Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cavtat and Dubrovnik, Croatia

Backtracking a bit from John's last exciting post, our passage from Brindisi to Gruž (near Dubrovnik) was uneventful and relatively fast. The seas were flat, and although we didn’t have enough wind to turn off the engine, we did get a boost of more than a knot in speed. The new moon set around sundown, so the night watches were very dark, but the nearest traffic was 20 miles away and the stars were very bright.

A Canadian boat we met in Brindisi recommended that we clear in at Gruž. Clearing in means stops at the following offices in order: police, harbormaster, currency exchange and/or ATM, back to harbormaster, customs, and back to the police. At Gruž these are all either at the customs dock or within a block. It’s an expensive process, though. At the harbormaster’s office you must buy a one-year cruising permit and pay a tourist tax. The cruising permit is based on the length of your boat, but it’s always for a year. The tourist tax may be for different periods of time from 8 days to a year. We plan to be here more than a month, so we paid for 90 days (much less expensive than two individual months). The total was 2,515 kuna (Croatian unit of currency) or about 350€. (You don’t need exit papers from your previous country, which we learned before we left Brindisi, so we skipped that part.) Marinas are very expensive here, but there are lots of places to anchor. Various villages may also charge to land your dinghy, and not all anchorages are free, so all in all, this isn’t a bargain cruising ground. So far, we like it anyway.

While I was running our paperwork, Linda from Islay Mist sent a text that they were anchored in Tiha cove by Cavtat, a cute little resort town just a few miles south of Dubrovnik. No one had asked them for money for anchoring or landing the dinghy, so we decided to join them. We enjoyed hanging out there until that gale blew through. It was pretty hot, and everyone did quite a bit of swimming.

After the gale blew Islay Mist out of the anchorage at Cavtat, we decided to follow them the next day. It’s noticeably cooler here where we’re anchored in the river near the ACI Dubrovnik Marina, and we’ve been enjoying the breeze on the boat.

We did take the bus into the old city of Dubrovnik and walked the city walls one morning. It really is a beautiful place, but I’d recommend a visit in the spring or fall. The summers here are hot, and the heat gets trapped between the buildings. Inside the walls, there’s very little breeze. After visiting a few museums and churches and having lunch at a little place that was recommended to us by Craig and Katherine of Sangaris, we escaped back to the boat and the cooler air.

We’ve been hanging out here ever since, doing some chores and trying to make some repairs. There are two small chandlers at the marina, but neither has the small rivets we need to repair the snaps on the dodger. Tomorrow maybe we’ll do a major provisioning run, get fuel and water and move on to the islands and north. We’ll stop here again on our way south. We want to visit the old city again and do our check-out at Gruž.

Here are some photos from our tour of the old city.

Classic view of a fort and wall

New and pre-war roof tiles

Great weather for drying clothes (note the bullet holes around the window)

Onofrio's fountain

Fort at the highest point on the wall

By the way, we’ve just posted more photos on the website from Cartagena and Italy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Staying Put in a Gale

The forecast this morning included a gale warning for scattered thunderstorms. We had seen thunder clouds form and disperse in the distance the last couple of days. Today was our turn for one of those little cells of wind. The first indication was building thunderheads in the distance followed by the rolling boom of thunder.

Early this afternoon the wind starting picking up and stretched our anchor chain for the first time since set the anchor alarm in this bay. The alarm sounded indicating that we had moved the length of the chain. We weren't dragging, just finding a new stable configuration. Looking through the binoculars out into the wider bay, I could see white caps and an approaching strong wind. I took down one of our wind scoops, and we secured some stuff in the cockpit.

Linda on Islay Mist looking epic as she clears the weeds from the anchor

Then the big wind hit and moved us sideways with such force that there were little whirlpools trailing the windward side of our bow. I looked around and saw that everyone in the anchorage was now on deck except for the American catamaran Liahona. As the wind increased boat after boat started to drag anchor. We turned on our instruments and secured the remaining wind scope in anticipation of our eventual eviction from the anchorage.

Another boat pulling up the anchor

Islay Mist pulled anchor and motored out of the anchorage followed by all the boats except for Flying Winds (British ketch), us, and Liahona. It became obvious that no one was aboard Liahona as it came to rest on the rocky shore of the bay. The wind was now gusting to 35 knots, and Solstice and Flying Winds held their ground. Looking back out of the bay, a small craft that had been selling produce was struggling to get back to the harbor at the head of our anchorage.

Produce vendor struggles with his beam to the wind

Rain started to fall forcing us to close our hatches. When the rain was done, the police had brought the skipper of Liahona to his boat. He stepped on board, started the engines, and motored off. From that point on, the wind backed and diminished. As the wind died, some boats started to return. Islay Mist hailed us and informed us that they were going to move to a river anchorage close to Dubrovnik. We'll catch up with them later.

