Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Pelagia 2017 cruise part 1

  Pelagia 2017 cruise part 1

Pelagia was ready waiting  anti-fouled and polished when we returned to Preveza in May and we launched her two days after arriving . The day we launched it rained all day!  A week’s hard work is involved in getting everything back up and running before we were ready to sail and luckily the weather improved. We left the marina early on the Sunday morning bound for the Levkas island channel and before we had cleared the Preveza channel we were hit by a thunderstorm and rain. It cleared as we reached the bridge which opens for entry to the Levkas channel and we motored through with grey skies and little wind. We motored all the way towards Nidry town to enter an anchorage at Vlikho but as we approached the town another storm hit us and visibility was reduced to zero by the torrential rain and hail interspersed with lightning.  We held off entering until we could see ahead of us and it gradually cleared enough for us to anchor safely for the night. The ships log was not working so I had to do a little maintenance to try and clear it before the next day. We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on board as the sky cleared to sunshine. 
The next day we tried a short sail in the light winds and everything worked OK except the log still refused to show any reading. We motored to our favourite bay Spartachori, and tied up at Taverna Spilia where we again met the wonderful team that run the Taverna and it was a big welcome all round.

  Since this was to be our last visit we stayed two nights and enjoyed their wonderful hospitality. The sea in that bay is clear and calm so we had our first swim of the season although mine was prompted by the need to examine the log impeller under the boat. The problem was revealed as a large blister of anti-fouling paint obscuring the impeller so it was soon removed and all was working.
     After some sad farewells to Spilia we set sail to Ithaca Island and had a splendid few miles close tacking down the channel between Meganissi and Levkas islands . Once more the wind dropped and we motored into Frikes harbour where we met Catherine who had rented a holiday house there for two weeks with her family. We berthed on the harbour wall, soon to be surrounded by a flotilla of charter yachts, and we stayed there for four days. Whilst there, we enjoyed the hospitality of Catherine and saw a little more of the interior of Ithaca island.

On Sunday the 28th may we set sail for Poros town on Cephalonia and covered the 20 miles in good time to get a berth in the harbour quite early. The day started fine but deteriorated into a blustery showery afternoon. However, the next day dawned fine and an early start saw us on route for Argostoli. The wind was perfect, changing direction as we needed and never more than force four so we romped the 32 miles to Argostoli harbour in warm sunny conditions in five hours.

Here we stayed to await the arrival of James Dick who crewed with us to Sicily on the 270 mile leg across the Ionian Sea. In some ways it was sad that this was our last port in Greece, but we were ready to move on.
   With a good forecast for the next few days we left Argostoli early on 1st June and soon cleared the harbour setting course for the south western corner of the island where our passage would take us out into the Ionian Sea. The day was good but a bank of mist seemed to hang around the islands and there was little wind with which to sail at first. Having cleared the headland we set course slightly south of west directly towards Sicily and continued to motor through a slight sea. A light north westerly breeze ruffled the surface and as it slowly strengthened we set the sails and began a slow tack. We managed to sail for some hours  on into the early evening and it was very pleasant slowly making way even if not quite on the right direction. The wind became more flukey as we left the land behind us and regrettably we were forced to resort to engine as our last views of the Greek islands faded behind us. We motored through the night in calm conditions from a very spectacular sunset through to an equally beautiful sunrise with no company other than two ships passing by. The second day was similar although the sky was not as clear and we managed some sailing morning and evening with motoring in between. Approaching the Italian coast of Calabria in the early evening the wind became quite strong and we flew westward just as we were trying to eat our evening meal, now at 30 degrees to the horizontal. That wind continued as we approached the toe of Italy but reversed direction and was blowing from the area of the Messina straights which always produces weird conditions. As we went into the night we were beginning to pound into short uncomfortable seas and had to reef the Genoa before the wind later faded again. Many ships now appeared heading either in or out of the Messina straights and all three of us were up on deck for a couple of hours in the dark trying to safely manoeuvre through the traffic. Eventually with about 40 miles still to go to our destination the number of ships diminished and the sea quietened down now that we had passed the lead in to the  Messina straights. Motoring through the remaining night hours was uneventful but the sky was heavy with thick cloud  pouring off the heights of Mount Etna in the distance as we closed the coast of Sicily. The last few miles were calm as dawn broke and the sun rose through a clearing sky. We entered Riposto marina at 0800 hours having completed 297 nautical miles in 49 hours. It is five years since we last entered this marina and it is good to see they have extended the breakwater and you now get all round protection making an excellent sheltered marina with good facilities. After refuelling, we had our breakfast whilst waiting to be allocated a berth and then spent the morning cleaning up the ship before going into town. 
   Riposto is a very poor town but with many buildings that had been fabulous in their day. Rubbish abounds in the streets and the Sicilians seem to be oblivious to it. It is one of the few towns in Sicily not given over to tourism. It is a vibrant working town with a pleasant somewhat decayed feel to it whilst Etna broods sulkily over the town in a black haze. However, it is lively and interesting and is full of fish and fruit and vegetable markets that are so colourful and varied that it is a delight to browse and to hear the  stall-holders loudly shouting their wares to any prospective buyers in a way that only Italians could achieve. The fish stalls are stacked with the largest tuna and swordfish that you have ever seen as well as a variety of shellfish, cuttlefish and squid. This area is the best in the Mediterranean for fish of all kinds because of the proximity to the currents in the Messina straights. After a very good night’s sleep by us all to recover from our period of watches on route we awoke to stupendous views of Mount Etna smoking copiously up into a clear deep blue sky. D.H.Lawrence once said, ....then Etna, that wicked witch resting with her thick white snow and slowly, slowly rolling her orange coloured smoke. The Greeks called her the Pillar of heaven.

