Arrivederci Italy!

As planned, we departed Licata and headed for Marina Ragusa.  We don’t typically spend a lot of time in marinas, but we were very curious about this marina.  We have seen a lot of debate on our sailing forums discussing whether the marina in Licata or the marina in Ragusa is better for living on the boat during the winter months.  Sicily is the warmest spot in winter in Europe.  We wanted to do our due diligence and visit them both to decide for ourselves (who knows, we might want to spend a winter out here).  They were both very nice marinas, but Ragusa was our favorite.  The marina sits on the edge of a very touristy beach town which meant we had miles of a lungomare (seafront boardwalk) that we could walk.  This was lined with lots of restaurants and bars along with beach chairs and umbrellas.  Definitely a beautiful and vibrant seaside town.  We decided to rent a car and head to the actual town of Ragusa to check it out.

Zoe tied up in Marina Ragusa.
Sand sculptures on the beach at Marina Ragusa

The town of Ragusa sits high up on a hill and is famous for it’s Baroque style of architecture (it is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Adorning the city is the Duomo di San Giorgio, a number of beautiful churches, and a large public park with a church, fountains and statues.  The city is flanked on either side by two deep valleys which offer amazing views.  I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

UNESCO town of Ragusa high in the hills
Strolling the beautiful park
War memorial in the park
Ragusa is surrounded by valleys. Very defendable location back in the day.
Shopping for unique Sicilian treats in town
View of the Baroque cathedral

After thoroughly exploring the town of Ragusa, we headed to our next stop, the town of Modica (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Unlike our last stop, Modica rests at the bottom of a deep gorge.  Just like Ragusa, Modica is known for it’s Baroque architecture as well.  One of the most beautiful examples of this was the Cathedral of St. George.  Modica is known for a 400 year old tradition of chocolate making, and the streets are lined with chocolate shops and tasting rooms.  There is even a chocolate museum.  Of course, we had to check out the museum!  In the museum, it explains all about the chocolate making process, but the really interesting part is all the artwork and sculptures are made of… guessed it, chocolate!  Since Sicily was once part of the Spanish kingdom, they were one of the first places in all of Europe to receive treasures brought back from South America (namely, Cacao).  Their chocolate recipe, methods and flavorings are based on the Aztecs method of chocolate making.  We wandered into one store and were overwhelmed by the number of flavors of chocolate you could buy.  They had flavors of various alcohols and liqueurs, various kinds of herbs and spices, fruits, and more!  It is a very different kind of chocolate in that it is mainly made with cocoa and sugar and mixed in a cold-working process.  They add no fats.  It contains only the cocoa butter that is naturally found in the cocoa beans.  By using this cold process, the sugar crystals are kept whole which does give it a rather grainy kind of texture.  So, Dan and I had a little bit of fun picking out a variety of flavors (did I mention there were 100’s to choose from).

Ornate church in Modica
Believe it or not you can eat this statue of chocolate
Marilyn Monroe in cacao!
Chocolate factory, Italian style
So. Many. To. Choose. From!!!
Strolling Modica with a pistachio cannoli.
Another fabulous church in the center of Modica

We left Modica for our final stop in the town of Scicli.  This was a lesser known town than the two we previously visited and also sits in a gorge.  The town is overlooked by a towering rock where the Church of San Matteo sits.  This town is also made up of Baroque style architecture.  Unfortunately, we had reached mid afternoon and the temperatures were soaring.  Plus after walking miles and miles, we were hot and tired.  We wandered around a little bit, and then headed off to a little restaurant built into the stone hill where we enjoyed an authentic Sicilian appetizer and a glass of Prosecco.  All in all, it was a very fun day!  I am in love with this part of Sicily.

Unesco town of Scicli – third stop soon the Baroque town tour
Every corner you turn it’s just beautiful
Late lunch in a cave in a hill
Back to the boat with chocolate booty

This was the end of our exploration of the south side of Sicily.  There really wasn’t much else to see (by sea, anyway) on the southern side.  It was time to start making our way back around toward mainland Italy.  Our next destination was the town of Syracusa.  Since it was a very long passage, we broke up the journey with an overnight anchorage along the way.  We also felt a very strong need to scrub the hulls of Zoe.  After sitting in the Licata Marina for 2 months, Zoe had grown a disgusting beard of algae, plant life and barnacles…..ewwww!  Not to mention all this growth was slowing down our speed through the water.  Let me tell you, scrubbing that crap off was hard and gross.  The crystal clear water became clouded with debris, but Zoe looked a lot better.

Entering historic Siracusa harbor

The next day we pulled into the anchorage outside of Siracusa.  We had a crackin’ good sail almost the whole way down.  Unfortunately, it was blowing 25 knots in the anchorage when we pulled in.  This made anchoring extremely challenging.  It sets the anchor really fast, but trying to get the 5 meter bridle onto the chain and dropped before the anchor chain ripped our bowsprit off was not fun!  It required Dan to motor full throttle forward just to hold us in place.  With that done, we sat down and rode out the blow in very choppy water.  Not fun.  We made arrangements the next day to come into the marina.  It was suppose to be blowy again, and it’s a long dinghy ride to get to the town if you are out at anchor.  Given the waves and chop in the anchorage, there was no way we were going to dinghy to town.  We had friends from Canada meeting us here.  They had come sailing with us in Croatia last year, and they had picked up their new catamaran in April in France.  Our paths finally crossed here in Sicily.

The next morning, we pulled into the marina and were somewhat disappointed to see that they were going to park us on the outside of the pontoon.  At the time, there were 2 other boats here as well.  The marinero helped us secure the boat all the while assuring us that it was perfectly fine.  We ended up with 4 lines from the seabed to our bow (usually only two….that probably should have been alarm bell number 1).  We then had 2 stern lines and 2 mid ship spring lines.  If that sounds like a lot of lines, it is!  We must’ve looked a little uneasy because he kept assuring us that everything was good, and the wind would be gone by 7 p.m.  I’m sure you see where this is going.  The winds came up fast and furious as the waves crashed into and over the dock.  The anchorage would’ve been safer, but at this point we could not even get off of our boat to cast our lines and go.  We were stuck riding out the most wicked wind and seas while tied to a dock.  It was miserable, and we became the photo op for every boat safely tucked inside the marina.  Did I forget to mention the two boats that were on the dock had left a long time ago?  We were suppose to meet our friends for dinner at 8:30, but it was impossible to safely get off our boat because the wind did NOT die down at 7:00.  As a matter of fact, we were not able to safely get off our boat until 9:30!  So, we met up with our friends and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the beautiful town of Syracusa.  I think the marina felt sorry for us, so the next day they moved us to a very nice spot INSIDE the marina.  Here we spent 2 glorious days safely tied up and free to come and go off of Zoe.

This is not what the marina promised us!
White caps while next to a dock. Not a great feeling. But we made it through!

Syracusa is definitely one of my favorite spots on the eastern side of Sicily (Taormina being also a favorite).  Not far from the town itself is an amazing archaeological park of both Greek and Roman ruins.  It was about a 25 minute walk to the park where we explored miles of incredible sites.  I will let the pictures do the talking for this bit.

The ancient Greek theater of Siracusa
Theater is on the left….ancient skyboxes on the right?
Romans built there own theater for gladiator style performances
Marble quarry next door to the theater
Wandering the beautiful grounds of the Archaeological park

Thanks to some new American friends we made in Albania, we learned about a local street market in town.  We LOVED this market.  Not only was there an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, but we found fresh fish mongers, cheese makers, sausage makers, a variety of local products, and huge stands of herbs, seasonings,  olives, and sun-dried tomato spreads.  We loaded up on lots of goodies and returned again 2 days later to load up some more!  As most cities in Italy, Syracusa has a beautiful Duomo in the center of the city.  We loved wandering the cobbled streets of this beautiful city.  We also enjoyed a couple of nice dinners in town with our Canadian friends as well as a really fun night aboard their boat with snacks and wine…..lots and lots of amazing French wine.

