THE 2024 BRAZIL FLOTILLA IS A FOND BUT UNFORGETTABLE MEMORY

Imagine what the BVI must have looked like fifty or more years ago, when there were very few sailing tourists, when the infrastructure that we know today did not exist and when there were only very few charter companies, if any, around. That is what you would have experienced with us during the first ASA flotilla in the Bahia da Ilha Grande, near the historic colonial port city of Paraty, halfway between Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.

Old street in Paraty

 

Paraty is where Wind Charter is based in Marina Farol. The city still looks like it was when established in the 1500’s and was the major trading port of colonial Brazil until the upcoming ports of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo relegated it to the status of an open-air museum.

 

        

Marina Farol

The immense Gulf of Ilha Grande is dotted with lush green islands featuring secluded anchorages, beautiful beaches and a few small fishing villages. The main cities are Paraty and Angra dos Reis. Beyond the cities and beaches the tropical Atlantic rainforest covers the slopes of the impressive mountains surrounding the bay. It truly is a unique tropical ecosystem.

The flotilla crew minus Robert and Donna

On April 5, the night before the start of our flotilla, our eighteen participants gathered for a meet and greet event at the bar of Casa Coupe, near the colonial cathedral of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. For many of the crew, this was their first introduction to the local drinks, like the Jorge Amado, Caipirinha and Gabriela, all based on cachaça made from sugarcane. Definitely very potent stuff… We split into three groups for dinner as no restaurant was able to accommodate such a large venue.

The following morning, our chartered bus brought us to the marina with a stop by the supermarket where our provisioning party got out to plunder the store. They rejoined us later by taxi with the booty.

Our four yachts with the new Med Sailing Adventure banners

At the base, the boats were already waiting for us, sporting our new large Med Sailing Adventures banners. We had chartered four yachts, one a Brazilian-made Catflash 43 catamaran, a Jeanneau and two Brazilian-made Delta monohulls. We will get more into the details about the Catflash in this report. The Delta’s are excellent and comfortable charter yachts and did not cause us problems. The Jeanneau was your typical charter boat and was also in excellent shape.

Wind Charters take pride in the maintenance of their fleet.

After the briefing on our boats, we left for our first destination, the beautiful anchorage of Ilha da Cotia. Three of our four boats made it but one, Serenity skippered by Jim and Stacy, succeeded in getting lost and ended up anchored near a beach on the other side of the island. They found us the following morning but, in the meantime, we encountered our first problem with the catamaran.

Ilha da Cotia (or Island of Agoutis)

When we arrived at the anchorage, we tried to drop the anchor but, after about a meter of chain was let out, the electrical windlass would get stuck. It was getting dark, and we tried to find out what was going on, but the darn thing would not work. We tried to call the base, but they were beyond VHF reach and there was no cellular service. We rafted up with the Jeanneau and settled for the night. We cooked on board and went to sleep. During the night, I regularly checked my anchor watch App and noticed that the two rafted boats were drifting, fortunately away from other anchored boats. The bottom was heavy clay, and the anchor should have been holding with 30m of chain in a 7m depth. I raised the crew of the Jeanneau and suggested that they let go of another 20m of chain. That additional weight did it and we spent the rest of the night with no more problems, except for some occasional rain showers.

Bleeping Anchor Chain!

Sunday morning, Jim and Stacy on Serenity found us back and rejoined our group. After breakfast, we left the anchorage and bobbed around looking for a cellphone signal and then called the base.

They came out and temporarily solved the problem of the anchor chain. Instead of having the electric windlass installed on top of the deck, it was located inside of the shallow anchor locker.

Whenever the anchor chain was pulled in, it would bunch up right under the windlass and get twisted. As a result, when you try to drop the anchor again, the twisted chain would block the hawsepipe.

 

Bar de Coqeiro on Ilha de Cedro

Next stop, Ilha de Cedro, a small island with a bar on the beach, Bar do Coqeiro, where we had lunch. We tried to anchor off the beach but, again, the windlass of our catamaran did not want to cooperate and we had to call the base for assistance. We rafted again and called the owner of the restaurant who then came to our boats with his launch to bring us to shore. Service was very, very slow but the food was delicious. Fish stew with shrimp, rice or fries and all that washed down with generous amounts of Brahma beer or Jorge Amado cocktails. Meanwhile, the technicians from the base showed Mila how to avoid future problems with the anchor and she was promptly designated our yacht’s anchorwoman.

Anchorwoman Extraordinaire

Because it had taken so long to serve and eat our meals, we decided to spend the night on the hook there. Eric, Ken and Evan on Nossa Toca and Jim and Stacy on Serenity stayed right where they were while Marianne and her crew on Viver II and our catamaran, Kanhka, moved around the next point in very protected waters with about 10ft of depth. Sleeping at anchor at night is such a quiet luxury and although Brazil often gets a bad rap regarding crime, we never felt unsafe in this part of the country. We never locked up our boats for the night or when we went ashore. The locals are the salt of the earth and really very nice people.

The small fishing village of Tarituba

The destination for Monday was the marina and resort of Porto Frade but, on the way, we made a stop in Tarituba, a small fishing village on the mainland. When we first came here in 2022, we had found the local fishmonger and we headed straight for his shop. I showed him the pictures from our first visit on my iPhone and he immediately remembered us. Ken bought a big fish that he was going to prepare on the grill of Nossa Toca and we headed for the local mini-market to buy some additional provisioning for our boat. By the way, Nossa Toca means “Our Den” in Portuguese but, in this case, we translated it as “Our Man Cave” as the crew consisted of only men.

