Malta to Montenegro and Bits Between

Sat 23 May 2015 10:36

We left Msida Marina Malta at 07.15 on Wednesday morning (13th May), the sun already drying the heavy dew from our decks as we slipped past the massive stone fortifications of Valletta and headed out into a lively sea and a fair breeze that gave us a good reach for the sixty or so miles to the south eastern most point of Sicily. Here the wind lightened requiring us to motor sail for the ` walls of Ortigia seeking our anchorage in the bay that in times past has  played host to the besieging fleets of Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans as they sought to capture this jewel of a city. We dropped the hook at 19.30 and enjoyed a quiet night aboard, sleeping soundly after the noise and bustle of previous nights in Valletta.

Breakfast was taken next day in Ortigia at a favourite coffee shop last visited with son Charles last October. The crème patisserie filled croissants and doughnuts as delicious as ever. We were keen to take Rob and Liliane to the terrific food market here and they enjoyed browsing the stalls laden with of all manner of wonderful produce, meats both raw and cooked, everything you can imagine from the sea, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices all manner of pickled and preserved ingredients, cheese and dairy products in enormous variety. The merchants shouting the attributes of their produce in the most theatrical Sicilian manner, offering tasting samples to the throng of potential customers. A rotund fishmonger who had had a similar throat condition to Lynn remembering us from last year greeted us like old friends and on our request carved four thick steaks from a huge glistening tuna fish lying across his slab for which we were charged a very modest sum.

Rob and I left the ladies to their shopping and returned with bags full of produce to the tender to skim across the bay back to Pamarzi. We collected them a couple of hours later to hear that they had enjoyed themselves meeting locals and buying hand fashioned jewellery and shoes and yet more clothes. We dined that evening midst the limestone grandeur of the Plaza Domo where ‘Grandma Gina’s’ lasagne was voted the best we had ever tasted. A stroll back to the waterfront in the soft evening light swallows twittering and diving midst the ancient stones intent on their insectivorous fare.

We had decided to sail from Syracuse across the ‘sole and instep’ of Italy in one 280 nm voyage. Lynn and Liliane went across to the town first thing(ish!) on Friday morning to do some last minute provisioning for the trip and to pick up some more of those excellent crème filled pastries whilst Rob and I prepared the boat. On their return we upped anchor, leaving the sheltered bay and headed out into a freshening southerly breeze which stayed just aft our beam for 264 nm, good sailing conditions although the sea being on our beam was not the most comfortable. Rob and I stood four hour watches through the night but as the ladies were suffering and a shift in the wind put us on a heading for Albania for a time we decided to put into Santa Maria di Leuca right on the tip of the heel of Italy.

A pleasant enough little town, enlivened that evening by the start of a motor rally, the spotlight and logo festooned cars roaring through the town for a while whilst we ate our tuna, swordfish and octopus carpaccio (a local speciality) followed by pretty good sirloin steaks. The patron smiling and hovering around us throughout the meal truly concerned that we found every morsel delicious. The marina was not the most comfortable as a swell kept Pamarzi tugging albeit fairly gently, at her mooring lines throughout the night.

Not enough though to prevent us next morning enjoying a ‘Sunday’ cooked breakfast prepared by a fully recovered Lynn before slipping our lines and embarking on the short trip, 32nm, up the eastern seaboard of Italy to Ortranto. We motor sailed in light winds and glorious sunshine arriving in Ortranto around 15.00 a quick look in the marina convinced me that it was too small for us so we opted to anchor in the bay beneath the imposing walls of the fortified town. We took Lynn and Liliane ashore to explore whilst Rob and I enjoyed a relaxed couple of hours aboard Pamarzi before joining them in the old town which turned out to be yet another narrow streeted, limestone clad gem. We chose a restaurant which was built into the ramparts and obviously family run for two generations of the pleasantly weird clan oversaw the business. Mama, thin much wrinkled and the colour of brown wrapping paper stood at the rear of the premises all evening with an unchanging _expression_ and said not on single word. Son whose role was head waiter bustled around in a friendly if somewhat sweaty manner oozing charm and concern for his clientele.  Occasionally Papa would appear from the kitchen wearing his whites at least we assumed it was Papa for although lined and wrinkled (he?) had a distinctly hermaphroditic look that intensified when he smiled and rubbed his stomach in a gesture which we took to mean that he trusted we had enjoyed our tuna tartare and Scaloppini fungi. Zabaglione was not on the dessert menu but when Liliane mentioned it sweaty son insisted that it would be made for us, it was and it was delicious. Tomorrow we leave Italy and head northwards, up and across the Adriatic expecting to arrive in Montenegro on Tuesday morning.

