Operation Get to Sicily: Part 2

16 to 23 October 2018

Crotone to Syracuse, Sicily, N37° 03.74’ E15° 17.33’, 157nm, 27 hours

With the rat dead, the forecast for Monday took a turn for the worst and we decided to risk another night on the rat infested pontoon in Crotone (windows and washboards firmly shut at all times!). As frustrating as this part of our journey has been in terms of delays and pest control issues, the up side was that this latest delay enabled us to catch up with Sue and Chris from SV Nimrod who we had met in Kotor and who had caught up with us on their way to their winter berth in Rocella Ionica. Even better, they had caught two big tuna on their way to Crotone and we were able to help them eat them!

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We filled the tanks with fuel at 8.30am the next day and finally left Crotone with all evidence and memories of Roland behind. We were embarking on our longest passage all year but it made sense to do it in one go otherwise it would be two very long days each starting in the dark. At our average 5.5 knots we should make it to Sicily in 30 hours.

However, we had a worryingly slow start at only 4 knots. We wondered if there was a current against us. Stefan thinks it was also because Pintail’s bottom needs a good scrub clean. With nearly 160nm to go we needed to speed up. Sue’s exhaust was still emitting steam too – a worry for such a long passage.

We passed the gas platforms off Crotone and watched more rain fall on the town, hoping it wouldn’t reach us.

Just a few miles into our passage we came round Capo Colonne staying close to shore to enable us to get a view of the one remaining column on the headland. We joined lots of dolphins playing around the cape. This is a nature reserve and the sea is obviously alive with a good supply of dolphin food.

Around the cape we caught 12 to 15 knots of wind and were able to motor sail to keep our speed up. We were expecting the wind to drop through the afternoon and into the night so were keen to use the advantage whilst we could.

For most of the day we sailed in silent company with a Dutch couple on SV Paikea who had been on the pontoon at Crotone. They are heading for Catania in Sicily (where we left for Greece last year) so we sailed with them most of the passage. There was a solidarity in having someone close by after the last few lonely passages.

Despite the recent winds the swell was not too bad. We were beam on to it again so the boat rocked from side to side but nothing like our night sail from Montenegro. This meant that no one felt sick and sleeping was so much easier. We were able to do our usual two and a half hour watches and it was also so much warmer through the night. No socks required!

We were kept alert on our watches by the many tankers coming out of and going into the Messina Strait and watching out for thunderstorms and squalls on the radar.

After a long but uneventful passage we arrived at midday in Syracuse, rounding the island old town of Ortigia and into Porto Grande.

Sicily at last! Fifteen months after we left the island for Greece in July 2017.

But if we thought the weather delays of the past month were behind us we were wrong. We had arrived in Syracuse deliberately ahead of some strong easterly winds but hoped to soon be able to hop on to Marina di Ragusa. There we hoped to be briefly reunited with Oda, Onno and Jasper of SV Off Course and Jenny and Robert of SV Two Lions, and from there it is only another day hop to our winter berth in Licata. However, looking forward in the forecast we found some very strong easterly winds, up to 50 knots, due to rampage along the southern coast of Sicily. Syracuse was protected from the worst of this and, with lots to explore in and around the town, we decided to stay put for a week.

Stefan also decided to take advantage of this time to give our ailing engine, Sue, some much needed TLC. Although she had safely got us to Syracuse, the steam coming from her exhaust was still a concern. So after some advice from Vincenzo at the chandlery he set about having a look at Sue’s heat exchanger and sure enough it was blocked with scale. Back to Vincenzo’s we went to buy what we needed to clean it and put it all back together. Except he didn’t have everything we needed and so began the task of finding them.

Finding parts in a town we don’t know, in a language we don’t speak, is always fun.

Did I say fun? What I meant was, finding parts in a town we don’t know, in a language we don’t speak, always involves walking many kilometres to shops and workshops that may or may not have the necessary part(s). If they do stock it, it is invariably out of stock on the day you visit. If they don’t, they send you to another shop with helpful directions that, because you don’t know the town, take you back to the shop you started at in the first place.

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Stefan returned wearily from one such sortie complaining that he had been to Somalia and back again. Turns out he wasn’t exaggerating. Italy’s imperialist past meant that one of the elusive hardware shops was on Via Somalia, off Via Benghazi!

Intent on doing the job thoroughly, Stefan decided to remove the heat exchanger and spent a second day grovelling on the galley floor with his head inside the engine bay grumbling “and people think we sit around in the sun all day!“.

On successfully removing it, the full extent of Sue’s heat exchanger’s ailments became apparent. A disintegrated O ring had left the aluminium of the heat exchanger in contact with the bronze of its cap. And when two metals meet? Galvanic corrosion. Yep, Sue’s heat exchanger was corroded. Her thermastat had also failed.

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After some research we found a local boatyard who might be able to help us fix the heat exchanger. Arriving at lunchtime we found the staff eating together. “Parla inglese?” we asked hopefully, to which we received a chorus of “Mario!“. With interpretation from Mario we established that they could do what Stefan hoped by way of a repair and we left them with it having been promised a call with an estimate by “domani mattino” (tomorrow morning).

Meanwhile our short weather window for getting to Licata was fast passing us by…

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