Given all that’s happened aboard Hazel James recently, I think it best to organize and annotate, illustrate, and “video-ate” our recent 543 nautical mile (625 land-based mile) passage from Gaeta, Italy to the harbor and town of Benitses on the island of Corfu, Greece.
While the overall distance we “sailed” (i.e., sailed, motored, and—yes—floated) was 543 nautical miles, the as-the-crow-flies distance is only 300nm between Gaeta and Corfu, and—if we were to sail directly with perfect wind and weather, and no deviations—the distance would have been 470nm. Also, even with some steaming (motoring) our average speed was a pokey 2.5 knots (nautical-miles per hour). As reference, in my Atlantic crossing last year, with no motoring and some becalms, my average speed was 4.5 knots.
Oh well, that’s the name of the game of our brand of cruising and exploring. We made the most of the time and it turned out being a very deep experience for Rhett and me.
If you were following along on my more-or-less daily satellite posts from the passage, you’ll probably recognize them below in italics. After each of these missives I’ve added some additional content and context, including pictures and videos that I can’t do via satellite.
One other note is that our 10-day passage was by far Rhett and Sunny’s longest in duration. Previously Rhett’s longest passage had been 6 days from Beaufort, North Carolina to Hyannis, Massachusetts. Although that passage was a bit longer distance, this was a good endurance test for her.
Hope you enjoy!…
And they’re off!
Day 1, Tue May 23, 2023, 1224 ship’s time
40° 41’N, 014° 07’E – Between Gaeta and Naples
43 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
Good start to the passage. We slipped HJ’s moorings at 0800 local and departed Base Nautica Flavio Gioia marina. If you’re looking for a diversion, Google the mariner Flavio Gioia. It’s an interesting story. There’s lots of local pride that he’s the inventor of the magnetic compass but that’s suspect…more likely a Chinese invention. It seems though that Flavio may have invented the compass card (the flat disk that reads north, south, etc.) and also dampening the movement of the card by suspending it in oil.
It’s going on noon local as I write this and after a slow start with light and variable winds we’ve now got 5-10 knots of wind south-southwest under almost cloudless skies and 20° C (68° F). We’re on a starboard tack close reach and making 4.0 knots with a COG (Course Over Ground) of 150° True. The sea state is a virtual millpond. All in all, a beautiful day to start the passage.
Napoli (Naples) is off our bow at a range of 25 nm. We’re hoping to pass between mainland Italy/Naploli and Isola d’Ischia late afternoon and then make Isola d’Capri around sunset. That’s the plan but we’ll see how it plays out.
Onboard, all systems are working well. Rhett and Sunny just woke from a nap, we’ll have a midday meal soon then I’ll try to “turn flukes” and get some shut-eye. While this coastal sailing is interesting and beautiful (as compared with offshore sailing), we’ll need to keep more vigilant watches—especially around the Port of Napoli and Capri. There’s lots of commercial and cruise ship traffic and the potential for small fishing boats not running AIS.
Thanks to all who are keeping track of our progress. I was telling Rhett this morning that while on my solo transatlantic sail, it was so comforting to know that others were checking in on me and curious as to how we were doing. FWFS. Hazel James out!
The last day or two before embarking on a passage tend to be crazy. I always tell myself I should slow down and sleep a lot and prepare mentally but that never happens. We always seem to be running around the town to provision Hazel and consumed by last-minute boat projects. It’s even more so when your crossing between countries and have to deal with customs and immigration exit formalities.
The couple days before departure from Gaeta were no different—actually accentuated because we’d stripped HJ bare of food in the fall and she hadn’t been sailing since. When you get right down to it, you never quite feel like you’re ready to slip the moorings but at some point you’ve got to say that it’s good enough and just go.
The night before we slept fitfully given the excitement of the passage and we were up before the sun to unbag the sails, cover the forepeak berth (V-berth) where we sleep when not sailing, and perform other prepatory chores. As we worked away, Rhett and Sunny below decks and me above, the light in the east grew and blossomed into a glorious sunrise that bode well for our embarkation.
In addition to the picture above, here’s a nice video that Rhett took of our departure. In the video you’ll note the nearby joint Italian and US military base. While the USS Mount Whitney was berthed there when we arrived in Gaeta several weeks ago, one morning we found the Mount Whitney gone and several days later the troop carrier in the video showed up (for obvious reasons, military ships don’t announce their arrivals and departures). In the video, if you listen carefully to “Ox” our auxiliary diesel engine chugging away you’ll hear the cooling seawater being returned to the sea (that intermittent whooshing sound). Remember it because it foreshadows an upcoming incident on our passage.
When I was a sailing instructor during my college summers (trust me…a good gig if you can get it), my sailing buddies and I joked about “boat bites,” those mysterious cuts and bruises that show up when you spend a lot of time banging around on small boats. When Rhett joined me aboard, we resurrected the term as it’s as applicable for 15-25 foot lake sailboats of my youth as it is for ocean sailing yachts.
