I’m trying something new in this post. Scroll or read to the end – there is a video.
Bequia is part of the Grenadines. It’s called St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We have already reached the southern part of the Caribbean Sea. Only 180 nm remain between us and the next continent – South America. See maps below.
Martinique to Bequia
But before we leave Martinique there is the curse of sailing: boat repairs. We had some rig maintenance ahead of us, plus, both raw water pumps on our Volvo Pentas had failed. The port pump was constantly leaking into the bilge = very bad. The starboard pump was crusted with salt at the bottom of the housing, but not leaking as of yet. We changed both. Good we had the special tools on board to change the pumps. The Admiral learned how to pull a helical gear wheel off with a puller tool. She had to wait decades to convert from a nurse to a boat mechanic – but it finally happened! The seals on the pump’s shaft seem to be the culprits.
The engines have only 850 hours each. The equivalent of 25,000 miles of a car engine and we are now on the third set of pumps. Each cost US$940. Are we being taken for a ride?
Ah yes, and then we found a thick salt crust hidden under the diesel tanks. This must have come from the leaking Goiot emergency escape hatches. Both we replaced 2021 in Portimao, Portugal. The job required half a day of fresh water flushing and cleaning multiple times. But after that and some minor other work we were ready to go the next morning.
(above pictures have captions, if you click through the gallery)
The sail itself was fast and uneventful until St Vincent. 15 hours at sea for 88nm topping 10kts sometimes, but averaging 5.8 kts in the end. During the night, in the wind shadow of St. Vincent, we had an hour no wind and the boat was drifting motionless in circles. We don’t like the engines on at night, but started one diesel to have some control over the boat. It lasted only an hour. After that we were gliding through the night with 2 to 3knots until we came free from the wind cover of the island.
At sunrise we entered Port Elizabeth bay and dropped anchor. These one night trips are the most exhausting ones. Hence, I slept until noon and then dinghied to town to clear in with customs and immigration.
Port Elizabeth – Dinghy Dock
New Family Business?
Bequia is off the beaten track when it comes to tourism. More picturesque, more relaxed, more what you imagine the Caribbean should be without the big resorts humbug. We will come back.
In April we got the chance for a Covid-19 vaccination here in Sicily. It was quite a surprise during breakfast on a Sunday morning. There was chatter in the marina that the major hospital in Ragusa was having an ‘Open Vaccination’ day. Meaning anyone could come and get vaccinated. The vaccination type concerned us. Which manufacturer would we get? Regardless, we went to the hospital straightaway and despite our language barrier cleared all the hurdles. The regional authorities of Sicily and Italy pushed hard for a high vaccination rate and were so kind to vaccinate also non residents like us (for free!).
We waited three months in Marina di Ragusa for our second shot, scheduled for early July. The city of Ragusa had established a vaccination center in an unused Basketball Court. Luckily this time, we could choose and got the Pfizer vaccination
The last days before departure and still some repairs left.
Damaged 14mm Shroud near mast top. Was accidentally sheared twice during production. Requires replacement. We were lucky it held up so long. Was a long process to get it replaced.
Misaligned mainsail mast track high up in the mast. Not a straightforward repair as the drill holes were not centered. This defect destroyed many batten cars 🙁
Standard Reefing set-up chafes and damages the luff of the mainsail. Installed very different setup for all three reefs. Works much better now.
Our rudder wheels are hard to turn. One of the rudder cable guide wheels is not moving freely. We have a clue now which one it is. (Not this one). These wheels are hard to access behind walls in cramped locations. Will work on this in Carloforte
Weight and Balance. Our Nautitech has large usable storage spaces forward in the bows. It became natural to store things there until we found the boat had become nose heavy. Not good for sailing performance. We had to move a lot of weight aft. Our second anchor, chains, heavy ropes, tools and more. Distributing the lot in the bilges was not as straight forward as it sounds. Every bilge segment has sensitive stuff installed. Thruhulls, depth-sounder sensors etc.
Extricating all the heavy stuff and moving it to their new locations on the boat was exhausting in the hot and humid weather. In the end we got it all done plus ticked off all the to-do items on our seaworthiness task list.
