Sundancer in the Med - Log 2005 - Mallorca to Corfu

Tuesday March 8th

We had a really good flight from Birmingham to Palma, Mallorca with MyTraveLite. However, baggage claim took ages and we then collected a hire car and went shopping for anti-fouling so we didn't get to the boat in Porto Cristo until after dark, by which time the temperature had dropped to about -1ºC. With virtually no lighting on the hard-standing we had to fumble in the dark to find a ladder, then in the boat to find torches and the electricity cable. We eventually got light and then had to clear out loads of stuff from the aft cabin to make up the bed. We went out for a quick Chinese meal, returned to the boat, blew the fan heater on to the bedding for a while to warm it up and then retired with lots of clothes on and a hot water bottle. Mike was muttering about finding an apartment for a week or two - he would never have made a boy scout! Apparently this has been the worst Feb/March in Mallorca for 80 years! We arose in the morning to ice on the deck but a beautiful blue sky, and by 10 am it was reasonably warm.

Wednesday 9th to Sunday 20th March - on the hard at Porto Cristo.

The temperatures have gradually improved since we arrived - no longer freezing at night and beautiful cloudless sunny days but we still wake up every morning with condensation dripping from the windows.

We have arrived early, having originally said we would not want to go back into the water until mid-April. Unfortunately there are still four other boats between us and the sea and we have had to agree to pay to have a couple of them moved to get us back in. The yard have promised either Friday 18th or Monday 21st - most likely Monday I expect, and we have friends arriving on Tuesday 22nd which is cutting it a bit fine. Meanwhile we are enjoying the usual delights of life on a hard-standing - climbing up and down a 10 step ladder to and from the deck, peeing in a bucket at night and then carrying it 400 yards to the freezing showers in the morning.

We always underestimate how long it will take to get the boat ready for cruising again after a winter's lay-up but jobs are steadily getting done. Mike is spending a lot of time in cramped, dark, uncomfortable and frequently smelly situations trying to mend things. He has been fighting with the rear heads today with blood pressure escalating and he eventually downed tools saying "I can't do this". He sank down on the settee exhausted but after half an hour of rest and a bit of lateral thinking finished the job in 10 minutes.

The day before we arrived, Dave and Beverley of 'Wight Egret' returned to their boat, which has wintered here afloat so we have had several evenings with them either aboard or ashore for meals which has given us some pleasant breaks.

On Monday we had arranged a visit from a local marine surveyor (English ex pat) as our insurance company has demanded a survey before they insure us again next year. He pointed out that our fire extinguishers were well past their sell by date so we have had to renew them. Otherwise he spent about three hours poking around making mainly pretty favorable comments and has valued the boat at a bit more than we expected.

Friday 18th

There was no sight of the yardmen until well after lunch and there is clearly no chance of launching today so now we are just hoping for Monday. On a positive note, we have received a draft of the survey report and Mike is very chuffed because the surveyor says that 'Sundancer' is a very attractive boat and one of the best amateur builds he has seen in recent years. On a negative note, Mike has just announced that he doesn't think he can repair the fridge. This packed up last autumn and I will not sail without it as it makes provisioning so much more difficult. We now have to ring the experts in Palma, so goodness knows when it will get fixed. This means that I shall be catering for visitors having to rely on bags of ice in the bottom of the icebox to keep things cool. I am not amused.

Monday 21st March.

We are launched at last - talk about the 'just-in-time' principle! It took all day as the yard men first had to move three boats out of the way, left us hanging in the slings while they took a two hour lunch break and then insisted on ferrying Mike to the office a mile away so he could pay all he owed them before they put us in the water. Finally we were on a pontoon at about 3.45pm feeling pretty shattered.

Tuesday 22nd March to Saturday 2nd April - Local cruising - friends and family visitors.

Friends Tom and Ros arrived and we spent a very pleasant though rather unadventurous week with them, exploring the island by car and only sailing on one day because of mediocre weather. On Wednesday 30th, son Jon and wife Ann-Marie with children Emily (9) and Jozef (6) arrived. They were staying in an apartment in Sa Coma luckily, because this was the day Mike tripped while walking bare-foot along the side deck and fell full frontal, nose first onto a genoa winch. I heard his shout of 'Pauline, I've broken my nose!' and found him flat out, with blood everywhere. Dave, from 'Wight Egret' took us, clutching our E111s, to Manacor hospital in their hire car and then went back and cleaned up all the blood. What a star! After the usual 4 hour A+E experience, the X-ray confirmed a broken nose. Incredibly Mike was suffering negligible pain and nothing was to be done other than to return in a week's time to have it checked by the specialist! We again managed only one sail with the family during the week, but several hours' fun in the dinghy and on the beach.

Thursday 7th April. The engineers from 'Ferdicold' arrived at last to look at our fridge. They could find no leak but recharged it any way and it seems to be working OK. It is 7 years since Mike installed it so we assume in that time it must have gradually lost coolant. Hopefully it will now last another 7 - if we do. At 278 euros the repair didn't come cheap.

On Friday, Mike had his return appointment at Manacor hospital, which was uneventful except when the doctor decided to straighten the nose, not realising that 'bent' was its normal shape and not caused by the break. He gave up but not before inflicting considerable pain and then added insult to injury by saying 'Avoid trauma to the nose for the next two weeks'!

The following Monday Mike returned to the UK for a business meeting and I had a lovely couple of days of retail therapy wandering around Palma and Manacor spending some of what he was earning, though I did resist a set of Mallorcan pearls at 150 euros. Needless to say the four days he was away were wonderful sailing weather and on Wednesday, 'Wight Egret' set off for Menorca.

Friday 15th April - to Alcudia.

Mike returned on the Thursday and on Friday we moved up to Alcudia to pick up our liferaft, which we had left for servicing. We motored most of the way, but had a good sail across Alcudia Bay.

Monday 18th April - Alcudia to Ciudadella (Menorca).

After sitting out some strong winds in Alcudia we finally set of for Ciudadela in Menorca. The weather has definitely taken a turn for the better with lots of lovely sunshine. Our 2005 cruise has begun at last! We motored most of the 35 miles and found plenty of space against the wall. Unfortunately a swell began rolling in and 'Sundancer' bounced up and down all night meaning we had very little sleep. We decided to move on quickly to Fornells, a deep Cala on the north coast, early in the morning.

