Negative Ghostrider The Pattern Is Full

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My very smart Brother-in Law Dan says that “cruisers don’t have plans, they just have suggested itineraries.”  I must agree, as little this year has gone according to “plan”.

Admittedly, we dragged our feet a bit in Greece.  It was too nice to rush away from.  And then there was the side trip to Albania.  That was never part of the “plan”

Now we find ourselves in a bit of a rush to get ourselves to Barcelona by the 15th of September.

We are making very few stops along the way and passing some great places.

We skipped the Aeolian Islands entirely, and are currently in Trapani, Sicily.  Basically, a fuel and grocery stop with some laundry thrown in.  (loved the pasta!!)

Now we are off for Sardinia, where we are lucky enough to find that we have friends from Germany (old Commerce One connections) very near our route, so we’ll stop for a couple of days to say hello.

The next stop will hopefully be by the 7th or 8th in the Balearic Islands either Mahon, Menorca or Palma, Majorca where with luck we will meet up with our friends Judy and Torben Bentsen who happen to be from our yacht club in California!!

Then Barcelona with Torben and Judy by the 15th, with Suzanne Rischman perhaps arriving on the 17th, Mark and Diana Rosenberg visiting for 1/2 day on the 18th (that should be a night!), and then the biggest event of the Summer in Barcelona….

The La Merce Festival!!

Strait of Messina Round 2

8/30, 1030

Monsters be damned!  We are off again on another attempt. Winds in 15 knot range but big seas. Not much fun. Deb wants to turn around. For now, I think that I am willing to endure 4 hours of this to reach the light air on the other side. 

We shall see…

Update – 1500

Success!!  We are out the Northern end of the Messina Strait. 1st few hours we tough. Then as we worked our way North the current, wind, and waves became more and more manageable. 20 knots to start, 12 knots as we exited, and now once again motor sailing in 6 knots of breeze.   Isn’t local weather interesting??

Strait of Messina Takes Round 1

Today’s attempt to transit from the Ionian to the Tyrrhenian Sea via the Strait of Messina was not successful.  No damage or problems, it was just windy (20-25 knts) against a 3 knot (and building) current.  The waves were big, the winds were strong, the boat was slamming around, and we just were not having fun.

So, rather than push our luck against the fearsome monsters known to inhabit these waters since the times of Greek Mythology, we pulled a u-turn and returned to Taormina.

It is supposed to be fun after all!!

“In ancient mythology the Strait of Messina between Sicily and mainland Italy was the home of Scylla and Charybdis, two much feared monsters  – both were female, and both, at least in several versions of their story, had previously been renowned beauties, who were turned into scabrous horrors only after setting off the jealousy of goddesses, to spend the rest of their days venting their rage on any sailors who dared to make their way through the Strait.

Scylla lurked in a cave amid the rocks and crags on the mainland side, ready with her six snake-like heads and twelve feet to pounce out and devour the crew of any passing ship. On the Sicilian side was Charybdis, often half-hidden beneath a fig tree, but who when the fancy took her would leap into the sea to swallow down huge quantities of water, creating a terrifying whirlpool that sucked whole ships down to their doom, before belching the same water back up again.

Because of the narrowness of the Strait – famously ‘only an arrow-shot in width’ – any ship trying to pass through it had to expose itself to one monster or the other.

Jason and his Argonauts only made it through because they were aided by the goddess Thetis.

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus/Ulysses is warned of the dangers of the two by the goddess Circe. Considering Charybdis the worse threat, he sails his ship closer to the mainland, only to see six of his men carried off by Scylla, one by each head.

This myth was the source of phrases like ‘to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis’, meaning having to choose between two equal dangers. This in turn was supposedly the origin of the modern idea  of being ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’.”

How do you know when you are close to Italy??

Sadly, you know that you are close to Italy when you start to see a lot of trash in the water.

I’m on watch right now and every couple of minutes we pass another piece of floating trash (mostly plastic).

