Voyage of Traveler / Blog

July 17, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Trieste, Italy


We are cruising in the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea, having just left Trieste this morning at dawn.  We have really been on the move the past ten days, island hopping up the Dalmatian coast, and really loving it.  This has been some of the best cruising in the world.

Kotor, Montenegro, July 4 and 5.  What a gorgeous walled city, situated at the end of a dramatic five-mile deep fjord with steep canyon cliffs.  Behind Kotor’s walls lies a charming car-less and carefree town, with a labyrinth of cobbled stone alleyways linking ancient churches, small squares and sidewalk cafes.  Montenegro has very high check in fees for cruising yachts, like around $400 for a boat our length (includes a cruising permit good for one year, which is mandatory even if you are in the country for just one day).  Since we planned to be here only one night, we “dined and dashed” without checking in with customs and immigration. It was the first time we party-crashed a country. We understand the rest of Montenegro, which is the world’s newest country (in 2006), is not much to see, but Kotor was splendid.

Croatia, July 5 through 12.  Wow! What a beautiful coastline, with spectacular and historic walled cities and gorgeous islands. We started out with Dubrovnik, where my daughter Kellie and her two friends, Amy and Priscilla, joined us.  Then we cruised to the nearby island of Lopud (quiet, beautiful and great for kayaking at sunrise), then to Mjlet (another gorgeous island and a national park), then to Korcula (a spectacular walled city and home of Marco Polo), then Hvar (another great island) and Split, where Amy returned home, as planned.  We loved Split, especially Diocletian’s Palace, home of the last Roman Emperor, who retired here.  We also enjoyed rafting down the gorgeous Cetina River, just a few miles south of Split. We then cruised up to Pula and saw the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, much like a smaller version of the Coliseum in Rome, and now serves as a venue for summer concerts–Elton John performed there two nights before we arrived and Michael Bolton was doing his rehearsal as we left.  Our final stop in Croatia was at Rovinj, which is so charming we actually thought about staying for a year or so.  But then reality sank in, we pulled up anchor and sailed north to our next country, keeping in theme with our boat’s name.

Piran, Slovenia, July 12 and 13.  Slovenia is the smallest country in the EU, both in land (only 20,000 sq km) and people (only two million), and has the shortest coastline (only 28 miles.)  But picturesque Piran is a real jewel with its narrow, meandering cobblestone streets lined with houses of astounding colors, with laundry hung to dry and flying overhead.  Slovenia was our 26th country visited in the 24 months we have been on this voyage around the world.

Trieste, Italy, July 13 and 14. We stayed here just one night at the prestigious Adriaco Yacht Club thanks to our former crew members Filippo and Emma, who were with us from Tanna Island to Australia. They also arranged reservations for us in Venice at the San Giorgio Yacht Club, directly across the canal from San Marcos Piazza.  Mille grazie, Filippo and Emma! In Trieste we rode bikes around the grand piazza where we had Compari cocktails at Harry’s Bar and Grill and watched the roadies setting up the stage for Carlos Santana’s outdoor concert. We then biked to the ruins of another Roman amphitheater, and then to a sidewalk cafe where we enjoyed a great dinner at another piazza overlooking a fountain and yet another ancient church.

Back at the boat, we watched the DVD “Dangerous Beauty” to get us ready for our next stop: Venice.  For every sailor who dreams of sailing to exotic ports around the world, sailing into Venice has to be near the top of the list.  Remember the ending of the James Bond film Casino Real, when Bond texted in his resignation as he and his girlfriend sailed into Venice? That will be Barbara and me, along with Kellie and Priscilla, later this afternoon.  Now we are really…

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara

July 5, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Albania

July 3, 2009
40 42 N, 019 10E

Hi, Everyone,
We are cruising north just off the Albanian coast, having left Sarande, Albania this morning, on an overnight passage headed for Montenegro. As Barbara and I were finishing our dinner of fresh mussels with pasta in the cockpit and enjoying the sunset over the Adriatic Sea, it dawned on me that this is likely to be our last overnight passage together, with just the two of us.  Barbara must go back to work in just 40 days from now, and we will be doing short daytime passages, and will have family and friends on board with us as we cruise Croatia and around Italy during that time.

