Caught in a whirlpool

Capo Peloro

Capo Peloro

Strangely, I’m experiencing a complementary current near the coast when I’d expected a contrary one. As a result I arrive at the strait at least two hours before schedule. What an inconvenience!

What I’ve failed to notice is that my complementary current is an eddy. Fooled by the shipping which makes the passage through the strait regardless of tide, I head for the narrows and find myself caught in a whirlpool!

With the engine at full speed I make headway at less than half a knot but even this progress is short lived as the engine overheating alarm sounds and I am forced to switch off the motor. Now I’m at the mercy of the currents. Luckily the weather is fine and there is no swell. I hoist all sails but it has little effect. I am pushed around in a large circle at over 5 knots!

After an hour of going backwards, sidewards, and just about everywhere else I’d rather not go, I’m getting a tad frustrated. I manage to start the engine and head for Capo Peloro (but only by steering 90 degrees from my intended destination). I make about 1kt speed over ground. The idea is to get as close to the coast as possible where I hope the effect of the current is less. Surprise surprise, the strategy works and I pass the troublesome headland just meters from the shore. A shoal draft vessel does has its advantages! 🙂

By sunset I’m exhausted and I head for Milazzo for some sleep. I tie up at the nearest marina and ask to stay for 4 hours to rest. “No problem says the manager, rest, we will only charge you 5 Euros an hour”. As if I can sleep when the meter is ticking! I refuse the ‘generous offer’ and set sail once more for Palermo.

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.

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!

Arriving in Corfu

sea-planeOnce reaching the sheltered waters of Othoni, the remainder of the trip to Gouvia Marina (see www.medmarinas.com) was smooth and scenic. Corfu is a splendid island with lush vegetation softening its rugged features (stated as I scratched the rather lush facial vegetation softening my own imaginary rugged features). BTW has anyone successfully shaved while sailing his Yarmouth23?
Safely nestled in our berth opposite the seaplane service (see www.airsealines.com) I set about the unhappy task of packing and the many and varied chores necessary when leaving the boat for a lengthy period. I found quite a bit of water in the bilge and I can only imagine that it came in through the pushpit lockers during the crossing from Italy. I really must do something about that.

The beautiful city

Gallipoli Italy

Gallipoli Italy

75 uneventful and fishless (yes I’m now trying for catch number two) miles later I entered the mercantile port of Gallipoli and was directed to a berth against the inner breakwater. Time to play tourist in Gallipoli (which incidentally derives from the Greek or Latin word for beautiful city). This is a favorite and inexpensive destination for Italians on summer vacation and boasts beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters and fabulous food.

wow

wow

Apart from the local fishing boats there were not too many sailors about, it would appear that the tourists and locals alike are more interested in doing seal impersonations and sunning themselves golden brown on the rocks all day. Pay no heed to that last covetous remark while I dab yet more sunscreen on my pasty white office complexion.
My mum was in gastronomic heaven and had a ball. I just wanted to go sailing, so without further ado I shanghaied her for the next leg to Corfu.

A short hop from Italy to Greece

My mum

My mum

It was a trouble free 2000km drive from Belgium to Sibari via Gallipoli (where I left my mum for some R&R at a friendly little hotel www.hotelbianco.it ) but without air-conditioning in my FIAT 600 it was a somewhat viscous affair especially when the thermometer rose above 32°C.

The relief at finding Eileen of Avoca safe at her berth in Sibari was palpable. Relegating loading stores to the morning I fortified myself for the task of mounting my Aries vane gear by attempting a world sleeping record. Unfortunately the vane gear was still to be found clogging the companionway upon regaining consciousness.

Destination Sibari

Kite Cam

Kite Cam

Wednesday the 2nd of May

I listened carefully to VHF channel 68 on route (an automated system continually broadcasts the marine weather forecast for Italy in an almost unintelligible manner) to determine if the calm conditions would last the night. As there was no mention of gale warnings I was confident of an easy run, and so it was until reaching Crotone at approximately 1am. No moon, my small world faintly illuminated by the tri-light and the red glow of the instruments.

The sea was almost pitch-black though my wake glowed intermittently, lit by mini vortexes of phosphorescent plankton. A spotlight pierced the dark and came to rest upon Eileen of Avoca. “What on earth…?”

The spotlight moved on and I made out the navigation lights of an approaching vessel. The glaring light returned. Should I continue? Should I stop? I took the latter option and waited to see what would transpire. All was still. A nearby dolphin leapt from the water adding to the surreal moment.

The blinding spotlight returned as a large gray motor vessel came alongside. I could just make out the silhouette of her crew as they came to within a few meters of Eileen. It was the Guardia di Finanza. They questioned me for nearly 20 minutes and then as unexpectedly as they had arrived they said their polite good-byes and disappeared into the night. How bizarre!

Little did I know at the time that the Calabrian Mafia families were feuding in Crotone and all unusual traffic was subject to careful scrutiny by the police.

Shortly afterward I had a most dazzling display by a group of dolphins. Dazzling because they were bathed in the neon glow of phosphorescent plankton. The spectral display as they performed their intricate dance under the bowsprit was breathtaking. If only I could have filmed this!
30 minutes later the wind returned from the N NE with a vengeance. It was 2am and I certainly was not in the mood to fight a headwind. I put in two reefs and set a course westward. A small marina just south of Punto Alice (Ciro Marina) and 10 NM distant offered me a convenient bolt-hole. One I was eager to use. By 4am I’d made fast to the quay and promptly went below to sleep.

Tuna

Tuna

By sunrise the fierce winds had died and the sea was tranquil once more. I rounded cape Alice, set my fishing line and sat back to enjoy the sunshine. Before long, and to my great astonishment, I finally caught my first fish. I confess that at the time I had no idea what sort of fish it was (apparently a small Tuna) but it looked edible.

Having finished my cooking fuel and being but a few hours from my final destination, I reluctantly threw my prize back. Eating my catch will have to wait for another adventure.
By 18:00 I’d navigated the incredibly narrow and ridiculously shallow passage into Sibari and made Eileen secure.

Thursday the 3rd and Friday the 4th of May were spent travelling by foot (6km), train (600km), metro (25km), foot (2km), and finally car (1500km), back to Belgium.
Eileen of Avoca will sit at Sibari for the next two months waiting for her next trip to Greece.

Roccella Ionica to Le Castella (45NM)

Le Castella

Le Castella

Thursday the 1st of May

A 7:30 start. No wind, no waves, just a beautiful sunny day. More kite flying, unsuccessful fishing, and dolphin watching. By 17:00 I was entering the small port of Le Castella. Not a worry for a shoal draft vessel like Eileen, but the bedrock is of serious concern for sailing vessels drawing more than 1.5m. I had a couple of hours to visit the town and do some housekeeping before the final leg to Sibari.

Velenosa completed her journey here and Marina I, stayed the night as they were bound for Gallipoli (the Italian Gallipoli) in the morning and the crew insisted on a good rest.

With no mutinous crew to contend with I voted, seconded and carried the motion to make good use of the prevailing calm and left at sunset foregoing sleep in order to arrive at Sibari by 9am.