Issue 1 The Eventider's News Dec. 2003
To issue - 2
A Mediterranean Cruise for 2003
This year, I had four months to devote to cruising. These were to start beginning June till the end of September. Therese, being more important than I, starts her vacation beginning July till mid- September. It was arranged that I sail off and Therese travels out to wherever I might be at the time. It turned out a bit differently.
2nd June a three day delay because of strong contrary winds.
5th June I cast off from Birzebbugia pier in fog. Visibility was 150 yds. And as it was still early in the summer season, there werenít many boats at their moorings where I keep "Luke" and it was easier leaving.
Steering from memory, I crept along the coast till I got to the Enemalta petroleum pier. Switching on the VHF, I learnt that the harbour was closed to shipping because of the fog. Then I made visual contact with the South cardinal buoy, the inner container terminal breakwater and finally the main breakwater. Now I was in the open sea and there was some Easterly wind. I sailed 30 minutes due south then turned west towards Gozo, Maltaís sister island.
11.15 hrs Fog clears and I find myself 1 Ĺ miles off the coast. There I decide to swap the staysail for the cruising chute. Speed increases satisfactorily.
There is another yacht behind me; he doesnít seem to be gaining. That chute really is good in light airs.
16.00 hrs As I was nearing the channel between Malta and Gozo, I come across the film set of "Helen of Troy ". There were two "men of war" each with a dozen oars each side. They must have just finished filming because the oars were all over the place, some in the water others high up in the air! Not very shipshape at all! They were being towed in tandem by a fishing boat.
17.00 hrs The wind has gone away and the engine is started, but an hour and half later Iím moored at the Gozo marina. There I made enquiries regarding customs clearance and it is arranged that I get clearance tomorrow at 08.00.
6th June Go shopping for food from the nearby supermarket and runs the fridge. Clear customs on time.
09.36 hrs Weather report, variable, mainly north to northwest. Cast off and motor out into a calm sea. Air temperature is noted at 22*C.
11.00 hrs There is enough wind for the chute and the engine is shut down. At noon I spot a smallish turtle which quickly dived. I thinks back 30 years about turtle stew, how times and attitudes change! It is getting near lunch time so I decide on t-u-r-key stew. (Not much else).
16.00 hrs Conditions are steady, the Navik is still steering. This year Iím using a pressure cooker which is really good regarding time and gas saved. It has simplified things. Chop up some vegetables, chuck everything, along with a turkey leg (or whatever), and within 15 minutes itís ready to eat!
21.00 hrs Wind has increased to force 4 and the chute is stowed after 10 hours in use. Sicily is in sight.
22.00 hrs Sailing with the staysail and main and at 22.15, hove to, to let a ship on my port bow pass. No rules of the road here! Might is right! Couldnít make out his name and home port.
23.30 hrs Anchored at Porto Palo bay and slept.
7th June 07.00 hrs. Upped anchor and moved alongside a fishing boat in order to get ashore for groceries. Milk and fresh vegetables plus a cappuccino.
0930 hrs The engine is started for leaving Porto Palo. There isnít any wind but at 11.30 the situation improves from the SE and the genoa and main are set. The breeze holds as far as Cap Murro di Purco (pig of a wall!). Its only about 4 miles to Foro Italico, Syracuse and we are soon afterwards berthed bows to. There I visited our friends and delivered a small present from Therese to Vincenzo to give to his 8 year old niece. Therese had met young Ramona on our last call at Syracuse.
8th June A second yacht berths alongside, now Iím sandwiched between two particular flag boats. Its not that I am biased against their flag, but I prefer the company of boats which have no qualms about conversing in English. Anyway, the second yacht has laid his cable over mine. Once he was within talking distance I told him so and that if he was leaving tomorrow, I would wait for him to hoist his anchor first. He makes out that he cannot understand what Iím saying.