The beach of Tarituba with colorful fishing boats

We hung around the beach of Tarituba a bit with its colorful fishing boats and then headed for Porto Frade. We were the first ones to arrive, and the local boat boys sped over by dinghy to help us get settled at the buoy. Soon the other boats arrived and around 6:00PM we headed for the resort where we had reservations at Fasano. What a treat we had in this Italian-inspired restaurant, with delicious food and superb service. This special place will always be on our Brazilian flotilla itinerary.

Dinner at Fasano in Porto Frade

There is this gorgeous anchorage, a few miles away from Porto Frade, with a huge granite wall on the island of Itanhanga. It even has a floating bar. Together with Marianne’s Viver II Jeanneau, we were the only boats there. The water was flat like glass and Mila took advantage of it to entertain us with her paddleboarding skills. The rest of us went snorkeling at the foot of the granite cliff. We saw a few sergeant-major fish but that was about it. I humbly admit that I blew it when we pulled up the anchor without properly securing the dinghy and I had to spent a good half hour diving under the starboard hull to cut the painter that had wrapped itself around the prop. To be honest, this was not my first rodeo.

 

The massive rock wall of Ilha Itanhanga and Marsha on the SUP

The two other yachts chose to go to Ilha da Gipoya where we would join them later for the night in the anchorage of Fazenda which has a bar/restaurant on the beach. By the time we got there, they had closed for the evening because they do not serve dinner after 5:00PM.

Well, when all a sudden twelve hungry Americans showed up, the owners saw Dollar signs and reopened their kitchen for some basic food and drinks.

We spent a very quiet night at anchor in anticipation of some good snorkeling the following morning at the Ilhas Botinas.

Ilhas Botinas

Like twins, the Ilhas Botinas sit at less than 1NM from the Ilha da Gipoya. We dropped the anchor in heavy sand, away from the rocks, and swam towards the islands to do my Jacques Cousteau wannabe stuff.

With my GoPro camera, I was able to film some colorful fish but, before long, more tourist boats with snorkelers arrived and we preferred to head for calmer waters.

South of the Bay of Angra do Reis, the Ilha Grande protects the bay and the city of Angra dos Reis from the Atlantic. Pass Ilha Grande and your next stop would be Namibia, Africa.

No need to go that far as there are plenty of nice spots on the island.

Abraao

Robert and Donna exploring Abraao

We had planned to spend the night at anchor near the beach of Praia dos Mangues but, fearing that again, the beach restaurants would only be open for lunch, we stopped for some provisioning in Vila do Abraao, a small village in the bay of the same name. No docking facilities available, so we had to ask our anchorwoman to work the chains again and dinghied then to the ferry dock.

Vila de Abraao has plenty of restaurants and, in hindsight, we should have stayed there for the night and have had dinner ashore. Instead, we stuck to our original plan and went to Praya do Mangues, where the staff was cleaning the floating bar for the night. Dinner on board.

Thursday morning, we awoke on our catamaran and saw that our other three boats were already leaving. They wanted to see if there was more wind on the southside of the island, but I had to tell them that the southside, for charter insurance reasons, was off-limits. We had to sail back along the wide channel between Ilha Grande and the mainland.

The plan was to get together for lunch at Recanto dos Maias in the bay of Saco da Tapera. We were the last to weigh anchor and, for lack of wind, motored to our luncheon destination. On the mainland side of the channel, there is a large oil transfer facility and there were many tankers at the pier and at anchor in the bay, waiting for their cargo.

Our AIS screen showing all the tankers at anchor

We were happily motoring at a safe distance from these behemoths when suddenly I lost steering of the cat. Whatever I tried to do, turn the wheel or engage the autopilot, the bleeping boat had gotten a mind of its own and only wanted to turn to port. The wheel was spinning without any effect on the rudders. I put the starboard engine hard in reverse to counteract the port turns but to no avail. The turn to port would be a bit slower but she kept on going. I finally stopped the boat and put the engines in reverse. Oddly enough, now that water propwash was no longer pushed over the rudders, I could control the boat going backwards. There was no way we were going to make it to our luncheon get-together or make it back to the base on Friday. Using WhatsApp, we informed our flotilla friends of our predicament, and we contacted the base.

We maneuvered the yacht into the bay of Freguesia and dropped the anchor. I jumped in the water to check on the rudders and found them like frozen in a 45-degree angle, which explained the stubborn tendency to turn in circles to port. The CatFlash 43 is equipped with hydraulic steering and, obviously, something went wrong with the system.

Jim and Stacy on Serenity came back to pick up two of our crew, Donna and Robert, who needed to be back in time for their early flight home. After they were gone, we could only wait for the technicians from the base to arrive and solve our problem. We dinghied to shore where there was a small church and a beach with a jetty. Tour boats arrived every five minutes or so and dropped off the day trippers on the pier. They were allowed half an hour for swimming and getting a cocktail from a vendor on the beach and then off they went to their next destination. It was a constant ballet of tour boats, but the ballet was not well choreographed and a few of these boats were colliding with each other when getting to or away from the pier, with their captains screaming choice words at each other.

Tour boats banging into each other

After about three hours, the crew from the base arrived on a brand-new Lagoon 40 on which we transferred all our luggage and food, and we left them with the Catflash. It took them two and half hours to repair a broken hydraulic line. As it was getting late and light rain started to come down, we opted for anchoring in the nearby Enseada de Sitio Forte bay where we spent the night.

Friday was our last day on the water and we were expected back around 5:00PM at the base.

