Be sure to buffer these two videos before watching. In other words, run it once, then slide the button back to start. They're short little glimpses of Monastir, Tunisia. Below, the call to prayer is the noise you hear, as men rush to the mosque on the left side of the street.
We wintered in Lagos, Portugal
January 25-- Settled aboard after six great weeks in Canada we prepared Big Sky for an early season departure with the plan to sail toward the Strait of Gibraltar. But in the morning, it was the fabulous Lagos Market Day, and we took advantage, returning with bags of oranges, clementines, tangerines, apples, tomatoes, avocados, lemons, and a bunch of different, but sweet-tasting avocado-looking fruits. But that’s not all, almonds, figs, garlic, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, and a jar of honey, all for under 15 euro! The Saturday Dutch newspaper was in the marina concession early this morning surprising us again at how it gets to Lagos so quickly. Con is soaking in the Portuguese warm rays, looking handsome following his haircut, compliments of his wife!
January 27, 2008 -- The mercury rose to 26 degrees in the cockpit, and news reports are telling us that this corner of Europe is experiencing the warmest weather at the moment. We gave Big Sky a good washing, then cleaned up in anticipation of a relaxing early evening at the Fado Beach Bar. Our shoes filled with sand from the dunes we'd hiked across to get the bar, we learned it was closed until March.
Good to know while in Portugal: never stretch in public; don’t lick your fingers after a meal; and don’t write ANYTHING in red ink (that’s reserved for school teachers).
January 29, 2008 – Lagos’ population is 30,000 ballooning to 150,000 with tourists which explains all the restaurants. Con’s plotting our sailing route this season along the Spanish coast, through the Strait of Gibraltar, and then across to Morocco. We’re looking forward to a better return on our Canadian dollar. For example, 1 Moroccan dirham = .08 euro = .13 Cdn.
January 30, 2008 -- Three months ago, we backed Big Sky into our comfy Lagos Marina slip where she’s remained, that is until this morning. We took her out through the narrow waterway to the Atlantic for a fun sail. The ocean was beautiful, smooth, and blue with a warm wisp of a breeze. With the main up, we headed toward the Grotto and dropped anchor in seven meters of crystal-clear waters. We made lunch and later pulled out our never-used fishing gear. The water was so clear we could see the hook and bait, but no bites – thankfully, since we hadn’t decided which one of us would clean it. We took advantage of the afternoon never-fail breeze and sailed back into the marina. “Barbie, it's as good as it gets,” Con beamed. We were going 7 NM on a beam reach, healing 20 degrees.
February 2, 2008 -- The first Saturday of each month is the Gypsy Market. We bought our usual fruits and veggies at the regular market then walked over to the ever-entertaining Gypsy Market. A rooster was being negotiated over by a woman and the vendor. The rooster was being held by the vendor upside down by its feet. During the negotiations, the rooster swung up and bit the vendor who then spanked it and shoved it back into its cage. He made it clear to the woman that it was no longer for sale. She looked over the rest of the birds and came back to that one, but the man crossed his arms and shook his head. He won. Or, the rooster did.
February 6, 2008 -- Winds were right, and we set sail east. We decided to by-pass Vilamoura, a popular stop because we visited it by car and figured it was too touristy for us. Once out of the marina, we realized the wind strength and direction was going to be a challenge so Con tweaked our route to take advantage of the Levente (easterly winds). The wind speeds were climbing, but manageable as we motored along the Algarve. Ready to put the sails up, I positioned Big Sky into the wind, “Okay Barbie, take up the main”. I pushed the button, but nothing happened. The deck hardware was on, but all the buttons were dead! Con in his very calm, methodical manner began investigating all the electronics, pulling out manuals… I maintained our into-the-wind position (east) the direct route to Vilamoura. After about 30 minutes, a light went on for Con, and I saw it on his face. He moved forward and hit the “red” button on our pedestal. It’s a STOP ALL button and he remembered hitting it accidentally earlier. We learned something new today; it overwrites all the deck hardware. Now will full sails up, I corrected our course south. All was going well, until THE GENOA CLEW broke free. (That's the ring in the corner of the sail that holds the sheets.) With quite a dance on the foredeck, Con managed to catch the sail without losing his teeth as I furled then walked forward with a bungee cord to hold the whole thing together. Con changed course. We would be going to Vilamoura after all, the closest port in order to access repairs. It was an awful ride into the marina with the sea so agitated like my sea-sick stomach. At the customs dock, we attempted to take down the jib, but the sleeve -- once again -- wouldn't come down. This problem originated in the Baltic Sea when we had a wild ride from Poland to northern Germany which wrecked our Genoa motor. We’ll have the sail maker check that out too.
February 7, 2008 -- The sail makers arrived this afternoon to take a look at our jib problems. (Why it gets caught when we try to drop the sail.) Peter went up to the top of the mast where the Genoa attaches to the main and reported that the Genoa wires have untwisted. Usually they are fashioned like a rope wound tightly together, but they have been compromised. We checked into a slip, anticipating a lengthy stay.
February 11, 2008 -- We've walked around Vilamoura and the small neighbouring town of Quarteira. These shanty-styled shacks are occupied by fishermen and their families. It’s prime ocean-front real estate, located just outside the main town. Vilamoura boasts of having three of the Algarve's most famous golf courses. The whole Vilamoura marina is surrounded by huge hotels catering to British golfers and people of affluence.
February 13, 2008 -- With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, we stocked up on local flowers from the once-a-week-Gypsy Market in Quarteira. The strawberries were $2.50 euro for the whole crate! Yesterday, we bought a whole pineapple for .99 cents euro and of course, oranges, clementines, lemons and grapefruits for euro pennies.
February 14 - 16 – NOLAN ARRIVES! We received an email at midnight after anxiously awaiting news of the birth of our first grandchild. Brit delivered Nolan at 3:15 am our time, February 16th. Contractions began on the 14th, just missing giving birth on my mom’s birthday – February 15th. We were pooped from the anticipation, having carried our cell phone by day, and checking it throughout each night after receiving word from Nick that Brit and Kris had gone to the hospital. The phone went to the shower with Con, to the grocery store in Con’s shirt pocket, in my back pocket while vacuuming, on the counter while I prepared dinner, and in the middle of the table when we shared a glass of wine with neighbours. Following a caesarian section, Nolan Ryker was born at 7 pounds 12 ounces, 22 inches long at 9:15 am Saskatchewan time.
February 17 – As grandparents, we slept in, waking to rain and strong 33 knot winds. We put on our rain gear and trekked to the Vilamoura Marina breakwater. My rain gear was air tight and when I lifted my arms I thought I could take flight!
February 23 – Sail and forestay now repaired, Big Sky was again in perfect sailing condition for our departure. Awaiting the right winds, we purchased a three-day rental to explore Portugal's inland western Alentejo region. Alentejo literally means "beyond the Tejo" the River Tagus and the region has its own beautiful unique character. It's the region of sheep, pigs, olive and cork oak trees, grapevines, tomatoes, sunflowers and fields of wheat and oats. I picked up the rental, and attempting to back up on the skinny marina tarmac, I couldn’t get the car into reverse. (I can drive ANYTHING, but couldn’t figure this one out.) A kind man got out of his car and showed me that you use two fingers to lift up the shifter and move it into reverse otherwise it won’t get there.
Our first stop was Evora, the capital of the Alentejo region. We passed breathtaking towns built on the mountains where the Guadiana River flows through and the beautiful fortified ancient town of Mertola. It was once a bustling Roman centre until the rivers silted up and their town nearly slipped away into oblivion. All the houses are built traditionally (simple) and whitewashed. The cobblestone streets are pristine clean. Evora has a rich history tracing back to Iberians. It's enjoyed its share of wealth, with kings, and dynasties, also Roman ruins, cathedrals, and palaces.
February 24 – We left Vilamoura for a 7 ½ - hour sail to Vila Real de Santa Antonio. The winds turned out to be pretty strong with rough seas, pouring rain, with a few frightening lightning bolts shooting like javelin sticks. But, if we didn’t leave today, we’d have had to wait another week. Now tied secure in Vila Real de Santo Antonia, Portugal, we can see Spain across the River Guadiana.
February 25 -- Our last day in Portugal, a country we thoroughly enjoyed, we wondered through the pretty town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, passing a band of Gypsy's camped in a public lot or it was the Super Mercado’s parking lot along with their wagons and horses. Not often language trips us, but today we ordered a shared meat platter and Con reading the menu said enthusiastically, “Oh look Barb, Cream de Cocoa soup too, we must have that for dessert. It's very famous here; they're known for it." We ordered it, and fish soup arrived.
February 26 – I motored the one-mile trek across the Guadiana River to Ayamonte, Spain, a beautiful day, 25 degrees under sunshine. Con ceremoniously lowered the Portuguese flag and raised the Spanish one. Four months ago, we arrived on Portugal's northern west coast and now it’s hard to look at it across the river, saying “good-bye” like an old friend. With a current running I managed to back Big Sky into a tiny space (after three tries) and Con tied us on. During the second try, Con was already on the dock, I backed us up and checked over my shoulder to see if we were close enough and spotted Con quietly stretching (nearly into the splits) with one leg balancing on his toes on the dock and the other on Big Sky’s rail. I held my breath waiting for a dramatic belly flop, but he managed to climb aboard. If you've seen the Guadiana River, you wouldn't come out refreshed! Once tied on, I jumped off Big Sky to help Con tighten the lines and a Spanish sea gull delivered a perfect dropping on my left shoulder. This is the country where I get to practice my Spanish, which for me is so difficult even after four years of night school. For dinner that night, I announced to the waiter that we were ready, “Listamos” and he asked what language I was speaking.
February 28 – A beautiful 34 NM sail to Mazagon, with a breeze moving us at 8 knots and then the wind dropped off completely. If it weren’t for the slight current, we'd not have moved. By afternoon, the breeze picked up again, and we averaged about 5 knots on a broad reach sail. With the heat of the sun, the gentle lapping of the Atlantic against Big Sky, and the pleasant rocking, we hardly wanted the day to end. We passed plenty of fishing boats near Ayamonte, and as we neared Mazagon, we passed a number of oil freighters.
February 29 -- Leap year, comes once every four years. You could say we "leapt" into motion for an early morning departure from Mazagon, but very quickly realized that we weren't going anywhere with the thick fog. We waited until just after 9 am and with on again, off again winds, we arrived in Rota about 5:30 pm. The seas were calm and once the fog lifted, it was another warm and sunny day. Arriving, we were as usual famished. The moment the electricity was plugged in, I set to the task of cooking a chicken dish using most of the Portuguese spices we'd acquired. It was delicious. The marina put us at the end of a dock, believing that we were too big for a slip, so the price jumped from 14 to 33 euro.
