A Terrifying Hike, A Weather Forecast Gone Wrong, And Amazing Sights Of The French Riviera

It was with great reluctance that we left the city of Ajaccio, Corsica.  This place had truly been a magical stop, and we could have easily spent weeks here.  It is definitely high on my list of places to return to in the future.  We got underway fairly early in the morning to make the 6 hour passage to a place called Girolata. Girolata is unique because it is shut off from the rest of the island by high mountains and deep ravines, making it only accessible by sea.  Perched high on the outermost point is a stunning looking castle.  It appears to have been restored as it looks like something out of a Disney movie.  Tucked deep into the corner of the bay, well protected from most winds (and invading pirates/mauraders back in the day) lies a mooring field in very shallow waters.  In here, we would take a mooring both bow and stern to keep us from swinging, since they have packed in many mooring slots.  The tender greeted us outside of the mooring field, asked our draft, and told us to follow him.  As Dan watched the depth shallow up severely, he called out to the guy, “are you sure it is deep enough for us?!”  Our depth meter was reading 1.2 meters, and we draw 1.3 meters!  The guy assured us it was fine and tied us up very close to the rocky cliffs on shore.  It was definitely super shallow here.  As a matter of fact, we watched a monohull come in and quickly run aground.  The tender driver then needed to help drag him out deeper and get him tied up before he swung into the shallows again.

We quickly headed to shore and began wandering around.  Our first order of business, go see the castle (of course)!  We tried and tried, but could not find a pathway that wasn’t blocked by signs that said private property/no access.  We stopped by the port captain’s office to inquire about how to get there.  We were told that there was no access to the castle at this time because it is surrounded by privately owned properties.  He said it would probably be another two years before they were able to identify and create a route that avoided the private properties.  Needless to say, we were very disappointed.  As you can imagine, it didn’t take long to explore the tiny town which consisted of homes, restaurants and bars.  All day long, day trip excursion boats off loaded hoards of people to explore the little, isolated village before returning them to the bigger cities. Oh, and the free roaming cows on the beach added some fun to the mix.  We had originally planned to spend a few nights here but quickly decided that one night was enough.  We jumped in for a swim which did not disappoint.  Below us was an aquarium busy cleaning our hulls.  I set off to explore the jagged, rocky coastline.  Before long, I had a menagerie of fish following me around and swimming up to check me out.  These guys, some quite big, were not skittish in the slightest.  The bay was surrounded by towering rock cliffs with many tree lined hiking paths, so we decided we would go for a hike the next morning before leaving Girolata behind.

Cow getting a suntan on the beach
Girolata’s off limits and well preserved citadel
Zoe in the mooring field
One of the more aggressive hikes we’ve done!
This part of Corsica is especially beautiful

In the morning we headed to the start of the trail where 3 different hikes were posted.  One was an hour and 15 minutes, one was an hour and a half, and the final one was 3 and half hours.  We opted for the hour and a half hike, and off we went.  The hike started off following the shoreline through a tree-lined path offering lots of shade.  Up, up, up we went.  There were no more signs along the path, just yellow paint bands on trees and rocks to mark the way.  Before long, climbing and scrambling over rock began.  Did I mention that we were now several hundred feet above the rocky sea below?  Or that we were on a very narrow path, with unsure footing, and nothing to stop our death plunge into the shallow sea below?  Yeah, my fun meter just took a huge dip toward zero.  As we continued along our route, and the climbing got steeper and more precarious, we began to express our concern that this trail was winding deeper along the bay and not making it’s way inland to complete the loop.  We were nearing the 45 minute mark at which point it should have begun to turn inland.  We continued on further before deciding that we had definitely taken the wrong trail.  From what we could see ahead, we were on the 3 1/2 hour hike with no drinking water.  We decided to turn around and go back the way we came.  Awesome!  I was beyond excited to now have to down climb all those hairball sections we had just come through.  Needless to say, I spent some of the descent on my ass, crab walking down the steep rocks.

Once back on board, we discussed our track back out of the bay to ensure that we did not run aground.  We quickly dropped lines from the 3 mooring balls we were tied to and made our way out of the bay.  Our next and final stop on the island of Corsica was the town of Calvi.  It was a sunny, hot day with no wind, so we motored our way north.  As we arrived into Calvi, we were once again greeted by the towering walls of a magnificent fortification.  You just can’t get tired of the amazing sights on this island.  The anchorage was pretty far from the town, so we opted for the mooring balls right outside the marina and heart of town.  We spent the next 3 days exploring the fortification, hiking along two of the bays, and climbing to a very scenic overlook.  We were really struggling with leaving Corsica.  This was truly a magical island, but all good things must come to an end.  We had our weather window to cross over to the French Riviera on the mainland.  It was going to be a 15 hour crossing, so we decided to leave around 1:30 p.m. in order to arrive in the anchorage at sunrise.

Approaching Calvi
Wandering the old fortress at Calvi
Waiting for sunset over the Old City
Zoe in the mooring field at Calvi

We quickly got underway and made our way out to sea.  As the hours slipped away, we soon noticed that the wind was not dropping with the sunset like the forecast had shown.  Not only was the wind building, but the seas we were suppose to have behind us did not play out either.  Not only were the seas much bigger than forecasted, but they were coming from all directions making for an extremely rough ride.  About 1/2 way into our journey, both Dan and I wondered if maybe we should have turned back.  Things got even better as these giant, thunderstorm clouds started building on the horizon.  Before long, the lightning began…..yeah….this was a whole lot of NOT fun!  We managed to sail the entire passage (a rarity out here) with a reefed main and genoa.  Because we sailed at a much faster speed than under motor, we arrived way before sunrise.  As we made our way into an anchorage outside of Monaco, it quickly became clear that this was going to be problematic.  Our charts showed that it was okay for boats under 20 meters to anchor behind the yellow buoys, but the buoys themselves showed no anchoring and no motoring.  Outside the markers was too deep for us, never mind it was still dark out which added to the challenge of finding a safe spot.  We both decided that trying to force this was not a good plan, so we motored along the coast for another hour before arriving in a mooring field outside of Villafranche.  By now, the sun was coming up, and we quickly grabbed a mooring ball.  After getting ourselves secured, the very friendly mooring ball operator came out and gave us all the scoop on the area before leaving us to get some much needed rest.  Of all the years that we have done overnight passages, Dan and I both agreed that this was the absolute worst one we have ever done.  We also agreed that next time, we would put the seas behind us and head for Genoa, Italy instead of Monaco, France.  After all, it’s not like we had some place to be….we blow with the wind!

A huge cruise ship lights up the nighttime seas
A sight for sore eyes after a hard passage – Monaco!

Villafranche turned out to be an awesome stop.  While the large anchorage tended to fill up with cruise ships and billionaire luxury yachts (and a few sprinklings of boaters like us), we were blissfully tucked away on our ball out of the chaos.  Here we were surrounded by towering cliffs with beautiful villas perched high on the hills.  The waterfront housed a multitude of restaurants and shops, and looking out over the bay sat another fortification.  Thanks to a train that ran above the waterfront, we were able to go and explore Monaco and old town Nice, leaving Zoe safely behind.  Monaco was as you would expect.  The harbor was full of extremely expensive, high end yachts, high end apartment complexes loomed all around, and the streets were lined with the most exotic cars you can imagine.  We were able to catch the changing of the guard at the palace which was pretty cool.  All in all, Monaco wasn’t really my cup of tea.  I much prefer the old cities and quaint towns of the past.  I did enjoy Nice which had a mixture of modern flair, as well as cobblestone alleyways with cafes and shops.

