Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Big skies, sandy beaches, proper sea, lots of wind, great company and life's ups and downs: Winter 2013/14

This is our web album with some of the highlights of our sunny winter in Sicily.

Winter in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily

Just when it was all going so well........

Dreamy huge skies, crashing waves, long golden sand beach, great company and plenty of time on our hands.......winter was going so well.  Then one Thursday evening at the beginning of March, our world was turned upside down with 2 simple phone calls.

The first was my (Katie) mum.  Six weeks previously, I had been to hospital for a biopsy on a new mole that had appeared on thigh last spring.  My mum rang to say that the hospital had rang her, wouldn't tell her anymore than to say I had to fly back from Sicily immediately to see the consultant.  There was no messing about with what that meant; the biopsy result was not good news. So, pretty gobsmacked by this, I downed a glass of wine whilst waiting for Tim to return from the shower block.

Armed with a bottle of beer for my hubbie, I told him what had happened and we both sat there feeling pretty stunned - how bad was this?  We didn't know.

Ten minutes later, one of our closest friends rang from Montenegro. This was also very unusual. Tim took the call outside and returned 10 minutes later, looking green.  It had been Michelle, to tell us that  her partner, our dear dear friend David, was dead.  He was 48.

How to deal with that?  Well, it certainly put the first phone call into perspective.  Jesus.  How could life suddenly turn to shit, in an instant?

Well, because it does. It pretty much always does. The rollercoaster that is our lives.

It is now 8 months later and I'm sat in Michelle's house in Montenegro, attempting to look after her dog, while she is back in the UK sorting out yet more fallout from this catastrophe. And we are here, trying to help her get on with her life, without her life partner.  It is tragic on so many levels and I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to lose the person I was planning to spend the rest of my life with.

I miss David being here, I miss talking to him, mucking about with him, I miss telling him off and I miss having a laugh with him.  How many times I have wished we could turn back the clock, start afresh and things turn out differently - a childlike longing for the impossible.

He should be here.

So another brutal reminder that we are soon to be nothing but memories made my own brush with cancer possibly even more of a eye-opener. Yes, it was cancer, malignant melanoma and they cut it all out, delaying our departure from Sicily but thankfully that was that and life for me goes on.

You never know what is around the corner and we are lucky enough to be able to live out our daily lives in a pretty fantastic way which ten years ago, I'd never have dreamed possible. For David, he was at the turning point of a new life in Montenegro, which he now will never enjoy.

And our lives here are all the poorer for that.

RIP you lovely man. You will always, always be missed.

Friday, 8 August 2014

We got there! Final leg of the Voyage to Sicilia - The Sicilian Coast from Riposto to Marina di Ragusa

So NUTSHELL completion of voyage to Sicily: Went up Etna day after we arrived, incredible blackened moonscape, ashes still hot when you buried your hands in them, wandering off-piste on Etna and getting scared by plumes of steam suddenly appearing from the ground (it was only the day after it had erupted, remember). Cool.

Catania: city-shock, everything too mental and busy and filthy (turned out it was covered in ash from the eruption! durr), port area quite horrible and very noisy, vagabond-type marineros trying to charge us €60 a night to tie up on a crap pontoon (in November), proper fun touristy day getting local bus to Taormina and wandering around.

Syracuse: anchored off incredible historic Ortigia, for 2 nights not enough time to spend there, promised to return on way back, more refugee boats strewn with the detritus of the dispossessed, heart-rending.

Caught in first serious weather of the whole trip on penultimate day, as trying to dodge 2 thunderstorms which combined to create a horrible squall. Went from learning Italian in shorts and tshirt whilst autopilot took care of the driving to full waterproofs, 30 knots, hailstones, quickly building sea, purple lightning within a matter of an hour. Took us a fair bit off course, caught the strong winds on the periphery in our bid to not go through it which probably prolonged the pain. It was all over in a couple of hours but a timely reminder that it was November and time was definitely ticking.

Last day of the journey - an error in chart-reading and incorrect depths on chart (yes both he said), resulted in our first foray into "touching bottom".  No damage done but sent me into a shaking mess whilst we tried to wiggle ourselves out of it. Scary.