March 2, 2008 – Biking around Rota in the warm wonderful weather, we stopped at a restaurant thinking it odd that there was a complaint book at the front. Then we learned that in both Spain and Portugal it’s mandatory that restaurants and service stations have complaint books. One lady wrote a complaint in a restaurant book and two years later the proprietor sued her for defamation of character and won. She had to pay the restaurant 5000 euro. We carefully declined any offers to participate in the book. I've been docking and departing the marinas telling Con it's so he can have more practice with the lines, but it’s good to build my confidence driving. The sun burned through Rota’s fog the other day and a hot Spanish day emerged. This is holiday time for the Spanish and they’re all over the beaches. We left through another day of fog, sailing passed a replica of a sailing boat hundreds of years ago. It was the same size as us. Imagine it held hundreds of men. Staying a night in Porto Sherry, a pretty town with a beach front and forested area.
March 4 – In Cadiz, a "thumbs up" shaped city on the south west side of Spain, and about 55 NM to the Strait of Gibraltar. It's my kind of town, because I can’t get lost. It’s 2 ½ km wide with water on all sides, except for the high bridge used as an entrance and exit. Its heyday was in 1812.
March 5 -- Can the wind blow! We're in a protected marina with Force 8 and 9 blowing around us. We caught the wind-speed indicator reading 44.9 NM this morning! The sea is filled with white caps. The wind started last night and has continued throughout the day with no let up. Yesterday, we cycled into the old town for supplies, (lost a loaf of bread during a left signal in the middle of a five-street intersection) but made it back with supplies (less the loaf) and a great panorama shot of one of Cadiz's pleasant squares. We spent part of the evening debating whether to travel to Tangier or go straight to Gibraltar and then to Smir, Morocco. Tangier has a massive drug problem with some officials and drug lords in business together. In fact, Tangier exports 70 percent of the Europe's hashish.
We decided to carry on along the Spanish coast, next stop Barbate. On the way, we passed the famous sea battle ground, were 203 years ago, British Admiral Nelson soundly defeated the French and Spanish fleets stopping Napoleon from invading England. Nelson lost his life in that battle, but England was left for the Brits.
March 6 -- In the local flower market, I was interviewed for the local television show. We started the interview in Spanish and switched to English. We talked about -- flowers. Con took a series of photos of the fresh market. Cadiz was the favoured city over Seville and received the contract to begin construction of the cathedral which began their great economic expansion. It took 122 years to complete it in 1838.
March 8 – Barbate is another authentic Spanish town, not too influenced by tourism. Arriving from Cadiz should have been a six or seven hour sail, but an hour into our route it became an unexpected 10-hour sail. We heard boom then a kilometer ahead a plume of water rose up like an upside down waterfall. The Spanish war ships were practicing target practice. Con quickly turned Big Sky 80 degrees as we significantly detoured the target area. Once we detoured, a VHF announcement gave navigational warnings and coordinates of military practice areas and we confirmed that it was exactly in our original path. With radar, we were surprised that the military didn’t spot us and give us proper warning.
It was a pleasant day on the water, so the extra hours were no problem. Most of the sail was wing on wing, (sails out and wind from behind).
At the Barbate market this morning, there were more odd looking foods that we couldn't identify. When asking the locals, they confirmed that they really were for eating. We were waiting for our turn with the butcher and watched a toddler get out of his stroller to pet a dog. His mother shouted loudly at him, wacked him on the top of the head, lifted him airborne by one arm, and threw him into his stroller from about a distance of two feet. This did not meet approval of the locals surrounding us, as they had plenty of quiet negative comments about the mother. It's curious that the European Parliament gets involved in decisions like "candies can no longer be sold with toys inside" (Kinder eggs) but we wonder what they have to say about this sort of behaviour.
March 9 – What a thrill! We sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, technically leaving the Atlantic Ocean and entering the Mediterranean Sea. I sailed through the first hour or so, and Con hand-steered the rest, as the currents and wind didn't allow the auto pilot to do its job very well. For a day that started out a bit wishy-washy with the winds and waves, it turned out to be a real exhilarating sail with speeds at times just over 9 knots and wind gusts as strong as 36 knots.
March 10 -- Setting off on bikes, we toured the eastern face of the Rock, which has a sheer physical presence, situated on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, overlooking the Strait. It's a small isthmus that made a good strategic location for the British to control movement in and out of the Mediterranean. On bike, we had to dodge one of Gibraltar's most famous citizens, the Rock Apes, known as Barbary Macaques. They’re tailless monkeys that run ape over the Rock and area. This is the only place in Europe where you'll find them in the wild. Natives of North Africa, people believe they were introduced in Gibraltar with the British garrisons some time ago.
March 11 -- We took the tram up The Rock and Con snapped picture after picture of the little critters. There were apes everywhere! Hanging on cliff sides, stairs, ridges… One ran up a young man’s body to get into his backpack where he had tomatoes stashed. Signs everywhere in every language, including brail say, “Do Not Feed the Apes.” People do.
March 12 -- We've just stepped onto African soil, crossing the Strait from Gibraltar Smir, Morocco. It’s hot! Scanning the marina, we identified a restaurant and cleaned up for dinner. Con ordered the lamb, I ordered salmon and we shared a Moroccan salad. Moroccan men are close and affectionate with each other. They touch, hold pinky fingers, and hug freely. During a break, our waiter sat on his friend’s knee. The food was delicious and the bill came to $6.50 Canadian and half that was the wine.
March 14 – After discussing our options, we decided not to haul Big Sky out in Smir because it’s so far removed from the cities, grocery stores, etc. We’d have to hire a taxi to get anywhere. We’ll leave this afternoon sailing north to Ceuta, Spain (a small piece of Spain on Morocco's soil).
March 16 –We’re now in Cueta, docked in the public marina. They charge you for the day you arrive and the day you leave. We biked around the city from the North Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean southern coastline. The marina is right down town. We set off in the warm weather to check out the interesting people. It’s a walk through the world’s diverse population. Some dressed in jeans, Jews with their kippa, Muslims in Moroccan costume, and Hindu women wrapped in saris. The language is Spanish and Arabic. The city stays up late, just like any Spanish city, and siestas from 1 or 2 pm – 5 pm and everything shuts down. Tonight was the Palm Sunday Parade down the main street. We went to the Catholic church for the service, then sat in great seats for the church parade.
March 18 – A Belgium man two boats down from us introduced himself, “Jose” who has been living in the Ceuta marina for some time. He keeps a car in the marina and invited us to join him for his weekly trip to Tangier. He’s an extraordinary man, very positive and it seems his core radiates peace. He’s also curios about the world and has a keen knowledge of the Moroccan way of life, and more specifically, the way of life for people throughout Africa. He hitch-hiked, mostly receiving rides on the tops of trucks in the 60s traveling throughout Africa. He introduced us to Africa via Tangier, filled our pocket with money when we asked where a bank machine was, and drew a map on the back of a napkin. “Let’s meet at noon here (behind the fishing harbour) for lunch,” he suggested. We agreed, and departed from the table where we’d shared a Moroccan coffee and were transported to a whole other world.
This is how our day went:
Tangier and Ceuta
While waiting for our border papers to be cleared, (leaving Ceuta, the Spanish enclave within Morocco) for Africa, Con and I watched the steady stream of Moroccan's walking through the border and over the hills to their towns. We learned that on average 10,000 Moroccan's walk through the border every day.
Our drive was breathtaking looking out over the Atlantic Ocean through the Atlas Mountains catching the massive Rock of Gibraltar from time to time. To our right our eyes filled with the glorious blue Mediterranean Sea glistening under the hot African sun. We wound our way around fresh spring green grasslands with soft Mugo Pine trees dotting the hillsides, and saffron, magenta, and cinnamon coloured sandy rock formations scattered boldly throughout the land. Clumps of white houses sprinkled the hillsides and we could see lots of activity going on. Donkeys carrying straw or herbs, goat herders tending their flocks, people hand-working their gardens, colourful clothes blowing on the clothes lines, and vibrantly dressed children playing among the sheep, goats, dogs, cats, peacocks, and cows. The new Moroccan King is keen to develop Morocco pumping his money into the industry (dam, new harbour, new highways, high-speed railway) to bring Morocco into the modern world. However, some say he’s just investing the money taken by his father, the previous king from the people. After an hour on the road, we rounded another purplish sandy rock and Tangier loomed in front of us. It was an incredible sight! We parked the car and finally stepped into Africa. We walked a short distance and were enveloped into the centre of the medina, the shopping hub of Tangier. Jose suggested we have a coffee before separating and selected an outside table. The coffee was dark and good. After drawing a map on the back of the napkin for our meeting place at noon, he pulled dirhams from his pocket handing them to us before we set off to find an ATM within the lively marketplace. It wasn’t too hard to find one, and we stuffed the dirhams into Con’s wallet, and my purse. The exchange: 7.50 dirham to CND$1. We let the day unfold around us. Everywhere we looked, their rich culture exposed itself from women in full burkas, children with Shriner-type red hats, men in full tunics with pointed hoods pulled down to their eyebrows, to locals in jeans and leather coats. We had talked about purchasing a carpet for the boat thinking a Moroccan one might be cool and before we could blink, we were in a carpet shop. They’re pros. I was being complimented, mint tea appeared in my hands, and Con was referred to as the "Minister of Finance". Thirty minutes later, we walked out with two beautifully coloured carpets. The irony is that they turned out to be too beautiful to step on, so we tucked them away. We met Jose for lunch and walked to the harbour, made our selection of fresh fish and sat under an umbrella. The meal came on a platter and its contents eaten with fingers (the best way!). After we'd picked through most of the huge platter, we went to a central bucket to wash up. The moment we stepped away from our table, we were dumbfounded by how quickly our table was swarmed by locals appearing from seemingly nowhere. We had no idea they had been waiting to move in on what we didn’t finish. Filled with guilt, having stuffed my belly, I asked Jose if Con and I could buy them a meal. “It’s not done like that here,” he said quietly. The coins we put on the table for our waiter found their way into the pockets of the people waiting. We walked to the bucket of fresh water and it was poured onto our hands for washing. Later, Jose led us through the market and we bought bags of fruit and vegetables. We got back into Jose’s car for the drive back, stopping at a small town just outside Ceuta for Moroccan bread. We returned to Ceuta, just before sun down, well stocked with a few days stock of food, (the Spanish celebrate St. Joseph leading up to Easter and the markets and shops will likely be closed).
March 22 – Jose knocked on our boat yesterday inviting us to join him for another trip across the border, this time to Chefchouen. We quickly agreed. The drive took us through the Rif Mountain range to the blue town of Chefchouen, arriving just as the town was waking up. It’s in the mountains and cooler, crispier air. The three of us sipped coffee in an outside café listening to the merchants opening up their shops. The sounds of doors opening, goods rolled out, quiet chatter, and a few roosters cawing reached us. As the morning fog was lifting, the most incredible blue town emerged. The stone streets and buildings are all painted blue! In fact, it was like being introduced to the colour blue for the first time. Our eyes soaked up so many different hues and shapes. Everything in the medina was artistically displayed. Locals wore traditional clothes, long capes with pointy hoods and curled up toed-shoes. Chefchouen's backdrop is gorgeous and it’s almost like watching nature in slow motion chipping away at the mountain side as crumbling rocks are scattered along the grasses having fallen from the higher lands. Boulders have obviously rolled quite a distance in some cases. And, the green meadows fold into each other leaving a rainbow of green framing the mountain town. This place is awesome, so unique, and will be etched into our brains for the rest of our lives.