No wind today and we had to motor all the way back from Ilha Grande to the mainland, where we had made arrangements with Eric, Ken and Evan on “Our Mancave” to meet in the Saco de Mamanguá, a long fjord-like bay. We anchored in shallow water in front of Praia do Cruzeiro, which has a few bars on the beach. We had anchored behind a colorful  fishing boats and were hailed by the crew who asked if we were interested in buying some of their catch. Where were they earlier in the week, when we had plenty of time to cook on the charcoal grill on board? Sorry, guys, next year perhaps?

Wading ashore with the dinghy in the Saco de Mamanguá

The tide was coming in rapidly and we dinghied to the shore. That last few yards, we had to wade through the shallow water and dragged the dinghy on the beach all the way up towards where  we could secure the painter to some wooden structure. In a matter of less than fifteen minutes, forty feet of beach were covered in water. Lunch in the beachside Bar do Orlando was pretty good and my last opportunity for having a Jorge Amado cocktail this trip.

Returning to our yacht was a piece of cake now that the tide was high. We did not have to drag the dinghy too far this time.

Next stop? Back to the base.  We tried to sail a bit with just the headsail jibing back and forth towards the mouth of the fjord. Unfortunately, two knots of speed were the most we got out of it and reluctantly started the engines.

About an hour later, we reached Marina Farol where the local boat boys were waiting for us to assist with their way of docking. Two stern lines to the dock and the anchor bridle attached to a floating buoy off the bow. The boat boy in the dinghy must have been a newbie because he made a complete spaghetti-like mess with all the lines at the buoy. Fortunately, his supervisor was not far away to undo the Gordian knot.

All boats are back safe. My job is done!

An excellent final farewell dinner awaited us at the marina restaurant. Some of the crew left the boats that same night, others stayed on board overnight and, the following morning by 9:00AM, we were all checked out of our yachts and that was the end of the flotilla.

Thank you to all our participants and we look forward to sailing with you all again soon.

MORE PICTURES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our 2024 BVI Flotilla was – again – a lot of fun!

THE BVI, A SAILOR’S PARADISE

For our first flotilla of the 2024 we chose for the second year in a row the British Virgin Islands and, in order to get ready for the cruise, I flew from Fort Lauderdale, via San Juan, PR. to Tortola on February 23.

Our new mascot, Cholita, was happy to come along for the ride.  Last year, she started replacing our previous mascot, Swea’Pea who somewhere in his native Croatia had jumped ship.  We never found him back and believe he joined the French Foreign Legion.  He was such a macho little guy, always fascinated by anything military.

       Sweet Cholita at FLL AirportSwea’Pea before he jumped ship

The flight from FLL to SJU was on a twin Cessna 420, truly a puddle jumper. Sitting to the right of the pilot brought back many memories of my flying days and I had fun following the flight on my Navionics App.

Clearing customs at the Tortola airport was a non-event compared to clearing at the ferry terminal, when coming from St. Thomas.

Ready for take-off at SJU

Friday, on my way to lunch, I ran into our good friends Jamie and Keith who had sailed with us before. A good excuse for some drinks. Don from Sea Safaris Sailing School in Milwaukee soon joined us for a few.

Always good to see old friends again

Saturday evening was full moon and therefore the traditional Full Moon Festival at Trellis Bay. I did not stay too long there because Sunday would be a long day.

Sunday, February 25, sunny skies, a warm breeze blowing over the Navigare charter base in Nanny Cay on Tortola, and our twenty-eight participants started showing up for a week of fun and sailing in the warm waters of the BVI.

Three catamarans and one monohull with crew from Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, New York, Oregon and California were part of the Med Sailing Adventures Flotilla with two more catamarans, booked by our friends from Sea Safaris Sailing School in Milwaukee, joining us the following day from Village Cay Marina.

                                                                                    

The Sea Safaris Sailing School Crew

Our Med Sailing Adventures crew was a mix of return sailors, like Brian and Nicole, Ken and Cathy, Jamie and Keith and Sandy, and of first M.S.A. timers, like Barry, Joe and Soledad, Michael and his crew.

After our provisioning and getting settled on the yachts, we spent the evening getting acquainted over drinks and dinners at the Peg Leg restaurant in Nanny Cay.  For many it was the first time in the BVI and their first exposure to the iconic but treacherous Painkiller cocktail.

On Monday morning, we still had two yachts that needed to be checked out by the base but, as soon as the skippers had signed off on the paperwork, we dropped the lines and headed for Salt Island for some snorkeling over the wreck of the Rhone, a British Royal Mail ship that got caught in a hurricane, broke in two and sank.

Marina Cay Bar and restaurant

From there, we sailed to Marina Cay, across from Trellis Bay.  With Tramontane, our Lagoon 45F, secure on her mooring ball, we took the dinghy to the marina restaurant for a nice dinner with, you guessed it, a few Painkillers.

The following morning, the mainsail was raised while still at the mooring buoy and we sailed off to our next destination, The Baths. There were already quite a few yachts anchored there but we had not too much trouble finding a safe spot to drop the hook. The dinghy was dropped from it davits and the crew, minus Keith and myself, headed for the shore to check out the awesome rock formations. I had decided to stay behind as anchor watch. I had the opportunity to visit The Baths in 2023 and, although impressive, they are small compared to the huge granite rock formations of the Seychelles that we saw a few years ago.

The Baths

When the complete crew was safely back aboard, we headed for the legendary Bitter End Yacht Club.  What once was a stunning resort got wiped out by hurricanes Irma and Maria but has since been rebuilt and has regained much of its former beauty.

