Thursday, May 28, 2015

Close Reach To Ragusa (Sicily!)

 Hi Everyone,

We had a good sail from Malta to Marina di Ragusa, Sicily. Winds were ten to fifteen increasing to fifteen to twenty or twenty-five from the West Northwest as we got further North towards our destination. Seas one to two meters on a cool but sunny day. A reef in the main and about one third of the genoa handled it fine and the HydroVane steered like it was on rails . It was a little wet but a "spirited" sail and it got us into Ragusa in time to relax and enjoy the evening. 

My favored perch going to weather. Under the dodger!
Janet  enroute to Ragusa
Before leaving Malta we did go up to the old capitol of the island, Medina, and enjoyed the citadel's quiet, narrow stone streets inside the massive fort.  We had a lovely lunch. It was a nice goodbye to Malta.
Medina Walls
Medina Street Scene
Good bye Malta!
Carol Argosy of "Sea Bird" met us at the docks in Ragusa, a very nice surprise,  and we've been socializing with  Steven and her. They put their very cool Nordhaven 62 on the same ship as us from SE Asia to Turkey two years ago and we've been friends ever since.

Carol and Steven Argosy of Sea Bird
 The marina at Ragusa is new, very modern and very well equipped. The staff is friendly and efficient and knows exactly what most yachties desire most of the time. We've got a secure berth, hot showers, cold drinks, chandleries, ATM, internet, etc, etc. Very cushy for a reasonable price this time of year. Soon that price will be going way up "for the season"  but we will have moved on.

The countryside itself is more richly agricultural than I had expected. Around Ragusa its winter wheat fields and olive groves in gently rolling terrain. Further west it becomes a little higher and more broken country with vineyards, orchards and vegetable fields often under acres of clear plastic green houses. The old Greeks would have been surprised but I think they would have approved. Its a fertile land.
Around Agrigento
We took the bus up into the city of Ragusa itself and the old city of Ragusa Ibla. Ragusa is bustling and modern. Ragusa Ibla was wiped out in the great Sicilian earth quake of 1693 but was so loved that it was soon rebuilt as a very Baroque town and reoccupied. Today its classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ragusa Ilba
Cathedral St. Georgio, Ragusa Ilba
 Yesterday we rented a car and have spent the past couple days exploring southern Sicily. Driving here is not as bad as I had expected. People are not totally insane and the roads are passable. But the secret weapon is GPS, in our case in the form of my iPhone 6 and iMaps for navigation. The highway system is chaotic, the roundabouts innumerable and the routes poorly marked,  if marked at all. The mapping systems are amazingly good and I'm sure our times enroute would have tripled, not to mention the increased aggravation factor, if we didn't have these GPS route finding and navigation systems. The best of paper maps just don't show what you need in this kind of country.
Basilica di San Nicolo, Cathedral, Noto
We drove northeast to the town of Noto where is supposedly found the prettiest Baroque street scene in all Sicily. The old town was lovely and to make it perfect we witnessed a funeral street procession right out of the "Godfather" brass funeral band and all.  A couple hundred mourners trailed the flower draped casket carried above a dozen or so men behind the band and the hearse. Perfect!
Funeral procession, Noto
Today we drove quite a bit further in the opposite direction along the coast to Agrigento and the "Valley of the Temples" as the sight of the ancient Greek city of Akragas is now called. In 400BC it was one of the four largest cities in the western world and Pindar called it the most beautiful inhabited by mortal man.

Temple of Juno, 450 BC
 Today its still a lovely sight with a number of structures remaining in place including the best preserved Doric temple anywhere, the "Temple of Concord". Its a yellow sandstone "Parthanon" like structure. A little smaller and not quite so graceful as that in Athens, but much better preserved. All the columns are intact and most of the interior walls. The remains of the city walls and various structures stretch for a couple kilometers through an olive grove above the surrounding valley. Its all very sweet.
Temple of Concord, 450 BC
So tomorrow remains undecided. Its very windy now in the marina but its supposed to calm down tonight. We'll drive to somewhere I'm sure. Very nice cruiser fibes around Ragusa these days.