As an adult, I’ve come to realize that alcohol and boat bites have a funny relationship. While today I use alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) to help heal boat bites, back in my halcyon sailing instructors days, alcohol (ethyl alcohol that is) was often the culprit. Yes, some were honestly obtained in the light of day, while other boat bites just sort of showed up mysteriously the morning after a “major rager.”
Regarding adult boat bites, in Hazel’s saloon Rhett and I found that the initial step going up the companionway was exactly at shin height and also the source of 80% of our boat bites. While individually none of the bruises were bad, as the Ionian Greeks say, “Bean by bean the sack fills.” The problem was that each bruise happened at the same place on the shin and, while each was minor, they’d add up until blood was spilled. Finally, before my transatlantic sail, I installed some padding (“gunnel guard” for you yachties out there) to cushion our inevitable clashes with Hazel’s saloon step.
I say all of this about boat bites because although it’s easy enough to pad one place below decks, above decks is a veritable minefield of sharp objects—all just waiting to pounce and take a little nip. In addition, whenever possible I like to sail barefooted. I have a better feel for the boat and for any lines underfoot. Now when I’m totally in sync with Hazel, I’m pretty good at avoiding those pesky on-deck “ankle biters.” However, on our first days out of Gaeta and having not sailed for six months my muscle memory of all things on Hazel’s deck had slipped…and I paid the price.
Day 2, Wed May 24 2023, 2234 (10:34 p.m.) ship’s time
40° 10’N, 014° 27’E – Between Naples and Island of Capri
82 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
“It is true the longest drouth (sic) will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.”
—Robert Frost, On Looking Up By Chance At The Constellations
Frost penned that poem in 1923. Today he probably would have chosen a different country to make his point, but I’m sure you get the gist. It’s 10:45 p.m. here and 20 hours ago I was thinking about those lines of poetry as we waited for wind. The thing is that I knew the lines, knew the context—be patient, and the longest calm will be punctuated by wind—but I couldn’t remember the Frost poem that contained the couplet. Fortunately we were close enough to land the next morning for internet access, and a quick search gave me the poem’s title and I could then look it up in my dad’s well-worn book of Robert Frost poems that I keep onboard. Ah the bouquet as it’s spine cracked open, a mix of bookbinder’s glue, ever so slightly moldy paper and ink. The olfactory bookmark of my childhood home and memories of weekend trout fishing trips with my dad, driving the backroads of Pennsylvania in his 1970s Chevy Chevette, listening to cassette tapes of Robert Frost reading his own poetry.
When Rhett and I decommissioned Hazel last fall and prepared her for winter, we began to think long and hard about what we didn’t need aboard our 31 by 9-foot home. Anything that hadn’t been used last cruising season was an obvious target for our paring. Also the prodigious amounts of food we kept onboard (enough to make a prepper envious) had to go. Fortunately, all that was unopened could be donated. This spring, as we recommissioned Hazel we continued the paring process. We ended up mailing a box of things home, some keepsakes, and clothes and books that we weren’t wearing or reading but couldn’t part with. I seriously considered mailing my dad’s Frost book home but just couldn’t do it. As the book’s index guided me to page 268 and read On Looking Up By Chance At The Constellations in its entirety, I was happy about my choices. It’s good to give up some material things and move forward, it’s also good to protect the core and remember.
The Mediterranean wind tends to be diurnal. The nights and mornings are very calm and late-morning the day’s wind starts to build. While that pattern is great for daysailing from harbor to harbor, it’s a challenge for the multi-day passages we like to do. Fortunately last night was calm enough that when the evening wind died, we just dropped all sails, set AIS and radar guards and alarms as our electronic eyes, and went to sleep letting Hazel bob around all night. Tonight looks like it will be the same. When I started writing we were ghosting south with the moo; illuminating our wake in light airs under spinnaker. Midway through this post the wind dumped out totally so I doused the chute and here we sit. Last night we were about 10 nm north of Isola di Capri. Tonight, Capri is about 30 nm north and astern of us. Besides the tempting sacrilege of firing up the diesel and motoring, there’s nothing to be done but be patient and know that the longest calm will end in wind.
Fair winds and following seas. Hazel James out.
It’s funny, in rereading my post above I talk a bit about food. If anything on this passage I wish we would have had more food. If we had chosen not to steam (motor) at all we just might have run out on the passage. It was an odd thing to be worried about and made me think about how, in general and in my life, how lucky I am to not worry about where my next meal is coming from.
Around the time of this post we passed Naples and Mount Vesuvius (that blew its top in AD 79 and inundated Pompeii). Interesting etymology we learned about Naples from our land voyaging there: “Naples” is our Americanization of the Italian “Napoli” and Napoli was originally a Greek settlement (a “polis”). Given it was on the outskirts of Greek expansion (on the Greek frontier if you will) it was the “new city” or, in Greek, Neopolis—eventually shortened to Napoli.
