May 14, 2012

I think we would both acknowledge that we are extremely fortunate to be in a position to live this life – we are still in our 50s, our children all grown and independent and we have just about enough dosh to get by.  Of course, not everyone would choose to live in a 40ft sailing boat, but most of the time we love it.  We both enjoy messing about in boats and relish the stress-free, simple life untroubled by rush hour traffic, deadlines and performance targets.


Did I say stress-free?  Hmm, well not always.  Though pretty good, this is not paradise and intermittently there are stressful incidents that intrude upon what is generally a fairly trouble-free existence.  Since leavingGreecejust over a week ago, we have had a few such moments…


We posted our last blog fromCrotonebefore setting off for the Straits of Messina and theAeolian Islands.  There are not many places to stop along the south coast ofItalyand so, having studied the weather forecasts, we decided to make the trip to Vulcano – the most southerly of theAeolian Islands- in a single hop of approximately 200 miles.  We reckoned this should take us roughly two days, with north-westerly winds of F3-4 to speed us along, then dropping almost completely away, just as we would reach the Straits, thus enabling us to make the passage north in relative ease.  There are strong currents in the Messina Straits and we didn’t want to have to contend with a head wind as well.


Approaching Lipari as the light begins to fade……

We leftCrotoneon Saturday at just after 7am, motoring until 10am when we started to pick up some wind.  15 minutes later we were putting reefs into both the main and the foresail.  Well, the wind came and went.  At noon we had F5-6; an hour later we had to drop the sails and motor.  This pattern continued throughout the day with us battling fairly strong winds one minute and then having to motor then next.  By 6.30pm we were again coping with a F5 which was far more westerly than expected, such that we had to tack into it.  The sea was choppy and we were both feeling tired so we made the decision to go into Rochella Ionica for the night, this being a small harbour betweenCrotoneand the Straits.  We reckoned we should just make it in daylight.  We didn’t and we foolishly ignored the advice of Rod Heikell who warns in the Italian pilot book against attempting a night entry to the harbour because of the shifting sandbars.  All seemed to go well ‘though the tension aboard was palpable as we approached and as we reached the harbour entrance, I was starting to put out fenders and mooring lines when we came to a gentle halt on the aforementioned sandbar. 


It rapidly became apparent that using the throttle was not going to resolve the matter so we decided to try another tactic.  Having dug out the Danforth kedge anchor and put the dinghy in the water,Duncantried to row off with it but the wind at that point was such that as soon as he stopped rowing to try to launch the anchor, he found himself being blown back towards the boat.  Eventually, frustrated, he gave up and came back to get the outboard.  In the meantime other craft were coming into the harbour and we were sitting bang slap in the entrance.  With the working light on, we were pretty well lit up but it was nevertheless, an added pressure to see the red and green lights of an approaching vessel heading straight for us.   Having finally managed to drop the kedge anchor he brought the line back and I attached to the spinnaker halyard.  This we led back to one of the winches and, I cranked away, gradually leaning the whole boat over to port.  We hoped that by doing this we would “pop” the keel out of the sandbank as we were not deeply embedded.  When this didn’t work, he took our second kedge – the beloved Fortress – out behind us and led the line back for me to haul in on.  Doing this I managed to turn “Rampage” right round and eventually we felt ourselves moving.  By this time,Duncanwas back on board and at the helm and as all either of us wanted was to get out into the safety of deep water so he accelerated away.


Earlier in the proceedings, he had said that if need be, we would ditch one or both anchors and had given me his dive knife to cut the lines if necessary.   The Danforth had a small fender where the anchor warp attached to the spinnaker halyard.  As we pulled away the anchor warp somehow became entangled with one of the dinghy oars and one of the headsail sheets and was pulling tighter and tighter as we pulled away.  In my panic I failed to appreciate that the little fender was somewhere at the top of the mast and all I had to do was pull down on the warp and pull the quick release catch on the halyard.  Instead I cut the anchor warp and we pulled away but the Danforth was gone for good.  The Fortress we still hoped to recover; Duncan had released the line with another small fender attached and once we were in 3-4 metres of water he left me making slow circles with “Rampage” while he went back to recover it in the dinghy.  Unfortunately the little fender was obviously not man enough for the job and had sunk without trace. 


