Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Getting Kicked By Italy's Boot ..... Sep 2009

Looking out to sea from Santa Maria di Leuca, 
still looking very lumpy - think we will wait another day!!!!
 09 - 15 September 2009

Eventually the high winds eased in Brindisi and we couldn't think of any more excuses to stay. We had enjoyed our stay there, but there always somewhere else over the horizon. The winds and seas were still a little lively for our trip south 40miles to Otranto, but once we cleared the first cape the seas flattened some, the angle was better, the wind was on the port quarter we were zipping along.

As we neared Otranto the wind dropped out so we pulled into the small harbour behind the breakwater looking for a spot for the night. The harbour was packed full, yachts rafted 6 deep, many boats on moorings and not much room for anchoring but we nestled into a small spot happy in the knowledge we would be fine unless the wind came in from the north east. Nothing was showing in the forecast - we'd be fine! Just on dark and with dinner about to be served the wind came in, of course from the north east, leaving us totally unprotected on a lee shore and in 4 metres of water, time for a change of scenery!

With few options we lifted anchored and nudged our way into the dock, just around the corner from the wind and swell, rafted up to a large dive boat who was already 3 deep alongside a couple of fishing boats and hoped no one would be wanting an early departure. Otranto had come highly recommended, the walled town and cathedral "must sees", unfortunately we missed them. We don't like to leave Balvenie when she is rafted in case the other boats want to move so we enjoyed Otranto from the harbour instead.

One of the fairy castle homes in Santa Maria
We had an undisturbed night and left after breakfast heading further south down the 'heel'. The wind had been up all night and the seas again were rather lumpy. At least we were going downwind and felt very sorry for the handful of yachts we passed motoring sail north, wind right on the nose and bashing into it. Our turn would come again, it always does! We rounded the Cape at Santa Maria di Leuca, its the bottom of the stiletto heel, oh the difference to be in the lee of land, flat water at last. It looked possible to anchor outside the marina but just within the outer breakwater, and in very settled conditions outside the big outer breakwater, but neither were very protected from the south or west. We had heard of yachts that tied to the large empty fishing dock but we saw a couple come in and get moved on so we took the easy but very expensive option and headed for the marina - staff on the pontoon waving with open arms and mooring lines, sometimes you just need to forget about the money! Later in the day John and Eva on Destiny arrived, they had come right through from Brindisi in their motor trawler and had had a rather rolly time of it too, these Italian waters were not being very kind to any of us.

We checked all the weather sites and they all showed strong winds the following day for the Gulf of Taranto, that's the 'instep' which is about 50 miles across and renowned for its confused seas, not such a good place to be with high winds as well. So we had the day at leisure, exploring the amazing villas built here back in the 1920's, it seems all the architects had a competition for the craziest design, there were houses covered in flowery tiles, fairycastles, chateaus, chinese palaces - all very strange. Most were still in good repair and used as holiday homes, however some were in desperate need of a do-up, all very interesting. We climbed the many stairs up to Mussolini's monument on top of the cape, built as the ceremonial gateway to Italy. From there we watched some braver sailors out at sea, pleased we were on land.

Why didn't we take notice of' 'Red sky in the morning
 - sailors warning' ??? - leaving Roccella Ioanica
The winds for the following day were forecast to be 20knots from the north dropping through the day with less than 10knots the following day. As with most of the med it is either get beaten up or motor, time for another beating! We were up in the dark and let our lines go just as it was light enough to see. With 2 reefs in the main and a reefed head sail we headed out, comfortable enough to start with as we were still in the lee of the heel, unfortunately that didn't last. The wind and seas built, we couldn't point high enough for our first or second choice destination so Mark just settled Balvenie into a rhythm and she ploughed through with 3 metre waves on the beam, the biggest seas we have had since we entered the Straits of Bab el Mandeb at the bottom of the Red Sea. I was feeling seasick, a first in a very long time, so I had permission to go and hide below, clutching my pillow and wondering, as I do at times like this, just why I am doing this. As the hours and miles ticked by things did start to settle a little, we headed for La Castella the first stop on the "sole" and although not showing as an anchorage the whole bay looked shallow enough and sheltered from all but the south. We hoped there would not be a wind shift and dropped anchor just after dark, 13 1/2 hours later, the 2nd longest day sail we have done at 83 1/2 miles with a top speed of 9.2knots, well at least we knocked some miles off!!