Wondering around with Jose was like having a personal guide. He pointed out a Moroccan product in one of the outdoor pharmacies called, “Sahar” in Arabic, and “Huile d’ Argane” in French. It’s an additive to high-end creams and make up, like Clinique and other brand names. Buying it in Europe is very expensive, but I bought 130 ml for under $5 Cnd.
Back aboard, it was Easter morning, and there’s no sign of the Easter Bunny or chocolate eggs in Ceuta. We woke up still feeling spellbound by yesterday's visit to Chefchouen, Morocco.
March 26 -- What a sail! We left Africa (Ceuta) with 20-30 KN beam winds and with the 2 KN current at times soared 10 and 11 knots. Reefing in the sails, we sat cozy in the sunshine on our way to Costas del Sol. Arriving that afternoon in Puerto Banus, I began the procedure of checking in and was quoted 230 euro for the night, and with $1.57 Cnd to 1 euro, I handed back the papers saying, “No thanks.” The office man negotiated another spot for 130 euro, which I also rejected. We needed to stay a week and that’s steep. Climbing back aboard, I called, “Untie us Con, we’re not staying.” No questions asked, Con let the lines go and I motored out as Con set a new route on the GPS. Not much further, we tucked into Puerto de Fuengirola settling in for the weekly cost of 209 euro. To say it’s, “British” is an understatement. You can get, “Bangers and mash on tapas.” It’s a nice marina and a perfect rendezvous location for friends Shirlee and Mark arriving soon.
March 28 -- What once was a series of quaint fishing villages along a beautiful sandy coast called Costas del Sol is now one long line of hotels, condos and shops catering to northern Europeans and British. In 1932, a woman bought a piece of barren hillside near where we are and when asked “What can you plant there?” She said, “Tourists!” Following WWII, Costas del Sol became a magnet for the rich and famous. Rich Arabs brought money in during the 70s oil crisis. Antonio Banderas was born here and lives here with his actress wife Melanie Griffiths, also Bruce Willis and Julio Iglesias have properties here. Jennifer Lopez, Prince Andrew and others visit regularly. This morning, we set off for Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso, just 35 minutes north along the coast by train. Malaga was an escape from the touristy stuff, retaining its Spanish charm.
April 1, 2008 -- Shirlee and Mark arrived healthy and happy from Victoria, BC after 24 hours in transit. Together, we explored Fuengirola, stocked up at the market, and enjoyed a day and a half in the sunshine before our crossing back to Africa. Con announced before departure (April Fool’s Day) that the dolphins were scheduled in the morning and the whales at 3:30 pm. Wouldn't you know, the dolphins came in the morning (and throughout the day) but the whales arrived at 3:10. "Damn whales," Con complained, “you can never rely on them.” Our 13-hour sail was about as smooth as it could get. We sailed most of the way, averaging only about 4 knots as the wind was slight. Shirlee kept her eyes on the water seeking out the dolphins and Mark took up position at the helm, tweaking the sails ever so slightly for perfection. Mark had sailed before and was thrilled to be back on the water learning about our navigation, the equipment and how Big Sky handles. We entered the Cueta marina about 9 pm and set off for tapas.
April 5 -- Thursday, we rented a Ford in Ceuta and the four of us packed a bag for our three days in Morocco. We drove through the patchworks of rolling farmlands and along the hillsides that were cut by gentle streams running through the Rif and Middle Atlas mountains. And again, we were in another world. We passed houses where donkeys were milling olive oil by walking in circles tied to a mill stone as it crushed the olives. Berber women walked along the highway carrying bundles of mint, hunched completely vertical from the waist. Donkeys carry wheat, barley, citrus, cotton, propane cans, often with a man atop it all. A woman usually walked beside with an equal load on her back minus the man. We saw trucks filled two and three times the height of the truck, loaded with brush or things. Almost everything is made by hand and sold locally. The Berber people seem gentle and social with each other and friendly with strangers, but don’t take their picture! Traditional dress is worn everywhere, from the Berber red and white stripped cloth to the kaftans and jalabas. Women wear full burkas or sari-type clothing with their heads wrapped in different coloured tight-to-the head scarves. The Muslims are called to prayer five times a day through loud speakers. We arrived in Volubilis first, which experienced its height in the second and third century. Its main commerce was oil but it also catered to the Roman's taste of wild animals like tigers, elephants, leopards as prestigious pets and in contests in Roman gladiatorial contests. Nearing the end of the day, we entered Fez, the spiritual and cultural centre of Morocco. Fez, a medieval city has the world's oldest, intact, continuously inhabited medinas, which has taken on a few minor changes. Basic electricity and rudimentary plumbing has been added, but not much else.
In Fez, tourists are harassed by locals trying to make a living as tour guides and often trying to take you to carpet shops. We were hot and tired, arrived without a reservation anywhere or a map. We had hoped to stay in a Riad, but where to begin in this huge city. (Riad’s are traditional town houses converted into up-market bed and breakfasts.) I asked Con to pull over, and I jumped out and asked a man for assistance. He immediately called a young guy, maybe 16 on a motorbike to pull over. We had been avoiding the many motorbike guys who were aggressively knocking on our car windows while we were driving. I asked him for directions to a Riad. He didn’t hesitate, opened the back seat and jumped in with Shirlee and Mark, who were not too comfortable with that. He said, “Turn here, right there, around here… park here, I’ll move the donkey.”
Mark and I followed the boy who led us through the maze within the Fez medina. I tried to remember all the turns and twists we made, looking for signs and smells to find our way back. He knocked on a door, and a man in full housecoat-style clothing peeked out a side door looking us up and down, and eventually opened the front door. A price was negotiated, we paid, and made our way back to the car, miraculously finding it.
It was a fabulous Riad, stunning really, colourful with traditional Moroccan antiques and finishings, built in 1344. The owners smiled a lot, didn't speak any English except "welcome" and "thank you."
The Fez medina has 9,000 alleys and lanes that wind through the medina with overlapping souks. It was intimidating wandering too far from our Riad because we could be lost for a lifetime. The next afternoon, we drove to Chefchaouen to share the remarkable mountain village with Shirlee and Mark. Stopping along the roadside, we enjoyed a picnic lunch from the foods we’d bought in the Fez souk.
The four of us checked into a pretty hotel in Chefchaouen – Riad style, and went out for a traditional Moroccan dinner after having filled ourselves up with this unassuming yet effervescent place.
We drove back through the border, and rising early the next morning, by 5 am, we took our exit from Africa on a rough motor-sail to Costas del Sol, aiming for Caleta del Velez for a few days which will allow Mark and Shirlee to visit the Alhambra. Con and I visited the exquisite Moorish palace in 2003 and opted to stay behind to explore Caleta del Valez by bike.
April 9 – We’re currently under sail on a smooth sea, going 9 knots. Yesterday, we set sail from Caleta de Velez, anticipating an overnight sail, but nearing the early evening, the winds dropped off. The Wind Guru promised more wind the next morning, so we made the decision to overnight in Almerimar. Having received an email from friends Bob and Di aboard "Sheer Fantasy" who were there, we were more than happy to take a slight diversion. At 3 a.m., the next morning, untied Big Sky and set off under moderate winds and seas for Cartagena. Our anticipated arrival, 8 pm. Shortly after setting out, Shirlee and Mark went back to bed, then I slipped into our bed for a wonderful sleep. At 8 am, I relieved Con for his much needed sleep. While the men were sound asleep, Shirlee and I sat on the bow visiting with more dolphins that made a slight detour to ride Big Sky's bow. Near Almerimar, the land in every direction is either empty condos or huge greenhouses sprawling along the brown hillsides. We left Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) today, and entered Costa Blanca (White Coast). Parts of the tall hills are white washed from the sun. All was well on the water, a nice change from the rough seas and then 30 minutes out of Cartagena, we spotted a submarine, a popular spot for the because it’s so deep.
April 12 -- A fabulous day on the water today. We headed up the Spanish coast to Denia, just south of Valencia. The past two days we explored Alicante, mooring Big Sky in the Alicante marina -- an expensive marina! Our fees were four times what we paid in Caleta de Velez. Alicante has a magnificent palm-lines mosaic esplanade directly in front of the marina leading right into the old city. We walked a bit further into the old city to the Bull Fighting Area which to Mark’s great disappointment didn’t begin until June. We hiked up the hillside to Castell de Santa Barbara overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on one side, the old city on the other, and the panoramic view of the Spanish mountains in another direction.
Getting here yesterday, Big Sky’s auto pilot was too fickle with the strong winds coming from the stern to keep us on our course making it necessary to hand steer for portion of our 17-hour journey. Once settled in Cartagena, we walked through the town enjoying the Roman ruins and inspecting the major construction taking place restoring them.
We were docked along the peer (left) and bashed against the wall all night. It wasn’t our preferred spot, but the Harbour Master wouldn’t release a different location we asked for. We had all our fenders on that side to protect her. By midday, the wind churned the sea violently, and we saw that part of the beautiful stainless steel rail had bent as a result of the fenders getting caught under the dock. We immediately relocating to another spot, but it was no better. This spot caught the fenders under the rubber teeth and pulled the rubber bumper strip away from the boat. It only took a few hours to create a lot of damage to Big Sky. But worse was the reaction of the marina staff when I raced into the office for help.
I asked again for the spot we originally wanted and he’d refused, but when I explained the damage that was happening, he finally approved. Just as we were untying, I spotted Mark and Shirlee running to the boat, and jumped aboard just before we released from the wall. Big Sky heeled immediately creating great drama as we made our way to the new location. All the while, the marinara were shouting angrily to me not to come into it. I called back that the Harbour Master has approved it. The cross wind was as difficult as the angry men who had now gathered to watch, most shouting to me, “Salir ahora” (leave now!).
I called back, “Hablo con el Harbour Master, dice aqui!" (I talked to the harbour master and he said here.) We came in with a crash, hitting the concrete wall with a crash creating more damage, now to the fibre glass. All the while, nobody would catch a line!
Mark threw the bow lines and someone took them. I threw the stern, still no help, until another person reluctantly tied it on. At that, the marina staff brought more fenders and tied them to the dock. When we were settled, they shook Con’s hand acknowledging their help with a “thanks”. I put my hand, “Gracias" and the man looked at me and refused it.
April 13 -- A few days ago, we crossed the 000 00.000 meridian (longitude). The zero longitude is the Greenwich, England location, but because the Earth is sphere-like, it wow's out and reaches the location we passed. For a moment, part of Big Sky was in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the western hemisphere.
