Towards Roccella Ionica (Italy)

  • Post category:2008 Malta

A beautiful sailing day. We had the morning watch, 0400 – 0600. First, that brought us the remainders of a beautiful starry night with a very clear Milky Way. Then daybreak, and then sunrise. A glimpse of Etna volcano (including smoke plume) on the horizon. And during all this we were under sail (with small reefs on the genua) in 30 knots of wind from the north-north-west. Course 040, boat speed 8 knots. And again, dolphins are swimming around the boat. Life does not get much better than this!

However, the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea have some things in common. Conditions can change rapidly here. Around 1100 the wind turns again to the north-east (15 knots), straight on our bow. Again, we need our engine.

By now, we sail under the coast of Calabria, the southern region of Italy. We have covered 160 nautical miles since leaving Valletta.

By 1130 we receive a new weather forecast. It does not look good for us. The wind will increase further, and a storm is predicted for the Gulf of Taranto, that we need to pass. We decide to aim for the small yacht harbour at Roccella Ionica, a small town further down the coast.

Around 1500 we arrive in this harbour. Due to the strong winds, it takes some effort to moor the boat. By now, there is a full storm outside. Every couple of hours we check the weather maps. We now also see a storm developing in the Adriatic Sea, which we need to cross on our way back to Croatia. All we can do now is sit and wait, which is made easier by a far better than expected dinner at the small restaurant near the harbour (the only restaurant, we find out…). You order pizza per half meter…

Valetta to Siracuse (Italy) and onwards

  • Post category:2008 Malta

The alarm set for 0600, and by 0630 everybody was up (but not yet running…) – despite last night’s drinks in the cockpit. Around 0730 we drop our moorings. The trip back to Croatia has begun.

Valletta Port Control kept us waiting still. We slowly circled the harbour several times while they tried to get confirmation from Customs that we were properly cleared out. Of course we did, so around 0800 we got the permission to leave the harbour. Outside the breakwater, conditions were perfect for sailing. Wind from the north-west, 15 – 18 knots, so the sails went up in no-time. After the days of rest and recreation, everybody was eager for some action. Course 040, speed 7 – 8 knots.

After only a few hours at sea, we really were in our sailing-routine again. For a while we got company from a tired pigeon, which used our foredeck as a resting place. But for the rest it was just us and an occasional ship on the horizon.

Today, we also saw a lot of sea turtles. Difficult to photograph: they are small and slow, we are a lot faster.

Later that day, the wind left us, returning later from the north-east. On our bow, so motoring again… That evening, we stop for a few hours in Siracuse on Sicily. Better winds are predicted for later that night, so we want to leave again at 0200. We have a dinner, and catch some sleep before the watch system disrupts our sleeping pattern again…

Valletta (Malta) – day 2

  • Post category:2008 Malta

Further rest and recreation in Valletta. In the afternoon we take delivery of fuel. Given that the only nautical petrol station is closed for renovations, we do the traditional bunkering. It requires that we move the boat out of the Marina to the quay, after which a fuel truck shows up.

During the days in Valletta we kept a close eye on the weather map. Leaving on Monday shows a favourable weather-window, at least according to the prognoses…

Valletta (Malta)

  • Post category:2008 Malta

Rest and recreation in Valletta. We take a water taxi to the city. These water taxis are traditional Maltese wooden boats, the so-called ‘dghajsa’, but with an outboard engine.

Strolling around you feel the history in the buildings and fortresses. For years and years Malta has not paid much attention to its heritage. Fortunately, that is changing rapidly now. We visit the Maritime Museum and the Archaeological Museum, and have a stroll around the city.

Arrival at Valletta (Malta)

  • Post category:2008 Malta

During the night the wind becomes variable, which means that we regularly have to change the sails. The sea was calm, the shipping traffic however was quite dense. Especially fishermen ‘racing’ from left to right, but there is also a lot of cargo traffic in the waters between Sicily and Malta.

Shortly after my watch starts at 0300 we see the first lights of Malta at the horizon. Anticipation grows as we come closer. We even decide to let the next watch sleep: we want to bring the ship in ourselves. The approach to Malta is gorgeous: the old castles, fortresses and churches with their lights are visible from miles away.

Several miles from the harbour we call Valletta Port Control via VHF to announce our arrival. They give us information regarding the current movements of other (bigger) boats, which helps us to stay clear. Around 0530 we glide between the breakwaters of Valletta’s eastern harbour. Instantly the waves stop, and a serene tranquillity comes over our ship. The rolling stops as we glide slowly into this harbour. It has a rich history, and we see the places where the ships of the Knights of St. John were moored when they were not fighting the Ottomans.

