October to December 2014 (Trip miles 1210, Total miles 8104)
After the new crew settled in we made our way around Menorca stopping of at Cala Galdana and Cituedella before heading to Fornells in the north east to wait on wind for the crossing to Sardinia.
After a thorough bar inspection including a personal audience ]ith the defacto president of Fornells, we set off on the 200nm stretch to Della Scorno on the north western point of Sardinia. We had mostly mild northerly winds and managed an uneventful 34hr trip to Castelsardo in the channel below Corsica.
Now out of Spain, we spent a couple of days taking in the sights and trying to adjust to using the little Italian we knew between us. I started an open water course for one of the crew who took to it like a fish to water. The chill in the morning air was a reminder that the European winter was incoming, and enough motivation to leave the crystal water and postcard beaches to continue our planned route down the east coast to warmer climes.
Along the way we made port at Porto Pozzo and Lavori in Corso later heading toward Olbia to let off our British Crew member. Once we rounded Capo Figari, we were again reminded why its called a "weather forcast", although the wind direction was accurate the strength was horribly wrong, half way across the gulf of Delgi Aranci the wind had picked up to 35 knots and created an uncomfortable oncoming sea state. Swells in the Mediterranean have proven to come in very short wavelengths and swell heights that usually would be of no mention make for quite dramatic boat movement and challenging conditions.
By the time we reached the Gulf of Olbia proper, winds were sustained at 40 knots and gusting to 50, which turned a planned 1 hour stretch in to 2 and a half. The decision to press forward and tuck in behind the high terrain to the south east of Olbia was rewarded with good protection in an anchorage just outside the commercial main port.
After spending the night at anchor and expecting more of the same weather we made for the Marina di Olbia to get the vessel secured and do some exploring. Olbia turned out to be the least tourist orientated port we had visited and we got a taste of what we felt was true Sardinian daily life and culture. The marina however was in a separated secure community and had little to nothing going on.
With the weather delay my second crew member from the US, decided to continue her travels and departed by ferry for mainland Italy a day after the first crew departed back to the UK. I spent a further 3 days in Olbia awaiting a new crew member who will be with the vessel for a couple of months if all goes to plan.
We departed southward the following day anchoring a couple of miles past La Caletta before making for a marina 40miles further on passing through the gulf of Orosei.
We spent the next couple of days in S.Maria Navarrese as some particularly high winds were forcast, then pushed on past Arbatax to Cagliari where we collected former crew member who returned for a couple of weeks, we spent some time in Cagliari and prepared for the crossing to Sicily.
The trip across was mostly uneventful, though by the time we were in Sicilian waters a strong easterly had come up and we diverted from our intended landfall on the north coast to Trampani on the west, we were required to stay out of the harbor until we had secured a berth by telephone as none of the so called marinas seemed to be paying any attention to the VHF. The "berth" was stern to on a single laid mooring wedged in between two alongside vessels. After a few nervous days when the weather calmed we were happy to be off and continue eastwards along the north coast.
We arrived at Capo San Vito just ahead of some more nasty weather and were holed up there for 6 days, on the upside Sicily turned out to be a climbing hotspot and we managed to get out and do a "deepwater solo" traversing a volcanic cove above crystal clear water.
Eager to get off the exposed north coast we continued to Palermo (where somehow my ccard details made it out of the marina office and treated someone to a bunch of online purchases) Other than that Palermo was a lively edgy city, though not so much that we gave up our next weather window. This time we decided it best to avoid coast hopping and do an overnight run toward the Messina straight. We had reasonable weather and made good time to land in Sillia and go on anchor, after obtaining an up to date forecast we elected to get into a marina as some heavy weather was incoming.
On crossing the Messina Straight we sailed through what I can only describe as a cross between whirlpool and a hot-tub, apparently crated when the tidal currents oppose prevailing weather. After a couple of hours negotiating the traffic separation scheme full of ferries which happened to be located right in the centre of mess we arrived back in the Sicilian side at Marina del Nettuno in Messina proper.
Our luck with the weather held, it came screaming through once we were safely alongside, although be it on a floating quay moored in 28 meters of water which by day 3 was moving like a ribbon in the wind.
A visit from a good friend lightened the mood and we spent a couple of days taking in local wine and a few sights.
Unfortunately our Canadian crew member was also out of time and headed home without getting any notable fair weather sailing in (sorry m8). With unstable weather seeming to be the rule and not the exception, we dropped off my other friend in Reggio di Calabria on mainland Italy, with one remaining crew member I decided to make for Greece in short order. The weather over the next few days went mostly our way as we moved along the southern coast on the "boot" of Italy. I was struck at how undeveloped and basic things were at most all stops, not what I expected at all.
We arrived in St. Maria di Leuca at around 3am on the 19th of November and spent one extra day to catch up on sleep before crossing to Greece.
From the weather report we would have 20knots of NW wind on the beam, ideal sailing for a catamaran even given a 30% error in intensity.. As the wind had only 5 hours before turned from southerly to northerly I was not overly concerned with sea-state and made the decision to start the crossing at around 8am.
School Fees = weather in the Adriatic must have been far heavier than stated on forcasts and created a much larger and shorter swell than expected which pushed down into our route culminating in uncomfortable conditions when we were practically half way across to Othonoi the most westward of the northern Ionian Greek isles.
With around 4 hours left of our voyage localized conditions got markedly worse picking up to F8, this created wave heights of 3m at near 3 second intervals with some occasionally cresting due to what could only have been counter current as we were in very deep water, waves were at times coming over the port side splashing right up onto the roof of the vessel.
The experience was easily as un-nerving as anything we faced in the Atlantic, A couple of times my sense of self preservation fought my resolve and would have had us running south. Had it not at that time been for the closeness of our destination. We would have had no choice but to ride with it or run the risk of damaging the vessel.
We made Othonoi before sunset and went on anchor in a protected harbor that we had all to ourselves. The next morning with the wind having died down to around F5 we attempted the last stretch of around 35miles to our destination on Korfu. As soon as we cleared the lee of the island we decided that conditions had not improved sufficiently and rather made the 5mile journey to the neighboring island of Erikoussa, where we spent the night. The following day and with a more southerly trajectory we made for Psyromita and entered the channel between Albania and Corfu. 2Hours later we had docked at Gouvia marina and proceeded to settle in as the vessel was to be taken ashore.
We spent 15 days in a local hotel while work was underway on the boat, which was delayed due to rain on numerous occasions. Once launched we made plans to move further south to Lefkada and hopefully get out of the rainbelt which incidentally has the most rain in all of Greece.
Our plans of a leisurely passage doen the east coast of Korfu to Lefkada via Paxos and Nissi Paxoi were abruptly halted by incumbent weather, looking at the synoptic chart it was clear that it would've been hard to create a more foreboding set of fronts and depressions if we tried.
With a 2 day window and following sea we made a stormy anchorage in Paxos with an early morning run for Lefkada to follow. At 4pm the following day we were at the mouth of the narrow channel between mainland Greece and the island. Unable to raise the coast guard on the VHF and with the channel heavily silted and for all intents unmarked in any decipherable way and a 2m+ following sea we took a risk and entered the mouth, unable to see through the churned up water it was a painstaking 20 minutes of testing the path forward with the port bow where the depth finder is located.
At one point I lightly ran aground though was fortunate to motor off the bank unscathed, once into deeper water we had a 40 minute wait for the swing-bridge to open so we could get to our berth. With strong winds and no space to anchor properly or tie up we kept ourselves tucked in behind a dredging barge with engines and poor holding on a 15m stretch on the anchor. I can't help but wonder if there is a thriving marine salvage business close by, having a shallow draft and good maneuverability we were still lucky to enter the channel, any deeper keel vessels without local knowledge or guidance would almost certainly have been in trouble.
In retrospect it was worth the effort getting into a protected berth, the weather that followed over the next 3 days was simply atrocious, with sustained 50-55knots gusting to 65 and on a couple of occasions 70knots+.
With the rest of the European winter ahead, and the last of my current crew heading home in a couple of days there will be little if any cruising till spring.
Sardinian castle and town
Deepwater climb Sicily
North east Korfu
Sunrise Straight of Messina
Impromptu skate day Castelsardo Sardinia
Unidentified whale north coast of Sicily