Sunday, July 31, 2011

Passage to Greece – 2nd Half

[Kyle]About midway across the Ionian Sea, the wind finally picked up in earnest. We had initially steered a course north of our destination in order to have a better angle for our arrival in the newly arrived strong winds. We managed to cover more distance in the first few hours than we had in the previous two days.

A watch or so later, I awoke to find Greece making an appearance as a thin line of hills on the horizon. As the distant hills grew imperceptibly larger in my field of view, I found myself amazed, as I always seem to be when arriving somewhere new, that we were actually here. All of the hoping and then planning and then preparation actually worked. Here was Greece before us and I was steering toward it. Amazing!

Arriving in Greece - note the modern lighthouse with columns - so cute!

Greece has a special place for me in this whole European adventure of ours. When I first conceived of sailing to Europe several years ago, the first thought I had was, “We could go to Greece!” In fact, truth be told, coming to Greece was my main reason for crossing the Atlantic in the first place. I figured there would be plenty of nice places along the way, and there certainly have been, but Greece is what I came for.

Yet, I have very little preconception of what Greece was supposed to be like. My long yearning to come here is based on seeds that were planted many years ago in my mind. There is nothing specific I can recall, it’s just a hodgepodge of pictures from magazines, scenes from old movies and the background as Carl Sagan strolled along narrating his series, “Cosmos”, explaining the birth of science. Added to that are images from my own imagination – probably wrong – conjured up while studying Greek Mythology in college as sets for all of the action. The resulting blend is a vague sense of a place whose only specific features are scrubby, sun bleached hills, Caribbean blue water and crumbling ruins.

I think this is good. Had I come here expecting to retrace the voyages of Odysseus, I would have had all of these expectations of what it should be like. Instead, I find myself filled with contentment at finally being here, happy to let our Greek experience unfold into something that will eventually become our own.

As we sailed further still, the hills grew and grew, revealing high cliffs beneath. I had initially planned our landfall on the island of Kalymnos, for little other reason than it was the nearest to our course from the toe of Italy. Our new northern course gave us the additional option of Argostoli on Kefalonia. This landfall turned out to give us a better wind angle for the subsequent trip, so we decided to pull in there.

Our entry into the harbor deep within the island required a terrible bash to windward to make it into the town center, turning me from content to desperate to get it over with. The visitor’s quay was protected from the wind by a large customs dock. For the first time, we Med-moored by dropping the anchor and then backing to the quay. This is actually harder than straight anchoring because the placement of the anchor must be much more precise, allowing the boat to be backed to within a couple of feet of the wall within the lateral limits of a designated berth. We were probably a bit slow and cautious, but we managed to pull of the whole thing without any embarrassments.

Fun sights from Argostoli - spare tyre anyone? & the loggerhead turtle poses for photos

Argostoli (the capital of Keffalonia), while not interesting in any grand historic sense, (most of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed in a 1953 earthquake) was just wonderful. We arrived just as it got dark and the whole town was out on its’ evening walk. Even though it was late (about 10:30pm) entire families were strolling along the quay, taking in the warm night air. Despite being tired from the passage and having much to do to secure Footprint and tidy up from our voyage, we too found time for a brief evening walk to orient ourselves with the town (busy with a Friday night of socializing). I was pleased to find a shop that sold home made ice cream to fuel us through the walk, and we eventually ended up at a small waterfront café overlooking Footprint on the quay, where we enjoyed a large plate of meze and a couple of beers (for around €5 total), relived our passage and celebrated our arrival. We’d also purchased baklava from a local friendly baker for our messy but delicious desert back on the boat – it’s a tough life.

The following day, after completing entry formalities, basic grocery provisioning and sourcing wifi for yet another new country – we found ourselves at the same café for lunch. I had a ‘village sandwich’ that turned out to be a 6” sub stuffed with tomatoes, cucumber, feta and olives (€3). All the food here we’ve found to be simple but tasty and relatively inexpensive.

Views from our walk

After lunch we took an aimless walk towards the nearest high point (across a disused causeway bisecting the harbor). Alongside the bay on her morning chores Maryanne had seen several turtles, and we were lucky enough to see another while walking together. After crossing the causeway Maryanne noticed a traffic sign for a cave and we chose that direction at a crossroads. At one point a local car stopped and asked us if we needed a ride (where on earth were we headed for in the middle of nowhere? We didn’t even know ourselves. We were very grateful for the offer but happy just to wander and discover).

About 1km up a steep hill from the road sign that set us off to the cave, we found a gas station with a friendly attendant who advised us it was another 35km (we had no idea the island was even that large!) We abandoned that quest for the cave and decided to settle for a walk the long way around the lagoon back to Footprint. By then we were hungry again and stopped at another restaurant for a basic meal and a litre of local wine (not too bad - €12 total). We have really taken a shine to this town. While lingering over dinner at the restaurant we enjoyed watching several groups of 3-4 old men with their trousers just a little too high, sitting together on benches or at tables and chatting away to each other in animated Greek. Everyone here has been exceedingly friendly, and we’re enjoying the food too, very happy to be here in Greece at last. The waiter at our ‘local’ restaurant once realizing I was American assumed we wanted ketchup with everything (even beer!); I assured him it was Tabasco!

To Greece

[Kyle]Around midday we pulled the anchor out of the Sicilian sand and set off under sail through the Strait of Messina. We had a few initial moments of frustration as the wind was swirling all over the place and we had to steer what must have looked like a very erratic course to the sunbathers we left behind on the beach. It seemed the wind was trying to steer us into buoys and into the paths of the oncoming ferries, all of which we were just able to avoid.

