[KensBlog 2014-08-Entry-9] Arrivederci Seabird!

Welcome to Ken’s Blog!


Our 2014 cruising season is nearing the end, but isn’t over quite yet. We’ve had a lot of adventures these past couple of weeks and seen some amazing sights!
As you read the blog entry that follows, the pictures below will help you orient the locations I’m talking about:

The pink line in this photo shows the approximate 2,000 miles that Seabird and Sans Souci have covered this summer season. It’s hard for me to imagine we did all of this in one season, but we started in Croatia, cruised down the east coast of Italy, explored the east and southern coasts of Sicily, cruised Malta, returned to Sicily, then out to the Aeolian islands, back to the west coast of Italy, out to the island of Panza, past the island of Capri, northeast Sardinia, the east coast of Corsica, past Montecristo, and into Elba. That’s a lot of paddling! (well, actually .. motoring) And, our journey is not over.

The orange line shows the short distance Sans Souci has remaining, and the green line shows the long distance that Seabird will be covering in the weeks ahead.


These reference maps show the locations that I’ll be talking about in this blog entry.

A smooth passage from Porto Vecchio, Corsica, to Elba Island

We were up at 5 am for our departure from Porto Vecchio on the island of Corsica, where we had anchored for several days waiting out high winds. The wind had stayed high until about 10 pm the prior night. It was particularly disappointing because we had held out hopes for at least one nice dinner in town before departure, but it was not to be. I had to call the same restaurant two nights in a row to say we were canceling due to high winds.

Our biggest concern was that the wind wasn’t going to drop. The weather reports were claiming that the wind was going to end, but it just kept hanging in there. Finally, at 10 pm it was like someone turned off a switch. One minute there were 20 knots of wind, and minutes later we had 5 knots.


From southern Corsica to Elba would require a ten-hour passage. It was to be my favorite kind of passage: boring. The wind did kick up a couple of times, with some spray over the bow about an hour into the run, but then settled down. Overall, it was about as pleasant of a trip as could be imagined.

Monecristo Island

Montecristo Island

We passed by the island of Montecristo along the way.

One of our sons, Chris, when he was much younger, had an interest in the story of the Count of Monte Cristo so I thought I’d take some photos for him.

This prompted Roberta to ask, “So, was there a real Count of Monte Cristo?”

On Sans Souci, no trivia question goes unanswered, particularly when on a long passage. This triggered some research.

I stumbled onto a biography of Alexander Dumas’ father (Thomas-Alexandre Dumas), who was the inspiration for his novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Apparently, his father was quite a guy! I’m not much on history, but there is a big distance between sitting in a classroom reading about the past, and looking out the window and seeing it.

[Note: What follows is my summarization of an article I read on Wikipedia]

Pulitzer price-winning book about the real Count of Monte Cristo http://www.amazon.com/The-Black-Count-Revolution-Betrayal/dp/0307382478

Dumas’ father, who I will call Thomas to minimize confusion, was the son of a renegade French nobleman who was on the run from authorities and had an encounter with a Haitian slave. Thomas was sold into slavery at 14, only to be repurchased by his father and shipped off to Paris years later.

In Paris he was accepted as French aristocracy and received a good education, then enlisted in the French military. He rose quickly in the ranks during the French Revolution, ultimately commanding over 50,000 troops! For nearly 100 years, until Colin Powell became a four star general in the United States, Thomas held the record of being the highest ranked black soldier in a white military unit worldwide.

Later he would become a thorn in Napoleon’s side, making a lifelong enemy.

His life took another turn when on his return to France, from Egypt, his ship was wrecked and he found himself taken captive and thrown in a dungeon on an island, by unknown captors.

Years later, he was released and returned to France, only to find that Napoleon had seized power and restored slavery, which had previously been abolished. He was put back to chain gang labor, illegally married a white woman, and thus was Alexander Dumas born.

Ultimately Thomas died, at age 43, from the debilitation of his time imprisoned in the dungeon.

Elba Island; Until Sans Souci’s arrival, it was best known as the island where Napoleon was briefly exiled

Elba is a fairly small island; about 17 miles wide by 10 miles wide.

One great thing about Elba is that its shape provides for many anchorages, with shelter from almost any direction of wind and swell. There are also multiple cities with anchoring possibilities in front of the towns.

We arrived at Elba on the south side of the island, with the wind coming from the north. Our anchorage was called “Marina Di Campo” and we anchored on a beautiful sunny day in front of a wide sand beach.

I somehow managed to forget to take pictures of one of our favorite places; the anchorage at Marina Di Campo on the south side of Elba. Had I not taken this picture, looking south towards the island of Montecristo, you’d have seen a busy beach with 100s of happy people working on their tans, playing in the surf, and enjoying the sunshine.

Or, had I tilted the camera a little to the right, you’d have seen Roberta and some very mellow puppies sitting on the upper back deck of Sans Souci just enjoying the view (and, an excellent dinner.)