VERY relieved to arrive at our winter home of Marina di Ragusa.  Was met by Maggie (of Maggie and Branko, Canadian WaterHobos, who inspired us to come to Sicily and became very dear friends) with nibbles, a huge bottle of frizzante and cold beers (we had run out) as soon as we got the lines on - and the pattern of behaviour for the rest of the winter was set (Maggie feeding us; me poisoning everyone with my cocktails!).

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Photo diary of our Voyage to Sicilia October/November 2013

Just in case I never finish the story, here are the selected highlights:


Voyage to Sicilia Part 6 - The jump to Sicily whilst Etna sends up fireworks!

It is funny thinking about this day now, reading the log book and realising what an adventure it all was, whereas at the time, you’re just in it.

It was a very early start due to the clocks going back (0315) so had to traverse the dodgy entrance in pitch darkness.  The transit (impossible to see in the dark) takes you towards the beach which instinctively feels all wrong – driving the boat out of the harbour and towards land (which is only about 50 metres away) following some vague instructions from the harbour master to make the turn out to sea after passing the groyne on the beach.  We took it very slowly, with ZZ close behind, saw the groyne and passed it, starting to follow the line of beach when the depths started dropping rapidly.  I turned away from the beach, the depths still continued to fall –EMERGENCY STOP.  Then tentatively picked our way out to sea.  It looked like we’d found another sandbank and should possibly have turned earlier.  We didn’t hit it anyway but it was a bit scary and closest we’ve come to grounding.

So, out to sea, waning but still bright moon ascending.  A bit of breeze ahead to keep us motor sailing at 7 knots, nice.  Felt much more confident out there on this occasion – yet again, another beautiful night of the type that as you gaze at it and exhale, you realise you’ve been holding your breath for ages. That inner stillness which is so often sought by all us; I didn’t expect to find it out at sea, at night. 

As we ran along the toe of Italy, the beginnings of daylight revealed steep-sided mountains with a layer of cloud falling off a high, verdant plateau in the distance.  The sunrise touched the mountain tops first, pink and rugged, then slowly filled the land and the sea with warmth and light.

Even 5 miles offshore, the smell of pines, herbs and undergrowth drifted across the water. The toe of Italy is definitely one to be explored by car in the future.

0830: Just turned the toe of Italy – Tim said to me, “can you see anything in the distance”, I looked, “not really”.  “Look again”.

OH MY GOD!  I don’t know what I was expecting to see but through the mist was the HUGE smoking cone of Etna, rising up 50 miles ahead of us.  My heart filled, stabbing with emotion – we are nearly there.  I had been looking forward to this moment, wondering what it would be like to spot Etna from the sea, for a long time – but I never expected it to look anything like as good as this.

The closer we got, the more incredible it looked.  Little did we know, we were looking at the aftermath of the previous day/night’s eruption!  Which was nice.

1200 – Note to self and others – crossing between the toe of Italy and Sicily needs careful consideration in a north westerly and the sea-state bears no relation to forecasts.  I thought we were far enough south for the infamous Straits of Messina to have no effect on our passage – I was wrong.

We were expecting a bit of a blow, good wind, when we cleared the toe of Italy and we were hoping to finally sail without our motor. As predicted, the wind started to rise, quickly.  I got the binoculars out to check out what looked like a load of white water a few miles ahead of us – wow, that was some serious white water.  I called Tim up and we put a reef in the main.  Within 15 mins we were in a crazy white-water ride, 2-3 metres on the beam, horrible horrible sea.  Turned off motor and tried to sail but it was impossible to hold a course, we were all over the place, though persevered with different sail plans for an hour or so.  Gave up in the end and motorsailed on the best course we could make.  Three hours, that’s all it was – but it was enough and a good reminder of what we like – and what we don’t!  And how doing something like that for a few hours is okay, but over a long passage would be total shit.