Passing the marina at Messina, the wind finally steadied from behind and pushed us around the toe of Italy. The water was flat and we were going faster than everything except the big ships. As we curved around the land, the wind bent with us so we hardly had to adjust sail at all. Our wind angle was such that we were just barely converging on the shore by about two or three degrees. We’d converge and converge until we’d be getting worried about an upcoming rock or to the waders on the beaches, then we’d gybe the main, turn 20 degrees and run wing and wing until we were a couple hundred meters off, then we’d start it all over again.

We converged on a Swiss boat that was giving us a pretty good run for our money. I was doing everything I could to try to get every last ounce of speed out of Footprint when Maryanne noticed their engine exhaust. They were motorsailing, the dirty cheaters!

Once we left land and stared diverging into the Ionian Sea, the wind thinned out until it could barely hold the sails up, leaving us at last in the wake of the Swiss. On a couple of occasions, we just gave up entirely and pulled them down to get a break from the noise of the slatting until a breeze picked up again.

Is I’m writing this, we’ve been underway for 51 hours and have sailed just under 140 miles. In our slowest hour we advanced just over 2000 feet.

The weather has been beautiful so far – t-shirt weather 24 hours a day. The sky has been blue and absolutely cloudless the whole time, making for scorching days in the still air and crystal-clear stargazing at night. The stars are visible right down to the horizon, where they shine with a tinge of red – a thousand little sunrises from other suns. The last two dawns in a row I’ve been lucky enough to see the green flash each time.

Rounding the toe of Italy looks just as fun from that road

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Mediterranean’s Oldest Lighthouse

[Kyle]We had a nice lie-in in Palinuro. By the time we made out way out into the world, the beaches were filling up and the anchorage was filling with day-tripper boats (including one more trying to use our trip float as a mooring ball), kayaks and pedal boats. We readied Footprint for the next leg southwards across the Tyrrhenian Sea toward the Straits of Messina.

There was a slight swell and a few swirly gusts making their way into the anchorage by the time we left, an indication of the increasing winds in the open sea. Once out of the anchorage we hoisted the sails. Expecting forecast winds of the low teens we were soon experiencing winds of low 20’s kt once we left the protection of Capo Palinuro where they remained for the rest of the night. On the radio were broadcasts about gale warnings far to the west near Corsica. As a result, the incoming swell was much larger than would be expected in the winds we were experiencing – around 3m (10’).

It wasn’t large enough to be dangerous, just annoying. We were sailing right across the waves, so there was a lot of rolling and pounding. Every few minutes, down in the cabin, a crash would be heard as something else that wasn’t secured as well as it should be fell off of a shelf onto the floor. Every few hours, a wave would hit the windward hull in such a way as to send an unexpected wall of water over me just as I was finally getting dry from the last one.

At about 1am, shortly after taking-over from Maryanne I spotted it! A bright orange flash, and then another, and then another. This light has been guiding mariners from the straits of Messina across the Tyrrhenian Sea continuously for 1000’s of years. What I was seeing was the bright volcanic explosions atop Stromboli. As we approached through the night the explosions appeared brighter and bigger changing from bright flashes to vivid roman candle like explosive jets of lava.

With a little bit of effort and a lot of pounding I managed to get us about a mile to windward of the island and pulled down the sails, woke Maryanne, and the two of us drifted under bare poles under the volcano, enjoying our own private firework show. It was still night and the brilliance of the explosions back lit by a crescent moon was wonderfully dramatic. Unfortunately a boat is no platform for photographing such sights, but the memories we hope will last regardless.

Stromboli Island/volcano

The sun eventually rose, and we departed, skirting the restricted (danger) area at the base of the lava flow where it enters the sea. Stromboli is reputed to erupt about every 20 minutes, consistently for recorded history and is considered so predictable that plenty of people happily live on the tiny island (on the lava/ash flow free eastern flank). While we were watching there seemed some activity every couple of minutes, but with a major flare on about the 20 minute mark. Towards the end of our show, there was a long period of little activity; I was hoping to see one last flare before we sailed out of view around the island. Just as we approached the visible line between the lifeless western part and the vegetation covered eastern part of the islands we were lucky enough to see one last explosion from the less frequent but more dramatic eastern vent, spewing lava maybe 300’ up before arcing back towards the earth. For a brief moment I became concerned that we were perhaps too close, this final eruption was the first that we could hear now we were down wind of the vents. It sounded like a long freight train coupling to the engines with a long clunking rumble. After the rumble came the tinkling as the earth’s newest rocks crashed on the slopes disturbing their older siblings and rolling ablaze down towards the sea (and us!).

I had hoped to anchor in Stromboli for a day or so on the way south and make the hike up to view the crater first hand. But the island has no protected anchorage suitable for calm conditions only, and for the time being was on a dangerously exposed side. We pressed on instead for our next stop on the straits of Messina.

Soon after we left the lea of Stromboli the wind reduced and left us in a confused swell with no direction in correlation to the wind. We sailed for hours dead down-wind wing on wing whilst being pounded by seas from ahead and from the side. This caused our sails to slat, our progress to be reduced, and our ride uncomfortable. By the time afternoon approached we were in sight of the entrance to the Straits of Messina which separate the boot of Italy from the Mediterranean’s largest Island, the football of Sicily being kicked to the west. For several hours the wind continued to slowly die putting us through the torture of being within sight but with an ever-distant ETA. My original dreams of anchoring by lunch turned into being anchored by mid-afternoon, and hopefully by dark. Maryanne at one point expressed concern about our water levels and decided we still had a chance to make it to a fuel dock by close of business if we started the engine and dispensed with my dream. We topped up water and fuel at a car gas station with a long dock to a boat pump where the impatient attendant rushed us through topping up our jerry cans and water tanks in the minimum time possible ensuring lots of confusion and spilt water as we rushed from tank to tank under his glare.

