Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back in Cartagena

In all we spent three nights at the Marina Botafoch in Ibiza. When we first thought about stopping at Ibiza again, the idea was that we would rent a car and see some of the island. Instead John had to work on the boat. It seems that the fuel that we had so much difficulty acquiring in Sicily was dirty. At least, somehow the fuel in our tanks became contaminated, and we assume the batch from Sicily was the culprit. Maybe that’s another reason no one was using that fuel dock. I won’t bore you with the details, but John spent a lot of time cleaning one tank and trying to clean the fuel in the other.

We thought we were good to go and filled the empty tank and set off for Cartagena Wednesday morning. However, the engine died just outside the entrance to the Ibiza harbor, and we couldn’t get it started again. There was no wind, and after many attempts to raise someone on the VHF radio, we finally got a tow back to the marina. There we called a mechanic who was recommended by the marina (a great guy by the name of Sosu). He discovered some small things that combined to prevent fuel from being delivered to the engine and fixed them in short order, and we were able to set off again in the morning.

It’s very nice to be back at Yacht Port Cartagena. We arrived on Friday, which was a local holiday celebrating the defeat of the Carthaginians by the Romans in 226 B.C. That meant that the office and stores were closed, but the marinaros were expecting us and had a place for us right across from our old spot. We expect to be here for a couple of weeks taking care of some things on the boat in preparation for our Atlantic crossing in December. What can’t be done here, we’ll take care of when we reach the Canary Islands. We’ll also use the time to visit the rest of the museums here that we missed the first time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A bird, a fish, more than one squid, and the Italian coast guard

What do these things have in common? All of them visited us on our 530 nautical mile passage from Sicily to Ibiza. It isn’t unusual for songbirds to hitch a ride on a passing sailboat. It’s very sad because usually they’re exhausted, but you don’t really want them pooping all over the boat. This little bird, a swallow, flew into the cabin a couple of times and had to be chased out before it finally settled down under the dinghy on the foredeck. We assume it isn’t still there because we later had some fairly rough seas (they call them moderate in the Med) with waves washing over the foredeck.

John found the dead flying fish in the cockpit when the Italian coast guard came up next to us at 4 a.m. and shined a powerful spotlight in his eyes. I was sound asleep below when I heard John yell, “Shirlee, get dressed and come up here!” in a tone that discouraged questions. I stuck my head into the cockpit just in time to hear John on the radio asking them to turn the light off. At that point we didn’t actually know who they were, only that they had a very fast little boat without much of a radar shadow. They turned off the light and soon zipped across our bow and stayed off our starboard side while they asked us some questions and thanked us for our cooperation. Then John told me about the fish and disposed of it. Who knows when it landed? Without the bright light, we might not have noticed it until morning.

We found a dead squid on the deck yesterday morning with brown splotches all around it. Guess the squid ink didn’t work so well that time. On the other hand, on the other side of the boat we found the messy brown spots without a squid. That one got away. (Since then we’ve learned that squid ink is really, really difficult to remove. Wish us luck with that one.)

We safely anchored at Ibiza about 11 p.m. Sunday, but it was pretty uncomfortable this morning because the swell—heck, it wasn’t swell, it was waves—was coming right into the bay. We didn’t even feel comfortable taking the dinghy off the foredeck so that we could go to town. So when we went into a marina for fuel, we asked how much it was to spend the night. At the beginning of our Mediterranean summer we wouldn’t have considered spending so much, but we’ve been desensitized to the exorbitant rates here, and it was raining and rough out, so we decided to splurge, and now we’re at the dock. With very slow Internet, but…

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Between Sardinia and Tunisia

As I write this, we're in the Sardinian Channel about halfway between Sardinia and Tunisia with less than 390 nautical miles to go to Ibiza in the Balearic Islands. We have no wind at the moment and calm seas, and we're doing a little better than the 4.5 knots we average using the motor. It looks pretty certain that we'll reach Ibiza early on Monday if not Sunday night.

Our last morning in Mazara del Vallo was a bit of an adventure. We needed to get fuel and had already located the fuel dock and checked with the little yacht club that diesel was actually available there. You wouldn't think there would be a question about that, but we never saw anyone at the fuel dock, so we wondered. The pumps were posted with telephone numbers, so we guessed we would have to call to get an attendant to the dock, and we hoped that he would understand English.