We liked Sarande, Albania, but really loved cruising in the Ionic Greek islands over the past two weeks.  Our itinerary included the charming, laid back island of Aegina; then the amazing 3.5 mile Corinth Canal, with its steep high walls; Fathi and Frikes harbors on Ithaca; the lovely Sivota Bay on Levkas; we anchored for the night off Skorpios, the private island owned by the Onassis family where Jackie and Ari fell in love and played; the Levkas Canal (rather boring after the Corinth); picturesque Gaios, Paxos; and finally the impressive fortresses and interesting old town of Corfu.  Barbara’s friend, Teresa, was with us this leg of the trip, and we enjoyed her company. This was easily some of the best cruising of our voyage.  We loved these gorgeous islands of Greece.

Albania, just six miles north of Corfu, was a communist country with closed borders and heavy censorship from after WWII up until 1991.  All foreigners were considered the enemy.  Now, tourism is driving their economy, and we were welcomed warmly.  We stayed only two days and one night in the southern Albanian town of Sarande.  The highlight here was the nearby ancient Roman and Greek ruins of Butrint, first settled in the 6th century BC, then flourished under the Romans.  It was only recently excavated by Italian archaeologists and is now a World Heritage Site, a National Park, and a source of great pride for Albanians.

The winds are light and on the bow, so we are motoring at 6.6 knots, probably the whole way to our next stop, up Europe’s deepest fjord to the walled city of Kotor, Montenegro.

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara

June 24, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Aegina (Greek Isles)

June 22, 2009

Aegina, Greece

Hi, Everyone,
Wow, my last postcard was after leaving Santorini on May 28, nearly a month ago.  Lots has happened since then.  Mostly good, some bad.

With my son Scott and his girlfriend Natalie (both will be juniors at Berkeley), we very much enjoyed the Greek island of Ios.  Once we got Traveler tied up at the wharf, that is.  When we entered the small harbor it was blowing about 20 and we had to reverse downwind, stern to the wharf, with the bow anchor out and letting the anchor chain run as we backed down.  But the anchor landed on grass, didn’t set properly and dragged, so the wind caused us to bump the concrete wharf, causing a small ding on the fiberglass hull and the wood trim for one of our stern windows. I couldn’t just motor away from the wharf because the wind so quickly caught my bow and pushed it to the side, toward another boat tied up along side of us and I had no room to turn.  It took awhile to get the spare anchor out and set it from the dinghy, all while others helped by fending Traveler off the wharf and the neighboring boat in the wind and waves. It was a little stressful. I really could have used Barbara to help me.  Scott and Natalie wanted to help but they were new to boating and I needed experienced crew in this situation.

We found Ios to be charming, a lot like Mykonos but without the crowds.  Just enough college kids to make the nightlife fun.  For Scott and Natalie, that is.  I usually fall asleep by 10, totally exhausted from all the day’s activities.  As you may know, on most Greek islands the nightlife starts at 11 or 12, really gets going at about 3, and doesn’t stop till dawn.  Scott and Natalie would usually roll in and crash about when I’m having my second cup of coffee. I’d try to get them up at the crack of noon, but sometimes they would sleep in til 3 or 4 in the afternoon.

Mykonos was another very windy harbor when we arrived, but we managed to do much better this time, mostly because we motored into the wind as we approached the wharf. And now Scott and Natalie were more helpful, with the lessons learned from Ios docking experience fresh in mind. At Mykonos’ famous Paradise Beach we found a late afternoon beach party with about 400 drunk college-aged young adults, the guys shirtless in trunks, and the girls in bikinis, all dancing to a DJ and getting pretty wild.  A lot of loud music, tattoos, silicone and spilled beer.