With tanks full, we moved up the strait and anchored off a Sicilian beach - home to sunbathing locals and several establishments each blaring competing play-lists of summer beach pop music.

[Maryanne]This passage was over 24 hours and although not as rigid as we do for longer voyages, we slept in shifts. Each of us had to deal with an unexpected boat failure. On one of my watches, an un-cleated mainsheet caused the boom to be pushed too far out on a downwind sail and caused a tear on the main sail at one of the upper spreaders. Luckily we carry a host of repair equipment and spares aboard so that was readily resolved. On one of Kyle’s watch I heard from the bedroom some swearing and when I eventually rose he was dealing with the drive leg – which we raise when sailing. A weld had broken in just the same spot as a failure from August last year and caused the drive leg to drop down into the water (not a terrible problem but loss of sailing efficiency and speed). Kyle was insistent he wanted it raised so we jury rigged a system there and then and, once anchored, we improved it to enable us to raise and lower the drive-leg as necessary and to hold it up while under sail. In the mean time new parts are to be sent to us (free of charge – thank you Sillette) to cross paths with us next time Kyle is in the States.

The anchorage we chose turned out to be most entertaining. Each beach establishment owned a tiny stretch of Sicilian beach and put it’s stamp upon it. From different coloured umbrellas shading fancy sun loungers, to areas littered with old wooden fishing boats, to plane pebbly beach with a shack. All the real action though was on the water where surreal looking boats plough back and forth. They are swordfishing boats. Apparently the swordfish travel this stretch of water twice a year (once on the way out, next on the way back) and seem to sleep on the surface during the day; they are reported to leap out of the water with shock as any boat passes. Over the years the locals have noticed this tendency and now specialized boats do their best to catch the swordfish on their passage through. The boat is steered from atop a tower perhaps 40’ high, while some poor sole is left hanging on a 50’ bowsprit with a harpoon. The unwieldy boats can only be used in calm conditions and despite being late in the official swordfish migration season there were plenty plying the waters as we relaxed aboard Footprint.

Sicily's Messina strait beaches and curious Swordfishing boats

Last of the mainland

[Kyle]With first light of day we left Paestum beach in a building tail wind. As we exited the Gulf of Solerno the wind shifted to one side and Footprint kicked up her heels. For the next few hours we sailed in perfect conditions for our boat – 20kt quartering tail winds in a smooth sea. As a precaution against gusts off the mountains we put an unnecessary reef in each sail, yet still we flew down the picturesque coast. At the edge of the water here it is much greener than we expected for hot dry southern Italy, and the coast is dotted with pretty clusters of houses looking like the perfect B&B get away locations from which to wander through the villages and along the beaches. Around noon the wind abruptly stopped and we slowly drifted to a halt. Over the next couple of hours we coaxed occasional motion from the breaths of wind until we were across from the harbor at Palinuro.

No sooner had I gone in for a brief recovery nap from our early start than Maryanne had the boat moving at full speed again under main and screacher. Beyond the village a lighthouse stood way up atop a high, steep, cliff. We doused sails, started the engine and headed into the dramatic cove walled in by cliffs and unexpectedly populated with boaters and beach lovers already settled in place. There were a dozen other boats, almost entirely Italian but of various types (from pedalos to luxury power yachts), another American and a French sailboat too. We made our way toward the beach and dropped anchor short of the buoyed off protected swim area.

After securing the boat my first order of business was to swim under the guise of checking the anchor. But really it was hot and the clear blue water was too inviting to pass up. After the comforting sight of our anchor chain disappearing into the sand, re-emerging a few feet later at the trip line (i.e. completely buried in) I swam over to the cliffs to explore. The sea-life has been pretty scarce for our Mediterranean snorkels (high salinity and low circulation), but I found a few small schools of fish, some shellfish along the bottom, plenty of urchins, and an isolated patch of long armed anemones which my marine biologist wife tells me can only live in the healthiest of environments.

Further along at the cliffs I explored a few caves and at the last surprised a two foot long Moray eel which being corned in the cave beyond me gave the look of fear and defense, it coiled like a snake preparing to strike with mouth agape, telling me I needed to back off (which I did despite not yet being close enough for any real danger). He made his way out of the cave in formation with me as we each hugged different walls to the exit, and soon found an indentation to retreat to, coiling and attempting to look invisible. I humored him allowing him to think he’d escaped my view, while myself being glad to have escaped from him.

Relaxing Recovery time at Palinuro anchorage

Sufficiently refreshed I returned to Footprint for dinner and a glass of wine while watching the beach and anchorage gradually thin out. In Italy most boats in the anchorages seem to be day-trippers using the boat as a base for sunbathing before returning to the marina for the night. This cove was eventually left to just us and a handful of boats standing as sentinels over the empty beach.

Warning: Ancient Greeks in Italy

Ancient Greek temples of Paestum in Italy

[Kyle]With a few hours to go before sunset we left our Miseno anchorage and headed further South along the Italian coastline. The wind at our back to cross the Gulf of Naples should have made for easy sailing, but in this case the sea was a mess of choppy waves reflected in all directions by the rocks at the edge of the bay. Our speed was slowed to half of that which we could have expected from the wind alone; the hobby horsing caused by the chop constantly spilling the wind from the sails.

Nice passage - with sun set over Capri

By the time we reached the gap between mainland Sorrento and the island of Capri it was dark and Footprint felt as though she was lurching in all directions at once. Then, as we passed under the lighthouse of Punta Campanella and into the open Gulf of Salerno, the reflected waves stopped and in seconds we were sailing smoothly atop a tranquil night sea. We spent the night crossing the Gulf of Salerno under main and screacher with a dying wind until at sunrise we were slowly creeping up towards the beach at Paestum and dropped anchor just beyond the surf-line.