Anyway, it turned out that it is better to cross the straits lower down – and in a NW wind, funnelling through, and possibly wind against tide which would explain the sea state, it is something we should have avoided had we known.  Hey ho. Not to be repeated.

As we approached Riposto, the coast was swathed in thick mist (which turned out to be the smoke from Etna), with Taormina perched on its cliff top location, just managing to poke through.  The whole coast looked very other-worldly as we neared the good-looking waterfront of Riposto, with the sun struggling through the murk.

Smoke belching from Etna illuminated by the sunset - worth every moment of worry to get here!
Ended up in the corner of the marina in a tiny, motor-boat berth and a horrible swell entering the harbour - for €55 a night!  In October.  We were peeved momentarily but the view of Etna, as the sun began to set with smoke billowing out of the top was just incredible.  And with hindsight, it was by far the best place to view Etna from and isn’t that expensive for Sicily – I would have paid €100 a night for that view.

Zikk Zakk aka Natasha and Thomas
What a day!
Zikk Zakk came over for sundowners.  Felt pretty revved up; fine G&Ts in hand (ice, lime, good gin – if you’re going to drink ‘em, make ‘em good) whilst staring slack-jawed in wonderment as Etna’s belchings turned fire-red as the sun set behind the mountain.  What a day.

Voyage to Sicilia Part 5 - The Bay of Squalls

Friday 25th October 2013 : Crotone to Rocella Ionica 63 miles

(I’m now writing this in hindsight so this is an un-edited extract from my diary which makes slightly more interesting reading than the logbook).

“So it goes like this – alarm goes off at 05.35, an hour beore the sky begins to lighten, awake from fitful, dream-filled sleep, put on thermals and other warming garb, prepare coffee and turn on computers to plot today’s course as Tim takes the dogs out for their morning scavenge walk.

Just before the sky lightens, we spend 15 minutes faffing about with lines, fenders, tender etc and leave harbour just as there is enough light to give inky black waters a silvery gleam.  Avoiding fishing pots, floats and other fishing detritus, we weave our way out to sea and another day of staring at the near horizon begins.

Italy’s distinctive shape makes it a great country to traverse, with huge gulfs to cross so you have several “out of sight of land” days and it forces you to bite off sizeable chunks rather than our preferred 7 hour days.  The dogs are not hugely impressed by the new regime, however.  The recognisable shape of the boot of Italy, its heel, its sole, its toe, make it such a satisfying coast to run along, which makes up for the (sorry Italian folks) boring landscape.”

Notes from logbook:

  • 0720 Rounding Cape Colonne, sun rising through cloud line, orange/red huge fireball.
  • 0923 Just passing Le Castella, castle looks great. It may have been a better move, with hindsight, to split the journey and overnight there, was worried we wouldn’t get a berth.
  • 1220 After 430 miles, finally adjusted autopilot (rudder sensitivity and response) so it stops wandering 10 degrees off course.  Hooray! I can’t believe we haven’t looked at this earlier!
  • 1230 Trying to get dogs to use cat litter. Pointless waste of time and money.
  • 1250 Mountains at foot of Italy coming into view, quite high and impressive this is why it is called the Bay of Squalls.
  • 1430 Stunning coastline along the toe of Italy - mountainous, rugged and familiar. I miss the mountains!

Approach to Rocella Ionica
1600 Zikk Zakk (Norwegian boat) boldly tried to navigate sandbank at Rocella Ionica harbour entrance using their chart plotter (notorious shifting sandbanks which require very careful navigation).  We stood off and watched, it wasn’t looking good.  Luckily (some may say), the harbour shared the same channel (14) as we’d been chattering away on all day so were fully aware of their intentions and the wonderful Francesco, the harbour master, intervened seconds before ZZ grounded.

I wouldn’t want to enter this harbour in any wind or sea state. 