I had the fenders and lines ready as we came into the harbor, and I was watching a little run-about that was sort of in our way when we stopped. I thought John was just waiting for the little boat to move, but, no, we had run aground. Hmmm. Not a good sign, but not a big problem at the moment because it was soft mud and easy enough to get free. John went around the little high spot and started working Solstice up to the fuel dock. We went aground again. One more try. No way.

Apparently there isn't much to do in Mazara on a Wednesday morning because we had an audience of about a dozen people at this point. Half of them were on a fishing boat tied to the wall. There was still room for us on the wall, so we tied off there. One of our audience members was issuing instructions to me in Italian, which I smilingly ignored, and graciously caught our lines and secured them until I could scramble ashore. Then John said the guys on the fishing boat wanted us to move forward. Oh, that's why that little tug was drifting around out there: the fishing boat needed a tow. We managed to make enough room between the fishing boat and Solstice that we didn't collide and then re-secured our lines.

Now to find fuel. I was relieved when the guy who answered the phone number from the pump finally understood that we wanted fuel and where we were. It was a real bonus that he spoke some English. He'd be there in 10 minutes he said. Our spot on the wall was close enough that a really long hose could have reached us, but since they didn't have a long hose we had to jerry-jug the fuel from the pump to the boat. It took seven trips, plus a walk to the ATM for cash because they don't take credit cards, to fill our tanks plus our reserve jerry jugs. The guy manning the pump told John that they might dredge out the approach to the fuel dock in a couple of weeks. Actually, we've been pretty lucky, and this was the first time we've had to jerry-jug fuel. We're still lucky that it was so close.

All of that was yesterday and 140 miles ago. We did have some nice wind yesterday and managed to sail for about four hours. According to the forecasts, we should get a little more favorable wind tomorrow. Don't look for another post before we get to Ibiza. I just wanted to share our little adventure.

All is well board Solstice. -Shirlee

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Valley of the Temples

We stopped at Porto Empedocle, Sicily, in order to make a little trip inland to see the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. Sicily was part of greater Greece for centuries, and it still has a surprising number of Greek ruins such as the ones we saw at Syracuse.

The Valley of the Temples is actually on a ridge below the town of Agrigento. The temples are in varying stages of collapse and restoration. The Temple of Concordia is the most complete, and the Temple of Juno is also in pretty good shape. But the Temple of Jupiter is mostly a pile of stones, some of which have been realigned so that you can see the huge statues that also helped support it.

The ridge with the Temple of Concordia

Temple of Juno

Shirlee in front of the Temple of Hercules

Not just temples, but also crypts

We were lucky when we visited the temples because an exhibit of contemporary art was running there. Most of the art was sculptures and was displayed outside in the garden and in the Temple of Concordia. Because we paid for the exhibit, we got to go inside the temple, which isn’t normally open to the public.

Statue in the courtyard of a villa

Temple of Concordia and one of its statues

Although we visited the temples last week and were ready to continue on our way west, gales in the Sicily Strait kept us anchored in the harbor for several more days until we finally decided to sneak out at night when the winds are normally calmer. Now we’re anchored just outside the harbor at Mazara del Vallo. We’ll get fuel here and wait for another weather window. Depending on how large the window is, we may make it all the way to Cartagena in one passage. On the other hand, we could stop in Sardinia or the Balearic Islands if the conditions turn against us. Such is sailing life. You just have to be flexible.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Syracuse and beyond

We ended up spending almost a week in Syracuse. A couple of the days there were thunderstorms, and a couple of days we did tourist things. We wandered pretty much all over the old town, which is called Ortigia. It’s the first place, as far as we know, that we’ve seen papyrus growing. It’s a pretty plant.

Papyrus in the fountain

Temple of Apollo in downtown Ortigia

View of the fort and waterfront of Ortigia

Of course, we also visited the archeological museum and the archeological park. The park has both Greek and Roman ruins including a huge Greek theater where classical Greek plays are sometimes performed.

Ear of Dionysus, an old quarry at the archeological park

Greek theater panorama (click to get a better view)

Roman amphitheater

A surprise for us was that Syracuse has famous catacombs below one of the first Christian churches in the world. (The guide said it was the oldest church in the western world, but we don’t know where he was dividing the world. We’re guessing somewhere between Italy and Greece.) Since we didn’t visit the catacombs in Rome, we were glad to find out about these and visit them.

