Thursday, June 16, 2011

Passage from Croatia to Brindisi, Italy, and onto Sicily June 9-16

At long last we are on a long passage heading south, with the prevailing north-west wind behind us. We decide to just keep sailing as long as there’s a trace of favorable wind, and forget about the planned arrival time. This is the first time that we sailed for days without using the engine. With the genoa poled out on one side and the staysail pulled on the other side, we have a reasonably balanced rig that is also easy to reef if the wind picks up. Some time we were drifting along at 2-3 knots, slower than a person walking. Other times we were moving at a pleasant 5-6 knot, with 10-15 knots wind behind us. We’ve built up confidence and are more comfortable in doing work on the foredeck with the boat pitching and rolling, such as setting up the spinacker pole (which we use as the whisker pole for the genoa). On the second day the seas built to a lumpy state, 2-3 meters, but Three Rivers was running comfortably. One afternoon the Croatian and Italian weather radio seemed to be on a competition of issuing gale warnings and were announcing them almost every hour, but we had learned by now that those are local gales driven by coastal thunderstorms. In the open sea it’s actually safer.

And then one afternoon suddenly we had the depth sounder alarm came on, warning us of depth of only 8 feet. We were then in the middle of the Adriatic, with a charted depth of over 200 meter. We reset the alarm, and in a few minutes it happened again. Ben rushed down to double check the chart. Just as we were concluding that the depth sounder has gone haywire, the culprits presented themselves: Several dolphins were swimming around our boat, diving under and jumping out, and in the process fooled our depth sounder!

The total distance of 500 miles from Komiza, Croatia, to Siracusa, Sicily, took about 5 days of sea-time, with a stop at Brindisi, Italy. It’s a slow pace due to the lack of wind, but that’s what sailing is about. The elements are unpredictable and you take whatever comes. This is also likely the one and only downwind passage we will have in the Med, as the rest of the journey will be north-westerly. The wind mostly dies down in the evening, although there are exceptions. One night we were motoring along in dead calm, and then the wind piped up; so we raised sails, and soon the wind freshened to 20 knots. We reefed down, and Three Rivers had a wonderful ride for two hours at over 7 knots, a very good speed for us.

The sea was very busy around the heel of Italy, as there are ferries, freighters, and cruise liners plying the waters between Italy and Greece. They were keeping us occupied on our night watches. But once we turned the corner around the heel and headed south-west, it was completely different. The vast span of sea between the heel and the toe of the Italy boot is an empty space, with no coast line in sight, and devoid of ship traffic. In two days we spotted one other sailboat, and a small handful of ships. We kept wondering, where is everybody? Finally, after one week of sea-time (plus a 2-day stay at Brindisi), we reached Syracusa on a calm sunny morning.

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