Sunday, August 28, 2022

From Italy to France, and a lot of action along the way!

 We've been doing lots of stuff and have been very remiss with keeping up the blog.  Sorry about that!  We did the last blog post in Rome and stayed there for almost a week, taking in as much as we could.  We were there on a Sunday, and went to St. Peter's Square to see The Pope during one of his public addresses. There were lots of people in the square and The Pope made an appearance from the window of the Papal Apartments.  He was a long, long ways away, and we didn't get to see much.  Can you spot him in this (very zoomed in) photo?

We left Rome and were chased into a marina by some very dark thunderclouds.  We hopped our way north along the "shin" of the Italian Boot with some day sailing.  We made it to a beautiful coastal Italian town called Santo Stefano that is famous for its rowing races (that we just missed).

From there the forecast was for some more serious thunderstorms, so we used a short clear weather window to make it to Livorno, Italy and tied up in another marina.  Luckily, we arrived just as the weather started to deteriorate, and tied up just in time for a major squall to roll through.  The winds in the marina were clocked at 63 knots for a brief period!  This was the same unexpected weather system which caused serious damage to the west of us, in Corsica.  They experienced hurricane force winds on that island, and many boats ended up in trouble.  Here the girls are enjoying the wind and rain safely in the marina (with a healthy dose of lighting & thunder).

Livorno had a lot to offer, and is considered "New Venice" with its waterways through the town.  We took the dinghy for a bit of a wander amongst the buildings of Livorno.

Since the forecast was for more electrical storms, we decided to take the train to Piza about 30km away to the north.  The square at the Leaning Tower of Piza was breathtaking.  So much amazing architecture and history was packed into this small space!  Aria won our family/tourist photo contest in Piza.

We walked up to the top of the Leaning Tower and it was trippy (literally!).  The tower leans at 5 degrees and it was very noticeable up at the top.  Here is a bell in the tower that hangs plumb.  Its obviously not in the centre of the window.

We didn't escape the thunderstorms while in Piza and had a ridiculous downpour that lasted about 30 minutes.  This was the view of the clouds above the impressive cathedral in Piza Square.

The square included a Baptistery that had heavenly acoustics.  While inside, we were treated to a demonstration which did not disappoint.

The weather cleared and we decided to keep heading north on the west coast of Italy.  Our next destination was the Cique Terra, a beautiful series of quaint villages on the ocean.  These 5 coastal towns are very beautiful and a popular hiking route links them all together.  Between villages, the hikes were only about one hour each, then a train takes you back to where you started.

We had a couple of encounters with local Italian ticket checkers and got two separate fines this day for taking the wrong train/bus.  Our Italian is non-existent which led to our problems in the first place, but they weren't all that sympathetic, unfortunately.  We were 130 euros lighter, and at the end of our Italian travels so we decided to head to France :)

We did an overnight crossing and landed in Menton, France which is on the Italian border.  It is the easternmost town in the French Riviera, and was very charming.

While anchored in Menton, we took a quick train ride west to Monaco.  This is the second smallest sovereign nation in the world (after the Vatican) and had always intrigued us.  In the 13th century Monaco was captured by the Grimaldis and has been under their rule ever since (well, mostly - they were in exile for a few years in the 18th century after France kicked them out).   These days, Monaco is wealthy and opulent thanks to the Monte Carlo Casino, and the infrastructure around that. The Monaco Royalty is also fascinating, and about 70 years ago, actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco to become Princess Grace.  We visited their amazing aquarium, and toured around the city taking in all the sights.

Next, we will move onto Nice at the heart of the French Riviera.  Our traveling around has been amazing and we have kept ourselves very busy.  We do have relaxing days as well, and end up going to the beach or snorkelling off the boat.  We will try to post these blogs weekly, and let you know what we are doing and where we are going.  Keep checking in and see what we've been up to.  Check out the links to the right and you can see where we are now!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Going back in time... to the Atlantic Crossing on Oyai in May

We thought folks may be interested in the story of how Oyai and her crew got from Martinique to the Mediterranean.  Well, get comfortable, because it's a bit of a long story (not really).

Lucky us!  We have a whole year of sabbatical to play with.  So if we are going to sail around the Atlantic, that means chasing the sun and avoiding hurricane season.  Luckily, there is a well-travelled route that sailors take to do just that, and it goes something like this...  high-tail it out of the Caribbean in May to avoid hurricanes, and head north, then east to follow the prevailing winds.  Call at the Azores because its in your path on the way to Europe, then continue to where you want to go (UK, North Europe, the Med, wherever).  Then, in the fall when Europe starts getting a little chilly, head south to the Canary Islands and wait until hurricane season is over.  Then sail back to the Caribbean around December.  This all sounded pretty dreamy to us, so that's our overall plan.