Columns of the old church of San Giovanni

Before we left Syracuse, we did meet the people on Moonshadow from Portland briefly, and we spent a nice evening visiting on Marguerite with Jim and Barbara, plus Barbara’s brother, sister-in-law, and niece from Germany. It was tagging along with the Marguerite crew that we visited the archeological park and catacombs.

Now we’ve made it just over halfway up (west) the south coast of Sicily and are stopped at Porto Empedocle. The reason to stop here is to visit the Valley of the Temples (Greek) at Agrigento. We just came into the yacht club dock so that we would feel safe leaving the boat. We also wanted to get water since our last fill-up was in Corfu almost three weeks ago. We have a nice side-tie here because they really, really didn’t want us to moor bow-to.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Heading west

It’s hard to believe that it’s already September. Here in Syracuse, Sicily, it’s still quite hot, but the days are getting noticeably shorter, and it’s with mixed feelings that we’re heading west again. Greece was wonderful, and we can definitely understand how many cruisers find themselves staying there or coming back year after year. If we could figure out a way to do that ourselves, I think we would.

Our last days in Greece were spent hanging out with the Tulloch family on Islay Mist. From Meganísi both boats sailed southwest to Cephalonia where we found a nice cove just south of Fiskardho. Our cove had crystal clear water and a nice afternoon breeze to keep us cool. It also had a big cave to visit, and it was just a short dinghy ride to town. The first evening we all went to town to check things out and get a few supplies. John and Alistair talked to people and determined that it would be cheap enough to moor at the pier there, even paying extra for electricity and potable water, but both boats decided against it since it would mean giving up our beautiful anchorage for little benefit. We both spend plenty of time in marinas and not that much time anchored where we can swim off the back of the boat whenever we want.

John hiked around to get this shot of the cove. Islay Mist is in the foreground, then Solstice. We don’t know the other boat.

Another shot of the two of us from the water

Beach at the head of the cove

After two nights in the cove, it was time for Islay Mist to head east to Athens so that Linda and the girls could catch their flight out this morning. They’re going back to the Shetlands for a visit with family and friends. It seemed awfully quiet without them around for our last night in the cove, but we’re staying in touch through texting and Facebook. I’m pretty sure that we’ll see them again someday—at their place or ours.

Last fast dinghy ride with girls: Kaylee (ladybug) on the left and big sister, Alisha (bumblebee), on the right

Our passage from Greece to Sicily was uneventful. We sailed some and could have sailed more, but we wanted to be sure to clear the path of some gales that were forecast to be coming down the Adriatic. For the most part we had 10-15 knot winds on the beam, and the seas weren’t too bad, apart from a stretch of two-meter swell, which is uncomfortable. Poor John seemed to be off watch and trying to get some sleep every time we hit a patch of rough water.

We also spent more time than I would have liked in the vicinity of one particular tanker. I’d come on watch to hear that it had just passed us, and then its lights wouldn’t disappear from the horizon. Instead we’d gain on it again. The radar at this point would show it going every which way, and its signal on AIS would say it was underway to Genoa. Then when we were less than five miles away, the signal would change to say it was “not under command.” This happened twice, always when I was on watch, and I thought it was pretty spooky. John thinks they were having engine problems or something.

When we came into the anchorage here at Syracuse, we noticed two things immediately: the water was brown (not good), and there were three American boats already anchored here (nice). One of the boats, Cormorant, we met in Corfu. Another boat, Moonshadow, is from Portland, Oregon. The third boat, Marguerite, is from Berkeley, California. We haven’t met the people on Moonshadow yet, but Harry and Jane from Cormorant first met them in New Zealand, so we know they’re circumnavigating. We did talk a bit with Barbara on Marguerite and learned that they crossed the Atlantic from Florida in 2009. American boats are rare in our experience. Even rarer are West Coast boats.

We haven’t seen much of Syracuse yet, but it’s supposed to be quite nice. We think we’ll hang around for a day or two to see the archeological museum and maybe take a trip to Mt. Etna. Lingering will also serve the purpose of letting the seas calm down after the gales that have been happening all around. Favorable winds are forecast for most of the coming week.