Friday, May 31, 2013

Meredith Underway: Albania on the Horizon

2013 05 30
Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

If it were not an offence to my best friend in all the world, my Oxford Concise dictionary, I would describe the departure from our winter home in the seaside town of Marina di Ragusa on Sicily as Inauspicious.  Out of respect I cannot do this.  It was a total FUBAR plain and simple.

Sailors always plan their departure for early early in the morning.  First drop of sunlight hits the deck and most sailors want to be up and away.  It is not uncommon at all to see people in total darkness weighing their anchors and positioning themselves for departure. This is not eagerness to be off on an adventure.  Such insomniac behaviour is inspired by the fear that someone will see them make a mistake.

If no one is present when you screw up royally did you really make a mistake?  

Take this morning for example, our appointed day to get out of Marina di Ragusa.  Winds were calm, sky was clear and all systems were checked and working.  Except for one.  At 0500 this morning I woke, or was awakened by my wife in a state best described as decephalized.  Or maybe hydrocephalized.  In place of my cranium was a soft aqueous unbrain.

This physical condition is common at MdR.  In the preceding three days we had spent each night in the marina bar with other cruisers, all of us intending to "leave on the morrow"; all of us realizing the morrow would just bring masses of cold air driving at Le Mans race speeds through the northern Med.  

Our caution or cowardice, call it what you will was debilitating.  It did no good that the boats which had so grandly left our safe harbour a month ago were largely still in their first port of call, they too hunkering down in 40 knot winds, give fifteen or take five.  We  realized we might be cowards and the debasement of being too afraid to get under way lead to some brain deadening beahviour.  Literally.  Our meetings were held in the marina bar.

No description of the event will follow except for the single highlight: me at the helm trying to back out of our slip and growing very concerned that the boat would not move in reverse.  I was checking transmission, worrying about prop fouling when the Budget Committee, my erstwhile companion called out.  She was on the bow; her responsibility was casting off the bow lines which held us to the dock. 

Hearing her call I could detect a hint of apprehension or so I thought.  Perhaps I should have listened closer.  "What?  I can't hear you" I called back to her.  A lifetime of cultivating the skill of not hearing your wife can have its disadvantages.

She turned to face me full on.  Never a good sign.  She stood on the bow of the boat, drew up the bitch wings and yelled, so the entire marina could hear "I SAID THE BOWLINE WAS STILL TIED ON"

My reply was brilliant and even louder.  "WELL THEN UNTIE IT.  THAT'S YOUR JOB!!!!"  ... Somedays I have to do all the thinking. 

My thoughts at that moment were "oh, damn.  Now I have really torn it".  You see no one  tangles with a female in full blown bitchwing.  

An aside: We sailors used to argue with other boaters
who would anchor too close in a tiny anchorage.  That all ended with the discovery of bitchwings.  When another boat looks ready to drop their hook beside you you just send your wife to the bow where she stands in full Bitchwing glowering at the opposition.  The intruding vessel soon moves off.  Even the French vessels.  

One thing I have noticed about bitch wings is that the arm control muscles are closely connected to the mouth muscles.  As the wings are drawn up the corners of the mouth are proportionately drawn down.  

Back to the blog: 

The BC's posture did not improve and her wings seemed to sharpen just a little.  But she wavered and returned to her work.  Thank Goodness. 

Matters grew worse when it turned out I had not fully untied one of the aft lines connecting us to the bottom of the ocean.  After that it is all a blur until miraculously we found ourselves in open water, Marina di Ragusa visible only with a full 180 degree turn of the head.

After that it was all boring.  Winds were kind and we fell into a following breeze of 16 knots and sailed downwind for seven hours.

About three miles south from Siracusa conditions grew interesting as the south wind we were in ran head on into the north wind blowing down the Adriatic.  Our northbound current and waves ran headlong into the southbound current and waves pushed by the southbound winds.

Things grew agitated and at one point our forward motion was down to 1.8 knots. 

Once in the shelter of Siracusa Bay all was calm and we had an easy night of it.