Stayed in RI for an R&R day as fog was forecast (never came). It reminded me a lot of the south of France, with pines and eucalyptus running behind the proper long sandy beach.  Had a great day – beach walked into town (3km), everyone very friendly, nice lunch, took cold beers to sunny beach and swam.  Realised it was the first time we’d ever sat on a beach together – how crazy is that??
Sandy beach, cold beer, best mate by my side (that's Tim, not the beer, honest)

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Voyage Sicilia Part 4 - That dreaded night passage; picking the weather window and biting the bullet

Wednesday 23rd October 2013 - Crossing the Gulf of Taranto - Santa Maria di Leuca to Crotone 
So, I didn't sleep much - fitful, sweaty, dream-filled sleep - but felt amazingly awake, hugely awake by 0245 when we got out onto the silky smooth black waters.  The moon was bright, waning but still full of light and glittered across the calm sea.  Light winds behind us, no cloud cover.  It was so damned perfect.

I stood on the deck in front of the mast, breeze in my face, stars abound and the seascape monochrome silver simply taking it all in and feeling pretty emotional.  This wasn't just okay - it was amazingly beautiful.

The light came quickly.  From the first signs of dawn in the eastern skies to being able to see each other clearly took less than ten minutes.  And then came sunrise.  The most incredible sunrise we've ever seen.  The water was like a mirror and our wake (and that of Zikk Zakk, our Norwegian companions) sent the light shooting off in all directions, a huge dark orange sun peeping above the horizon and the glassy surface of the sea in all directions turned to gold.  No words can do it justice.

And to top it off, in true Disney style, the light then revealed the wildlife of the Gulf of Taranto as a school of dolphins came over to see us, plus a few turtles and some rays!  Totally incredible.

Taken from Zikk Zakk - Monty B on a mirror-like sea at sunrise.

Relieved and exhilarated - the human crew of Monty B at sunrise in the middle of the Gulf of Taranto

This isn't touched up.  It really did look like this.
We reached Crotone at 1430 with 72 miles run.  A great run.

Voyage Sicilia Part 3 - Puglia, prettier than it sounds

I'm really liking Italy. It has surprised me.  Or it had surprised me - until we started the crawl down the coast from Monopoli to Brindisi when the landscape, from 2 miles offshore, started to remind me of home (that being the West Midlands) with the icing on the cake being Brindisi which definitely gives the Black Country a run for its money.  I'm being rather cruel towards the Black Country on this one.

In typical fashion, I'm now days behind in keeping this up to date though I do have an excuse this time.  The days have been long, hours weird, moorings rolly and head fuzzy so I'll do a potted history until we reach the good bit.

Friday 18th October 2013 - Trani to Monopoli
Horrible quartering sea left behind from the big blow of the previous days but no wind to speak of so had an 8 hour nauseating slog.  Monopoli looked like a dump on arrival, was helped in by a fishermong (surprisingly helpful) and when I went exploring, I disappeared through an archway in the harbour wall into pretty whitewashed streets and a buzzing centre with market etc.  All very nice.  And the mooring alongside the wall was free.  Not much space though if more than a couple of boats in.
sunrise sailing, coffee not G&T

Horrible quartering sea, both dogs got sea sick particularly Mollie who, like us humans, appeared to want to take the easy way out

Sunrise from Monopoli

Looking down at MB in Monopoli harbour

Monty B (second in) on harbour wall in Monopoli

Lots of stuff like this hidden in the backstreets

The town revealed itself as we sailed away to Brindisi

Saturday 19th October 2013 - Monopoli to Brindisi
Not much to report - boring landscapes, Brindisi a dump, crap moorings alongside with constant washes from ferry which crossed the harbour every 15 mins or so and moored just next to us.  Moved to stern-to moorings the next day (wind forecast on nose so stayed in harbour) but washes just as bad. Had a pizza and beer afternoon on town promenade which was quite nice. Had weird pain in foot all day which really hurt then disappeared completely when I woke up the next day....strange.

Monday 21st October 2013 - Trafalgar Day (apparently) - Brindisi to Otranto
Another nothing day, coastline dull, motorsailing for 8 hours. Arrived Otranto mid afternoon which was great as we were anchored off for first time since arriving in Italy and water crystal clear so got to have a swim, fab.  Too knackered to go into town but may as well as rolly night with swell coming into harbour so not great sleep.

