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The Summer Cruise starts

May 17, 2015

I am starting this travelogue (not much travel yet) in sunny Italy. We have been tied up in Marsala for a couple of days waiting for the wind to drop so we can visit the Egadi islands off the west coast of Sicily. We are likely to be in Italy most of this year’s cruise apart from the occasional foray into France. That is the plan anyway.


A traditional fishing boat in Monastir harbour

A traditional fishing boat in Monastir harbour

But back to our last weeks in Tunisia, where we finally moved back onto the boat and spent further time adding finishing touches to its spring overhaul. We stayed in the apartment while Brian finished varnishing wooden surrounds in the kitchen and bathroom (sorry, galley and head). He also worked on one of our water tanks that leaks a bit when overfull. I took out cushions from the saloon and gave them their annual beating and scrubbing – amazing how much dust and sand came out!

While the front and port cabin mattress covers and cushions were out of the boat being renovated and new foam in the latter, I cleaned all the woodwork in both cabins. It is amazing how much mildew builds up in the one we sleep in. The other wasn’t so bad.

By now our evenings in the Calypso bar were spent going over the long list of things to be done before we set sail again. It kept expanding, and sometimes Brian found something to do that wasn’t even on the list. It had to be added so we could cross it off at the same time, giving some satisfaction that progress was being made!

The two friendly waiters at the Calypso restaurant

The two friendly waiters at the Calypso restaurant

To keep our spirits going, Brian picked up a link to Spotify music (free on the marina wifi connection) that I had found while following some abstruse trail on the internet. He found out how it all worked so we had some good music for a while! Some of it was very “golden oldie” from the ‘70’s. Does anyone remember Curved Air…..?

Various acquaintances reported back positively on medical intercessions they had undergone in Tunisia – it seems to be one of those places that people come to get fairly major stuff done at a reduced rate. A hip replacement and a gall stone “blasted”, and dental work. We have passed on contact information to those of our friends who are suffering from the NHS delays. My own dental checkup and polish (and later a filling replacement) cost about £15 a visit.

At the end of March everything computerish told us that the hour had changed, so we obeyed. About a week later, in a conversation with Ros Bergaoui (the chandler’s missus) I found out that Tunisia doesn’t do the “Spring Forward” bit at all! But we decided to carry on, just remembering that Tunisia was an hour behind our watches! A first for us, being up at 6.30 am every day! Now we are in Italy we are on everyone else’s time again.

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Ros and her husband Fethi were great, finding various items for us. Fethi organised a delivery of some special granules which we hope will keep our toilet pipes cleaner. We acquired a new flag pole for the Red Ensign so it wouldn’t catch on other hardware, and other bits and pieces. Great to have a chandlery right in the marina. And it was good to chat to Ros who could let us in on local news and opinion.

Rearranged gantry with new flagpole and a small "boot" for the wifi attachment that now goes down the inside of the gantry.

Rearranged gantry with new flagpole and a small “boot” for the wifi attachment that now goes down the inside of the gantry.

Another day or two were spent re-routing the wifi aerial cable through the gantry, down into the engine compartment and then up to the computer station! Thus the cable can stay in-situ while we are sailing and just needs to be plugged in to the USB hub when we are in harbour. All these little adjustments take time but make life easier!

All of a sudden it was my birthday, which I celebrated by having a day off – lounging around the boat, reading and doing Sudoku puzzles and sending off a few emails. That was nice! Now we are cruising we get more “days off” sitting around waiting for wind and waves, but usually there is something to do.

Then it was time to start cleaning the boat of yet another layer of salt and fine sand, which seemed to be an endless task. We polished all the stainless bits with Phosphoric acid (found cheaply in the local hardware shops) and then polished them. Brian bleached the decks with acid based cleaners too, then polished. I sanded and then painted the inside recesses of the main saloon windows which seem to get strange crusty lumps on them.

All this time the weather was getting warmer – some days were positively hot then it would cool down again. But eventually there were a few windless days and we managed to fit our new genoa. DSCF4064It looks lovely and now it has been used a few times it is winding up on its pole a bit better. It is huge – our last one had been reduced in size as it had got worn.

Then the mainsail could go back on too, with its attendant sail bag. I decided that the dinghy bag needed replacing, so that got done at the local upholstery shop, and looks very smart. The lad who delivers the items keeps trying to get us to replace everything to make Alixora the same colour all over – not this year I said.DSCF4067

Brian carried on with his fixing and checking – making sure the steering sheaves worked OK and fixing one that was binding. Then it was calm again and time for me to go up the mast to see if I could fix the wobbly VHF antenna. Which I did (just needed a spanner) and then cleaned the mast and stainless cables that hold it up (stays) on the way down. Then I couldn’t walk very well for about 3 days after that!

Friends on Piper – June and Steve – were good company. June and I went to the big market just outside town one Friday. It was good, but the central one is more convenient. The other has hundreds of clothing stalls though – Ros swears by it as she finds all sorts of branded clothing there (seconds) that come from the Tunisian factories for Benetton, Levi etc.

Another week went by with all the last minute jobs being completed. I cleaned all the bilges and sorted out various bits and pieces that were stored in there.

