[KensBlog 2014-03] Rough Seas And A Visit to a Historic Town

Welcome to Ken’s Blog! (top)

Trip overview (top)

Greetings all!

Roberta just mentioned to me that we have now been on the boat for over a month, and have only anchored one night. The first half of our trip has been about readying the boat, provisioning the boat, cruising around the southern part of Italy and then heading south to Malta. The second half will be working our way north towards the western border of Italy with France, and Sardinia and Corsica.”

A better way to phrase might be that we’ve been working on moving the boat a thousand miles south, along the south coast of Italy so that we can get to the good stuff, and then spend the next two months working our way up the west side of Italy, mostly moving short distances, picking our way slowly from anchorage to anchorage.

I am not complaining, because we have found plenty of entertainment along the way, but this is not the part of the journey that explains why we own a boat. That part is coming. We’re really looking forward to Malta!

Malta will be our last stop on our transit south. Once there, and with the exception of an overnight run to Sardinia or when the weather interferes, I hope to be sitting in beautiful anchorages, preferably admiring the view from Sans Souci’s rooftop hot tub.

This map shows our route so far. The red dots are portions covered in prior blog entries, and the other colors represent the legs of our journey covered in this blog entry.

Sta Maria Di Leuca (top)

Our next stop, after Brindisi, Italy, would be Santa Maria Di Leuca, a small town that if one thinks of Italy as a boot, forms the tip of the heel.

The run from Brindisi to Sta Maria Di Leuca was as unremarkable as they get. A short ride on flat seas. Our plan had been to anchor, but then as we read the various blogs talking about anchoring at Sta Maria Di Leuca we didn’t like what we were reading. Several bloggers indicated that the anchorage had a rocky bottom and that there could be problems with the anchor getting caught on the bottom in rocks.

On arrival we made a tour of the bay, and couldn’t find a place to drop anchor where there weren’t obvious rocks just beneath the surface. Plus, it looked rolly. This left us with no choice but to enter the marina. We called the marina staff who said they had a place for us, and that they would help us get the boats into the marina. All went smoothly.

We were shocked by the cost of this marina! My boat was 158 euros for the night (over $200 USD.) I joked to the marina guy that I only wanted to rent the slip, not buy it. He didn’t get the joke and whipped out a pricing sheet and pointed at the words “High Season.”

Here you see Sans Souci and Seabird at the marina of Sta Maria Di Leuca. Sans Souci was the tallest boat there! Roberta and I spent a fun afternoon on the back deck watching all the smaller boats returning from a lovely day out swimming and tanning. The lady you see on the boat behind us is trying to untangle the mooring line around one of her boat’s props. I admired her attitude. She smiled and chatted with people passing by throughout the process while trying a variety of tricks to untangle the line. We once wrapped a chain mooring line around one of Sans Souci’s (our prior N62) props while leaving a marina in France. Unlike her, I was not a good sport and did not smile.

Roberta and I and the pups hiked into town looking for a place to have dinner, but it was only 6:30pm. In Italy, the restaurants don’t open until 7:30pm and they don’t really expect anyone to appear until at least 8pm or later. We didn’t want to wait that late and finally found a pub that also served pizza. We sat outside under a large, shady tree. While we were eating the pub set up a huge outdoor projection screen, a projector and many tables and chairs around us. We asked if they’d be screening a movie, and received a look clearly intended to indicate that we were idiots. An hour later when they turned on the projector and people started arriving, we realized what it was: The World Cup was starting!

Relaxing on the back deck of Sans Souci

Crotone – A good place to stop (and, then go) (top)

Sta Maria Di Leuca was a cool little town and even though expensive, I think we could have happily stayed longer. However, at this point, we’d had nothing but great weather and wanted to keep moving while the weather was good. Our next stop would be a somewhat larger town called Crotone, a very convenient location with a very well protected marina, but according to the cruising guides not much else going for it. It would be a twelve-hour run getting there from Sta Marina di Leuca, so we wanted a place to stop and rest, and not much more.

Twelve hours to Crotone! A long day, but once again an easy ride. The seas were flat. During the ride we phoned our agent from Brindisi and asked if he could phone ahead to Crotone to get us into the “commercial port” on a side-tie. Crotone has two harbors: a tourist harbor where most tourist boats go, and a commercial harbor for freighter traffic. We needed into the commercial harbor because the tourist harbor shows in the guide as being only 2 to 2.5 meters deep; the same depth as Sans Souci. Theoretically, we would skim by, but when it is close I worry about scooping mud from the marina bottom into the raw water intakes on my engines. Crotone would just be a place to rest for the night, so nothing mattered except being able to get in and out easily, and protection from any winds.