The four of us were sitting in the cafe on the esplanade enjoying the sunshine watching the people walking along. Gypsy women arrived in packs, dressed in long skirts, nice shoes and expensive looking purses, each with compliant toddlers on their hips. They made their way through the tables with their hands out begging for money. One gently smiled at Shirlee to tell her that her sweater was on the ground. Shirlee smiled back and thanked her and by the time she sat back up, the Gypsy woman was near to her face saying aggressively, "MONEY FOR BABY!"
It all became very interesting. We saw that a Gypsy man seemed to be the boss and called them over to him on the grass for a quick meeting. Then the toddlers were switched out to different woman and carried on through their begging routes. The other group went off for ice cream. Their profession is professional beggars, thieves, intimidators, and con artists living tax free in public parks in their caravans. I’m not a great fan.
We made it to Valencia by boat saying “Good-bye” to Shirlee and Mark after three great weeks together aboard.
IN THE NETHERLANDS
April 18 -- We're visiting family for a week while Big Sky is on the hard for maintenance. On our last day in Holland, we biked to Hilversum to buy a few items for Canada, and visited Nomie for tea in the afternoon.
May 1 – Arriving in Canada, we made our way to Carrot River, Saskatchewan to visit Brit, Kris, and 2 ½ month-old Nolan. Driving there is pretty much a straight line, with the exception of two or three bends in the highway. We passed thousands of snow geese along the way.
Brit and Kris hired a “Water Witch” to find water on their property so they could dig a well. For fun, we took a hanger bending it into long willow-like sticks and walked around the property. The hangers crossed every time we crossed over the underground river. Amazing!
May 6 – After a wonderful week with Nolan, we’re back in Calgary with the rest of our family.
May 14 – We were getting anxious to return to Valencia and Big Sky. This week makes one year since we moved aboard. I remember how nervous and inexperienced I was just a year ago, insisting Con and I have a “meeting” before arriving anywhere to ensure everything was coordinated.
May 17 -- Yesterday, the family got together for a barbeque at Nick and Dan's house. Brit and Nolan came into town from Saskatchewan. Lindsey and Courtney met Nolan for the first time.
May 18 – A beautiful warm Calgary spring day, with temperatures in the high 20s. We had Nolan in a snuggly and took long walks with him – our last day in Canada.
BACK ON THE BOAT
May 21 -- Big Sky is just a 6 euro taxi ride from our hotel where we’re staying until Big Sky is returned to the water – likely tomorrow. Our plan is to motor over to the other side of Sagunto (Valencia) to the public marina where we'll roll up our sleeves and apply our "elbow grease" to Big Sky and clean, wax and polish her. The Vulcan Yard's prices were incredibly high, so the decision to do it ourselves was easy.
May 23 -- Big Sky was lowered into the Sea after its final touches from the Vulcan Boat Yard just outside Valencia. Bob and Di from Shear Fantasy are in San Antonio, on the island of Ibiza. We're looking forward to meeting up with them again. A dry powder-dirt has blown all over Big Sky while we were on the hard for a month. Con and I scrubbed the fibre glass and cleaned the teak and the stainless steel this afternoon.
May 24 -- Our plan was to leave the Spanish mainland for Ibiza at 5 am, but around 10 pm last night a massive lightning storm surrounded us. We turned off our power and unplugged from the shore. Big Sky's mast was the tallest structure in the marina and we hoped the lightning didn’t find its way to ground through our mast. Sailboats are built to be grounded through their lead keel which means that if the lightening had struck our mast, it would travel through the keel and into the water, but it usually makes its way through all our electronics too. The storm passed sometime in the night, and so did the anticipated winds. We slept until 8 am then caught a 17-18 knot beam wind across the sea to Ibiza. Dolphins came by for a visit at our bow. At 5 pm, we heard Bob and Di on the VHF welcoming us. They were at anchor. We went into the marina.
May 25 -- The sun is making its entrance today, after a few days of rain and lightning storms. The Sahara Desert sand fills the rain clouds and travel where the wind blows, settling on our clean topsides.
May 27 – Wow! One year today living Con’s dream which is quite possibly the most awesome dream a person could have. We get to learn aspects of our world through our foreign eyes, traveling from country to country tasting new foods, meeting people from everywhere, learning new cultures, already giving us different perspectives on life. What a gift it is. We cherish every day knowing it’s another gift. Our first nautical mile was in Turku, Finland and 6,000 nautical miles and one year later, we’re in Ibiza, Spain. Traveling through countries and their history is like peeling back onion skins revealing the rich civilizations that lie within. We've traveled through delightful coastal towns where generations of the same family have lived, and through international cities where new innovative concepts are taking hold. Walking through the European streets we’re walking over the same cobble stone steps that made the world’s history: Roman Empire, through Renaissance, Enlightenment, WWI and WWII, the fall of the communist blocks, and the creation of the European Union. People speak many different languages.
Our battery charger was hit by lightning in Valencia and now we wait for a mechanic to see what we need to do. He’s the only guy on the island apparently to help us with it.
May 29 -- We visited the old town of Ibiza about 20 minutes by bus from where we're moored in the San Antonio marina – 13 euro per night. Ibiza dates back to the 6th century BC, founded by the Carthaginians. By day, the friendly little town of San Antonio is sleepy; the beaches have a smattering of topless bathers. By night, main street and disco alley comes alive. When we wake up in the morning, young people are stumbling drunk over the sand in their disco outfits.
June 1 – Happy birthday dad, 83 today. Enjoy your visit with Les and Lindsey. I love you!
June 4 -- We've been in San Antonio, Ibiza for 10 days now, about eight days longer than expected. Our new battery charger arrived via Madrid and after great discussions, with our hired electrician it was hooked up. Waiting has been interesting, observing the beached packed with sunburned topless, tattooed Brits.
June 5 – Attempting to pay the electrician was difficult. Both of our TD Visas were rejected as well as my CIBC Visa. The electrician said he’d take a cheque but we didn’t think that would go through, but he felt confident. We pulled in WiFi and contacted the banks since we didn’t have cash for groceries. After plenty of dropped Skype calls, we managed to get our cards working again.
(Six weeks later, the electrician contacted us to say the cheque didn’t go through and we were able to transfer the money electronically.)
June 6 --We left Ibiza expecting calm seas, but you don’t always get what they say – it was rough. We sailed for a short while and then the wind died and we motored to Mallorca. Arriving at the Puerto Andratx harbour hoping for an anchorage we realized it was too confusing to know where we could go. Eventually, we pulled into the marina for 75 euro per night.
June 7 -- We motored 300 meters from the marina and dropped anchor in the beautiful bay – no cost. From our pilot house windows we can see the pretty Spanish village of Andratx, situated in a valley. The hillsides are scattered with expensive homes and we’re surround by mega-yachts. Con inflated the Zodiac (first time since Finland) and we launched it this afternoon. We'll depart for Mallorca tomorrow, the large island, then to Menorca the smallest, and then north of the Gulf of Lion to pick up Nick and Dan in a few weeks. We hope to sail to Corsica.
June 8 -- Arriving in Palma, Mallorca this afternoon, the Harbour Master charged us 10-days’ worth of tax for our one night. We’ve been told about a new illegal tax the Spanish are charging and that we should reject it or leave. The female marinara said, “Yes, it’s crazy that they charge this, but I have to or my boss will take the money from me.”
We made a deal to pay the tax, but she wouldn’t charge us for electricity. We told her three days, and instead of 100 euro, the cost was 195, but we were promised free electricity. If we stay 11 days, the 10-day tax starts all over again. We washed clothes, baked and used as much electricity as we could.
Palma is the capital of the Balearic Islands, and has a population that has been increasing over the past years. It's the 12th largest urban area in Spain.
Checking out, I stood in front of the woman in the office, her boss behind her as she mouthed to me, “Sorry, I have to charge you for the electricity – my boss is here.”
June 10 & 11 -- Happy Birthday Brit and Doug (our daughter and my brother) who share the same birth date, just 20 years and one day apart. Today, we rented a car and traveled along the northern cliff-face of Mallorca which was breathtaking. Tomorrow, we'll take the southern route.
June 13 -- We arrived in a beautiful cala (cove) tucked into the centre of the little town of Ciutadella, Menorca, moored among a few dozen local boats and one Dutch sailing yacht. All around us are the tall medieval walls with fuchsia shrubs growing out from the walls. Directly behind us the wall merges with the medieval castle that becomes the highest point of the town. There's nothing above it but blue skies. We walked to an internet cafe to catch up with family.
June 15 -- Leaving Ciutadella at 9:30 am, we sailed north along Menorca's coast and clipped onto a buoy in a pleasant large cala surrounded by green shrub-covered hills, sandy beach and new tourist condos in Fontanellas.
June 19 -- Nick and Dan arrive tomorrow night! Con and I have scouted out Toulon, an attractive French city where we're moored right in the "Old Dock" beside the pleasant old city. France is wonderful with their to-die-for cheeses, mouth-watering breads, fresh fruits and vegetables, wonderful wines, and a culture not too touched by tourism, but thrives on it. Unfortunately, as beautiful as southern Spain is, it's so spoiled by the influences of European visitors, knocking out some of their culture (except for the bizarre siestas). We sailed/motored for 30 hours, 204 nautical miles, and arrived from Menorca, Spain to Toulon, France. The Bay of Toulon provides an excellent haven against wind and waves and strategic during historic battles. It's been a naval base since the 3rd century during the Roman times. Half of Toulon was bombed during WWII and rebuilt quickly in the early '50's due to housing shortages. The part of the city that was miraculously spared has a wonderful architectural style which is being renovated to attract more tourists.
June 21 -- Nick and Dan flew into Paris last night, took the TGV to Toulon and decided to walk the short distance to Big Sky. Thinking they'd intuitively find us, which they eventually did, because they didn't bring the marina address. We were ready to go to bed assuming they’d taken a hotel that night. Con made one more trip around the promenade hoping to spot them, with no luck, he was cycling back when they saw him and called out.
We spent the next day shopping in fantastic Toulon daily outdoor fresh market, and inside the air conditioned mall, then back aboard for a dip off the back of Big Sky.
It was Mid Summers Day/Night that night, the longest day, shortest night of the year and a good excuse for parties! We celebrated Dan's birthday in the restaurant/bar tonight, watching the Euro Cup, The Netherlands vs Russia and the orange loss. Because we were regulars in that bar, planted in front of the large-screen TV, the owner gave us warning earlier that there would be a big party that night, but that they'd keep the TV on just for us, but no sound.
June 22 -- Despite the prediction for little or no wind, we managed a great sail to our nearly private cove for the night. The water temperature was 25 degrees so spending the afternoon in the water was a relief.
June 23 -- We arrived in St. Tropez, the land of the luxury yachts. Dan was at the helm for most of the day and negotiated us through the St. Tropez marina. We had only planned to spend an afternoon in St. Tropez and since there was no room for us, we turned around and dropped our anchor just outside the marina. The four of us got into the Zodiac and motored into the town for a tour.