Temple of Hercules, 6th Century BC
Love to all,
Bill & Janet

PS: All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.
Marlon Brando would be proud

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Walls,  redoubts, cavaliers, bastion upon bastion, the most massive fortress in the world. Walls extending up from the sea to one hundred and fifty feet above the shoreline and forty feet thick. Walls within these walls and bastions protecting the walls and each other from any angle of attack. Broad and deep ditches  dug before the walls on the landward sides. 

Fort St Angelo from Valletta  
Senglea Point
Fort St. Elmo
St. John's Cavalier, Valletta
Ricasoli Fort, south entrance to Grand Harbor
Since the Knights of St. John occupied Malta after being forced out of Rhodes in 1523 the islands have proven impregnable to any assault. The Ottoman Turks carried out the greatest siege in history over several months in 1565 and were eventually driven off after terrible losses. Innumerable smaller attacks were repelled without serious threat. In WW II Germany and Italy bombed, mined and shelled the islands from 1940-43 in the greatest siege in modern history but never were able to break the defenses and no invasion took place.  Malta's strategic position in the Mediterranean has remained secure. 
The local brew
Today Malta is a lovely and charming place. The land itself is nearly barren and arid. There's a  veneer of agriculture but the soil is thin above the yellow limestone underlying everything. That limestone and the surrounding sea form the  strong visual impression of the islands. And the stone, which is easily quarried, is used in all but the most recent architecture for everything from baroque churches, to apartment complexes to the truly massive fortifications. That lovely warm  light yellow stone is, to me,  the symbol of the islands.

Interior of St. John's Co-Cathedral
We came down to the main island of Malta after a few nice days in Gozo and spent a night in St. Paul's Bay where Paul was ship wrecked in AD 60 enroute to Rome. Paul brought Christianity to the islands and they are very strongly Catholic even today. We got rained on during a positively chilly motor down to the Grand Harbor at Valletta and have been very comfortably moored at Msida Creek Marina since that time. The Royal Yacht Club of Malta has been very accommodating. We've been exploring around the city complex of Valletta doing the tourist thing. 

Palace of the Grand Master
The food is very good. The city is lovely. The architecture from medieval palaces to baroque churches is beautiful. The Maltese are friendly and open. We've been socializing with Bill and Judy Rouse of SV BeBe who we haven't seen since the Ha'pi' group of Tonga in 2008 and that is great fun. 

Bill & Judy Rouse, SV BeBe
 So it's a sweet time in Malta. We'll be here a few more days and then, if the weather holds, we'll sail north the fifty three nautical miles to Ragusa di Marina on the SE coast of Sicily.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rollin' In To Malta

Hello to everyone,

"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
and the sheen of their spears was like the stars on the sea,
when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee."
                             -from "The Destruction of Sennacherib", Lord Byron

I've always loved that piece. Even though it had nothing to do with Greece other than Byron rather sadly dying from Malaria at Messolongian trying to support the Greek war for independence. But as we departed Preveza southwest  bound on a day with more than fifty miles of visibility the rugged mountains of Epirus were our last view of Greece. Out of those mountains about twenty three hundred years ago came Phillip the Second and his peerless son Alexander the Great. Alexander was truly the wolf and he and his Macedonians ate up the Assyrians and almost everybody else like raw meat. My first love for Greece has more to do with the classic Greek city states but they were supplanted by Alexander and then the Romans and that era which gave us so much ended. The gift to western civilization remains.

So watching Greece recede over the horizon was very sad for me. Don't know when I'll be back but the country and the people, my friends,  will always have a place in my heart. 

