Yacht Retreat - Passage Reports 2000

 

 

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Passage Report Number 1

 

Moored in Le Port de Plaisance, Saint-Mandrier, South of France

 

Wednesday 1st March, 2000

 

AFLOAT AGAIN

 

As I write, Retreat is bobbing happily as the breeze ruffles the surface of Saint-Mandrier harbour, Pat is sanding down one of the dinghy’s oars in the warm Spring sunshine and all is well with the world.  What a joy it is to be afloat once more as we fit out Retreat for our third year of full-time cruising.

 

The prospect of sunshine seemed very remote when we left Surrey on Saturday 12th February.  Katy arrived at 0830 and we set about the task of fitting our huge quantity of luggage into her lovely new Renault Clio.  Having decided a few weeks earlier that we would drive across France we had made the most of what was likely to be our one and only opportunity to carry heavy items back to Retreat.  How we squeezed everything in I still do not know!

 

Our journey to Folkestone was about as difficult as driving can get with heavy driving rain on the M25.  However, we had allowed ourselves plenty of time and the journey was completed without mishap.  We crossed the channel in Le Shuttle arriving in France in time for lunch at the huge commercial centre at Coquelles, just outside Calais.  After our meal, Katy drove us to the Europcar office in the centre of Calais, a real baptism of fire for her first venture of driving on the right!  However, she came through her ordeal with flying colours and we were duly deposited on the pavement outside the office complete with our luggage. We said our goodbyes, Katy set off for a wine warehouse and our adventure began!

 

Our hire car turned out to be a Renault Mégane Scenic.  With its huge boot, comfortable driving position and large windows it proved to be an ideal vehicle for our long journey across France.  With the paper work completed we set off on our journey south with a short trip to Aire sur la Lys, a small market town just off the main road.  We had resolved to avoid the motorways as we had plenty of time and it was the small towns and villages that we most wanted to see.

 

On Sunday 13th we drove across the vast open farmlands of Picardie down tree-lined roads that stretched in straight lines from horizon to horizon.  This was an area that we knew only from our history books.  As we ticked off the place names on our map we could almost see the battalions of tanks lined up against one another.  How lucky we felt to have been born after that dark, dark period and to be able to enjoy the fullness of life that was denied to so many who came this way before us.

 

Our journey took us to two great cathedrals, Amiens and Chartres; both spared major damage in the wars.  We enjoyed visiting both, Amiens for the sculptures on its west front and Chartres for its extensive stained glass.  Our day of culture complete, we booked into a small hotel on the outskirts of Chartres.  Like all those that we stayed in for the rest of the week, it was a modern ‘Two Star Tourist Hotel’ built on an estate just outside the town.  These hotels provide comfortable accommodation at very reasonable prices and we can thoroughly recommend them for a trip across France.  We paid between £25 and £35 per night, not each, as we would have been charged in the UK, but for our room.  Had we had a third person with us, the cost would have still been the same.

 

Our journey on Monday, our longest of the week, took us through the Loire Valley and on to Clermont-Ferrand.  We broke our journey to look at some of the chateaux for which the Loire Valley is famed, including the magnificent Chateau Chamboray.  Here we were able to walk freely around the grounds and enjoy the atmosphere of the very heart of France.

 

Tuesday brought us to what we had planned as the ‘high point’ of our trip in more ways than one – a drive into the mountains of the Massif Central.  We were not disappointed.  Our drive took us west across a high pass to Mont Dore, south to Aurillac and finally south-east through the Gorges du Lot to Millau.  Many travel writers seem to dismiss the Massif Central in favour of the Alps, but we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and were pleased we had decided to travel this way.

 

On Wednesday we travelled east through the Gorges du Tarn and along the spectacular ridge known as the ‘Corniche des Cévennes’ to Alès.  Here we left the mountains and began our descent towards the Rhône Valley.  However, the Massif Central had one more spectacle for us to enjoy – the ancient Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard.  Built to carry water from the mountains to Nîmes, this three-tiered structure is built of massive stones without mortar.  It should be a compulsory visit for all those modern architects who seem to believe that the only material available to mankind is reinforced concrete!

 

We had expected to find a vast, wide valley floor as we approached the Rhône but it was not so.  The foothills of the Massif Central held on to the bitter end and we dropped rapidly to the valley floor only just before Avignon.  Here we visited the remaining four spans of the Pont d’ Avignon though we refrained from dancing on it, even though that is what the song bids us to do!

 

After a night just outside Avignon we headed east to the Grand Canyon du Verdon.  This had not been on our original itinerary, but we decided to make the most of our hire car and make the slight detour necessary to include it.  What a detour it turned out to be!  Despite its description in our guidebook as the ‘largest gorge in Europe’ nothing could have prepared us for its immense scale. From the top of sheer cliffs towering 700 metres above the valley floor we looked down on the cascading turquoise water below us as if we were looking down from an aeroplane.  We just gasped!  Even now the experience seems too incredible to be real.  If you ever find yourselves in Provence, the Grand Canyon du Verdon is an absolute must!

 

From the Grand Canyon we drove south through Brignoles and Toulon to ‘Le Port à Sec de la Rade de Toulon’ where we left Retreat last November.  We arrived at 1800 on Thursday 17th February to find her safe and sound, just as we had left her, with only a layer of dust to show for her winter on land.  By 2000 we had hoisted our entire luggage aboard, connected up the mains electricity, boiled a kettle and plugged in our fan heater.  We were surrounded by chaos, but we were back.  It felt good!

 

On Friday and Saturday we made use of our hire car to visit the supermarket, buy our antifouling paint and visit the hills just behind Toulon.  Finally, on Saturday afternoon, we took the car back to a Europcar depot less than half a mile from Le Port à Sec.  We were then, once again, reliant entirely upon Retreat and our own two feet for transport.

 

Sunday was spent unpacking our myriad of bags and boxes and somehow achieving the impossible by finding a place to stow everything.  ‘Perhaps we should add an extra couple of centimetres of antifouling all round’ we thought to ourselves!

 

By Monday morning we had run out of excuses and the job of antifouling had to be started.  For those of you who are strangers to this annual ritual, antifouling paint is a thick, vile concoction designed to prevent the growth of weed, slime and barnacles on the under-water surfaces of boats.  The job involves scrubbing off the old growth (we did that last November with a high-pressure washer), and then using a combination of a roller and a paint brush to apply two coats of the new paint.  By Wednesday it was done.

 

So it was that on the morning of Thursday 24th February, 2000 Retreat was launched and we were back afloat once more.  If being back on board had felt good, this felt brilliant!  We could not wait to get away.  After a final check to make sure we had left nothing behind, we set off on our first passage of the new season.  With clear blue skies and a warm sun we felt as if we could have carried on forever.  Fortunately, sanity prevailed and two and three-quarter miles across La Petite Rade de Toulon we made fast at Le Port de Plaisance in Saint-Mandrier where we now lie.

 

We intend to stay in Saint-Mandrier for three to four weeks completing the very many jobs necessary to make Retreat ready for the new season.  These include fitting three new windows which we have had made in England and which (hopefully) are now on their way out to us.  We then hope to set sail north then east then south around the Golfo di Genova and on to Elba, Corsica, Sardinia and beyond.  For details of how we get on, look out for the remainder of this year’s Passage Reports.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 2

 

Moored in Le Port de Plaisance, Saint-Mandrier, South of France

 

Wednesday 15th March, 2000

 

STILL FITTING OUT

 

For ten of the fourteen days that have passed since our last Passage Report the list of jobs on our ‘Fitting Out’ list has seemed to grow longer rather than shorter.  As so often happens, tackling one job has all-to-often revealed another two that we didn’t know about before we started.  However, in the last few days we do seem to have managed to complete a few of our tasks and our list is, at last, reducing in length.

 

Since arriving back in France we have completed the following tasks:

 

Rubbed down the under-water surface and applied two coats of antifouling.

Replaced one of the anodes.

Replaced twenty buckles on our Bimini (sun-awning) with stronger ones.

Made a new cover for our steering compass and two new storage bags.

Devised a means of fitting our passerelle to the stern for use when berthed stern-to.

Replaced the carpet lining to the bunk sides in the forecabin.

Re-varnished the woodwork in the forecabin.

Re-varnished the oars and the wash boards.

Re-varnished the companionway steps and fitted new anti-slip treads.

Re-bedded the port-side chain plates.

Fitted a new display head to our instrument system.

Serviced three winches and the anchor windlass.

Replaced the name ‘Retreat’ on the forward coachroof.

Fitted a new blocking diode in the charging system.  (A blocking diode is an electrical one-way valve that divides the charge from the alternator between two separate battery banks.)

 

Unfortunately, the three replacement windows that we have had made in the UK have still not arrived so we have yet to make a start on fitting them.  We hope very much that they will arrive during the next couple of days.

 

As if to add a little variety to our lives, the final proof of our book arrived by International Data Post on Monday 6th March.  With a deadline from the printer, we had only two days to check the entire manuscript, word by word.  In doing so, we discovered the corrections made by the Adlard Coles proof-readers.  It was like getting an essay back from a tutor!  Most of the changes were minor and a matter of style (they removed half of my Capital Letters and three quarters of my exclamation marks!), but I felt that a few were not the place of proof-readers to make.  For example, they changed ‘Mum’ to ‘my mother’ and they removed my description of our ‘workouts’ in Benalmádena as they claimed it was ‘too personal.’  I felt somewhat discouraged by this, but Pat (sensible as always) managed to persuade me that it was a normal part of having a book published and that there were actually very few changes considering the length of the text.  By Tuesday evening the final corrections had been e-mailed to the publisher and the book was out of our hands.  With luck, it should be available through bookshops by mid April with details as follows:

 

Brighton to the Med by David and Pat Teall

Published by Adlard Coles Nautical.  ISBN 0-7136-5356-6.  Price £8.99

 

If all goes to plan we could be under way by the end of next week, but if the windows do not arrive, we shall still be moored in Saint-Mandrier.  Look out for our next Passage Report to find out.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 3

 

Moored in Port-Cros, Les Îles d’Hyères, South of France

 

Monday 3rd April, 2000

 

WINDOWS IN THE WEATHER

 

You will be pleased to hear that our windows arrived only two days after writing our last Passage Report.  However, attempting to fit them turned out to be something of a nightmare.  Although we had provided the company with accurate templates, all three of the windows turned out to be too small.  Whilst they would fit into the holes in the coachroof they did not cover all the fixing holes left by the old windows, either inside or out.  To add to our difficulties, on the day we removed the first of the old windows, the glorious weather that we had enjoyed for the first half of March broke down to be replaced by unsettled conditions which have continued ever since.  Never-the-less, working between the showers, we eventually reached the point when all three of the new windows were bolted into place with ‘Duck Tape’ around their edges to make them waterproof.  To complete the job we shall have to remove them again, build up the fibreglass with epoxy filler and then bed them in properly using the special mastic provided.  However, as the Duck Tape seems to be keeping the water out it may be some time before we get around to that!