Tuesday 19th to Thursday 28th April - to and in Mahon.

We set of at about 8.15 in bright sunshine but with little wind and with the big northerly swell still present. We should have changed our minds and taken the shorter sheltered southern route to Mahon, but we pressed on round the north, anxious to see Fornells. When we got there we could see the swell pushing into the Cala and a boat inside rolling badly. Big winds are forecast for tomorrow, so in the interests of a calmer night we carried on another four hours to Mahon. Mahon lies in a fantastic long, deep, sheltered cala and all was tranquil inside. We found space on the Club Maritimo pontoon in Cala Figuera, three boats down from 'Wight Egret'. This is a small, quite old-fashioned marina with very friendly staff and we immediately felt at home as it reminded us of our old 'home' in Turnchapel, Plymouth, before the developers got at it.

We spent Wednesday doing jobs around the boat and sunbathing, then on Thursday Bev and Dave, who had hired a car for three days, took us up to the highest point of the island from which you can see nearly all the coast of Menorca, and over to the mountains of Mallorca to the west. At the high point a large statue of Christ stands on a tall pillar blessing the populace - and a modern communication system in the form of about 8 telephone and TV repeater masts within 50 yards of him. There is a pretty convent here with a nice chapel and beautiful courtyard. Next we went on a tour of a prehistoric village at Torre d'en Galmes, said to date back to 1400 BC and beyond. The buildings are all made of blocks of grey and white limestone, some of them of huge size, and include big watchtowers called Talayots, and a religious building called a Taula. There was also a cold store where slabs of stone were balanced on upright rough hewn pillars to make a roof, and a water collection system draining into large underground cisterns. Pretty good for three and a half thousand years ago! We had lunch on a beach and then took in another couple of talayotic villages. In Torralba d'en Salford there is a Taula in the middle of which are two huge blocks forming a letter T, which must be 20 ft high. We stood amazed, as one does at Stonehenge, wondering what sort of ancient civilisation managed to erect such a monument.

The wild flowers have at last come out into beautiful red, pink, purple and yellow bloom - later than usual we think because of the cold winter - and looking lovely intermingled with the bright limestone rocks.

The weather maps predict a big high to build over the area between Mahon and Sardinia but at present there are strong wind to the north and south kicking up big swells. The winds are also mainly easterly which is exactly what we don't want for a 36 hour trip to Sardinia. We spent the next few days socialising, hiring a car and looking at some of the island's lovely beaches and anchorages and more archaeological sites. The later included the Navetta des Tudons - a large stone building in the shape of a boat. We managed to visit Fornells which has a wide, deep harbour with a fairly nice town at the top, and a secluded and quiet anchorage at its southern end. We also went to Addaya - a very long narrow cala with an entrance which is dangerous in heavy seas, but once inside is safe in any weather, and is very peaceful if you go in far enough. However, it is hideously over developed at its northern shore. On the Sunday we joined a tour party to look round the large fort at La Mola. We watched one or two boats, probably charters, setting off into the easterlies, pitching into the heavy swells and were glad we had no schedule to meet and could wait for better conditions.

Friday 29th - Saturday 30th April - Mahon to Carloforte, South West Sardinia.

By Thursday the seas had calmed down and with a good forecast for the next few days we moved up to the anchorage behind La Mola ready for an early start on Friday. We had been dreading this long journey being day sailors really, but in fact we thoroughly enjoyed all 36¾ hours of it. We set off at 6 am in calm seas and, with too little wind now, we motored or motor sailed pretty well all the way. The skies were clear all day and all night with a very beautiful sunset on Friday, wonderful stars and a stunning sunrise Saturday. We saw a spouting whale, turtles, and lots of wallowing sun fish. As evening approached three very tired swallows thumbed a lift. These three eventually settled for the night on the wine goblet rack in the cabin, taking no notice as we moved about close to them. Then a further 12 or so arrived. Some perched on the sail bag and others under the dinghy on deck. Finally, when I was starting my first night watch in the dark at about 10pm, another landed on my shoulder and cuddled up to my cheek, as though for warmth. I eventually persuaded it on to my finger and took it down to join its mates on the wine rack. When the sun rose on Sunday, the birds on deck set off in the direction of Corsica. The four downstairs slept in for another hour, but eventually three disappeared as well, leaving one that had died in the night. Maybe we saved the others by being there when they needed a rest. On Sunday morning we were joined by a pod of dolphins, which rode our bow wave beside the boat, and leapt and played around us for about 10 minutes. At last - our own personal dolphins! We arrived in Carloforte on the small Isola di San Pietro off the southwest corner of Sardinia at 6.45pm and tied up in the Sifredi marina at the northern end of the harbour. It proved comfortable and quiet, and very handy for the supermarket, though the showers left a bit to be desired. We had a celebratory drink with 'Wight Egret', a light dinner and fell thankfully into bed.

Saturday 30th April - Saturday 7th May - Carloforte

Carloforte is a pretty town, with a normal population of 6000, which apparently increases in July and August to about 35,000. The sea front has elegant buildings in sugar almond colours with iron balustrades at the shuttered windows and lines of palm trees. The town has many narrow streets, often with lots of steps, and from one balcony you could shake hands with someone on that of the house opposite. The dark little shops have tiny entrances, and little or no shop window but often open into an Aladin's cave inside. There are dozens of little butchers, grocers and bakers shops. Two huge ferries ply constantly back and forward to Sardinia proper and another island to the south. The squares are alive in the evenings with locals of all ages out enjoying the warmth and the local Italian ice cream.

We have been told that there is 20 percent unemployment in Sardinia and there do seem to be many working age people out in the streets in the day, but everyone is very friendly and we were greeted with 'Buongiorno' wherever we went.

We had wonderful sunshine for several days and did some exploring on foot and by bike, seeing some weird and wonderful rock formations, including Il Pulpito - a mushroom shaped rock with a lacy edged top, which looks as though it has been eaten by giant insects. We celebrated my birthday with Bev and Dave at a local fish restaurant recommended in our guide book. Our move on was delayed because we discovered on the Navtex that for several days there was firing on the local range across our desired path meaning we would need to make a detour that would stretch the 32 mile journey to Teulada to 52 miles.

Sunday 8th May - Carloforte to Teulada.