Happy hour onboard our friends boat anchored nearby.
When they do after dinner aperitifs in Siracusa they do it right!
Wandering Siracusa duomo by night
Church in Siracusa Duomo
Artist painting Sicilian pottery

After returning from the street market Monday morning, it was time to get underway.  The weather was starting to take a turn for worse around mainland Italy and across the Adriatic (our route back to Greece).  We said farewell to our friends and began our overnight journey from Sicily to Crotone.  We were very much looking forward to seeing our Italian friends again and spending some time in Crotone.  Along the journey, I spotted several young sea turtles (I say young because they were not very big) and some dolphins on the hunt.  That always makes these long passages more fun.  After 28 hours of beating into the wind and waves, we decided to drop anchor for the night and get some rest.  We were still about 3 hours from Crotone, and we would’ve had to try and anchor in the dark.

Buying unique Sicilian spices at the street market
Dolphin sighting! And what a jump!
Sunset near Mount Etna as we head towards the Italian mainland
Dropping anchor at Capo Rizzuto on the mainland

That night, we reviewed several forecasts and discovered that the weather had worsened and wasn’t forecasted to change for a week.  Since that is as far out as they forecast, it could’ve continued for longer.  We were forced to make the painful decision that the next day was our best window of opportunity to get across the sea and back into Greece.  This meant no visit to Crotone or Otranto which were high on our list of “must see again!”  One minor problem…..we were required to turn in our Constituto upon leaving the country (this is a document that tracks where we have been in Italy).  Closest port authority to turn in said document….Crotone….3 hours out of our way.  We agonized over the idea of just leaving and not turning it   In, but the fear of being banned from coming back to Italy or receiving a hefty fine weighed heavily on our mind.  So much for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we got up at 5:00 a.m. to do the right thing.  We got to Crotone, anchored outside the harbor, and Dan went in to return our Constituto and pick up some Sardella and fresh fish.  We were back on our way at 10:00 a.m.  This leg of the journey would take us from Crotone, Italy to Preveza, Greece (a 30 hour passage)!  The seas were calm (yeah!) but that meant so were the winds (boo), so we had no sailing….all motoring….hello big diesel bill 🙁  Dan and I followed our typical pattern of 4.5 hours on and 4.5 hours off.  In my attempt to get better at not getting stuck with most of the night shifts, I managed to land myself the 11:00 to 3:30 a.m. shift.  Unfortunately, the moon rise was really late on this day, so my shift was in pitch black.  I hate pitch black!  I could not see the horizon….could not see where the sea ended and the sky began….ugh.  However, the stars were beautiful, and I did get to see a shooting star.  I also got to see the moon rise which was spectacular!  At 2/3 full and bright orange, I watched as it arose from the depths of the dark sea to cast a beautiful glow across the water to Zoe.  Ahhh, much happier now.  Well, sort of.  I’m not sure if it was lack of sleep or not enough water (or both), but I ended up with a wicked bout of vertigo which lasted for 2 days.  At one point, I thought one of the hulls must be taking on water because the boat was tipping to one side.  Turns out, it was not the boat….it was me.  Yikes.  I suffered through my watch and was very grateful when Dan relieved me.  Not to mention, the sweet man let me sleep a couple of hours past his shift in the hopes I would feel better.  I did not 🙁

Moonrise on Robyn’s watch
Sunrise is always the best part of an overnight watch!

At 5:30 p.m., we arrived in Preveza, Greece.  We are safely sitting at anchor and will head into the marina tomorrow to ride out some wicked weather due to start Saturday night and make for an all day, nasty Sunday.  It feels good to be home, but I do miss Italy a lot!

Safe passage from Italy to Greece. Time for Greek Ouzo!

Sailing Interruptus

It’s hard to believe we finally made it back! The trip back to the US was as painful as we expected, but luckily we gave ourselves plenty of days to get home. To briefly recap, we made the journey home back in mid July for my son’s wedding and to finally close on our new home. The wedding was held about 2 hours north of where we live (Phoenix) in a mountain town called Flagstaff. This is a great place for a July wedding in Arizona since it is about 20 degrees cooler (-11.1 degrees Celsius cooler) than where we live. The ceremony took place in the forest among the pine trees and was absolutely beautiful. It was a spectacular weekend of fun with family and friends. About 10 days later, we took possession of our new home. We ended up staying in Arizona a few weeks longer than we initially had planned in order to try and get somewhat moved into our home. In the end, we managed to get most of the way moved in, but there is still a lot more to do when we finally return for the winter (ugh).

Proud mom presenting her son for marriage
Beautiful ceremony in the pine forest of Northern Arizona
Now presenting the McCulloughs!
Move day at the new house we built. Had our grandson along!
A local kayak trip with some friends before heading back to Europe

August 27th arrived, and it was time to make our way back to Zoe.  The chaos of summer travel in a post pandemic era had not let up, and I was dreading making this trip yet again.  We ended up flying from Phoenix to Chicago (arriving at midnight) and spending the night before catching an early morning flight to London Heathrow.  We arrived in London around 11:00 pm and then had to take an hour long Uber ride to Gatwick Airport, where we spent another night.  Bright and early the next morning, we caught our flight to Catania, Sicily.  We made it out of the airport only to discover that we had missed the bus to Licata by 5 minutes.  To make matters worse, they had cancelled the next bus which meant we had to sit at the airport (on a concrete bench) for 2 hours before the next bus.  Since this now put us in rush hour, our 2 hour bus ride took closer to 2 hours and 45 minutes.  We left the US Saturday afternoon and did not arrive to Zoe until Monday evening.  Needless to say, I was not a very happy person when we finally made it back to Zoe.  Hopefully, the journey home at the end of October will be far less painful  🤞.

Well, now that you are all caught up, let’s resume our journey in Sicily.  Since we arrived in Licata with little time before our departure, we decided to spend some extra time here and do a little exploring (plus we had our spot in the marina paid until September 6th…..why let that go to waste?).  The marina here is quite nice.  There are a couple of restaurants onsite, a supermarket within walking distance, and the breakwater is constructed in a way that provides an excellent (and very popular) exercise route.  About halfway down the breakwater, you will encounter about 20 cats and a cat condominium (I kid you not!).  Okay, so I don’t really think the little trailer is strictly for the cats, but we aren’t entirely sure who the little trailer belongs to.  The cats are definitely inhabitants, but I’m pretty sure they are not the ones responsible for the empty beer bottles.  Since it sits perched over a fish farm below, we theorize that it’s more of a watch station for someone (I can only imagine the way it looks inside with all those cats running around 🤢).  If you walk in the opposite direction, you will find one of the tallest lighthouses in Europe and a beautiful monument to the fallen and missing Italian sailors at the port entrance.  Just beyond the port, there is a huge expanse of beautiful, sand beach and a large swimming area nestled inside a reef.  Unlike cat alley, this area was home to lots and lots of stray dogs.  One in particular decided to befriend us for our entire beach walk.  Ironically, when a couple of barking dogs charged towards us, our little buddy barked back, and they turned around a left us alone.  I guess he advised them that we were okay people…..haha.

One of the tallest lighthouses in Europe.
Cat sanctuary…there were so many!
Breakwater cats of Licata
A statue to safeguard the local fisherman

A few fun facts about Sicily in general… is the biggest and most highly populated island in the Mediterranean.  It is also one of the hilliest and most mountainous parts of Italy.  Interestingly, you will find a tremendous amount of Greek influence here in Sicily as they founded many of the coastal cities which still exist today.  As a result, there are some incredible, well preserved ruins of temples, theaters and monuments left behind from ancient times.  Okay, enough of the history lesson.  There is a method to my madness.  I tell you all of this as a precursor to our latest excursion off the boat.

