Sunday, November 7, 2010

BB#9: Au revoir Med

On 1st November, 2010 we left Blue Bohemia on the hardstand in Preveza Marine in Greece and flew back to Australia, back to our Southern Hemisphere home aboard Courageous.

The blog still has some gaps – a great many in fact – most of which will be verbally recounted over the next few weeks as we catch up with friends and family again.

So this final entry will mainly be a pictorial record of some of the highlights of the trip.

European interlude:

It was always planned to celebrate the 5th September – one of those big birthdays ending in a 0 that warrant a little extra indulgence - in Paris. So we sailed across from Croatia to Venice, which was a massive, fantastic, unbelievable, count-your-lucky-stars, pinch yourself kind of event in itself, tying up between huge timber piles at the entrance to the Grand Canal at the Punta della Salute in the middle of Venice.

BB tied fore and aft in the superyacht piles at Venice.

Needless to say, being a city afloat, with gondolas and water-taxis and water-buses taking the place of the wheeled variety, we loved Venice.

We found a safe berth at San Helena yacht club to leave BB at not too enormous expense - after some fancy negotiating in Italian (no capish).

Optimists learning to sail in the San Elena marina.

Paris :

Then we flew to Paris for 3 days - ooh, la la!

....where we did all the usual touristy things and went out for dinner and the Moulin Rouge stage show on the 5th..


From Paris, we took the train to Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland and stayed in a very comfortable hostel.

View from our hostel window in Lauterbrunnen.

Even though a shore-based excursion, this foray into the snowy Swiss alps certainly ranked right up there as one of the best parts of our whole trip - especially the train ride from Lauterbrunnen to the "Top of Europe", the highest train station in the world, on top of the Jungfrau mountain.

Height is 11,500 ft above sea level. It was -6 deg C at the top. Considering the temperature and our lack of appropriate clothing or footwear, it was not too bad outside.

Out in the snow on top of the world, in sandals and alpaca sox.

There is an extensive underground ice palace carved into the glacier which we walked/shivered through. The walls and floor and ceiling are carved out of solid ice, dry to the touch and not slippery to walk on at all. There are various alcoves with ice sculptures of various kitchy kinds.

..but very cold, so we scurried back inside to the warm areas.

The train line runs through tunnels that were dug through the mountains in 1890. It took 300 men 16 years to build! There are (warm) restaurants, shops, etc. inside the mountain, and a high speed lift to "The Sphinx", a domed lookout at the very top that has amazing views of the snow-covered peaks of the Eiger and Monch mountains. Totally amazing!

Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day with clear skies above the clouds, so the views were not hidden, as they had been for the previous two days by the rain and drizzle. There is a web cam at the hostel, showing the weather situation at the top, so you can judge if it's worthwhile spending the E90 each to go up or not.

The train takes about 2 hours each way to meander its way slowly in and out of various tunnels.

All the power requirements of the restaurants, shops, lifts, etc. are provided by solar panels up on top of the mountain (must be quite a job keeping the snow off them). These are augmented by power generated by the trains braking as they descend back down the mountain.

The party animals arrive:

A few minutes after our train had returned to Lauterbrunnen, some familiar faces pulled into the station on the train from Basel: the Taylor clan (Andrew, Sarah and Tom) plus 3 extras (Dani, (Andrew's girlfriend), cousin Em from Adelaide and Tom's good friend, Mitch).

This lot had flown into Rome, then done some preliminary pub-crawling before briefly meeting up with us, just before our departure back to Venice (all rather confusing, especially to the hostel staff who wondered why we were leaving just as the kids were arriving -kind of like changing of the guard - or accidental itinerarizing perhaps?).

Either way, after spending a couple of days following our footsteps in Switzerland, the 6 extra crew-members joined us in Venice.

8 for the road:

Having 8 on board BB was an interesting test for the boat, (et al) but we somehow survived.

We celebrated cousin Em’s 25th birthday on board before sailing back over to Croatia.

Unfortunately the newcomers were unable to fully appreciate the sights (or the bars) as much as they might have, due to a nasty little flu virus that made its way around practically everyone on board. Andrew coined the name change of the boat to “Flu Bohemia”.

Rainy day on "Flu Bohemia" watching videos, after checking back into Croatia in Pula.

