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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

EUREKA - HISTORIC SYRACUSE

Envoy is now in western Sicily’s Egadi Islands.
Next stop was Syracuse – first settled 3,000 years ago, a major city by the 4th century BC, and once one of the most powerful in the Med, “rivaling Athens in prestige” to quote Lonely Planet. Here Archimedes was born in 287 BC, and lived until he was accidentally killed during a Roman invasion. Grand Harbour, protected by Ortygia Island, is sheltered in most conditions, and we anchored off the town to sit out an approaching front with winds expected up to 30 knots. In fact we got a few days of winds only in the low 20s with occasional gusts to 30, but it was very rough in the open sea and we were pleased to be safely in shelter with our floppers stoppers down to reduce roll.

Waves breaking on the shores of Syracuse as front passes 

This fortress at the entrance to Syracuse is off-limits as still in use by the military

Sadly the sea is too polluted by sewage coming from the land for swimming or use of the water maker; in fact we’ve found sewage odours to be quite common in harbours so far - part of a wider problem of poor infrastructure quality in Sicily.
After the front passed it became fine and sunny with temps in the mid-high 20s; everybody says the Med summer is late this year – maybe it’s arrived at last!
One day we visited the dark and eerie Catacomb of San Giovanni, where passageways beneath the church have about 10,000 niches carved out of solid rock to hold the dead. These date from the 3rd century and were built into aqueducts dating from the classic Greek period several centuries earlier. No human remains are visible today, and these sites have been targeted by grave robbers throughout the centuries, who’ve long since taken items of value. You wouldn’t want to get lost in here!

Grave sites in the Catacomb of San Giovanni

Plan showing layout of the underground Catacombs

The cobbled lanes of Ortygia’s Old Town are fascinating to wander through, and history seems to have blended well with present day functionality.

Stunning courtyard of a Venetian mansion

Cathedral in Ortygia’s del Duomo Piazza

Sicily has a three-legged symbol, similar to the Isle of Man’s - apparently it came from the Normans who brought the symbol to both places

Syracuse has an interesting food market – far smaller and quieter than Catania’s but where it’s easier to wander around, smell the roses and chat with stallholders about their wares.

Fabulous delicatessen at Syracuse market

Hiring a car is expensive in Sicily at about 75 Euros (NZ$117) per day, but we explored the nearby countryside, finding it relatively quiet and traffic-free, with a huge amount and variety of agricultural activity including wheat, grapes (Sicily has stunning wine), olives and citrus fruits.

Church in village of Palazzo Acreide

We also stumbled across a fascinating typical Sicilian cemetery with numerous family mausoleums, some of the older ones being about the size of small houses.

Typical family mausoleum

One of the larger mausoleums

I felt safe withdrawing cash at this ATM with mounted police nearby


TECHNICAL – nothing to report
LOG - As at 8/6/14, we’d spent 62 days aboard and cruised 602 miles for 97 engine hours.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

CATANIA’S FABULOUS MARKET AND SPECTACULAR MT ETNA

Envoy is now in Sciacca (pronounced “Sharka”) harbour, south-west Sicily.
We soon discovered that eating out in Sicily is slightly dearer than Greece, although the restaurant fare is far more diverse and generally better. The Italian wine selection is of course superb, and very reasonably priced with good bottled wines available from about 2.30 Euros (NZ$3.60). Supermarket prices seem very reasonable, and with some real bargains; chicken legs 2.90 Euros (NZ$4.53) per kg, wings 1.90 Euros (NZ$3) per kg, pork chops 5 Euros (NZ$7.80) per kg, extra virgin olive oil from 3 Euros (NZ$4.70) per litre.
Sicily’s population is similar to New Zealand’s at about 5 million, buy locals tell us the economic situation is not good with over 20% unemployment, compared with 10% for Italy as a whole. The average wage in Italy is about 1,200 Euros (NZ$1,935) per month, whereas it is only half that in Eastern Europe. Consequently manufacturers have been shifting their plants - an example being the relocation of a major Fiat plant from Palermo to Poland.
Next stop was Catania where we berthed in the marina for 55 Euros (NZ$89) per night – this is one of the cheaper marinas! There was so much roll coming into the marina that we’ve had many calmer anchorages, but the marina was a good base for a tour of Mt Etna. Many marinas here are just walled-off sections of the open sea, and subject to swell and surge. Also they often have large fleets of fishing boats which move around at speed setting up wakes.