Back from The Baths

We had reserved dock space for our four yachts and, as soon as we had cleated the lines, we went to explore the facilities.  Unfortunately, I could not get a reservation for our crew, and we ended up eating at the bar where, of course, they were eager to serve us our Painkillers.

Dinner and drinks at the Bitter End Yacht Club

The nice thing about spending the night in a marina is that we can enjoy long hot showers and replenish our water tanks.

Wednesday was Anegada day. Only two of our yachts were going to make the thirteen or so nautical mile crossing. Brian and his family and Michael’s Yacht were going to spend another night at the BEYC and explore some local attractions. One of the Sea Safaris Sailing School yachts was also staying behind.

The Beach and mooring field at Anegada

The short passage to Anegada was made under sail. The wind was perfect, and we literally flew across. The mooring field was already quite busy, but we found a buoy and soon, we were in the water for a refreshing swim. We went ashore in the dinghy and walked over to the Lobster Trap restaurant on the beach to confirm our dinner reservations, had a drink (Painkiller?), then walked to the mini-moke rental place. The plan was to rent one of these cute little cars to check out the island. Unfortunately, it was already too late in the afternoon to make that trip worthwhile and we opted for drinks at Potter’s By The Sea where we ran into Ken and his crew. A couple of cocktails later, we headed back to Tramontane to freshen up for dinner.

Barry and Sandy ready to devour some serious lobster

The Lobster Trap is famous for (of course) its lobsters and they are ginormous and delicious.

Our waitress was from the Dominican Republic and delighted that she could speak Spanish with Soledad. I must admit that the chocolate brownie she sold us for dessert was a bit too much and I should have paddled back to the yacht instead of using the outboard to burn off the excess calories.

Painkillers and other libations at Foxy’s

Next destination was the famous Foxy’s Bar on Jost Van Dyke, a good 25NM away.

As soon as we left the channel, we raised the sails but the winds were not in our favor and we ended tacking for hours before throwing in the towel and switching on the engines but, when we arrived in Great Harbor, all the buoys were taken and we had to anchor for the night.

Foxy’s is one of these iconic places that any sailor worth his salt must visit if he goes to the BVI. You will find all kinds of colorful characters at the bar. Crew members of our other flotilla boats were already there, and we swapped our stories of the day over some libations after which we went back to our boat for dinner on board. We made a killer spaghetti and enjoyed it with two bottles of Argentinian Malbec. Life is good…

Enjoying our “killer” pasta meal

That night, however, a storm came up and, around 03:00, a loud noise woke me up in my “coffin” (as our yacht was fully booked, I had to spend my nights in the tiny confines of the skipper’s cabin in the forepeak of the port hull of the catamaran). I opened the hatch and saw the crew of a catamaran trying to untangle her anchor from the mooring buoy of a monohull. This went on for a good hour before the cat was finally free. Our anchor held firm, so I went back to sleep.

My sleeping quarters AKA “The Coffin”

At 06:30, I heard our anchor being raised. Again, I crawled out of my “coffin” to find my crew bringing the hook up. Apparently, the crew of a large catamaran anchored at our stern saw that we were dragging and came knocking on our hull. Joe, who heard the knocking, woke up the others and addressed the situation without waking me up.

Now that we were all up, we decided to get out of the anchorage and head for Soper’s Hole to bunker water and refuel. As soon as we had left Great Harbor heading towards the Thatch Island Cut, we got beaten up by heavy seas on our port beam.  A miserable 3.5NM later, under bare poles, we found the calm of Soper’s Hole and started looking for the fuel dock and, after motoring around the marina for a good fifteen minutes, we finally docked at the Voyage charter company dock, where we bought water and diesel.

The highlight of my trip, swimming with “Myrtle The Turtle”

After refueling, we left the protection of Soper’s Hole and got beaten up again during our crossing to Norman Island, where we found a buoy in calm waters in the anchorage of The Bight.

Because of the lack of sleep of the previous night, I opted for a nice nap while the rest of the crew went for a dinghy ride to the Willy T’s and to the Pirate’s Bight. Later that afternoon, we went snorkeling and I was so thrilled to capture a gorgeous sea turtle on my GoPro.

The (in)famous Willy T’s

Dinner for our last night of the flotilla was aboard the Willy T’s floating bar and restaurant where there is always some fun action with people jumping from the top deck in the water.

Capt. Ken jumping off the Willy T’s (photo sent by Ken)

We made it an early night because we would leave Norman Island the following morning around 07:00 as several members of our crew had to take the early ferry back to St. Thomas.

Spindrift at the buoy in The Bight of Norman Island

Saturday and that’s the end of it.  We made the 5NM crossing from Norman Island to Nanny Cay, did a final refuel and checked out on the yacht. Goodbye hugs and promises to sail together again.

My flight was scheduled for 18:00 which meant I had plenty of time to kill or rather to assassinate.

Thank you to all participants who joined this flotilla!

Be on the look-out for the 2025 edition.

 

Capt. Jean De Keyser

 

 

THE OLD FARTS AND THE SEA (With apologies to Papa Hemingway)

A bad selfie of Mario and me, “The Old Men and the Sea”

As two “seasoned” citizens, whose minds still think like forty-year-olds, but whose bodies tend to bring them back to the brutal reality of their physical age which we will not disclose, Mario, a retired doctor from Chicago – but originally from Argentina – and I had decided to make a passage sailing trip to the Keys.

Thirty-five hours of sailing from Punta Gorda later, we reached the Dry Tortugas, due east from Key West, and the USA’s most unusual National Park.

On Garden Key, you will find Fort Jefferson, the largest brick fort in the United States.

