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October '04: Transfer II - Mediterranean to the Adriatic Sea

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 The mountains ahead are the elevations on Africa - Morocco! Even though I tried to imagine this situation I never expected the distance between Europe and Africa to be so small. Well, I now have to turn left to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to get into the Mediterranean Sea. Early in the morning I start from Tarifa (the most southerly point of Europe in this area) to catch the most favorable currents through the Gibraltar Strait. The ‘experience Gibraltar’ turns out to be rather gloomy: fog all around! Only by radar I see all the big ships which squeeze nonstop through this narrow part of the sea. Just around Gibraltar I have to be extremely careful since some of the large vessels cross my path to bring or get their freight to this part of Europe. But they seem to see me and I don’t even have to alter my course.

 Shortly after the visibility gets better and better and ahead lays the Mediterranean Sea. A special feeling. I reached an important milestone. Everyday I try to get as far as possible, at the marinas I barely take my time to chat with other yachties and don’t think about excursions ashore. But there is no time to stop, there are still many miles ahead and I want to reach the North Adriatic Sea before winter starts.

 In Benálmadena, close by Malaga, my solo trip ends. I enjoyed traveling alone but it was also quite lonely. From now on, for every part of the trip ahead, I have someone or even several people on board. First of all Melanie joins me. This week will be some kind of test for us: how will we get along just the two of us on our own ship – our future home? We start with an easy daytrip to Caleta de Velez. From there we try how we deal to be at sea around the clock. We aim to sail directly to the Baleares. That would give us some time to spend on Ibiza. In the middle of the second night we observe far away a line of thunderstorms and lightnings. We don’t want to get too close to that weather and decide to turn back to the coast. (Only later we heard that these thunderstorms hit the southeasterly coast of Spain and damaged quite a lot.) Rather exhausted we stop for a night at Torrevieja. Next day we continue along the coast and proceed to Ibiza At daylight we cross the shallows between the main island Ibiza and Formenterra to stay at Santa Eulalia for the night. There we meet Peter, a British sailor with his brand new 39ft yacht ‘Lady M’, who enjoys the nightlife on Ibiza. That day it’s his first day solo on the boat and he experiences how it is to do it all alone. He gladly accepts some tips how to lay and fix his lines and ropes. At dinner we chat and exchange ‘seamen stories’.

 With our given schedule we continue the next day to Mallorca. The marinas are extremely expensive (up to €120 – six times more than the prices of some marinas along the Atlantic) but surprisingly we find just next to the main city Palma a small marina which does not ruin us too much. The next day we reestablish everything on MELMAR Y and buy new provisions. For Melanie and me this week was very good: we both figured that we will manage this life aboard. Although we didn’t get into any storms we did several days non-stop on open sea with partly quite high swell and waves and we both experienced the qualities of our own boat.

 Melanie has now to fly back home as the new cosailor Priska comes aboard. She is an instructor on small sailboats and has a big knowledge and many experiences on different sailing charters. We plan to reach mainland Italy. After we installed a new main compass at Alboran Charter (the old one lost its damping fluid) we start for Sicily. Far up North, in the gulf of Lyon, the Mistral blows – a usually strong north wind. In a weakened form we expect to get some rests of the Mistral and some swell also on our route. But already after the first night we see that the Mistral expands quite far South with still a lot of energy. With heavy swell and strong winds (up to 7Bf – roughly 30 knots / 55 km/h) we proceed on quartering seas and free sails (waves and wind from diagonally aft) towards Sicily. The watches are quite demanding since we can’t use the electronic autopilot i.e. we have to steer manually. For an unknown reason it shuts down the whole navigation system after a while. For two hours we each are on watch, during the two other hours we eat something small and get some sleep. I’m quite happy to have leeboards (instead of lee sails) for all our berths. These boards at the open side of a bed prevent falling out of the bed with heavy seas/waves, that way a more or less relaxed sleep is possible.

 After three days doing two hour watches we decide to stop on the island of Sardinia. That way we will have the possibility to get some new information what we have to expect in the Tyrrhenian Sea. In Cagliari we lay on an old mole next to some other long-term cruisers from France and Germany – without power and freshwater but for free (we don’t need anything anyway). Even within the harbor the winds are quite strong, we read for short periods up to 30 knots on our wind dial. During our siesta Priska wakes me up: “our life raft is in the water!!” I suspect the worst. But it turns out not that bad. The whole package still closed lies in the water. How could this happen? Did the locking mechanism open itself after tree days in heavy seas? Or did someone try to steal the whole package and did not expect the weight of almost 30kg? We don’t know. But together we heaved the life raft out of the water and replaced it in its cradle. From now on I will secure the raft either with a lock at marinas or a safety pin at sea.