June 23-24 -- We pulled up our anchor around 5 pm for our overnight sail to Calvi on the island of Corsica. A few hours into the sail, Con spotted whales a few hundred meters away. A moment later, we saw dolphins swimming quickly in the other direction. About an hour later, Con spotted what appeared to be dorsal finned whales, or was it a shark? He then saw something the size of a dolphin with floppy dorsal fins. The crossing was easy sharing the watch. Arriving in Calvi at sunrise was spectacular. The town is situated on a rocky promontory around a 15th century Genoese citadel dominating the yacht harbour. Massive bastions protect Calvi on all four sides and the land is a sandy 3-mile long shallow water beach. It’s a perfect play area for swimming and hanging out in the 30+ temperatures.
June 25 – Dropping anchor, Con swam to check it and promptly got stung by a jellyfish. It created a red itchy rash on his skin, but you’d never hear him complain. Dan decided to explore the cove by dingy rather than risk being stung too.
June 27 -- Corsica from the water is beautiful, as we sail past the lush green bushes that blanket the reddish granite cliffs that plunge into the blue sea. This peninsula is part of a volcanic complex, with rocks dating back to the Upper Permian era, 248 million years ago. The bottom of the rocks are covered in algae, where sea urchins and anemones and numerous crustaceans flourish. The rugged coastline is a protected reserve, boasting of rare bird species, and 125 species of fish. Enjoying the mountainous terrain and deep gorges, we could see the coast is sparsely populated. The Natural Park Region occupies two thirds of Corsica and a haven for us at anchor. Our generator has been a God-send, providing us short bursts of air conditioning aboard.
We sail short route each day, drop anchor, swim, and enjoy delicious cold meals. Yesterday was a deviation from our schedule though because our hot water hose burst. Steamy water spilled into the bilge and out the starboard side of the boat. Dan and Con located the problem, but unfortunately, it was in a location too difficult to reach. Since the hot water tank doesn't have a shut-off valve, Dan and Con built a make-shift stopper to cut off the hot water. When we’re in Cargese, we'll search for replacement hose and do the repairs again.
June 28 -- We're in Ajaccio, Corsica, the capital and the largest city in Corsica, but a small enough to explore on foot. Handicapped by the heat, we slowly made our way through the city and up the cliffs. Napoleon Bonaparte was born here and the house that once belonged to the Bonaparte family is now restored and open to the public as a museum. It's not too far from the marina, but in the heat, it was a journey.
The hot water hose sprung another leak, and now the prognosis was to replace the entire hose. We purchased the hose and Con and I worked in the engine room, while Nick and Dan worked in the kitchen and in a few hours, the sweaty task was completed.
June 29 -- Our two days in Ajaccio were awesome – but incredibly hot. Con volunteered to pick up the supplies and we left for an anchorage. That night, he made Curry Peanut Butter Banana Soup -- weird I know, but good, made with peanut butter, bananas, chicken, onions, and curry.
June 30 – Bonifacio! Beautiful! A medieval village sits on the top of the cliff above the inlet where the marina sits. Over the past few days, we've been sailing south along the volcanic cliff-side coast watching it change into striking limestone. The coastline has been carved by the sea over time into striking rocky edges and deep grottoes.
July 1 -- This morning, we piled into the Zodiac for a spin around and inside the grottoes. Nick, Con and I hiked up to the top of the medieval town again pictured above). Dan stayed in the cool pilot house working on our computers.
July 2 -- Bonifacio is quite likely one of the prettiest places we’ve visited. Corsica has been a part of France since 1768. Luckily tourism, despite being a major source of income, has not been allowed to take over the island, not even along the coasts. So far, the natural environment and local traditions have been respected. No sprawling high rise resorts are allowed. France declared many parts of the island as Parque Naturel Regions, leaving the land very natural and beautiful.
Nick drove us out of the marina and down the narrow inlet toward our anchorage in Porto Veccio on the east side of Corsica, our last stop before sailing to Italy. Along the way, we dropped the anchor in another stunningly blue and jellyfish-free bay and went for a swim. Water temperature registered 29.9 degrees!
July 4 -- Our 22-hour sail last night from Porto Veccio, Corsica to Rome, Italy was "the best sail we've had in our year at sea," says Con. The wind kept steady on a beam reach from the moment we left Corsica and blew us to Rome six hours sooner than we anticipated! We averaged 7 knots the entire way splitting the watch. We had a great holiday together, and the two left tonight back to Calgary.
July 5 – Now in The Tyrrhenian Sea, the area of the Med roughly including Rome, Naples and southern end of Italy. We're tied up on a wooden dock, part of a Yacht Club, along a canal that flows near the Rome airport. The manager of the club was pleased to see Canadians and told us our first two nights would be free "their compliments," but if we stay three nights, we will have to pay for all three. So far, we've found the prices on food to be much more affordable than what we've been used to. To our great luck, we've discovered that we can purchase an internet access system that uses the cell phone band. So far, we’ve had to have a European address to purchase internet, but we found a pay as you go plan here.
July 6 -- It's summer in Rome! We biked to the beach for a peek at the hordes of people. Every 200 meters or so sections are separated into different named beaches with different coloured umbrellas with access controlled by the restaurants.
July 8 -- The sun is just rising in our anchorage, with a giant red ball filling up the east and instantly warming the boat. We're close to the rocks, listening to the water lapping up at the shore and birds chattering. The water is clear and so very blue. We sailed from Rome yesterday morning, arriving nearly 10 hours later in the bay of a deserted island just north of Rome. While Europe is on vacation, marina fees are on high season and we’re enjoying the peaceful anchorages.
Today, Larry Radu is especially in our thoughts and remembered with love, as it marks his seventh year of passing.
July 10 -- While picking up groceries in Porto Ercole, we spotted two camels eating from the public trees. We motored 17 nautical miles to the island of Gigglio detouring around the rocky shallow ledge and dropped anchor in yet ANOTHER beautiful bay. During the day, six small motor boats entered the bay but left by nightfall. Italians enjoy the water! They're either in the water, on the beach about to go into the water, jumping off their motor boats into the water, kayaking, wind surfing, laser sailing... I guess when the country has so much coastline, why not. Sunday, high winds are expected, so we've made a reservation in a marina. It'll be the 13th of July, and the first marina that we've entered for the month! If you don't make reservations in advance during the summer you're mostly out of luck. Con and I swam to shore, a deceiving distance, which turned out to be 1.4 kilometers. We had to have a snooze after.
July 12 -- We've been hopping from the Italian mainland to the little islands just north of Rome, comfortably anchored in a different spot each night. The mountain sides are lush with cypress trees, wild bushes in full bloom, green shrubs, cactus, and ground cover in full blossoms. The hillsides are dotted with spectacular mansions. The natural beauty of Italy is all around us. Seeing Italy from the coast is a whole other experience, and seeing it from our gorgeous anchorages is breathtaking. The stars are so vivid at night, the Mediterranean inviting in the daytime. In the afternoon, I motored into Porto Stefano, anticipating 30 euro stay at the quay. What a surprise! It was 150 euro. We said, “No grazie” and backed out, went around the corner dropped anchor – no charge. We returned to the 150 euro spot by “Little Sky” (dingy) tied on, explored the town, depositing our garbage at the first bin.
Port Stefano balloons in the summer with Italian tourists and in the winter, it returns to a sleepy fishing village. We read all the menus at all the restaurants along the promenade and up and down the back streets before making our decision that night for dinner. Two times now, (in this city and in Rome) we walked into a restaurant waiting to be seated and the waiters shouted to us "FISH ONLY!" Con both times smiled, nodded waiting to be seated and both times they walked away. Italians are friendly, but odd. Be sure to eat everything on your plate or mama will ask you what was wrong. Last night, to be on the safe side, I wrapped my leftovers in my napkin and tucked it into my purse.
July 13 -- A few days ago, we made the decision to return to Calgary for the summer which will give us a bit of reprieve from the busy Mediterranean, see our kids, and for Con to spend more time with his business. The south wind blew in rain today, filled with the boat with red Sahara Desert sand.
July 14 -- The west wind blew hard today. We were in an awkward situation, needing to get 30 nautical miles south and up a river near Rome to have Big Sky hauled out. We were flying home the day after tomorrow leaving us no time for the bad weather. The sail scared me. Green water washed up and over the boat, waves mounted higher and higher as the day progressed. The destination was now in sight, and Con began a turn toward the mouth of the river – the entrance to take us up to the marina. I pulled out the navigation book to check the depths again, remembering it was shallow when we entered with Nick and Dan. The river flows out meeting with the sea causing great turbulence. The depth is only 3 meters at the mouth, and with 4 meter swells, we could be a meter into the mud trying to enter.
I clambered up to Con telling him to turn away and go to Ostio Marina, just a little further. Con quickly assessed the danger and turned Big Sky away creating a significant heel. Now, lining up for the 45-meter entrance to Ostio, the swells were incredibly large, crashing wildly against the rocky breakwater. We both had life jackets on, and I stood behind Con encouraging him, “Straight ahead, you’re doing it…”
We rode the enormous swells in through the breakwater opening with tremendous speed. A final large wave deposited us too close to the bottom and too close to the beach but just in time, Con turned and throttled back. When riding the wave, Big Sky’s engine made a revving noise as it lifted high, and then the water caught up with our motion rocking side to side like we were shaking something in a jar.
The marina didn’t want us to say, telling us to go out, but we kept saying, “No, too dangerous.” Finally, they allowed us to tie at the concrete wall for the night. Con went to pay, I stayed aboard and to my horror, saw a small head in the massive waves. A 15 or 16-year old boy was attempting to swim through – I think. Why? I kept my eye on him and the opening, knowing that if we came through we’d have split him in half! And then he disappeared. I quickly moved to grab our VHF to call for help when the marinaras passed me racing through the opening and a moment later returned with the kid, depositing him near the shore. He was so exhausted that he couldn’t even climb onto the sand from the knee-deep beach. He flopped on the sand laying there to catch his breath.
Con returned, “The wind will change tomorrow, blowing east, so it will not be a problem getting up the river.” I was doubtful. The Med can change into a lion without much warning.
July 15 -- We made it through the mouth of the river this morning with none of yesterday's excitement. The sea had calmed down and with the changed wind direction, entering was safe and gave us enough depth. It seems we have entered the Bayou. Directly in front of our pier where we’re tied on, big ship is partially submerged. Our lift is for 8 am and we leave for the airport immediately after.
July 16 – First thing this morning, suitcases packed, dressed for the airport, we received word that a boat had “turtled” up the river and that our lift wouldn’t happen today! Con went back to the office to see what other alternatives there were. I volunteered to stay behind, as Con NEEDED to return to his business ASAP. While strategizing what our next move would be, we heard, “Oh Canada, our home and native land,” followed by the Hockey Night in Canada theme being sung by a bunch of guys on a small boat surrounded by old tires. They sped to the pier, climbed out, one got into the lift, and up Big Sky came, and placed on the hard. We thanked them, and got into a taxi. (We booked our return to the water September 4th.)
