Follow by Email

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ENVOY BACK IN CORFU

Envoy is now cruising around the Lefkada area.
After leaving Greece’s northernmost Ionian islands of Othoni and Erikoussa we spend the next few days cruising down Corfu’s north-east coast enjoying stops at Ormos Stefanos, Kalami and Agri. Ormos means “bay”. There are some stunning tavernas in these bays and we enjoy an excellent lunch at Tusala’s Taverna in Agni as we overlook the beach and Envoy anchored just a short distance offshore.

Sharon and Doug enjoying lunch at Tusala’s Tavern

Then it’s into Gouvia Marina to spend Sharon and Doug’s last few days with us.
Gouvia Marina is great with excellent technical facilities, shops and tavernas close by and costs 68 Euros (NZ$106) per night.
One evening here we have dinner at a traditional Corfiot restaurant called Tripa’s Taverna, with all food and wines supplied, live Greek music and a dancing floorshow for a very reasonable of 30 Euro (NZ$47) each. We arrive at dusk to be greeted by hordes of hungry mosquitoes but soon the sun goes down and thankfully they all disappear (we rarely encounter more than the odd mosquito here in the Med).

Sharon, Doug and Laurie feasting on traditional Corfiot food at Tripa’s

Tavern Rustic Tripa’s Taverna complete with cobwebs 

Our taxi for the ride back to the marina is a near-new Mercedes and our driver says his last passenger that night was the King of Belgium, whom he’d driven to a restaurant accompanied by two police escort cars and the King’s personal bodyguards. The driver also fills us in on local economics, explaining how hard it is for people to live on the average wage of about 550 Euros (NZ$900) per month when rent is around 400 Euros (NZ$656). Most people in Corfu are able to find jobs through the summer months, but it’s tough during winter. Many people on Greek islands own small areas of land and grow vegetables, fruit and olives, and keep a few goats and chickens to make life a bit easier.
Doug and I visit the main marketplace in Corfu where the prices seem very reasonable. Whole fish range from 3 Euros per kg (NZ$4.90) upwards with filleted salmon at 15 Euros/kg (NZ$24.60) and octopus at 12-14 Euros/kg (NZ$19.70-23.00). Most fruits are between 1-2 Euros/kg (NZ$1.64-3.28), potatoes 0.7 Euros/kg (NZ$1.15), tomatoes, peppers and grapes 1-1.50 Euros/kg (NZ$1.64-2.46), extra virgin olive oil 6 Euros/litre (NZ$9.80).
Our last adventure with Sharon and Doug is to hire a rental car to drive around northern Corfu including the ancient village of Perithia, we’d heard about while watching a Rick Stein documentary on TV. This village is perched up 700 metres in isolated mountains and spectacularly set among groves of olive and cypress trees. It dates from the 13th century and is still accessed only by a narrow paved track. Largely abandoned until recently, a few people now live here among the many ruined houses and churches and visitors have a choice of six rustic tavernas, the one where Rick Stein dined being the most popular.

Picture of Rick Stein at restaurant in Perithia

View of part of Perithia village

This photo shows one part of a building in ruins while the other has been restored and is in use

This old building is for sale

But look inside

At our final dinner with Sharon and Doug we monitor the New Zealand election results and celebrate not only a great time together, but a positive outcome for New Zealand with the re-election of John Key’s centre-right government.
After Sharon and Doug depart we stay on at Gouvia Marina for a few maintenance jobs – see below. 