Saturday July 10 we checked out of the marina and said good bye to the marina staff.
At 12:25 we cast off the lines for our destination Carloforte. We have 3 nights at sea ahead of us. For whatever reasons nights on sea always count more than the days. Probably a little bit because of the sleep deprivation, but nights sometimes generate uncomfortable feelings. Especially dark nights with no moon and clouds. Those nights can be eery.
TheWeather looks good.
Heading west from Sicily in summertime is a compromise between sailing and motoring. Like all sailors we don’t like sailing long stretches upwind. We chose an upwind leg close along the southern shores of Sicily followed 36 hours later with the crossing from Sicily to Sardinia. The forecast had a light southerly wind position for a nice beam reach to Sardinia (Stop dreaming captain!!). In reality we had the upwind sail which was actually quite nice followed by variable and calm winds.
Back to the start. It is hot on the water. We keep the AC running until late night. Makes the cabin feel like a luxury hotel foyer. You come inside from the heat and a wonderful cool chill surrounds you.
With the weight balance of the boat shifted towards its center, the upwind performance improved a lot. At a true wind angle of 50-55° (TWA) and wind speeds around 20kts the boat sailed 8 knots. Waves were 1 meter or less. We experienced way less slamming because of the lighter bows. We were happy with the ride and the performance of the boat. We could sail angles up top 45º true at lower speeds naturally. The VMG remained nearly the same. Sailing more directly into waves was less comfortable, hence, we staid with the 50 to 55º angles.
Clearly the boat does not like a nose heavy trim. (No boat likes that)
A 45ft monohull following us could not keep up with us upwind. Admittedly their sails were not trimmed very well. It seems we did well balancing our boat.
The first large bank we passed around is called Banco ‘Terribile’. I don’t know how the bank got its name, but probably for a reason. Several shallower large sandbars are on the way there. What looks like so much space on the charts becomes much more crowded out there. At certain wind and current setups one wants to stay clear from the ‘Bancos’. These bars are typically 10m deep but show unruly wave patterns and a lot of fishing vessels on the fringes around. About ‘Banco Terribile’ it is also said that white sharks reproduce in these waters.
The second night we had a very clear sky. Stars without end and easy to see the milky way – fascinating.
Often, late in the night, the fishermen entertain themselves with an unmistakable porn radio show on the VHF Channel 16. This kind of happening appears to be a common thing in these latitudes. Today ‘Ole, Ole’ songs replaced it. Italy must have won the EM soccer championship.
This night is also very warm and pleasant. During the watch, long after midnight, a T-Shirt is enough to keep comfortable.
The Third and last night we arrive at the island shelf of Sardinia.
We tried to time our arrival to Carloforte for around 5am. So we would have some reserve time for delays underway. The weather forecast had predicted strong winds from 10am onwards. We wanted to be in port and docked before that.
We arrived at the island shelf right after nightfall. Ship traffic became heavy and the watch more demanding. Even so visibility in general was good, this night had no moon and full cloud cover. Other vessels could only be detected by their navigation lights. Especially with smaller boats there were few clues for early detection.
The last mile into the port of Carloforte I deemed risky for night entry. The ferries run in after nightfall. But they drive this route many times every day.
There is one way, in between many rocks, marked with a magenta line on the chart. There is limited space to port and starboard. While most of the underwater obstructions are supposedly deeper than our draft, who am I to try and find out if the charts are really accurate. Two black yellow cardinal markers are shown below in the picture. They only exist on the chart. Not on the water.
July 13 0730h Docked in Carloforte. 330nm in 2 days and 19 hours, lots of engine hours and no white sharks.
Ah yes, (waiting) the obligatory docking Prosecco.
privileged, dictionary: + having advantages and opportunities that other people do not have or + able or allowed to do things that other people have no opportunity to do
Visiting DowntownBizerte, Tunisia
September 19, 2020
Sailing the world, living on a boat by choice, being where we want to be makes us sometimes feel privileged. This feeling evaporates over time, hence the word ‘sometimes’ and is ungrateful to our actual daily experience. Visiting the emerging country Tunisia reminded us, we were and are living privileged. It became even more tangible after visiting the town center and the old port of Bizerte. The night before we had our first dinner out since January (see picture below) in Bizerte. During the dinner we were thinking about how privileged our life is. We could always choose what we do and when.
