Friday, 24 April 2015

The return leg: Sicily to Montenegro May 2014

THURSDAY MAY 1 2014: 0600 GMT+2
Farewell Marina di Ragusa.  Our mates from Water Hobo, Cygnus III, Dakini and Aureile turned out in their pyjamas to wave us off.  Very sad to say goodbye to such a great crew - true friends made. 

Mollie already missing the attention of Maggie and Branko.

Can we stay please? I don't wanna go.

Okay, sailing business, we departed for Syracuse, a 60NM hop with no groundings or squalls, a F3 then F4 from NW up our arse and some of the best sailing everyone declared, that they'd done whilst cruising. Sailed with Amble (Brett and Jane), Zikk Zakk and Eva (crewed by a rookie bus-driver motorcyclist woman who was fantastic and her newish partner who was a middle-aged ex-cop hunter!).  A great company of boats and a fine breeze.

Log entry at 0700: full sun, no wind, bit rolly. Feels good to be out on the water - familiar, exciting and what I should be doing.  Louis not enjoying it much.
Syracuse - could spend a week exploring this place - oh, I forgot, we did!  (1-6 May 2014) Got holed up in Syracuse due to wind/sea state which is a decent anchorage, huge bay but entirely protected from swell which seems to be pretty unusual for Sicilian harbours, let alone anchorages. There are only so many markets (as Baroque churches) you can get enthusiastic about - and Sicily has many many markets - but Syracuse did have a great market.

Photo stolen from Amble's website, but I can lay claim to the fact we were there when this was taken. We med-moored onto the quay for a few days, just us, Amble and Eva and a huge megayacht with a helicopter on its stern deck.  A gusty SE wind came up on day 2, right on our beam. I had been off shopping and returned to see a crowd on the quay, I did a double-take when I thought I couldn't see our boat, then realised I could - it just wasn't where it should be. In fact we were side on, with our starboard bow being fendered off the megayacht by 14 crew with humungous fenders, then I watched gobsmacked as our rig looked like it was about to become entangled with the blades of the helicopter which was literally feet away from our spreaders.

Brainstorm - what the f**k was happening?? Tim was at the bow desperately trying to get our anchor up as the windlass kept tripping and who was on the wheel?  Brett from Amble.  Brilliant!  All I could do was just watch, fist in my mouth, as they battled to get the boat righted, anchor up and off.  Actually, I jumped onto Amble to help Jane as they were also now losing their bow and the stern was in danger of getting trashed against the seawall.

The men got Monty B away and the brilliant crew from the megayacht brought their RIB around and picked me up and I got a semi-drenching as we powered through the waves and they took me back to Monty B.  As I jumped from their bouncing bow onto our stern, Tim shouted in horror "STITCHES!!"  (more of later, I had lots of stitches in my leg).  Thankfully they survived.  We gave them a bottle of plonk to say ta very much and drama was over.

Lesson learnt: a) med-mooring isn't secure unless chain is straight, tight, not too long, well set anchor b) don't med-moor if strong winds forecast if have better option ie. anchoring off.

6 MAY 2014: 0130 DEPARTED SYRACUSE HARBOUR, using leading lights which were clear to follow then out onto a dark, star-studded sea. Usual apprehension but being in tandem with the other 3 boats made it much more enjoyable. Sailed into the sunrise (0530) and watched Venus setting though didn't realise it was Venus until we reached Rocella Ionica which was a shame (we thought it was a weird plane!).

Arrived outside Rocella Ionica harbour at 1745 and radioed the harbour master for assistance with entering the very tricky harbour (shifting sand banks). Discovered the harbour master no longer existed so we had to make our own way in but it was free as a result (I'd rather have the harbour master and paid to be honest seeing as it is the only safe harbour on the entire foot of Italy - good to know you really are out there on your own!).
Shifting sand banks of Rocella Ionica - I wouldn't want to do this with any weather.
The famous table length pizzas and Zikk Zakk. A great fun meal with everyone.

WEDS 7 MAY: 0700 DEPARTED ROCELLA IONICA, ARRIVED CROTONE 1800 after uneventful passage, a long day but finished off nicely with a last night with everyone, drinks on Amble and exchange of photos etc. Makes me feel quite sad and teary recalling it!

THURS 8 MAY 2014: 0600 DEPARTED CROTONE as sun rose, for a sunny crossing of the Gulf of Taranto.  Said farewell to Brett and Jane, lovely people who were are sure we will see again.  Still got a current against us (turns out the current was against us for the entire trip), managed 5.8 knots motorsailing with light wind closehauled which is about as fast we can get so surprisingly poor boat speeds.

Again the Gulf of Taranto was like glass in the middle - this is how to do it!  I've heard too many horror stories about crossing this stretch of water.

The surreal feeling of nothingness in every direction other than water like glass, perfect reflections of clouds for tens of miles and complete silence other than water slapping on the hull.

Arrived in shitty SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA just before sunset, around 1800. horrible horrible rolly rip off harbour it is.  Zikk Zakk wanted to continue on to Otranto but persuaded them out of it (F4/5 north winds forecast - just because it felt okay in the lee of Italy's boot, I suspected it may not once we turned the corner - and was right I add).  Tied up alongside facing into the roll in an attempt to make the night easier - it wasn't too bad and got away without paying which was great because it is a total rip off.

Victory Day - Tim with his Atlantic Convoy t shirt, our proud ensign and Mussolini's Gateway to Italy in the background - hoorah!
Team Zikk Zakk, and a sad farewell to our travel companions, Tomas, Natasha and their lovely girls.  With an increasingly small weather window to cross the Adriatic from Otranto to Montenegro, we said our goodbyes to Zikk Zakk who decided to err on the side of caution. After spending all day feeling increasingly nervous about the passage and constant checking of the forecasts and running behind schedule as always, I ended up having a near-breakdown in the supermarket at 8pm (we were supposed to be asleep and leaving at midnight) with all my senses telling me it was a bad decision to leave.  We made the decision not to leave and I nursed my bruised macho pride with yet more farewell drinks on Zikk Zakk.

So the following day we departed for Brindisi instead, along with Zikk Zakk, where we spent the best part of a week holed up due to foul weather  (we made the right decision re. the crossing, despite it meaning that we missed the start of our season).  This photo is of our final final farewell to Zikk Zakk, the evening before crossing to Montenegro.

19 MAY 2014: 0430 Leaving Brindisi harbour at sunrise, gentle SE breeze, forecast F2-3 SE (perfect for Katie)

It is chilly out on the water at 5am.

One of our visiting birds - we had 3 passengers during the 120 mile stint.

Sundog and glassy waters.

A pissing and shitting tagged pigeon from Malta hitched a ride for 8 hours, much to the dog's derision, particularly when it kept flying below decks (dogs were resting on our bed)

From 80 miles offshore, you could see the outline of the Albanian and Montenegrin mountains, with Rumlija and Lovcen recognisable - amazing.

"Can I have a wee wee please?"

Albania's haunting mountains from 40 miles offshore.

40 miles from the coast and we could see almost 200 miles of coastline - including the southern Croatian islands, all of Montenegro's coastline and down through Albania. An incredible sight.

The day draws to an end, with 5 hours left to run as the skies cloud up. When darkness fell, it was truly dark with no stars or moonlight and you realise how deserted the Montenegrin and Albanian coasts are, with hardly any lights marking the coast at all.  A distant cruise ship was the only major town for many many miles.  Arrived at the Montenegrin coast at 2300, to the sounds of nightingales and the jackals calling - what an amazing welcome back. Awoke to thick cloud and more storms to come - HOORAY!  We made it.

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