    From Riposto our next leg took us south to the town of Siracusa. A beautiful sunny quiet morning  accompanied us as we left but Etna in petulant mood was putting out generous plumes of smoke. After motoring for some time the wind came up and we were able to sail close hauled almost on our desired track in perfect conditions. Shortly after there were five Italian warships playing war games around us and they seemed reluctant to leave us, constantly weaving across our path. We managed to sail closely past one of the headlands with four yachts passing us and the navy still all around. Finally we had to tack out as we were too far in shore and it brought us close to two of the warships again. I called one on the radio to make sure we were safe to pass in front, but failed to get an answer. However, he did then speed up and enter Augusta harbour abeam of us. Another couple of tacks and we were within closing distance of Siracusa grand harbour, entering around the beautiful old fortress. We finally got a berth in the town marina and moored up after logging 50 miles. 

     Siracusa was once called Ortiga and in 734 BC it was a powerful city state rivalling Athens . It controlled Sicily and the southern Mediterranean for 200 years by which time it was arguing with Rome. Archimedes was resident here and devised ways of setting the Roman ships on fire by using mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on the ships. He also had four large bronze cast sheep set in the high fortress with each facing one of the four compass directions. By a system of holes in the castings the wind would pass through the sheep and emit from its mouth with a bleating noise when the wind was in that direction. Each sheep was slightly different and therefore you could tell the wind direction by the different bleating sound! Despite the damage done to the town in the Second World War there are many archeological remains including one of the best Greek amphitheatres in the Mediterranean. We spent a day here exploring although it  rained most of the day.
   The next day dawned fine and we sailed 25 miles down to a port near the south east corner of Sicily called Marzamemi. It had a good little marina but the rest of the town was all devoted to tourism and not tastefully done. 

   We therefore pushed on the next morning for 42 miles along the south coast to Marina di Ragusa. This coast is low lying and a continual spread of unattractive towns and developments interspersed with industry and agriculture, not at all like the north coast. Ragusa was a good marina but again the town was devoted to the beach loving tourists with many fast food outlets. The weather was perfect with light winds in the afternoon and we motored and sailed again the next day to Licata another 40 miles. On route we passed the oil platforms and refinery of their large oil business and approached the harbour of Licata backed by some very dry hills and dominated by a 17th century castle and the huge mausoleums of the town cemetery. Actually the marina here was superb and so well sheltered we decided to stay and rest here and explore the town for an extra day. 

   Licata was the first town in Sicily to be liberated by the American forces in 1943 and consequently many of the fine buildings were shattered by heavy bombardment and still remain in poor condition. The tourist office had a collection of memorabilia from that period found in the seas around. Slowly some buildings are being renovated and make fine homes and business premises.  We walked in  the heat up to the castle with superb views over the bays and the harbour and explored the narrow streets with their complement of elderly gentlemen sitting in groups chatting over affairs of the day as the Sicilians love to do. Our final sailing day with James was to Sciacca where we logged 56 miles with a mixture of sailing and motoring as the breezes allowed. This ancient town has houses built on the steep slope from the town square at the top to the harbour below and a steep set of steps which was much too hard in the heat of the day. 

   There is Moorish and Spanish influences in the town and a thermal baths which is testament to the volcanic nature of the area. Mooring facilities were more primitive here similar to our experience of five years ago. James left us the next morning to find his way to Palermo for his flight home and we took a day out to do washing and cleaning before our next stages of the trip. We have logged 606 nautical miles since leaving Preveza and probably about a quarter of the way on our plan this year.

Chris Richardson

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