To get ashore we briefly contemplated a dinghy ride through the surf but soon decided it would be more sensible to swim ashore (there would be no way to stay dry through the surf on the dingy and we were uncomfortable leaving the dinghy unattended on a crowded beach). So we donned mask and fins, loaded supplies for he day in a dry-bag (which turned out not to be so dry!) and swam ashore. I’m grateful that we had an easier time of it that the Allied landing of WWII at the same spot. A quick change into our street clothes and we were off on our expedition to see Paestum.

Paestum is reputed to have the finest surviving example of ancient Greek architecture north of Sicily (especially on a Friday, which luckily for us it was). The ancient site is encircled by a zone of hotels, campgrounds and souvenir shops. We made the obligatory stop (pizza and gelato) to gather our strength for the day ahead.

Not possible to going hungry in Paestum's sea front

[Maryanne] Apart from the more inland ancient site, the modern town seemed to be made up only of the beaches and a seafront access road. The main road being lined with inflatables, buckets, spades, foodstuffs and day-tripper beach essentials; It seemed very much a seafront for local Italians, a basic take-the-kids for the day beach front rather than an international destination. We enjoyed our refreshments while watching the street scenes play out before us, especially enjoying the electricians installing decorative lights strung across the street, happily ignoring the very Italian gesticulations and complaints from the traffic they had blocked from reaching the beach. Such cheap and wonderful entertainment for us!

[Kyle]The walk to the actual site entrance was about a mile inland, beyond farm lands and with rugged distant mountain views, eventually leading us along the ancient city perimeter walls (composed of miles of huge blocks of volcanic stone). We started with the museum that contained many examples of pottery, decorated roof top guttering and a large collection of tomb contents and decorations. The museum was light, airy and modern and the exhibits were in great condition; unfortunately the accompanying descriptions (at least the English versions) were written in a very dry academic tone as if meant for an archaeologists’ textbook, we soon tired of the yet more examples of one type or another clay pot and made our way across the street to the ancient site. Many great views were available on the short walk to buy the ticket (from the road outside and through the fence) so it wasn’t surprising that few people were paying the entrance fee to view the same sites just a little closer up. We paid a little extra for the audio guide for the site which we generally feel is well worth the effort.

Paestum primarily consists of 3 large and well preserved Doric temples and the bottom 3 feet of walls and foundations of an entire town. This gives a good idea of the size and layout of homes, roads, baths and general town structures of ancient Greece (and the later Roman modifications). Paestum was in its hay-day about the 6th Century BC, but with evidence of occupation from the Neolithic period. The Romans took over after a war around 3rd century BC and filled in and built atop much of the civic Greek structures (including swimming pools and amphitheaters); our audio guide suggested they wanted to remove evidence of earlier highly-civilized society, but since they left the temples I find that hard to believe. It is believed the town was eventually abandoned after a the surrounding swamp land became malaria infested during the middle ages.

The name Paestum itself is a Romanization of the Greek name Poseidonia (basically the Greek god of the sea, along with earthquakes and horses, Poseidon). It was impressive to walk along the old cobbled streets and imagine the town alive and buzzing with ancient day-to-day activities and busy locals donned with togas. The town was more than just a clustering of homes; there were shopping areas, a mini coliseum style arena, public forums for political and civic discussion, playing fields, gymnasiums and even a temple with a large swimming pool (for fertility). The largest house (3800 m2, about 41,000 ft2 – yes, giant!) in town had It’s own swimming pool with slides and big enough for any modern day town to be happy with.

One of the unexpected shocks was the limited number of visitors. There were maybe only 30 people total, and this gave us the feeling of having the place to ourselves, and the privilege of waiting for people to move on to get a people-free shot. We hadn’t expected this since all our guidebooks we’ve read are clear that this is a must-see tourist stop, but it was similar for Maryanne’s earlier visit to Ostia Antica; I guess there are just too many sites for the number of tourists travelling outside of Rome.

Kyle insists on sampling one more gelato at the restaurant overlooking the ruins

After completing a circuit of the site we returned our audio guide and ambled back through the ancient streets to a more convenient (for us) exit. It was getting hot by then so we were fortunate to find a restaurant at the other side with shaded tables overlooking the ruins where we could sit and enjoy the breeze (oh and the purchases from a small gelato kiosk).

We entered the beach from a different access point (making for a shorter walk now we had our bearings) and had a long amble through foot warming sand. The beach was much more populated by now, and mostly seemed made up of family groups playing games, and splashing in the surf. We even happened up on a walled sand city, complete with rope bridges. Eventually we triple bagged our day wear and swam back through the surf for a relaxing dinner aboard the gently swaying Footprint.

[Maryanne]We really enjoyed the site, but there were a few interesting oddities. There were lots of staff, but few seemed concerned in the occasional tourist. On entering the museum and wishing to purchase our tickets there were three female staff on the other side of the counter none of which were interested in serving the rare customer, but all seemed to wish to finish their café style conversation before deigning to notice us. There seemed to be several entrances to the main archeological site, but as we tried to use them we had to seek out officials only to be told to use the ‘next’ entrance along. When we eventually found the ‘official’ entrance we were rude enough to disturb a phone text conversation and purchase our audio guide (in exchange for a lot of tutting, and eye-rolling at the inconvenience of having to serve us, and a passport for security). And after doing this we took ten steps toward the site, only to be followed by an annoyed official (that had earlier been reading his newspaper atop a rock) chasing after us and insisting on seeing our tickets. He had an amazing ability to appear officious and disinterested at the same time.

