Our first stop in our short tour of Northern Italy was Milan, a two hour flight from Lamezia Terme. Valeria and her new friends from Roccella had a rather wet and rainy ‘Girl’s Weekend’ in Milan first and I flew up to join her on Monday, 12th March. We spent 3 nights in an Air B&B apartment over looking the Piazza de XXIV Maggio on the south side of town. Luckily for us I brought the sun from Roccella and we had two days of glorious weather; in contrast to Valeria’s damp weekend. In the rain Milan has little to commend it other than shopping and Prosecco!
Milan was founded in about 600BC by a Celtic tribe and was conquered by Rome in 222BC, therafter rising in importance to become the capital of the western Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages Milan suffered centuries of destruction and rebuilding at the hands of the Goths, Visigoths, Ostragoths and Attila the Hun. It was conquered by the Lombards and then in the 8th century fell to Charlemagne and the Franks.
By the end of the 12th century Milan had become a Duchy and the conquering and destruction seems to have abated under the three Ducal families, first the Torres, followed by the Visconti and lastly the Sforza. Our tour guide told us that the last of the Torre Dukes in Milan was imprisoned by the new Visconti family in an open air cage in Como. They fed him bread and water for the 18 months it took him to die of exposure and malnutrition. George Martin didn’t need to look too hard for inspiration for Game of Thrones!
In 1500 the French, having found the Italian city states unable to defend themselves, seized the city and heralded a period until the 19th century when control of Milan alternated between the Spanish, French and Austrians with monotonous regularity. In the mid 19th century the Kingdom of Sardinia backed the Milanese against the Austrians resulting in the Sardinians gaining control over what is now Italy. In 1861 the Kingdom of Sardinia became the Kingdom of Italy.
Milan also has the dubious honour of being the birth place, in 1919, of Facism, but was also where it ended when Partisans strung Mussolini up after the war. The city was also a target for heavy bombing by the Allies in WWII. Apparently the Duomo was relatively unscathed because that was the bomber’s land mark.
So, after centuries of being destroyed, sacked, depopulated, rebuilt, reorganised and redeveloped there isn’t much of ‘old’ Milan left; other than the Sforza Castle and the Napoleonic Arch of Peace most of the remaining monumental buildings are religious.
We had two days to explore Milan and took a Walking Tour on Tuesday starting at the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie. housing Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and ending at the Duomo, or Milan Cathedral stopping at the Castle, La Scala Theatre and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the way. On Wednesday we walked around quite a few more of the sights and it is far easier just to show the photos.
I personally didn’t find Milan a particularly attractive city. However; with its history that is understandable. The buildings now standing were apparently designed to be plain outside but we’re built around pretty hidden courtyards so as not to boast Milanese wealth to the various occupying powers. There is also a vast amount of grafitti which adds to the sometimes drab, unloved appearance.
BUT, its architecture is massively impressive, and it is home to some stunning monumental architecture. We spent an enjoyable time wandering around town and the real challenge here has been to cut down on the number of photographs I wanted to use!
February in Roccella has been slightly busier than January, slowly working through our ‘To Do’ list while keeping up with the social life, continuing our Italian classes and I did a bit of sewing. Valeria also took a week back in the UK, timed to perfection with the arrival of the new Ice Age.
I have fixed the freezer – cool segway there – replacing the thermostat and have also serviced the engines. The new Code Zero sail has arrived but I need to fit the torsion wire and the furling mechanism. The jetty we are on is covered in sand and grit which will do the sail no good, but happily the Community Centre building is just about big enough to take the sail which is over 20 metres long when laid out!
But my major achievement this month has been making a sun awning for the front of the boat.
Originally a guy on a neighbouring boat, who does sail repairs, started the project off by sewing the panels together but had to return to the UK before he could finish it.
So I borrowed his sewing machine, learned to use it and prepared the biggest ‘Test Piece’ you can imagine. The completed awning is 2.8m long by 5.6m wide, and was obviously bigger before I started cutting and sewing, but the Community Centre served as a fantastic work area. It wasn’t the most complex job, all straight edges with some little loops around the edges to tie it down, but it was an enjoyable couple of days and I even managed to not sew myself to the cloth!! And best of all, it fits!
The rest of the month has been spent socialising at the Sunday BBQs and amongst ourselves on our various boats and occasional meals out – usually pizza after Italian classes. We are now firm friends with another couple of catamaran owners on the quayside, so much so that Valeria, Sue and Suzy are all off to Milan for a Girls Weekend over the first weekend in March!
