Greece to France via Italy and Corsica
April - July 2004
We travelled from Corfu in the east of the map, round the foot of Italy and through the Straits of Messina (between Italy and Sicily), along the coast of Italy to just south of Elba from where we crossed to Corsica. From Corsica we went North West and made landfall in La Ciota, France.
We had spent the last three summers sailing in Greece in our catamaran, Chefren. This year we had decided to turn westwards and head for Corsica or Sardinia to continue cruising there. But the best laid plans of mice and men...
CHAPTER ONE - WE ARRIVE IN GREECE
Saturday 24th April 2004, Cleopatra, Preveza, Greece.
We arrived yesterday, after a three hour flight from England and a seven hour. bus journey from Athens to Preveza, and are, unsurprisingly, feeling rather dazed. The direct flights into Preveza have not yet started hence the long bus journey. Preveza (Action) is a small airport, only open for international flights in the summer months. Off-season travellers fly to Athens and travel on from there.
We arrived in Athens at 05h20 Athens time and took a taxi to the centre of the city for the 07h30 bus to Preveza. Our taxi driver had very little English, we had little Greek, and we nearly ended up at a suburb of Athens known as Kiffisi, instead of Kiffisou Street where the bus station is. Fortunately he asked the toll-booth attendant on the motorway to translate for us.
Just as the bus was about to leave, another English couple jumped on board. They had been waiting in the wrong place and only realised in the nick of time. They too were travelling to join their boat in Preveza and we spent most of the 7 hr. journey chatting to them (Brian and Di) which made the time pass quickly.
The journey took us south of the Gulf of Corinth and then by ferry across the gulf at Rhion where a new bridge is under construction. I think the idea is to have the bridge ready for the Olympic Games which are to be held in Athens this year, but I have serious doubts about whether it will be completed in time.
Once in Preveza we still had to get to the other side of the straits. We were now in Greece and Greek lifestyle took over. First we would have a cold beer, and then buy some food and finally a taxi through the tunnel. Di and I went to the nearest supermarket and came back to the café to add several carrier bags full of food to the already large pile of suitcases. The driver of the taxi which we called balked when he saw the amount of luggage we had, even though it was a large Mercedes, and he wanted us to take two taxis. This would mean two lots of tunnel fees (we would have to pay the return fare) as well as two fares. Instead we trekked down to the harbour-side (about 15 minutes' walk) wheeling our luggage and staggering under the weight of several small cases and shopping bags, to catch the little ferry which the boatyard sends across three times a day.
Monday, 26th April 2004, Cleopatra, Action
It has been raining solidly since Friday and we have had to spend our time inside the boat, unpacking and stowing our gear and cleaning.
There are three boatyards on this side of the straits, Cleopatra, Preveza and Action, and the airport is 2 km. away. But apart from the airport, and a handy taverna, there are no buildings for several kilometres, and we feel quite stranded. Preveza, on the other side of the straits, is the nearest town. When we first came here 3 years ago there was a car ferry service every half hour, and a couple of snack bars on this side, as well as the taverna, which all serviced the ferry customers. Our boat was just on the other side of the fence from the ferry terminal and it was very interesting to watch the comings and goings, and to see the staff shepherding the cars on and off with loud cries of "Ella, ella!" (Come on, come on). But last year a tunnel was opened and the ferries stopped. This is great for local traffic and traffic for the airport, but what do you do if you don't have a car? The snack bars have closed and for a time it looked as though the taverna would close too, but now does a good trade amongst the boat owners, and the local fishermen. Eventually the boat yards realised that they would lose custom if their clients couldn't get supplies and they now run a private ferry across, and the taverna does a roaring trade once the boat owners start to arrive.
There is an interesting story attached to the private ferry which illustrates the character of the Greek people. Two of the boat yards co-operated to run a small motor boat across, but the port police told them they couldn't do that as it was illegal private chartering. So they applied for a licence and were refused. One of the boatyard owners had a cousin in the police in Athens so he obtained a licence through him and there was nothing the Preveza police could do to stop him.
But having obtained the licence the co-operation broke down and now the two yards operate their own ferry and the third takes people through the tunnel in a land rover. There are always petty jealousies and rivalries amongst the Greek people; it seems to be part of their nature.
During the time that the licence was being applied for, our yard operated a shuttle service using an 'old banger' with indecipherable number plates and one wheel so badly unbalanced that it looked likely to fall off at any moment. Our boat yard, Cleopatra, had also tried to run its own restaurant, but it did not generate enough income and hasn't opened this year. Instead the restaurant room is available for clients who want to watch television, or play board games.
It provided a welcome refuge from the rain last night. We played Trivial Pursuit with friends Don and Maggie and demolished a bottle or two of red wine.
Cleopatra also has rooms to let for clients who do not wish to sleep aboard their boats whilst they are preparing them for sailing. Don and Maggie are in one of the rooms which are very pleasant with tiled floors, en suite facilities and a fridge. The room is also better for their dog Floyd who is very heavy and getting old. He would have to be hoisted up a long ladder when he went aboard the boat whilst it is on the hard standing.
Tuesday, 27th April 2004, Cleopatra, Action.
The rain which was forecast to last for three days has blown over and the temperature has climbed to 220 C. We are in our shorts and have started on the jobs outside. The bad weather had caused many of the boat owners to postpone their launch and there was frantic activity as they all want to go in today.
We have to get a permit to launch the boat and this is supposed to be bought 24 hours before launch. Then we need to buy a cruising log which has to be stamped at every port we go into where there are port police. The European Parliament has decreed this permit is illegal and they have been fighting for its abolition, even fining the Greeks for imposing it, but they carried on regardless for two years. This year there is no charge but the bureaucracy carries on.
We still have the tedium of going to the police station and waiting in line, in sweltering heat, whilst an official checks the ship's papers, licks his pencil, fills in a form and stamps the log. If they were putting all this on computer to track the progress of the boats and check illegal immigrants or smuggling I could understand it, but it just seems to be a lot of useless forms in a ring binder, and how they love putting the rubber stamp on them! I had heard of someone who got their launch permit more than 24 hours before launch and I tried the same tactic a few days ago whilst I was over shopping, but the guy on the desk would have none of it. I shall have to make the tedious journey again when we have fixed our launch date. I should have told him we were launching the next day.
Thursday, 29th April, 2004, Cleopatra, Action
Some other old friends, Steve and Maureen, whom we met in the French canals, have arrived and called round today. We sat in the cockpit listening to the loudspeakers across in Preveza announcing the final moments of the "Tour of Hellas" cycle race. I don't know where Steve gets all his information from but he was able to tell us that the local fishermen had blockaded the mayor's office recently, demanding that something be done about the discharge of sewage into the harbour. We know there is a new sewer pipe which empties out at sea but had been told that the mayor would not allow it to be used because it discharged near to his home. When going into Preveza now, one is aware of road work under way in the small streets leading to the harbour, so presumably the fishermen have prevailed and the sewer pipes are being connected.
Very often we come across to Preveza after Chefren has been launched and tie to the quay for a few days whilst we stock up with food and drink. When the sewers are opened the smell is appalling. I am surprised the fishermen were not joined by the local taverna owners, as the quay is lined with eating places.
The weather was lovely this morning so I have been scrubbing the deck. It was hard work getting the sand out of all the cracks and crannies and I began to wonder if I wasn't too old for this. (I am 66)
One becomes very aware of the weather when living aboard a boat, in a way that one doesn't notice when living protected from the elements in a permanent building. The rain not only makes going outside unpleasant but the moisture seeps into every corner of the boat, even the curtains become damp. Having been out in the rain, when you come back you need somewhere to hang your wet gear before everything in the immediate vicinity gets dripped on.
The wind whistles into every orifice and when you are out on deck it can cause your ears to ache, and there is no hope of keeping any kind of hairstyle.
Sun and warmth are of course what we like best and at this time of year we spend our days longing for the sun's appearance so that we can get out and get on with our jobs preparing Chefren for sailing. Not only that but whilst we are working on the boat the inside becomes very untidy with boxes of tools, pieces of equipment, pots of varnish etc. It is a relief to be able to live outdoors in the cockpit. It is lovely to sit out there with our evening meal enjoying the view across the straits and watching the sun go down.
We knew the weather would be uncertain at this time of year, but we hope to be ready to sail by the time the Greek summer arrives.
Monday, 3rd May, 2004, Cleopatra, Action
Work is going on apace. We could launch in a few days but there is a warning or more bad weather - gales; and, tragedy, our fridge has just stopped working. Also there is a party at the taverna on Saturday and it is a good opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new ones.
When we need work doing on the boat we have to use the workmen recommended by the boatyard and they sent a Greek fridge engineer this morning. He is of the opinion that we should not be using our fridge on land as it is designed to be cooled by sea-water on the outside of the hull. But we have used it on land for the last five years and had no problems so are not convinced. He charged us €50 and has done nothing, the fridge still doesn't work and he assured us it will do so when it is in the water.
Wednesday, 5th May, 2004, Cleopatra, Action
We have hit another patch of bad weather. Last night we listened to the thunder rolling in the hills as the rain lashed down, this will hold up our jobs.
This morning we put on our macs and went over to Preveza. I was able to buy 3 bottles of frozen mineral water from the Co-op supermarket which will keep the fridge cool for now and will be more useful than ice blocks because we can drink the water when it has thawed. The Co-op supermarket sounds grand but it is just a large shop filled with a huge variety of stuff from bars of soap to sacks of rice.
There is a much larger supermarket here, in fact there are 2 or 3, Atlantico, Lidl, and Champion but these are on the edge of town and a bit far when you have to walk.
Greek shops are mostly family businesses and the tradition has been that the children take over from their parents. It is quite common to find an elderly father working alongside his son. One senses tension and impatience on the part of the son who wants to modernise, whilst the father bumbles along. In the centre of Preveza there is one such business. It is housed in what amounts to a passageway between two shops. The father must be 80 and they have a greengrocery business. Their produce is stacked in wooden crates along the walls and on the pavement outside. It is weighed on old fashioned scales with weights and the adding up done on one of the brown paper bags.
In Vliho, near Nidri where we have been often with the boat there is a small supermarket run by father and son. One of their specialities is wine and brandy sold from the barrel and you provide your own bottle. In the evenings the old man is to be found sitting at the cash desk with a couple of cronies 'sampling' the brandy.
He is keen to get tourists to try his brandy, which is very good, but woe betide the female shopper who ventures in there alone when the son is absent. I was foolish enough to do this. The old man tried out his English and pressed a small cup of brandy on me, then invited me to have a refill from the cask which is behind a tall fridge. "You are very beautiful," he said, "kiss, kiss?" I think that because we wear shorts and sun tops he thinks we are loose women. I now take John in there with me.
One of the first Greek 'supermarkets' that I ever encountered was on the small island of Kalamos. The shop there was like an old-fashioned trading post. The goods were arranged on shelves around the wall, from floor to ceiling. Dry goods were in open sacks around a central table where you deposited your intended purchases. Larger items were piled on the floor or hung from the ceiling.
But the most curious shop of all has to be the money-changer in the town of Gaios on the island of Paxos, This is in the corner of a small chandlery and you change your money surrounded by fenders, life-belts and ropes.
CHAPTER TWO - IN THE WATER BUT CANNOT SET OFF YET.
Wednesday, 12th May 2004, Nidri
We have launched at last, two days later than planned because of the rain which held up the final jobs. I was hoping that we might get the fridge working when we were in the water but no such luck. The fridge repairman came again and now has offered to fit a new compressor for €500 (about £333). We, not very politely, refused.
Instead we had to change our plans. This year we were planning to sail to Sardinia and Corsica via Italy but must have a working fridge for the trip. Instead of heading north we have come south to Nidri where there is an English fridge engineer and at least communication will be easier.
It is always exciting when we launch, Chefren is returning to her natural element. She was looking particularly smart with a newly polished hull and varnished woodwork, and once in the water she behaved impeccably. The engine started first time and we were able to raise main sail and fore-sail between Preveza and Levkas, The sun was out and it was warm in spite of the wind.
After motoring through the Levkas canal which passes through salt marshes separating the island from the mainland we anchored in Tranquil bay opposite Nidri, We put the kettle on and quietly drifted at anchor enjoying the balmy sunshine with a light breeze, and delighted in being on the water again.
There were lots of yachts and a large motor boat in the bay but there was lots of room. A wrecked wooden coaster sits on the mud at the head of the bay. It has been here many years and every year it looks less like a boat than ever. Many people leave their boats tied to this wreck whilst they go home. I wouldn't do that, what if the bit you were tied to dropped off? What about rats? We had one on board last year when we were anchored off Nidri. We assume it came up the anchor chain and the first we knew of it was when I threw the rubbish bag down to John who was sitting in the dinghy and a rat leapt out of the bag and scrambled up his bare leg and over the side.
