August 2009 Letter

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September 8, 2009
We have been on the move since we left the French Riviera, cruising the island of Corsica (French), and the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, including the Aeolian Islands.  We sailed all the way down to Tunisia for a brief out-of-the-EU formality which helps us avoid the VAT tax in Europe on our boat.  We have anchored every night (except for 2 nights in a marina in Carloforte, Sardinia) since the kids left in July.  Saves a lot of money, since marina fees are outrageous in August, and anchoring is free.

We have enjoyed some of the most beautiful anchorages and perfect weather in a long time.  You can see examples in my Photo Album for this month.  It was really hard to select the photos because I had to leave out so many of the places we visited.  I had hundreds of pictures to wade through!  Knowing that we will spend all winter in a berth in a marina makes us want to soak up as much of this serenity as we can.  Swimming in the crystal clear 90 degree water is sooooo nice.  And the views have been stunning .. rock formations, cliffs, caves, volcanoes, white sand beaches, pine trees, palm trees and charming little towns.  We absolutely fell in love with Corsica and plan to return next Spring to spend more time exploring this wonderful island.

Our main challenge, as usual, has been boat-related mechanical things.  Our water maker decided to quit.  Mike worked on it for several days to no avail.  He determined that we need a new high pressure pump for the system.  It will cost us over $2000 to buy one here!  Of all the thousands we spent on spare parts in preparation for coming to the Mediterranean, we didn't buy one of those.  We decided to wait and buy one at half that cost when we fly home at Christmas.  Therefore, water conservation is at the top of our priority list.  We've always been conservative with water consumption, but now we've taken it to a whole new level.  We're bathing in the sea with a quick fresh water rinse on the swimstep, wearing the same clothes for several days since I can't waste the water to run my washing machine, and definitely not washing the boat with fresh water.  It was so exciting to get a downpour while we were in Tunisia.  It rained buckets for about 2 hours.  A great rinse for the boat!

While in Corsica, we discovered the bilge full of seawater and the bilge pumps weren't functioning.  The bilge alarm went off while we were in the middle of attempting to anchor in a tight spot with a stern line tied to the cliff wall in Bonifacio.  It was windy, the ferry boat traffic was causing large wakes, and our bow thruster overheated again and shut down.  Mike was in the dinghy trying to get the line to the shore as he was getting knocked all over the place from the wakes.  I was at the helm with the alarm going off and the boat not responding to my steering because of the high wind.  We finally aborted the plan and Mike got back on board and heard the bilge alarm.  I had never heard the bilge alarm before, so I didn't know that's what it was.  I thought it was a shallow water alarm or something like that.  Mike immediately flew downstairs to check the bilge and saw all the water.  I was still at the helm attempting to maneuver us out of the craziness of Bonifacio harbor.  

I mean, really, it was the most chaotic harbor I've ever seen.  It's a natural harbor formed between the cliffs of the white limestone peninsula that Bonifacio's haute ville sits atop and the mainland.  The wind whips through the channel and all the boats (small, big, and really big) charge up and down the channel at full speed.  The turbulence in the water makes it extremely difficult to control the boat.  Most harbors have very strict speed limits, but this one is wild.  I just wanted out of there.  Mike, on the other hand, had two very important issues to deal with.  One, where is the water leaking in from?  Two, why isn't the bilge pump OR the secondary bilge pump working!  Mike discovered that the water is gushing in through the drive shaft bellows.  He 'burped' the bellows, repositioned it, cable tied the cooling hose to relieve the pressure, and finally got it to stop leaking.  Next he needed to get all the water out of the bilge.  He got out the handle for the manual bilge pump and started pumping as fast as he could.  Horror of horrors, it doesn't work either!!  

Eventually, Mike got bilge #1 working, replaced bilge #2 with a backup pump, and cleaned the corrosion off of the manual pump and got that working, too.  Over the next couple of weeks, the shaft bellows kept squirting water intermittently and seemed to be getting worse.  Fortunately, the bilge pumps were pumping out the water, but we needed to solve the problem.  We have a spare bellows, and we were making plans to haul-out Aquila for the work to be done.  ($$$, sigh)  As a last ditch effort, we decided to remove the set screws and move, just a fraction of an inch, the shaft collar that holds the bellows in position.  This was very scary because A LOT of water gushes in while you are doing this.  We had to act fast.  I wedged a boat hook against the collar so it wouldn't go flying in the wrong direction, while Mike pulled hard on the collar.  It wasn't moving at all.  The water was gushing over his hands and he eventually gave up and tightened the screws down.  Voila!  The leaking stopped and we haven't had a problem since then.  We've certainly got a clean bilge now, and saved the money we would have spent for the unnecessary haul-out.  Dodged another bullet.

