Tag Archives: Roccella Ionica

Fair winds and a following sea ……

With our repairs completed and our new ‘bumpers’ installed we were back in the water by 2 pm on Wednesday, the 3rd, and planning to leave for Roccella.   The forecast gave us south-easterly 15 to 20 knot winds for the whole passage and even a slight reduction for our planned arrival at Roccella on Friday morning.

But first, after 24 hours of dockyard work the boat was a tip, the compartments above the engine spaces are full of everything from the passarella and tool kits to the fishing gaff and hose fittings.   All of this had to be removed to give the fitters access and now had to be replaced.   Then there were fenders and mooring ropes to stow away, loose kit to be secured and everything generally prepared for 2 days at sea.   So as soon as we were afloat and away from the dockyard slip we anchored off Lefkas Town Quay and set about preparing the boat for sea with an eye on the clock.   The Lefkas  bridge opens on the hour and happily by 2.50 we were good to go, weighed anchor and joined the queue of yachts waiting to transit the bridge.   This takes a bit of boat handling to maintain position in the canal, in a cross wind, not too close to the others ahead or astern of you so as to time your arrival when the bridge opens.

The sunken yacht refloated, almost.

Once through the bridge we passed the newly re-floated sunken yacht.   Apparently the yachtsman involved had started a FB page to raise funds to help pay for the salvage ….. Whilst I have every sympathy I am pretty sure I would not have been on that wall in those winds, and definitely would not have used a kedge anchor – oh, and I don’t use FB!

Wednesday sunset

But we were off, and we had the predicted ‘fair winds and following seas’.   Generally south-easterly and 15 ish knots although close to the island they were a bit variable so I didn’t put the sails up.   We needed to make 5 knots for two days and so faffing around with sails in variable winds was just going to be frustrating.    Over night, with the winds settling to 15 knots from behind us, Valeria recorded us as surfing at up to 8 knots on occasions.  Once I woke on Thursday morning we did get the sails up and were making 5 or 6 knots running before a 15 to 20 knot wind, all of which left us well ahead of schedule and by Thursday evening we had dropped the Main Sail and were under the Jib alone and still making 5 knots.

So with nightfall we furled away the jib and ‘sailed’ under ‘bare poles’.   This is when you are running with the wind behind you, being pushed along by the wind acting on the hull alone.   As we are so tall and wide we have a lot of ‘windage’ and even without sails or engines we were making 3 to 4 knots which was the exact speed we needed to make to get to Roccella at 8 am when the Marina opened for business.

But then fair winds and following seas became too much too little and the wrong direction.

As we approached the Italian coast on Thursday evening into Friday morning we could see lightening all along the Calabrian coast.  Lots of it.  As we got closer to the coast we began to get VHF reception and Italian weather forecasts which were predicting south easterly gales and thunder storms in the Ionian Sea area.  As the evening wore on the wind began increasing slowly and all the thunder storms seemed to move along the coast to sit right in front of us, over Roccella.

Having seen the entrance to Roccella in south-easterly gales last year, with breaking seas over the sand bar, I did not fancy trying to negotiate the entrance with heavy beam seas, in a thunder storm and so at about 2.30 am I made the decision to head for a port of safety.   On this coast there are two, Messina and Reggio, or Crotone.   The Messina Straights are not particularly inviting in a south-easterly gale so it meant heading for Crotone, 40 odd miles, or 8 hours, north east along the coast.  So with Roccella just 20 miles away we steered away.

By now the thunder storms were beginning to move off the coast and as we headed north east they were moving with us and the forecasts were predicting ‘instabilities moving rapidly north east’.   We had lightening on three sides of us and by day break I could actually see the roll of cloud marking the edge of the squall line out to sea on our starboard side.

As the storms, easily visible on radar, did seem to be moving north east I decided to head out to sea for the roll of cloud, away from the lightening strikes.     Blow me if the wind didn’t drop, swing around through 90 degrees and start up again from the NW.   In military parlance the storms, which had been marching steadily north east in Column of Route, had just done a Right Turn on the March and were now Advancing in Review Order straight at us!

Thunder storms and squalls make their own wind and so trying to avoid them is a generally futile endeavour, but weighed that futility against the danger of a bolt of lightning using our nice aluminium mast as a grounding rod, which would fry our navigation aids, I gave it a go anyway.   Valeria stowed all our electronics in the oven and microwave as both act as Faraday Cages which should protect them from lightening, and off we went.