Exploring Monaco
Monaco Cathedral
Changing of the Palace Guard
Wandering Monaco
Old Town Monaco
Monaco harbor from the Citadel
Zoe in the mooring field at Villefrance sur Mer
Lovely cobblestoned streets of Villefranche
Cockpit view of Villefranche
Baguette in hand!
Trompe o’oeil style church
Villefranche castle grounds
Old Nice
Nuff said!
Cote d’Azur beaches
Crowded even in September
Wandering Nice
Nice Old City

Once again, we were monitoring a weather situation and trying to make arrangements for a marina berth to ride it out.  Another mistral was on its way bringing heavy rain, thunderstorms, and 30-40 knot winds.  We got lucky and finally landed a spot outside of Saint Tropez in Port Grimaud which is in a lagoon at the end of the bay.  It has been called the Venice of France.  We were super excited to spend a few days here exploring the canals by dinghy and walking the surrounding area, including the famous Saint Tropez.  As predicted, our first couple of days were spent hunkered down in the pouring rain.  We did manage to get off the boat each day to explore the area on foot.  When the rain finely broke on the third day, we jumped on the ferry that runs from the marina over to Saint Tropez.  We wandered the harbor lined with billionaire mega yachts, climbed the narrow alleyways with cute little cafes and high end boutiques, and headed up the hill to the citadel.  This was our favorite part of Saint Tropez.  Besides the amazing views, the citadel housed an incredible maritime museum that we fully enjoyed exploring.  I will let the pictures do the talking.  After the citadel, we headed back down to the waterfront to try out Saint Tropez’s famous dessert/pastry, Tarte Tropezienne.  I’m not sure having it in Saint Tropez was our most brilliant idea since 2 pastries with 2 cappuccinos came with a hefty price tag of $54 euros!  Ouch!  

Home for a few days while waiting out some bad weather
Zoe ready for the storm.
So called “Venice of France” We can see why!
Grimaud canals
St Tropez Citadel
St Tropez views
St Tropez Citadel
Art exhibit of St Tropez Citadel
Now that’s a moat
Exploring the excellent St Tropez maritime museum
Serious business
Replicas of French man-o-war’s
Wandering the old streets of St Tropez
Iconic St Tropez patisserie of Senequier
Tropezienne pastry
Wow. That’s a lot of money for two tarts and two Capuccinos!

We had 4 nights booked in the marina (I use the term loosely since they side tied us to a wall by the fuel dock).  The first 2 days were wind and rain, and the 4th day was the worst of the forecasted mistral.  This meant that all of our real fun and exploration needed to take place on that third day.  So, when we returned from Saint Tropez, we ticked off our final “must do.”The last thing we wanted to experience during our stay was a happy hour cruise through the canals of the lagoon.  We loaded up the dinghy with a charcuterie plate, a couple glasses of wine, and a speaker for music.  Off we went for a sunset cruise through the canals.  As expected, it was magical.  The canals are lined with beautiful homes and quaint little walking bridges.  This has definitely been one of my more favorite stops.

Sunset happy hour on the canals of Port Grimaud
Charcuterie, wine, music and great scenery. Bliss.

The following morning, the mistral arrived as expected.  Before long, the winds were howling at 35-45 knots.  Spindrift was swirling out in the anchorage, and I found myself grateful that we were securely tied to the wall (which was concrete and therefore not pitching around trapping us on the boat).  Although these strong mistrals can get a bit scary, I was also grateful that it came during daylight hours.  As you know, things are always scarier in the dark of night (haha)!  The last positive thing about a nasty wind storm is that a week or two of beautiful weather follows in its wake.  We still have 101 miles left to cover before taking Zoe out of the water and closing out our sailing season.  It’s hard to believe our season is almost over.  It’s been our shortest season yet while covering the largest amount of miles.  Tomorrow we will take advantage of the nice weather window to slowly make our way to Marseille.  Stay tuned for our final installment of Zoe’s sailing season before we set off for a little inland exploration of the French countryside.

There’s A Storm A-Brewin’

It was well forecasted.  The wicked mistral had finally reared its ugly head.  We had been watching the forecast for nearly a week and each day praying that it would moderate or just plain go away.  It was not going to be pretty.  Each day we watched, and each day the forecasted winds grew along with the number of days.  Before long, it went from 1-2 days to 4-5 days.  Wind gusts were going to be over 50 knots.  Ugh!  My fun meter was rapidly approaching zero.  We were fortunate that Dan found a marina spot for us….sort of.  Unfortunately, this marina was not protected by a breakwater, and was on a floating pontoon which was only installed for the summer months.  While perfectly safe, it did guarantee that both the pontoon and the boats would be pitching around violently….and they were!  This was going to be a long and painful few days.  To make matters worse, we were expecting our next set of guests, one being new to the sailing life.  Emil and Carrie would be joining us, and we were really hoping this would not spook them off.  Emil had sailed with us once before and had unfortunately been indoctrinated by a nasty storm at the beginning of his trip.  He may start thinking this is how all sailing journeys begin!

Dan I spent the day getting Zoe prepared for what was to come.  We secured spring lines to minimize our side to side movement.  We went to the nautical shop and bought some steel spring line dampeners and chain.  These attached to the dock with chain and then to our lines to help ease the snapping pressure on the lines.  We had everything rigged and felt pretty good.  That evening we headed into town for some pizza and ended up sitting at a table next to another cruising couple.  We learned that they were out in the anchorage, and they gave a shudder when we told them where we were tied up.  They explained to us how rough it was on these piers with the boats pitching one way and the pier pitching another.  Needless to say, we were a little concerned.  They tried to make us feel better by reassuring us that our catamaran probably would not pitch around as much as a monohull. 

Ouch…this wind forecast is not pretty

The storm arrived the following day and quickly escalated.  We watched a couple of boats come in early, and it was a nightmare.  One very large catamaran required 3 marineros, one who was on a high speed tender, to assist them with docking.  They had 3 very failed attempts to get the boat docked, and in the end, one of the marineros jumped on board and docked it for them while the others jumped on board to quickly tie them up.  The first night of the storm, we were up all night long, taking only brief catnaps.  The wind howled, the boat cracked and creaked like it was ready to explode, and the dock pitched violently.  Winds became sustained at 25-35 knots and gusts went from 40-50 knots.  At one point, the chain on our leeward (the side away from the wind) stern line snapped, and we were no longer tethered to the dock on one corner.  Luckily, we still had 8 other lines holding us in place.  When we hit a brief lull in the wind, we reattached the stern line and added another.  By the end, we had 10 lines to various points on our boat.  Most of the wives and kids vacated their boats for the comfort of a hotel, and left their husbands to oversee the safety of the boat.  Not me….I got to stay for the fun!  For 2 1/2 days, we were unable to safely get off Zoe.  The boat was pitching up and down, and the dock was pitching side to side.  The waves inside the bay were 3-4 feet and spraying up and over our decks. So, we rode it out with Zoe.  By the third day, the gusts had come down a bit, so we could get off the boat when there was a lull in the wind.  Of course when we returned, so had the winds and getting on board was quite harrowing.  We managed to stall our guests for another two days in order for the wind and swell to continue it’s decline.  In the end, we were stuck in this “marina” for 6 days!  We were definitely itching to get going. 

This so called “marina” had a lot of chop that pitched us around
Video is the best way to show what the four days of rocking and rolling looked like

Our guests arrived for our last night in the marina, and by early morning we were back under way.  As we exited the Golfo di Aranci, we were treated to a couple of dolphins bidding us farewell.  Our next two days were spent in the beautiful Maddalena Islands off the island of Sardegna.  Here, we explored the crystal turquoise waters, rock reefs, and made an attempt to see one of the famous pink sand beaches.  Unfortunately, you are forbidden from walking or even swimming at the beach.  We were hoping to land the dinghy and hike to an overlook above the beach, but the water was very choppy and there was no nice place to put the dinghy.  So we had to try and take pictures from a distance while getting beat up by the swell and wake from the many other boats coming in to see the beach.  By the time we got back to Zoe, Carrie and I were soaking wet.

A little kayak fun with out new guests
The beauty of the Maddalena islands
Robyn at the wheel
Preparing to grab a national park mooring ball
Unfortunately the mooring balls were very close to our neighbors!
New guests enjoying life on Zoe

After two days, we had a decent weather window to cross from Sardegna to Corsica (the area between the two islands is notorious for funneling wind between the two and making things nasty).  Our destination was the beautiful city of Bonafacio, far up in an amazing fjord.  As we cruised toward the fjord entrance, we saw houses that were perched precariously on the cliffs overlooking the sea.  Entering the fjord, you are surrounded by these amazing limestone cliffs.  Before long, a stunning citadel greeted us, and the bay was lined with incredible looking restaurants and shops.  This was going to be a fun stop!  Our first adventure took us up the steep hill to a nature trail along the cliffs.  Here, we had panoramic views of the sea and the island.  There were also some scattered ruins.  From there we headed to the other side of the cliffs where the fortification stood.  We entered the walled city through massive doors that still housed the original equipment to raise and lower the gates.  Inside the walls were quaint little streets filled with shops, restaurants and cafes.  It was definitely one of the prettiest places we have visited.

