Treasures of Calabria

After a peaceful night at anchor (despite dropping anchor in a new place in the dark), we topped up our fuel tanks before heading to the northern end of Crotone.  We tied up in our favorite little marina only to discover that the price had doubled (we were in the high season of July)!  We fell in love with this marina last year as the price was very reasonable, the people were awesome, we were given a nice bottle of wine on arrival, and fresh pistachio croissants every morning.  While the marina people were still amazing, we paid twice as much and did not get any of the special treats like last year.  Yes, I know….spoiled whiners.  By late afternoon, we were contacted by some American friends we had met last year who had just come in to the anchorage right outside the port.  Since they were making a very early morning departure, we made arrangements to meet them on shore for a drink.  We also were contacted by the Italian friends we met last year telling us they would be coming to town to meet us for dinner.  You may recall that we met the Italian fisherman last year when we were in search of the ammunition ship that was blown up in WWII with Dan’s grandfather onboard.  He brought us to his house where we met his wife, took us to special restaurants, cooked for us, and showed us around the area.  We were happy to be able to reconnect with them a year later.

Zoe is thirsty for more fuel after 356 nautical miles. The Med tends to have light winds in summer so we end up motoring than we like. Or scary winds and we stay in port. Days in between are all too rare!

We met our friends, Steve and Emily, swapping some stories and catching up from our year apart.  We were very sad that we didn’t get more time to hang out with them this year.  We were quite literally “two ships passing in the night.”  Hopefully next season, we will find each other again.  Before long, Vincenzo and Chiara showed up and off we went in search of a dinner spot.  We landed in a pizzeria.  Out came the phones and google translate as we navigated through our conversations.  We are beginning to understand more of what is said to us, and Dan does a pretty good job attempting to speak Italian.  We figure if we spend a few seasons here, we will definitely learn Italian because no one wants to speak English.  We are able to be lazy in many of the other countries we’ve visited because everyone else wants to improve their English, so they speak to us in English (therefore, we are never able to learn and practice their languages).  Here, we are forced to learn it!  I found a pizza that sounded interesting (completely forgetting that the word fritti means fried).  Our friends seemed a little taken aback at what Dan and I ordered, and Vincenzo worked really hard to dissuade Dan from his choice.  In the end, Dan ended up with a steak dinner (which wasn’t even on the menu but was delicious nonetheless) and my fried pizza looked more like a calzone with a crust more like Indian fry bread.  Chiara ordered the same, and we both concluded we would not order that ever again.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t the awesome pizza you typically get in Italy.

Before we parted company, we made plans to sail back north to the town of Strongoli where their house was located.  We would anchor off the beach and go to their house for lunch then a tour of the area.  It would take us about an hour and a half to two hours to make our way north again.  As we departed the marina and rounded the corner of the breakwater, we were suddenly hit with 15-20 knot winds on the nose.  THAT was not in the forecast!  We also had 3-5 foot (1-1.5 m)swell and waves.  So here we were, yet again, bashing into the wind and waves, things falling off the shelves.  We hoped it would get better when we got to Strongoli, but our gut told us that would not be the case.  Strongoli has beautiful sand and crystal clear water, but not a lot of protection from the wind and waves.  It took us 3 hours to arrive, and as expected, it did not get better.  We sat on the boat (pitching around and discussing the safety of Zoe being anchored here), tried another area that Vincenzo suggested (he was watching us from the beach).  In the end, neither of us felt comfortable leaving the boat at anchor to go into shore for several hours out of sight of the boat.  We felt terrible knowing that our friends had prepared a special lunch for us.  We apologized and told them, we had to go back, but we would be willing to take a cab to come to them if they wanted to delay lunch by a few hours.  We quickly hoisted sails and before long, we were flying south.  We made it back to Crotone in an hour and a half!  This time we anchored outside of the marina breakwater in a prime location.  Our friends told us they would pick us up at 7:00 to come have dinner at their house.  Similar to last year, we were treated to an amazing multi course meal of seafood caught by Vincenzo.  We started with anchovies crudo (raw but marinated in lemon so more like ceviche style) and Sardella with bread (a very spicy fish paste), then pasta with mussels, tuna steak and salad, watermelon, and lemon sorbet.  They stuffed us full!  After dinner, they drove us down to meet Chiara’s parents and nephew.  We sat visiting with them for an hour or so before finally heading home around 11:30.  We were exhausted.  It’s funny how tiring it is when you don’t speak the language.  You have to spend all your time in heavy concentration to try and understand what is being said and how to reply.  They also gifted us with Chiara’s homemade Sardella and local olive oil.  It was so nice spending time with them again.  We are really hoping to have them on Zoe in August when Chiara has her vacation time.

Our Italian friend Vincenzo snapped this picture of us under sail after we decided to return to Crotone
A common meal starter in parts of Calabria is Sardella. It’s a spicy fish paste made from juvenile sardines and mixed with Calabrian red spicy peppers, topped with olive oil and spread on fresh bread – its quite tasty!
Robyn enjoying some homemade seafood pasta
Vincenzo and Chiara – the best Italian hosts!

We departed Crotone very early for our 64 mile passage to Roccella.  This would require us to cross the Gulf of Squillace which is notorious for nasty winds.  Forecasts showed the gulf would not be blowing until late in the afternoon.  Wrong!  The winds hit 18-26 knots with 1-1.8 m (3-6 foot) choppy seas.  We were able to sail most of it on a reefed main and genoa.  Since we were taking the seas on the side, things were flying off the shelves again.  I know….why haven’t they learned?!  Well, we keep trusting the forecasts!  When we know what’s coming, we do stow everything we can that might move.  I guess we just need to do this regardless of what the forecast says.  Eleven hours later, we were pulling into the marina in Roccella.  After days of pushing really hard, we decided this would be a reset.  We would get Zoe cleaned up, rent a car for a few days and do some exploring inland.