August IN CANADA
September 3 -- Following six exhausting weeks in Canada for Con, who worked day and night hoping to save his business, we returned to Big Sky. Flying into Rome, we could see some of the islands we'd sailed to a few months before leaving us nostalgic for the carefree lifestyle. When it rains it pours. We'd previously bought four ZOOM AIRLINES tickets for our kids to join us later this month and next, and just learned Zoom Airlines has declared bankruptcy. Con dropped his business for the moment to scramble for new flights for the kids. Meanwhile, I chased Zoom Airlines, which turned into months of chasing, to get our money back. I did.
Our lift back into the water was booked for the morning. Con went to the office. "Oh, the crane operator is on vacation, come back on the 15th."
We had four guests flying in to join us aboard September 9th. The office said, "No problem, tell them to rebook."
Instead, Con negotiated a fee to have the crane operator fly from Sardinia to Rome, drive to the river yard, do the job and return to the island that night. He would arrive September 8th; our guests will arrive the next day!
In the meantime, Con had serious business to tend to in Bologna. We emptied our suitcase, filled another, rented a Fiat, and with sweat dripping off our bodies, began our drive to Bologna. We learned very quickly that in Italy, driving rules are just suggestions. At red lights, we're honked at to go through. Where there are two or three lanes on the highway, cars wander back and forth over the lines and squish sometimes four cars side by side traveling 120 km. They pass on the shoulders, tailgate like their hooked to your bumper, and most inventive parkers.
In Bologna, Con needed to meet with the owners of a compressor company and unfortunately only had a winter suit. The weather was sweltering hot. We packed his shirt, and quickly headed to the mall to buy summer suit pants. We found a nice pair, unfortunately, the tailor couldn’t hem them for a week! We bought an iron, and I used the needle and thread in the hotel room and did the job. Five minutes before the store closed, we slipped back into the store and returned the iron.
Bologna is best known by Italians as having the best food in Italy. Last night, however simple our meal, it was delicious. We had a four cheese pizza made on a crispy flat crust, and really tasty salads. There's a very pleasing medieval centre, made up of tightly knit brick arcades, towers, churches, and palaces. We studied the bronze statue of Neptune, (1566) with water spraying out of just about every orifice. During siesta, Con caught up on jet lag on a park bench, falling asleep. The next morning, he had his meeting while I waited in the shade under a tree. “We’ll see how it goes,” was all he said.
September 5 – We stayed in Florence for the night, one of our favourite Italian cities with Italy’s most famous and beautiful works of art, literature and architecture.
The Piazza della Signoria (1299) is an incredible plaza, the site of many of Florence's remarkable statues, originally created for the ruling city council to address the citizens. The Palazzo Vecchio (1540) behind the statues became home to Grand Duke Cosimo. In the piazza are Michelangelo’s "David" (a copy, as the original is inside to protect it from acid rain), and Bandinelli's "Hercules and Cacus (1534). To David's right Ammannati's "Neptune" apparently ridiculed by Michelangelo.
In 1966, Florence flooded, and this statue was in river water up to the lions' heads. The statue is on the steps to Santa Croce church, (1294) one of Florence's shrines to its great citizens: Galieo, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and others.
September 6 -- Con and I drove from Florence (Firenze) today to visit Lucca as a day trip from our Florence hotel in the Tuscany. Lucca had its day during the medieval period, 14th century from their successful trade in silk. We parked outside the old walls and walked half-way around the tree-lined old centre (about 2 km).
September 7 -- We toured another beautiful Italian city, Siene, driving through the grape vine and olive tree rich Chianti countryside. Siene is said to be Italy's most perfect medieval town and at its centre is the Campo a huge stage for the city is well known annual horse race called the Paslio. At one point along the two lane highway, we had just exited a tunnel with a barrier to our left and another car to our right and another insane motor cycle driver sped past between our car and the barrier, easily going 200 km with a young woman on the back. It left a vacuum of air as it passed us and we watched as the car in front of us was sucked close to the barrier too from the bike's speed.
September 7, 2008 -- Baby Rach arrived -- early! Dexter (Dex) James Rach
Born: September 7, 2008 4 lbs 9 oz.
Our second beautiful grand baby was born to Nick and Dan 1 ½ months early. In a sea of stress with Con’s business and Big Sky getting back into the river on time, Dex’s arrival was a gift.
September 8 – The crane operator arrived from Sardinia, did his task, and Big Sky was back in the water. We motored to Ostio Marina, shopped for groceries and fresh flowers. We were ready for our guests.
September 10 -- Roc, Lori, Brock and Linda arrived yesterday for a week with us on Big Sky. After settling in, we set off for Anzio, and about 30 meters from the breakwater, Big Sky quickly came to a stop. We'd hit a sandbar! Incredibly it wasn't marked on our chart or on the water. Con expertly maneuvered Big Sky around, pivoting on our keel using the bow thruster and diesel we were free. Once Big Sky was pointing south, we continued to the next marina. Roc motored into the marina. This is the town where the Allied forces landed in an attempt to take Monte Cristo from the Germans in WWII. The gravesite of 7,200 Americans are here in Anzio.
September 11 -- Yesterday we were stopped dead in the water by a sandbar and today we were stopped on the water by the Italian Military Police. We had motored for about 20 minutes on our way to the island of Ponze, anticipating a six-hour motor/sail, when we spotted the military police coming up quickly behind us with sirens going. We were told to steer nearly in the opposite direction as they were about to begin their military procedures. About an hour into our new course, we could hear the shells firing. The new direction gave us a great opportunity to give our guests their first experience of sailing. We managed about 5 knots on a beam reach. A few hours into our journey, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and stopped Big Sky for a fabulous swim in the 30 degree Mediterranean. We're tied up in the centre of the little tourist village of Ponze. The six of us enjoyed an evening walking along the waterway, ending the evening at a waterfront table overlooking the harbour eating pizza.
September 12 -- Temperatures are still in the high 20's low 30's and 80 percent humidity, making the air heavy and warm. The blue skies have been replaced with the humid haze giving us a bit of a break from the hot penetrating sun. Schools of dolphins sped past Big Sky, not stopping to play at our bow, perhaps fishing, but definitely on a mission.
September 14 -- Preparing for really rough seas, leaving Ventante, we strapped the security line onto Big Sky's port side and everybody put on their life jackets. We headed out of the marina and almost immediately the white caps smoothed out and the sea was about as tame as it can get. Sailing into the beautiful island town of Ischia, the four of us dropped anchor in the bay under the castello. We got out the snorkels and swam around the boat for the afternoon and enjoyed a fish dinner on the boat. Linda made us all brownies! The rain started and the winds picked up during the night, and the lamb became a lion.
The Castle is 115 meters high, built on volcanic rock. The island is known for its many hydrothermal-mineral basins (hot springs).
September 15 - Italy's notorious Mt. Vesuvius hovers over Naples and from our spot in the marina, its afternoon shadow just about reaches Big Sky. Today, Con and I took a train (about 5 KM) to Ercolano (Herculanoeum) one of the two Roman towns (Pompeii the other) that erupted in 79 AD and buried its inhabitants, actually preserving them deep under the lava and ash. Thousands of years later, Con and I walked down the streets where the people once walked so long ago. We walked into their houses, saw the paintings on their walls, their kitchens, spas, even their preserved small bodies. Amazing! In 63 AD the area experienced an earthquake and 16 years later Mt. Vesuvius imploded. The cone or plug collapsed. Gas, pumice and other debris were released with explosive forces and blotted out the sky. The 2,000 inhabitants of Pompeii were buried. By evening, the volcano's inner walls had collapsed causing more destruction as the volcanic mud engulfed Herculaneum pictured below. Herculaneum was a residential district which remained entombed until the 18th century when excavation began. Naples was build right on top of the city. Visiting the area, you have to walk down about a story or two to reach the ruins. The town has mosaic pavement, paint still on some of the walls, and there are baths, spas, pottery pieces, all still intact.
September 17 -- Linda and Brock left for Canada yesterday, and Roc, Lori, Con and I drove to Paestum to explore the incredibly well-preserved site. There are three almost perfectly preserved Doric temples, widely considered the greatest in the Greek world, finer even than those of Greece. The Temple Neptune above was built in the 5th century BC by a Greek colony, and later absorbed by Romans in 273 BC. Alongside it is the Tempio di Hera. They lay hidden amid the undergrowth for hundreds of years, nearly intact, until its discovery during road building in the 18th century and again during WWII when the Germans were building a plane runway. A stroll along the ancient streets you pass geckos, ants, lizards, and more preserved remnants from the ancient city. We followed it up with a visit to the museum which was excellent!
September 18 – Happy Birthday Lindsey!
Roc and Lori left today.
September 19 -- The natural drinking water in Castellemmare where we're moored in the Golfo del Castellemmare is full of minerals, like spring water. It's not surprising when you consider all the natural springs in this area, remnants from the volcanic eruptions. Italy is cooling a bit, from its 30+ weather, settling around the mid 20's and cooler at night. We're about 30 minutes by subway from Naples, one of the most intriguing cities. It's set against Mt. Vesuvius, filled with Italian character from pizza, archeology, churches, castle, plaza's, the Duomo, works of art, markets, traffic and crime -- lots of it. It's likely one of the most dangerous cities for tourists in terms of pick pockets. I twist tie my purse zipper and Con tucks his wallet deep in his leg zipper pocket.
September 20 -- Tomorrow, Lindsey and Les arrive from Calgary! Today, we took a ride up the incredibly steep gondola to Mt. Inice and took in the breathtaking view of the Bay of Naples. Up the coast are the picturesque towns surrounding Naples which is further to the right out of sight. Castellemmare has an odd tradition of setting off fireworks -- day and night. It started around 9 am yesterday and continued through the night, the last ones I heard were at 3 am. These are the fireworks that professionals launch from behind steel protection in North America. Amateur set them off anywhere, with particles falling on everyone and everything. Good thing it rained in the night, to put any smoldering remains out. These works are the kind stuffed into basketballs and shot off like a bomb with the sky lighting up. Why they do it in the daytime baffles us.
September 21 -- We collected Lindsey and Les from the Naples airport, arriving with a back pack each, ready for Big Sky adventure. Despite Lindsey's lack of sleep, she's always ready for action. We climbed aboard the train from the Naples airport. Her positive energy left her glowing and everyone around her.
September 22 -- Rising early, we headed off to the ancient city of Pompeii, just four stops from our marina by train. In the early hours of the afternoon, August 24th, 79 A.D., the summit of Vesuvius exploded spilling a river of ash and lava from the crater through the city. Pompeii was immediately buried under six or seven metres of earth. It wasn't until 1700 years later that while building a tunnel that by chance Pompeii was discovered. The first explorations began in 1748. Incredibly, people, houses, painting (as above) temples, amphitheaters, forums, and a great wall surrounding the city emerged.