To crown the adventure, we noticed as we set off to sea once more that the forward navigation lights were no longer working. Duncantried to see what the problem was but was unable to sort it so we proceeded with even more vigilance than usual.  Although we were visible, other craft would not be able to distinguish port from starboard, and thus our direction of travel.


The castle which lies in the middle of the town of Lipari, dominating the bay.

Relieved to be afloat once more, with no damage to ourselves or “Rampage”, we resolutely turned our backs on Rochella Ionica and continued on towards the Straits.  By now it was nearly midnight andDuncanwas exhausted so I sent him to bed and took first watch.  At 3am I roused him and collapsed into bed myself, taking over again at 6am in time to see the sun come up.  The wind had disappeared but we both agreed that we needed to stop and recover our equilibrium so we would not go all the way to Vulcano but instead go into the marina on the eastern side of the Messina Straits at Reggio Calabria.  We reached there without further incident and were berthed by just after midday.  I’d leftDuncanto sleep until shortly before we arrived there but he’d only managed to doze so, having seen everything was in order, we both fell into bed and slept for several hours.


We could do nothing about either the navigation lights or replacing either spare anchor that day as it was a Sunday and everywhere was closed.  Having studied the pilot book, we decided to revise our plans once more, and rather than going to the anchorage on Vulcano, we would head for Lipari – the biggest of theAeolianIslandwhere we would find chandleries, provisions and hopefully – internet connection.


Thus on Monday morning we set off once more, but by now we needed fuel.  The fuel berth at Reggio Calabria yacht harbour was not open – presumably because it was too early in the season to be viable – we were the only visiting yacht in the place.  However, the pilot book assured us that there was a fuel berth on the other side of the  Straits, just north ofMessina.  So off we went, dodging fast-moving ferries in all directions and battling with the current, only to discover after having tied up, that this fuel berth too, was out of commission.  There was nothing else for it but to carry on and we did have about a quarter of a tank so we reckoned we should make it to Lipari ok.  The going was very slow in the Straits.  With the engine at 2000 revs, we were only managing 1-2 knots over the ground whereas under normal conditions, we would expect to do about 6+ knots.  However once out of the Straits, we were able to sail, although again, we were having to tack which slowed our progress.  As a result it was dark once more as we approached Rada di Lipari.  It looked very attractive with the castle on the promontory all lit up but it was incredibly difficult to make out the pontoons that were supposedly to the north of it.  We approached with caution and then made our way north round the bay, eventually spotting the masts of a couple of other yachts.  We circled close in a couple of times shining torches to see whether we would need to use our anchor to “Mediterranean moor” or whether there were laid mooring lines provided. 


The amphitheatre in the grounds of Lipari castle, looking out over the bay.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the above terms, the generally accepted way to moor in this part of the world is known as “Mediterranean Mooring” for obvious reasons.  Instead of tying up alongside which is the norm in the UK, you go either stern or bows-to, using your anchor to hold you off the quayside and lines ashore to secure you.  With laid mooring lines the idea is that rather than using an anchor, you use the boathook to snag a light line attached to the quayside/pontoon.  This leads out to a heavier line anchored to the sea bed which you take to one of the forward cleats.


In this particular case, there were laid moorings and I picked up the line without too much difficulty but it rapidly became obvious that it was far too heavy for me to cope with.  We repeated the exercise with me at the helm and evenDuncanhad a terrific struggle to haul the line tight and fasten it round a forward cleat while I attended to the stern lines.  However eventually we were tied up safe and sound and able to set off in search of a restaurant and a fairly belated evening meal.


Now then, way back in the Ionian, we’d had a problem on the trip up to Paxos with water.  The floor mat by the galley was found to be saturated with salt water – always a worry.  The galley cupboards all proved to have some water in them as did the bilges in the saloon.  Various causes were considered and then to our relief we noticed water on the shelf up behind the galley where there is a small and fairly useless hatch that we never open.   This is partly because it is always blocked by the tea and coffee jars etc but also because it is worryingly close to the water line.  However at some point over the winter I must have felt moved to clean it and had not quite closed it again sufficiently tightly.  The water was a nuisance but the explanation was a huge relief.