Our next island, Kea, was very tame, kind of like Avalon in the winter, especially compared to the previous three party islands of Santorini, Ios and Mykonos.  But we all welcomed a little chill time.

In Athens, we took a berth at the huge and crowded Zea Marina in Piraeus, just 26 miles from Athens Acropolis (the original marathon route).  Scott’s other two friends, Christine and Jillian joined us here for a week. A big highlight for them was seeing their favorite DJ, Deadmou5 (that’s right, the last letter of his name is the number 5 and it’s pronounced “dead mouse”.) He stopped in Athens as part of his world tour.  Scott had seen him just a week earlier in San Francisco, and Christine had seen him two weeks earlier in LA.  Ask someone you know in their early 20s.  Deadmou5 is huge.  They got into the show for free (they coincidentally met the bouncers at a cafe just before the show who let them in), they got free drinks all night (the club owner took a liking to Christine), and then Deadmau5 took a liking to Scott, who got to wear his hat (this is a really huge deal, if you know anything about Deadmau5).  After the show at about 7 they all got invited to limo it to his suite at the Athens Hilton to order room service for breakfast.  They got back to Traveler at about 10, raving that it was their best night out.  Ever.

Meanwhile, Barbara took a break from Traveler for a two week side trip.  She was with Kathy Smith from our Transpac crew for the first week to see Prague, and then by herself the second week to see Istanbul, Ephasis, Troy and other sights in Turkey. It was great to have her back. We had a Captain’s Dinner to celebrate Barbara’s return and bid a bon voyage to Scott, Natalie, Christine, Jillian and me.  I flew back, first to Eugene to see my daughter Kellie’s graduation from the University of Oregon (Scott was there too), and then to Newport Beach for a probate trial, to see my CPA, dentist and dermatologist and family (thanks Drew and Linda) and friends (Dick Higbie, Scott Schubert and Dave Beek from Transpac crew and many other members of the BYC, Keith Lumpkin and his parents, Jim Moodey, my niece Katie and her graduation from NHHS, John Sturgess, and then Susan Hillgren, the Ukropinas, the Weiners, the D’Pallitos and others all at the O’Desky’s great graduation party for Aly.)  It felt so weird to be back in NB, especially to walk through my old home on Cumberland and see what the new owners did with their remodel. But it also feft so good just to take a walk in the park with my son, Brian, and our chocolate lab, Coco.

On the flight back to Athens I had a seven hour layover in JFK Airport, so I took the Long Island Railroad out to Bethpage to see the US Open.  It felt strange to be watching Tiger Woods do his thing in New York when I should be with Barbara doing our thing on Traveler in the Greek Isles. While I saw some fabulous golf, I really missed sailing on Traveler.  So following back to back red eye flights, within a few short hours of getting back to the boat, we set sail for the Greek island of Aegina, just 17 miles SW of Piraeus.

We are pleased to have on board as guest crew Barbara’s friend Teresa for the next 13 days.

When we arrived Aegina and anchored, we noticed the bilge pump was going on, and staying on.  This is not a good sound.  We opened the engine hatch and saw a steady stream of sea water pouring in from where the propeller shaft goes through the hull.  Many boats have sunk from this exact problem. Our bilge pump was able to keep up with the flow, but for how long, and what if it gets much worse? Barbara and I tried for nearly two hours to stop the leak, unsuccessfully.  The packing gland already had two hose clamps on it, and they were tight, so we put a third hose clamp on, but strangely that only increased the flow, from about a gallon to two gallons a minute.  That’s when I decided to go ashore in the dinghy to the small town of Aegina, at 10pm on a Sunday night, to try to find a mechanic to come out to the boat to help us. After an hour or so of searching, I got a qualified mechanic to dinghy out with me to Traveler.  He was able to temporarily stop the leak, but to properly fix the problem we had to haul the boat.  So after just a three hours sleep (and no sleep for the previous two nights on planes), we motored five miles to the boat yard at sunrise and hauled Traveler out of the water.