Not so fair and coming from every dirdction

At 8 am getting no closer to either Roccella or Crotone and still being chased by the storms I called Roccella, hopefully.   We were told ‘you can come’ and so we altered course back south.      In daylight the thunderstorms were easy to identify, looking completely different to mere rain showers.   There was the low, dark cloud base and then beneath it the dull, almost dead grey of the torrential rain which provides a contrasting backdrop to the lightning bolts hitting the sea surface.

For two and a half hours I successfully managed to skirt these storms.   Watching them on the radar was like hill walking, there was always one more crest to scale, always one more storm behind the ‘last one’.    The winds were from everywhere and as we clipped the edges of some of the storms we had winds gusting to 30, even 40 knots.   With the wind constantly changing direction the seas were ‘confused’ and had been whipped up to 5 metres high with breaking crests; at the Helm Station I am 4 metres above sea level and I was looking up at these waves!

With these sort of sea conditions moving around the boat is a real challenge.   You move one foot or one hand at time.  Move a hand and a foot and you are flat on your face.  I won’t even go into toilet breaks whist wearing full foul weather gear and a safety harness in a boat pitching, rolling and yawing in 5 metres jumps.

The squall line as we headed west for Roccella.

Finally at 10.30 the southern-most squall passed us and there were just a few mere rain showers to the west so I altered course for Roccellla.   But there was a sting in the tail of the storms.  Two thunderstorms appeared ahead of us, one crossed in front of us but the second one there was no avoiding.   Unlike the others we’d skirted the wind was almost non existent, the seas were still 4 or 5 metres high and confused but were no longer breaking, being beaten down by the torrential rain, visibility was down to a boat’s length and the lightening was striking the sea ahead of us.   The strikes and the thunder were simultaneous, and deafeningly loud, literally someone toppling a wardrobe, a big one, right upstairs.   Far too close for comfort.

Hoping that lightening really does not strike the same place twice, and that the plastic deck would provide sufficient insulation despite my exposed position and dripping wet foul weather gear we motored on, and on, and on.    My big fear was a lightening strike to the mast – a very real danger.   Without the electronic navigation aids we’d be relying on a mobile phone GPS, a paper chart and a magnetic compass, although how that would fare in a lightning strike I have no idea!   Longest hour and a half of my life to be honest.

Hint of a rainbow, also beaten flat by the rain

The first inkling of an end to it was a lessening of the rain drumming on the hull, then some slight definition to the horizon and finally lighter grey skies.    Although the seas were still huge the reduced wind and hammering by the rain had calmed them down a bit and I pushed the throttles forward again and we were making 5 or 6, sometimes 7 knots towards Roccella.   Now was not the time for single engine, fuel efficiency!

Roccella!!!!

Finally, after about 12 hours of driving around in a circle, we could make out the coast, then the castle and watch tower over Roccella.  The seas were still 3 metres high across the sand bar as we approached and turning into the harbour entrance put them on our beam so we were rolling around a bit as we headed for the entrance, but by comparison this was nothing.   Our reserved winter berth required a bit of tight, stern first manoeuvring to get into but then we were in.   The Marina Manager, Francesco, helped tie us up and was telling us that the local fishermen had been reporting 5 metre seas!   Tell us about it!

But we were safely in.  I had been on watch at the Helm Station continuously for 16 hours straight, drenched and dodging thunderstorms for 12 of them.   Valeria had been in the saloon passing me food and coffee and praying, continuously.   It all started going south on 4 October, my mum’s birthday and the day she died.  Perhaps she was watching over us.

In the words of the Beach Boys, ‘This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.’

Let’s not do it again, ever.

…. as if it never happened!

February in Roccella

Rainy sunset over the Castle in Roccella
… meanwhile in Southend ….
… and, in Narnia …

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.

Our new awning
From this

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.

… to this

 

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!

Aarrggh …..
Ah ha !!!!
Piece of cake !!

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!

January in Roccella

Pre Christmas snow in Upminster
Pre Christmas snow in Upminster
Sunset over Thorpe Bay
Sundown over Thorpe Bay

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!

Thorpe Bay sunset
The Byzantine – Norman Cathedral in Gerace

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.

View from Gerace Castle

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.

30 knot winds build a challenging sea in the harbour entrance

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.

 

 

 

Three weeks in Roccella Ionica

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.

Me, Andy,Valeria,Steph and Dani
Dani, Valeria & Steph before
….. and after ….

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.

Sunday morning whiskey tasting
Cycle path to Roccella

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!

Castle of Carafa and the Pizzofalcone watch tower
Castle entrance and church.
Pizzofalcone watchtower
Roccella beach

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!

Waving to Fabi’s cousins in Albania ….

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!!

North Corfu Channel with Saranda in the distance

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.