Thursday, 13th May, 2004, Vliho
The fridge engineer came aboard to assess the problem and was puzzled. So he and John set about dismantling the fridge which was difficult because John had built the galley round it. It rather looks as though not only will we not have a fridge I may not have a galley.
I wonder if we will ever get to Italy?
We had moved onto a private quay belonging to a sailing company whilst the fridge engineer, Vernon, came aboard. We had to move off in the afternoon and came down here to Vliho just half an hour away. We were glad we did because we anchored in a landlocked bay with our anchor well dug into the mud, and the wind blew up really strongly. It blew all evening and most of the night but we were quite comfortable.
This little village has been desperately trying to encourage tourism for a few years now. It is very close to all the amenities of Nidri and is in a lovely setting, surrounded by low hills. But none of the businesses have thrived. The latest venture is to lay down some pontoons off what passes for a town quay. It is just a bit of concrete with a small tap at one end. Work is well underway and it may prove popular with yachts, but the main problem here is the state of the water. Because the bay is landlocked the water does not run out. All the town rubbish goes into the water and quite a lot which floats down from Nidri. When Aristotle Onassis was alive he is reputed to have offered to build a tunnel through to the sea to rectify the problems, but such is the Greek character that the locals were suspicious. They couldn't work out what he was getting out of it and refused.
Friday, 14th May, 2004, Levkas
What an exciting couple of days we have had. We attempted to find somewhere to tie to a quay so that Vernon could come back aboard. Because of the work on the new pontoons there was no space and we were considering going back to Nidri or even Levkas which is not far away by car, when another development overtook events. John had a rush of blood from ,an unmentionable orifice,. It looked as though it might be a ruptured haemorrhoid but he was not aware that he had any and it was quite frightening.
This decided us to go to Levkas where there is a doctor attached to the marina. The journey takes about one and a half hours. The wind was on the beam and we were able to use the sails to increase our speed whilst keeping the engine on. It would have been a very pleasant sail were it not for our worries about John, who had a second episode of blood. As soon as we were tied up I went along to the office to arrange for a doctor's visit, the very helpful assistant rang the doctor and after a brief conversation reported to me that the doctor advised us to go to the hospital. One of the marina staff, Spiros, drove us there in the marina pick-up truck.
Levkas is a moderately large cosmopolitan town serving the island of Levkas, and the boating community. The hospital is a small building set back from the road allowing access for ambulances. Inside the door a wide expanse of waiting room is flanked by a row of doors outside of which are plastic chairs. To one side a glass-fronted cubicle, housing a male and a female clerk, was labelled 'Out-patients' in Greek and English. I enquired if they spoke English and received blank looks and a shrug from the woman who said, "Only a little", whereupon a young woman with long black curly hair and blue eye shadow, wearing a white coat with a stethoscope in her pocket came across. She spoke excellent English and began to question John about his symptoms right there in front of the Enquiry Desk. There was no tedious form filling and no concern for privacy. Another young doctor, a handsome Greek with dark curly hair, joined the consultation and we got the feeling that if any of the other patients had wanted to express an opinion they could have joined in. Fortunately as it was evening there were very few other people in the waiting area.
Eventually John was taken into one of the rooms where a heavily bearded Greek and a younger man in surgical greens examined him. I was left outside but when the doctor had finished he came out, leaving the door wide open and revealing John standing bollock-naked in the middle of the room.
The verdict was that he had probably ruptured a haemorrhoid and the young lady doctor explained to us that he could go to the hospital at Preveza for a more thorough examination, but this was Greece - we couldn't go until Monday - as the equipment was broken.
As we walked back to the marina, feeling lighter of heart, we decided that if John's symptoms continued or changed for the worse we would go to Preveza by boat so that we could return Chefren to the boatyard and fly home for treatment. Otherwise we would continue with our plans.
This morning we woke to a lovely sunny day, cold at first but warming quickly. With the sunshine came a gentle breeze. By afternoon when we had tidied the boat and cleaned the cockpit we were able to sit and enjoy the most perfect day we have had so far. Perhaps the Greek summer has arrived at last. Vernon, the fridge engineer, came aboard this morning. He and John assembled the fridge, tested it, and surprise surprise it started working again.
We are on mains electricity in the marina, so as I sit here writing we have music from our CD player in the background accompanied by an even more welcome sound - the gentle chuckling of our working fridge.
Sunday, 16th May, 2004, Levkas
This morning I cycled into town for some bread. Nearly all the shops are closed but I knew of a bread shop which opens on Sunday morning. When I got there and selected my loaf I realised I had left my purse on the boat. The kind assistant 'gave' me some bread.
I took John's bike which folds away more neatly than mine and is easier to get on and off the boat. But it always terrifies me, firstly because one of the folding pedals is inclined to fold up at the precise moment you put your foot on it and also because if you back-pedal the chain comes off. It is one of these expensive multi-gear jobs which changes gear without back- pedalling. I am not the most confident of cyclists and probably have a very worried expression as I cycle about. But I had no mishaps today.
Tuesday, 18th May, 2004, Levkas
Yesterday we took the opportunity to shop at the large, cheap supermarket, called Dia (pronounced 'dear' but it is very cheap). We set off in brilliant sunshine taking our large trolley but whilst we were out it started to rain. By the time we were ready to return great wet sheets of rain were flooding the streets. Being British we had taken plastic macs and paddled through the puddles in our open sandals, feeling sorry for other shoppers who were huddling in the supermarket entrance. But even our macs were scarcely 'man enough' for the volume and the wetness of the rain and we arrived back on Chefren very wet.
Today, after rain in the night, the sun came out and we were able to walk to a chandlery to buy a new bulb for our navigation light. We have had trouble with the starboard light for years. Whenever we switched it on we had to give it a good thump. John discovered today that there was a broken filament in the bulb and when it was thumped it made a sufficiently good connection to last until it was switched off again. We live and learn! We plan to move off tomorrow.
CHAPTER TWO - WE SET OFF NORTH
Thursday, 20th May, 2004, Parga, Greek mainland
We have been in touch with Don and Maggie who have been sailing for nearly four weeks. They have had such miserable weather they have decided to be lifted out of the water a day earlier than planned and go home. Poor Floyd is getting very old and has to be lifted on and off the boat as he can no longer negotiate the gangplank. He has not been able to swim because he can't hold his head up out of the water. I suggested they try putting on his life jacket whilst he swims and this has worked well. I'm glad because Floyd loves his daily swim and it will be good for the arthritis which is affecting his back legs.
We arranged to meet them at the fuel quay of the marina and followed them up to Preveza where they went into Cleopatra and we crossed over to Preveza town quay.
On the quay at Preveza two Australians alongside told us that the port police were being particularly officious as they are training some new recruits. They were coming down to the quay and demanding that everyone goes with ship's papers to the Police Station, 15 minutes' walk away. They are also charging for the use of the town quay and insisting that all boats moor end on, instead of alongside as we had done. We had no objection to paying but want to avoid a hot walk, and want to remain alongside - there is plenty of room. So we locked up the boat and disappeared into the town for a late lunch at a little snack bar that had stayed open during 'siesta' time. I asked for a chicken sandwich which turned out to be a small ciabatta filled with delicious hot chicken, salad and mayonnaise. John's hot dog was a baguette filled with sausage and golden brown chips. With Sprite and beer the price was €5. I've paid that for one sandwich in other places.
This morning we woke fairly early, the day was still cool so we decided it was as good a time as any to set off. It can get unbearably hot on the boat by the middle of the day if there is no wind, and there wasn't much today. As we sailed along we had a quick visit from some dolphins and saw a flight of small birds flying low over the water, their wings flashing in the sunlight.
We motored into the harbour at Voltos Beach, Parga, a favourite spot of ours. Yannis was just coming into the bay with the water taxi which can take the yachties into the town, avoiding a hot walk along the beach. He gave us a friendly wave as he knows us quite well by now.
It was 12h30 and several boats were just leaving. We chose a spot on the inside of the harbour wall but the quay is high here and I was not sure how I was going to get off to tie our lines. There are no bollards to lasso, just rings let into the wall out of reach. Fortunately a British tourist was standing admiring the boat as we pulled in and I asked him if I could pass him a line. "Yes," he said, "but I wouldn't know what to do with it." He held it until I could scramble ashore and then take another line from John, making them both fast.
After lunch we lazed in the sunlight listening to the sound of goat bells. The goats eventually came close to the water's edge to a strip of grass alongside a small chapel. The young man tending them was dressed in a smart navy sweater and shorts with trainers. Not at all how I expected a goat-herd to look.
Saturday, 22nd May, 2004, Parga to Mourtos
When it was cool enough to venture out we decided to walk into town, get some fresh bread and come back with Yannis in the taxi. The first part of the plan worked well although the walk along the beach was difficult. The dry, gritty sand is very soft and got into our sandals and between our toes.
There is quite a good supermarket and we were able to buy what we wanted. With our bags of shopping we settled ourselves outside a taverna on the quay to wait for the appearance of Yannis. We had not allowed for the fact that the season is scarcely underway and he had not developed his usual routine. After 45 minutes it was evident that he wasn't coming and we decided to make our way back up the hill, forget about the meal I was planning aboard, and have a meal at Stefanos', taverna overlooking the beach, the harbour and the boats.
We settled at our balcony table in the twilight with the scent of honeysuckle drifting up from the garden below.
Stefanos is a voluble character about 50 years old with a mane of greying hair. When he learned we were sailors he asked us if we had seen the dolphins. He has a fishing boat and catches the fish for his restaurant. Whilst he loves the dolphins he doesn't like the fact that they ride in front of his boat and eat the fish.
The delicious meal of lamb chops (John's favourite) and beef stifado (mine) began with complementary glasses of Ouzo and a basket of toast and butter instead of the usuall plain bread, and was accompanied by a moderately decent bottle of red wine. We could see Yannis's water taxi still tied up on the beach,
The night was balmy, the warmest we have had since we set out, and we left at 09h30 this morning for Mourtos a few miles further north. The wind was light but strong enough to allow us to carry sail for about 1 hour. We were heading for a small quay below a restaurant that we had known from the past but were very disappointed on arrival to find that the restaurant is no more and has been replaced by a hotel with swimming pool and water slides. Instead we made our way to End Bay, another favourite place but a long dinghy ride from the town. Here we discovered that a sailing company has taken over the hotel on the headland and is offering water sports holidays on the other side of a sandbar which divides the bay. Several small yachts were sailing just outside the bay watched over by a RIB bearing the Neilson's Sailing Holidays flag.
There were noisy pedalo and kayak races in the other half of the bay but they didn't disturb us. The only thing that did was their RIB which went in and out of our bay several times at a very high speed, setting Chefren rocking and tugging at her anchor. We finally managed to attract the attention of one of the drivers and he then remembered to slow down, giving us a wave as he did so. After that every time he slowed down we gave him a wave in acknowledgement. It was warm enough to eat outside in the evening, the first time since we launched.
Monday, 24th May, 2004, Gouvia, Corfu
When we anchored in the bay yesterday John had rowed to the shore with a couple of lines which he tied around rocks. This morning I felt I should do my part and offered to untie them. I pulled myself along one line in the dinghy and was about to step ashore in my bare feet when I saw clusters of black, sea-urchins encamped around the rock. I had to choose where I stepped or I would have had very nasty spines embedded in my feet. I released one rope then attached the other to the dinghy for John to pull me back.
The next stop is Corfu and then we will be setting off to cross to Italy. Corfu has a good marina at Gouvia where we arrived at 14h00.
From where we are tied up we can see the backs of a row of fishermen's cottages - six of them in a terrace but each is at a different level, and has a different coloured roof. Washing was flapping from windows and in gardens where an outhouse had almost disappeared beneath a scarlet bougainvillea, and was topped by a TV satellite dish. Small, battered fishing boats are moored at ramshackle piers and primitive 'withies' mark their territory.
Wednesday, 26th May, 2004, Gouvia, Corfu
We are still here. The rain which had descended heavily most of yesterday has cleared up but as there are gale warnings all over the southern Mediterranean we have decided to stay put. John is worried in case he is being over-cautious but I would rather have it that way.
Yesterday we went into Corfu town by bus which we caught outside the marina gates. I had read about Corfu and seen pictures of the impressive old Venetian buildings but I was not prepared for the old town with its maze of narrow streets. The magnificent town hall borders one side of a small square and the Roman Catholic cathedral the other, whilst taverna tables are dotted about in the centre. These buildings are so close together it is easy to almost miss their splendour as you are not able to stand back and admire.
