Sunday 1 August to Sunday 15 August 1999 - Malta to Isolotto Mal di ventre
Sunday August 1
Crew : Jonathan, Caroline, Sarah and Hannah Calascione. John, Emma, Thomas and Julia Ripard.We set off just after midday, as planned, on Sunday 1 August. The Big Red Battle flag, a Cross of Saint John, was rigged in the fore-triangle, and as we cast off bow and stern, it stirred into life and fluttered proudly in the breeze. We waved goodbye to the friends and family who had come to see us go, and turned seaward. We would see many of them again on the way. Andrew (my brother) and Daniel (his son, 12) and Charlie Vella will join us in the Canaries for the Atlantic Crossing. Mum and Dad will join us in Antigua, Kurt and Clare from Panama to the Galapagos, and the Lightfeet in the South Pacific. Andy followed us out in the RIB and took some photos. The breeze smiled on us; it filled in from behind, and as we turned North out of Marsamxett harbour, we were able to set our cruising chute and storm up the North coast of Malta at 7.5 knots. A spectacular start. A number of people have been very instrumental in getting us away on time and in good shape. Charlie Vella of Yacht Services has been the number one Action Man, and has done a heroic job of working through a very extensive "To Do" list. Other people making a significant contribution were Joe Farrugia, Patrick Genovese, Christian Ripard, Philip Galea Souchet, Ron and Antoine of Medcomms, and Michael Cachia. Johns' PA Marthy has done an amazing job of steering through the bureaucracy, clearing stuff through customs and getting the ships papers sorted out. Thanks very much to all of you We stopped for tea and a swim in Gozo, alongside John Ripard senior’s yacht, "Illusion". We had planned to sail overnight to Linosa, a small Italian island 68 miles to the West. Unfortunately Sarah hurt her finger quite badly, trapping it in the forehatch on "Illusion" whilst messing about with all her cousins. We whisked her off to the local hospital for some stitches and an X-ray. All was well, but the doc said we should check in again next day, so we delayed departure, and spent the night in Gozo.
Monday August 2
After Sarah’s check up, we spent a lazy day stowing things quietly and preparing for a night sail. Linosa is a small circular volcanic island that offers no guaranteed overnight protection, so we need to arrive at first light to be sure of a full day of exploring. We set off from Gozo at 10 pm after a meal ashore at the Parklin. Its great to be sailing at night again. There is a particularly intense form of excitement, tinged with a hint of fear, that comes with making passage at night. I guess it is because the senses are all straining at full stretch to use sounds, lights, shapes and even the yachts movement, to help you stay oriented. Your imagination has to replace your eyesight and create a composite picture of what is happening. It’s a clear night, and the stars are bright – our roof for the next year.
Tuesday August 3
Linosa looms out of the morning haze, which quickly burns off to leave a lovely clear sunny day. We drop anchor and dinghy ashore. "Lazy Duck" looks perfect, lying quietly at anchor dwarfed by the main volcanic peak which comes straight up out of the water and rises directly to 700 feet. Linosa has a population of 300 and is supported almost entirely by tourism in the summer. It is fairly sparse, but a peaceful contrast to the bustle of Malta which is bursting at the seams with people, particularly at this time of year. We set off in search of a restaurant called "Errera", which John had researched in his favourite book, "Osterie d’Italia". John is an expert at sniffing out the best places to eat wherever he goes, and it is clear that our route to the Balearics via Sardinia has been planned with some truly epic meals in mind. The first person we stop to ask directions becomes John’s New Best Friend, and quickly offers to take us to there, where we are treated to some excellent grilled swordfish and calamari. Two hours later we get back to the dinghy, where John’s NBF is standing guard over it. He tells us he has shooed away some inquisitive local kids who were fiddling with the outboard. He wishes us luck and waves goodbye to us rather sadly as we motor back to the Duck. We spend the afternoon at anchor doing various jobs around the boat, snorkelling, and checking e-mail. We have had some brilliant messages from friends all over the place. Sarah and Hannah have had many from their school friends. Many of them, organised by Sarah Watson, have formed a club called the Voyagers club, specifically to communicate weekly with the girls once term starts at Newton Prep. E-mail is a great way to be in touch, and with the satellite phone we are not reliant on being in an area with GSM coverage. The download times are a bit slow at 2400 bps, but as long as no-one sends attachments it is perfectly good enough. Patrick Genovese showed us how to reduce the file size of digital images taken with the Nikon Coolpix down to around 15-20K, so we are able to send them very quickly. Wednesday Aug 4 Slipped anchor after breakfast and set course for Marsala on the Western tip of Sicily. We motor for a couple of hours, then the wind piped up from astern, and so we are currently flying downwind at seven knots. We plan to sail through the night to arrive in Marsala early in the morning for a rendezvous with the Italian engineer who made our on-board water-maker. This is a reverse-osmosis device that converts seawater to drinking water. We want to speak to him about how best to maintain it, and also fix a fault with it. I will write up another log entry on Friday.