One of the sad things about boating is that sometimes you arrive at a great place, and are then chased away by the weather. The prevailing winds on Elba come from the south, so even though there are at least four great places to anchor near our location, we all knew that if the wind were to shift to the south, we would need to move. Life at anchor is awesome, unless you are sitting in a bay with swell being pushed in, at which point life becomes miserable.

As usual, the weather gods decided to mess with us. We had less than 24 hours to enjoy southern Elba before we had to move.

From southern Elba, we moved about twenty miles to Porto Azzurro on the eastern shore, where we would only be for another 24 hours before we once again would need to move.

Porto Azzurro on Elba Island. We were to spend more time there than ever planned.

This long boring video was never intended for anyone to see outside our little cruising group, but I thought I’d include it here for those who REALLY want to know what life is really like on a boat (as opposed to what the salesman says when you have your checkbook in hand.) Each morning we check a variety of weather services to see where the wind is coming from, where the swell is coming from, and where we need to be. This video is just me communicating my interpretation of one particular weather report (from a company named Ocens) to the others, along with my recommendation that we pull anchor and move the boats

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Weather is a big part of cruising. Our first day in Elba was beautiful and sunny with everyone focused on tanning. The second day was dark and depressing, with everyone focused on figuring out where to be (us included!)

One interesting thing about Elba… We were seeing more small local sailboats around us (in the 15-25 foot range), and I think that is a great thing. There was one large sailboat in our anchorage at Porto Azzurro (approx. 110′) but mostly there were small sailboats and catamarans. On the back of them I saw Italian, German and French flags. Personally, I’d rather be in a bay with the small sailboats than the big megayachts. The small boats are populated with “real” people out cruising, anchoring and having fun.

As a very broad characterization, I mentally segment cruisers into three categores:

  • The small boats, typically with couples or groups of friends onboard,
  • The charter boats, typically with hard-partying young people aboard. They have one week to have a year’s worth of fun and usually try to drink that on the first night
  • And, the big boats, with professional crew, and guests who dress fancy and fly in helicopters

In the United States there is a fourth category: Fairly large boats (like Sans Souci) that are owner-operated. You do see that here from time to time, but generally, all boats over about 50 feet, particularly power boats, have professional crew.

Stereotypes can be wrong as often as they are right, and stereotyping is wrong. But…I’d be fibbing not to admit that when I enter an anchorage some of these thoughts cross through my mind, and sometimes it is a waste of mental engergy, and sometimes it is relevant. For example, if there’s a lot of wind expected, I want the professional crews upwind of me; if I want peace and quiet, I don’t want in the thick of a bunch of bareboat charter guests.

Steven, from Seabird, tying up his tender at an over-loaded tender dock at Porto Azzurro on Elba Island.

One of the first things we always look for when arriving in a new town is a place to tie our tender while exploring the town. Marinas probably hate the people who anchor out and then bring their tenders into the marina, as they take up space and don’t provide much, if any, revenue. We’re never sure where to put the tender, and usually just look for where everyone else is putting theirs. The picture above shows a tiny fraction of the tenders at the closest thing we could find to a tender dock. When Roberta and I arrived I had to be on the bow, shoving aside other tenders as we fought our way into a position where we could tie ours up.

A few days before, at Porto Vecchio, we apparently parked in a spot where we weren’t wanted. When we returned to our tender someone had moved it a long ways away, and had taken apart my mooring line, making a mess of it.

Porto Azzurro prides itself on the number and quality of its restaurants.

It probably says something about how boating keeps you active, in that I’ve managed to lose weight here in Italy despite all the amazing food (pasta and pizza most especially) around us. These pictures are from just one of the many excellent restaurants at which we dined (Osteria Dei Quattre Gattes)

On a sad topic… Elba is where we and Steven and Carol Argosy will be separating. We will be going north to a marina near the Italian border with France where we’ll be wintering Sans Souci, and Seabird will be heading 700 nautical miles south to a marina on the southern end of Sicily. It will be a strange and lonely feeling for us to travel alone.

Sans Souci and Seabird will be wintering the boats over 700 miles away from each other. Seabird is heading south to Ragusa, Sicily, while Sans Souci is heading north to the Italian border with France – San Remo. Normally we would stick together, but Roberta and I have less cruising time this year than Steven and Carol on Seabird. They will be spending the entire month of September continuing to cruise whle we’ll be headed home to Seattle. Our little group will recovene in 2015 for France and Spain.

At dinner we talked a little about the season we are just wrapping up. The consensus was that there were some high points (Montenegro, Malta, Taormina, Ragusa, NE Sardinia, Siracusa, Panarea, Stromboli, Elba) but overall it was too many miles, not enough good/great anchorages, too much bad weather (wind), and not enough fun. Oh well .. it’s the luck of the draw, and hopefully next year will be better.

