So much has happened since our last blog, written in beautiful Syracusa, Sicily.
We were running short of our time left to be in Schengen countries, so we planned to sail south from Sicily to Malta, to spend a few weeks exploring this beautiful and fascinating island, and then on to Tunisia where we have booked to spend the winter months, tucked away safely in the marina of Cap Monastir.
After officially checking out of Italy with the Port Police in Syracusa, we prepared ourselves and Mai Tai for the 143nm passage to Malta, which is about half way to Tunisia. By leaving in the evening, we could sail all night to arrive in plenty of time to drop anchor the next day. The wind was perfect but we were also prepared for the strong currents that sweep around the southern coast of Sicily.
But…. When we went to start the engine to motor out through the anchorage and in to the open sea, there was no response. We could not get the engine to start. Oh no not again!!!!
Since we were already checked out of Syracuse, we had to be out of Sicilian waters within 24 hrs, so, there was no choice but to hoist our sails and sail out of there. The anchorage was not too crowded and we had favourable winds, so here we go again.
We decided, at this point, that it would be unwise to head for Malta without our engine, sailing into unknown anchorages, so would go direct to Tunisia. We were so disappointed to be missing Malta, but we will definitely come back.
We left Syracusa on Monday, late in the afternoon, sailing off our anchor (no engine of course) and we enjoyed a very nice reach down to the bottom of Sicily, the heel, about 30 nms away. As soon as we rounded the corner at 0300 Tuesday, we entered a huge wind hole. This had been predicted on Predict Wind so we were expecting it. We dropped the yankee and staysail and rolled gently with no wind for the next six hours. The current was slowly dragging us within two miles of the coast. Finally, the wind came in quickly at 0900. Suddenly, we had plenty of wind but it was right on our nose. From our present position we couldn’t point high enough to get over the top of Malta so we chose to tack up the coast of Sicily in 16 knots of wind and building seas. We didn’t initially realise that there was a 1.5 knot current against us along the coast of Sicily. (We had tacked out 5 miles and back and found we were right where we started from). So, instead of staying close to the coast, we made very long tacks (30 nms) out toward Malta then back again. At 2300 Tuesday we were sailing back toward Sicily but we could see on the Predict Wind grib files that there was no wind ahead of us so we tacked back out and this time we could just squeeze past the windward corner of Malta.
However, as we headed further west, the wind turned into a gale with 25 gusting 30 knots. We double reefed the main and had the yankee and staysail up. This was bit too much sail for the conditions but the weather forecast now showed a real storm (45 knots) arriving on Friday night and Saturday so we decided to push as hard as we dared to get to Monastir before that hit us. All night long we had waves breaking over the bow and we filled the cockpit often during the night. We were hard on the wind and the short steep seas made the whole night very uncomfortable. When daylight came on Wednesday, we saw the mainsail had ripped a seam in the top panel. Luckily, by 0700 the wind had dropped enough that we lowered the main and set about repairing the tear. We were imagining what it would be like to be caught in the approaching storm with no main. The tear was only the stitching in the panel seam so some sail repair tape and some hand stitching fixed it. While it was down, we found one of the battens had also broken so we removed it before the broken ends started tearing holes in the sail. Now the main was back up and the wind was down to 14 knots. We had a lovely sail all day until 1600 when the wind dropped down to 4-5 knots. We dropped the yankee and staysail and hanked on our light weight genoa to keep Mai Tai moving out of harm’s way. At this point, we were able to point Monastir but we were barely making 2 knots. All night long we worked the trim of the sails to keep Mai Tai moving in the light puffs of wind. We still had 100 miles to go to reach the safety of the marina. At 0600 on Thursday the wind just stopped, zero, nothing. We had to drop the genoa on deck. In our present circumstances, we had no wind, no engine and a full-on storm approaching! We nervously waited for a breeze to start. At 1200, as the grib files predicted, a whisper of wind started to come in from the south and we hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker, which pulled us along nicely as the wind slowly increased until sunset. The wind had filled in to 12 knots and we were making good speed. The wind held and we sailed through Thursday night, past fish farms and fishing boats under the full moon. We were too keyed up to even breath at this point, hoping the wind would hold. Finally, at 0200 Friday morning the wind dropped to zero. We were only 2 miles from the marina and could see the lights but the boat was stopped. So, we dropped the sails, launched the dinghy, installed the 8 hp outboard, lashed the dinghy on our stern quarter and started the outboard motor. We were able to make 2 knots with the dinghy power and we dropped the anchor just outside the narrow marina entrance at 0300. Both of us were so thrilled that we had made it we could hardly sleep, even though we were both completely exhausted. Only 6 hours later, at 0900 Friday, the winds started coming up and we again started up the dinghy, lifted the anchor and slowly maneuvered Mai Tai through the narrow entrance into the protection of the marina. With the help of the marineros we tied her up to the dock. Within an hour of being safely in the marina the nor‘wester started howling through the marina, increasing to over 40 knots during the afternoon and all through the night.
