It has been four months since Jenna and I last posted on this blog, and boy have we been busy. Please accept our profound apologies for our absence.
Since July, we spent six more weeks in Montenegro visiting with family, then moved the boat up to Venice, then visited the US to celebrate my daughter Sara’s wedding, then returned back to Venice for a few days, then traveled up to Munich for a week of Oktoberfest fun, then returned back to Venice and the surrounding countryside, and then proceeded to sail down the Italian Adriatic coast to our winter berth here in Sicily. At various points during our stay in Venice and during the first half of our Italian cruise southward, we hosted our friends Ian and Becky, our cousins Jasmin and Leone, Jenna’s parents Sarah and Terry, and our friends Jeff and Melody.
Sophie is currently docked in the Marina di Cala del Sole in Licata, Sicily, where we plan to stay for the next four or five months. We are surrounded by a cruising community who winter their boats here, including several boats with children, and we have already started to make new friends.
For this blog, I will walk you through the twenty-three steps we took to get from Montenegro to Sicily. I cover a lot of ground for one post, and I’ll leave it to Jenna to follow up and dazzle you with her wonderful photography posts in the coming months. Let’s go.
1. Kotor, Montenegro
We spent most of July and August anchored in front of my brother David and his wife Goga’s house in Kotorski Zaliv (Kotor Bay) at 42°27′.920N, 018°45′.729E. Most cruising boats that visit Kotor either dock or anchor at the southern part of the bay by the old town or up in the northeast part of the bay by the mussel farms. David and Goga’s house is on the water midway between these two points, and we could easily tie our dinghy right to their little stone pier when we went to shore. The anchor location didn’t have the best protection when a storm came through, but we would always stay on the boat during the couple of times when it started to blow. Our Rocna anchor took good care of us.
The cruising boats that anchored in town had better shelter during southerly winds, but the boom-boom music from Kotor’s nightlife could get pretty loud for cruisers trying to sleep at anchor there. We loved our anchor location and its easy access to family and the nearby community.
It will take a 10 page blog post just to cover everything we did in Montenegro. We rafted rivers, climbed mountains, swam every day and ate ćevapi at night. We celebrated David and Goga’s 20th wedding anniversary with friends at the little floating church where they were married. We headed into town (usually around 11:00 PM) to listen to music, experience the local art scene, and meet some of Goga’s endless supply of friends. We played cards and did pushups. The kiddies sailed Optimists at the local sailing school three times a week. When we left town to go on overnight road trips, we would dock the boat in the little Marina Mala Luka a couple of miles away at 42°26′.635N, 018°45′.218E. It’s a quiet marina on the west side of the bay that is run by a nice family. There is no diesel for sale in any of the marinas in Kotor Bay, so we once had to head around to Tivat, about 10 miles away, to fuel up. We also went on a little excursion to Budva and wound up grabbing a mooring in town there for one night.
Overall, our visit to Montenegro was one of the true highlights of our adventure cruise.
But all good things must come to an end, and soon it became time for us to make the 240 mile overnight passage from Montenegro to Ancona, Italy. We actually left Montenegro a day earlier than planned due to a forecast for imminent bad weather with strong northerlies in the Adriatic. Our overnight passage was uneventful, although we felt bummed as we cruised up the Croatian coast knowing that we weren’t going to stop there in 2016. That’s what happens when you become slaves to a schedule. In Ancona, we stayed at Marina Dorica at 43°36′.618N, 013°28′.931E, a 1,000-boat, modern marina separated from the old town by an industrial park and the commercial harbor. At the marina, we side-tied to a floating finger dock (I am surprised by the number of floating docks we have encountered in Italy). The marina had 5 bars and restaurants plus a couple of small stores but no real grocery store. On our first night there, a thunderstorm with 40 knot winds came through and caused our gennaker to partially unfurl and ultimately tear along the leach. Jenna and I wrangled it down with the help of a neighbor in the pouring rain and high winds at 2am. On the plus side, we were so glad we had decided to leave Montenegro a day early, because we avoided encountering that storm at sea. The marina in Ancona is a 35 minute walk from town. Clearing customs and immigration in town was easy and professional, and we were their first US boat to clear there in a long time. We stayed in Ancona for several nights through the remaining bad weather and came to enjoy the Italian custom of passagio after riposo, where people parade their dogs in the main walking area downtown after they have completed their mid-day nap. We had no idea how much Italians loved their dogs!