Here’s a short video that is kind of amusing.

We anchored in a beautiful bay on the north side of Elba. There was a strong wind blowing from the south, and where we anchored was fairly deep. We dropped in 60′ of water, and where the boat settled was nearly 80′ deep.

Roberta and I have become quite good at digging in the anchor. A properly set anchor actually buries itself in the sand or mud. We also put out plenty of chain. In this case, we had out over 350′ of chain.

When we pulled the anchor for our short ride to another anchorage at Porto Ferraio, the anchor brought up a big gob of seaweed and mud with it.

Getting one hundred pounds of mud off an anchor is not easy. The usual approach is to try dragging the anchor backwards quickly in the water. Another way to do this is probably to just use a boat-hook, and a hose, but that would take a long time and I was in a hurry.

As you’ll see in this video I tried another approach. I raised and lowered the anchor many times hoping that the bumping around would cause the mud and seaweed to just drop off. I tried this approach at one other anchorage, and the entire gob of mud came off as one huge lump, hitting the water and raising a huge splash which caked me, standing on the bow, with mud.

This mud-removal went fairly smoothly, although you’ll see that I didn’t get the shot when the mud actually came off the anchor. I was fiddling with the anchor stop and looked away briefly. Still a fun video though….

A very short video showing Ken attempting to remove mud and seaweed from a very stubborn anchor.
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Porto Ferraio looks amazing, but only from a distance

The big city on Elba is Porto Ferraio. I was saving this town for our last night on Elba thinking it would be awesome.

To reach Porto Ferraio we left a beautiful anchorage (where, with 20/20 hindsight we should have stayed.)

Porto Ferraio is where the Elba ferries come in — a LOT of ferries! We would come to know all of them by name, and the size of the wake each put out. The giant yellow Corsica/Sardinia ferries were the worst.

The anchorage at Porto Ferraio is excellent, except for the ferries. It is huge and of a perfect depth (we anchored in 29 feet.) The water is crystal clear. The ferries make it very uncomfortable, though.

The town, also, is not terrific. It was a bit of a shocker. Everything looked old, tired and unkempt. Not the kind of ‘old’ that shows charm or quaintness, but the kind of old and tired that just looks — old and tired.

Anyway…Steven and Carol tendered into town to look around for a good restaurant. A short time later, we did, too. Steven called an hour or two later and before he could say anything I told him that we were already back on the boat, and that we had found the town horrible, with nowhere we wanted to eat. I then asked if they had had better luck than us, and Steven said they had walked virtually every street, and it only gotten worse.

Actually, I think that if we had gone to Porto Ferraio first we might have liked it. But, it isn’t the prettiest town on the island by any means. It’s where the ferries come in, and possibly where most the people live — but, it wasn’t what we were expecting. And, to be fair, I did hear from another cruiser that I shouldn’t judge Porto Ferraio until we have seen it at night. Apparently there is a very active night life.

The bottom line for us was that we weren’t impressed, and we wanted something special for our big farewell dinner. We discussed going back to Porto Azzurro, as we had all liked it there and wanted to spend more time. However, it was 20 miles the wrong direction for us, and Sans Souci was light on fuel.

My objections, though, were quickly overcome after we spent a rolly night at anchor because of the incessant ferries. I re-ran my fuel calculations deciding that I had more fuel than I thought, and BACK we went, to Porto Azzurro. My fuel calculations turned out to be overly optimistic, but that’s a whole other story.

Roberta enjoying the sunshine on the dock at Porto Azzurro.

Everyone is smiling on the outside, but sad on the inside. This was our group’s farewell dinner, and we won’t be traveling together again until May or June of next year when we reconvene in some as-yet-to-be-determined location.

This picture shows [L to R] Steven Argosy, Carol Argosy, Ken Williams and Roberta Williams.

With Seabird departing, I should mention how AWESOME it has been cruising with Steven and Carol. Together we have cruised:

  • British Columbia, Canada
  • Alaska
  • Russia (Petropovlosk)
  • Japan
  • Taiwan
  • Hong Kong
  • Turkey
  • Greece
  • Croatia
  • Montenegro
  • Italy (including Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and more)
  • Malta
  • France (Corsica)

They complement us well, and in addition to being wonderful people and great friends, they add immeasurably to our security. I seriously doubt that we could have done what we have done without them.

Actually, to segway a bit, I will speak for a second about why Roberta and I, who could easily be described as independent, privacy-oriented people, are cruising alongside another boat for so many thousands of miles.

