Monday, August 31, 2009

Greece to Tunisia

17th May 2009

Westward Ho! Goodbye Greece.

We headed off today in a Westerly direction. The wind is supposed to be from the South but there is very little that we can see here. Unfortunately, the steep swell remains from the previous days and we are motoring with a cross swell that is having us over from gunnel to gunnel and probably not doing the engine mounts any good at all nor is it any good for the rigging as we have the mainsail up with one reef to try and remain more upright. Very uncomfortable and we hope it settles down soon. We seem to have had no good sailing for months and both of us will be glad to get all these miserable passages over and done with - it has been a slow and arduous slog and is set to remain that way until La Coruna in Northern Spain. Therefore, we will keep an eye on the weather and simply slog it out as far as we can whilst we can make progress Westwards - The forecast looks ok for the moment but means that we will be motoring until we run out of fuel. Options are; Malta, Carthage (Tunisia), Tabarka (Tunisia), Sardinia, Balearic's, Spain and Gibraltar. Very Very unlikely we will get to Gib before the next bout of strong Westerlies arrives to halt our progress.

18th May 2009

We had a decent bit of sailing for about 5 hours yesterday after my griping and then the wind died and we motored all night with a swell still coming from the South. The light breeze headed us just before dawn and slowed the boat speed with some weird chop but later this morning it veered and we were able to get the head-sail out but still with the motor on. At 11am the wind picked up a bit and we got sailing proper until we were reefing the main and jib in a NNW F5-6. It has calmed a bit and the reefs are now out again with the wind at 60 degrees to the starboard. We are keeping a Westbound track to keep some degrees of leeway in the bag for when the wind starts to head us, theoretically, we now have 13 degrees that we can pay off if we need to.

A few ships were sighted last night and came fairly close, one was a tug with badly lit tow but I remember the light signals from the Malacca Straits and managed to pick out the tow with the binoculars.

Fliss wants to stop at Carthage because it is supposed to be an interesting place and I just want to keep going whilst the weather allows us to. I think that we will have to flip a coin for it and, even if I win, we might end up in Carthage anyway! Problem solved.

The forecast is looking not too bad at the moment although it may be breezy tonight and we might have to use those spare degrees but the weather on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning looks ok for a transit of the Malta/Sicilian channel which normally has strong Nor'Westerlies blowing down it.

19th May 2009

A little bit of sailing was done yesterday and we managed about an hour at 5am and a couple of half-hour stints since. Other than that, it has been motor-sailing to keep us going. Unfortunately, the sea here is nothing like the English Channel and sometimes is lumpy and confused even when there is little wind. Therefore, when you feel that there is enough wind to get you going, the sea stops you dead in the water. The sea is now calm with a gentle swell but no wind to speak of and so we are motoring again.

Malta is 70 miles away and we have about 200 miles to go before we are out of the Sicilian Strait. It looks as though the winds will head us a bit there but it is to be expected since the geography of the place enhances the general trend of NWesterlies. Also, we are expecting stronger currents against us here as the land squeezes and accelerates the Eastbound trend.

20th May 2009

Last night was dead calm as we rounded the bottom of Sicily and took on the rest of the shipping that was doing the same thing. There are no separation zones here and that made life interesting for Fliss who did the first dark watch. After my watch started, we hugged the coastline and most of the big ships stayed to seaward where I could see them clearly without the backlighting of the towns/villages. However, this meant that we were in the firing line of the fishermen whose paths are more erratic. Still, with the engine going, we had radar on which makes life so much easier since it sees boats that are almost invisible to the naked eye.

It's a lovely day today and the sea is calm for a change. Usually, even though there is no wind, there are waves around that slow us down. Here in the shelter of the Strait of Sardinia it must be sheltered since we are close to land and the strait is only 150 miles across so no mush coming from distant winds. The wind is light at about a F3 and it is perfect sailing weather if only we had the time for it. Unfortunately the wind is coming directly from where we want to go and we are passage making rather than sailing. We stayed close to Sicily hoping that the NWester would curve around enough with onshore breezes to get us along. Unfortunately that is not the case, it curved enough to be useless in any direction and therefore we are now motoring offshore to see if we can make a more-or-less direct run to Cape Bon (on the African Coast) once the land-effect reduces. It will be nice to go sailing again without the pressure of needing to be somewhere sometime.

It looks like we will have to stop before Gibraltar as we have just finished one tank of fuel and have started the second. That's 200 litres used which is Eu200 (Greek prices) and much more will used by the time we get to re-fill. So, the plan is to go to Tunisia to top up and then that should get us to Gibraltar where fuel should be duty free (or at least a bit cheaper than Spain). The port in Tunisia that we have earmarked is Tabarka which is the Westernmost port of entry/exit almost on the border with Algeria. They have a fuel dock there and we hope that we can re-fill directly from the bowser. We are not sure how long we will stop there, it depends on weather and how long it takes to check-in/out.

