Captain's Log, Stardate:


Arrived Italy

Hello to all!

Haven't written lately because nothing remarkable (i.e., terrifying) has happened. Shouldn't be writing now but feel obligated to give an update, but realizing you also may feel obligated to hit the "delete key" and skip to your next email.

Mary and I had a nice sail up to Ithaca with Philippe and Therese aboard. We found a beautiful anchorage with clear water, set below gorgeous hills with the only sounds--bells. Not the tolling of bells from the bell tower of a church (which are not needed with Mary aboard) but the delicate jingle-jingle from goats. The weather was perfect. But our guests only had two days left--I thought they had four--and strong winds were forecast out of the NW, our intended course, for the next day. So we thought we would pull anchor and motor all night against the mere 5-10 kts we had then.

I was relieved to see that, once we got out of the lee of the land, we still had light winds, peaking at only 13 kt, but dismayed to see that the waves were rough anyway. It was like motoring into small, square waves. At cruise rpms, we were only making 4.2 kts, normally 7.5. But I had heard that about the Med vs the Atlantic. The waves are shaped differently. So, at 1 a.m., we turned back for Argostoli where we knew there was an airport. After rounding the southern tip of Keffalonia, we had 15 kts on the beam and were doing 9 kts sustained. Another boat appeared off the bow and quickly fell astern. I love it when I can appear (to other boaters) to know what I'm doing when in fact I don't. Our new boat takes the credit. But I think this lack of knowledge will catch up to us when we (me and four of my drinking buddies) "race" across the Atlantic in November. I'll keep you posted on that subject. Back in Argostoli, our guests were able to change their tickets and fly to Athens with nary a hitch.

The next day, Mary and I met Jim and Francie from the US! We hadn't seen a US flag for at least a month so it was good to speak "American" again as opposed to "English." Jim's a retired neonatal pediatrician who loves sailing. This is their "second time around," but not the world. His first wife, divorced 19 years ago, has him back in court because, according to Jim her sister married a millionaire and now she needs more money to keep up. They were coming into the "marina" at Argostoli and I took my usual post at the quay (pronounced "key" apparently, I just learned, as is the word "cay" as in "Escape Cay.") to help them with their lines. They were very appreciative. His new wife was a nurse in neonatal (gee, wonder how they met?) and she was at the helm as they approached the quay in their very substantial C&C cutter rigged sloop called "Galadriel," maybe 47 feet, watermaker, genset, etc. Jim and Francie met in the US (SC?) and got the offer to go to Saudi Arabia in ~1987. He said "no" but she talked him into it. You should hear him talk about babies coming in with problems caused mainly because, as just one example, the tribal witch doctors would put camel dung on the umbilical cords right after birth. Some place to ride out the Gulf War, eh?

I had been trying to get parts for our failed watermaker for two months. Somehow, the French distributor, French postal system "Chronopost," and the Greek system "ACS" could not all coordinate the task of getting my two pound package to me at any one of the various addresses I had supplied. But Jim had exactly what I needed on board in his "spares" box AND was willing to part with them on the promise that I get replacements back to him when I received them. In return for the loan of watermaker parts, I helped them do email from a restaurant by humming a dial tone into the cordless phone to fool their CompuServe program into thinking the Greek punctuated dial tone was normal.

A watermaker is a cool device. It filters out particles down to the molecular level, namely the NaCl molecule. It is as pure as what you find on grocery store shelves and, indeed, if you look, many of those bottles say "RO" for "reverse osmosis." The result is you do not run out of fresh, pure, drinkable water until the ocean runs dry. For additional peace of mind, my environmentalist friends assure me that, if anything, the ocean will get wider and deeper due to the welcome phenomenon called "Global Warming." Great news for a cruiser, right? We are trending toward having even more fresh, pure water and a bigger playground. Sorry Philippe and Therese: it'll be working for your next cruise for sure.

After they flew out, Mary and I returned to the nice anchorage in NE Ithaca (the alleged birthplace and home of Odysseus). We waited for three days for perfect weather for our trip up to Corfu. Even so, we had to motor most of the way. But that just took us to the South coast so the next morning, we had light winds out of the south prompting us to raise the spinnaker. It's really neat to be doing 3 kts in only 7 kts of wind. We only had 14 miles to go so it was a very pleasant afternoon. Toward the end, a boat caught up to us that was motor sailing and then the wind increased to about 13 kts and we were doing 6.5-7. Belching smoke as he would, he still couldn't pass us.

From Gouvia in Corfu, we had another light-winds forecast so headed across the dreaded Adriatic Sea to Italy where we made landfall off Cabo Santa Maria on the heel of the boot, still in daylight. (We had disregarded the advice of our guidebook which was to not take the shortest route around the north tip of Corfu because that course would pass within 1.5 miles of the Albanian coast, a war-torn area. But other cruisers had assured us there would be no problem and, as it turned out, there was none; no rebels tried to grab a headline by shooting at our somewhat prominent American flag.) The next day, we crossed the Gulf of Taranto off SW Italy (fancy words for the "instep" of the boot). Winds were NNW 17-22 and our course was ~215 degrees so it was just aft of abeam--perfect! We did 8.5-10.5 kts the whole way, averaging 9 kts for the passage. Ya gotta love it!