I wouldn’t say it is totally common, but is fairly common, that when world-cruisers are going long distances to “out of the way places” they often try to do it in the company of another boat. When doing regional cruising, or coastal cruising, most people are happy to go it alone. But, when going into other countries or across oceans, I think most cruisers are happier knowing there is another boat nearby — for companionship, logistical and safety reasons. And, if it works out, you become great friends! As we all have…

Here’s something that I heard that I’ve never forgotten…

Scott Strickland, who had a Nordhavn 47 and crossed the North Atlantic with us as part of the Nordhavn Rally in 2004, kept track of what later happened to the 18 boats that made that passage from Florida to Europe together. It’s too small a number to really quantify definitively, but Scott’s perception was that those boats that continued to cruise in the company of others had a positive experience, and those who toughed it out alone became quickly disenchanted and headed home or sold their boats.

Cruising in a foreign country can be a challenge. In fact, there are lots of challenges to overcome. Being able to use a divide and conquer strategy, where each person or couple tackles a different task for the benefit of the group, makes it much simpler. Plus, even though it may be a bit of a placebo, knowing that there is another boat alongside at all times adds reassurance when making long passages, dealing with severe weather or having mechanical problems. It also gives you friends to talk to in places where otherwise there is this huge language barrier between you and the locals.

The biggest benefit is that each rises to the best of their skill set. We all have things we are good and bad at. I freely admit that I am a “software guy” and when hardware breaks, I am sometimes at a total loss. Steven is a “hardware guy” and comes from a machine shop background. Together we form a team that can do about anything, but apart we aren’t as powerful a force.

And, on a related topic, here’s a link to the blog of a Nordhavn 68, traveling alongside a Nordhavn 72, for an unbelievable trip to Greenland:


Anyway, back to my story….

At our farewell dinner we started talking for the first time about next year, and the year after that. There’s an old saying that “cruising plans are best written in sand at low tide.” So…between now and next year a lot can change, but the idea with the most momentum currently is to cruise France and Spain next year, followed by the Caribbean the following year. Our dream scenario would be that Braun and Tina Jones from Ocean Pearl, who formed the third boat of our GSSR journey from Seattle, across the Bering Sea and through Asia could join us. They are currently thousands of miles north of us in Denmark, so…who knows how practical that is, but it is the dream.

Note: Braun and Tina have had some wild times cruising the Baltic this year. If you haven’t been following their blog, this could be a good time to check it out:


Our evening concluded with hugs, and a sad farewell to our friends on Seabird…

Minutes before their departure for their long 700-mile journey south, Steven and Carol tendered over to Sans Souci to say goodbye to us AND to the puppies.

The thick line you see is one I use to tie the tender overnight. I’m always paranoid that some thief will sneak in during the night to steal our tender, or more likely that I’ll goof tying the tender to the boat, so I always add a second thicker line at night.

Here’s Steven offering Toundra and Keeley a fish as a departure gift. Our dogs are quite spoiled and wisely refused his “gift.”

The dogs will miss their Uncle Steven and Aunt Carol! They stood on the deck behind the pilot house as Steven and Carol departed with Seabird, greatly confused about why their boat was leaving without us.

Roberta and I wanted the smoothest possible ride for our trip north and weren’t in a hurry, plus Porto Azzurro is a great place for “hanging out.” We had good protection from wind and swell, excellent restaurants a tender-ride away, and a cool little town to explore.

Our next destination after Porto Azzurro would be the town of La Spezia, 100 miles to the north. This would require an eleven hour run.

Here’s something most visitors to Porto Azzurro don’t know, or at least that they don’t go way out of their way to tell you.

Just above the idyllic anchorage, at the end of the pretty path that extends from town and ends abruptly at a fenced-off place, there is a maximum security prison. As one waiter described it to us, “That’s where Italy puts the worst of the worst.”

No sooner had Seabird departed than the weather around us turned to crap.

On normal, sunny mornings, many of the boats around us would leave the anchorage to go find some pretty bay to swim in, or to work on their tans. Instead only a few boats were leaving the anchorage due to the weather. I saw one sailboat leave with a young lady in back with her bright yellow bikini, only to see the same sailboat returning 30 minutes later to drop anchor, the young lady now wearing sweat pants and a thick jacket. So much for optimism.

Sitting out the rain while at anchor, hoping for sunshine.

Anyway…there’s nothing wrong with sitting at anchor. We have good internet, television and the town a short tender ride away. I also had some boat projects to do, including changing the oil in the generator, while Roberta took the time for some housekeeping, laundry and prepping for dinner.

