We have been busy since arriving here in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily; not just with jobs to get the boat repaired and shipshape after all the miles this summer but with our plans for what we wanted to do in the winter.
We reviewed the finances and concluded that in order to continue cruising we would have to earn over the winter, or at least stop spending. Rather than returning to our previous roles, we investigated some interesting alternatives. House-sitting,pet sitting, contract housekeeping for someone with two homes, jobs back home in the Shire, jobs abroad.
In the end, we decided that we could combine our love of ski-ing and the mountains, our enjoyment of food and cooking by applying for a few roles with chalet/ski companies which operate in the Tignes/Val d’Isere area. Since Erin is going to be working in Tignes this winter, we thought we could work in the vicinity and thus be able to see more of her than we have during the last two years that she has been working in Thailand.
We are delighted to have been offered positions as chalet hosts with renowned company, Powder White, in Val d’Isere We will be running a chalet for them!
Very exciting and just a little bit daunting.
Hopefully, there will still be time to fit in some ski-ing. We look forward to catching up with any friends and family that come to Val!
We spent a couple of days in Crotone and enjoyed having a wander round this town with its huge castle and imposing town walls.
We enjoyed briefly meeting fellow sailors on Three Times a Lady (try spelling that with the phonetic alphabet!) and early the next morning we slipped out in the calm morning breeze and wove our way out between the gas rigs and set off south and a reasonable lick. The wind was as fluky as predicted across the Golfo di Squillace and so we slowed right down. The night passed much better than the trip from Corfu and apart from one incident when two sailing boats appeared out of the darkness rather closer than I would have liked, the crossing went smoothly.
We then hit strong winds on our approach to Syracuse but coming right at us on the nose so we had to tack considerably further than we wanted to.
However, we arrived safely after two days and one night at sea and motored towards the incredible bay of Syracuse. We followed the procedure for gaining permission to enter and were allocated a berth, along with one other yacht on the massive town quay. Soon after we were tied up we visited the coast guard to do the necessary paperwork and were pleased with ourselves for doing things right. Next morning the Coast guard came round to check our papers. We were rewarded with a warm handshake and welcome to Syracuse.
We spent the whole day walking round this incredible city.
We visited the Leonardo Da Vinci museum
which has large working wooden models of his inventions and was absolutely fascinating.
The market was fabulous as Italian markets always are. Seeing all the fish and fresh produce made us hungry, even o soon after breakfast, so we had an amazing Sicilian lunch in a little back street café.
I had Pasta Siciliana which is made with a sauce of anchovies, pinenuts, sun dried tomatoes, oil, garlic, and sprinkled with herby breadcrumbs. Mmmm. Ian had Seafood risotto with saffron.
We need to go back to Syracuse because it was just beautiful and there we were, just parked on the promenade in the most enviable spot.
After a couple of nights there we just had a short hop round to Marina di Ragusa to complete. A longish day but do-able. We calculated 56 miles. We ended up doing 81 miles as the wind was, once again blowing right at us! We made it in, in the dark, and tied to the fuel pontoon ‘til morning. The security guards, alerted by the barking guard dog, flew round in a car and quizzed us. Once we had told them that we were booked in for the winter they gave us vigorous handshakes and lots of ‘va bene’s and shot back to their security posts.
Next day, we oh so smoothly, parked the boat in our winter berth – L16. Within minutes we had been invited aboard the opposite boat for coffee and met up with Carl, Amanda, Mark, Peter and Catherine. This is the most sociable place with 162 boats and around 300 live-aboards staying for the winter. We soon heard about a daily radio net, Yoga, knitting and tai chi classes, Italian lessons, olive picking experience, dinner out en masse, happy hours (3 of them per week), music making group, Halloween party, and much more…
What a fantastic, welcoming and friendly international community.
We left Saranda after saying goodbye to our agents Jelja and Gazman and headed straight to Kassiopi. We exchanged our gas bottle and as soon as we were ready set off from the bay and sailed westwards.
I was lazing about reading the pilot guide when Ian mentioned something about a big black cloud ahead.
I scurried off to get my wet weather jacket. I had already had to remove my wet weather trousers because I was too hot. So I was looking rather fetching in my wellies, shorts and waterproof.
Ian suggested putting a further reef into the sail to make it smaller. I was busy with my zip! He realised we had no time to put the reef in because by the time you’ve thought of it, it is, of course, already too late! I had time to release the main sail just when the storm hit us. The rain came lashing down, Ian had reached the wheel and resumed the helming from the auto pilot. We turned in a huge circle and ran away down wind. The wind was gusting up to 46 knots and the boat made a top speed of 13.5 knots. (I am glad I didn’t know about that until we made landfall in Italy some 24 hours later!) Ian was being lashed by horizontal rain as the lightning came down and the wind howled. He was like King Lear raging against the elements!