Before action photo
 And the 'blue wave' was definitely rolling in the Ionian Sea on the way to Malta. We left early in the morning of the 10th with a nice following breeze in sweet sailing conditions. The forecast was for a northernly to fill in with as much as thirty five knots but mostly twenty five. The forecast was spot on and we had twenty four hours of twenty five to thirty knots directly on the beam. The highest I saw was thirty four in a gust. A double reefed main and about half the stay'sl  handled that well enough but  couldn't do much about the beam seas. In the Pacific those winds would come with a fifteen to eighteen foot swell of probably long duration and an occasional breaker. In the Med that meant eight to ten foot seas but very short duration and lots of breaking seas. Airstream is a very dry boat in general but I've never seen so much water over the decks. Every few minutes we'd catch one breaking onto the boat and I'd wonder if the dodger was going to be swept away. It was a fairly nasty way to get back into passage making after a few years of day sailing. Other than a badly chaffed second reef line and a stay'sl roller furling line I had to cut at three thirty in the morning after I hopelessly jammed the thing in a winch, we suffered no damage. I was actually rather proud of myself for cleverly cutting that line and quickly getting in a Sheet Bend to save it given the conditions. Once in awhile I can win one.
After action, approach to Gozo
So after twenty four hours of nastiness the seas swung around to more astern, as forecast, which was a lot more fun. A few more hours and the winds moderated, as forecast. And a few hours later the wind died almost completely, not as forecast, and we motored the rest of the way into the island of Gozo, Malta in beautiful calm conditions. Mooring lines off to lines on, three hundred and sixty  eight miles in fifty six hours, twenty minutes. That's about perfect for the Med, either too much wind or not enough and usually in the wrong direction. 

Gozo Marina, port of Mgarr

Very distinctive local craft
Cathedral of the Assumption, Victoria, Gozo
At the citadel above Victoria, Gozo
Now we're nicely situated at Gozo Marina in Mgarr. The weather is gorgeous and sunny. The place is very friendly and very cute and full of history. There are some really great looking restaurants. The Gleneagles Bar is a great mix of fishermen, yachties and a few tourists. Last night we ate at a nicely upscale Cantonese place and the break from Med fare and the contrast in cultures was great fun. Please stay tuned, we like Malta!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, May 8, 2015

Layed Back In Preveza

Janet's here, whoopee! She had a nice trip over although she didn't get into Business Elite on the JFK-ATH leg, too many stinking active employee non-rev types ahead of her in priority. But she got into Athens on schedule and then slept the entire six hour bus ride to Preveza. Amazingly she went into a normal routine and has been sleeping the nights away. Very good for her.

Janet back in her "spot"
Life around Preveza has been sweet. The weather has been generally clear and sunny with highs in the seventies and lows in the fifties. Things continue to go well on the boat. We launched the dinghy this afternoon for a little test run. The trusty Tohatsu started on the first pull and ran us around the bay without a sputter, etc, etc. My little projects have been  getting completed with nary a single self induced disaster, so far.

Preveza waterfront view from the boat
 Preveza has been pleasantly  social. We had a very nice English couple, Richard and Catherine Stokes on "Vagabond",  beside us since I've been here and they were great fun. Just a few minutes after they shoved off for parts southward Tim and Ruthie Henning arrived. We haven't seen them since Penang three years ago. They have been traveling around Europe while their boat "Victory Cat" is being shipped to Turkey and they want to look over Cleopatra marina as a place to haul out in a few months. So we'll have a couple days to see them. Then comes the big move.

Passage redundancy, HydroVane and autopilot. We hate to steer.
The plan is to shove off for Malta Sunday morning. Its three hundred and fifty miles to the marina at Goza where we plan to arrive. Should take about two days. We have a nice northerly forecast which is supposed to start out light and then build to twenty- twenty five knots for most of the trip and waft us to the southwest.  This will be the first overnight passage we've done in at least three years. Much preparation, HydroVane rudder and vane mounted, etc.  Big excitement.

So tonight its dinner with Tim and Ruthie. Tomorrow a few last minute boat jobs and Sunday we're outta hear. Wish us a bon voyage.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

PS: What Janet misses about home. And it isn't me.....