On most sailboats and most smaller motor boats, the generator (which converts diesel fuel into electricity) runs only a few hours a day, just long enough to charge a battery bank on the boat. On Sans Souci we run our generator nonstop 24 hours a day when away from the dock. Some cruisers would argue that this is wasteful, and puts too many hours on the generator. This last winter we even had to install a new generator because we had worn out the previous one. The primary reason that Sans Souci runs the generator so much is that we have many electronic devices which consume electricity that we keep turned on at all times. For example, we have satellite-based internet. There is an antenna on our roof that is constantly trying to keep pointed at a satellite. The same is true for our satellite television. Not to mention the air conditioning in hot weather! But before you think us unusual in running a 24-hour generator, Sans Souci is at the break-point of boat size to require a full-time generator. (When we had our prior Sans Souci, a Nordhavn 62, we were able to get by on running our generator only about 3 hours a day.) Size and complexity of boat does make a difference. So there is a bit of a culture gap between us and some other cruisers. Some would say, “Isn’t the goal of a boat to get away from all those things?,” to which I would respond, “We consider our boat a portable home, which can transport us to far-flung and exotic locales. When you’re far away from home for long periods of time, the strangeness and stresses of boating life can sometimes get overwhelming. Having some of the “comforts of home” can help mitigate those feelings, and for us, anyway, add to the enjoyment of our cruising adventures. As Roberta has often said, “Sans Souci will be in a lot of faraway lands – which is a wonderful experience – but, when I enter Sans Souci, no matter where we are in the world, I want to feel like I can close the doors and be “at home.” Like I said, it’s a culture thing and has to do with how you think of time on the boat.

Changing the oil in the generator is a regular part of my life, as I need to do it every eight days. Normally, changing the oil is a painless 20 minute exercise, but my last oil change wound up being a half-day of misery. While changing the oil I goofed and my hand brushed the valve for the oil transfer system, closing it. I have an automated system that sucks oil from the various engines on the boat, or transfers in new oil. The system works terrifically under normal circumstances, but not quite as well when the valve at the generator is closed. When I turned on the pump to transfer new clean oil into the generator, no oil arrived. As I was crouching next to the generator to try to determine why, the oil transfer hose popped loose, spraying me, and the lazarette, with oil. Crap! Reattaching the hose and getting the generator going took minutes. Cleaning up the mess took hours. Oh well .. they say that “That which doesn’t kill you makes you a better Captain.” Lesson learned. I’ll be much more careful next time.

After a couple of days of grey skies, the sun came out and summer returned to Porto Azzurro. Roberta and I discovered a wonderful restaurant perched above the bay for an early dinner.

View from the La Caletta restaurant, in the bay of Porto Azzurro. If you look closely, Sans Souci is hiding in amongst the boats. Can you find her in one of the photos?

The highlight of dinner was watching all the boats returning to the bay from their day trips to other bays with beaches. As the bay filled, places to anchor became sparse. As you can see in this picture, we anchored out in the boondocks, in deeper water. The sailboats like to be in the shallowest water they can get, and seem to have no fear of being too close to each other. We watched boat after boat maneuver to position, toss the anchor off the bow, and then return to the cockpit, never bothering to set the anchor, often much too close to surrounding boats. Boats would collide from time to time, and no one seemed to get very excited about it, they’d just pull the anchor (by hand) and drop elsewhere. It’s a much different world than I live in. Sans Souci’s 120 ton mass would make more of an impression if we bumped into someone.

Do not interpret my comments as negative towards the other boaters in the bay. Actually, I feel quite the opposite. One of my pet sayings is: “It doesn’t matter the size of your boat. We all anchor in the same bays, and if anything, there is an inverse correlation between fun and boat size.” These small boats can be underway in minutes and move where the mood takes them during the day. They anchor in places I can only dream about. On Sans Souci, moving the boat is “a production.” I’m sure these boats are jealous of Sans Souci’s air conditioning, or our good internet, or even our warm showers, and flush toilets. But, ultimately, there is much to be envied on all sides, and generally you’ll always find Sans Souci anchoring as near to the smaller boats as we can get, as they tend to be the ones most willing to forget the rest of the world, relax and just focus on having fun. They help remind Roberta and I of the simple fun of boating!

Our upcoming 100 mile passage to La Spezia, on the mainland of Italy, wasn’t such a big deal that we couldn’t manage in any of the weather conditions we might encounter…but somehow it felt different. It would be be our first passage of any substance in two years without Seabird right alongside. (It may be remembered that Roberta and I did cruise Turkey by ourselves for two summers before Steven and Carol rejoined us the summer of 2012.)

Usually, if you want good weather, the process is very straightforward: You wait for it.

For this passage it would be a little more complicated in that preperations for departure would need to start the day before we depart. If we were to wait until we could actually look out the window and see calm seas, it would be too late to take advantage of the calm seas and go. Normally weather cycles last longer than a few hours, but there was nothing normal about the weather this year in the Med. One restaurant owner told us, when I asked how the season was going, that this had been the worst year in his 35 years running a restaurant. He had been clobbered by the Italian economy, which he attributed to crooked politicians, and was now being dealt a killer punch by what seems like an endless series of storms and unseasonably cool weather.

We were watching the weather for a period of sunny days with no swell, and quickly realized we were dreaming. We went from watching for calm seas, to wondering when we could get a ten-hour window of lumpy, but not too rough, seas. Expectations were lowering by the day.

While talking about the weather, I should mention how we are checking weather.