Day 4, Fri May 26 2023, 0034 (12:34 a.m.) ship’s time
39° 01’N, 015° 00’E – Between Islands of Capri and Stromboli
169 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
We’re coming up to eight bells, first watch aboard Hazel James. First watch being the four-hour sailor’s shift from 8:00 p.m. to midnight, and eight bells being the end of the watch. Hazel has a bronze ship’s bell and when we’re both awake and we remember at the top and bottom of the hour, we have fun keeping track of the time with the bell. A traditional watch starts at the top of an hour with eight bells (signifying the end of the preceding watch). At the bottom of the hour of the first hour of the watch, one bell is rung. At the top of the second hour two bells are rung, and so on until eight-bells is reached at the top of the last hour of the watch. At midnight (now in 11 minutes) we’ll be into the middle watch (since it’s through the middle of the night, from midnight to 4:00 a.m.) Rhett and Sunny are fast asleep below decks so I’ll refrain from sounding the bell.
As if at the end of a giant Aeolian exhale, the mild breeze that had allowed us to make a couple knots under spinnaker, dumps out and the chute collapses I try a couple techniques to re-inflate it but no luck. It’s flat line, there just isn’t enough wind. I make my way to Hazel’s foredeck to snuff the chute (pull the spinnaker sock down and over the spinnaker and bring the whole thing down). We’ve been sailing south toward the Strait of Messina and the first quarter moon is low in the west, off the starboard beam. It will set in an hour or so. For now it’s giving me plenty of light to do what I need to do on Hazel’s bow. As I finish up my work and turn to head back to the cockpit, a dark shape on the coachroof in the dim moonlight catches my eye. It’s roughly the size and shape of a crumpled hand towel. “What’s that?” I think. A tidy boat is important as little things out of place can be clues to bigger problems brewing. It’s not like me to leave a random hank of rope or rag on deck. If it were silvery and we were in the Atlantic I’d think it was a flying fish that stranded itself on deck (a common occurrence), but I’ve never seen a flying fish in the Mediterranean and this shape is dark. I pick it up assuming inanimacy and I’m startled when it moves, sluggishly. Instinctually I drop whatever it is I’m holding and it falls on the deck with a soft thud, a thud muffled by feathers. It’s a bird and it’s long overlapped wings indicate he night jar family—aerial fly catchers, definitely not a sea bird. We’re 30 miles offshore, it must have gotten disoriented, wandered from land, and—running on fumes—pulled off a night time “carrier landing” on HJ’s deck. It’s black eyes are tiny and alert, but passive. Hey look like two drops of balsamic vinegar floating in olive oil. Being too weak to fight, it’s resigned to whatever comes next.
All I can do is keep it warm through the night and hope it’s strong enough to fly to shore in the morning, or maybe it will stay on board with us until we reach Messina, 95 miles off our bow. That is assuming she makes it through the night. I find a dry towel, wrap her gently and tuck her under Hazel’s dodger.
Funny, I started writing this post not sure what I would write about. I had a couple ideas but nothing firm. Then, as I’m writing this avian avatar drops on our deck and he beginning of a story emerges. Who knows if the ending will entail a sunrise flight, a stowaway to Messina, a burial at sea, or something else.
Stay tuned…and so will I. The wind is still dumped out, there’s no use trying to sail, the Moon has set, and the lack of moonlight lets the stars shine. The Milky Way is a ribbon, wrapping this gift of night. I’m headed to the warm saloon and a couple hours of warm sleep, hopefully I’ll wake to wind. As I climb down the companionway steps and into the warm saloon, I pass our feathered friend, insulated by the towel and (I hope) sleeping.
Fair winds and following seas.
Passing the Isle of Capri was a thrill. The pilot books rightfully listed it as the most famous island in Italy. While we had originally intended to thread the needle between Punta Campanella on the mainland (near Sorrento) and the east end of Capri, we “called an audible” and elected to leave Capri to port and pass west of it. Given the light westerly winds we thought it best to avoid the wind shadow that would be downwind of Capri (i.e., the island blocking the wind).
All three of us (Rhett, Sunny, and me) knew that after we cleared Capri we’d be venturing offshore for about 100nm. Our next landfall would be as we approached the Isle of Stromboli and the Strait of Messina.
While Rhett and I were OK with this, Sunny was not so sure. While she loves the sailing, she’s not a big fan of the pee-pee-pad for “doing her business.” It’s a couple foot square piece of astroturf where she’s got to position herself and then cast all modesty to the winds.
As an aside, before sailing with Sunny I had always thought the term “astroturf” came from the Houston Astros baseball team and their pioneering use of artificial turf (kind of like the University of Florida Gators football team and their eponymous sports drink). However, after a couple voyages with Sunny aboard, I now believe the etymology of “astroturf” comes from the Jetson’s dog Astro (or, a jowly Rast-roh as he called himself). Over its 24 episodes, we never learned where in the world Astro did his business. Think about it—around that crazy floating apartment where George, Jane, Judy, and Elroy lived there was no grass.
