From Montenegro to Sicily in 23 Steps

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.

Whew!

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.

2. Ancona

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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!

3. Venice


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.

6. Bayern


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.

9. Ravenna


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.

11. Ancona
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.

13. Termoli


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.

14. Vieste


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.

15. Manfredonia


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.

16. Bisceglie


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.

18. Brindisi


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

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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.

20. Leuca


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.

21. Riposto


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!

22. Marzamemi


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.

23. Licata


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?

 

Sailing Across Greece

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GREC5389Sophie has been anchored in front of my brother David and his wife Goga’s house in Kotor, Montenegro for the last week. Our current location is 42°27′.934N, 18°45′.704E, which places us at the same approximate latitude as the Rogue River in Oregon (for those of you keeping track at home.) Our arrival here is one of the happiest accomplishments of our sailing adventure, one of the reasons we decided a year ago to come to the Med via the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. We are in a good place.

In order to get to Montenegro from Turkey, we spent 6 weeks sailing 500 miles across Greece. It was a spectacular experience which we were lucky to share with our friends Randy and Susan (joining us in the photo above.) If we weren’t on a schedule to meet up with family, we could have easily spent months or even years in Greece.

We could write 30 blog posts and post 1,000 photos and still not entirely capture the full extent of our experience in this country. This blog post is my initial attempt and focuses on the harbors and anchorages we visited during our passage. Jenna will be following up with her beautiful photos, as usual.

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Rhodes
We cleared out of Turkey in Marmaris and made the 25 mile passage to Rhodes in half a day. We were able to secure one of the last available berths in the Mandraki Harbor in the port of Rhodes, but it took us 45 minutes to med-moor on the quay due to the 25 knot cross-breeze. It was not fun, but we later learned that 2 other bats had tried to moor in that same spot and gave up. That made us feel a little better. Our berth was at 36°27′.054N, 28°13′.600E. After securing the boat, our entire family made the pilgrimage to the Port Police, Customs, Immigration, and then back to the Port Police. We stopped for our anniversary dinner at our first outdoor Greek taverna in the middle of this process. and eventually everything sorted itself out. We were finally in the EU! The Port of Rhodes is centered around an old town and fort that was built by the Knights of Saint John during the Crusades. The museum is excellent, as is the ancient Greek stadium and amphitheater. Unfortunately, the Colossus of Rhodes is long-gone.

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Tilos
After Rhodes we went to Tilos for an overnight stopover. We anchored on the south side of the island at 36°25′.753N, 27°20′.894E in 30 feet of water. On the way to Tilos, we caught an actual tuna fish, proving once and for all the the Med is not completely fished out. The anchorage provides good shelter from the prevailing northerly meltemi wind, but we woke up to a southerly and exited the harbor at first light.

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Astapálaia
Our next stop was Astipálaia, an island off the beaten tourist track that had a reputation in the middle ages for being a haven for pirates and smugglers who hid their boats in Astipálaia’s many coves. We anchored in a little harbor by ourselves in the middle of the south coast at 36°34′.416N, 26°23′.234E in 25 feet of water. I brought my bike to shore and struggled over the little mountain range to visit the main town of Skala. Later we all had dinner in our anchorage at a cute taverna with brightly colored chairs and an interesting mural of a pirate wench sporting an ouzo-firing submachine gun.

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Jenna just sat there, shaking her head. It was a very quiet and relaxing island to visit. We stayed two nights.

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Santorini
This is the famous Greek tourist island with the iconic blue-domed, white painted houses perched on the cliffs of a massive ancient volcano. Even though Santorini is 10 miles long and is visited by four cruise ships a day, it only has one small harbor, Vlikhada, located at its southern tip. Fortunately we were able to cajole our way into a berth there and used it as our base in Santorini for a week. 36°19′.997N, 25°26′.136E. The anchorage is very small and very shallow; upon our exit we wrapped a mooring chain around one of our propellers as we navigated the channel in 6 feet of water. Oh my goodness, Santorini was a special place! Our friends Randy and Susan flew in from Seattle and joined us here for the start of their 2 week Sophie Adventure Cruise. We toured the island in a rental car for a couple of days. We did the famous walk along the cliffs from Thira to Finikia. We visited the preserved ruins of one of the oldest archaeological sites of pre-Hellenic Greece. We toured a wine museum with underground animatronic displays of 19th century wine making. We ate great food, drank good wine, and even discovered a bakery with an outdoor, self-service kegerator. Birthplace of civilization, indeed!

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My personal favorite was sitting in a taverna above the Vlikhados harbor at sunset and watching the ballet of 25 charter catamarans all coming in to a narrow, 200 meter-wide harbor after sunset. It was quite a show!

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Folégandros
After the hustle and bustle of Santorini, it was nice to sail over to Folégandros, a quiet island with a chora (Greek town) on a cliff overlooking a broad expanse of sea. We anchored in the main harbor and hiked up the road to have dinner and watch Eurocup football in the town. At one point I even rented a quad 4×4 to make it easier for a hungry, post-school Hazel to make it up the hill to dinner. This was a great spot. We anchored at 36°36′.791N, 24°57′.050E in 12 feet of water.

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Milos
Our next stop was Milos, which has some of the best beaches in all of the Med. It’s also the home the famous statue “Venus de Milo”, which was found by a farmer in a field here and “sold” to the local French consul in the late 1800’s. (The more I tour local historical sites of ancient civilizations in this part of the world, the more angry I become that so many of the local treasures are now housed in museums in London, Paris, and Berlin.) We anchored in the southeast corner of the big harbor of Ornos Milou at 36°41′.475N, 24°26′.735E, which gave us the best available shelter from the meltemi. The were some boats on the other side of the bay that were getting smashed against the town quay in the 30 knot winds and 3 foot waves. We were safe. Jenna took our guests and the kiddies in the rental car for a day of beach excursions while I stayed on Sophie and did some Jamie work. Randy always wanted an upside-down backwards Speedo shot, and on Milos he made it happen. It was a great day for all of us.

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Sifnos
We really liked Sifnos and anchored in the double harbor of Faros on the south coast at 36°56′.341N, 24°44′.766E in 12 feet of turquoise water. Our anchorage only fit 5 other boats, including a big charter boat with a bunch of older French men and their “granddaughters.” We spent 2 days at Sifnos. The grownups enjoyed swimming, the kiddies enjoyed motoring around in our little “Baby” dinghy, and we all enjoyed eating at the local beachfront taverna 2 nights in a row. At this point we were really getting into the Eurocup football tournament and watched games both nights.

