off onto a beam reach.

Initially we were heading to Palermo or Terrasini, which is close to the airport, however I was a little concerned about the shallow depth indicated in the pilot book and so at the last minute decided to head into Castellammare Del Golfo. This turned out to be a delightful spot and offered relatively inexpensive berthing at just 30 euros a night. The facilities were pretty basic with just one toilet and no shower, and, unfortunately, VERY short range WiFi. Rob, Bob and I had to take our iPads up to their “office” veranda to get a connection and even then if we moved more than a couple of feet the connection would drop. The blog update will have to wait, once again.

Initially our view of Castellammare was that it was picturesque but rather dusty and quiet - that all changed at around nine in the evening. The whole place sprang to life, restaurants bustled, live music could be heard in several bars and the waterfront heaved with people out to enjoy the evening. On Saturday we explored the town a bit more and Bob set about negotiating a round trip taxi to take him and Sue to the airport and pick up Pat and Bert who would arrive about the same time they would be checking in. All went well and just a couple of hours after saying our farewells to Bob and Sue Rob and I welcomed Pat and Bert on board with a glass of chilled wine.

Unfortunately I couldn’t promise Pat and Bert much of a sail for the next few days as the weather prediction was for pretty well zero wind and the possibility of an afternoon shower. Monday 8th saw us heading off for Cefalu, a passage of around 56 miles which we completed under engine. A very uneventful passage apart from the sighting of a couple of flashes of lightening over the land. Fortunately this didn’t come our way and in the early evening we dropped the hook in the anchorage just off Cefalu Marina. This was a really beautiful spot – the perfect location to sit back and enjoy a chilled G&T before preparing the evening meal. It was also good to have a free and restful night. We discussed the plans for our approach to the Straights of Messina, which we would have to get right, and decided to head off next morning for Milazzo which is the last suitable spot to berth, refuel and restock before approaching the Straights.

The morning of the 9th July therefore finds us once again under engine, burning diesel for the sixty mile passage. I am hoping that this time I will get access to WiFi to get these reports uploaded along with the accompanying photographs.

There was a big bang

09 July 2013 | Sardinia
There was a big bang. The boat shook and I almost fell of the navigation stool.

“What the hell was that?” I called up the companionway.

“We hit a table.” Bob called back.

The whole Mediterranean to sail in and we hit a table measuring approximately four feet by four feet. At the time we were on passage from Villasimius, Sardinia to Isole Egardi off the west coast of Sicily. We had been going some five hours at the time and still had around a hundred and twenty five miles to go. Once again we were motor-sailing although, with the wind around five knots true, the emphasis was rather more on motoring than sailing! Looking back down our wake we saw the upturned table floating away. Rob and I hurried forward to look over the push-pit to see if there was any evidence of any damage. We could see none so then went below to see if there was any sign there. Fortunately we found none. The table had been impossible to spot and it brings home how easy it is to hit a submerged object without any warning if one happens to be in your path. Looks like we got away with this one.

To return to the beginning, Bob and Sue Garrett, along with Rob Moir, flew into Mahon on Thursday 27th June to replace John, Sam and Anne who were due to fly home. We spent Friday in Mahon so that the new crew had a chance to look around the town, do some shopping and generally settle in. On Saturday morning we carried out a final stock up for the next passage and then set off for Sardinia.

The area between Menorca and Sardinia had suffered strong winds for several days but were predicted to drop by Sunday, nevertheless we anticipated there might be quite a swell running. The first few hours offered excellent sailing conditions and we had a great sail right up to supper time. It was the first time since the passage to Cascaish that we had had full main and genoa out. The boat romped along and we made good progress. Unfortunately, as the evening wore on the wind went more and more behind and with an awkward swell we decided to drop the main as it was masking the genoa and the boat’s movement was causing the boom to crash back and forth. All through the night and the following day we continued under jib alone until on Sunday evening the wind dropped totally and we had to motor once again. The trip was pretty uneventful and as dawn broke we rounded the south east corner of Sardinia.