After listening to the description associated with our first stop on the audio guide tour, we were treated to a low battery warning, and decided to return/swap our guide for one that would last the tour. Despite having served no customers since our departure, the audio guide official seemed to not know us, triple verified that we should even have a guide and told us to wait 5 minutes. At first we were unsure why we needed to wait (in fact we still are) but the 5 minute wait turned into a 15 minute one (where we sat on the rocks beside the ticket verifier) and eventually we were returned the original audio tour equipment; this time it lasted 3 sites before giving us the same warning, but we decided to ‘make do’ as the tour just got quieter and quieter in volume. After amazingly completing the audio-guide tour, we returned the unit and retrieved our passport, only to be accosted again by the newspaper reading agent wanting to see our tickets. The same one who had seen our tickets, and we’d sat next to for 15 minutes and who had perhaps seen about 5 other groups since our initial arrival. I guess he has to make it look as though his job is worthwhile???

Kyle already mentioned that the museum itself was beautifully presented, and given its ancient and amazingly well preserved artifacts (painted pottery, frescos, bronze pots – all over 2500 years old) could hardly fail to impress, but the poor, dry, explanations left us languishing uncomfortably through the museum rather than appreciating it.

Am I complaining? No, it’s all part of the Italian experience and we love it!

Kyle was loving all the old stuff, especially in the museum (despite the dry descriptions). There were several beautiful ornate bronze urns that were from 6th Century BC, with exquisite decoration and looking perfect, it would be absolutely impossible for me to date them to such an age but we trust the archaeologists here. When Kyle discovered a stunning statue of a female muse he actually pulled out his camera; he was most disturbed when I pointed out that it had been made in the 1940's by a New York artist and he hasn't appreciated me still chuckling over his talent for spotting ancient Greek art. So much fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Little Bit of Everything

In this blog - rough seas and beautiful (but prohibited anchorages)

[Kyle]After a commute that left me feeling like the unlucky loser of one of those Japanese game shows that punishes a lack of coordination with a painful fall off of something high, hitting several intermediate obstacles along the way before face-planting on thinly padded ground, I stepped off of the 1113 train into Anzio, where Maryanne was waiting for me.

I was pleased to find that it was nowhere near as stinking hot as when I left, although I did still make a point of making the now obligatory stop along the way for lemon gelato.

We boarded the dinghy and rowed to our new new spot. Since being run off by the, ahem, friendly gentlemen in the harbormaster boat the week before, a group in a small powerboat moored to our anchor trip-line float. Maryanne came out, gesticulating wildly and shouting, but they didn’t seem to get her point. When they eventually left, they found themselves snagged on our line and solved the problem by powering out, thus pulling up our well-set anchor, which they then left just lying on the bottom, leaving Footprint dragging helplessly towards the breakwater.

Maryanne got to spend the next couple of hours anchoring and re-anchoring by herself until she was happy that Footprint was holding fast. Since then, she’s been a bit reluctant to leave the boat unattended. We were lucky she was aboard when it happened. We had heard from other cruisers that the best solution they found to the same problem was to write “$50/day” on their ball. Perhaps it’s time to get out the ol’ Sharpie…

Our next stop was planned to be just a little longer than would be possible during daylight. My solution to this was to make it an overnight sail in order to assure that we arrived in daylight the next day. This also had the benefit of allowing me time for a brief nap before leaving.

About an hour or so before sunset, we pulled up anchor and left under sail alone. The wind was being very fickle ahead of an approaching cold front and our track out of the harbor looked like I was deliberately trying to write my name on the chart. At least it wasn’t Maryanne’s.

I had managed to surprise myself by not getting the least bit wound up about this. When the front arrived, we would have as much wind as we wanted and in the right direction. In the meantime, while Maryanne slept, I got a bit of everything in terms of wind strength and direction. As an exclamation mark before the arrival of the reliable winds, it blew like hell, stopped and then rained as if the clouds were trying to get an entire summer’s rain out of the way in an hour. When I unreefed the mainsail, I must have dumped 50 gallons of water on the deck that had been trapped in the bunt. (Bunt: the bunched up bottom of a reefed sail)

Once I was good and soaked, the wind started in earnest, ensuring that I was good and shivery for the rest of the night. I pointed Footprint at a space in the receding rain shower that the GPS assured me would be just off Capo Circeo. The clouds cleared and the bright moon shone behind the conical volcano at the point In silhouette with a scrap of cloud left on top, it looked dark and ominous, like it was still active.

The building waves were bent and reflected by the coast until they were completely out of proportion to the accompanying wind. Giant, purposeless waves came from every direction, making the downwind ride much more uncomfortable than it should have been. Occasionally, a bucket of warm seawater would get tossed over the rail into the cockpit from seemingly nowhere.

The wave state stabilized on the other side of Capo Circeo. I was able to hold onto my alertness until just before sunrise, when I got Maryanne up to relieve me. As she sailed, the winds built and built during the day until the waves were pretty reliably in the 10-12 foot range and we were surfing fast downwind with only the reefed mainsail up.

I slept several more hours than I thought I would. When I awoke, we were a dozen miles or so from the gap between the Italian mainland and the volcanic isle of Procida, which extended further out to sea along an underwater ridge to the island of Ischia.

When we left Anzio, my plan had been to round Ischia to the west and anchor on the south side. Some last minute research indicated this would not be an option. The anchorage in question was a marine protected area and anchoring was not permitted between June and September. Our default plan was to anchor in the bay by Capo Mesino on the mainland side. In order to get there, we would have to sail through a shallow gap between the mainland and the island of Procida.

As we approached the shallow coastal shelf from the deep waters of the open sea, the big waves began to gradually pile up as they crowded into the limited depth. At about the 100m mark, I looked behind us and was horrified to see a wave that was 2 ½ times the height of the others looming up behind us, it’s crest just starting to break. It was like stepping into a road and seeing a cement truck coming at us, wheels locked and smoking. I screamed, ”Hold on!” and spun the wheel until it hit the stop. I only had a second or so to get Footprint headed dead down wave before the breaker hit. My vision narrowed until all I could see was the wind gauge. My entire existence became dedicated to keeping the wind needle as far aft as possible without causing a jibe. I didn’t even see the wave as it overtook us.