TECHNICAL Leon, an electrician well-known to us, diagnoses our autopilot motor problem as magnets inside the motor becoming detached from its casing. He removes the motor, confirms and fixes the problem and now all is working well. He also suggests that since we have two autopilots we interchange them every few hours, particularly in rough conditions, to make sure the motors don’t get too hot.
Leon also replaces a failed Racor gauge that connects to a water detection alarm in one of our two Racor filters for the Lugger engine.
The guest Vacuflush head has had a problem for several years – the vacuum pump switches on every 20 minutes or so to recharge, indicating a vacuum leak somewhere in the system. A couple of servicemen come aboard and first replace the four duckbill valves. The old ones hadn’t been changed in over eight years and apart from being a bit hard aren’t too bad. This makes no difference. Then the whole toilet bowl is removed and the three seals changed. Again there is no difference. Finally they replace the shaft and seals on the flushing lever and this does the trick. Now the head doesn’t recharge except after flushing, as it is supposed to do.
Some different servicemen investigate a water leak from our Splendide clothes washer, finding it's from the 120 volt water circulation pump. It's then a reasonably major operation to take out the machine so the pump can be removed for repair, and we’re still waiting to hear if they manage to repair it - watch this space.
ENVOY LOG As at 25/9/14, we’d spent 170 days aboard and cruised 1,725 miles for 306 engine hours.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

CRUISING UP THE “BOOT” OF ITALY TO THE GREEK ISLAND OF OTHONI

After our very early morning visit from Coastguard at anchor, we weren’t long back in bed before needing to get up to make an 0500 hours departure for a 12 hour cruise to Gallipoli (yes the Italians have one too), on the north-east side of the Gulfo di Taranto. We enjoy these early departures, drinking copious cups of tea while watching the sky gradually lighten and the sun rise, and when you’re cruising at under 6 knots it makes a big difference to cover 20 miles or so before breakfast.
By 1300 hours the wind had increased to over 20 knots and beam seas had built up to about two metres with breaking tops, the inevitable larger wave's power causing Envoy to shudder as her stabilisers fought to keep her on an even keel. Sharon became seasick, but there was nothing we could do except grind on for another three hours until we reached the shelter of Gallipoli. As generally happens with sea sickness Sharon was fine again within about half an hour as we joked that it wasn’t the greatest way to spend her 70th birthday!
Interestingly along this whole stretch of coast we only spotted a handful of boats in five days – mostly local fishermen.
Gallipoli is a stunning medieval fortified town, much like Syracuse, with a well-preserved Byzantine castle last used to drive off a British fleet in 1809. The old town and its castle are built on what was once an island, but now connected with a causeway. It’s much more interesting than nearby Santa Maria di Leuca although more expensive at 90 Euros (NZ$141 per night). Here we “cleared-out” of Italy in preparation for arriving back in Greece.

Gallipoli street scene

Overview of Gallipoli old town (a photo of a picture)

We had one more long cruise of about 13 hours ahead of us to reach Othoni Island off Corfu’s north-west coast, so made an 0600 departure. Soon our towed fishing lure scored several strikes and we landed a small tuna which later made excellent sushimi after cutting off its tail to bleed it.

Doug and Laurie landing small tuna. In New Zealand I'd be embarrassed with a picture like this, but this is the first fish kept in two years and hundreds of miles of trolling

We also caught several other bright-coloured fish of edible size, but not knowing their species didn’t risk eating them.
By early afternoon the wind picked up to 15 knots on our starboard bow kicking up a 1.5 metre short chop. As if a still-healing broken kneecap wasn't enough poor Sharon became seasick again for a few hours until we reached the shelter of Othoni Island to be greeted by a pod of dolphins leaping about. The main bay on Othoni’s north side is very isolated but offers superb shelter from all southerly winds, and we anchored hoping for a restful night after our long day – but it was not to be.
About 1900 we noticed a display of lightning in the distance, and this seemed to gradually increase in intensity and move towards us. After dark the sheet lightning lit up the whole sky like daylight, while the bolts of forked lightning looked like giant flaming spears thrust into the sea, leaving us imagining the consequences of being hit by one of them. About an hour after we went to bed the wind turned north and a medium chop quickly set in, causing quite a bit of pitching. Diane and I knew from experience this was the storm front approaching and immediately got up to investigate. The wind had suddenly increased to nearly 20 knots and the chop was already nearly a metre. Then torrential rain hit is and the thunder and lightning increased in intensity as the front passed over. The real problem in these Med storms is that the wind can increase to over 50 knots very quickly, and there was no alternate anchorage nearby. But the wind stayed around 20 knots for just a few minutes and then just as suddenly dropped completely, and soon the sea was calm again. "Panic" over - the storm front had passed and all was well.
Next day we went ashore at nearby Erikoussa Island and the effects of the storm were quite visible with lost electrical power and damage caused by flash floods.