Initially we decided to head for Cagliari but as the mass of buildings appeared through the haze some fifteen miles ahead looking something like a cross between Le Havre and Southampton we considered our options. After a quick study of the charts and pilot book we decided to head for Villasimius on Capo Carbonare (S.E. Sardinia). This turned out to be a good move as we found a lovely bay with sandy beaches, a few yachts at anchor and a relatively empty marina ready to welcome us and our euros! With a need to replenish the water tanks and off load lots of rubbish we accepted the offer of a berth, went in and successfully completed the now familiar stern-to berthing procedure. Unfortunately we are now in the “high season” and berthing fees are higher than we are used to in UK. Here we would be charged 71euros per night for the privilege of using their facilities. I tried to negotiate a better rate if we stayed two nights but the girl in the office wouldn’t budge.

We decided to stay one night in order to stock up and then go out to use the anchorage the following day. On the afternoon of the 2nd July we therefore motored out to pick a suitable spot to drop the hook and settle down for the night. There were a number of yachts already at anchor but there was still plenty of room for us to get a good spot.

Once we had settled down we dropped the stern ladder and all went for a swim. Not warm, but not cold, certainly most refreshing. Back on board it was time to dry off under the evening sun, and open a bottle or two. As we sat sipping chilled white wine a rib approached with three men in it. For a minute I thought they were going to tell us to move but in fact they came to invite us into the marina on the basis of “two nights for the price of one”. Why hadn’t they offered me this when I tried to negotiate the day before!!! The tip is, for anyone reading this who might go there, don’t go straight to the marina, anchor off and see if they approach with an offer!!

Wednesday 3rd July sees us on our way once again. For the first couple of hours the wind was just right for a great sail but, as is proving to be the case so often, it soon dropped to the point where we couldn’t make any sensible pace and the engine was back on. Just a few hours out we had our incident with the submerged table. Next morning as dawn broke we caught our first sight of Sicily emerging from the haze. We had now completed some forty hours under engine since leaving Mahon and I was anxious to refuel. We chose one of the islands where the pilot book indicated fuel was available but when we motored in we were advised they had none and advised us to head on to Trapani on the mainland – Sicily.

We finally tied up at around 11am and refilled the tanks – at 180 euros per litre!! Trapani was a lovely spot to stop and we spent two full days there before moving on once more. Unfortunately we were once again limited by the WiFi facilities and unable to connect from the boat. Maybe next time.

Cala Mandrago to Mahon

29 June 2013
Cala Mondrago was a beautiful spot to drop anchor in. A complete contrast to our two nights in Ibiza and absolutely free!! As stated in the previous report we arrived as night fell and didn’t have too long to try to pick the best spot. There were already three other yachts at anchor so we had to anchor a little further from the beach than we would have liked nevertheless we were well tucked in. The only downside was that the entrance was exposed to the east and, as luck would have it, the light breeze went round to the east. It was therefore a little too rolly to be absolutely comfortable.

In the night we became a bit concerned that we were swinging a little too close to the cliff and decided to move a few yards into a more central spot. Next morning we arose to find that a yacht that had been in the best position had left. We sat in the cockpit drinking tea and could see the next yacht, flying a German ensign, which was also in a rather bumpy location, was also looking at the prime spot. We decided it was time to get our towel onto the chair before they did!!

The new location was perfect, tucked in behind some cliffs we were sheltered from the slight swell coming in from the entrance. We were also just yards from the buoys marking off the swimming area and only a short distance from the beach with two beach bars. It was time first for a swim and then to get the dinghy out and row ashore for a drink and to explore. Sam took plenty of opportunity to swim and to climb the cliffs in order to jump in from a great height! (see photos, courtesy of Anne).

We stayed two very pleasant nights at Cala Mandrago but needed to get on up to Mahon, Menorca, on Tuesday, 25th, as there was a forecast showing strong northerly winds for the following day. We left the anchorage around breakfast time and started motor sailing up the east coast of Mallorca. Once again the wind was not helping as it was bang on the nose!! We tried sailing several times but couldn’t maintain a satisfactory speed or direction. Finally, in the late morning the wind backed and we were finally able to sail properly and for the next few hours SYCORAX performed as she should in the elements for which she was designed. In fact, reviewing my log, the 14:00 entry states “perfect sailing”. Unfortunately, the 14:30 entry then follows with “no win d. Engine on!!”