Maryanne, reacting to my call, arrived in the cockpit to find us enveloped in the foam of the crest. From the top, she could see into the deep trough left by the wave. Behind it was an even steeper wave, breaking over the hole left by the first. She must have seen me relax after the first wave passed and yelled to me that there was another one. “Keep it straight”, I thought, “Keep it straight”. Then there was a third. It wasn’t quite as bad as the first two, but we were still in real danger. Afterward, I’ve never been so relieved to see 12-foot waves in my life.

For a while after that, I thought about where we were going. The sea was getting shallower and shallower. All of the waves bigger than two feet were going to have to lose their energy before the gap. They would do this by breaking. I wasn’t happy, but I was okay with being in a sea of 12-foot breakers as they smash themselves into something smaller, but a steep 25-footer would flip the boat if we weren’t as lucky as the last time. How many of those were on the way?

I decided not to risk it and instead elected to make the crosswind run for the deeper water in the gap between Ischia and Procida. This put us in a dangerous position beam to the waves. Three times along the way, we got another series of three giant waves that required us to completely abandon our goal to try to keep the boat upright while racing down the face of the waves. At least the water’s warm, I thought. We won’t freeze to death

When we finally got into the lee of Ischia, things started to calm down. We joined several ferries taking the more sensible, protected route along the southeast side of the little island of Procida. What a marvelous little island Procida is. If the anchorage off of the town had not been another prohibited navigation area, we surely would have dropped anchor for the night and rowed ashore to explore it’s picturesque pastel streets until finding a little café with aperitivo from which to watch the world go by. If you go to Italy and don’t see Procida, your vacation is ruined. We couldn’t anchor there. Our vacation is ruined. We were lucky, though, that the dreadful sea conditions on the north side drove us the long way around the island so we could at least see it.

Beautiful fortified islands of Ischia and Prosida - no anchoring allowed in summer, and only with special permission the rest of the year!

We crossed the channel between Procida and the mainland. It was full of broken waves with all of their bite taken out of them. We turned into the cove tucked behind Capo Miseno. In the anchorage, we found all of the best spots taken. There were only two other boats that were not on moorings, but there was no way to anchor in the remaining space without being either too close to the rocks in shallow water, or swinging the full width of the harbor in deep. Eventually, we did what has worked for us before and found a tiny spot in waist deep water amongst the local runabouts. Giant Footprint looked like a full grown milking cow at a dinner party, but at least she was secure. The anchorage was one side industrial wharf and the other rocky sea caves topped with trees. My only regret was that a naughty intervening cliff interrupted the view of Mt Vesuvius. I was hoping to enjoy an evening glass of wine over that.

Views Anchored at Miseno

Friday, July 15, 2011

What a Day Off Feels Like

[Kyle]Actually, to be fair, I have had a few days off since last leaving Maryanne on her own in the middle of last month, just none at home. This may seem strange since we’re always moving in a home that doesn’t have a home of its own, but any time I get to be on Footprint with Maryanne, I feel like I’m home.

I didn’t plan it that way, but without going into too much detail, every time two monthly schedules overlap at the airline, they “fix” the problem by following what I have come to call the Rule of Least Convenience. In my case, they took a nice, big, comfy block of days off and chopped it into several smaller, unusable bits so there was no way I’d be able to make it to Rome and back in the allotted time. It did, at least, give me the excuse to engage in a whirlwind of one-day visits to places closer by. Thanks to everyone who put me up. The food was delicious.

Back to my return to Rome. I finally arrived home nearly a month after leaving following at least two long work days with almost no sleep. The direct flight from Newark was overbooked, so I two-legged it through Washington Dulles for the overnight flight home, making it even longer. When I got back to the boat, I pretty much headed right to bed for a midday nap. I could have easily slept through the next night, but I wanted to spend time with Maryanne, so I had her promise to get me up a couple of hours later. She allowed me a couple of extra fifteen-minute snooze alarms after the appointed time and I crawled out of bed.

I spent the rest of the day in a groggy haze. Maryanne made an early dinner and we caught up over that and preparing Footprint for the next morning’s early departure. As evening fell, we decided to beat the heat by walking into town and getting some gelato. Yummy.

By the time we got back, it was later than I thought (I guess I was still on U.S. time in my head). We had to get up before sunrise in order to get the early bridge openings, so there wouldn’t be time for a proper night’s sleep. The rest of the night was spent tossing and turning, worrying that I’d overslept the alarm and we would miss the bridge opening. When it finally did go off, it turned out I was up anyway, worrying about it.

Leaving Fiumicino; it's bridges finally open!

We did manage to get untied in time and exited the river with two other boats, the three of us scattering our respective directions at the entrance. The sea was a flat, windless mirror of mercury reflecting the morning sky as we headed southeastwards down the coast. {Maryanne: We were in the middle of the 3 boats, the experienced local work boat at the rear repeatedly called Andioma (let’s go) to the forward less experienced boat as the bridges opened and the progress was too slow for him}.

By mid morning a slight breeze came up out of the east and we were able to ghost along close-hauled flying main, genoa and screacher all at the same time. The breeze slowly veered around to the southeast by afternoon and it became necessary for us to furl everything and motor the rest of the way if we wanted to be at our destination, Anzio, before it got too late.