And so it was that we weighed anchor and left Ortranto around 11.00 and headed out towards Montenegro and the huge (largest in the Mediterranean) multi lobed bay of Kotor, the weather fair but what little wind there was, at times less than three knots was right on the nose. So we settled down to a voyage under engine for twenty hours but there was to be excitement! Just before the crew retired at 20.00 the sky to the east blackened only to be brilliantly lit time and time again by both fork and sheet lightening, the storm enveloped us and throughout my watch till 01.00 next morning and continued to revolve around us not ceasing until midway through Rob’s watch at around 03.00. Fortunately the squalls that came with it were very short lived but it was fascinating to monitor the wind as it backed and veered around every point of the compass varying from two to thirty eight knots. Coming on watch again at 05.00 I was greeted with clearing skies and in the distance the hint of the sun just rising behind the mountains of Montenegro. The wind backed a few points and started to strengthen and with the crew soundly sleeping I raised the main and genoa, switched off the engine and had a ball as close reaching boat speed rose to 12 knots. The wind increased to over thirty knots and I reefed down both main and headsail fearing incurring the wroth of my wife if she was rolled out of her bed but even with reefs in with modest seas we maintained 10 knots. The sensational steeply wooded slopes of Montenegro were sharpening into focus by 07.30 and I hailed the crew not to miss the view as we sailed into the mouth of the Bay of Kotor. Deep in the mountains in the eastern most lobe of this bay lies Kotor itself and it was here that we decided to make our landfall, we med moored to a pontoon adjacent to the city walls with the ancient castle towering 1,250 metres above us. After breakfast Rob and Liliane set off to do a recce, Lynn set to with domestic jobs and I sallied forth to find the Harbour Master, immigration control, police and acquire the necessary cruising permit. I was light of heart when I set out and desperate for a drink when I returned two and a half hours later.