After 4+ weeks of floating around Greece, I honestly can’t remember seeing more than a couple pieces of floating trash, while it seems to be way too common here.

We saw the same thing a couple of seasons ago while visiting Naples, Sorrento, and the Amalfi area.

What is it about Italy that results in so much floating trash??

Next Stop??

I’m really not sure. We plan to depart first thing tomorrow and the overall goal is to reach Barcelona by Sept 15th. 

Short term our first goal is Taurmina, Sicily which is just before the entrance to the Straits of Messina. If the current is favorable we will hopefully continue without stopping and make our first stop in Palermo, or even Trapani on the West side of Sicily. 

The weather looks very light so we should be set up for a nice trip. We will be burning some diesel!

Spot will be up and running so you can check our progress by visiting the “current position” link in the header of this blog. 

Swordfish Hunting in the Straits of Messina

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This is a very long delayed post about the swordfish hunting boats that we saw while passing through the Straits of Messina in late July.  When I first saw one of these boats I had no idea what they were, but Deb knew and told me that they were specialized boats built to hunt Swordfish (via harpoon) in the Straits, and that in one way or another people had been doing this for over 2,000 years!!

The Straits of Messina is a very narrow stretch of water that separates Sicily from mainland Italy – just over a mile wide in parts. In the Straits, two seas, the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian, meet, creating intense tidal currents and natural whirlpools, and supporting a unique and rich marine ecosystem.  It’s also an important migratory route for fish (tuna, swordfish, whales and dolphins moving from deep ocean waters to mate in the warmer shallower waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea).

As we passed through, we saw very strange looking boats moving up and down the coast.  Many of them.  These are the passarelle, boats specifically designed for hunting  swordfish, part of an ancient tradition.

Swordfish photoThe swordfish is known in this area as ‘the Emperor of the Straits’, typically weighs about 50lbs, is about two metres long, and can travel through the water at speeds of up to 50mph.  The swordfish spends much of its life in deep ocean waters, coming to the warmer shallower waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea only in the Spring to mate.  Male and female often travel in pairs – and that is how the fishermen like to find them.  The female is usually the larger of the two and it is she they target first.  They know that once she has been harpooned, the male will do everything he can to free her.  He will not leave the scene.  As a result, he becomes a very easy target.  The female, on the other hand, disappears at the first sign of danger.  It’s not at all surprising that popular Italian songs have been written about the male swordfish: it’s a romantic story.  And it’s not surprising that no songs have been written about the female.  The theory is that she is acting in response to an instinct to save her young.  It’s a nice theory, but it could simply be that she is less noble than the male!

passarella 3The method of hunting the swordfish using passerelle, is really no more than an updated version of an ancient method, used by the Phoenicians who traded the length and breadth of the Mediterranean, hundreds of years before the time of Christ.

The hunt begins with the  ‘spotter’, whose job it is to identify the presence of the swordfish, either from a direct sighting or a change in the surface of the water.

old way of fishingThe boats originally used were narrow, wooden rowing boats, painted black underneath so as not to be visible to the fish.  (maybe our white bottom is why I never catch any fish??)  They were manned by a crew of six: four rowers, a spotter and a harpoonist.

In recent years, this wooden boat has morphed into a big hunting machine, the  passarella, powered by a diesel motor.   While the method hasn’t changed, it is obviously now much more sophisticated.   At the centre of todays boats there is a large metal frame or tower, usually about 30 metres high, with an iron cage at the top.  The spotter in these boats has two roles: he both sights the fish and pilots the boat, making the chase much more accurate and effective.  Extending 45 metres out from the front of the boat is another long, light iron bridge, known as the passarella; here, the harpooner takes his position.  Because he is able to position himself directly above the fish, it is much easier than it used to be for him to aim the harpoon accurately –  also, because the passarella extends so far from the boat, the fish does not hear the motor and is caught unawares.