A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

Eastern Med Blog 1 (May 2018)

On 14 May we managed to escape London, taking an 8:00 flight out of Luton to Catania. We had to wait 2 hours for the bus to transit the 120km to Marina di Ragusa (MdR) and spent the time reminding ourselves how difficult it is not to eat carbohydrates in Italy. We eventually arrived at the B&B and I shot over to the boatyard. They had had 6 months and still the antifouling was only done to the white line and the prop was off the boat. We had been warned about the boat yard. The boat was nevertheless in pretty good shape just covered on the outside with red Saharan dust. I caught the yard manager just before he went home and I pointed out the things mentioned. He said the prop and the anodes were no problem they could do those in the morning, he shrugged about the painting of the white line and the strip of black above that. We agreed to launch the boat the next afternoon. Veronica has a little obsession about the white stripe. I agree that it looks a little scruffy and it now has not been repainted for 2 years. The next day there was a negotiation: if they were to do the white stripe we would have to wait another 2 days to launch, so the white stripe still looks scruffy. Oh well. It might get repainted in Greece.

The engine started first time but the surprise that awaited was that the prop had been serviced and had come back from the factory with the pitch set left instead of right so now the throttle/gear lever at the helm worked back to front. It can be reset underwater but the visibility was too bad in the marina to do it. It eventually got fixed in Greece, when I could dive on the boat but the week in between was interesting, as with the throttle/gear lever working back to front manoeuvring in marinas was challenging as years of burned in instinctive memory would kick in at inopportune moments. We spent a full week in MdR putting all the canvas back on and changing the oil in the gearbox and engine and replacing the filters and the impeller. This year I did that all myself (about time?). [What? Well…with Vee’s help to pass, fetch, hold, etc] It was hard, sweaty work and we were lucky to have some early morning calms to get the sails up. The back ached and the muscles twinged but it was good for us.

The real joy of MdR were the people and the community. The Stella Bar virtually survives on the Marina trade and the organised happy hours twice a week. Robert and Christina on Quest were an inspiration, still sailing having just entered their 80s. They had been cruising for about 20 years. Robert helped me with the SSB and re-introduced me to the Med-Net shortwave group. This time we had the right frequency and on our first passage had a very successful sign-in and enjoyed listening to boats all over the eastern Med.

We met two South Africans in MdR, borrowed a jig saw from s/v Hilian, had a lot of friendly chats with Dave, who is about to set off across the Atlantic in the upcoming crossing season and were just, in general, made to feel very welcome and part of the group, even though we had not been living aboard there over the winter. Thank you to all at MdR people, great FaceBook page, great comradely and a wonderful experience for us. I might add, for the benefit of anyone reading this who has not been to MdR, that it is a fantastic marina to be in and to over-winter in but I regret to say that the boatyard does not have a good reputation, so please ask around about that.

By Saturday we had the boat ready to go but the weather was not ready for us, so we had to wait until Wednesday before leaving. I was forced to amuse myself by doing another iteration of the gangplank/passerelle. This time we went totally simple and it works really well. Talk about a luck, I was walking along the pontoon and I saw a German boat with a new plank on their boat. I asked the skipper whereabouts in town he got it and he said, don’t worry, I have the other half. He would not take any money for it. That is the sailing community for you.

On 23 May, the weather finally went westerly and northerly across the Ionian Sea and the foot of Italy. We put in 140 litres of diesel and headed out for the 70nM shakedown sail to Syracruse. It was a real blow-the-cobwebs-out sail, 20-25knots downwind to Capo Passero on the bottom of Sicily and then we started a beam reach northwards to Syracruse. Just past Marzamemi the wind went to zero and we motored the last 18Nm. Our only cause for concern was when we first turned on the autopilot it gave an error 4 times but then I set it to wind and it has performed perfectly ever since in all modes albeit that the motor is a little noisy. I think need to take it off and just check it has not got water in it again. Other than that the boat seems to be in good order and the shakedown was successful.