Immediately following on from that Valeria has been planning a 10 day trip for us travelling around northern Italy and visiting an old school friend in Switzerland, while I have been planning our route through the southern Agean islands for the summer.
And it is now only about 6 weeks before we set off again!
After the best part of 3 months in the UK spending time with our friends and relations over Christmas and the New Year, we returned to Roccella on 15th January and resumed our live aboard life; leaking toilet and a defective freezer thermostat welcoming us back home for a start!
On arrival at Lamezia Terme airport we hired a car for the first week and made a couple of shopping runs to the local Lidl equivalent, called MD, and stocked up on the basic consumables and took an exploratory trip into the hills with a brief visit a town called Gerace. That was a really pleasant surprise and when we hire a car later we will be returning for a longer visit.
The ‘Live Aboard’ community here is beginning to swell as folks return from their winter breaks, although some have been here the entire time. Unfortunately the Australian flu has found its way here and almost everyone has been laid low with it. We had ours before we left the UK and Valeria was running a Red Cross food station sending pots of soup and the odd meal to the afflicted, handed over on the end of a boat hook, just in case. But with the flu receding the BBQs and social evenings on neighbouring boats have been picking up.
The weather is still rather cold in the evenings although the days are really quite pleasant when the wind isn’t howling. On our third day back we were lashed by 60 knot (70 mph or 120 kph) winds over night which was not fun. The previous storm actually collapsed one of the pontoons with two boats attached! We all came through unscathed this time although a dingy was blown from the beach at the local sailing club just outside the harbour.
With almost 3 months here before we set off again it is time to make repairs, service machinery, buy equipment and stow away all the stuff we brought with us from the UK. We are awaiting a new freezer thermostat, engine and winch spares and I am trying to source rope from the local hardware store which is the nearest thing to a Chandlery. I am also working up a ‘shopping list’ of bits only available from a chandlery, there is a helpful one just down the road and across the ferry in Syracuse. Also before leaving for Christmas we ‘commissioned’ an awning from one of the other guys in the marina but for various reasons he can’t finish it, so I will be playing with his sewing machine. And just to keep ourselves mentally and physically active, we’re taking Italian lessons at the local school; I say local but it is a 40 minute walk each way.
There is also the passage planning for next year to consider, and we are also hoping to take a week or so to travel through Italy from north to south, perhaps starting with a visit to friends in Lugano, then stopping off in Como, Milan and Florence. All places we wanted to visit in 2016 and 2017 but never managed to fit in.
We subscribe to a website called Noonsite, a very useful resource for people doing what we’re doing, and every month they do a ‘Portrait of a Cruiser’. Well, November must have been a slack month as they asked us to contribute. Follow the link for a giggle.
Now that we are back in the UK visiting friends and relatives there has been a certain amount of lantern swinging and the odd ‘one that got away’ story, so I decided to do a more formal recap of 2017; and it has been a busy year. I estimate we covered over 2500 nautical miles between leaving Olbia and reaching Roccella. We have visited some fantastic places and spent time with our friends, old and new.
We started the season in Sardinia and my only real plan was to get to Thassos by June to see my friend Dave and his wife Jane once they’d settled into retired life on the island. We also had to attend Tabatha and Raffa’s wedding in Malaga in August. Other than that we had no fixed plans but as the year progressed we made arrangements to meet friends at various points on our travels; Charlie and Anna in Sardinia, Ivan and Lu in Cephalonia, Zeinep and Steve for a trip from Athens to Thassos, Solange in Sounion, Marco and Lu in Crete and Keith in Cephalonia. These meetings ‘filled in the blanks’ between Olbia, Thassos and Malaga and dictated our route.
Our first job in Olbia was getting the anti fouling renewed. We spent the week touring the island while it was being done, discovering the unique history of the island along the way. Once back in the water we said goodbyes to our new friends and neighbours, setting off antilockwise around the island, taking a short detour to Bonifacio in Corsica as we were passing.
Our next destination was Alghero where Charlie and Ana finally came to see us, along with Ana’s nephew Mateus. We had a fantastic few days with them before they returned home and we carried on round the island to Cagliari before making for mainland Italy. We stayed in Salerno for a week and toured the beautiful Amalfi Coast by bus, visiting Capri by ferry.
From there we headed south for Messina. We timed our voyage south to pass Stromboli at night to see the volcano erupting; it is known as the biggest lighthouse in the Med and didn’t disappoint.
