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Friday, August 23, 2019

ITALY'S GOLFO DI TARANTO


Currently we're cruising in southern Albania until late next week when we'll return to Corfu in Greece.
Sorry the Blog has got behind. Have had Envoy's new owners aboard for last couple of weeks or so and a problem with an accidental EPIRB activation - will catch up now. Adding photos is an issue right now and I hope to add these later.

Golfo di Taranto
So far in our story we've been on the Adriatic coast of Italy and Porto Castro is the last reasonable anchorage heading south. So we cruise south and west into the Golfo di Taranto to anchor off the marina Santa Maria di Leuca. It's pretty good, but like many anchorages here subject to wakes from large motor boats from late morning until late afternoon. We stay here just one day and then cruise north with a southerly wind behind us further into the Golfo di Taranto. In the late afternoon we drop anchor in a very large and calm south-facing bay called Torre del Pizza. We're staggered to see more than 200 mostly motor boats ranging from 5 to 25 metres long anchored here. In the late afternoon we have drinks on the foredeck and watch as they all leave bar two sailing yachts which like us stay for the night.
In the morning the wind turns north again making this an exposed anchorage so we head further north finding an excellent small harbour called Porto Caesario. Access is via a narrow buoyed passage through a reef and once inside it seems like you're in a tropical Pacific atoll. The depth is only about 3 metres with lots of shallower water and ashore a beached wrecked yacht is a grim reminder of what can happen if things go wrong and a big westerly swell develops.

It's very pretty ashore and there's some interesting shopping (even I buy a few things which is rare indeed!) and good restaurants.
The day we arrive here is Monday and we're due to go into a marina at Taranto on Thursday. On Tuesday the updated forecast shows a bad situation developing from Wednesday late afternoon – 40 knot southerlies, turning to 40 knot northerlies with a major thunderstorm. Given our unfamiliarity with the local area and the shallow depth of this beautiful anchorage we decide to head off a day early on Wednesday for the safety of the marina.
Strong winds in themselves are not normally a problem and we've often been safely anchored in winds of 30-40 knots and occasionally up to 60 knots. In these cases the wind builds gradually and you have the chance to make sure your anchor is well set. The problem with thunderstorms is that they can hit suddenly and viciously, often causing adjacent charter yachts (that may have inadequate ground tackle and inexperienced crews) to drag. The other problem is the wind is not consistently from one direction but always veers as the front moves, so in anchorages chaos often occurs.

Storm in Taranto
On Wednesday we leave at 0650hrs and cruise west then north-west in a rising southerly about 40 miles to Otranto, arriving 1400hrs. The wind has only reached up to 14 knots when we arrive and we have no problem getting into our berth, stern-to as normal, assisted by competent and friendly marinaras Andrea and Luigi (yes Luigi!). Unlike Otranto this is a “proper” marina with toilets, showers, constant AC power and potable water. It's also much better-priced at 58 Euros per night including power and water.
The greater Taranto harbour is huge and historically one of Italy's major naval bases.
By about 1800hrs storm clouds start to gather and I deploy some heavy spring lines from amidships back to the pontoon. The storm continues to gather force in the distance and appears to be probably the worst we've ever seen. The sky is pitch black over the storm front and it's moving down on us - fast. We see the front within about half a mile from us with very low black swirling cloud and then see what looks like white smoke. In fact this is spray whipped up off the sea's surface by the wind. The wind and spray hits us suddenly on our beam with the wind going from less than 15 knots to over 40 in seconds. As we watch the developing scene from our pilothouse we see our newly repaired wind speed indicator hit 52 knots – that's nearly 100 km/hr. Nearby, lighter boats heel sharply and bang into each other while Envoy heels slightly and strains at her mooring lines. Ahead of us we see a two masted sailing yacht about 60ft long and moored alongside a jetty, heel very sharply as she's exposed broadside to the wind. She goes over further so that her gunwales go beneath the jetty's decking and the rising waves push her underneath, so that she's unable to right herself. There she stays for 15 minutes or so until the wind changes direction, the seas drop and she suddenly frees herself, popping upright again. We take a close look at her later to discover a lot of superficial gelcoat damage.
The wind veers 90 degrees from abeam to astern and I'm pleased I added those extra lines.
After some torrential rain the storm abates, but we sure are glad we came into the marina.
Damage” to Envoy consists of one cockpit cushion blown away (which funnily enough we find in the water a few hundred metres away two days later) and a little rain water in the engine room bilge, which had been driven through the windward air vent. Our windward neighbor on his Feretti 39 motor boat says he's lost a squab and we find it up on Envoy's boat deck. Two yachts on the hardstand are blown off their cradles onto the concrete – ironically one of which is owned by the marina manager. The cafeteria is flooded and its plastic tables and chairs wildly scattered. This same storm wreaks havoc down the coast and goes across to the north-west coast of Greece where sadly six tourists are killed. The only good parts about this were that we were safely in the marina and Envoy got a great fresh water wash!
Early on Saturday 13 July we leave Envoy safely in her marina berth to fly to Rome and then on back to Auckland for a short time, returning to Envoy on 28 July for the second phase of our 2019 adventure.





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