Saturday, August 31, 2013

Stumblin' - Late Night Cafe Life Stumble Inn Style

2013 08 31
Almerimar, Spain

No, really.  We do not like this place, this this English pub in the middle of what is clearly not England.

Our waitress is the Teutonic stereotype: six foot something, blonde, English as a second language, humourless drill sergeant.  She does not take your order rather she orders you to order and then stands at near attention glaring until you comply.  She has the evil eye of every Disney villainess ever drawn on cellophane.  All she is missing is the wart.

She comes armed with a Wagnerian bosom, resembling the business end of a battleship rather than anything alluring, and she ships the full German sense of humour.  The electron microscope was developed as part of the search for the German sense of humour.  So far as I know the search continues.  A couple of the Higgs Bosun researchers are getting involved in an effort to accelerate the effort (no German would find humour in that).

So why do we find ourselves drinking overpriced alcohol and eating forgettable food at the Stumble Inn?  After all we have suggested our friends avoid this cafe.  Backtracking to the food for a second it should be stated not that the food is forgettable but that we wish it were.  Rumour has it that last year two people were hospitalized by the food here. Loss of memory might stand as an aid to digestion and allow slumber undisturbed 

So what brings us to this gem of an outpost of British hooliganism set in the middle of Andalucian Almerimar?  

Well, it is close to the boat.  Only steps away actually.

And the staff are a hoot: a German speaking teutonic dominatrix waiting tables in a British pub set in Andalucia aided by two Spaniard whirlwinds who are so busy they can never get anything done, at least not done right, and a kitchen staffed with what Anthony Burgess could only term a Vellochek intent on a little of the old ultra violence.    

But the real draw of the Stumble Inn is the live music.  Every Friday and Saturday two wandering minstrels, never the same two, set up a small amplifier and speaker and play their guitars and belt out some hoary old cover songs.

Not to overstate the ability of the unkempt, ragged vagabonds, men and women, who grace the three by three foot stage at the Stumble I would note that a week ago there was not actually any playing or singing going on.  It was all lip sync and air guitar.  But the players were really into it and played their parts to the max.

The magic of lip sync almost worked on our table until the guitarist took a solo set and launched into Pink Floyd's "We Don't Need No Education".  He  then purported to sing the chorus - all fifty young english voices heavily accented.  This stretched the suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point.  As a comedy set it was a big hit.

Last night we had two unilingual German minstrels who played a full panoply of 1970s American Rock music.  "Playing" is perhaps the wrong word.  What took place on the stage more resembled the scene in Hud where the ranchers all gather round the pit full of infected cattle and start shooting.

In fairness perhaps you like the ukelele.  However perhaps the ukelele is not exactly suitable for BB King's Thrill is Gone.  Or maybe it would be if the artist could have fingered more than a single chord.

Another comedy night and more fun that we could ever have contrived on our own.  

Paying our cheque we strolled arm in arm into the gentle night only to find good friends, firends we had warned about the charms of the Stumble Inn, seated at a table on the other side of the playing stage.  We sat with them for the third set.

Which was when the fun really began.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Family as it Affects Cruising; Cruising as it Affects Family

Almerimar, Spain
2013 08 25

As the drunken crow flies we have just covered 1,700 nautical miles since leaving Venice.  This drunken crow had to fly to the south of Italy and then back to Messina, the north of Sicily and then to Bizerte, Mahon and finally Almerimar.  

We are recovering in the welcoming environment of Almerimar, a favourite place of ours. As we do this the world develops around us.

Our son leaves for college next week.  This is a major event for him.  We will not be there to see him off.

Our elder daughter and son in law hope to join us for the crossing from the Canaries to Caribbean.  Now that we access to internet we hope to be able to work out a plan to facilitate this.  A normal life puts all manner of obstacle in the way of young people taking time off work "for a month or two, I am not sure".  Work, career development, family, need for money all get in the way of the simple life available to senior citizens.  As much as we would enjoy their company on the return crossing we do not want to put any more pressure on these fine young people than is absolutely necessary.  

Yesterday we we informed by email that our younger daughter is getting married.  This is cause for celebration.  Our family, the people with whom we would celebrate, are all in North America.  After a wonderful skype call with the newly intended, no video because Spanish wifi sucks, Connie and I shared a couple bottles of Cava.  As we drank we also shared the gamut of bittersweet memories that come to mind in every parent as of their precious children announces they are stepping out of the nest on their own.  Last night we were keenly aware of where we were.  

