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.

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