 Priska needs now to change her flight back home. With this break on Sardinia she will not be able to fly back from mainland Italy but rather from Palermo on Sicily. We hope that we have not any problem to reach Palermo in time. The weather forecast still shows northerly winds, strong but weakening swell and isolated thunderstorm on our route. We are optimistic to circumnavigate these isolated thunderstorm cells. Generally the weather moves to the south which will leave fair weather thereafter. September 25th we continue on our journey and round the southeasterly cape of Sardinia. But there we get a quite unexpected picture: not isolated cells but a whole squall line – many thunderstorm cells next to each other. We continue hoping for the best. With full moon we have also during the night a good view on the cells. But unfortunately we also see the lightnings shooting inside and out of these cells. With a good distance (aprx. 10 nautical miles) we try to find a spot where we could cross this squall line. But our radar shows it quite clear: no chance! Nevertheless in the middle of the night we give it a try. On a clear spot on the radar and without any visible lightnings outside we turn to the East. Only shortly later Priska wakes me again: “there are everywhere lightnings!” A short glimpse on our so important radar fortunately shows an opening towards the West. Without loosing time we turn around. I don’t like to further experiment and decide to go back to Sardinia. The mood aboard is not the best anymore but there is no use to risk anything with these storm cells.

 The way back becomes a long and hard one: close-hauled we fight almost against the wind and against the swell and waves. Our GPS computer calculates a time to shore of about 10 hours. To increase the speed Priska increases the engine power slightly. Only 15 minutes later the engine stops! What’s that? Sailing a more or less stable course we analyze the problem. We don’t find anything and restart the motor. It’s running without any problems again on 1600RPM (economic power setting). We don’t try the slightly higher setting of 1800RPM (increased speed) scared the engine could stop again. The only explanation is that with the heavy seas a little bit of dirt from the diesel-water separator could have interrupted the flow of diesel to the motor. From now on we observe this separator to try to determine what the real reason was.

  We stay at the marina of Villasimius, the most southeasterly village of Sardinia. Here we see again some of the other long-term cruisers we met in Cagliari. They all have different destinations but no time pressure to catch an airplane somewhere. Beside other Swiss yachties from Neuenburg I discover another Amel. It’s a Super Maramu, the new generation of the Amel Mango. Ruth can’t stop adoring our ‘old’ Amel Maramu so we quickly start to chat with the American couple. Before the Super Maramu they owned an Amel Maramu for about 16 years, just like MELMAR Y. To my surprise Charlie gives me an old brochure of the Amel Maramu. For me this is my first original document of my yacht. Charlie’s and Ruth’s ‘MALAIKA II’ is just about one year old and has all the luxury you can imagine: generator, water desalinator, washing machine, tumbler, dishwasher – everything included from the beginning. Very interesting to me is to see that they kept everything which proved to be good on the older generations of Amel yachts. And having a look around, I found many details again from my boat. Charlie gets the latest weather reports on the Med-radio chat (Mediterranean Maritime Mobile Network – a daily chat amongst radio amateurs/yachties on HF with a land based station). The forecast is about the same: isolated thunderstorms and improving…

 A first glimpse the next morning shows the same bad picture as we experienced the day before. The squall line seemed to be even closer to Sardinia. Therefore I’m not even thinking about a new departure. With Priska’s flight out of Palermo in our necks we sit and wait. If we can start the next morning we have about 50 hours left for a distance we need about 45-48 hours (without weather and technical problems) – a quite tight situation. Early next morning we start again. As we come ‘around the corner’ we can’t believe our eyes: no storms, not even a cloud in the sky – as if there never was anything before. As announced just the remainder of some swell and a light northerly breeze. We are even rewarded with a beautiful sunset in the West and just a bit later an astonishing moonrise in the East. Under these conditions we need only about 40 hours till Sicily where we landed in the marina of Palermo midnight of September 29th. After some hours of sleep Priska takes the taxi to the airport of Palermo and lands safely at Zürich a few hours later.

  Although as my next cosailor, Franziska, flies into Palermo, I change to the marina of Cefalu due to costs reasons. To call it a marina is said too much, but there are a few spaces for tourists, water, electricity and diesel. But to my surprise the small town is a beautiful cozy place. Many tourists found that out as well, they are brought here by busloads. Since Franziska does not have any open sea sailing experience we decide to take it easy. This simplifies also the organization of my next crew which I ask to come to Reggio di Callabria. To take it easy on the timing this week gives me also the opportunity to install the long anchor chain (to distribute the load I kept it in the cockpit locker) and to try out our dinghy. Both works just great and Franziska did a perfect job at her very first anchoring maneuver. Although we don’t have any detailed coastal charts we find some bays to anchor for the nights. No problem with the now very stable weather.