We moor our ship in Grand Harbour Marina in Vittoriosa, across the bay from Valletta and with a great view on the city and the Fortress San Angelo. After mooring, the boat becomes very quiet except for the snoring of people trying to catch up on their sleep…

Showers (private bathrooms!), laundry, cleaning the boat, a well-deserved beer, lunch… Time flies when you are having fun.

At Sea

  • Post category:2008 Malta

Steady routine. On watch from 0300 – 0500 and 0900 – 1100. The watches were quiet, keeping an eye on the shipping traffic, especially the fishermen. Their courses are less predictable than the courses of the large freighters we see pass along the horizon. Trying to get some sleep in between watches, and waking up with the smell of freshly baked pancakes and with dolphins swimming around our boat again… We find the 2 hours on 4 hours off schedule more comfortable than the earlier 3 hours on 6 hours off.

In the morning the wind changes to south-south-west, 15 knots. That is on our bow, straight from the direction where we need to go. Therefore, we have no other choice than starting the engine.

During our afternoon watch, all of a sudden the engine of our ship stops. Fortunately, the wind has just turned to south-east, 12 – 15 knots, so we just hoisted the sails anyway. After some searching, we find the likely cause. The boat has two diesel tanks. After one was empty, and before the system switched to the other tank, the engine probably gulped in some air. We drain the engine and ten minutes later the engine is again in a working condition.

Risotto in the evening. Who ever said that food on board can not be nice…?

We expect to arrive in Malta somewhere during the early hours of the morning. Pending weather, ship and crew conditions…

Course Southwest

  • Post category:2008 Malta

We wake up in completely different conditions. The sun is out, and it makes everything look a lot friendlier. We use the occasion to put out our clothes to dry for a couple of hours.

Around 1130 we leave Otranto harbour in a southerly direction, but not after a Carabinieri officer (that looks like a general in his shiny uniform) has put a number of stamps in the non-EU passports on board… There is little wind, so we motor south in the direction of Capo Santa Maria de Leuca, the south-eastern tip of Italy. The coast is green and hilly, with a small village every now and then.

We reach the cape at around 1500. My team takes first watch. The wind is north-westerly, around 12 knots, the sea is calm, and we hoist the mainsail and roll out the genua. We sail in south-westerly direction, course 222. Shipping traffic is busy here, a large number of cargo ships and fishermen.

After our watch, there is pasta and Bolognese sauce… We do a further watch from 2100 – 2300 as our ship slowly but steadily crosses the Ionian Sea.



Otranto

  • Post category:2008 Malta

Due to unfavourable weather conditions (strong wind and heavy seas from the south and south-west, straight on our bow) we are stuck in Otranto for the day. We spend the day with R&R (rest and recreation) and prepare the boat for the next leg. Otranto is a nice-looking town, but rather empty at this time of the year.

Brindisi to Otranto

  • Post category:2008 Malta

In the morning, the skipper and I go to check the weather forecast at the harbourmaster’s office. The prediction is 17 – 20 knots from the south-east (5 Beaufort), and a moderate to rough sea. We decide to go out and try our luck. After filling up the diesel tanks we leave the harbour and sail in a southerly direction, which requires frequent tacking and hard work.

Just before dark we are joined by a large group of dolphins. Around 2030 we arrive in Otranto, where we moor in front of the coastguard offices (Guardia Costiera), by far the most quiet corner of the harbour in terms of wind and waves.

Arriving in Brindisi (Italy)

  • Post category:2008 Malta

The night brought some nice sailing conditions, north-westerly winds, 15 – 20 knots. However, the waves were two meters plus. This being the first night, it brought along a few cases of seasickness. While adjusting to the ‘bumpy ride’ on the water, most people (myself included) do not get much sleep.

My team was on watch from 0200 – 0500. A beautiful starry night with a small moon. Some ships on the horizon, but nothing close enough to be a risk. Around 0230 we have our first encounter with a group of dolphins. We see their shadows around the boat, see and hear them jumping around the boat and hear that special ‘snapping’ sound when they breathe. We do not know it at the time, but it is the first of many encounters. We saw groups of dolphins on every day we were on the water. Our course is south-east. We keep the Scorpio constellation over our bow for most of the night.

Around 1130 in the morning (during my second watch) we get our first glimpse of the Italian coast, and hoist the courtesy flag. Our plan is to make it to Brindisi harbour today (course 140), since some heavy weather is expected (40 knots wind from the south, Sirocco).

By the end of the afternoon we reach Brindisi. The seaside looks like any other industrial port on this planet. Inside, there are some beautiful old fortifications and a typical Italian town. In the Roman days, Brindisi was the end of the Via Appia. Brindisi is the only real natural harbour on the Italian peninsula. We moor along the city quay, watched by large numbers of Italians who are there for their Sunday afternoon stroll and ice-cream.