And where we weren't.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Thin Red Line - Why We Did Not Spend Longer In Vulcano

2013 08 10
lovely protected Cephalu, Sicily

Here is the anchorage at Vulcano:

 Looks pretty tasty.  In this anchorage you can anchor only in the red line. 

This thin strip of sand will support 4 boats in modest anchoring conditions.  We were anchored with twenty seven, most of the skippers being credit card captains.  It lead to an entire afternoon of this

 With a gale forecast for next day we vamoosed for what we thought would be calmer waters.
 It was a good plan

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stupid People Awards

2013 08 08
Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy

Today I tried a new "app" for my android tablet.  "App" is what the mass market now calls a program.  An app is not really a program of course.  It is merely a tiny little insignificant piece of a program.  Yet people pay silly prices to get their "apps".  Today I met a really stupid app.  It cost €4.99.

Here is what it did:

The operator of the computer logs on and selects an area of the planet earth from a google map.  Then with the press of a button the app creates an email message to Saildocs requesting a grib file for the geographic area outlined in the google map.

When saildocs replies to the email with the grib file attached the same program will, if you reload it and if you are in wifi range, display the grib weather data on the same google map.

This program was given "Product of the Year Award" by some mass market sailing magazine.  


Here is the thing:  Saildocs is a really useful system created free by Jim Corenman and some of his fellow sailor/programmers which allows sailors to obtain grib weather files with a minimum of hassle.  It is already automatic.  

In fact Jim Corenman wrote and gives away Sailmail, a program which not only gets and displays grib files but also handles all the protocols for Sailmail and for ham radio operators to send and receive email over short wave radio.  HE DID THIS FOR FREE AND SOME OF THE MONEY PAID BY SAILMAIL USERS GOES TO PAY FOR KEEPING UP THE SAILDOCS SYSTEM.

Now some dough head charges simpletons with boats for what has already been done and what costs nothing.  Having created nothing the doughhead uses Corenman's work to feed his system.  AND SOME IDIOT MAGAZINE GIVES THE DOUGHHEAD AN AWARD.

Oh yes.  One other thing.  You cannot use doughhead's program unless you are in wifi range.  Of course sailors are always in wifi range.

Based on the magazine's "award" several thousand people have paid doughhead for his "app".  What was it Barnum said?  

What gripes me most is that the intelligent and generous Jim Corenman, mentioned before in my blogs, is given no credit.  Greed and stupidity trump accomplishment and good deeds every day.

I suppose if Corenman shut down his free system the doughhead would sue him.

Toe to Toe to Toe with Scilla and Charybdis: Transiting the Straits of Messina

2013 08 07
Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy

All that Remains of Fierce Charybdis -
A Smallish Standing Wave
From The Odyssey, Volume 12 describing the transit of Messina Straits:

Next came Charybdis,.
who swallows the sea in a whirlpool
then spits it up again.
Avoiding this we skirted the cliff 
whereScylla exacts her toll
Each of her six slavering maws

grabbed a sailor and wolfed him down

Charybdis and Scylla guarded the Northern Extent of the passage through the Straits of Messina, a mile wide stretch of water separating Sicily from Italy and thus defining Sicily as an Island apart.

Charybdis was a giant whirlpool on the Eastern gate that sucked your boat down to the bottom and spit it back out again.  Avoiding the whirlpool a sailor had to face Scylla, a six headed monster of rock that grabbed the hapless vessel and ate it whole, spitting out only splinters.

Fortunately for all an earthquake has rearranged the topography of the bottom of the Straits and removed the threat of both whirlpool and rock.  Not at all disappointingly our passage of the Straits of Messina was straightforward.

Ignoring the calculations based on high tide at Gibraltar we approached the straits five hours early and had a wonderful lift from current for the entire passage.  Only the final two miles, the home of Scylla and Charybdis, saw adverse current, at one point reducing our forward speed to two knots.  Wishing to steer a course of 020 magnetic I was forced to point the boat to 070 to make the proper way.  

Had I just pointed my boat at the spot I wanted to go then I too would have been introduced to Scylla and likely she would have enjoyed us as an afternoon snack.

In the result transiting the Straits was a non event although it was fun to be apprehensive about doing it.  All in all the real danger in the Messina Straits are the numerous ferries running across the short gap without regard to small boat traffic.  

Entering Vulcano Anchorage we Were Passed By This
Impudent but Interesting Hydrofoil
If yopu click on the photo it should enlarge
Exiting the Straits we made the thirty odd miles to Vulcano, one of the Aeolian islands.
Another famous island in this group is Stromboli.  

