Friday, March 28, 2014

Special Introductory Discount for my book:

A Warm Sea - Dreaming of Sailing and Making It Happen:
Tales of our cruising life in the Mediterranean  is available as an ebook through Smashwords:

Special price $2.99, vs regular price $6.99. Please use promotion code EG63X. Offer valid until April 15, 2014. I would appreciate your feedback comments, please provide them at Smashwords' website.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Book: A Warm Sea

Please check out my book, A Warm Sea. In it you will find the full story of our cruising adventures. You will find more interesting stories, better pictures, and more details on sail handling. I hope you will enjoy it.

For a sample of the book and ordering, please visit:

Book Summary:
This is the whimsical story of a couple who decided to leave their comfortable suburban life in Canada and embark on a journey of exploration and self-discovery by living on board their sailboat and cruising the Mediterranean. More of a travelogue than a sailing how-to, this book takes the readers through the joys and challenges of the cruising life. Starting with how they became attracted to sailing in their hometown in southern Ontario, through how they acquired the sailing skills and competencies for sailing in open waters, selecting a suitable boat, and sailing to and visiting exotic countries throughout the Mediterranean, the book is written with poise and humor. It is about life under the perpetual blue sky, on the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the fascinating and varied cultures and histories from the Middle East to the Tuscan Islands, the warm and friendly people they met, the challenges of the boating life, and the irresistible cuisines. The book contains enough details on sailing to whet the appetite of the readers who are sailors, while introducing the world of boat handling to non-sailors without getting technical. For the arm-chair sailors and dreamers, this book vividly illustrates how a couple-next-door pursued and realized their dream. Yes, you can do it too!

Thanks for visiting!
Ben Ho

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Licata Oct. 7, 2012

We finally arrived at Licata Marina, the winter home for our boat this year. Licata is a medium-sized city, off the beaten track and completely not a tourist town. The marina is very big and only two years old. They have an ambitious plan for this marina and someday it is expected to be a mega marina accommodating over 500 boats, with a luxury condo recreation development. But for now it has only two long pontoons with about a hundred boats. So for now it's a bit quiet, but it's a first-classs marina. All the services are in places, with a nice washroom/shower building, Starbucks-grade coffee house, chandery, and a large, modern mall with a well-stocked supermarket is a short walk away. The coffee house is very nice, and not expensive. We've spent many lazy afternoons there

Licata Marina grounds

The coffee shop at the marina. 

Browsing travel magazines at the coffee house

The larger cruising boats are all on one pontoon. It's a very international scene, a mix of French, Belgium, Germans, Americans, Kiwis, and even some Canadians! Everyone is very friendly, and we feel quite at home here. The city is a typical mid-size Sicily town, with a bustling old-town, some old churches, squares where old men sit around. It's not overly attractive, but it's safe and friendly, and there are lots of shops within a short walk that met our daily needs. Ben found a neighborhood barbershop, where one can have a nice Italian haircut for about half the price of that back home in Canada. He likes it short and spiky..

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sept. 30, 2012 Segesta

The Doric Temple at Segesta 

A fully-intact Roman theater with a majestic view of distant mountains

On the day with 35 knots blow, we went to visit the Doric Temple and the Theater, the remains of the ancient city, Segesta.  According to legend, the town was founded by Trojan followers of Aeneas.  Set on the edge of a deep canyon, surrounded by unspoiled rolling green countryside, Segesta presents one of the most spectacular sights in Sicily.  Construction of the temple began between 426 and 416 BC, but due to constant conflict with Selinunte in the south, it was left unfinished-without the typical Doric fluting on the columns and without a roof, following the devastation of Selinunte by the Carthaginians in 409 BC.  Yet, it remains as one of the world’s most perfectly preserved temples.  It was said that, on windy days, its 36 giant columns could act like an organ, producing mysterious notes.  On this particular day, ‘the maestro was not available to conduct’.  Perhaps 35 knots still not considered as windy.  However, when the late afternoon sun set onto the stones and turned the temple into glowing gold, and along with the scent of wild flowers and fennel, it felt magical. And lying across from the temple, close to the summit of Monte Barbaro, the ruins of the ancient theatre (able to accommodate up to 3,200 spectators) and the glorious views from here are the perfect backdrop for summer concerts which only plays in odd-numbered years.  