Leaving Crotone you have to navigate through some off shore oil rigs and workboat traffic
Forecasts in the Med can be fickle, and the forecasts in the Golfo di Squillace especially so. What was supposed to be a light wind day turned into a rollicking beam reach in 25 knot winds
Zoe in Porto delle Grazie in Rocella Ionica

Similar to home, Italy is under an intense heatwave, so we decided to get off the boat and head into the mountains to do some hiking and get some relief.  Up, up, up we went.  The higher we went, the more stressed I got.  We were in an itty bitty 2 door Fiat 500 (comically small….and gratefully so).  We traversed hairpin turns up, up, up.  No big deal.  A little stressful was the fact that we were on a road sized for one car, but it was two lane.  Still not a huge deal.  The huge deal was the 1000+ foot (305+ meter) sheer drop off over the side with no guard rails!  I was practically sitting in Dan’s lap (like that would’ve kept us from going over the edge).  The road turned very rough making it even more challenging.  Back home, this would’ve been considered a 4 x 4 road.  We found a place to park off the side of the road and took a beautiful hike through a forested area.  Surprisingly, it was not significantly cooler like we had hoped, but amazing sights and smells (pine)nonetheless.  We completed a loop and then headed further up the mountain in search of a waterfall we had read about.  Once again, we parked off the side of the road and headed off.  This trail went down, down, down.  It was a winding, slick trail with many steps carved out of the rock.  We eventually came out at the river’s edge.  There was a sign for two different waterfalls.  One that went straight up a steep looking goat path, and one that went down.  We opted for the path that went down as we were a little leary about the footing coming back down the really steep uphill path.  Turns out the downhill wasn’t a whole lot better.  It had very narrow, rock cut steps, many of which required handholds due to the unusual height of the steps.  We got most of the way down to the bottom of the waterfall and decided to head back up.  We were already hot and tired from our first hike, and the return to the car was going to be all uphill.  We meandered our way back down the mountain, checking out all the quaint little villages perched precariously on the sides of the gorge.

Our cute Italian Fiat high in the Calabrian mountains of Asperomonte National Park
Cooler temps and wonder hikes
Had to deal with rush hour. Felt like parting a sea of sheep…
Well marked trails and beautiful scenery
Climbing up from a waterfall gorge. Off boat adventures can be a nice change of pace
The mountains were calling – and we must go!
One of several waterfalls we visited in Asperomonte National Park

The next day we opted for a shorter drive to another set of mountains and another waterfall hike.  This drive was every bit has hairball as the last one!  At one point, we came to a complete standstill behind a huge herd of sheep blocking the road.  Dan honked and honked (they were in no hurry to move) and slowly parted the sea of sheep with the car.  We drove and drove seeing no signs of any type of hiking or waterfall.  Eventually we parked the car in one of the few spots big enough to turn around and go back and decided to follow the road on foot for a bit just to see what was ahead.  Unfortunately, the road was in the blazing sun, and it was blistering hot.  As we trudged down, down, down, we finally stumbled on a bridge and signage indicating a trail to the waterfall.  Yeah!  Off we went.  As soon as we hit the water’s edge, the temperatures dropped and we were cooled.  We crisscrossed the river over these rickety, log bridges with smaller waterfalls crashing below us.  The forest was dense and tropical.  It was a welcome hike through very peaceful terrain, and we had it all to ourselves.  We were treated to several different waterfalls, and it appeared the trail went on and on.  The problem was we didn’t know how far it went or where it ended.  In the end, we were getting eaten by mosquitos and decided an hour was long enough since we still had to come back UP the hot, dirt road we had come down.  It felt good to be out hiking again.

This ike was highly reviewed but challenging to find the start. What a relief when we found it!
Beautiful river gorge to explore. We had it ourselves
Many crossings of the river on shaky wood bridges

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at this little restaurant hidden in the forest.  The owners welcomed us in, and we were the only ones there.  We muddled our way through the language barrier and settled on a multi-course of their local specialties.  Dan had ordered the lamb chops and not long after, we heard the tinkling of “cow” bells.  “I hope that’s not your lunch arriving,” I said to Dan.  We both kind of chuckled.  We had an amazing lunch and a special experience, all alone in the garden of this little gem.  As we headed out, we ran into our second “traffic jam” of the trip.  A big herd of horned cows and babies coming down the road, and what was hanging around their necks?  The tinkling cow bells we had heard earlier.

Wonderful Calabrian specialties deep in the mountains of the region
Fiat versus bull. I’m sure that would have ended badly!

Our final day with the car, we decided to go explore some of the hilltop villages.  These were quite a sight to see perched high on the cliffs.  We briefly wandered in and out of the sleepy little villages, but in the end, it was just too hot.  Dan found a highly reviewed little winery that we decided to check out, but they didn’t open until 3:00.  He contacted them about coming to visit and before we knew it, the winemaker himself came and opened up early just for us.  It turned out this was really more of their local tasting room, and the actual winery was 20 minutes away in the valley of the gorge.  The winemaker began explaining the wine making classifications of Italy (in Italian, of course), and we were actually able to follow along pretty well.  Before long, his English speaking daughter arrived.  She had come in from the vineyard to help translate for us.  Both had graciously opened up for us despite a big winery event they were hosting that evening!  Had it not already been sold out, we would have loved to have gone to that.  I have to give a big shout out to the wonderful family of Azienda Agricola Cosimo Murace located in Bivongi!  We tasted a variety of amazing wines, which we then of course purchased.  We bid farewell with a promise to return to the actual vineyard when we come back through.  As we headed back to the marina for our final night in Roccella, we stopped at a little specialty market and bought up a bunch of typical local products made right there on sight.  We also hit a market where we stocked our boat with a ton of Calabrian specialties that had become some of our all time favorites.  After all, we would be leaving Calabria very soon.

Italian mountainside villages are so picturesque
We think our boutique winery hosts enjoyed a visit from a pair of long distance travelers! Here we are with the master winemaker.