The distance from Ancona to Venice is 120 miles, and given our narrow weather windows we decided to sail directly there on an overnight trip. I actually had to slow the boat down in order to enter Venice’s lagoon in daylight. We parked Sophie for over a month at the Marina di Lio Grando at 45°27′.266N, 012°26′.021E. It’s on the northeast side of the lagoon next to the Punta Sabbioni ferry terminal, a little over 3.5 miles across the water from the center of Venice. What a great and quiet little spot! It’s a small, family-run marina with a population of wild bunny rabbits roaming around. The staff tied us between two piers so that we didn’t rub against pilings when the occasional strong surge came through. Supermarkets, wine stores, bike shops, bars, and restaurants were all an easy bike ride a way. It took 10 minutes to walk to the ferry terminal for a vaporetto (local ferry boat) into Venice. The marina gave us a very good monthly rate. We even bought the kids new folding bikes after we discovered some end-of-summer specials at the local bike store. Happy Birthday Leo, and Merry Christmas Hazel!
4. United States
We left Venice to travel back to the United States and participate in my daughter Sara’s wedding with the love of her life, Julie. It was a perfect wedding on a farm in New York’s Hudson River valley. We visited with friends and family all along the East Coast, including Jenna’s sisters in Pennsylvania. We caught a Boston Red Sox game and even made a side trip to Connecticut to meet the crew of Totem after becoming their friends on the Internet after they left Seattle 8 years ago. It was a great visit home.
5. Back in Venice
After the US, we returned to Venice for a couple of days. Our main focus was restarting Sophie School. We also deployed our vinyl aft cockpit enclosure for the first time since we left San Diego four years ago. On the eve of Leo’s birthday, we decorated his new bike for him in the aft cockpit, turned its flashing lights on, and then sent him out three times to fetch something. He walked right past the bike without noticing it until we finally burst out singing “Happy Birthday” and pointed it out to him. We haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
After a few post-wedding days in Venice, we packed up and took the train to Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest and Leo’s birthday with various Sophie Adventure Cruises alumni from Seattle including the Fells, the Batterberrys, the Campbell-Hoppers, the Rieblings, and the Barretts. We also had the chance to meet with many of our wonderful Utzschneider and Stephan relatives from across southern Germany. As a change of pace from Munich, we all traveled up to Rödental to spend a weekend with my brother Rich (veteran of Sophie’s Pacific crossing and the Maldives leg) and his wife Sigi. We attended a local music festival there, and had ridiculously good fun.
7. Back in Venice Again
After Munich, we took the train back to Venice accompanied by Ian and Becky (who were making their fourth visit to Sophie.) We moved the boat from Marina di Lio Grando to Marina Sant’Elena (45°25′.537N, 012°22′.020E.) The marina is located directly in Venice and has the best free streaming wifi we have encountered on our entire trip. Sant’Elena was more expensive than Lio Grando, but we now had the opportunity to walk directly into town. The marina is in a quiet residential neighborhood by the naval college, with a park and multiple neighborhood bars and stores nearby. After a few days we were joined by my cousin Jasmin and her daughter Leonie and then by Jenna’s parents Sarah and Terry, who were making their first visit to us since we left the US. At one point we had ten people sleeping on the boat. It was fun and crowded, and our guests all had a great time exploring Venice. It also just so happened that Sara and Julie showed up in Venice for their honeymoon, so we had the opportunity to bask in the glow of the happy newlyweds.
8. Austria and Slovenia
After Jasmin, Leonie, Ian, and Becky left, Jenna’s parents organized a road trip for all of us to explore northern Italy, Austria, and Slovenia for a few days. Terry served in the US Air Force, and was stationed in Italy for three years in the 1970s. When Jenna was a toddler, they lived in a small town called Sedrano, about 90 minutes north of Venice. Unfortunately, I had to drop out and remain behind on Sophie, nursing a nasty chest cold, after pushing myself too far over the previous few weeks. Jenna, her parents, and the kiddies had a fabulous road trip visiting their old neighborhood, exploring the Alps, and visiting long time friends Werner and Heidi in Austria.
After the crew returned from the Austria trip, we decided to depart Venice for Ravenna with Jenna’s parents still on board. As soon as we had the mainsail up outside of the lagoon, a northerly wind gusted at 45 knots, accompanied by a nasty and sloppy sea. Jenna and I dropped the main and rolled out a scrap of jib, and we made the 60 mile downwind run to Ravenna in reasonable comfort and in good time. Jenna’s parents definitely got a taste for rough-water sailing, and they handled it like pros. We stayed at the Marina di Ravenna (44°29′.341N, 012°17′.450E), which is protected by a big double breakwater and was quite comfortable. The marina is located next to a tourist beach area that was mostly shut down for the winter (the first of many such marinas we would encounter on our trip south.) The actual city of Ravenna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was located 5 miles away, but there was a convenient bus into town. Jenna and her parents enjoyed touring the local churches and museums. While in Ravenna, our friends Jeff and Melody joined us and we were back to being a completely full and happy boat.