TECHNICAL – Nothing to report. I do enjoy typing these words!

ENVOY LOG – as at 14/9/14 we’d spent 159 days aboard and cruised 1,692 miles for 300 engine hours.

Friday, October 10, 2014

ENVOY STARTS RETRACING HER ROUTE "HOME" TO GREECE

Envoy is currently cruising around the Corfu Channel.
In Taormina we decided to put Envoy on a mooring so we could safely leave her while exploring ashore. The moorings are owned by a very helpful Maltese guy called George, who charges a rather expensive 45 Euros (NZ$70) per night for them, including rubbish collection, but also ferries people from boat to shore and back for 10 Euros (NZ$16) per trip. This is good because in this area it’s not easy to find a place to leave your own dinghy when going ashore, and you often have to pay to leave it in a safe place. Also George’s very large RHIB would make it easier for Sharron to get ashore with her very sore knee.
Next day George took Doug and I ashore, and we caught an open-topped red hop-on, hop-off tourist bus to Taormina. The guide / ticket-seller told us the return time and a couple of hours later we caught the red bus back, but half way through the trip we realised it was a similar looking bus but not the same one we’d caught before, and in fact operated by a different company. Fortunately the guide was engrossed in answering questions from another passenger and never asked to see our tickets, so we got back without any problem.
Doug has a big interest in cuisine so it was a must to hire a car and take him to see Catania’s La Pescherie – the fishmarket (as described in an earlier posting). As Lonely Planet says, this is the best show in town and not to be missed - anybody who thinks “the Med is fished out” needs to visit this huge market brimming with exotic fish species.

Doug with some large swordfish at La Pescherie

La Pescherie sells all kinds of food and here Doug is buying some nuts

It was time to leave Sicily and start heading up the boot of Italy and back to Corfu in Greece.

Map showing the boot of Italy

This journey takes five days cruising most of each day as there are very few anchorages along the coast and the marinas are widely spaced. First day was a pre-dawn departure for a nearly 12 hour cruise to Roccella marina. We could hear thunder and see lightning in the distance but didn’t encounter any, although at sunrise we saw some impressive storm clouds.

Storm clouds at sunrise

Roccella marina is an efficiently run operation costing 50 Euros (NZ$78) per night including power and water. For the first time in six years of Med cruising we had a berth with a finger, enabling us to disembark and board without using the passarelle. This was great for Sharron with her sore knee, and we went ashore to the one and only pizzeria for a one metre-long pizza.

Envoy berthed alongside a pontoon finger for the first time

Before sunrise next day we headed across the Gulfo di Squillace, so named as it’s notorious for sudden squalls, but we had perfect calm conditions. We had planned to overnight at a marina called Le Castella, but when we got there at 1600 hours we found it very small, shallow and with no assistance or direction available.

Wind generators above Le Castella marina

Le Castella marina has a very narrow shallow entrance

We headed further north towards a larger marina in a harbour called Crotone, hoping to arrive before dark - we don’t like arriving at unfamiliar places during darkness when you can’t see fishing nets, mooring lines in the water and other possible hazards. However the coast just south of Crotone was perfectly sheltered in the light wind so we were able to anchor off a beach after an eleven hour cruise, saving ourselves marina fees.
At 0330 hours the next morning we were awoken by the roar of powerful engines, a wake causing Envoy to roll and sweeping searchlights – the Coastguard had come to investigate us. I sleepily went up on deck and an officer politely asked where we were from and heading to, how many people on board, why we were anchored there and when we were leaving. Satisfied with my answers he thanked us and soon roared off again. Although in Italy we’ve seen many Coastguard, Polizia and other official vessels this is the first time any have questioned us.