The next morning, we departed before 6 a.m for the 59 mile passage to Reggio Calabria.  This would be a “staging” stop for our departure through the Straits of Messina the following morning.  Along the way, we were treated to a large pod of small dolphins frolicking in the water.  As we began to approach the tip of mainland Italy, we noticed large tanker planes landing on the water.  Unfortunately, a large part of Southern Italy was on fire in the mountain regions.  For several hours, we were treated to the spectacle of these planes and helicopters coming down to the water (sometimes uncomfortably close to us), scooping up massive amounts of sea water, before banking sharply around us and heading into the hills to dump it.  The rumble of the engines as they flew over us was so loud it gave you chills.  We’ve included some video (which still doesn’t do it justice), but you will get a feel for just how spectacular their piloting skills were.  

Sunrise starts are painful but the views are nice
The skills of these water scooper pilots were incredible to watch. They worked tirelessly all day to try and get the numerous wildfires in the hills under control

We spent one night on a mooring ball in Reggio Calabria and hit the water to cool off.  Astonishingly, our mooring was in 50 meters of water (164 feet)!  I will admit, it made me a tiny bit uncomfortable swimming in that depth of water (yeah, I know….silly).  The currents were pretty strong as well, so we didn’t stray too far from the boat.  Unfortunately, we made the decision to eat on board so when Dan went in to pay for the mooring, the owner was disappointed we didn’t come in for dinner.  Ironically, his restaurant had good reviews, was right on the waterfront, and I had been eyeing it online as a place to eat if we went in to town.  When Dan got back, he told me what a cute restaurant it was and how disappointed they were that we didn’t come in.   Now, I was sad and disappointed too!  We just had stupid grilled chicken and salad instead of delectable, local seafood.  Shout out to Ristorante la Capanna….we will be back, and we will be joining you for dinner!  The owner’s daughter walked Dan to a local dessert shop that was very highly reviewed (also evidenced by the flock of people).  He returned to the boat with his treats which we enjoyed later.  The few times we’ve splurged on desserts, we have been very disappointed, so we weren’t really hopeful this time as well.  Boy, were we wrong!  We shared two different kind of desserts that were some of the best treats we have ever had!  Mirco Gelateria for the win!!!

In Italy, the mooring ball field operators tend to dinghy out and assist with tying up. Nice touch when there are only two of us onboard and it’s windy.
Firefighting helicopter refilling before his next run. Heroes!

As I mentioned, we only planned to be here one night in order to time our crossing of the Straits of Messina.  This passage can be extremely dangerous if not timed correctly.  We spent days looking at wind patterns and tides to determine our safest time to pass through.  In addition to the winds (which get funneled down from mainland Italy and Sicily), there can be very strong currents that you can either ride or fight your way through.  On top of this, there are eddies and whirlpools that rise up creating challenges.  At the narrowest part of the strait, is a “freeway” of giant car ferries crossing from one side to the next (more games of frogger with giant ships).  The last bit of fun is the result of wind and tide running in opposition which creates short, high breaking seas in the center of the strait.  We saw moderate levels of all (except for the giant ferries which came out 6 ferries in a row as we approached).  In seafaring times, before all our awesome technology, many boats were claimed in the Straits of Messina.  It was a pretty easy passage but definitely a little nerve wracking not knowing what we might encounter.  Once through the strait, we made our way to the island of Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands where we will wait out some nasty winds headed our way.  In our next post, we will bring you the sights and adventures of these interesting volcanic (some still active)islands!

Italian website on current flows in the Messina Straits. For us, it was critical to have a northbound current (Correnti Montante in Italian) and little of the prevailing southerly wind. Timing was everything.
The payoff is a 4 knot current in the right direction as Zoe zooms through the Straits at 10 knots
In antiquity, the cauldrons created by the currents would swallow up unlucky boats who entered at the wrong time. This was the biggest cauldron we saw – timing definitely is everything.
Busy shipping channel through a chokepoint means both of us were constantly on the lookout for traffic to avoid.
Swordfish boat in the Straits. The swordfish in the Med tend to migrate through the straits and are easier to find. That is a spotter in that tower with binoculars looking for prey to harpoon.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back On The Water

Oh where, oh where, do I begin?  You may recall from our last post that we had pulled up a big, nasty fish trap that had been laid over top of our anchor and bridle.  We spent an extra 20 minutes freeing ourselves without cutting the trap free.  You would think that would’ve bought us some good fishermen karma.  Unfortunately, it seemed to have cursed us.  We were underway from Gallipoli to Taranto across the Gulf of Taranto.  This was going to be an 8 1/2 hour passage.  The winds were already at 9 knots when we got started, so we put up the main sail and gennaker.  The winds continued to grow and before long we were crackin’ along at 6-7 knots under full sail.  Finally!  About half way into our journey, we began to encounter a few commercial fishing boats.  Most were moving slowly and not very close to us.  I noticed a new one tucked up into the Gulf.  He was basically cruising parallel to us but quite a distance away.  I kept a close eye on him because he was frequently hidden behind our gennaker, so I wanted to know where he was at any given point.  Before long, I noticed that he was coming closer and closer to us.  In response, I kept adjusting our course to fall away from him.  Next thing I know, he is at a high rate of speed and heading straight at us!  We are under full sail, so any adjustments we make are going to be painfully slow compared to his speed.  Dan ran to the bow and started yelling to get their attention.  How can he possibly be on this course if he sees us?  As I watch him barreling toward us midship, I freeze in absolute terror.  This is it.  He is going to hit us, and we are going to be blasted into a million pieces.  All I can do is brace myself, hands over my mouth, and eyes the size of saucers.  Dan fires up the engine and does what little he can to try and get our slow boat out of the way with the least amount of damage.  His big, steel hulled boat passed within a foot or two (.5-.7 meters)of our stern!  I was shaking so violently, I could  no longer stand up.  I spent an hour in total silence, still shaking.  Then, the anger came.  That f-ing asshat!  I can only think that he did that on purpose. He changed his course.  He changed his speed.  Falling off a few degrees = no problem.  Slowing down a few knots = no problem.  This had to be intentional to mess with us.  This captain (if in fact he was one) should be stripped of his license for reckless endangerment.  I was going to document all of this right then, but it’s probably better that I didn’t.  It’s been a few days, and I am a little bit calmer (although I still relive it on a regular basis and get angry all over again)!