Of course, we had to have the wind on our nose for most of the trip, on our 32’ ETAP 32S sailboat, “Promise”.  We were the only crew on the boat, and were looking forward to dropping the anchor, put up our Magma grill and prepare some steaks with a few Yuengling beers. We had deserved it. The trip was mostly motor sailing with only three hours of engine-off sailing at about six knots. A mishmash of no wind periods and some bouts of up to 20 knots.

A cloud in the shape of a shark. Bad omen?

The wind for the night was forecasted to come from the south and we decided to drop the hook in the North Channel of Fort Jefferson.  Across Bush Key, we could see the masts of the boats anchored in the South Channel and exposed to the strong winds blowing in from the south.

The first job after anchoring though, was to haul our dinghy inside our small cockpit and find a stubborn leak that kept bugging us. The dinghy had deflated during our trip, and we had ended up dragging a shapeless blob of half inflated PVC behind us.

After our steaks and beers, we crashed for the night but, around 23:00 hours, all hell broke loose and a storm with gusts up to 50 knots blew straight into the South Channel. Heavy rain, thunder and lightning kept us inside our boat, and I used my Navionics App as an anchor watch. With an all-chain rode completely out, our boat held safely, and we did not have a worry in the world. The yachts in the South Channel did not fare as well as we did and two of them landed on the beach of Bush Key.

The circled blue line show how well Promise held during the storm.

The following morning, Monday, April 17, the wind was forecasted to clock from the north, and we opted to pull up anchor and move to the South Channel around Fort Jefferson. Conditions were deteriorating rapidly, and we had to hand crank the windlass to haul in all that chain. Mario was at the wheel, moving the boat around while I was furiously cranking the windlass to get out of here.

The anchor was barely out of the water, and I had given Mario the thumbs up to move the boat when we got broadsided by a rogue wave and a heavy gust that pushed Promise on the shoals, where she came down on her starboard. No way of getting her off.

Our home away from home for four days and four nights.

We hailed the Ft. Jefferson Ranger Station and were told that they had their eyes on us. We took our most important belongings, dropped them in the dinghy, abandoned ship and motored to the swimming beach, with water constantly splashing inside the dinghy. We dragged the tender on shore and went to the visitors’ center where they told us that we would get a tent, a pad and blankets so we could spend the night. There was no way that we would be able to stay on the boat.  We had salvaged some jugs of water, protein bars, some fruits and nuts from the boat and that was the menu for the night.

Such a beautiful, yet treacherous paradise.

The park rangers allowed us to go back to the boat to get more provisions, but we could not possibly relaunch the dinghy from the northside beach, so we had to drag it to the one on the southside and motor from there to the boat around Bush Key. As soon as we turned the point, we got really beaten up by the waves and took on a lot of water, but we made it to poor Promise who was resting on her starboard side and being pounded by the waves. It was obvious that the rudder had been damaged and was now useless.

We climbed on board to secure everything when suddenly we heard a hard bang and I saw that the rudderpost had been pushed up through the transom. My first thought was that she now was a total loss. I almost burst into tears but, with the waves pounding hard, we had to get off the boat. I left the anchor light on so we could see her during the night.

We could clearly see her mast in the twilight.

A few hours later, I noticed that the genoa had come partially loose and was flapping in the wind. I did not want it to unfurl completely and get shredded by the next storm.  The rangers gave me permission to dinghy back to my poor baby but that was the beginning of an even more frightful adventure.  I had decided to go alone without Mario.

I had barely rounded the point of Bush Key into the northside that the waves pounded me towards the shore.  No way my 2HP Honda could keep me off the beach and soon I hit bottom which damaged the prop.  I had to paddle back but the current took me towards the reef.  I was in deep doodoo now.  Next landfall, Havana…  Fortunately, I had my airhorn with me and sounded the five-burst distress signal.  No reaction…  I did it again about three or four times and then decided to sound the SOS morse code.  Thank goodness, Skipper Marion from catamaran La Reina came out to save me with his RIB to drag me ashore where Ranger Dustin was waiting for me.  He told me in uncertain terms that I would not be allowed to go back to the boat until TowBoat US was here to refloat us.

My pride and joy on the beach at low tide.

Before heading to bed, I glanced a last time at the anchor light and saw that the boat had moved again and that the mast was now upright.  That meant she was in deeper water and floating but, when we woke up the following morning, there was more bad news.  She had drifted further south and was now laying on her starboard side on the beach of Bush Key.  I went to the top wall of the fort and saw that she seemed to be OK.  There were a lot of bird watchers on the island and one of them let me use his scope to get a really close look.  Promise seemed OK and I could not see apparent damages from afar.

Hard on the beach of Bird Key.

During nesting season, Bush Key is closed to the public.  Sooty terns, brown noddies and other seabirds lay their eggs in the sand and nobody, except for conservation staff, is allowed on the island.  Theoretically, we could walk on the beach to the boat but that was not allowed.  Ranger Dustin was in deep conversation with some sailors, and I asked him if he had heard from TowBoat US when they would arrive to help us, but he had no news.  They were still working on a plan as far as he knew.  One of the sailors who was from Key West mentioned that he knew the owner of the salvage company.  That is when I found out that the sailor in question was no other than my Key West colleague, Scott Mayer of Bluesail Yachting who is one of the Key West – based brokers for the same yacht brokerage that I work with in Punta Gorda, Pier One Yacht Sales.  Small world indeed!  He is a regular here.  I mentioned to the rangers that I had left my blood pressure medication on the boat, and they finally relented and allowed us to walk to the boat.  A cheerful young scientist, Kaylee, who works here studying the birds and sea turtles, volunteered to go there with us and while carefully avoiding stepping too close to the nests of the terns, she told us a lot about her work her. It was fascinating.