We arrived just after four and set the anchor in sticky mud amongst the moored boats in the large, swelly harbor in two meters of water. We made a point of being well out of the way in shallow water, but were a little unsure we’d be tolerated. Shortly after, a Brazilian boat anchored farther into the harbor. Then a British boat and a French one soon followed. I guess we were fine. Then began a flurry of activity as we put everything away and got the dingy ready to go ashore.

Kyle suffering with the heat and the chores

By then, the overwhelming feature of the day had become the heat. It was hot. Everything we touched was hot. The water coming out of the tanks was hot. The shady spots were also out of the wind, so the choice became bake in the breeze or swelter in the shade. Maryanne distributed ice pops, but they would be lukewarm tubes of liquid by halfway through. The best bet seemed to be in the cabin in the shade with a fan pointed at us, but the temperature inside was 100F. Those fans weren’t big enough.

We didn’t have the luxury of sitting around, we had to go ashore and get me a train ticket for the trip to work the next morning. We went back into the sun, climbed into the dinghy and rowed ashore for the uphill climb to the station, all bad things in the windless heat of the town.

Between not getting much sleep and the cloying heat we were both completely knackered. It didn’t take much to realize we were in no mood to cook and probably wouldn’t be able so stay awake through the process anyway. We decided on a take out dinner while strolling through the pretty but fairly nondescript little town.

We bought a couple of squares of pizza for a euro each. We thought we’d found a good value until we sat down and started eating. The pizza was really heavy on the salt. I was pretty hungry and I figured I probably needed the salt anyway after such a sweaty day, so I pushed through, but that pizza was really something that had to be choked down like nasty medicine.

Needing to clear our palates, we headed to a nearby gelateria for gelato. Maryanne got a delicious chocolate/coconut mix. I stuck with what’s becoming my standard – lemon. I am quickly becoming convinced that there is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than lemon gelato. Mine was, in fact, so good, that no sooner had I tossed my empty cup into a bin than we walked right across the street to another gelateria and ordered another. Oooh, that is good!

Exploring Anzio - Complete with Punch and Judy show in the main square (invented in Italy!)

Feeling marginally better, we rowed back to the boat, which completely killed it. I still had to shower and shave for work so I lathered up in the cockpit and jumped in to rinse. The water was just below body temperature. It was marvelous! All of the surplus heat I had been carrying around all day just vanished. I think the evening swim is definitely going to become a welcome routine as it gets even hotter. When I was in there, I noticed Footprint’s bottom had picked up a lot of growth in Fiumicino. I was able to use brushing it off as a pretext for staying in a little longer. I think that’s the only time I haven’t hated that job.

Between my cooling swim, open hatches and that pesky fireball finally dipping below the horizon, I was finally able to sleep in comfort, even though I had to get up in five hours to get the train back to work.

Two hours later, Maryanne woke me and said someone was outside the boat. I listened for a while, decided it was just the general noise of the town – probably kids on the pier, and rolled over to get back to sleep. As I was nodding off, I kept hearing someone say “Sera! Sera!” (Evening!). I climbed out of bed to find a RIB with a flashing blue light hovering nearby. I emerged with a groggy “Sera!” in return, and was told, in broken English and Italian that we could not anchor here and we had to move right now to Nettuno, the next town over.

What! Were they kidding me? It was dark, I had to get up in three hours and my train ticket was from Anzio. We had called Nettuno the day before and been told they had no room. I tried my best to argue with them but my Italian wasn’t good enough for a debate and they weren’t budging. They left to go hassle the other boats and I went back to report to Maryanne, who was still in bed. We were both still in disbelief. How could they possibly expect us to go to another harbor at eleven o’clock at night?

Maryanne told me to get back to sleep (oh, sure, Honey!). She would handle it. She managed to get them back by signaling them with a flashlight, then she had the same argument with in Italian that them I did, only she was more awake and thinking clearly. They were saying that we were in a dangerous position and would be a hazard to the fishing fleet. She argued that going to a new harbor at night was more dangerous, particularly as both ports were well known for having uncharted sand banks in the entrances. They went back and forth like this for a while before they directed her to call the port captain on the VHF. He spoke good English. They had the same argument. He just kept coming back to the argument of us being a hazard to the fishing fleet.

It was pretty apparent that this was the standard bullshit answer he gives every boat that questions him, like telling you you’re not allowed to have your toothpaste because it poses a danger to the flying public. No it doesn’t. You’re not allowed to have your toothpaste so that it seems like they are more powerful than you because they have the authority to confiscate it. Maryanne and I had seen the fishing fleet come in the afternoon before and none of them came anywhere near our part of the harbor, which is at least a kilometer from their part of the harbor. Many of those boats are huge and I’m sure would run aground just trying to get to the pleasure boat side. I suspect the real reason we were all asked to leave is because the marinas don’t like boats anchoring for free in a public waterway when they could be paying outrageous slip fees at a marina instead. The harbormaster is used as a club by the marinas to force boats to do this. That’s why we were told to tie up at Nettuno. They didn’t care the least bit about our safety. They wanted us to make the trip at night across the shoals to the marina or we “would-a get a ticket-a”.

Screw them. We pulled up anchor and went around to the other side of the breakwater. On the outside, we set anchor in a spot where we’d still be protected from the week’s forecast winds. One other boat anchored further off, but the others were bullied into the marina.

Afterwards, I was surprised that I wasn’t too agitated to fall back to sleep for a couple more hours before getting back up to go to work. The process of rowing and then climbing to the station in the polyester pilot suit put me back in the hopeless heat surplus zone again. I must have looked a little strange draping myself over every available surface on the slightly air conditioned train to the airport. On the flight, I must’ve slept seven of the nine hours. I never do that. I guess I was pretty exhausted. Now my neck is killing me. Oh, to sleep in an actual bed…

I called Maryanne once I got to work and she reported that a military boat from the harbor had come out and made several passes accompanied by disapproving looks that day, but had not said anything to her. We are out of his jurisdiction. Ha! {Maryanne: we hope!}

Friday, July 01, 2011

Rome, again (With food!)