A 45 minute drive outside of Licata brought us to the hilltop city of Agrigento, home to the Valley of the Temples.  We spent several hours wandering the vast archaeological site which is home to many well preserved Greek temples.  In an effort to not bore you with too much of a history lesson, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Valley of the Temples
The sights from antiquity were amazing
Exploring the ruins
Last remnants of an ancient Toga party

After thoroughly exploring the grounds in the blazing, hot sun, we headed off to our next excursion.  We drove through the town of Naro where a castle sits upon the highest point.  Here, we found breathtaking views of the valley below and the sea just beyond.  We did not spend a lot of time here since we had an appointment at a local winery for a tasting and lunch.  We arrived at Bonsignore Vineyard where we were greeted by the owner.  He and his wife had basically sold up everything to buy the vineyard and accompanying villa.  They had renovated the villa as their home and over time, have plans to create rooms for guests to spend time in the vineyards.  We began our adventure in their courtyard where we were treated to a tasting of 3 of their wines.  Each one was quite delicious (and award winning).  We were then able to choose a bottle to accompany our luncheon.  The lunch was also spectacular.  We experienced 4 or 5 different courses made of local, organic ingredients specific to the region.  After our extremely filling lunch, we wandered out to the vines where we learned a little about the grapes, their progression from vine to wine, and had a little taste straight off the vine.  Since we were the only 2 at the vineyard, it was really a unique and special experience.  In case you were wondering…..yes, of course we bought some bottles of wine to bring back to the boat (and they gave us a couple of bottles of their house made olive oil)! YUM!

The mountain town of Naro
Castle at the top of the hill
Luigi explaining the organic wines made at the vineyard
A wonderful picnic lunch on the winery grounds
Exploring the vineyard- it’s close to harvest time
Luigi and his wife (the winemaker) made for a great day!

It was an amazing day.  We love our time on the sea, but the best part of being in this part of the world is exploring the past and immersing ourselves in the culture, people and places.  We plan to spend a few more weeks in Sicily before making our way back to Greece.  While we won’t have time to see all the places we had hoped to, we do plan on returning soon.  This year our focus will be exploring the southern and eastern portions of Sicily itself.  When we return, we will focus on the remaining coastline and the surrounding islands.  Before I leave you here in Licata, one more fun fact about this area….Licata was one of the first cities liberated during WWII by American and British forces in 1943… cool is that?  Anyway, we are thrilled to be back on Zoe and will be getting underway soon.  Our plan is to get set sail tomorrow morning and make our way 6 hours east to the town of Ragusa.  Standby for more adventures from the beautiful island of Sicily!

Sicily Here We Come!

Sadly, our time in Crotone had come to an end.  This place definitely holds a special place in our heart after spending time here, and I would have loved to stay longer, but it was time to get some miles on.  We had our weather window, so we bid farewell to Crotone at 12:30 in the afternoon for our 23 hour passage to Sicily.  I’m always scheming to try and minimize my time on shift in the dark, but somehow I always manage to screw myself.  This time was no different.  I managed to have the shift leading up to and well past sunset and then again several hours up until sunrise.  Dan gets one shift in darkness, and I seem to always end up with two.  Like I said, I do this to myself…..EVERY TIME!

The passage was pretty uneventful with very few cargo ships and fishing boats around to give me grief.  Once dawn approached, Dan decided to throw out a couple of fishing lines and try our luck.  About an hour out from our destination, he managed to snag a tuna and spent the next half hour bludgeoning it to death and bleeding it out.  We now had a beautiful 10 pound bluefin tuna…..yum!  Of course, the back of our boat now looked like a murder scene…..who knew tuna had so much blood!  We pulled into the anchorage of Naxos below the beautiful, hilltop town of Taormina and the smoking beauty of the volcano Mt. Etna.  Before long, another catamaran came in and dropped anchor near us, and much to our surprise, they were flying an American flag!  When the back of their boat became visible, we saw that they were registered in Dallas, Texas.  It’s not often we run into Americans on our journey, so of course we had to invite them over for drinks and stories that night.  This very young couple had taken a sabbatical from work, bought a boat, were logging some serious miles throughout Europe before sailing the boat back to America this winter.  We were seriously impressed!

Caught a tuna just outside of Taormina Sicily!
Sushi anyone?

We planned to spend two days at anchor before moving over to the mooring balls at the other end of the bay to pick up our guests and explore the sites.  I awoke the next morning at 5:00 a.m. to the boat pitching around wildly.  Apparently the Straits of Messina were blowing strong again which sent 3-4 foot rollers into the bay and directly into the side of our boat.  We rode it out for a few hours hoping it would die down, but it only got worse.  When things started crashing to the floor and toppling INSIDE the cabinets, we decided it was time to go.  Luckily, the mooring ball field was very sheltered from the swell and could take us earlier than we had originally planned.  As we made our way across the bay, I went to the front to get our lines ready.  Not my brightest move.  A roller came, and I felt the deck drop out from under my feet….oh this was not going to end well.  As it flew back up and crashed back under my feet, I tossed my body onto the deck top and held on.  I decided to finish the lines in calmer water.

Mt Etna billowing smoke makes for an atmospheric anchorage

Before long, our friend Tim and his son joined us on Zoe.  We had big plans the following day.  We would take the bus up to the beautiful city of Taormina and explore for a few hours before meeting our driver and guide who would be taking us to explore Mt. Etna.  We wandered the streets of Taormina taking in all the beautiful buildings before wandering up to an Ancient Greek Amphitheater.  Unfortunately, it was a blistering hot day, and we were all struggling with the oppressive heat.  Soon it was time to head  back down to the bus depot to meet our driver.  We all prayed he had a car with air conditioning.

The gang headed in for a day of exploring the charms of Sicily
Wandering the ancient cobblestone streets of Taormina
The Dallas roomies back together again (though missing one!!)
Quintessential Italia!
Exploring some Roman ruins
The ancient roman theatre of Taormina
Taormina at night from the mooring field

We met our driver and guide and headed out on our hour and a half drive up to Mt. Etna.  It truly is a magnificent volcano to see up close and personal.  We made several stops on our drive up where we explored the topography of the volcano, the resulting landscape changes from eruptions, and talked about the history of the volcano.  It is THE most studied volcano in the world because of it’s unique nature.  The summit area consists of 4 summit craters.  Another part of our excursion had us putting on hard hats for an exploration of an amazing lava tube.  We descended deep into the depths of this tube complete with dripping stalactites.  It was wonderfully cool down in the tube.  We were told if there was any seismic activity, access to the tubes would be forbidden due to the dangers.  After we learned about the tubes, we headed off to some hiking trails through the volcanic sands.  Here we had some amazing views of the surrounding area and some of the ancient craters.  The diversity of landscape on the mountain is incredible.  Some areas look like you are on the moon, and other areas are rich in birch trees and abundant greenery.  Sadly, we did not see any lava flows or cool stuff like that.

Our volcano guide meets up with the gang
All geared up for some subterranean exploration!
Down the lava cave we go!
Hiking near the summit. Views were amazing
Glorious day hiking Mt Etna’s lava fields!

The next day, it was time to get underway again.  Our next stop was the city of Siracusa (Syracuse).  We left early as this would be an 8 hour passage.  The best part….we FINALLY got to sail!  Well, at least 1/2 of the trip.  Once we lost the wind, our journey got very hot again, so the 3 guys decided to jump off the back of the boat into the deep sea (7000 feet/2133 meters deep)!  Luckily we threw out a line and float because the current was moving away from the boat at a pretty good clip.  I managed to make them squirm a little when I joked that I could just sail off and leave them there floating if they made me mad.  Yeah, it was a little mean….haha.  Once they were cooled off, we got moving again.  A few hours later, we spotted our first shark….EVER.  We have never, ever seen a shark in the Med.  I must admit, it was a little freaky (and I’m not sure the guys will jump into the deep sea again anytime soon).  We were then treated to dolphins a couple hours later.  There were several pods busy playing and before long they came to the boat to play in our bow spray.  This is one of our most favorite treats when we are out sailing.