The streets are also clogged with little shops selling 'tourist tat' - olive wood carvings, table linen, crockery, jewellery etc. Some of the streets are, amazingly, open to traffic and we saw one small car catch the corner of a building as the driver pulled across to avoid the chairs of a pavement café.
There are many little squares dotted through the town, and 'arcades' to keep you dry in the winter and shady in the summer.
Along the seafront between the old town and the citadel is a large park with seats, a band stand, and monuments to various 'worthies'.
The citadel is huge and would take several days to explore properly. We spent just an hour getting an impression of it, walking along the outer wall to see the harbour and sea views. It is a huge fortification built on a natural rocky outcrop and has been there since Venetian times.
Today dawned sunny and soon began to warm up. We wished we had set off. Instead we used the time to prepare the boat. We have found that prices for diesel and goods at the supermarket are dearer in the marina so we walked into Kontokali with a fuel can on our trolley to buy diesel from the petrol station. The owner was an American Greek who was chatting to us about his plans to modernise and introduce new ideas to his business. We did not fill our tanks with water from the marina as we had been warned that the water here is brackish. We think we have enough for several days.
Thursday, 27th May, 2004, Orthoni
We left at 06h00 to make the journey round the northern tip of Corfu Island to Orthoni, an island off the NW corner, a journey which took us over 7 hours. We are still in Greek waters but are really on our way. We anchored in Ammos bay which has a very tricky entrance with submerged rocks and a partly submerged mole. I stood on the bow and guided us in. The water is crystal clear and we could see our anchor well dug in on the bottom. It is a quiet place, even quieter than it used to be before Greece entered the EEC and also changed to the Euro. The custom house, the money exchange, the Police Station and port police station were standing unoccupied round the edge of the harbour. There was a straggle of houses and two or three tavernas, only one of which was open for business. The tiny harbour is surrounded by low hills covered with maquis, particularly gorse. As the day advanced we were joined by another half dozen boats but none were English and no one made any friendly overtures.
CHAPTER THREE - ITALY AT LAST
Friday, 28th May, 2004, Santa Maria di Leuca
We are finally in Italy. We were up at 06h00 and quickly underway. It was very cold. Sweaters, fleecy jackets, and long trousers were necessary and not discarded until after lunch. There was wind and we were able to put the sails up, but it was not strong enough to give us good speed without the engine.
We had breakfast as we travelled, eating toasted rolls and coffee as soon as we were under way. We encountered a trawler just as the Italian coastline came into view and had a bit of a run-in with him. He was trawling across our path and when we slowed down to allow him to pass ahead he also slowed down. When we speeded up he did likewise. He seemed to deliberately trying to cause a collision. It was only due to John's good seamanship that we eventually managed to pass ahead of him.
The marina turned out to be expensive and there were no facilities other than electricity, water and rubbish collection. We realised later that we could have moored to the harbour wall opposite for free. The town itself was interesting, placed as it is on the tip of the heel of Italy. Mussolini had invested in the town. A double set of steps had been constructed from sea level to a headland forming a ceremonial 'gateway to Italy'. I have decided to climb the steps tomorrow, weather permitting.
The last two days have been long trips and we have been under engine all the time so we will stay here at least two days to allow ourselves time to recover.
Saturday, 29th May, 2004, Santa Maria di Leuca
We woke to a lovely sunny day which turned to rain quite quickly, and it rained all morning. There was a break just before lunch when we 'broke out' and went in search of fresh bread and a post office. We followed narrow streets lined with large Palladian villas sheltering behind high walls. Everything is made of concrete with very little greenery except where the road widens into a square near the church. Here we found a grove of pine trees and the rain released their perfume into the morning air.
The post office was clearly marked and we found it on the slope of a hill with a little supermarket underneath it. The bread was warm and crusty and the shopkeeper twinkled his pleasure when I pressed the loaf and made approving noises. We were once sold a loaf in an Italian town which would have done duty as a door stop. I didn't want that to happen again.
I don't know what the main purpose of the post office is but when I asked for stamps the assistant had to go and get them from a back room. Perhaps people buy them from the newsagents nowadays?
That evening I walked along to the Mussolini steps and climbed (slowly) to the Basilica at the top, admiring the view and photographing the marina below. A party of schoolchildren were being shepherded across the concourse and down the steps by two nuns.
Monday, 31st May, 2004, Ciro Marina
We left at 05h00 yesterday. The sea was a bit rough at first but there was a good wind and we were able to sail without engine for the next 6 hours. But the sea was very confused and we were tossed about. Chefren is an old boat and over the years we have found various leaks, mainly rainwater but occasionally seawater - through screw-holes in the foredeck locker for example. Yesterday seawater started to pour in from the port 'toe' and it collected in around the base of the 'Porta-Potti' which we use when we are in harbour. Fortunately this area is enclosed by a 'coaming' which contained the water around the base of the toilet. I bailed out a couple of gallons which is a bit worrying. We also found water in the central bilge which had wet the carpet, and evidence of water in my clothes locker in the fore cabin which had soaked some of my T-shirts.
We spent a lot of time when we arrived in Ciro drying the boat out and attempting to find out where it was coming from. The main problem seems to be the foredeck locker and no matter how we seal it, when we take water over the deck, as when Chefren plunges down into a trough between waves, water gets into the boat. There is no marina here. The name of the town 'marina' in Italian means 'by the sea'. But the existing harbour has been enlarged and some pontoons have been laid down but there are no buildings. We were able to go alongside on the harbour wall. I leapt off as usual with a line as soon as Chefren was almost touching the quay and lashed it round a bollard. It was just as well that I did as John had forgotten to lock down the leg before reversing, it rose out of the water and we continued to go forward. The harbour wall was lined with fishermen who were highly amused, and called out to us in a friendly way. A passing speedboat even demonstrated to the fishermen what we had done by lifting his outboard and revving it.
We were impressed by the fact that the fishing boats and speed boats all moderated their speed as they passed in and out of the harbour. How courteous, it had not been like that in Santa Maria, there had been a constant stream of boats causing a wash and keeping Chefren bouncing up and down which is very annoying, even dangerous when I am cooking. Ciro has been a large fishing port which is now re-inventing itself as a tourist resort. Being able to put in here has shortened the journey across the Gulf of Tarantino considerably. We would normally have had a long journey to Crotone which is dirty, noisy and unfriendly. We would like to avoid it all together but the harbours along the foot of Italy are few and far between.
What lovely people they are here. The shop assistants were friendly and helpful and when I didn't understand something they would repeat it carefully in Italian, several times, with hand gestures. I generally managed to grasp a word or two that I could understand.
Late in the afternoon a ketch called Dawn Bird tied up behind us. The crew turned out to be Bill and Rona Musker whom we know of from the Cruising Association. They came aboard for G & Ts and a chat. They are off in the morning on their way up the East Coast of Sicily to Brindisi from where they hope to have the boat lifted out and transported to Holland.
Whilst they were with us John dropped something into the water and Bill produced a large fishing net to rescue it for us. On seeing the fishing net one of the local fishermen asked if he might borrow it. Bill was happy to oblige and it was returned later.
Tuesday, 1st June, 2004, Ciro Marina.
The wind is forecast from the south which means we would have it against us if we set off, so we have stayed put. The weather is warming up now and we were able to sleep with the main hatch wide open. There is no water tap on the harbour wall so we went in search of water, taking a can. We found a black hosepipe attached to a tap which workmen were using as they laboured on a handsome building with a red conical roof and which looks like a new fish-market. We were able to fill our can but don't know whether it is potable so will only use it for washing.
It is very pleasant to sit in the cockpit listening to the expressive, musical voices of the fishermen. Yesterday's fisherman was back in the same spot today and walked up and down where Dawn Bird had been, making a great pantomime of looking for them with a very disappointed expression. He was quite a comedian.
Wednesday, 2nd June, 2004, Ciro Marina
Last night we ate at a Pizzeria situated just off the beach about a mile from the harbour. It would be particularly pleasant to eat here during the day when you could sample one of their huge, thin crust pizzas on the terrace overlooking the sea.
Today appears to be a festival day, the children are out of school and all the shops are closed. We think it is the anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic. The circus is in town and tonight is the last night. Loudspeaker vans advertising it have been driving up and down the promenade all day.
There is a volleyball court built between the old harbour and the promenade and games were in progress all morning. Fishermen and their families lined the quay.
'Our' fisherman came back today and when he knew he had our attention he very theatrically opened the boot of his car and produced a collapsible net which he demonstrated to us with a great flourish and a stream of Italian including 'Primo, primo'. We gave him a round of applause.
Thursday, 3rd June 2004, Crotone
During the night a strong wind blew up - from the direction in which we want to go. At 04h00 we could hear it shaking the wind generator and rattling the halyards. Instead of setting off at first light we snuggled down again. But when we got up the wind had died and we decided to leave. We had the wind with us for a while but then the sea began to get rough and the wind came round to head us. That meant that our speed was reduced to 2.5 knots, half of what we could expect under engine.
We were hoping to reach a small harbour, Le Castella, a little further south of Crotone. But the weather worsened and we needed to find a refuge so it had to be Crotone. There are two huge harbours here, one for pleasure boats and work boats and the other for commercial shipping. Over the years they have been spending money to put down electricity points and water points for the pleasure boats and this year it looks as though there is a shower block almost complete. The pleasure harbour was pretty full but we spotted a place and headed for it. As we approached a man came out from a little beehive shaped hut on the harbour wall and waved us off. I tried to ask him, in sign language, where we could go and he just shrugged and turned away. By this time the wind was very strong, even in the harbour, and there was no way we wanted to go out to sea again. We had been here before and the manager of the fuel quay had been helpful we decided to ask him. They were closed for 'siesta' but we tied up alongside, put out lots of fenders and waited.
As I write this we are tied to the fuel quay in the teeth of a gale with no idea of where we will be able to shelter for the night. The wind is whistling through the rigging and Chefren is tugging at her mooring lines. This life is not all sunbathing and sightseeing.
The wind calmed by the time the fuel berth opened. John had walked along the quay to try to find a space and when the young attendant appeared I ordered some fuel even though we did not strictly need it, otherwise he would have just told us to move off. John came back before we had filled up and chatted to the young man who is the son of the manager we had met previously. One of the things we remembered about his father was watching him tie-up a boat. The boat's crew threw him a line, he dropped it on the quay and picked it up with one hand and there was a perfect bowline tied in the end. He has obviously had years of practice. We mentioned this to the son and he taught me how to do it, I shall have to practice. We also explained our predicament and he told us we could tie up at the head of the harbour, close by where we had been waved off. It turned out that there are two concessions here and he has one of them
What a relief to be tied up securely and know that we are all right until the weather settles.
The town here is quite depressing. It was once a flourishing city which controlled much of Magna Graecia, and Pythagoras lived here in the 5th century. In the Middle Ages it declined and is now a forgotten place, although the off-shore oil platforms are bringing some prosperity back. The area around the harbour is dominated by a huge fish market and further on the tenements start. Block after block of concrete structures with only a balcony for fresh air and sunlight. They look depressing and seedy, but when you push on further to the commercial heart of the town you find imposing buildings, large prosperous shops, and covered walk ways.
We were still hoping to go from here to Le Castella but were talking to some Americans whilst we were tied up at the fuel berth. They had tried to get in there but were defeated by 3 ft. waves. The gulf is known as the Golfo di Squillace (Gulf of Squalls). Apparently the wind can change direction at whim, with great strength. So maybe we will give it a miss.
As evening fell I was reminded of another reason that I dislike Crotone intensely. There is an open air concert venue on the beach not too far from the harbour and the level of noise from the concert was deafening, even at a distance, as sound carries over water. They began warming up at 17h00 and continued until after midnight. We could hear every drum beat and cymbal clash.
Saturday, 5th June, 2004, Crotone
The forecast is for winds to Force 7 and thunderstorms so we are putting up with another night here. Yesterday was John's birthday. We would have liked to celebrate it with a meal but will wait until we get somewhere more pleasant. Instead we had G & Ts with a couple from another boat, Air Waves, and I made a special meal of chicken breasts in tomato and onion, followed by Apple Cake which I bought on a foray into town this morning.
Today it was raining but we went off into town again taking our macs and made our way to the castle where we had been told there is a library with free internet access. We walked through an open air market, past the elegant shops and into yet another area of Crotone, the really ancient part. Narrow streets of very old, crumbling houses clustered around the castle hill. We made our way up a narrow lane which was just a patchwork of concrete pieces and arrived at the castle gate. Inside there was not much to see and the buildings in the centre had been used for a library where I found the internet access.
