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)