As quickly as it arrived the storm left us and thunder continued to rumble overhead for another hour gradually retreating. Ian put his jacket on over his soaking wet shirt – in an attempt to keep warm. How am I going to get that dry?
The rest of the day and night went uneventfully as we batted at an average speed of 6 knots towards Crotone, Calabria. The sea was rather lumpy and so we rolled up and over waves the whole time which made us feel pretty awful. It seemed like an incredibly long crossing but, in fact, it was quite quick. We arrived at 0430hrs just off the coast and rather than trying to enter the port in the dark we decided to hove-to and sat bobbing about like that for three hours whilst we had a nap.
Soon we were heading into the Yacht Kroton Club in Puorto Vecchio, Crotone and were looking forward to a pizza, a sleep and some wine later in celebration of Ian’s 56th Birthday!
When your yacht is carefully slotted in amongst ferries and cruise ships as an equal; when you read signs telling you how Albanians aim to serve tourists and customers ‘wholeheartedly’; when you are let off paying the full amount you owe because you don’t have the right change; when people come up to you in the street and just want to chat in English; when shop assistants have a fit of delighted giggles because you had a go at saying thank you in Albanian (you fal eh man dare ez) ; when you are hugged spontaneously by a cafe worker – you know you’re on to a good thing.
Albania is relatively new to tourism, having only just shrugged off Communism fifteen years ago. Remnants of that life still remain in abundance. The drab and baggy clothing, the uneven pavements and scruffy buildings, unfinished construction projects, cigarette smoking, bad teeth, smelly drains and knackered old Mercedes cars.
Saranda Town is burgeoning – in a kind of concrete-block-Soviet-style kind of way. Old red tiled buildings have been overshadowed. I’m sorry to say that any number of palm trees and frond umbrellas on the pebbly beaches just won’t really sway the unadventurous package tourist; but what Saranda lacks in smartness, style and sophistication it more than make up for in the helpfulness, warmth and friendliness of the people!
Not only that, Albania has a good few hidden treasures too. It is a country for walkers, climbers, canoeist, white water rafters, waterfall gazers, horseback riders, boat trippers, Roman ruin enthusiasts, historians and explorers.
Saranda is a town that manages to successfully combine Christianity and Islam. The call to prayer sounds out in the evening and it is incredibly evocative to hear the notes rebound around the bay. In the morning the church bells ring – opposite sides of the same coin.
The market flourishes its colourful wares and ladies sell their knitted, crocheted and laced items. Stalls line the streets around the market selling anything from fish to flip flops, baskets to bedding, cooking pots to camomile, magnets to manicures.
There are huge eucalyptus trees dotted around the town. The back drop is barren sedimentary rock mountainsides plunging into deep valleys, embracing the bay.
Butrint Lake, just inland a little way, is an vast expanse of water with not one single piece of development or building work around it except unassuming fish farm processing shacks.
Enormous fertile plains extend between the feet of the mountains and the sea where the silts from the lakes and rivers have settled over millennia.
The Romans recognised its value and used the land and waters to feed their garrisons on Corfu. The excavations at Butrinti National Park, an ancient city port, are fascinating. The park offers a journey through the ages of history dating back to 800BC. After the decline of the communities who lived there the remains became built on, adapted and entwined in the vegetation and were thus largely protected from human intervention. They lay undisturbed for many years until an Italian archaeologist called Luigi Maria Ugolini and his team discovered incredible statues, an amphitheatre, an acropolis, fountains, gates, aqueducts, fortified walls, a basilica, mosaics and artifacts of daily life, during their archaeological digs between 1928 -1939.
The coexistence of historical monuments, nature and landscape make this place unique. It is the most visited cultural tourist destination in the country. We enjoyed the nature trail, views, peace and quiet, cool breezes, wild life, (we saw white tailed sea eagles soaring overhead) and the incredible history lesson with well-written sign boards.
The museum at the top of the peak in the park is an interesting and informative trail through time, detailing the different influences on the promontory of all the peoples who lived and ruled there.
Furthermore it is an easy bus ride (€1) from Saranda to Butrinti. There is a rickety cable ferry
joining the two banks of the river which you can take for (€0.50 each way) to view the triangular castle fortifications and the promontory from a different perspective. It is easy to see how the ruins were hidden for so long.
