Farewell to the Med, Summer 2006
 
The summer of 2006 was our final summer in the Med. It was a summer of sailing over 2400 miles, of wonderful visits from friends and families, of visiting new places and revisiting old favorites, of the World Cup of Football (soccer to Americans), and, punctuating it all, of refrigeration repairs and ice.

We left Turkey at the end of March, planning to cruise slowly through the Greek isles before meeting our friend Gene Rankin on Greece’s Peloponnesian peninsula in early May. We were delayed in our departure from Marmaris by last-minute refrigerator repairs, and then the newly-repaired fridge quit working again when we reached the island of Kos, three weeks into our trip. Part of the problem may have been that our salt-water pump – the one that provides the cooling for the engine and fridge condenser – had also failed. To read more about dealing with international purchases, regulations, and finances, as well as how we spent our time in Kos (featuring afternoon ouzos in the town square), see Adventure in Kos.

Because of the delays, we bypassed most of the Greek islands, stopping only at Milos (home of the famous Venus) with its whitewashed “castro”, a town perched on the island’s highest point, overlooking the natural harbor formed by the volcanic caldera.

As we entered Kalamata Bay we encountered a pod of sperm whales! We had not known the Med had whales, but later learned that in fact there are a substantial number of them, and major efforts to protect them. We tried to get close enough for photos, but they proved too shy.

We met Gene Rankin in Kalamata as planned and left the next day for Italy, a 3-day passage. We enjoyed great weather as we renewed our friendship, sharing tales and telling bad jokes. During this trip, we were visited by lots of little birds, mainly wrens, but some pairs of swallows and one mourning dove. They sought shelter, slept in quiet places, and then mostly died. We gave them sad little burials at sea. We made our landing at Rocello Ionico (on the ball of Italy’s foot), where we met Pietro and Catherine Martini and Pietro’s Italian family. Pietro’s parents generously treated us to a marvelous, endless Italian luncheon, after which we all hiked up to look at the ruined castle above the town.

We had hoped the next day to tackle the Straits of Messina, site of the mythical monsters Scylla and Charybdis, but contrary winds forced us to stop short in an abandoned commercial port. Entering at dusk was nerve-wracking, as the huge seawall of the port had been destroyed by a storm, the entrance shown on our charts was completely silted over, and where we actually entered was just a storm-breach in the seawall. But we made it in and tied to a high wall in the nearly deserted harbor. Gene said, “We need pizza,” so we scrambled up and walked 2 kms. to a tiny village where we found a pizzeria. What a great place, complete with wood-burning oven. The beer came in a big tank with a tap and the pizza was fabulous. Maybe it was the adventure of the docking, or the long walk, but it was a memorable meal.

The next day we motor-sailed through the Straits of Messina. At the north end, we marveled at the many whirlpools of Charybdis, feeling them pull the boat one way and the other. We docked at the charming Sicilian town of Cefalu and rented a car to tour Palermo, the incredible cathedral of Monreale, the breathtaking mountaintop village of Erice, and the infamous (but pretty pedestrian) Corleone. We found Sicily surprisingly green and fertile and quite lovely, but we had a date to be in France, to get Rob to Antibes for his International Umpire Workshop.

We motored almost all the way to NE corner of Sardinia. On this leg, we saw millions of tiny (thumb-sized) sailing jellyfish, like men-of-war, but lacking long tentacles. We never saw an adult one during the summer, so wonder what became of them all. After we took a quick look at Porto Cervo, the resort area developed by the Aga Khan, we passed through the Magdelena islands into the straits of Bonifacio, heading for Corsica. True to their reputation, the Straits were windy and it was a boisterous, swift sail across to the magical hidden entrance into the harbor at Bonifacio. We would have stayed awhile revisiting this fantastic place (described in our travelogue http://aboard-akka.com/archives/2003corsica.htm) but the weather forecast showed strong westerly winds (i.e., from abeam), so off we took. The winds became more northerly than westerly, so it was a slog, including about 6 hours of hand steering against 30 knot winds for the last bit.

But the reward was Antibes! We anchored off a beautiful beach and walked and dinghied into the ritzy yacht harbor to marvel at the superyachts, some of which had tenders almost as big as Akka. We picked up a magazine which listed the biggest 100 superyachts in the world, and spent the rest of our time on the Riviera spotting them – and we did collect quite a few!

Gene left us in Antibes, just as Peter and Marie flew in from Wales. Rob had by now passed his Umpire’s course, so we headed for Villefranche and Cap Ferrat, finding another charming anchorage among swanky villas. Another racing friend, Sandy Grosvenor from Annapolis, who had been at the Umpire course, biked over to meet us then came back to Antibes with us aboard Akka. We headed towards St. Tropez with Peter and Marie, but ran into some unexpectedly high winds, so took refuge a bit short of there after a rough afternoon. We’d neglected to let Marie know that there was no way Akka could tip over, so she was especially relieved when we safely entered the quiet bay of Agay.

