Saturday 5th May to Wednesday 9th May 2018
I thought the Greek Gods were giving us a noisy send off, sad to see us go but in fact it was lightning and thunder coming from Albania warning us to turn Data Roaming off or face large bills.
A heaving sea; a residual swell from the last few days of winds rolling towards us from Italy; a wide legged nappy wearing baby walk keeps me stable. A six o’clock start means things happen earlier on the first day so, after a burst of ferry traffic, one bound for Venice where in my mind I sling a grappling iron over his stern and will be in Venice in one day instead of four, coffee happened at 1000. Then there is an Italian lesson and now it’s still only just after 1100 and I’m thinking of lunch. No dolphins only the odd lonely plastic bottle.
OK! Whose stupid idea was this exactly? Nasty feeling it could have been mine. We got totally seduced by Zen Dog we shouldn’t have done because ‘the glory of the ride’ took us over to the Italian side and there, large unruly waves but not enough wind were lying in wait. Dark, no moon, lurching boat, rain, sleeplessness, contacts that worried us, lights we thought had been knocked off by the force of the waves, tricolour not working, night instrument illumination malfunction – oh what a joy and to compound it all when I settled into my watch anticipating the podcasts I had oh so cleverly downloaded the only response I got was a command to connect to Wifi to retrieve them from a cloud – grr! – that cloud now hanging dark and inaccessible above me I suppose; so miserable really our first night.
The sun is up now and Andy is catching up on sleep. I am still feeling nauseous. Better look out the ginger, ironically there is all that hot water that we can’t use because we’d injure ourselves trying to keep steady in the confined space of the ‘heads’.
I am reminded of some words I read describing the Adriatic Sea in the museum in Rimini when I was there earlier this year. ‘(The seas) are dangerous, rough, howling, stormy, misty’ but the words I came back with and chose to believe were ‘The Adriatic is a sea in which the winds favour long distance sailing’ hence the idea for a nonstop passage to Venice which today has been tedious, trying to keep upright when surfaces beneath you tip and tilt randomly at about 22’
and now ‘we’ have to fix things, the navigation lights which did not, in the end, survive all that the sea threw at them
The hydrovane rudder, ‘Scarlet’ to those in the know
I have to remind myself that we were able to have a civilised lunch and by late afternoon/evening were making our slow way back north west to join our original planned passage.
There, the wind and the sea got up and all thoughts of supper abandoned. However a small brown dolphin joined us for a while and then more little grey/black dolphins came to say hello showing off their acrobatic and sub aquatic skills, whose arc mirrors the leap in my heart every time I see them. I needed to hold on to that image as the wind and waves increased into the night – ‘rough, howling, stormy’ came to mind as I lay being tossed up and thumped down as I tried to rest. I felt like a piece of dough being kneaded enthusiastically.
With the moon still not up and thunder storms around we were approaching the Croatian island of Mljet, off which we had heard a warning on the radio to keep watch out for and keep clear of a large piece of drifting wood with a long length of rope attached, so straining our eyes to see this and also to identify the various lights that would guide our way through this tricky channel. Our new radar set up is amazing. I can see the readout relayed from below onto my iPad in the cockpit and it describes a very clear delineation of land from sea but did not quite fill in the gaps and the identity of the mysterious flashing light.
We can have endless conversations about these things from ‘oh it’s quite near, it is fishing related, it’s definitely going to pass down the port side soon, there is a boat in company with it, it is lighting up the drifting log’……All these ideas are thrown up in the air, the lightning flashes failing to illuminate the scene. At last we identify it as a warning light on some rocks which we must keep to starboard. Once in the channel the contrast was such that from being out in the open high seas now forced into narrows we seemed suddenly to being going at breakneck speed and there were hazards all around, it was a bit like a board game. Soon confidence grew and the channel, its rocks and lights, white, green and red became familiar friend.
Ahhh! Bliss! This is more like it. The boat is level, hot showers, clean us, clean clothes, tidy up and then……………………the WATER PROBLEM! Perhaps I should say the annual water problem. Unusual noises are always unwelcome and quickly investigated. I am so lucky to have such a competent mate. He really knows the wiring and the plumbing inside out and in a few minutes has traced the problem to a joint in the hot water supply. So that’s now fixed, we’ve checked the fuel state and all is good. We are sailing nicely in the sunshine on a benevolent sea. No noisy motor simply the shush and gurgle of the sea as Selkie Dancer glides through the water. Heaven! We’ll see what happens tonight.