21st May 2009

We motored up the side of Sardinia and then cut across towards Africa. The wind picked up a bit but, for some reason, the sea became very choppy and heading into wind was too difficult and we kept the engine on to keep boat speed up. Eventually, we decided that it was too mucky to keep heading in the direction we wanted and we decided to head to Pantelleria Island where we could make the decision to anchor or keep going. I went to bed leaving Fliss as decision maker and soon the seas eased and we were again able to make a decent heading and turn the engine off. At about 04:00, the wind died altogether and we are now motoring.

The forecast is for no wind for a couple of days and then for some Easterlies. The long term forecast (1 week, and therefore probably fairytales) is that a big fat high pressure is going to run across Europe giving Easterlies in the Med by Wednesday. We have decided that we can therefore stop in Carthage for two days to re-fuel, re-water, re-provision and still see the old city and ruins there. The marina is Sidi Bou Said and a port of entry. The thought is to then leave on Monday and run for Cartagena in Spain as long as the weather keeps promising favorable winds.

We arrived in Sid Bou Said at 20:00 our time and 18:00 their time. They have done without daylight savings this year and are therefore the same as BST. They gave us a berth about as far into the winding marina as possible and we reversed up the line of boats and got in no problem since it was dead calm with no currents. The lazy lines that they use to Med moor were absolutely filthy and dripped muddy gooey goop all over us and the boats sandwiched in beside us. The harbourmaster and police were still open and so we managed to clear in without fuss except that they rushed me so much that I forgot my glasses and therefore had difficulty not only with the French language but actually seeing the forms to fill them in. Afterwards the police wanted to come to check the boat. They did not even look at it but were saying something along the lines of "Un Petit Cadeau" - we gave them a few euros and they were happy with that.


Last night just before it went dark I either saw a shark or a sun fish, there was this dorsal fin swimming by the side of Naz for ages. I also saw a great shooting star which went on for ages, they really are fantastic to watch especially if the burn out slowly.

22nd May 2009

We decided to do the whole of Tunis and Carthage in one go and hired a taxi for the day. We decided that we could therefore have a guided tour and also save on one nights marina fee. It was about 55 euros for 2 nights stay. The driver spoke English well enough and we set off for the Tunisia museum first. Lots of statues and mosaics later, we went to the centre of Old Tunis - Medina. This is an area of winding souks dating back hundreds of years and full of gold and carpet shops. The driver had organized a guide who would walk us through and describe the area - he really just wanted to take us to his mates shop where he could earn commission on what we bought but he was sorely disappointed with the way we held onto our money. The whole place is a maze of alleyways covered along most of their length with a long stone arch making a covered tunnel - very nice and we could have spent much longer there browsing if the guide hadn't decided to drag us back to the taxi.

From there, we went to Carthage and another museum (yawn) and then onto a variety of the old ruins. The size of the town over 2000 years ago was enormous with pillars and carvings from rock brought from across the Med in Greece and other places. However, eventually we got over-ruined and we asked our guide to take us to Carrefour for some re-stocking. My credit card did not work at the checkout which was a bit embarrassing but a cashpoint nearby sorted the problem out.

23rd May 2009

This morning, we checked out with the police and they again wanted to come and look at the boat. We assume that they wanted another lump of baksheesh. I had found a plank and rigged it from the quay to the back of Naz so that we could get on and off and it worked even it it was a bit wobbly. I walked across and turned to give the policeman a steadying hand. He was not shy of large dinner portions and halfway across there was a large CRACK and he plummeted into the stinky water with a big splash. It was lucky that he was not hurt since he collided with the Aries breaking my wooden tillerpilot attachment and completely dislocating the main gearing. The problem was getting him out of the water again but two locals managed to drag him up the quayside. All credit to him that he held onto our passports and they are ok but a bit smudged. Not so lucky was his mobile phone. After he had got over the shock he started demanding that we replace his mobile phone and cigarettes. We said that the boarding plank belonged to the marina and he should talk to them an I got on with fixing the Aries. The poor guy will now be the butt of the police and marina staff jokes about the size of his belly and other things.

We motored around to the fuel quay and paid 0.91 Dinars per litre (1.8 Dinars to the Euro) and therefore had a saving equivalent to the cost of our stay. After refueling we set off at 8:30 local time and are now motoring with a light breeze just aft of the beam. Maybe I can get the cruising chute out and we can sail later. We are hoping to get all the way to Gibraltar on this leg but it is going to get breezy sometime between Tuesday and Thursday so we shall have to keep an eye on it (not that we can stop anywhere along the Algerian coastline since they make life difficult for unannounced yacht arrivals).

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