September 23 -- No rest for the jet lagged, we caught a 7:15 am train to Naples, and then a passenger train to Rome, returning to Big Sky that evening. We purchased all-day bus tickets, and toured St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City that morning. The Basilica Di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica) is the largest church in Christendom, able to accommodate 60,000 people! It represents the heart of the Roman Catholicism and people make pilgrimages to this church from around the world.
The statue of Peter the Apostle, who became the first Pope is believed to be buried there after his crucifixion around 64 AD. A shrine was built around 155 AD becoming the first church on this site, surviving until 1452 when the Pope began construction of this basilica. It took 200 years to complete. After many alterations, Michelangelo in 1546, was appointed to make sense of the project. He painted the famous Sistine Chapel which tells the story of Genesis and the history of humanity from the 1st Testament before Christ. It took him four years of painting from a cramped position on his back. He was in his 70's at the time. It was too crowded for us to go into the Sistine Chapel.
We carried on to the Piazza Navona for lunch. One of Rome's prettiest squares with the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and Sant-Agnese fountains. Later we walked to the Pantheon, built in 128 AD, still used as a church and listened to a latin choir. We boarded a city bus for the Foro Romano and the Colosseum. After walking our feet off, we headed back to the train for Naples, then another train for Casstellemarre. What a fantastic day!
September 24 -- We set off on our first sail today, leaving Castlellemarre for Amalfi, a five-hour motor sail with the wind pushing us from the stern. We passed Capri, avoiding a stay there, as we were told the cost was 150 euro per HOUR! Rounding the corner, we followed the Amalfi Coast to the town of Amalfi and tied up just before the dark sky and wind gusts. The drinking water here tastes wonderful, so we emptied our 1600 liters from Castlellemarre and filled the tanks with Amalfi water.
September 26 -- Leaving Amalfi on a good beam reach sail, we arrived six hours later in a pleasant not-so-touristy place called Acciaroli. On the way, Les set up the fishing rod in the hopes of catching dinner for us, but Big Sky was averaging 7 knot speeds - too fast for fishing. Getting into Acciaroli in the afternoon, we were really nervous about the silting in the entrance. Con took it very slowly, and sure enough, we hit the bottom sandy silt. Locals waved us further starboard and we managed to safely tie up at the harbour entrance. About 10 minutes later, this dredger showed up! They spent the rest of the afternoon dredging the very spot that we'd hit. Acciaroli is a sleepy by pretty fishing village, apparently a favorite of Hemmingway's.
September 28 -- We set off around noon yesterday for our overnight sail past the active volcano Mt. Stromboli to the island of Lipari, part of the Aeolian Triangle of islands. There wasn't much wind, but plenty of sunshine, so midday we stopped for a dip in the 27 degree sea. Underway overnight, by 4:30 am we were less than a kilometer from Mt. Stromboli and stopped the boat to watch the burning lava spew from the top of the volcano. It erupts four times an hour. It was awesome. As dawn was breaking, Les and Lindsey on shift, the boat suddenly died. We couldn't go forward or in reverse. Con woke, assessed the problem, put on his trunks and dove below immediately seeing the problem -- a huge thick plastic was wrapped around the prop. After a number of attempts with a fishing knife, Con cut us free and we continued to the town of Pignataro. Exhausted from our 20 hour trek, 107 NM, Les organized our fishing tackle and he and Lindsey lazed on the bow of Big Sky experimenting with cheese and prosciutto for fish bate on the end of the rod. They had a few bites, but no takers. There are plenty of "Bermuda Triangle" stories in the Aeolian Triangle (Aeolian, the God of the Winds). Sudden gale force winds come up without warning and some mariners have come to grief.
September 29 -- The wind was perfect when we left the island of Lipari for Riposto, but lasted less than an hour for our 11-hour trip. Just entering the Strait of Messina, we passed the massive-sized Queen Victoria cruise ship. A month earlier, we watched the building of it, which fascinated us and there it was 200 meters from us. Lots of dolphins passed us today.
October 1 -- With just a few days remaining with Les and Lindsey, we decided to head to Catania, just 20 nautical miles from Riposto, so they're all set for their flight home on Friday. Catania is a very large city, much different than the small towns and cities we've been visiting. Tomorrow, we'll rent a car and tour the entire Sicilian coast from Catania to Taomina.
October 2 -- It's Les and Lindsey's last full day; Courtney and Mike arrive tomorrow (on the same British Airways plane they leave on. Together, we've toured Pompeii, Rome, Naples, Cassellemarre, Amalfi, Acciaroli, Pignataro, Riposto, Catania and Taomina.
We've experienced erupting volcanoes, drove up Mt. Etna, taken an overnight sail, spotted dolphins, swam in the Mediterranean, fouled the prop, ran a ground, tried fishing, enjoyed delicious experimental meals, and ended the days in rousing card games. We've had a great 10 days together. We had beautiful calm seas and for the most part sunny weather.
October 4 -- HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY COURTNEY! Yesterday, the British Airways flight brought Courtney and Mike to us. Letting them adjust to the jet lag, we wandered around the giant-sized Saturday market buying various fun stuff, fruits and veggies. We made reservations at a nice restaurant for 8 pm and pre-ordered a Sicilian birthday cake for Courtney. Tomorrow, we set sail for Syracuse, nearing the south end of Sicily.
October 6 -- We had our first sail yesterday, from Catania to Syracuse. The wind was almost perfect, except for a short lull, so we took in the sails and Mike dove in for their first swim in the Mediterranean.
October 7 – Con and I put on at least 10 km on our feet today, walking all over Syracuse. Courtney and Mike decided it was too ambitious and opted out. We walked to the Roman Amphitheatre, the largest building of this kind in Sicily, dating to the first century BC. It was built on a grand scale, largely by carving it out of the living rock. Similar to the Rome Coliseum, it was used for circuses and gladiatorial shows. On our walk to the archaeological area, we passed people playing kayak polo. By the time we finished shopping at the Carrefour we had little energy to walk to back to Big Sky, let alone the bus stop. Con stuck out his thumb, and the fourth car stopped and drove us all the way back to our marina. He only spoke Italian and all we could say to him was "grazia, grazia."
October 9 -- A heavy weather system hung over Big Sky in Riposto last night while we were tucked inside playing Hearts. In the Riposto marina, on a clear night, you can see the lava flowing from Mt. Etna. With last night's heavy rain, Con feared that Mt. Etna's fires may be extinguished, which could really put a "damper" on tourism here. The lightning was cracking and booming overhead. Just before we bed, the clouds lifted around Mt. Etna and we clearly saw the lava flow like a river down the mountainside. We were in awe at nature's rawness as we took turns viewing it with the binoculars. Earlier in the day, we motored toward Taormina hoping to play in the water, but the weather system returned and surrounded us, so we turned Big Sky around and came back to Riposto. We stood high, looking at the island with an eclectic house on it. Apparently, it's where Jackie O spent each August.
October 11 -- On our four-hour sail to Messina, we stopped under the Taormina cliffs to picnic and have a swim. The water was 24 degrees, 6-7 degrees cooler than Corsica when we were there. The water was clear and NO JELLYFISH! Messina lies in a high earthquake prone area and has suffered plenty of them. In 1908, an earthquake nearly flattened Messina and to add misery, it was followed by a tidal wave. In WWII, it was inflicted with more hard blows. Since then, the buildings have been built to withstand earthquakes and has become a modern city, restored to its former splendor.
October 13 -- On our way to Cefalu this afternoon, we spotted a group of dolphins feeding on a school of fish. They were twisting as they jumped to catch them. What they missed, the birds snatched up. One dolphin took a moment from the hunt to swim at our bow. He came for about a minute, turning upside down to look at us looking at him at our bow.
We had planned to stay at a small marina half way to our destination today as sea sickness had been getting the better of Mike and Courtney. The plan was that they'd take a train in the morning, and Con and I would sail to Cefalu and we'd meet up there. After negotiating the really shallow marina, we carefully motored up to our designated spot. The marina guy motioned for us to go in stern first. Con continued to go bow first as I called to the man that "it's not possible." The man used very expressive Italian words and plenty of hand motions for us to “Go!” Well, since it was a lovely day with smooth seas, we left.
October 15 -- We set four alarms to ensure we were up at 5:30 to get Courtney and Mike to the Cefalu train station. After two weeks aboard Big Sky, they were leaving on the 7:18 train for Catania and for their flight home. We started our holiday together in Catania, Sicily and sailed to Syracuse, then north to Riposo seeing the hot lava burning down Mt. Etna. We sailed on to Messina, then through the famous Strait to Porto Rosa and ended the trek in the pretty medieval town of Cefalu, built on the rocks on top of an ancient Greek settlement. Yesterday, we motored by dingy to the grotto and swam in the 26 degree water.
October 19 -- Geert, Loes and Albertine arrived from The Netherlands yesterday, but not their suitcases. Geert and Albertine took the bus back to the airport in the hopes that they'd locate the bags in person, as there was no progress by phone. It appears at this point, that no one knows where they are. They'd packed a huge piece of Gouda cheese, Dutch peanut butter (the best), and other goodies, to which Con and I are heavily disappointed that they've gone missing. However, we did express our empathy and offered shorts and t-shirts. We've set off for Cefalu again, going east across the top of Sicily and will make our way back through the Strait of Messina and south. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of wind, so our tentative plan to sail to Sardinia, Tunisia, or Malta has been postponed.
October 20 -- Con and Albertine hiked up to the Temple of Diana, a half-day trek and came back with fabulous photos of the marina and the town of Cefalu. The centre of the city is an enormous church, with the old city making a semi-circle around it reaching to the sea. All the streets are built with cobble stones.
October 23 -- We're back in the Aeolian Islands, arriving at the Island of Lipari in calm seas. The moment we tied up, the surges began and Big Sky was lifting and crashing down on the water with great force throughout the night. By morning, the sea was calm again, so we filled up with more food supplies, diesel (still no wind for sailing) and motored to Stromboli, anchoring below the volcano. By day, the volcano roars while smoke and lava spew out of its top every 15 minutes and only by night can the red hot lava be seen. Our guests haven't seen this yet, an amazing sight which we saw a few weeks ago with Les and Lindsey. Early in the morning, before dawn, we'll pull up anchor and move to the north side of the volcano for the best show.
October 24 -- We latched onto a strong mooring line in 11 meters of water at the base of the active Volcano, Stromboli as the waves tossed us unmercifully throughout the night. There's no suitable anchorage on the northwest side of the island, the best place to view the lava bursts, so we rose at 4:30 and motored over. It really is spectacular and seeing it again was like seeing it for the first time. Every so many minutes the lava bursts through the top and lights the sky. If you go to Google Earth and type: Stromboli, Italy you can view the volcano from the satellite image. Geert and Con took the watch and the rest of us went back to bed. I woke to the sound of water sloshing in the ensuite bathroom. The hot water hose burst again! We knew that this final piece of the hose needed to be replaced, so the break came as no surprise, it was just awkward. While underway, Con, with his head and body contorted under the bathroom console and with me balancing the flashlight and various tools for him, he cut the burst hose and within the hour we were back in business again. Last year, when we traveled with Lindsey and Courtney, the hot water hose burst behind the front toilet, then this past July with Nick and Dan, it burst under the lower eating sate in the centre of the boat. We'll place an order for replacement hose from the internet and get to that chore when it arrives.