Our Anchorage at Vulcano
Vulcano is home to an active volcano and Stromboli, twenty miles off, is very active, emitting fumes and spitting rocks almost continuously.  The air quality here is very bad but the terrain is very cool.  

Stromboli (right not left) Distant in the Far Mist

More Vulcano Anchorage and One Dead Volcano -
Note the emissions on the right hand side indicating
Somewhere back there hides the real thing
Today we explore.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On the Run: But NOT to Saline Jonische

2013 08 06
Five Miles from Saline Jonische, Catabria, Italy

Here was our beach for the night - Not Saline Jonische

Staging to transit the Straits of Messina is made somewhat more difficult than it needs to be due to a paucity of anchorages.  This is problematic as one must plan the transit to coincide with a north running current and often you want to anchor and wait for the right tide.

The situation is made more difficult by the absolute ban on anchoring in the Straits of Messina.  

Then there is the Italian rule that no one may anchor within 500 metres of any unmarked beach.  I say Italian rule because the EU rule is 150 metres but around here at least the Coast Guard enforces 500 metres.  The fine is €350 and there are many many reports of people fined for "only rowing ashore for bread".  Sure, I believe that.  Nice though to know what excuse does not work.

Anyway we were too late in the day to make the Straits so we needed a layover.

Charmingly reminiscent of the days of Glory of the Empire the Imray guides all instruct you that the north flowing tide through Messina commences 1 hour and 45 minutes before the high tide at Gibraltar.  Gibraltar?  There is a tidal station at Messina, right in the middle of the straits, but the Brits must time their passages with reference to a reliable tide chart: that of the nearest British possession, that being Gibraltar.  Were I Italian I might chafe at this unnecessary dismissal of my mathematical and celestial computational abilities.  Forgive me but I do not recall Michaelangelo or Galileo carrying a British passport.

The charts disclosed a small harbour on the south west coast of Italy, name of Saline Jonische, that seemed ideal for our purposes.  We could anchor in the harbour overnight and get a good lead on our transit of the Straits.


About two hours out of our intended anchorage Connie saw this brief blurb in the Imray Guide: "There have been several incidents of aggravated burglary from yachts anchored in this harbour.  It is strongly recommended that yachts do not stop here except in an emergency"

It took us twenty seconds to parse the comment after which we pulled over to the beach right where we were, taking care to remain more than 500 metres off, and dropped our hook.

We discovered later with internet searching that yachts in Saline Jonische are robbed at gunpoint.  Nothing is ever done about it.  But then this is Italy and more specifically Catabria.  Fans of Mafia novels will get the connection and the likely reason for inactivity.

Saline Jonische seems like it may be a training camp for tiny mafiosa.  It is not a good place to anchor.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On the Run: Roccelle Ionica

Roccelle Ionica is No. 4
You Do Get that Gulfo di Squillace means
Gulf of Squalls Right?
2013 08 04
Roccelle Ionicia, Calabria, Italy

The weather was settled as we pulled out of Capo Rizzuto and headed into the Gulf of Squalls.  It stayed that way and we had a super run under sail for six hours across the pretty tame gulf.  
Thank God.  

There being a shortage of anchorages as one comes up on Messina and the Straits we pulled off early, about 1500, and set anchor on the beach just off a little tourist town called Roccelle Ionica.  Holding was good and the music did not keep us awake.

On the Run: Capo Rizzuto

Capo Rizzuto is No. 3
2013 08 04
Capo Rizzuto, Calabria, Italy

Off we were again, at 0630 this time, to make as much ground up as possible.  Again the weather gods favoured our passage and we had fair wind for better than six hours.  The wind died in early afternoon and then about 1500 turned to south.  South?  No south in anyone's forecast our hackles were up.  Unforecast wind was nothing ever but bad news, sometimes bad bad news.  

As the afternoon wore to a close the wind picked up.  This too was counter intuitive as a land breeze should, if anything, ameliorate as the heat of the sun is lessened.  Things remained at Defcon Two on board.  Not high enough to take action but all parties were watching.  

Finally by 1800 we had full on south west wind at twenty knots.  This was right on the nose and waves were being thrown up.  Our forward motion declined.  Things grew wet on board.

As we came up on Capo Rizzuto we decided to take refuge.  There was no way we would remain on the water bashing into the bloody fresh wind and water now hurtling towards us.  As we approached the Cape we found a small niche where we would fit and made for it.