10. Rimini and San Marino
Our next stop was Rimini, just 28 miles south of Ravenna. It seems that the farther south we headed, the more fish and white wine started to appear on local restaurant menus. That’s a good thing. We stayed at the Marina di Rimini (44°04′.555N, 012°34′.363E), which was located right in town. I really enjoyed this stop, with a pretty town and a nearby park with good bike riding. The main street had a Hadrian’s arch on one end and a 2000 year-old Roman bridge on the other. Most importantly, during our stay here we took a bus to the country of San Marino, a postcard-perfect mountaintop castle city-state that is a separate country from Italy. On the day of our visit, the town was hosting a Prosecco conference and a swing-dance celebration with a live big band in the outdoor courtyard in front of the city hall. It was an awesome and unforgettable experience. We had so much fun together, but Jenna’s parents’ trip quickly came to an end and they left us in Rimini. It was a great visit and we look forward to the next time they join us on Sophie.
With Jeff and Melody still on board, we returned to Ancona and berthed at the same dock as our previous visit. What a difference two months can make! All of the stores and restaurants in the marina were shut down for the winter. We would encounter this phenomenon several more times during our southing. We only stayed for one night and then kept on moving.
12. San Benedetto Del Tronto
After Ancona, we made a very civilized 45 mile run down to San Benedetto del Tronto, another tourist town that was shut down for the winter, and stayed in the town marina (42°57′.357N, 013°53′.300E). We connected with Gina, a local who lives onboard her sailboat in the marina and friend of our fellow South Pacific traveler Tom Van Dyke. We enjoyed Gina’s hospitality and she even brought the kids early Halloween treats! There was some nice flat bike riding in town, especially along the mole where they have some very interesting statues. Jeff and Melody brought their bikes along, so we made up quite the peleton of folding bikes exploring the area. One night in the marina there was a marine weather forecasting seminar that was conducted entirely in Italian. I think I understood the entre talk. Isobars are isobars regardless of the language.
Our subsequent plan was to make another civilized 45 mile run to the port of Ortona, but when we arrived there in mid-afternoon, the marina appeared to be full of boats and empty of people. No one there was answering the phone or the radio. We now know that when cruising this part of the world, you need to make formal marina reservations in advance, even (or especially) in the off-season. Also, there is little to no anchoring on Italy’s east coast, so we called the marina in Termoli, got a commitment from someone there on the phone, and decided to go another 35 miles at a very high speed. We arrived there after dark and stern tied at 42°00′.170N, 015°00′.070E. We stayed two nights. There was a pretty old town with small houses painted in bright pastels, a nice beach front promenade for bike riding, and a main town with a public square and interesting shops. At the risk of repeating myself, it was another great visit.
Vieste is located on the spur of Italy’s boot, and it felt weird to be sailing Sophie for 50 miles on a due easterly course of 90° to get there from Termoli. It almost felt like we were sailing back to Seattle. It was worth the trip, because Vieste is a beautiful city with stunning cliffs and a very old-school Italian feel. We docked in the marina at 41°53′.292N, 016°10.073E. Vieste’s old town reminded me of Rhodos in Greece, with narrow crooked cobblestone streets and little shops. It also had some great restaurants serving excellent seafood, and we celebrated Jeff and Melody’s last night at a fabulous Italian restaurant before they took their leave of Sophie. We stayed one more night and befriended a nice family that runs the restaurant in the local yacht club. Their daughter came to the boat and played with Hazel, and afterwards they gave us some fresh seafood and we made delicious fish soup. They have an open invitation to visit us in sunny Sicily whenever they would like.
After Vieste, we sailed 24 miles due west along the southern coast of Italy’s spur to the town of Manfredonia. Once again, we arrived at a small marina, in this case the Marina Cala delle Sirene, to find it full of boats and empty of people. When I had called the marina in advance, the man who answered the phone said “Send Email, Send Email.” We assumed that meant they had room. It didn’t. Also the marina had no sailboats, which was a good indication that it was too shallow for Sophie. We were a little bummed at the idea of driving another 35 miles and docking after dark, but then Jenna noticed on Google Maps that there was something that looked like a huge marina just a few miles away. Sure enough, the Marina Del Gargano (41°37′.016N, 015°54′.775E) was right on the other side of town. It was three years old and had capacity for ~1000 boats. They weren’t listed in either our 2015 Adriatic Pilot or Navionics, but they had plenty of space for us. It was a nice marina, but was mostly shut down for the winter. We rode our bikes into town, toured a downtown park built around some Norman castles, and ate dinner on board.