[Maryanne]In a bid to get more experience with Italian cooking, I have joined a local cooking group and found myself invited to a Sushi night.. Not quite mama’s pasta sauce, but hey, when in Rome!

Since I was going into the capital for the evening of Sushi delights, and even had a couch to crash on (thanks Danny), I decided to make full use of my bus ticket and planned some sightseeing. I started with a tour of Rome's Trastevery area (the other side of the Tiber river) and it was a real pleasure of winding alleyways and small squares. I also found one of THE top requested churches for Roman weddings and when I entered to view the famous ‘St Ceclia’ sculpture, found the church in full preparation for the next wedding. It made me chuckle that the audio guide said this church is chosen so often since it is considered ‘less gaudy’ than most Roman churches.. Hmmm.. Hard to really understand as this is still hardly a plain church.

St Ceclia's; obviously less gaudy!

Before leaving Trastevery, I wondered, without care got a little lost, and found a wonderful restaurant for a late lunch (large pizza, beer, and tip - €7). My next goal was the Catacombs of San Callisto that I was recommended to visit by some USA boating friends (Thanks Walt). By some strange chance they happened to be the original resting place of the same St Cecilia I’d found in the Trastervery church, so I accidentally had a very coordinated day. Here is an underground, 4 level, 12 mile, labyrinth of passageways with tombs carved out of the walls either side, stacked up to 8 deep (possibly more as we only toured a few of the passages). The early popes were originally buried here (although have long since been moved), it’s quite impressive.

Sights around Rome

With all my buzzing around town, getting used to the public transport now, I also stumbled across an pre-Christ Roman pyramid, the Mouth of Truth, and the Sacred Steps church (where worshippers climb a flight of steps on their knees for some benefit unknown). I also discovered the 4 basilicas that have a spare entrance door (a holy door), only opened for one year in every 25 (every pope jubilee year: next one 2025) and plastered/bricked up the rest of the time. The pope arrives on the appropriate day to break down the old plaster and open the door (I think someone else breaks the plaster, he just knocks) – and anyone who walks through the door that year is supposedly cleansed of all his or her sins to date. To save the Pope from rushing around like Santa on the said night, each of these special churches has a different start date for their ‘year’ (Christmas eve, new year’s day, etc).

Sushi Night with the Couchsurfing cooks!

So – on to Sushi. I had a fantastic evening and met some new Roman friends; I felt really lucky to be a part of the group for the night. (Maybe more on that later).

My plan for the following day was to visit the Vatican’s St Peter’s Cathedral. It was a public holiday in Rome for its saints day (St Peter) and so I was advised the cathedral was to be fully lit to display the artwork at its best. I didn’t want to miss it. My plan was to arrive by 8:30 and see it before the celebratory services started. My plan didn’t work as I was invited to a real stand-up, on the go, Italian breakfast by my host, and how could I resist?

When I eventually turned up at St Peters around 10:30 the Pope’s service was well under-way, the church closed to new visitors, and the square crammed with tourists and faithful watching on one of the many big screen live. The line to enter once the Cathedral opened again was wrapped most of the way around the square, and it seemed a bit crazy to wait – so I headed off for a tour of the Jewish Quarter of Rome. (There has been a established Jewish community in Rome since pre-Christ). There are a handful of Jewish restaurants here and I hope to come back with Kyle and sample some of the dishes.

You have to sample the Italian refreshments right? Pizza & beer one day, Grattachecca the next

But it was SO HOT – so before my tour I stopped off at a little, but famous, wooden, green kiosk by the river for a Grattachecca (a very up-market slurpee with the ice shaved in front of you, syrup of choice and real fruit in it!). After my tour it was still SO HOT, and I had to partake in a delicious gelato. This heat is really making me suffer. AND I'm told there are some even better ice drinks to sample!

I returned to St Peters to find the line open, but even longer. There was no way I was going to bake in the sun for what looked like at least 2 hours, so I took a side tour to another church that had caught my attention earlier: San Giovanni Laterano (St John’s Basilica). This was the home of the Pope long before St Peters and the Vatican and is the Cathedral of Rome (of which the pope is bishop). And WOW is it beautiful inside. There is even a free (donations welcome) video guide tour of the cathedral that you can take and refer to as you wonder (in exchange for your passport as deposit). For a small fee you can also visit the ancient cloister, and

St John's - Cathedral of Rome

I spent lots of time in this beautiful (and cool) cathedral before deciding to call it a day… But wait! What time is it? And when does St Peter’s close? Just maybe I should make the most of my public transport day ticket and see if the line had gone down. It had, and I walked right on in there – not even a queue for security! The main pulpit and beyond were open only to worshippers receiving communion given the special day, but there was still plenty to see. I couldn’t be sure that there was that much extra lighting, so maybe my push to see it on that particular day was unwarranted, but hey, it’s still pretty cool.

Vatican's St Peter's - compete with flower petal pope art!

Is it blasphemy to say I like St John’s better than St Peter’s? I do, I really do.

Doors of backstreet Rome

Travelling around Rome on the bus, and on foot, just made me want to cry – there is SO MUCH to see, and EVERY church seems well worth a peak inside. It’s clear I’ll never see it all, and there will always be some corner I’ll regret missing. Yes, I just wanted to cry I was so overwhelmed. I guess there is a reason they call it the eternal city.

But the sightseeing I enjoyed most, were the back street wanderings and discoveries, and it will seem so much better when I can explore it all with Kyle over the winter (less than 2 weeks and he's home again!)

[Note I had downloaded Rick Steve’s audio guides for most of these areas; free walking tours and well worth it!]