It was our wedding anniversay and we shared drinks that evening in the cockpit in peace and contentment.  Our talk tended to a review of how we had ended up where we were.  It was a good place to be.  Thirty two years ago at our wedding the performance in which we are now playing was not even on the playbill.  Like most sailors our plans change quickly.

How lucky for us.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dispatches from Sicily

2013 05 24
Marina di Ragusa

About the only thing not dispatched from Marina di Ragusa is our poor Meredith.  Here we sit along with half the boats which were moored here on our return from Canada back on April 16.  Today is another in the series of "we leave on the morning tide" days.  It does not look likely and as of 0800 there has been no movement of masts.

Those boats which have escaped Marina di Ragusa have been trapped in Lucata or Syracusa or Malta each of those destinations within 45 nautical miles.

It has not been good sailing weather.  

Sadly it has not been good boatwork weather either.  Painting in 45 knot winds is ill advised.  The neighbours who admire the vanish being applied to your toe rail are less enthusiastic when that varnish is blown from your brush and touches their beloved topsides.  

Our tactic to get around the wind problem has been to rise at 0500 and get a coat of varnish on the boat before the wind picks up, usually 0930 to 1030.  The varnish hardens  in three to four hours after which none of the windborn Saharan sand and grit will amalgamate themselves permanently on our toerail, dorade boxes or hatches.  

Not withstanding such challenges boatwork is done and we look now to provision for a summer at anchor.  Destination this summer will be Venice and the Dalmatian coast.  Croatia is a very expensive country to visit; their government charging huge fees for sailboat entry and tourist taxes.  We hope to use Croatia as a sailing ground on the way north, hop over to Venice and then return via Croatia.  Italy is about 750 nautical miles of inhospitable coastline almost devoid of anchorages.  Croatia, according to Croatian friends of Canadian descent, is totally drop dead gorgeous.

We have to Go to the Hardware Store, We Are Out of Tomatoes.

Once you find it the local hardware store in MdR is a treat.  It is owned and operated by the friendliest and most inviting family we have met on Sicily.  Actually the store is run by Mama and daughter.  It is the old style store.  Once in the store you are lost in a labyrinth of interconnected small rooms stuffed literally to the ceiling with everything from cement to copper wire to housewares.

Every visit is accompanied by an Italian lesson as mother and daughter take delight in making sure we know the Italian words for what we need.  Laughing and talking is just part of the experience.  

Unlike the local chandler when you ask for a product the store does not carry, like blue masking tape, magically that very product appears on the shelf with the next order.

Best part of the hardware store comes when you complete your purchase.  Mama fills a bag with organically grown tomatoes.  The reddest sweetest meatiest tomatoes we have ever eaten.  Lunch is often just a plate of tomatoes and some fresh bread.

Truth be told we have bought stuff we did not need (you can always use a spare right?) just for the pleasure of the outing.  And some tomatoes.

Wine or Oil?

A couple of weeks ago we joined a co operative purchasing plan with other boaters to acquire some diesel motor oil.  In bulk we saved money.  Even with the advantages of volume purchasing our purchase of twelve litres of Shell Rimula multigrade lube cost €8 a litre.  

Doing the currency exchange 

                                Canada                   Italy

decent wine            $12/litre               $4/litre
decent engine oil      $4/litre               $12/litre    

Based on our consumption patterns Canada is doing something wrong.  

Uniquely Italian Challenges to Working on A Boat

No one in Italy sold our favourite wood treatment needed for the wooded areas of Meredith.  The website was impossible to use.  We tried to order from the UK but the product is classified "dangerous goods" and cannot be shipped.

Emails to International Yachtpaint, maker of the product, disclosed that Woodskin could be obtained from the very marina where we were staying.  Except the marina would not sell it to us.  The marina was a dealer for International Yachtpaint but informed us that they did not wish to be a "seller of paint".  More emails to IP and some assistance from their VP of marketing persuaded our marina to sell us four cans of product which now adorns our toerails, hatches and dorade boxes.

We are still trying to figure out how one can want to be a dealer but not want to sell the product.  