From Pula, we re-visited Zadar, then enjoyed the trip up the winding waterways to the fresh-water lakes beyond Skradin. Here we visited layers of cascading falls and a Franciscan Monastery on a small island in the middle of one of the lakes.

Home alone:

At the end of September, the 6 almost-recovered intrepid travellers left BB to continue their tour of Europe by land.

Then, for the first time, ensued a two-week period of only the two of us aboard BB and we had to see if we could sail this boat on our own. Not quite as easy to handle as Courageous but we managed it and enjoyed some wonderful sailing.

Sailing from Split to Dubrovnik:

We had two weeks to sail the 200 miles from Split to Dubrovnik, where we were meeting our next crew mates, Graeme and Sue from Melbourne, so we could take it slowly and rest up in quiet anchorages for a few days at a time – rather a novelty.

We spent a couple of nights in a bay on Brac Island where huge concrete bunkers had been carved into the hillside and used during the war to hide submarines. The openings were camouflaged by hinged metal cages with lumps of polystyrene in them, made to look like rocks and boulders. The overhead girders could be drawn together above the bunkers, appearing from above as if part of the hillside.

We paddled the "JacYak" inside, marvelling at how incredibly long the bunkers were and how difficult they must have been to build (how long did they think the war was going to last?)
We saw evidence of squatters who had set up camp within the vast caverns, tying their boats inside, lighting fires to cook fish, coming and going throughout the night.

Fresh crew arrive in Cavtat, near Dubrovnik airport....

After Graeme and Sue’s arrival, we spent a couple of days exploring Dubrovnik, another spectacular walled city, built to keep out the invading hordes.

Dubrovnik as seen from BB - said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The view from atop the walls.

Inside the walls of the old city of Dubrovnik.


The next most fascinating stop was Kotor, Montenegro. Nestled amongst rugged peaks, this is yet another example of medieval fortification.

The formidable walls of the Kotor fortress completely surround the old city. The walls are lit up at night, looking most impressive from the boat.

The total length of the walls is almost 5 kilometres; in places they reach 20 metres high and up to 16 metres wide. How many slaves were used to build this?

At first we thought the encircling walls were built to keep the enemy out of the city, but then we saw it was to the high fortresses above that the people retreated for refuge when under siege, leaving their homes and belongings behind.

A rocky path ascends to a series of battlements and fortresses, culminating in the Castle of St John, 260 metres above sea level. A drawbridge across a ravine to this final bastion makes it practically unassailable.

There are about 1,350 steps – which we climbed to the top – at a leisurely pace on a nice day. Picture the town’s people fleeing up these, carrying babies and children and whatever else they could as various invaders swooped upon them. Mind boggling stuff!

Sailing South to Greece:

Sailing from Montenegro, we decided to skip Albania, basically because time was running out. We did our one and only overnight sail in perfect conditions toward our final destination in Greece – wind behind us, flat water, clear skies, milder temperatures and a full moon. BB was in her element, sprinting along like the thoroughbred racer she is, clocking a maximum speed of 13.5 knots. Just magic!

Full wet-weather gear was needed now.


First stop in Greece was the island of Corfu, then Paxos, where we were able to officially clear into the country, after a couple of failed attempts (long story there).

From Paxos we sailed over to the mainland town of Preveza, where we had arranged to haul the boat out for the winter.
As we approached, it was quite a phenomenal sight to see such a vast ‘forest’ of masts; row upon row of hundreds of yachts, all stored in 3 huge adjacent hard-stand areas.

Thousands of masts in the distance at Preveza.

We spent a day assembling our own custom fitting cradle, which we had had transported in our trailer by road from Slovenia. On Friday, 29th October, we hauled Blue Bohemia out and prepared her for leaving.

The view of some of the sea of masts from BB's deck.

On Sunday we caught the bus for a 6 hour trip to Athens and we flew home on Monday 1st November. We probably stayed a little late in the season as by October the weather was already turning much cooler and wetter.

Bringing wet weather gear was a good idea. Pity some of us didn't!

Au revoir:

Hope those of you who have been following it have enjoyed reading the blog, and apologies for taking so long in getting it together. Will try to do a bit better next year, when we return to sail the Greek Islands and possibly Turkey.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

BB#8 Med map

For those of you, like me, without a map of the earth in your head, here is an excerpt from Google-earth of the bit we have been playing in.

You can clearly make out the well-known "boot" of Italy on the left. The various countries on the right are not so clearly distinguished. (Hard to get a good quality resolution on this.)

