This comes from the sunny boot of Italy but a lot of water has passed under the hull since my last offering.
We left Alghero on May and had a nice sail to Oristano where we moored at sunset beside the ruins of an extensive Roman town, which we planned to visit in the morning. When dawn broke the wind was yowling and the seas had built up to such an extent that we had to seek refuge in Oristano's commercial harbour. During the morning the wind built up to a full gale and we found out that Oristano docks are the key point for importing SAND into Sardinia. There was sand, sand everywhere I made the mistake of trying to wash it off with the saltwater deck wash. It formed a fine mortar which I am still cleaning off , months later.Eventually on the 11th of May we escaped from Oristano and headed for Cagliari via Carloforte. We went back to Marina del Sole and met up again with the excellent Maximilliano.
Stayed in Cagliari until 22nd May, met John and Ute and then decided to cross to Tunisia (180miles) and had a good crossing with a full moon. I saw about 20 dolphins circling at high speed and then at the centre of the circle, tuna started jumping into the air….amazing! We later got tuna steaks from a French boat which had crossed about an hour behind us.
We berthed in Bizerte and were boarded by a very smart immigration official who, at the end of the proceedings said rather plaintively "…what, no presents for me?".
I told him that we hadn't prepared for 'presents' and off he went. The next official was Customs, the next official was the Port Police, the next was the regular Police and so it went along until, over the whole stay in Bizerte we were visited by nine different officials; all, it must be said, very pleasant.
Bizerte is a very scruffy, litter-strewn town and would be described as "colourful" in guide books. The market is the hub of the town and the vegetables are cheap and excellent. There was a bit of a cultural barrier at the butcher's shop since "presentational skills" have yet to arrive in Tunisia.
We met up with a nice couple, Karel and Phil, and as the weather was a bit wild, we decided to go to Tunis by train. It was interesting to see the north Tunisian countryside as we rolled down to Tunis where the amount of fly-tipping beside the railway might make you think that suburban Tunis is built on an enormous rubbish dump. Sorry to bang on about it but, the concept of litter just doesn't exist in Tunisia. They probably are operating some new public rubbish recycling scheme that's way ahead of its time.
Anyway, Tunis was very interesting and we were quickly adopted by a local, called Omar, keen to show us the sights of the old souk, in particular the old Kings palace which was now a carpet exhibition centre - yes I can tell you are ahead of us on this one, but he seemed very straightforward and was only doing as a favour as he was heading to his old Dad's house which was in the same direction. Several hours later, clutching our new carpets! We escaped ….well almost as Omar still had to show us his old Dad's perfume shop . We then fled Omar and set off in search of a restaurant that had been recommended to Karel for lunch. We couldn't initially find the restaurant, so Karel stopped a local and asked him in french for directions. He promptly said why on earth do you want to go there when you could go to this other place that is much better and happened to be in the street we were standing in. We risked it and it was truly fabulous. The Dar El Jeld - you can look it up on the website www.dareljeld.tourism.tnwas authentic, stylish, great food and a great experience - Hugh and I has lamb couscous, Phil had a vegetable couscous and Karel had some delicious seafood in a sauce.
The train journey back from Tunis was not without incident! As we left the station, most of the passengers pulled down the blinds; most odd as it was a beautiful evening. As we passed through the suburban rubbish tips, all became clear. In the morning, the local kids had been at school but now in the cool of the evening they were on the loose and hurling rocks at the train. Crash! Bang! Wallop! but no broken windows and at some key point, up went the blinds and the rest of the trip was very pleasant.
Before we left Bizerte we topped up with fuel: 190 litres at 0.5€ per litre ( in Italy it is 1.53€). We thought we had done well but a super large motor boat from Sicily called Artemis had four road tankers come to thequayside to fill him up. You must be rich to save that sort of money!
We departed Bizerte on 31st May and headed for Sicily ( about 150miles). It wasn't the best of trips and we had unfavourable winds and a problem with a fuel leak at the injector pump but 30 hours later ,we were in Trapani on the West coast of Sicily. Anne found great cannoli ,brass bands and put an ice cream in her eye but it was less exciting for me. The big deal here is the mountaintop town of Erice but it was in cloud cover for the entire time of our stay. We now started to work our way around to Palermo via Castellmare to meet up with Bill Kinloch who was arriving on the 6th of June.
Linked up with Bill as planned and had a layday in Palermo. Palermo is amazing in its diversity. Slums to fantastic Opera House and ridiculous huge buildings ( eg the telephone exchange) from Mussolini's era. It's really interesting and I would go back to learn more about it. But onwards we go to Cefalu and on to Vulcano. As the name implies it is an active volcano (which Bill ascended wearing sandals!) and has hot springs and mud baths. Anne and Bill indulged in mud baths while I had a cold beer .The smell lingered on for abouta week afterwards. It's a bit like kippers ; you all have them or not at all. Met up with John and Ute again.
We then went to the next island, Lipardi (only 3 miles!) which turned out to be a very stylish town with good shopping.
Time to think of getting Bill back to Palermo so we headed for the Italian mainland and in a heavy thunderstorm we berthed in the fishing harbour of Bagnara Calabra. A fishing boat came in and unloaded about sixty large swordfish. Ten other similar boats were due to berth next morning. We were the only yacht in the harbour but everybody was supremely disinterested in us until next morning when we were politely asked to leave. There was a big charting error regarding the position of this port and the electronic charting (Navionics) placed it one mile to the south of where it actually was…..interesting.
We then headed through the Straits of Messina with a nice 3knt current in our favour and saw the weird swordfish fishing boats which have 20m towers to spot the swordfish which sleep near the surface and then are harpooned from the 20m bowsprit.We then anchored at Taormina which is a strange town which runs from sea level up to the top of nearby peaks. There was a festival on so we got the benefit of the local firework display. In the background we had the natural fireworks of Etna, which was erupting. There was a long trace of red lava down the North face, which is very difficult to photograph from the boat.
Next day we went on to Catania where I had been in 2003 when doing volcanic research. It was better than I remembered and was very lively. Met up with John and Ute again!
Time for Bill to depart and get the train to Palermo and B&B to catch the morning flight. With Bill we had done some 190 miles and 700 since leaving Alghero.
On 17th june we left Catania for Greece and had a good crossing (322miles averaging 5.8knts ) to Levkas. where with some difficulty we achieved our first stern-to berthing.
(After this point the log comes to a temporary standstill because we were cruising the Greek islands for two months and had minimal internet access but we will do a catch-up once we are back in Alghero)