While Sunny had been OK with the coastal sailing so far on the passage and had gotten in the swing of number-1 on the pad. Number-2 is a much bigger deal and she had been holding out hoping we’d return to land in time. However, as we put Capri astern and headed offshore Sunny plaintively sniffed the sea air with its fading traces of land and knew she had to take action—for her, it was now or never.
Suddenly, with a furtive sidelong glance, Sunny attempted the unthinkable—a mutiny on the high seas. She leapt from her bed, grabbed Hazel’s wheel and threw it hard to port in a desperate attempt for one last colon cleanse on terra firma. While the captain wrestled the helm from her, he ordered the ship’s sargent-at-arms to clamp her in irons. It was a close call but eventually order was restored aboard Hazel James.
Fly on Little Wing
Day 6, Sun May 28 2023, 2035 (8:35 p.m.) ship’s time
37° 55’N, 016° 03’E – Transited Strait of Messina
275 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
Some quick context:
1) We’ve been listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix on this passage.
2) Rhett is a crazy animal person. “How crazy?” you ask? So crazy that she doesn’t like killing mosquitoes…not even in Maine—‘nuff said.
(Continuing from our previous post) after I put our crash-landed bird to bed under the dodger, in the folds of a towel, I turn flukes and get some sleep while our becalm continues. However, around 3:00 a.m. I wake to enough wind for sailing and don my foul weather bottoms, sea boots, and watch cap and fisherman’s sweater to fight back the nighttime chill. While the waterproof bib overalls were a bit of overkill for the temperature, they’d let me sit on the dewy cockpit cushions with impunity. As for the well worn, well loved, and ‘oft mended sweater, my parents gave it to me when I was in high school and they made a trip to Ireland. It’s now an old friend from the late 70s and one of my favorite possessions on Hazel.
Consumed with restarting my brain in the middle of the night, wind angles, and sail choices, I totally forget about our stowaway until I pass her on my way up the companionway steps. She doesn’t move…”Either sleeping or dead,” I think, “Regardless, there’s nothing more I can do now. If alive, resting is best.” After I get Hazel moving in the mild breeze, curiosity gets the better of me and I gently peel the towel off the bird’s back and folded wings. As an aerial flycatcher, I marvel at how long her wings are in relation to her body—so long that they cross at the base of her tail and her wingtips extend we’ll past her tail feathers. I see no whiskers around her beak as a nightjar should have (to guide insects down the gullet) so I revise my identification to some kind of European swift (related to our North American chimney swift). There’s no struggle, no movement, her eyelids remain closed. Finally, after an eternity, beneath her charcoal feathers I can see her back arch as she breathes. I breathe too, a sigh of relief.
Half an hour later I’m at the base of the mast coiling the halyards by moonlight and Rhett (who has been sleeping and has no idea about the bird on board) pops her head above the dodger from the cockpit and gives me a cheery “how are you doing?“ My sotto reply, “Good but keep quiet, and don’t make any fast moves.“ This, of course, confuses the half-asleep crew as we are miles from land and why in the world does it matter how loud she is or how she moves? To give her groggy brain one more disjointed statement to process I add, “Go get your reading glasses so you can see better up close and meet me on the companionway steps.” Five minutes later I’ve shown her the bird and recounted the whole story. While Rhett is immediately immersed in pity and compassion for this creature, we both agree there’s nothing more we can do but help it conserve its body heat and let it rest.
Rhett returns to her sleep as it’s my watch and I have time to think as the emerging crepuscular light heralds the sun. It occurs to me that “the bird” needs a name. Pretty quickly I’m reminded of the Hendrix tune “Little Wing” and when Rhett’s up for sunrise and her first question is, “How is the bird doing?” I report, “Little Wing hasn’t moved. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing.” Rhett immediately picks up on the nomenclature and the reference but we both agreed that an affectionate name implies emotional connection and that—miles from land with the shin of the boot of Italy just barely to the east—we were far from “out of the woods” with our little stowaway.
Over coffee we decided that water would be the next item on Little Wing’s hierarchy of needs. A land based bird straying 30 miles out to sea just had to be parched. I put some freshwater in a jar lid and we roused her. With some effort she opened her eyes but otherwise made no attempt to move. I thought to myself, “Not good. If this bird dies on our watch, Rhett will be crushed. Maybe I should have just left it on deck to fend for itself and hoped it was gone in the morning. Either flown away or washed off the deck it wouldn’t be my problem.” But I didn’t and now I had this bird on my hands that was too weak to stand or perch and a sailing partner beside herself and lamenting, “After I went back to bed I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was worry about and pray for the bir…” she stopped herself “I mean Little Wing. She’ll be OK, won’t she?” With that interrogation, my life was rewound 25 years to being the father of small nature-loving children and those children finding some abandoned springtime baby animal in the yard and asking the same question. There was no one best answer then and there’s still no good answer today. “Sure.” I reassured her, but the quaver in my voice belied my trepidation.
