From France to Sicily
From dreaming at boat shows to travelling to numerous places including Cornwall, Dusseldorf, Southampton and Roses in Spain for sea trials on Lagoon, Nautitech and of course Catana and going to boat shows, seminars and various RYA courses. Followed by the process of negotiation, taking ownership and working through a long list of snags. Now I can finally write a little bit about our first passage from Canet en Roussillon in France to Marina di Ragusa in Sicily….
Bye bye Canet
On Monday 27th of August we had a final day of last minute fixes and visits from Alain, the Catana guy who has been helping us resolve these. We cleaned the boat one last time, we went through our list again and among other things, we still needed to choose a font for Alain to have printed so that we could remove the current name ‘PoHlaris’ and replace with ‘Polaris’ along with our new registration number and port of registration ‘London’. As the day went on Alain came and went, each time reminding us of little things he had taught us. We were also waiting for our two crew to join us. They were travelling from Slovakia via Vienna to Toulouse, hiring a car, driving to Perpignan and getting a taxi from the hire car place there to Canet. They arrived a little after 7pm. They seemed keen to leave right away but we weren’t quite ready, and it was debatable what the benefit would be because of very light winds. More important though, as Alain had pointed out, they didn’t know this boat and especially important they didn’t know Catana.
Alain spent an hour and a half giving the crew a mini training session. He kept referring back to Jim and saying, ‘Remember Jim, when we sailed and we reached that speed?, you need to show these guys how it’s done’..etc, etc. It was clear that Alain had really put a lot of effort into getting us ready for this journey in the last two weeks. Among all the other the chaotic pictures I have in my mind of this evening there is an especially funny one: The sun is going down, so it must have been nearly 8:30pm and Alain and Jim are lying on their stomachs hanging over the portside bow. Jim is holding my hairdryer which is plugged into an extension plug board, while Alain is peeling off the old name PoHlaris. I take a few photos and Alain says, ‘Please do not put that on the internet, it will ruin my reputation!’ Right at his moment Pavol, the skipper, comes running out ‘We must leave right away, the wind forecast has changed for tomorrow morning and if we leave then instead of now it will be against us for most of the first leg’.
Off we set
The spell of chaos was broken, and we organised ourselves quickly. Fast forward 30 minutes and I am letting off the lines at the stern, Jim is at the helm working the engines and the crew are preparing the deck. Alain is shouting from the dock, ‘Perfect, great job Jim, you’ve done it!’. I take our lines off the buoys at the front and off we set. First stop the station around the corner for diesel. Sure enough Alain is there too! And lucky thing he was. We had a little trouble getting into the spot and the crew accidently over filled the tank but no big issues. Again, Alain said good-bye. An hour in and we were getting to know the crew, Jim still very much the captain. I started making spaghetti Bolognese and over dinner we agreed the night watch rota; Lubo would do it until 10pm, Jim and I until 2am, Pavol until 6am and Lubo again until 9am. It was clear to me from the start that these were nice guys and that we would get along well. I felt sorry for them, they must have been exhausted after all the travel that same day, but they seemed fine. Soon they went to bed and it was just Jim and I and the VHF and AIS to keep us company. I’m sure the first night watch on your own boat is always kind of exciting and a bit special. Just silence and darkness and not much to see therefore a bit of time to reflect. I faded by 1:30 and Jim said I should go to bed.
Big fish small fish
I was woken by Jim who ran in to tell me that there were whales beside us. I jumped out of bed and joined them on the deck as we all looked out across the water which was still but glimmered in the sun. Within moments we saw whales coming up for air about 30 meters away. Then dolphins too. Jim, Lubo and I marvelled at the experience. I am sure collectively we thought, yes- THIS is why we do this.. I think it's moments like these when being on a boat brings you closer to the edges of yourself and all that matters is the here and now. After that I prepared the first meal of the day, breakfast for the rest of the crew and we put a line out in case we might catch some fish. It was a morning of great stillness and so I decided to lay out my yoga mat and do my daily routine including some meditation. By 12:30 it was time to put some lunch together; mixed salads, ham, cheese, olives, bread … Just as I laid out the last bowl we heard the fishing line whirl! Lubo grabbed it and I helped to reel it in. Lubo and Pavol organised a bucket and I grabbed a knife. Lubo, we decided would do the killing! It was a small Daurade we think. It was very brightly coloured yellow and green. Lubo put it in a bucket while Jim got some very cheap and nasty rum to pour into its gills to help the process. Lubo then gutted it, we washed it thoroughly and it was cut into small pieces, sprinkled with a little salt, a squirt of lemon and served with soy sauce. We have added wasabi to our shopping list for next time. It was delicious Sashimi. The freshest I have ever eaten.