There was no firing on Sunday so we left for Teulada on mainland Sardinia with little wind to start with but we did manage a splendid reach in a force 3 over a flat calm sea for the last 2 hours of the 6 hour passage. The scenery all along here is fantastic, mountainous and very little development. The port of Teulada is in a beautiful setting surrounded by green hills on three sides and with no development, except a discreetly hidden campsite. The town is some 6 kilometres away (not good for provisioning). The sheltered port is occupied mainly by the marina, which has room for some 90 boats but we were 2 of only some15 present at this time. There is a small fishing fleet occupying most of the harbour wall.

Tuesday 10th May - Teulada to Cagliari via Capo Malfatano and Capo di Pula.

'Wight Egret' left for the anchorage at Malfatano on Monday. Malfatano is a lovely bay, well sheltered from everything except south winds. I had a migraine and was laid low all day so we stayed in Teulada. The fishing fleet was at work after the weekend and our peace was broken by comings and goings in the early morning - nothing is perfect! On Tuesday we left early and joined 'Wight Egret' at anchor in Malfatano for ½ an hour to see what the fog bank out to the south was going to do. When it cleared, we motored to the anchorage on the west side of Capo di Pula to visit the remains of the punic settlement of Nora. The Phoenicians built a town here, probably because there was an anchorage on either side of the Cape, making it usable in most winds. The Romans then took it over and there are the remains of villas, the baths and an amphitheatre, which is still used for concerts today.

When we returned to the boats the wind had got up and we had a good sail all the way into Cagliari harbour where we managed to find the Marine di Sole tucked into the SE corner and were welcomed in by the 'ormigiatori' (Italian marinero) and by Lynda off 'Knight in Gale' who had been one of the Portimao live-aboards in 2003/4.

11th to 17th May - Cagliari.

We were not impressed with Marine di Sole, which was in much the same state as the ruins at Nora, and boasted only one loo and two showers with a door which did not lock. Neither is the shelter good. Any sort of sea or wash sets the boats on the outside pontoon bouncing alarmingly. Apparently a force 9 gale in the winter had thrown boats around for two days making it impossible to get on and off them, had severely damaged several, and had blown away the office. The pontoons are also next to a dry dock in which a large boat was being noisily and dirtily dismantled. It is quite a long way from the city, which we also did not like much. There was evidence of drug taking and litter all around, and a smell of sewage hanging over the dirty harbour. The old town, up by the cathedral could have been elegant but in fact was very tired, with most buildings in need of a little tlc.

We shared a hire car for two days and did a whistle-stop tour of about 2/3 of the island. We drove up the east coast along the N125 through some magnificent mountains and valleys, lunched on a white sand beach by a turquoise sea, whizzed round the Grotta Ispinglota which is a deep well of a cave which houses the second biggest stalagmite (38 metres) in the world. We then found our way to Nuoro where the coloured multi-story houses of the town cling precariously to a steep hillside. We made an over-night stop at a bed and breakfast recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook called Casa Solotti, half way up the sacred mountain of Ortobene. Our first floor rooms had wonderful views and our hostess welcomed us with a pile of Italian flat bread and delicious soft cheese and a bottle of a very drinkable red wine made by her husband. At night we drove back down the windy road to the La Chiusa restaurant, which was full of lively locals by 9 pm, and where we were served an excellent meal. A not very comfortable night followed in rather lumpy beds, but breakfast was good and at 26 euros a head, it was well worth it for the hospitality and the scenery.

Next day we carried on up the mountain to get a great panoramic view of the area and see the large statue of Jesus at the top.

We did not have time to go to the north of the island so cut across country through an area with lakes and fertile volcano craters, to Alghero - the second biggest town on the island. Here much more had been made of the city within the old walls, with narrow cobbled streets and lots of touristy shops. The harbour here is very spacious and we thought the town much more pleasant than Cagliari. We bought takeaway pizza (a very different animal in Italy) for lunch and headed down the beautiful coast road next to a sparkling sea, to Bosa. Here the hillsides are all covered by bright, multicoloured shrubs in lime green, orange and red interspersed with blocks of grey granite cliff. From Bosa we turned inland. After some confusion because there were two Santa Cristinas close to each other on the map, we eventually located the Bronze Age settlement of Santa Cristina with a Nuragic tower, similar to the buildings of the talyotic culture in the Balearics, dating from about 1500 - 1200 BC. The village has a temple area approached down a flight of steps into an underground building. I think I have now seen enough Neolithic buildings and tombs for a while.

15th May - Cagliari to Villasimius.

Next day we did a big shop, returned the car and set sail for Vilasimius. We had no regrets at all about leaving Cagliari which we thought to be a pretty dreadful place though the live-aboards who had spent the winter there assured us that the marina and town were full of warm and lovely people who had made them very welcome. The only pleasant memory for us was of the flocks of flamingo, which flew overhead each morning and evening. We left with strong winds under double reefed main and 6 rolls in the genoa but once out into the bay the wind dropped and we set full sail and then had a fantastic reach under blue skies over a flat sea all of the way to Vilasimius, some 25 miles.

16th to 25th May - Villasimius.

We fell in love with Villasimius. The marina is still being developed and is modern, clean with good showers and with hardly any sailing boats at this time of year. It is set in green hills with some lovely walks over Capo Carbonara, and fantastic white sand beaches. The setting is as beautiful as Teulada but without the fishing fleet. What a relief after Cagliari! There is a lot of development around but the tourist villas and apartments are mostly in brown stone and merge discreetly into the hillsides. There are no shops here so provisioning requires a 3 kilometre bike ride to a supermarket in the town. (In fact the campsite shop nearby did open up after we had been here week). The place is so lovely we even considered a year's fairly cheap mooring and a summer spent touring Sardinia and Corsica properly but eventually decided to keep going. After all, one could easily get bored with white sands, emerald seas and sunshine. Greece beckons.

The perfect weather for our passage to Sicily (nothing above a force 4 and moderate sea) continued to evade us for a few days since, although the weather was lovely, the forecasts for the South Tyrrenhian Sea - West Side, our sea area on passage, were for strong winds and rough seas. You could not wish for a nicer place to have to wait though and we spent many days walking, sunbathing, and eventually even swimming, having found a nice shallow patch of beach that had warmed to an acceptable temperature.