The last four miles to the entry to Mahon Harbour were a bit of a slog as the wind picked up to around 17kts, bang on the nose, and quickly built up a short choppy sea. We were very pleased to reach the last waypoint and turn west to enter the sheltered harbour. Mahon Harbour was, in Nelson’s time, one of Britain’s bases for the Royal Navy and we could see why this was such a good location. Initially we were going to drop anchor for the night and then move up to the marina the following morning. We chose a spot clearly marked on the chart as an anchorage, dropped the hook and opened a celebratory bottle. Unfortunately we had hardly taken our first sip when a rib came alongside and we were politely informed that anchoring was prohibited in this spot and were invited to move on. We finished our drinks and moved on up to Marina Menorca where a lad was ready to take our lines and hand us the laid line for our bow. This turned out to be a good move and we were allocated an excellent berth for the next three to four nights.

Mahon is a beautiful town well worth a few days exploration and we quickly found the markets, some good eating establishments and a local distillery where Mahon Gin is brewed. This was too good an opportunity to pass by!

Mahon was one of the locations “set in stone” on my original passage plans as John, Anne and Sam would all be taking their leave of me here and Bob and Sue Garrett along with Rob Moir, all friends from CCRC, would be flying in to take their places.

The next leg of our trip will be to Palermo on Sicily by way of the southern tip of Sardinia. I am delighted to say the weather seems to be working well in our favour as strong winds which have plagued the sea between Menorca and Sardin ia are now starting to drop. We will leave Mahon around lunchtime on Saturday, 29th June, and should be in Sardinia on early Monday morning.

You’ve Got To Move!!

28 June 2013
We reached Ibiza late on the evening of Friday 21st June. The glorious day turned into a spectacular sunset and then darkness as we motored the last few miles to look for a marina to stop in. Puerto de Ibiza features four marinas, the closest to the entrance being Marina Botafoch. We headed for this and John guided me in using the chart plotter to identify the obstacles on the way in. The pilot book says that the refuelling pontoon closes in the afternoon and doesn’t reopen till 9am so if arriving late and unable to find a berth, hook up on this berth. This was very easy to find and offered an easy alongside stop without all the faff of stern-to berthing. We tied up, closed everything down and shambled off to find a late evening meal.

Just after midnight we returned to the boat to get our heads down.
“The carpet’s all wet.” Exclaimed John as he stepped down onto the small rug I keep at the foot of the companionway.
“It can’t be,” I said, “we haven’t shipped any water and the fresh-water tanks are in need of replenishment after our two day passage.”, but John was right. The carpet was sopping wet. We checked the bilges, sea-cocks, etc. but couldn’t identify the problem. Then Sam spotted water welling from the foot of the steps which form part of the casing for the engine-compartment. We removed these steps and were horrified to see the bilge under the engine full of oily water and more gushing from a small hole in the water-pump impeller casing. We searched around in the torchlight and found a screw which was supposed to occupy this hole. Try as we might we couldn’t get the screw to relocate and we were unable to stop the ingress of water. All we could do was shut the engine sea-cocks and wait for morning.

I confess I went to bed in very low spirits. What chance would I have of getting an engineer over the weekend? What chance he would have the necessary replacement pump unit? Would this leaking of the cooling system have caused any other damage? Would I have to have the boat lifted to be fixed? Would I need a new engine? Would the adventure grind to a halt here in Ibiza where marina costs would be mega??? My thoughts got darker and darker. At that point there was a roaring of engines outside followed by a sharp rap on the side of the boat. I stuck my head out of the hatch to see three armed policemen and the Civil Guard boat. We were in their berth and must move!