The fjord city of Bonifacio!
Bonifacio – One of our favorite stops
Amazing hikes and views
The old fortress city of Bonifacio
Wandering the ancient streets
A stop for crepes and beer – only in france!
Bonifacio by night

The next day, we rented a car and headed inland for some further exploration of the island of Corsica.  Our first stop was a quaint little winery where we tasted some very nice wines from the region (which of course we bought).  We continued on our winding, hilly ascent to the town of Sartene.  We took in the sights, had a nice lunch in the square, and then headed off for some hiking along the coastline.  While we were wandering the town, Dan got a call from the marina telling us we needed to leave.  Uh, that’s not going to work….we are an hour away from the boat.  We had originally booked for one night, but after seeing how beautiful Bonafacio was we asked to stay one or two more nights.  The girl had told us it was perfectly fine, and we could pay the following day.  We were not happy.  In the end, they gave in and let us stay the 2nd night, but said there was absolutely no way for the 3rd night as they were booked full!  Why were they suddenly booked full?  You guessed it….heavy winds were forecasted which is also why we had wanted the third night as well.  We sadly got underway early the next morning. On a positive note, we had a cracking down wind sail on only a reefed genoa.  This area of the Med is definitely a lot more windy than the parts of Greece we had grown use to.

Road trip!
Winery Domaine Saparale
Vineyards during harvest season
Ancient inland city of Sartene
Hiking the Bruzzi Trail
Bruzzi trail charms
Leaving Bonifacio
25 -30 knots of wind on a dead run under reefed genoa sail. Stress free!

We spent the next night anchored along a big sand beach before heading to our next anchorage outside the town of Propriano.  The wind had kicked up higher than expected, along with the swell in the bay.  We took the dinghy and headed into town.  I found myself really happy that I had showered before this excursion since Carrie and I spent most of the ride getting doused in salt water.  Unfortunately, our timing was not ideal so when we arrived in town, everything was closed up for siesta.  We wandered the streets for a bit and then headed to the church at the high point of the town.  Once again, we had awesome views.  Since nothing was open, we headed back to the boat and made the quick decision to move to a more sheltered part of the bay.  This turned out to be a much better decision.  Not only was the water super calm, but we were able to grab a nice mooring ball just outside a quaint little town.  As I got busy making dinner, we noticed a large military looking ship coming in.  It was not just coming in….it was coming straight for us!  Uh oh, looks like we are getting boarded.  Sure enough, the big ship launched it’s dinghy containing 4 heavily armed and uniformed men.  They tied up to us and climbed on board.  They were the customs enforcers of France.  They spent the next 1/2 hour scouring all our paperwork, asking questions, and eventually searching our boat.  Can’t say we’ve ever had THAT experience before.  In the end, they said we were good and went on their way.

Some more kayak fun at a remote beach anchorage
Zoe at anchor
Drone shot of the amazingly clear waters of Corsica
Customs boarding party at the ready
Zoe was boarded and searched and all was OK!

The next morning we made our way to the capitol of Corsica, Ajaccio.  Our plan was to grab a mooring ball outside of one of the marinas.  It didn’t take long before we discovered that was not going to happen.  The mooring field was filled with derelict boats both on balls and anchored around them.  We then cruised to the closest anchorage and that was a no go as well.  We headed to the marina (which didn’t look overly appealing either) and asked for a berth.  They told us the tender would be with us once they finished with someone else.  No one ever came, and they stopped answering our calls.  We sat circling in a narrow channel for 30 minutes before a different marina responded to our radio calls and said they would take us.  Talk about a blessing in disguise.  It was a beautiful marina, behind an actual breakwater, in the heart of town.  We were all super excited about our new home for the next few days.

Wonderful Ajaccio, Corsica
Ajaccio sunset with Emil and Carrie
One last dinner aboard before our guests make a sad departure

After 2 days of exploring the city of Ajaccio, we sadly bid farewell to Emil and Carrie, our last guests of the season.  Dan and I decided to go for a walk around the outskirts of the city and happened upon a bunch of American jeeps, tanks, trucks, and weapons from the World War II era.  We soon discovered that 80 years ago today (Sept. 9, 1943), Corsica was liberated by the Americans.  There would be huge celebrations throughout the city to commemorate this historical event, and we were smack in the middle of it!  Flowered wreaths were laid at the base of the monument, the Governor addressed the crowd, and all the branches of service were present.  The color guard did their flag ceremony and the band rang in a most amazing parade of foot soldiers, vehicles, and weaponry from WWII.  The soldiers wore uniforms of that era, and the ladies were decked out in attire for that period as well.  It was quite a sight to see, and gave Dan and I the chills being here to witness it.  Two fighter jets came roaring in over the crowd and it just about brought tears to your eyes as the afterburners shook you to your core.  This has definitely been another destination highlight for me.  Tomorrow, we will bid a sad farewell to Ajaccio as we make our way north on the island of Corsica.  We will only have 2 or 3 more stopovers before we make our crossing to the mainland of southern France.  Stay tuned for more adventures in France!

Great day to be an American in Corsica!
Authentic Sherman tank from WW2
Amazing display of American military vehicles from the WW2 liberation of Corsica
Re-enactment of WW2 American Soldiers
Sherman tank on the move!!
What a great flyover!!!

181 Miles Under Darkness of Night

We left the island of Favignana bright and early (6:45 a.m.) for our 33 hour passage across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the island of Sardegna (Sardinia).  We had our perfect weather window to cross safely and be able to sail a decent amount of the passage.  We sailed through the day and night and into the next day.  The passage wasn’t too bad during the night.  Most of the fishing vessels and cargo ships were pretty far away from us.  Since there was barely a sliver of a moon which did not rise until almost dawn, we had a spectacular view of the stars, the Milky Way, and Starlink.  If you haven’t seen Starlink in the sky, it’s quite crazy.  It appears as a long line of large, bright dots streaking across the sky.  Thanks to favorable winds, and motor sailing when they died, we managed to average 6.1 knots of speed and arrived on the southern coast of Sardegna earlier than expected.  The first few anchorages we checked out were packed with boats!  Ugh….no thanks.  Eventually, we found a HUGE, wide open sandy bay with Turquoise blue water.  Now we are talking!  We were anchored down and ready for a nap by 2:30 p.m. (32 hours later).

Passage plan
And we’re underway!
Half way there!
Land ho!
Beautiful Golfo de Palmas
Amazing turquoise waters
Exploring the area by kayak

After 2 relaxing days at anchor, it was time to start making our way north.  Our goal was to cruise the western side of Sardegna.  It is considered the more wild side of the island with far less boat traffic than the eastern side.  Part of the reason for this is that the western side becomes very untenable unless you have just the right forecast of winds.  We did!  The prevailing winds here come from the northwest which is why the western side is very exposed.  The winds for the next week were coming from the NE and SE.  When we did get WNW winds, they were very light.

We departed the anchorage early again to make our way to Isola Di San Pietro and the city of Carloforte.  We were offered a great marina price right in the heart of the city, so we eagerly accepted it.  Carloforte is a popular resort tourist destination, and we arrived the day before Ferragosto (a national holiday in August in which many Italians take the entire month off).  We wandered the beautiful streets and attempted to make a reservation for dinner.  One highly rated restaurant had nothing for the next several days.  We found another highly rated one which said they could get us in at 10:00 p.m.  Seriously?  I don’t eat dinner at 10:00….I’m getting ready for bed!  Well, we decided we needed to try it since Carloforte is notorious for their tuna.  Long story short, the food was tasty but overpriced, and the service was not very good.  All in all, we were pretty disappointed given the cost of dinner and the lost night.  The next night, we went to a very highly reviewed pizza place on the waterfront.  They were able to squeeze us in at 7:00 (when they opened), and it was one of the best meals we’ve had (and 1/2 the price)!  We spent both our afternoons here going for bike rides around the salt ponds and taking long walks.  We even got to see the wild flamingoes that hang out in the salt ponds.  We left relatively early once again since we had a 45 mile passage to our next point of interest.  