We spent a night in the beautiful bay of Syracruse. The port authority assigned us some co-ordinates to anchor at, which was interesting. We did not go ashore at all, which may seem like sacrilege but recall we had spent about 6 nights in Syracruse last year. We left early the next morning for Crotone, 165Nm away and on the bunion of Italy. It was a pretty intense sail, motoring for the first 3 hours and hard on the 18 knot wind in an uncomfortable sea across the straights of Messina. The wind died to zero abeam of the big toe of Italy and started to build again as it got dark and abeam of Spartivento (there is probably something in the name). As warned about in the pilots guide, katabatic gusts were a feature. I was on watch and with the main always on the second reef did all combinations of the foresails to keep the boat speed up as the wind vacillated between 8 knots and 18 knots. Eventually I realised this was silly, just accept the slow speed in the lulls and take the 7 knots plus SOG in the blasts. We were 60 deg on the wind but fortunately in the lee of the land with a slight sea. Veronica came on watch at just after midnight and it was calm but across the Golfo di Squillance (maybe there is something in the name too) the predicted blast came back. Reefed down we screamed along in up to 20 knots of wind. As we approached Capo Rizzuto the wind died and we had breakfast on the motor, in a mirror sea, sitting bolt upright. We arrived between the gas platforms of Crotone at 11:00 and went stern-to, noticing a catamaran with a South African courtesy flag 4 berths away.

Crotone was a crumbling poor town but trying hard to jack itself up. They take siesta seriously and it is amazing how your impression of a place can change between wandering around empty streets during the siesta to the bustle and chatter from 17:00 to 19:00 and later on, on a Friday evening. We said ‘howzit’ to the South Africans, the Roberts’, on the cat Absolutely Amazing and ended up getting invited for a ‘dop’. It was a great exchange as they were essentially doing what we had done in Sicily and Sardina last year, backwards. They had spent several seasons in Greece and particular in the Ionian. So we swapped best places to go, places to avoid and best places to run for shelter notes. Peter, Heather, Karen, and her husband, who worked for Gold Fields Cementation but now lives in Aussie (lots of head scratching but the name escapes), were great company. Peter is a retired doctor from Jo’burg now living in Plett and sailing their 45-foot Lagoon 6 months of the year. So we had a chill/recovery day in Crotone, of note being the fish market, one of the best we have seen in the Med. We spoiled ourselves with 2 swordfish steaks on the braai, absolutely delicious with grilled aubergines and roast vegetables.

The next morning we left for Corfu, a 152nM sail to Gouvia. I will keep this short… what a fantastic sail 60 to 90 deg on the beam all the way, full moon, flat sea doing 6 to 7 knots all the way until 4:00 when the wind started dropping as we had our first Greek island in sight, Nisos Othoni. I went upwind and considered stopping and dropping anchor there for a rest but talk of ‘conning your way’ into the anchorage in the Pilots’ Guide and the fact that sense stricta we had to go straight to a check-in port to get a DEKPA (Greek cruising permit) put pay to that idea.

We motored and motor-sailed around the top of Corfu and to Gouvia on the most beautiful of mornings, an inspirational welcome to Greece. We arrived in Gouvia at about 11:00.

At Gouvia we went into the marina and the DEKPA formalities were much easier than we had been told. The marina was expensive but it had excellent facilities and a swimming pool that made Veronica a happy bunny.

I will leave tales of the northern Ionian islands and adjacent mainland for the next blog. We are currently anchored in Ormos Kalami in sight of the house the Durrells lived in. It is their actual house, as opposed to the house that is depicted in the TV series. It is now a lovely restaurant called the White House (no sign of Trump thank goodness). Veronica flies home to London to meet her sister and go with her to Ireland to see her niece between 6 and 17th June and I am looking forward to Clive arriving from Surf Africa from 5 to 17th June. For the next week we plan to anchor out and chill in anchorages and maybe the occasional town or restaurant quay or pontoon. Adios Amigos!