Of course there was something. Sailing parallel to the Kornati islands, a good strong wind, heeled well over in the very black night, Andy tried to take a reef in the genoa using the powerful electric halyard winch. In doing so the genoa sheet jammed the rope in a riding turn on the sheet winch – oh sheet! The halyard winch then pulled this so tightly we could not release it and couldn’t reduce sail. So we attached another rope which took the strain off the sheet and enabled us to release the original sheet from the winch then re attach. Sorry, a bit technical and at the time a bit alarming. Once we had decided what to do it was surprisingly simple. It was just so hard to see what we were doing and we are reluctant to use bright torches that destroy night vision. Anyway all sorted and I return to a rhythm of rest and watch through the night which turns out to be uneventful.
Today is calm. It is strange how the journey takes over and the trepidation at the start about long monotonous days without a break (‘Magari darling’) seem to take on a character of their own and we are an isolated little bubble of existence in the vast and disinterested universe. The stars last night were wonderful sharp spikes overhead. I wonder why we do this. It is not all discomfort as it might appear. Those particular moments are more energetic and demanding of attention while the spaces in between are real time running. Hmm….. not sure what I’m saying. It did cross my mind that TS Eliot cannot have come across the martini when he measured out his life in coffee spoons though!
So we sat in the sunshine, I wrote this blog, messaged people and sent emails. The sea was flat. After lunch we decided to stop the boat and swim, I caught a merman and there were dolphins. It was perfect and THEN…………….I had the first watch which took us through a traffic separation zone. After scaring myself silly with the imminent approach of what I thought were two large vessels which obviously were going to mow us down, it finally dawned on me using all the technology to hand that these were permanent platforms and when I looked further were fog warnings. Breathe again, only to look on my Automatic Identification System (AIS) and see that there is a HUGE tanker approaching fast. A quick 20’ to starboard and it steams silently past unaware of the hiatus it has caused in my being. There were loads of fishing boats and these were the worst as they altered their course so often that in the end I dismissed them and developed a kind of triage system for dealing with the traffic in the night. After that it was a doddle and I was pleased that I had handled this well although I did talk to myself through everything the whole time. I relinquished my watch to Andy at midnight and from then on I could not sleep. The sea and the wind got up. In no time there was a full scale Bora (fierce northerly wind) I have never heard the boat emit such groans and bangs. It was painful and I tensed each time she was thrown down only to raise herself up and push on through growing seas. There were gusts of 30 – 35 knots but she did just fine and nothing got broken! It was unbelievable, the worst conditions I have ever experienced. I was a little fearful and began thinking of the life raft; Andy too was thinking about it but in his case if it would still be there if we needed it!
So, sleep deprived, exhausted emotionally and physically we decided to ‘heave to’ and sleep before the final approach. Once ‘hove to’ we very quickly realised that we were drifting too fast back into the shipping channel and it would be unwise to remain. We restarted the engine, or at least tried to, a series of high pitched squeaks, not from me this time, as the engine cried for help and refused to start – the final straw. Honestly, everything has been thrown at us on this trip – and oh how we love it!? I took the helm and kept her steady while Andy went to investigate. Cutting a long story short the cooling water inlet filter was dirty, blocked indeed, by an unidentified oily mass. Once cleaned we set off again to position ourselves up current from the shipping so we could again attempt a ‘heave to’ and sleep. This time we were drifting too fast towards Venice – the upshot was we set an alarm both had about an hour of sleep; a new baby would have been preferable.
But now the reward…… the sun came up a fiery ball and then slid sulkily under the clouds. About 5 miles off the lagoon he peeped out again to shine a spotlight on the star – the classic Venetian skyline – illuminated brilliant white in the low morning sun were the familiar shapes of the towering campanile and the domes of the Basilico San Marco brilliant white in the low morning light.
With an ugly cruise liner close astern we enter through the Porto Lido and at Fort S. Andrea take a snappy turn to starboard and cut up a narrow canal. Suddenly we were in a garden of Eden. Islands of verdant greenness, birds are fishing, swooping and diving, the smell of new mown grass and blossom hang in the air and all I can hear is the rustling of leaves and birdsong.
We planned a five day stay but considering the challenging journey, the roller coaster of physical and mental stress we have now extended to nine.
The birds and we are singing Veni, vidi, vici…………………………….in paradise!