Wonderful town of Carloforte
Each can of the locally caught tuna was around 30 euros! That’s over 30 US dollars. No thanks!
Local wild flamingoes

Our next stop was Tharros, “The ancient city kissed by the sea.”  As we made our way toward the anchorage, I noticed a shadow gliding beside the boat.  It wasn’t long before we were greeted by a very large, solitary dolphin who decided to play in our bow spray and follow along beside us.  After our brief encounter, he disappeared.  We entered the bay and grabbed a mooring ball just beneath the watch tower.  In the morning, we took the dinghy in to go explore the ancient ruins.  We walked the ancient basalt roads that meandered above and along the sea.  Tharros is said to be one of the most important cities founded by the Carthaginians in Sardegna in the 7th century BCE.  Some centuries earlier, this area was settled because it was known for an abundance of natural resources, and the presence of a safe harbor offering protection from the strong Mistral winds (those NW winds I was telling you about).  Because of this, it made for an ideal place to engage in trade and cultural exchanges with the rest of the Med.  The ruins are scattered over a large stretch of the peninsula.  Here you can see several thermal buildings, columns, several temples, a water reservoir, and sewage structures from ancient times.  We also climbed to the top of the Spanish watch tower (added during the kingdom of Arregon) for some spectacular views.  From there, we walked to the very end of the peninsula, did a little bushwhacking down to the sea and then back up to the old lighthouse before heading back to Zoe to get underway.  We made a brief overnight stop in another large, wide open bay before making our way to the city of Bosa the following morning.

Exploring the ruins of Tharros
Zoe framed by the ancient columns
Up the Spanish Tower
Hiked to the lighthouse on the end of the Cape
Long hike!
Drone picture of the Tharros anchorage

Bosa is a beautiful and colorful little town that lies along a river bank.  At the mouth of the river, there is a wall that the Coast Guard allows you to tie up to for free for 24 hours.  Since the anchorage looked pretty crowded, we opted for the free wall tie.   The town itself was about a 30 minute walk, or you could take your dinghy up the river.  Having never been there and unsure what the river navigation and tie up options were, we chose to do the walk (we needed the exercise anyway).  Thankfully, they did an excellent job with sidewalks (meaning they actually had them!), so we had an easy walk to the town.  As promised, it was a really special little town that ran along a wide riverbank.  I was kicking myself later for not taking the dinghy with some wine and cheese for a sunset cruise up the river before tying up for a dinner along the river’s edge.  It is definitely on my list for next time (as well as staying for more than one day).  We stumbled upon a quaint little wine bar serving local wines.  The owner/server explained to us that these were wines from his vineyard, so we happily tried a couple he recommended (glasses, not bottles….in case, you were worried).  He also served us an amazing plate of locally produced meats and cheeses to enjoy with our wine.  He was incredibly welcoming and seemed to enjoy the oddity of these Americans off the beaten path.  Of course, we purchased two bottles to take back to the boat for future enjoyment.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops in Sardegna.

Public dock on the Bosa River
Colorful town of Bosa
Enjoying local Sardinian appetizers

From Bosa we headed to Alghero which is a rather good sized city on the island.  Here we would be picking up our first guests of the season (Dan’s nephew Terry, and his fiance Fran).  Our marina for the next two nights was right outside the castle walls.  Sardegna definitely has some of the most amazing walled cities that we have seen on this trip.  We enjoyed two nights exploring the town and enjoying the local cuisine.  Dan ordered horse one night, much to my dismay.  He said it was amazing!  I refused to try it.  Doesn’t matter if they are bred here for the sole purpose of consumption….I just cannot unsee that image.  The next night, we had suckling pig (a specialty of the area).  I know, I know!  How on earth can you eat THAT?  Maybe if I had owned a baby pig, I would not have been able to order it….but I haven’t, so I did.  It was delish!

Town of Alghero
Castle views from Zoe
Ancient fortifications
Strolling the castle walls
Happy couple!
My nephew and his fiancé joined us in Algerho

We set sail 2 days later (and yes!  We actually got to sail) for an anchorage known as Porto Ferro.  We chose a short 3 hour passage, since this was the first time our guests had been on a sailboat.  We arrived in a big, beautiful bay with very few boats and dropped anchor.  We explored a little bit of the the land and some very interesting ruins right above the beach.  Since we wanted to show our guests as much of the island as we could in the one week they were with us, we were off and running the very next day.  From here, we headed to a bay known for its turquoise blue waters (Della Pelosa).  On our way, we had several dolphin sightings off in the distance.  Prior to reaching the bay, we had to navigate through a very narrow and shallow channel surrounded by rock reefs.  Here you had to keep a careful watch out and follow the navigation markers very closely.  This is made more fun by the number of boats coming and going.  While Dan drove, the 3 of us positioned ourselves at the front of the boat as spotters for any sort of trouble.  Once through, we headed to the bay which was quite full of boats.  The thing that stinks most about these bays this time of year is that they are packed with boats of every size and kind imaginable, but once the sun starts to drop, many of them leave creating lots of room (but we don’t come into anchorages at night, so we have to squeeze in where we can).  We carefully picked a nice spot leaving ample space to others.  You know how that goes, we were quickly surrounded by very large power boats.  Then it go worse!  A 90 foot mega yacht chose to anchor near his friend (one of our powerboat neighbors) leaving him only 20 meters away from us!  They were close enough we could hear the pop of the champagne cork they were serving up.  I was not a happy camper.  We all watched anxiously every time they pivoted to make sure their stern deck and staircase (yes, they had a staircase into the water) didn’t bump us.  Fortunately, they left before sunset, and the remainder of our night was uneventful.

Porto Ferro
Boat shenanigans
Taking the dinghy to shore to explore
Amazing turquoise waters of Pelosa
Sand as far as the eye can see at Pelosa

We departed the next morning for the town of Castelsardo….another hilltop castle fortress.  Here we had our first new experience of 6 years sailing in the med….fog.  A dense, wet fog that enveloped us in invisibility.  Well, isn’t that just great!  If I thought night sailing was a little unsettling from a visibility perspective, this was far worse.  Off in the distance, a deep horn sounded off…..a sign that something very large was out there hidden in the mist.  Luckily, these big guys are on AIS which allows us to see them and track them on our screen.  It also tells us how far away they are, what our closest point of interception will be and at what time.  Fortunately, he was well behind us and would not cross our path.  The down side of this set up is that not all private boats (including those most dreaded fishing boats) have AIS, so you are flying blind when it comes to them.  For this we fired up our radar and hoped it worked well at marking them.  As we were finally within sight of our destination, the sun managed to burn off the fog giving us clear sight into the bay.  We were also treated to a pair of dolphins that surfaced and came and played in our bow spray.  Once we were tied up, we rented a couple of scooters and headed up to the castle to check it out.  It provided some spectacular views of the surrounding area, and housed a lot of very cool artifacts. We cruised around on the scooters and checked out some ruins from the Bronze Age as well as other views over the island and sea.  This was definitely another favorite stop of mine, and I hope to return for a longer stay in the future.

Some dolphins came to play!
Arriving Castelsardo rocking their new crew shirts
Wandering the picturesque alleyways
Up up and more up to the castle
Rented a scooter to better explore. That’s Castelsardo over our shoulder

Our next passage would be our longest one yet with our guests, over 40 miles.  Dan and I were up before the sun to get underway.  Watching the sun come up over the hilltop castle was quite beautiful.  From here, we were headed to the famous Maddalena Islands.  That can’t be crazy in August, right?  La Maddalena is an archipelago and a National Park.  The islands are all composed of red granite and have very little vegetation.  All of the islands are surrounded by both above and below water rock outcroppings requiring very careful navigation.  While they are a very spectacular sight, they can be disastrous to your boat.  Well pulled into the very crowded anchorage of Cala Giorgio Marino (I know, you’re shocked it was crowded!).  With boats coming and going at regular intervals, we actually lucked out and grabbed one of the two mooring balls still open.  We spent a glorious day swimming despite the power yachts racing in and out of the anchorage creating 2 foot swells in the water.  Terry and Fran took a couple of excursions on our kayak to some beautiful pink sand beaches to explore.  There is a great deal of red coral in Sardegna which creates the beautiful pink sand beaches throughout the area.  Unfortunately, most of these beaches/islands are forbidden to explore in order to reduce the impact and destruction of them.

Beautiful anchorages of the Maddelenas
Terry and Fran with some kayak fun

Our last stop in the Maddalena’s was Cala Stagnali.  This was a beautiful little bay with a very tricky entrance.  The inlet is very narrow, surrounded by rock reefs, and gets very shallow quickly (2 meters….we draw 1.3)  You have to line up with a series of markers to safely guide you into the bay.  The best part of this bay is that there are very few boats.  We easily found a nice spot in 2 meters of water and dropped anchor.  Because of all the rock outcroppings, it made for great snorkeling.  Later in the day, we headed in to explore the geological and maritime museums.  From there, we headed off on foot to explore through beautiful pine forests and sandy beaches.  This was another place that met my criteria for “must come back” (not crowded and great swimming/snorkeling). That night we had an extra treat when we saw the water sparkle with bioluminescent plankton. Dan and Terry jumped in the dark water and witnessed the magic of dancing lights with every motion as they swam.