The view from the castle walls was worth the climb and we could look right down on Chefren at her berth. On our way back we bought some spicy Italian sausage for tea. My, my, were they spicy! Even John, who enjoys spicy food, could only manage to eat one.
Monday, 7th June, 2004, Rocella Ionica
We left Crotone at first light and had quite a good sail, but the journey here took almost 12 hours. What a relief to pull in here, an unfinished marina with plenty of room. Willing hands took our lines and we were soon chatting to our neighbours, and lending our hose to an Italian boat.
The marina, an ex-naval base, is a long way out of town and the walk would be daunting in the heat, but we have bikes on board so today we cycled to the De-Spar Supermarket.
We decided to eat out that evening and settled on a pizza in the marina snack bar. They sell pizzas by the metre here and have just earned themselves a place in the Guiness Book of Records for cooking the longest pizza. A modest half metre was sufficient for the two of us, but it was delicious.
Tuesday, 8th June, 2004, Rocella Ionica
We will probably move on tomorrow but for today I persuaded a reluctant John to come sight-seeing with me. Dominating the small town is a huge rocky hill (the rocella) with a ruin on top. I would like to climb it. I will enjoy the view and the exercise will be good for us. We set off early at 09h15 and cycled along the esplanade to the town. A cycle path has been laid alongside the walkway.
Reaching the town we were daunted by the sight of the castle perched high on its rock and I almost agreed with John's opinion in the heat, but a street sweeper who saw me taking some photographs insisted on giving us instructions to reach it. I think he wanted to practice his English. He kept repeating "It is very beautiful, and it is open."
We cycled under the railway track through what is in fact an open drain used as access to the promenade and kept going to where a gate revealed a path leading upwards via some steps, and past a children's playground. With a little hesitation we decided to leave our bikes here. We couldn't push them up the hill. The newly constructed wooden walkway wound around the side of the hill like the slide of a helter-skelter. Alongside the path were wild daisies and poppies, whilst further along we found vines and passion flowers.
Major work had been done to prevent boulders and falling masonry rolling down onto the town. A huge net had been erected and braced with steel wires.
The path led up in a gentle gradient to the far side of the castle from where we could walk round the ruins. The buildings were not much to look at but the views were spectacular and well worth the climb. The principal building on the top seemed more like a church than a castle. But there were no notices or leaflets to give us any information. We made our way back via a set of steps, some of which were ancient but in places new wooden ones had been added. Green and yellow lizards scuttled out of our way as we descended.
We were surprised and pleased to find our bikes untouched and cycled back along the main road. It was very nerve wracking cycling along a main road with huge lorries thundering by. My bike kept slipping out of gear; and John was struggling with the folding pedal. But we made it back to the boat safely.
Later that day more boats started arriving, French, German, Australian, and one English boat. John hailed them to tell them there was space on the inside of the pontoon and prepared to take their lines. The woman on the foredeck called out, "Are you John and Brenda Davison?" John agreed that we were. "It's because of you that I am here!" she called back.
Later they told us that, like me, she had been introduced to sailing by her second time around partner, who suggested they should take their boat to the Mediterranean via the French Canals, and he proceeded to buy all the books that he could about the canals, and my book was the one that had convinced her to give it a try.
Their names were Peter and Hilary Dewey. Hilary is a well built, cheerful lady with tight curly grey hair and of average height. Peter is tall with a moustache which gave him a lugubrious air, rather like Foggy in Last of the Summer Wine.
Wednesday, 9th June, 2004, Reggio Calabria
Again we left at first light. The air was balmy and a half moon hung limply in the sky. The sea was calm at first but after an hour a wind sprang up and the sea became rougher. We had the wind on the beam.
As we sailed along the coast we saw the rock we had climbed yesterday with its ruin atop, and then lots of other hills with whole towns perched on top. One town was not so much perched on top as clinging to every available surface, flat and vertical. We imagined it must be a town without cars; its slopes were so steep.
We are now sailing along the 'ball of the foot' of Italy. Craggy, volcanic mountains overshadow the Straits, towns and villages hug the coast, linked by railways and roads which run along the edge of the sea before disappearing through tunnels and a moment later soaring across valleys on a high viaduct. The Italians are great engineers.
We put into a little harbour called Saline Ioniche. This harbour had been constructed to serve a chemical factory to bring industry to the local area. But neither the factory nor the harbour had ever been used for the purpose for which it was intended and the harbour had silted up in the entrance. This annoyed the local fishermen who wanted to use the harbour so they decided to do something about it and they blasted a hole in the harbour wall and quite large boats can go in there now. But it was very bleak. The quays are extremely high and it would be difficult to get a rope up to one of the huge bollards. The deserted wharves seemed quite ghostly. As well as the fishing boats there were one or two yachts anchored in the middle but all seemed deserted. There was no sign of habitation nearby, not even a snack bar and the prospect of perhaps being stuck in there because of bad weather was too daunting to contemplate. We braved the strong wind and continued on to Reggio Calabria. I was glad we did because we later heard of a yachtsman who was held up at gun-point and robbed in this harbour. It is too close to Sicily.
Coming out of Saline Ioniche we saw, at close quarters, one of the sword fishing boats which fish in these waters. They are large traditional fishing boats with an extra high mast and a bowsprit longer than the boat. A man stands in the crow's nest to spot the sword fish as they bask below the surface and a man on the end of the bowsprit spears it with a trident-shaped object. The bow-sprit is supported by eight stays.
The wind stiffened and the sea kicked up a bit as we ploughed on to Reggio. The wind was off the land so we kept close inshore but were beginning to take a severe buffeting. I was glad to find a space in Reggio.
CHAPTER FOUR - TRAVELLING NORTH
Friday, 11th June, 2004, Tropea
There may be noisier and less restful places than Reggio but not many. The yacht harbour is walled off from the commercial harbour from which ferries for Sicily and Malta come and go with great frequency. Their wash creates a continual disturbance which is increased by reflected waves from the sea.
The noise of the ferries is not all we have to contend with. A road to the ferry port runs right alongside where we are moored. Lorries, wagons, cars and motor bikes roar past throughout the day. Beyond the road is the railway station and when the traffic noise is quiet you can hear the train announcements and the roar of the train rushing into the station. Beyond the railway is another road, a busy one which takes traffic from the town up and over a viaduct out of town.
Our ears were continually bombarded with the noise which was added to yesterday by a car alarm which went on and off all morning, lorries loading on the Malta ferry just over the wall, and the constant yapping of a dog shut out on the balcony of one of the tenements above the railway station.
We stayed for two nights. They wanted to charge us €80 for being a catamaran (one and a half times the fee for a monohull). I managed to negotiate a lower fee by persuading the manager that we took up no more room than the monohull moored alongside and he reduced it to €60. There is water and electricity here as well as tailed moorings, but the water is salty and we were unable to fill our tanks.
We made a trip to the excellent Quiiper supermarket with our trolley, two rucksacks and a shopping bag. It is a long walk from the harbour but worth it as they have such a good range of produce.
It was a busy day with lots accomplished. In the evening I cycled to the heart of the town along the sea front to buy medicines from a pharmacy. Two things are memorable. A children's fairground where instead of 'up and down' horses on a carousel the creatures were attached to a slot machine and to ride them must have been tame in comparison to the excitement of the merry-go-round which had more modern delights such as a space shuttle, a fire engine and some cars. The other memorable thing was the sight of dark-suited businessmen who had parked their cars around the gelateria and were standing on the pavement eating ice cream cornets. Perhaps this is the Italian equivalent of calling in at the pub? We were unsure about whether to leave this morning. The wind has been blowing very strongly from the direction in which we want to go and blowing steadily at night. Last night the wind dropped and we made the decision to go.The wind was on the nose but light as we wove our way in and out of the ferries opposite Messina and through the whirlpool of Charybdis which slowed us down but wasn't a problem otherwise. Leaving the Straits we passed close to a small boat in which two young men were line fishing. We waved and they proudly held up a long silver fish for our admiration.
Just before 11h00 we became aware of a speed boat on a reciprocal course. As they drew closer we cursed them and altered our course to avoid a collision. They altered course too and we realised they were heading straight for us deliberately as they were the Guardia Costiera, and signalling to us to slow down. They put fenders out (I did the same) and they came alongside to examine our ship's papers and our passports. They were perfectly polite and friendly and asked where we were going and where we had been, and whether we carried flares (they called them rockets). After handing the papers back they wished us Buenos sera and disappeared into the distance.
Two hours later we motored into Tropea marina. On the approach I became quite excited as I recognised this as a town on a cliff which I had seen and photographed on our way past four years ago. I had longed to explore it then, and now here we were.
We were delighted to find a new marina with pontoons and water and electricity. This place couldn't be a greater contrast to Reggio, it is so beautiful and peaceful I think we will stay a few days.
There are newly opened toilet blocks and showers which are beautifully clean, and the harbourmaster has weather forecasts and tourist information. There will soon be a restaurant, workmen are busy finishing it at the end of our pontoon but their drilling and chat and even the occasional bark of a dog are nothing after Reggio.
The harbour is surrounded by low hills covered with scrub. Here and there are houses and a more imposing building, perhaps a hotel, and a church with a dome. The town is south of us, overlooking the harbour and I can see a flight of steps which will take us up into the town tomorrow.
There are lots of boats in here, fishing boats, small motor boats, and yachts. Most of the boats are unoccupied apart from a German boat alongside and an Italian family who have just arrived.
Saturday, 12th June, 2004, Tropea
This morning we went up into the town. There is a flight of about 140 steps at the foot of which is a grotto containing figures of a nativity scene. It is a lovely old place, quite small and built into the cliff so that the houses seem to be a part of the sheer cliff face. There is no encircling promenade but to see the sea you can walk to a view point at the end of some of the streets. The main streets are quite wide and, surprisingly, there is some traffic. The town is dotted with squares, many of them tree-lined, where you can sit at a pavement café in the shade. We chose one in the main square to sample the local ice-cream. My main impression is of huge buildings, very old, with wide arched doorways and stone carvings. The origins of Tropea are a mystery but there is evidence that it was being fortified against invasion by the Goths in 535 AD and that it existed at the time of the Roman Empire. Pliny mentioned it in his writings. During the Renaissance it seems to have reached a period of splendour, commercial and mercantile as well as literary. Nowadays it lives by tourism and the town is bursting with souvenir shops, eating places and other tourist traps.
Back at the marina later in the day another English boat came in, Havre, and moored alongside us. The crew were Sue and Stanley from Yorkshire.
Tuesday, 15th June, 2004, Tropea
It has been a busy few days. We have swum on the nearest beach to the north which is within easy walking distance. It was clean but fine shingle rather than sand. Sue and Stan went by dinghy the next day to a beach to the south and reported it was sandy and very clean.
They joined us for another trip into the town in the cool of the evening on Sunday. We have decided to visit Stromboli from here on a trip boat rather than make the lengthy journey in our own boats. It would take 10 hours to get there and the anchoring is uncertain. Di and Brian told us a hair-raising story of anchors dragging and fierce winds in the night so we will not risk it. Instead we went to the Pro Loco tourist office and booked a trip to 'Stomboli by Night' which will be leaving tomorrow.
One of the specialities of the town appears to be miniature figurines like those in the grotto. The restaurant had a little moving tableau of them in a glass case outside. A miniature pizza is being inserted into an oven on a large shovel. Earlier we had found a whole museum of animated figurines demonstrating traditional crafts and lifestyle at the top of the mainstreet.
Monday was the day of the trip to Stromboli. We left from the harbour at Tropea at 16h00 and proceeded at 25 knots to cover a distance of 50 miles which took about 2 hours. When we reached Stromboli the boat made a tour of the island to enable us to appreciate its size and to see the scars from the old lava flows. A small town nestles on the coastal plain at one end of the island, dominated by two churches. The rest of the island is mainly larva, in places overgrown with scrub and is very grey as the volcano is continually spewing out ash and occasional spurts of fire. Sadly today the volcano was covered by cloud and smoke.
We had three hours ashore and visited the Volcano Information Office where we watched a video of the big eruption of 2003.
We climbed narrow walled streets to the piazza where we perched on a wall outside the church and had a picnic whilst local boys played football around us. It was fun to watch the antics of a 5 yr. old as he attempted to 'bend it like Beckham'. The other boys were very good natured with him.