Underway to Siracusa
Swim stop in over 7000 feet of water! It was a hot day!

We anchored in the big bay outside of Syracusa.  This was another amazing walled city filled with Ancient Greek history (yes, you read that right….Greek artifacts).  We visited the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the Fonte Aretusa which is a fountain fed by a fresh water spring and home to the only natural Papyrus growing in Europe.  We visited the Fontana Diana which dates back to the 9th century.  We enjoyed strolling the cobblestone streets and winding through narrow pathways.  We found a quaint little restaurant down one of these narrow pathways and enjoyed a very nice dinner off the beaten path and out of the tourist areas.  Our original plan was to spend 2 days here, but we have been in a brutal heat wave and where we were anchored was not really swimable (harbor bay….yuck) so no way to keep cool.  We decided to leave the next day and head down to a bay where we could anchor and spend the day swimming.

A greek temple turned into a church
Fountain of Diana in Siracusa
Temple of Apollo
Arethusa Fountain
Piazza Duomo Siracusa

Once again, we were able to sail most of the 4 hour passage to our next stop….Isola di Capo Passero.  The swimming was awesome except for the jellyfish that kept cruising through.  The next morning we took the dinghy to an island between the two bays.  We pulled it up on the beach and walked the path up to the ruins of a castle.  We then motored over to the end of the island in search of the marble remains from a ship that sunk during Roman times.  Tim’s son jumped from the dinghy into the water to try and spot it, but it was really hard to find among the rocks and plant life on the sea floor.  Our plan was to leave that evening and make an overnight passage to our final destination in the town of Licata.  Since we had some potentially high winds with swell getting around the point, we decided to pull up anchor, get around the point, and find another nice bay to hang out in and swim until we ready to leave that evening.

Exploring the castle and monument at the southernmost cape of Sicily

Once we got past the point, we found a nice spot to anchor and swim.  The water was refreshing and crystal clear.  All seemed well until those lovely jellyfish made their appearance.  This time, the guys spotted one that was 18” (.46 meters) in diameter….YUCK!  Just before 7:00 p.m., we were underway for our overnight passage.  Man, we’ve done a lot of these in the short time we’ve been here!  As forecasted, the wind was a little blustery (on the nose) and the water was a little choppy.  This time, I took the 10-2 shift. This was one of my least favorite passages thanks to all the fishing boats that were out at midnight.  They are not on our AIS tracking system which makes it hard to see what direction they are going or how far away they are.  At one point, I had one coming straight at me!  I deviated my course 10 degrees, and he continued to come straight for me.  I ended up changing my course 30 degrees further, heading toward shore and was shocked at how close he passed beside me despite my change in course.  I was not a happy camper.  Before long, I noticed 2 more fishing boats heading in to port.  Once again, they were headed my way.  At that point, I fired up our second motor and zoomed out of their way.  I was finally clear of the bay and the busy ports deep inside.  By the time Dan came up for the 2-6 a.m. shift, I was pretty worn out from the stress of playing chicken with the fishing boats.  He told me later that his shift was very peaceful and quiet.  Of course it was!

Overnight passage coming up!

So, here we are in the marina at Licata.  Our guests disembarked here, and we have been busy getting the boat cleaned up and ready for a temporary shut down.  We were happy to be in the marina today as the winds kicked up to 30 knots with 40 knot gusts…..not fun!  This will likely be our last post for a bit as we are heading home on Sunday.  We will leave Zoe here in the water for the next 4-6 weeks and return home for my son’s wedding and the close on our house (finally)!  Super exciting events, but dreading the trek home in the middle of busy, summer travel time.  We will be back with more adventures sometime in August!

Beat some weather in and are now snugged up in a marina in Southern Sicily
Zoe’s temporary summer home
Our Sicilian wanderings so far….

Benvenuto in Italia (Welcome to Italy)!

After picking up our documents to officially check out of Albania, we were underway for Italy at 5:00 p.m.  Since we had never been to Otranto and were unsure of where to handle all the formalities of checking in, Dan decided to hire an agent to assist us with the paperwork. When we were last in Italy in 2018 (our first year onboard) we did it incorrectly and narrowly avoided a problem.  This time we wanted to do it right. Since Otranto is not a major port of entry, we were told we need to arrive very early because the officials were only there for a few hours in the morning (hence the 5:00 p.m departure the day before).  This was slated to be a 13 hour passage with no real wind to sail with.  As we got outside the bay, the seas were a bit bigger than forecasted (shocking, I know) and the winds were up, but straight on our nose.  This still meant no sailing, but it also meant slowing us down quite a bit.  I opted to take first shift since I prefer to ease myself into driving in the dark.  Unfortunately, by doing this, I inevitably end up doing double nighttime shifts and Dan only gets the middle (I think I may need to rethink my strategy).

Sunset on our passage across the Adriatic
Land ho!

Our passage across the Adriatic was pretty uneventful, and we arrived bright and early at 5:00 a.m. (managed to shave an hour off despite the slow start).  We dropped anchor in a beautiful, sandy bay and headed down for a nap.  Not long after falling into a deep sleep, the agent called to tell us he arranged a spot on the wall for us, and we needed to come right now.  So, up we popped to pull up the anchor and head into the quay.  We quickly tied up and Dan bugged out with the agent to get us formally checked in to Italy.  Ironically, all the officials were housed right behind us (probably could’ve saved some agent money there, but who knew?).  We were a short walk to the castle walls and cobblestoned streets.  Inside the walls were lots of lovely little shops and restaurants.  The next day, we rented a car and headed inland to the town of Lecce, known as a “foodie” city.  We entered one of the gates to this ancient walled city and set off to explore.  Lecce is known for it’s Baroque buildings and is over 2000 years old.  It is nicknamed the Florence of the South.

The charming medieval town of Otranto
Zoe tied up to the transit dock. Coast Guard, immigration and customs were right behind us
Aragonese castle. Famous as a staging ground for numerous crusades
We love strolling Italy! So picturesque.

Our first stop was Museo Faggiano.  This was a private house up until 2001 when during renovations, the owner discovered archaeological  remains dating back 2500 years ago.  He discovered cisterns, secret passageways, tombs, skeletal remains, a Knights Templar fresco, and many other treasures.  It took them 7 years to fully excavate the site which they turned into a museum open to the public in 2008.  The building dates back to pre-Roman times.  It is said to have been a Knights Templar house between 1000-1200, and then a Franciscan convent until 1600.  We spent a great deal of time exploring every nook and cranny of this fascinating piece of history.

Down into the secret tunnel of Knights Templar
“If God is with us who can be against us?” Inscription on found wall
Very narrow stairs into very small tunnels!
Secret room beneath the main house
Pottery shards and remnants from a time long past
We really enjoyed this unique museum.

From there, we headed to the ancient Roman Theater from the 2nd century(not discovered until 1929).  Although we were not able to explore the interior, we did get some great views from above.  After that, we were off to explore a number of spectacular churches.  Each one we walked into was more incredible than the previous one.  Here again, I will let the pictures tell the story.

Ancient Roman theatre
Robyn getting a custom apron. It says “Robyn cooks from the heart” in Italian
Strolling the streets of Lecce
One of Lecce’s fabulous churches
Architecture is amazing
Nice large glass of Moretti beer to cool off with!

After a couple of days, we were on our way once again.  Our next stop was Santa Maria di Leuca in order to position ourselves for our next big passage.  Here, we were at the very tip of the heel of Italy preparing to cross the Gulf of Taranto on a 13 hour passage to Crotone (located on the “ball” of the foot/boot).  The gulf can blow some pretty big winds with choppy seas, so once again, timing was very important.  We decided to make this passage during the day with a 5:00 a.m. departure.  This would get us into Crotone while the sun was still up (important to us when anchoring in a place we have never been).  As continues to be our misfortune, what little wind we had was square on the nose…..more motoring!  We also learned that this part of the world is quite warm right now, so making this passage during the day was a dumb idea.  We were sweltering!

