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Cruise Village 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Cruising the Mediterranean Sea - Asia to Africa

by Hugh & Heather Bacon 8 Oct 2020 08:22 UTC
Docked at Sidi Bou Said near Tunis © Hugh & Heather Bacon

In the last article from 'Memories of a Circumnavigation', Hugh and Heather cruised the Eastern Mediterranean Sea from Egypt to Turkey exploring Israel and Cyprus before arriving at Kemer, Turkey where ARGONAUTA I was to pass the coming winter.

We now continue with the passages of ARGONAUTA 1 from when they began their journey in 1997 in the Caribbean, until the completion of the circumnavigation in 2006, when they crossed their 1997 outbound Caribbean track. Later they continued to Victoria, Canada bringing their odyssey to a close.

With ARGONAUTA I safely on the hard in Kemer, Turkey, July 5, 2003, we flew to Canada and returned to our Ontario home in Calabogie. It was an opportunity to relax in the familiar environment, renew long standing friendships and enjoy the seasons, particularly the colours of a Canadian autumn. As well, we spent the better part of three weeks working at a video studio making a second DVD: Destination Suez. By now we were regular presenters at the Toronto International Boat Show and had graduated to courtesy hotel accommodation giving us the better part of a week in the big city.

By the New Year, it was time to return to the boat. Weather and maintenance again became preoccupations. The boatyard had e mailed us that the wind transducer had been destroyed in a severe blow so a new one was added to the list. March 31, 2004 we returned to Turkey laden with boat parts.

We had planned our next passage which would take us through the Eastern Mediterranean to Africa and then north to France. Wind is a major factor in all passage planning but sailing from the eastern Mediterranean to the west is a particular challenge. We were aware of the idyllic cruising experiences of those sailing eastbound from Gibraltar as well as those of beam reachers cruising up and down the Greek island chains and the Turkish west coast. Indeed, in Kemer we met several cruisers who having arrived from Gibraltar expressed no intention of sailing home. Some even intended to sell their boats rather than face the alternative.

West-about circumnavigators of course must make for Gibraltar. Northerly winds intensify during the summer so our intention was to depart early spring when, reputedly, the north westerly Mistral and the northerly Tramuntana would be lighter and less frequent. As well, we routed to make most of our westing early in the season. As we wanted to cruise some of the less visited areas of the Mediterranean we chose to head south west to Crete and then west to Malta and Tunisia before turning north for France and Spain. This episode takes us as far as Tunisia.

Friends from Canada joined us in Kemer and we rented an apartment for the period of boat preparation. It took all of April to bring ARGONAUTA I back to life after nine months in storage. We had a few concerns about wiring faults and refrigeration but with skilled local technicians we slowly got things working. As well, we acquired a "passerelle", an item common to most yachts in the Mediterranean as an aid to boarding when med mooring. The boatyard made it from an aluminum extension ladder. The list of maintenance items was long but we finally splashed the boat April 30. Our two guests got a glimpse into daily chores as they helped haul hefty provisions from enticing markets to the boat.

We had experienced warm hospitality and were most positive about Turkey and its people. As boat tasks were coming to completion we were able to take a three day tour into the interior of this vast land. With six others and a knowledgeable guide we traveled to Cappadoccia, an area of fantastic geological formations. Christians once hid in caves, the Turkish equivalent of the Catacombs. Today families still live in underground dwellings far below the surface. The terrain is a cross between Coober Pedy and the Bungle Bungles in Australia with a dollop of Alberta Badlands thrown in: moon landscapes, fairy chimneys, mushroom shaped rocks. Hues vary in changing light from ochre to yellow to rose. Some small villages seemed untouched by modern civilization. We watched Whirling Dervishes perform their hypnotic ritual, eventually reaching a trance like state. Of course we were offered the opportunity to purchase carpets!


May 9, 2004 we finally departed Kemer and made our way around the beautiful Turkish Riviera to Datca where we checked out for Greece. We made for the northern Dodecanese island of Symi. There we moored stern-to at the town waterfront with the help of a local official who had spent some years as a chef in Ottawa. He was delighted to see Ottawa lettered on our transom! Check-in to Greece was simple and without problem. A cruiser recommended a restaurant where a chef wished to try out offerings in preparation for the coming season. He said: "I will keep bringing dishes until you cry for mercy". After "Death by Chocolate" we did!