Passage plan from Gallipoli to Taranto.
Not a great day on the water for co-captain Robyn.

The passage took us 8 hours, mostly under sail, until we finally arrived in the bay of Taranto.  Because this is a major shipping port, the port captain requires you to call for permission to enter.  Dan tried to radio them 8 different times with no response, so in we went.  There were probably 15-20 behemoth cargo ships anchored all around us as we made our way up into the bay.  It was quite a sight to see.  As we approached the marina, Dan radioed our arrival to the marina several times as well.  Once again, we got no response.  Finally we spotted the marinero waving us to our spot.  We proceeded to get ourselves tied up with his instruction (all in Italian).  It continues to crack me up that even when you tell them you don’t speak Italian, they continue to repeat themselves as if you will eventually get it.  It is quite hysterical.  Once we were comfortably settled in, we collapsed in the air conditioned salon and cracked open an ice cold beer.  Ahhhhh.  Before long, the marinero arrived again and very apologetically informed us that we needed to move to a different spot.  He said the port captain felt that we stuck out to far in the fairway and wanted us moved.  Awwww man!  For me, the most stressful part of sailing (aside from bad weather and nasty commercial captains) is docking and undocking…..and now I had to do it twice in less than a couple of hours.  The poor marinero felt so bad.  So off we went to a spot alongside the concrete wall.  It became quite the jigsaw puzzle with the marinero trying to bring up sand lines that were far too short in order to keep us from smashing against the concrete wall (the direction of the wind and swell come from).

Taranto is seldom visited by cruisers like us as it’s a large commercial port.
Tied up to the quay with a nice view of the Old City
Doing the paperwork shuffle on a hot day

With Zoe comfortably tied up and secure in the marina, Dan and I rented a car and headed inland for some sightseeing.  We had been pushing really hard making very long passages with very little down time, so we both felt the need to take a break.   We drove through the beautiful countryside of the region of Puglia.  Our first stop was Ostuni, Citta Bianca (the white city).  This beautiful place is perched high on the hills and is quite a sight to see.  Although, I think I would name it 50 shades of beige (not a lot of real white remains).  We wandered around for bit and then headed off to our next destination, Alberobello which means beautiful tree.  This town is famous for their unique buildings which they call trulli.  Because of the unique style of the Trulli, they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I had heard of the town referred to (not by Italians) as the Smurf village.  From the pictures, it is easy to see why (if you have ever watched the show “The Smurfs”).  It was beyond adorable and definitely a worthwhile stop.  Unfortunately, we were in the heat of the day, and it was blistering hot.  We decided to have a light bite and drink inside one of the Trulli’s.  Probably not our best idea other than the experience.  We paid a hefty tab for a very small plate of local meat and cheese and 1 drink each (about $60 ….ouch).

Ostuni – the White City
Citta Bianca.. We happened to wear white by coincidence…we swear
Leaving Ostuni in our rear view mirror and onwards to “Smurf Town”
The Trullis of Alberobello
Alberobello was a wonderful place to wander
The heat wave seemed to keep the tourists away so we did not have the notorious crowds to deal with

Did I mention that we had been pushing really hard in moving the boat and this was our downtime for some rest and relaxation?  HA!  For those of you that know Dan well, he doesn’t really know how to do slow and leisurely….everything is done at warp speed.  This trip was no different.  Our third and final stop for the night was the city of Matera.  This city is renowned for its rock-cut core.  It has twin cliff side zones known as the Sassi.  The city began as a complex of cave homes banking a breath-taking gorge.  The Sassi has 12 levels that climb 380 meters (1247 feet) and are connected by a series of pathways and stairs.  You will definitely get your steps and elevation walking around this city!  This medieval city clings to the edge of the canyon and is remarkably well preserved.  We had rented a room here that was located inside one of the caves at the very bottom of the city.  Just finding it was quite the adventure.  The hotel was also a winery, so upon our arrival we were treated to a lovely glass of wine in the cool shelter of the cave lobby.  Once again, the outside was blistering hot.  We enjoyed the cool sanctuary of our cave room before heading out for a dinner overlooking the gorge and then heading up the gazillion steps to the top of the city.  The sights were spectacular.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops, so I was sad we were only going to be here for about 15 hours.  This spot is high on our “must revisit and spend more time” list (which seems to be growing by the day).  We had hit 3 different cities on our loop in less than 24 hours!  Sound relaxing?  Not so much.

The narrow drive to a our parking spot. Mirrors almost touched the walls!
It was actually quite a maze to puzzle through to find the hotel
Found it…home for the night. Deep in the Sassi of Matera
Nice part of staying at winery – the welcome drink!
Hotel room carved into a cave
This will do!
Lots of Americans here – a Texan was nice enough to take our picture
Matera is situated in a picturesque valley- we need to come back and spend more time exploring the area
Dinner with a view
Matera is also gorgeous by night
Nighttime strolls in Italy can be magical

It was a several hour drive back through beautiful countryside.  We were somewhat forced to leave early as the rental car place closed at 11:00 (Saturday) and would not reopen until Monday.  We were already checked out with the Coast Guard and expected to depart on Sunday.  We dropped the car and took a 20 minute cab ride back to the boat (yep, that was the closest available car rental we could find….so two 20 minute cab rides made it a bit more pricey than normal).  We returned to the cool comfort of our boat to plot our next move.  We headed out into the old city of Taranto on a mission to buy some goodies specific to the region of Puglia.  We stumbled on this little market where one of the guys working there spoke some English.  He showed us which of the meats and cheeses were specific to Puglia and their city, allowed us to taste them, and we promptly stocked up.  He then threw in some extra treats for us for free.  