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Paros
After Sifnos we sailed our way over to Paros and anchored in the Ormos Plastira bay at 37°07′.475N, 25°13′.070E in 15 feet of water. We spent a few nights here enjoying a local beach with weird rock formations, a good local taverna for football, and excellent swimming. We also met the Lockharts, an English family that was taking a year off to explore the world. They have two boys, and it was great to see the kiddies have some playmates their own age.

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Mikonos
We spent 8 days in Mikonos, partly to enjoy the nightlife and partly because we were pinned in by a strong northerly meltemi. Randy really wanted to experience the nightlife on Mikonos, and the island didn’t didn’t let him down (although we did miss Lindsay Lohan’s 30th birthday party here by ten days.) Mikonos has multiple anchorages along its south coast, all providing some shelter from the meltemi, but the wind coming off the mountains can really pick up. We spent our fist nights in the bay opposite the beach club Super Paradiso  (above) at 37°24′.761N, 25°22′.226E anchored off the beach in 40 feet of water. The beach club had over a thousand people along with a club dj playing boom boom house music. We rented a couple of beach umbrellas and soaked in the scene.

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Later that night the four grownups hitchhiked, walked, and cabbed around a headland to the nightclub Cabo Paradiso and stayed out until 4:00 AM! We definitely weren’t in Indonesia any more. Later that morning we moved east 3 bays to Kalafatis and anchored at 37°26′.436N, 25°25′.392E in 30 feet of sand off the beach. The beach clubs here were more family-oriented, we got to watch some some world-class windsurfing, and we celebrated some school milestones at an excellent Italian restaurant nearby. Later in the week we motored over to the main harbor of Ornos and encountered meltemi gusts of 40-50 knots along the way. We were worried we had made a big mistake as we entered the harbor, but found an anchoring spot in the lee of a cliff at 37°24′.922N, 25°19′.183E.

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We could see big whitecaps 50 meters away from us in the main harbor, but we were sheltered in our little anchorage spot. We said our goodbyes to Randy and Susan, who pretty much had the best-ever Sophie Adventure Cruise of any of our guests over the last 3½ years. We then stayed tucked up against our nice cliff for another four days as we waited for the wind to die down. (Diva, the Bintang t-shirt is for you. Enjoy Indo!)

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Delos and Rinia
When the meltemi finally subsided, we made a 5 mile trip on Sophie over to an anchorage on the east side of the island of Rinia (37°24′.521N, 25°14′.175E) from where we could take the dinghy to the amazing archaeological site at Delos. Delos is the mythical birthplace of Artemis and Apollo and served as the economic and cultural capital of the eastern Mediterreanan for 500 years. During our tour of the extensive and beautiful ruins, Hazel slipped and scraped her foot pretty badly, so I took her back to Sophie in the dinghy. The chop and wind had picked up significantly as we crossed the bay back to Rinia, so Hazel and I took Sophie right over to the day anchorage at Delos (37°23′.646N, 25°15′.788E), and collected Jenna and Leo after their tour.

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After we were all back onboard Sophie on Delos, Jenna and I decided to make to the 40 mile late afternoon run over to Kythnos instead of spending the night on the south side of Rinia. For our first night on Kythnos, we anchored in the port of Loutro on the east side of the island in a quiet harbor with two other boats. We anchored at 37°23′.716N, 24°27′.494E in 50 of water with a lot of chain out. The next morning we motored around to the west side of Kythnos and dropped a hook in Ormos Fikiadha at 37°24′.823N, 24°22′.827E in 12 feet of sand. It was a wonderful, protected anchorage with a sand bar beach. At times there were 30 boats there, but that was OK because the swimming was excellent. There was a family taverna on a small cliff overlooking the beach, and a mile away was another bay with a taverna that showed football. We joined the Germans one night (above) and the French the next. Jenna and I even went on a date by ourselves at night with the dinghy to the town 3 miles away! We could have spent a month here on Kythnos and cannot wait to return.

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Sounion
We eventually and reluctantly had to leave Kythnos to continue our journey north to visit with family in Montenegro, and we randomly picked Sounion as a halfway stop between Kythnos and Athens. What a halfway spot! Sounion is located at the southern tip of the Attic peninsula and features the Temple of Poseidon, one of the great preserved temples of ancient Greece. We anchored under the temple and wandered up the hill for a visit. Afterwards, a squall with 40+ knots of wind came through just as we were getting back on Sophie. We found ourselves anchored a little too close for comfort right under base of the cliffs and the temple. So we moved the boat to the middle of the harbor, with plenty of swinging room, and let out all of our chain in 35 feet of water. We survived the night and have a newfound respect for the god of the sea. Our final anchorage was at 37°39′.183N, 24°01′.327E.

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Athens
After Sounion we motored the 25 miles up to Athens and took a berth at the Zéa Marina in the Pereaeus district on the waterfront. There were over 40 superyachts in this 1,000 boat marina, but the marina staff tucked us onto a quay in front of the police station next to a collection of other cruising boats. We didn’t do much in our three days in Athens except visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Erechtheon, the Theater of Dionysus, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Areopagus, the Temple of Hephaestus, the Ancient Agora, the Stoa of Attica, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Gardens, the Zappio Megaro, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Monastiraki District, the Plaka District, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We also squeezed in a playdate with the Lockharts at the local playground and wound up staying out all night with the parents watching the Eurocup and then dancing until dawn. Afterwards we took the subway with the kiddies to a mall and watched the film BFG.  My personal Athens highlight was wandering into a marine chandlery with Hazel and discovering that the store had the best inventory of Jabsco marine toilet spare parts I have ever encountered in my entire life! Better than Fisheries, better than West, better than any place in New Zealand. We’re talking electric Quiet Flush discharge ports right on the rack, right next to Pumpguard prefilter replacement screens! (No more finger cuts from cleaning worn out Pumpguard filters for me!) And the guy behind the counter knew his stuff. Indeed, Athens was a special place that we will never forget. At some point I assume Jenna will share a photo or two. 37°56′.062N, 23°38′.950E.

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Galaxidi (Via the Corinth Canal)
After an early departure from Zéa, we motored the 25 miles to the entrance of the Corinth Canal, a 3 mile long cut through a cliff that would save us 100 miles of beating against the meltemi if we went on the outside of the peninsula. We tied up to the Canal authority pier, paid our €280 transit fee, and then proceeded in a mini convoy through a 100 foot wide trench with 200 foot cliffs on either side of us. It was pretty cool.