The houses are flat roofed and white washed. The gardens mainly contain cactus, sad-looking geraniums and the occasional palm tree. Three hundred people live on the island now, where once there was a population of 3,000. The street to the harbour was lined with tourist shops and restaurants. We succumbed and bought T-shirts on which we had our own designs printed. I chose blue with a dolphin motif, whilst John chose a pale brown one.
We boarded the boat again at 21h00 and our captain spent the next hour motoring up and down trying to get a good view of the glow in the sky above the volcano but it was obscured in cloud. Stromboli averages three to seven small explosions an hour, sending jets of hot gas, fragments of glowing lava and solid blocks of rock to heights of one to two hundred metres but all we could see was the merest glow. It was disappointing.
The biggest ever eruption took place in September 1930, crushing roofs, causing fires and producing serious damage to buildings in the two villages on the island. Six people died and twenty-four were hurt. Several boats were anchored off the town and one of them was a beautiful sailing schooner belonging to Princess Caroline of Monaco.
Eventually we gave up hoping for an eruption and came back to Tropea arriving about midnight. Earlier in the day we had a funny series of incidents which make life aboard eventful. I had decided to make some bread. I had all my ingredients and equipment laid out in the tiny galley and was busy kneading the loaf. John had decided to clean the water tanks to remove any brackish water, and guess what - one of the water tanks was under my feet beneath the galley floor. So he was on his hands and knees around my feet, whilst I worked above him, feet braced on either side of the hole in the floor. After he had checked it he began to fill the tank via the inlet in the cockpit. He went ashore to turn on the water and the pressure was so great that the nozzle shot out of the inlet, turned over and directed itself straight through the cabin door, showering me, my bread, and most of the cabin with a jet of cold water. I had to fight my way through the spray like someone in a silent movie. I grabbed the hose to re-direct it then closed the cabin door to prevent further drenching. At the time I was not very amused.
A Dutch boat, Zeeleeuw (Sealion), has arrived and the crew, Jan and Marry are also going north and we will leave with them tomorrow. Zeeleeuw is an old wooden boat, and yet it has many modern touches such as electric winches. Her hull is dark green with a varnished transom decorated with carvings of leaves and tendrils, it looks very smart. We are sad to say goodbye to Sue and Stanley who are heading south, we had a final drink with them and were able to swap some Greek charts for their Italian ones. Sue has also given me a list of places they visited on their way south.
Wednesday, 16th June, 2004, Cetraro
We left at 05h30 followed by Zeeleeuw. We're getting quite good at these early morning departures. It was cloudy and trying to rain with poor visibility as we motored up the Italian coast for 10 hours, a distance of approximately 50 miles. We had the sails up for just over an hour but there was little wind.
Zeeleeuw overtook us and were already installed in Cetraro when we arrived. The quay seemed to be full but Zeeleeuw was moored in a corner and they invited us to go alongside them which we were glad to do.
The harbour at Cetraro has been considerably extended since it was last surveyed and reported in our pilot book. The inner basin for fishing boats has been enlarged and concrete quays have been put across the inner basin with a gap between for access. It was to one of these concrete pontoons that Zeeleeuw was moored, in a corner near the main access. There were three other yachts here, Italian, French and Danish.
John and I had a pleasant walk ashore so that I could take some photographs of the new harbour from the road leading to the hospital on the cliff above.
Thursday, 17th June, 2004, Cetraro
Sometime during the night a strong wind developed. we could hear it howling in the rigging and by first light it had strengthened and as the day developed so the wind increased until it was gusting to 50 knots. It seemed like a hurricane, and classed as a Severe Storm.
All the boats are being blown against the quay as the wind is from the land, the monohulls are tipping sideways and getting their topsides caught under the edge of the concrete pontoon and rubbed against the iron rings set in the wall. A French boat has had his toe rail broken and some stanchions snapped. A call went out early this morning for the men to go down and help. There is great activity on the quay as boat owners rush hither and thither searching for old tyres to fender the boats. We were leaning heavily on Zeeleeuw but there was nothing we could do about it except help them with fendering. We have lent them one of our largest fenders and it has already been punctured. The answer would be to put out an anchor but it would be impossible to launch the dinghy to do that in this wind. We feel helpless.
The dinghy is our main casualty. It is a very heavy dinghy and it is being lifted bodily in the davits to an angle of 90 degrees. The shackle on one of the falls twisted and unfastened and one end of the dinghy was down in the sea. The cover which I made only last year tore but it is only the stitching which has ripped. We have lashed the dinghy in place and padded it with fenders in an attempt to keep it down.
Zeeleeuw took their dinghy out of their davits and lashed it down on the quay. When our dinghy lifted it snapped the flag pole, bent the aerial for the Navtex and snapped the bracket. The wind generator was spinning madly and we tied a rope around its blades to prevent it going round. It looks as though it has been gagged.
I suggested to John that we took a very long rope diagonally across the harbour to the access pontoon to pull ourselves off. He was sceptical but tried it and it worked. It also pulled Zeeleeuw away and we can all rest more easily. It was so frustrating watching the boat being damaged and feeling unable to do anything.
We are covered in salt from the dried-on spray and our hair is standing on end, also stiff with salt. We look a sight.
As I write it is 14h45 and there is no sign of the storm abating. Things were so bad at one stage that I gathered our money, passports and other valuables together in a large bag in case we needed to evacuate, but I think I was over-reacting. John laughed at me.
It is 16h15 and I have just had a walk ashore with the rubbish, and for a change of scene. I found the lady from the Italian boat (Cêc) squatting on a log in the lee of the shore clutching a candle. I think she was praying. She said to me, "Problem, big, big, problem." I don't think their boat is too badly damaged so she was probably just frightened. We had a conversation in Franglais interspersed with Italian and she told me they come from Genoa. I tried to impress on her that the important thing was that they were alive and unhurt; I don't know whether she understood. She told me she had not eaten and I encouraged her to walk back to the boats with me to get something to eat. We walked with our arms around each other to keep ourselves from being blown over.
The storm continued into the night but now that Chefren was pulled away from Zeeleeuw we could sleep more easily. We will not be going anywhere tomorrow even if the storm dies down as the sea will be too rough.
Friday, 18th June, 2004, Cetraro
Sometime between 03h00 and 05h00 the storm abated. No boats have left and we were all licking our wounds. Most of the women began washing but I decided to hang on until we were somewhere with electricity so that I could use my machine. Well, why not? I planned to mend the dinghy cover as well.
John mended the flagstaff and the Navtex aerial so apart from a layer of varnish removed from our gunwale we were comparatively unscathed.
The forecast was not good. There were storms all over N. Italy so we put snubbers on our lines and yet another line to the shore.
There are no shops by the harbour, just a gelateria and two restaurants. I had to walk ¾ mile round the headland to the north to find the nearest shop for bread. The supermarket I found was a windowless portacabin behind someone's house and to get to it I had to walk down the drive into the back yard. The proprietress was just closing up for lunch but welcomed me in and waited patiently whilst I made my purchases. My walk gave me an opportunity to see the area. I discovered a fine shingle beach fronted by houses and gelateria. Workmen were completing a new promenade. Late in the afternoon Marry went by bike to another mini-market to the south. It sounds a little bigger but further away. She brought back a large tub of lemon ice cream which they shared with us.
Sunday, 20th June, 2004, Camerota
We had been cowering in Cetraro anticipating winds of Force 6-7 which were forecast, but did not arrive. The sea was calm so we decided to move off keeping all our options open as to where we might go. If the wind blows up we will pull into the nearest harbour, but were hoping to reach Camerota, a day's journey to the north. Yesterday we walked 2 miles to the mini-market with our trolley and were able to bring some bottled water back. I keep fit with all this exercise.
In the late afternoon the Coast Guard came round and asked all the boats to take their papers to the Coast Guard station. They checked all our papers and asked us to fill in a form, which was really a disclaimer to say we would not prosecute them for damage to the boats. I suppose they can't really be blamed and with hindsight we would have been better moored bows-to with anchors to hold us off the quay. John and I decided to eat out at the Gamberto Rosso which is owned by the Ormegiattori who runs a section of the quay here. He doesn't charge for the use of the quay but always invites the crews to his restaurant. We found the meal was very expensive, €40 for one course plus wine and a bottle of water. We tried to pay by credit card but after taking our card away he said it would not work and we paid by cash.
The temperature has started to rise again. Yesterday it was 32 deg. C. Zeeleeuw left with us this morning shortly after 05h00. There was scarcely any wind and visibility was poor, but the sea was reasonably calm. We arrived at Camerota just after 12h00 and found Zeeleeuw already installed. They had tried to save a space for us alongside them but it was not wide enough and we had to go elsewhere.
This is a very small marina and there is not a lot of space to manoeuvre. It might be difficult in a high wind. Most of the other boats in here are Italian, some are yachts but the majority are 'gin-palaces'. All of them, even the yachts, are equipped for sun-bathing Italian-style with fitted white leatherette cushions on the fore deck. We have nick-named them 'toast racks'.
The mouth of the harbour is partially blocked by a sand bank but it is well buoyed. Children use it for paddling, and a dredger is permanently on station.
It may be the language difficulty but no one has spoken to us, or even greeted us, except for one man who grunted bad temperedly at John for using his hose pipe. We have decided to stay for two nights so that I can wash clothes and John will fill up with fuel.
1 When we got home we discovered that the credit card had gone through. Was this a scam or a genuine mistake?
Monday, 21st June, 2004, Camerota
Zeeleeuw left this morning and we were sorry to see them go, but we are staying on to shop and catch up on the laundry. I got the washer out and filled the boat with steam, taking the opportunity to wash the sheets and towels as well as our smalls. My washing machine is just a tub with an agitator which I stand in the shower tray. I have to re-fill it to rinse the clothes and wring them out by hand. Afterwards I cooled myself down with a cold shower. We walked into town in search of a supermarket and found one in the square with a surprisingly limited amount of goods for sale and certainly no cereal.They had lots of tins of tomatoes and pasta, but not much else. Disappointed, we went back to the boat and made getting fuel our next job. There is a fuel quay and we could take the boat alongside to be filled up but it doesn't open until 08h00 and we want to be away earlier than that so John strapped a fuel can to our trolley and wheeled it to the service station on the main road. This trolley is very useful; I think John should find a way of towing it behind one of the bikes.
In the afternoon I sat in the cabin in the shade, cooled by the down-draught from the wind scoop through the main hatch. The Italian lady on the next boat was stretched out on the fore deck in her bikini, baking in the full sun. I suppose they are used to it.
When the day had cooled down somewhat we went again in search of a supermarket. This is a big town and we reasoned that they must have somewhere for the housewives to get their provisions. This time we were lucky and found a large supermarket, and yes, they had cereal, and lots of other things besides.
CHAPTER FIVE - SIGHTSEEING
Thursday, 24th June, 2004, Torre del Greco
After leaving Camerota at 05h00, we sailed to Capri. In the early part of the trip we had a good wind which took our speed up to 6 knots. But for the last part of the trip the wind was very strong and on the nose, being funnelled between Capri and the mainland. We looked for an anchorage in preference to the very expensive marina in Capri but they were crowded and as the wind was so strong we decided to 'pay up and look happy'. It cost us €100 and we didn't even go ashore, leaving early next morning to sail across to Torre del Greco on the mainland from where we planned to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. The trip took 3 hours, there was no wind and it was extremely hot. We were glad to pull into the harbour but found it just as hot, if not more so, because the harbour is sheltered by a wall as high as a two storey house. In spite of its pretty name It turned out to be a very smelly commercial harbour with pontoons for pleasure boats in one corner. There were very few spaces for visitors but they did find us a berth on the harbour wall next to a motor boat which was being repaired. We were worried about security here but we need not have worried. There is a night watchman who sits all night on a seat near the end of our pontoon.
We made a reconnaissance trip into the town that evening when it was cooler and discovered the whereabouts of the railway station and the bus terminus, both quite close to the harbour gates. The railway station was depressing. It was dirty, covered in graffiti and everything was vandalised, even the timetable. The ticket office was boarded up. Nevertheless the next day we turned up at the station early and found first of all that we had to walk a little way back into the town to get tickets from a paper shop, then with the help of an English speaking passenger we managed to get on a train but found that it didn't stop at Pompeii so we had to get off at the station after Pompeii and take the train back for one stop.This was the Naples railway and it took us to the modern town of Pompeii from where we took a taxi to the ruins. There we discovered that there was a private railway serving the ruins and we would be able to get that back directly to Torre from here but to a different railway station at the top of the town.