9th June Leaving Syracuse I couldnít get the anchor up. There is no winch on ĎLukeí and it was heavy. I shouted across to the other boat to haul his chain taut. It was enough to get the anchor out from underneath his chain. I sent a text message to Therese, something about "leaving Syracuse a bit early, too many frogs here". Apparently, she received it whilst she was at work and she read it aloud. One of her colleagues then expressed surprise "I didnít know that George is afraid of frogs"!
There was a northerly wind and progress was slow. Just west of Augusta there is a small bay called Porto Kifonio where there were two yachts at anchor. One was British but I couldnít make out the name. There I anchored in 4 metres, showered, and cooked a meal which consisted of rice and tuna (from a tin). I also thought that a glass of wine would go down well in that pleasant and peaceful anchorage.
10th June Early start this morning, not much wind so motor sailing towards Riposto.
10.00 hrs Catania is just visible through the haze.
12.00 hrs Cyclopi abeam, making vegetable stew (again), spotted ferry "Trinagria" out of Naples.
15.30 hrs Moored at Riposto. There is a new large marina up and running, but I chose to use the public jetty and moored bows to. The jetty is rather high and it isnít easy getting back on the boat. Riposto has been dusted since the Etna eruption of two years ago, but they have missed a few corners! Having a beer, I noticed that their patron saint is St. Peter, same as my home town! Riposto seems a lot prettier this time! That evening a couple of youngsters are fishing off the jetty a few feet away and I decide its time to inaugurate the new holding tank.
The next morning, an 80 ft fishing boat "Sandokan II" has unloaded a huge amount of albacore. The boat has risen some 10 inches.
12th June A really early start, 0415 hrs, our destination is Messina with its regular contrary wind and current. By 0700, Iím off Taormina. Wind is still on the nose and we are still motor sailing.
09.00 hrs The wind is force 5, NE and is increasing steadily. We have a reefed main and the staysail set. By 10.00, Italy is in view and as the wind is backing towards the north, I consider going to Saline Joniche, a new port on the southern coast of Italy.
11.00 hrs Saline Joniche it is and in the distance I spot some sailing yachts either leaving or just arriving at Saline. After an hour, I arrived there but I couldnít make out the harbour entrance. I mentally kick myself for not using the binoculars earlier to pinpoint those yachtsí exact movements. I can see the "AGIP" fuel sign and a couple of yacht masts, also a few motor yachts superstructures on the other side of the breakwater, but no entrance!
1230 hrs In exasperation, I close with the shore where Iíd seen a solitary sunbather. Once within hailing distance, I ask him "where is the port entrance?" He replied "porto chuioso, closed"
This time I really kick myself, because Iíd seen a correction to Rod Heikellís pilot somewhere and I failed to make a note of it! (Think it was on the web). Anyway, the wind continued to back to the NW, and it was a brisk sail from to Reggio Calabria. A bit too brisk and Iím double reefed, hoping Petyrs handiwork will hold. (The main is a recent second hand purchase which was originally on a rolling reefing boom on a Nauticat 33. Iíd removed the cat insignia and had this Petyr fit two reef points). Iím supposed to be trying this mainsail out.
2030 hrs The mainsail held and I arrive at Reggio Calabria, cooked a meal and slept.
13th June Up at 0640 and I set off for Messina. Therese reckons that Messina is worth visiting. It is not far, just across the straits, and at 0730 arrives at the marine where they want 22 euros. A British flagged yacht is mooring up inside the marina and the crew doesnít look particularly pleased with what they are paying for. The marina is exposed to the weather and if the weather is fine, you will still get rolled about from the wash of the frequent ferries! Inside the commercial harbour, it appears difficult to find a berth for reason or the other. Pilot boats, tugs, ferries, warships seem to occupy all the available wharfs, so I decide to go to Milazzo, where, two years ago, I had moored at the town quay. Progress is slow as Iím heading into a strong current. I pass by an electricity generator which is using the current to generate current of a different sort! That just proves I was in the wrong place going in the wrong direction!