Watching for shallows as we enter the cove
Exploring the local museum
Hiking Isla Caprera
Mandatory Gelato stop
And that’s a wrap – Terry and Fran return back to the States

We had now arrived at the end of our journey with Terry and Fran.  We made our way to the city of Olbia where they would fly out later that day.  We had also booked into a marina to ride out a very nasty storm on its way.  Luckily Dan booked us early as many of the marinas were already full and could not take us.  Unfortunately, the one that could take us was basically a floating pontoon that is only in place for summer.  Not only did they jack up their rates for the storm, but there is no breakwater, and the pontoons are pitching around.  As I finish up this tale, we are seeing 35 knot winds, gray skies, and impending rain (and this isn’t even the worst of the storm).  I will let you know how we faired in our next blog post!  Until then, wish us luck!

I See Dead People

Gotcha!  No, we really did see dead people, but it’s too early in the story.  Be patient, it’s coming!

After 8 days rockin’ and rollin’ on mooring balls in the Aeolian Islands, we decided it was time to head back to the big island of Sicily.  We had a fairly long passage on the open sea to our first destination, Cefalu.  There was quite a bit of swell (4-6 feet/1.6 meters) but the periods were long and slow making for a fairly gentle ride of gliding up and down each one.  We threw out a couple of lines to troll for fish since it was a long passage, and hey, why not?  As I sat at the helm in the blazing sun, I found myself lamenting the fact that we were having no luck this season catching anything.  When we were about 12 nm out from the anchorage, I started thinking maybe I should just pull up the lines and call it a day.  As I looked back, I was shocked to see the elastic band on our hand line pulled tight!  I quickly woke Dan up from his very deep sleep, and the commotion ensued.  Engines in neutral, Dan pulling the line up, me running below deck to grab the hammer, running to grab the net (yes, I do a lot of running around on this boat).  As he got the tuna closer, there were two more in the fray.  I’m not sure if they were trying to rescue their buddy or cannibalize our catch.  Too bad we had a crappy, useless net (came with the boat), or we might have had 3 nice sized tuna!  Dan got him up on deck, and the murderous scene commenced.  I took the wheel and got us underway once again (I prefer to not watch the death scene).  Dan made quick work of dispatching him, bleeding him out, and then filleting him.  After that came the fun of cleaning all the blood off the deck, swim steps and cockpit table.  Woo hoo….sashimi and poke bowls finally on the menu!

Fish on!! It’s always the cheap handling and not the expensive trolling rig!
Poke bowls and sushi on the menu!

As we pulled into the anchorage, there were only two other boats already anchored.  We carefully chose our spot, leaving a respectable amount of distance between us and our neighbors.  Anchor dug right in, and we enjoyed our new scenery.  Cefalu is yet another beautiful, ancient city on the island of Sicily.  This also meant it was an extremely busy tourist destination.  Our anchorage was on the outskirts of town which provided us with some peace and solitude, along with some very picturesque views of the rocky promontory.  After a 20 minute uphill walk, we were immediately thrust into the bustling tourist scene.  It is considered one of the major tourist attractions in the region (and we had never heard of it)!  Cefalu is a member of “The most beautiful villages of Italy” association (did not know that either), and it certainly lived up to it’s title.  Our first stop on our exploration was to the summit of the promontory.  We were still under an intense heat wave, and the climb was quite high so our goal was to get it done fairly early (something we regularly fail at and just about kill ourselves in the heat).  At the top are the extensive remains of a Norman castle.  It was a long trek up, but the views were spectacular and the remains of the castle a treasure to explore.  By early afternoon, we were headed back down to the bustle of town.  In the heart of the town is the cathedral which was built in 1131 in a style of Norman architecture (also known as Sicilian Romanesque).  As are most cathedrals and churches in this part of the world, it was stunning.  Throughout the town are cobblestones roads, tiny alleyways lined with plants and flowers, and many shops and restaurants.  I can honestly say that this was one of my favorite stops this year (except for the crowds, of course).  I’d really like to revisit here in the shoulder season when it is far less crowded and hard to move around and see things.  On a side note, if your are into the HBO show The White Lotus, some scenes from the second season were filmed here in Cefalu.

Pulling a 150 lb dinghy onto the beach for a day of exploration…already tired!
August has been a time for Italian vacations since Roman times. And they do take it seriously!
Atmospheric Cefalu old town streets
UNESCO listed Cathedral from 1131. Erected at the site King Roger II was saved from a shipwreck
Summertime hustle and bustle in Cefalu
Exploring the Temple of Diana high on the hilltop
Long and steep hike to the hilltop fortress but views were worth it
View of Cefalu as we depart for Palermo

After a long, intensive heat wave, comes the typical fun of strong winds and thunderstorms before ushering in much nicer temperatures.  We had been watching a weather system for a week in the hopes it would moderate.  We prefer to be in a marina when bad weather hits, and unfortunately the storms always seem to come at the worst possible time.  In this case, it was arriving for the weekend.  The problem with weekends is that this is when charter boats get turned over (returned on Friday and new charterers pick up late Saturday for a Sunday departure).  This meant that almost all of the marinas Dan called on said they had no room for us.  The other problem is they are at peak summer rates which means rates ran anywhere from $150-$300 per night!  Yikes!  As we continued to watch the forecast, the predicted forecast only got worse.  Luckily, Dan finally found a marina in Palermo that said they could squeeze us in.  We quickly booked 2 days and continued to anxiously watch the forecast (really hoping it would tamp down to a minimal disruption).  We decided to get some miles on so that we would be staged near Palermo in order to arrive before the afternoon winds kicked up making docking extra “fun.”  Our first potential anchorage was still about 2 1/2 hours out of Palermo, so we nixed that one and pressed on to our next choice.  Arenella was only about 20-30 minutes outside of Palermo harbor and known for good holding.  It’s not a very big anchorage (by my standards) so finding a spot amongst those already anchored and the small rental boats out for the day was a bit of a challenge.  This is pretty much the only time that Dan and I get into it….he feels a lot more comfortable being closer to other boats than I do.  We finally settled into our spot which unfortunately still wasn’t great.  Because of the depths of where we needed to anchor and the amount of chain we needed to put out, we were now only 35 meters from a beautiful rock cliff.  Sounds lovely….it was lovely….but by evening, we were on a lee shore (stern to the rocks so if the anchor let go, Zoe would be rammed into the cliffs).  Unfortunately, we did not plan for the fact that the wind had been blowing hard from an unusual direction (East), and while we did not have strong winds, the swell in the small bay was insane!  As the 2-3 foot rollers smashed into the cliff wall and caves behind us, they projected back out causing a washing machine effect.  We all pitched around in the anchorage quite violently.  Dan and I decided that we needed to do an anchor watch through the night due to our proximity to the rock and limited amount of reaction time if something went wrong.  We each took several hour shifts throughout the night.  I spent most of my time running to the back of the boat to try and see if we were closer to the rocks.  It’s amazing how much closer things look in the dark of night!  Eesh!  By 4:30 a.m., Dan came to bed and said the worst of it was over (oh sure, short watch for Dan again).

Our view of the cliffs 35 meters (about 100 feet) off our stern. Too close for a comfortable sleep!

The next morning all was calm, and we made our way into the harbor of Palermo.  This is an incredibly busy harbor with huge ferries and even bigger cruise ships coming and going all day and night.  We quickly skirted our way in, and headed to our designated spot.  Before long, we had two marineros on board scampering around adding to our lines and tying us off to our neighbor’s boat.  With the upcoming wind, they made sure we were quite snug in our spot.  That evening, we headed into the heart of the old city for dinner at a highly rated pizza place with craft beers.  The place was packed, but we managed to snag a small table for two between 2 umbrellas.  That may seem like an odd detail to include, but as I mentioned earlier, thunderstorms were expected.  Yep, they arrived about half way through our dinner.  We were the only table in the gap of the two umbrellas, so of course we got rained on.  We quickly finished our dinner and made our way back to the boat.  We were soaked by the time we got back on board.  The winds had kicked up too which made walking the floating docks to the boat quite a bit of fun as well!