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After we exited the canal, we motored another 40 miles through the Gulf of Corinth and settled upon the little town of Galaxidi at 38°22′.863N, 22°23′.401E on the north side of the gulf. What a lovely little town! We anchored in 20 feet of sand off of an impromptu beach club at the tip of the village where a dj was spinning house music and families were enjoying their Saturday afternoon. There were three other boats in the anchorage, fifteen boats on the quay, and all of the tourists in the little town were Greek. We wound up spending three nights here and could have stayed a month. Jenna and I spent a night in the only taverna in town that showed football, and we were the only non-Greeks in the crowd. We made a day trip up into the mountains to visit Delphi, the holy site of Hellenic Greece, and soaked in the majesty of ancient civilizations. We swam in tranquil waters surrounded by mountains. It was yet again another special place.

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Levkas
After we left Galaxidi, we exited the Gulf of Corinth, rounded the corner into the Ionian Sea, and made our way north to the island of Levkas for an overnight stop. We anchored in the big bay past town, surrounded by 50 other boats in 25 feet of water at 38°41′.344N, 20°42′.397E. We didn’t go to shore, but enjoyed a post-passage swim in the warm water. As we entered and exited Levkas, we passed by the private island of Skorpios, which used to be owned by Aristotle Onassis. He married Jackie Kennedy there in the 60’s. The island is now owned by the daughter of a Russian oligarch who made his money by consolidating control of Russia’s potash industry during the rise of Putin. He must be a clever man. Potash.

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Paxos
After our night in Levkas, we continued our northing to Paxos, where we anchored in another tourquoise lagoon at Lakka on the northern tip of the island. On our way, we transited Levkas Canal, a mile-long cut through a salt marsh. The canal is blocked at its northern tip by a ferry that serves as a bridge between the mainland and the island, and every hour the ferry sounds a horn, turns sideways, and lets the waiting boats pass by. It was pretty funny. When we arrived in Paxos, we wall-tied to a cliff in 15 feet of water in a small harbor with 50 other boats at 39°14′.259N, 20°07′.910E. At this point, Jenna and I were beginning to feel pretty good about our med-mooring and wall tying skills. There is a big charter industry in the northern Ionian, which explains the number of boats in the harbor, but the charter boats cleared out in a couple of days in order to return to their bases for the weekend transition to new clients. Apparently Thursday night in Lakka is Greek dancing night at one of the waterfront tavernas, but most people skipped that to watch Germany lose to France in the Eurocup. (Grrrrr). We spent 5 days in Lakka and loved every second. At this point, we had become comfortable sending the kiddies into town in the Baby in the mornings by themselves to buy bread and produce. It’s a significant point of pride and responsibility for them. We also became friends with a Spanish family with 10 year old twins (boy and girl), and the kiddies spent two days swimming back and forth between our boat and theirs. It was the sort of experience Jenna and I assumed we would encounter all of the time during our circumnavigation, and in Paxos it actually happened. We spent 5 days here and could easily spend an entire summer in the Ionian. Perhaps next year.

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Corfu
Our last stop in Greece was Gouvia Marina in Corfu, where we spent 2 nights hanging out and checking out of the country. This was another 1,000 boat marina, and they unfortunately lost our reservation as we approached, so they parked us at at 39°39′.002N, 19°50’887E on the far fringes of their docks, about a kilometer from the marina office. We weren’t able to see much of Corfu, but Jenna and I were able to see the Eurocup final at one of the marina bars. Hazel enjoyed the marina pool. We spent two nights eating at Harry’s Taverna, an excellent spot 4 blocks from the marina.

So that wraps up my initial summary of our trip across Greece. We are now stuck in Montenegro, surrounded by mountains, warm water, family, and a rich cultural history. Last night we participated in the annual ceremony where locals take their boats out to a man-made island in the bay and throw rocks into the water to continue to build up support around the church where my brother David and his wife Goga were married. It was part religious ceremony …

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… part water fight.

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We threw our rocks into the water and avoided any unnecessary splashing.

Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

Reflections: Maldives

Here’s a post about our experiences travelling to the Maldives during January and February 2016.

From Thailand to the Maldives

It was hard to say goodbye to Thailand after five months, but we looked forward to sailing again on the open ocean. We celebrated our last night at Coconut’s in Phuket, with the chef/owner Phen and cruising friends. Hazel took orders and delivered everyone’s food. She loved helping out in the kitchen. We all miss Phen!

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Jamie’s brother Richy, our neice and nephew Katie and Nic, and our friend Travis joined us for a 10-day crossing to Male, Maldives.

We blogged about the crossing in real time (Sophie is Wicked Fast Again, Sailing Along Quite Nicely, Bay of Bengal, Ohhhhh Halfway There, Crossing a Highway, Beneath the Subcontinent,  Current-aided Run to the Barn, and Made It!), so  here is a glimpse of the pictures from our adventure:

 

Land Ho!

We had one of the easiest and most fun passages of our entire journey. Even so, there is nothing better than the feeling of seeing land at the end of a successful ocean crossing.

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Male is a daunting sight with tall buildings covering almost every square inch of the island.

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After anchoring in the deepest waters since Jayapura harbor in Indonesia, checking in with our agent and the government authorities, and moving to a shallower and more protected anchorage for the night, we celebrated.

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After picking up a few veggie provisions for the weekend, we got an early start out to one of the nearby atolls for some snorkeling and sun while awaiting our formal cruising permit.

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Anchored next to a handful of super yachts, Sophie felt quite small. We didn’t mind the view, though.

The next day, we headed back to Hulhumale to pick up Jenn and a few more provisions before heading out in search of manta rays and some more remote anchorages.

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We only had a couple of days with Richy and Nic so we made the most of our time together, snorkeling, swimming, diving, a few games of Shotzee!, and Leo lost another tooth.

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It was so special to have Richy, Katie and Nic together on Sophie. Sigrid, Stephen and Danny we wish you could have been here too!

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After Richy and Nic departed, we sampled some local food and made a grocery run during a torrential downpour, discovering a broken jar of pickles on our way home, then headed out for a week of fun in the sun.

Resorts in the Maldives are beautiful, but appear to be quite the velvet prisons. The Maldives government encourages tourism to resort islands, where they grant exceptions to many rules such as dress code or alcohol, but tourists are generally separate from locals on village islands. As cruisers, we had more freedom to travel around, although we probably experienced the least amount of cultural interaction in the Maldives compared with the other countries we’ve visited.

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Water Sports

We spent a week island hopping through the Fulhadoo, Goidhoo and Male atolls and saw the most colorful fish since Indonesia and some early signs of recovering coral.

These photos hardly do justice to the incredible hues of blue and turquoise against white sugar sand beaches.

We encountered sea turtles nearly everywhere we stopped.