After one night in Manfredonia, we covered 35 miles and stayed in Bisceglie, a nice little harbor (41°14′.821N, 016°30′.655E) just up the coast from Bari. It provided good shelter from some bad weather. There also seemed to be no tourism here; we felt like we were heading deeper into “real” Italy. The Norman fort that dominated the harbor had been converted to apartment buildings in the last century, and the town plaza was located behind that. It was too hilly for biking, but I was able to get an excellent haircut and triple shave in a small barbershop. We also had lunch one day in the old town in a vaulted restaurant called Antico Granaio
. They didn’t appear to have menus, and the waiter came out and said in Italian that he could bring us appetizers, primis, and secondis. He did so! Again, we feasted on delicious local food and incredible dolci. At this point on our trip, 80% of the menu items in restaurants were seafood. The southing continued.
17. Polignano a Mare
We chose to bypass Bari and stay at either Polignano or Monopoli for our next stop. Our pilot indicated that Polignano looked like another small fishing harbor shut down for the winter, but Jenna found a website showing that there was a new marina there, so we gave it a shot. What a great choice! It was 35 miles from Bisceglie, and Polignano was our favorite stop on the entire Italian Adriatic coast. The Cala Ponte marina was located at 41°00′.372N, 017°12′.334E. Like most of the big marinas here, the stores and restaurant were shut down for the winter, and the harbor was a bit rolly in the heavy winds. But Polignano town was spectacular! It was a mile from the marina, and we could ride our bikes there on a dedicated bike path. The town was perched on cliffs on either side of an old river ravine, and the old town was walled off from cars in a way that reminded us of Kotor. We found a small “foodie” restaurant called Osteria dei Mulini that was written up in the New York Times, and it was really really good. We sat out a storm with 40 knots northerlies here and enjoyed watching the surf crash against the cliffs at the base of the town.
While at the marina, we rented a car for the day and did some local sightseeing. Our first stop was Alberobello to check out the Trulli, traditional stone huts with conical roofs. They look like little hobbit houses! We then had lunch at Martina Franca, a hilltop city with a lovely cathedral and central courtyard. After that we checked out the Roman ruins at Egnazia, a former port city on the road between Rome and Brindisi. There’s an extension to the Appian Way here, and you can still see the chariot ruts in a section of the preserved stone road. Finally, we swung by Monopoli to check out the harbor, and this made us even happier about our choice to stay in Polignano. The harbor in Monopoli had a big roll and little space for cruising yachts.
After Polignano, we made a 42 mile run to Brindisi, the historic naval port on Italy’s southeast coast. We stayed at the Brindisi Marina (40°39′.927N, 018°00′.124E), yet another 1,000 boat marina that was mostly shut down for the winter. The marina is located across from the Aragon castle and was well-protected. It was near dark when we arrived, and we decided to make the 30 minute walk past the naval base to a little residential neighborhood with some cafes and pizzerias. We were hoping to find some Champions League football on a TV somewhere and got lucky to find Braceria La VacaLoca
, a restaurant that served either paninis, or grilled meat covered in rocket, cherry tomatoes, and shaved parmesan. They also served fresh, homemade potato chips. I could eat here every day for the rest of my life. During our walk we got a view of the old town on the other side of the harbor, but given the threat of bad weather approaching, we decided to leave the next morning. It would have been nice to stay here longer.
19. Santa Foca di Melendugno
After Brindisi, we headed south for another 34 miles to Santa Foca and stayed at the Porto Turistico di San Foca. (40°39′.927N, 018°00′.124E.) The marina was sheltered, but the summer tourist town was almost deserted. We were able to go for a bike ride on the promenades north and south of town and buy some groceries in a local store, but that was about it.
From Foca we headed another 34 civilized miles to Santa Maria di Leuca, the southernmost tip of the heel on Italy’s “boot” and the place where the Adriatic meets the Ionian sea. We stayed at the Porto Turistico di Leuca (39°47′.730N, 018°24’341 E). The harbor had a massive breakwater over 20 feet high and was dominated by a lighthouse, a Catholic shrine, and the terminus of a major aqueduct built by Mussolini. We went for a nice bike ride, ate lunch at Café Do Mar
, and took some sunset photos from the top of the hill.
