October 2003
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Croatia (part 2), Italy, Spain, Gibraltar

We're sitting in a marina in Gibraltar looking up at "the rock".  Looks just like the Prudential Insurance brochure.  The weather has definitely turned cold and winter storms seem to keep coming.  We're waiting for a weather window for a 700nm passage to the Canaries.  After a quick stop there, it is around 3000nm to Trinidad.  We'll leave the boat there and fly home for Christmas.

Venice

We worked our way north in Croatia and jumped off from Rovinj for an easy 60nm motor to Venice, Italy.  It was a holiday weekend and everyone in Italy was out to greet us - or just drive around in their boat.  While the hustle and bustle reminded us of a good day in Marina Del Rey, the sights were very different.  Venice, viewed from the deck of your own boat, is beautiful.   We used CMap to navigate in the lagoon and, where we were a bit uncertain, simply followed the ferry boats.  The guide book was a slightly confusing but, with a bit of help, we did find the St. Elena Sailing Club.

We entered the sailing club carefully.  It was tight but there was plenty of water.  No English spoken here.  We had hoped that Spanish might help us overcome the language barrier but that didn't help either.  With lots of hand waiving and some help from a local boater, we were assigned a spot. Back home we would normally put the boat in a slip - a place you can "slip" into.  Here, our spot was a "squeeze".    In the very narrow fairway, we tried to back the boat into the "squeeze" between two pilings.  When our 12' 4" dinghy hit both pilings at the same time, we realized our 12' 10" boat might not fit too well.   We each took a piling and pushed outwards, flexing the pilings enough to "squeeze" Sea Witch into the slip.   Once we were in, the "spot" was very comfortable and secure. The St. Elena Sailing Club - often referred to as a Yacht Club - is a simple and very comfortable sailing club.  No bar, restaurant or other yacht club facilities, no tourists, just a few other cruising boats and loads of friendly Italians.  We enjoyed our stay here.

From the sailing club, it was a short walk to the Vaporetto - the local water taxis that are the mass transit system.  Our first stop was Lido Isle - a resort island - to buy a 3 day transportation pass and get a Vodafone Sim card for our cell phone.  Then, onto the big city.  We took the Vaporetto from Lido up the Grand Canal -  the heart of Venice -  to the end of the route and walked through the narrow back streets.   We watched the Gondolas take tourists up and down the canals, the old wooden speedboat water taxis and the modern ferries moving hundreds of people.

Venice is lovely.  A small amount of imagination and we were able to remove ourselves to Venezia's time of opulence. The courtesans waving from their shuttered windows enticingly to the suitors gliding along the grand canal in their gondolas. The waters lapping gently at the tight winding walkways connected by hundreds of bridges. We found ourselves wandering in and out of wonderfully magical places, meandering through walkways tight and dark to light, lovely and frantic with people. We would stop occasionally for a delicious slice of pizza from a sidewalk vendor and watch or imagine all the madness go by.

Sadly, after 5 days, it was time to move on.  We loved Venice and hated to go.  No, we never did drive our dinghy up the canal.  Apparently, it is no longer allowed.  And, with all the other traffic, it did not seem like it would have been fun.  But, we didn't feel we missed out on anything - walking around was enough to really get the feel of and enjoy the beauty of this city.

Croatia (part 2)

The east coast of Italy has no secure anchorages and Croatia is on the way to the "heel of Italy", so we stopped in Rovinj for a couple nights.  The ice cream in Croatia cannot be beat. The shops are full of mounds of creamy luscious flavors.  We just couldn't give up the chance to go back for more.


We did have some "excitement" in the anchorage.   With a thunderstorm approaching just before dark, we checked our position and were relieved that we were upwind of everyone.  Everyone, except about a 150 foot mega-yacht.  Not to worry, they would have the appropriate equipment.  And,  when they decided they were too close, they moved way upwind to the other side of the anchorage.  No problem.