Discovering our own private sand island was another highlight of the week.

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As with Richy and Nic, our time with Jenn, Travis and finally Katie ended too quickly. We loved every minute with you all.

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Quiet Family Time

For the final two weeks of our stay in the Maldives, we explored the Ari Atoll, focusing on Sophie School, preparing the boat for our crossing to the Red Sea, and a little play time too. Hazel and Leo loved riding the rapids on their castaway raft.

One afternoon, we had a bit of excitement watching a funnel cloud start to form behind us. The weather definitely shifted toward the end of our stay, with stronger winds and storms passing through more frquently.

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Back in Male, the Indian Navy came to town, a showing of friendly force in the neighborhood.

 

 

One month in the Maldives only allowed us a glimpse of all the beauty here. We wish we could have stayed longer, but the Red Sea weather window beckoned. We will fondly remember the warm days, crystal waters, deep blue skies, and white sugar sand. What an adventure! Have we mentioned lately how very lucky we are?

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Reflections: Holly Bali

Now that Sophie School is on a brief holiday, I’m catching up on my backlog of photos and stories. Here’s one reflection about some of our adventures in Indonesia last year.

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Ambon, Indonesia

In February 2015, my cousin Holly sailed with us from Ambon, Indonesia to Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, and we also made a short trip to Bali.

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On Holly’s first and only night in Ambon, we took her to our favorite restaurant there, Dua Ikan, to sample some local delicacies including Pepeda, which you are meant to slurp out of your bowl without using silverware.

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We had planned to spend a few days in Ambon in order to watch the Patriots win the superbowl, but our plans changed when the weather forecast changed by the next morning and a good window to cross west opened up if we departed right away and then there wouldn’t be another one for about a week. We said hasty goodbyes to friends on Per Ardua, Ocelot and Guruca Cat, called the Moore and Connor families by phone, and pulled up the anchor.

We had a great view on the way out of Ambon Bay.

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Even the dolphin helped to send us off.

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Sunshine, light winds and calm seas. This had the makings of a perfect day.

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Later that morning, while Holly and I were on watch, almost out of sight of land, two squall lines appeared on either side of the horizon and both appeared to be moving in our direction. The systems merged right on top of us, and within minutes, we were motoring into 40 knot white-out conditions. The storm lasted for less than an hour, but it took most of the afternoon for choppy seas to subside in its aftermath. Holly’s easy introduction to overnight passages ended up being a bit more aggressive than we expected, but it was the only weather we saw during this crossing. We had light breezes and calm weather the rest of the way there.

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From what we read, we expected to be off the grid for our stopover in Wakatobi, but as soon as we anchoraged off Hoga Island, a small fishing boat with the local divemaster stopped by to welcome us and point out provisioning stops in the neighboring village, excellent snorkeling spots with moorings for our dinghy, and directions to find the restaurant on shore. We also had 4 bars of cell service. So much for cruising off the grid.

Hoga is one of the most beautiful islands we saw in Indonesia. It is fringed by white sandy beaches and has one of the most colorful reefs, teeming with little fish. We spent a couple days snorkeling, beachcombing and playing games.

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Leo and Hazel also practiced many dives off Sophie.

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We also watched some spectacular cloud formations.

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We experienced great weather at Hoga, and then we left just in time.

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We had almost a full moon for this leg of the trip which helped tremendously at night to spot FADs before hitting them. In this area, they were not small homemade fish traps, but 10 foot square floating platforms sometimes with small huts on them. We had a couple near misses, but managed to dodge them before it was too late. There is a good reason to avoid sailing at night in Indonesia, and we only did a handful of nighttime crossings during more than 3,000 miles sailing there.

Flores Island

We made landfall again in the 17 Islands Ruing Marine Park off Flores Island in the East Nusa Tenggarra region of Indonesia. This is an uninhabited national marine park with pristine beaches, coral reefs and very few visitors. We anchored in 25 feet of sand off a small island that the kids dubbed “Sand Dollar Island” after the thousands of sand dollars we found lining the beach.

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Flores Island

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“Sand Dollar Island” in 17 Islands Riung Marine Park

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On our second night there, Hazel developed a high fever and complained of body pains, so we made the decision to leave at first light for Labuan Bajo, the nearest city, 80 miles away. After an uneventful trip, Holly, Hazel and I flew on the first available flight to Bali while Jamie and Leo looked after Sophie. We took Hazel to the hospital late that night where she braved a very big needle for blood tests and a thorough exam before we checked into our hotel to await the results. By morning Hazel’s fever broke and we were relieved to learn she didn’t have dengue, malaria or other serious tropical illness. With one day left of Holly’s vacation, we spent a leisurely day at a resort.

 

We had so much fun together on our mini girls’ holiday and loved every minute of our time with Holly in Indonesia. We are such a lucky family!

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Turkey is Not Southeast Asia or the Pacific

20160526_104731Sophie is currently moored in Sarsala in the Skopea Limani area of Turkey’s Lycean coast, just 5 miles south of Göcek. It is a pretty bay with a beach and a stunning view of nearby mountains. It feels like Desolation Sound back in British Columbia, except there are more tourists here. We will likely stay in the Göcek area for a week, focusing on Sophie school and boat projects. It’s quite a pleasant location.

Now that we have been cruising in Turkey for a couple of weeks, it’s time to share with you some early thoughts on how cruising here is different from cruising in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We will also update you on some new additions to our home.

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Cooler Weather Makes Our Machines Happier
The ambient temperature here is 20 degrees F lower than in Thailand, and this makes a big difference for how efficiently our machines work. As I’ve mentioned before, Sophie is simply a collection of different systems packaged together, and if the machines in these systems are happy, then Sophie is happy. We use Victron energy charger/inverters to charge our main battery bank, and they now run with up to 50% more efficiency in the cooler weather here, producing a peak charge of 180 amps (at 12 volts) compared to 110 amps in Thailand. The photo above shows 180 amps flowing into our main battery bank. This NEVER happened in the Pacific or in Asia. Never. The Victrons have internal sensors that reduce their charge when the machines get hot, and these sensors are apparently enjoying the cool Turkish spring. On the load side, our batteries are lasting longer between charges because our 2 refrigerators and 1 freezer aren’t working as hard in the cooler weather. Fewer people are opening up the fridges for cold drinks, and the machines’ compressors don’t have to work as hard to maintain their temperatures. Our watermaker also appears to be quite happy in the cooler weather, with less growth gunking up its filters. In Thailand we had to swap out the external filters every 2 weeks due to algae growth, but we haven’t had to change a filter since we passed through the Suez Canal. Our water tastes much better as well!