Fifteen minutes before the rain!
Exploring beautiful Palermo

The following day, we decided to explore some of the sights of Palermo (the city is over 2700 years old).  We wandered through the crowded and quaint little streets before spilling out at the Palermo Cathedral.  The long history of this cathedral has led to an accumulation of different architectural styles.  From there, we headed to the Catacombe Frati Cappuccini Di Palermo (the catacombs).  Here come the dead bodies I promised you!  We’ve been to the catacombs in Paris which were pretty cool in their own right, but nothing prepared us for what we were about to see here in Palermo. To say it was a bit of a horror show would be an understatement.  As you walked down the tunnels, you were soon greeted by walls of bodies, each hung neatly into carved archways.  Each mummified body was fully dressed in the clothing of their period and varied in their degree of preservation.  Some hung on the walls as entire families.  There were sections for men, women, children, and professionals.  Further in, many bodies were just laid on shelves.  These were the bodies whose families no longer paid for their upkeep and the prestigious location on the wall (they got a downgrade).  I found it all fascinating (Dan got the heebie-jeebies….creeps).  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), we were not allowed to take pictures inside the catacombs.  We have however included some from the website along with it’s link for those of you with a morbid curiousity, like me!


Photo from Atlas Obscura (link above)
Photo from Atlas Obscura (link above)
We saw this first hand and can attest to the remarkable preservation of “Sleeping Beauty”
Nightmare material

From the catacombs, we walked through the Palace grounds (the palace itself was closed) and then over to the Teatro Massimo (“Greatest Theater”).  Palermo was very rich in beautiful architectural buildings around every corner.  We also visited an amazing fresh fruit and vegetable market that was host to all kinds of local products and “street food.”  It was also teeming with people and hard to get around but fascinating to see none the less.

Porta Nuova Gate with it’s Arab influence from when Saracens occupied Sicily
Wandering the Palermo street markets
Palermo Cathedral and a colorful tuk tuk
Teatro Massimo and steps from a scene in the Godfather Part III
Hand written menu – in English- this place was a gem!
The street food scene in Palermo is justifiably famous

In the end, we spent 4 nights in Palermo waiting the for the wind and seas to die down.  The seas were more of the problem, since they would be on our nose to our next destination and were running 3-4 meters high (10-13 feet).  NO THANK YOU!  We still ended up with 5-7 foot seas somewhat on our nose which was not much fun.  Eventually as we rounded the island, they began to come more from behind which gave us a nice burst of speed for the 9 hour journey to Trapani (our last city on Sicily).  We called on the radio for permission to enter the harbor (apparently they fine you if you don’t) and were told we had 24 hours to stay.  Seriously?  What the hell?  We also had a visit from the Guardia di Finanza (our first ever).  These guys thoroughly check all your paperwork for you and your boat and are known to strike terror in the hearts of boaters.  Lucky for us, Dan is very meticulous and organized with our paperwork, the guys were very kind and friendly, and actually thanked him for being so well prepared.  At this point, we really didn’t feel like spending any time here, so we got up early the next morning for the short hop to the island of Favignana.  We will be here for a couple of days as we await our weather window to make the 33 hour crossing to the island of Sardinia. Stay tuned for adventures in Sardinia!

Mooring Ball Chaos, Boulder Spewing Volcanoes – Welcome to the Aeolian Islands!

It is said that the Aeolian are a living myth where fire, water and wind along with the mix of cultures from the numerous civilizations have made these islands a true inspiration.  In 2000, they were named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our first stop in this archipelago, was the island of Vulcano.  We had arranged for a mooring buoy for the next 3 days after seeing some strong winds headed our way over a two day period.  Not only was it a good thing we came in early, it was also good that we reserved a buoy ahead of time.  When we first pulled in and told the marinero we would be staying 3 days, he informed us we could not because they were booked full.  We told him that we had made a reservation and were told 3 days would be okay.  He said we were good and all was well.  Whew!  From our mooring, we had a spectacular view of the volcano.  The island has black sand beaches, mud baths and thermal springs.  Some of the beaches have underwater fumeroles that bubble up to the surface.  If you are not careful, it is very easy to burn yourself.  One in particular was extremely bubbly and had been buoyed off to keep swimmers out.  Dan got as close as he dared and shot some video.  The mud baths were also shut down, and it was very evident as to why (the mud was a bubbly cauldron that looked ready to boil you alive).  Unfortunately, all this geothermal activity makes the island smell horrid.  You cannot escape the overpowering sulfur smell that burrows so deep into your nostrils you can actually taste it!  Gag!

Zoe in the mooring ball field – secure – or so we thought

The next day, we headed through town to the volcano in order to hike to the top. We arrived at the entrance at 11:00 and were greeted by a big red light.  The sign very clearly stated that hiking was prohibited after 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  Dan was not happy, and stated that we were going anyway.  Now I was not happy.  It’s pretty clear who is the rebel, and who is the religious rule follower.  He stated he was going anyway and would meet up with me later.  Fine by me.  Did I mention that it was already really hot?  He ended up changing his mind while bemoaning the stupidity of arbitrary times the whole way back to town.  We decided that we would try again at 4:00 p.m.  Instead, we opted to rent a scooter and explore the island.  We spent a few hours driving the island, doing some hiking, and taking in all the beautiful sights.  We returned the scooter and started back up toward the volcano.  I know this is going to come as a great shock…..it was even hotter than it had been at 11:00!  We decided it was just too hot, and thought we would try one more time early in the morning.  We headed back to Zoe to relax before dinner.

That red light over Robyn’s left shoulder? Meant no hiking the volcano for us!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Scooter rental on a sketchy road on a volcano
Dan enjoying the view on a scooter stop
“If you see dead animals or withering of trees…..RUN!”
The mud baths – which were closed during our visit – with supposedly curative properties
Video of carbon dioxide spewing from the sea bed near Zoe

At this point, we have spent the last few days pitching around in 2 foot rollers that come into the anchorage from the non-stop flow of huge, high speed ferries.  It has also been very windy, and Zoe has been bouncing around on her mooring ball.  As I began to prepare dinner, Dan kept hearing some odd banging noises.  We checked, nothing looked amiss. He decided to go below deck to get cleaned up since he had a 7:00 p.m. business call.  All of a sudden, I noticed we had made a very odd pivot.  We were now 90 degrees different than everyone else on mooring balls or anchored…..so weird.  I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the fact that something odd was happening.  By this point, Dan is below and completely naked (of course, or the story wouldn’t be near as entertaining)!  All of a sudden, Dan’s anchor alarm starts blaring.  We don’t usually set an anchor alarm on a mooring ball, but with the earlier high winds Dan thought it would be a good idea.  He’s yelling up to me to turn it off, but I can’t get into his iPad.  I run down below and he gives me the code to open it and turn it off.  Hmmmm, why do we look so far away from our original position?  The winds had calmed down by this point. Sometimes we get a GPS error, so maybe that’s it.  I head back up and notice we are oddly close to a pocket cruiser that was off to our side.  Uh oh.  I assume we have broken free from our mooring and run to the bow.  Everything looks normal!  The floats are below the water line at the center of the boat, our lines are still tied to them and creaking against the hulls (under strain).  Next thing I know, the marinero is racing out to us on his dinghy telling me to start the motors.  I run back and fire up the engines.  No time to call for Dan, but I know the engines firing up is going to signal to him that something is very wrong!  The marinero has me throttle forward, but Zoe barely moves.  I give her a lot more gas, and we slowly lumber forward.  Dan has hastily dressed and is back on deck and I tell him what little I know.  Now, we have 2 high powered tenders helping to push us all over the mooring field.  Of course, everyone is out on their decks watching the spectacle that we are (my favorite thing).  Between our engines and their powerful tenders we are moving forward and backward.  When we finally stop, they explained to us that the entire concrete block moved with us and when it hit deeper water, it was no longer holding us in place.  Seriously?!  The wind and our weight moved the entire mooring block?  We sat for a bit feeling very uneasy.  Before long, the marineros were back.  They told us they were moving us to a different buoy.  Of course, the winds were up, and we were being moved into a very tight spot surrounded by other boats that required us to be bow and stern tied.  We were finally settled in for the night, Dan took his call late, and dinner was horribly overcooked.  Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning, we headed for the island of Lipari.  We grabbed a mooring buoy here as well (hoping the last incident was a “one and done”), since the anchorages are quite deep and very busy.  3 marineros met us on their tender, one boarded us, and they proceeded to bow and stern tie us.  We had two lines to our bow and two to our stern, tightly locking us in place.  They handled everything!  Boy, I could get use to being spoiled like this.  We were tucked into this little cove surrounded by stunning rock cliffs.  Off in the distance, we had a great view of the castle.  We had planned to only spend 1 night here, but I talked Dan in to staying two.  Once we were settled in, Dan and I headed into the main part of town and wandered the quaint little streets lined with restaurants, shops, and boutiques.  The main street is lined with a variety of tiny, cobblestoned alleys where the locals live.  From there, we headed down to the waterfront to rent a scooter.  We spent 3 hours exploring mountain top views, cute little villages, rugged cliff top trails through interesting rock formations, and beautiful churches perched high on the hills.  We returned to Zoe in the heat of the day and relaxed until we headed back into town for an amazing seafood dinner.  I have never had any interest in sardines and anchovies at home, but in this part of the world, they are quite yummy and becoming a frequent part of our diet.  Lipari is the largest island in the archipelago and the most populated.  In the town and close by there are numerous excavations uncovering a multitude of human civilizations.  There are ruins and remains spanning dozens of ages of man from prehistoric through Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, and the Spanish.  Within the grounds of the castle walls are numerous museums housing these incredible archeological finds.  Our second day here, we spent several hours exploring the castle walls, numerous churches, archeological sites, and several of the museums housing incredible artifacts from many civilizations and time periods.  Unfortunately, as beautiful as our little mooring field was, it was also inside the main “highway” of large ferries and tour boats which means we spent 24 hours a day bouncing around in 2 foot swells.  It’s probably a good thing we don’t have guests yet since this would likely make someone seasick.