Shortly before we wandered out of the marina, a large luxury yacht docks in the marina. The military styled vessel named ‘Bold’ is 85 meters long and owned by a german entrepreneur. You can charter the yacht for 1 million a week. The vessel’s builder and designer dubbed it ‘fuel efficient’. This might be the case when compared to similar sized vessels. Soon 4 tanker trucks with 31,000 liter diesel each drove onto the pier to fill her up. Totaling 124,000 liters and still not full. (124000L equal 33000 US gallons). After that I felt a tad misled by the term ‘fuel efficient’. The contrast to the poor downtown soon after couldn’t be illustrated in a bigger way then by walking by a $100,000,000 luxury yacht.
Market in downtown Bizerte
I like to photograph people. I like to make them look good on pictures and hope they like the outcome afterwards. This is a miserable combination for a real world photo representing life’s harsher realities. I really don’t like to hold a lens into the face of people in adverse situations – adverse for me, I must add. Bizerte’s market was so exotic, I couldn’t resist making photos. It didn’t matter what my subjective judgement of a good photo was. Unhappy or happy, poor or good life, this was worth recording.
Let’s start the walk to the ‘Vieux Port’ (Old Harbor).
Yes, Tunisia is low income. GDP per capita is only $3500 per year. Don’t let this fool you away from visiting. The people here are welcoming you. They leave you space. They greet you friendly on the streets – unconditionally. There is no follow-up begging or that they know the best restaurant in town, a must visit specially for you. You know what I mean.
We went into the indoor fish market. Noisy, smelly, overwhelming. You don’t want to miss it. It was exotic for us. I have only one simple photo:
I made many photos, so I thought. I pressed the shutter button many times on the iPhone. But……., I held the phone the other way this time and pressed the ‘Off’ button probably 100 times 🙁 One photo only!
Bizerte Market Day
Selling Most Things You Can Imagine
Mopeds, my old love
Private transport is predominantly a bicycle, or a Moped. Since being a teenager I love Mopeds and ‘MoFas’ (slower Moped). They were our first freedom, allowing us to venture further without exhaustion and in comfort. MoFas needed no driver’s license. The minimum age was 15 and they had a top speed of 25km/h (16mph) had pedals which doubled as a starter and theoretically you could pedal them forward. They were cheap to run. I miss them.
Most Mopeds I saw here looked like they were from the 60s and 70s. 500cc bikes are king. I saw one!
Around Old Port Bizerte
The blankets on the boats are for overnight fishing. We saw the smallest of boats going out overnight, having no engine and a very low freeboard.
The challenges of crossing the street.
Practically all drivers ignore crosswalks, though they exist. If you are fully on the crosswalk and do not look at the driver, they stop. We guess the driver’s thinking must be ‘the person doesn’t see me, I better brake’. If you look, you better run. Under no circumstances shall I be liable for any damages arising out of construing this statement as useful information for crossing streets in Tunisia or anywhere else 🙂
She made it! Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar seemed less perilous.
Back at the boat. A night with thunderstorms. Feels good to be in port.
Since long Tunisia was on our desired destination list. However, traveling 2020 under the Covid-19 threat is different. Elaborate planning and preparations come before you can leave Europe. We always harbour some fear that they might not allow us to return home. The last 24 hours before leaving the safety of a friendly port always comes with trepidations for us.
Motoring out between the islands after leaving Carloforte (Sardinia, Italy) calmness gently overcomes us. Throw in a light breeze, blue sky and sunshine and hours later we are truly relaxed.
Our major worry are the entry procedures in Tunisia. Complicated further because we want to continue to Sicily within hours. Upon arrival we reevaluate the quick turnaround scenario and risk to stay for some days. This could be troublesome if Corona cases balloon and related closures occur. Our primary worry is that Europe might close their border to Tunisia. Illegal migrants coming from Africa and Tunisia are a considerable risk and we are thinking about that too.