26th to 29th May - Sardinia to Trapani, Sicily and around Trapani

We left Villasimius somewhat reluctantly but our weather window had finally arrived and we set off for Sicily at 11 am on Thursday 26th May, all vowing to return to Sardinia one day. Leaving with 'Wight Egret', we were both glad of each other's company for the 150 mile passage. We sailed for three hours under a cloudless sky and over a flat sea but then our speed dropped and we had to put the engine on and motor sail. However, the wind did add a knot to our engine speed so we made good time. On the whole this trip was pretty boring - no wildlife apart from a bumblebee, which enjoyed the jam we offered. I was green with envy when at dawn a pod of dolphins joined 'Wight Egret' 500 yards away from us and played around their boat for at least an hour. Do other Countesses attract dolphins? Is it our engine note they don't like? We have only had them playing round the boat on one occasion whereas 'Wight Egret' has so many hours of dolphin video footage they are quite nonchalant about them and their family are infinitely bored. 'Not more dolphins!' they cry at Christmas.

At 4 pm on Friday, we arrived at Trapani on the west coast of Sicily. We were confused on the approach because there is 'work in progress' extending the breakwater. We also had 'fun' dodging the fast hydrofoil ferries coming in and out! The harbour lay in a dusty haze and as we approached Mike started to sneeze. The pilot says that the only marina likely to have space here is Trapani Boat Services (TBS) at the far end of the harbour. We had rung them first and they said they had room and would expect us. We motored in, past the swirling whirlpool of a sewage outlet (50 yards from which people were sunbathing on their boats) and between a builder's site and a scruffy boatyard. At first there wasn't anyone around so we phoned again (you can forget VHF - no one listens), and a man came out and moved a couple of boats out of the travel lift dock. Then they motioned us into the dock and we had to tie up against a very rough concrete wall, with a giant step up onto the quay and the kind of water underneath that would undoubtedly kill you if you fell into it. However, the people were all very friendly and the owner assured us that lots of British boats spend the winter on his hard-standing very cheaply. We were charged 20 euros, with no showers.

We fell into bed at 8 pm and slept till 7 the next morning. Mike and I took an early walk into the town, which is full of four story high tenements in very narrow, dark streets - then into the somewhat smarter area, which is gradually being renovated. Here there are lots of very handsome buildings with carvings and statues - and one lovely church with green tiled domes on top, beautifully painted inside in eggshell blue with green marble pillars, and with lovely paintings on the ceiling and arches. We found a market and bought a four feet long courgette! Some part of the next America's cup is visiting Trapani and major works are being done on the quay.

We were eager to leave the filth of TBS and set off at about 10 am for our next port of call, only to be caught in a blanket of fog on the way out of the harbour. Since huge ferries rush in and out of the narrow entrance at speed, this is not a nice place to be blind. Our new electronic chart plotter came into its own. Using the screen, with all the buoys and the depths of water shown, I was able to guide Mike and 'Wight Egret' - north a bit, left a bit, right a bit, until we were tucked in a corner out of the main sea lane. We dropped anchor for an hour and then, during a temporary clearance, we headed back for harbour, this time tying up against the brand new clean concrete wall that no one seemed to be using. Two other boats followed our example and no one came to move us on so we spent a comfortable and free night, dining out well at a nearby Trattoria. The restaurants here do a lovely 'Cozze' (Italian for mussels), delicious fried gamberoni (prawns) and a very tasty swordfish steak. The trio of smoked tuna, salmon and swordfish for antipasti is also very good.

29th May - 1 June, Trapani to Castellmarre del Golfo, Villa Igiea, and San Nicolo l'Arena.

On Sunday we motored round the north west corner of the island to the marina at Castellmarre del Golfo. The coastal scenery is spectacular here with tall craggy mountains, all sharp lines and peaks and sheer grey rocky cliffs. There is usually a little line of puffy clouds just below the summits, following the line of the hills. Often there is a narrow, low, flat plain immediately between the mountains and the sea, where people have settled and there are older settlements from more dangerous times in fortified towns built on top of the hills. When we arrived at Castellmarre there were no other yachts there but lots of small motorboats. No one was around so we tied up to one of the very wobbly pontoons, which were heavily streaked with gull guano. A hunt round the marina did not produce any water, which we were in need of, having lost a lot when a pipe came loose under the cabin sole.

Dave from 'Wight Egret' is a great companion to have around because of his joyful and positive appreciation of everything new. His enthusiasm makes you lift your eyes from the guano streaked pontoons and see the rosy light of the setting sun tinting the backdrop of mountains and the beauty of the Arabic looking town with its blocky houses built up the hill looking enchanting as the lights came on. We sat in the cockpit during the evening enjoying a drink and the view and the silky air.

Next day the marina manager arrived and told us we shouldn't be here and had to move on as the marina was currently closed for major works. We checked the pilot book for the next marina with water and electricity on the quays, and came up with Villa Igiea, or Aquasante, close to Palermo. This is a large marina filled with gin palaces, owned by men in dark suits and wearing dark glasses, always on mobile phones and accompanied by young dolly birds. We were shown to a tight corner with little room to manoeuvre, only to discover that the charge for one night was 99 euros including 10 euros for electricity and 15 for water! The mafia is obviously alive and well here. The showers were in two scruffy portacabins!

Needless to say, we moved on again next day feeling in need of a few days r and r after several days of moving, including the long hop from Sardinia to Sicily. There are no secure anchorages along this part of the coast so we went to the next marina at San Nicolo l'Arena, sailing all the way for once. San Nicolo l'Arena turned out to be a clean, well-found marina in a pleasant green bay although no showers. Mike was annoyed to be charged the same as 'Wight Egret' (a Moody 376 - 11.5 metres) - 50 euros - rather than the 40 euros for our 10 metres, on the grounds that "it would be unfair to charge you differently as you are together". However, the boss man did charge us both at the lower rate the next night.

Thursday 2nd June - San Nicolo to Cefalu.

A windless day so we had to motor to Cefalu over a flat sea and under a heavy sky with occasional spots of rain.

Cefalu is halfway along the north coast of Sicily and is very attractive. The old town, built right on the shoreline has three and four storey houses all huddled together under a splendid Norman cathedral, and above that looms a huge and spectacular cake shaped rock, with a crest of fir trees on top. The streets are narrow and crammed with tourists on weekends and holidays and driving in the town must be a nightmare. Mike and I queued in a tiny butcher's shop full of chattering local ladies. As each one came in there were warm welcomes and kisses all round. It took a long time to get our meat but it was obviously a social occasion for the locals.