Our niche was just deep enough that the waves, curving as they rounded the main point, were still about fifty metres off.  Water was calm where we set the hook and wind was cut by the cape to ten knots.  Sleep came easily.

Next Morning things Looked Pretty Inviting

No worries as we drifted off except that tomorrow we had to cross the Gulf of Squalls.  Who would not worry about a large open body of water named the Gulf of Squalls.

Not us that's who.  We slept.  Squalls were tomorrow's worries.

On the Run: Brindisi to Santa Maria Di Leuca

This is Stop Number 2
2013 08 03
S de Maria di Leuca

I like Going Seven Knots
Our fridge installed we had to head west in a hurry.  We were late out of Brindisi due to a foul up at the fuel dock (the marinero with the key to the fuel pump did not wake up in time) but on departure we flew.  In following winds and current we put on ten hours of seven point five knots.  Damn invigorating.

It growing late we pulled into Santa Maria de Leuca, a lovely anchorage.  Sun had set when we dropped our anchor.  A bit of a mistake as it turned out.  

Next morning the anchor would not lift.  No amount of trickery or cajolling our swearing would help.  Finally at 0700 Benner removed his clothes and dived on the twenty five foot anchor.

In the dark we had dropped the hook right over a bed of nasty coral rocks.  Twenty minutes and half a dozen dives later the mess was untangled and we were underway.

Today we tackle the Gulfo di Taranto.

Sailing to Venice and Anchoring in the Venice Canals

Here is the route to the Anchorage off Burano.
Like so often before we set sail for Venice without a clue.

We could find nothing on the internet to help us plan our trip.  The materials we had on the boat did not say anything about anchoring in or near Venice once we got there.  

All we knew was that there had to be a way to get to Venice and drop an anchor.  Since marinas close to Venice were charging €80 a night and up there just had to be a way.

There was.

Along our journey we engaged in a SSB conversation with a sailor who was returning from Venice.  With a bit of finesse we cadged some rough and ready instructions.  The instructions were wrong in all but one very important detail: the coordinates for one of the most advantageous anchorages near Venice.  

Thus armed we invaded the lagoon system: a vast expanse of mud thinly covered with water but cut through and crisscrossed with large navigable canals.  Here is everything you need to know to have a fantastic visit to Venice aboard your own sailboat.

To begin: it is easy.

Where to anchor: Just North of the island of Burano 

Coordinates:  45 29.30N
                    012 25.32E

With a half decent chart any enterprising sailor will find his way on this bit of info alone.  It puts you in a quiet(ish) anchorage in a canal close the island of Burano, well worth a visit on its own.  Burano has a ferry dock and by ferry you are one half hour from Venice.

The other important thing to know: the takeaway pizza place on the main concourse of Burano makes fabulous pizza.  The calzones not so much.

For those who fret the following will give you something to work away on while you make your approach.

Getting There

A Straight Shot from Dalja to Venice
From mid July to end August likely a motor job
Because the east coast of Italy is so uninviting we took the opportunity to use the anchoring facilities of Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.  This worked incredibly well for Albania and Montenegro.  

Entry to Croatia is very dear (minimum $400) and the anchorages, while plentiful, are of poor holding, consisting mainly of rock tables without even crevices in which your anchor can lodge its pick.  The government officials have all been trained by Nazis and suffer numerous personality flaws.

Still weather in summer is pretty much settled and for all the bitching and carping the idea was sound.

We mainly motored North through the islands of Croatia to Novi Grad and staged to Venice from a small anchorage just north of there at Dalja.  The Adriatic is only fifty miles across at this latitude so the trip from Croatia to Italy was a daytrip.  

What Do You Do When You Get to Venice

How to Find the Main Entrance to Venice Canal

Entering Venice lagoon at the main entrance you sail a mile or two into the canal and then take the first right (or first turn to starboard or first canal running North, however you like to hear it).  

When we did this there was a lot of construction going on right at the intersection of the main canal and the canal onto which you wish to turn.  A temporary channel, narrow but well marked, was in place.  Do this in daylight as the channel is intricate and the buoys are not all lighted.

Time you arrival around the tides.  You want to come in not much more than an hour after high tide.  You will get a nice push from water still moving into the canals from the tidal flow.  

Conversely you will leave at low tide or just after.  We left our anchorage two hours after low tide and still had a two knot push out the canals and into the Adriatic.  

I would hate to have to fight the tide.