Full service mooring ball field!
With a high crosswind, a marinero used his tender to keep us in position
All tied up and enjoying the picturesque surroundings
Lipari’s castle
Exploring the castle grounds
Lipari and it’s picturesque alleyways
Ornate church in the Castle
Roman Amphorae on display in the museum
Guard house high on the castle walls
View of the neighboring island of Salina
Boarding the tender for our ride back to Zoe

From Lipari, we headed to the island of Stromboli, but first we made a short stop at the small island of Bottaro.  The sole purpose of this stop was to swim the many bubbling fumeroles coming up from the sea floor.  Needless to say, it was very crowded.  We finally found a small patch of sand amongst the many boats and anchored Zoe.  We jumped in the water and swam over to the area of the most active bubbling springs.  They were definitely quite impressive to see.  Once we had our fill, we picked up anchor and continued on our way to Stromboli.  This island is known as the world’s oldest lighthouse as it has a continuous eruptions every 15-20 minutes.  Stromboli is the furthest most island in the archipelago and only inhabited by about 500 people in the summer.  Many do not stay in the winter due to the isolation.  Between sunset at 2:00 p.m., nasty winds and high seas, they become somewhat trapped here with the inability to safely get boats in and out.  There is no water here on the island, so it is brought in by a huge tanker.  Talk about your island fever!  

Approaching the island of Bottaro with a view of Stromboli in the distance
The open water carbon dioxide fumaroles of Bottaro
Front row seats to volcanic activity

We had made arrangements to hike up the volcano to a viewing spot with a guided tour group a few hours after we arrived.  Needless to say, I was very apprehensive about this endeavor.  Not for fear of the volcano but for the 400 m (1300+ ft) ascent in 2.1 miles.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been hiking and even longer since we’ve done that kind of elevation.  We met at the top of the hill in front of a beautiful church.  Coming from Zoe, it was a 150 m (almost 500 ft) to the meeting point.  Hmmmm…..was that included in the 400 m climb?  I might be okay (although I was already hot and tired).  Of course it didn’t!  Up, up, up we went. Our first water break was in a very old cemetery high on the cliffs.  Apparently there had been a cholera outbreak in 1884, and this was where many of the bodies were buried….far from town.  As we continued on, there were steep climbs in slippery volcanic ash and winding switchbacks through dense forests of sugar cane and caper bushes.  It was still quite hot despite a 5:30 p.m. departure and by the time we arrived at the viewing area, we were drenched in sweat.  The hike was timed to arrive just before sunset in order to get the best viewing once the sun went down.  Not long before we reached our final destination, you could hear the rumbling of the volcano.  Once we reached the viewing area, we settled in to watch the show.  We were treated to an amazing view of the sunset over the islands, and then the mighty power of this active volcano.  Every 15-20 minutes fire and spark spewed into the air with flying boulders of fire and a rumbling that shook you to  your core.  Wow!  It was amazing!  We spent several hours making our way back down in the dark, arriving back in town at 11:00 p.m.  We were both sore and exhausted, but it was so worth the experience.  We dragged the dinghy off the beach and into the water to make our way back to Zoe.  I was quite shocked when I opened up the boat.  Platters were strewn about the floor, a bottle of wine was toppled over, my spice rounder was toppled with jars of spices scattered all over the counter top.  What the hell had happened while we were gone?!?  Had we been broken into?  Nothing appeared to be missing.  So the next question was…..what the hell had come through to make a wake big enough to trash our galley area?  We’ve been in plenty of rough seas and nothing had ever caused that much chaos inside the boat.  Despite the late hour of the night, we cracked open an ice cold beer to enjoy before heading to bed.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep since the mooring field had us rocking pretty violently through the night.  There really wasn’t any wind, so we are still not sure what caused all these rollers.  Unfortunately, Dan’s anchor alarm went off several times, and after our incident in Vulcano, we did not ignore it which meant we were up repeatedly making sure everything was normal.  It was.

Zoe in the Stromboli mooring ball field
Dinghy stowed on shore and hiking gear being prepped
Our hiking target for today -the active caldera of Stromboli!
Many others had the same idea!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Quite the fireworks show…fire and massive boulders hurled into the air!

We had mixed emotions about leaving Stromboli after only one day but decided that another night of violent pitching around did not sound like much fun.  We left fairly early the next morning and cruised the west side of Stromboli where the activity is most visible.  Although we could not see the fire and sparks in the brightness of day, we were treated to the rumbling and spewing smoke (and an occasional boulder plummeting to the sea).  Still, quite an impressive sight.  Our next destination was the island of Salina.  This was another quaint little seaside village.  In the evening, we headed in to explore the village.  We tied our dinghy in the marina and threw out a stern anchor which we had just replaced in Lipari.

Leaving Stromboli and heading to Salina
A daytime view of the active part of the volcano we had hiked the night before
Stromboli in our wake…

  You put a stern anchor out to help keep the boat from surging into the dock or rock wall that you are tied to.  After wandering the very expensive little town, we headed back to our dinghy.  Dan pulled up the line to the stern anchor, and the anchor was missing.  Are you kidding me?  The bowline he had secured it with was still in tact. That doesn’t make any sense.  The only thing we can figure is that the shackle came loose freeing the line.  Sure enough, below our dinghy in about 2 meters of water lay our anchor.  The sun was already down, so it was getting harder to see.  Dan decided we’d go back to the boat so he could get his swimsuit on and then come back.  Ummmm, why?  By the time we get back, it will be dark and impossible to see.  Plus, someone else might spot the anchor and take it themselves.  My suggestion…..strip to your skivvies.  They are black and look like a swimsuit from a distance.  So, off came the clothes, over the side he went, and anchor retrieved.  Yes, we had a good laugh about that one.

Charming town on the island of Salina
Dinghy check… dinghy anchor- gone!

We decided to make one final stop in the Aeolian islands before heading to the northern side of Sicily.  We headed out to the island furthest west in the archipelago, Alicudi.  This island is the least developed for tourism (definitely my kind of place).  Since Alicudi is so exposed to wind and swell from all directions, and lacks any safe shelter, you should only go there in very calm conditions.  Since it is the top of a volcano, the depths drop extremely fast, and there are not a lot of secure anchorages.  Because of this, we decided to take a mooring ball once again.  This island is a very picturesque mountain soaring steeply into the sky.  The island only has about 150 inhabitants living on the terraced slopes of the mountain.  There is only one road that is 200 meters long running from the small pier to the helicopter pad.  Everything up the hill is transported along cobblestoned paths by donkeys.  It is quite a sight to see.  Dan and I hoofed it up some of the hill to explore an old church and were exhausted.  I can’t imagine having to hoof it up to some of the beautiful houses that were perched much, much higher than where we were standing.  There really was nothing much to this island other than it’s natural beauty.  By the end of the evening, we were joined by many boats.  It was another unrestful night.  For some reason, the mooring lines had been made extremely long which allowed all of us to stretch way further than necessary.  By morning, our neighbor’s dinghy was banging on our hull as I watched the stern of his boat pass within a couple feet of the side of our boat.  Time to go!  Dan and I dropped lines and headed out.