“Are you alone?” one asked me.
“No, the rest are all asleep” I replied.
“OK, we’ll help you move.” I was informed. Actually they were very friendly and helped me walk the boat further to the end of the hammerhead to allow room for the guard-boat and then retied me up – the boat, that is, not me personally!

Next morning John and I were up early trying to assess the problem. It wasn’t as serious I I first feared in that it was just the “bleed-screw” which had come out but the thread in the case had stripped so it was going to take an engineer to fix it.

At 9am promptly I presented myself at the marina office to explain that we had no engine and asked if they could provide me a berth. “NO” I was told. My boat was far too small for any of their berths and, by the way, I must move right away.

“I can’t” I explained, “we don’t have use of the engine”. The Spanish response in broken English was to the effect – “That’s your problem. This is a very busy weekend. You are blocking the refuelling pontoon so find someone to tow your boat out to a neighbouring anchorage (5 miles away by water), or would you like us to lift your boat out while it is repaired!!!!”. I was not a happy bunny!

On the plus side I was given the contact details of two engineers they recommend and, as I was also in need of fuel, I could stay on the refuelling berth until I had topped up. As it happened they weren’t ready to refuel me yet as they were themselves filling their tanks from the bowser. This grace-time gave us the opportunity to call the engineers one of whom said “yes, he worked at the weekend and, yes, he would be delighted to come and look at the problem”. We also called the next marina, Marina Ibiza, who said “yes, they could offer us a berth”. Things were starting to look a whole lot better. We couldn’t run the engine as the pump wouldn’t put any water through the system but we prevailed on a very kindly Spanish motor-boater who had just refuelled to tow us from our present location round to Marina Ibiza.

Once tied up the engineer turned up and said “No problem. I will take the pump off and to my workshop where I will repair it.”
“How long will that take?” I asked.
“Oh, about half an hour” he said. He was true to his word and less than thirty minutes later he was back, the pump refitted, the engine started and the glorious sight and sound of cooling water gushing from the right places. We were back in business! Now the bad news – the marina berth would come in at 132 euros for the night!! I only wanted to use it, not buy it.

The marinas in Ibiza are full of super-yachts. Not only super-yachts but one or two super-super yachts all of which appear to be trying to out-do each other in levels of opulence. A 36’ sailing yacht looked totally lost and insignificant in these surroundings, even a Swan! Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay and took the opportunity to visit the old town which is beautiful in itself and also offers spectacular views out over the harbour.

On Sunday morning it was time to move on once more and head up to Mallorca and then our final trip across to Menorca for the next crew change later in the week. Once again there was next to no wind and we were reliant on the engine once more. I checked the repaired water-pump every hour but am pleased to say it was a good job and everything went smoothly. As dusk fell we dropped anchor in Cala Mondrago, a beautiful and secluded anchorage. In total contrast to Ibiza the only sound was that of the mosquitoes homing in on us for a late night feast!
Vessel Name: Sycorax
Vessel Make/Model: Swan 36
Hailing Port: Chichester
Crew: Brian & Geraldine Dandridge
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Sycorax's Photos - Main
15 Photos
Created 28 July 2013
28 Photos
Created 17 July 2013
23 Photos
Created 10 July 2013
58 Photos
Created 9 July 2013
Photos by Anne
20 Photos
Created 29 June 2013
40 Photos
Created 28 June 2013
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Created 18 June 2013
20 Photos
Created 18 June 2013
37 Photos
Created 15 June 2013
8 Photos
Created 11 June 2013
17 Photos
Created 9 June 2013
Photos taken during and after our trip across Biscay
20 Photos
Created 4 June 2013
Some pictures taken in and around Camaret and the marinas
14 Photos
Created 27 May 2013
A final CCRC Party on board SYCORAX
5 Photos
Created 20 May 2013
9 Photos
Created 12 July 2012
A quck look at the boat
7 Photos
Created 12 July 2012
Here are some before and after pictures showing some of the updates carried out on SYCORAX in the past couple of years
9 Photos | 1 Sub-Album
Created 9 July 2012

Who: Brian & Geraldine Dandridge
Port: Chichester