I use a variety of free, or near-free, services. Typically, I check a couple of the free services (Windfinder, Pocketgrib) via apps on my i-Pad. I also google expressions like “Marine Forecast Liguria” or wherever we are, to find sites with the local weather forecast. If the reports are agreeing or it is a short ride, I usually stop there. We also subscribe to a weather service called “seaweather.net.” Roberta swears by it and checks it often.

Some of you might be saying to yourselves, “Why is Ken always talking about the weather? Doesn’t he have a Nordhavn?” Nordhavn boats are rugged and are built to cross oceans. That is true. On the other hand, my body is somewhat flimsy, and was built to live on land. When buying our boat I remember asking the salesman, “So what kind of seas can I go out in if I buy this boat?” The answer was, “You will give up long before the boat does.” That turned out to be a truer statement than I realized at the time. On our inaugaral voyage, from Dana Point, California to Seattle, that same salesman (Nordhavn’s President) came along for the ride. When my father and I met him at the dock he said we couldn’t depart for a few days saying, “We need to wait for the seas to calm.” I said, “No way. You sold me this boat based on its ability to go in bad weather. Let’s go.” Given that I had just written a large check he reluctantly agreed, only to then wish later that he hadn’t. The boat did fine, but our stomachs not so much. I will spare you the gorey details, but suffice it to say that “real sailors” know that you don’t go to sea, unless it is your job, on nasty days. A flat calm ride is a happy ride.

When I want to be absolutely certain about the weather, there are some paid services I use:

  • http://www.seaweather.net Seaweather is expensive (around $200 USD for a 90 day subscription). They were referred to me by a big-boat Captain friend who loves their service. My initial impression was negative. Their website is kind of ugly, but I signed up anyhow based on my friend’s strong recommendation. Immediately after signing up I almost gave up on them, in that the product itself didn’t look particularly amazing. However, after checking the weather on their site many times a day over a long period, they have become our favorite option by far. The Seaweather interface is easy to use, and provides all the information we want quickly and easily. More importantly, they seem to have “gotten it right” more often than the other services we use.
  • http://www.ocens.com Another expensive service I use, with a much slicker, albeit confusing interface, is: Weathernet, and GribExplorer from Ocens. They charge a bunch of money to purchase their product ($99 for Weathernet and $199 for GribExplorer, with renewal fees annually) but then are fairly inexpensive (like $2 or $3) each time you check the weather. I’ve grown to like their interface, and trust their data in some parts of the world more than others. But, overall, I like their product and they have great customer support. I check them before most passages.
  • http://www.oceanmarinenav.com When I’m on a run and the seas aren’t behaving as predicted, or when I really want good information I call Bob Jones at Ocean Marine Nav. He has been doing weather forecasting for boats for many years, and gives me a live human to talk to about the weather. His pricing varies but is normally by the passage, or by the hour. I consider it cheap insurance to call Bob and have him take a look at all the up-to-date data and listen to his opinion.

So after a couple of days of seeking a perfectly clear weather forecast, we just decided that wasn’t going to ever happen. We had conflicting information from different services, with the only consistency being that everyone agreed there was nasty stuff coming, and that there was a fairly short window (one day) of good weather coming.

The problem was that the precise timing of that good weather window was subject to differing opinions.

So, Roberta and I did what most sailors do after waiting a few days for a clean weather report. We said, “I think it’s going to be fine. And, if it isn’t, we can handle it.” I called Bob at Ocean Marine, and he agreed with my logic, and a decision was made.

It was finally time to bring in the “fish” (pull in the flopper stoppers), put the tender on deck, and start engines!

Our passage north can be summarized as “ten-hour misery.”

I’ve mentioned before that I fear wind less than swell. The wind creates the swell, and it is the swell that makes life difficult inside the boat, and sometimes the wind isn’t even in the exact area where you are cruising – but the swell is!

There was almost no wind for our passage. But, there must have been wind somewhere west of us that stirred up the waves and sent them our direction. The waves (swell) weren’t all that high; mostly in the six to eight foot range. But, they were unrelenting and exactly on our port beam (left side). The distance between waves is always important to note, because if the waves are far enough apart they are a non-event. For example 30 foot waves 30 seconds apart would probably be preferable to eight foot waves four seconds apart.

Exacerbating the problem was that Sans Souci was very low on fuel. There would be a fuel dock waiting for us at La Spezia, but for the passage we were riding higher than usual and bobbing like a cork.

We have stabilizers, and they did a masterful job of keeping things secure inside Sans Souci. In fact, one of my “tests” for how bad the waves are is to ask myself, “Do I need to remove our laptops from the table in the pilot house?” There have been a few times when we were rocking and rolling enough that the laptops could easily be envisaged sliding off the table and transforming into an expensive pile of rubble on the floor. It was never anywhere near that bad.

It was just annoying, and relentless.

Roberta and I are good about not getting seasick, but Toundra and Keeley less so. From the beginning the dogs looked miserable. We never know what to say to them. They don’t know what we’re doing, why this is happening to them, what they did to cause it, or how long it will last.