The trip from the Caribbean to Europe can be colder and stormier than the trade wind trip in the opposite direction, so our family decided that all of us would only do the return trip to the Caribbean together.  For the first crossing (west to east) Stu would hire a professional skipper and find some adventurous friends to get the boat where it needed to go.  Our experience with offshore sailing was pretty limited, so this seemed like the right call.  Luckily, we knew a skipper by the name of Xander who is a local Comox Valley friend and he was able to fit the trip into his schedule - amazing!  We also recruited two long-time friends that we used to whitewater kayak with a lot:  Chuck and Mark.  Xander would see us safely to the Azores, then he had to fly home.  This meant that another friend and crew member, Aaron, would fly in to help us get the boat to Gibraltar.  This left Stu as a somewhat reluctant skipper after we all had 17 whole days of offshore sailing under our belts.

This is the intrepid crew of 4 minutes before we shoved off from Le Marin in Martinique.  From left to right is Mark, Stu, Chuck and Xander.  You may notice the original name of the boat "Oya".  Well, when we tried to register that name with Transport Canada, they wouldn't let us use it (maybe there was already another Oya).  So, being overly practical, we simply added an "I" and "Oyai" was born!  It seemed like the easiest solution because "I's" were easy to add to the name plates :)

Here, Chuck demonstrates how all of us new offshore sailors felt about the boat's movement while we were trying to cook our meals.  Most of us felt pretty rough with seasickness for about 12-24 hours, but after that started to improve quickly.  By day 2-3 at sea, we could cook, clean or fix things with our heads down in the bilge and we felt totally fine.

This is a video of one of our first sunsets at sea.  It was our first of many!

Dolphins were our constant companions during the voyage.  On almost a daily basis, they would visit us and usually play in our bow wake.  It was magical to sit on the seat at the bow and have dolphins frolicking directly under your feet!

Our first we days were spent in the trade winds as we headed north.  We were sailing pretty close to the wind in about 15-20 knots of wind which was pretty ideal and comfortable to break us in.

We passed many squalls (small stormy areas) and generally were able to dodge them easily.  We could see them on the radar so dodging them at night time was easy too.

With Xander's guidance, we stopped the boat in the middle of the Atlantic on a very light wind day and swam in the deep blue waters.  It was a bit surreal, and most of us didn't dally in the water.  Looking down with mask and snorkel into the abyss was kinda crazy, and the deepness of the blue was unlike anything we had seen before.

We altered course to check out a dead whale carcass that was reported to us on VHF by a fellow sailor.  It was very large and very ripe.  It looked like it had died of a possible ship strike, but its hard to say for sure because it had been dead for a while.  The carcass had many large bites out of the side likely from hungry sharks feeding on it.  There were also live whales around the body as well.

Offshore fishing is a bit of an art form, and one that Xander was happy to share with us.  We caught Mahi Mahi, and it was a real treat to have fresh fish for supper!

Land Ho!  After 16 days at sea, we got our first glimpse of land.  It was the Island of Faial in the Azores Island chain.  This island, and its city Horta, is famous with sailors as it is usually the first land fall for eastbound sailors crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

We experienced Horta for 2 days and took in some of the local culture.  The crew was well-rested and happy to be on terra firma again.  Chuck, Xander, Mark and Stu walked around the town and took in many of the sights.  

The Peter Cafe Sport is a famous sailing Cafe/Bar that is a must-see for any sailor crossing the Atlantic.  We were having a nice meal when singing would break our spontaneously around the bar.  The old salts were singing sea shanties, usually in a language we didn't understand very well.

After Horta, we sailed to the island of Sao Miguel, and tied up in Ponta Delgada which is the capital of the Azores.  It had a bigger city vibe, but was still very interesting and quaint.  This is where Xander left the boat, but his family flew in so they could spend a week together before heading back to Canada.  We had arranged for Aaron to be the 4th crew member, and he flew in the day after we arrived and was greeted with a torrential rain storm.

With Aaron now on board, the forecast looked reasonable, so we decided to head east to finish the Atlantic crossing.  It would take about 7 days to get to Gibraltar from Ponta Delgada.  During that week, we would have to deal with low pressure systems, increased shipping traffic and orcas that routinely attack boats in the Straight of Gibraltar (no joke!).

About 2 days out from the Azores, we started to run into the low pressure systems and the sailing got a bit more spicy.  The first system gave us winds of 25-35 knots and was just a warm up for the second system.

The next day, we were caught by the second low pressure systems and saw sustained winds of 35-45 knots for about 6 hours.  We were cutting across the wind (fore reaching) to get through the weather as quickly as possible and still heading towards our destination.  It was a bit tense, but the crew and boat handled things in stride.  The seas eventually built up to about 4-5 meters, and the sun came out!