Pompeii was all that I imagined it would be, and more. I had no idea what a beautiful city it had been. I am glad we bought a guide book with photographs because most of the murals, frescoes and statues have been taken to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. The good news is that we, as pensioners from the EU, were allowed into the site for free. But we did two naughty things. At the entrance to the site I needed to use the toilet. A coach party had arrived and the queue was a long one. Seeing a disabled toilet which was not being used I nipped inside. I had no sooner locked the door than someone knocked on the outside, shouting vociferously in Italian. I had no intention of emerging shame-faced and still needing to join the queue so I did what I had intended and eventually let myself out. When I did so, I was subjected to a torrent of abuse from the male toilet attendant. "Disabled only", he shouted. I pointed out that there were no disabled people waiting, and could have asked him how he knew I wasn't disabled. But I kept my dignity - what was left of it after the whole of the toilet queue had seen my discomfiture. I think he only wanted to get at his buckets and brooms which he had stored in there.
Our second 'sin' was that we had taken a picnic and after a couple of hours tramping the streets of the old city (surfaced with huge cobbles) we decided to have a rest and an early lunch. We chose a shady wall inside one of the houses where we ate a sandwich and fruit, and drank some water. Several guided tours went passed and most of them regarded us with what we thought was friendly amusement. When we had finished our tour we discovered a list of rules outside and one of them was 'No picnicking on the site". Perhaps the tour parties were saying. "There's that woman that used the disabled toilet breaking the rules again".
When they were excavating Pompeii in the 19th century they discovered that where people had been smothered by the ash, after their bodies had rotted away the space filled up with pumice and in a little museum there were several 'bodies' of this kind.
After Pompeii we had a cool drink at one of the many cafés outside the gates. It was very refreshing sitting in the shade sipping fresh lemonade. They had huge lemons hanging on display outside and some of them were as big as footballs. We gathered our strength and decided to see if we could 'do' Herculaneum that same afternoon and took the Circumvesuviana into Naples, alighting at Herculaneum station. We found ourselves in the suburbs, in a very ugly, dirty area surrounded by graffiti and high rise tenements. We had no idea which way to go and were by now very tired and feeling decidedly uncomfortable in such insalubrious surroundings. Instead we jumped on the next train going back to Torre del Greco and decided to visit Herculaneum the next day. The station for the Circumvesuviana train was a different one from the one we had used that morning and the station was right at the top of the town. We had a long walk but it was downhill all the way and we did some shopping as we passed through the town. I bought some 'Trotelles' for our evening meal.
The 'Trotelles' looked like turkey or chicken slices in breadcrumbs. I served them with aubergines and onion in tomato. They turned out to be fish of a very meaty kind, but were quite tasty. We are setting off tomorrow for one of the Pontine Islands, probably Ventatene.
Saturday, 26th June, 2004, Ponza
Herculaneum was lovely. We took the 255 trolley bus, buying our tickets from the paper shop again. The area was so built up it was impossible to tell where Torre del Greco ended and Naples began. We went through roads lined with crumbling villas with imposing facades. There were carriage entrances with courtyards behind, sometimes surrounded by a garden with an imposing gate. They are now either turned into flats or falling into ruin, often both. But my imagination peopled them with rich occupants and visitors doing the 'Grand Tour'.
From the bus window we noticed a party of tourists making their way on foot along the pavement. "They must be going to Herculaneum" exclaimed John, "We must be here!" We jumped off at the next stop and sure enough we found ourselves outside the old entrance to the site. I hadn't expected it to be in a built up area. If John hadn't spotted the tourists we would have stayed on the bus into Naples.
Finding the new entrance and again getting free entry we joined an English party who were about to have a guided tour. Herculaneum was once on the sea shore with palatial mansions fronting the promenade. When the eruption occurred the city was filled with wet mud which entered the buildings and solidified so that everything was very well preserved and most of the roofs are still intact. It is not as extensive as Pompeii but I thought more interesting. Parts of the site are still being excavated.
At the end of our visit we had a long hot wait at the bus stop before getting a bus back to Torre. We found that the boat was like an oven, even though we had left some hatches open. We were trapped in the hot smelly harbour alongside the motor boat. Black dust, probably from their exhaust, and flakes of paint covered our boat. When they washed down the water was spraying through our open hatches.
The workmen were working frantically and finished today as two couples came aboard and ran the engine. We were eating in the cockpit and our evening meal was covered with clouds of black smoke. I stood up and protested at this and they quickly loosed their lines and left the harbour. No apology. We were glad to leave next morning and were treated to a wonderful sight as the sun came up over Vesuvius behind us. Some of the sunlight slanted over the shoulder of the mountain and finally the sun balanced itself on the tip before lifting into the sky.
We motored on between Ischia and the mainland, dodging fast ferries, fishing boats and fools in motor boats. We needed to be very alert.
Soon out at sea we picked up a good wind which increased our speed. We could see Italian motor boats clustered around the tiny island of Ventatene like white ants and decided it was too crowded. Perhaps there will be more room at Ponza. We decided to move on and finally dropped anchor in a cove known as Calle del Inferno. We had been travelling for 12 hours. The island looked quite dramatic with high cliffs composed of slabs of white rock mixed with patches of brown. The beaches were merely narrow strips at the foot of these cliffs.
Gin-palaces, yachts and dinghies filled every anchorage. But we managed to find a space and anchored at 17h00. Shortly afterwards most of the day boats began to leave and by dusk there were only four boats left in our bay, plus a few gin palaces closer to the harbour and one huge luxury boat like a small liner further out to sea. There was quite a lot of swell from passing ferries and a noisy clamour from seagulls nesting on the cliffs but otherwise it was a quiet night.
We are looking forward to having a restful day tomorrow and probably enjoying a swim and exploring some of the coves by dinghy.
Monday, 28th June, 2004. On passage
It took me a long time to get to sleep on Saturday night and it seemed as if I had only just dropped off when I was disturbed by several loud whistles and a voice calling 'Aperto, aperto'. "What noisy fishermen" I thought to myself, but looking through the window I glimpsed a huge tanker edging into the cove and coming almost alongside our boat. A smaller boat was preceding it and the crew were clearing boats out of its way.
The previous evening we had noticed a steep flight of steps cut into the cliff and had assumed it was the way down to the shore for the inhabitants of the homes we could see on the cliffs above. Its purpose now became clear. The tanker dropped its forward anchor and reversed into the shore. Two men in the small boat took a line to the shore at the foot at the steps and then returned to the tanker taking the end of a long yellow hose from there to the shore. They connected it to a fitting at the foot of the cliff and proceeded to pump the contents of the tanker into an underground chamber on the island. At first we thought it was a delivery of diesel but eventually realised that we were witnessing the delivery of the island's water supply.
The delivery took all day so our pleasant anchorage was disturbed by the noise of running engines and the thump-thump of the pumps. We said we would have our swim after the tanker had left, but when two men in the small boat began to paint the hull with a long handled brush we realised it was going to be a long job.
I got out my snorkel kit and headed for the shore but there was little to see, a few pretty fish with forked tails and some weed, but that was all. I was pleased to see that the bottom was comparatively free from rubbish, and was able to check that our anchor was well dug into a patch of sand.
We left this morning at 05h30, motoring round the island with very little wind. We are hoping to make a long passage today. The wind is forecast to be light and we hope to reach Giglio, an island in the Tuscan group close to Elba.
Tuesday, 29th June, 2004, Giglio
We are still tired from the long trip yesterday. We had been able to hoist sail and make good progress and carried on to Giglio. The sun was hot but I could not put up the sun canopy because the sail was in the way. The sun was overhead therefore the sails gave little shade and I finally climbed up onto the cabin top and huddled in the shade of the mast.
We took it in turns to get some rest as we knew we would be sailing on through the night. I managed to get a couple of hours sleep but John didn't sleep when it was his turn, I think he was too conscious of listening to the rhythm of the boat and listening for changes that might denote problems. Even during the night he didn't sleep but he did go down and stretch out on a bunk.
Alone on deck during darkness I was warm enough but once the sun had set in a blaze of turquoise and orange everything became very damp. Eventually I put waterproof trousers on, but these are chest high with shoulder straps and make using the loo a nightmare, particularly when I also have on boots, a lifejacket and a harness.
I had a 'talking book' to listen to. It was James Herriott reading extracts from two of his books which lasted an hour and relieved the boredom of the night watch. Other than that I had to fight to keep myself awake, sometimes pacing up and down our ample cockpit, or just sitting on the helmsman's seat in the damp dark, watching the autohelm to make sure it was keeping more or less on course; watching for lights appearing in the darkness and checking to make sure that if they were ships we were not on a collision course, and similarly if they were lighthouses; and occasionally altering the position of the sails as the wind shifted. I feel as though my eyes are on stalks as I scan the horizon for possible hazards. My emotions are a mixture of apprehension and mind-numbing boredom.
There were not many ships around. I saw a tanker, three or four huge cruise liners and a gin palace. The gin-palace was very unnerving as we were not aware of its presence until it was almost alongside and we could see a dim glow in the cockpit. Otherwise it was not showing any lights. I suspect he was smuggling.
During the daylight there had been a trawler which came perilously close to ramming us, deliberately. John was on watch and I was asleep in the cabin when I heard the engine note change. I came instantly awake and saw through the window the registration number of an Italian boat. My first thought was that it was a yacht that had come alongside to talk to us, but when I poked my head out of the cabin I saw a trawler drawing away, and saw that John was as white as a sheet. For a few moments he was unable to tell me what had happened but I eventually learned that he had seen the trawler in the distance and when he became aware that we might be on a collision course he altered our course to give way, making it obvious to the trawler what we were doing. All went well until the trawler was quite close when he suddenly made a course alteration and headed straight for us as though he intended to ram us.
John slowed down to let him pass ahead and the trawler too slowed down. John had to make a last minute alteration to our course to avoid hitting it. There was no reason that we could see why the trawler should have behaved as it did except for anti-British feeling, or sheer bloody mindedness.
As daylight was beginning to lighten the darkness at about 05h00 we were relieved to see the silhouette of Giglio appearing out of the gloom.
We decided to find out if we could tie up in the harbour. Sadly we found it was jam packed with boats and no helpful omeggiatori to wave to us and try to squeeze us in. Every berth was occupied and they had laid fore and aft moorings in the centre of the harbour to accommodate more boats. Large ferry boats and tour boats were weaving their way amongst the moored boats and we found there was scarcely room for us to turn round and motor out again.
We found shelter in a shallow cove to the north of the harbour where the wind and waves had made fantastic rock formations; one of them was a wide, fat face-like rock, with curls of rock on top, like hair. The bottom was sand and I began to hope that we would be able to swim and snorkel here. Sadly this anchorage too lost its tranquillity Chefren began to bounce and sway as the wind began to blow and the sea picked up. There were lots of seagulls, obviously used to being fed. One of them landed on our deck and cocked his head at us as if to say, "Hello, nice day, what's for lunch?"
Despite the action of the waves we managed to enjoy a siesta, dozing in the shade, watching the comings and goings of other boats. By evening we were sufficiently refreshed to venture ashore. We bought bottled water, bread and other essentials, and walked the length of the promenade which was typically touristy. But beneath the tourist tat we could discern a pleasant old town bristling with character and history. The shops were stone-flagged and stretched back from the promenade like caves. At the end of the seafront we stopped at a hotel and had a cool drink under an awning from where we were able to watch Chefren riding at her anchor. The hotel had its own sheltered beach with shallow pools behind the shelter of a large rock where children were playing .
I believe there is a small walled town surrounding a castle on the top of this island but as we are only passing through we don't have the time. C'est la vie.
CHAPTER SIX - CORSICA
Wednesday, 30th June, 2004, On passage.
I am reluctant to say where we are heading as we have altered our plans according to the weather so often recently. We were away at 05h30 when the sun was not yet up and the decks were wet. We were neither of us fully awake, but a crusty roll and a cup of fresh coffee helped. As Giglio slipped into the distance I mused upon the difference between the Greeks and the Italians. Along the shore I saw neat little beaches with the inevitable pizzeria. In Greece it would have been a sprawling taverna. Here in Italy there are also beach umbrellas and chairs and rows of small boats or pedaloes for hire. The Italians do things with so much more style, and probably extract more money from the tourists in the process.
Giglio was once the centre for iron-ore and the last mine closed only 25 years ago. Now the main industry is tourism, although there is still a big fishing community, evidenced by the number of fishing boats tied up in the harbour. I wondered how cost-effective fishing is?
We were able to raise sail immediately and it is very satisfying to be swept along by the sails without the noise of the engine.