Commissioning the outboard and gas generator required that we have gasoline.  The marina has a fuel dock.  The fuel dock has a sign stating that it is open from 0700 to 1900 every day of the week.  That is Italian for "The fuel dock is not open".  To get fuel you must call central office and arrange an appointment for a marinero to come and pump the fuel.  Some boats have waited hours for their appointed fuel sale.  On Sundays the central office is not open and then you cannot get fuel.  Unless you can hogtie one of the marineros.  But since the boss is not in the office on Sundays marineros are impossible to find.  

To get fuel we took the little cart we use for groceries and walked the three miles to the only gas station that serves this town and carried back what fuel they would sell us.  

The local chandlery has a single answer to every inquiry about a product: "No we do not have that.  We cannot get that.".  A couple of days ago the owner told me just that about a spare impeller I wanted for a spare.   I had just picked the very impeller up off his shelf and was holding in my hands at the cash register as he was telling me he did not have and could not get that part.  There is something about the Med approach to business that escapes me.

Now all we need is to rent a car so we can provision the boat and then wait for the weather.  

In you think we get discouraged, remember that tonight is Happy Hour (every minute of every day is Happy Hour).  Large (500 ml) beers and six ounce glasses of wine are €2.

Tends to take any edge off.  The weather will clear.  We are not in a hurry.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Don't Try and Stop Me Smee

Marina di Ragusa
2013 05 05

We awoke this morning to find our Meredith moving ever so slightly against her lines.  This was surprising as since we have returned to Sicily it has been the custom for us to wake to a gale. Just about every morning here in Ragusa by the Sea the weather has grown to full gale by sunup.  Most nights it just blew a gale all night long. 

Winds have blown in the 40 to 55 knot range much of the time and the highest recorded here since our arrival is 69.   

Our limited experience in the Med has taught us not to sail the Med in May.  It is warm but viciously windy.  We are tied up at the Porto Turistico Marina di Ragusa and will be for much of the rest of May.  Here there are bars, pretty women, six pack abs on all the local men, restos and groceries.  Here we stay.

There is a different point of view of course.

Many of the other boaters stayed in MdR over the winter.  They sought sun, warmth and gentle clime.  Their reward was continual overcast, bitter cold, rain and ceaseless gale.   Many of those boaters, wrongly blaming Marina di Ragusa for their discomfiture, are anxious to get out of here.

And so to Smee.

Our first day back at the boat it was announced that the "fleet" was departing the marina and by week's end there would be no boats left.  We would  be alone our friends told us pityingly.  Somehow they failed to detect that a few less boats might be viewed by some of us as a good thing.  Some of us realized that with the loss of the fleet all that hot water in the showers would soon be ours.

Alas the showers still run cool.  In the twenty days since our return nary a vessel has departed.

You see to leave MdR you must sail your boat.  And it has not been good sailing weather around here.  This is more so for the aging boaters here who over the six nonth winter break have suffered a loss of confidence in their skills pretty much proportionate to the number of brain cells killed off with the excessive drinking that accompanies cramped damp quarters, dark windy freezing temperatures and lack of entertainment.  

It is one thing to dust off one's skills but first one must find them.  First sail can be daunting.  It usually is aboard Meredith.

Still, there is no denying people are fed up.  Each day new pledges to leave "day after tomorrow" are solemnly sworn.  Some days at Happy Hour there is not even offered a perfunctory "Hi how are you?" before the speaker launches in his oath to leave on the next tide.  "By Thursday the 'fleet' will have left.  You will  be alone".

Yeah, well.  

It is all just like that marvellous scene in the movie Peter Pan with Dustin Hoffman playing Hook and Bob Hoskin as Smee.  Hoffman declares he will kill himself and puts pistol to brainpan.  "Don't try to stop Smee!!" Hook states with great emphasis.  When Smee takes no action Hook asserts with greater stridency "No, I mean it Smee.  Don't try to stop me!!"  Finally, aware that no one will stop him Hook is forced to plea "Try to stop me Smee.  Right Now"

So here we are living in Never Never Land and everyone is away on the morning tide.

And Don\t Try to Stop them Smee.