Although Little Wings eyes were open, she didn’t seem to notice the jar lid of water just under her beak. Rhett and I looked at each other and silently agreed that desperate times call for desperate measures. Without a lot of hope (I’m sure Rhett had enough hope for both of us) I gently pushed the back of her head forward and down so her beak would be in the water, careful to keep her nares above water so she could breathe. Unbelievably Little Wing startled, settled, and then her throat undulating as she drank. I was astonished; Rhett knew it all along as the answer to a prayer. Little Wing paused and then drank a few more times before losing interest. Perhaps her tiny belly was saited.
I know it’s threatening to birds and other animals if you approach them from above (the way a hawk or falcon would attack) so I nestled my cupped hands on either side of her and gently wriggled my pinkies between her and the towel. Instinctively her tiny toe claws gripped into my skin. Rhett had positioned herself on a cockpit seat in the sun and protected from the wind. As I transferred Little Wing from my hands to Rhett’s hands I was reminded of the hand blessing that our friend and officiant Lisa performed on our wedding day. Although the blessing was as poignant as it was exhaustive (these are the hands that will caress, etc. these are the hands that will offer comfort, etc. these are the hands that will…—you get the idea), I’m pretty sure the hand blessing was silent on, “These are the hands that will care for a lost and exhausted bird, 20 miles from shore in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Although the sun was well up by this time and the dodger was acting as a comfortably warm greenhouse, Little Wing began to shiver. My first thought, “Oh great, clearly the death shakes. It figures, after a little victory with the hydration and a ray of hope we’re going to lose her.” Still though maybe she was just chilled all the way to her little bird bones. I rigged a perch under the dodger with a dowel hoping she’d be more comfortable but she was still too weak to perch. Finally I suggested to Rhett, “Why don’t you hold her in your hands in the sun? Maybe the combination of your body heat and the direct sun will help her.”
As Rhett cooed and gushed that Little Wing was the most precious thing she had ever seen, I went below decks to make some oatmeal for breakfast. As I salted and heated the milk I thought, “Oh well, there are are worse ways to go than to be warm and being held by another living creature.” I was stirring oats into the white simmering mixture when I heard the startled cry from topsides…”She’s gone! She’s gone!” My first reaction…just as I had expected. I popped my head up through the hatch to find Rhett standing on the cockpit seat and thrusting her index finger in the general direction of land exclaiming, “There she is! She’s flying!” Through her ebullition, Rhett explained that Little Wing all the sudden just seemed to wake up in her hands. Little Wing looked around, looked at Rhett, took a wingbeat and landed clumsily on the edge of the cockpit. Rhett thought she was going to fall in the water so tried to grab her and she just took off, out over the water. Dumbfounded I asked, “Where?” Rhett pointed again and we both saw her dark shape silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky. Her wing beats and heartbeats propelling her east, into the morning sun and toward land. Her grace on the wing was breathtaking. While some species have evolved to do a lot of things passably well (a duck can fly, swim, dive, and walk), they are avian Jack’s-of-all-trades. As a swift however, Little Wing had evolved do to one thing, and to excel in that one thing, to fly. It was unbelievable that a being that couldn’t or wouldn’t stand minutes ago and appeared contented, nestled in Rhett’s warm hands, was now soaring as if the night before had all been a bizarre bird dream.
The whole rest of the day, Rhett had the biggest smile I have ever seen. Fly on Little Wing. Hazel James out.
While I had discovered “Little Wing” after my last post. The whole cliffhanger about her story was not contrived in the least. We had no idea what was going to happen to her. It was a bit of a challenge to try to convey what was going on onboard—how it looked and felt—without pictures (and while trying to sail a boat). It’s fun to now be able to fall back on some photographic evidence.
Here’s a video of Little Wing drinking. If you look carefully, you can see her throat working.
If you’ve become a complete Little Wing junkie by this point here’s another video of her.
While Little Wing was our most delicate avian visitor, she wasn’t our only. We were probably that “baby bear’s porridge” distance away from land much of the time and that made us attractive to wayward land birds. We were close enough to land that birds were in range and far enough from land that, if they did fly by, they wanted a rest. We had 5-10 other birds that we knew of stop in for a quick breather (who knows how many visited in the middle of the night that we were never aware of). Whenever possible we gave them water as well.
One afternoon we were in the cockpit and one landed on Hazel’s steering wheel, flitted around a bit and then flew into the saloon to check things out. We wondered if it thought, “It’s like a bird house in here but for people!”
Here’s a video with Ox’s hatch raised (more foreshadowing) and an avian visitor getting a drink.
