We have now crossed to the other side of Europe. Moving from the Gulf of Lion and the Balearic Sea, across the Tyrrhenian Sea, through the mythical strait of Messina and across the Adriatic Sea. From start to destination it was 17 days, Canet, France to Sarande, Albania, a journey that marked the official start of Miss Catana’s adventures Take 2.
Included in our travels, 4 nights sail, days of strong winds, high waves, compared to days of motoring in mirror calm conditions. There were times of sea sickness and bumpy rides, days that could have come straight from the pages of glossy magazines. As we moved, we waited for the right weather, then moved on because the weather was fine even though we wished to stay in the place we had to leave. We anchored under a rumbling volcano and stayed at a range of marinas from disgraceful to delightful. The first two days included a professional captain, for the rest we have been on our own. It has been a passage that marked more than just distance, it marked the start of adventures waiting to be had.
Whoo Hoo We Are On Our Way.
1. There Is Always More To Learn
“Captain Catamaran” Mathieu is considered one of the best and it proved to be a good decision to have him with us on the first leg as we crossed from France to Sardinia. It’s hard to put a value on knowledge, yet I would say priceless to have a reefing plan, know how to reef whilst sailing downwind without damage and other valuable gems. Already the reefing plan is leading to a Captain’s happy life as he has a happier wife! Another highlight of Mathieu on board was the morning he made French Crepes for breakfast. A treat indeed, even if we did fail by not having Nutella chocolate spread on board – this spread is a European staple. (yet to be convinced)
Mathieu on board was a 9/10.
2. The Mindset Of A Sailor
Sailing from Olbia to Arbatax was our most crappy conditions, though for me the big waves and cold always will leave a mark. Most significant though was my mindset, I noticed it has moved on. I am now starting to talk and act like a sailor. Put more simply, in prior sails I would have been scared, yet on this day I just got on with the business of doing the distance and being happy to get into shelter at days end.
Dad you would be proud. Still lots to learn, it isn’t happning overnight but it is happening. Becoming a sailor 7/10
3. Pilot Books Are Only As Good As The Day They Are Written
The pilot book is a cruiser’s must have guide, as you sail the Mediterranean. A good pilot book, besides giving you the lay of the land, ports, harbour and land masses to avoid, also tells you what charges you can expect from a marina, and services that will be provided for the charge. In Europe the prices can range from 20 euro to 200 euro a night so knowing the charge of marina sites is critical information. We use the Imray books written by Rod Heikell and overall the books are fantastic, yet we have discovered the hard way that they are only as up to date as the day they were written, re the condition and expectations from the harbours we visit.
After reading our pilot book we went especially to Reggi Calabria, as it had such a good review. I wanted to call my Mum for her birthday and get up to date weather reports.
Here’s the Miss Pilot Tip – Don’t bother unless you need to. Getting moored in RC was tricky in the strong wind, berths are subject to huge swell, your boat is moored directly opposite a busy train track, internet connection slow, not clean and we were slugged over $100 for the privilege of being there, we were providing the hotel bed. Add to this a long walk to the shops, the port town was uninspiring. As bad as the marina was I was offended that they advertise band 2 or 3 yet we were charged the most we have paid anywhere we’ve been. I must also mention the occupational health and safety risk of getting on and off the boat via a walk the plank, that surged up and down. Expensive Crap Marinas get 1/10
In contrast our Imray Pilot book gave the marina of Rocella Joncia a bum rap, yet for us it was a fantastic. Pre arrival the port called us. Wow that’s a first. Normally I call a port, get ignored and then we go in and find our way. This port was exceptional. Staff greeted us at the entrance and guided our boat in, then sorted our berthing and check in with total professionalism, they also had good internet. The port lost a point for cold showers, yet the rest was worthy of stopping. Marinas that deliver. 9/10
4. The Sea Is Always Showing Off
My sister asked me if sailing on the sea is boring. No it is not. Watching how the ocean changes and its moods, is top viewing. Crossing from Sardinia to Sicily we saw turtles, dolphins and thousands of little jelly things. Even if I don’t like little things on masse as it makes my hair crawl, it was still a treat to watch all those baby jelly squish things go by. Sunrises, sunsets, clouds, light, reflection, waves and wind are the best nature channel I have ever watched. Plus I am always surprised at how sailing itself is time consuming, most hours and days pass quickly, unless you are in bad sea conditions then time can be tortuously slow.