After the "storm", we had some work to do because some of the running rigging had come loose, so Stu went up the mast.  The wind had calmed down quite a bit by this point.

While motoring at night, we approached the Straight of Gibraltar.  Not wanting to tangle with any attacking Orcas, we decided to cross a shipping lane to get away from the area where the Orcas hung out.  This blurry photo is of our AIS display which shows other ships around us.  A LOT of other ships around us. All huge, and all going way faster than we were.

We survived the weather, the big ships, and had avoided the Orcas.  Just after dawn, we got our first look at the Rock of Gibraltar, and man, did it look sweet!  

The crew had some time to check out Gibraltar and see the sights on this tiny little peninsula that is so rich in history.

Our time crossing an ocean had come to an end (at least for now!).  The now-seasoned crew had overcome many obstacles to successfully deliver Oyai to the Mediterranean.  For that, we are forever grateful for their time and hard work.  Thanks fellas!  Our next Atlantic Ocean crossing will be from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean in December as a family.  We will also have crew on board for that trip to lighten the load for watches, cooking, cleaning, etc.  


Friday, August 12, 2022

A birthday celebration, island hopping, crossing the Tyrrhenian Sea and Rome!

We have been very busy for the last two weeks, and have been on the move almost daily.  More importantly, we celebrated two very special birthdays (on the same day) a couple of weeks ago.  Happy Birthdays to Lana and Aria!

After the birthday celebrations, we left beautiful Alghero (on the west coast of Sardinia) and headed around the northern part of the island.  The stunning Capo Caccia bid us a fond farewell as we left the Gulf of Alghero behind.

The anchorages in northern Sardinia were very beautiful and we stumbled across many curious archeological sites at some of them.  The water was still super clear and warm for endless hours of swimming.

At one of these anchorages, there were wild boars that would visit the beach from time to time.  We saw them coming from a distance and had no idea how big they were, so we high-tailed it into the water!  It turns out they were pretty small, and weren't at all camera shy.

There was so much amazing snorkelling and cliff jumping during our lazy days in the turquoise Mediterranean waters.

We have also discovered that our dinghy has a mighty engine and can pull children recklessly around an anchorage.

The days have been quite warm and Stu had grown very tired of the hot beard.  So the girls were more than happy to shave it off for him.  There were quite a few facial hairstyles during this process, but eventually the beard was gone for good :)

We visited the smallest Kingdom in the world called "Isola Tavolara".  It's a small island off the eastern coast of Sardinia that was declared a Kingdom by the King of Sardinia in the 1800's.  We're not sure how official this arrangement is, but the tourists flock to this breath-taking island which is essentially a massive fin of solid limestone that is about 5km long.  This is the view of our anchorage from half way up the cliff band.  There is a via ferrata climb accessible on the mountain by paying tourists, but instead of climbing, we opted for a mid-day departure for our next destination... Rome! 

We sailed overnight and arrived at Porta di Roma the following morning and tied up at the modern marina in Ostia.  Taking public transit for an hour into Rome was very easy, and we were completely unprepared for how incredibly spectacular Rome is!  The history, the culture and the un-ending feasts for the eyes (in every direction you look) were awe-inspiring.  The Colleseum was our first stop.

Next up, we toured around the Roman Forum which was the site of their main city and held their places of worship, government, retail, and some living quarters.  We took the time to learn about as much Roman history as we could and, of course, watched "Gladiator" with the girls that night after returning to the boat.

No visit to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Vatican, and we tried to maximize our time there by visiting the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica.  These are all truly iconic and amazingly spectacular structures.

We also paid a visit to the interactive Leonardo DaVinci Museum.  They had super interesting displays of his many inventions and also a few reproductions of his paintings.  The octagonal mirror room (used to paint self-portraits) was of particular interest.  We stayed in there for hours, and marvelled at the genius of this great Renaisannce mind.

We have now had 3 days in Rome and have packed a huge amount in.  Micah, our dedicated animal lover, wanted to see the Zoo, so we spent a morning there and saw some really cool animals.  Then we rented some scooters and cruised around the green spaces of Rome for fun!

We plan to stay in the Porto di Roma for a couple more days and wait for a favourable wind to blow us north.  This will give us a chance to fix our mainsail which needed some minor repairs, and complete a few other boats tasks.  When we head north, we will likely stop in northern Corsica and discover what that French island is all about.  There is so much to see and do in the Mediterranean, we feel like we are just scratching the surface.  It is a paradise for sailing and traveling.  We plan to mix up the blog in the coming weeks and finish off the boat tour.  We will also go back in time and tell you a bit more about the West to East Atlantic crossing that Oyai and her crew did to get to the Med from Martinique.  

Goodbye Oyai & Hello New York City!

After leaving Annapolis, we explored the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay for a couple of weeks.  We sailed to a quaint little town called St...