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No Tuna, But Plenty of Turtles and Goats
We have been trolling for fish since we left Cyprus but have experienced exactly zero fish action. We have not seen any offshore fishing boats, either. There are some small fishing boats using hand nets right outside of harbors, and the tourist restaurants all serve grilled fish that look like little sea perch. The village retail areas also have fishing stores that sell $500 fishing poles and buckets of lures to the tourists who come here to pursue their dreams. But there are no big pelagic fish. None. There are, however, thousands of sea turtles along this stretch of coast. No one ever told me that we would see more sea turtles in Turkey than in any other country on our adventure so far. Turtles are everywhere here. We have to dodge them in the dinghy. Some of them are big suckers, measuring more than a meter across. Apparently June is turtle egg-laying season, and there are many egg-laying beaches nearby. There are also goats on every hillside of every harbor and every bay. They seem to enjoy eating right next to where we tie our shore lines. I haven’t seen any gnaw marks on our lines yet, but I remain alert to the danger.

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Fewer Cruisers, More Boats
There are a lot of boats out on the water here in Turkey, but almost all of them are charters or tour boats, and the people who charter boats use them every day. From our anchorage right now I can see three boats out sailing in the afternoon breeze. By comparison, I think we saw three sailboats during our entire passage across Indonesia. But we haven’t met any long-term cruisers since we were in Israel. It’s still off-season, and we are hopeful we will connect with some fellow cruisers soon. It was easy for us to do so in places like Thailand, because when you walk into the cruisers bar by the marina, there were … cruisers there! But it doesn’t seem to be the same here, at least so far. Also, most of the charter boats here in Turkey are US-flagged, because apparently our country is a tax haven for people who purchase and operate charter boats in Turkey.

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Our Lawn is Gone!
For the last three years we’ve had a patch of bright green seaweed growing at the end of our our stern transoms. Apparently the extra weight of all our systems, machines, and batteries pushes the last bits of transom into the water, and in the tropics the resulting warm water pools sitting in the bright sunshine become perfect growth environments for sea grass. This stuff was a bane of my existence throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans.  All the scrubbing, scraping, chemicals, and antifouling in the world couldn’t prevent this stuff from continuing to grow. We lovingly referred to these grass patches as our lawn. But now that we are in the Med, the lawn is suddenly … gone! Our transoms are bright and shiny. We hope this is due to the colder temperatures and not to the presence of some new type of poison in the water.

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Dust in the Wind
When we transited the Suez Canal, the boat became covered in a heavy layer of brown grit that blew in from the nearby desert. We assumed at the time that this was a minor price we had to pay for the convenience of sailing directly into the Med. However, we’ve been in the Med for a couple of months, and there is STILL a layer of brown dust that blows in from the nearby hills. Now that we are out anchoring, it seems crazy to run the watermaker for a couple of hours to produce enough fresh water to rinse off the boat if the boat will become covered with dust again in two days. It briefly rained last week, and the raindrops contained dust. In the Pacific, Sophie’s deck was clean due to the frequent rain, but Sophie’s waterline and back porch had a layer of green growth. In Turkey, the boat is dirtier due to dust-born wind, but the waterline and back porch are sparkly white. I am not sure which is better.

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We Finally Filled Our LPG Bottles!
We use LPG for cooking in our galley and on our barbecue. We use US-compliant LPG bottles, but unfortunately every nation has its own standards (meaning non-US compliant) for the fittings used to fill LPG bottles. This wasn’t a problem for us in the Pacific because the presence of so many American boats guaranteed that every port had the correct gear to refill US LPG bottles. We also didn’t use LPG as much due to the tropical climate. 100 degrees of ambient heat in the cabin is a great motivator to not bake. In Southeast Asia, it was more of a challenge for us to fill LPG but we always seemed to find a way. However, no one in Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, or Eastern Turkey could fill our LPG bottles. We were starting to worry, cutting back on our barbecues and use of the oven. I wandered Turkish ports with an empty LPG bottle in my backpack, visiting different shops hoping someone could help us out. For two weeks I had no luck. But I finally found someone in Göcek who could help (on my third stop of the day, no less!), and we now have enough cooking gas to get us to Italy. I think the girls plan to bake later today.

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No Dinghy Covers
In the Pacific and Southeast Asia, EVERY cruising dinghy has a canvas or Sunbrella cover over it’s tubes to protect the material from sun exposure. Here in Turkey, no one does this. It makes Sophie’s tenders stand out in a crowd.

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Produce is Cheap, But Marinas and Restaurants Are $$$$$
We can go to a produce market here in Turkey and fill a big blue Ikea bag with just-picked tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, mint, basil, lettuce, peaches, green beans, and cherries for just 3 Euros for the entire bag. A loaf of fresh bread from a bakery costs 50 cents. On the other hand, a night on a dock in a marina costs over 100 Euros, and the nearby restaurants can charge that much for a meal for the 4 of us. Needless to say, we are enjoying our fresh produce while floating at anchor.

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We Love Love Love our Big Yellow Shorelines
When we lived in Seattle, we purchased a length of 20 mm floating polypropylene rope for stern tying to shore when we cruised Desolation Sound, the area back home that looks just like this anchorage. Specifically, I went to Fisheries Supply and asked to buy 100 meters of this type of rope. They had a brand new spool of 200 meters and offered to sell me the entire spool for an extra $25 dollars. I agreed, used the rope for a summer cruise in Canada, then buried it in Sophie’s forward lazarette for the next 6 years. Well, Turkey is shore tying country, and we are putting our 200 meters of floating rope to good use, doing so with a great deal of love and respect. It is quite easy to work with, especially when shore tying in a strong crosswind like we did the other day. We secured the line to a bollard on the cliff, had 100 meters of slack in the water while the wind blew Sophie parallel to the cliff, got the line onto one of our big genoa winches, and then cranked Sophie snug up to where she was supposed to be. It was awesome.

Well, that should give you a sense for how cruising in Turkey compares to cruising in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. It’s not better or worse, just different.

Here is an update on some of the projects we’ve been working on this past week:

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New Pasarelle
A pasarelle is a fancy name for the gangplank sailors in the Med use for getting on and off their boats when they are stern tied to a pier. Since all boats in the Med stern tie to piers while in harbor, pasarelles are mandatory equipment for cruising boats. For Sophie, we purchased and installed a 2.6 meter carbon fiber folding pasarelle made by GS-Composite in Slovenia.

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Its features include a nonskid surface, carbon fiber rails, a weight under 8 kilos, and a compact carrying bag for storage.