We moved on the next morning, this coastline has few safe havens and is totally exposed to the south so we wanted to get to Sicily before any southerly winds came through. We spent the day crossing the Bay of Squillance, the sea conditions were much better and we sailed most of the way, tracking thunder storms on the radar and trying to avoid them. I gave some thought to the name Squillance while watching the squalls all around us, and after checking in the cruising guide about the area, yes - we were sailing through the Bay of Squalls!!!

We approached our overnight stop of Roccella Ioanica with much apprehension, there is no natural harbour, just a huge man-made marina built behind an enormous breakwater. The pilot book warns of continual silting at the entrance, the dogleg sandbar with no markers you must navigate around, the unpredicable shallow waters, the whirlpools inside the marina AND there is an account of a yacht being rolled trying to enter. Why are we going here? - because there is simply nowhere else. Huey and the other weather gods must have thought we needed a break, as we neared the winds dropped out and we had completely flat seas with no swell at all. We had been told on our cruisers radio net that the entrance had been dreadged to 4metres in August so we slowly navigated our way in. The dredged 4 metres was nowhere to be found, 3, 2.5 then 2, we should be stationary by now, down to 1.8metres on our depth metre, but it must have been soft sand and we just ploughed through it and happily tied to a big concrete jetty in the cheap unfinished marina. We were in, but would we ever get out again!!! Needless to add that their were extra tots of the hard stuff, yet again.

Destiny were a day behind us, they hadn't been having an easy time either. The winds were forecast very light for the next few days so we decided to stay a day so they would catch up, and we could motor to Sicily together in the light winds. There's not much to do there, but a day of rest was much needed, after catch up drinks with Destiny we went to the marina pizzeria for 'pizza by the metre'!!!, just excellent - including the young helpful Australian waiter who has moved here to visit all his Italian family.

Things are looking up - or are they???

Cruising Info for Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca and Roccella Ioanica in Italy:
Anchorages - 
Otranto at anchor ..... 40 08.917N 18 29.509E 4.8m mud Exposed Northeast to East
Otranto wall ..... 40 08 917N 18 29 699E 6.8m Rafted 4 deep, there is a bend in the wall and this was much more sheltered than it looks. We didn't get charged but arrived late and left at 8am
Santa Maria di Leuca Marina ..... 39 47.743N 18 21.640E 2.6m Went bow in - 2 mooring lines supplied. 54 Euro per night!! (Sept still classed as high season) No facilities.
Le Castella at anchor ..... 38 54.560N 17 02.039E 10m held well. Could get further in but arrived just on dark. Open to south - southeast. Can anchor over eastern side of bay, depending on wind direction. Had 20knots come up for a few hours overnight off the land, no problem.
Roccella Ionica Marina ..... 38 19.642N 16 26.006E 3m on big wall, finger berths looked rather flimsy but all new. No longer free, Police come around a few times early evening and collect 20 Euro per night. (after 54E in Santa Maria this seems cheap!) No marina staff
Internet - Nothing unlocked anywhere. New Dongle still not working,no dongle shops to be found. Got weather updates from Destiny whose Dongle was working!
Money and Provisions - Only went ashore at Santa Maria and Roccella Ionica. SM had adequate supermarket in town and ATM at Marina. RI had a good supermarket quite a walk (think there was one closer that we missed) no ATM at Marina but would be in town. Great pizza at marina
Formalities - haven't done any in Italy

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