We left Calabria at about 7 pm on February 19th and motored through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the toe of Italy. It was dark and magnificent to see all the lights, dodge the ferries, and to just be in such an historic place. Not too many Canadians get to take a boat through that opening and it was great to see it from that perspective. After visiting Rome last year and reading quite a lot about Roman times it was interesting to see it and muse about what it might have been like over 2000 years ago.
But there followed two days of contrary winds and light airs such that our time spent north of Sicily and among its volcanic isles was long and frustrating.
We’d get a wonderful south wind and set all sail making 7 knots and all’s right with the world and then it packs up within an hour and we’re wallowing in big waves and little breeze. Finally after four days of making only 75 miles each, we caught a southerly that blew up to 35 knots and had us racing along at 8 knots right on course. That subsided to a more manageable, if less hair raising, stiff breeze for a full day and got us well out into the Tyrrhenian sea, between Sicily and Sardinia. Then it backed to the west again but soon turned northerly and through the night we made fair time so that the coast of Sardinia was visible in the early morning.
Our fearless Captain.
Monsieur “Jus’ for fun”, which is what he says when its time to try something, anything, to get the boat going faster.
But the frustration continued. After arriving at the Sardinian coast it took a while to get past it. The night of February 21st we were expecting the forecast of contrary (west) winds of 20 knots but got whacked with 25 to 35 knots. It was a rough, difficult, cold, wet night with little sleep for anyone and not much mileage. When we have to shorten sail that much against the wind we end up plodding along at 4 to 5 knots, sometimes getting up to 6 or 7 but not going, of course, in the direction we want, but 45 – 50 degrees off it. And after the blasting wind, a day of no wind and big waves where we continue the plod along under power at 5 knots to conserve fuel.
A word about navigation. In this day and age the GPS is how everyone gets around. It tells you where you are and from there, with a chart and a brain, you can figure out how to get where you want to go. But you know that from your car. We set waypoints along the way and have a compass course to get to which we try to stick to. It is all recorded in a log so we can tell where we’ve been, speeds, conditions and any other useful information.
The Nav Station
There is also a thing called AIS (Automatic Identification System) which all commercial vessels are obligated to carry. This has a small screen which shows your longitude and latitude, and all other ships within ten miles. It gives you the name of the ship, their course, speed, position, proximity to you at the nearest point of intersection, and when that will occur. Obviously it is to avoid collisions so if we get even close to another ship we’ll call them on the radio, ask if s/he’s seen us, give them our position if to confirm our position, and agree on who is crossing in front of whom. Commercial vessels have to have this device. Private craft don’t, so the only way to know they are there is the old fashioned way of keeping a good watch.
There is also an old sailing buddy of Sylvain’s who is a meteorologist. Richard Taillefer, who has sailed twice around the Atlantic Ocean in his own boat, is in daily contact with us and he is following our position and the weather in our area, giving us a heads up on what wind is likely to be forthcoming so that we can try to get into a position to take advantage of it.
Alexandre looking for wind!
After more tacking the day and night of the 25th was another big blow – 25 and gusting to 30 plus knots striking us right on the nose – lots of tacking and very little sleep for anyone. Then the 26th, a merciful northerly through the morning but slacking so much we ended up motoring in the afternoon.
When it gets rough like that there is no fun to be had. The boat is not only over on its side – lee deck level with the water – but jumping around a great deal. It is very hard to move around and dangerous to fall because you could get hurt. The boat is often slamming randomly from one wave to the next, jarring everything sharply and making a loud crashing sound that is difficult to sleep through. When in a bunk you’re wedged in between bulkhead and other cushions or spare sails to keep from being thrown about, but trying to get dressed without injury becomes an olympic floor mat gymnastic activity that is sometimes painful. Sleeping in the stern cabins is better than the forward ones because there the crashing doesn’t happen directly beneath you. Outside we’re life jacketed and life-lined on, but trying to work the winches or move about to check the various wind indicators and AIS is tricky. The old “one hand for yourself. One for the ship” is absolutely true. Being outside is more pleasant so generally it becomes a day of sitting out and hanging on, interrupted by shortening or adding sail, watching for ships, and occasionally tacking. In other words it alternates between boring and a little too exciting with some pleasant parts thrown in. Most of the time we’re well out of sight of land so I’m reminded of Masefield’s famous line, “The lonely sea and the sky” that Sir Francis Chichester oft quoted, and sit there trying to remember all the words to his “Sea Fever” that Robin Molson named his boat after. Can’t quite get all of the second verse but I’ll look it up today while I have access to the net.
Toward the end of the Mediterranean, in the mornings, we started to find some hitchhikers aboard.
These three Calamari were found aboard one morning, I thought swept up in some spray or a wave that came aboard. Two were on deck but one was right in the cockpit, and we found two more after the next, calmer night, which suggests they jump on all by themselves. No doubt we’d find more if we didn’t have netting around the boat.
We’ve seen one whale, briefly, and excitingly had 3 visits by schools of Dolphins. They tend to show up and race around the bow of the boat playfully, trying to get as close as they can without touching. They look as if they are having great fun and hang around swooping in to us, sometimes clearing the water coming out of a wave, and then after about ten minutes, as if by private signal, they disappear as quickly as they came.
By the way, the picture’s not sideways. S/he is.
Just when we were getting a good north wind and really making some mileage Sylvain got some worrying indications about winds ahead. Our weather advisor, Richard, confirmed them by explaining there was a BIG low pressure system in the Atlantic. This would lead to westerly winds of over 40 knots through the Straits of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea, right where we’re going. After 4 separate sessions of 30 plus knot winds on this trip, none of us wanted to face that.
So as I write this we are tied up to a cement wharf in Cartagena (a delightful little Spanish town). We arrived yesterday to find other boat owners doubling up on their moorings. There are anchors holding yachts off the dock, and even an enormous cruise ship – The Norwegian Spirit – tied up here having been rerouted from the Canary Islands where there has been a major storm. So hot showers, out to dinner in a real restaurant, a long and dreamless sleep, and an internet café where I can catch up on the news and post this, and the last, blog.
And yes, another delay. Except for that stop in Italy we’d be in Gibraltar by now, but had we been a week earlier we might have had to face that storm in the Canaries. Had we been two days slower, we’d have nowhere to hide from this weather without going way off course, so it’s all relative. And here we’ve already met very pleasant fellow sailors and have had a number of tourists stop by seeing our Canadian flag and ‘fessing up to being Canadian themselves. It’s a very nice break.
I have to say, being back in the real world puts you back in touch with its folly. Just look at this “ship”, if I can call it that. The toy of a 45 year old Russian billionaire, it is said to be worth 365 million pounds. It is here at the shipyard where it was built having work done. There’s a super yacht up on the hard behind it. What are we thinking?
So here we sit looking for a weather window. There might be tomorrow morning. Time to do laundry and clean up the boat for the next leg. And catch some zzzzzzs.
I hope you are all well. I have discovered I have a ton of e-mails and I’m mortified to see how many people are following this folly. Please be assured there may have been considerable discomfort on this trip but never reason to be afraid. I have complete confidence in both the boat and its captain and if you saw them in action I think you would too. Sylvain claims to have equal confidence in his boat and his crew, which is reassuring to me, as a rank amateur at this level. We know our limits, which is why we are docked right now, and in a week or two I’ll let you know what happened on the next leg.