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We installed a stainless steel mount for the pasarelle on one of our port transom steps and then spent some time playing geometry with the supporting halyard to make sure that the windmills don’t chop away at the halyard during a sudden wind shift. Hazel would like to use the pasarelle as a diving board.

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Bilge Pump for the Big Dinghy
Our friends (and fellow successful Indian Ocean and Red Sea passage makers!) Terry and Christine on Tekanova have the same model Highfield dinghy we have, and they installed an electric bilge pump on theirs. Jenna and I realized that we should probably do the same.

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While we were back in Seattle last month, I found a low profile Rule model that fits in the dinghy’s bilge without having to permanently prop open the dinghy’s little bilge grate.

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I did the wiring and installed a switch the other day. The new pump works great, and it means we will have a cleaner dinghy, because we will be more willing to hose it out when it’s in the water.

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Raymarine GPS Woes
Since we left Israel, we have been intermittently losing our GPS signal on our Raymarine G Series multifunction displays. These are our primary navigation computers, and this new problem is annoying. We have multiple backup GPS units on board, including a redundant set of Navionics charts on Jenna’s iPad, so technically this is not a dangerous situation for us. Our overall Raymarine system is 8 years old, and we increasingly find ourselves having to reconnect various connection points on the proprietary SeaTalk and SeaTalkng networks that connect all of this stuff together. (The more I cruise, the more I realize that marine electronics problems are usually due to a faulty connection somewhere.) We’re still tracking down where the bad connection is for this problem, and I even disassembled the Raymarine GPS antenna and replaced its lithium battery, but that does not seem to have completely fixed the problem.

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The Fleet is Out
Now that we are back in slow cruising mode, Jenna and the kids continue to focus on making great progress on Sophie School, and I continue to work through my list of boat chores and projects.

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At this point we have our entire “fleet” of cruising toys out on Sophie’s deck and ready to use: both paddle boards, both kayaks, both dinghies, and all four bikes. We call our small dinghy “The Baby”, and we haven’t used it since Thailand.

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In Europe, The Baby will be the main vehicle the kiddies use for getting to shore on their own, most likely starting today once school is over.

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Next Steps for Sophie
We plan to slowly move ourselves along the Turkish coast for another couple of weeks before we meet some Seattle friends in Greece. We will spend a month in Greece, then head up to Montenegro and Croatia for July and August. We would like to spend the fall and winter in Italy and will try to get visitor visas for Italy to avoid the restrictions of Shengen visas (where you can only stay 90 out of every 180 days in most EU countries.)

As usual, time seems to be going by way too quickly. We are very very lucky to be spending our lives doing this. It’s all good.

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From Egypt to Turkey

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Sophie is currently anchored in Üçaĝiz harbor in the Kekova Roads on Turkey’s southern coast. Our location is 36.11.64n, 029.50.58e. This is our first anchorage since the Maldives, a very distant 12 weeks and 3,100 miles ago. We have made additional stops in Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, and the United States since then.
We have covered a lot of ground. It feels great to be back at anchor, like our life is finally returning back to normal. Sophie School has resumed, the water toys are out, and Jenna and I just completed a paddleboard circuit of the harbor, accompanied by turtles, fishies, and goats. I even got to fix a toilet and a bilge pump since we arrived here the other day.

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Back in March we rested in Port Ghalib, Egypt for a couple of days after our long passage across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. There were 5 other boats there that had completed the Red Sea passage around the same time we did. Other than being able to connect with fellow cruisers, there wasn’t much to see. Port Ghalib is a destination resort that is suffering a 90% reduction in tourism due to the terrorist attacks in Egypt. Most of the businesses there had stopped paying rent to the resort’s absentee Kuwaiti landlords.

Our Red Sea guards departed Sophie a couple of hours after we arrived. The German bar that I had been looking forward to was a bit of a disappointment. They didn’t even serve German beer!

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The resort maintains a sailboat that had crashed up on the rocks ten years ago as a reminder of how treacherous the local waters can be. They are proud of it, while all of the cruisers view it as a very bad omen.

RDSE7239On the positive side, Port Ghalib offered a very protected harbor, an easy government check-in process, and diesel fuel pumps right on the quay. It was an excellent stop after our long passage. We do not regret having made the long push to get here.

After Port Ghalib, we made an overnight run to Port of Suez at the entrance to the Suez Canal. For the first 6 hours we slowly motored into a steep chop, but the wind soon swung around to a southerly as forecast, and we had an uneventful trip for the rest of the way.

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We stayed at the Suez Yacht Club, which 15 years ago had a restaurant, bar, and swimming pool. Fleets of 50 sailboats at a time used to stop there as they cruised up and down the Red Sea. Now the yacht club is reduced to a single plastic floating dock with no facilities other than a security guard. We were just the second sailboat of the year to call on them, after Egoiste, a Jeanneau 56 that left the Maldives three weeks before we did. The yacht club’s facilities have been handed over to Egypt’s military, which now uses it as an Army and Navy Club.

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Our dock was just 100 meters to the entrance of the canal, and it was a little weird to see 1,200 foot container ships passing us as they made their way into the desert.
Our agent met us on the dock and took care of our paperwork. He also arranged for us to take a taxi into town and have dinner at a traditional kebab restaurant. It was our first real exposure to local middle eastern food. No one in the restaurant spoke English, and as a result we ordered way too much food, including chicken, lamb, pita, humus, tahini, salads, and sweets. We had some excellent leftovers.

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The next day a tour guide took us in a van into Cairo where we toured the Cairo Museum and then visited the pyramids at Giza. It was a stunning experience, made all the better (and sadder) by the complete lack of tourists in the city. There were no lines at the Cairo Museum, and we were able to take photos of the Pyramids with no people in the background. Apparently this is the first time someone had done this since Napoleon visited over 200 years ago.

Some people question whether we are taking big risks visiting places where there have been terrorist attacks within the last year. Our view is that if we don’t visit countries that depend on tourism to support their economy, then the terrorists win. We will never do anything that we consider unsafe for our family, and we did skip visiting some other aras of Egypt this time. Cairo is no different than Paris or Brussels in terms of safety right now. The local people rely on income from tourists to survive, and we believe it is our role as world travelers to help them.

After a couple of days in Suez, we picked up our pilot and transited the first half (40 miles) of the Suez Canal, making an overnight stop at the yacht club in the port of Ismalia. It was surreal taking Sophie through the desert. All we could see were mounds of sand on either side of the canal, with army forts and emergency floating bridges every couple of kilometers. During the ’73 war, the Egyptian Third Army was trapped and surrounded on the wrong side of the Suez, and apparently the country never wants that to happen again.