All went well. We are getting lots of practise at this type of arrival!
Above is a view looking down on Marina Cap Monastir, and a view of the narrow entrance which we had to manoeuvre Mai Tai through, hence the reason we waited until morning. Inside the marina we are well protected from all weather.
This very prominent Ribat ( or Fort) overlooking the marina, is the oldest ribat built by the Arab conquerors back in 795 AD and offers a wonderful view over the city of Monastir.
Marina Cap Monastir is a very popular place for cruisers to hang out over winter as the weather is quite mild. It is also one of the few places left that we can get out of the Schengen zone, plus it is a safe place to leave your boat to take a trip home or go travelling. The streets are kept clean and is very authentic and non touristy even though there are a number of large hotels along the beach front.
There is a nearby boat yard to haul out, marine shops, engineering shops, canvas and sail making, stainless steel fabrication and all work done by very proficient, friendly local people. Lane found a diesel mechanic who came down to the boat and diagnosed our engine problem immediately. It was, as Lane had suspected, our high pressure injection pump that was faulty. We are also getting 2 brand new sails made here to replace our 20-year-old mainsail, and Yankee. The local sailmakers here have an excellent reputation throughout Europe.
We immediately fit right in to the cruisers’ activities of weekly BBQs, Lane joined the Marina Gym and I joined the yoga classes 3 times a week. There were also daily running groups and Aqua fit classes off the local beach.
Not only that, we found quite a few Aussies and Kiwis here, but overall, there was a big mix of nationalities, British, French, German, American, Canadian, Turkish, several of whom we had cruised with since our time in Turkey.
We can find all our basic needs in the town centre at the 2 supermarkets, and a busy open market, all within walking distance of the marina. Modern shopping malls and larger supermarkets are in the nearby town of Sousse.
In September we flew home to New Zealand, flying out of Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia. It is just 2 and a half hrs away by train, has a busy international airport, and this is where we began our long journey. We chose China Eastern Airlines, being one of the cheaper airlines, which flew from Rome, via a stopover in Shanghai, China, then on to Auckland. That makes a lot of reading, movies and sleeping and eating to fill the 43 hrs journey.
On the way over, after leaving Tunis, we stopped in Rome for 5 days to see the famous sights, enjoy the good food and prepare ourselves for the long flight ahead of us. We absolutely adored spending time in this gorgeous city but we were surprised at the huge crowds, even in September.
On arrival in NZ, we took our rental car straight to Joan’s house where we literally crashed, totally exhausted. Joan had kindly invited us to stay with her for the first few days, which was wonderful, but Lane was not at all well and had a splitting headache for the first 2 days, with fever. A positive Covid test explained his symptoms, and not surprisingly, I too tested positive but had fewer symptoms. Fortunately, our friend Joan, remained Covid negative. As a result of being Covid positive, we felt very sorry for ourselves and lay low for the first week. We did not go visiting our friends as we had planned, so I apologise here if we did not get to see you in Auckland. We decided to keep our bugs to ourselves. We must have contracted this either on one of the long flights, or at the airport in Shanghai. We later learned that there had been a Covid outbreak in Shanghai which is where we had an 8 hour layover.
We did enjoy visiting our favourite places around Auckland and a particular favourite place was Anawhata, on Auckland’s wild West Coast. After so long cruising the dry rocky landscapes of Greece and then surrounded by desert in Tunisia, I was missing the green, green grass and trees of home. So I made sure to get lots of bush walks whenever I could.
My son Loic lives in Tauranga, so we spent as much time as we could with him and his lovely partner, Lauren, visiting friends in Whitianga, Cambridge, and exploring the bay of Plenty area. We always have so much fun together.
We even found some ruins in the old gold mining town of Waihi and Karangahake Gorge.
It was truly wonderful to be back home
The main reason for Lane to go back to NZ was to renew his NZ driver’s license before his 75th birthday in October. This cannot be done on line as a medical test is required, plus photos, so it has to be done in person. We had planned to be in NZ for just a month to accomplish this and I won’t even begin to explain the problems we had trying to get an appointment with a GP plus getting his license within that short time frame. We ended up extending our stay by 2 weeks to get it all done.
We are now back in Tunisia on board Mai Tai, enjoying warm weather and getting back into our cruising life.
My next big thing to look forward to is Francoise coming to visit us here in Tunisia. I can’t wait to share some Tunisian adventures with her. That will be for our next blog.