They just know they don’t feel well in their tummies.

Roberta put them on her lap to try to make them feel better. That became a bad idea when Keeley sprayed her with puke a couple hours into the trip. She had no sooner cleaned it all up than Toundra, our other dog, who NEVER gets seasick nailed her. She cleaned up again, and then Keeley got her again. Finally, Roberta went outside behind the pilot house, to lie down with the dogs, hoping that the calmer ride and fresh air would help them.

There isn’t much other than the lumpiness to note about the ride. We had one wave that I’d have to describe as a rogue wave. In all our years of cruising it was the first anomaly of the sort we have seen. We were just cruising along happily, rising and falling and rising and falling, with no one on the radar and no boats in sight, when Sans Souci suddenly lifted probably 15 feet in the air for no reason. It wasn’t violent, it was just a sudden upwards elevator ride. It was accompanied by a bit of a spin, and then we gently came down the other side. It was nothing more than a big wave; kind of a gentle giant. We were running probably 10 miles off the coast at the time, so I don’t know what if any impact it might have upon reaching shore. The only other event of any sort was that we almost struck a whale. I saw the back crossing left to right in front of me, and at first just thought it was a pack of dolphins, so I took no evasive action. Quickly though I realized it was much too big to be a dolphin and then saw how the water was dark all around it, and immediately killed the throttles. I was sure we were going to hit it. But we glided over where it had been and just kept going.

Sans Souci at anchor at Porto Venere, just outside La Spezia. Beautiful!

Anyway…enough of all that. As you can see in this picture, we made it to anchor near La Spezia in front of a charming town called Porto Venere. We were tired, but Roberta whipped up an amazing dinner of beef barley soup and a salad of greens, blackberries, toasted pecans and goat cheese crumbles for dinner. Sublime!

And — on a COMPLETELY different topic — here is a link to a blog entry of a Nordhavn 62-owning friend, James Ellingford, from Australia:


In James’ most recent blog entry he is announcing that he will be taking his N62 AROUND THE WORLD. I put that in caps, because it is a big deal! When James and I first started talking about it I said I thought it was a great idea unless he had teen children or pets. He then said he had both, and I asked if he knew what he was getting himself into. That was a couple months ago and James has been working non-stop since that time to understand and come up with solutions to all the challenges. As recently as a few days ago his voyage was still not certain as he was meeting with US immigration officials trying to understand the US visa requirements. He is now making this announcement because all barriers to the trip (at least all the known barriers) have been eliminated, and the trip is a “go.”

I’m very excited for him, and was secretly hoping he’d figure it all out and make the decision to do the trip. But when I would write to him, most of my correspondence focused on reasons why this was a crazy idea and there were too many obstacles. The life he has chosen for his family will not be an easy one. There are many days when Roberta and I look at each other and say, “Why are we doing this? It makes no sense.” Roberta and I could be somewhere sitting at a Four Seasons Hotel by the pool, being served drinks with umbrellas in them. But instead, last week I was sitting in the bilge of our boat covered in oil, scrubbing for hours. All I can say is that the rewards are there, and they do justify all the effort, but no one should underestimate the cost (financial and effort) or underestimate the rewards (places, history, people and fun) of a circumnavigation. Our crossing of the Bering Sea and trip through Asia was probably the most challenging we’ll ever make, and yet, I am certain that we’ll never have a more rewarding adventure. The journey IS the reward, not the destination.

Anyway..best wishes to James on this new chapter in his, and his family’s, life. Make sure you register for his blog. It promises to be very interesting!

Sans Souci knows how to make an entrance

After a night at anchor at Porto Venere, we rose early to go to the fuel dock at the Porto Mirabello marina. While we were getting fuel the dockmaster walked up and introduced himself by saying, “Welcome to November in August!”

His comment was in reference to the unseasonably cool weather, which had once again turned horrible. The wind was blowing 15 to 20 knots, heavily overcast and beginning to rain. We had arrived at the fuel dock after a rainy night at anchor.

The fuel dock was on the outside of the marina, and one of the easiest to access that we’ve seen. But the best thing about the fuel dock – besides obtaining much-needed fuel — was that a regular reader of my blog, who just happens to be a big-boat captain was standing on the dock waiting for us!

Shyness has never been a problem I’ve had to deal with. So, within a few minutes of shaking hands I explained our situation about going into Med-mooring situations and asked for a favor. Roberta had shoulder surgery last year and does not handle lines and fenders while Med-mooring. Therefore when entering marinas I am effectively single-handing the boat. (With side-tie docking, there is no problem, as she can handle that – no problem). But, with Med-mooring, particularly in windy conditions, I need two other people on the boat besides myself. Thus I asked if he had any crew he could loan me to help get Sans Souci into the marina. He wisely said that the marina staff would be happy to help, and that he had already given his crew the day off.