Tuesday 22nd October 2013 - Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca
Planned to leave before sunrise but thick fog rolled in just before we left so sat tight until 0920 which put THE PLAN back by 2.5 hours.  Grrrr.  Interesting landscape, reminiscent of Derbyshire in some ways, lots of soft limestone hills and gulleys.  Arrived in Leuca to be greeted by a miserable, unhelpful sod of a marinero and (we'd been warned) a rock n rolly well entering the harbour.  Side on, more rolling around, more headache.

THE PLAN involved arriving at Leuca around lunchtime so we could have a restful afternoon then go to bed about 8pm so we'd be fresh as daisies when we got up at 2am to start our overnight passage from the heel of Italy, across the Gulf of Taranto to the foot.  However, of course that didn't happen and we ended up on the go until gone 8pm.

I was pretty anxious about the whole overnight thing.  I'd avoided it by taking the short route over to Italy - but now the time had come.  The last time we were at sea at night on Monty B was the horror journey of 2007. Something my brain was now hard-wired to ensure I would never repeat.  But I'd chosen this weather window - and it looked pretty damned perfect.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Voyage Sicilia Part 2 - Monty B crosses the Adriatic

I'd forgotten why we love Lastovo.  It is so quiet, even in Mali Lago which is populated (nice to see the  smart village houses mostly lived in rather than holiday homes), where a simple sneeze ricochets in echoes around the cove.  Ditto dog barking (ours).

Tried to pretend we were on holiday but still fervently planning and weather watching.  A good job too as the weather window suddenly presented itself on Sunday once the SE blow had worked its way through on Saturday so we got ready to go.

We ummed and ahhed about whether it was worth going to Ubli to visit the Port Police to see if they would let us check out at 7am the following morning.  We decided to go for it, so in worsening weather (the forecast south easterly blow), we hauled anchor and motored around the rugged NW tip of Lastovo to the "town" of Ubli (a few houses, a shop and supposedly Customs and Immigration AND the Police).  It was gusting like buggery as we approached the dock, Tim jumped into Billy and pointlessly went to look for the authorities.  No one was around despite it only being 11am and both offices were meant to be open.  We kinda thought this might happen.

Resigned to this being a bum job, we went to anchor up in Jurjeva Luka for the night but it was already blowing straight into there and in fear of losing a precious night's sleep, we left.  Tried to go alongside at Hotel Solitudo (Pasadur) as the moorings had been removed but then the wind started blowing us onto there too, depth was only 2.1m and then noticed the signs saying CLOSED. So we had a bit of a row about it (venting) then practised the valuable skill of getting off a wall when you being pinned onto it by the wind - and it worked.  The clouds were rolling in and descending to about 100m, it looked very grim but we finally agreed that the best option was to return to Mali Lago (at least the wind would be behind us for most of the way and it was only an hour) and cut our losses.

It was lumpy, the sky was grim, but it was okay and worth it for a good night's sleep.

Sunday 13 October 2013 - Lastovo to Vieste, Italy 60NM  9 hours
6am alarm, usual faffing around and squabbling and by 7.15am we were throttling it to Ubli to check out (opened at 8am).  Skies still stormy looking towards land and still a sea state from the day before and a bit of SE wind but you could tell it was going to clear up.
Early morning departure from Mali Lago to Ubli for check out. Sun rising behind the stormy sky of the night before.

Mist clinging to the forests as the cloud clears.

They don't like early mornings much either!

Of course there was no one to be seen in Ubli at 8am on a Sunday but there was a number to call on the door of Customs and Immigration and the cops so we got them out of bed and by 9am we were off.

Motorsailed on a 2m sea, a bit grim to begin with but it quickly eased, as forecast, and the wind and sea were either insignificant or helpful for the entire journey (can't knock that) and we made it to Vieste in 9 hours (averaging 6.5 knots motorsailing full sail).  Not bad eh?  Lots of fun too.

Arrived at Vieste (whitewashed piles of houses, churches, lovely place) just before dusk and it was easy to get onto the first pontoon there.  €45 for the night, including power and water.  Seemed quite a lot but we are a captive market and we were just very glad indeed to be there.