This cute, compact Twizy electric car parked in the marina has a 100km range before needing recharging

Catania’s 4th century elephant statue in Duomo Piazza

Catania’s gorgeous cathedral

Our Mt Etna tour was as part of a group of eight traveling by Land Rover with a passionate and knowledgeable guide, Sebastiano. The full-day tour cost 55 Euros (NZ$86) including lunch, so we thought it was pretty good value, and although we’ve seen several volcanoes home in New Zealand, Mt Etna has fascinating historical aspects. It’s too dangerous to visit the summit but the tour took us 2,000 metres up the 3,323 metre mountain, where despite the fine day it was about 5 dC. Europe’s largest live volcano’s changing moods have had a big impact on the history of eastern Sicily – a violent eruption with a mile-wide lava stream largely destroyed Catania in 1669. These days there are typically 25 eruptions each year, some resulting in loss of life and damage.

One of Mt Etna’s impressive lava flows

House buried in lava from recent eruption

Laurie and Chris wearing helmets needed for lava cave exploration

Lunar-like landscape of Mt Etna

One of Catania’s most famous features is La Pescheria – the fish market and adjoining food market.
Catania’s La Pescheria market

This is the most exciting and interesting market we’ve ever been to – a gastronomic delight where locals treat their shopping as a pleasure, not a chore. The market’s mayhem assaults all your senses – the bellowing of vendors advertising their wares, the chopping of fish fillets, the clink of ice and splash of water being cast over fish to keep them glisteningly moist, the angry yell of an accidentally splashed elderly lady dressed in black, the good-natured bargaining between sellers and buyers, the aroma of dozens of fish varieties, fresh breads, cheeses and cured meats, live octopuses slithering across the stalls, the kaleidoscope of colours and textures, and the whole experience set in an atmospheric spider’s web of cobbled lanes straight from a movie set. We see so many varieties of fish, including some very large tuna and swordfish, that we wonder why our fishing has been so unsuccessful.

The market sells every imaginable type of food

Large swordfish in La Pescheria

There are dozens of stands like this selling varities of seafood

Slabs of delicious cheeses abound

There are so many people here that we can only walk at a snail’s pace, and after buying what we need we find a small cafĂ© with outdoor tables to enjoy a none-too-healthy breakfast of cappuccino and chocolate croissants.
TECHNICAL Chris has been helping us with a number of both maintenance jobs and improvements:
- Our refrigerator door stopped closing properly so Chris modified the gasket
- On the advice of another Nordhavn owner we checked the sealant around the base of the mast for water leaks, and Chris laid a new bead of 3M 5200 to keep it watertight. For this job we used an unopened sealant cartridge dating from 2005, and it worked perfectly (so much for 1-2 years shelf life!)
- Resolved a sound quality issue with our DVD player
- Modified our BBQ to make it easier to keep cooked food warm
- Repaired our guest shower nozzle and fitted a new adjustable mirror in the guest bathroom
- Repaired our port forward teak rubbing strake
- Fitted a protective cover around our guest head power switch
- Installed a new clock mechanism in our brass bedroom clock
- Made improvements to the dinette table
- Our main Raritan electric head is not working well and we’ve tried a few ideas to fix it. Next step is to replace the joker valve

LOG As at 30/5/14, we’d spent 52 days aboard and cruised 463 miles for 79 engine hours.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

ARRIVING IN ITALY

Envoy is in Porto Empedocle, waiting for a Scirocco (southerly blow) to pass before cruising further westwards along the southern coast of Sicily.
Leaving the Albanian port of Sarande we sailed west to the Greek island of Erikoussa for an overnight stop, positioning ourselves for the next morning’s seven hour cruise to Santa Maria di Leuca, our port of entry for Italy. It wasn’t a great re-introduction to Italian marinas as there was no answer to our VHF radio calls and no sign of help available for berthing until a reluctant marinara eventually arrived to allocate a berth and take our stern lines as we backed into the pontoon. Again we used an agency – JLT Yacht Agency (affiliated to A1 Yachting) as we needed sound advice on meeting Italian documentary requirements in the best way. 1930s fascist dictator Mussolini and his cronies had their holiday villas at Santa Maria di Leuca, and many of these still remain. He was also responsible for the construction of an impressive stepped walkway to the lighthouse overlooking the harbour. 

