Siracusa to Catania

Off Rip Auto?

Off Rip Auto?

After checking the weather at a local Internet cafe (the marina told us that their WiFi didn’t work) it became apparent that we would have to change plans as any attempt to reach Malta (Matts’ departure point) in the following week would be bordering suicidal in a small boat.

While the conditions remained stable we chose to move Eileen to Catania, 35NM further north, where Matt could catch the weekly ferry service to Malta.

We arrived just as the weather closed in and moored at the yacht club in Porto Nuovo. A good choice as we were enthusiastically welcomed by the staff and made to feel at home (thanks Massimo).

For anyone visiting Catania, be sure to ask Massimo where to get the best “brontosaurus size” steak in Sicily.

Between frequent downpours (always forecast at least 2 minutes in advance by plagues of umbrella vendors spontaneously emerging from the woodwork), we managed to do some sightseeing and get a taste of Catania nightlife. Fascinating, but I’d think twice about having my car serviced here after coming across this premises (see photo). ;)

Leaving Roccella Ionica

The "big captain" & crew

The "big captain" & crew

Matt and I left Roccella Ionica in high spirits, it was great to be moving again and while the sea was still boisterous, the winds were favourable.

Our destination? Siracusa Sicily, just under 110 NM away on a heading of approximately 212°.

Upon departure we said our goodbyes (en passant) to our new French friends on their yacht“Oceane” and braved the remaining swell at the ports entrance. Matt found the surf highly amusing but I must say that running Eileen at full speed against a potentially breaking swell is not my idea of a good time.

After the torrential rains of the last week, the sea was littered with floating debris, including whole trees! However, we were more concerned that this made fishing with our newly acquired (blue) lure, (purchased on the advice of our infinitely more successful {surely only in terms of fishing…} acquaintances), almost impossible. We’d only get the line tangled in bunches of bamboo or other flotsam, never mind that some obstacles were so large they presented a shipping hazard.

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

All we managed to catch the entire trip was what happened to fly on deck. In this case tiny squid which Matt was more than eager to try.

While storm clouds constantly threatened we made the night passage without incident and by morning entered the secure port of Siracuse.

I opted to spend a night at the marina but upon reflection it would have been better to remain at anchor in the bay as many other yachtsmen had chosen to do.

Marine weather forecasts by SMS

coverage

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks improving my weather by sms service for the Mediterranean and East Atlantic (Including E Atlantic islands and the mainland from the bay of Biscay to Cape Verde).

Here is the latest on how to use it.

 

Send a text message from your mobile phone like so:

wf:38,08

to the following Belgian phone number:

+32 498327494

You will receive the wind forecast for Latitude 38 degrees, Longitude 8 degrees. Note the leading 0 before the 8. This is required for longitude entries of less than 2 digits.

 

For positions west of the Prime Meridian prepend a – symbol as follows:

wf:38,-01

 

The sms you receive will look something like this:

 

2009.10.23.6

Pos:35,-01.00

+03:F3 W

+06:F3 NW

+09:F2 NW

+12:F1 NW

+18:F1 S

+24:F1 S

+30:F2 NW

+36:F1 N

etc.

 

The first line shows the date and time of the GRIB forecast. In this case 06:00 UTC on the 23rd of October.

The second line gives the position in degrees latitude and longitude. Note that longitude also shows minutes. The reason for this is that the East Atlantic weather information (just to make things difficult) is provided in 1.25 degrees of longitude increments.

-05.00, -06.15, -07.30, -08.45, -10.00…

Hence if you request:

wf:35,-08

What you receive is in fact the GRIB data for position 35,-08.45

i.e. 35 degrees Latitude N, and 8 degrees 45minutes longitude W

So the idea of the second line is to inform you of the actual position of the GRIB data (which may not be the position you explicitly requested).

Awkward at first, especially as requesting -09 degrees longitude will result in the system NOT finding any data (surely 8.45 was near enough!), but you will get the hang of it.

 

Having trialled the system this summer in the Mediterranean, I was occasionally caught out, even when the reported wind speed and direction was fine. The trouble was that the sms system neglected to inform me of pending thunderstorms or large seas.

In this enhanced version you now receive a second sms (after about a minute) with the marine forecast for the specified area. Since sms messages are by definition small, I’ve had to create a pseudo shorthand for the forecasts.

All occurrences of North, South, East and West have been substituted with N,S,E,W.

Increasing is shown as < and decreasing as >

occasional as occ. , variable as var. and moderate as mod.

Showers becomes SH and Rain RA

Example:

In NW, Mainly SW 2 to 4. In SE, Mainly NE 2 to 4. Rough with NW swell abating. Scattered RA later in N.

 

It shouldn’t be too difficult to decipher. ;)

 

While I am testing the system it is available free of charge, but if you find this weather service useful, a small donation at www.ifno.info will help pay the sms bill and ensure further development.

 

 

Stuck in Roccella Ionica, Italy

In the light of the following day, it was apparent that we had seen this yacht before (anchored out in the bay at Argostoli, Chephalonia). Curious I went to chat with the owners, a gregarious French couple who were more than happy to recount their ordeal at sea. When I asked how they had managed to navigate the breakers, they answered that it was simply fear and good luck that saw them through.

Over a glass of Ouzo with ice (such luxury), we swapped details of our traveling exploits, and it was only several (well lubricated) hours later that I returning to Eileen of Avoca, laden with fillets of swordfish generously supplied by my new French drinking buddies (they obviously had considerably more success in the fishing department that I did). The fish was delicious!