We had dead-calm seas all the way to Crotone. I knew our luck would be running out sooner or later and checked the weather forecast. All looked good, but I was still nervous and got on the radio to say to the group as we were approaching Crotone, “What do you guys think? Should we consider to just keep going and head south to Siracusa?” But we were just completing a long ride and everyone was tired. The question came back, “What’s the forecast like?” “Fine,” I responded. “Why would we give up a night of comfortable sleep then?” came the reply. And, into Crotone’s commercial harbor we went.

We followed Seabird into the commercial harbor at Crotone.

Few commercial ports anywhere are charming, and Crotone’s commercial port is no exception. We side-tied to a concrete wall that rose over ten feet off the water. The worst part of it is that I had opened a side gate in Sans Souci’s lower deck in anticipation of using it to step onto the dock. When the gate encountered a giant black rubbber bumper intended for cruise ships, the gate lost the competition. Its hinges were slightly bent and the gate could only be closed forcefully. It will be a winter repair. Crap!

Part of the “charm” of Crotone’s commercial harbor: the sunken boats in the marina.

Getting on or off the boats was not easy and had to be done stepping from the bow of the boats to the wall

When cruising in Italy you are issued a “Constitution” a document that must be stamped by every port you enter. At Crotone we could see the Coast Guard office where our document needed stamped only a hundred yards from the boats, on the other side of a tall fence. Tired, after our long cruise, we were not in the mood to walk over to the Coast Guard office, particularly after we realized that even though we were close, we would have to hike over a mile, in the heat, around the fence, exit the port, to get to the office that we could see — but not directly hike to.

Clearing into the port at the Coast Guard office took longer than expected. Crotone is a naval academy and we were being cleared in by a student who wasn’t 100% sure of the process. Several other people were called in to check that all was done correctly, and then we began the long hike back to the boats.

The overnight passage to Siracusa (top)

That night Roberta prepared a salad and hamburger fixings while I barbecued the patties on the grill. So even though we were berthed in an ugly port, we had a pleasant dinner! Before going to sleep we all planned our next passage, which would be a long one. It would be a twenty-hour journey to reach Siracusa on the eastern side of the island of Sicily. We wanted to arrive after daylight which would require leaving at noon for an 8am arrival.

As soon as I woke the next morning I checked the weather forecast. Double-crap! Our luck with calm weather had ended. There was a storm brewing over Malta, far to the south, that was working its way north. Winds were already rising and were projected to be in the 20-30 knot range around Siracusa by 2pm the next day. If we were to depart Crotone we would need to buck 15-20 knot headwinds for 20 hours, and if the storm moved faster the final hours before arrival would be absolutely miserable at a time when we would be fatigued from the passage.

Steven and Carol, from Seabird, had gone for a walk into town. Roberta and I discussed what to do, and Roberta said, “Perhaps we should just stay here.”

My read of the weather was that we needed to either go immediately or be stuck for several days.

Nordhavn boats are made to handle rough seas. There is no other production boat in this size range that is safer or more comfortable in bad weather. And truthfully, 15-20 knots of wind is not really considered bad weather by Nordhavn standards. That said, predicting the comfort and safety of a ride is not as simple as looking at how strong the wind is.

I remember a trip in 55 knot winds a few years back. That’s enough wind that trees can come unrooted, and yet Sans Souci was moving along just fine with a very comfortable ride. Why? The reason is that we were close to shore and the wind wasn’t able to stir up waves. There wasn’t much “fetch” (the distance that wind travels over open water). When the wind travels across water it forms waves. Generally speaking it isn’t really the wind that can wreck your day, it is the waves that are generated by the wind. In evaluating a prospective cruise, you need to look at a lot of different factors including: the strength of the wind, the direction of the wind, the height of the swell (waves), how close together the waves are, and the direction of the waves.

In this case, we would be going straight into the wind, and the wind was coming from offshore, so there would be no way to use the land to minimize fetch. Plus, there was the added risk-factor that the storm could arrive faster than planned. And the worst of all was that there were no “bail-outs.” If we didn’t like the seas there’d be no marinas or anchorages along our path. Whatever the weather would be, it would be, and we’d be in it.

When Steven and Carol returned from their walk around 10am, we discussed the upcoming trip. If we departed immediately we would arrive at 6am. That was plenty of margin for error. Steven and Carol were not impressed with Crotone after having walked there. They said the town had not much more charm than the port and if there was a weather window to leave, we should jump on it.