Opened a bottle of prosecco that we'd saved for the occasion and breathed a huge sigh of relief - we've finally crossed a sea.  And it was GREAT!

Wandered around Vieste like zombies, trying to appreciate it but dead on our feet, so finally gave in and went to bed.

Monday 14 October 2013 -  Vieste to Trani 38NM  7 hours
First job - connecting ourselves to the real world again.  So got up early doors and trawled the streets of Vieste (really lovely place, nice feel - harbour nothing to speak of and surrounded by modern blocks, but the town itself is only 2 mins walk away).  Something I am not used to in Montenegro: a successful shopping trip!  Got internet and 2 phone SIMS, salivated over Italian supermarket offerings (a whole chill section of fresh pastas! ah man!), found a lovely old man running a fishing shop and bought an Italian courtesy flag for us and a Norwegian boat on our pontoon, and got to try out my Italian (we are learning from Earworms, only on lesson 3 and we are already speaking a little - well, we can order beer!).  It was one of those warming experiences - which perked me up as I still felt like a zombie (lack of sleep, a bit anxious, hormones).
Vieste, Italy - white-washed old town mixes with the new, balancing on crumbling chalk cliffs which are fast falling into the sea. Wish we'd had more time there.

Bye bye Croatia (and your €200 (for one week as it happened) vignettes). Beautiful it may be, but it comes at a cost.

Hello Italy!  Hello EU (proper).  We didn't even need to check into the country.  Feels too weird!  Flag purchased from little old man in a fishing shop.  With no language to help me, I  drew rectangle thing in the air, kept saying Italia Italia, simulating it blowing in a breeze which only drew puzzlement - - there was only so long I could keep this up - - - - then remembered our favourite bar in Kotor with the flags, Bandiera!  His face lit up and he pulled out a bag from a shelf and lo and behold, bandieras!

Tim doing some work.

Meant to leave at 1000, eventually got off the dock at 1035, followed by our new-found Norwegian friends (Tomas, Natasha, Emma and Phillipa).  Forecast was for NW 3 but it was southerly for half the journey, came round NE for the last few hours but motorsailed all the way.  Only made 5.6 knots average today - makes you realise the huge difference that having the sea with you and even a tiny bit of wind in the sails makes.  And we are burning a lot of fuel.

It is nearly dark by 6.15 now so every day we are going to be chasing our tails unless we leave mega-early but then you don't get to see the places you stop in.  Would have liked to stay longer in Vieste.
Dogs of little use as crew on this occasion.  We will make it up to them over the winter!  Our Norwegian friends over-taking us in the distance.
Then we arrived in Trani - and we were glad we got here as it is a wonderful place.  Approaching the harbour, bathed in hazy autumn afternoon sunshine, with its huge cathedral tower and misch masch of medieval buildings surrounding the busy harbour, it looked like one of those paintings of Italian harbours that people hung on their lounge walls in the 1970s.  It felt extremely surreal.

Decided immediately that we wanted to stay but also wanted to get the miles in before the forecast NW gale on Weds/Thurs.  Internet still not working so had to content myself with weather forecasting via a slow Kindle wifi connection.  Tried to relax about it and wait until morning.  Did another zombie walk around town then hit the sack.

Tuesday 15/Weds 16 October 2013 - Trani
Stupid sleep-freak that I'm turning into, got up at first light to see if internet working - YES!  and very fast too.  Forecast, pilot books out, coffee, discussions - decided to stay and see out NW blow here in Trani.  Meant we be here until Friday but it looked like a place that had a few days in it.  It also only costs €25 a night including power and water and a clean portocabin shower and toilet block.

Moved to another (safer, supposedly) berth which was a very tight corner squeeze to get into and depths were all wrong (grrrr) with 1.7m showing on depth meter whilst I'm trying to manoeuvre into a tiny berth with men telling me to turn the wheel (f**k off!) when I'm already hard-over.  This wasn't a good idea - we were in there by then but without knowing whether we'd got more than a cm under our keel (filthy water) and already fretting about how we'd get back out again if there was more than a puff of wind (me planning 3 days ahead again, gahh), after the usual "discussions" we agreed to move back to where we were to start with.