The marina is in a busy little harbour, round the point from the town and is nice and laid back with friendly ormegiattori - and very reasonable at 25 euros a night. Early one morning Mike dragged me, somewhat unwillingly, up the steep track to the fort on the top of the hill. Afterwards we stocked up in one of the many little Alimentari in the village, 15 minutes walk away. In the evening we barbecued sardines that Dave had been given by the local fishermen. He joined the queue for freebies with all the locals at 8.00 in the morning, was given half a bucketful, and though he tried to pay, found they would not accept any money. The sardines appear to be running plentifully at present and are delicious.

We are now looking for somewhere to leave the boat for July and August when it gets too hot for us here. In May we had put an e-mail out on the Cruising Association website asking for advice on suitable places and several people recommended Vibo Valentia on the top of the toe of Italy. We got in touch by phone and are now booked in from mid June until the end of August for less than half the price we paid in southern Spain last summer - so that is one worry out of the way.

5th June - Cefalu to Cabo d'Orlando

We had a long slow motor sail along the coast, stopping at Sante Agata di Militello which our pilot book said was under development, but only one of the breakwaters has been extended and there are still no facilities for visiting yachts so we carried on to Cabo d'Orlando which proved to be better than the pilot book suggested with a long, almost empty pontoon in deep (3m) water. It is however three kilometers walk to the town which is more than I can face in this heat. Also I had had a problem with a very swollen left leg - cause unknown. We caught up with the laundry and then lazed in the cockpit under our bimini during the heat of the next day, and wandered over to a rather unkempt grey sand beach for a snorkel in the late afternoon. The water is now a lovely temperature, but the beaches we have seen on Sicily are mostly unattractive grey sand or shingle.

7th June - Cabo Orlando to Milazzo

Probably because Mike had had a very heavy night on the red wine, we motor sailed again to Milazzo over a very rolly sea. Milazzo is an industrial port with a lot of tall chimneys and cranes and a number of huge ferries. It lies at the southern end of a 7 kilometre, very narrow, spit of land sticking out to the north. The Marina di Nettuno is tucked up at the inner end of the port near to the old town, which has a very well preserved castle and cathedral on the top of a hill. The ormeggiattori who eventually greeted us, reluctantly said we could stay two days but in the end we stayed for four as the weather became cloudy with strong winds. The marina is next to a ferry dock and the noise from their generators is pretty bad. There is also considerable wash and the boats moored alongside on the outside of the pontoon rolled badly. We were OK bows to on the inside. The Aeolian group of volcanic islands, Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea and Stromboli, lie to the north of Milazzo and we had planned to visit them, but the combination of my bad leg, the deterioration in the weather, and the fact that Mike found we had a leaking water pump seal when he serviced the engine, meant that in the end we missed them and headed straight for mainland Italy.

11th June - Milazzo to Tropea

We said a sad goodbye to Bev and Dave as they have family visiting for a week and are continuing to cruise Sicily. We motor sailed toward Tropea on mainland Italy, once again over a flat sea, passing Stromboli, with its permanent halo of smoke from the active volcano. Despite the constant sunshine it was pretty cool and we had jackets on most of the way. Tropea is a magnificent old city, perched on a large outcrop of rock, where the tall, pastel coloured houses, three, four or five stories high, seem to grow from the rock and all lean on to each other for support. It is a tourist town with a couple of nice beaches with a gritty golden sand and lots of sunshades and rather a lot of litter. Tropea town, up 198 steps from the marina, has the usual narrow streets and leafy squares with lots of cafes and tourist shops - but is very pretty indeed. The marina is backed by lush green hills and is new and well cared for with splendid showers, electricity and water on the pontoons and, oh joy, the first washing machine in two months, and at only 20 euros a night, it is very cheap for this area. We stayed three perfect nights and managed to visit an internet café and book cheap flights home on a Thompson's flight from Naples for Thursday night.

14th June - Tropea to Vibo Valentia

We arrived in our summer resting place at 11.15 am. The marina "Stella del Sud" is run by an Italian/Canadian couple and everyone seems very friendly and helpful. For once no one is on the make. A beer and fruit juice in their little bar cost 2.50 euros with a plate of nibbles thrown in and there is no charge for using the washing machine.

We spent two days putting the boat to bed and then made the 3 hour train journey to Naples on Thursday from where we flew home.

Friday 2nd September.

Today we had our worst journey yet back to the boat from UK. A 5 am start to get an 8 am flight, which was then delayed for two hours because the crew had not had sufficient hours rest. When we got to Naples, baggage took ages and then the fast train to Vibo was fully booked so we had to catch the slow one which took four and a half hours instead of three and was itself 45 minutes late, dirty and rattley - just like home in fact. We took a taxi from the station, and 10 minutes later, were charged 25 euros by a driver, who then shook hands vigorously with both of us, with a beaming smile, pretending to be a nice man instead of a crook. However 'Sundancer' looked fine and at least we had arrived. The weather is pretty sultry with little wind so all work has to be done in the early morning and evening.

Mike successfully extracted the sea-water pump from the engine and replaced the seal, we provisioned up and were ready to go.

We had a delicious meal out at L'Approdo restaurant and then moved on next day to Tropea. We lay around in the heavy heat in Tropea for a couple of days with Mike worrying that the engine hadn't felt or sounded quite right on the way down. We had planned to leave on Thursday 8th to catch the tide going through the Messina Straits past Scilla and Charybdis of old. However Mike decided that we had better haul the boat out instead and see if we could find what was wrong. In fact the prop was covered with molluscs and weed growth, though the rest of the antifouling was perfectly clean - pity we can't remember what brand we used this year. The yard cleaned the prop and Mike couldn't see anything else amiss so they dropped us back in the water, reassured if somewhat poorer. Tomorrow will tell if the problem is fixed. (It wasn't. See later leaving from Levkas)

Heikell's pilot book, is somewhat ambivalent about the Messina Straits. At one point he says there is nothing to worry about and then goes on to talk about whirlpools, eddies and strong downdraughts from the high cliffs each side of the narrow entrance. He recommends that you catch the south going current by going through at high water Gibraltar plus 4½ hours to HW minus 1¾ hours to avoid the whirlpools and wind over tide situations which give rough water. Mike checked three web sites before leaving home and got three different answers to high water times! Also the winds are all southerly at present so avoiding wind over tide is difficult. We had thought of going over to Sicily to see Etna and hire a car for a day or two but decided against it. For one thing it is still too hot for sightseeing, and another, we have several long day trips ahead. We prefer to arrive at new places in daylight and the days are rapidly getting shorter. We will press on to Greece asap.