We decided to have a seafood dinner (something they are known for)in the old city of Taranto, so we headed out in search of a restaurant.  Unfortunately, most restaurants don’t open until 8:30, and we are just not accustomed to eating that late at night.  Even the ones on Google that claimed to be open were not open.  We checked with several different places only to be turned away and told they would be full from reservations.  We were rapidly becoming very disheartened.  We wandered across the bridge to the other side of the marina to check another place we found on Google.  Dan: “It’s suppose to be right here.  We are standing right in front of it!”  There was nothing there….just a very closed up, dilapidated building.  Dan:  “ I‘ve found one more place with really good reviews.  If it’s not there, we are done.  We are going back to the boat and calling it a day.”  So, we wandered down this very sketch alley.  Sketchy enough that Dan growled at me for being 10 feet behind him instead of right beside him to ensure my safety.  We spotted the restaurant sign and approached.  It was most definitely not open despite Google saying it was open.  As we stood staring at the door in complete and total dejection, a woman stepped out of an open kitchen door to check on us.  We asked if they were open for dinner.  She scampered inside and another woman emerged.  We repeated our question, and she signaled us to wait.  She went in and spoke to the chef, and before we knew it, she was opening the door to the restaurant and escorting us in.  Holy cow!  They opened up their restaurant 45 minutes early just for us!  With almost no English spoken and the use of some Google translate, we managed to understand that it was a set menu.  She explained to us that it was $25 Euro a person.  Sounds reasonable (of course we have no idea what we will be eating).  Before long, the starter arrives.  Out comes 7 or 8 different small plates of seafood (mussels, octopus salad, sauced squid, marinated anchovies, and on and on).  Each dish was amazing.  The first course arrived which was a large pasta noodle with clams and mussels.  The second course consisted of fried calamari, shrimp and fish.  We finished with a tangy lemon sorbet.  The food was amazing, and the hospitality and kindness even more so.  The chef came out several times to make sure we liked everything.  Thank you Mary and Pasquale for rescuing our spirits!

The streets were empty- it was dark- and the waterfront neighborhood a bit gritty
But inside the restaurant was amazing food!
Maria our server and Pasquale our Chef
Boats with 2 people and ships with 3000! Two very different kinds of cruising

We left the dock bright and early for our 15 hour passage to Crotone (on the ball of the foot).  There are two areas along the southern part of Italy that require careful consideration, the Gulf of Taranto and the Gulf of Squillace.  Both of these gulfs can have some very wicked winds and big seas, so finding the right weather window to cross them is very important.  We were headed out of the Gulf of Taranto and our window was clear.  Our biggest challenge would be arriving in Crotone after dark and dropping anchor.  We have never dropped anchor in the pitch dark of night, so this would be interesting.  Everything we had read said it was wide open sand (an anchor’s best friend).  We had an uneventful passage, arrived in Crotone and dropped anchor at 10:45 p.m.  By 11:00, we were well dug in and ready for a good nights sleep.  We plan to spend a few days in Crotone and meet up with a few friends, so I will leave this story here for now.  Stay tuned for more adventures on and off Zoe!

Passage plan Taranto –> Crotone
Robyn dropping anchor under Crotone’s city lights after a long day

Headed For New Horizons

Our new refrigerator had finally arrived, and we pulled into Preveza Marina on Wednesday.  Within a half an hour, the guys were on board to pull out the old and put in the new.  We spent the next two nights enjoying the town of Preveza one last time before leaving Greece on Friday.  As we walked down the town quay, we spotted an American flagged boat.  It turned out to be our friend Mike whose hailing port is Eloy, Arizona.  It’s not often we encounter Americans on boats out here, and we’ve definitely never encountered someone from the same landlocked state as us.  As the 3 of us headed into town for dinner, we stumbled upon an international choral competition taking place that week, so we were treated to some beautiful music all around the town from different groups from various countries.

Out with the old…in with the new. Our power usage went way down too!
We chatted a bit with the Romanian choral delegation

When Friday morning came, we ran around taking care of formalities to exit the country of Greece.  It always amazes me how long the process takes, but by 10 a.m we were underway for Albania.  HA!  Well, that was the plan.  As we rounded the corner out of the channel, the wind and swells began to pick up.  Before we knew it, we were being blasted by 25 knot winds on the nose and hitting 4-5’ swells and waves.  Each time Zoe’s bow buried into a trough, we were doused with sea spray all the way in the back of the boat.  Dishes began crashing inside the cupboards, things on shelves came crashing to the floor, and drawers and cabinets flew violently opened and closed.  We braced ourselves against the onslaught.  After about 5 unrelenting hours, we made the decision to pull into a bay for the night and try again early the next morning.  You have 24 hours to leave Greece once you’ve checked out.  We would definitely be underway, but still in Greek waters, technically.  By 6 a.m., we were underway once more.  Once inside the Corfu channel, things settled down pretty nicely (plus the wind and seas typically don’t come up until the afternoon).  We hugged the mainland side of Greece since this would put us in Albanian waters the quickest.  As the wind and swells began to increase again, we decided to pull into a small bay in Albania to anchor for the night.  Unfortunately, the best places to anchor were all buoyed up with fish farms.  We tried one potential spot off of a beach and quickly decided it was not the right place for us.  It got deep very quickly, and closer to shore put us uncomfortably close to the rocky land surrounding the shoreline.  We gave up.  We pulled on our big boy pants and headed out into the teeth of the sea once again.  Between the strong wind on our nose, and the crazy sea state, the last bit of our journey was painfully slow even under two motors.  We pulled into the bay of Saranda, Albania and were a bit surprised by the number of boats already anchored (and the majority were catamarans!).  We chose a spot that wasn’t too deep and respectfully spaced from our neighbors.  Unfortunately it landed us right in front of all the big pirate boats that take all the tourists out on excursions.  This meant non-stop loud music and very close encounters as they came and went.