On a more fun note, we arrived in Tunisia in the evening and anchored right next to a beautiful 76-foot schooner.  The next morning, the captain from that boat drove his dinghy over to us and said "Mike? Linda? It's really you!  Remember me from Ensenada?"  It was Ian!  We met Ian in 2005 when we were just starting our sailing life and we were in Mexico.  He was working on a different boat at that time, and missing his girlfriend who was still in New Zealand.  Since that time, he went back to New Zealand, married Francine, and now the both of them were here in Tunisia as captain and crew for the gorgeous sailing yacht Stormvogel.  Stormvogel is the yacht used in the movie "Dead Calm" with Nicole Kidman.  It is a British flagged racing yacht.  Ian and Francine have been working on her for the past year cruising all over the Mediterranean and Caribbean, or wherever the next race happens to be.  It was great fun meeting Francine and catching up on their life and adventures.

Tunisia is not on our list of favorite places, but I'm sure we didn't do it justice.  I have read about some beautiful places in Tunisia.  However, we went to the closest port Bizerte, which is not a resort or tourist town.  Bizerte, Tunisia is in stark contrast to the beautiful vacation hot spots that we have been cruising this past year.  We walked around the old part of Bizerte which was interesting for its authenticity, but dirty and a bit depressing.  The winding alleys were strewn with trash, feral cats foraged through garbage, and it didn't smell very good.  Some parts were interesting, as I poked my head into a Turkish bath, saw restoration work being done on an old mosque, walked up to the ruins of an old fort, and experienced the Tunisian marketplace.  The people were very nice.  Unfortunately, payoffs are the norm here and the officials each expect a "present" (money).  We had to deal with Immigration and then Customs.  We paid them off, got our necessary paperwork and, after only one day there, we set sail for Sicily.

Ahhhh, Sicily!  Magnifico! Molto bello!  We made landfall in Trapani to find free mooring balls in a nice harbor with an attractive town.  And an American-flagged boat right next to us!  Mark jumped in his dinghy (while only in his underwear) and came over to help us secure our mooring line.  He saw us coming in and didn't have time to get dressed. I guess you could say Mark's a casual mate from New Zealand.  He met his wife in San Diego while he was working in California quite some time ago.  They've been sailing for years.  We had a great time getting to know them.  They were heading in the opposite direction than us, but we think our sailing plans converge late next year.  Sure would be fun to see them again.  We plan to stay in touch.

We rented a car in Sicily and drove to see several of the ancient Greek temple sites.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner at an outdoor restaurant in Marsala (where the wine got it's name) and reflected once again on our charmed life.  We find it amusing that with all the inconveniences of living on a boat, and all the frustrations when things break down, and all the discomfort when the weather is bad, that we enjoy this lifestyle so much.  One blue sky day or one beautiful sunset is all it takes.  Or is it one glass of red wine for me and one cold beer for Mike that gets us feeling so warm and fuzzy?  Ha!  Just kidding.  Actually, we relish our good fortune over coffee in the morning, too.

For right now, we are anchored in a beautiful little cove at Panarea Island off the coast of Sicily.  We're waiting the for the right wind to sail to the infamous Isle of Capri.  We headed out yesterday morning but turned around just as we neared the volcano island of Stromboli.  The wind and waves were so strong and coming right at us.  It was a waste of energy and fuel, so we came back to this protected, peaceful cove.  Mike dove down to clean the bottom of the hull in this clean clear water, and I prepared this website update.  Think I'll go swimming now.  The sun is hot and the water is inviting.  We'll head for the Isle of Capri in the morning.

My next update will come from Rome, Italy.  We'll be there soon and will finally meet up with Anton and Natalia.  We will also vacation a few days with Mark and Darlene in Tuscany.  I can't wait!


Click here to see the Photo Album

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