And so we did.  And here we are.  And the gale is due any moment.  First thunderstorm has just passed and wind came up then dropped off again - but it is coming.
Wonderful 360 degrees view from the boat of the harbour, feels like a film set.

Trani's strange mixture of architectural styles, particularly the cathedral which is both immense and strange.

We are at the end of this pontoon.  Unfortunately we are on the end on big boat moorings so at least strong but we are going to cop it tonight in this wind.

The cathedral tower  - impossible to fit the whole thing in with a little digi camera.

The forecast winds, picking up around now (5pm) and forecast to blow like this peaking tomorrow (Thurs) morning.  We are between Barletta and Moletta - this is why I thought it best to sit tight rather than going any further south at the moment.  You see?  My obsessive weather-watching does pay off (I hope!)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Voyage Sicilia Part 1 - Going the wrong way

So, it was a mad dash to get the boat ready for our voyage to Sicily after the (nearly) end of season party weekend followed by final days of charters then our mates (Gareth and Elaine) arriving the following day for a brilliant week of exploring, boating, walking, mountains, Viljamovka/red wine/Jura whisky/beer, great veggie food, holiday junk food, late nights, early starts and trying to pack as much into 6 days as we possibly could - we really hadn't given ourselves much time to get not just Monty B but our heads ready for crossing the Adriatic.  For many sailors, this is nowt - for us, it is a big deal.

We set ourselves the date of 4th October and I was getting really nervous about the crossing (Tivat to Brindisi), fervently weather checking; cross checking every Med forecast known to man.  We were in a period of Bura (strong NE wind) which were to ease but a big depression was heading for Italy.  It had the potential to arrive early in which case we'd have been in trouble and it also meant we'd be stuck in Brindisi for up to a week in possing down rain - the prospect of which wasn't massively appealing after working all season.  Plus our crew member, Steve, would also have been stuck on the boat whilst waiting for the ferry from Bari 3 days later.  After working hard all season, the idea of being cooped up on the boat in some shit Italian city, paying marina fees in a place we didn't really want to stick around in, wasn't really doing it for me.

And I'll be honest, it just didn't feel like the right thing to do.  I didn't want to sail overnight (it was forecast cloudy and no moon) in a F4/5 (beam to broad reach) in pitch darkness, not knowing what weather lay ahead.  It scared me.  I just wasn't up for it but was struggling to face up to it for fear of being called chicken (and not knowing whether I was freaking out about nothing - or whether I should listen to my instincts).

So we hurriedly said goodbye to our Monte mates with just 1 hour of sunset drinks (less than 48 hours after our holiday with Gareth and Elaine!) then hid behind Sv Marko for our last night on anchor in a screaming Bura.  I slept little, listening to the wind howl and the boat bounce and jerk around (despite being in the most sheltered spot for miles around) and I worried worried worried about what was to come.

Got up at 0630 and got the charts and books out to follow up an idea which Tim had suggested and I had poo-pooed a week or so before about taking a more roundabout route to Italy.  A mate has mentioned the same thing the night before (though had also taken the piss out of me for not taking advantage of the near gale force bura wind that night so I hadn't given his idea serious thought).

We could go to Croatia - I was craving Croatia - beautiful, familiar, path well-trodden (for us), great weather hole in Polace, Mljet National Park trails on our doorstep whilst seeing out the crap weather, peace and quiet, our favourite place - get some rest, finish our bits on the boat and wait for the weather to improve then sail to Lastovo then jump to Italy from there to Vieste (60 NM).  This would mean little night sailing (may need to leave or arrive in dark but only just) and NO NIGHT AT SEA.  No pitch black, no dark-moon crossing, no looming shit weather - all safe, all under control and slowly but surely we would make it to Sicily - even if it took us a month (which I now realise may have been optimistic).