We called at Messina and stayed in the small marina there taking the opportunity of a weekend in Palermo; that was a really pleasant surprise. Then, waiting for some decent weather, we headed off towards our first port of call in Greece, Argostoli on the island of Cephalonia. John and Isabel were coming in the opposite direction and we passed them, literally ‘ships in the night’, off the south coast of Italy.
Once in Argostoli on Cephalonia we contacted John’s friend Keith who lives on the island. And what a fantastic guy! He seemed to drop everything and become our personal tour guide giving us an island tour, taking us out and driving us to the supermarkets for a supply run!
Mid way through our stay on Cephalonia we moved to anchor in a small bay on the south west corner of the island to meet Ivan, Lu, Bianca and Rebecca who had chosen their holiday to coincide with our arrival! We anchored and picked them up from the beach by their hotel, took them for a sail around Rabbit Island, then back to Argostoli for an afternoon.
From Cephalonia we continued east through the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth stopping for a couple of days at the quaint harbour of Galaxidi. We stayed a couple of days allowing us to visit the ruins at Delphi.
Then it was on to and through the Corinth Canal heading towards our next ‘crew change’. We arranged to meet Zeynep and Steve in Palaia Fokaia, a port about an hour south of Athens in the Ormos Anavisou. Again, I met them on the beach for a clandestine night time pick up.
They sailed with us from there to Thassos, a trip of about 10 days. Our route took us passed Sounion, Lavrio and between the islands of Evia and Andros where we anchored in the ultra secluded bay of Kastri. Then we continued north to the delightful island of Skyros where we loitered for a few days before making for Thassos. That was not ‘plain sailing’ as we got caught out in some thundery squalls over night and had to run for cover in the harbour of Mirina on Limnos, before resuming our voyage. The winds reached Beaufort Force 6, Valeria Force 10.
We made landfall on Thassos in a delightful bay called Aliki before moving on to the port of Limenas on the north of the island. Dave and Jane drove up to meet us and it was then I found that they lived about a mile from the port of Linaria on the south end of the island. Limena / Linaria, so confusing! So we actually ended up doing a complete circumnavigation of the island but it did allow us to complete Zeynep and Steve’s trip in the manner it started, dropping them off by tender on the beach in Poros, right beside the ferry terminal for their journey on to Thessaloniki and then home.
So having circled Thassos we stayed in Linaria for a week visiting with Dave and Jane. They made us so amazingly welcome, showing us around and introducing us to island life. We took them sailing and then hired a car to drive around the island to see it from the dry side. It was really good to see an ex colleague who is living his dream as well!
From Thassos we sailed west across the peninsulas of Khalkhidiki on our way towards, then through, the rest of the Northern Sporades enjoying more delightful anchorages and quiet town quays. We’d planned to explore a little of the Gulf of Volos but toilet troubles diverted us to Oreoi in Evia.
From Oreoi we sailed, actually sailed, a lot of the way down the North Evia Channel to the bridge at Khalkis. Once through the bridge we headed for Olympic Marina south of Lavrion where we planned to leave the boat and go to Malaga. On the passage from Oreoi on the north end of Evia to Olympic we had virtually every combination of wind and weather, light airs to Near Gales, and from every point on the compass, all crammed into about 4 days, finally forcing us to shelter in Ormos Marcopoulo off Port Rafti for a few days.
But a week or so later normal service resumed on the weather front and we anchored in Sounion Bay, just off the beach in front of the hotel Solange and the girls were staying in. I ferried them to and from the beach each day in the tender and we spent a wonderful few days with them on the boat swimming and sailing and by their hotel pool before retracing our route to Olympic Marina where we said farewell to Solange, Luna and Mayara.
With the boat secure in Olympic Marina we set off for Malaga by plane, via Istanbul, and spent almost a week in and around Malaga and Nerja celebrating Tabatha and Rafael’s marriage.
Back at Olympic we had the water maker serviced, badly, then set off south for Crete, aiming for Spinalonga Lagoon and then Agios Nikolaos where we were to meet Marco and Lu. With almost perfect timing this was also Valeria’s birthday weekend!
Leaving Crete we sailed north west for the Peloponese and spent our wedding anniversary in Porto Kayio before continuing on our way to Zakynthos and Cephalonia again. We met up with Keith and Tracy in Sami, one of the stops on his Guided Tour from our previous visit! We had a great day with them before setting off north towards Lefkas where we had arranged to rendezvous with Graeme, Jayne and Isabela in Scarlett, our friends from Olbia. We spent the best part of a week with them in and around Sivota then continued on north to Paxos and Corfu, salvaging an abandoned tender en route.