Lighthouse at the tip of the “heel” in Santa Maria De Leuca
Our passage across the Gulf of Taranto to Crotone

We arrived in the town of Crotone and dropped anchor in a big, beautiful bay surrounded by beach clubs, restaurants and a lungomare (seaside boardwalk) that went on for miles.  Luckily the depths were shallow enough that we were anchored pretty far out from the chaos.  The next morning we motored 2 hours north (yep, still not sailing) to a bay in Strongoli.  Our mission here was to search for the Italian ship (the Nave Petrarca) that Dan’s grandfather had died on when it was torpedoed by the British during WWII.  We had an approximate location, so this was going to be an interesting endeavor.  We stopped and asked 3 men fishing off their boat if they knew where the wreck was, and they pointed us in a general direction.  After searching for over a 1/2 hour on Zoe, and Dan searching by swimming while I used Zoe to try and hover near the supposed spot, we had no luck.  Dan then jumped in the dinghy to search further from Zoe while I remained on board watching him.  Eventually, frustration took over, and he decided to zoom over to another boat where a man was fishing.  Before long, they both came over to the boat where I used Google translate to explain what we were looking for a why (I then proceeded to butcher the language trying to read it to him).  He understood and knew exactly where to take Dan.  Dan followed him in the dinghy while I made notes of the land features of where they were.

Vincenzo leading the way to the wreck of the Nave Petrarca

Dan came back to the boat so that we could move Zoe closer to area (we had been nowhere near the pieces of the wreck).  As we motored over there, he told me that the man had invited us to have lunch with him (the first boat of fisherman had returned and one of them translated the lunch invitation).  We dropped anchor in very shallow water and Dan swam the pieces of the wreck.  This was a very special moment for Dan as he had never met his grandfather and had only heard the story from his dad growing up.  It took a fair amount of research (all in Italian) and it was gratifying to actually find it.  Article on the Petrarca and it’s demise is here:  

A piece of the wreckage

After spending time with what was left of the wreck (the torpedo had blown the ammunition ship sky high leaving only small pieces of debris behind).  We hopped in the dinghy and headed to shore to meet our new friend.  He did not speak English, and we do not speak Italian so this was truly an adventure.  We got in his car and he brought us to his home where he and his wife made us an amazing home cooked multi-course lunch with local wine.  After a couple of hours, we told them we had to leave because the winds were coming up and we had a marina awaiting our arrival.  Back on board, we spent two hours bashing back to Crotone (imagine that….going in the opposite direction and the damn wind was on our nose yet again!).  We came into the marina and tied to the quay.  After welcoming us, the marinero handed us a bottle of local wine to enjoy.  Wow!  On top of that, each morning we were brought freshly made croissants from a local bakery.  Holy cow, I love this place (my waistline, not so much).

New friends in crotone – Vincenzo and Chiara!
A Calabrian speciality called sardella. This yumminess is spread on bread with olive oil,
Homemade pasta with local red wine. Perfectly al dente and Tutti Bene!
Robyn trying local snails made in the Calabrese style

The next day, our new friends from Strongoli drove down to the marina and picked us up.  They drove us back to their town and up to the old city of Strongoli high in the hills to the cemetery where a memorial had been constructed to honor the lives lost on the Petrarca.  Once again, we would have never been able to find this treasure on our own as it was hidden in a lower courtyard of the main area of the cemetery.  His grandfather’s name was not on the memorial, and we learned that the names were for the bodies that were found (18 out of 82 lives lost….very sad).  We were then taken to see the castle and panoramic views of the old town where our new friends once lived.  From there, we headed back down to Crotone for some lunch.  They took us to this little local gem where you had to ring a doorbell for admittance to this beautiful little fish restaurant.  There was no menu (or English) so our hosts expertly ordered a fancy fish feast for us with very tasty local wine.  Numerous small plates of different fish came out for us to try.  It was an absolutely amazing lunch.  We returned to the boat and made plans to meet for a pizza dinner the next night.  We were told that Crotone has the best pizza outside of Napoli, and our friends have a Sunday night pizza tradition.  Mind you, neither of us still speak the others language, so watching our interactions was I’m sure quite amusing to those around us.  Google translate became our best friend on both sides!

Memorial to the lives lost in WWII on the Petrarca in Strongoli
15 February 1943 tragedy struck the Muzich family. Lost my grandfather nearby.
Strongoli castle
Hilltop views of Storngoli
Views from the town were amazing
Lunch with our new friends at Brizo in Crotone
Prawns made “crudo” style
Sardella (yum!) in the background and sardines with pickled onions
Pasta with sea urchin. First time for everything!

Once again, our friends arrived Sunday night (this time bringing gifts of homemade sardella and a huge can of locally produced olive oil).  They drove us to a beautiful spot on the water and a poolside table.  They ordered a delicious “pizza by the meter” with several different flavor sections.  It was excellent!  After returning to the boat, we enjoyed a quick apperitivo onboard (it was getting close to midnight).  We said a sad farewell to our new friends with a promise to reconnect when we return to Italy in August where they will hopefully join us for some sailing.

Pizza by the meter in Crotone

Our next journey was to Sicily and the town of Taormina.  This would be another 24 hour, round the clock journey.  We headed out of our beloved little marina spot a little after 12 noon.  Care to take bets on whether or not we sailed?  Of course, we did not!  There was either no wind or it was directly on the nose. The wind gods have not been playing nice with us so far this year 🙁

Sunset on our way to Taormina, Sicily

It was a pretty uneventful, overnight passage.  However, about an hour out of our destination, Dan landed a 10 pound (4.5 kg )tuna.  Woo hoo, yummy eats for several days!  So, we have arrived in Sicily and will keep you posted on our next adventures as we make our way around this beautiful island.

Bluefin tuna! Sushi coming up!
Overview of our journey from Albania to Sicily

Venetian living

Well, I definitely dropped the ball on my blog, and kind of left you hanging without a finale.  I am going to attempt to rectify that little mistake now, and take you back to the end of our cruising season.  When I left you last, we were parked in a marina in Venice, Italy and doing some land tours of Italy.  Our original plan was to spend our remaining month in the water at the marina, and then have Zoe hauled out and stored on land until next spring.  As I am sure you are quickly discovering, when it comes to life on a boat, it is impossible to have concrete plans.  All plans are written in the sand 🙂  We quickly discovered that being on a beautiful little island that was mostly park was not very conducive to the kind of work we wanted to have done on Zoe over the winter.  It was a major undertaking to even find the supplies and materials we needed to do our own maintenance on the boat.  When they wanted us to bring our boat over to the crane so they could take measurements to determine a more accurate boat weight for lifting us out, we decided this might not be our best plan.  If their crane required that close of a calculation, we started getting a little skittish.  Dan to the rescue, as always 🙂  He began quickly emailing a number of shipyards to get quotes and check availability to store us.  We had visited a few of these places the previous year, and while they are great for storage and equipped to do every job imaginable on your boat, they are not the prettiest of places to spend any degree of time (picture major industrial area for miles and miles).  Two places were available to take us.  When we discovered it was going to be $1200 cheaper than Venice, the decision became a no-brainer.  The next challenge was to find a weather window for another very long passage further north in Italy.  In the meantime, we prepared for our final visitor of the season.

Fresh produce delivered by barge
We miss these Venetian sunsets from our boat already…

Our friend flew in for a quick weekend (ahhh, the perks of working for an airline….you can do that kind of crazy stuff).  Dan and I wandered down to the vaporetto stand on the island to meet our friend.  Once settled on the boat, we headed into Venice to take in the sights and grab some dinner.  We opted for the scenic water taxi ride back to the island since it went through the Grand Canal.  We were able to grab some seats on the outside of the boat which made for great viewing as we cruised through the canals. 