October 26 -- Geert, Loes and Albertine visited Taomina and area with a rented car yesterday. Con and I stayed behind to inquire about Riposto as a possible winter spot for Big Sky. We're still contemplating our options. Today we set off to attempt (for the second time for Con and me) to peer into the bowels of the Earth (Mt. Etna's crater). The rain was relentless, so much so, that once we reached the 1,800 meters, the four-wheel drive vehicles that would have taken us further had stopped running. On foot we did the final 1000 meters (straight up). The higher we climbed, the less visibility we had, so unfortunately, we made the decision to return down the hill and visit Catania. Driving downhill toward Catania, the rain was washing down the roads like a river. Again, thwarted, we decided the best plan was to return to Big Sky and have a game of cards.
October 30 -- Leaving the pretty town of Syracuse at 7 am heading west anticipating an eight-hour sail, we arrived in Sciacca 28 hours later! Our planned route west was to Agriegento, also known as the Valley of the Temples. Architectural remains of the ancient city are scattered over this valley which the Sicilians consider quite fairylike because of the contrasts of the sea, flowers, sun and temples. Our sail was to be done in two days, but arriving at our planned half-way marina, we learned that it had silted to 1 meter (Big Sky is 2.1) so there was no way Big Sky could enter. Our motor-sail had been nine hours at that point. Consulting our GPS we realized that our next stop would be a marina just below the town of Agriegento, another 15-hours over-night sail. During my shift, I laid down on the cockpit cushions with the binoculars taking in all the stars. The night was fresh, the air comfortable, but not the sea, it was very rough. I saw a falling star that burned a lime green on its descent to Earth. There was not another ship in sight for as far as I checked on our radar (24 NM). The wind started to change signalling a storm Con suggested. Sure enough, the sky filled with sheet lightning and continued throughout the night. Arriving at Agrigento at 6:30 am, we realized with disappointment that the marina was not pleasant. There was enough depth, so tied onto a floating pier, but no access to shore. We turned the generator to make breakfast and afterward left for Sciacca, hoping for something better.
November 1 -- Geert, Loes and Albertine left this morning returning to The Netherlands after two weeks touring Sicily with us. Yesterday, we had a fabulous day in Agrigento, the old city which makes the backdrop for the ancient Greco-Roman city. With warm sunshine smiling on us we walked through the interesting Valley of the Temples. The ancient town and nine temples are well preserved for their 2,590 years. The city was founded in 582 B.C. by pioneers from the Greek Island, Rhodes. Earthquakes over the years took much of the city out, but the worst damage was done by early Christian settlers who deliberately vandalized the temples. They spared this one pictured above (Temple di Concordia) and converted it to a church in the sixth century. This fantastic Doric temple is the finest in Sicily and second only to the Thesion temple in Athens. The Greek architecture is everywhere, with old gnarly olive trees are growing in groves throughout the valley.
Con and I invested All Saints Day (November 1st) getting ready to cross to Tunisia. We deflated “Little Sky” and stored her in the garage, washed all the bedding, filled up the water, and replenished the cupboards with fresh foods. We plan to leave by 7 am.
November 2 & 3 -- The wind finally came to Sicily after our two-week wait and did it arrive! It was blowing up to 50 NM in the marina in Sciacca, on the west side of Sicily, the night before we left for Panteliea, a small town on an island half way to Tunisia. We arrived in record time, averaging 7.4 NM, which is excellent on 20 - 22 knot winds on the beam. This afternoon, we sailed into Kelibia, Tunisia, and were quickly greeted by the friendly Customs and Immigration, who took a thorough walk-through and look-through every nook and cranny on Big Sky. Con opened every drawer, cupboard, closet, whatever they knock on and once satisfied, asked for souvenirs. They wanted our flashlights, but Con said, “No.” We settled on Lindt chocolate bars. They would have wanted whiskey because it’s very expensive there and quite likely there’s a black market for it, but we didn’t have any.
November 4 -- It's a bleak day in Kelibia, with the wind blowing the Sahara Desert over everything; you can taste the red sand. About 2 am I scurried outside to reposition our fenders. We were pushing hard against a concrete wall with the weight of another weather-beaten sail boat that had arrived in the night and tied up on our port cleats. The man from the sail boat, and Sammy, the marinara helped me with the fenders, nearly losing one of them. Con slept soundly.
Shocked at what we thought was the cost to tie on the rickety pier, Con tried to negotiate a better price. The Harbour Master said, 39 euro, but with the Tunisian currency changing its currency there was an extra “0” accidentally written down. Our cost: 3.90 euro per night. Tunisia is a land of many contrasts to our "norms." It's an Islamic country, so the call to prayer is five times a day. Men and women are very affectionate with each other. Men greet with a high-five turning into a firm hand shake, followed by four-cheek kisses. It's not uncommon to see a man sitting on another's lap arm around his shoulder drinking coffee. The people wear jeans and stylish ones, good quality shoes, sweaters, and some wear the traditional clothing -- kaftans. The roads are filled with taxis, female passengers on motorcycles ride side-saddle, donkeys, motorized caterpillars and tractors, and Mercedes. Riding in the $1 CND equivalent taxi to town, it's common to share it with anyone else along the way. Young school teens joined us and right away they offered us candy before helping themselves. The outdoor coffee shop tables are filled with men-only, most playing cards and drinking coffee. No beggars, no Gypsies, we haven't seen another foreigner in town (except for the French people on the boat beside us). I'm the only blond around.
November 6 -- Leaving Kelibia in the morning, with thunder heads just behind us, it took no time for them to catch us. Rain pelted down, lightning cracked overhead, Con caught a water spout (tornado) on the water in the distant, and about 15 minutes before arriving in Yasmine Hammamet, the sun came out again. A week ago, a tornado touched down causing havoc in the yard. Hammamet is a popular all-inclusive resort area for Europeans, boasting the best beaches in Tunisia.
A little brief about Tunisia: The people in Tunisia speak French and Arabic. They were occupied by France until 1956 when they won their independence. Their government is president-elected and based on French and Islamic law. There are seven political parties in Tunisia. Islamic groups have been eliminated from the political life of the country, which means that politics cannot be religious or ethnic based. The Berbers are the indigenous (non-Arab) people of North Africa and have inhabited the region from 4000 BC surviving as nomads. You recognize them from their decorative red and white striped clothes and painted faces. The Tunisian women living in the cities experience far greater freedom in Tunisia than in any other Muslim country. Polygamy, divorce by renunciation is banned and the hijab (veil) is not allowed in the schools, however, it is traditional for Tunisian women to cover their heads. Women are ensured education and equal pay and more women are getting educated and taking on professional roles. However, in the rural areas, it's very common for the women to hand over all her pay to her husband, or if there's no husband to put it into a dowry for their future husband. Seeing a Tunisian women socializing in a cafe is uncommon, as pipe-smoking, card playing men are generally dominating that domain.
November 10 -- We're in Monastir, crossing our fingers for a spot for winter. It's a short walk to the Ribat, to the local medina, and fresh markets. Yesterday in the Ribat, a film crew was filming a movie called "Walking with Jesus." It was cool watching how they set the scenes, filming small pieces here and there. It gives a great appreciation for editors and directors’ organizational skills.
Walking through the medina this afternoon, the call to prayer began from one of the many minarets filling the streets with speed walkers (men) heading to the Mosque, kicking off their shoes outside before entering. Peeking in the doorway, they faced east and prayed. Along the street, a man was spinning elastic, beside him men were working on motorcycle transmissions, and beside them, haircuts for 5 dinars.
November 11 -- GREAT NEWS once again, for our little family. Courtney and Mike are expecting a baby girl mid May! Nine months ago, Nolan was born to Brit and Kris, then in September, Nick and Dan's baby Dex arrived --early, and in about six months, we'll have our first girl.
November 12 -- Today, we checked out the prices of the Monastir Harbour to lift Big Sky out of the water for our return to Canada and also to have some work done on her. Prices are excellent. It's a funny country. We can get a contract for someone to wash the boat for $4 Canadian per hour but buy a Lindl chocolate bar, and it's $5 Canadian. Don't even think about a bottle of vodka, as it's nearly $200 Canadian!
November 15 -- We learned of Gordon Radu's passing yesterday, November 14th, at the age of 89. Gordon is my daughters' grandpa and father of my Larry, who died 7 ½ years ago. Gordon is pictured seated beside his wife Norena in our kitchen few years ago, with my mom and dad. Gordon was loved by so many and will be greatly missed.
November 16 -- Another sunny day in Tunisia! It's hard thinking about returning to snow-covered Calgary. We picked up fresh food from the market and took it to a social barbecue that live-aboards hold every Sunday. Almost everyone speaks French. It's funny how much you can understand when you listen and watch body language.
November 18 -- A major storm circled Monastir last night, as the sky went from dark to black with vertical exploding clouds billowing above and lightning surrounding us. Good thing we're having Big Sky lifted out, as the generally calm marina water had a lot of motion creating strain on the ropes. We picked up small red fish from the open market and enjoyed a fish-fry lunch accompanied by couscous and green peppers. We've been preparing Tunisian foods aboard, for instance the Tunisian Briks.
November 20 -- We've decided to keep Big Sky in the Monastir marina for the months that we're returning to Canada rather than lift her. We're excited to meet Dex, our new grandson, and see how Nolan, our first grandson has grown. He's just starting to walk. We'll watch Courtney's belly grow, as she's expecting our third grandchild in six months.
December 4 -- Winter in Calgary is expressing itself with cold weather, registering -16 C. Meanwhile, Big Sky is experiencing the winter Sahara Desert sand storms. We wrapped the big blue tarp around her before leaving. Our spirits are filled with “family” an awesome feeling. Three of our four daughters live in Alberta. We've bunked into Nick and Dan’s as our house is leased. Dex is adorable. Courtney, now four-months pregnant looks like she swallowed a walnut. Lindsey and Les are healthy and happy.
December 14 -- Our family celebrated Christmas and my birthday yesterday with a brunch at Lindsey's house. What a blast! We all brought a dish, making it a pot luck Christmas, and everybody had just one name they were buying for, simplifying the gift giving and adding to the fun.
December 23 – We divided the drive Carrot River into two days, stopping in Rosetown overnight. We’ll enjoy Christmas with Brit and Kris, baby Nolan, and step grandkids Torri and Kolton in the -35 C winter weather.
December 31 -- We had planned to babysit Dex while Nick and Dan took in the Flames vs Oiler Hockey game last night. Unfortunately, they were weather delayed on the TransCanada Highway so Con and I were able to use their tickets. It was an awesome night, with the Flames winning 6 - 3.
Photos from Chefchaoun