Looking down Mussolini steps to the marina at Santa Maria di Leuca

Laurie and Chris pose with statue of Pope Beneditto 16th who visited here in 2008

There’s not a lot to see along this stretch of coastline, but we enjoyed berthing alongside the quay in the port of Ciro – a typical small Italian working town with few traits of tourism. Here we found a Vodafone shop and were able to get Italian SIM cards for phone and Internet connection. This process is always a bit of a hassle in a new country, and like at home the Vodafone shops are always busy, but they do try their best to help.

Laurie organizing Italian phone and Internet connection

Entering the port of Rocella, further south, can be daunting in a heavy swell as the entrance is only about three metres deep and a very shallow sandbar protrudes from the starboard side of the entrance. In 2004 a 37 ft yacht attempting to enter the harbour in Force 5 winds and large swells was rolled over by a wave estimated at six metres high, fortunately with no loss of life and only minor injuries. We saw a Spanish yacht hit the sandbar with a sudden stop, but conditions were good and she was able to maneuver her way off.

Map showing Rocella Harbour’s dangerous entrance

In the nearby taverna they sell mouth-watering pizza by the metre

SICILY
As we cruised down the “boot” of Italy, the island of Sicily gradually came into view and we spotted a mountain that we thought was Mt Etna. But as we came closer another mountain came into view, and at 10,700 feet high it dwarfed the one we’d seen. It’s sobering to view the mountain and realise it’s still very active with typically 25 minor eruptions annually.
Sicily is the largest Med island and the main focus of this year’s cruise, as we plan to spend about four months here. The wind had been light with glassy calm seas on a gentle swell as we approached the Strait of Messina. Looking ahead I observed whitecaps and closer inspection through binoculars showed an approaching squall. In about ten minutes we had 30 knot winds and breaking two metre seas on our beam. Our stabilisers were coping well, but Envoy still rolled up to 20 degrees each side. At one point our starboard side rolled downwards off a wave just as an extra large wave hit us, breaking over the starboard gunwale and filling the cockpit with water. The water drained out through the scuppers within about ten seconds, but not before some seawater came up over the 150 mm high lip into the saloon. Fortunately the carpet soaked up most of the water and later we found less than ten litres in the bilges.

Taormina
For the first three days we anchored off the town of Giardini Naxos, close to the enchanting medieval village of Taormina – playground of the rich and famous.

View of Taormina from Envoy’s anchorage

In Italy we have to be more careful about personal security as theft is a problem, and it’s always recommended to lock your dinghy to the quay, something we’ve never needed to do in Turkey or Greece. We wanted to leave the dinghy for the day to visit Taormina, and as we approached a jetty in Giardini harbour a young guy came to take our lines, introduced himself as Gabriel and said we could leave our dinghy there. He’d recently had a great holiday in Australia and took a shine to us antipodeans. Diane asked where we could find a butcher’s shop, and Gabriel immediately offered to drive her there.

Di with very helpful Gabriel at the pier we left the tender

Later that day I picked up Chris from the shore from a different jetty, and as he climbed into the RHIB a guy came running down the jetty, waving to us. He told us this was a private jetty and there’s a 10 Euro (NZ$16) fee for using it. We thanked the guy for letting us know and said if we use it again we’ll know to pay.

Chris and Laurie enjoy morning coffee by ceramics shop in Taormina

Taormina street scene

Beautiful Taormina church

There are many street vendors in Taormina selling everything from sunglasses to cheap toys. We had to laugh when it started to rain and immediately the sunglasses and hats disappeared and the same vendors were offering umbrellas and parkas!