We returned to Saranda sitting in the back of the bus with the local football lads. Listening to all the banter and watching the hand shakes and back slapping was not the least bit intimidating.
We are only sorry not to have had more time to explore this fascinating country.
Bus leaves from Skenderbeu opposite the ruins of the synagogue/basilica mosaic display.
Bus leaves at every half the hour pretty much and returns every half the hour.
You can pay €1 or 100 Lek – (which at 137 Lek to the Euro makes Lek cheaper!). A conductor collects fares on the way out but on the way back it is necessary to pay the driver. Most people seemed to pay him when they exited. We paid on entry!
The bus is hot!
The bus stops along the way and most people alighted in Ksamil.
The end of the route is at the ferry.
The entrance to Butrinti National Park is not sign-posted.
Look for a white fence and gateways saying enter and exit.
It is worth a quick ride across the river on the ferry and a wander around over there.
It is 700 Lek to go in to the park. Guides are available but I don’t know the price. It is easy enough to find your own way round the paths. Great toilet facilities in the park.
There is a hotel quite close by, The Livia Hotel, going away from the river, which looked to sell drinks and food and in the season there is probably a stall near the handicrafts area to buy drinks and snacks.
Erin, Ian and I set off for Prevesa. Our aim was to complete the necessary Greek paperwork and to do some laundry. Both necessary evils! We had a wonderful sail up the west coast of Levkas so avoiding the channel and the apparently temperamental swing bridge. We arrived in Prevesa in time for the Saturday night perambulations – known as La Passegiata in Italian, and La Volta in Greek. Perfect people watching.
Ian showed incredible persistence to finally acquire our DEPKA form. He presented a letter from the Coast Guard office in Argostoli saying that they had run out of forms and that we had tried to register. There were also no forms in Prevesa either, although apparently, five were due to arrive…would Ian kindly return tomorrow morning? This he duly did and we were in luck.
The form was given to us, stamped and chocked. All our passports and papers were photocopied. Ian then had to go to the tax office to be given an invoice for 29 euros. From there he was directed to the National Bank to pay the invoice, from where he would take his receipt back to the Coastguard in order to have the paperwork finalised.
By this time the washing had been done and dried. We set off for Paxos to meet our great friend Sue Lowrey.
We moored on the north quay, away from the town centre in the most dramatic of settings yet. An island protects the channel from the open sea and winds. It is the most wonderful anchorage. Understandably busy. We set about tidying up the boat and preparing drinks and nibbles. Sue and Margaret arrived and we enjoyed giving them the guided tour.
After a delicious pasta dinner and yet more wine, we staggered back to the boat and slept soundly..
Next day, Sue picked us up and gave us a tour of the island of Paxos by car. We spend a pleasant afternoon sunning ourselves on the beach and then went back to Margaret’s beautiful hillside home for a delicious dinner.
We had a jobs day on the Thursday and then welcomed Sue and Margaret for breakfast and coffee, after their morning swim, before saying a fond farewell and sailing off to Sivota-Mourtos.
We anchored in Middle Bay since the weather was quite settled and enjoyed some nice swimming around the boat. I tried fishing again but with no luck at all. We shot out in the dinghy to do some beach combing. We were about to go ashore on to the biggest of the islands when we noticed a herd of rather shaggy goats with large horns on the beach. We stayed off some distance and admired them from afar.
Next stop was Corfu. We anchored stern to in the incredibly smelly East Basin. Compensated by the fact that you are right next to the Old Town and tucked under the fort and it’s free! We wandered through the streets to the cricket field and showed Erin the colonnaded Venetian style streets.
The next day, Ian and Alice Daggett arrived and we promptly set off to our anchorage further north where we had a quiet and smell free night. The next afternoon we had to dropped Erin off at the airport. She was returning to the UK to work for six weeks to save money for her up-coming ski season in Tignes.
We zig-zagged across the channel to stay in Plataria and then Pagania. We had some good sailing. The anchorage at Pagania half a mile from the Albanian border was amazing. Once we had driven past numerous large and ugly fish farms we turned the dog leg to discover a completely enclosed anchorage. No tavern, no bars, no body and no signal!
So, back to Corfu Town and another fond farewell to Mr and Mrs D. We had had a wonderful few days with them.
As strong southerly winds were expected over the next few days we decided to head north to Kassiopi on the Northern tip of Corfu. We had a few happy days there meeting up with Andy and Denise Hurley on Comet whom we had first met in Mallorca back in April/May.
Our next visit was from old friend and fellow sailor, William Dear. We had a boozy night with him in Corfu Town celebrating the sale of his boat. As you may know, the happiest days of any sailor’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it! )