Within minutes we cast off.

About an hour into our run, we received a call on the radio. It was a large ship, identifying itself as “Italian Warship” asking that we give it at least one mile of clearance as it passed by. That sounded perfectly fine to us. We noticed a sailboat — which ignored the request via radio — on track to pass very close to the warship. The salboat must not have had their radio on. I was curious if the warship would torpedo the little sailboat, or alter course to provide the one mile separation. Neither occured, and the sailboat and the warship passed each other harmlessly.

About four hours into our run, the seas started turning nasty. A reader of my blog once told me that whenever I am photographing waves I should always photograph from as low on the boat as I can get. It gives a more exciting camera angle and a better sense of the wave height. The problem with that approach is that if there are waves outside, I’m staying in the pilot house. It just isn’t worth it to get a good picture!

If you look at the chart-plotter, you’ll notice that we are several miles off our plotted course. We were starting to get trashed by the waves and it would soon be dark. We decided to head towards land, to see if we could get a smoother ride, even though we had doubts it would make a difference. To our surprise, it worked! We altered course by about 15 degrees heading towards land, and even though it was a wind coming from offshore we found calmer seas. We never had a completely comfortable ride, but it became well into the acceptable category and actually started laying down a bit as the night progressed.

Here’s something you don’t see everyday. As we were moving along, Steven on Seabird radioed to ask that I zoom out the chart and tell him what I saw. Bizarre! I asked what it was and he asked me to check it’s “properties” (the details that the chart plotter knew about the object). It was moving at 260 miles an hour! I then realized that it was a airplane showing on my chart plotter – with a little airplane symbol. I’ve cruised a lot of miles and have never seen that before! As you might guess, it went out of range quickly.

The airplane wasn’t to be the last revelation of the night. At 3:30 am (just after Roberta had completed her four-hour watch and had gone to bed) I was back at the helm when Carol called on the radio from Seabird to ask me to look out the window towards the distant shore and tell her what I saw. We were about 20 miles offshore at the time and all I could see was an orange glow over the land. I radioed back to her that my best guess was that it was nothing more than some reflection from the sun starting to rise. A few minutes later she radioed back, “Use your binoculars and look again.” Maybe it because I was completely unprepared for it, but I was totally floored: With the binoculars you could clearly see bright lava flowing down the side of a volcano. A sight I had never seen! Wow!

I grabbed the camera, as they also did on Seabird, and thought about waking Roberta (but, didn’t – which greatly annoyed her). Unfortunately, the pictures I took turned out as total blackness. This picture is a stock photo of the volcano (Mt. Etna) erupting at night, the closest that I could find on the internet to the view that I saw through my binoculars.

On a vaguely related topic, I was reminded of a few weeks ago when we had a local captain cruising with us from Sibenik, Croatia, to Montenegro, Ante Muic, had who watched over Sans Souci during the off-season. As we were cruising along, we saw something floating just ahead of us in the water, and Ante went outside with the binoculars – although he didn’t need them as it turned out. As the object floated by, we could see that it was a sea turtle. Ante was outside watching it, then came back in with goose bumps on his arms. He was emotional! He exclaimed to Roberta, “I’ve been fishing these waters all my life and have never seen a sea turtle! We had to admit that we had never seen a sea turtle in the Mediterranean either, though we have seen lots of sea turtles in other oceans, especially along the western coast of Mexico. It actually was quite exciting, though, especially seeing how it clearly affected Ante. (As it turned out, we later saw another sea turtle when cruising along the southern coast of Italy. Maybe they’re coming back to the Mediterranean!)

Siracusa (top)

I’ve never been good at sleeping on a moving boat, meaning, when it’s traveling. When things are calm, I do ok. But, if there’s a lot of traffic around, or the seas are rough, I just can’t sleep, even when I’m supposed to on overnighters and Roberta is on watch. And it’s NOT because she doesn’t do a good job at the wheel; she does. And she does get annoyed at me for that, too! Thus, even though our trip to Siracusa during the night was calmer, it was far from perfect, and by the time we arrived there at six in the morning, I was physically exhausted. Roberta was in better shape, but also beat. As we entered the large bay there were quite a few boats at anchor. Rather than hunt for the “perfect” place to anchor we just took the first location we saw with ample room and dropped the hook, wanting to hit the sack as quickly as possible for a daytime nap.

Here’s Ken dropping the anchor. Note the headphones. These allow Roberta and Ken to talk as if they were standing next to each other, making docking or anchoring much easier. How did we live without them for SO long?