One of our all time favorite bays- Two Rock Bay in Greece. And blissful relief from the waves…
Underway before the sun is up makes for a pretty sunrise
VIDEO: Force 5-6 winds entering Sarande, Albania. We were glad to drop anchor soon…
Dropped anchor maybe a little close to the excursion boats! It was ok in the end.

Our original plan had been to stay one night and then be on our way to Italy.  The weather had a different plan.  We check forecasts using 4-5 different models every morning and every evening.  Each time, it was the same….winds gusting high (not a huge deal) but the swells were more of the same (quite large and short periods).  Since we would be doing an open water passage over 14+ hours, we had no interest in getting beaten up for that long.  So, we settled in to enjoy the town of Saranda.  Wanting to try some new places, we stumbled upon this cute little restaurant up a hill that had the most amazing roasted lamb and goat on a spit.  I think it was some of the best we have ever had.  At night, the seafront lit up with bright lights and loud music from every direction.  Sunday night brought a live performance that we enjoyed from the serenity of our boat.  We finally found our hole in the wind and seas to make our crossing.  We were up at 4:45 a.m and underway by 5:00 a.m.  Dan called me a whirling-dervish.  In those 15 minutes, coffee was made, hatches were closed, instruments on, everything stowed, and anchor up. Check!

The roasted goat and lamb at Restaurant Isufi was amazing. We’ve found the farther from the waterfront the better the food tends to be.
Sarande by night. Night clubs blast music and then several times a day the mosque broadcasts a Muslim prayer (Albania is predominantly Muslim). Quite the juxtaposition.
Dan heading into visit our agent Jelja who assists with the official paperwork needed to enter and exit Albania by boat.

It turned out, we exited at just the right time.  As we crossed the channel, we watched a huge cruise ship, carrying 3000 people, enter the small port of Saranda.  Yikes, glad we weren’t there for that inundation of people.  We quickly settled in for our long passage to Italy.  As predicted, there was very little wind and the seas were tolerable despite the high winds of the night before.  A few hours in, I took my shift at the wheel.  Up to this point, all had been quiet with very little boat traffic anywhere near us.  About two hours in, I noticed 3 different boats on our instruments making their way towards towards us.  I pulled them up and quickly realized they were cargo ships.  Two were coming at me from one direction and one was coming at me from the opposite direction.  I held my course and tracked them incessantly.  When you are watching them with your eyes, they appear to be coming right for you.  I carefully monitored their track on our screen which lets me know how long until we intercept and at what distance.  In the end, the closest one passed by at .3 miles (but when you see the enormity of their size near you, you swear you can reach out and touch them!)  Wouldn’t you know, that was the only ships or even boats that came anywhere near us.  Always my luck!  Sure enough, as I took my final watch, I got to play frogger with 1 more cargo ship.  Dan’s shifts….no boats of any kind!

Passage plan from Albania across to Italy
Robyn playing high stakes frogger with passing commercial vessels. The screen grab is one of our AIS displays which shows commercial ships over a certain size.
Meanwhile, Dan fishes….

We pulled into Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy just before sunset and got ourselves anchored despite the barrage of sightseeing party boats coming in and out.  Unfortunately, it was too late for us to do formalities (check in to the country), so we had to stay on board for the night.  We headed to the Coast Guard office promptly at 9:00 a.m. (not before wandering the streets for a bit trying to find them).  Struggling through the language barriers, we discovered that we had to check in with customs and immigration first which required them to call them up and send someone from an hour away to check us in.  So, we waited.  The two guys showed up 1 1/2 hours later.  Once again, it was a comedy show of struggling through our language barriers, and a long phone call with someone higher up (I’m pretty sure I heard the word consulate).  We complicated things a little bit this year because we want to spend 4 months in Italy, and we are only allowed 3.  Our way around this was for Dan to check in using his Croatian passport.  It gets a little dicier for me.  The official wanted to make sure that we understood that we needed a marriage certificate and that we must be together at all times….especially when we go to leave the country.  Luckily Dan had spent months and months researching this, so we were well aware of the rules.  Next stop, back to the Coast Guard for our paperwork there.  It was now 11:45, and they close at noon.  Yikes!  We thought walking would be quicker (instead of taking the dinghy)…nope!  We ended up practically running since the path back did a lot of meandering.  We arrived at 11:55.

Land ho! The tip of the heel of the boot Italy comes into view.
Sunset over the anchorage as we wait for the officials to open up shop the next day
Santa Maria di Leuca lighthouse. Ships have come to grief on this point since ancient times.

Dan headed in while I waited outside in the heat.  Another round of humorous miscommunication ensued.  CG:  Where is your next port of call?  Dan:  TaRANTo.  CG:  Otranto?  Dan:  No, TaRANTo.  CG:  Otranto?  This went on for several rounds before Dan whipped out his phone and showed him on the map.  CG:  OHHH!  Taranto!  (According to Dan, it was only a slight variation in pronunciation).  They all had a big laugh.  All in all, this was probably one of the nicest check-ins (done without assistance….we love you Jelja and Sophia) we have ever been through.  Everyone was very friendly and super helpful.  We were now free to roam Italy!  Woo hoo!

Success…we are now free to roam Italy!

Back on the boat, and we were underway by 12:30.  Our next stop was the town of Gallipoli (about 4-5 hours away).  You may be wondering why Dan didn’t tell the Coast Guard that was our next port of call.  If you are at anchor, which we planned to be, then your are not required to check-in.  If you tie up to the city quay or go into a marina, then you must check in with the Coast Guard.  We were settled in around 5:30 and prepared to head into the town of Gallipoli.  Rather than take the dinghy for 10 minutes into the marina closest to the city, we opted to go into the marina near us and do the 20 minute walk.  After trying to talk to several different people (all very eager to help us….but again, no English), we determined that it was okay to leave our dinghy tied up where we did and still be able to return to it later in the night after they locked up.  Off we headed to the beautiful walled city of Gallipoli.  Unfortunately, the walk there was extremely intense.  For the first half, there were no sidewalks, and two directions of cars driving at very high speeds on a very narrow road.  While the locals had no reservations walking side by side, Dan and I were single file and contemplating plastering ourselves to the wall like Spiderman!  