After Leuca, Jenna and I had a bit of a trip planning dilemma. We had to cross the Gulf of Taranto to get to Cambria, the “ball and toe” of Italy’s boot. At a minimum, the trip would be 80 miles, and the closest harbors on the Cambrian side looked to be of the many boats, few people variety. We also were encountering increasingly stormy weather with limited windows where we could move. So we decided to bypass Cambria, make a 200 mile overnight dash, and head straight for Riposto on Sicily’s east coast. It was a good call. We left Leuca a little before sunrise and enjoyed a calm crossing across the Gulf of Taranto. We sailed for the first half of the day, motorsailed the second half of the day, and motored through the night after the wind shifted around to the southwest. The kiddies did Sophie School and I caught a tuna. Jenna and I split the night shift, and I prepared myself for our winter destination by watching Goodfellas and The Godfather. We averaged a nice and fuel efficient 6.5-7 knots. On our second day, Jenna spotted a small sea turtle tangled up in fishing line and a plastic tarpaulin. Jenna boathooked the plastic with turtle up to our transom and I was able to cut it free with a rigging knife. That was one happy turtle swimming away from us! Riposto is at the foot of Mount Etna, and we were able to tie up at the pier at Porto dell’Etna (37°43′.885N, 015°12′.477E.) The marina was half-full (not half-empty!), and most of the tourist businesses in town were shut down. The main walking area was on the waterfront, where there were five fishmongers in a row along the waterfront park. We had lunch (fish) at Trattoria Marricriu one day and then Jenna indulged me and we all went out for pizza and European football at a genuine Murphy’s Pub!
Our weather windows in Riposto were becoming increasingly rare, and we thought we had a shot to head south after a couple of days there. We left at sunrise, and after ten miles encountered a strong wind wall coming off the back side of Etna. The wind went from 5 knots to 30 knots in a matter of several hundred meters. It was actually forecast on PredictWind, but we thought it would turn out to be a small patch that we could easily power through. Wrong! After slamming for a while, we turned around and headed back to Riposto. There is no need to pound if you are not on a schedule and the weather forecast is meant to clear up the following day. So we tried again the next day, leaving at 4:00 AM to try to make the 65 miles to Marzamemi on Sicily’s southeastern tip and had an easy trip. The small harbor there is managed by three yacht clubs, and we were able to reserve one of the last remaining berths in town from Marina Sporting (36°44′.032N, 015°07′.354E.) The father and son who ran the marina were very nice, and they had excellent free wifi that we used to watch the US election results and then a LOT of Netflix. The town of Marzamemi was pretty much shut down for the winter, although it looked like a fun place to visit in the summer. I was able to ride my bike a couple of miles up the hill to the town of Pachino to load up on groceries. We stayed here on the boat for four nights in high winds, watching the surf crash outside the breakwater and waiting for the weather to change.
We thought we would be stuck in Marzamemi for a week or potentially longer, but last Friday a short weather window opened up and we left Marzamemi to make the 80 mile run to our winter destination of Licata. We had a 5 to 15 knot headwind the entire way, but the seas calmed down along the way. We ran the engines @ 2900 RPMs because the wind was forecast to pick up to 20 knots by late afternoon and also because the kids were incredibly excited to meet the other boat kids waiting in Licata. It was an uneventful trip, and the kids were able to do schoolwork and clean up their cabins in anticipation of play dates. We arrived at the Marina Di Cala Del Sole
, Sophie’s home birth for the next 5 months. Our port engine actually ran out of fuel while we were idling outside the marina, but we were able to easily move fuel over from the starboard tank in less than a minute. (We’ve done this once before when we were much younger.) There is a community of 50 cruising boats wintering here, and the three other families with kids (All Together, No Plans Just Options and Ferdinand) greeted us from the quay and helped us stern tie. It’s a quiet, very sheltered marina, and Sophie is 75 feet from a café/bar and 400 feet from a small mall with the best grocery store we’ve seen since Israel. Since we’ve arrived we’ve already attended two cruiser happy hours (stayed up too late for the first one) and the weekly Sunday pot luck barbecue (ate too much cannoli.) The kiddies LOVE having new friends, and we are already making plans for our community Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.
People here are stunned when they realize we started the year in Thailand. Since then we’ve pushed really hard at times as we traveled across the Maldives, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, Italy, Germany, The USA, Austria, and then back down Italy to Sicily. It feels really good to finally be home for a while.
Have I told you lately how lucky we are?