Thursday 4 August
We arrived in Marsala shortly after dawn, after a peaceful overnight sail, punctuated by the occasional change of course as we slalomed through the many ships heading through the main shipping lane, which narrows at this point as the ships criss-cross the Mediterranean. The one moment of excitement happened when Caroline and I were on watch just before dawn. A Marsalan fishing boat which we had been watching behaving rather oddly about a mile away, suddenly stopped what he was doing and came towards us, lights flashing. He yelled something, which was difficult to understand, but he was clearly warning us of something. I checked the charts and could not find anything obvious. After a quick conference with John we established that he was probably shouting "Attento! Tonnara!". The tuna fishermen lay nets over three miles long suspended from steel hawsers that lie just below the surface. They start from a few metres offshore and run straight out to sea, and are rather poorly marked. Their presence is occasionally mentioned in the pilot books, but their exact position depends on where the wind is blowing. Our friend was obviously concerned we were about to get stopped in our tracks, ruining his nets in the process. We kept a close eye out for markers, but survived the remaining four miles intact. Once in, we met up with our watermaker man, learnt more about Reverse Osmosis than we ever really wanted to know, and settled down for a quiet evening in the port of Marsala. Tomorrow we set off for Marettimo, a Sicilian island which is part of the Egadi group. From there we will make the hop across to Villasimius, about 130 miles away on the Southern tip of Sardinia.
Friday 6 August
Set off after fuelling up at the Diesel station. The station proprietor got rather upset and defensive when we pulled out a large Pre-filter funnel and proceeded to fill the tanks through this. There was a lot of arm-waving and profuse reassurance that his was the best diesel in the Mediterranean, etc etc. I was unmoved however. Dirty diesel is the scourge of seagoing engines, and having been caught once I am determined to do everything possible never to let it happen again. We told him that we trusted him, but that we just wanted to be sure. He insisted that we inspect the filter mesh at the end and had a look of triumph on his face when It was perfectly clean. I guess in a fishing port like that, his life and his family would be in danger if he were to sell dirty diesel to all the fishermen! We stopped for lunch at Marettimo, an island off the Sicilian coast. Very peaceful anchorage, and we are strangely alone in this gorgeous setting. I guess the crowds in their speedboats will come from Marsala tomorrow. By that time we will be safely at sea, on our way to Sardinia.
Saturday 7 August
We sailed overnight after leaving Marettimo at tea-time. We are lucky to have wind behind us all the way, and so we make a very fast passage under sail; 7 knots most of the way. This passage is the first real opportunity to blood our wind-vane self-steering gear. It is, believe it or not, called a Monitor vane, and is, rather appropriately, the best gear in the business. Ours is called Max, short for Maximum Relaxation, and he performs perfectly all night. We just point the vane into the breeze, adjust the spectra connection lines to the wheel, and the servo-assisted paddle does the rest. And all this without using any power. A bargain. We arrive in Villasimius on the South-East tip of Sardinia at about tea-time. It is a chic resort, although not quite Costa Smeralda. Lots of people on holiday, buzzing up and down the hilly country roads on Vespas and Lambrettas.
Sunday 8 August
Sailed round the corner to stunningly pretty "Cala", dropped an anchor, and just chilled out all day, returning to Villasimius at night.
Monday 9 August
Give the boat a really good wash in the morning, as we got hit by a Scirocco briefly in Marsala, which brought with it a lot of desert sand, which is still in evidence. The kids are each apportioned a section, and set to work, spurred on by various complicated payment incentives. Opposite us on the pontoon there is a huge expensive Italian yacht called "Out of the Blue" with a very friendly Italian owner, his wife and three kids, same age as ours. They have three smart professional crew, all in white uniforms, and a bubbly New Zealand au-pair called Pips. The kids were rather coy with each other to start with, but the arrival of a crew member with a huge fish (amberjack I think) which he proceeded to gut and clean on the pontoon soon broke the ice. The childrens' eyes were out on stalks, as they watched this guy hack away, blood flying everywhere, creating some delicious looking steaks to be grilled later. It turns out that they are also heading up the West coast of Sardinia, so we have exchanged e-mail, agreed a channel on which to be in contact, and will meet up for a drink later on in the cruise John has hired a car, driven to Cagliari, and flown to Rome to pick up and bring back his son, Sebastian (13), who has travelled there from Greece, where he was competing in the Optimist European Championships. The Optimist is a 10 foot sailing dinghy, and offers some very hot competitive racing for kids all over the World. Sebastian did pretty well for his first outing, finishing just below half way in a big fleet of 190 boats and we are looking forward to having such a race-sharp additional crew on board.