The weather has been atrocious and we have been stuck in port for four days. If it wasn’t for the excellent pizza restaurant at the marina and the sociable company of the other stranded yachtsmen we would be going stir-crazy. The local dogs have certainly gone mad. One attacked Matt yesterday and ran off with half his thong (the flip-flop variety).

The forecasts had it all wrong.

Matt weathering the storm

Matt weathering the storm

By 11pm on day two (we still hadn’t caught a fish but I did manage to loose my newly acquired lure), the VHF started spurting gale warnings and I was getting worried.

Roccella Ionica (our destination) is not an all weather port (Crotone more than 70 miles distant was the nearest), and easterly winds breed enormous breakers at the entrance to the marina. Boats have been rolled by the surf in the past and conditions were definitely deteriorating.

With 20NM to go I pushed Eileen of Avoca to maximum speed in the hope of beating the storms. Matt took over the shift and I tried to get some sleep.

Surf outside Rocella Ionica port

Surf outside Roccella Ionica port

Three hours later I found Matt at the tiller, drenched to the bone but looking surprisingly cheerful. The gale force winds had not yet materialised but the swell was decidedly larger. With 2 miles to go I called up the coast guard at Roccella Ionica on VHF to ask whether the entrance to the marina was safe. Their answer was ambiguous and of little practical help so we were left to discover the situation for ourselves.

We were lucky, a land breeze had kept the swells at bay and at 5:30am, with considerable relief, we motored into the marina.

Several hours later, the entrance was seemingly impassable. Seemingly because despite the raging surf, one small yacht defied the odds and to the amazement of all found its way to safety at 9pm. What a feat!

Argostoli Cephalonia

Greek night in Cephalonia

Greek night in Cephalonia

Matt and I had started making a habit of night passages (sleeping in shifts) because; apart from enjoying it, we had more time to explore our destinations. Looking back over the weeks adventures, it was difficult to believe we had only spent a single night in most ports.

Argostoli was a welcome sight after a night of lumpy seas. We tied Eileen of Avoca to the quay as the fishermen set up their impromptu stalls and as the immaculately maintained town came to life.

Provisioning at the markets here was a pleasure, but most of the day was spent getting serious about fishing. So far we’d caught nothing, nada, niente and however you say it in Greek!

In desperation we sought out the only fishing tackle store and splurged on a trolling reel and new lures. Surely now we would be hauling in a daily catch of fine fresh fish! While disappointed to leave the island before “Greek Night” (see photo if you don’t believe me), we were happy to have forecasts show a perfect weather window for our crossing to Italy. Easterly winds and at least three to four days of fine weather.

Killini, Greece

Suspension bridge

Suspension bridge

A dawn departure saw us speeding along with the 2kt current under the new suspension bridge connecting Rion with Andirrion (the Peloponnese with the mainland).

Would you believe it was necessary to call traffic control on VHF channel 14 for permission to transit the bridge? The radio operator asked for my yachts dimensions and couldn’t quite digest a mast height of 7 meters, so in their books, I am now classified as a seven meter yacht with a mast height of 17 meters…

Makes me feel grand!

Rafting up with our French neighbours

Rafting up with our French neighbours

Our next port of call (Killini) was the antithesis of Navpaktos. The port is about as interesting as doing boat maintenance. ;)

Though to be fair, people interested in watching large ferries maneuver and load at all hours might find Killini rather special. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those, but I did give it a try. :)

Upon arrival the inner harbor was full, and we were obliged to ask permission to raft up for the night on what turned out to be (in our inflated opinions), the most interesting boat in port. A well traveled all aluminium cruiser owned by a French family who had been living aboard for several years. They were delightful company.

The town itself had little to offer (other than free Internet Wi-Fi that needed to be reset every hour), so by 11pm the following evening we cast off and motored toward our next destination, the port of Argostoli in Kefallina (also Cephalonia).

Navpaktos (Lepanto)

Navpaktos, Greece

Navpaktos, Greece

Navpaktos (also known as Lepanto), with its small medieval harbor, extended fortifications, and Venetian castle overlooking the town is a must see.

However there is space for perhaps only two or three visiting yachts of diminutive dimensions.

Everything was reasonably priced and close at hand, (provisions, fuel, entertainment), so we made the most of it.

This was definitely one of our favorite ports.

Westward toward the Corinthian canal!

Corinthian canal

Corinthian canal

Departing Aigina at sunrise, Matt and I motored westward toward the Corinthian canal entrance. By 1:30pm we lay moored by the canal authorities control tower where I paid the 95 Euro transit fee. Several boats were on route from the western end, and as they approached I moved off the quay to avoid their wash. Easy.

Just after 2pm we were literally waved through (so much for standing by on channel 11 VHF) and Eileen of Avoca majestically (if you ignore Matt’s laundry hanging everywhere) motored into the Gulf of Corinth.

Spectacular! Especially when the sky darkened, storm clouds moved in and lightning forked menacingly over the mountains to the south. That sort of spectacular I can do without, especially when it is accompanied by rain. Thoroughly drenched, we motored on into the night arriving in Navpaktos by daybreak.

Aigina (the tourist trap)

Aigina, Greece

Aigina, Greece

With continuing fair weather we set sail for Aigina near Athens, skirting the south of Sifnos and west of Serifos. The sailing was uneventful, and only the port of Aigina is worth a special mention.

Warning! This is a quaint but expensive tourist trap!

To be avoided, unless you don’t mind paying 3.50 for a lukewarm espresso or 3 Euro for just a few minutes Internet usage in a cafe exuding unpleasant plumbing odors. The miser in me suffered considerably. :)

Note: This was the only port I visited in Greece since leaving Kos that charged me for the privilege of tying to the quay.