TECHNICAL – Nothing to report

ENVOY LOG – as at 10/9/14 we’d spent 155 days aboard and cruised 1,526 miles for 274 engine hours.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

ENVOY COMPLETES CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

Envoy is currently in Gouvia Marina, Corfu as a storm is due to pass over the area.

Our last post describes the Aeolian Islands – here is a map showing them

Our friends Doug and Mary were keen to visit Taormina, so we decided to leave Envoy in the Marina di Portorosa on Sicily’s north-east coast and travel there by car. This marina is particularly expensive at 135 Euros (NZ$211) per night, but there’s not much alternative offering good shelter in this area. Sadly the once grand marina complex is poorly maintained as evidenced by faded paint, plaster falling off buildings, pot-holed roads and vacant shops in the arcade. The marina is built around a canal system with many quality houses fronting the canals.

The sheltered Portorosa Marina is built around canals

I was on the quayside alongside Envoy’s passarelle when the paving stone I was standing on collapsed underneath me giving my left foot some nasty cuts and bruises. Fortunately nothing was broken but my foot was still sore two weeks later. This seems to be a regular occurrence as we notice many of the paving stones have been replaced.
From the marina we drove by rental car to stay one night in Taormina – a great town already mentioned in previous blogs.
Doug and Mary were flying out of Palermo the same day as Diane’s sister, Sharron, and her husband, Doug, were flying in, so we drove to Palermo and stayed one night there, enjoying a great night out with Doug and Mary on their last night, and then collected Sharron and Doug.
Back at Marina di Portorosa we had a rapidly rising north-west wind and approaching rain – not the greatest welcome for our new family guests. Sharron was also still recovering from a broken kneecap and it was with some difficulty she managed to walk across our passarelle and climb down into Envoy’s cockpit. The wind caused a surge to build up in the harbour and even with additional spring lines deployed Envoy moved backwards and forwards in her berth, making for a slightly uncomfortable night. The seas outside the marina had built up to nearly two metres, breaking across the three to four metre deep harbour entrance and making departure impossible for the next few days, so once again we hired a rental car for some touring inland and to the nearby coastal town of Milazzo. Spending so much time aboard we enjoy occasionally getting away from the sea, boats and marinas into the mountains.

Mountain village of Nuvarra

Three days later conditions looked okay to depart so we left our berth and refueled at the diesel pumps for just the second time this year, taking on 800 litres. However the attendant warned us against leaving so we deferred to local knowledge and spent a further night in the marina. I could imagine deciding to leave regardless of local advice, having some type of accident – “I told you so!” The next day the seas calmed to less than half a metre and we set off early for a 70 mile cruise through the Strait of Messina to Taormina.

Map of Strait of Messina

Because the Strait is only about a mile wide at its northern end and often has considerable traffic you’re required to call “Messina VST” before entering the Strait and provide your vessel details and destination. It was quiet for us though, and we only saw one huge container ship and about six ferries.

We had to alter course to stay clear of this huge container ship

Conditions were calm but the Strait has swirling currents making an extra sharp watch essential. Historically the Strait had huge whirlpools and the largest, known as Charybdis, was dangerous to ships. An earthquake in 1783 altered the sea bottom and the whirlpools are no longer dangerous except to very small boats. Arriving back at Taormina completed our 15 week circumnavigation of Sicily.

Map of Sicily’s east coast shows many of the places we've mentioned

TECHNICAL – During our cruise to Taormina the Robertson autopilot’s motor failed. Fortunately we have two autopilots so simply switched to the Simrad unit until we can get the other repaired, probably in Corfu. The led display on my portable infra-red thermometer has also failed and will need to be replaced. I use this for monitoring operating temperatures of pumps, alternators etc.
Ditto our Radio Shack wireless thermometer enabling us to check the outside temperature from the pilothouse. Home in New Zealand you’d be able to replace these easily, but not so here.

ENVOY LOG – as at 5/9/14 we’d spent 150 days aboard and cruised 1,376 miles for 250 engine hours.