Off we go to Malta part 2

St Barbara's Web Diary
Peter & Sue Goldsmith
Sat 25 Apr 2009 09:49

At anchor in Syracuse Sicily

37:03.65N 15:16.96E

12.00 25th April

Following an easterly progressing depression may have some advantages both
in 'skipper-speak' and life generally (there is at least one such person I
can think of that brings this expression to mind), but it also brings with
it the prospect of deliberately following the low pressure in search of
drizzle and rain. And we've had that in abundance. To be fair there have
been some sunny spells, but most of the time its been quite overcast and a
little on the cool side. The sea states have also been changeable. From
we had heavy swell for about 24 hours, making progress jarring hard work.
Yesterday improved and today quite calm in the early morning.

We've all been fascinated watching the gulls and other seabirds, mainly when
relatively close to the shore. This passage has seen few, instead there have
been occasional fly-pasts by birds that seem out of place. Grey doves, with
a staccato flight pattern - short bursts of frantic flapping to gain a
little height then a quick glide before repeating the effort. It greatly
emphasizes the evolutionary divergence between birds that live on the wing
at sea, eat, sleep and drink as they soar and those for who a migrational
crossing must be the journey of a lifetime.Yesterday we were enchanted by
more of the latter category, frenetic little wing strokes and erratic
flights patterns whilst buffeted rather than riding the wind, a small group
of vividly coloured yellow finches joined us. The first landed on the stern
and sought shelter tucked in behind the woodwork. A second, much bolder,
took it upon himself to fly directly into the cabin, land on Clive's duvet,
snuggle down and imagine for a moment he had it made. (Bubble soon burst by
the house proud skipper). On being shoed outside he sat in the cockpit,
sipped rainwater from the decking, ate a few crumbs - we're a rather messy
crew - then flew into the open side locker and snuggled down for a while on
a coil of rope. Other finches flew around trying to find shelter from the
wind and rain and between them stayed for some hours. Whilst they were with
us a much small and plainer bird, about the size of a wren, maybe a female
of this species flew straight into the cabin and allowed Clive to pick it up
and hold it for a while, apparently untroubled, its heart beating in the
palm of his hand. These are little joys, rare and welcome as we passage a
section of the Med with almost no shipping.

Two nights of watch, the first bumpy and wet, last night's much calmer and
mainly dry. We're making good progress. This morning the weather from a
comfort point of view is much improved, although the wind is much lighter
and we depend more on the motor. We'll take it in turn to doze, watch,
perhaps read, await visitors! Who knows? .......

Saturday morning finds us safely at anchor, awaiting the opportunity to find
a berth in the harbour after a little sleep. Yesterday was spent in mainly
calm seas, motoring some of the time but sailing for the majority of the
day. For hours we saw nothing at all on the horizon. Late afternoon and the
water was very smooth. As we swept along we passed a turtle, swimming very
sedately just beneath the surface. It was a fleeting image due to the
differences in speed, but wonderful to see more indications of the life
here. It made us reflect upon how much that is there that we don't see,
because we're looking the other way or reading. Earlier in the passage it
was dolphins, finches, now a turtle. Looking forward and out for what's

Yesterday evening I went to bed early and slept on and off until 2300hrs and
my time to be on watch. I had been looking forward to this (hoping
nonetheless for it to be uneventful) as it would be my last night watch
before Malta and returning home. It turned out near perfect. For most of my
time there was no shipping, the horizon was hazy but the sky clear. Off the
bow of StB was a very faint light shadow, which I took to be the glow of
Italy, but the sky above was filled with stars. The wind was gentle and the
sea calm with phosphorescence illuminating the crests of our bow wave. My
watch was spent in the cockpit, scanning the horizon - nothing - selecting
music on by ipod and staring at the stars. Around midnight the milky way
began to be visible and gradually rose above the port side of the boat.
Whilst not as luminous as it had been at times in the Red Sea, it was still
beautiful and a rare sight for someone who lives well and truly beneath the
light canopy of London. Towards the end of my watch came excitement. For the
first time a ship approaching from the starboard quarter on a course that
was distinctly converging. Advice from the skipper clear in my mind - keep
an eye, wait and see, these things resolve themselves. I waited a while,
radared a little and confirmed my thoughts - we're getting close. Still
converging and looking distinctly large at one mile apart, wake up the
skipper for some direction. Five minutes assessment and instructions in
hand, it passed our bow with a comfortable margin. However, waiting in the
wings, following a similar course was ship number two. Now our conversing
courses were further advanced and whilst still very distinctly on my
starboard stern, a decision was needed. I changed course away from it and
waited to see if this was enough, the watch keeper on board ship decided it
probably wasn't and changed its course to pass on my stern. In the process
of doing that there were five very interesting minutes, those from the point
where I could clearly see its red port-side light and two running lights,
and from this triangulate it very approximate heading, to when the running
lights converge, the red light is extinguished (at this point bang on its
bow!) then the green starboard-side light came into view. Even with the
reassurance of watching this unfold and monitoring proximity on radar, when
it passed half a mile to our stern, it seemed very big and very close.

>From then on the excitement from large metal objects faded and I saw no more
ships. What remained was the excitement from large planetary systems, stars
and space debris swirling and illuminating above with far more co-ordination
than those on the sea. As my watch came to an end the lights from the coast
line of Italy came into view, the wind rose to allow me to turn off the
engine and sail and I went to bed very happy.

Two and a bit hours later, the night sky just beginning to lighten, we were
all up as the entrance to Syracuse harbour grew more distinct. As the sun
rose beautifully through the haze of the horizon, something distinctly Italy
was warmed up before us, buildings appeared on fire as the red sun was
reflected in windows. An hour or so later, anchored and resting in the
warmth of the morning sun, our passage was over. Scrambled egg for breakfast
and a chance to rest before the new day gets underway.

Note: our longest passage to date with 3 nights at sea. Crew definitely
shaping up. They did well. We have covered 860 miles since leaving Turkey
with only some 80 miles left to Malta.