We got the leaky packing gland fixed, and while we were out of the water I had the yard guys patch up some scrapes we got while in Dili, East Timor from bumping a reef, and then put a coat of bottom paint on.  We were in the yard, “on the hard,” for two nights.

The boat yard has a head with a shower that’s more for the employees to use at the end of a hard day’s work.  But for us and a few other yachties staying onboard while the boat’s in the yard, that’s where you go, when you need to go. After showering, Teresa wearing only a loosely tied sarong, had to climb the 15 foot ladder to get back on Traveler.  A gust of wind caught the sarong and quickly unwrapped it, then re-wrapped it around her head as she was hanging onto the ladder’s top rung with both hands, giving a few men working in the yard a little show.

Livin the dream,
Michael and Barbara

May 28, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Santorini

Hi, Everyone,
Traveler is on a 12 mile passage now between Santorini and Ios in the Greek Islands.  With me is my son, Scott, and his girlfriend, Natalie, both sophomores at UC Berkeley.  Barbara is off the boat for a couple of weeks touring Prague with Kathy Smith (one of our crew from Transpac), and then Istanbul and other sites in Turkey by herself before rejoining us in Mykonos on June 5.

Our passage from the Suez Canal to Turkey went fine. It was good to be cruising in the Med.  We had two mechanical problems: we were still having trouble starting the engine when it was cooled down (ongoing for the past two months) and our propane solenoid stopped working, plus we were motoring due to light wind and getting low on fuel, so we stopped at Fethiye, Turkey instead of Marmaris.  We really liked Fethiye–a picture perfect harbor with Roman ruins, fish markets, lots of local boats and yachts from all over and nice weather. We also found a Yanmar dealer to fix our engine.  Turns out he properly diagnosed our problem as a small amount of sea water coming up our exhaust then getting into the engine through an open exhaust valve due a combination of factors: (1) our exhaust elbow did not have a high enough lift to it (the old elbow had only a five inch lift and the new custom built elbow has an 18 inch lift), (2) our vented loop was not properly mounted and came loose so it was no longer vertical, and (3) our custom fiberglass water lock developed cracks and was leaking.  After the repairs (three days, $2,300), the compression tested very good, and the engine starts easily and runs well now.

We then motor-sailed through the night, departing at midnight, from Fethiye to Bodrum, another picture perfect Turkish port of call, with an ancient fort guarding the harbor, lots of fun restaurants, and a great marina.  It reminded me a little of a Turkish version of Avalon, with the fort at the harbor entrance instead of the casino. Stayed here just one night, and this is where Barbara began her side trip, so I made the crossing from Bodrum, Turkey to Kos, Greece–just 12 miles–by myself.  It was weird to be on the boat alone–the first time ever.  And it was a little challenging to come into the unfamiliar marina, in 20 knots of wind, and moor Med-style bow in, squeezing between two other boats in a space just wide enough for Traveler to fit snuggly, and handling the dock lines and fenders solo, but I managed.  This is where Scott and Natalie join me.

We very much enjoyed Kos, with another great fort, lots of fun restaurants and tourists from all over, mostly European countries.  The Greeks welcomed us warmly wherever we went, as did the Turks.  We rode bikes around the harbor, sightseeing and spent a couple of hours at a beach in front of a bar having a round of beers.

We left Kos at about 5pm and sailed through the night to Santorini, about 100 miles to the west. The wind was strong (20 knots) and the waves high, making for a bumping passage for Scott and Natalie.  I had a double reefed main and jib, and we were sailing along nicely at 8 knots. Then we got hit by a “meltemi” which is a strong, short blast of wind typical in the Greek islands.  The wind gusted to at least 30, maybe 35, knots and briefly knocked the boat over on its side causing things to go flying below. I quickly eased the main and we came right back up, then I reefed the main and jib some more. We were okay after that.  Nothing broke, but Scott and Natalie were a little shaken on the play–especially when I put on my PFD (inflatable lifejacket) and asked them to do the same.