We had a good sending off do at the Regency bar on our last Saturday.DSCF4084

I finally started to look at the pilot books for Italy – our plan was to stop over at Pantelleria (an island between Tunisia and Sicily and then head on to Sicily. This would be a 16 hour trip, so we would set off in the afternoon to arrive in the morning.

The weather was looking good towards the end of April and we finally managed to fix on leaving on 1st May. I had checked with the police that we needed to pay for overstaying our 3 months in the country. They eventually (after much heated debate) decided that we each needed to pay 200 dinar, on top of the 30 dinar “exit” stamp which is called a Solidarity stamp! So on our departure day (Friday) I toddled off to the police station with our stamps and 400 dinar. Oh, they eventually said (after much heated debate), you need to get stamps for this, not just give us money! But the stamp shops are shut as it is 1st May! Finally the customs guy took the money and headed off to the airport to get the stamps and we were sorted an hour later. They (police and customs) came to the boat to check we had no contraband (or emigrants) on board and off we set.

Once out of the harbour just after lunchtime, we set the sails (reefed to about ½) and had a fantastic ride all the way to Pantelleria with no engine averaging about 6 knots until midnight. The wind died then, which was fine as we wanted to arrive in daylight but there was enough to keep sailing! 16 hours under sail in the right direction is almost a record for us.

Arriving at Pantelleria the wind howled again at 20 knots. We circled the new harbour as this was recommended, but there was nowhere for us to tie up easily or safely. The lower walls were full of obstacles (iron bars, black tires), the pontoons didn’t have any rings or cleats, and the only space where two other yachts were moored, one had put a line right across it! Looking over the wall at the old harbour there were 3 yachts alongside filling the wall. We circled and debated, then looked at the charts and decide to carry on to Mazara in Sicily – another 10 hours but doable in daylight.

Europe!  Mazara del Vallo pontoon

Europe! Mazara del Vallo pontoon

After another 2 hours the wind dropped completely so the engine went on and we ploughed on towards our destination. It was a lovely day though, so the cushions came out and we sunbathed while keeping an eye out for traffic. We both managed to get another couple of hours sleep to make up. We also managed to get our Italian courtesy flag up!

Arriving in Mazara we were helpfully guided to a slot on the guest pontoon there, tied up, tidied ourselves up and headed into town for a beer to celebrate arrival in Europe again.

Unfortunately we chose a restaurant that filled up after an hour so we were ejected together with our beer, as they wanted the table, so we had to finish it off on the boat! Not surprisingly we slept well that night and some of Sunday.

Mazara was lovely. We explored the old Arabic quarters (including muezzin calls at appropriate times), found the Vodafone shop to renew our sim cards, crossed the river and found a chandlery, the fruit and veg shops, supermarket etc.


We didn’t need much dinner….

Sunday we found a bar in one of the old squares close to the marina, and were invited to help ourselves to a wonderful array of mezes. The next day we were again served with a large meze selection. This is the life!

We soon got over the culture shock of western clothing (or lack of), everything costing 2 or 3 times as much and the pain of Italian opening hours (everything closed in the afternoons and Sundays).

Brian noticed that one of the cars (rollers that hold the genoa ropes down on the deck) was losing its nylon slider. He managed to get the stop off the end of the rail with brute force and a Dremel, and found the spare sliders in the newly cleaned bilge – so that is what they were! We had wondered for the past 6 years!

Fortunately he was able to tap a new thread into the screw shaft that he had had to drill out, and put it all back together – 2nd time lucky once we worked out that the sliders had to go in with the thick side down – oops.

Having stocked up in Monastir for a few days, we felt we should eat up our stew and get in some pork (hurray!) before moving on. We had hoped to go to the Egadi islands, but the predicted winds changed and we came to Marsala instead.

Marsala (of fortified wine fame) is another baroque town with a pedestrianised centre – lots of churches and fortifications. And of course lots of old wine warehouses, mostly decrepit. Our tour of the end of the headland was interesting, but the Punic museum was shut and there was no access to the archaeological park with mosaics and ruins. Ah well.

Marsala Punic museum in an old wine warehouse

Marsala Punic museum in an old wine warehouse

On our way back to the boat, I noticed a French yacht tied up near us – our friends on Tom! Jean Paul and Dany had been in Tunisia at El Kantoui marina, and we met them one night in Monastir. We had met them in Italy last year. I must go and see if they are on board.

Next stop Egadi islands we hope, then possibly back here. (Updating WordPress on 17th May – we are still in Marsala!  Possibly leaving on Tuesday, but we hired a car and explored the hinterland.  More in the next blog).

Why? Because as we were heading from Mazara to Marsala, we saw hundreds (literally) of what turned out to be Honey Buzzards coming from Tunisia to Sicily in groups of 5 to 20! A known migration route at precisely this time of year apparently. And some go via the Egadi islands. They need a southerly wind which we will get on Tuesday.

While we were in Monastir we saw a dozen black kites around 30 March, little terns, slender billed gulls, swallows, swifts, Bee Eaters and geese all working their way north – and that was just sitting in the marina!

So if there is good birdwatching in the Egadi islands we will stay there a couple of days, then head back here for the next storm. If not, we will just continue north to Trepani or San Vito lo Capo.DSCF4099

One Comment
  1. hi rose and brian thanks for all your help. love your blog. hopefully we will catch up with you in ponza or somewhere else sailing. regards. deseley, massimo, bianca, nuttella and botta

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