 The passage through the Strait of Messina is quite exiting again. The sea at this point, between mainland Italy and the island of Sicily, is so narrow that the big ships have to be coordinated, only one direction at a time is open for passage. For us with our in comparison small yacht are no restrictions, we just try to catch the right current at the right time. Additionally we have to watch the ferries – they really seem to aim for us…

 Just on the other side of Messina lays Reggio di Calabria, on mainland of Italy. In this marina the next change of crew takes place. With some detours Franziska flies back to Zürich and the three guys – Thomas, Frank and Markus – arrive by train in Reggio. Thomas, the youngest aboard, has just gotten his own Swiss B-Certificate and sails a lot on inshore lakes (partly as sailing instructor), Frank instructs also from time to time on Swiss lakes and experienced on other sailing trips already the tough side of the sea and Markus, being the oldest of us, has about the same open sea experience as Frank. Markus as Frank have both passed the open sea theory tests. For them this transfer of MELMAR Y is a good chance to get their miles done for the certificate. I will see if I can help to enrich their wealth of experience a bit. With this crew we plan to go as far as possible within four (for Thomas) respectively seven days. With the happenings in the Tyrrhenian Sea my optimism to advance sank somewhat – how far will we get? My goal would be the coast of Slovenia (Koper, Izola or Portoroz).

 Their arrival day passes quickly with reprovisioning food, beverages and diesel and with the important safety briefing. Even though the ‘guys’ are really keen to start, we decide to depart the next morning, October 8th. The plan of watch for the 24 hours is unusually comfortable for me. I even have the chance to sleep several hours in a row. And my new cosailors pull me out of a ‘motor lethargy’ (if the wind was not above a certain threshold I didn’t even think to haul up the sails). We motor and sail under beautiful good weather around Italy. Since I really want to get as far as possible we already set 1800RPM on the engine. After about 24 hours we get again engine problems: the motor suddenly stops working. It looks the same as with Priska after Sardinia but this time we have calm seas. What might be the problem? Frank thinks that it could be because of lack of air. With 1600RPM the engine runs smooth and without any problems again. We are puzzled and the feeling about my engine does not become any better.

 Around the heel of Italy we enter the Adriatic Sea – Slovenia we come! October 11th in the afternoon the main halyard (to set the main sail) entangles around the radar reflector at the top shroud. Very quickly Thomas offers himself to be hauled up the mast. Together we pull him up to untangle the halyard on open seas.

 The weather is still very good but far away we see big clouds, looking like thunderstorm cells. It is late afternoon. Will we get problems with the weather? We already passed Vieste when we try to determine how the clouds move. I like to react as early as possible: shall we turn to the West, closer to the Italian coast or turn right direction East out to the open sea? The storm cells are still quite far away but we see already lightning. And still we can not see which way they are moving. I decide to proceed closer to the shore to be able to find shelter in a marina if necessary. On this path we realize with help of the radar that the thunderstorm echoes are moving exactly in our direction. As if you try to escape in a current or a river, I try to escape the cells by turning into a direction of 90 degrees to the storm cell path. Just when they seem to catch us they dissolve, they just disappear. Relieved we now turn again to the North. Quite exhausted I go to sleep, not without asking the next watch to wake me up if they see lighting somewhere.

 Only four hours later they wake me: „There is lightning everywhere!” Already on the way from the master’s cabin towards the navigation station I see the radar display and I don’t like the picture at all. Close together all around us radar echoes – well, well! Once outside it doesn’t look better, we are really in midst several thunderstorms clutters. Not very often but every now and then shoot flashes out of the clouds, some of them right into the water. My main concern is not only the boat (I don’t like that either) but mainly the crew. If lightning strikes on GRP (glass reinforced plastics) yachts it takes an undeterminable path of the lowest electrical resistance – there is no place where you really are protected. Markus at the helm, I try to keep the overview. With the radar we try to escape the most dense echoes but at the same time to keep a certain course to the winds. To support our engine we still have the reefed main and mizzen sails set! About one hour later we are out of the clouds again and proceed on our normal course. How could this happen? My assumption is that these cells start to build so fast only over the sea that you can’t really see them develop or approach.

 The highlight during this night should have actually been Markus: he passed his 1000th nautical mile – a reason to party. But we don’t really have time for that! We’ll make up for it another time. For the time being we had enough action, so we set course towards Pescara. During the morning we arrive there and take the chance to acquire new weather info. On this occasion Thomas leaves us, one day later he would have gone home anyway. The three of us start again the next day towards the North. Since I don’t trust the weather anymore we stay along the Italian coast, although the direct course across the North Adriatic Sea to Slovenia would be shorter.