Liahona pushed up against the shore

Islay Mist in the outer bay heading for Dubrovnik

As for now the wind is light, and the anchorage has much more room.

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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Stromboli, Vulcano, and Lipari

Anchoring at Stromboli turned out to be an adventure in its own right. By the time it got shallow enough for us to drop the anchor, we were practically on the beach, and the little bits of ledge that showed on the chart were already occupied. We went further north to check out another possible anchorage, but the wind was really whipping around the island and through the anchorage there. Eventually we dropped the hook about a boat length from shore after the day-tripper boats left. Then we watched our track nervously for a couple of hours before we relaxed enough to have dinner, showers, and a nap.

Anchored close to the beach

A little after midnight we weighed anchor and headed on around to the northern and northwestern side of the island where the volcano is active. We passed quite a few boats at anchor and were surprised that we seemed to be the only ones doing the night sail. Just as we reached our northernmost waypoint, we saw an orange glow at the top of the mountain. That was promising, and we slowed to allow maximum viewing time. With swell on our beam, we didn’t want to stop altogether. Finally, just before we reached our last waypoint, the volcano spit a tall plume of lava into the air, and John said he could hear the eruption. We watched as the lava fell down the mountainside with hot orange spots bouncing here and there. Satisfied, we upped the revs and headed for Panarea to anchor and get some sleep.

Stromboli in daylight

It was just getting light as we reached the anchorage at Panarea, and we were glad of that because it helped us spot and avoid the mooring buoys that are sprinkled liberally in the best places to anchor. After a few hours rest, we continued on to Lipari, but didn’t like the look of the anchorages and decided to go on to Vulcano.

As we nosed around the crowded eastside anchorage at Vulcano, we were getting a little discouraged. Every place here is deep and crowded. Our first two islands were also deep, but they were the exception in that we had our anchorages to ourselves. We finally found 30 feet to drop the anchor between some other boats. Later a 50-foot Italian boat thought that there was room for him to anchor over our anchor. They were way too close, so I went to the bow to make them nervous. First they drifted to within a half a boat length on one side of us. Then as they were drifting to the other side of us, they passed so close that I could have passed a beer from our bow to the woman at the helm. I signaled the man that they were too close and asked the woman if they had good insurance. I’m sure she didn’t understand me, but they did move. Whew!

When we went ashore the next day, we rented a car to tour the island. It had been our intent to drive to the foot of the volcano and then walk to the rim. Luigi at the car rental recommended that we wait until late afternoon for the volcano walk, though, for better photo opportunities. It would also give us some shade. Good idea, even though it meant we would stay an extra night at the anchorage.

Vulcano is a small island made up of three volcanoes. Of these, the active one is the smallest. So the views on our car tour were pretty incredible as we went over the higher peaks. From the south side of the island we could see the main island of Sicily and even a hazy outline of Mt. Etna before the evaporation from the sea obscured it completely. The roads on the island are lined with flowers, like Flores in the Azores, but here the flowers are mostly oleanders rather than hydrangeas. It was a very pretty ride.

Back in town we checked out the mud bathes. John had been interested in trying them, but they never appealed to me, and he decided against it too. So we picked up some groceries and headed back to the boat and spent a relaxing afternoon rocked by the wakes of the constant ferry traffic.

Mud bath

I have no idea how far the volcano walk is, but it was hot, even with the sun behind a cloud most of the way, and steep in parts, and where the path was gravel, I got lots of rocks in my shoes. It took about an hour from the bottom (where they charge 3€ each) to the top. Along the way, some British people assured us that it was worth it, and I vaguely remembered walking to the top of Mt. Lassen in California as a kid, only to be disappointed. (It was probably spectacular, but I was a kid.) Well, this one was worth it, primarily for the views, since I’m not very fond of plumes of toxic gas. The walk back down went faster, and I was rewarded with pizza. (Our friends from the Shetland Islands rewarded their little girls with ice cream.)

Caldera on Vulcano

View from the top of Bocche di Vulcano and western Vulcano anchorage

Rock removal

Mandatory volcano tourism complete, we are now docked in Lipari, where the wash from ferries is still jerking us around during daylight hours. Oil change and some laundry done, today we’ll do some serious provisioning and visit the local museum, wash the boat, and fill the water tanks. Tomorrow we head through the Strait of Messina, home of Scilla and Charybdis.

Later: When we got back from the archeological museum, we had new neighbors at the dock. Germans on one side and French on the other. As I was filling tanks and talking with the Germans, a big wake made its way past the dock, knocking one German down and causing the French boat’s spreaders to hit our rigging, dislodging our radar reflector. It seems I’ll be going up the mast to fix it when the ferry traffic dies down. Meanwhile, the French boat has moved. Looking forward to a nice quiet anchorage tomorrow night.