10th September - Tropea to Reggio Calabria - 7 ¾ hours.

Presumably Mike got the timing right as we went through the Straits with a small amount of tide in the right direction. We did see some choppy water at one point but no whirlpools. The most difficult bit was dodging all the ferries, which ply across the Straits to Sicily. The visibility was fairly poor and as usual we motor sailed all the way to Reggio Calabria - a town that was last destroyed by an earthquake in 1980. The small marina here was full but the ormeggiatori directed us over to the west harbour wall. It was pretty bouncy here as the ferries went past and some locals in a small fishing boat arrived at about 6 pm and politely asked us to move out of their usual mooring place. With help from them, the locals fishing on the quay and three mooring ropes knotted together to reach a bollard we eventually managed to find a place where we weren't too much in the way, though a young boy did keep getting his fishing line tangled in our rigging.

11th September - Reggio Calabria to Roccella Ionica. 11 ¼ hours

We moved on at 6 next morning - helped off by four passing Italians. We did 7 knots with the tide down the remainder of the Straits and managed a brief period without engine, but because of the distance had to keep it on most of the way. One large dolphin paid us a brief visit in the morning.

It was a lovely sunny day and a much more pleasant temperature on the water than on land. With our self-steering doing the work, we read, did a crossword, admired the mountainous backdrop, sunbathed and practiced Greek. Our pilot says that Rocella Ionica is subject to silting and advises heading for the shore 'between the wreck and the groin' then curving right to the entrance. Someone (possibly the dredger man) had put lots of flat red buoys around the suggested route, which confused us. I couldn't raise anyone on the VHF so we circled around for about 15 minutes and eventually were relieved to see a largish yacht making its way out of the harbour and showing us the way in. The marina is spacious, with finger pontoons and a lot of small boats. It has a little restaurant and shower block, lots of hard-standing for boats, and a hotel complex but it does not seem to have ever got properly off the ground. There are no marina staff to take any money or help you in. There is water on the pontoons but no electricity. The buildings are already disfigured by large circles of damp, the hotel seems deserted and piles of litter lie neglected in the corners of the huge car park. It seemed a sad sort of place. We biked into town next day along a long sea front promenade, past men dismantling the sunshades and the changing huts on the gritty grey sand. The season is well and truly over already. In the evening we went on board a French yacht going the other way to exchange news of places to go and places to avoid.

13th September - Rocella Ionica to Crotone 11 hours.

We again left at first light and the day was overcast, with rain for about an hour in the afternoon. There was little to look at as we were crossing the large, deep Golf of Squillace most of the time. We were into wind all the way, but it was pretty light and only about two hours were slow and lumpy. Crotone used to be a big centre of culture and has a castle with a great collection of armour and rifles. However, it looks pretty poor now with lots of cheap looking blocks of flats. We moored at the north end of the Porto Turistico where a friendly man put our 25 euros in his back pocket with no receipt. It was quiet and comfortable. There are lots of small fishing boats moored down the western edge and several well-stocked fish shops we shall visit before we leave. The young couple on the next boat, who turned out to be friends of Bev and Dave of 'Wight Egret', said they were leaving for Corfu next day, avoiding the poorer forecasts for weather at the end of the week, but we needed diesel, camping gas, provisions and a rest, so we decided to stay and wait for the next weather window. When we caught up with them later we discovered they had a pretty terrifying crossing with huge waves and strong winds.

17th and 18th September - Crotone to Gouvia, Corfu 29hours 20 minutes.

We stayed 4 days in Crotone waiting for the right weather for the long passage to Corfu. Our options were to do two hops of 73 miles and 90 miles via Santa Maria de Leuca on the heel of Italy, or do an over-night sail direct. The two hops could be done mainly in daylight but with very early morning starts. For the direct trip we could start at 9 am and possibly anchor for a break 24 hours later at Erikousa Island off the northern approaches to Corfu.

We chose the latter and set off at 8.30 am with a near perfect forecast of West or South-West winds of Force 3 according to Navtex or less according to our other source 'Liberty International'. Of course neither of these were right and an hour out we were motor sailing, punching into a lumpy sea with winds in the East or North-East, on the nose again! Eventually we had to tack even under power to keep up a reasonable speed and Mike was considering giving up and heading back to Ciro. By 1.30 pm we had done only 19 miles but then the sea started to calm down and the wind began to veer. We set the genoa for a while but then the wind dropped and we were back to mainsail and engine.

Late in the afternoon two large container ships passed close by bound for Italy and we were visited by the occasional dolphin. We ate spaghetti bolognaise about 7 pm and decided on a routine of 3 hour night watches, with me taking the 2000 to 2300 and 0200 to 0500 and Mike doing 1800 to 2000, 2300 to 0200 and 0500 to 0800. By the time Mike came up for his 2300 watch the wind had gone south and was blowing about Force 4 and we set all sail and turned the engine off. Oh what bliss! I was able to take my off-watch sleeping in the comfort of the aft cabin with no engine noise. When I came back on deck at 2 0am Mike had put 2 reefs in the main and rolled away half of the genoa and we were still doing 7 knots. We had more than made up for the slow and uncomfortable start and at about 4.30 am I had to get Mike up as I could see we were approaching the islands north of Corfu. It was still dark and so too early to put into Erikoussa and since its anchorage was also open to the south with a swell rolling in, we decided to continue to Gouvia marina in Corfu, still some 35 miles on.

At 7.30 in the morning, after a beautiful sunrise, the wind suddenly dropped and we stowed all sail and put the engine back on. It was then that Mike heard a cracking sound from the gooseneck and discovered the hinge pin had dropped out. We must lead a charmed life. Heaven knows what would have happened if that had occurred an hour or two earlier when we were under full sail. Mike made a temporary repair with a couple of large bolts and luckily found the pin still lying on deck.

We gave Albania a nervous wave and rounded the North-East corner of Corfu island passing inside Nisis Peristerai and keeping well clear of the rocks off Ifalos Serpa. About 10 am the wind got up again and, back to normal, was on the nose making it a long drag to Gouvia, about 3 miles north-west of Corfu town, where we arrived at ten minutes before 2 pm on Sunday 18th September.

