Tuesday 16th April - 0700 - It’s a beautiful morning. The sun has risen. Not a breath of wind. Not so much as a ripple on the water. We untie our lines from our pontoon and motor on slowly out of the marina. Our time has come to leave Marina di Ragusa, our winter home for the last five months. Only a handful of yachts have departed for the new cruising season so far, and most of those to other ports to be lifted out to have maintenance done before starting the new sailing season. We too are heading out early for this very reason. A lift out in Tunisia. Ragusa has all the facilities to do a lift out, but the cost is way over the top plus one cannot work on your own boat, and you cannot stay on your boat while it is on the hard so there is the extra expensive of staying in a hotel. Our first stop will be Malta. On board with us we have another New Zealand couple Helen and Kerry, who are hitch hiking to Malta to do some business.
0730 – The wind is all of 3kts and it is not forecast to be much more than that, so we face the fact that we will be motoring the whole way to Malta. Nine hours, and 52kms later, we are rafted up to Lloyd on his Seawind 1000 – ‘Déjà Vu 111’ in Sliema Creek, Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. Lloyd had made the trip a week earlier.
Lloyd left Malta the day after we arrived, so we were able to take his mooring alongside an old blue steel yacht which has become well known mooring place for yachts in Sliema Creek. First it is free which is great. Malta is very short of space for visiting yachts, and if you do find a place it is very expensive. As the old blue yacht is about 100ft. long, about four boats can tie up at a time. Yes it is well anchored to huge mooring buoys. One afternoon we were stranded ashore for about three hours when a squall with winds reaching 50kts passed through. All we could do was sit in a café drinking loads of coffee watching SHAMAL ride it out. The waves in the harbour made it impossible for us to return in the tender. Once back on board we gave SHAMAL the once over to find she had ridden it out well. Not a mark on her, and all our mooring lines held her securely.
After arriving in Malta the false start we had had to summer was over!!! Out came our warm tops which I had washed and put away for the season. The temperatures were still very cool and we have had lots of windy days. Lucky for us we have been able to use the wind most of the time to our advantage, but twice we have been caught.
We left Malta on the 29th May and headed out through the harbour entrance into very lumpy seas and had to motor for the first four hours along the northern coast before passing through the South Comino Channel between the Island of Malta and Gozo. We were able to hoist the sails and set a course for Tunisia. Winds were around 25kts with a slight following sea. Unfortunately in a gust of wind the stitching down one of the panels in the main sail gave way, so with lifejacket and harness on I am up on the coach roof mending it!!! Yes in 25kt winds. While doing that a pigeon flew in to join me on the coach roof. It was a homing pigeon as it had a number attached to one of its leg. I was able to pick it up and take it down to the back deck where Alec gave it water and seeds. A very thirsty pigeon. It stayed with us all that day and night, then flew off the following morning just after day break. Back to Malta, or North Africa who knows ???
We were able to sail nearly all the way to Monastir. We had a following sea with breaking tops at times reaching two metres but still SHAMAL seems to surf along giving us a comfortable ride. Thirty six hours later and 202nm we were tied up to the Customs Quay alongside the Capitainerie Office in Monastir Marina. Then it was off to clear in. For some reason there is no Visa charge for Europeans and Americans, but for Australians and New Zealanders you pay 50 euros PER WEEK . A little over the top we thought, but as the work we were going to do here was so much cheaper than in the E.U. countries it was worthwhile. We knew we were going to be staying longer than a week but they would only give us a visa for a week saying come back and renew it next week and you will only pay 10 euros. Then there was the visit onto the boat by the fat port controller and his cohorts from Customs and Police for their inspection which turned out to be ‘what have you got for a present for us!!! A couple of bottles of cheap whisky – which we had been pre warned to bring – and the remainder of our now three year old cigarettes which were part of our ‘pirate packs’ we had brought in Thailand, were handed over. Maybe the Whisky helped us pay only 10 Euros for our second week visa. A lady from Aussie paid 200 Euros for four weeks. Once cleared in it was off to catch up with two other couples from Marina di Ragusa who had also come across to have their boats lifted. We were to move the following morning to the fishing harbour about 3 nm down the coast to Port de Peche for our haul out as we are too wide for the travel lift in Monastir.