The ocean view a fab 8/10
5. Don’t Take The Tour Bus Unless You Really Have To
Taking advice from another cruiser, we took a red tour bus where you hop on hop off to see the sites when visiting Palermo.
So not worth it.
Walking or riding a bike is a much better way to see a city. On our second day we stayed on foot, did a little research pre departure and had an absolute hoot! Bonus of not going on the bus was there was no wasted time waiting for a bus to appear after you had gotten off. Our lesson is learnt. Catching a tour bus 3/10
6. In Europe There Are Many Houses Of God
Regardless of how big the village, town or city there is always at least one Church and so far always impressive, this is in all our European travels. Palermo Sicily, took Churches to a whole new level. This ancient city seemed to produce a church on every street, even side by side. I loved how all major religions sat side by side and this was a city at peace with itself. I think about a culture where God must have dominated life completely, to have so many places of worship in such a small area and for centuries is an interesting place to visit. The buildings were beyond heart stopping spectacular, you could see why taking up a vocation would have been a sound career move in years past. When we were in Sant Maria De Leuic we went to a Catholic Mass. “Oh Dear God” it was something else. The singing and the music was the best. It even included a nun playing a guitar. To experience a building for its intended purpose took the experience to a new level. Churches in Italy 9/10
7. My Favourite Day Was The Simplest
The day we sailed from Palermo to the island of Volcano, was wonderful, this was my favourite day. Warm, sunny, not too long a passage, the anchorage on our own was sensational. We got up just before dawn to have a mid afternoon arrival and our progress was made in mirror calm water. The sun was warm, no breeze and a perfect sunset with my beautiful boyfriend. The backdrop of a rumbling volcano was also memorable. To be perfect the day needed sailing, yet for the rest – This is what I signed up for. 8/10
8. Travelling Through A Legend
Sailing the Messina Strait is a Mediterranean rite of passage. For those not sure where we were, the strait is the passage of water between Sicily and Italy. Before we left Canet some said don’t do it, go around, while others said easy, just take care. The conflicting views made us cautious from the get go. Why the caution? Well the strait is known for its unique weather conditions and bad manners in relation to sailing vessels. Add to the mix the relative small area is a major shipping lane. If you doubt what I say, you only need to seek out ancient stories and legends of massive whirlpools and unhappy gods. The strait connects two different seas each with different salt content, tides and weather. The Messina Strait, is the place of war between seas, and woe the sailor who passes between when the battle rages. Plus due to surrounding land masses the strait is subject to its own weather patterns, including squalls, strong winds, tides and if unlucky mythical sea monsters.
Although we passed through without harm it was not without drama. Once in the strait we went from zero to a 38 knot squall. We were pointing up into the wind trying to the get the sail down, I was getting wet and cold, it did cross my mind that yes, this was the place of pissed off Greek Gods. Sailing through the Messina Strait -a definite highlight. 8/10
9. Unexpected Hospitality
We nearly didn’t go to the town Castrignano and I have the local out of order ATM to thank for our ride to this sweet town. The 5 km ride inland, included fields of olive trees, fields of poppies, true, and hundreds of km’s of stone fencing and small stone buildings. The village is off the beaten track and it was here we met some of the locals and got to experience the hospitality Italians are famous for. First we met Roberta and her mother Paula they were going out to lunch with friends. It was one of those moments when I was touched with the similarities of home and family, it was a nice chat. While we talked the restaurateur invited us in and said he would choose our drinks. His drink of choice was Italian champagne served with fresh olive bread and chicken and risec balls. Sharing conversation over beautiful wine in a magnificent building was a Travel Surprises – 10/10
We are now happy to be in Albania, but that’s another tale to be told.
Cheers the Miss
PS I forgot to mention weather. Spring has well and truly arrived, sunny warm days that are perfect!