Fishing while cruising in the Mediterranean

Fortunately (for Gianluca), food would not be in short supply this trip. Up until today, I would have confessed to being one of the worlds worst fishermen. All I could show for two years of effort while underway (and the loss of innumerable lures), was one very small tuna and a seagull. Not anymore!



Behold… (see photo)

I had to stop fishing or I’d catch much more than the two of us could possibly eat!

Fishing, ha, there’s nothing to it. All you need is to be where the fish are.

Or perhaps it being almost November had something to do with it, or the fact that there were no other boats to be seen in the area (since loosing sight of Sardinia), or…

Frankly, I haven’t a clue, but that didn’t stop me fetching my copy of “The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing” by Scott and Wendy Bannerot, and with great enthusiasm learning to identify and clean my catch.

After a gruesome and surprisingly bloody job in which Eileen’s push-pit started to look like something out of a B-grade horror movie, we were ready for the good bit. Cooking and eating the catch of the day. I had never eaten such fresh fish, and I must say, Dorado fried in a little olive oil and seasoned with rosemary is truly exquisite.

Gianluca on the night shift

A tiny avian visitor

A tiny avian visitor

By dawn, I’d managed to pass the southern tip of Sardinia and after setting a course of 228º taking us between Isola del Toro and Isola Sant Antioco, I handed over the GPS to my trusty crew and went below for some sleep.

I usually sleep exceptionally well in my Yarmouth23. Whether it be in the forward v-berth or with my feet in the trotter box of the settee, but not this time!

A disagreeable pounding on the hull accompanied with the pounding of my head against the bulkhead, tore me from my slumber.

What was going on? Why was Gianluca setting such a punishing pace against the unfavourable winds and increasing swell?

Overruling his landlubber logic of “we’ll get through it faster this way”, I set the throttle to a more comfortable speed before returning below to grumble and make sandwiches.

Despite what my friends and family say, I find that my irritable nature is often tempered by a full stomach… 😉

Sailing from Sardinia to the Balearic Islands

Sailing route from Sardinia to Spain

Sailing route from Sardinia to Spain

Cagliari has a busy port, it even has a traffic separation scheme extending two miles from the breakwater. The massive refinery at Sarroch on the western side of the bay adds to the chaos as gargantuan tankers ply the waters of the shallow bay. All of which calls for some intrepid watch keeping while underway, especially at night. With this in mind and a distance of at least 280NM to cover to reach Menorca I decided it would be preferable to sail in company. Time to call upon my strategic reserve of unseasoned yet fearless crew (cue Gianluca).

We flew into Cagliari on the 27th of October, caught the regular bus service into town, and immediately set about preparing for departure. After gathering a few provisions (mainly fresh bread, water and take away pizza) and carrying out the mandatory Internet cafe weather check, we walked the remaining 2km to S. Elmo marina, arriving at dusk.

I like Cagliari. I can see why many cruisers chose to winter here, and I regret not taking more time to appreciate the city and its people. My schedule was to blame… With the window for Atlantic crossings approaching fast, I wanted to get a move on, so as to reach an appropriate jump-off point before the season for southerly storms.

After filling my fuel reserves (6×10 liter plastic jerry cans stored in the rear compartment with the main fuel tank), at the nearby service station, Eileen of Avoca was ready and we leisurely motored into the night on a smooth sea.

Sailing from Palermo to Gagliari

Motor Sailing

Motor Sailing

I’ve set (motor)sail for Cagliari and something is wrong with Eileen of Avoca. There are odd vibrations coming from the engine but I am at a loss as to the cause. After a restless night I notice an appreciable loss in power and am getting more concerned. I’ve checked everything I can on board and all that remains as a possible cause of the vibration and loss of power is an issue with the propeller.

Attaching my waterproof video camera to a boat hook with copious amounts of tape, I lower it over the side and film the rudder and propeller shaft in action. Problem identified!

I’ve become entangled in some debris, if only I had thought to check this sooner. I’m now midway between Sicily and Sardinia and I need to go into the water to clear the prop.

Now if I were McGyver… all I’d need is some chewing gum, a welder, two dolphins… etc… and I’ll build a dry dock in which to do my repairs!

Facing reality (Shucks, I’m not really McGyver), I drop the sails and deploy my parachute sea anchor. No way am I going to get into the water if my boat wont stay put. To be extra sure I put on a harness and tie myself to the boat on a long line before jumping in. Now why do I suddenly feel like shark bait?

Twenty minutes later, operation, clear prop is a success. The vibrations are gone and I’m happily making 4.5kts motor sailing toward Gagliari.

It’s the 9th of October 8am. I’m moored at S. Elmo marina and making arrangements to get back to Belgium.

Sailing to Palermo

Palermo port

Palermo port

Setting the TillerPilot, I take 20 minute naps (using an egg timer as my alarm clock) between lookouts and manage to reach Palermo by 1pm the following day in a semi-rested state.

Thankfully there was very little in the way of shipping, though I still don’t like sleeping when the coast is just an hour or two away. Especially when this area has a reputation for being the “Bermuda Triangle” of the Mediterranean.

The port of Palermo is not a pretty sight. A forest of cranes, numerous decrepit ships and offshore rigs undergoing maintenance dominate the skyline, but at least I’ve found a spot to moor Eileen (an abandoned refueling station).

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.