Day 9, Wed May 31 2023, 0109 (1:09 a.m.) ship’s time
38° 25’N, 017° 02’E – Between the Toe and the Boot of Italy
352 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
OK, I’m a good person, but I’m not made of stone and there’s only so much I can take. At midnight local (an hour ago) after sitting becalmed the better part of the day and evening, and the rest of the night showing no respite in the forecasts, I decided to fire up “Ox” (our diesel engine) and start steaming toward our destination of Corfu, Greece at a range of 160 nautical miles. It’s well known that Aeolus, god of the winds, was kind enough to tie up all of Odysseus’ contrary winds in a bag and give them to Odysseus to ease his passage to Ithaca (Ithaca is about 80 nm south of Corfu, both islands are in Ionian Greece). Unfortunately, Odysseus’ crew became convinced that Odysseus was hiding treasure from them in the bag so they opened it and their ship was blown off course by the released contrary winds, further delaying their return home (our word “odyssey” comes from the name “Odysseus”). I say all this because I’m convinced that Aeolus tied up ALL our winds in a bag, not just the contrary ones. Oh well, it looks like if we can get to the Heel of the Boot of Italy the prevailing north winds that blow down the Adriatic Sea may give us a beam reach the final 60 or so miles to Corfu.
Some cool things we’ve seen the last couple days:
In the middle of the night, we sailed past the Island of Stromboli, about 35 nm north-northwest of the Strait of Messina. We’re running a bit low on food and we were hoping the island “delivered” its eponymous treat (perhaps some kind of Uber Eats for boats?). Unfortunately, no such luck. However, the island was billed as the first lighthouse in the world which seemed to us like a rather aggrandizing claim…until we were 10 miles out from it and saw the glow and the eruptions from the 3,000-foot peak of the active volcano! Unlike Vesuvius that obliterated Pompeii with a cataclysmic blast, Stromboli clearly sees its therapist regularly and releases its pressure gradually and continuously. Every 10 minutes or so, the pulsing orange glow from its peak would be punctuated by a spray of fire complete with red-hot cinder shooting high into the air. It was crazy to sail through the night past it and ponder what lies below the thin crust of Earth that we live upon. Crazy also that people live upon the island. Perhaps there’s something to the, “Better out than in” adage.
While I’m not sure if pigs can fly (swine flu not withstanding), the next morning and still near Stromboli we discovered that rocks can float. Every five minutes of sailing we come upon a cluster of white pumice stones just bobbing around in the Mediterranean. They ranged in size from a pea to a golf ball. The captain risked his life to collect as many as possible for stocking stuffers. Rhett saved a few for her next pedicure.
Next up was the Strait of Messina, once feared and much chronicled in The Odyssey. Today, the most important things for a small low-power boat like Hazel is to keep clear of the constant shipping traffic and to time the transit carefully. Although the open water tides in the Mediterranean are very mild, the Strait is a choke point between two seas, the Tyrrhenian to the north and the Ionian to the south, so during “the race” (the fastest flowing of the tides) the current can reach 4 knots (close to Hazel’s maximum steaming speed). In addition, there are numerous whirlpools and eddies, not unlike the East River in New York City, so care must be taken. Also, like the East River there are tons of ferries that run 24×7 between mainland Italy and Sicily. Fortunately given some favorable wind our timing when we reached the northern entrance to the Strait was excellent, at slack tide with the current just beginning to turn in our favor. The not so good news is that we reached the Strait at 3:00 a.m. and we transited in the dark. With Rhett at the helm, Ox pushing Hazel along, me with binoculars checking charts, AIS, and radar, and Rear Admiral Sunny sniffing longingly for the sweet smells of land, we were successful and at the other end, treated to a sunrise view of the snow capped, 11,000 foot Mount Etna on Sicily’s eastern coast. With that we were now in the Ionian Sea!
Sailing along the Sole of the Boot of Italy was gorgeous and we were hopeful that the morning’s perfect winds were a harbinger for what we’d find throughout the Ionian. Unfortunately, that has not panned out.
To the good, in the Ionian we have been treated to frequent turtle sightings and a couple big pods of dolphins.
Thanks for following along. We’re hoping that Ox’s rumble wakes Aeolus up and he bestows us with fair winds and following seas. Or, maybe he hid that bag of wind somewhere on Hazel and we just need to find and untie it. Hazel James out.
I’m generally circumspect about superlatives—the biggest, the best, the first, etc.—I think it stems from being so let down by the “largest ball of twine in the world” on a 1970s family road trip. So, when our pilot books said that the Island of Stromboli was perhaps the first lighthouse in the world, I scoffed. However, the consistent glow and every-10-minutes-or-so mini eruptions were just amazing. We were so fortunate to have approached it at night. During the day we would have just seen a puff of smoke hanging around the summit. It’s too bad that we couldn’t have gotten a picture of it at night. We were sailing slowly so the sun rose by the time we were very close to Stromboli.
Again on the subject of exaggeration, we thought our pilot book was stretching the truth when it said to keep a sharp lookout for floating pumice stones around the volcanic Stromboli. But then, with Stromboli astern, we began to see a lot of “bubbles” on the surface of the water that—upon closer inspection—were not bubbles. They were pumice…floating rocks. We got to wondering how in the world it was formed and found out later on Wikipedia:
Pumice is created when super-heated, highly pressurized rock is rapidly ejected from a volcano. The unusual foamy configuration of pumice happens because of simultaneous rapid cooling and rapid depressurization. The depressurization creates bubbles by lowering the solubility of gases (including water and CO2) that are dissolved in the lava, causing the gases to rapidly exsolve (like the bubbles of CO2 that appear when a carbonated drink is opened). The simultaneous cooling and depressurization freeze the bubbles in a matrix. Eruptions under water are rapidly cooled and the large volume of pumice created can be a shipping hazard for cargo ships.