There are a lot of peculiar looking fishing boats with 50 ft. towers and 60 ft "bowsprit" platforms used for harpooning unsuspecting swordfish.
1215 hrs Out of the straits into a nice breeze and sunshine.
1800 hrs I arrive at Milazzo, the town quay is no longer available, and as its getting late, I take a marina berth at 17 euros.
14 th June Showered ashore, topped up water, did some shopping for groceries and cast off at 3 in the afternoon. My destination was Termini Imerese, as it is a fair distance away, I should arrive tomorrow morning. The wind is not all that favorable and I get to Termini Imerese at 1400 hrs. There I found space between two fishing boats next to the Guardia Costiera boats. Termini Imerese was in the news recently because the large FIAT plant nearby was threatened with closure. The town is really worth seeing, the old Norman cathedral and the other churches plus the view from the "Citta Alta" . It was quite a walk uphill to get to where all the sights were. The streets were nearly all stepped because of the gradient. It was a typical Sicilian village which hasnít changed much in a hundred years, with niches of various saints on every street corner.
There was a fish shop close by and I purchased a kilo of swordfish steaks when all I wanted really was half a kilo. So I ended up having a lot of fish dinners for the next few days! (The fridge was working fine).
17th June 0630 hrs I say goodbye to new friends and hoist anchor. The wind seems promising and the genoa and main are set and the engine is shut down.
0730 hrs The genoa is handed and the cruising chute is set. Wind is SW and shifts to the NE-E. The breeze carries us a fair distance, steady at force 3.
2000 hrs Arrival at San Vito lo Capo anchorage, anchored in 5 meters of crystal clear water, cooked a meal (swordfish, of course) and slept.
18 th June Up at 0600, started the engine and weighed anchor. The wind is light so we are motoring towards our next destination of Trapani, on the west coast of Sicily.
0830 hrs Checked position by compass binoculars. Took a bearing and distance off by vertical angle. Worked it out to be accurate by 0.1 mile (against GPS). I considered it a fluke because of the boat being steel and the difficulty of obtaining an accurate vertical reading unless the boat is fairly steady.
1040 hrs Passing Asinelli rock, it is a dangerous reef with shallows especially to the west and south of the mark. Just clear of Asinelli, I come across a large tuna net. There is a boat which seems to be on the lookout for ignorant boaties like myself which instructs me to pass inshore of the net. Once they were sure I was on the right track they sped off to intercept a catamaran which was also oblivious to the net.
Trapani is not so straight forward to enter. The approach is from the southeast as the northern part of the coast has numerous dangers. Once inside and amongst the fishing boats, I asked a man where the best place to moor is. He smiled and pointed across the bay to the marina. When I asked where was the second best place he said that if Iím not staying long I can use the bit of quay behind him. He was rafted up alongside another boat.
Soon afterwards a British flagged yacht of about 40 ft with two ladies on deck closes with "Luke" They are both wearing shiny new Mustos, or something, even though the weather was kind to say the least! The girls sense that Iím reluctant to take their ropes then the girl at the large (5 ft); bright wheel asks me if I had obtained permission before berthing where I was. Iím trying to work out whether she meant the harbour authorities or the fishermen that I should have asked, or whether it concerns her at all. They didnít wait for an answer and said they are going to try the marina opposite. Before I could get across to the lady that the nice big steering wheel she was holding, goes well with her head, they were away!
Half an hour later another yacht turns up. This time itís a 24 ft Italian and he seems to be a regular here. He rafts up and tells me that he will be going to the Egadi Islands tomorrow. I ask him if he will be sleeping on the boat as I will be setting off early tomorrow. He replies (with a smile) in the negative and we agree to swap the boats around with "Luke" on the outside. After a brief tour of Trapani, another town full of medieval architecture, a beer and a meal ashore it was back to the boat. It was then that I realized that one of the fenders was missing. It was one of the better sizes that I had and I spent a good hour and half looking for it. All my fenders were purchased in pairs and I really felt that I had lost "two"! I like to think that my Italian neighbour had tied it, but Iím not absolutely sure!