It is about 2,000 miles from the top of the boot to the bottom, so the Adriatic is an extensive, though still relatively well protected sea.

Basically, we started at the top right in Izola, Slovenia, then sailed south to Croatia, which is where we picked up Ian and Julie in Split.

The main cruising ground in Croatia, (frequented by the most charter yachts), is an area of a couple of hundred miles between Split and Dubrovnik. Here, several large islands, each with their own distinct features of interest, provide a perfect playground.

From Split, we visited a couple of the more popular islands nearby - Brac (pronounced "Bratch") and Hvar.

En route, we stopped briefly at Milna, where it is possible to tie up alongside the town quay and enjoy a drink in the adjacent bar. The water is about 6 metres deep right up to the wall and just how they built these walls is something to scratch one's head over. That aside, it is also rather a unique experience to sit and enjoy a cold beer or cocktail (or OJ) so close to one's own yacht.

Friday, November 5, 2010

BB#7: Med meths hunt

Blue Bohemia has a metho stove, which many authorities on the matter claim to be far safer than gas.

It has its advantages, in that you can open the burner without lighting it immediately and not gas the place out. You don’t need a gas detector or blower in the bilge. The risk of explosion is far less. There’s no need to have an externally-vented locker for gas bottles or pipe-lines and regulators.

However, there are a few disadvantages: cooking times are slightly longer, the bottoms of the kettle and pots get blackened, and perhaps greatest of all, meths is not always so easy to come by.

In each country it is called something different, from “denatured alcohol” to “spirit” (pronounced “shpirit” – which may be confused with the drinking kind), to “alcool” to other indecipherable Greek names, which can only be translated via Google. All very confusing!

We had a few trial and errors, with various store-keepers convincing us that “lamp oil” was used for cooking – only to find it to be kerosene.

The stove and oven burners have round stainless steel pots underneath them, which hold about a litre of meths each. They are opened and closed by a simple mechanism of a thin metal plate that slides across an opening. It is important to flick this plate back open again after having closed it, to make sure the flame is totally extinguished and not still burning in the pot below. A litre is supposed to be good for about 4 hours of cooking, but in fact lasts a lot less.

In every port we visited, one of the first tasks was to find a shop selling meths. Chandleries rarely stocked it, and finding a hardware store in tourist towns wasn’t always easy. Sometimes pharmacies stocked it, but in small quantities and at great expense.

In Split, we found a paint shop that had a dozen one litre bottles on the shelf, and we bought the lot. Each bottle cost around 5 – 6 Euro, so certainly not a very economical way of cooking.

We may look into converting to gas next year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

BB#6: Split

Like most places along this Adriatic coast, Split has both an old city and a new city. The old city is by far the more interesting, dating back hundreds of years.

In about AD300, an enormous, fortified palace was constructed for the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, as a country villa and garrison. The town of Split grew within its labyrinthian walls.

Many relics of this era are still standing, including churches, museums and aquaducts.

The city cathedral is little altered from its original condition, as are large parts of the palace. At each of the four corners, a massive stone tower still stands, with narrow slits in the battlements for shooting weapons (of whatever kind) at the enemies outside.

The palace and its battlements gave refuge from many a ransacking over the centuries. After Diocletian’s death, the palace was occupied by the exiles of Salona, fleeing from the Avars and Slavs. Later Split came under the jurisdiction of the Croatian kings, then under Venetian rule from 1420 to 1797, then became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, with a brief period under Napoleon.

This constant invasion, killing, exiling, conquering and claiming is something we find hard to comprehend these days. The history of the whole area is quite cruel and bloody. It seems like everyone else was forever trying to take someone else’s land (and lives) away.

We took a tour of the catacombs and sub-structure of the Diocletian's palace. Here, the Romans kept their slaves and persecuted Christians. Later the vast caverns were used for rubbish and sewage disposal, but restoration and preservation programs have cleaned that all out, for present day benefit.

Today, tourists wander through by the droves and stall-holders sell souvenirs. The vaulted ceilings have incredibly intricate, circular patterns of stone-work laid in their domes. Beautiful stone carvings adorn the odd alcove, begging the question “why?"

Why all the statues and gargoyles and decorative finishes to otherwise purely functional, often besieged constructions?

It was the same question we pondered with regard to all the really old buildings, some of which took hundreds of men hundreds of years to build. How did they maintain that continuity of purpose?