Our laziness in dropping the anchor came back to haunt us. The anticipated storm came right on schedule. It never struck Siracusa directly, but was close enough that it generated a large swell into the bay. Anyone anchored close to the entrance (like us) were rolled around from side to side. We should have immediately re-anchored deeper into the bay, but that would have required energy, something neither of us had. Instead, I had the headache from hell, and slept sporadically for the next 24 hours.

Seabird had anchored near us, and was also being pushed around by the swell. They also suffered through a rough night, though, the following morning the bay was much calmer. Thus, whereas Roberta and I had been looking forward to being at anchor, it was an easy decision to move into the marina along with Seabird.

Although I refer to Siracusa several times in this blog entry, our marina was actually on the island of Ortigia, which is also referred to as the “Old Town” of Siracusa. You see our marina in the middle-left side of this photo.

Wikipedia describes Siracusa (Syracuse) thusly:

“…[Siracusa] is a historic city in Sicily, the capital of the province of Syracuse. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes.[3] This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. Syracuse is located in the southeast corner of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Syracuse next to the Ionian Sea.

The city was founded by Ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans and became a very powerful city-state. Syracuse was allied with Sparta and Corinth and exerted influence over the entirety of Magna Graecia, of which it was the most important city. Described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”, it equaled Athens in size during the fifth century BC.[6] It later became part of the Roman Republic and Byzantine Empire. After this Palermo overtook it in importance, as the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. Eventually the kingdom would be united with the Kingdom of Naples to form the Two Sicilies until the Italian unification of 1860.

In the modern day, the city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the Necropolis of Pantalica. In the central area, the city itself has a population of around 125,000 people. The inhabitants are known as Siracusans. Syracuse is mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles book at 28:12 as Paul stayed there….”

Archimedes, the famous mathematician and scholar was born, lived and died in Siracusa. This is a museum in his honor. His accomplishments included such breakthroughs as being the first to decypher the mathematical principals behind levers and even the computation of “pi.”

Even his death was remarkable:

From Wikipedia: “… Archimedes died c. 212 BC during the Second Punic War, when Roman forces under General Marcus Claudius Marcellus captured the city of Syracuse after a two-year-long siege. According to the popular account given by Plutarch, Archimedes was contemplating a mathematical diagram when the city was captured. A Roman soldier commanded him to come and meet General Marcellus but he declined, saying that he had to finish working on the problem. The soldier was enraged by this, and killed Archimedes with his sword. Plutarch also gives a lesser-known account of the death of Archimedes which suggests that he may have been killed while attempting to surrender to a Roman soldier. According to this story, Archimedes was carrying mathematical instruments, and was killed because the soldier thought that they were valuable items. General Marcellus was reportedly angered by the death of Archimedes, as he considered him a valuable scientific asset and had ordered that he not be harmed ….”

Roberta and the pups (Toundra and Keeley) on the stern deck of Sans Souci at Marina Yachting in Siracusa

I’ve always thought the whole concept of “selfies” was rather silly. However, not being one to let a fad pass without at least trying it once, this is our opus. We now have it out of our system and will not be burdening the world with more selfies.

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers owns this yacht, called Octopus. Being a Seattle-person, I’ve always been curious to see it. That wish was fulfilled when it anchored next to us. An amazing boat! Check out this presentation showing some pictures of it: CLICK HERE

We’ve been in Siracusa for a week as I type this, and have barely scratched the surface. Trip Advisor lists 381 restaurants in Siracusa. We did our best to work through them but only tested a hand-full. The ones we went to were excellent. There are playhouses everywhere, including a Greek theater we were told we “must” go to, and museums in virtually every direction. Paired with a great well-protected anchorage, Siracusa is a must-stop destination for all cruisers passing this way.

Sans Souci and Seabird at “Marina Yachting” in the town of Siracusa.

The Temple of Apollo, in Siracusa. This was near “the fruit, vegetable and fish market” which was the best open-air market we’ve seen anywhere.

I recognized this boat immediately when it entered the marina. It is a small cruiseship that hit the headlines in 2008 when it was captured by Somali pirates. At the time I was struggling to learn French and forcing myself to read the French press each day, so a story about a yacht captured by pirates, particularly at a time when we were contemplating a world circumnavigation, caught my interest.

The pirates captured the yacht, including 30 crew members (no guests onboard, though). France paid a $2 million ransom and the yacht and crew were freed. France then hunted down the pirates capturing six of them in a spectacular shoot-out and getting back $200,000 of the ransom money.