The lovely Kaylee with Ranger Dustin.

Another friendly sailor on a Jeanneau, named Ocean Infinity, gave me the password of his Starlink Wi-Fi account which allowed me to contact my worried wife a few times and communicate with the outside world.  There is no cell phone or Wi-Fi service on Fort Jefferson.

The Dry Tortugas are very popular with campers, who come here by seaplane or ferry.  The seaplanes fly in and out twice a day, but the Yankee Freedom ferry arrives daily around 10:30 with day trippers and campers who are allowed to stay a maximum of three nights.  The ferry leaves around 15:00 but, in the meantime, we could use its showers and get some food and drinks on board.

Campers have many things in common with sailors.  One of them is a willingness to help.  They allowed us to use their charcoal grills, brought us hot water for coffee and even rum.

If ever there was an ideal place to be marooned or shipwrecked, the Dry Tortugas is the place to be.  The National Park Service people, campers, crew on the ferry, fellow sailors, they all were fantastic.

We were not killing time waiting for news from the insurance adjuster, we were assassinating time.  Apart from walking around the fort, climbing on top of it to look at Promise in the distance and chatting with anyone willing to listen to us, there was nothing to do.  It was hot…

Keeping our spirits high.

I tried to communicate regularly with my wife, Mila, via my Spot satellite device.  I could send out and receive short texts and was able to keep her informed and receive updates of the insurance situation for the salvaging.

On Thursday, we got the word that TowBoat US would come the following day to pull Promise off the beach.  Finally, some great news!  I convinced Mario to leave Friday morning on one of the seaplanes.  There was no use for him to stick around for the salvage operation and for the boring ten-hour tow back to Key West.

The Key West seaplane.  Promise is on the top-left point of the beach.

Friday morning, around 08:30, I met with Capt. Sean of TowBoat US and his two-man crew.  The funny part was that he remembered meeting me from the Miami Boat Show when he visited our Med Sailing Adventures booth there. Small world…

The salvage operation was done rather quickly.  Dig out the keel, put two airbags under the boat and pull her afloat.  I don’t believe the whole operation did even take two hours.  I even managed to take a short video of the refloating.

Ready to refloat her at high tide.

I said my goodbyes to all the friendly people from the National Park who had helped us.  Officer Dustin Martin, Kaylee the lovely biology scientist, Bill Mason, who runs the bookstore and visitor’s center, Sean Dunn, the friendly camper from Ohio, who had brought us a bottle of rum the night before and others, whose names now escaped me.

Towboat US got me on Promise who was waiting for me at anchor.  I checked her out, lifted the anchor and we were on our way for the slow tow to Key West.

Nothing to do during the ten-hour trip than to wait to get back in cell tower reach.  I turned the engine on in neutral to recharge the batteries, so the fridge could work and keep my Gatorade cool and, once I had hot water, I took a shower.  What a luxury!

Passing Boca Grande Key and Man Key, I finally got bars on my cell phone and had a long conversation with Mila, telling her all about our adventure.  At 23:18, we finally reached the fuel dock of Perry Marina on Stock Island.

Perry Marina is a beautiful and luxurious marina belonging to the Perry Hotel and Resort with all the facilities, like restaurants, pool, etc.

At the fuel dock of the Perry Marina.

My poor Promise not having propulsion, had to stay until Wednesday at the fuel dock.  That dock only has 50 Amps shore power.  I was not allowed to use my 50A to 30A adaptor and had to regularly start the engine to keep the batteries charged and the refrigerator going.

Of course, without shore power and generator, I had no air conditioning on the boat which made for miserable nights but, during the day, I could spend time in the air-conditioned room of the Captain’s Lounge, work on my laptop and make phone calls to find out what our next step would be.

While working on the boat, I also got the surprise visit of Barry Sroka, the American Sailing Association Master Instructor, who made me a sailing instructor back in 2008.  Small world indeed.  He could not believe he found me here and what a story I had to tell him.

I had thought about having Promise towed all the way to the boatyard in Port Charlotte but found out that it would be less expensive to have her trucked.  To do that, we would need to take down the mast.  With the help of Matt, one of the employees of Scott Mayer’s Bluesail Yachting company, I took down the sails and disconnected the boom.

Wednesday, at 13:00, Towboat US brought Promise to Robbie’s Boatyard, where she was hauled.  I took some pictures of the hull and rudder and, after a refreshing shower, climbed in the truck of Mike Mullinger, the owner of Pier One Yacht Sales who happened to be in Key West, for the six-hour drive back to Punta Gorda.

Ready to be loaded on the truck in Key West.

Arrived in Safe Cove Boatyard in Port Charlotte.

A local rigger took her mast down and she was trucked to the Safe Cove boatyard for survey and repairs on Wednesday, May 3.  Promise will sail again.  It’s a promise.  After all, like me, she is Belgian made and, like me, she is unsinkable…  Stay tuned.

THE APOCALYPSE IS COMING!

It was Sunday, mid-January 2022, and the yacht brokerage company that I work with in Burnt Store Marina was closed but one person got my name and phone number and called me to ask if I would be interested in selling his yacht. I answered that I would be there in five minutes.

When I arrived at the office, a young man in his forties introduced himself. Let’s call him Louis. He struck me as very weird. He looked like the banjo boy from the movie Deliverance all grown up. Very weird vibes…

Louis told me that he had bought this yacht the week before from another broker, whose name I will not mention. He wanted to escape the Apocalypse (no… I am not making this up). Louis, who does not know the first thing about sailing and sailboats had decided to buy a $400,000.00 super sailing yacht to escape it all because he was convinced the Government was after him and that the Apocalypse was about to happen.