Meltemi winds came early! Of the 25 days it took to reach Crete, our final Greek destination, six days were spent at anchor windbound. Our guests experienced some nights in winds up to Force 8. Wind direction was mostly from the west northwest making our westbound course uncomfortable and at times untenable. For six days at anchor we had to stay onboard as it was too windy to launch the dinghy. It felt like the Red Sea all over again! Despite this, we traveled over 418 NM, all by day, with the longest transit of 63 NM. There was some reasonable sailing but mostly we motor sailed. We anchored in interesting places. Amorfos Bay on Karpathos from which we visited the main town was particularly pleasant. At Spinalonga Lagoon on Crete our loyal guests spent their last night onboard and then departed for Istanbul, hauling their Turkish carpet with them.

With the ever present risk of' becoming wind bound, we had decided not to day hop across Crete. Thus we made our next stop Hania in western Crete. The overnight passage of about 100 nautical miles was very comfortable in nil wind, a distinct improvement over motor sailing into the teeth of a Force 4 plus. Friends had told us there was a spot available on the town quay. June 14 at 0830 hours, they caught our lines as we tied up.

Motivated by literature we had read about Cretan history and tips from Lonely Planet, we located Tony, a Brit expat who gave tours of Hania. We joined his Friday evening walking tour. He pointed out the architectural treasures of the Venetian quarter and taught us to look up to see easily missed features: the etched symbol on the wrought iron lamp; the overhanging balcony typical of the Ottoman influence. We spent an afternoon at his home, drinking wine and sharing our dvd's. He introduced us to another Brit expat, who gave us a driving tour through the mountains, following the steps of the Cretan Runner, a young shepherd who acted as a messenger through rugged terrain for the World War11 Resistance.

Sailing these waters westbound one pondered the life of galley slaves as they powered their craft against strong headwinds. We imagined a Galley of the Ottoman fleet back in antiquity as the crew attacked and captured islands in the eastern and western Mediterranean. Once victorious, it must have been a distinct pleasure to sail eastbound for home before Force 5 or 6 winds!

With our recent Med weather experience we were wary about committing to a four or five day 465 NM offshore passage from Crete to Malta. The weekly gale bounced us around a bit in Hania but there was no real problem other than having our passerelle blown to a vertical position which bent its support. Removing it with much noise we apologized to French neighbours. He said "Je souffre pour vous" ! Oh yes, it was a southerly Sirocco so decks were liberally sprinkled with Libyan Desert sand. Monday, June 21 there seemed to be a good weather window so we departed.

Once on our course which was due west, we encountered Force 5 to 6 winds on the nose so we decided to anchor at Gramvousa Island on the Cretan North West coast. There we stayed for two nights until the forecast weather window really materialized. On June 23 we set out and enjoyed Force 3 northerly winds which allowed us to sail. We motored when the winds dropped, usually after midnight, and resumed sailing once the wind returned. Overall we sailed some 260 NM of the 465 NM passage. Progress was slow but we did not care so long as the weather held. In constantly checking weather our business manager in Canada was most helpful in sending forecast material off the Internet. Multiple communication systems were a boon! This is a sample gale warning from our Inmarsat C. SIDRA was our current area.


National Meteorological Service
Athens Marine Meteorological Centre
Gale Warning 12 06 2004/1330 UTC for METAREA 3 valid from 121600 to 122200 UTC
Low 1011 over Libya is moving northeast affecting: Sidra South of 34.00 with east southeast near gale 7 locally gale 8


Apart from the overnight passage to Hania, it was our first long voyage of the season. We enjoyed the flexibility and found it pleasant once again getting into the "at sea" routine. We arrived off Valletta early morning in beautiful conditions. The fortified walls of the city and harbour slipped by and soon we were anchoring off Customs.

The initial view of the walled city with its magnificent forts is impressive. The buildings in Valetta and throughout the island are uniformly golden, constructed from native limestone. We were not aware that megaliths predating Stonehenge and the Pyramids exist on the main island and nearby Gozo. Architecture is truly amazing and the Cathedral of St John's almost visual overload.. Reading Nicholas Monsarrat's novel The Kappillan of Malta brought alive the colourful history of ancient invasions and the valiant performance of the Maltese during WW2. We continued to meet friendly and helpful people. At the Manoel Island Marina, a couple of South African/Swiss background, living in Malta had a boat beside us. When Heather asked about laundromats she said none existed and insisted on taking our laundry home to wash and dry. This was an example of gratuitous hospitality which we encountered around the world.