This Taormina shop sells sweets and cakes to die for

One of several Taormina antique shops

TECHNICAL – nothing to report

LOG As at 26/5/14, we’d spent 48 days aboard and cruised 431 miles for 73 engine hours.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

DELIGHTFUL ALBANIA

Envoy is now anchored at Syracuse, Sicily.
In posting this I have also added photos to the previous post.
We’d heard mixed reports about Albania, with most of the negative comments coming from people who hadn’t been there, but we found our four days there an absolute delight with wonderful, friendly, smiling and helpful people. Furthermore we found the Sarande region perfectly safe, very low priced and loaded with interesting places to visit.
Albania is a mountainous but fertile country roughly one tenth the size of New Zealand, with a largely rural-based population of 3.5 million, of whom 60% are Muslim with the remainder being Catholic or Orthodox. It was great to hear the regular calls to Muslim prayer again, something we’ve not heard since leaving Turkey. Albania has a rich and colourful history having suffered invasions by Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Turks and French among others. Then for five decades after WW11 Albania was an isolationist, totalitarian, atheist, communist state ruled by iron-fisted President Enver Hoxha, and only in 1991 when the system collapsed did Albania, at that time the poorest country in Europe, start to open up to the outside world.
We used BWA Yachting as agents to clear-in (agents are mandatory), and BWA’s Auron Tate’s best friend is married to a part-Maori New Zealander. She is the daughter of a Mr Taylor who used to be high up in the former New Zealand Communist Party, then emigrated to Albania with his family in the late 1960s to live under the communist system.
BWA had emailed us advising a huge number of documents required to visit Albania, something like 19, including a list of personal effects of all people on board - in fact it all seemed so daunting we were almost put off visiting. In reality though this list applied to commercial vessels, and they only wanted to see our Crew List, passports and Registration Certificate, making it all very simple. The formalities were cheap at 38 Euros (NZ$) and for comparison this costs 150 Euros (NZ$) in Greece. Envoy’s berthage alongside the quay cost 70 Euros (NZ$) for three nights. BWA’s main contact person helping us with practical issues like water and power had the interesting name – Captain Zaho. We shared the same dock with Port Police so the security was excellent.

Envoy quayside in Sarande - security here was very good

Enjoying a delicious and reasonably-priced dinner at a Sarande waterfront taverna

One of our days there we took a 40 minute bus trip, costing 200 Leke (about NZ$2.25) each return, to see the impressive ruins of Butrint, founded about 1400BC and since settled in turn by all of the various invading countries.

Chris, Di and Laurie exploring Butrint ruins

On the return bus trip we bought a cheap bracelet from an enterprising eleven year old boy who can speak ten languages.

Sitting with Chris in the bus, this enterprising 11 year old Albanian speaks 10 languages

Another day we rented a car and drove about 90 minutes to Gjirokasta, the best preserved Ottoman village in the Balkans overlooked by a castle that became the palace of local ruler Ali Pasha. Here we had a cooked breakfast for three for a total of 1,050 Leke (about NZ$12).

Blue Eye freshwater springs on the way to Gjirokasta

Sombre entrance to Gjirokasta castle, once a prison

Gjirokasta is riddled with atmospheric cobbled lanes

Chris bought a carving from this stone carver working beside a Gjirokasta lane

Our last night we had dinner at the castle overlooking Sarande, with entertainment from an Albanian cultural group. Other patrons included a very lively group of Polish ladies seemingly wanting to make the most of their vacation, and everyone danced to the haunting Albanian music based around a prolonged monotone chant with different performers taking turns to add lyrics and gesticulations in a similar form to rap.

Albanian entertainers pose with guests – they insisted Chris and I wear their hats!

By visiting non-EU Albania for a few days Envoy is able to remain in the EU for a further 18 months without any VAT liability, and we’re now rather intrigued by Albania and plan to return.

TECHNICAL Chris “MacGyver” has project-managed quite a few jobs for us since coming aboard including the installation of a fresh water consumption meter. Envoy carries a generous 980 litres of water in three tanks, but we don’t have contents gauges and only one tank can be accessed for dipping. Up to now we’ve been getting around this by keeping the tanks filled to a high level using additional water stored in plastic containers on deck. We decided to install a consumption meter so that when we start to use a tank we can record the meter reading, know how much water is left in the tank, and know when to change tanks. This means we shouldn’t need to carry so much spare water, and will eliminate the risk of a tank running dry – which results in difficulty re-priming the water pumps. This is now installed downstream from the water pump and the new system is working well.

Chris holding Sensus water gauge prior to installation

ENVOY LOG As at 18/5/14, we’d spent 40 days aboard and cruised 133 miles for 24 engine hours.