Like any good tourist, I had to get some for souvenirs.
While you might think it dangerous to hang overboard in the middle of the sea, the captain took every precaution and—because were talking about foot care—the risk was worth the reward.
Transiting the Strait of Messina was another thrill..
As you can imagine, the Strait of Messina is also a very busy commercial waterway. As we were exiting southbound we passed the northbound container ship Al Jasrah. It’s hard to imagine how big these behemoths are. Our AIS reported Al Jasrah as 368 meters in length (1,200 feet, almost a quarter of a mile) with a 51 meter beam (167 feet, five Hazel Jameses could easily fit end-to-end across Al Jasrah’s width), and a 15 meter draft (needs 50 feet of water just to float, deeper water than we’d ever anchor Hazel in).
It was also fun to pass Mount Etna on Sicily. Although Sicily is as far south as you can get in Italy, Etna was snow capped in late-May.
Approaching and transiting the Strait was rather intense and meant that I was up the better part of the night. So that day, I made sure to get some good napping in. Sunny is always happy to help with that task.
We were treated to several pods of dolphins which was heartwarming.
Day 10, Thu Jun 01 2023, 0409 (4:09 a.m.) ship’s time
39° 34’N, 018° 17’E – Near the Heel of the Boot of Italy
445 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
It’s 3:30 a.m. local (Italy) time and we’re just clearing the Heel of the Boot with our intended landfall and arrival island of Corfu, Greece somewhere off our starboard bow. The gentle 10 knot breeze is from the north and we’re making 3-4 knots on a port tack close reach under full fore ‘n aft sails (the traditional “white sails,” not the spinnaker). It’s a chilly night…likely our last full night on passage. I’m in thermal underwear, my trusty Irish fisherman’s sweater, foulie bottoms, and an orange knit watch cap (just like my childhood hero Jacques Cousteau used to wear). We’re sailing east-northeast and I’m wedged behind the dodger looking west, admiring the burnt orange waxing gibbous moon that has just set in the ocean behind us.
This afternoon, motoring through appetizers another becalm, the sea was so glassy that the reflections of the clouds were clearly visible in it. It was like a giant funhouse mirror had been laid on the ground in front of us. Now, with a bit of wind and without the protection of the Boot (and with several hundred miles of open Adriatic Sea to the north and upwind of us, giving the wind plenty of “fetch” over the water) the sea state is a bit lumpy. Still, I’ll take lumpy with wind over a becalm any day.
The shore lights of the Heel are visible off our port beam as is the comforting flash of the Santa Maria di Leuca lighthouse that makes the Heel of the Boot for mariners. With the moon’s glow fading, the stars that have had to play second fiddle to the moonlight all night come into their own. I love the perspective gained by gazing at the whitewash stripe of the Milky Way, then training our ship’s binoculars at it and being reminded that the “milk” is comprised of countless stars—and that’s just our galaxy, there are countless other galaxies beyond our Milky Way.
I think we’re past the climax of this play we call a sailing passage and into the denouement, where the loose ends are tied up and the meaning of the work is reflected and summarized. If I had to pick a moment of climax, it would be when we had engine troubles this afternoon requiring a deep dive into the spares locker and some grease under the fingernails. I suppose no one reaches Greece without some grease (that’s my Grecian Formula and I’m sticking to it). I think the meaning of the whole passage is that it’s been Rhett’s and my “stealthymoon,” that is a honeymoon—in the truest sense—that we never planned on, that just snuck up on us. Perhaps the third time really is a charm. On our first honeymoon, our couple day “minimoon” to the Florida Keys, I got COVID (and Rhett didn’t, go figure). On our second attempt, our “Amalfimoon,” we had. Great time but it was challenging to be in a place like the Amalfi Coast with day after day of rain. Now, as we can almost taste the fresh feta, we realize how special the week or so of pure solitude—just us—has been.
Of course we’ve got 65 nm of open water to go and a number of little Greek island to navigate around once we make landfall. Who knows what other plot twists that Poseidon may have in store for us.
Fair winds and following seas. Hazel James out.
A bit more on our “deep dive into the spares kit” from the post. When I started ocean sailing in Florida with daysails, I’d motor out of the intracoastal and into the ocean, shut off Ox and sail for a couple hours before returning home. After a couple times, I realized that the, “best sound of the day,” was no sound—that is, the unadulterated sounds of sailing that emerge when Ox rumbles to a halt. All that’s heard is the wind on the sails and the water on the hull.