Back to Africa: Tunisia

July 10 we left for the neighboring island of Gozo and after a rolly night at anchor in Dwerja lagoon we headed west. We had intended to stop at the Italian Island of Linosa about 65 NM from Gozo but we found no viable anchorage. Today this island and the nearby island of Lampedusa have become a landfall for desperate migrants fleeing Libya. The world has become very familiar with the many tragic drownings in their attempts to reach European shores.

With good sailing conditions, we continued overnight to Tunisia, Cap Monastir Marina, arriving July 12 at 1230 hours. Monastir is located on the Gulf of Hammamet between Cap Afrique and Hammamet. Diabolical Med weather was in a changeable mode slowly moving from light airs from the west to intensified flow from the north. It was just as well we pressed on to Tunisia. We had a good sail from Linosa on the front end of a northerly change. Wind was up to Force 5 from the north which on our westerly heading allowed a comfortable beam reach. Once in the marina it reached force 6+7 as we toasted our safe haven arrival.

We took a three day trip around the country to the south of Monastir via 4 wheel drive shared with a great Finnish couple who were on their second circumnavigation. Tunisia had become an important site for film makers. It was fun to have a drink in the funky bar from "Star Wars" amidst the moon landscape of troglodyte villages. If you saw the film "The English Patient" you would relate to the epic desert spaces, the souk, filmed not in Cairo but actually in a small Tunisian town. We traveled further south into the Sahara and over nighted in a couple of oasis towns. It was a cultural look at the desert environment. A highlight was a short camel trek into the dunes.

From Monastir, we sailed up the Tunisian coast, first spending a couple of nights at a fancy new marina and resort: Yasmine Hammamet. Then after passing 5 days windbound at infinitely forgettable Ras el Drek, we finally rounded Cap Bon and entered the Gulf of Tunis. Late morning, July 29 we docked at Sidi Bou Said Marina a kilometer or two from the ruins of ancient Carthage and about 10 Km from Tunis. Docking was not one of our finest moments. It was the usual Med marina setup: narrow, many lines, orientation unknown until too late, and inadequate help. We should have gone bow in for openers rather than attempting to back into the slot in adverse wind. We became entangled in the spaghetti of lines below the surface used to secure vessels to the dock. Oh for a bow thruster! Finally, we had to have the dock master drop lines on three boats. The marina does not provide dinghy assistance but fortunately a helpful local used his dinghy to tow us clear.

Docked at Sidi Bou said

Riydah, the Tunisian who finally took out his dinghy to help us dock insisted on driving us to the Roman Amphitheater of Carthage where we attended a traveling Spanish flamenco performance. Built at the end of the first century AD, we learned that the Amphitheater was where Winston Churchill addressed the troops following the defeat of Rommel's Afrika Korps by Allied Forces during WW II. Later, we visited the nearby American War Cemetery where one can get an excellent historical account of the North African Campaigns.

We took a taxi into Tunis and stayed in a modest, though comfortable hotel which DID have a bathtub for Heather! We had a remarkable meal in the Dar Belhadj restaurant in the Medina. "Dar" refers to a magnificent mansion that had been converted. There was a large open courtyard, impeccable service, elegant atmosphere and prices not more than a fine restaurant in Ottawa. We visited the Bardo Museum which has a truly exceptional collection of mosaics. We also arranged a private taxi to explore the sites of ancient Carthage which are spread out, infringed upon by upscale suburbs as well as by the President's principal official residence. The sites are impressive mainly for the images conjured by one's imagination of Dido, Queen of Carthage and her love for the Trojan hero Aeneas, the Punic wars and the destruction of Carthage by the Romans in 146 BC.

We departed Sidi Bou Said August 4, 2004 in the morning and covered the 147 NM to Sardinia on an overnight passage. The weather forecast called for light winds which meant we motor sailed most of the way. We decide to landfall Sardinia at an anchorage on the south coast spending a couple of days at tiny Port Malfatano before arriving in the principal city of Cagliari Sunday, August 8, 2004

The next article has us cruising the east coast of Sardinia and Costa Smeralda, the west coast of Corsica and on to the French Riviera. Once again we put Argonauta I on the hard, this time just to the west of Marseille in France at Port Napoleon, located at the mouth of the Rhone River. There we left her for winter 2004/2005.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of the Bluewater Cruising Association.

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