 

On Wednesday 29th March we cast off from Saint-Mandrier and motored the couple of miles across La Petite Rade to La Darse Vieille in Toulon.  La Darse Vieille is right in the centre of Toulon within trolley-wheeling distance of a very large supermarket, an important consideration when stocking up for a cruise.  Our two trips there were accomplished quite quickly but finding somewhere to stow all our purchases seemed to take most of the rest of the day!  However, we did manage to find the time to fill our water and diesel tanks and replenish our Camping Gaz and petrol for the outboard.

 

On Thursday 30th March, fully victualled, we finally left La Petite Rade de Toulon, just one day earlier than our departure from Brighton in 1998.  The weather in the south of France at this time of year is warmer than England but is affected by the same depressions sweeping in from the Atlantic.  We can now understand why so many live-aboard yachties return to the Costa del Sol every winter, though such a policy would not assist us in our wish to explore as much of the Mediterranean as possible.

 

Our first passage of the year was accomplished almost entirely under sail, 16½ miles in a westerly force 5 to Île de Porquerolles, the nearest of Les Îles d’Hyères.  The buoys to which we had moored last autumn had been removed for the winter so we had to moor alongside a fairly elderly pontoon on the inner side of the harbour wall.  As it turned out, this was very fortunate as, the following evening, a violent storm passed overhead with gusts to 35 knots.  However, despite the storm, we very much enjoyed revisiting Île de Porquerolles, and were happy to be under way once more.

 

On Saturday morning we set sail once again, this time in a west-north-west force 5 under a clear blue sky to neighbouring Port-Cros where we made fast to a buoy.  Port-Cros is fully protected from the east and south, partially protected from the north and west and completely exposed to the north-west.  The weather forecast was predicting strong easterly winds for the next few days so Port-Cros seemed a good port to head for.

 

As so often happens, the wind died completely on Saturday night, but the forecast the next morning confirmed that an easterly gale or severe gale was imminent.  We decided to move from our buoy to the quay where we made fast with our ‘storm ropes’ facing the expected wind.  Once secure we felt confident enough to leave Retreat and go for a walk on this, our favourite of Les Îles d’Hyères.  During the afternoon and evening the wind continued to build and by midnight we had a steady force 7 with gusts to 33 knots.  We have no doubt that any sailors still out on the open sea would be experiencing the full effect of the force 9 that had been forecast.  How pleased we were to be securely moored with a 200-metre hillside between us and the worst of the weather.

 

During the course of this morning the wind gradually subsided and just before lunch we moved back to a buoy.  We now find ourselves waiting for a window once again, this time a window in the weather that will allow us to progress further along the coast towards the French Riviera.  To find out how long we had to wait, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 4

 

Moored in San Remo, Riviera dei Fiori, Northern Italy

 

Sunday 9th April, 2000

 

FAMILIAR NAMES, UNFAMILIAR PLACES

 

As I write I can hear the sound of the rain helpfully washing the salt from Retreat’s decks and of Italian being spoken by the passers-by on the quay.  Although it is only a week since our last Passage Report, it has been a week in which we have visited three different countries, stayed in some well known cities and sailed by many more.

 

Tuesday 4th April dawned grey and showery but the wind had moderated to a southerly force 4.  I rowed ashore to pay our dues and by 1000 we were under way.  Our passage took us around the mighty Cap Camarat, the headland that marked the beginning of unknown waters for us this year.  With variable winds the engine was turned on and off several times though we did manage to sail for about half the time.  However, just before we started to cross the mouth of Le Golfe de Saint-Tropez a new wind filled in, 25 knots from the north-east, fine on our starboard bow.  In rapidly building seas, discretion proved to be the better part of valour and, abandoning our plan to make for Saint-Raphaël, we eased sheets and headed for the marina at San-Peïre-sur-Mer, Les Issambres.  Unfortunately, the only berth we were offered was by the entrance and completely exposed to the west.  With the wind forecast to turn west overnight we had no choice but to put back to sea and continue to Saint-Raphaël.  However, the journey was not as bad as we had feared and by 1715 we were securely moored in the fully-protected Port de Santa-Lucia, Saint-Raphaël.

 

With strong winds from the west Retreat remained firmly moored in Port de Santa-Lucia all day on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, we enjoyed exploring Saint-Raphaël and the nearby Port Fréjus, a tastefully-built marina and apartment complex.  In the evening we walked along part of the ‘Sentier des Douaniers’, a coastal footpath that runs along most of the coast of Var.  The rich red colour of the volcanic rock of the Massif de l’Esterel, older than either the Alps or the Pyrenees, was particularly striking in the evening light.

 

On Thursday morning we motored the 15 miles from Saint-Raphaël to ‘Le Second Port’ at Cannes.  Our passage took us around the eastern end of the Massif de l’Esterel giving us spectacular views of the ancient mountain range.  We arrived in Cannes in the middle of a torrential downpour and felt very sorry for the marina assistant who had been sent to greet us following our call on VHF radio.  Such help, though universal in Spain, is rare in France except, it seems, on this particular stretch of the Côte d’Azur.  We were sent to moor on the Quai d’honneur, not as any mark of respect, but because there was no room anywhere else!  When we arrived we found that it was in front of a derelict yacht club and really rather shabby, but it was both secure and quiet so it suited us well.  Much to our surprise, it was also our cheapest berth since leaving Port-Cros.

 

After a late lunch we walked into the centre of Cannes and around ‘Le First Port’.  Despite the less-than-flattering description of the town in our Pilot book we were impressed by its elegance and style.  However, by way of contrast, the area known as Palm Beach around the summer casino was decidedly seedy.

 

The next morning brought a light wind from the north-east and a smooth to slight sea.  With insufficient wind to sail we motored for 27 miles from Cannes to Monaco passing Antibes and Nice along the way.  Although our route took us up to four miles offshore as we crossed La Baie des Anges, it was a particularly interesting passage.  Planes took off or landed at Nice airport every five minutes or so and helicopters flew overhead almost twice as often.  There are heliports at all the main resorts and a regular service shuttles between them as well as to and from Nice airport.  As a backdrop to all of this man-made activity, the foot-hills of the Alps cascade down to the very edge of the Mediterranean.  No wonder this coastline has become the playground of the rich and famous!

 

As we approached Monaco we realised that we did not have a courtesy ensign to fly as we entered the harbour.  After some hasty research, Pat converted an old signal flag (Letter ‘U’) into a tolerable representation of the flag of Monaco.  As we circled the harbour below the skyscrapers of Monte Carlo we hoped that her efforts were appreciated.  However, we doubted that anyone would have realised that our courtesy ensign last saw active service aboard a Grimsby trawler that fell victim to the ‘Cod War’ with Iceland over a quarter of a century ago!

 

As we took our photos of Monte Carlo it soon became evident that Le Port de Monaco was not sufficiently protected to stay the night.  A long swell from the east was entering the harbour making the visitors’ berths very uncomfortable.  We retraced our wake for little more than a mile and moored in Port de Cap d’Ail, just back over the border in France.  Unfortunately, our Monégasque ensign had to come down after less than an hour at our cross-trees to be replaced once more by the French tricolour.

 

We explored Monaco on foot enjoying in particular the old town of Monaco-Ville on top of the cliffs.  We also enjoyed walking around the Casino (on the outside, I might add) though, try as we might, we saw no sign of James Bond nor of his attendant bevy of beauties.  We did, however, wonder whether Ian Fleming had ever realised that the longitude of Monte Carlo is 007 degrees east!

 

As might be expected of a rich principality, everywhere in Monaco is very well kept, clean and tidy and a delight to walk around.  It may be an anachronism in today’s Europe, but it makes a very interesting visit.  We would have liked to have stayed long enough to visit the Musée Océanographique, but we decided to make use of the improved weather whilst it lasted to make further progress along the coast.

 

Yesterday, after a final visit to the huge supermarket in Monaco, we motored for 18 miles along the coast from France, through Monaco, back into France and on to Italy.  As we approached the French-Italian border a high-speed French Customs launch sped up behind us and held station alongside for a few minutes whilst they decided whether or not our departure imposed a threat to their national security.  Apparently satisfied that we were harmless they left as quickly as they had come and left us to cross into Italian waters at our leisure.

 

Though we had been impressed with the scenery the day before, this passage gave us some of the most dramatic scenery we have seen since leaving Brighton.  As we passed valley after valley, each slicing its way down to the sea, we were treated to ever-changing views of the Alps in the distance.  First one peak would appear, then three, then seven, all over 2,000 metres and all still capped with snow.  Above our heads our mast seemingly whipped around in isolated wisps of low cloud like a stick in a candy-floss bowl.  We would not have been surprised to find a ball of it still there when we arrived in Portosole, San Remo where we now lie.

 

Today is wet and windy and the forecast for tomorrow is little better.  However, as soon as the weather improves we hope to make further progress along the coast north-east towards Genova and then south-east towards Elba.  For details of our progress, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 5

 

Moored in Porto Varazze, Riviera Ponente, Northern Italy

 

Sunday 30th April, 2000

 

THE PATTER OF TINY FEET

 

“There goes our supper,” cried Pat as Retreat healed violently to starboard and a jug flew into the air and deposited its contents on the floor.  “What on earth is the wind speed now?”

 

“Forty five knots” I shouted back.  “That’s the top end of severe gale force 9, almost storm force 10.”  Just then there was a loud bang from the heads as Retreat lurched to starboard once more, this time throwing a medicine bottle onto the floor.  It was our own fault, of course, as it had not been properly stowed for heavy weather.  However, in our defence, we were still firmly tied to the quay in Beaulieu Marina where we might reasonably have expected a quieter evening!  How we came to be moored back in France nearly three weeks after first arriving in Italy is a long story.

 

Shortly after sending our last Passage Report we received a message from Katy asking if she could fly out and spend a few days with us.  A quick comparison of our charts with the route maps of the reasonably-priced airlines suggested that the most sensible plan was for us to retrace our wake towards Nice.  So it was that on Tuesday 11th April we set sail from San Remo in Italy to Beaulieu in France, a delightfully picturesque marina in a small town less than 5 miles from the centre of Nice.

 

By Thursday our plans had changed yet again.  Although it was a secret at the time, we are now able to reveal the reason why.  Katy is expecting a baby.  Unfortunately, on Thursday morning, she suffered a complication to her pregnancy.  Whilst mother and baby were still well, it was clear that it was no longer sensible for Katy to fly.  We rang Easy Jet and altered the flights to enable Pat and I to fly back to the UK instead.

 

We landed at Luton Airport mid-afternoon on Monday 17th April to be met by Katy and Nick.  As Nick was still at work but Katy had broken up and was on holiday, we were pleased to be able to keep her company during what would otherwise have seemed a very long week.  Over the Easter weekend, Katy and Nick kept a long-standing arrangement to stay with friends in Wales and we took the opportunity to visit our flat in Brighton.  By pure coincidence a tenancy had just expired and it was vacant.  It was the first time that we had slept there since leaving on 31st March, 1998.

 

On Easter Day we drove to Battle and attended the 0930 Family Communion that had been such a central part of our lives when we lived and worked at the Abbey.  Thinking that we must have been long-since forgotten we were quite overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome we received.  Following the service we drove to Rye to spend long enough for a cup of coffee and a chat with Chris and Monica Steward on Expression before driving back to Brighton to meet John.

 

Tuesday 25th April was the big day.  Katy had her routine 12-week scan at the local hospital.  Pat and I sat nervously at home whilst Nick took Katy to the hospital. Less than an hour later we received the telephone call that we had hoped and prayed for – the baby was fit and well.  Katy and Nick returned elated bearing a printout of the scan clearly showing the image of a baby, 5.7 cm long.

 

The next morning we drove back to Luton in heavy traffic and by early evening we were back on board Retreat in Beaulieu.  The Marina Company had moved her to a different berth but, other than a thick layer of Sahara Sand deposited by the rain, she was just as we had left her.

 

Our unexpected trip back to the UK was one of heightened emotions.  We shared with Katy and Nick some of the agony and ecstasy that goes hand in hand with parenthood.  We were thrilled to meet old friends yet sad that we did not have the time to meet up with or contact more.  Having spent the last two springs in southern climes we were delighted by the colour and beauty of England at this most beautiful time of the year.  We were nervous about returning to our flat in Brighton as we felt that it might tug at our heartstrings, but it did not.  As we stepped back on board Retreat we were reminded that she is now our home and we hope that she will remain so for many years to come.

 

We spent our first full day back on board re-stocking Retreat and making her ready for sea once more.  The wind increased steadily throughout the day peaking at 45 knots, as you have already heard, just before supper.  Fortunately it moderated overnight and Friday dawned calm but wet.  And when I say wet, I mean wet!  It rained solidly all day confining us below without a break.  It seemed as if Beaulieu had some sort of hold upon us and was determined not to let to go!

 

We need not have worried.  Saturday greeted us with clear blue skies, a calm sea and a forecast of several similar days to come.  We wasted no time and by 0920 we were under way, albeit under power.  We motored for 46 miles, past Monaco and San Remo and on to Alassio on the Italian Riviera.  A similar day today, though happily partly under sail, brought us a further 23 miles to Varezze where we are now moored.

 

The Riviera Ponente, as this part of the coast of Italy is called, is quite stunning as the Alps finally give way to the sea.  Tomorrow we hope to cross the head of the Gulf of Genoa taking us onto the Riviera Levante.  For details of how we get on, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 6

 

Moored in Porto Capraia, Isola Capraia, Northern Italy

 

Sunday 7th May, 2000

 

AROUND THE GULF OF GENOA

 

As I write we are moored bows to our anchor and stern to the quay in Porto Capraia on Isola Capraia, a small mountainous island between Corsica and Elba.  We arrived here on Friday evening having covered 224 miles in the seven days since we left Beaulieu, more than three times our usual cruising average.  The rain is beating against our windows and there are thunderstorms forecast but we are not concerned.  After a week of constant travelling we are quite content to stay where we are for a while, catch up on a few jobs and enjoy the scenery.

 

Before we left Porto Varazze on Mayday morning I pumped some fuel from the bottom of the tank and checked the filters to make sure that the system was free of sediment and water.  The fuel was clean, but I had difficulty in bleeding all the air from the system when I had finished.  However, the engine started without problem so we cast off our lines and motored out of the harbour.  Less than 200 metres out the engine stopped, fortunately not until we were in clear water with no one nearby.  We quickly anchored in order to avoid drifting onshore and I set about bleeding the fuel system, correctly this time!

 

Within half an hour we were under way once more and we motored and sailed for 39 miles around the head of the Gulf of Genoa.  The beautiful mountains of the Riviera Ponente soon gave way to the long industrial sprawl that is Genoa.  At 1215 our log recorded: “changed course to 100 degrees, south in our course again at last!”  We have been travelling north since leaving Pollensa so this was a long-awaited turning point.

 

As we left Genoa behind us the mountains returned, this time those of the Riviera di Levante.  We rounded the spectacular Punta di Portofino and jostled with the fleet of hovering tripper boats to take photos of the picture-postcard harbour of Portofino.  The Dutch couple we met in St Mandrier had stayed here, but it looked far too fraught for our liking.  Looking for a more secure berth, we continued around the Golfo Marconi making our way between the three Cruise Ships that were anchored off and made fast in the modern marina at Chiavari.

 

On Tuesday we motored for 32 miles from Chiavari to the Golfo di La Spezia, home of the Italian Navy.  En route we spotted a school of dolphins for the first time this year and thousands upon thousands of young Portuguese Men o’ War, jelly fish that sail the seas by means of an inflated bladder that protrudes above the surface of the water.  We also sailed through vast slicks of green and yellow pollen from the shrubs that cover the mountains.

 

Our route took us past the ‘Cinque Terre’, five once-isolated villages along a ten-mile stretch of particularly rugged coastline.  The villages are now joined by a remarkable railway that covers most of the ten miles through a series of tunnels.

 

We took a short cut into the Golfo di La Spezia through what has to be the most spectacular passage we have yet encountered.  At the southern end of the Cinque Terre there is a narrow channel between the mainland and Isola Palmaria, an offshore island.  The channel cannot be seen until the very last minute so it seems as if you are heading straight into the side of the mountain.  Finally, provided you have kept your nerve, the channel opens up and you turn between towering cliffs into Portovenere Passage that leads into the Gulfo di La Spezia itself.

 

We spent a peaceful night at anchor in Seno delle Grazie, a large bay on the western side of the Gulf, our first night at anchor this year.  There was a definite feeling of Deja Vu as we looked out across La Spezia, as it really is very similar to Toulon in so many ways.

 

On Wednesday we had a less energetic day motoring just 23 miles along the coast to Viareggio.  Our route took us past the high mountains behind Carrara where quarries of white marble glistened in the sun.  Marble has been quarried from these hills for at least two millennia and many of the famous monuments in Italy are built of it.

 

We booked into Viareggio for two nights as we had a long-planned excursion in mind.  On Thursday morning we set off by bus to Pisa.  About half way there we came across a most unexpected and bizarre spectacle that we still cannot quite believe.  Along each side of a wooded section of the road, each on her own plastic chair, sat a row of ‘Rental Maids’ each displaying her wares which were, without doubt, for sale.  Quite how this rural enterprise fits in with the strong Catholic ethos of the country we do not know, but the local Carabinieri must surely be turning a blind eye  as we passed a police station less than a mile further down the road. 

 

Pisa itself was everything that we had hoped for and more.  We were fascinated by the engineering work being undertaken in an effort to stabilise the Tower.  Long slanting holes are being drilled under the high side so that, as they collapse under the weight, the Tower tilts back a little towards the upright.  It would seem to be a very high-risk operation for the firm of engineers.  If they succeed they will have established their reputation world wide, but if they fail and the Tower collapses, they will all be looking for new jobs!

 

Adjacent to the Tower is a Duomo or Cathedral built almost entirely of marble, no doubt from the quarries at Carrara.  It seems very sad for the architect of this particularly well-proportioned and magnificent landmark that Pisa is best known for the building next door where the architect got all his sums wrong.  Sometimes there seems little justice in life!

 

On Friday we made the 56 mile passage from Viareggio to Porto Capraia where we now lie.  To our great joy the wind filled in and we were able to sail for much of the way.  A brisk southerly force five gave us a close reach which, in the slight to moderate sea, enabled us to keep up 6 knots for much of the way.

 

Just off Livorno an Italian Customs launch approached and hailed us.  “We needa to know dee name of dee sheep,” the man on the foredeck cried.  Resisting the temptation of replying “Larry the Lamb” or “Dolly” I lent over the pushpit and moved ‘Fido’, the big fender that lives across Retreat’s stern when we are at sea, to reveal our name writ large.  The customs officers, thus satisfied, sped on their way and we continued sedately on ours.

 

We hope to stay in Porto Capraia for a few days and then make the crossing to Elba.  For details of how we get on, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 7

 

Moored in Porto Capraia, Isola Capraia, Northern Italy

 

Thursday 18th May, 2000

 

ABLE WAS I ERE I SAW ELBA

 

As I write we are once again moored bows to our anchor and stern to the quay in Porto Capraia, just where we were when we sent our last Passage Report 10 days ago.  However, Retreat has not been resting idly in the Mediterranean sun during that time but has completed no less than a full circumnavigation!

 

We remained in Capraia all day last Monday and went for a very long walk high into the hills hoping to catch sight of Corsica.  However, less than 100 metres from the summit, the track ended and our way was blocked by impenetrable ‘maquis’, the mixture of thorny shrubs that covers most hills in the Mediterranean.  Frustrated, we turned back towards Retreat to be compensated on the way by the sight of a large flock of Bee-Eaters - brilliantly coloured birds found only in wild terrain.  How often the highlights of life sneak up unexpectedly.

 

On Tuesday 9th May we motored for 30 miles from Isola Capraia to Isola d’Elba.  The wind gradually increased during the passage but, unfortunately, from dead ahead and insufficiently to enable us to sail.  We moored in Portoferraio, once again bows to our anchor and stern to the quay.

 

Portoferraio is proud of its association with Napoleon and nearly every building seems to have some connection with his brief stay on the island.  The central harbour is a ‘Porto Communale’ and no charge is made for mooring.  We stayed for three nights using the time to stock up at the large supermarket and make use of the rare laundrette.  Whilst out exploring my ankle gave way and I fell, grazing my knee badly.  It seems a very long time ago since I last nursed a grazed knee but I don’t seem to have forgotten how to make a big fuss about it!  However, it has given me the excuse I needed to begin this report with the oft-quoted Napoleonic palindrome.

 

Shortly before we were ready to leave last Friday the crew of a small Austrian boat that had been our neighbour whilst we were there, fouled her anchor as they attempted to leave.   I rowed out to them and, much to their amazement and joy, managed to free it using a short length of chain on the end of a rope.  It made their day as employing a diver is an expensive business, but it made mine too.  Knowing that you have made someone else’s life a little better is still one of the greatest keys to happiness, wherever you are.

 

With the Austrian’s anchor safely recovered we motored out of Portoferraio to begin a five-day circumnavigation of Isola d’Elba.  Our first leg took us around Capo della Vita, the north-eastern corner of the island and on past the old ironstone workings on the east coast.  The Etruscans were extracting iron here as early as the 6th century BC.  The last mine closed in 1984 but the evidence still remains.  We anchored for the night at the head of the large inlet beyond Porto Azzuro.

 

We spent the next three days slowly making our way along the deeply-indented south coast anchoring in a different bay each night, Golfo Stella on Saturday, Golfo della Lacona on Sunday (from where we toasted Maryon’s 50th birthday over breakfast the next morning) and Golfo Barbatoia (Fetovaia) on Monday.  The pilot books tells us that these bays are untenable for much of the summer as the prevailing winds are from the south.  We felt very lucky indeed that a settled high pressure with light northerly winds gave us the perfect opportunity to explore this beautiful section of unspoilt coastline.

 

We left Fetovaia very reluctantly on Tuesday morning as we had run out of food.  We completed our circumnavigation by rounding the western end of the island that is dominated by Monte Capanne, the highest peak at 1,018 metres.  We spent the night at Marciana Marina, not as its name might suggest a modern yacht harbour, but an old port that once enchanted Napoleon.  Here we found ourselves moored next to a 9-metre yacht registered in the Czech Republic.  Making full use of their newly-found freedom this tiny yacht was home to six Czechs, two of whom were National Ice Hockey Players.  Retreat suddenly felt extremely large and palatial.

 

We woke early yesterday morning hoping to make the crossing from Elba to Corsica.  However, the weather forecast warned of increasing winds with the threat of a westerly gale around Cap Corse.  Discretion being the better part of valour we headed instead for Isola Capraia where we now lie.  The harbour here is well sheltered from the west and an ideal spot to spend a few days.  Quite when we shall be able to leave we do not know.  The west coast of Corsica is wild and beautiful but totally exposed to the west and at the mercy of the much-feared Mistral.  With few protected harbours, local knowledge insists that it is only safe to visit between the beginning of June and mid July.  We shall therefore wait for a suitable weather window and then make our way along the exposed coast fairly quickly.  To find out how we fare, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 8

 

Moored in Port de l’Amirauté, Ajaccio, Corsica

 

Saturday 28th May, 2000

 

WINDOWS IN THE WEATHER

 

After writing our last Passage Report we waited in Porto Capraia for five more nights before the forecast suggested that the weather might remain sufficiently settled for us to set sail for Corsica.  However, we made good use of the intervening days by completing the job of fitting our three new windows.  The ‘Duck Tape’ with which we sealed them ‘temporarily’ just before we left St Mandrier had certainly served us well.  We just hope that the ‘permanent’ seal is as efficient!

 

On the morning of Tuesday 23rd May we motored out of Porto Capraia with mixed feelings.  Whilst we were pleased to be under way at last we had really enjoyed our stay in Capraia and felt that we had come to know quite a large proportion of the local population, by sight at least.  We motored around the northern tip of Isola Capraia so that we could see where we had walked two weeks previously and then turned due west towards Cap Corse.  Like Cape Finisterre in north-western Spain and Cape Bear at the northern end of the Costa Brava, Cap Corse has a formidable reputation.  All three capes are regularly mentioned in weather forecasts as places where the wind is expected to be two or three forces higher on the Beaufort Scale than the adjacent sea areas.  However, our prudence (some may call it timidity) paid off once again and we rounded Cap Corse in reasonably benign conditions.  The residual swell from the high winds of the previous few days gave us a fairly rolly ride, particularly down the western side of the cape, but we were in no danger at any time and we were able to fully appreciate the beauty of the stunning mountain scenery.

 

We spent Tuesday night in the almost deserted harbour of St Florent.  For 133 Francs we were able to enjoy an alongside berth (very rare in the Mediterranean) with water and electricity provided.  We made full use of the services, charging up every piece of equipment that needed charging, filling our tanks and washing down Retreat for the first time since leaving the Italian mainland.  To our great relief, the new windows did not leak!

 

On Wednesday we motored west along the north coast of Corsica to Calvi, the city where Nelson lost his right eye when splinters of stone from an enemy shell wounded him.  We anchored just outside the harbour wall and went ashore in our dinghy using our outboard motor for the first time this year.  It started on the second pull!  We walked to the top of the 13th century Citadel passing the monument commemorating the birth of Christopher Columbus on the way.  The evidence that Columbus was born in Calvi is extremely tenuous, but that does not stop the local tourist industry making a great deal of it.

 

On Thursday, in brilliant sunshine and a flat sea, we began our journey south along what many claim to be the most beautiful section of coast in the Mediterranean.  Shortly after rounding Punta La Revellata, the peninsular where Nelson landed before taking Calvi, we were joined by a school of dolphins that swam with us for a while, surfacing alongside and riding on our bow wave.  This was our first close encounter with dolphins since leaving the Straits of Gibraltar so we were absolutely thrilled to see them again.  Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone, perhaps to investigate the little French yacht a couple of miles behind us.

 

Fifteen miles south-west of Punta La Revellata is the Réserve Naturel de Scandola.  The calm conditions enabled us to view this spectacular section of coast from close inshore.  The cliffs and offshore rocks are made of red granite moulded into fantastic shapes by the ceaseless action of the sea.  Lit by the sun the rocks appear a bright rust-red, but in the shade they turn to a deep rich burgundy.  We stayed for some time marvelling at the beauty and taking photographs before leaving the Réserve though a very narrow passage between Île di Gargalu and the mainland.  The passage is only passable by yachts on a few days each year so we felt very fortunate indeed.

 

One might think that I have used quite sufficient superlatives for one day, but there are more to come.  Just a few miles beyond the heart-stopping narrow passage we anchored for the night in Port de Girolata, quite the most beautiful anchorage we have encountered on our travels.  A tiny protected bay lying behind a small peninsular amidst spectacular mountain scenery it provided us with the perfect end to a perfect day.  A tiny handful of cottages lie behind the beach together with a Gîte and a couple of restaurants.  The postman comes twice a week walking along a Mule track that is the only land-link with the rest of Corsica.  Never-the-less, the villagers enjoy mains electricity, water and telephone and there are satellite dishes to be on even the smallest cottages so civilisation has not completely passed them by.

 

We could have stayed in Girolata for a week or more, but it would not have been prudent to do so.  The weather forecast for Corse was still good, but a Low over the Gulf of Lion suggested that it might not remain so for long.  So, on Friday morning, we reluctantly weighed anchor and continued on our way.  We motored into the Golfe de Porto, a huge inlet that cuts deep into the heart of the mountains.  As we approached the town of Porto at the head of the gulf the mountains seemed to go on and up for ever, like row upon row of scenery back-cloths cut from card.  This was mountain scenery on a grand scale.

 

When we reached Porto we turned around and motored out of the gulf, this time passing Les Calanche, a series of huge granite pillars said to have been sculptured by the Devil in a fit of rage after a shepherdess refused his amorous advances.  Needless to say, one of the pillars is said to be the shepherdess herself, petrified for eternity as the price for her fidelity.

 

Shortly after rounding Cap Rosso we came across a huge, rather ill-looking fish over a metre long beating its long dorsal fin on the surface of the water.  We hove to alongside watching it for a while trying without success to identify it.  We then continued on our way making fast for the night in the tiny harbour at Cargèse.  As the harbour was being refurbished visiting yachts were able to stay without charge, an unusual situation that suited us well.  Unfortunately, the harbour was rather shallow and we hit an under-water obstruction whilst manoeuvring into our berth.  We checked the bilges carefully, but we did not appear to be taking in any water.

 

High above the harbour at Cargèse stand two churches facing each other across a narrow valley.  Both are Christian, but one is Greek Orthodox and the other is Catholic.  We walked up the hill to visit them both expecting to find great differences between them.  As we walked back down the hill our most biding memory was just how similar they were.  Perhaps that bodes well for the future of the Christian church.

 

When we left Cargèse this morning we anchored off the harbour in clear water and I donned my mask and snorkel to check the bottom of the keel.  Fortunately we had lost no more than a layer of anti-fouling so we were able to continue on our way without further worries.  We motored across the mouth of the Golfe de Sagone and then around Cap de Feno and Punta de la Parata to Ajaccio where we now lie.  Stronger winds are forecast for the next few days but the window in the weather has lasted long enough for us for us to fulfil our ambition of cruising the north-west coast of Corsica.  Tomorrow we hope to go by train to Corte, high up in the mountains.  To find out if we manage to do so, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 9

 

Anchored in Baie de Stagnolu, Golfe de Porto-Vecchio, Corsica

 

Sunday 4th June, 2000

 

THROUGH THE STRAITS OF BONIFACIO

 

We did manage to go on our train trip to Corte, and what a trip it was.  As the fairly elderly diesel car took us higher and higher into the mountains the scenery was absolutely stunning.  Every twist and turn of the track brought new and ever-more dramatic views.  From rolling hills to jagged crags that towered above us we saw the Corsican mountains at their very best.  It was truly the train journey to beat all train journeys.

 

When we arrived in Corte we walked from the station to the Citadel perched high above the valley floor.  It was as well that we had rested on the train for it was a very steep climb indeed.  After lunch at a restaurant in the town centre we set off for a long walk along the Gorges du Tavignano and back.  The path is part of the long-distance ‘Mare a Mare Nord’ footpath that is very popular with serious hikers of whom we saw quite a few.  Though we only covered a small part of the walk, we enjoyed it immensely.

 

The weather forecast on the morning of Monday 29th May warned of gale force winds along the west coast of Corsica and severe gale force 9 around Cap Corse and in the Straits of Bonifacio.  Although we had far less wind in the harbour, we felt that being safely moored in Ajaccio had a great deal to commend it!  Indeed, with continuing forecasts of gales, we remained there for a total of five nights.

 

By Thursday morning the wind had abated and we took the opportunity to progress a further 24 miles along the coast.  We spent the night anchored in Baie de Campomoro, a beautiful spot entirely protected from the open sea and the prevailing winds.  After five nights in harbour it was a real treat to be anchored once again.

 

We covered a further 30 miles on Friday taking us to the spectacular and highly unusual port of Bonifacio.  Said by many to be the most remarkable port in the Mediterranean, it is a long narrow gulf that cuts deeply into the high limestone cliffs that dominate the southern tip of Corsica.  A dogleg near the entrance produces a fully protected natural harbour on an otherwise windswept and inhospitable section of coast.  Mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, it has been a haven for sailors ever since man first sailed these waters.

 

We moored bows to our anchor and stern to a ring set in the cliffs in the Calanque de la Catena, a small tributary to the main harbour.  This delightful spot gave us by far the most unusual mooring on our travels so far with splendid views of Bonifacio Citadel, particularly in the evening when the reddish stone was brought alive by the dying rays of the sun.  So entranced were we by this spectacular setting that we stayed for a second night giving us time to explore Bonifacio at our leisure.  We particularly enjoyed a cliff top walk to the lighthouse on Cap Pertusato, the southern-most tip of Corsica.

 

Today we sailed through the Straits of Bonifacio thus completing our navigation of the west coast of Corsica.  As if to join in our celebration, the wind was kind to us for once giving us some of our best sailing of the year.  Although we had to tack around Les Îles Lavezzi, the Easterly force 4 and slight sea enabled us to keep up a comfortable 6 to 7 knots.  Superb!  Once through the Straits we turned north bringing us to Porto-Vecchio where we have anchored for the night in a fully protected bay.  What tomorrow will bring, as ever, we do not know, but to find out, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 10

 

Anchored in Porto Palma, Isola Caprera, Sardegna

 

Sunday 18th June, 2000

 

THE EAST WIND DOTH BLOW AND WE SHALL GO SLOW

 

The morning of Monday 5th June dawned fine and sunny with little wind so we decided to motor north to Solenzara where we hoped to arrange our summer lift-out and find an apartment for Mum’s visit in August.  The passage there went smoothly enough but, unfortunately, our enquiries did not.  Owing to impending works, the marina could not lift us out in July and the beach turned out to be steep-to and quite unsuitable for Mum to swim from.   We left the next day feeling somewhat despondent and headed back towards Porto-Vecchio.  However, we did have one remaining possibility to explore.  On our way north we had spotted what appeared to be an excellent beach off a village called Favone and the list that we had obtained from the Tourist Office showed a couple of apartments there.  With light winds and a smooth sea we were able to anchor off the beach and using our trusty Tinker Tramp we were soon shore.  To our delight, within an hour and a half we had located one of the Landladies, been driven up the hill and shown around her apartment and discovered that it was available for the week that we wanted.  How fortunes can change in such a short period of time!

 

We returned to Retreat much heartened and weighed anchor ready to continue our passage to Porto-Vecchio.  As we left the bay a gust of wind capsized a small catamaran just ahead of us.  The occupants were soon picked up by others in the fleet but we stood by until it had been righted and the fleet was safely on their way.  Throughout this time the wind was increasing and by the time we resumed our passage and cleared the headland sheltering the bay we were faced with a 25-knot headwind and a 2-metre swell.  Porto-Vecchio was now beyond our reach.

 

Our first decision was to head back for Solenzara.  We turned Retreat around and were soon making 6.5 knots under rolled genoa alone.  However, we soon realised that the 2-metre swell would make entry into Solenzara very hazardous as we had noted that there was only 2.4 metres in the entrance when we left.  Our options were rapidly becoming very limited.  Our fall-back plan was to run for the shelter of Elba, 65 miles down wind, but before committing ourselves to a long night at sea we decided to try the anchorage off Favone beach once more.  To our delight, though exposed to the full force of the wind now blowing at 30 knots, it was protected from the swell and we were able to lie there quite comfortably.  By 2300 the wind had died away and we went to bed at peace with the world.

 

Complacency is a dangerous state of mind for sailors.  By midnight a new wind had set in from the north-east and I awoke to find Retreat dipping her bows under the incoming swell.  In less than hour our quiet anchorage had become a dangerous lee shore.  We dressed rapidly, weighed anchor and put to sea using the ‘safe escape bearing’ that I had taken and noted down whilst it was still light.  With the wind now north-easterly we were able to continue our original plan and head for Porto-Vecchio.  By keeping well offshore and then following the leading lights into the harbour we completed the passage without further incident, dropping our anchor south-east of the fairway at 0345.  Phew!

 

We spent the next week within the Golfe de Porto-Vecchio sheltering from strong easterly winds that blew day and night without relief.  We alternated between two anchorages, one just off the town and one in an isolated bay and on two occasions we made use of the port’s three hour ‘franchise’.  This is a concession that allows yachts to enter the harbour free of charge to take on water and visit the local shops - an excellent arrangement.

 

We did not waste our time during our prolonged stay in the Golfe de Porto-Vecchio.  After a string of phone calls we finalised all the arrangements for our mid-summer visit back to the UK and Mum’s visit to Corsica.  We also re-sealed several more of Retreat’s windows that have been leaking in recent months.

 

On Wednesday 14th June the wind finally abated and we were able to leave Porto-Vecchio.  We enjoyed a superb passage across the Straits of Bonifacio to the Italian island of La Maddalena and anchored in a beautiful bay, Cala Spalmatore.  A young couple on a British boat called ‘Sea Quiver’ were anchored close by giving us a rare opportunity to chat to fellow sailors in our own language.

 

Yesterday, with the weather forecast warning of a return to strong easterly winds, we motored around Isola Caprera to Porto Palma where we now lie.  En route we encountered a pod of five or six dolphins which, as always, was a great thrill. 

 

Porto Palma, despite its name, is not a port at all but a large protected bay.  As I write we are lying to our anchor in a strong easterly wind and Pat is cleaning out the old sealant from yet another window.  Will the wind keep us here for as long as it did in Porto-Vecchio?  To find out, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 11

 

Anchored in Cala Garibaldi, Isola Caprera, Sardegna

 

Sunday 2nd July, 2000

 

ALONG THE COSTA SMERALDA

 

This morning we made our one and only cultural visit in Sardinia, to Garibaldi’s house and tomb just a short distance inland overlooking our anchorage.  This afternoon, as I write, we are lying to our anchor in brilliant sunshine and the 25 knots of wind that seems to be fairly typical for afternoons in this area.  All around us anxious skippers are checking their transits (two marks on the shore in line with one another) to make sure that they have not dragged.  From time to time one becomes unhappy and re-anchors or gives up and leaves.  With no better anchorage within 25 miles we are content to remain and, so far, our anchor has held.  This is certainly a windy part of the Mediterranean!

 

After sending our last Passage Report, with the exception of a short trip to the Sardinian mainland to replenish our stores, we remained anchored in Porto Palma for a further three days.  However, it was the sheer beauty of the spot that kept us there rather than the high winds that we had feared.  Our British neighbours Peter and Susie who also found that their anchor had ‘taken root’ put it well:  “this is what we have travelled all this way to find, so let’s just enjoy it!”

 

However beautiful a spot may be, the essence of cruising is moving on to explore pastures new.  There are precious few pastures here in Sardinia, but there is an interesting stretch of coast known as the ‘Costa Smeralda’.  Hardly fifty miles in length it was developed in the 1960’s by a consortium headed by the Aga Khan.  From the very beginning they agreed that the land should be developed in a co-ordinated, tasteful and environmentally pleasing fashion.  A panel of leading architects and planners was commissioned to draw up a master plan for the area and the result is said to be a harmonious landscape unique in the world.

 

On Thursday 22nd June we made a 30-mile passage to Olbia, a port almost at the southern end of the Costa Smeralda.  Our route took us a mile or so offshore for much of the way giving us tantalising glimpses of the coast that we would explore in more detail on our way back.  It was quite windy when we arrived but never-the-less we anchored in a delightful bay just south of the town hoping that the wind would die down in the evening.  Unfortunately, it did not!  After several failed attempts to re-anchor in a more protected spot we finally gave up and made our way into the port.

 

Olbia is a major port with facilities for ferries and cargo vessels of every size and description.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for its provision for small yachts.  After several abortive attempts and in failing light we eventually secured alongside a motor launch on a section of derelict wall.  After five nights in Porto Palma it was something of a culture shock but at least it was calm and sheltered from the wind.

 

The next morning I went shopping leaving Pat on board to guard Retreat.  Anyone listening in to Channel 67 on their VHF would have heard sporadic conversations about the type of tinned tomatoes available or the quality of the fruit on offer.  We are not entirely certain that we complied fully with the regulations governing the use of Maritime Radio but it did prove to be a remarkably efficient exercise!  Unfortunately, our attempts to fill our tanks with water were not and we eventually left without any.

 

From Olbia we travelled a very short distance to a delightful anchorage tucked behind a small island, Isola Porri.  After a peaceful night the wind increased steadily throughout the next day to a maximum of 25 knots.  However, it died down again in the evening and we looked forward to another quiet night.  It was not to be.  By 0330 we had 20 knots and a large, heavy yacht called Paxos had swung uncomfortably close to us.  We decided to set an anchor watch and took turns to stay up for the rest of the night.  By mid-morning we had a steady 30 knots of wind with gusts to 38 knots and Paxos was still too close for comfort.  There have not been many times when we have questioned the wisdom of our chosen life style but by noon that day a small cottage with fixed foundations did seem a remarkably attractive proposition!

 

What a difference a few hours can make!  At 1800 Paxos left and by 2000 the wind had dropped to below 20 knots.  A peaceful night ensued and by late morning we were under way intent upon a closer look at some of the offshore islands just south of Olbia. We anchored for lunch behind a spit at the south-west end of Isola Tavolara.  This dramatic island is three miles long but only half a mile wide and rises to 565 metres sheer from the sea on all sides.

 

After lunch we continued south as far as Porto Brandinchi and then returned to Porto della Taverna where we enjoyed a peaceful night at anchor.  The next day we circumnavigated Isola Tavolara and then motored north, around Capo Figari and into Golfo di Cugnana.  This almost land-locked bay is a popular anchorage for cruising boats although there are no facilities close by.  We chose to walk a mile or so into Porto Rotundo where we were able to stock up on essential provisions.

 

On Wednesday morning we motored the short distance around the headland into Porto Rotundo where, we had learnt the day before, we could moor for a few hours without charge.  We used the opportunity to wash down our decks and take on water for the first time in two weeks.  It was hard work, but a real treat to have full tanks once again. 

 

After our short stay in Porto Rotundo we enjoyed a superb sail across the bay to Cala Volpe, one of the gems in the crown of the Costa Smeralda.  The landscape is of sculptured red granite with low-rise villas, many of them incorporating outcrops of rock into their walls.  The contrast between the turquoise blue crystal clear water and the red granite is exquisite.  What a shame, therefore, that the bay is so heavily polluted with small speedboats and wet bikes.  Mercifully, as our Pilot Book so admirably expresses it, “like wasps and flies they go home at night!”

 

From Cala Volpe we sailed to Porto Cervo, the sailing capital of the Costa Smeralda.  Harbour charges here are reputed to be £100 per night for a yacht our size but fortunately it is possible to anchor off without charge.  We made a brief excursion ashore to the supermarket and to admire some of the huge motor yachts for which this harbour was really built.  No sooner had we returned to Retreat than a wind shift created mayhem in the anchorage.  One large yacht went aground and another swung very close to us.  Having experienced quite enough excitement for one day we weighed anchor and motored around to Porto Palma where we enjoyed a peaceful night.

 

Yesterday, with a forecast of moderate winds we decided to go sailing for the day!  Despite the high winds, or rather because of the high winds, we have sailed very little this year.  We seem to have had either no wind or over 25 knots so the prospect of a good sailing day was not to be missed.  We completed our circumnavigation of Isola La Maddalena almost entirely under sail including a run under our spinnaker, its first airing this year.  We stopped for lunch in a beautiful bay, Cala Francese, and then continued to Cala Garibaldi where we now lie. 

 

P.S.  At 1945, just before I e-mailed this report, the wind dropped from 25 knots to 5 knots in less than 5 minutes giving us the prospect of a peaceful night – we hope!

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 12

 

Moored in the Port de Plaisance, Solenzara, Corsica

 

Saturday 22nd July, 2000

 

MENACE DE TEMPÊTE

 

The hope expressed in the postscript to our last Passage Report was realised and we enjoyed a peaceful night at anchor in Cala Garibaldi.  On the morning of Monday 3rd July we sailed west around Isola La Maddalena to the town and harbour of La Maddalena.  En route we sailed around and between several of the smaller islands of the archipelago and anchored for lunch once again in the beautiful Cala Francese.

 

The reason for putting into harbour was to enable a trip ashore to see something of the interior of Sardinia.  On Tuesday morning we caught the 0830 ferry from La Maddalena to Palau from where we caught ‘Il Treno Verde’ to the inland town of Tempio Pausania.  The narrow gauge train was quite amazing.  It is possible that it was green at some time in its life, but to us it appeared to be rather more of a dirty brown colour.  There were two ancient coaches with upright wooden bench seats and an equally ancient diesel locomotive.  Fortunately, the coaches did have ventilation (open the windows a bit) and air conditioning (open the windows a bit further) so we managed to survive the journey without melting completely.  About half way to Tempio the train stopped to allow every one out for a breather and to allow the engine to cool down.

 

The interior of Sardinia was not at all what we had expected.  The hills are much lower and gentler than those in Corsica and there is considerably more agriculture.  The harvesting of Cork Oak is obviously a major industry and piles of bark could be seen outside factories awaiting processing.  We found Tempio to be an interesting market town though the timing of the trains meant that we were there over lunch so all the shops were closed.  The return journey was slightly faster as it was downhill and by 1930 we were back on board Retreat, our mission accomplished.

 

We spent Wednesday morning shopping and making use of the water on the pontoons to wash down our decks and fill our tanks.  We then motored through what is known as the ‘13ft Passage’ to the by-now-familiar anchorage of Porto Palma.  I was pleased to find that the empty plastic bottles I had used two weeks previously to mark an isolated rock near the anchorage were still there with the addition of a bright red float attached to them.  We spent two nights there with a day trip to Tahiti Bay (Cala Coticcio) on Thursday.

 

The weather forecast on Friday morning predicted strong winds on Saturday, particularly in the Straits of Bonifacio.  We decided to make the passage back to Corsica whilst we had suitable conditions and enjoyed a superb sail, much of it under spinnaker.  After anchoring off for long enough to enjoy a refreshing swim we made fast in Porto Vecchio harbour for the night.

 

We spent two nights in Porto Vecchio harbour making use of the mains electricity to complete a couple of jobs that needed power tools.  On Sunday, with slightly less wind forecast, we motored out of the harbour and anchored north-east of the Commercial Harbour.  We enjoyed the peace of a pleasant day away from the hustle and bustle of the harbour but overnight the wind increased and became very gusty.  The morning forecast was succinct: “Menace de Tempête parage des Bouches de Bonifacio.”  Tempête is the French term for Storm Force 10, which does not produce the ideal conditions for a peaceful anchorage.  We weighed anchor and motored into Porto Vecchio harbour where we made fast with our heaviest ropes.

 

During the course of the day the harbour filled to capacity and by 1600 new arrivals were being turned away.  Up and down the jetties anxious skippers tended their ropes with periodic anxious looks towards the sky.  The sense of apprehension was tangible.  However, by 2000 the wind had dropped and there was an eerie silence.  Had the storm passed us by, or was it still to come?  Our answer arrived at 0100.  At first the sky began to flicker but it was soon illuminated by almost continuous sheet lightening.  As we watched, the town of Porto Vecchio suddenly disappeared from view as a violent squall surged down the mountainside bringing the wind and the rain in its wake.  How glad we were to be securely tied to the quay!  Within 10 minutes it was all over but it was unquestionably the most violent storm we have encountered on our travels.

 

We remained in harbour for a further day and night using our time to re-varnish some of our bright work.  On Wednesday afternoon we motored out of the harbour and anchored off hoping for a peaceful night.  We were not disappointed.  However, the lunch-time forecast the following day once again included those fateful words: “Menace de Tempête parage des Bouches de Bonifacio.”  We decided to head north to Solenzara, away from the Straits and away from the strongest winds.

 

At 1520 on Thursday 13th July we weighed anchor and set sail on what was to be our last passage before returning to England for a month.  We were rewarded by one of our most exhilarating passages of the year making 6.5 to 7 knots under genoa alone in up to 35 knots of wind.  Despite being gale force, the wind was off the land and the sea was flat giving us the excitement without the stress.  However, ten miles north of Porto Vecchio we sailed out of the wind into a flat calm and had to continue our passage under power.  It was very strange to find ourselves becalmed on an oily sea whilst ¼ mile astern we could still see white horses.  The winds are certainly localised around Corsica.

 

We spent our first five days in Solenzara completing our list of maintenance tasks on Retreat and making her ready for her month’s lay-up afloat.  Then, on Wednesday, we travelled by bus to Porto Vecchio to pick up a hire car that we had booked through an agency in Brighton.  Booked in this way the car cost us £80 for four days.  Had we made the booking out here in Corsica, the same car from the same company would have cost us £85 per day!  Perhaps there is some logic in that somewhere, but so far it has defeated us!

 

We made full use of the hire car to explore some of the inland sights of Corsica.  The mountains are truly spectacular and the scenery some of the best in Europe.  We also greatly enjoyed a couple of visits to a private site where, for the modest fee of 20 Francs per head, we were able to walk up a narrow gorge and swim in pools scoured out of the solid granite.  Lying in one of the warm pools at the foot of a cascading waterfall enjoying the warmth of the sun shining out of a clear blue sky is one of the memories that we shall cherish for years to come.

 

Tomorrow morning we shall drop off our hire car at Bastia airport from where we shall catch a charter flight back to Gatwick.  Our plan is to return to Corsica on 20th August and, after a week in an apartment with Mum, resume our cruise on the 28th.  Look out for our next Passage Report, therefore, around the middle of September.

 

Our totals for the first half of the year 2000 were as follows:

 

Distance logged:

1009.0

nautical miles in 105 days

Time spent at sea:

198.0

hours

Time spent under sail:

31.0

hours

Time spent under power:

167.0

hours

 

 

 

Average distance travelled per week:

67.3

nautical miles

Average speed:

5.1

knots

Proportion of time sailing:

15.7

%

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 13

 

Anchored in Cala Chiaia di Luna, Isola di Ponza, Mar Tirreno, Italia

 

Wednesday 6th September, 2000

 

TYRRHENIAN ADVENTURES

 

As I write we are anchored in the centre of what was once the crater of a huge volcano, now drowned by the Tyrrhenian Sea.  As Retreat swings to her anchor we are treated to an ever-changing spectacle of the most fantastic rock formations we have ever seen.  The sea is calm, the sun is hot and all is well with the world.  However, as our story unfolds you will discover that only 12 hours ago we would have told a very different story.

 

We flew back into Corsica on Sunday 20th August and met up with Mum who had arrived at Bastia airport on an earlier flight.  We spent a highly successful week together in an apartment in Favone, just five miles from Solenzara, the port where we had left Retreat a month before.  Mum spent each day on the beach and we did some varnishing on board Retreat and completed the myriad of jobs required to make her ready for sea once more.

 

On Sunday 27th August we drove Mum to the airport, returned our hire car and, after a day in Bastia, caught the only bus of the day back to Solenzara.  By 1700 the following afternoon we were under way once more.  Fifteen and a half hours and seventy eight miles later, including a visit by spectacular leaping dolphins, we were anchored in Cala Canelle off Isola del Giglio.  Our Tyrrhenian adventures had begun.

 

We spent two nights anchored off Giglio during which time I used the under-water breathing apparatus that we carry on board to clean off Retreat’s propeller and hull.  As a result she gained a knot in speed so I felt my efforts were well worth while.

 

A change in wind direction on Thursday afternoon made the anchorages on Giglio untenable and so, with great reluctance, we left this beautiful island in our wake and set a course for Monte Argentario on the Italian mainland.  We arrived at Porto Ercole just after dark and were dismayed to find no room to moor.  However, when near Rome, do as the Romans do!  We anchored in the middle of the harbour along with some 20 or so other yachts and spent a quiet, if somewhat unconventional night completely free of charge.

 

On Friday morning we explored Porto Ercole and enjoyed the fine views from the lighthouse on the top of the cliff overlooking the harbour.  However, when we attempted to leave, our anchor fouled a huge heavy groundchain.  So, out with the diving kit once more and within 20 minutes we were free.  Although one could do without such problems it is always satisfying to be able to solve them with our own resources.

 

After a night at anchor in nearby Cala Galera we set sail on what was to prove to be the first of a series of very similar passages taking us south-east along the Tyrrhenian coast.  Forty miles to Santa Marinella was followed on successive days by 51 miles to Anzio, 26 miles to Circeo and 25 miles to Isola di Ponza.  Each passage started with light south-easterly winds that veered during the morning to give us a comfortable beam reach. Unfortunately, the fair winds were accompanied by a 2-metre swell from the north-west heaped up by distant storms off the Corsican coast making the experience very reminiscent of our passages in the Atlantic swell along the Portuguese coast in 1998.

 

When we arrived off Isola di Ponza yesterday afternoon we spent several hours simply motoring along the coast marvelling at the rock formations.  The whole archipelago of the Pontine Islands consists of the sunken peaks of ancient volcanoes and the twisted rocks are really quite extraordinary.  One bay is bordered by what, to all intents and purposes, is a cross-section of a volcano straight out of a geography textbook, except this volcano is for real!

 

Content with the world we anchored around tea-time and enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the rim of the crater.  During the evening the wind died away and we looked forward to a peaceful night.  How wrong can one be?  At midnight we were woken by a change in motion of our boat and arose to find a rapidly-increasing wind blowing into our anchorage.  By 0015 the wind had increased to 20 knots but we managed to weigh anchor without too much difficulty.  Our problem then was where to go?  The easterly wind that had destroyed the tranquillity of our anchorage was also blowing straight into the only harbour on the island.  There were some bays on the other side of the island that might be protected but getting there in the dark through rock-strewn waters was not an option.  Fortunately, whilst looking at the rock formations earlier in the day we had circled the harbour and I had noted one possible corner that might be protected in an easterly wind.  We decided to go for it, only to discover, of course, a dozen or more yachts making for the one remaining berth!  However, whilst others tarried to weigh up their options we dropped our anchor and reversed into the slot.  We were home, but not yet dry!

 

Although protected from the open sea, a huge surge made its way into the inner harbour where we had moored.  Chaos reigned supreme.  More and more yachts arrived with increasing levels of desperation only to find no place to moor.  Small local boats rushed hither and thither doing whatever they could and the Guardia Costiera helped incoming boats to make fast.  About 0130 the lifeboat towed in a catamaran holed in one hull and listing heavily.  We all held our breath as we felt sure it would turn over and sink before our eyes but, as if in answer to our prayers, it was still afloat in the morning.  By 0200 the rush was over and we attempted to get some rest. We cannot claim to have slept very much but at least we were safe.

 

At 0730 this morning the Guardia Costiera asked all the sheltering  yachts to move as the berths we were occupying were needed by the ferries.  In the safety of daylight we picked our way through the rocks to the lee of the island and anchored in the peace and tranquillity of Cala Chiaia di Luna where we now lie.  We have no guarantee that the wind will not change again tonight, such is the nature of sailing.  If it does we shall have another disturbed night with, as the classical scholars amongst you will know, Odysseus very much to blame.  Aeoleus, the god of the winds gave him the contrary winds tied up in a bag, but his sailors opened it up believing there to be treasure inside.  We would be happy to forego the treasure for a peaceful night but to find out if we get it, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 14

 

On Passage from Amalfi towards Agropoli, Italy

 

Sunday 17th September, 2000

 

IN THE SHADOW OF VESUVIUS

 

As I write we are on passage under power under stormy clouds with a rather unsettled sea.  The sky looks lighter towards the south, the direction in which we are heading, so we are hoping for an improvement.

 

We never did get our peaceful night in Cala Chiaia di Luna.  The contrary winds blew again and we had to move back to the eastern side of Isola Ponza.  Fortunately, they then ceased their little games and we were not disturbed again that night.

 

On Thursday 7th September we made a 24-mile passage from Isola Ponza to Isola Ventotene, one of the eastern group of the Isole Pontine.  A large school of dolphins crossed our track on the way staying to play on our bow wave for a while.  It is always magical when dolphins appear and we never cease to be entranced by them.  This school had a small baby swimming with them making it particularly exciting.

 

We moored bows to the quay in Porto Nuova on Isola Ventotene and, after lunch, enjoyed a walk along the entire length of this small island.  When we returned one of the local Ormeggiatori (harbour staff) came along to each boat to tell us that a north-easterly gale was imminent.  Porto Nuova is protected from all directions except one - you’ve guessed it - north-east! 

 

With nowhere else to go we rigged our heavy-duty mooring ropes and shock-absorbing stainless-steel springs and waited.  By the next morning the wind was blowing at force 7 from the north-east and it continued at that strength and direction for two full days and nights.  Retreat rolled heavily making life very uncomfortable and, as we had pulled well off from the quay, we could not get off to go ashore.  To make matters worse we were being deluged with spray every time a wave broke over the top of the harbour wall.  However, at least we were safe and we were able to make friends with a Dutch couple moored next door.

 

Monday morning dawned quiet and windless - it was wonderful!  We took off our heavy ropes and removed as much as possible of the thick layer of salt that was covering everything.  We then made a twenty-five mile passage to Isola d’Ischia, the northern sentinel guarding the entrance to the Bay of Naples.  We anchored in the lee of Castello d’Ischia and went ashore to see a little of this very popular island.  With crowded beaches and hoards of tourists we did not find it to our taste at all.

 

After a peaceful night we motored for nineteen miles across the Bay of Naples to Torre del Greco.  As we drew closer the unmistakable outline of Mount Vesuvius gradually took shape as it thrust itself through the thick haze that had enveloped the whole area.  Torre del Greco is a very dilapidated town with an unkempt appearance and litter everywhere.  However, the people were very helpful and friendly and it served us well as a base for three days whilst we explored some of the sites in the area.

 

Our first visit was to Herculaneum, the smaller of the two cities destroyed by the major eruption of Vesuvius on 24th August, 79 A.D. and since excavated to reveal a substantial proportion of the Roman city.  Herculaneum was enveloped by a thick layer of mud that preserved much of the fabric of the buildings, including the wooden timbers.  Some of the buildings, therefore, are remarkably complete.

 

Spurred on by our fascinating visit to Herculaneum, we spent the whole of the next day at Pompeii.  The guide books all say that this is the site that surpasses all others and we would not disagree.  The scale of the ruins is huge and the richness and splendour of the ancient city still very evident.  Walking through the streets past small shops and lavish villas is like passing through a time warp.  You can almost see the Romans going about their daily tasks and hear the roar of the lions in the huge amphitheatre.

 

Unlike Herculaneum, which received warning of the mud flow allowing most of its inhabitants to escape, Pompeii was first engulfed by a silent flow of scalding poisonous gas from which there was nowhere to hide.  This was followed by layer upon layer of ash that buried the buildings and their occupants where ever they happened to be when the gas cloud struck.  In the subsequent excavations of the site, any voids found in the solidified ash were injected with plaster of Paris.  Some of the casts obtained in this way revealed the details of wooden doors and other artefacts, but the most fascinating were of complete human bodies exactly as they fell almost 2,000 years ago.  Many of the casts of bodies have been removed and placed in museums, but a substantial number can still be seen around the site.  The skeletons are still complete within the casts and in many, facial expressions are clearly visible.  They provide a human element to the story of the city in a particularly chilling and evocative manner.

 

With the fate of the inhabitants still vivid in our minds we journeyed the next day to the very summit of Vesuvius.  Our journey there was not without incident as, almost at the top, the bus conductor collapsed.  An ambulance was called and, after treatment, he regained consciousness and was taken off to hospital. 

 

Despite the undeniable fascination of Pompeii we always find the works of God infinitely more magnificent than the works of man.  Vesuvius has an almost perfectly formed hollow cone at its summit and, having got off the bus at 1,000 metres, we walked the final 270 metres to the edge of the rim so that we could look down inside.  We then walked half way around the rim stunned by the truly awesome power of this giant of nature.  It had been a hard walk to the summit but the experience was unforgettable.

 

The problems with the conductor in the morning disrupted the schedule of buses with the result that 100 people were waiting for the 55 seater bus that departed at 1530.  Some 80 or so were squeezed on but the remainder, including us, were left stranded.  With two hours before the next and final bus, and no guarantee that there would be enough room for us even then, we began to feel that our day was jinxed.  However, a walk through the car park revealed an English couple about to set forth downwards with two empty seats.  A plaintive word from Pat and we were on our way.  It was obviously her day for communication as, on our final leg home by bus she was chatted up by a 70 year old Italian!

 

On Friday morning we motored out of Torre del Greco and south-south-west to Isola di Capri. Unlike the Pontine islands and Ischia, which are volcanic, Capri is an outcrop of limestone with huge cliffs and dramatic natural sculptures.  It is deservedly known as the Pearl of the Bay of Naples.  We circumnavigated the island and made the almost obligatory pass between Punta di Tragara and Isola Faraglioni, a dramatic stack just off the south-east corner.

 

Leaving Capri behind we enjoyed a superb passage along the Costiera Amalfitana to Amalfi.  The huge limestone cliffs and towering mountains illuminated by the late afternoon sun produced a spectacle to match any that we have seen since leaving Brighton.  The passage took us past the Islotti Li Galli, said to be the islands of the Sirens of which Circe warned Odysseus:  “Drive your ship past this place, and so that your men do not hear the song of the Sirens, soften some beeswax and with it seal their ears.”  Pat must have followed Circe’s advice well for I heard nothing as we passed!

 

We spent two nights in Amalfi, a port that we had not originally intended to visit.  It turned out to be one of our most memorable.  The setting is spectacular at the foot of a narrow gorge cut deeply into the towering limestone cliffs.  Yesterday we caught a bus to Ravello, a picturesque town high above Amalfi.  After a look around the town we followed the old mule trail down through the gorge back to Amalfi.  The trail took us through vineyards and citrus groves and gave us ever-changing views of the coast below.  The walk was definitely not to be missed, but we were very pleased to have gravity working in a favour!

 

We left Amalfi at 0920 this morning and are now heading into the southern third of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  With the Bay of Naples behind us we shall encounter fewer marinas and more fishing harbours.  To find out how we get on, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 15

 

Moored in Reggio di Calabria on the toe of Italy

 

Saturday 30th September, 2000

 

VOLCANOES AND FLYING FISH

 

The weather did improve as we approached Agropoli and we spent a very pleasant evening anchored just east of the harbour.  Unfortunately, a low swell then came in from the north-east giving us a very rolly night.  We set off in the morning to continue our journey south but, as soon as we came out from the lee of Punta Tresino, we faced a head wind and an uncomfortable, lumpy sea.  Furthermore, the weather forecast was predicting a rapid increase in the wind from the south.  We decided to give precedence to comfort and returned to Agropoli, this time mooring inside the harbour in the ‘zona transito’ a section of quay reserved for boats on passage and for which no charge is made.  A short time later another British yacht, Eowyn, came into the harbour and moored alongside us.  We may have been harbour-bound, but at least we had company.

 

We spent four nights moored in Agropoli harbour waiting for the wind to abate during which time we visited the archaeological site at Paestum.  This includes three of the most complete Greek temples to be found in Italy and, together with the bus journey there and back, made a very interesting day out.

 

On Friday 22nd September we waved goodbye to Dudley and Pat on Eowyn and motored out of Agropoli harbour.  Eight hours and forty-three miles later we made fast in the ‘zona transito’ at Marina di Scario.  Despite its name, this is not a marina at all but a small, very pretty fishing harbour at the foot of the impressive Monte Bulgheria.  With the weather forecast now predicting a high pressure building over our area and a consequent period of calm weather we spent the next morning planning our trip to the Aeolian islands and replacing the two drive belts on the engine after we discovered that one was cracked right through.  At 1530 we cast off and pointed our bows south towards Isola Stromboli, seventy-five miles away.

 

Our night passage, albeit under power, was absolutely magical.  The sea was flat, the air was warm, the sky was clear and the visibility was excellent.  As we were only two days after the autumnal equinox we knew as we watched the sun set at 1854 that it would be a full 12 hours before it rose again.  We stood two-hour watches from 2000 onwards but, so beautiful was the scene that, rather than finding difficulty in getting up for our next watch, we were both reluctant to go to bed at the end.

 

Shortly before midnight I caught my first glimpse of Stromboli, still 30 miles distant.  A red glow appeared suddenly in the sky just off our port bow and then, within five or six seconds it disappeared.  As I handed over the watch to Pat I was beginning to wonder whether I had imagined it.  Not at all: as we drew nearer the spectacle became clearer and clearer.  Roughly every fifteen minutes an eruption flared into the night sky confirming the notion of Stromboli as the ‘oldest lighthouse in the world.’  The sailors amongst you may wish to note that its characteristics appear to be L Fl R 900 sec.  By 0430 we were 10 miles off and could clearly see showers of molten rock each time it erupted.  We zigzagged back and forth marvelling at the sight and then, at 0650, we witnessed a perfect sunrise.  It was the end of a truly spectacular night.

 

As the sun rose we circumnavigated Stromboli and then headed south once more towards Isola Vulcano.  As if our journey had not been exciting enough already, this section of our passage brought us a visit by dolphins and our first confirmed sighting of flying fish.  These strange creatures are normally associated with tropical waters but they seem to find the warm waters of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea to their liking.  They propel themselves out of the water with a flick of their tail and glide just above the surface for 50 metres or more on out-stretched elongated fins.  I also saw what might have been a young swordfish and Pat saw what may have been pipefish.  How we could have done with Katy to correctly identify them for us!  At 1335, 22 hours and 109 miles after leaving Scario, we anchored in Porto di Levante on Isola Vulcano bringing this most memorable of passages to an end.

 

We spent three nights anchored off Vulcano in perfect, calm conditions.  The island is, without doubt, one of the most fascinating places that we have visited on our travels.  Just inshore from our anchorage we found hot mud pools that are said to be very therapeutic.  Hot gas bubbles up through the mud turning the whole area into a giant jacuzzi.  We joined the masses to wallow for a while and I coated myself with the thick sulphurous ooze just to keep in the spirit of the place.  We then went for a dip in the sea to wash it all off again!  It too has hot spots where gas bubbles up from cracks in the seabed.  It was altogether quite a surreal experience.

 

On our second day we walked to the top of Gran Cratere, the main crater still classified as active.  It does not erupt like Stromboli, but there are jets of gas and steam that pour out from fissures known as fumeroles.  Around some of these we saw beautiful crystals of sulphur and what I think must have been cobalt.  The walk to the top was hard, but it was most definitely worthwhile.

 

Much of our third day was spent mending a broken tensioning screw on our engine but we did manage a walk to the top of Vulcanello in the afternoon.  This is a much smaller, extinct crater to the north of Gran Cratere, but it is never-the-less very impressive with beautiful views over the Bocche di Vulcano, the narrow strait between Isola Vulcano and Isola Lipari.

 

We weighed anchor on Wednesday morning and, after motoring around Isola Vulcano, made a 23 mile passage to Milazzo on Sicily.  We moored in the ‘zona transito’ and set off to buy some much-needed supplies.  To our horror we discovered that all the food shops in Milazzo close on Wednesdays!  I could have had my hair cut at any of five barbers or we could have bought any number of mobile phones, but food was not to be found.  It was going to take skill and imagination to feed us that night which, of course, Pat provided as always.  Whilst she was cooking, I was consulting tide tables for the first time since entering the Mediterranean in preparation for our trip through the Strait of Messina, the narrow strip of water between Sicily and the Italian mainland.

 

We set off at 0800 on Thursday morning in order to make the most of the favourable tide through the Strait to Reggio di Calabria where we now lie.  At the narrowest point, where the stream was at its strongest, we recorded a speed over the ground of 10.0 knots.  We encountered some overfalls and swirls in the water, but we are pleased to say that the giant whirlpool known to the ancients as Charybdis failed to swallow us up.  Yesterday, with a forecast of strong winds from the south, we walked into the town and ate lunch at the first McDonalds we have encountered since leaving Gatwick.  By the time we returned to Retreat the sky was looking very threatening indeed.  We put on our heavy duty ropes and shock-absorbing springs just in time as, by nightfall, the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening began.  The thunder storm continued throughout the night and much of this morning and only now (lunchtime) has the rain begun to ease.  With the bad weather forecast to continue for at least two more days it is looking as if we may be here for some time.  To find out for how long, look out for our next Passage Report.

 

 

 

 

Passage Report Number 16

 

Moored in Lazzaretto Creek, Malta

 

Sunday 15th October, 2000

 

JOURNEY’S END

 

The bad weather kept us in Reggio di Calabria for a further two days.  Indeed, the sea conditions were so bad that even the ferries bound for Malta stayed in port.  With little to see in the immediate area we spent much of our time writing Port Reports for the Cruising Association.  If they prove to be helpful to fellow members, at least someone will have benefited from our enforced stay in a rather drab harbour.

 

On Tuesday 3rd October we awoke to a flat calm but a forecast of a southerly force 7.  Such contradictions always engender much heart-searching, especially when, as on this occasion, our intended destination was over 30 miles away with no intermediate harbours.  However, although ‘good seamanship’ seemed to demand that we stayed on our mooring, we decided to set sail promising ourselves that if the conditions worsened we would turn back.  In the event we need not have worried.  We motored all the way to Riposto on the Sicilian coast with little or no wind except for a relatively brief period of force 7 whilst a thunderstorm passed over head.  We retreated down below and kept watch through our large windows and emerged after the storm had passed to a stunning view of The Etna, snow-capped and smouldering on the skyline.

 

A forty-mile passage on Wednesday took us to Siracusa where we moored bows to our anchor, stern to the town quay.  Although we motored all the way, the passage was very eventful.  An hour and a half out of Riposto we were stopped by the Guardia Finanza, the Italian Customs, who wished to check our papers.  They were very friendly and chatty and, having completed their task, sent us on our way with a cheerful wave.  A short time later we had five further visitors: a pod of dolphins.  They stayed with us for a full half-hour, swimming alongside and playing in our bow wave.  The water was so clear that we could see individual markings on their skin.  It was quite magical!  No sooner had they left than we saw what we very much hoped would not become our third visitor of the day, a waterspout.  It formed under the heavy thundercloud to our east and was clearly visible for about ten minutes.  Fortunately, it kept its distance and we enjoyed clear skies and warm sun for the majority of the passage.

 

The following day we motored a further twenty-nine miles around the south-eastern tip of Sicily to the partially-protected fishing harbour of Porto Palo.  Here we anchored for what remained of the day and at least part of the night.  Maltese Customs Officers work only during normal office hours and so, with a fifty-two mile passage to Malta from Porto Palo, we had no option but to make an early start.  So it was that at 0230 on Friday 6th October we weighed anchor and set forth on our final passage of the year.  For once Aeoleus was kind to us and, at dawn, sent a perfect sailing breeze.  With a force four, gradually increasing to force five at 60 degrees off the starboard bow Retreat was in her element and fairly romped along.  We were delighted to be sailing at last!

 

Despite dire warnings in the Pilot of heavy-handed bureaucracy, clearing into Malta presented no problems.  Certainly the officials produced a fair fistful of forms, but they filled them all in as they asked their questions and merely presented them to be signed.  It all took less than ten minutes following which we were directed to a berth on the north side of Lazzaretto Creek (map) where we moored bows to our anchor, stern to the quay.  After making Retreat fast we disappeared below for some much-needed sleep.

 

Since arriving here we have made a start on what is becoming a well-rehearsed routine to lay up Retreat for the winter.  With the engine to service, sails to wash and mend, the dinghy to paint, the woodwork to varnish and yet more windows to repair we shall certainly not be getting bored.  Lazzaretto Creek is a very popular spot to over-winter so that, just as in Almerimar two years ago, there are plenty of fellow ‘yachties’ around to talk to and to lend one another a hand when needed. There are a number of excellent chandlers and engineering workshops nearby and, for day-to-day requirements, the town of Sliema is only a quarter of an hour away on foot.  The supermarkets stock large quantities of imported British goods including Marmite, Gold Blend Coffee and many of the other items that we normally have to bring back with us from the UK.  There are also branches of Marks and Spencer, British Home Stores, Boots the Chemist, McDonalds and Burger King and, as if all this were not sufficient help, everyone speaks perfect English.

 

We shall be returning to the UK somewhere around the middle of November and, of course, hope to meet as many of you as possible during our stay.  Retreat will spend her winter here and will be waiting to take us on further adventures when we return next year.  Look out for our next Passage Report sometime in the spring to find out where she will be heading.