After Peter and Marie left us, we did go to St. Tropez, bagged a few more of those superyachts in this most expensive of towns (15 euros for an hour of internet connection), then left for Hyeres, France’s big center of yacht racing in the Med. The World Cup was now heating up and we spent a fair amount of time watching some great soccer (football). The French team began slowly, but kept improving, so we joined the locals in rooting for “Les Bleus”.

Did we mention that our refrigeration system had stopped working back in Kos, Greece? And that there is no ice in Greece, either in stores or in bars? Or in Italy? It had been a challenging summer in the hot Med. At least the convenience stores in France sold ice, so our days there were punctuated by runs to the local store for a couple of bags of ice. We (and our understanding guests) were coping, but in Hyeres, we decided it was time to fix that fridge -- again. We took our compressors (the installed one and the “spare” one that we thought was broken) for testing. Alas, both were shot. The man in the shop refused to try to fix either, and offered instead to sell us a much better system made by a company he just happened to represent… We left.

We retraced our path to the Antibes area, checked into a marina and found a refrigerator specialist named Pascal. Though a bit abrupt and opinionated, Pascal definitely knew his stuff. He got us a new compressor for cash (avoiding VAT and other taxes) and dug into repairing the system. When he encountered a problem, he’d get really disgusted at it (especially when it was the result of another repair shop’s doing) and ask us why we’d done THAT. We kept telling him we just relied on people who said they were experts, because we weren’t. “Stupid,” he’d mutter (we weren’t sure if he was talking about their repair or our trust in other repairmen), and return to his repairs.

The next Sunday we left Pascal on the boat working on the fridge (he had vowed to solve this stupid problem for the stupid owners, no matter what it took) and picked Lisa and Guild up at the Nice airport, hoping we’d have refrigeration when we returned to the boat. Well, after the return trip and a few beers at the local bar, it was done. Finally, our problems were resolved! We could now sip nice cold beers and white wines and not buy $5 of ice every day.

We spent our time with Lisa and Guild finding and savoring beautiful anchorages, such as Ile Honorat off Cannes, home of a 1000 year-old monastery where we attended a silent mass led by the 30 or so white-clad monks, and Villefranche and Juan les Pins, where we could see World Cup games. The whole area from Cannes to Monaco is beautiful, charming, and everything one could hope for in the French Riviera. Villages with picturesque winding streets and overflowing flower boxes, fabulous food and drink; the place drips with atmosphere. In Monaco, Guild had the courage to play Blackjack and won! His winnings bought us drinks at the Café in the square in front of the Casino where we watched valets double- and triple- park Lamborghinis and Ferraris – and one lonely Smart Car.

As soon as Lisa and Guild had left us, Suzie Jardine (former crew in the Caribbean) joined us. With her, we watched the semi-finals and finals of the World Cup, yelling “Allez les Bleus!” to support the French, then mourning their loss in the finals, with Zidane’s astonishing and uncharacteristic head-butt.

With Suzie aboard, we headed west, gunkholing into beautiful coves or “calanques.” One afternoon, just after we anchored and before we could make Gin and Tonics, a squall came through with hailstones as big as walnuts. One bounced into the cockpit and hit the engine kill switch, turning it off! Listening to the noise from below, we hoped that none of our hatches would break, and none did. It was all over in 10 minutes, providing ice for our G&Ts and a gorgeous double rainbow.

At La Ciotat on July 13th, we watched a great pre-Bastille Day fireworks display, then on to Marseille for the Real Thing. Wow! We anchored Akka just outside the old port and took the dinghy into the outer part of the port, to watch the fireworks. We found ourselves among hundreds of other small boats, gunwale-to-gunwale, all nicely polite and quiet. The fireworks were spectacular, coming from the two forts that mark the harbor entrance, then from barges inside the port, then illuminating the cathedral atop the hill, on and on they went for a good 45 minutes, some of the booms felt in the pit of our stomachs. What a show! We read later that it cost 130,000 euros. For us, it was worth every cent. Afterward, all those hundreds of spectator boats left quietly and in an orderly fashion – impressive.

The next day, we moved over to the Iles du Frioule, a scant 4 miles off of Marseille, and anchored in a small cove all by ourselves for a day of relaxation. We found it quite remarkable to be so close to a huge city and be so solitary. We left the next day to cross the Gulf of Lyons and return to Spain.

The Gulf of Lyons has a reputation for nasty weather, but we had a delightful crossing, motoring part way and then sailing under comfortable winds, making our landfall at Cadaquez. It’s one of the prettiest ports along the Costa Brava and is next door to Salvatore Dali’s home. Unfortunately, almost the entire area where one could anchor is now taken up by a mooring field, and we were informed that there were no moorings available, so we stayed only briefly, walking over to look at Dali’s studio in the evening light.