Sept. 29, 2012 Windy Trapani

We had expected to stay in Trapani for three days for the forecasted southern wind to pass, but the wind kept intensifying. The ‘Scirocco’ blew for five days instead, reaching 40 knots inside the marina. At this south-west corner of Sicily, the sea narrows between Sicily and the African coast of Tunisia, and any southern wind becomes magnified and routinely blows strongly through this narrow gap at gale force. The marina (Vento di Maestral) where Three Rivers is staying is inside the large commercial harbor, and normally it’s reasonably sheltered, except where there’s a strong blow from the south. There’s a fetch of about 1 mile from the southern shore, enough to have significant waves in a strong blow. We didn’t know that; but even if we did, the forecast originally was only for 20 knots.
Wind-whipped spindrifts, stormy day at the marina

This cruise ship required two large tows to get to her berth

During the evening before the forecasted gale, the entire marina staff worked late into the night to help everyone to prepare their boats. We docked our boat bow-to, as we usually do; that would be a problem as now our stern would be exposed to the expected wind and wave. During a lull of the wind, just before dark, with the help of four marina guys, plus one in a dinghy, we and our neighboring boat were turned around in 25 knots of wind so have the bows facing windward. Not a moment too soon – within one hour the wind picked up, spiked at 40 knots. The pontoons in the marina were bouncing up and down, and all the boats in the outer pontoon were rocking like crazy. The air was saturated with sea sprays whipped up by the wind. It was yet another sleepless night!   

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sept. 28, 2012 Western Sicily

The streets of Trapani 

The Palazzo della Giudecca

Trapani, with its narrow peninsular, is the capitol of its eponymous province, the most westerly region in Sicily.  Here, the Arab influence is at its strongest, from couscous to its hybrid architecture and inhabitants.  The narrow network of streets in the old quarter remains a Moorish labyrinth and, as usual, the most attractive buildings are the churches. The Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Chiesa del Collegio dei Gesuiti were both dated back to mid-1600s. 

Trapani is now the base for our stay for the next 5 days while we wait out yet another Scirocco, a strong wind coming from North Africa. The town is oriented around the “train station’.  There is no bus terminal and different bus lines operate from different stops at different locations with no sign to indicate.  The nearby grocery store sells mainly non-perishable products. If you want fruit, produces, meat and/or fish, you need to visit individual vendors. Thankfully, right around the corner near Vento di Maestrale, the marina where we are staying, there is the central fish market, various fruit and produce vendors in their moving vans, the local butcher shop, coffee shop and pastry shop, just to name a few. However, Barcelona it is not.

During our stay, we visited the towns of Erice and Palermo. Erice, founded by the Ancient Elymians, called Aphrodite by the Greeks and then Venus by the Romans, has been called many other names.  It was called Eryx, renamed Gebel-Hamed by the Arabs, Monte San Giuliano under the Normans, and then Erice, in 1934, by Mussolini.

 The mountain village of Erice

The thousand-year old fortress built by King Aragon

The famous pastry and sweets at Erice

Erice, set at the mountaintop, 756M (2,480 ft) from Trapani, was a shrine to Venus, the goddess of love, whose temple was once a famous landmark.  In Greek times, the place was known to mariners.  It is the present site of the Norman castle – Castello di Venere., and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Cap Bon in Tunisia.  On this howling day with wind gusting at 30 knots, we thought we should be able to accomplish that, but the sky looked hazy and instead, we saw a ‘sun dog’, usually indicating bad weather. We still saw lovely views at Giardino del Balio and Castello di Venere, overlooking the rugged turrets and wooded hillsides, and the saltpans of Trapani and the sea.  It was a pleasure to visit this medieval town, with cobbled streets at every twist and turn.  If you have a sweet tooth, you might also want to visit Pasticceria Grammatico, the world famous cafe and pasty shop, where Maria sells frutta di martorana (marzipan fruits), and assortments of biscuits, tarts and other delicacies.

Fontana Pretoria at Palermo, the 'fountain of shame' 

The busy streets of Palermo - Quattro Canti

Il Duomo

Palermo, founded by the Phoenicians and became an important Carthaginian stronghold until the Roman conquered it in 254BC.  Frederick, the Norman ruler, had built many beautiful monuments to his reign.  Later, the Aragons and the Bourbons followed suit and the city was finally liberated by Garibaldi in 1860. 