Well, it got dark and the storm hit.  Somehow, storms always wait until dark.  We think that is the prime directive when storms are in training.  Within instants we were hit with heaps of wind and rain.  Our tiny ship was tossed.  Gail stowed everything below while Jeff sat by the wheel the engine running.  Then,  another sailboat that didn't like its position in the anchorage decided to
anchor right in front of us.  Jeff was on the bow, checking the anchor and deciding if we should leave.  Remember the big fancy mega-yacht?  Jeff watched as it moved from it's position in front of us sideways cutting a 150' wide swath through the anchorage taking with it everything between it and the shore.  Feeling extremely anxious and grateful at the same time that we were not one of it's catastrophes, we decided to pick up our anchor and move out of the line of fire.  While pitching in the seas and getting drenched by the rain, that was now hitting like a fire hose, we managed to pick up the anchor and move to the lee of a small island just the other side of the anchorage.  After we settled in the storm moved on and it was quiet once more.  Only the morning would tell the story of what damaged was left in her wake.  Or should we say the wake of the big fancy motor yacht.  The one we were sure would have an experienced captain, crew and sufficient anchoring equipment.

Morning dawned - is that redundant -  we saw a number of bent stanchions with hanging life lines, and smashed bow pulpits.  We heard no horrifying stories and nothing of any one being injured, thank goodness.  Of course we also couldn't speak or understand the language.  Then the big mega-yacht returned to retrieve the anchor it had to abandon.  It seems that, after cutting the first swath through the fleet, it managed to work its way to windward but then had trouble while retrieving its anchor.  It lost control and ended up sweeping back through the fleet again before it abandoned its anchor and wisely headed out to sea.  We know the mega-yacht stuck around for a number of days and would like to think they were most likely making good on any damage they caused.

Always remember,  big and fancy doesn't necessarily mean safe.

ITALY

We hip hopped back down the Croatian coast making our way to a point where we crossed the Aegean Sea uneventfully.  Well, almost.   While leaving the fuel dock we managed to snag an anchor line on our rudder.  No problem but Jeff finally had a good reason to go in the water.  And, the next morning, we picked up a grain bag in our prop and Jeff had another reason to get wet.  The water was warm and clear and very deep.  Next stop was the Straights of Messina between mainland Italy and Sicily. Next stop was the Aeolian Islands.  Aeolian, the God of Wind.  This chain of islands are volcanic, with one of them still active and touted as the largest light house in the Mediterranean.  Stromboli has been used by sailors for centuries to show them the way to the Straights of Messina.

Our first stop would be the island of Vulcano which still spews smoke and steam with very strong sulfur smell  As we approached we started smelling the volcanic fragrance.  At first it vaguely smelled like old coffee.  The kind that's been in an automatic coffee maker all day and is down to the dregs.  As we got closer it started smelling like burnt toast.  We kept thinking that the book said sulfur.  Oh well, maybe the fresh ocean air was changing it. Gail went down below to discover that the breadmaker had turned into Mt. Vesuvius.  Steam and smoke was coming from every vent.  We had our own little volcano going off inside Sea Witch.   What a mess, but with a bit of cleaning it is working again, although we don't think it will ever smell the same again.

We anchored off Vulcano island with an incredible view of the volcano and only needed a day or so to get used to the sulfurous odor.  Yes, this time the odor was actually coming from the Volcano. After all the moving this season, it was nice to sit still for awhile and have no place we needed to go or to see.  We took advantage of the time to just rest and get a few boat chores done.

The God of Wind, Aeolian did wake up one afternoon and give us some more excitement.  Bet you'll never guess what was anchored just up wind of us.  You got it, another mega yacht which was way too close.  Gail told Jeff it wasn't a problem because she had seen them getting ready to pick up their anchor.  Usually the mega yachts go find some dock or quay for their guests in the evening anyway.  They were trying to do exactly that when their anchor windless stopped working.  Now we were parked directly down wind of a giant power boat which had no way of moving.  Our anchor was directly under their boat and we really didn't want to be there because the wind was really piping up.  There we were again at the mercy of something at least three times the size of Sea Witch.  Jeff managed to communicate to them - they spoke English - that we wanted out of there and were more than happy to get out of there way. They drove around their anchor maneuvering to say clear of Sea Witch while we picked up our anchor.   Once again the storm moved on right after we got all settled in again.

After some nice relaxing days enjoying Vulcano it was time to head for Naples where we would pick up our good friends Gayle and David.  The evening started out with a slight drizzle and flat calm seas; very beautiful as we glided past Stromboli. This was just a prelude to the exciting events to come. The rest of that night and next day found us in squall after squall. Driving rain that blanked out the radar, winds in the 40 knot range that blasted us with each squall, and of course our favorite, major thunder and lightning.  We were delighted to see the clouds lift and the rain slack off as the Isle of Capri came into sight.  We were pretty tired and really looking forward to tucking into a marina to get some rest and get Sea Witch ready for her visitors.