 One day later, we try to avoid the offshore platforms, our engine stops running again. This time under ‘low’ load with 1600RPM. We are puzzled and try to do some tests by increasing and decreasing the power and load. Since we can exclude more or less air problems for me the only solution lays in the diesel feed system. Studying different manuals of the engine I have to realize that I should have revisioned some parts of the engine every 200 running hours. Since my start in Southampton the engine accumulated about 600 hours! Fortunately I carry a spare diesel filter aboard but no one on board has ever bleeded a diesel engine (the engine would not run anymore if there is any air in the diesel pipes to the combustion chambers). But we have no other choice than to try to replace the filter and bleed the engine – only with a quite marginal description of the motor. Fortunately the waves and with it the movement of the boat are not too heavy and around the engine on the Amel Maramu there is enough room to move. I finish the work more or less easily. Thereafter our engine runs smoothly again. The same tests redone show us that we did the right thing. The problem is solved.

 Once again I see dolphins. About 2-3m in length they play in our proximity before they leave us. I take this again as a good sign. Past Ancona we still proceed along the coast towards the North. Again unprepared Frank announces that he also passed his 1000th mile. Now both of them are able to hand in the papers to get their Swiss B-Certificate for off shore sailing. I think I may say that they both were able to add quite some experiences and learned a lot so far.

 Along the coast we continue further towards Venice. We almost reached the western end of the big lagoon of Venice. In the middle of the night I get woken up again: “We are in the middle of it, lighting and thunderstorms everywhere!” Once again, together with Markus, we try to bring us out of this miserable situation. The storm cells seem to be even closer and more flashes strike into the water in close proximity. At one time it crackles on the whole yacht and the background lights of two instruments extinguish. I fear to be hit by a lightning (being hit on the boat apparently one doesn’t hear the thunder) but everything still works – lucky escape this time?!! Once again with the instruments and keeping a sharp lookout I only command directions to Markus who’s at the helm. This time we not only have to escape the storm, but we also have to take care not to hit a small peninsula or some other big ships. About one and a half hours later we are out of everything, under a clear sky with shining stars we continue towards the Northeast. Saturated (not only by the rain) and very exhausted Markus falls into his bunk. During my watch I try to sail as long as possible along the coast.

 Only about one hour after the change of watch, still in darkness, we suddenly are in midst of narrow lines of marking buoys – a kind of ‘road-markings’ of the lagoon of Venice? We don’t have these details on our map. We turn out of these buoys to the East and pass afterwards a field of big ships.

 The next evening we arrive in Trieste. I’m so lucky to have come so far with help of ‘these guys’ that I propose to Frank and Markus to take the train already here instead of coming with me to Slovenia. They helped me enormous by bringing MELMAR Y in such a short time the whole way up to the North; I even still have a few days to do the last short jump around the next headland. A real ‘win-win’ trip for all of us: Markus and Frank gathered many miles and experiences and I have our Amel almost at our destination!

 Early next morning, October 16th, I say good-bye to Frank and Markus which return by train back to Switzerland. My goal is to go to Koper, capital of the coastal province of Slovenia. But the weather is quite bad – heavy gusts and it rains ‘cats and dogs’ – not the weather to go solo. To my surprise after lunch everything seems to be blown away. Still quite cool but with clear skies and a light breeze I start to Koper.

 Arriving in Slovenia I officially declare me and my boat. This is not really necessary but it’s free and after all, I’m intending to stay quite a while here. By chance I run into the local harbor master who helps me with several good hints and tips. Only shortly after I continue to Izola. I dock at the local shipyard and am lucky to catch someone still working in the office (Saturday afternoon!). Seeing that another Amel – an Amel Mango owned by some Austrian guys – lies already there I have almost come to a decision. Nevertheless on the next day I take the bus to ‘inspect’ another marina with many hardstands in Izola and Portoroz. Both marinas do have beautiful spaces in the water but for my intentions the Shipyard of Izola seems to be the best: I can work around the clock, specialists are close by and the whole area is guarded 24 hours. By the way at the same shipyard they also overhaul large ships.

 I have come to a decision. Very friendly employees of the Yachtcenter help me with the contracts. Thereafter I need to prepare the ship for winter and for the lift out of the water: change of motor oil, change of coolants and adding antifreeze to it, ‘wash down’, dry and stow all sails, remove the running rigging, clean and stow the dinghy, and and and. Then I bring MELMAR Y for the last few meters into the crane dock. Now the employees of the shipyard take over. Lifted by two belts our Amel is taken out of the water. For the first time I see our boat ‘in the air’. Next job is to thoroughly wash down the underwater hull by help of high pressure water. All the algaes, mussels and shells are removed almost completely. Then the Maramu is driven to its parking position where she is lowered onto the keel and supported at the sides. And there she stands, our Amel Maramu ‘MELMAR Y’: 45°32.34'N / 013°39.87'E is the position for the next couple of months…

Pictures at this stage: Liftout at the ShipYard Izola / SLO

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