We gunkholed along the Costa Brava with its beautiful cliffs and coves until Blanes, where we met our Spanish friend Juanma, with whom we had lunched weekly when we lived in Barcelona. It was time to practice our rusty Spanish. He and 3 friends came aboard to watch more fireworks, part of a week-long competition in Blanes. The setting was less dramatic than Marseille, but the fireworks were amazing, especially the ones they set off from underwater. No idea how that’s done.

We were excited to return to our beloved Barcelona, if only for 4 days. Unfortunately, Hugh Sheehy, our First 8 racing skipper, was out of town, but we were able to visit with his wife Nicole and their two beautiful little girls. We had good cheap food and excellent cava (champagne) at the hole-in-the-wall cava bar. Then Suzie flew back to the UK, Andi checked out the progress on Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia temple (quite noticeable, though there’s still a LONG way to go!), and we set sail for Menorca.

Our Menorcan destination was Fornells, the beautiful bay on the north side of the island, where we hoped to meet up with Sebastiá, whom we’d met 2 years ago (see http://aboard-akka.com/adventures/2004menorca_sardinia.htm). Unfortunately, while we were able to contact him by phone we were unable to arrange a meeting, so we sailed off to Pollensa, on Mallorca’s NE corner. What a beautiful bay, made even better by permanent moorings right off the town and at no charge! The cruising world is small: we met friends from Barcelona, from Turkey and from the Bahamas. We also saw a re-creation of a battle between the Moors and Christians.

Soller, on Mallorca’s dramatic north coast, was the take-off point for our overnight passage to Ibiza. But first, we took the charming narrow-gauge railroad from Soller over the mountains to Palma, returning to Akka that afternoon and weighing anchor, bound for Ibiza. As we motored out of Soller, we noticed distant thunderstorms to the north, but we had no wind and were glad those storms were so far off. Not for long! Within two hours, they’d reached us with drenching rain and gusts to 40 knots. Strangely, the waves never built up, so we motored along as the storm swept through in a scant half-hour, leaving us becalmed once again. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

Don and Ann Becker joined us in Ibiza where we spent 3-4 days puttering around the island. We were able to find secluded anchorages, even in mid-August. The best one featured caves and strange rock formations that must have been lava flows twisted by unimaginable forces. 12About then, our refrigeration quit again, but Don and Ann are experienced cruisers and took it well.

Another uneventful passage brought us to Valencia, site of next year’s America’s Cup. We’d visited the port and city with Don and Ann in 2004, just after Valencia had won the bid to host the AC, and we were all eager to see the changes. The first thing we noted was that there is a whole new breakwater, harbor entrance and marina! We were one of only a half-dozen boats at the 300+ boat marina. It’s brand-new and suffering from growing pains, but will be quite spectacular once its infrastructure is in place. It was, however, a bit of a hike into the inner harbor (and an even bigger hike into Valencia itself, or even to its transit system). The nearly circular inner harbor is ringed with the AC syndicate buildings, each large enough to envelope their boats, plus provide crew training, sail storage, and the ever-important Hospitality Facilities. Jordi, a friend from Barcelona, manages these facilities for Alinghi and treated us to a tour, right up to the rooftop (4 stories up) bar and viewing lounge. It’s a bit amazing to think that these syndicate buildings are basically pre-fabs and will come down again after the AC in July 2007.

We walked and gawked at the display of technology and wealth, then enjoyed a superb paella at La Pepica (a beachside restaurant lauded by Hemingway) before heading west along the coast. After Don and Ann left us at Alicante, we spent a few days in the Mar Menor, a huge inland sea just east of Cartagena. The coast south of Mar Menor is the least interesting stretch of the Spanish coast, so we scooted past it to Almerimar, where we hauled Akka for a month. We returned to the US where Rob umpired and we got to stay a couple of weeks with Lisa and Guild.

Remember that refrigeration system? The one that Pascal fixed so well back in Antibes, that failed again when we reached Menorca? By now, we’d bought a huge can of refrigerant and the gauges and hoses necessary to troubleshoot and refill the system, and used the latter to determine that we’d once again blown a compressor. So while we were in the US we bought another compressor, for about half the price of a European one, and in Almerimar we found another “expert”, Eric, who agreed to assist in our repairs, so we’d get on top of this for once and for all. Does this sound familiar? But this time, Eric spoke English. Well, South African English, but better than the Turkish, Greek or French we’d coped with so far. By now, we knew enough to do almost all the necessary repairs, reserving Eric for the copper soldering, vacuum pump, and driving around buying parts. And this time, we think we got it! At least at the time of this writing, more than a month later, it’s working better than it ever has.

From Almerimar, we hopped to Estepona, just 20 miles from Gibraltar, and sheltered a couple of days from wind and rain before making the final run. On October 20th, we motored past Europa Point and around The Rock. Goodbye, Mediterranean!

It was an unforgettable summer, and an unforgettable four years and 19 days in the Med.