By now we had firmly arranged our winter berth in Roccella Ionica and so spent our last few days in Corfu in Port Mandraki, courtesy of my salvage fee, waiting for a settled period of weather for our crossing from Greece back to Italy. Once in Roccella we found ourselves surrounded by another set of fantastic, friendly people, all doing roughly the same as ourselves!
A busy year!
Next year we plan to take things slower. We’ll confine our travels to the Ionian on our way to the Cyclades and Dodecanese Islands where I plan to do a vaguely anti-clockwise trip around the islands. This means we’ll be fairly easy to track down and generally will be within easy reach of somewhere with an airport or ferry port where we can meet friends who wish to come and visit us.
After a very straightforward crossing from Corfu we arrived in Roccella on Tuesday morning, 2 October and began to settle in. We have booked our flight home for the 24th and so had three weeks to prepare Windependent for our departure.
The marina here is quite big, seems well protected from the weather and is really well organised, with fabulously friendly and helpful staff. There is even a Community Centre for the live-aboards and free use of pedal cycles to get to town and back.
There is a large and growing ‘live aboard’ community of folks who will either stay here the entire winter or, like us, return home for all or part of it; so there is a fair amount of socialising to do. As soon as we’d arrived Valeria invited our immediate neighbours for drinks and we’ve been making lots of new friends. There is a big weekly BBQ at the ‘community centre’ and we’ve had a couple of BBQs on and around our boats.
Roccella town is about 2 km from here, hence the bikes. These aren’t always available but the walk does us good, 5 km to the supermarket and back for a start! . There are a number of hiking trails around town but the dominant feature is the castle, sometimes known as the Palazzo Carafa and the fortified tower or Pizzafalcone, on the hills above it. We took a walk up there on Saturday, it is only open between 4 and 8 pm at the weekends and covered around 10 km.
The castle is being heavily redeveloped with a large EU grant and it appears it will be a museum of some description. It is a very impressive building dating from the fifteenth century when Roccella was the seat of a Marquis, although later, in its heyday, Roccella was a Principality!
The weather is still very hot during the day, cooling at night and we’ve even had some very heavy rain. Most evenings there are clouds along the coast which makes for some amazing sunsets; the sun disappears behind the castle hill but lights up the clouds from below with some spectacular results.
But now we are preparing to return home for a couple of months and are doing our final preparations for a couple of months away from home. We have just one more day before flying on Tuesday.
Although we are really looking forward to seeing friends and family in the UK we’ve found a great bunch of people here in Roccella and so, even before we leave ,we’re looking forward to returning!
A while back Valeria said on Facebook that we were off to Corfu. Fabiana asked us to wave at her cousins across the water in Albania. Now I am pretty sure they are Erion’s cousins rather than Fabiana’s, but we waved anyway. Apparently the cousins didn’t get the memo.
We left Mandraki at 4pm on Sunday, 1st October for our 40 hour passage back across the Ionian to Roccella Ionica. The first leg of this journey took us north through the North Corfu Channel, a mile wide stretch of water between Corfu and Albania, waving frantically as wé went. We passed withing 3/4 of a mile of the Albanian coast and within a couple of miles of the port of Saranda. This is where the ferries from Corfu go and the AIS showed a British yacht in the harbour. Something to consider when we return this way!!
By 6 pm we had turned west along the north coast of Corfu with the fishing line out and caught two large fat fish in rapid succession. Perhaps it was just a coincidence but just as we were reeling them in and Valeria was preparing them we found ourselves being ‘chased’ by a small fishing boat, and they did seem intent on getting very close to us, so much so that I moved out of their way. I wondered if they wanted their fish back, or perhaps it was Fabiana’s cousins ……..
An hour or so after sunset we negotiated the small island off the north west corner of Corfu and set our course of 236ºM for the next 35 hours.
The weather was entirely calm for the entire passage and what wind there was was astern of us all the way. This was a 6th version of the forecast we must have missed and we made such good time that over night on Monday into Tuesday I had to slow down to keep our ETA to office hours, planning to arrive at 8 am.
We have heard consistently good things about Roccella, which is why we came, but it was still a pleasant suprise to be called by them on the VHF at about 7.30; it was almost as if they were expecting us! An impression reinforced when, having secured to our berth we found a Brazilian flag on the lamp post behind us! Every lamp post in the marina sports a national flag on it, all rather old and tatty, but what are the odds of us being put next to this one!
Although it is a little isolated Roccella does seem well organised and managed, and there is a growing ‘live aboard’ community here, comprising British, Australians, Canadians and Germans so far. The marina is opening up the special ‘liveaboard’ shower block soon, there is to be a gym and a language course in Italian run. Almost a shame we’ll be leaving for the UK in November!