Nowadays, Palermo is best known for its mafia connection, developed as a result of the cruel State and severe poverty.  By the late 19th century, it had become a criminal organization thriving on property speculation and drug trafficking.  We saw very little mafia activities the day we were there.  The closest was having an afternoon coffee at the Grand Hotel, where in the 1950s, Lucky Luciano-the capo de capi of the Cosa Nostra-notoriously attended a meeting of gangsters. 

Palazzo del Normanni

Cappella Palatina

Having coffee in the Grand Hotel

Mom, let's discover Palermo together

To some, Palermo can be seen as noisy, dirty, and chaotic.  To others, it is a city filled with architecture delight.  Some of the highpoints of our visit were seeing the Palazzo dei Normanii, and the sumptuous interior of the Cappella Palatina, built by Roger II, it blends Byzantine, Islamic and Norman styles, and is lavishly adorned with fine mosaics and marble inlaid with gold.  It was amusing to see the Fontana Pretoria and the story behind how it was dubbed as “the Fountain of Shame” when the nudity of the provocative nymphs proved too much for the Sicilian churchgoers and the local nuns chopped off the protruding bits (and recently restored).  And the Duomo, with its displays of multiple architectural styles, from the Gothic, to the Catalan, Norman and Islamic, was a rival to the cathedral of Monreale, and it was known as ‘the battle of the two cathedrals’.  The city, despite its crumbling appearance, is a treasure trove of Baroque buildings and splendid collection of Arab-Norman buildings.  We were pleased that we had the opportunity to experience this magnificent city, in September, and not in August.

Every time we were back from a trip, the entire 3Rivers would have a fresh coat of sea spray, solidly crested with salt, all over.  The southern wind created a very humid environment and since we were not able to open hatches/windows due to sea spray, we were glad to make use of the AC on the boat.

Sept. 24, 2012 Sardinia to Sicily: Another Rolly Passage

We have been working our way through southern Sardinia, having stopped at Cagliari for one night to get our smartphone connected, to get provisions and to have dinner at Su Cumbida for their well-known antipasti and suckling pig. Then we sailed to Villasimius, an anchorage at the south-east corner of Sardinia, where we waited for favorable wind to cross over to Sicily, a 165 miles journey to Trapani at the north-western tip of Sicily. The forecast called for 15-20 knots of wind from the south-west, which puts us on a very manageable broad-reach course. The seas were forecasted to be light at less than one meter.
The forecast turned out to be a bit wrong. Once we were out in the open sea, wind steadily increased to 20 knots with gusts of over 30 knots. The sea kept building and was soon at over two meters. It wasn’t dangerous, but the uncertain factor was: will it keep getting worse? After several hours, another boat that was sailing with us decided to turn around and head back to Sardinia. That was a tough decision in itself, as by then it was 15:00 in the afternoon, and turning back to Sardinia meant beating into strong headwind and seas, and arriving at the marina after dark. We decided to tough it out and kept going.

Large breaking waves 

Calmer seas at last, and greeted by friends!

Fortunately the wind leveled out and did not get much worse. However the seas kept building to over 3 meters, the roughest we’ve seen in the Med. The Nauticat handled this condition with no fuss, and despite the heavy seas and wind she held the course well. But occasionally a breaking wave hitting her at the stern pushes her slightly off and quick correction at the helm was needed to avoid broaching. The wind slacked off slightly at about sunset, as if to give us a break so we could have our supper. Soon after, it strengthened to 20+ knots again, howling through the riggings and white caps were breaking all around us. At about mid night we were at mid-way between Sardinia and Sicily, where ship traffic was busiest. We took 1.5 hour shift to manually steer the boat, and in between steering and dodging commercial ships, we had very little rest through the night.  With one particular cargo ship, we could see all the containers with little difficulty!  This 20-hour of excitement went on until 5:00AM, exactly as forecasted, we reached the quiet wind zone off Sicily.  The wind completely died, but the rolly sea continued on.  At daybreak we were greeted by three energetic young dolphins, which swam along the boat for several minutes before disappearing back into the waves. We motored for 6 hours for the rest of the way into the huge port of Trapani, with barely a whisper of wind.