Between the palace and the sea is another common feature of these towns – a wonderful, white-tiled expanse of no-vehicle, people-space, where visitors and locals alike can promenade idly.

Here, there are cafes and bars, street-food stalls selling hot corn cobs, pancakes with nutella, ice-creams, plus other souvenir stands. Small children are given rides in straw baskets.

It is a relaxed, holiday atmosphere. In the evening, live music and folk-dancing are laid on for our free entertainment and we can choose either to go ashore amongst the throng, or listen from our nearby anchorage.

The harbour is a busy place, being a central hub for the many vehicular ferries which service the nearby islands, as well as the huge cruise ships which come from all over the Med.

Sandy beaches are a rarity in Croatia, but not far away we found one – as did everyone else!

Monday, October 25, 2010

BB#5: Bepo the Magician


The next morning we motored round to the slipway and true to his word, Bepo was waiting, ready to perform his magic on the sail-drive the moment we were lifted out of the water. We soon bore witness to precisely how this was to be done.

It was no single-handed feat, even though Bepo, the Master, did perform the hands-on tinkering himself - all done standing on an upturned bucket so he could reach the offending “leg”, a couple of metres off the ground. Four young ‘theatre-assistants’ ably assisted the operation with surgical precision – “scalpel”, for pass the spanner, “sponge” to mop up the gear oil, “kidney dish”, to receive each nut or bolt….. and so forth, until he was right inside the guts of it.

The lackeys knew exactly which tool to pass and when, which part to race off with to clean, which chunk of wood to wedge against the hull for leverage. At one stage of the game, one of them was a second too slow as Bepo blindly waved a tube of grease in the direction where a hand should have been to take it. Without missing a beat he tossed it to the ground to be later scooped up by the humble slacker. It was a real circus, one that would never be seen in Australia.

A cast of thousands seemed to appear out of nowhere - spectators, running commentators, (speaking in Croatian, so not sure), casual passer-by’s, even a couple of motorcyclists rode up and parked beneath the boat to observe the Master at work. The clock was ticking, but Bepo still found time to answer his mobile phone, which seemed to ring every few minutes.

After the half hour ticked by, the yard-men returned. We thought they might start pressuring us to either get back in the water, or move off the travel-lift, but they seemed content to watch too, laughing at Bepo’s phone with its odd ring tone, jostling each other, swinging off the crossbars of the travel-lift, all seemingly complicit in the game. One of them gave us a nod to walk slowly up to the office to pay, adding “one lift”. We smiled gratefully.

We paid 350 Euro for one lift out of the water and back, instead of 700. We guessed the trainee grease-monkeys would only be paid peanuts, but the 150 Euro labour bill either rewarded Bepo handsomely or was spread amongst them.

All things considered, we got off rather lightly. Best of all, we were back in action without having missed a beat. Maria had taken the bus to Split for the day, and we were ready to head there to pick her up in the afternoon.

And just as there had been the pressure in Slovenia of being up and running for Maria’s arrival, so too we were chewing our nails a little over the imminent arrival of our new boat guests, Ian (Wishy) and Julie, who were flying into Split the next morning.

As it turned out, we were peacefully anchored in Split harbour and they never suspected the tenterhooks we had been on.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

BB#4: Gearboxes & Wineglasses

From Zadar, we got it into our heads that we are a yacht, a racing yacht at that, not a motor boat, so we should be sailing rather than burning diesel.

The universe was obviously eavesdropping on this proclamation, because as we motored out in calm waters, we discovered a good reason to be purist “wind-bludgers” – emulsified oil in the gearbox.

Blue Bohemia has a sail-drive – a stubby “leg” protruding beneath the hull with the propeller attached - rather than a long shaft-drive. The sail-drive is filled with oil which lubricates the gear-box. The oil should be clear, not an opaque, yellow-ish-white, which indicates a leaky seal and salt-water ingress. If this is ignored, the gear-box will eventually cease.

So no more motoring any great distances for us!

The unpleasant realisation struck us that we needed to lift the boat out on the hardstand to replace the seal.

“But we have only been in the water for less than a fortnight!”

All very frustrating (and costly), but pointless to now curse that we had not replaced the seal before that grand launch day, less than two weeks ago in Izola. However, philosophically reasoning, “if we had tried to complete all the jobs that could/should have been done, we would still be there!”