So we conferred over coffee and, of course, this was the right decision and a huge weight lifted from both of us and our mindset changed from trepidation to all of the excitement that we should have been feeling in the first place.  And little did the dogs know that instead of them having a potentially horrible night at seas with no toilet for 30 hours, they were now on their way to a holiday in a National Park.

4 October 2013 - Day 1 at sea
Departed Tivat at the crack of dawn and fair-weather sailed to Cavtat, checked in (no hassles so we are back in the EU, hooray!), anchored off Dubrovnik Old Town harbour (massively rolly but so beautiful) and I did a whistlestop leg it down to Bio i Bio in Gruz (Dubrovnik's brilliant health food shop) and bought kilos of "meat".  Made it to Sipan and anchored just as darkness fell.
Monty B's final Tivat Bay sunset of 2013 -  on Porto Montenegro's fuel dock, all checked out and ready for the off at first light.

We won't be seeing this view again until the spring.

Sunrise over Lovcen and we're heading off across Tivat Bay towards Croatia.

Bye bye Montenegro.
Approaching Sipan, just in the nick of time before nightfall.

11 hours after leaving Tivat, we near our anchorage for the night.

5 October 2013 - Day 2 at sea
The next morning, hoping for some downwind sailing as forecast SE 20 knots, we motored up the Mljetski Channel (not enought wind) and got ourselves holed up in Polace with 75m of chain down, happy as pigs.

6/7/8/9 October 2013 - Polace, Mljet
The rain came, the wind came and went and came back and so on.  Walking, fixing, sleeping, cooking, reading, swimming.  Trying hard to just enjoy it but my obsessive future planning always gets in the way of true relaxation. Huge thunderstorms night of 9th.  Then it was ready to go again.
Sipan Luka - quaint, pretty village with friendly locals and less friendly cats,  old guys drying their fishing nets, great walk around the harbour to sea-viewing point makes good morning dog walk.  But somehow someone has got planning permission to bulldoze half of the hillside, an area bigger than the village itself and are building big things, lots of big things, currently shrink-wrapped in plastic.  I hope it doesn't look too bad when finished but it has altered the character of the place forever and is no longer a nice place to visit by yacht.  Such a shame.

Mljet Day 3 - after days of rain, the sun makes a last minute appearance before setting. Water collection buckets, drying clothes and a wistful dog.

Well-exercised crew after another day on the forest trails.

Ozjusko pivo - and the people who drink it.

10 October 2013 - Day 3 at sea
Fastidious weather watching suggests to me that we have a small window of opportunity on Monday to jump from Lastovo to Italy, providing the next depression passes quickly over the weekend.  Then we can make the most of the northerlies forecast later next week to get down the Italian coast.

Forecast for building SE as another depression due to move in so made the most of the gorgeous morning - there are some advantages to being up at 7am - mist sitting in the treetops looking almost tropical, the world washed clean by the torrential rain from the storms the night before.  Left Polace in glorious sunshine with our sodden stuff pegged all over the boat and clean, dry wind rushing through the hatches drying out our damp home.

Motorsailed (needed the power in the batteries) on a broad to beam reach, making around 6.4 knots through the water and over 7 knots speed over ground.  Forgot how soul-stirringly beautiful Lastovo was and how a coast with zero development (and by that I mean absolutely nothing to interrupt the view) is such a rare thing in these parts.

Strong SE arrived that evening - happily anchored in Mali Lago but a blustery old night with some huge gusts coming through.

Now sitting in warm sunshine, lots of walking trails and pottering boat bits to be done - and, of course, continual obsessive forecast checking and route planning, hoping that we can leave for Italy on Monday morning (3 days time).

Drying off en route to Lastovo - Croatian mainland in the distance.

Approaching Lastovo from the east. The island makes a great shape against the horizon and definitely looks like dinosaurs once made it their home.  The dogs know there's no walks to be had until the anchor is dropped so take the opportunity for some quality snoozing.

Look - no new buildings. None. How unimaginative!
This place is just crying out to be cleared by burning and bulldozers, lots of pile-driving and rock smashing and replacing these boring forests with some great apartment blocks.