I discussed my challenge with the dockmaster, who said he’d be able to help, but I wasn’t sure we were communicating or that he really understood the challenges of Med-mooring a 120-ton boat (while single-handing).

So I tried a different approach. I asked my new Captain friend if he would like to try driving a Nordhavn 68 while I worked lines. Nordhavns are fun to drive, and a proper Captain enjoys a challenge. We were pinned to the fuel dock by wind, and it was going to take some skill to get us into the marina.

He took up the challenge and into the marina we went.

Meanwhile, the dockmaster decided that he wanted to help, and would find me the easiest possible slip to get into. The good news was that we had a side-tie, and the bad news was that it would be a very long walk to the shops/restaurants. That seemed like a great deal to me.

That was to be the last good news I’d get during the next hour.

The moorage, when we got to it, was in a remote corner of the marina. While we were moving I put out fenders and got lines ready. I asked the Captain where I should stand, and he directed me to stand midships ready to hand over a spring line (a line extending from the middle of the boat) to the marina staffer waiting for us on the dock.

As we were backing into the slip I realized that there was no place to tie a line from the middle of the boat. There were only two bollards (the cleats or posts you tie the lines to). One was about 30 feet in front of where my bow was going to be after we backed up to the dock, and the other was at the back of the boat.

Argh! This wasn’t going to work. I scrambled back to the bow and handed a bow line to the marina staffer standing there. It turned out not to be long enough, meaning I had to swap the line. We then tied in the back. The bow and stern line were too far apart. The longer a line is, the more it can stretch. The long bow line was allowing the boat to drift away from the dock. The boat was not being held and would not stay on the dock.

On Sans Souci’s starboard side there is another boat. The owner (or Captain?) of that boat was onboard and was not happy that I’d been assigned that particular slip. I was going to be upwind of him, and with strong winds I’d be blown constantly into his boat. My newfound Captain-friend was having a heck of a time keeping Sans Souci off the neighboring boat while I was scrambling trying to figure how to tie the boat, with nothing to tie onto. Meanwhile, the guy on the neighboring boat looked like he was going to throw a tantrum. He was pacing back and forth on his bow carrying little wimpy fenders that he hoped to interject if we should get too close to his boat. The right answer was to do our best and ignore him, but it did add stress (at least for me) to the situation.

The marina staffer then said, “Would you like a bow line (bow Med-mooring line)?” I hadn’t realized that was an option. Since side-tying clearly wasn’t working, they were offering me the chance to do a traditional Med-mooring. I said, “Sure!” At which the staffer handed me a line from the port side and I went to work trying to get it tight.

The extra line helped but didn’t solve the total situation. We were still drifting into the boat next to us with the nervous guy still pacing. I asked if we could also do the starboard bow line, and then was handed it from the dock. I had to walk it to the bow, and then try to get it tight as well. Once that was on, I was exhausted – but we were in.

Sans Souci, side-tied, and then some, at the Porto Mirabello Marina in La Spezia, Italy

We now had a normal Med-moor docking situation, plus an extra line running to the port side wall. With 20+ knots of wind directly on my port beam (left side) I was still going to occasionally bump the boat on my starboard side. That happened a few times last night, and I saw my neighbor walking out to his bow every hour to look down at the gap between us. I have six big-ass fenders separating us, and he probably has 10 micro-fenders, so it is very unlikely our boats will ever really connect, but I can predict we won’t be forming a lasting relationship.

Meanwhile, the Captain has probably made a note to himself to never hire crew who are former software engineers.

Anyway, we are here, and despite the calendar, it is still November in August!

PS A very special thank you to the Captain who helped us into the Porto Mirabello Marina. Without his assistance, we would have returned to anchor at Porto Venere after obtaining fuel rather than enter this VERY nice marina.

And in closing…

I ran the math to figure out what I paid per gallon for fuel (which meant converting euros to US dollars, and liters to gallons.)

The bottom line: $8.48 USD per gallon! Given the high fuel prices, I’m surprised that trawlers haven’t gained more popularity in Europe.

Sans Souci may not be the fastest boat in this marina, but we have probably gone more miles than any other boat here, including going more places. We can move when other boats are stuck in port, and can move a long distance between fuel stops. I’ve noticed that if I don’t stay in touch frequently with my Nordhavn-owning friends, all I need to do is blink and they seem to wind up in a new country or on a new ocean.

We may not be hares, but we tortoises have a lot of tricks up our sleeves!

That’s it for this issue of KensBlog… My next report will be from where we will winter the boat – Portosole Marina, in San Remo, Italy!

Thank you for following along on our big voyage!

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

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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!

Thank you!

Ken and Roberta Williams
MV Sans Souci
Nordhavn 68

PS – In case you haven’t figured it out, clicking on any of the pictures above will give you a higher-resolution (bigger) version of the picture.

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson