the journey



August 25-September 1, 2010

Location: NE Sardinia

The mistral had finally found us. We knew it was coming but, man, did it pack a punch. Straight out of the Gulf of Leon in France it blew eastward and funnelled perfectly through the Strait of Bonifacio, a narrow channel of water separating Corsica, France, from Sardinia, Italy. When the mistral hits you better be ready. Winds often pick up from 30-50+ knots and the seas get sharp, steep and confused. Better to find a hole and make the most of it. And that's where you would find us, the Salty Dawgs and two and 1/2 of our closest friends, Bronwen, Mike, and baby "almost", who once again pulled off a mission for another week aboard DK.

And so there we all were, snug in our slip in La Maddalena marina, watching the circus of Italian white fiberglass Beneteau's and Bavaria's motor in as the hour grew late, all hoping for a safe spot to tie up when the mistral hammered the area. Over some tasty moka pots of Illy coffee and heated backgammon games in the cockpit, we were once again thoroughly entertained by the boating chaos.

This was Mike and Bronwen's third trip aboard DK since we left San Francisco almost 4 years ago now. They have really made it happen to come see us and experience living on a sailboat in exotic and interesting parts of the world. The first time was in the Tuamotu archipelago of French Polynesia where they cut their teeth learning about the cruising life with 3 solid weeks in the South Pacific. Then there was Thailand. Along with 2 of our other closest friends, all 6 of us managed to squeeze into our little home for 2 weeks of bopping around the islands of Phi Phi and Railay swimming, sailing, and rock climbing in the Andaman Sea.

And now, 8 months after last connecting together in Thailand, they are back onboard in Sardinia, Italy, to hang for the last time on DK before they bring another little being into the world.

How lucky are we!! To have such great friends that actually make the effort to come spend their valuable holiday time with us on our boat. We know, of course, how busy everyone is in their lives and how difficult it can be to even pull off a holiday sometimes. We also know that many of our close people have wanted to come meet us on or off the boat, but for one reason or another never have. But then there's Bronwen and Mike....super busy in their own lives but still have managed to make it happen and connect with us along the way three times now! They unquestionably know our boat better then anyone else except us. Now adept in sailing, anchoring, boat maintenance realities, cooking onboard, pooping onboard, living in cramped spaces, and dealing with the realities of travel via sailboat in random countries, they are deservedly the most solid and salty of mates!

And that's why we could all laugh together about the Sardinian boating chaos. There is just no shortage of entertainment to be had during high season in NE Sardinia. This is, in case you didn't know, THE boating playground for Italy's rich and famous. And as much as it could drive Nicole and I crazy attempting to pilot DK out and about with thousands of personal watercraft, charter boats, and massive white luxury 100-300+ foot motor-yachts (yes, no mistake there...300+ feet), having Bron and Mike with us to appreciate the insanity and still get us to see the total grandeur of the actual seascape and dramatic granite-lined coast, made it a great experience.

During the week together, we spent our days reconnecting, swimming, and exploring. At Isola Buddelli in La Maddalena park, we spun on a mooring for 2 days while another mistral shrieked through the rigging, but still managed long swims in the clear water along the shoreline, a photo shoot for Bronwen's jewelery business, and some good walks thru the granite boulders.

In Maddalena town proper we nibbled on croissants, pizza, Sardinian wine and gelato. During the mistral we braved the roads with scooters and took off around Isola Maddalena and Isola Caprera for a quality all day adventure with the highlight being a long winding hike down to the gorgeous bay of Cala Coticcio on the leeward side of Caprera.

And before you knew it, the week was over and we headed back south to the Marina Porto Rotondo where we slipped into a berth and put DK to bed. We said our good byes to our buddies who were off to Sicily for another week of holiday, while Nicole and I went the other direction, west, back to the U.S. for a wedding and birthday celebration.

It always happens so fast but I guess that's why we need to remember to make the most of our time. Looking back on the week together with Mike and Bron, I am once again so grateful for our time spent together, as I know that life is changing for all of us, they with starting a family, and us with being on the last legs of this amazing journey. But our memories adventuring together are still lucid and clear and now added to all those that have come before. Thanks again, our friends, for making it happen and adding so much more to our life sailing around the world!

Sailing with the Myths

August 13-19, 2010

Location: Sicily and the Aeolian Islands

We aimed to follow Odyssey's wake through the mythical waters of the Messina Straight and hoped we would be as lucky. Perilous in historic times, as Scylla, a monstrous sea goddess inhabited the rocks along the straights. She beckoned ships with a voice like yelping dogs and plucked men from their decks when they sailed too close to her twelve dangling feet, feeding her six grisly heads lined with a three rows of sharp teeth. Charybdis, a sea goddess in control of tides and currents whipped up a powerful whirlpool across from the clutches of Scylla. Odysseus and the Argonauts successfully navigated these waters, and Hercules swam them, so we figured with luck we would be safe from the wraith of the sea goddesses.

We timed our departure brilliantly. Leaving Taormina at 4 a.m. we passed the lights on shore shimmering in pastel rainbow reflections on the calm surface of the sea. The swift current pushed us along at over six to seven knots over the 32 miles to the mouth of the straights. It was peaceful, uneventful and a good sign of what was to come.

We arrived in the straights just after 8 a.m. having passed two sailboats coming south with a couple behind us headed north. We successfully avoided Scylla and were spared the boiling whirlpools and dangerous currents. Patrolling the straight like they have for thousands years were 6 swordfish boats. With all of the swordfish on display in the fish markets it's fascinating to see who hunts them and how they are fished, despite the swordfish stocks depleted numbers. These boats are unique.

The swordfish boats in the Straights of Messina are the last 16 "passerelle" in the world. The passerelle are specially designed to hunt swordfish, equipped with a twenty meter high nest used as a viewpoint and a forty meter gangway at the bow. They patrol the straight, three to four guys high in the spotting pylon and one or two on the bow as harpooners from May to November. The fish are harpooned by hand using the same technique described 2,200 years ago by the historian, Polibio. To see some telling photographs see Sergio Ramazzotti’s incredible photographs,

  • Leaving the straights to the hunters we rounded west and made for Vulcano Island in the Aeolians. The Aeolian Islands are famed throughout history as the mythical home to Aeolis, the God of the winds, the home of the monster Polyphemous, and the god of fire, Vulcan. It is said people have been drawn and repelled by these islands throughout history. As one of the most dramatic and beautiful places in Sicilian waters hoards of holiday makers are also drawn to these enchanting islands.

    We had heard it might be busy up here, as it was the height of high season, but we still weren't prepared for what awaited us. What seemed like hundreds of sailboats, super yachts, motorboats, and tenders, of all sizes and designs zipped around the narrow channels and islands like a disorganized cockroach army. Everywhere, everyone was lounging, limbs splayed openly, seared by the sun, beauties basked on the bows of motorboats, designed specifically for tanning, with a king sun-bed at the bow while I saw a long limbed man in orange "du-du-du-duns" folded into the swim step of a small sailboat, his long legs almost dangling into the sea.

    We anchored at Vulcano for the night, an island with an active volcano, mud baths and a pulsing tourist trade. Once the hook was down we were happy to be there but a little stunned by how many boats would squeeze into our anchorage by nightfall. Boats dropped anchors on top of each other. I would guess they were just hoping the forecast for no wind was correct or perhaps they didn't care. It seems Mediterranean cruisers have a much different definition of personal space than we do. They kept coming.

    Now, anyone who knows me well knows I have terrible depth perception and also prefer to have a personal safety bubble around DK. We were in hands down the busiest and tightest anchorage we have ever been in. We were both happy to have dropped on the back edge of the boats as the bigger yachts filled in behind us and set their anchors well, also and we had a little more room in between us all than most. Sitting there watching the circus our boat rocked rail to rail throughout the afternoon as boats continued to zoom into the packed anchorage assuming they would find somewhere for the night. Most of them did. Thankfully, the wind behaved as forecasted and we all stayed put for the night.

    By 6:30 a.m. Gar and I were on shore searching for the trail leading to the crater of the volcano. We wove through back streets, past forests of prickly pear cactus, and cats patrolling the trash. It felt amazing to walk again. The stinging stench of sulphur burned our noses and our lungs as we sweat our way up to the crater rim. The view was stunning, we could see both of the northern anchorages at Vulcano, the pinnacles jutting out of the sea, Lipari Island and beyond. Something always draws us to volcanoes. It is the promise of new land and the old falling back into the sea. This place was no different and so easily accessible.

    We returned to the boat and serendipity was with us. Our neighbors, the captain and crew of the luxury yacht, Grand Bleu, invited us over for coffee and tea. Not only were Adonis, Nadia, and Owen kind and entertaining but quickly became new friends. We truly enjoyed their company and ended up spending most of the day and evening feasting with them.

    By 2 a.m. in another anchorage around the corner, the wind switched and the swell kicked up rocking us violently awake throughout the night. It was another sleepless one for all of us there. By 8 a.m. we were ornery, tired and in a conundrum about where to go for a protected and non-rolly anchorage we could get some sleep. We wasted 4 hours navigating through the day boats zipping though the narrow channels and trying unsuccessfully to tuck into different sides of Vulcano. By afternoon, we’d had it and hoped conditions were better north, at the island of Salina. They were. There was little swell and fewer boats, (we only had to re-anchor once) and we could swim from DK.

    I should have spit three times like the Greeks do to avoid hexing good luck. Right after I'd gotten finished telling Nadia I rarely got sick, I did. There are some times when I want to be anywhere but here. This was one of those times. As my throat burned and mucus built up in my sinuses I dreaded our two to three night passage to Sardinia and longed for hot showers and a real bed.

    Instead, we took off with our favorable weather window and the sea gods were kind. The wind filled our sails intermittently, the engine purred reliably, and the seas were a rare flat calm. The sun rose like a giant peach each morning and painted the sky along with it. I lingered in the cockpit well after sunset and my bed time to watch the twilight colors ignite the sky and disappear. The growing half moon danced on the surface of the sea and offered me a trail to follow to the end of the horizon.

    Once the moon set, I had the piercingly bright milky way for company and hundreds of flashing and blinking organisms glowing in phosphorescence and swirling in our wake. We made good time and soaked up the bliss of it all. Two and a half days later we were in La Caletta, Sardinia, ready for another adventure with our most dedicated 'Salty Dawgs', Bronwen and Mike.

    Summertime in Sicilia

    August 3-12, 2010

    Location: Sicily

    "Ptttt pttt pttt...",our faithful Yanmar coughs and chokes. I awake hastily out of the seaberth, glance at the clock - 2 in the morning - Nic turns off the motor and I dive into the engine compartment. It's quiet now with the engine off, but ohh so rolly with little wind and bumpy seas. I try to work efficiently as I pry my eyelids open, changing fuel filters and bleeding valves while the boat pitches around in the black moonless night.

    We try again. Same same. I try to bleed it some more. Engine on. Same same. Frustrated now. What's the problem. I check the fuel lift pump fuses. Good. Maybe the second fuel filter is plugged. Change it. Fuel all over me now and we’re working on 2 hours of time in the rolly engine compartment. Nic is supportive reading one of the engine maintenance books and trying to keep me calm and sail the boat. I bleed it again. It seems to work and we run it for 10 minutes with no sputters. Sunrise now and I hit the bed.

    A few hours later I am up and Nic is sleepy. She lies down just when the engine starts sputtering again. A deep frown lines my face....extremely frustrated now. Filters look good and clean. Air in the lines again. Why? I check the lift pump again. Power but no sound. Click. I think that's it. Lift pump only working off and on...clearly broken and not fixable. But, yes, thankfully we have a spare. We love spares, the problem is you just can never have enough.

    Back in the engine compartment after digging through the lockers searching for tools, our spare pump and my electrical box. Cabin a disaster and diesel all over me again but in another hour I succeed in hooking up and wiring the new pump. Turn over the engine. Running smooth again. Never a dull moment on these passages. Nicole finally crashes and I relax with a strong cup of Illy coffee motor-sailing through the slop across the Ionian Sea.

    It took us 2 1/2 days to cross the Ionian from Greece where we snuck into the huge bay of Siracusa just before darkness fell. Besides our engine pump problem, it was mostly uneventful with DK motor-sailing into the W/NW winds and lumpy confused seas. A couple of schools of dolphins graced us with their presence which we had missed after being next to them daily throughout our journey up the Red Sea.

    Dropping our hook next to a massive luxury motor yacht in thick mud, we sat in the cockpit drinking a glass of Santorini white wine while taking in our new surroundings and thanking the Sea Gods for another safe passage. Ending a passage no matter how long or short is always such a strange feeling, our rhythms are set to strange hours for watches and we often arrive to a completely new land, a new culture, and a new language. The pause at the end is a nice transitionary moment of time we have learned to appreciate.

    The next morning we woke up in Sicily. The land of tasty gelato, mounds of pasta, the true mafia, erupting volcanoes, and a rich history of foreign invaders creating a melting pot of culture and architecture. We bobbed around in the huge bay along with many other sailing yachts and massive luxury powerboats swinging in the currents. We rallied early to deal with our usual "check in" saga, hoping for an easy one considering we were still in the E.U. Aren't checking into "developed" countries supposed to be easier. Ha Ha.

    Nic accompanied me this time, both of us figuring it would be painless and then we would be on our way to walk around and explore the old city of Siracusa. After finding the Capitan de Marinera's office, I waited behind one person patiently...but, as we have found now to be true everywhere we have gone in Sicily, new people would come in, crowd in front of me and cut in line. At first it was just kind of annoying, but as time has gone by in Sicily, we have found that this reality is just the way it is on this island.

    After an hour and at least 3 other people having cut in front of me and barely acknowledging my existence, I finally could lay out the paperwork and deal with the port captain. He turned out to be a nice guy, but only left me with one piece of paperwork saying all I had to do now is check-in with the police down the road a bit. Police? Not customs or immigration, I ask? No, just police. So off we go to the police station.

    When we arrive and I try to communicate our situation to the receptionist, she says we need to go to an office upstairs, but I absolutely can't go dressed the way I am. Even though I have a nice collared shirt on, nice 3/4 length pants, and am cleanly shaved, supposedly my pants are not long enough. As she says this, I look around me at the people heading upstairs with their torn jeans and t-shirts on, presentable I guess as the jeans reach to their feet.

    So back to the boat to change my pants and drop Nicole off, I'm sure this is the last time she wants to accompany me on my usual run-around check-in/out process--always an adventure. Back in the dingy, tie up at shore, walk the half hour back to the police station. Upstairs I go, wait in another line for an hour, sit down in front of another receptionist that doesn’t speak English, get a translator, try to explain my situation. Translator leaves to talk to boss and make phone calls, comes back to say we don't need to check in with the police. Really, I say, the port captain said so. No, she says, she called the Port Captain and he said not to worry about it anymore. Unreal. I leave the office after 3 hours of wasting time, I guess we are now checked into Italy.

    On the way back I pick up a Sicilian courtesy flag at a small chandlery and pay at the WIND office for an internet SIM card dongle so we can connect via our laptop. At least these little jobs were painless. I pick up Nic on the boat and we head out to explore Siracusa, however, now we are too late and it is after noon when everything in Italy shuts down for the 3-4 hour Siesta time during the heat of the day. We are slowly learning patience.

    But that evening and the next couple of days we explored the part of the city called Ortygia, filled with narrow streets, excellent cafes and restaurants, boutique shops, dramatic cathedrals and packed piazza's. We strolled with the mass of Italian's and French on holiday, ate some delicious pasta and pizza, explored the vibrant local weekend market, devoured pistachio gelatos, and eased into life in Sicily.

    So different then Greece where we saw many international boats and most Greeks speak at least a little English, here in Siracusa we were the only American boat and most people did not speak English at all. It had been some time since we were more "novel" and we found our boat (and American flag) often pointed to and stared at by the hundreds of Sicilian day-boaters cruising the bay. Though in most countries where we "stand out" and we wave and smile to the people, like in Indonesia or Yemen or Sudan and everyone has big waves and big smiles back or says things like "Welcome to Yemen" or something, in Sicily, very few people would wave back and definitely most don't smile. Strange. We wondered at first if they didn't like Americans, but as time went by dealing with the Sicilians in the streets, the anchorages, the shops and cafes, we realize that most people here just keep to themselves. People are just pushy and smiles are rare. Not to say we haven't met some friendly kind locals, but overall the energy is just this way.

    Time to move on and head up the coast. We left in the morning for a day trip to the not as touristy city of Catania. There is no anchorage there so we had to contact one of the marinas that had a guest slip for us, and at 60 Euros/night the reality of tying up our boat in marinas during Europe's high season of August hit home. We decided to splurge for the night so not only could we top up our water tanks, give DK a real fresh water bath, charge our battery bank, get diesel, but mostly so we could see the old city and the supposedly vibrant fish market.

    That night after the boat jobs were finished we headed into the city to the UNESCO established Piazza del Duomo area to wander the alleys, appreciate the baroque-style lava stone buildings and soak up life in this city living underneath the still active volcano of Mt. Etna. More pizza and pasta, delicious gelato and some tasty espresso and we were slipping into holiday mode in Sicilia.

    The next morning we rallied early to visit the famous fish market of Catania where every Mediterranean sea creature can supposedly be found. We arrived during most of the set-up period and hung around observing the displays of massive swordfish, tuna, breams, squid, shrimp, clams, and miscellaneous swimming critters all being hawked with loud emotional Italian voices while the wrinkled old Sicilian men crowded around in tight circles not wanting to miss a beat.

    The next morning after finding the tucked away fuel dock and topping up DK's tanks (around $6/gallon here in Europe), we were off north up the coast to Taormina. It wasn’t long when the wind came up from the NE with us riding a northerly current. As the wind increased so did the standing waves and we reefed the sails and plowed into the steep breakers taking wave after wave over the deck. We didn't think we would be affected by the Messina Strait current that was still 50 miles away, but we were probalby because it was a spring tide, and it was a rough going day-sail plowing north while attempting to make short tacks to keep our sails full.

    By late afternoon we pulled into the bay of of Naxos next to Taormina and checked our options. The winds and swell were coming in from the NE and the bay was pretty rough, so after realizing the anchorage of Naxos was not tenable, we headed up underneath the famous cliff-hanging town of Taormina and dropped our hook at the back of the pack of 30 or so sailing yachts and luxury motor boats packed into this indent of bay. The holding was good and we were fine with the small rolls throughout the evening, thinking "this isn't so bad" while sipping a glass of white wine and playing backgammon. DK must have realized life was getting too easy as then I noticed that the fridge wasn't working. For the next 2 hours with my headlamp on I pulled wires, tested wires, and messed with the compressor trying to problem solve the issue. During this "fun" time I looked up on the hillside and noticed a huge flaming grass wildfire burning form one hill to another, just to the south of the main town of Taormina. Definitely a spectacular backdrop to watch out of the corner of my eye while I cursed at the fridge, sipped my wine, and dripped with sweat.

    Life on the boat is never boring. The happy ending is that I did find the problem and it was only a loose connection at the thermostat in the fridge. Phew, our fridge still works and one less boat problem to think about. The fire on the hillside still flamed.

    But then wind died overnight and the swell creeped in. DK was sideways to the waves and we rolled intensely from toerail to toerail. Nic took to the seaberth in the salon early and I attempted to lay sideways across the big V-berth. Nice try. I ended up on a salon cushion on the floor by the morning still rolling around and sleeping fitfully. When I walked on deck at sunrise the wildfire was mostly out but our deck was covered with ash. Didn't we just give DK the best wash-down she has had in a month 2 days ago in Catania? Ha ha ha, say the Gods. But the fridge was still working. Ha ha ha, says the captain.

    In our half-awake stupor we watched many of the boats depart and we slipped into the furthest forward anchorage spot we could rustle into before the mooring field. Nice. Much less rolly and good timing, as we knew that around noon or 1 p.m. the Sicilian day boat fleet would be out in full-force anchoring their little motor boats into every nook and cranny they could find so they could all sprawl on the decks of their boats soaking up every possible ray of sunshine piercing down from above. Those Italians do love the sun.

    After some swims and needed naps, we took super-dingy across the bay to the Naxos beach, found the local bus and took it up to the city of Taormina for some exploring. A beautiful little town filled with every possible tourist amenity--shops galore, restaurants and cafes, and wall to wall tourons. After a few hours of exploring, appreciating the views out to the sea, and some refreshing drinks, we were finished and decided to head down to the more mellow seafront of Naxos for a more local restaurant experience on the water.

    One more day at Taormina waiting for the weather to improve for us to head north through the Messina Strait and into the Tyrrhenian Sea and then in the early dark hours, at 4 a.m., we hoisted the 55 lb. Delta, piloted our way through the busy yacht anchorage and rounded the cape of Taormina heading north.