We rang the closest marinas in Zadar and Split, but no luck – all were busy maintaining the charter fleet, with at least 6 weeks waiting time. The people at Split suggested the name of a mechanic, Bepo, who operated out of a new marina in Kastela Bay, near Split. We rang him and he was very helpful, even suggesting we stay in the “slings” of the travel-lift for half an hour, and he could do the job while the yard workers had their morning tea. That way, we would only have to pay for one lift, rather than a lift out, transfer to a cradle, and another lift back into the water later.

Half an hour to remove the sail-drive, replace the seal and reassemble seemed optimistic to us, but Bepo assured us he replaced the seals on all the charter boats yearly, needed or not. Hmmm, another reminder of what we should have done…

The wind was blowing a gentle 3 or 4 knots from the NE, so we hauled up the spinnaker and sailed a course of 120 deg at a speed of 4 – 5 knots – gotta love that kite! Just after dusk, we drained the oil from the gearbox, refilled it with new oil and motored slowly into Kaprije Bay, a beautiful quiet anchorage for the night.

The next morning there was virtually no wind, so we nursed the engine along slowly until just enough breeze filled in to hoist the spinnaker again. We had another glorious morning’s sail, flat waters and hot sunshine.

This is how Maria liked to keep cool while helming in the mid-day sun.

Having the wind directly behind, means steering a course slightly to the left and right of our heading, to avoid accidental “gybing” - which is what happens if the wind catches the wrong side of the sail and crashes the boom violently across the boat – knocking heads off on its way! We tie a “preventer”, a long rope from the end of the boom to the bow of the boat to help prevent this, but still it is best avoided if possible, by careful steering.

So all the way down our course, every few hours, we did a controlled gybe, deliberately changing the boom from one side to the other, and likewise the spinnaker. One very important thing throughout this manoeuvre, is to make sure that both the ropes that control the bottom edge of the spinnaker are kept tight. If not, watch out – the spinnaker can wrap itself around the forestay – known as a “wineglass” because it looks like one.

OK, we got the wineglass to kill all wineglasses!!

Not just one small wrap in the centre of the sail, but top, bottom, middle, the whole thing was jammed. To add further insult to injury, halyards, topping lifts and other ropes that should not have been anywhere near the forestay were also tangled up in it. It was a doozy!

How on earth to get it down? The wind by now was gusting at 25 knots apparent, which is well over 30 knots true, as we were screaming along at around 10 – 12 knots. The poor spinnaker was flapping and flogging and making a dreadful complaint up there. “Get me down! Get me down!”

“Nothing else for it but to go up the mast.”

“You must be kidding!”

Nope, not kidding. OK, three of us on board, no autopilot, this is going to be fun.

“Run downwind; let the main blanket the kite; keep her steady as you can – and avoid the gybe!”

Easier said than done – and we were running out of sea-room, rapidly approaching land.

Now some of you may have seen TV coverage of those strappingly fit young men on the America’s Cup race boats, who just run up the mast while the boat is sailing along, looking for wind on the water. Well, quite unbelievably, that is what Das did. Good thing he had on his much leaner and stronger sailing body, rather than his sit-at-computer-all-day body.

Even so, Maria thought he must have had a death-wish, as he bounced about up there, rather like a puppet on a string, swinging wildly from mast to forestay and back, trying to get that sail down. Each time it looked as if he had a small section of it under control, a gust of wind would inflate it out like a balloon beneath him, sending him flying out in mid-air. He was straddling it like a bucking bronco, but one that was completely impossible to subdue.

Three times we hoisted him up and down the mast, to no avail. Eventually we pulled in behind a small island and dropped the anchor to try again. At least we weren’t at risk of sailing into the land anymore. But even though the wind was a little quieter, the waves breaking around the point made the boat roll wildly from side to side. Again the puppet was flung helplessly about up there, each painful landing against the mast or rigging knocking the stuffing out of him.

Five or six hours later, defeat was conceded. It was not coming down. The only thing to do was to leave it up there and lash it every few inches around the stay to keep it quiet while we limped into Kastela Marina. Very conspicuously, very embarrassedly, very much to the amusement of all who looked and pointed. OK, so they had the last laugh after all.

Once tied up quietly in the Marina, we winched the sagging puppet twice more up the mast, and finally, just before dark, got it all down.

Oops, forgot this is confidential.