The yacht had been owned and kept at the dock of a gentleman who had done a circumnavigation on her and he wanted now to buy a power boat. He hired the broker to sell her and then came Louis who bought her at $500.00 below the asking price. Apparently, a cash deal.

The best way to escape this? A $400,000.00 luxury – off the grid- yacht, of course…

The seller wanted the yacht off his dock, but Louis did not know how to handle this boat and finally the broker and the seller moved her to the transient dock of Burnt Store Marina, here in Punta Gorda, and that is where Louis found me.

As this whole deal stunk to high heaven, I started asking him questions about his plans, where he was from, how he was going to learn to sail, etc. I figured that either he must have inherited a large sum of money or gotten some other kind of windfall. I understood that he is on disability following an accident. He kept on ranting and raving about the apocalypse, and it was obvious that this guy had a mental problem.

What I did not understand is how a broker could have such a lack of ethics to sell a very expensive yacht to a person who, under normal circumstances, should be institutionalized. How in the world can you tell a person with a mental disability that it is OK to buy such a yacht and take his money? This is so flagrantly unethical and it almost reeks of abuse of a mental patient. Like stealing candy from a baby. Two friends of mine who hold degrees in psychology had quickly diagnosed poor Louis with paranoid-schizophrenic disorder and he definitely should not be on the loose. This guy is a danger to himself and his surroundings.

What made it even worse is that Louis, who by now was aware that he would never be able to sail that yacht, called the selling broker and asked him to put his boat back on the market, one week after he had bought her and this at the same time that he was asking me to sell her.

So, the yacht was sitting there at the transient dock of the marina, but Louis does not have insurance and the marina wants him out by the end of January. No slips available anywhere in southwest Florida. Louis is in a monumental pickle, and I suggest that he bring the yacht to a haul-out and storage place where she will be safe until he figures out how to handle all this. He tells that to the broker who scares him by saying that I have no yacht broker’s license or bond (not true) and that, if he hauls the boat and stores her on the hard, the sun will destroy his yacht in the shortest time. Louis panics and, in his state of mind, there is no way to reason with him.

I told him that, under the circumstances, I could not be of any further assistance. Before I left him, he asked me to check the A/C outlets. When I climbed on board, he pointed to a big shiny stainless-steel object and asked me what it was. I explained the use of the winch for him… Hopeless…

I went below to check on the A/C outlets, I saw the door to the head open. I asked him if he was using the head on board or if he used the marina facilities. He was filling up the waste tank and had no clue how to empty it.

The craziest part of all was that, when I asked about the British standard outlets, he knew enough about the story of the yacht to tell me that the seller had bought her in Barcelona from a previous owner who was a British Doctor and who had brough the yacht from the States to the Mediterranean. I knew right there that this yacht originally came out of our marina. The previous owner of my old charter company here had sold that yacht to this Doctor right at the time that I bought the charter company and I remember her at our dock. “Pelican”, although under a new name, was still as beautiful as in 2007 and impeccably maintained. It is a very small world, indeed.

Last I heard is that she might already have been sold again, and that Louis had left in his car for Montana where he is looking for a place to survive the Apocalypse. I never checked if he had a banjo…

 

OUR ASA TUSCANY AND ELBA CRUISE WAS A BLAST!

Post-pandemic life is starting to become more or less normal again.

After an exciting cruise in the Gulf of Fethiye in Turkey, we came back to the USA for two weeks and were on our way back east to Italy for the ASA Tuscany cruise.

Flag of Tuscany, Italy

Getting up on June 29 at 04:00 to catch a 07:00 flight from Ft. Myers to Dallas, for our connection to Rome, is not exactly my idea of fun. I am not an early morning person, and the attitude of the TSA agent did not help to get me in a good mood.

What is it with TSA agents in the States that they must show off their “power” by shouting and yelling? You do not see that in other countries. We had this tattoo-covered guy standing in front of the luggage scanning machine barking “90 degrees, turn the trays 90 degrees” while not making eye contact.

What an image we must project to foreign tourists visiting our country…

After spending the entire flight from RSW to DFW asleep, we had a five-hour layover in Dallas. We took the Skytrain from Terminal A to Terminal D and had an overpriced and mediocre airport breakfast there.

Before we left our house in Punta Gorda, I could not find my noise-cancelling headphones and, as there is no way that I was going to spend thirteen hours on a plane with screaming kids without being able to cancel them out, I ended up investing in $150.00 Skull Candy Bluetooth headphones. It ended up being a great investment with that raging rug rat (RRR) two rows behind me.

The flight time between Dallas and Rome was spent sleeping and reading Tom Clancy’s “Locked On” novel while drowning out the RRR’s screams.

I am still amazed at the senseless mask regulations on airplanes. In order to be allowed to board the plane to Europe, you must show a negative COVID test which means that everyone on board is “healthy”. I would assume that many are also vaccinated. The air on the plane is cleaned and renewed every few minutes. Why the face pampers, as I call them? On top of that, the virus must be the dumbest thing alive not to take advantage of the fact that we all take our masks off for over thirty minutes during dinner and breakfast on board. Call me a rebel, if you wish…

The thump of the wheels at touchdown in Rome pulled me out of my uncomfortable sleep.

Getting through immigration and customs in Italy was a non-event. We had filed our negative COVID test results and our European COVID tracking documents electronically.