Monastir is another ancient Mediterranean port founded by the Phoenicians. As one sails into the harbour the town’s main attraction, the ribat – a fortified Islamic monastery – stands out. Here we are in North Africa, but it is a typical Arab town. The Arabs of Tunisia are quite often referred to as the European Arabs. Islam here is quite low key. The town is a little grubby in the back streets, but also very quaint, with very good fruit, vegetable and spice markets. It has modern supermarkets and loads of really good restaurants, particularly around the marina. Being an ex-French colony, French is the second most widely language spoken with Arabic as the first. Alec was able to practice his one and only French word – bonjour. A large French yachting community set up base here for the winter as it is cheap and has a good climate. This season because of our change of sailing plans we did not have the time to explore the country like we would like to have, but have decided we will return next season and spend time visiting parts of the interior. As Tunisia does not seen to have the earthquakes like other places in the Mediterranean, many of the ancient sites still stand. Their history is a rich one which has been shaped by the Phoenicians, Romans, Turks, Berbers and Arabs.
Our week in Port de Peche for the haul out was quite different from any other we have had. Definitely a very ‘local’ yard. We were with the fishermen and a number of larger yachts. We lived and worked on SHAMAL ourselves, employing locals only to clean and polish the boat below decks. We lived on board not connected up to the power in the yard. There was plenty of sun to charge up the solar panels and wind to turn the wind generator. We returned to the marina for our showers, and I only used the local loo if it really became necessary!!!! SHAMAL had necessary and preventive maintenance done. Oils changed, seals replaced in the sail drives, new bushes in the Gori props – at $US 500 – ouch!! - the anchor chain painted, and we touched up the anti-foul copper coat with one litre around the water line where we had got a little carried away with our cleaning. We are really happy with the way the copper coat is bearing up after now being on for five years.
Once back in the water again we headed back to the Monastir marina. We spent the rest of the day, and gallons of water, cleaning SHAMAL, washing all the yard dust and filth off her. It was then off to top up supplies from the markets. Food items are much cheaper here. The following morning was a round of good-byes to old friends and new. A few days earlier we had noticed one of those fish tanks where you put your feet in to have them eat away the dead skin. So on our last trip back to the boat before leaving we decided we should try it out. Back in Malta Alec had had a small problem with his feet and we visited a doctor who first put him on a course of antibiotics and then steroids. His feet cleared up but the skin was peeling. We decided the fish could help out along with his treatment here. Alec thought it best to leave soon after his treatment as fish on steroids may turn into little piranha , or, all be floating on the surface soon after!! So we cleared out of the country here.
Then it was over to the fuel wharf. Another great reason for coming to Tunisia, the cheapest fuel in the Mediterranean at euro .57cents a litre. We filled up the tanks plus all our jerry cans. Just after 5.00pm we are sailing out of the marina and heading up the coast with our next stop to be Sardinia. It was a lovely sunny evening with 12kts of wind and we were on a broad reach doing 6.5kts. By midnight the wind had dropped and we were motoring. At daybreak the following morning the winds picked up quickly to 30kts and so did the seas. We were just a few miles south of Cape Bon - the north eastern tip of Tunisia and sailing, but with a wind shift and seas worsening we decided to drop anchor in the reasonably sheltered bay at Ras Ed Drek until seas and wind conditions improved. We sat there till early evening then decided to turn back and return to Port Kelibia, just 12nm down the coast. Kelibia is a well-used port, but more by fishermen and the military. There is only one small very crowded quay which visiting yachts can use and it usually means rafting up to another vessel which was what we had to do. Our next problem was that we now had to check back into Tunisia. Yes pay another 50 euros each for a week. That is the minimum amount of time they give you. And the visit from the boys to see what their present might be!!! We checked the weather again and saw we were going to be in port for a couple of days until we got a wind change. Yes the winds did pick up and really blow. One military vessel came into port the following morning and really did bumble up his docking in the high winds hitting a fishing boat side on and shoving in his own railing.
Also in Kelibia were Paul and Gaby off the yacht ‘Bellanova’ who had also wintered over in Marina di Ragusa. They hauled out here and were working in the yard on her. We caught up for drinks and a couple of meals together which made the stop over more fun. They also gave us advice about where to find things in town which is always helpful. Kelibia is another old town, with a huge fort originally built by the Carthaginians BC. and added to by different conquering armies over time. The port has been a major ship building yard since those times as well.
Three days later our weather window came up after checking out of Tunisia once more we set sail for Sardinia.
So we will sign out for this newsletter.
The Admiral and The Commander