Tuesday 10 August
Sailed from Villasimius across the Golfo di Cagliari to Capo Malfatano. This is a quiet anchorage with only a few other boats in a vast expanse of a bay. In the evening we decide to baptise the barbecue that John Ripard Senior gave us on the night we left. It is a very clever little stainless steel number that fits neatly on the stern. Supper is soon sizzling away, and we decide it is a huge success. No heat down below, no gas used, and very easy to use. The next stage is to catch our own supper with the rod that lives next door to it on the stern.
Wednesday 11 August - At anchor in Porto Zafferano on the Southern coast of Sardinia. Lat : 38deg 53' North, Lon : 8 deg 39' East
Spend the day at anchor in the bay. It is the day of the eclipse. I went running in the nearby hills during the eclipse time. The sky noticeably darkened, and the colours of the Sardinian hills were much richer and darker during this time. Sarah, Tommy and Sebastian are allowed to take off with the dinghy and outboard for a ‘splore in the bay, armed with the VHF radio, so they can stay in touch with mission control if anything goes wrong. Good news to have a few good waterproof radios on board. I spoke to Nico Goulet, a colleague from Monitor who will be in Mallorca, his home, while we are there. We have agreed to meet up and do some sailing together in a couple of weeks. It will be great to be guided on the island by a local…. After an afternoon doing jobs around the boat, we set off in a very stiff 30 knot breeze, which is on the nose ie blowing straight from the direction we want to go in. We decided to try out our newly cut storm staysail. It works brilliantly, and we have a very safe, but somewhat bouncy ride to Porto Zafferano, another well-sheltered anchorage just along the coast. We arrive just before last light, bed the anchor well as it is blowing a full Mistral now, and settle down for another night at anchor and the Boys Revenge at the bridge table.
Thursday 12 August
Woke up to a beautiful anchorage. Set off rather too late for Carloforte – we were reluctant to leave the lovely Porto Zafferano – and had a long beat into the Northwesterly wind, which increases all the way. We arrive at Carloforte just after last light. Lazy Duck has done very well, pounding into the wind without faltering, under storm staysail, a small bit of the main jib, and two reefs in the mainsail. It is quite dry down below, considering the waves coming over the deck. Well done Christian and Michael who did the waterproofing job.
Friday 13 August
Carloforte is a classic small Sardinian fishing port, with a palm tree lined promenade, and two outstanding Tuna restaurants that JJ has homed in on. We meet up with our friends on "Out of the Blue", the lovely Farr 70, with its sister ship, a slightly smaller but equally stylish Farr called "Good Shot". Sergio and Luisa Loro Piana kindly invited us for drinks on board, and the kids have a great evening messing about on the foredeck (See Sarah's log) . We say goodbye and wish them well as they are setting off back downwind to Porto Zafferano.
Saturday 14 August
Day doing jobs in Carloforte. Pull the two Blakes heads (loos) to pieces and give them a good clean. They work much better now. Caroline makes a cover for the 4hp outboard, which sits on the pushpit when we are under way. The rubber dinghy is officially christened "Lazy Duckling" and gets a smart new name on the side. The new oars get fitted. Lots of correspondence caught up.
Sunday 15 August - At anchor in Isolotto Mal di ventre, half way up the West coast of Sardinia Lat : 39deg 59.14 North, Lon: 8deg 18.43 East
We slip at dawn (6 am) as we have a long way to go. I love leaving at this time. After all the hubbub the night before, the pontoon full of yachts is absolutely silent as people are snoozing down below. We ease out of our mooring silently. The only sound is the engine at low revs. As we head out of the harbour and turn North the colours are warm and enveloping, and the early morning cup of tea at the helm tastes delicious. John and I tried out the new sextant that Caroline gave me for my birthday. It works well, and we soon have a reasonable position line. I have always wanted to learn to navigate by the sun and the stars properly. I have played at it before, but this trip provides an opportunity to develop a much deeper understanding of how astro-navigation works. It is incredible that the principles of this science have been around for over 500 years. Its people like Henry the navigator, the Portuguese Prince who spurred on his people to develop maps, explore widely, and discover new worlds that are so impressive. On Lazy Duck we have more than one GPS, so we can find out where we are at any time at the touch of a button. Dead easy in comparison. We want to keep the astro-nav going all the way to Australia however, mainly for the pleasure of learning, but also as a back-up in case the batteries run out! Now we are at anchor in Isolotto Mal di ventre, a tiny islet halfway up the West coast of Sardinia. There are quite a few bonfires on the beach, as it is the time of the Santa Maria festival and, just as in Malta, people, especially the teens and twenties, take to their boats and camp out on the nearest beach. Its bad news being a Sardinian pig at this time of year, as the "Porchetta", i.e. roast suckling pig is what most of those fires are cooking. John obliges with our own version on the little baby BBQ on the stern rail. Tomorrow we will set sail for Alghero, the first decent sized town we will visit on the trip.