The collection of islands that is Venice is situated in the middle of a big salt marsh.  Various other islands, not close enough to the Venetian outcropping to be part of the inner city, have been urbanized and are fully built up.  The town of Murano, home of all that marvellous Murano glassware, is an example.  Murano is one island full of houses and glass furnaces.  
Burano is another island town.  Burano is famous for its hand made lace and linen products.  It is a postcard perfect small town just waiting for you to pull up your boat and anchor nearby.  It has its own leaning tower.

That is what you do.  You sail to Burano and anchor.  ONce anchored you dinghy to town, tie up on a canal wall and walk to the nearby ferry where you are transported to Venice or Murano or Lido, all famous Venetian hangouts.

It is that easy.

A Note on Tides and Timing.

The Route and the GLitches, Minor as They Are

Choosing the correct entrance may be important.  We used the main entrance to avoid difficulties.  One of the entrances has a bridge with unspecified opening times and procedures and the others required mucking around in the canals which can be fairly shallow in places.  

Knowing nothing about what we were doing we simplified the process and entered at the main gates.  You cannot miss them.

There are two areas in the canals you will use where the water shallows.  In one spot I found myself in seven feet of water but that was at low tide.  Just go slow when the water shallows and keep to the centre of the canal.  There is no risk of running aground.

The bottom at Burano is good mud and despite the strong tides you will need only a single anchor. Our Meredith swung back and forth with the tides for eight days without giving up a millimetre of distance in either direction.

Take your dinghy to Burano, motor up the canals that cut through even this little town and find a place to tie up.  Walk to the ferry dock.  Ferry pass is €50 for a week and that includes all transportation in Venice.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Wilma, You Have to Understand. We Really Needed a Marina

2013 08 02
Marina di Brindisi
Brindisi, Puglia, Italy

All This: Saprosetta piquante, Sheep Cheese Aged in Straw, Salame Milano
Four fresh buns, two slices of double crust pizza, 500 ml beer and a litre of wine
and the bill was €24.  Admission to Heaven and the tickets were €12 a piece.
Wilma is my mother in law.  Though her heritage is Dutch she is as Canadian a person as you will find.  Like my parents she knew hardship growing up although her hardship was a fair bit harder.  War and starvation and poverty are like that.

Even though she is my mother in law there are days when I like her.  The other days she rides along with us, figuratively of course, as a financial consultant.

My wife is the product of a Wilma driven household.  You now know why she is so fondly referred to in this infrequent electronic rag as "The Budget Committee".  

So I sail with two quartermasters: my wife and the spirit of Wilma.  Imagine the battle of conscience as I wrestle with weighty issues like whether to take a night a marina.  A marina costs money.  A marina provides nothing that an anchor and a secluded bay do not.  So why would any same man force his wife to squander the family's hard earned savings on a marina.  The very idea.  It gives her nightmares.  In my mind.

However.  Wilma, this time we had to do it.  We needed to receive our new refrigerator parts somewhere and this meant going to a marina.  No one does this for free.  Also we were running low on the forward tank of water, having last filled its hundred gallon maw on July 6 (also at a marina).  No one gives water away here in Europe.  

Corso Roma, the main shopping drag in Brindisi.
The cafe's are there but hidden to prevent conniptions
in my mother in law

My poor Budget Committee almost lost her head in Novi Grad when, while we were filling our fuel tanks, she tried also to fill our water tanks from the hose lying on the ground and used by the fuel dock staff.  The Croats are a nasty thuggish bunch who like to pick on smaller weaker members of the species and my return from paying for the fuel resulted in a loud angry reversal of opinion by the brute picking on my wife, and your daughter.  

Just so you know.  Water is hard won over here.

So needing a receiving port for parts and in need of water we came to Brindisi.  Lucky us.  It has been a great stay.  In Croatia the small Lumbarda Marina charged us €58 for a single night.  Here we pay €28.  And we have much more here including friendly staff, something that does not exist in Croatia.

Installing the fridge we needed a lot of parts that we had to get from a hardware store, things like expanding polyurethane foam and new bolts and stuff.  Also food.  Running with no fridge had run down all our canned goods and dry goods.  

This could be easily dealth with from a well sited marina.  Brindisi was all of that.

And I know we could have left yesterday.  But...

We were tired.  And the wind was blowing hard and had been for two days and ... 

We were weak.  That is the truth.  We are weak.  I know.  I know.  It never would have happened if you were on board.

However we would love to have you sometime.  We will fill the tanks before you get here.