Tuesday, 8 January 2019

An Epiphany Farewell

Here in France, the religious holiday Epiphany has been secularised and is now a month-long celebration that involves eating way too many rich flakey frangipani cakes with friends to wish each other health, happiness, and prosperity for the coming year, happiness being the only wish actually facilitated by eating these cakes. Buzzed by the sugar and anaesthetised by the butter (with a bit of help from the champagne), we recklessly announce our New Year’s resolutions, confident that no one will remember any of it in the morning.

But I distinctly remember saying that I would (a) try to do more things with my left hand, (b) wear more green, and (c) stop blogging.

As with a and b, an end to blogging has been on my mind for awhile and the time seems right to call it quits. We began blogging as a way to keep our nervous friends and families informed of where we were and what we were doing, and to have a sort of scrapbook of memories for ourselves later on. But blogging, even the minimal efforts provided here, takes a toll, especially if you are trying to keep things up to date while you’re actually out there sailing. Many times, it is sheer drudgery to produce something, and the friends and family are informed of our progress through more timely means anyway.

As I plan next year’s cruise, I realize that the resources I use most are sailing community sites like Noonsite (https://www.noonsite.com/) or Navily (https://www.navily.com/), not other people’s blogs. I think my time would be better spent contributing to those sites rather than producing our own blog. I also have become buried under thousands of photos from our adventures (mercifully in digital form) that need cataloguing, editing, and curating into coherent memoirs, all of which takes a lot of time.

Blogging has introduced me to some amazing people who have become friends, both virtual and real, and it’s a strange and heart-warming experience to have people come up to the boat and say “hey, are you the people with the blog?

Blog statistics tell me that the top stories people access are: Lewmar Wavegrip Winch Maintenance (we no longer have Lewmar winches), NASA Clipper Duet Depth Tranducer, Parts 1 and 2 (we no longer have Clipper electronics), Harken Winch Maintenance, and the post on our gennaker, The Code D, Demystified: Part 1 (for which there is no part 2). It makes me a little queasy to think that people are coming here for technical advice.

And yes, I admit I have been seduced by the dark side - the fast, slick ease of posting to Facebook has won me over. “Never complain, never explain” is all I have to say about that.

When we left work to start sailing almost 10 years ago now, we didn’t know how far we would go or for how long. We now know that our adventures on Mareda will probably end in the Mediterranean after exploring the Adriatic, Greece, and Turkey (which, mind you, could take years). Patrick recently said to me, “Wait a minute. You’re the one who does all the cruise planning. We’re never actually getting to Greece, are we?” We’ll see about that.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Thankful for Autumn Cruising

Just in time for thanksgiving, I’m grateful to friends who invited us to spend a few days sailing out to our beautiful islands -

for the friendship and laughter,
for gentle winds, calm seas and autumn sun shining through cool mist,
for the hike along coastal dunes and untouched beaches at sunset,
and the game of petanque and beer at La Trinquette,
for France’s cutest boat dog Nuskha,
and the cheerful salon of the good ship Gudhull with ample room for 7 boisterous sailors wearing multiple layers of clothes and flaming bananas in rhum in perfect security.

For the gentle motion of the boat lulling us to sleep and the soft creaking of wet wood and stretching dock lines, and the moon whose light traces an arc through the cabin that progresses with the night, and the sky full of stars that accompanies a wee-hour pee.

For the fishermen whose engines sputter to life an hour before sunrise and the gulls welcoming the day.

For the smell of strong coffee that hangs in the morning dampness, and for freshly burnt toast.

For our neighbouring boat that shared their catch of squid with us, and the anxiety-filled entertainment offered by the massive conger eels swirling around our feet, snapping up the waste as we cleaned the squid for our dinner.

For a calm anchorage nestled in a rugged coastline that welcomed us for a lunch break and siesta while waiting for the tide to turn.

And most of all, I’m grateful to have found so many kindred spirits who share my never-fading fascination with the sea and boat life. Merci, les amis. Merci.


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Cruising Season 2018 Wrap-up

Basic stats:
Days on boat: 146
Distance covered: 760 nautical miles
Countries visited: France (Corsica), Italy (Elbe, Sardinia, Egadi Islands, Sicily)
Nights at anchor: 73
Average cost per night: 23 Euros
Motor hours: 100
Sailing vs Motoring: 50% (but most of the motoring was actually motor sailing with the motor purring along gently at 1500 rpms or less)

We are getting better at predicting what awaits us each year. The expectations for 2018 that were NOT true were:

1) Crowded and expensive ports in southern Corsica and northeast Sardinia: We simply avoided them. We only had one port in La Maddalena that was pricey, but given that it was in the center of town during June and there was a gale blowing, we felt it was worth it.

2) Using a line ashore to keep from swinging in narrow anchorages: All of the anchorages were large enough that you didn’t need a line ashore. I’m sure we won’t get away with this for much longer.

3) Transportation headaches: While the distance from our winter port to the nearest airport was greater than in previous years, the transportation system was direct and smooth between Licata and Catania. We left a couple of days early to visit Catania before flying home so we didn’t feel rushed.

