Monday, July 12, 2010

Leaving Italy

Sitting here at the dock in Brindisi Marina, I realize now that it’s been a long time since we’ve had shore power. I have a lot of catching up to do in documenting our latest travels in Italy, and I’d better get it done because we’re leaving tomorrow for Croatia.

Our last day in the Aeolian Islands started with John hoisting me up the mast at dawn so that I could reattach our radar reflector. While I was making the trip up, I also wiped the dirt and salt spray off the shrouds on the starboard side, a cleaning job that is rarely done on our boat since we try to avoid needing to go up the mast. That chore completed, we slipped quietly away from the dock and headed for the Messina Strait to see Scilla and Charybdis.

Swordfish fishing boat outside the strait
They steer from the top while looking for sleeping swordfish to harpoon from the very long bowsprit.

The Messina Strait is one of the very few places in the Mediterranean where tides affect you. Cut off from the Atlantic tides by the Strait of Gibraltar, the Med only has about a foot of difference between high and low tide, and then only at springs. (Non-sailors, please forgive me for not explaining this. You can look it up on the Internet if you really want to know.) We were lucky that the tides were timed just right to give us a southbound current through the strait starting around midday. We needed all morning to get there. Our timing was perfect, and since it was close to spring tide, we were able to take advantage of a favorable current that reached close to four knots at one point. We were very pleased to see 8.5 knots (almost 10 mph or 16 km/hour) speed over ground before there was even enough wind to bring out the jib. Slow to most people, but quite fast to us.

But we went even faster than this

Even with the burst of speed through the strait, it was after sundown by the time we reached our anchorage below Taormina. (I say below because the town itself is way up the cliff.) As we approached, a British guy in a dinghy came out to offer us a buoy in his private mooring field for just 50€/night. We laughed and said we preferred to anchor. The anchorage wasn’t crowded and we were able to find a good spot close to shore. The next day we discovered that our timing was fortunate for anchoring too because as the day progressed more and more local boats anchored around us to play in the water. It would have been very difficult to find a spot with so many boats there.

Rare sighting of Mt. Etna from Taormina anchorage

At Taormina, I finally got into the Med—and promptly got back out. It seemed pretty cold to me. I had been tempted a few other times, but spotted jellyfish before I could take the plunge. John had to go in the water between Salina and Panarea islands in the Aeolians in order to cut away an old fishing net that we managed to snag, and he went swimming at Taormina too. He toughed it out much longer than I did and actually did a little barnacle removal on the bottom of the boat.

We also took the dinghy ashore in search of more minutes for our USB modem. The tobacconist at our first stop didn’t sell cell phone minutes and sent us on to Naxos. Naxos is a resort town at the south end of the bay. We weren’t favorably impressed with the town, but were finally able to find a tobacconist shop to sell us more time.

As we left the anchorage at dawn the next day, we had a good look at Taormina up on the cliff. It looks like a very pretty place, and I saw it called the “Garden of Eden” of Sicily on an Internet site somewhere. Maybe we’ll visit it on our way back west.

We made good time on our passage to Roccella Ionica and even managed to sail without the engine for an hour or so. In this part of Italy we’ve been using notes given to us by other cruisers, as well as the Italian Waters Pilot, so we had a very good idea what to expect at Roccella: the harbor entrance has a sandbar extending off the jetty. We missed the sandbar and found several British boats tied at the docks. We thought there was room for us next to Sallywag, but they waved us off and sent us to a finger on the other side where they wished us a happy 4th of July and helped us tie up. Then they invited us to their cockpit for sundowners, but we declined because we’d been up so early. I did meet Islay Mist’s friends Marie and Brian on Enjah, though, and it seemed that all of the U.K.-flagged boats knew Ali and Linda on Islay Mist.

Roccella was a good stop. It’s a treat not to have to Med-moor (although we’ve gotten pretty good at it), and we even had 4th of July fireworks because the town was having some sort of festival, no doubt religious, but still a good enough reason for some loud bangs and lights in the sky. Märzen has gotten so deaf that the fireworks no longer bother her. We went out for the mandatory pizza, which they sell by the half meter in the restaurant at the marina. (We’ve been asked more than once now if we had the pizza there.) And I did laundry at the campgrounds, which were a long, dusty walk around the marina’s perimeter security fencing, but a good value with two washing machines at only 3€ a load.

From Roccella we decided to skip stops in the Bay of Taranto and head straight for Otranto. That meant an overnight passage, which was quite nice because we had good wind and could sail without the engine for seven whole hours. Then we got wind on the nose for the last bit and found the anchorage was negatively impacted the northerly wind and waves when we arrived.

The pontoons at Otranto all looked full to us, so we dared to tie up alongside at the concrete pier. A couple of hours later, a guy from the coast guard asked us to move because we were in a place for fishing boats. By then we had helped an Austrian boat tie up behind us, and they had to move too, but first we both had to sign in with the coast guard. The coasty told us where we could tie up further out temporarily until a place became available at the transient dock, and we went to do our paperwork.

