Sant Carles to Sicily

Fri 14 May 2010 20:11

Position 38:07.6N 015:06.7E


Here is a blog of our trip written by my good friend Bill Hughes.  Enjoy!


Sant Carles to Mahon – The passage was a good a shakedown for both the crew and the boat.  The total distance covered was 190 miles, wildlife was in abundance and we were fortunate enough to see numerous minky whales, dolphins and sun fish.

In addition we had almost permanent stream of Portuguese men of war complete with their peculiar sails that they use to carry themselves along in the breeze.  One piece of good advice from the ‘Doc’ was to always wear shoes on deck when they are around as they can give you a nasty sting.  True to form we found several on deck so his advice was well heeded after that.

My friend the ‘Doc’ is one of the most interesting people I have ever met.  He is a retired GP from Saxmundham and a true eccentric.  Today he was given a perfectly good sandwich for lunch only for him to dissect it.  He started by eating the bottom half of the bread, followed by the top half and finally the contents, one by one.  A true character and one of the most knowledgeable sailors I have had the privilege to sail with. 

The passage took us just under 29 hours and the night was one of the darkest I have ever spent at sea.  There was no moon, stars or planets to offer any form of light and this is meant to be the Med!  Despite best endeavours to repair the receive side of our AIS we failed but were at least left with the transmit side working.  During the night we made extensive use of radar however a large ferry did pick up our AIS transmission and called us up to advise us he would alter course to avoid us.  What a gentlemen!  We drew some comfort from the Cap de Formentar lighthouse at the bottom of Majorca which has guided mariners over the years, warning them to stay clear of this notorious’ ship killing’ stretch of coast.

Menorca is a very pretty island and upon arrival we anchored in Cala Taulera bay in Mahon harbour.  Mahon has been much fought over throughout the years as it was a very strategic port.  Our anchorage lay between the former isolation hospital and the enormous fort mola

One of the legacies left behind by Nelsons navy is the gin distillery.  This fine liquid is best drunk in the cockpit under the biminy with a slice of cucumber.  The taste closely resembles that of Hendricks if any of you are familiar with that.

What a small world it is.  A boat called ‘Naivasha’, a Hallberg Rassey 36 from Orford and previously owned by Mike Pearce, arrived with her new owners to join us for ‘sundowners’.  Her new owner, a rather blunt Yorkshire man going by the name of ‘Rocket Ron’ was so desperate to join us in getting to our next port of call (Sardinia) that he offered us a crew exchange of his girlfriend Hazel for our very own James Robinson.  Much to our disappointment our skipper (Graham Bush) forced us to decline an otherwise perfectly good offer!

After a splendid gin induced coma, we left our secluded anchorage and headed out of the bay bound for Sardinia, a distance of around 220 miles.

Mahon to Porto Vesmo (Sardinia) – During the first part of the passage we enjoyed an exhilarating sail but seen little wildlife other than a magnificent giant turtle.  The night brought some nasty squalls with thunder and lightning and a very confused and lumpy sea.  We tracked the squalls using our radar, on occasions slowing the boat down to allow them to pass just ahead of us.  We were a little nervous during the lightning having already lost some of our (very expensive) electronics to a previous strike in Sant Carles.  We were pleased when dawn broke so we could start seeing the waves we kept falling off during the night. 

The highlights in terms of wildlife were schools of bottlenose dolphins that ducked and dived alongside us in perfect unison and flying fish that skimmed across the top of the waves.

I tried my hand at taking some sun sights and realised that I had almost completely forgotten everything that I had learned on my Yachtmaster Ocean course. Thank god for GPS that’s all I can say!

For the last part of the passage we enjoyed a lively 30 knots over the transom and achieved a steady 10 knots using full main and poled out Genoa.  The ‘Doc’ protested and claimed we were all barking mad to which we all replied ‘woof woof’.

An interesting observation for the weather minded was that we had mackerel skies and mare’s tails that we all know make sailors carry less sails. The wind was behind us meaning the low pressure system that was driving this front was on our left (as we are in the Northern Hemisphere).  Okay, no more text about the weather, I promise!

The passage was 214 miles long and took just under 35 hours.  Upon arrival in Porto Vesmo we were greeted by a very friendly ‘arm waving’ Italian harbourmaster who directed us to our berth and took our lines. 

Sitting in the cockpit enjoying our SAD’s (safe arrival drinks) we observed that the local fishing boats are crewed by 12 or so burly young Italians all shouting and waving their arms and it rather reminded me of seagulls fighting over a bag of chips dropped on the quay.  The boats had no engines and were powered by 4 enormous oars and we figured this cold only mean one thing, yet another wheeze to claw money out of the EU coffers.

Porto Vesmo to Palermo – We are still running away the fast approaching front that is building around Gibraltar.  This is forecast to bring winds in excess of 40 knots with seas of 6 metres.  We had a fairly uneventful passage of some 192 miles taking around 30 hours.  The highlight during the night was dolphins swimming alongside in the phosphorence giving them a wonderful green glow rather like green torpedoes.  On arrival in Palermo we had a devil of a job finding somewhere to park but with the help of a very helpful harbourmaster we managed to squeeze ourselves in outside the Yacht Club Mediterranean.  This was followed by our first night ashore for pizzas all round and a jug of local Sicilian wine.

Palermo to Portarosa - We said farewell to Palermo at 0600hrs and headed East for Portarosa, a distance of around 100 miles and just west of Messina.  Our objectives were to put further distance between us and the approaching front, hole up and position ourselves ready for passing through the straights of Messina.

Swearing was heard around 0800hrs as a result of the ‘Doc’ formatting the SD card in his camera and losing all his photographs.  Yet another senior (CRAFT) moment from our intrepid friend from Saxmundham!

Breakfast on route was a real treat, ‘Birchers Muesli’.  It consists of half a cupful of porridge oats soaked in milk, fruit (e.g. raisins, banana etc.) plus a generous dollop of Greek style yoghurt topped with a drizzle of honey.  Delicious!

We sailed quite close in to the coast and the scenery was stunning.  The long awaited front finally caught up with us about an hour out of Portarosa and it got a bit lively with winds in excess of 40 knots.  The poor skipper was down below making a chicken curry and it made for interesting eating whilst we were smoking along and closing in on what is to become our bolt hole for a few days.

Now safely tucked up having SADs and the wind is already blowing its old boots off.

We now have around 800 miles under our keel in 8 days and are not too disappointed at having to hole up here for a few days.

More to follow from Gilly B.