Now we are in an unfinished marina (important because they don't charge until they're complete) near a town called Ionia Rocella, still on the sole. We hope to unite with our friends met in the Bahamas in 1994 who are headed this way and due to arrive possibly tomorrow, Wednesday. Then we will leave to round the toe through the Straights of Messina and on up to Vibo Valentia where we just heard, Jim and Francie on Galadriel have settled in. So, some new and some old but all are friends with the common bond of the cruiser's lifestyle.
What is the cruiser's lifestyle? I don't know exactly but here is what we did today, as an example: We are docked out on the far seawall. I prefer that usually, if given the choice, because there is less chance I will hit another boat the closer to the entrance we are. (There are fewer boats near the entrance for a variety of reasons which I will someday comprehend, although I understand a little more this evening than I did this morning). But, it's about a half mile walk just to get to the marina entrance gate and then another 2 miles lugging the big black computer bag in the hot sun to get to town where we hope to do email. (Since we are "off the beaten track," there are no cabs.) These are the fodder for inspiration. And so it was that, while gazing out the back of the boat and out through the entrance to the harbor, I saw clear blue water, sunny skies, puffy white clouds, minor ripples for waves, and realized the desired goal was just 2 miles around the seawall or about 10 minutes away . . . via dinghy. It was hot with no wind in the harbor and the dinghy ride would feel refreshing.

So Mary and I loaded our precious cargo into the dinghy (laptop and two bags of trash) and headed fearlessly out into the beckoning open sea in our little rubber boat. We quickly ate up the two miles and found a bit of a shock: there are no docks! We must either dinghy back to the boat, admitting we (I) made yet another booboo, or continue on appearing to all the Italian beach goers and swimmers as if this were all part of the plan. I chose the latter. The landing on the beach was relatively graceful with only a bucket or so of water taken aboard from astern. Although adults seem to become younger when they visit the beach, it seems little waves do the opposite and become adults in the vicinity of a beach. I should have learned that the night Tara wanted to "go out" while we were at anchor off Nassau in 1995, at which time we both got soaked on a calm night. But that's another story and I'm trying to keep this short. However, practice makes perfect and we stayed mostly dry this time. Removing the laptop from its pseudo-protective cover (a garbage bag), we headed into town, bound and determined to do email.

Noticing a sign that boasted "Fax," we thought we had discovered an English-speaking establishment only to find out "fax" is now an international word. The affable clerk knew no English whatsoever and my entire Italian vocabulary consisted of fettuccini, lasagna, linguine, and macaroni, none of which would likely be of much help in this situation. Anyone not on AOL will be deprived of appreciating this scene but, since we had just arrived in Italy, I had not determined what the closest town was that sported an AOL number. This is simply a multiple choice test in disguise. We knew we were in Ionia Rocella and here were our choices: Ancona, Bari, Bergamo, Bologna, Bolzano, Brescia, Catania, Florence, Gallarate, Genoa, Gorizia, Milan, Naples, Olbia, Padua, Palermo, Parma, Perugia, Pisa, Rimini, Rome, Trieste, Turin, Udine, Varese, Varese, Venice, and Verona. All these cities boasted local AOL connections so that logging onto the internet consisted of no more than making a local call. We recognized only Rome, Milan, Naples, and Venice so we knew they were all too far north. Our host, having been born and raised in Italy, of course knew the answer . . . but he couldn't understand the question! I finally settled on Palermo because our landing on the beach 30 minutes earlier reminded me of WWII documentaries I had seen of the landing on Palermo. Now all that was left was to explain to the clerk that we wanted to send a fax to Palermo (sort of) and how much would that cost? (We have found you cannot broach the subject of the computer until the time is right.) All we knew was that it would be 3,000 lyrics per page which seemed reasonable if you moved the decimal over far enough. We think we got him to agree to charge the same per minute as would otherwise be charged per page . . . but we're still not sure.

Next was to get him to unplug the fax machine and let me plug the telephone cord into the laptop. This took some doing, given the language barrier. Holding the palm of my hand vertical, for instance, and shouting "stop" kept him from replacing the 220 VAC power cord to the fax machine with the telephone cord from my laptop. Another barrier was that he had, apparently, never in his life removed an RJ11 plug from any kind of telephone or fax machine. So how do you say in Italian, "Just squeeze the little tab with your thumbnail and gently wiggle and tug on the plug at the same time?" He finally lifted up the whole machine and presented to me across the counter, spilling all kinds of notes, etc., off the table and onto the floor in the process. It wasn't long after that, however, before we heard, "You've got mail!"

On other days, things have not gone as smoothly with email as today. Often, the connection will hold for a minute or so and then drop for no reason. When they have a single AOL line in an entire city, I think it gets overloaded. Also, I almost suspect that data transmissions are blocked. Indeed, I know they charge different rates for a cell phone sending voice than for one sending data, even though the modem converts the electrical signals to "voice." In Cuba two years ago, calls were blocked routinely. It would take nine attempts on the average before the 10th would go through, apparently, while the computer police were napping. And, usually, you have to try several business establishments before you will get one that will trust that your computer is not surreptitiously calling China. Most will point the way to the nearest payphone. Today, the first place we tried simply unloaded us by saying, "fax no funciona" which, in Spanish means, "doesn't work" so probably Italian too. But we hit pay dirt on the second try. The last big problem with email is what I call, "haunting reconsideration." If you never get this email, it will be because after having thought over the day's events, our clerk will tomorrow refuse to let us use the machine again. That has happened quite a few times in the past. "My God, what did I do today?" they probably say to themselves while trying to get to sleep that night.

Meanwhile, back at the dinghy, a bit of a wind had come up! Launching the dinghy into the surf was a bit like a scene from Hawaii Five-0. The ride back against the waves got Mary wet in the bow and me soaking wet at the helm, but again, only a bucket or two of water in the bottom and, if you receive this, the laptop stayed dry. We've seen worse. Tomorrow, we'll walk the 2.50 miles. We need more exercise and less stress anyway. (Funny how one's viewpoint changes on a daily basis, eh?) With any luck, the clerk will not have been haunted by today's events and changed his view of the matter.

So ends a typical day in Paradise aboard a cruising sailboat.

Hope all is well with you!

Lee and Mary