The Austrian boat did their check-in before us, and when we came out of the office, we found that they had taken the middle of the area we were supposed to go to, leaving no room for us. I nicely asked if they would please move to make room for us, and the man didn’t want to. When I insisted, he made a snide comment to his wife about bossy, pushy Americans (in German) and seemed quite taken aback when I told him I felt the same way about inconsiderate Austrians (also in German). It’s the first hassle we’ve had with other sailors, and I felt bad about it, but he did move.

Gales out of the north kept us in Otranto for three nights, and although it’s a nice little town with some history, we didn’t have a good time there. The first day I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat unattended because it was blowing a gale and we were still at the commercial pier because, of course, no one was leaving the dock. We noticed the chafing on our dock lines right away and added chafe protection, but had to keep adding more as the sacrificial chafe protection was eaten away by the rough concrete. Soon we also noticed that the wind was blowing dirt and grit right onto our boat and even through the screens to the inside. I was constantly sweeping dirt off the floor and started wearing shoes even inside to keep my feet clean in the losing battle.

Chafe protection used to be my Monterey Aquarium whale t-shirt, but it had already gone to the rag bag before its ultimate destruction here.

The second afternoon some guys on the pier asked us to move so that a fishing boat could come in and offload their catch. By then the Austrian (saying he didn't care about weather forecasts because he was going south) had been replaced by a little Italian sailboat, and they were also asked to move. I said that the coast guard had told us we could be there and that we couldn’t move anyway with the wind. An hour or so later a coast guard officer asked us to raft up with the big steel schooner behind us. When we protested, he enlisted the aid of the nice woman on the schooner, who spoke very good English, and we explained that we don’t have enough power to be docking in a gale; it just isn't safe. She explained it to him, and we ended up adjusting our lines to move back a meter while the Italian boat rafted with us until they decided they could squeeze into a little spot on the transient dock.

Glamorous commercial pier at Otranto

Our new spot was even worse for chafing, and we now need two new dock lines. By later that evening, three fishing boats were rafted in front of us, and they were still there in the morning. Later they moved to raft up with three other fishing boats, but no one left the harbor that day, including the freighter that had been loaded the day before. More boats did come in, though, sailboats heading south. We spent that night with two boats rafted to us, two rafted to the schooner behind us, and three rafted in front of us.

The one good thing that happened in Otranto was that we met Steven and Fiona, a British couple on the Nauticat ketch Kadore. I’d talked with Steven at the grocery store, where I learned that he didn’t have an easy way to get weather forecasts, but he did have an Adriatic pilot book, which we didn’t. He offered to let us look at his pilot, and I said we’d be happy to share weather information. We didn’t get together that evening because of the maneuvers to accommodate the fishing boats, but we did find Steven and Fiona at home on our way back from shopping the next day and delivered notes that I’d made on the weather forecast. The four of us hit it off, and they gave us a little cruising guide for Croatia that had been given to them and invited us for dinner. They’re waiting for their new boat registration (the coast guard at Otranto is very picky), but we hope we’ll see them again in Croatia.

We finally left Otranto on Saturday morning after getting our constituto back from the coast guard. A constituto is a sort of log that we were told we needed when we were in Cagliari, Sardinia. You’re supposed to have the coast guard sign it wherever you stop, but we haven’t done that since none of the other cruisers we’ve talked with have even heard of the darned thing, and the dock attendant in Arbitax advised us to let the coast guard come to us rather than going to them. The coast guard officer was very impressed when we offered him our constituto, and we think he told another officer that we were the first to have one. But he said he had to hang on to ours until we were ready to leave, so that was just one extra bit of hassle leaving Otranto.

The relatively short trip to Brindisi from Otranto was miserable with both wind and current against us. It took us more than 14 hours, and we only averaged 3 knots. It was almost midnight when we finally arrived, so we anchored outside the Brindisi Marina instead of trying to get a place at the dock. We planned to move to the local yacht club dock by downtown in the morning, but then we discovered that Islay Mist was still here. The wind that kept us in Otranto also kept them here, and yesterday morning we got a place right across the dock from them. They’re off for Croatia now, but we’re going to stay in touch, and I’m sure we’ll see them again.

We spent our first day at the dock scrubbing the boat. We’re staying another night here because we want to clear out of the EU officially and get our new-in-Madrid passports stamped. We also have to turn in our constituto before we leave Italy, so we’ll be putting the dinghy in the water soon to run into town. The marina here isn’t close to town, so it’s easier to take the dinghy.

1 comment:

Judy and Bill aboard S/V BeBe said...

Excellent posting! Lots of information for those following in your wake. The photo of the unusual swordfish fishing boat in very interesting. Have never seen anything like that.