Approaching the island of Alicudi
Almost a perfect volcanic cone – the depths around the island drop quick!
With only one road, donkeys were the only way to move goods around the island.
Definitely putting the burden in “Beast of Burden”!
Drone shot of the really steep island of Alicudi with Zoe in the foreground

In 8 days, we had explored 5 of the 7 Aeolian islands.  The next time we see you, we will be on the north coast of Sicily.  Stay tuned for some exciting new sights and adventures!

Leaving Alicudi with a fishing line out – fingers crossed!

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…..no 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…..new 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!

Farewell 2022 Sailing Season

After a couple of lovely nights in one of our favorite marinas (Preveza Marina), we headed to the swing bridge in Lefkada to while away the rest of our season in the southern parts of the Ionian.  Our first stop was Ormos Varko where we met some new American friends that Dan had been talking to in online sailing groups for close to a year.  We joined Steve and Emily on their boat for happy hour and had a great time getting to know them.  We spent several days anchored in the bay.  It’s  usually one of our favorite swimming spots, but unfortunately the outside temperatures had finally started to cool off making swimming not an overly appealing idea.

A few sleepless nights at anchor coming up!

Our next stop was Vlicho Bay, a favorite hidey hole for storms.  However, you might remember that we got hammered in this bay last year by strong winds and ended up losing our dinghy to a puncture wound.  We opted to anchor here for a few days in order to explore the town of Nidri (another one of my favorites) and pick up a new guest.  Dan’s friend and colleague from his civilian Navy days happened to be in Italy, so he flew over to Preveza to join us for some time on Zoe.  We decided to rent a car and go pick him up at the airport so we could take him to some of our favorite spots (the olive oil museum, the Lefkada winery, and the town of Vassiliki).  Before heading back to the boat, we stopped at our favorite spot (Tom’s Sea Side Restaurant) for lamb kleftiko on the beach at the water’s edge.  Yum!

My friend Mark – a coworker from 20 years ago!
Enjoying some of our favorite Lefkada spots
Visiting a local winery
Beachside reunion dinner

The next day, the 3 of us were under way to the island of Kastos.  Mark enjoyed a swim in the beautiful bay that we had all to ourselves.  Afterwards, we headed around the point to town and hoofed it up the hill to the windmill bar for some cocktails and a sunset view over the sea (and Zoe, of course).  Since we wanted to show Mark as much as we could in the short time he was visiting, we headed out the next day to an anchorage we had never been to called Mytikas.  Once we had Zoe securely anchored, we headed into town for a walk and some exploration.  We wandered through the streets of this quaint little village before eventually stopping at a seaside taverna for an ice cold beer.

Underway to Kastos
Dropping anchor in a bay we had to ourselves
Visiting the Kastos Windmill bar
Dinghy ride back to Zoe
Some local Mytikas sites
The Mytikas beachfront

We had been enjoying a run of really nice days, so wouldn’t you know, it was time for some nasty weather to come through.  We decided to try the ne in Lefkada to ride out the weather.  At first, the owner of the pontoons tried to shoe us away.  Then, for some reason, he had a change of heart.  He and his helpers escorted us to a spot and told us to tie up side to.  Nobody was tied like this, so we felt a little awkward (especially as boats came in looking for space, and we were piggishly taking up 40 feet/12 meters of dock).  We wanted to hang a huge sign that said that we were told to tie this way!  The guy had wanted us this way because in the last big storm that came through, his charter boats and the dock all dragged because of the windage on the sides of the catamarans.  This way, our bow and stern were in the direction of the wind.

Zoe tied up 90 degrees opposite to everyone else

We showed Mark around Lefkada and that evening headed into town for Dan’s birthday dinner.  While talking with the owner of the restaurant, she told us that the weather system coming through was forecasted to be really bad and included tornado warnings.  Tornado warnings?!?  You have got to be kidding me!  I am glad we are not at anchor, but now I don’t want to be on a boat period!  Not even a half hour later, everyone’s phone went off with that severe weather alert…..talk about scary.  Well, it did get very windy, and there were thunderstorms…..but no tornadoes (whew)!  The next day, we discovered that Steve and Emily were docked on a different pontoon down the way from us, so we invited them for happy hour on our boat.  We had an awesome night of stories and laughter (and way too much wine…but hey, we are safely docked so that’s ok).  Unfortunately, Mark would be leaving us soon, so we decided to stay on the pontoon since this was the closest point to the airport while staying south of the swing bridge.

Dan’s birthday dinner

We left Lefkada the day after Mark disembarked, and made our way to the island of Ithaca.  Our time was rapidly winding down, so this was as far south as we would go this year.  Unfortunately, another round of strong wind was headed our way, and we would not be protected in this particular bay.  As a matter of fact, both the islands of Ithaca and Cephalonia were going to get blasted by this system.  So, guess where we went?  Yep, back to Vlicho.  The wind came as predicted….gusting to 30 knots, but Zoe’s anchor held like a champ.  Needless to say, it was a sleepless night between the howling wind and making sure Zoe stayed put.  In the end, we spent 6 days here growing barnacles….but we had lots of fun.  We spent hours walking, went to a Greek night at a taverna with dancing and plate throwing, and found a new favorite place for lamb kleftiko.

Vlicho anchorage on Lefkas
Traditional Greek dance performance
Robyn armed with a plate to celebrate Greek style
Plates went flying!

We were now a week away from hauling Zoe out of the water.  We wanted to be somewhat close, so we headed back through the swing bridge and into the inland sea.  We anchored outside of a seaside village called Vonitsa.  We walked the town and then headed up the hill to the remains of a castle.  It had great views and was fun to explore.  At one point, we came upon a turtle on it’s back frantically paddling his legs in an attempt to flip over….not happening.  Dan graciously gave the guy a helping hand and put him right side up.  

Visiting the town of Vonitsa
Exploring the Venetian castle ruins
Castle view of Zoe anchored in the bay

We spent two nights in Vonitsa and decided it was time to move on.  We headed back north to a series of little islands (more like rock formations jutting out of the water).  There was no one anchored here.  This was not surprising since the depth was only 1.5 – 2 meters….we draw 1.3 meters, a little unsettling to say the least.  We got ourselves settled in and were treated to sea turtles and dolphins cruising by.  That evening, we decided to do a BBQ on the beach.  What a great way to end the season.  The swell came in during the wee hours of the morning sending us bouncing all around.  This made both of us a little nervous because we were anchored so shallow (we were worried that our rudders might ground out if the swell got any bigger).  We pulled up anchor and headed for Preveza Marina.  We spent 3 days here beginning the process of shutting Zoe down.  A week of rain was in the forecast, so it was important to get the sails down so they could be stored dry.

Visiting a deserted island
Dinghy to the beach for some fun
Grilling up some food for a senset BBQ dinner

Haul out day had arrived, and with it, pouring rain!  Every single year we’ve hauled out, we’ve been plagued with pouring rain.  This year was no different.  Luckily, it came without wind.  Last year, the wind was so fierce the marineros had to assist with their high powered dinghy to drag us off the dock.  So, Zoe is now on land, and we are hard at work getting everything stripped, cleaned and put away until we return next season.  We have come to the decision that we are ready to leave Greece behind and explore new horizons.  Our plan next season is to do a deep exploration of Italy, Sicily and Malta.  They say boats and plans are written in sand….haha, but that is our goal for next season.  Stay tuned next season for some new sights and adventures (finally)!  As always, we will be back in the off season to share some new land adventures.  Thanks for following along with us!

Robyn checking out the day’s specials in the Taverna kitchen
It always seems to rain on the day we haul out Zoe!
Robyn making end of season repairs
Stowaway kitty!
Zoe in her winter slumber

That’s a wrap for 2022!

145 nights in the water

1089 miles covered

37 nights at anchor

30 nights in a marina

47 days in the US in the middle of our season

Longest passage 171 miles

5 overnight passages