Gallipoli comes into view
Aragonese castle in Gallipoli

Once inside the city walls, we were met with incredible beauty.  The architecture, the cobbled streets, the colors were a sight to behold.  Since it was already after 7:00 p.m., we decided to go grab dinner before things got really crowded.  We found a highly reviewed restaurant tucked up an alley with local Salento specialties.  We sat staring at the menu.  I am sure you’ve already guessed… English.  With handy Google translate, we began to decipher the menu.  Since some of the words were about the style of cooking, they did not translate.  There were several horse meat dishes on the menu (um, that’s a big hell no!).  My eye caught on the either the lamb dish or the octopus dish.  Dan had the clever idea of putting the information into searching for recipes.  That worked perfectly in describing the dish.  That also meant that I learned that the lamb dish I was planning on having was actually lamb entrails (tripe).  Ummm, that would be a big no again.  Octopus it is!  It turned out to be a very enjoyable dinner of local specialties.  From there, we wandered the alleyways for awhile and popped into this adorable little Christmas shop (I like to buy ornaments from the places we travel).  By 9:30, the city was hopping and the streets were packed with people.  It became very overwhelming and less than enjoyable, so we made our way back to the boat.  This town is definitely on my list of places to return to and spend a lot more time (preferably not in the heart of summer tourism).

Trying Salento style cuisine in Gallipoli. We stayed away from the horse and lamb intestine…
Google translate to the rescue…Salento style cuisine features horse meat. That’s a big heck no!
Salento style slow cooked octopus in a red pignata sauce
Unexpected find…a Christmas store in July!
Wandering charming Gallipoli

The next morning it was time for us to continue our journey further into the Gulf of Taranto and the actual city of Taranto.  I think we are due for one more misadventure before closing out this chapter of our story.  Our plan was to leave at 7:00 a.m, but the sea decided it was not going to release us without a little bit more drama.  As I began pulling up the anchor, I noticed this very odd shadow coming up as well.  Uh-oh, that’s not good.  As it came to the surface, I saw that a fisherman had laid his trap lines across our anchor chain (also knocking our bridle off in the process…..grrrr).  It took Dan and I both to get it untangled from our bridle while little crabs, worms and other sea floor debris littered our deck.  Dan was ready to just cut the trap line, but with a little work, we were able to free it without costing the fisherman his trap.  NOW, we were ready to go.  This would be an 8 hour passage, but the wind was perfectly positioned for a really nice sail.  We have been here almost 3 weeks and have had the sails up twice for a small bit of time. The forecast did not let us down, and we are currently flying up the gulf at 6.5 knots in 15-20 knot winds from the stern.  I am going to close this here since it is already getting pretty long.  Stay tuned for our adventures in our next ports of call as we take you on a tour of this beautiful country.

Heavy fish trip snagged in our anchor chain! It took two of us working for a half hour to finally get free.
Passage plan – Gallipoli to Taranto

Welcome To 2023 Aboard Zoe

It still feels a little unreal that we are finally back in Greece.  We had a very busy and exciting off season home (well, more like 2 actual seasons)!  As you may remember, we closed on our new build last August.  We flew home long enough to attend my son’s wedding, close on the house, and move all our stuff into the new house before jetting back to the boat.  When we arrived back home at the end of our sailing season, there was much to do.  We spent a big chunk of our winter getting settled into the house, getting our backyard landscaped, meeting new neighbors, and enjoying reuniting with family and friends.  We also spent a great deal of time exploring the miles and miles of amazing trails that lie just outside our front door.  Thanks to a very mild winter and spring, we were gifted with the opportunity to hike well into June!  Needless to say, we LOVE where we live!  

Exploring the desert around our new home
Winter rains brought great wildflowers to the desert
Red tail hawk fledglings in the nest
Redtail hawk parent circling protectively. Her shrill cries were amazing
Climbing to the top of a local mountain.
Exploring by Jeep
Summit views!

We had several other exciting life events during our time home this year.  We were on baby watch for two new grandchildren.  We were blessed with our first granddaughter the end of May (and boy is she a cutie)!  We are still awaiting the arrival of our second grandson….unfortunately, he is not due to arrive until late July, and we are here.  It’s getting harder and harder to be away from our littles.  We did get to spend a lot of time bonding with our first grandson, Owen, and it’s been very hard to be away from him.  Nothing is more heartbreaking than that little face looking up at you with the words, “Why do you have to go back to the boat?  I want to go to the boat with you.”  Ouch…..cue tears.  Other exciting news….my son, Richard, is now engaged and will be getting married next spring.  And lastly, Dan’s son Jacob landed his first “real” job working for Intel in the state of Oregon (which necessitated Dan taking a week to drive a moving truck to help Jacob get moved settled into his new life).

Baby Shower – family is getting larger and larger!
Welcoming baby Scarlett to the world
Happy grandma
Cousins meet for the first time
Teaching how to cook
Moving day for Jacob – 1200 miles from Phoenix to Oregon

Needless to say, all of these exciting events meant a much later start for Zoe’s season (and possibly a future restructuring of what our sailing season will look like moving forward).  Most years, we spend the night in London before moving on to Greece the next day.  This year, we decided to fly all the way through.  When I say that, I mean several layovers and no overnight stay anywhere.  Unfortunately, between the layovers and a very delayed flight from Gatwick, UK to Preveza, Greece meant our trip took us over 30 hours with little to no sleep.  Yep, it was painful.  Lesson:  Overnighting in the UK had many benefits.