Malta is VERY difficult to enter with dogs. We were certain we had it under control, as they have their EU Pet Passports, but we then spoke with Jennifer and Mark Uhlmann, Nordhavn 46 owners whose path we crossed in Montenegro as they were headed to Croatia. They walked us through what they had to do getting into Malta with their two dogs, gave us the name of a great veterinarian in Siracusa, and even emailed to us the pet import forms we needed to fill out. One of the best things about owning a Nordhavn is that you have an owners group who have racked up an incredible four million miles of world cruising. A very special thank you to Mark and Jennifer!

Steven and I are standing on the dock, each holding a VPN router. We were trying to set up our boats to be able to get Netflix from the US. We were actually successful, except for one Samsung TV on Steven’s boat which was being stubborn. For some reason Carol thought we looked funny and took this picture. Don’t all boaters stand on docks holding routers?

After seeing Mt. Etna from a distance at sea, we were curious to see it “up close.” Thus, we rented a car and drove a couple hours to the volcano itself.

Mt. Etna, an active volcano in the distance.

The Mt. Etna tourist center at the base of the mountain: t-shirt shops, souvenirs and other tourist-stuff, fast-food eateries and a tramway which will take you to the top of the crater…if you dare!

If you look closely at this picture, you can see a tramway that takes you up the side of the volcano. Roberta, I, and the dogs didn’t take the ride, but Steven and Carol (and, Carol’s sister Tina) did ride up. They said you don’t get close enough to see molten lava within the crater (too much steam, anyway), but that the ground does get hot! Amazingly, the best view of the volcano was the one we had that night from 30 miles offshore.

The day before we were scheduled to leave Siracusa for Malta – yesterday — the wind suddenly started rising. I measured 26 knots at the dock. It wasn’t a problem except that the wind had not been in the forecast, and if it was 26 at the marina, what was it in open water? I don’t like being surprised by a high wind. (If you don’t see a video above, you can view it by clicking here:


During the “surprise” wind storm, Steven decided to test the wind speed while we walking along the shore. I asked how he could do that and he whipped a little plastic propellor out of his pocket, attached it to his iphone — and showed me the true windspeed and direction! It’s a product from a company called Vaavud. Who would have thought you could do that with a cell phone?

That’s it for this issue of the blog. As I type this, we have departed Siracusa and are en route for Malta!!!!! (Although, we think we’ll stop for a night or two at Marina de Ragusa at the southern tip of Sicily; we’re expecting a storm tomorrow!)

And, in closing… (top)

If you missed my prior blog entries from this season, you may view them here:

I should also mention that Roberta and I were interviewed for another Nordhavn-owner’s blog (http://www.pendanablog.com/Guest-Interviews ) Additionally, he interviewed James and Jennifer Hamilton, who are currently in New Zealand as part of their own circumnavigation, and Jim Leishman, co-owner of Nordhavn, who recently brought the Nordhavn 120 across the Bering Sea. Check it out!

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I should also mention that this is one of two blogs that I do. My other blog is on Facebook, although you do not need to register with Facebook to view the blog. Just click on this link:


My other blog is very different than this blog. I post to it almost every day, and post whatever I happen to be thinking about, without editing or filtering. I also tend to respond instantly to any questions. Check it out!

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Thank you!

Ken and Roberta Williams
MV Sans Souci
Nordhavn 68


3 Responses

  1. SUBJECT: Re: [KensBlog 2014-03] Rough Seas And A Visit to a Historic Town

    So excited to continue traveling with you:))Kell’s sisterNina

    Nina Deats210 west washington squarePhiladelphia Pa. 19106Sent from my iPhone
    On Jun 24, 2014, at 9:58 AM, “Passagemaking with a Nordhavn” wrote:

  2. SUBJECT: RE: [KensBlog 2014-03] Rough Seas And A Visit to a Historic Town

    Great!   Thanks for keeping me in the loop. 


    From: Passagemaking with a Nordhavn [mailto:blog-36871-comments@t…]
    Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 8:59 AM
    To: thomas_j_haas@h…
    Subject: [KensBlog 2014-03] Rough Seas And A Visit to a Historic Town

  3. SUBJECT: Re: [KensBlog 2014-03] Rough Seas And A Visit to a Historic Town

    I am a boat nut with a much smaller budget but you are my fantasy dream. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your travels.


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    On Tuesday, June 24, 2014 12:05 PM, Passagemaking with a Nordhavn wrote:

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