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We even had to stop for 20 minutes during the tail end of a floating bridge staging exercise. Each bridge section had diesel engines attached to it, and the entire bridge swung like a door across the canal. Later on during that day we passed by a couple of tanks that were crossing the canal on motorized rafts. There was a lot of military activity.

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The only other thing I remember from that first day of our canal passage was how cold it was, how very very cold it was. Jenna stayed below doing Sophie School with the diesel cabin heaters running at full blast. I was up top with the pilot, and I was wearing a puffy insulated coat over 3 layers of sweatshirts. I even had to loan the pilot my Gill sailing jacket, and he was a little disappointed when I had to inform him at the end of the day that it was not a gift.

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We made it to Ismalia by mid-afternoon and docked at the yacht club there. We caught the tail end of lunch at the restaurant, which was mostly serving a business crowd, and then went to bed.

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The next morning we met out new pilot and quickly proceeded on our way. Once again it was cold, and once again our pilot assumed my loan of the Gill sailing jacket was a gift. He spoke no English and spent most of his time quietly praying. We offered him tea and kebab for lunch, which he was finally willing to accept once we convinced him that it was halal. At one point he even made pig oinking noises in trying to communicate to us that he couldn’t eat pork. But it all worked out, and he enjoyed his lamb, hummus, and tahini.

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During this leg Jenna climbed to the top of the mast and took some pretty awesome photos of Sophie driving through a trench of water in the middle of an Arabian desert. Surreal.

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By early afternoon we reached Port Said, and a pilot boat pulled by to disembark our pilot. We suddenly found ourselves motoring into the Mediterranean sea on a cold and sunny afternoon. We were greeted by some of the fattest dolphins we’ve ever seen. It was quite a moment for us.

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We officially cleared out of Egypt back in Port Suez, so we had no need to stop in Port Said and headed directly for Herzilya, a port in Israel 15 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. It was an easy overnight run, highlighted by my 3:00 AM interview over VHF with Israeli Defense Forces. Even though we had contacted them in advance, they wanted to know the name, birth date, and passport number of every soul on board. The discussion took an hour.

Later that morning when we were 10 miles out of Herzilya, an IDF patrol boat roared out to greet us. They did a big circle around Sophie and then stopped 100 meters off our port side. They didn’t say much on radio, other than requesting that all passengers and crew please come up on deck. In Southeast Asia and in the Pacific, when military patrol boats greeted Sophie, the military on board whipped out their mobile phones and took selfies with Sophie in the background. The Israelis were all business and had a 50 caliber machine gun pointed at us the entire time. We also assume they had an infrared camera on their boat to see if we had any people hiding below. But they were super friendly and after a minute said “We hope you enjoy your stay in Israel” and roared off.

An hour later we docked at the marina in Herzilya. After we stern-tied to the pier, a couple of millennial guys in civilian clothes came up to us, said they were with the border police, and asked if they could search the boat. They were quite polite, and I wasn’t worried at all that they were going to ask us for a bottle of wine like the customs dudes in Tonga had done. When they were finished searching, they asked me to accompany them off of the boat, where we were joined by two young women who asked if I minded if they could ask me some questions. I had been through this drill during my previous visit to Israel, and it was fascinating to go through it again. One woman smiled and asked all of the questions while the other three watched me. Where were we from, what did we do for a living, did we carry any packages for people from the Maldives of Egypt, did we ever leave the key to the boat with anyone, what did I do for a living again? It was all super friendly and super competent, and after 20 minutes they smiled and said “Welcome to Israel. We hope you enjoy your stay!”

Herzilya is a luxury, modern marina, unlike anyplace we had visited since our stop in Singapore a year earlier. The marina complex included a Ritz Carlton hotel, a mall, and 20 outdoor tourist restaurants along a broad waterfront promenade. We stayed there for 10 days, making side trips to Jerusalem, Jordan, and Acre. We also reconnected with the Sagiv family, friends from Seattle whose children had gone to daycare with Leo and Hazel before we left on our adventure and they moved home to Israel.

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We loved our stay in Israel, and we hope to return there before we leave the Mediterranean.

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After Israel, we made an overnight run to Paphos on the western tip of Cyprus and stayed there for over a week. Paphos is a tourist town built around a small fishing port that doesn’t have a big marina, but we were able to obtain a stern tie berth on the police dock. The location was spectacular, with a small Crusaders castle across a courtyard from Sophie, and a bike trail led to Greek and Byzantine ruins just 500 meters away.

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By the time we reached Cyprus, were beginning to master our new Mediterranean cruising lifestyle, and we liked it: stern-tie in an ancient harbor, visit local Egyptian/Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Ottoman ruins, avoid the waterfront tourist restaurants, and wallow in the Mediterranean “mezze” cuisine: eggplant, tomatoes, hummus, cucumbers, mint, yogurt, lamb, fish, olives, sparkling water, and dry red wine. Using Paphos as our base, we toured the entire island and feel like we barely scratched the surface during our ten days there. We plan to return to Cyprus during our cruise.

After Paphos we made yet another (and potentially our last) overnight run for a while and went to Kemer, a harbor with a marina next to the Taurus mountains in Turkey. Jenna and I had decided that after 3 and a half years living on Sophie, it was time to cut the ties and rent out our house back in Seattle. We needed a safe place in Turkey where we could park the boat for a couple of weeks while we flew back to the states to clean out our house and get it ready for tenants. Kemer fit the bill: a big, safe marina just 40 minutes from the airport in Antalya.

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So we spent just 2 days in Kemer and then locked up Sophie and headed to the airport. Before we flew to the states, we made a 3 day stop in Istanbul, which is a spectacular city. We visited all of the big mosques and took a cruise on the Bosphorus. Jenna took 10,000 pictures. Our list of cities we plan to re-visit continues to grow.

Then it was off to Seattle for a 2 week visit that combined work and pleasure. We were able to pack up all of our stuff, move it into storage, clean up the house (almost), and get it ready for rental. We were also able to visit with our great friends back home. Leo and Hazel had multiple sleepovers, and one family even loaned us their brand new Beneteau 455 for a weekend rendezvous with our Seattle boating community friends. It is really important for us to maintain our roots back home, especially for Leo and Hazel, and this was a great visit.

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After our 2 weeks in Seattle we flew back to Antalya and then cabbed straight back to Sophie. After being on a dock in Port Ghalib, Suez, Ismalia, Herzilya, Paphos, and Kemer, we really wanted to cut the dock lines and get back to anchoring. The Herzilya and Kemer marinas charged us us over 100 Euros per night for moorage, and for us that is not sustainable over the long run. So after one day in Kemer we saw we had a weather window and motored 50 miles around the corner to our current location.