WE ARE IN GREECE!

We were met by harbour staff in the approaches and guided to a berth where they helped us make fast. Mike completed the entry formalities and we managed to get some sleep before going out at what we thought to be a terribly early time in the evening to try and get a meal. Surprisingly, there were already several tables occupied in the marina restaurant, which made Mike suddenly realize that Greece is an hour ahead of Italy (2 hours ahead of UK time) and our watches were all an hour slow. We had an excellent meal and then crashed out for 12 hours sleep.

19 September - Gouvia

Corfu is very green with more rain than anywhere else in Greece, but just a few miles across the strait the bleak and barren hills of Albania roll on for miles. Gouvia is a large, rather soulless marina with a good swimming pool and supermarket. It does have a very good restaurant where we ate a couple of excellent meals including the most tender grilled octopus we have ever eaten. We spent a day in Corfu Town which is busy and filled with lots of touristy shops with mainly Brits and Germans spending money in them. It has some very elegant buildings and a large fort on the promontory, which was initially built by the Venetians in the period when they took over Corfu. We can now order 12 slices of salami, ask if there is any bread and request the bill at the end of the meal in Greek, but it is really quite unnecessary since even the young girls in the supermarkets speak excellent English. We planned to stay three nights and then move on but a heavy downpour on the third night revealed a leaking window so we stayed another day for Mike to reseal it. Mike also had to put the heads' holding tanks into service for the first time and a plastic lever, which probably had not been moved in years, broke off in his hand. More repairs - how fortunate he is so handy! Then more thunderstorms were forecast and Mike also decided that he would prefer to leave 'Sundancer' in Gouvia, rather than Levkas for the winter and needed to make the arrangements so it was Saturday 24th before we were all set to move on but when Mike turned the engine key nothing happened. The engine battery was dead so he had to buy and install a new one.

Sunday 25th to 26th September- Gouvia to Igoumenitsa Creek, Mourtos and Lakka.

Having arranged to leave the boat in Gouvia for the winter we plan to spend the rest of September and October exploring this area of the Ionian. On Sunday, the weather was sunny and calm - the engine started with no problem and at last we were on the move again, across to the mainland. The anchorage we chose in Igoumentisa Creek was very sheltered, quiet and surrounded by low green hills. Next day we moved on to Lakka, anchoring for coffee at Mourtos en route. Lakka is a lovely, green bay at the northern end of Paxos Island and a popular tourist venue. It is very rolly when the north winds are blowing and full of charter boats in the summer but we spent a peaceful night there and snorkled in the turquoise water.

Tuesday 27th September - Lakka to Levkas.

We then moved on to Levkas marina with fairly calm seas and blue sky and a good helping wind for the second half of the journey. The island of Levkas is separated from the mainland by shallow salt flats and a canal has been dredged through these for small boat navigation. There is a road bridge across the canal at the northern end which has a lifting portion to allow boats through but it can also rotate forming a much wider passage. The bridge opens only on the hour and we just managed to make the opening in time and processed into the canal at the end of a line of about 10 other boats. The entrance is now very much silted, so much so that an extra navigation light has been placed on the end of the new sand spit which is now a considerable distance away from the original light which we found most confusing. Most of the boats we followed in were going into the marina so we had to join the queue for help from the marina staff to moor up. It is a big marina, close to the town but we think we have made the right decision to stay in Gouvia for the winter as it is more sheltered and the charter flights home finish a bit later than from Levkas.

Thursday 29th September - Lakka to Vlikho.

Mike's birthday! We set off at 9.00 down the canal, passing through the saltwater lake with lots of herons and egrets, and motored down to Vlikho. As we went into the bay Bev and Dave from 'Wight Egret' were coming out on their way south and stopped to say hello. We said we would carry on after lunch to join them, but the anchorage was so pretty we decided to stay. Vlikho is a deep bay, almost landlocked, with two anchorages, the second one being very wide. The bottom is a thick black mud - excellent holding but the devil to get off your anchor when you pull it up. The town of Nidri, which is a yacht charter centre, lies just inside the bay. It is a lovely bay, surrounded by hills covered in olive trees and the tall, cylindrical pines, which are common here, with several tavernas and quite tasteful holiday homes around the edge. We rowed across to one of the tavernas for a birthday meal, and dined under a fig tree, looking over the bay to the lights of the village on the opposite side, eating stuffed vine leaves and souflaki - with the inevitable chips of course. We had a really peaceful night but the forecast for the next two days was not good - thunderstorms and strong gusts. The thunderstorms here are really spectacular, and accompanied by very strong gusts of wind of over 50 knots, so we motored back up to the security of Levkas. We were greeted by Pat and Alan from 'Lucky Star' who we met first on the Portuguese coast. We took a bike trip out to Lidls (they get everywhere) to buy some very cheap wine. On the way we passed the local tip where families were searching through the rubbish, accompanied by their young children. They have built shacks out of wood and corrugated iron and old doors on the edge of the tip. On the car park near the marina an elderly couple live in their very small van, cooking on a primus stove and sitting outside on plastic chairs in the day. What contrasts!

Friday 30th September - 9th October Levkas

We made the right decision to come back as there was almost continuous thunder and lighting in the night and a lot of wind. Mike has spent the time designing a stern roller to make it easier to haul in the anchor at the back of the boat. It is all mocked up in cereal packets. Blue Peter would be proud of him. We did some entertaining and were ready to go by the time it stopped raining on 5th October. I am inclined to cry 'I don't believe it' in the best traditions of One Foot in the Grave. The weather was set fair for the next few days and we were all ready to sail down to Cephalonia and meet 'Wight Egret'. We let loose the mooring lines and called goodbye to the neighbours. 50 metres out there was a loud clonking noise from our rear end. We limped back in and Mike had to dive into the harbour water and under the boat to have a look and found that the cutless shaft bearing had given out. We have now negotiated yet another lift out - hopefully later on today and arranged for the local engineers to fix it. Unfortunately it requires the propeller to be removed and Mike doesn't have the requisite puller. Once again we wonder if some kind spirit is looking after us. This could have happened half way between Italy and Corfu.