Only 3 miles to go to Ios, so I gotta go.

Living the Dream, but miss Barbara much,

May 16, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Cairo and Suez Canal

Link to Traveler’s photos from Egypt

Hi Everyone,
We finally made it up through the Red Sea’s notorious headwinds and steep waves, and then our passage through the Suez Canal. We are now cruising in the Med!  And we’re sailing again, thanks to the wind gods, after motoring most of the way through the Red Sea, due to the strong headwinds.

We liked Egypt, but the Egyptians wore us down. Most of them, anyway (with a very nice exception mentioned below, in the last paragraph,) are on the take, either befriending us to get something or straight out hasseling us. Prices for tourists are typically doubled or tripled, and sometimes much more than that. In most markets and shops, hotels and restaurants, none of the items are priced.  You ask the price and get some outlandishly high price, then the bargaining begins.  It can take ten minutes just to buy an apple.  To provision a boat for several days can take a full day of shopping, with most of the time haggling over prices.  To the Egyptians, it is a game, a part of their culture, and they are proud to rip off a tourist.  The police are the worst.  They demand bakeesh (Arabic for “small gift”) for allowing you just to pass (meaning, just to walk by them), especially if you are carrying something to or from your boat.  Sometimes if you have nothing with you at all, they still ask for money or cigarettes.  Taxis are un-metered and the prices vary wildly.  Typically, a local would pay $2 and a tourist would pay $10 for the same ride. But first the taxi driver would ask for $20, and then after haggling for a few minutes the best you can get him down to is $10 and he still makes you feel either (a) like you have insulted him, or (b) like he is doing you a big favor, or both.  Touts (street vendors) walk up to you and try to sell you something.  If you politely say no, it just encourages them.  It really wears on you after a couple of weeks.

We enjoyed a wild and crazy drive into Cairo in a micro bus, 2 hours. After many connections between bus, subway and mini taxi, all smooth connections, we arrived at Giza, home of the Sphinx and Pyramids. Renting horses and riding in the late afternoon, enjoying the sunset,  we rode up the sand dunes and had tea at a bedoin camp overlooking the pyramids. Galloping back down through the dunes, Barbara lost control of her horse and her skirt. (Yes, a skirt. We had not planned this ride when we left the boat.) She had a wrap skirt on and which soon became unwrapped in the winds and wild ride. As she tried to control her skirt, the horse went in to “return to the barn” mode and flew! Our guide had not bothered to give Barbara a saddle with long enough stirrups so she was riding as if she were a jockey with her skirt riding up and flowing behind her and getting longer as it unwrapped! Too funny! Good thing she had bathing suit bottoms on although in this culture, the modesty of a woman is everything where even a bare ankle is considered exposure. She managed to get covered before leaving the dunes and entering the populated area around the pyramids. Upon dismounting, we went straight to a pharmacy for aspirin to sooth the aches and pains.  We ended the night watching the Sound and Light Show, narrated by Omar Sharif. Beautiful, and with modern technology of laser beams, the whole performance was awe inspiring. Now needing a place to stay, we lucked out with the Sphinx Guest House right across the way. From our windows in our room we gazed out upon the pyramids all night and woke to see them again in the early morning light. Camels were on their way to work. Spectacular! And we didn’t have to bargain much to get a good price! Leaving the hotel, we rode a camel around the base of the pyramids and got better with our bargaining skills. Finally, we departed for the Egyptian Museum. Our taxi to the subway broke down on the freeway. We ended up hitchhiking in the emergency lane, getting picked up by a bus. This sounds odd, but hitchhiking on freeways is actually common here, as the people try to flag down a bus going their way. We made it, actually quite easily given the breakdown and all, to the Egyptian Museum. We especially enjoyed the exhibit of King Tutanhkammun. Wow!