Thursday, 1st July, 2004, Port de Taverna, Corsica
We could have been at Elba by lunchtime yesterday, but with the wind bowling us along we worked out that we could be in Corsica within 12 hours and it was too good an opportunity to miss. We need to get into a marina and sort out a problem which has developed with the steering. We have always had a certain amount of 'play' in the steering, and have had occasions when the steering has failed completely, since we bought the boat, but having had it repaired in Greece we thought we would have no more problems. On this trip it has been 'playing-up' again, and although it is still working, the auto-helm has difficulty holding us on course, particularly when the sea gets rough. We have crossed our fingers that it will continue to work until we can get somewhere where we can be lifted out of the water and discover the source of the problem.
We searched through our Pilot books and Almanacs and discovered that there is a good marina at Port de Taverna which was described as the cheapest in Corsica. That sounds good and we altered our course for the Corsican coast, losing the wind almost as soon as we made the decision. It was a long hot trip. It seems quite a good marina although a bit lacking in service as no one came to show us into a berth and they weren't answering the radio. We chose a place which looked like the visitors' pontoon, and I made the long, hot walk round to the Capitainerie whilst John completed the tying up process. I reported in, only to be told that we needed to move to another berth..
The bottom here is thick glutinous mud. The lines which we take out of the water to retrieve the marina's mooring buoy are black with decaying seaweed. Water splashed on the deck is black and difficult to wash off. I'm glad we don't have to use our anchor.
The shore facilities look good. There are restaurants, tourist office with internet, chandlers, laundrette, showers and toilets, taxi office, fuel quay, diving school, repairs etc. etc. I shall investigate them more fully tomorrow, but for the moment the priority is cold showers and something to eat.
Friday, 2nd July, 2004, On passage to Macinaggio.
The marina at Port de Taverna was a bit of a disappointment. They don't do summer 'guardiennage', except at full summer berthing rate of €27 per night, plus water and electricity, discounted by the month to €80. This would cost us the equivalent of £1,000 for two months. If we had arranged to leave Chefren out of the water there they would also have charged us for cranage. We enquired about an annual contract to take advantage of a bigger discount, and would have left Chefren there for the winter, but the staff just laughed and said they didn't have room. We rang round one or two other marinas but the story was the same and we are faced with the decision as to whether to head for Sardinia as planned, with our faulty steering or go on to France where we know we can be lifted out at a reasonable cost in Port Napoleon at the end of the Rhône.
During the morning a French boat came alongside us and managed to go aground on the soft mud of the marina, and also get the mooring line round their propeller. At the time there was an English guy on the pontoon in a wet suit and snorkel gear. Thinking he was marina staff they asked him if he could free their prop, which he did, and they discovered he was a customer, but an ex-diver from the British Navy, He was happy to help and was rewarded with a tip and a bottle of wine. His name was Danny and he was accompanied by a cute mongrel called Friday, a stray whom he had rescued in San Tropez. We invited Danny and Friday aboard and learned their story. Danny was a free spirit with dread-locked hair who had set out to sail alone from Britain to the Mediterranean, but been beguiled by a French girl who had joined him in the sailing life. They had bought a boat big enough to raise a family on but when the first baby arrived the girl changed her mind and wanted a shore life. Danny felt he had been short-changed by this and had left the girl and their 7 month old son in France whilst he continued sailing. He returns to France every 6 weeks to see his son.
Later that day an English catamaran, Morgane, came in. The crew were two retired doctors who were also Cruising Association members. They joined us, and Danny, for drinks in the early evening, and afterwards John and I enjoyed a wonderful ham and cheese gallette at the crêperie in the port.
The high season is only just beginning here. Many of the facilities are not yet operational. The tourist office and internet are still closed, although the restaurants and launderette are open.
As I write we are sailing north from Port de Taverna and the temperature is climbing to 30 deg. C. Visibility is poor and the rugged mountains of Corsica are just a faint shadow on our left. Close in shore is a long sandy beach which stretches for miles, occasionally dotted with beach umbrellas and pizzerias, and backed by scrub.
We are both very disappointed that it looks as though we will have to leave Corsica and abandon our dream of sailing from here to Sardinia. I am heart-sick. We hope to make all haste and get to Port St. Louis du Rhône in a few days. We know we can repair the boat there and also leave her for the winter, and it will be at the start of the French canals. This means we can take Chefren up through the canals to home which was our plan for next year.
Our need to get the steering fixed is paramount, and John does not dare take it apart until we are somewhere we can leave the boat in case it cannot be fixed easily. He thinks it is possible he would need to take parts home for engineering.
Saturday, 4th July, 2004, Macinaggio
We have done very little sailing on this trip but as we approached Macinaggio a strong wind blew up and we were able to hoist sail for the last hour, what bliss to have the engine switched off. However the wind gave us some problems when we moored up. I had radioed ahead and a young girl on a bike was waving frantically to us from the quay. We followed her directions and moved into a berth between two other boats, but the wind was so strong it was blowing us onto an Italian gin palace alongside before we were able to make ourselves secure. The crew from that boat were very helpful and put out extra fenders but it took us the best part of an hour to fix forward lines, two mooring lines and a side spring. We still had to connect the water and electricity lines, and put the sun canopy up. It is hard work, this boating.
On my way to the Capitainerie to register I noticed another English boat, flying a Cruising Association pennant. Most of the other boats here are French or Italian. This boat was called Seductress and I hailed her skipper who invited me to bring John aboard after we had registered.
His name was Jan, and came from South Africa. He was sailing with his son and son's friend (Conrad and Ian) who were studying mechanical engineering at Bristol. They are on their way south and will be rendezvousing with Jan's wife and daughter for visits to Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Whilst we were sipping our wine the wind became very strong and we hurried back to the boat to check the mooring lines and batten down the hatches.
That night it became a full storm and I was worried about the dinghy but this time it was well wedged with fenders so that we did not have a repeat of the performance we had had in Cetraro. Our neighbours were up in the night having problems, as they were being blown into the quay.
This morning very early we heard our name being called and when we looked out we saw Danny on the quay, waving a baguette. He had moored up overnight and just been to get bread. He told us he was now on his way back to France. "I have responsibilities" he told us, "and I am going back." I felt very pleased on behalf of his young son as we waved him off.
Later I made a trip to the supermarket, going on my own so that I could enjoy browsing amongst all the wonderful French produce that is on offer. I need to stock up for another long trip as we plan to sail overnight to France. I bought pâte and fruit tart, and a Corsican cheese, as well as milk, eggs and fruit juice. On the way to the supermarket I stopped off at the boulangerie and bought some crusty bread and some cheese-bread, and next door in the rotisserie I got some fresh made Lasagne. We will have a feast tonight.
During the afternoon as we were walking to the Capitainerie to book in for another night we noticed thick smoke coming from the hillside to the south of the town. Within a few moments we could see flames as high as houses leaping across the horizon. Everyone was standing on the decks of their boats to watch, and soon sea planes and a helicopter appeared and began scooping up water from the sea and bombing the flames. It took over an hour for it to be extinguished, and during that time little else went on in the town. The noise of the aircraft was deafening. How sad I am to be leaving Corsica and missing Sardinia. If we had only come via Sardinia I am sure we could have found a place to leave Chefren, we had had several recommended. That night I lay awake for a long time giving way to sad feelings.
Monday, 5th July, 2004, Leaving Macinaggio
John and I had a good talk this morning. We weighed up the pros and cons of continuing to Sardinia or heading for France. I am now convinced that taking Chefren to Port Napoleon for repairs, and then home is the best course of action. Even if we repaired her here and stayed another year there are bound to be other problems. She is an old boat and we do not want to spend any more money on her, and sailing her is getting to be very hard work for two not-so-young individuals. Yesterday we went for a walk ashore and took some photographs. I am looking forward to being able to go ashore in French towns and sightsee on my own. I did not feel comfortable doing this in either Greece or Italy, I am not sure why. So I am reconciled to our future plans, especially as at this moment we are crashing into the waves as we try to leave Corsica. This will be a 24 hour trip, possibly longer and the prospect of bouncing like this for all that time is filling me with dread. John is confident it will get easier as we get away from the coast.
We left at 05h00 and slipped quietly off our mooring, making our way between the many boats anchored outside the marina.
A fiery red sun was just beginning to peep over the crest of two small islands off shore. I had my camera out and was taking shots of the sunrise and the wind farm on the hills.
Between the islands and the mainland there were some quite large yachts at anchor. Assuming there was plenty of water there we made our way through the channel. I noticed one or two rocks breaking the surface and was just about to draw John's attention to them when, crunch, the boat stopped in the water. We had grounded on a rock. Fortunately these rocks below the surface have been worn smooth by the sea so there were no jagged edges. John put the engine into reverse and we managed to motor off. We won't know until we reach Port Napoleon whether we have damaged the keels.
We have been travelling over eight hours. The sea is now smooth but with a strong swell. Visibility is poor but we have been able to see the shape of Corsica for all of this time. France is a dim shadow on our right. All around us is sea, sea, sea. Two dolphins came to play a little while ago but did not stay long. They enjoyed riding our bow wave and diving deep below the boat, their striped bodies moving in perfect unison.
Thursday, 6th July, 2004, On passage
We are still travelling and it is 09h20 on a lovely sunny morning. Last night I decided that that was the last night passage I ever hope to do. I can't believe that I did that one.
As usual we planned to sleep during the day and alternate on 2 hour watches during the night, but whilst I managed a couple of naps John found he could not sleep and night time found him red-eyed and weary. From about 22h00 he tried to sleep on the berth in the dinette as our berth in the fore-cabin is uncomfortable when the sea is rough, it reflects the motion of the boat and you levitate when the boat crashes into a wave. The best place is one of the stern cabins but both are full of gear, such as our bikes. In the end John moved some of the gear out. It was still uncomfortable but the best place to sleep.
John managed half an hour of sleep and came up on deck to relieve me at 23h30. I then found that I could not sleep either and stayed awake listening to the noise of the boat and watching John write up the log every hour. I dropped off at 01h00 and was woken for my watch at 01h30.
I think John slept then, and I was going to let him sleep on, but he arrived on deck at 03h30. We are both bleary-eyed and tired which is not a good state to be in if any difficulties were to arise and we needed to think quickly
A rather frightening thing happened when I came on watch. John had switched off the lights to the instruments in the cockpit to save his night vision. He told me what he had done and said that the switch was the third down on the right on the switch panel inside the boat. I needed to use the instruments to write up the log and fumbled inside the boat, found the switch and switched it on - nothing happened - wrong switch. My mind was not functioning properly but I knew I needed to find out what was happening so I switched on a torch and discovered that the instrument switch was the third down on the left. I completed the log and went up on deck to find the auto-helm totally confused and we were heading south instead of west. What I had switched off was the auto-helm. It took me a quarter of an hour to get the boat back on course again.
CHAPTER SEVEN - FRANCE
Wednesday, 7th July, 2004, La Ciotat
I came back on watch yesterday at 06h30. It was daylight and we had just reached the Isles de Hyeres. Our destination was the last island; known as Les Porquerolles where there are some very unusual-shaped rocks sticking out of the water. We had hoped to pull in here on our trip out four years ago but we had had steering problems then and been unable to get into the marina. I had had a little wind and hoisted the foresail. Conditions were quite good, and the sea reasonably calm and we knew that with another six hours sailing we could reach La Ciotat on the French coast. Once again we changed our plans. I was sad to pass up the opportunity of exploring the island and perhaps having a swim, but it had begun to get cloudy and I rationalised my feelings by telling myself that we probably would have spent the day sitting on the boat in the bay. So despite our tiredness we pushed on and sure enough it started to rain before we had travelled much further. The coast was very busy and we had to keep alert, dodging in and out of yachts, power boats and fishing boats, not to mention lobster pot markers.
John went down to try to sleep but eventually I had to call him to help me. I needed to go into the cabin to consult the chart and find out whether we could pass inside the Isle Vert and dare not leave the helm as the sea was so busy. When we finally entered the bay of La Ciotat the rain was coming down heavily and we needed our waterproofs. I tried to call the marina on the radio and got no response, eventually I got through on the mobile phone. I was told that they would have a place for one or two nights and we motored in and we tied up in exactly the same berth as we had occupied on our trip out.
La Ciotat has quite a good marina with good facilities and something I have not seen anywhere else - storage for small boats on 2 and 3 tier racks. There must be about 300 small boats stored in this way and they are lifted off by a fork-lift truck and lowered into the water when needed. It looks rather like a Spanish cemetery.