Unfortunately there was no room at the Inn.  As a matter of fact there was no room at any of the Inns (marinas).  With no place to go and the weather looking ominous we decided to look for fuel and head off to Rome.  Ah, but that was not to happen either.  After pulling into the fuel dock we found it closed for the day.  Jeff was offered a ride to the local BP station on a scooter by a nice Italian gentlemen.  So, off Jeff went on the back with a jerry jug in each hand.  Gail sat on the dock imagining the dog size rats that would be coming out any moment, and she was quite sure they had large knarly teeth.  After Jeff returned Gail assured him that this dock would not be her first choice for a place to stay for the night.  She really hates rats.

We found an anchorage for the night and headed off for Rome the next morning right after we sent a message off to Gayle and David telling them not to hop on the train in Rome and go to Naples.  As all good cruisers know, a swift change in plans is not too unusual.  It is, however, a good idea to get a quick message off to the people who are supposed to be meeting you somewhere you aren't.

Only one overnighter to Rome and definite reservations in a great marina sounded terrific, so off we went.  We managed to dodge most of the squalls during the daylight with little stress or effort. Then nightfall came.  The night became a science lesson on all the different types of lightning. The thunder was deafening. We felt as though we could reach out and grab a fist full of lightning. Jeff felt like a mix between a chicken with its head cut of and PacMan.  We kept changing direction, back and forth trying to dodge the major lightning centers.  It was quite a night and the sight of Porta di Roma and Alan on Heartsong III's voice were the most welcoming things we had experienced in three days.  It was wonderful to be safely tied to a secure dock and looking forward to a long peaceful nap.

Ah, Roma.  We had a fabulous time touring all the incredible sights in the city. Finding our way on the train and underground subway we the visited the heart of this historic treasure.  Wandering the streets, we found ourselves gazing at the coliseum imagining the architectural marvels, the battles and games played and the passion of the spectators.  An accidental turn and we were strolling amongst the ruins of the forum. We climbed to the top of St. Peters, visited the Sistine Chapel, made a stop at the Pantheon, and of course we made a trip to the Trevi Fountain to toss a coin in to insure we would return.

We hiked around Pompeii exploring the Roman life style of the city that was covered in ashes by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvious during the first century.  Then a three day trip to Florence, Pisa (yes, the leaning tower) and Tuscany.  We drug Gayle and David to as many places as we could.  So much to see and so little time.  Before we knew it was time to put them back on the plane.


Spain and Gibraltar

Saying our farewells to Italy we headed for Spain.  I am happy to report that we had a very uneventful trip and arrived in Barcelona after three days. (Isn't selective memory wonderful.  Gail forgot about the horrible noise in the middle of the night, the smoke pouring out of the engine room, the failed alternator, replacing the alternator and then having the backup fail in another hour.  No biggie.)   We met up with long lost friends, Karen and Dan on Dakare, whom we hadn't seen in three years.  They had crossed the Pacific with us in 1999 and had returned home from Tahiti to buy a bigger boat.  It really is a small cruising community.  We had great times eating the local cuisine at Tapas Bars and sipping the Spanish cava, a bubbling white wine.  The location was charming and the company fantastic.  We found bagels for the first time in eons and Jeff's Spanish made everything so much easier.

An overnighter put us in Valencia and then 3 more nights to Gibraltar.  From there, we traveled by car to Seville and Ronda, the home of the Flamenco and bull fighting.  Flamenco dancing is as exotic and exciting as you would imagine.  No bull fights for us but it was fun to see the rings. The rolling hills and countryside of Andalusia is just as beautiful as you would expect.

That brings us to where we are today.  Sitting under the Rock of Gibraltar.  We have done our boat projects, prepared Sea Witch for the Atlantic crossing and are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for the right weather window.  It is cold and raining and the winter storms are rolling through with regularity.  We just have to wait and sneak out the Straights between storms so we can head southwest to some long awaited white sandy beaches and tropical waters.

We are about to cross our last ocean, The Atlantic.  Next stop Trinidad.

Jeff & Gail Casher
Sea Witch