Honestly, it didn't FEEL this crowded...

  • Dreamy anchorages everywhere from Elbe island to Sicily, with crystal clear turquoise waters averaging 29 C (84 F).
  • Great snorkelling.
  • Lots of time anchored out instead of in ports.
  • Fantastic weather (except for the stormy period at the end of August, as usual)
  • Cultural / historical visits: Elbe (Napoleon), La Maddalena (Garibaldi), Nuraghe settlements in Sardinia, Greek-Phoenician-Roman-Visigoth-Moor settlements near Cagliari, Cave paintings in Levanzo (Egadi Islands) from 12000 BCE, and Greek ruins at Selinunte and the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento in Sicily. We also enjoyed the big cities (Cagliari, Trapani, Palermo, Catania) and many of the smaller towns (particularly liked Marzara del Vallo in Sicily).
  • Italian food and wine, although I have to admit that by the end of the season I was ready for a break from pasta.
  • And as always, one of the biggest pleasures of cruising is meeting up with old friends and making new ones. We also particularly enjoyed the community atmosphere in Licata with so many live aboards wintering over here. I really hated leaving and may head back later this winter or early spring when I get too boat sick to be civil staying at home. (Patrick would say that time is now, but I still have things to do here first...).

  • Dragging at anchor and calling for a tow (in italian) 
  • Patrick’s cracked tooth in a tiny Sardinian town on the 15th of August (biggest vacation period of the year when no one works and everything shuts down)
  • A cascade of toilet problems at the end of the cruise.
  • Bad non-potable water (all over Sardinia and Sicily) and contaminated tanks.

Because of health problems, we got a late start on the sailing season and took it very easy this year. We sailed fewer miles than usual and enjoyed the pace, especially because it allowed us to spend many days enjoying beautiful anchorages with no urge to move on until the weather pushed us along. This season gave us a little bit of everything that you want out of Med sailing.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Greek Ruins and Turkish Steps

Our last days in Sicily were filled with cultural visits, most notably, the valley of the temples in Agrigento and the so-called Turkish steps, a natural formation of blinding white limestone cliffs rising from a turquoise bay where the Moors supposedly anchored their ships, climbing the steps to raid nearby villages.

Back in Brittany, re-adjusting to house living is still in progress.  The kitchen organization continues to baffle me and it seems that many of our most useful gadgets are on the boat. I've had to get used to wearing shoes again after 5 months and wonder where all of my socks are hiding.  I still feel like I'm in someone else's home. I tiptoe around trying not to disturb things, my inner voice making snide remarks about the owner's slovenliness and lack of taste.  I finally got batteries put back in the barometer / weather station, whose vigilant watch on the weather situation around me comforts me for no good reason.  The nights are too quiet, too still, too long. 

It's been great catching up with friends and family, though, and I'm slowly getting back to running and biking on our beautiful coastal trails.  I have a lot of homework to do preparing next year's cruising and I look forward to diving in to that.

Atlas pilar

Goddess Heads

Egyptian god Bes, a protective deity of joy, dance, sleep, and womanly matters.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Winter Port, Licata

We left Mareda in Licata’s Cala del Sole marina yesterday, tied down (I think) for the winter. A few days before we left, a gale blew through the marina with 50 knot gusts and Mareda rode it out smoothly without touching either of the neighbouring boats or the dock, and without too much whining from the springs.

This is the first time we have left the boat in a marina that has a large winter live-aboard community and the atmosphere was friendly and festive. We were sad to leave (more so than usual) and I think I have convinced Patrick that, although Mareda seemed to be tied down well for the winter, we really should head back to check up on her in February.

The re-entry to home life has not been as bad as usual this year, since the Brittany drought mercifully stunted the grass and shrubs, making our hacking-through-the-jungle routine a bit easier. I still have ethical problems with weeding - racism in my opinion, punishing the evolutionary winners, etc. - but Patrick wasn’t buying my philosophical musings and told me to get back to work. I also have problems dislodging the spiders (some quite large and beautiful), since I happen to like spiders and, truth be told, they live here more than we do.

As ever, the mail was stuffed with flyers from real-estate agencies wanting to sell our abandoned house for us. We are still getting used to the house again, trying to remember where we put things and why (the kitchen baffles me for days). I was very happy to be reunited with my bike, unlimited internet, and flush toilets, and we are both thrilled to be eating french food again. We were very disappointed with the bread in Italy, so walking into our neighbourhood bakery this morning was a wonderful welcome home.

And before the dust settles, we are off to Paris at the end of the week and Bordeaux the following week to reintroduce ourselves to the kids. And I’m thrilled to be meeting up with Kiwi sailing friends Viki Moore and Andrew Herriott from Astrolabe Sailing who are passing through Paris at the same time.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Sciacca and Selinunte

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Sciacca at the Lega Navale marina, just across the harbour from one of the largest fishing ports in Italy.  The town was picturesque (I got tired of photographing all the baroque churches) and is centrally located between two major archaeological sites, Selinunte and Agrigento.  Here are some sights from Sciacca and Selinunte.