Our destination is Bizerte on the Northwest corner of Tunisia. Phoenician traders settled the town 1100BC. Bizerte is promising even so 2020 we reduced our cultural program to stay safe.
The distance from Sardinia is 140nm, a distance we often sail in 24 hours, ideal for coming to Tunisia. We don’t want to arrive at night or sail during the night through the coastal waters of Africa.
We have a pre departure checklist we always go through before leaving port. Checking and adjusting the tension of the rudder cables, we found another “hmmmm, not good”.
These pictures are about our Raymarine backup autopilot. They press the top bolt into the quadrant from above. The bolt transmits the action of the autopilot arm to the rudder. The thread of the nut is just 30% engaged. Only removing the quadrant will tell me how easy or difficult it is to repair.
Last minute preparations
No Kinder Chocolate for us. Fueled 160 liters this way 🙂
17. September 2020
Early morning the Admiral works the galley. While I supposedly clear up the deck but make photos 🙂
Underway we take sailing more and more easy these days. We frequently hoist the Genaker alone for downwind sailing. With the right wind strength and direction, it’s efficient and good enough for us. We don’t have to worry about accidental gybes damaging the rig. We can sail deeper (180°) and directly to our destination. Underway we experimented with going 5 to 10° to the wrong side of the wind direction for the genaker. The Genaker took it gently without folding. That makes straight downwind sailing relaxed and fun. Net we loose maybe 0.5knots but who cares.
Sailing offshore feels like sailing away from the corona stress. And it’s not a deception. Within 100 miles there is no case when we are underway.
Pitch black night sailing. No moon. Looking up, seeing some stars and the mast top lights. Red is the preferred night light color onboard. It does not disturb your night vision.
18. September 2020
During sunrise the next morning we add the mainsail. The wind changed favorably the direction and increased to 15kts. The added sail speeds us up and we arrive at noontime in Bizerte.
5nm north of the port of Bizerte we get hailed via VHF radio by the Tunisian coast guard inquiring about crew size and destination. That was all formality up to that point. We use the northern entrance to the port, which is a shorter distance to the marina. Well, I forgot to change our chart-plotter to show high definition depth lines 🙁 In the port entrance, deep water mysteriously disappears. 5m, 3m, 1.1m under the keel within seconds. At 3m I idled the engines and at 1.1m REVERSE!!! We didn’t touch the sandy bottom. To the left is the picture of the standard nautical chart. To the right, you see the high definition depth lines.
This is the official nautical chart. We came in from the left going to the right, closer to the green light. We were somewhere between the 14 and 15m depth line 🙁
And while it says 4m, it’s not. Completely silted and shallow. The silting extends much further to the northeast towards the red marker. Looking down from the bow, we both think 10 or 20 meters further and we would have touched Tunisia with our keels first.
Immediately after arrival on the customs dock, they quarantine us. A Border control officer is unhappy about our courtesy (guest) flag. We took the bag which said ‘Tunisia’, but it had a ‘Turkish’ flag inside – not good. The border control gentleman didn’t like that. A marina employee brought us quickly a Tunisian flag. Thanks, Marina Bizerte!
The whole marina is super well organized. This includes customs and immigration. Within an hour we were Covid-19 tested. The lab reported the results 17:00h same day. Wow! The marina manager, Monsieur Mohamed Ali, picked up the Covid-19 test from the laboratory in downtown Bizerte for us the next morning- thank you.
We have seen nothing of Tunisia yet. But going by our positive experience with the arrival formalities, we are happy.
The lab technician lady is born Russian, living in Tunisia. Migration, the constant normal in this world.
PCR testing with a swab. The expectation is worse than the actual sampling.
For a marina next to an industrial port, the water is clean. These jellyfish are 30cm (1 foot) large in diameter. These are non poisonous, we are told. Didn’t try my luck and touch 🙂
During quarantine you sit in the cockpit of your boat and just watch the world go by. If you look, you can see. You know what I mean.
We close our day by sitting in the cockpit enjoying the view as in the pictures above and have a traditional LUNARA style dinner.