Our passage through the Suez Canal was interesting, scenic and memorable for the costly error our pilot made.  Each vessel, even small private yachts, must hire a licensed captain to act as a pilot, even though it is 99% just following the boat in front of you.  At mid-morning on the first day of a two day passage, a very small French navy ship, more like a patrol boat, re-joined the northbound convoy after doing something in one of the wide spots in the canal.  The “warship” basically cut in line about a mile or so ahead of us, with a ship or two between us.  The very strict rule is that all yachts of any size (the rule does not apply to ships, however) must avoid approaching or even appearing to approach (and that includes following a safe distance behind) any warship.  Our pilot should have stopped and pulled over to the side and given the Frenchies at least a couple of miles between us before resuming our northbound passage, following way, way behind him (apparently just a mile was not enough distance.)  Every mile or so along the 100 mile canal are military police observation posts.  The Canal Police pulled us over and lectured our pilot and made him sit in a room for four hours (while we waited onboard Traveler) before releasing him, so he was able to finish that first day with us (but not the second day–we were assigned a different pilot for that.)  When our pilot was allowed back on Traveler he said that he is still in very serious trouble and (although his English is not very good, I got the impression) that he believes he will have to go to jail and probably lose his captain’s license for this offense or pay some serious bakeesh to someone in charge.

In Egypt, there are many laws that everyone breaks.  Eventually, the police will stop someone, apparently at random, and point out that they are breaking the law.  It is all just a shake down to get a payoff.  Here’s a case in point.  The dockmaster at the Suez Yacht Club helps yachties get diesel by taking their empty jerry jugs to the gas station and bringing them back full, marking the cost of the fuel up about 10% for the effort, which is well worth the price for the convenience, especially since the fuel here is so inexpensive to begin with.  This has been going on for years, and everyone knows about it.  Well, apparently this is a misdemeanor, for some reason, and the dockmaster was jailed for it just the day before we arrived.  After several hours, he was released on bail pending a hearing.  Now the poor dockmaster is saving up for the bakeesh he will have to pay to the police captain to make the problem go away.  He offered to do our laundry, which he did after he got off work at the yacht club (five loads for $20, with everything ironed. $20 after Barbara bargained him down from $35.)

Some Egyptians that we met and loved were a sweet family in Suez, the Farouk Family, who are devout Catholics.  They were warm and generous and truly welcomed us to their home town.  Barbara met Mr. Farouk by chance at a small cafe at breakfast and within a few minutes he had her in his car helping her get a sim card for the phone, provisions, bread and fresh produce. As long as the money passes from an Egyptian hand, even knowing that it is a tourist buying the goods, we got good Egyptian prices. Amazing difference in prices! (Small bottle of water is 20 cents local price and $4 tourist price.)Upon return from Cairo, we called the Farouks and they picked us up and treated us to an evening at their shop in downtown Suez. We were treated like family with one family friend doing the translating.  While the women were chit-chatting and eating desserts they had just gone to the bakery for, Michael, Mr. Farouk and another male friend of the family were sitting around smoking a sheesha water pipe, with apple flavored tobacco, in true Egyptian style. We took pictures and went and made copies for everyone. One of the sisters of Mr. Farouk gave Barbara her first cross. Another gave her a ring she was wearing on her finger. They would not let us pay for anything no matter how hard we tried. Truly amazing after all our experiences with bargaining and paying bakeesh! This fun evening lasted until midnight, with the streets of Suez still wide open and full of people, music playing, lights flashing. When we finally made it back to the boat, Michael met with the agent and we finalized our transit for the following day. Up at 5 am, and with no naps and then up again at 5 this morning, it has been quite the long couple of days. It is great to be back at sea with a gentle 13-15 knots and flat seas. Time to get some rest!

Next stop, Marmaris, Turkey, in 3 1/2 days.

Livin’ the Dream, in the Med!
Michael and Barbara

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