But before then we have to prepare the boat to be left for the winter and plan some exploration of the local area and get to know our new neighbours.
With our watermaker miraculously working and my €50 salvage fee burning a hole in my pocket we were at a bit of a loose end for a few days, so we decided to go to Port Mandraki, the small yacht club marina directly below the ‘old fort’ in Corfu.
It was suprisingly un crowded and we were put on the outer harbour ‘wall’. I use inverted commas because as harbour walls go it is pretty insignificant. It is between 1 and 2 metres high and about 3 metres wide, made of rock with a haphazard concrete pathway along the top. These rocks extend out underwater in the marina and so we had to go bows onto the wall. Our draught at the bows is about 20 cm and so there is no chance of catching anything that way round. But that also meant we couldn’t use our gangway without some major seamanship being undertaken, so we used the marina’s plank, a 4 metre wooden scaffold board about 30 cm wide. A disincentive to enjoying the local wine with ones lunch!
Once tied up and we’d negotiated the gangplank a few times hooking up the electricity and water we set off into town to explore. The marina is right inside the old fort. This is of Venetian vintage and as an added layer of defence they also cut a channel across the head land on which the fort is built to form a moat; the marina is on the fort side of that feature. Walking through the Venetian Fort we rather incongruously found ourselves in a what could easily have been mistaken for a street in the Woolwich Arsenal! Information signs then informed us that Corfu had been a British Protectorate from 1815 to 1864. Corfu has a long and involved history and has been conquered, occupied or administered by virtually everybody at one time or another.
Making our way out of the fort we headed into Corfu Town. On first impressions we could easily have been in Italy, and, as towns go, it was very pleasant to wander around. We had lunch and even went to visit the Museum of Oriental Art.
That took up Friday afternoon and Saturday. On Sunday morning, checking the weather, we suddenly found that 4 of our 5 forecasts said we’d have two days of settled weather from Sunday to Tuesday, none of those 4 actually agreed on how settled, what the wind direction might be or whether it would rain but we decided to go for it. Our passage to Roccella was 200 miles, or 40 hours, if we left on Sunday afternoon, we’d arrive on Tuesday morning. If we didn’t go on Sunday we’d likely be hanging around Corfu for the next week!
So we moved berths to get closer the the fuel pump, went shopping, took on diesel and were all set to go by 4 pm on Sunday afternoon!
Corfu is to be our final destination in Greece before we return to Italy. It is also where we hoped to get our watermaker fixed finally and be rid of the tender we salvaged off Lefkas.
We set off from Gaios at 8 in the morning and had an uneventful 30 mile passage to Gouvia, or more accurately Ormos Kommino just outside Gouvia bay. It rained on the way there then cleared up but just as I was out on the foredeck anchoring the skies opened, and the down pour lasted until just after we’d anchored!
Once anchored we set about making arrangements with the marina, the engineer and Sailing Holidays. As the engineer could only do a Friday visit we planned to spend Thursday at anchor and go into the marina briefly for the engineer to assess the problem with the water maker on Friday morning; we had no wish to stay in the marina at €90 per night!
On Thursday I decided to flush and run the watermaker one last time to ensure it was still not working; Sod’s Law would dictate that it would work perfectly as soon as the engineer tried it. And Sod’s Law held true! It worked. For no discernable reason it flushed, then happily started producing fresh water! We heaved the anchor and went for a motor for an hour or so and the watermaker worked perfectly! We anchored back in Kommino, cancelled the engineer and arranged for the collection of the tender from the anchorage.
On Friday morning two guys from Sailing Holidays arrived and took back their tender and even gave me a ‘salvage fee’ of €50! That worked out as one night in Mandraki Marina so, as we’d already decided on the weekend there, we just extended the stay by a day.
So this has been quite a successful visit! A miraculously working watermaker, restoring a ‘lost tender’ and a free night alongside in return for our salvage operation! And Valeria was all for just leaving it floating there! We have also now turned our thoughts to what to do with our last few days in Greece as we wait for a two day ‘weather window’ to get from here to Roccella.
On Tuesday we took the bus from Gaios for the half hour ride to the north end of Paxos to visit Lakka, another small town with a picturesque anchorage. The countryside on the route was all olive groves with some huge old olive trees, and a surprising number of deserted , derelict buildings. Lakka was a completely different story. It is a small, quaint town full of shops and restaurants and set on a picturesque bay just begging to be photographed.