We were hauled out expensively at 4.30 and spent the night quite comfortably with the boat hanging in the slings. Two men took about three hours next morning, fixing it expensively, though once back in the water Mike wasn't all that happy with the way it sounded so may redo it himself next spring together with the deepwater seal he has been worrying about. (The cutless bearing had disappeared completely. Mike's opinion is that during the stay in Vibo Valentia the seal had seized to the shaft. When we started the seal then sheared from its metal housing and rotated with the shaft. This would explain the squeaking we had been hearing since then. Eventually the seal had then disintegrated.)

Another longer term problem is that we don't really have enough battery power to last long in anchorages so next day we decided to bite the bullet and bought an expensive sun panel and T frame to hold it. We spent two days installing it. Mike decided that with the pole at 6ft 6, a strong wind would tear it and the guard rails off, so cut two feet of the pole. It is now much less vulnerable to wind but very likely to poke out any unwary eye! We may have to rethink the installation at some point. Today (Friday) we were already to set off south again but the forecast for tomorrow is for rain and possibly thunderstorms, so we spent the day sunbathing, the evening socializing, and have hired a car for tomorrow to see a bit of the island. I have come to the conclusion that cruising isn't actually about sailing - it is more about spending the children's inheritance as fast as one can.

We drove back down to Vlikho to which Bev and Dave had returned in 'Wight Egret', picked them up and did a tour of the island, driving up some spectacular mountain roads to a village called Karya, which is famous as a lace making centre. I suspect that many of the things on sale are now imported from the sweat shops of India and China, but there were lots of lovely things to buy. We had a look at some of the wonderful turquoise beaches on the west side of the island. Unfortunately there are no anchorages or safe harbours on this side so we can't visit by boat. Then we drove back through the gentle pine and olive covered hills to the south looking in on a couple of harbours on the way.

9th October - 17th October. Pottering in company with 'Wight Egret'.

We sailed back to Vlikho for another night and then went on with 'Wight Egret' to Spartakhori on Meganisi Island. This is another really pretty little bay. We were helped onto a little quay by the owner of the local taverna 'Spillia' - no charge so we dined in his restaurant in the evening, looking out into the harbour. A kingfisher was catching his dinner on a nearby fishing boat. We walked up to the little village high on the hilltop with some great views over the islands, including one owned by the Onassis heiress, and next day walked round the headland to Little Vathy, another potential destination, picking wild mint on the way.

Next day we started our journey back up to Corfu, spending one more night in Levkas and then going past Preveza into the Gulf of Amvakia on the mainland. This is the area where Antony and Octavian fought out their famous naval battle, with Cleopatra and Antony high tailing it back to Egypt when they saw they were losing. We moored behind a little tree covered island in Vonitsa Bay. For some reason the local village, some 800 yards away has built a causeway of five small arching bridges to the island which are illuminated with green lights at night - very pretty but a little incongruous. We walked through the village, which is obviously a holiday destination, through a grove of eucalyptus trees and eventually wound our way up to the quite well preserved Venetian fortress on the top of the hill.

We moved back to the mouth of the gulf and anchored at Preveza to be ready for the 35 mile journey back up to Gaios on Paxos. Leaving Preveza we said goodbye to Carl and Katina on 'Albannach'. At Gaios you moor to the harbour wall, and for the first time we tried the technique of throwing out the stern anchor as you approach the quay, tying on at the front when you get there. Mike had worked it all our before hand and it all went smoothly. The North quay is well sheltered and we spent a peaceful night, going for a long walk to the little harbour of Mongonisi on the southern tip of Paxos next day. We strolled back through the ancient olive trees with which Paxos is covered and saw one very old lady dressed in the usual black, bent double, laying out nets under one of her olive trees, ready to shake down the ripe olives. We were told that Harrods gets all its olive oil from Paxos, and it is the best you can buy. Small bottles are very expensive in the souvenier shops.

After two days we moved on to Mourtos, a little village on the mainland. There is a small harbour here but there was little space, so we headed for the town quay, in between the charter boats. Mike threw the stern anchor off again, but unfortunately the large knot joining two heavy lengths of anchor rope caught on its way out and brought 'Sundancer' to a premature halt. When Mike freed it, it ran out really fast and the large knot slammed painfully into his wrist. We tied up to the quay and I scrounged some ice from a local taverna, which he applied to his arm. We were worried that he might have broken something. A charter boat going out managed to get stuck on our anchor rope but freed itself without pulling our anchor up. Eventually Mike decided that the quay was not the place to be because there was quite a swell rolling in and an onshore wind was getting up, so he bravely pulled up the anchor again and we went into the little harbour where we went alongside 'Wight Egret' who had managed to find a place alongside the wall (narrowly missing a small ledge about 4 feet down at water level). From about 9 pm a real swell started to come into our corner and for a while we rolled madly from side to side. Fortunately it stopped at about 1 in the morning so we were able to get some sleep.

Next day Mike's arm was very painful, so we decided to head back to Gouvia marina with the possibility of getting some medical advice. The wind looked right for sailing so I hauled up the main and then hauled out the genoa - I haven't done this for at least three years. Then the wind went onto the nose as usual so I hauled them back down again. Not amused! Back in the marina we phoned the emergency medical line for the marina medical services. An apparently teen-aged female doctor came out from Corfu to look at his wrist. She said that she didn't think it was broken but could not be sure, bandaged it up, handed over some anti-inflammatories and a bill for 50 euros. She recommended that if it wasn't any better by lunch time next day he should get it x-rayed.

Tuesday 18th - Wednesday 19th October. Gouvia Marina, Corfu.

Mike's arm was slightly better, though still painful, so we kept our fingers crossed and carried on with the business of putting the boat to bed for the winter. We are due to haul out on Friday and fly home on Monday 24th.

This session started with a lot of long journeys round the foot of Italy and over to Corfu. We then had several irritating and expensive delays in the middle, but we have finished off with some fantastic days exploring the beautiful Ionian Islands in the sunshine. Hopefully next year, since we feel we have 'arrived', we will be able to enjoy some lazy weeks simply exploring more of the many lovely anchorages and little harbours on Meganisi, Ithaca, Cephalonia and Zakinthos - definitely names with a ring of magic to them.

Pauline and Mike Nixon

Sundancer

Gouvia Marina, Corfu

19th October 2005.

PS. As soon as we were home Mike, still in a lot of pain, visited our GP who also thought that the damage to his arm was 'soft tissue'. Two more weeks passed before, as a result of Mike continuing to complain, an x-ray was taken and sure enough, showed it was indeed broken!