I could not find the Harbour Master on the pontoons nor his office so walked the half mile or so to the main port office where I was told they would contact him and he would meet me on the quay. Back I went and sure enough there he was but to accept my credit card payment we had to walk half a mile in the other direction through the streets of the walled town where in the corner of a bar lay his office. Payment duly made I was instructed to return to the main port and locate the immigration office. Hot and dusty I arrived at said office which was located on the first floor, I waited my turn to approach the timber and glass screen and was duly greeted by a pretty girl who upon hearing my request showed me into a nearby room within which was a large and dusty board room table and no less than sixteen upholstered arm chairs. Was there to be a meeting of the Peoples Party? Ship’s documents, passports and ICC were all shown and approved and the pretty girl informed me that the cruising permit would be 200 euros, I gulped but proffered my credit card but she refused it and handed me one copy of the pink slip I had signed in triplicate and instructed me to go to the bank on the first floor and pay there. Armed with my pink slip I descended the stairs and entered the bank to be ‘greeted’ by a sharp featured over made up woman in her late thirties who had obviously found no love in her life. Unsmilingly she took my pink slip, clattered away at a key board and for a disproportionally long time before demanding 220 Euros (it included tax this time). Smiling I offered my credit card “No” she retorted pointing at an ATM outside. After several failed attempts to get the damn thing to ingest my card I returned to the counter only to be instructed to go to another machine some few hundred yards away. There was a repeat performance with the machine failing to accept any of my cards. Back I went hot, sweaty and irritated to speak with the harridan who looked up fiercely as if this was all my fault and pointed to the whereabouts of yet another machine even further away. Grudgingly I took to the street again only to find that this wretched thing to would not swallow my card either. I’m a visitor to this country come here to spend my money, provide employment for their people pay my taxes!! I marched back and decided to return first to see the pretty girl in her blue serge uniform in the immigration office before approaching the harridan again. She was still smiley, I softened and together we returned to the board room where from a dark wood cabinet she withdrew two dusty, series one credit card machines. She hailed a colleague in Croatian and in came another pretty girl bearing an extension cable. The three of us huddled around the dusty machines whilst cables were plugged in and buttons were pressed. Pretty girl number one, my favourite, sighed in exasperation and called for (I assume) the head of department who arrived resplendent in his blue uniform decorated with lots of gold braid, the overall authoritative effect spoilt only slightly by his shoulder length silver grey, curling hair. He grasped one of the recalcitrant machines and when after giving it a thorough shaking it still refused to function he called for the office geek. Now the five of us stood around the machines, the geek fiddled and pressed buttons in one’s, two’s and once even three at a time, inserted my card, withdrew my card, pressed buttons again still nothing. Innocently I suggested turning the paper roll the other way round. This brought stares of derision from all, except pretty girl number one, who continued to smile benignly. Reluctantly I felt, the geek turned the paper roll over, reinserted my card, pressed a button and the thing clattered into life. At this point Head of department proudly strode from the board room obviously satisfied that he had solved the problem. I entered my pin number, received my receipt, collected my ships papers and cruising permit (called a Vignette here) and all the other documents smiled and shook the hand of pretty girl number 1, for the rest of the team had slipped away, saying hvala. Molim she smilingly replied and then I remembered the harridan with my pink slip. Once more I descended the steps to the harridan’s lair where I strode up to the counter smiled and explained to the hard bitten b….. that the situation had been resolved. Her powder caked face contorted, her eyes glared at me and in heavily accented English, at a considerable volume stated, “YOU MAKE BIG MISTAKE!” I explained again that there was no alternative she continued to glare repeating “BIG MISTAKE!” and rose from her perch, smoothed her too tight skirt over her too dark tights and strode on her too high heels round to my side of the counter gesticulating that I should follow her. We marched back up the staircase to the immigration office where she immediately started haranguing  pretty girl number one with occasional glances back at me, each time repeating in the same ominous tone “HE MAKE BIG MISTAKE!” After what seemed like ten minutes of this with a final leering glance at me she stalked off and clattered on her too high heels down the staircase, still muttering, yes you’ve guessed it “BIG MISTAKE!

Pretty girl number one smiled at me apologetically saying in sympathetic, broken English “it is not your fault” I felt relieved until in the next breath she said “You go to the police now”. I had only been in the country a couple of hours and now I was to be incarcerated. I was reassured that it was only to have more stamps applied to passports and cruising permit. Down the steps once more I went round to the next building to the door marked Policia and upon entering was greeted by a tall, thin, stern looking policewoman who demanded “PAPERS” in response to my cheery good morning. I handed over all the documents and she gestured to a seat from which I watched her tutting and stamping and finally I was handed back my papers. Being fluent now in two words of Montenegrin I thanked her with hvala to which she (smilingly!) replied “Molim”.

Two and a half hours, but the sun shone and the scene was delightful I strolled back to Pamarzi chuckling at the episode, looking forward to lunch and a cool beer. Kotor was thronged with people from the vast cruise ship anchored just up from the town. Elderly Americans, Japanese and other nationalities tottered by, knees wrapped, ungainly bellies flapped, all sandals a socks and oriental parasols but they looked just the same as the cruise ship people I had seen last year in a different country and the come to think of it and the year before that and the year before……. Were we being followed? Were these people condemned in some ‘Hotel California’ way – “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” Did they look even older and even fatter? Were they condemned for some life time misdemeanour to cruise for all eternity? I shuddered as the thought crossed my mind that this might be our future!!!!!!!