When Rhett started sailing with me I told her that story and she loved it. Ever since, our tradition is that when either of us shuts down Ox, we say “Are you ready for the best sound of the day?” Well…in this case it wasn’t quite the best sound of the day. It was around noon and we were becalmed somewhere around the Heel of the Boot and steaming along under Ox’s power, when Rhett said, “Does the engine sound different to you?” I was up on deck attending to something and cocked my head, “No, sounds OK to me…I think.” A minute later I’m back in the cockpit and notice that—yes—Ox does sound different. Good heads-up call by Rhett to notice those little things. We took a glance over the transom at Ox’s exhaust pipe and grimaced. Seawater was not exiting as it should, thus causing the perceptible change in Ox’s rumble. If we didn’t shut Ox down, in another minute or two we’d hear the warning buzzer that he was overheating. To preempt that, I jumped into the companionway and pulled the knob to shut off the fuel supply and thus shut him down. Rumble, rumble, slower rumble, slower and slower rumble, finally…silence. What was normally the best sound of the day, in this case was definitely not the best sound of the day.
When he’s working as he should, Ox takes in seawater via a pump (the raw water pump), pumps it through a heat exchanger (like a car’s radiator). In the heat exchanger, the hot antifreeze solution (aka, freshwater) that circulates throughout the engine block is cooled by the seawater. The seawater then cools the exhaust and exits via the exhaust pipe on the transom. Something was wrong with the raw water system.
I lifted Ox’s hatch and pretty quickly realized that the entire raw water pump had failed. This could be really bad news as at times its just an impeller that has gone bad and is a minor problem to fix. Fortunately though I had an entire spare raw water pump on board so we could fix things relatively easily.
The “stealthymoon” that I talked about in the post was a fascinating occurrence. On passage, Rhett and I did a good job just letting things happen and not getting hung up about how fast we were moving (or, in some cases, not moving!). Going into the passage we didn’t think about it like a honeymoon but, in the hours and days of seclusion, the honeymoon-concept snuck up on us and gently enveloped us. We laughed, we joked, we were together—just us. After our “minimoon” in the Florida Keys (interrupted by COVID), our “Amalfimoon” (with its challenging weather and us surrounded by other people), this “stealthymoon” was just what we needed—the third-time really was a charm.
A beautiful thing about a passage is the focus required. The three rules I’ve come up with for passage-making are: 1) take care of yourself, 2) take care of the boat, 3) keep the boat moving in, generally, the right direction. Oh…and by the way…rule zero (the most important), don’t freak out. Everything else is secondary and takes a backseat, or gets thrown in the trunk not to be bothered with until back on land. With this in mind, the end of a passage is always bittersweet. While dry land, hot showers, and fresh food are alluring—along with those pleasures comes everything else: bills, emails, immigration and customs, phone calls. As Three Dog Night sung so eloquently…
If I were the king of the worldThree Dog Night, “Joy to the World,” 1970
Tell you what I’d do
I’d throw away the cars and the bars and the war
Make sweet love to you (Sing it now)
Joy to the world
All the boys and girls
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me
The End / The Beginning
Day 10, Thu Jun 01 2023, 2213 (10:13 p.m.) ship’s time
39° 47’N, 019° 56’E – Anchored in Vourlais, Corfu
527 of 543nm to Corfu, Greece
More to follow after we get some rest but a fantastic last day of the passage today. Although we chose to motor a couple times through some calms, Aeolus rewarded us with an honest breeze to deliver us to Corfu under spinnaker, stay’syl, and main. Ere anchored out tonight on the north end of the island, and will make our way to the marina tomorrow.
Must sleep. FWFS. HJ out.
It was fantastic that our last day before Grecian landfall was an excellent sailing day. We had a north wind with about 8-11 knots on the beam. We could sail with full canvas on Hazel (mains’l, stays’l, and spinnaker). It’s a lot of sail to carry and you have to watch carefully lest the wind build overpower Hazel. From a range of about 25 nm we started seeing Greek Islands. The first was Othonoi, the westernmost point in Greece. That first sighting of land is always so exciting, even more so when it’s a new country that you’ve never sailed to before. Interestingly, the mainland east of Othonoi (behind Othonoi in our case) is not Greece, it’s the country of Albania (that we’ll be visiting soon).
A good video of our final day’s sail here. You get a sense of the power of the spinnaker, mains’l, stays’l combo in mild winds by looking at HJ’s speed and the way she’s moving.
Later that evening we anchored in a small bay in North Corfu and the next morning (a very still morning) we ended up motoring the final 15 nm to Benitses Marina and the village of Beniteses.
We steamed down the east side of Corfu, between the island of Corfu and the mainland (Albania and Greece). As we did we passed the “big city” of Corfu Town. It was funny because on our passage, our friends Donna and Steve emailed us about their sailing in Greece and how the hydrofoils kind of freaked them out. As we approached Corfu Town, we saw a boat approaching…fast…I looked at the AIS and it said the vessel was moving at 30 knots and it was a vessel type I’d never seen before. As it approached we realized it was indeed a hydrofoil. Crazy…
Fair winds, following seas, and Happy Birthday to Rhett! on this June 10th.