Getting to know the crew
The remainder of the day was spent sailing together as we tried to cover enough miles to justify a night stop-over at Bonifacio, Corsica. The following day we arrived at Bonifacio. We pulled in to the marina to fill up our tanks. The marina is quite ritzy and is set under a stunning landscape. You enter the marina via quite a narrow inlet overlooked by ancient buildings. When off the boat Pavol and I ran around looking for the Capitainiere. The cost of a berth for one night was 240 euro! We decided instead to pick up a mooring buoy on the way out of there as we left. Jim did an amazing job of keeping Polaris under control as we waited to speak to someone working for the marina. Their dinghy didn’t reach us for a good twenty minutes during which time we were being blown by wind and current toward some rocks, at the same time an enormous ferry was passing behind us not to mention a constant stream of marine traffic each way throughout the time. Eventually when the harbour guys did show up they were able to help us attach to a line which was secured against the rocks. The line was then looped through the cleat at the bow. Needless to say, we were pretty delighted when the ordeal was over and very promptly hopped in the dingy for a wander about the town together. I was keen to break the ice with the crew. So, we invited them to join us for dinner. As it was early we went for a drink before-hand and then bought some customary white linen sailor type shirts for a laugh. We had a great time and we spent the whole evening exchanging stories. Pavol had come from the shipping industry and had switched to yacht deliveries some years ago. He has a wealth of experience delivering catamarans. Lubo, his friend of over 30 years and fellow rock band mate, is an engineer and mechanic. He is only getting into the yachting world and while he is a beginner here on our boat he is incredibly hard working and a great source of fun too. The night ended back on Polaris listening to some dodgy but hilarious music which was probably obnoxiously loud, but we didn’t notice.
From Bonifacio down the east coast of Sardinia
The bonding worked. By morning Lubo was waiting patiently for us all to wake up so he could cook us the amazing breakfast he had promised the night before. (I have been cooking the boys their three square meals a day, so a nice break for me!). Again, we got the dingy into the marina to re-provision and spend some more well earned cash on yet more unforeseen boat things in the local chandlery! By 11am we had set off and we had an incredible sail through the islands between Corsica and Sardinia. They are stunning. Alain had described them as being like the Seychelles. They are quite close together, so you can get a good view of the features and contours of the land. Dwellings and light-houses, caves, cliffs…. We seemed to be flying along at 8.4knots as the wind was reaching up to 20knots with only the Genoa up. Then we spotted some impressive racing yachts and we soon realised that we were smack bang in the middle of a race. Exciting. Glad they were clearly so skilled as they shaved right past but missed us.
Later the wind changed direction and to maintain our course we found ourselves beating into the wind with short sharp chop, Polaris was bouncing up and down at the bow quite dramatically. The mood on the boat was one of exhaustion. I seem to remember looking around at about 5pm; I was lying down reading a book, Jim was lying on the other seat listening to Pink Floyd, Lubo was asleep and because I couldn’t see Pavol he must have been having a rest too somewhere. Soon after this though Jim spotted the Gennaker unfurling itself and flapping around aggressively. It was out of control and the wind was still at 20knots. Pavol and Lubo both ran to get it under control and tackled it to safety on the trampolines. It seemed that the furling system was decayed on closer inspection and some of the bolts holding the rigging together were rusty and ineffectual. Another thing to add to the growing list of work and detailed inspections we need to carry out in Sicily.
First passage-what have we learned?
By Friday the 31st of August we were between Sardinia and Sicily. According to the software we have been using, Open CPN, we would arrive in 1 day and 6 hours roughly if we continued to average at 6.4 knots. So, what had we learned so far? Firstly, the rules are different on the water, we are all on our best behaviour this is our own little planet, our shared home. We need to take care of each other for all our sakes. But more than that we are all friends in a sense now and as I look around watching Jim, Pavol and Lubo trying yet again to fix the furling system of the Gennaker I see them laughing. I see Jim telling Lubo to be careful of his hands and I am glad it is these two sailors we have had with us for this first long and significant passage. We have also learned that time warps and changes; a day seems to whizz past in what feels like a few hours but then sometimes that last hour of night watch can feel like an eternity. We understand that sleep is precious and much needed randomly throughout the day. We place importance on keeping the place clean because it is one of the only things we can control and so to give us the best possible chance at comfort, nice food and reduce accidents to ourselves and damage to the boat inside and out, we clean as we go! Finally, this boat is a home which changes depending on what’s going on outside. It’s an amazingly versatile place which we use differently according to conditions and we are so much more dependent on it than if it were made of bricks and mortar. But that investment of dependency is balanced out and repaid to us by the amazing way it enables us to experience the world.