We spent yesterday recovering from our trip, generally crashing out and housekeeping, or should it be boat-keeping? Today we have begun to prepare for the end of the season. We hope to be off tomorrow and with that in mind I had a walk up the hill to the Lidl supermarket. This is a French Lidl supermarket and stocked with French produce. I had a wonderful, mouth-watering time in there and afterwards walking down the pedestrianised main street for the sheer pleasure of admiring the window displays. The French are so artistic. I had to stop myself from buying things we don't need just because they are so beautiful such as storage jars and decorated baskets for fruit.
Friday, 9th July, 2004, La Ciotat
We are still here! The weather forecast was not good. There was a strong wind warning and the wind was due to blow from the west - just where we are going. As I write the wind is howling around the boat. We will have to stay until the weather changes. It is a pleasant enough place to be stuck in. Yesterday I explored the town more fully, visiting the lovely old Norman church of Notre Dame on the waterfront. I was pleasantly surprised to find a minimum of statues, and none of the heavy gold and silver decoration which I hate so much in the Greek churches. Instead there was a modern fresco adorning the north wall, painted by a local artist. There is an old theatre on the front here, the Eden theatre, founded in 1889 but now closed. It is said to be the first place in the world to show moving pictures and was the home of Louis and August Lumière. Plans are afoot to restore it. I found the tourist office and got a map of the town and a list of internet cafés. In my search for one of these I tramped to the outer edge of the shopping area and found it was closed. The second one was behind Notre Dame and that also was closed. The only other one was at the opposite end of the town along the Promenade President Wilson, a tiring walk but a good way to see the town, noting interesting architectural features such as door carvings and ornamental mouldings.
Apparently the game of boules was invented here in 1910 by Jules Lenoir whose rheumatism made it difficult for him to bend down.
Saturday, 10th July, 2004, La Ciotat
We are still here! The wind continues to blow. It is Force 5 and still from the west. Gusts of Force 7 are forecast. It is very frustrating having got so close to our ultimate destination - just one day's sail away. We seem to have developed a leak in the toilet. The casing of the sea water pump is cracked. There is a chandlery here and we walked over to see if they had one. They had every make but the one we wanted and could not get one for us for a week. John has heat-welded the cracks and we hope they will hold until we get to Port Napoleon.
Things hotted up this morning and threw all our plans for the day out. We have upset the marina because we have stayed on and they had put us into someone else's place. This boat, Cinkel, came in alongside us a couple of days ago and left the morning saying they would be back tonight. Having occupied their mooring we thought we should try to keep another one for them. The marina had put a 'reserved' notice on, but even so various boats have tried to get in. One boat, a 40 ft. Janneau called Barracuda, persisted in their attempt to come alongside but did not allow for the wind. He came in at too sharp an angle, using his bow thrusters to straighten the boat. But he got too close and the wind took the boat and blew it across the stern of our boat and across two other boats. There was great alarm as we were all worried about our rudders. Barracuda's keel became wedged on our mooring chain and the wind and the chain held him fast. He may also have got some chain round his propeller. Eventually staff came from the marina and used a RIB to take a line across the marina and pull him off, but in the meantime we all had to fend the boat off. Fortunately our dinghy acted as a big fender and saved the rudders but we were worried that the dinghy itself would be damaged. John was incandescent at such seeming incompetence and said a few choice words to the skipper. We had to use one of the dinghy oars to fend off and in the process caught it in the wind generator and snapped off one of the blades.
Eventually they brought the boat in alongside us and the crew of Barracuda packed up and prepared to leave. Before they left they apologised and gave us their card, telling us to send the bill for the wind generator to them.
Sunday, 11th July, 2004, La Ciotat
Yes, we are still here and the wind is as strong as ever although it was quieter during the night. It is a measure of my desperation that I suggested to John that we try to leave in the night when it is calmer but he doesn't think that is a good idea. The gusts of wind are so strong that the dinghy is trying to lift again. We have, with the help of a Frenchman from the next boat who speaks good English, asked about the possibility of being lifted out here. But they say they have no room and their crane is no good - perhaps it is not strong enough. The receptionist phoned the commercial harbour to see if they had space but the answer was, No. They have told us we must leave tomorrow but the only place we could go would be to anchor in the bay on the other side of the breakwater which would be very uncomfortable.
I have discovered that there is a street market on the Old Quay on Sunday mornings. I love French street markets so I dragged John along. Most of the stalls were cheap clothes, but even the clothes seem to have style. Tourist tat was plentiful - jewellery, belts, socks, mobile phone covers. The bit I liked best was the food stalls - lots of fruit and vegetables, a couple of rotisserie, and bread and cakes. Also bed linen, Provençal fabrics and household linen including one small corner devoted entirely to quilts which looked as though they had been made in China rather than being authentic Provençal.
The whole market stretched about a mile along the old quay and took us a couple of hours to walk through and back.
As I sit writing this in the cockpit in the warmth of the sun (27 deg. C) I am being buffeted by the gusts of wind and will have to go in soon.
The marina does not take good care of the boats that are left in the water. No one comes to check the lines or the covers. A couple of days ago the boat alongside us was surging about, leaning on our boat, and hitting the quay. We pointed this out to one of the attendants who said he would do something but didn't do so. John didn't dare go aboard but he did move the fender they had placed between their stern and the quay so that it was doing its job properly, and he tightened one of the shore lines. I think the attendant may have seen this on CCTV as he was there in an instant. John went aboard with him and helped him to tighten the mooring line, and it needed the two of them to do this.
Afterwards the young man said to John, "No more, no more. Don't do anything else." But it is hard for us to stand by and see a boat being damaged.
Two days later the owners arrived and John told them what he had done. They were very grateful, saying, "They don't care here".
Monday 12th July, 2004, La Ciotat
The wind continued to blow with strong gusts and we have had to stay in the marina. The wind was costing us dear. The marina had raised their charges having realised that we are a catamaran and not a monohull (so we pay more). At first it was €28. I argued the point with them that we are only taking up the same space as a monohull but they are adamant. It is now €32 per night and the cash account from which we are drawing on in the UK is now empty. We had enough money for one more night but if the wind did not drop by the following day we would have had to go out into the bay on anchor. The shops here accept credit card. If only the marina would do the same we would be fine.
The Frenchman who helped me with the marina office is from a small, rather battered, French boat which has moored alongside us. There are two couples and this older man aboard, who is called Charles. They are very friendly and speak quite good English.
I walked into town to ask the lady at the tourist office about whether it would be possible to get 'cashback' in any of the supermarkets as we do in England. She had never heard of such a practice, but did suggest that we could get English money changed at the post office. What a brilliant idea. I have about £50 in English money on the boat. She gave me a map of the town with the post office marked and I hurried back to the boat to give John the good news. When I got back I found him telling Charles of our predicament, and explaining that we were planning to anchor in the bay. "You can't do that", said Charles, "It is too dangerous. I will lend you the money." We were totally amazed by this - that someone would offer to lend money to a total stranger, and a foreigner at that. We were quite embarrassed, and I tried to explain that we would be able to change enough for another two nights but he was insistent and later that day he went to the cash machine and drew out some money for us.
Our trip to the post office involved a hot walk to the other side of the town (about 1 mile) where we found a very long queue in a dismal building. The air conditioning was almost non-existent and we were very uncomfortable, but as the queue inched its way forward with agonising slowness everyone seemed very patient. Perhaps they are used to this process.
We would certainly not put up with it in Britain. After about half an hour or waiting in the heat, with nowhere to sit down, another clerk came to open a serving hatch. "Thank goodness" I thought, "things will speed up now", and there was a general shuffling and lightening of the atmosphere. But not for long, after serving her last customer one of the other clerks closed her window and went away. Shoulders drooped and we all settled back to wait. Eventually our turn came and the money was duly changed.
Back at the boat we invited the French people aboard for drinks that evening. We have a bottle of champagne which Danny gave us, and some Cassis, so we were able to serve Kir Royale. We managed very well language-wise, with my French and their English, occasionally resorting to a dictionary. The two younger men work for Kodak, one of the wives is a teacher and the other a cinema projectionist. Charles is retired. The boat is jointly owned and they are on their way to Corsica where they will leave it for someone else to sail back.
Tuesday, 13th July, 2004, La Ciotat
Yet another day here, but the wind was beginning to drop. There were occasional strong gusts and there were still whitecaps out in the bay, but we thought we might be able to leave the next day. Charles told me yesterday that the marina assistant had asked me to return to the office because we would need to move the boat. We were very disinclined to try to move the boat in those windy conditions and could not see why should need to do so. We learned later that the practice in these south coast marinas is to let the private berths by agreement with the owner, and if they are let for only two nights the marina does not pay anything to the owner. However after 3 nights the marina has to pay. That is why they were so keen for us to move.
I now hurry past the marina office whenever I need to go to town and pretend I did not understand. Charles and his friends told us of a lovely park known as Le Mugel which they had visited yesterday and we set off to find it today. It is behind the old ship yard in quite a neglected part of town, sheltered between two huge 'calanques' which are the distinguishing feature of La Ciotat. The 'calanques' are gigantic rocks which have been fashioned by the weather into fantastic shapes. One is known as the Eagle's beak. The path took us up the hill behind the derelict buildings of the shipyard before dipping down to a pretty little beach where children played amongst rock pools whilst their parents sunbathed on the sand. We had to climb again before we came to the gates of Le Mugel and there we found a beautifully maintained park built around the valley between the rocks. It was shaded by pine trees and featured many exotic plants. We learned that many of the townspeople had sheltered in this park during wartime bombing. Sadly the toilets were not as well maintained as the park, they were very dirty and a leaking pipe was spilling water across the pathway outside. Why is it that French toilets are such a disgrace, generally speaking, whilst the rest of the country is so beautiful?
When we got back we paid our marina fees up to date in the hope that we could leave the next day. We also filled the water tanks and paid our last visit to Lidl. We returned to Charles the money he had so kindly loaned us as we have had some more money transferred to our cash account from the UK and as from tomorrow should be able to draw on this. We had a pleasant evening with Charles and his friends, Phillippe, Patrick, Isobel, and Valerie. It was the evening before Bastille Day and they invited us for coffee and drinks aboard their boat. I was unsure how we would all fit it, it is such a small boat, but inside it was rather like the Tardis, surprisingly large. Later that evening we all sat out on top of the boat and watched a firework display in the Old Port. It was very fine with lots of colourful displays illuminating the night sky.
Wednesday, 14th July, 2004, Port Napoleon
We were unsure whether to leave or not. The forecast had changed again. When I returned from buying fresh bread John said that Force 7 winds were now forecast. The sea is still quite rough after the high winds of the last few days and we had to make a decision. In the end we decided to leave but picked out on the chart all the possible bolt-holes along our route if the weather turned nasty. Charles and co. are also going to try to leave today.
The wind was against us so that we could not hoist any sail, and the heavy swell meant that we took some water over the foredeck, but we made steady progress. I envied the boats coming the other way under full sail and spinnaker. It was also very cold in spite of the sunshine and it was not until we turned into the shelter of the Golf de Fos that we were able to take off our sweaters. The Golf de Fos is crossed from south to north by a buoyed channel for big ships going into Marseilles, and there were several of them anchored at the end of the channel, and others making their way up and down. We decided to keep outside the channel until we needed to cross it to reach the little canal that would take us to our final destination, Port Napoleon marina at Port St. Louis du Rhône.The canal to the marina has been dredged out of the sandbanks formed by the silting of the Rhône over the centuries. Making our way down it we could see fishermen standing on the bottom, only a few feet away from our boat. It was quite unnerving. The banks were lined with fishermen and fisherwomen, some out for the day and others who do this for a living. This is a big shellfish area and many of the fishermen were up to their waists riddling for the molluscs.
It was like coming home when we finally tied up in Port Napoleon. We had left Chefren here for 18 months after our first trip down the French canals, whilst I had treatment for cancer, and we had spent several weeks aboard when we finally came to prepare her for sailing to Greece. There were many familiar faces amongst the staff and the same old washing machine doing sterling work for the whole marina.
We were now able to arrange to have Chefren lifted out, put our repairs in hand and make arrangement to fly home. John fixed the problem with the steering; it was just wear and tear. The fridge broke down yet again, but I think it was my fault this time; I was a bit over-enthusiastic in de-frosting it. We will take the condenser home and probably get a new one.
There is a fantastic chandlery in Port Napoleon and they were able to help with the repair of the wind vane and faxed the bill to the owner of Barracuda whose home port this is. We were also able to examine the keels and discovered that our encounter with the rock off Corsica had done little more than scrape off some anti-fouling. The next leg of our journey will be to bring Chefren up the Rhône and into the Saône before entering the canal system proper. But that's another story