Now, however, in Lipari I found that there was salt water in my shoe locker in the forward cabin.  Further exploration revealed yet more water in the bilges under our bed – oh deep joy!  Everything had to be hauled out (quite a task I can assure you!) and having sponged it out, it was left to dry out thoroughly.  We have put nothing back yet and it has not refilled so the conclusion we have come to is that water is getting in via the stanchions and/or toe rail on the port side.  This is only an issue when we are well heeled and taking water over the bows.  Again it’s a bore, but resolvable and will wait until we reachSpain.


We spent two nights in Lipari; it’s an attractive little place and we had a happy time pottering about exploring the shops and the castle on the promontory (see above.)  

One of the chandleries produced a new Danforth anchor of the appropriate size plus 60 metres of line so thankfully we have a kedge again.  The Fortress will be harder to replace in this part of the world but we shall try to do so at some stage as it has the dual virtues of being extremely light yet excellent holding.  The nav lights turned out to be merely a question of a new bulb so by yesterday we were ready to set out once more for our original destination – the anchorage on Vulcano.   Before departing we topped up the water tanks and then went to the fuel berth – thankfully open this time, filling our two extra canisters and the outboard fuel canisters as well as the main tank.


There was very little wind on the short crossing to Vulcano and as is my way in such circumstances, after we’d set off I went below to tidy up and do some cleaning.  T’was then that I discovered yet more water in the cupboards under the galley.  Lifting the bilge cover in the saloon we found that there was 4 – 5 inches of water down there – no small matter – and the electric bilge pump whichDuncanchecked in the winter, decided it didn’t want to play.  So it was that we spent the journey down to Vulcano madly pumping the bilges by hand.  The water issuing from the back of the boat as we did this was a delicate blue in colour so we knew the source.  One of those blue toilet disinfectant blocks has, at some point, fallen into the bilges from the cupboard in the aft head where the water pump is located.  Ever since, whenever we’ve had problems with the fresh water system is always winds up in the bilges a tasteful blue colour. 


The exploded pressure vessel from the water system – this is why the bilges were full of fresh water!

I have to say that at this point that the Skipper was close to throwing in the towel, renouncing boats and a nautical way of life and returning to bricks and mortar.  I reminded him that a bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office which he grumpily conceded and a short investigation found the cause of the trouble.  The water pump equaliser is a plastic chamber which evens out the pressure flow to the pipework and it had ruptured.  For the time being,Duncanhas managed to by-pass this so we have water, although only half as much as we should have since the 150 litres from the aft tank had by then emptied itself into the bilges.  As I mopped out the last of it from the bilges I reminded myself that at least it wasn’t diesel.  Our dear friends Corinne and Claudio lost a similar amount of diesel last summer when one of their fuel tanks sprang a leak…


So there you have it.  We are currently at anchor in Vulcano and maybe tomorrow I will climb to the top of the crater and take some pictures for the next blog.  All theAeolian islandsare volcanic although only two are still active: Stomboli which we visited two years ago and Vulcano.   People come here to wallow in the sulphurous mud pools which supposedly have healing properties.  I keep trying to persuade the Skipper to take a dip for his many and varied joint and muscular problems but so far he has declined.  I have to say the stink at times is fairly off-putting!   It’s pleasant here otherwise and so we’ll stay another couple of days while the weather remains settled.  We found an internet café yesterday so hopefully we will be able to get this posted today.  We were relieved to be able to get online and check the weather forecasts which predict a blow on Monday, so on Sunday we’ll return to the shelter of Lipari.  There we will try to replace the water pressure equaliser (remember that?) and fill up with water (!) and fresh provisions before we head off on another longish passage toSardinia on Tuesday.

The crater of the volcano on the island of Vulcano.


One comment

  1. Oh my God, I would have been jumping over the side and swimming!! How you do a night time motor?sail on your own I have no idea, I would want full headlights all the way! Glad you made it to safe berth, looking after oldies sounds easy in comaprison.XXXXX

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