8 to 10 March 2019
Licata, Sicily to Monastir, Tunisia, N35° 46.7’ E10° 50.3’, 170nm, 28 hours
Having said our final goodbyes to new friends in Licata and grabbed a few hours sleep we slipped ever so silently out of our winter berth and back out to sea. I confess to having had a growing knot in my stomach about leaving for several days. Three months of no sailing and in a very secure harbour made the prospect of a 170 nautical mile shakedown cruise, all the way to another continent, a very daunting one. Would Pintail’s systems all work after a long lay up? Would we click back into sailing mode? Would the weather forecast hold? How would our new sails behave?
Strong winds had already kept us in Licata for a week longer than planned. With a big storm heading through the Sicilian Channel from Monday we had a perfect window to get us to Tunisia to be all safely tied up in Monastir to sit it out.
It was tempting to stay until the storm blew through and it would have been wonderful to eek out some more time with our new found friends but that itch had taken hold and we were ready for the next chapter. Delaying would have meant not arriving in Tunisia for another couple of weeks.
As we motored out of the harbour entrance nerves started to ease and by sunrise the wind was blowing gently to give us the nudge we needed.
By 7am we had the new genoa poled out and giving us 6 knots in lighter winds than we had previously been able to sail in. With the sun on our faces it was perfect conditions to pass the next 24 hours at sea. Whilst people back home were heading towards the weekend we felt like we were going back to work.
We were visited en route by a few dolphins, a turtle and a very friendly family of shearwaters who followed us closely and danced around the boat for hours.
In the afternoon, we had a close encounter with the MV Stella Hope. Usually we have watched tankers alter course early to avoid being on a collision course with us but this one was bearing down on us. I wasn’t convinced they had seen us so got on the radio.
This is how our conversation went (and what we really meant).
“Motor Vessel Stella Hope, this is Sailing Vessel Pintail” (Oi, you up there, look down here!)
“Vessel calling Stella Hope, this is Stella Hope” (Er, anyone out there?)
“Stella Hope, this is Pintail, we are the sailing vessel on your starboard bow. Have you seen us?” (I know we are an insignificant speck but please don’t plough us down)
“Yes, what are your intentions?” (I have now. I am much bigger than you, don’t think I’m getting out of your way, I’ve got cargo to deliver!)
“We are under sail and intend to keep our current course.” (I have the right of way, sucker!)
“OK, OK, I will alter course” (If I really have to.)
“Thank you very much, Pintail out” (Phew!)
And with that the Stella Hope turned to pass behind our stern.
The wind died and we motored for a while enjoying our leaving gifts from friends in Licata – lemon cake from Sarah and a Moomin book from our Finnish friends, Harriet and Gustaf – whilst planning our time in Tunisia.
At sunset I took down our battered Italian courtesy flag and raised our bright, new Tunisian one with the yellow Q flag ready to check in with customs and immigration. As forecast the wind picked up as night fell and the sails went back up. In all other circumstances we would have loved the 8 knots Pintail was making but she was eating through the miles so fast that we were going to reach Tunisia before sunrise and we never like to go into an unfamiliar harbour in the dark. We reefed the sails to slow down a bit but still needed to hang around a bit off Monastir before we had enough light to make our way in. Too early for the marina, we tied up alongside the fuel pontoon at 6.30am.
After a brief interaction with the Guard National to confirm our arrival and watching the sun rise on the Ribat, we had a quick kip before checking in at the marina and with customs and immigration at 8am.
When we recovered from night watch jet lag we woke to the strangely familiar sky blue and white square buildings of the marina. We could have found ourselves back in Greece’s Cyclades islands. It wasn’t just the paintwork that was familiar. We bumped into Jan and Greg of SV Viridian who we had met briefly in Syracuse and were warmly welcomed at the cruisers’ Sunday BBQ. There is a good sized liveaboard community in Monastir for winter and they proved a great source of information as we got our heads around this new country.
Our first forays into town revealed very different architecture to that which we had become accustomed. Gone were the grand palazzi, narrow laned centro storichi and frilly baroque churches of Sicily and in their place the minarets of mosques, the castellated medina walls and everywhere the cool blue and white of Islamic design.
We swapped buongiorno for bonjour and cappuccino for cafe au lait. Having given up my daily coffee habit for Lent I was delighted to find a suitable alternative in the local, sweet thé a la menthe.
At the market our eyes, ears and noses got used to all manner of new sights, sounds and smells. Chillies, dates and loose grains, pulses and spices dominated. Butchers displayed what meat was on offer by hanging its head outside. The fish market was a frenzy of yells and smells. We stocked up on bananas, dates and fresh chillies and made a hasty retreat. We didn’t need any live tortoises or budgies.
We had our first sighting of camels in Monastir’s calm streets and got used to the sound of the call to prayer again. The town has a really relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and really eased us into life in Tunisia…