Amazing sights!
Rialto Bridge

We decided the next day that we would actually take the boat out for a sail while our friend was here.  The plan was to head out of the lagoon and cruise the coast off the island of Lido.  We would then come in another entrance to the lagoon, follow the lagoon in and up to San Marcos Plaza.  We were allowed to sail up to the Grand Canal but not allowed to enter the Grand Canal with our boat.  The next morning we began the process of getting Zoe ready to leave the marina.  Because of the tidal changes and swift currents, we were tied up to six points on both the dock and the boat which made things really interesting when it came time to cut loose.  Unfortunately, Dan and I somehow miscommunicated our intentions (go figure) for releasing Zoe’s lines.  My plan was to  re-rig key lines to be cut from on board.  While Dan and I are on the dock working with the lines, our friend is on the boat alone (can you see where this is going?). Next thing I know Dan is yelling at me to drop lines and get on the boat.  The boat has begun moving out of the slip with the current and Dan and I are both on the dock.  I no longer have a way to get on the boat and Dan is scrambling to climb up the side of the boat.  Thank god for his long legs.  He manages to get on the boat and back it up in the slip so that I can get on.  Definitely not one of our more stellar moves, but we did learn a lot!

Luckily that was our only flash of incompetence on this journey out!  The weather was a little chilly and cloudy, but the sea was nice and calm.  Our venture out of the lagoon was very different from the first time we entered.  The tide was working in our favor, so it was a smooth cruise over the bar and out into the sea.  We didn’t have a whole lot of wind, but we did manage to hoist the mail sail and gennaker for a couple of hours of sailing…..a rare treat :).  Before long, we were making our way back into the lagoon and heading up toward the Grand Canal.  Here is where my stress level went off the charts.  There were boats EVERYWHERE!  It was like rush hour with no rules.  There were pocket cruisers, water taxis, private boats, tour boats…..all zooming around in every direction imaginable.  The boys were in hog heaven cruising into the chaos with our big American flag fluttering in the wind.  Needless to say, there was not another American flagged boat cruising in the lagoon that day.  Before long, the day was coming to and end, and it was time to bring Zoe back to her slip.  That ended up being another adventure when the marinero never answered the phone to provide assistance on the dock.  Fortunately, one of our wonderful boat neighbors came over to catch lines for us, and before long we were neatly tied up in our slip.  Sadly, our friend was leaving the next morning, but I’m pretty sure his next visit will be for a lot more than a weekend!

Visitor takes the helm…it’s not like its a busy or anything
St Mark’s Square
Flying our two headsails wing on wing.  Great day of sailing with a good friend
That’s right – It’s an American boat in Italy!
Happy photographer…so much beauty in Venice!
Pictures don’t really do justice do how much traffic is in these canals

As we were now in the month of October, the weather was becoming more and more unsettled for longer periods of time.  While we waited for a weather window, we began the tedious task of getting the boat ready to be put up for winter (at least what could be done while we were still in the water).  Our window finally came, and we were up before the sun.  We had an 8 hour passage ahead of us, and the day light hours were getting shorter and shorter.  This time Dan told me to handle the lines however I saw fit, and he would stay out of it.  With only two of us now, it was critical that we were not both on the dock.  I re-rigged the key lines back to the boat so they could be cut with me onboard.  Non-working lines, were completely taken off.  It was a textbook departure!  We actually looked like we knew what we were doing…haha.  It was a very cold and cloudy day, and the water was rough thanks to several days of storms.  We decided to do 2 hour watches on this journey.  It was an uneventful cruise up the coast of Italy.  Eventually we reached the entrance to another lagoon which would then take us up a river to our new home.  We took this opportunity to fill our fuel tanks for winter storage.  Apparently, it’s not good to not have full fuel tanks.  After filling up further up river, we headed back to our new marina.  Their in water storage was teeny tiny and no room for a catamaran, so we would be tied up to their transit dock (wall) outside of the marina until time to move our boat to the travel lift.  Once there, our boat would be lifted out of the water, placed on blocks on land, and that is where she will remain until next season.

Sunrise as we head into the Adriatic on our last passage of the season 

The tidal shifts here were even more extreme than in Venice.  The other challenge was that we were side tied to the wall which made getting on and off the boat really interesting.  We had to keep the boat somewhat loosely tied in order to accommodate the tidal fluctuations.  Since we were going to be here for a week before heading home, we decided to rent a car.  This would allow us to run around, pick up things we needed, and just get out of the shipyard.  We were set to fly out of Venice which was now about a 2 hour drive away from us.  We rented a car in Trieste which could then be dropped at the Venice airport.  Win-win.  It was now time to get serious about prepping the boat for storage (you can hear all about that fun in my next post).

A Tribute To The Sights And Tastes of Tuscany…or….Our Ever Expanding Waistline 😳

As our time in Europe is rapidly slipping away, Dan and I decided that exploring some of Italy’s inland sights (places neither of us had ever been) was just what the Doctor ordered.  Rain was coming in, so it seemed like a good time to escape the confines of boat and secluded island life.  Our ultimate goal was to explore Tuscany, but that was the extent of our planning… reservations anywhere, just a rental car and the two of us. We quickly packed our bags and headed out.  Well, the packing was quick anyway.  To get anywhere from the island we are living on is quite a challenge.  We need to walk 1/2 mile from our boat to the vaporetto stop (think bus on the water).  Obviously, this runs on a schedule and not on demand, and our timing always seems to be off.  We grabbed a seat in the rocking “bus stop” and waited for a ride.  We jumped on board and grabbed a seat for the 40 minute ride through the canals of Venice to where the rental car was booked (it’s 10 stops from our island to our stop in Piazzale Roma.)  This is a very busy part of the city, so we navigate ourselves around the traffic and people congestion in search of the elusive rental car facility (for some reason, these places are always hidden away in some really obscure location).  We managed to find it about 1/2 an hour before closing…yikes.  We were finally off on our grand, land adventure.

The countryside is amazingly picturesque

Part of our purpose for this last minute planning was to time it with the weather system that was coming….we didn’t want to be confined to our quarters when the rain came.  Sure enough, as we hit the road, the rain began….just intermittent drizzle…nothing major.  Our first stop was about an hour away, in the town of Bologna.  Driving here was very interesting.  The city center is electronically fenced and restricted to resident travel only.  Electronically fenced means there are cameras at every driving entrance to the city that snap your picture if you drive into the city without being a resident.  Unfortunately, the signs that warn you of this are all in Italian!  The fine is 50 euro per camera capture!  I have a bad feeling we will be getting a bill sometime down the road.  We won’t mention the ridiculous number of speed cameras along the route that I am sure “Mario Andretti” tripped more than once🤣  Anyway, we finally found the appropriate parking area and headed into Bologna.  It was a charming town with beautiful architecture, cafes and shops.  By this time, the drizzle was coming down more steadily.  Since we had not yet eaten today, we decided to stop for a late lunch.  One meal a day is often the theme here for us when dining out.  You’d think we’d lose weight on this plan, but those one meals are usually ridiculously large.  Today was no different.  We found a cute looking place with an intriguing menu and chose a table outside, under the canopy.  We opted for the Taste of Bologna which consisted of 4 courses of specialties of the region.  The meal began with a plate of assorted meats and cheeses.  Along with the typical, hard meats of Europe, there was boloney.  I haven’t eaten baloney in probably 35 years!  I vaguely remember losing my taste for it, but….when in Balogna….yada, yada, yada.  It was actually quite fabulous….great….now I’m craving a boloney sandwich from my childhood years!  After this starter, we were treated to 2 types of pasta….also fabulous.  Next came sliced beef with arugula salad (I am already full at this point!)  You guessed it….delish also.  We finished with an unusual interpretation of tiramisu and limoncello.  The waiter seemed to enjoy chatting with us so he brought us a complimentary blueberry liqueur as well.  It was quite a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon (by this time it was pouring).  Dan quickly did a search to find us a place to stay for the night out in the countryside.  I give him an A+ on this one.  He found us an awesome little cottage on a farm in the country.  When we arrived in the pouring rain, the owner greeted us at the door to our cottage and already had a roaring fire going.  It was cozy and romantic, and I wish we could’ve spent several days here, but we had a number of places we wanted to see and not much time to do it in.  My desire to stay did wane a bit when I discovered a GIANT spider in the bathroom, and Dan was unsuccessful at killing it 😳  Time to go!

Our airbnb Farm stay for the night. Fireplace was perfect on a rainy cold night!

The next day was a beautiful, sunny day as we headed out to the city of Florence.  After an hour and a half drive, we once again found ourselves in the chaos of a city center that was electronically fenced.  It was extremely busy and confusing here, but we eventually found the proper parking and headed out on foot to Florence.  Once again, we were treated to breathtaking architectural structures, sculptures and art.  Long considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, the historical beauty does not disappoint.  We walked around the Duomo which is a huge, domed cathedral in the center of the city.  All around the city are these amazing, full bodied sculptures of famous people or depicting a historical moment in time.  As you can imagine, the city was jam-packed with tourists (my favorite).  It was challenging to move around with any efficiency, and there were huge lines for every place of interest.  It probably did not help that we were there on a Sunday either.  Needless to say, my crowd-a-phobia kicked in, so our visit was not as thorough as it could (and should) have been.  I will try again on another visit 🙂  I find that my words fall short in truly describing Florence, so I am going to let our pictures do the talking.

Florence is amazing

After a few brief hours in Florence, we were back on the road to our next destination, San Gimignano.  The hour drive took us through some of the most beautiful countryside you could imagine.  We were surrounded by rolling hills canvased in vineyards and olive groves.  The vegetation along the way was already beginning its transition to fall with a spectacular array of changing colors.  Periodically the scenery was dotted with a sprawling Tuscan villa or a charming hilltop fortress.  Prior to departing Florence, Dan quickly did some research and booked us an apartment in the heart of the hilltop fortress of San Gimignano.  I was a little skeptical after our last stay in a hilltop fortress in Croatia.  There had been very little to actually do there, and you had to park far away and outside the walls (making it a painful trek with bags).  Well, this started out very familiar….parking WAY down the hill and schlepping our bags a long, vertical distance.  Thankfully, this is where the similarities ended.  The town was bustling with people and encircled a wealth of specialty shops, cafes, wine shops, and historical sights.  It was like stepping back in time.  We met our host outside of the apartment, and he showed us to our place (at the very top of the building…..noooo).  The accommodations were fabulous.  We had a lovely one bedroom apartment right off the main “drag” of this walled city.  Once settled, we headed out to get the lay of the land and line up our plans.  We decided that this evening we would just relax in our apartment with a mattress picnic of local specialties.  We found a great little shop where we purchased some wine, meat, cheese, and marinated artichokes.  We also decided that this amazing place needed an additional night.  We were able to keep the apartment for another night, so the next day we spent exploring every nook and cranny.  As with Florence, I think the pictures are far better than what I could describe.

San Gimignano…the “Manhattan” of the middle ages!

For our last night in San Gimignano, we decided to try this Michelin starred restaurant that was practically next door to our apartment.  Their menu showed a 5, 7, and 9 course chef’s tasting menu to which you could add a wine pairing.  We figured we’d try the 7 course and therefore fasted the entire day in preparation…haha.  I’m sure this will come as a complete shocker….it was amazing.  We were able to select our tastings from the menu…two from each of three different categories plus a chef inspired dessert.  I really do not want this to become a food blog (it’s suppose to be an adventure blog), so I will leave you with pictures to peruse if you’re interested.  Unfortunately, this particular land based adventure was heavily food based.  After our wonderful evening, we wandered the old city once more, taking in the nighttime beauty and its lighting.  Tomorrow we were headed into the Chianti region of Tuscany.

Photobomb fun at the restaurant….

Menu had three choices..

All of which were amazing

Castello di Brolio in Chianti

It was said that when these castle walls shook, the town of Siena trembled

Once again, my fabulous travel planner made a few phone calls and found us a room at a vineyard where we would participate in an Italian cooking class the following day.  We spent another hour driving through the countryside….it’s a sight you just can’t grow tired of seeing.  We arrived at the winery on a beautifully warm, sunny afternoon.  The manager was busy with some visitors doing a wine tasting, so he handed us each a glass of wine, told us to sit and enjoy the courtyard and would be with us shortly.  Once finished, he checked us in and took us to our room.  Another stellar find by Dan!  The next morning, we met with the owner (wife) and she walked us through the items we would be learning to make.  She took us into the restaurant’s kitchen, handed us an apron, and so began our private cooking class.  It was awesome!  First we made a tiramisu so that it could chill while we continued.  The great thing about the cooking class is that you then dine on the treasures you have made.  Given Dan’s lack of cooking experience and time spent in the kitchen, there was a great deal of laughter and joking as we learned.  Next was the pasta lesson.  We made the pasta dough, in their traditional manner, which would then be used for ravioli and tagliatelle. While Dan worked on pressing out his ravioli dough, I made the filling.  This was a potato based filling which is prominent in the northern mountain regions of Italy.  The other special ingredient we used in the filling was saffron.  This winery was also a saffron farm, so this was a rare treat.  We had a lot of fun making the pasta, but wow, ravioli is A LOT of work!  The last dish was a lightly floured, pan fried slice of chicken breast in a dessert wine reduction sauce.  She had me throw together a quick bruschetta bite for a starter.  After, she had us relax in the courtyard while she brought us each dish to enjoy and were expertly paired with wines made from their vineyard.  This will truly be one of those memorable experiences (especially if I can replicate the dishes when I get home).  

Ravioli is hard!


Sadly, it was time for us to make our way back to Venice.  We had a 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of us, and the joy of supply shopping 😢 Here lies the problem with living in a marina on an island in Venice.  We have no easy access to anything.  To put the boat up for winter, we needed some supplies (including 20 liters of motor oil!)

Despite being on the mainland of Venice, shopping was still quite challenging.  After a couple of stops, including a giant mall, we decided we had done all we could.  We weren’t due to return the car until the next day, but at this point, we were eager to get home.  We headed to the car return (long since closed), took video of the car for our records, and loaded up our bags with close to 100 pounds of stuff.  Needless to say, this was not fun.  The thought of dragging all of this on and off the vaporetto (which would require transfers this late at night) had us both feeling really stressed.  So, we went to find a water taxi.  We knew this would be more expensive, but it would go directly to Certosa (our island home), and more importantly, to our boat (remember, we are 1/2 mile walk from the vaporetto stop).  We just about choked on our tongues when the taxi driver told us it would be 80 euros….yikes!  Yes, we splurged on this.  Not only were we treated to a beautiful night ride through the grand canal and back canals of Venice, but we were dropped one boat away from ours with help hefting our bags on and off.  Ahhhh, we were home once again…..and it felt good.