By the time we got settled into our rental apartment and took some time to relax, it was 2:00 a.m. before we got to bed.  Ughh….gonna be a rough day getting Zoe ready.  As expected, we were up quite early (4-5 hours of sleep) and aboard Zoe ready to work.  Oh boy, she was in a sorry state.  The 8 months had not been kind to her.  Between the layers of dirt/staining and the gazillion cobwebs (yes, complete with horrid spiders), we felt very overwhelmed.  We dug in and began to put her back together and get her cleaned up.  We had 2 days to get her ready before she was scheduled to go back in the water….the shortest time we had ever given ourselves to get her ready.  By the second day, we were both having a panic attack.  We figured that as long as we did all the below water line stuff on land, it would be no big deal to do all the above water line stuff while on the water in the marina.  Yeeeahhhh….scrubbing the stains and dirt on the hulls and deck took 2 days alone!  We ended up pushing our launch day by one more day in the hopes of getting more done.  The night before launch I started to feel uneasy about putting the mainsail up while we were in the water (we had already put the genoa up).  At 9:30 p.m, Dan and I started putting up the mainsail.  This is our biggest sail, clumsiest to work with, requires hardware/tools/goop for the screws(tef-gel), and insertion of battons.  To add to the fun, we were both being brutally attacked by mosquitoes! Oh, and let’s not forget that it is now dark out.  All I can say is that I am very grateful that we did this on land!  Between juggling all the pieces and incessantly smacking mosquitoes, I dropped a few pins and screws several times.  Had we been on the water, they would have been gone forever.  We finally got it done despite some serious sailor potty mouth (okay, that was me)…..but you gotta understand, I am wrestling with the sail and hardware while jumping and dancing around as I am being devoured by mosquitoes.

First day back to Zoe after her almost 8 month hibernation
Re-rigging sails stored for winter
The rigging queen hard at work
Zoe on the move. There’s over two thousand boats in the area yards

They say the word boat stands for “break out another thousand.”  I’m starting to believe that!  We sent our life raft in for inspection at the end of last season.  When we called to arrange to pick it up, we were informed it was not serviceable (pictures pretty much confirmed that it was a disaster).  New life raft, check.  Then, we discovered one of our refrigerators was not cooling.  This was our main food fridge.  Can you say food poisoning?  Yeah, no thanks.  We got someone out to look at it….nope, can’t be fixed… fridge on order from Athens.  Arrrghhh.  Boats can be a lot of fun….but they are also a royal pain in the ass!

Local refrigerator technicians on the scene
Tasty octopus at a nearby taverna

Let’s talk about something more lighthearted and amusing.  Before we get underway, we do a big provisioning in order to allow us to be off the grid and not need to go to shore unless we want to.  Large grocery store runs are common among boaters and typical for Americans but highly unusual for Europeans.  In any grocery store, you will see them with a small cart or basket with supplies for only the next day or two.  Dan and I roll through with a grocery cart filled to the brim, since we freeze or vacuum seal most of our stuff (and we may be nowhere near any sort of market for weeks).  I’m not sure the locals appreciate the amount of time we take at the deli counter and checkout.  We also make a special trip to our favorite roadside produce market.  This is the most amazing place I have ever found.  Again, we have only seen locals here picking up a few things.  This produce and their products are straight from the local farms and actually keep for weeks!  We stock up on tomatoes, onions, English cucumbers, every color of pepper, garlic, cabbage, and potatoes.  In addition, they have the most amazing locally produced olive oil and dips.  Once again, we leave with our trunk filled with all this fresh goodness for very little money (and it is beyond delicious)!

Garlic as far as the eye can see. No vampires allowed!
Loving the fresh produce from the local farms

My next bit of fun was a haircut.  I had not had one in a very long time, and I felt kind of ratty.  I found I highly reviewed place on Google, and they were able to get me in the next day.  When I got there, the guy who does everyone’s hair didn’t speak a lick of English (and sadly, I do not speak Greek).  He and I had a lot of laughs trying to communicate what I wanted done and how to style my hair.  In the end, it worked all worked out (and I’m sure it was a memorable experience for both of us)!

Since we have to be back in Preveza when the refrigerator arrives, we decided to stay relatively close and cruise the landlocked Gulf of Amvrakia.  Very few boats venture into this gulf making it a very peaceful place to hang out during the height of cruising season where it’s tough to find a good spot to anchor, and you are at risk of playing bumper boats with those who choose to anchor to close to you.  The gulf is surrounded by wetlands and marshes which make it an amazing breeding ground for many fish, shellfish and birds.  Thanks to the richness of this environment, you can also find dolphins and sea turtles here as well.  Unfortunately, the green, murky water makes it less than desirable for swimming.

First dingy trip to port for some exploration
Byzantine church of Panagia Koronissia dating back to the 7th century
Ambracian Gulf views

We have anchored in this gulf a number of times but always stayed fairly close to the entrance near the town of Vonitsa.  This time we decided to venture all the way in to the easternmost point.  So far, we have explored two different anchorages with very tiny villages on land.  In our second anchorage, Ormos Koprainis, we decided to try the one and only taverna on shore.  It had really good reviews on the local seafood.  It is run by a 94 year old woman who we later discovered is deaf.  She also doesn’t speak a word of English (and there was no menu) which made our attempt at ordering dinner almost comical.  She pulled Dan into the kitchen where he discovered the only seafood today was anchovies and sardines.  Hmmmm…..neither are a big favorite, but why not?  Well, not quite sure what went wrong, but we ended up with a few beers, a plate of french fries, and a salad.  I guess the rest of the dinner will be happening back on the boat.

Local pony roaming free in the small village
Always great way to wind the day down

We’ve been away for quite some time, so I wanted to catch you up and welcome you back to Zoe.  While I know this is not our most exciting post, the real adventures are coming…..I promise.  Once we have the new fridge installed (hopefully in the next few days), we will be making our way out of Greece to Albania and onward to Italy.  It is our plan to do a deep dive of Italy and Sicily this year and say farewell to Greece (at least for the foreseeable future).  Stick with us for some new and exciting adventures…..and of course, the inevitable misadventures!

Sixth year of chasing sunsets on Zoe!