We are now free swinging on anchor in a big protected harbor at Oçagiz. There are 8 other sailboats here. Yesterday, it was dead calm all morning, and then the wind picked up to 25 knots right after lunchtime until evening. This is apparently the weather pattern here. Within 4 kilometers are 2 castles and multiple Byzantine underwater ruins which we plan to explore with with the big dinghy. All of our systems are working, the kids have settled into their school routine, and the local produce is fresh and inexpensive. We are going to try to go three months without docking.

Once again, we are really grateful to be on this trip and feel incredibly lucky to be exploring the world on our boat.

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In Praise of Fuel Bags

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In order for Sophie to cover the 2,900 miles from the Maldives to Egypt, we decided to augment our 250 gallons of on-board fuel capacity with additional fuel bags that we lashed to our deck. This blog post explains how we did it.

Many cruisers use 5 gallon plastic jerry cans arranged around their deck in order to add fuel capacity, but Jenna and I are not big fans of this approach. In order to avoid having to make stops in Aden, Djibouti, or Sudan for fuel, we figured we needed another 250 gallons of capacity on deck. That would mean 50 jerry cans, which would likely become a permanent installation on Sophie once we were done with the Red Sea! That was too much plastic for us. I also had multiple bad experiences refueling Sophie via jerry cans when we were in Indonesia, and I wanted no part of repeating that messy scenario again.

So instead we decided to try out a series of 52 gallon flexible fuel tanks that we would arrange on deck. They are manufactured by Nauta, and we purchased one from Defender.com in October and had some friends bring it with them to Thailand when they came out for a visit. These portable fuel tanks are made from neoprene and seemed sturdy enough for our passage, so we purchased four more from Fisheries Supply in Seattle when we went home for the Christmas holidays.

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The bags come without any fittings, so we also ordered a 2 inch fill pipe (above) along with a 3/8 inch drain pipe for each bag. I called Nauta’s technical support, and they told me that for our scenario we did not have to vent the bags.

When we returned to the Thailand, my brother Rich was kind enough to attach the fittings to two of the bags that we were going to test on our Thailand-Maldives passage. This involved cutting circular holes in the neoprene, inserting the lipped nipple of the fitting through the hole, and then tightening down an attached gasket. There is a good YouTube video explaining how to do this, and I urge you to check it out before attempting your own installation.

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To extend the fill pipe, we attached a 6 inch length of flexible hose with a PVC cap on the top. I purchased the PVC cap at a building supply warehouse in the US.

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For the drain pipe, I used some spare half inch valves I had onboard Sophie. We attached these with a short length of 1/2 inch flexible hose and hose clamps.

In theory, we would be able to fill the bags through the fill pipe using a standard marina diesel pump and nozzle, and then while underway pump the fuel from the bag on deck into Sophie’s main fuel tanks.

In Thailand we filled 2 of the bags, and after Rich received a couple of diesel face splashes, we eventually got the hang of how to do so. We felt comfortable with only 45-48 gallons of diesel in each bag. We also had to really tighten the hose clamps and bag fitting gasket rings, but once we did so the bags didn’t leak. We tied the bags down to the deck with ropes tied to grommets on the bag corners. They remained remarkably stable while underway. We also had to train Hazel to NOT WALK ON THE BAGS as she went up to the trampolines for her gymnastics exercises.

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We purchased a portable diesel fuel pump to move the fuel from the bags to Sophie’s main fuel tanks. This system worked surprisingly well.

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For a fuel transfer while underway, we located the portable pump right next to the fill pipe for Sophie’s starboard diesel tank and then ran a short length of 1/2 half inch hose from the pump to Sophie. The fuel pump has a 12 volt motor and some power cables, and we attached these to a power source on Sophie’s starboard engine. Since Sophie has an internal fuel pump that transfers fuel from her starboard fuel tank to her port fuel tank, we only filled her starboard tank with fuel from the external fuel bags. This kept the system relatively simple and consistent.

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We then snaked a 10 meter length of 1/2 inch hose from the portable fuel pump to the drain valve on the fuel bag we were going to use, attached the hose to the bag valve with hose clamp, opened the valve, and turned on the pump. Apologies for the dirty deck. That’s fish blood.

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Quite frankly, we were shocked at how well it worked. For our test on the Maldives run, we ran a hose from a fuel bag on the port deck around the aft cockpit and to the portable pump by the starboard engine. We could see the fuel line fill in about 10 seconds, and it then took 10 minutes to transfer the 45 gallons from the bag into Sophie. We never spilled a drop.

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The bag collapsed on itself as it drained, similar to how a camelback water container drains, and Rich aided the process by holding one end of the bag up to expedite fuel flow.

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When we were done, we simply tied the fuel bag up in the air, let it dry out for a day, and then put it away. We only needed to use one fuel bag on the Thailand-Maldives passage, but the test was a complete and total success.

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I am really glad we ran the test on the Maldives passage, because it gave us one less thing to worry about as we prepared for the run to the Red Sea. Two days before we left the Maldives, we arranged for a fuel barge to come alongside Sophie. We filled both internal tanks to the brim, along with 3 bags on the starboard side.

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We also filled two bags on the port side. This gave us around 480 gallons of fuel for the passage. We located each bag over a bulkhead and secured them with ropes from each bag corner to cleats or hard points on deck. For two of these, I potentially had to run a rope from one bag under another bag and instead used a canvas strap to reduce potential friction.

I asked Lagoon if we had to worry about all of this weight on deck, since each bag weighed about 310 pounds. They said it was the equivalent of having 5 fat guys hanging out on a charter and shouldn’t pose a structural issue for Sophie. We never experienced any additional squeaking during the passage, although Jenna and I felt like the boat was heavy when we left Male.

The bags were stable on deck throughout the passage, including when we were surfing down 5 meter seas in 50 knot winds and when we were pounding into 2-3 meter seas while motoring. We transferred all of the fuel while underway without incident, including a couple of transfers in 25 knot winds. It is important to transfer all of the fuel in a bag in one process and to not leaves bags partially full. When we were done with a transfer, we simply left the bags tied in place on the deck and continued on our way.

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Once we reached Port Ghalib, we cleaned up the bags, let them dry in the sun for a day, rolled them up, and put them away in a locker. I assume from now on we will always have at least one bag on deck every time we do an ocean crossing. And with the new portable fuel pump, I swear that I will NEVER SYPHON FUEL AGAIN!

Life keeps getting better, and this is one of the best systems we have ever put together on Sophie.