19th June The engine is started for departure, checked the weather report on the Navtex before resetting the screen by erasing the text. A second later Iím in doubt as to the date of the weather report I had read. I glance skywards and promptly forget the weather report.
0900 hrs Wind picks up and the genoa and main are set, the engine is shut down and the Walker trailing log streamed.
1000 hrs Still sailing well, wind 3-4 NW.
1100 hrs Wind now force 4, speed is around 6 knots.
1300 hrs A sudden increase in wind, changed the genoa for the staysail and, on a hunch, double reefed the main straight away. Wind and sea continue to build up. Wind direction is NW, course to Pantelleria southerly. I began worrying that the wind might shift to the west or worse still, southwest, so I steered WSW. Sea is now rough; I fit the washboard, don harness and jacket, and wish I were somewhere else! Pantelleria is getting closer and the wind is still NW so now I change course to the SSE towards my destination and relax a bit. Not long afterwards "Luke" gets a mighty shove on the starboard quarter and Iím thrown onto the port guard railing with the Mediterranean inches away from my face! My religious upbringing comes into action and with the boat at this angle; I hope that the next large wave is not too close. The boat rights herself but feels sluggish with the weight of a cockpit half full of water. The water is draining out but not fast enough. There arenít any more large waves nearby.
Afterwards I kept a close eye for waves coming from astern. "Luke" has a washboard reaching up to the lower deck level and has doors up to the coachroof. The washboard was in place, but the doors were open! I have this thing about keeping an eye on the interior of the boat, so I dislike locking the doors completely, even though there is a high bilge alarm. Luckily, the water that entered struck the galley and filled the wine glasses and coffee mugs with water! If I were on the other tack the electrics would have taken it! The logbook had slid off the table and got soaked also.
I got to Pantelleria at around 8 in the evening. There were some French and German boats already there but I rafted up alongside a local fishing boat. I then reckoned that it was time I opened that bottle of 11 year old "Bells", even though the label reads "8 yrs. old"! I then got the ingredients ready for a meal, set the pressure cooker going, only then did I begin sorting out down below. Naturally, stopping for dinner and then folding the sails properly. I must have been the last boat in. The following day I learnt that two Tunisian fishing boats, which had been carrying immigrants on their way to Sicily, have capsized and some 70 persons have drowned. Italian radio said that the conditions were such as to have prevented a prompt rescue of those unfortunates.
Pantelleria is not new and after delivering a parcel of a particular brand of soap which is unavailable locally (Lifebuoy), to Antonia, my wifeís friend, I decided that once the weather settles Iím off home. This was to be the longest solo passage, some 120 miles, ever.
21st June Leisurely start at 1430, light westerly wind, force 2. As Pantelleria is on a direct line between Cap Bon and Malta, I figured that I was out of the shipping lanes. I was going to try that much talked about routine of sleeping for 20 minutes at a time. The trip was uneventful as the wind remained light. The engine was used intermittently when the wind got too light.
22nd June Wind eventually picks up to a nice force 4 southerly and land is sighted at 1830. By 2300 hrs we are at Valletta customs and at 0130 home!
In conclusion, I had sailed a solo distance of 120 miles and that routine of sleeping for 20 minutes at a stretch, works! Once it was day light, I felt ok, not drowsy or anything! Previously I had done solo crossings between Malta and Sicily, but that is only 58 miles. I suppose one needs to spend 5 or 6 days to see what a solo long distance voyage entails. Overall it was something new and I was quite comfortable with it. I was very lucky to have done the whole cruise without getting something caught in the prop and having to swim!
There was still 10 days to wait before Therese starts her vacation and I managed to get some uninterrupted fishing in! One trip was especially good because I had sailed out to the fishing spots (16-20 miles away), caught a fair amount of albacore, and sailed back in! Usually, I have to motor out and if Iím lucky, sail back in.
George Bugeja Eventide 26 ĎLukeí, moored in Malta