Venezia bound at last

We made it through the nasty storm without issue, and despite the winds not dying down overnight.  The next day, we planned to head to the ancient city of Poreč (have you noticed that pretty much every city we’ve gone to is “ancient?”).  This was going to be our jumping off point for our crossover to Venice.  We also needed to make sure that wherever we chose as our departure point had an immigration and harbor patrol office so that we could check ourselves, and our boat, out of the country.  When we arrived, we decided to grab a mooring ball instead of tying up to the city wall.  The weather was suppose to be pretty nice, and we much prefer the quiet of the bay versus being on display in front of all the restaurants and people strolling the town.  By the time we got tied up, it was only 3:30, so we quickly pumped up our still deflating dinghy and headed to the immigration office.  Deflating dinghy you ask?  If you will recall, we came back to a partially deflated dinghy in Primošten (wow, that seemed like forever ago!).  While prepping for our departure from Cres, we worked on finding the leak and patching it.  Needless to say, it didn’t fix the problem 🙁  

Back to our current story…..we headed into town on our dinghy and tied up to the wall.  We walked over to the customs office only to discover it was closed!  Are you kidding me?  They are typically open until 5 p.m.  it is only 4:30.  As we stood there trying to figure out what to do, we noticed the sign indicating that 4 days a week they closed at 3 p.m.  Well wasn’t that just great!  We had a 55 mile crossing the next day, so our goal was to be underway by 6:30 a.m. to ensure we arrived in Venice with plenty of daylight to find our way through the lagoon.  Now what!?  They didn’t open until 8 a.m.  We decided at this point to wander the town and check out the beautiful sights since we were already onshore.  It was shockingly crowded here for the end of September.  We walked the cobblestone alleys exploring the beautiful architecture of the city.  We even stumbled onto a intercultural event with blaring music and different countries represented by groups of people dressed alike and dancing in the square.  Ironically, most of the music was American (but all the flags on display were from the EU).  We enjoyed the scene for a bit, and then continued on our way.  Unfortunately, our hearts weren’t totally into this visit as we were both preoccupied with how we were going to proceed in getting out of Croatia on time and in safe weather.


Poreč’s lovely cobblestoned alleyways

Poreč’s old city fortifications

Cultural Festival

We returned to the boat to begin strategizing.  If the customs office opened at 8:00 like the sign said, and the process was expeditious, we could be on our way to Venice by 9:00.  We looked at the weather forecasts, re-calculated our distance, and calculated time.  At best, it would take us 8 hours but could take up to 12 if we tried to sail in less than sustained 15-20 knot winds or only used 1 motor.  We both agreed that the 12 hour version was not an option.  We did not want to navigate the Venice lagoon and an unknown marina in the dark.  The second option we tossed around was to delay Venice for a day or two and continue our way north.  We would be close enough to Slovenia to tap us out of Croatia on time, it would be a shorter open water crossing (however more miles due to moving north along the coast).  Delaying our crossing could put us into another bad weather window since the storms seemed to be rolling in on a more regular basis now that fall had arrived.  After much consideration, we made a pact (my requirement, of course).  I made Dan promise that the only way we would lift sails was if we had at least 15-20 knot sustained winds…gusts don’t count.  You lose time powering down the boat and changing course to hoist the sails, and we did not have time to spare.  I also requested that if we were unable to keep 6 knots (about 7 miles per hour), under 1 engine, that we would motor under both engines.  With our agreement in place, we decided to go ahead and make the jump the following day provided there were no delays with immigration. Needless to say, it was a rough night (of course it was!  A long, draining day awaits you!).  The wind had kicked up yet again…..and NOT in any of the forecasts!  This was our first time on a mooring ball in high winds, and the noises were actually louder and more intense than when tied up in port (lots of creaking and cracking as the boat pulls and twists on the single point of the ball).

When morning arrived, we scrambled to get to the immigration office right as they opened.  We tied up the dinghy and raced over there.  A group had already beat us 🙁    I whispered to Dan that they were on the catamaran that had come in a few hours after us last night.  We soon realized (more like overheard) they were headed to Venice as well.  This was oddly comforting knowing someone else would be on the same path as us.  We finished our clearance and were told to head across the way to the police station to finish our check out.  The group was just finishing as we approached, so we stopped to talk.  They were, in fact, headed to the exact marina  in Venice that we were.  After a brief discussion about engine size (Men!  Always comparing sizes 🤣), the race was on!  We both got back to our boats at about the same time, and quickly prepared for departure.  They had the jump on us after dropping our mooring lines, but had to make a side trip to the fuel station (that would easily cost them a 1/2 hour).  We were out of the breakwater by 8:40 and ahead of schedule.  Yeah us!  There was not much wind forecasted by any of the models (but we’ve seen how well that’s been working), so we knew motoring was probably going to be the case for most of the journey.  We also knew that after several days of heavy wind, coming down the gut of the gulf, that we were likely going to have uncomfortable seas.  We decided we would do an hour on/hour off rotation at the helm since neither of us had a great night sleep, and it was going to be a long day.  Since I was on the wheel coming out of the breakwater, I started.  There was some wind….not enough to sail with but enough to chill you to the bone….and it looked like the seas were going to progressively get worse.  Warm clothes, heavy weather jacket, life jacket and tether attached to the helm station were the theme of the day.  When Dan came up to relieve me, I asked him if what I was seeing on the horizon was rough water.  The entire horizon looked like the boiling surface of water.  Neither one of us could figure out if we were seeing the line of rough water or our eyes were playing tricks on us.  It didn’t take too long before we had our answer…..large swells,  breaking waves, and whitecaps…..let the fun begin.  We alternated our shifts, catnapped when off, and tried to keep warm.  Surprisingly, the 8 hours was over before we knew it.  I didn’t think I would like the switching every hour (too quick), but I think it made the passage go really fast.

As we approached the entrance to the lagoon, things got really interesting.  The water color shifted from the beautiful, clear, deep blues to this milky, murky, grayish-green.  That wasn’t the interesting thing though….it was this really bizarre, roiling, washing machine of confused waves that greeted us (greeted is probably not the right word since the water seemed angry as hell).  We made sure to give the land and any water markers a wide berth so as not to get pitched into them by the crazy movement and hellacious current.  The water stayed this way for a very long time as we made our way deeper into the lagoon.  We later learned that coming into the lagoon can be a challenge if you don’t enter during a slack tide.  Hmmmm….we missed that little tidbit.  So of course, we entered during the tidal change and against 2 knot currents!  Needless to say, it was a slow journey to our marina. 

Crossing into the Lagoon

The next piece of fun was entering the main “traffic” canal.  OH MY GOD!  This was your worst freeway at commuter time….only you are not at a stand still, you are playing frogger on steroids with high speed powerboats, ferries, water taxis, etc.  This is Dan’s specialty and one of my greatest nightmares.  Whew!  Glad we were done with that!  As we entered the transit dock area to our marina, Dan repeatedly tried to reach the marina for direction and assistance.  Finally, they answered and sent the marinero out in his dinghy.  He told us it was too rolly on the transit dock and to follow him into the main marina.  Ummmm, this isn’t right.  We both had understood, when we visited in the spring, that our boat could not come through the front channel that he was now leading us down.  Up ahead we saw the sliding bridge opening that he expected us to go through.  Now mind you, there are boats parked on both sides of us, leaving about 3 feet or less on each side.  Dan shouts to the guy, “Are you sure I can fit through there??  I am 7.25 meters wide.”  The guy tells us it’s about 7.3 meters wide!  Oh hell no!!  Now comes the fun part….oh yes, there is always a fun part.  Dan has to back out of this winding channel, staying clear of all parked boats, and avoiding the new, impatient arrivals that are trying to go around us.  I’m on the front with a boat hook, ready to fend off any boats we get to close to, and calling out directions to avoid a couple hazards.  We’re gonna need a stiff drink after that bit of fun!  We head out into the main channel (the way we should’ve gone in the first place), dodge a few more high speed ferries, and enter a canal on the back side of the island.  We come into the marina and get Zoe tied up in her slip….home for the next month.  In case you were wondering, the group we had met in Poreč ended up parked right beside us a few hours later.

This entrance is way too tight for a catamaran!

Zoe’s Italian home

Exploring the nature park next to the marina

The family car in Venice is a boat….

Last stop this year!

Random sculpted marble for contemplation

Our track across the Adriatic

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