Waiting for the train to Follonica in Roma Trastevere Station

We collected our luggage and headed for the train terminal, bought our tickets to Follonica, the closest station to Scarlino, and boarded a super clean and fast train to Roma Trastevere station where, half an hour later, we got on the connecting train to Pisa. Two hours later, we arrived in the small station of Follonica and, after a short taxi ride, finally reached our hotel, La Darsena, in walking distance from the charter base. It had taken us over twenty-four hours to make the trip, door-to-door and, after a quick shower, we crashed for a good four hours of sleep.

Our first Tuscan sunset of the year.

The following morning, Thursday, we had breakfast at the hotel and went for a walk to the marina.

Except for one or two unbooked sailboats, the charter base was empty. Business must be good.

Back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the day taking care of answering emails and booking yachts for our flotillas in Croatia and the Seychelles while the Admiral was, doing bookkeeping, arranging for payments of the charter boats, and doing other administration tasks.

We took a break for lunch and found this small fish store that doubled as a takeout restaurant with a few tables outside. The food was amazing, and they had an impressive choice of the freshest fish.

A delicious lunch at our local fish store.

It was so good that we returned the following day for more.

Across the street from the fish store, there is a trail that goes into the national preserve of the Maremma. This part of the country is a mixture of agricultural fields, forests and swamp and is home to the Butteri, the Italian version of cowboys who herd their longhorn cattle there. The only other place in Europe that I know where they have these “cowboys” is in the French Camargue.

The swamp of the Maremma National Park. A birder’s paradise.

We hiked for a few miles on a boardwalk in the swamp to a blind from where we could spy on the local birds, after which we headed back to the hotel for more work on our laptops and a short siesta.

The boardwalk in the swamp.

That evening we had a delicious dinner in one of the restaurants in the marina.

Well rested on Friday morning, we had breakfast at our hotel, checked the emails and went for another walk to the marina for some shopping in one of the local stores.

Scarlino marina is a modern and luxurious place, home of several excellent eateries and pricey shops.

There are three or four charter companies here and they have a well-equipped boat maintenance and yacht storage facility. It is only a few hours sail from our first destination, Porto Azzurro on the island of Elba.

Marina di Scarlino with the Island of Elba in the back

Friday night, we had dinner at our favorite local restaurant, Il Veliero, with our Boat Mates, Bob and Cathy from Lake Tahoe.

I introduced Bob and Cathy to my favorite dish, Tagliatelle al cinghiale or tagliatelle pasta with wild boar. Lots of tagliatelle but not much boar…

Many Prosecco’s and a few wine bottles later, we headed back to our hotel, a fifteen minute walk.

Saturday morning, after our breakfast buffet at the hotel, we packed our stuff, checked out and schlepped out luggage from the hotel to the marina where we had to wait until the afternoon to get checked in on our yacht, a Sun Odyssey 479. Spacious and comfortable. We did our provisioning at the well stocked supermarket in the marina and, when getting back to the boat, we were told that she was ready for us to board and get settled.

Our home away from home; SV Azzurra

Having verified during check-in and vessel orientation that all the systems on board were working, we dropped the lines for our 18NM crossing to Porto Azzurro on the island of Elba. Wind on the nose and motorsail all the way.

Arriving in Porto Azzurro

We had sent an email to the local port authority asking for a berth for the night but, when we arrived there, all dock spaces were taken, and we ended up at anchor at the entrance of Cala di Mora. There were already lots of boats on the hook and we had to do quite some maneuvering to make sure that we would be safe for the night. Secure at anchor now, this called for a celebratory drink of wine after which we got in the dinghy and went to shore to have dinner at our favorite place, our friend Umberto’s Pegaso restaurant on the waterfront.

Great to see our good friend Umberto again. Thanks for the Grappa!

We were received with open arms after the long 2020 absence. My favorite food that night was the marinated anchovies followed by a Pizza Mediterranea with mussels and more anchovies. A half-liter of beer helped wash down my meal.  I wish I had some poetry talent in me so I could write an ode to the humble anchovy, one of the greatest gifts from Poseidon, God of the seas. Umberto came to sit at our table for a chat and shared his best grappa with us. This after dinner drink went down very smoothly and, if I had consumed a few more, maybe I would have made an attempt at poetry.

Back to the boat in the dark for a well-deserved night of sleep. And end of day one.

Sunday and our destination of the day is Portoferraio, a lovely city where Napoleon lived in exile for a short period of time before having the bad idea to return to France, raise an army again and then finally be clobbered into submission at Waterloo.

The flag of Elba, designed by Napoleon Bonaparte

The locals still keep him in their hearts because he helped make – albeit unknowingly – Elba into a major tourist attraction.  During his stay he even gifted the island with its flag, which they still use today. A white background with a diagonal red stripe in which there are three bees, Napoleon’s animal symbol.

Again, there was almost no wind and we had to motor most of the way to Portoferraio. We decided to stop for a lunch and a swim in the bay of Calvo. A colorfully painted Moby ferry was docked unloading and loading cars and passengers.

The colorful Moby ferry in the small port of Calvo

Before our trip to Italy, I had bought a drone and I had spent quite some time, prior to the trip, practicing flying and maneuvering it.  So, now was the moment to put that practice to work.  I put the drone on the swim platform and off it went towards the Moby ferry when I realized that it was not taking pictures.

I turned the drone around and tried to make it land again on the swim platform.  Easier said than done and I had no other choice than to try to grab it by hand. HUGE mistake… Those little props are deadly weapons and they cut deep in my fingers. Blood splattered everywhere on deck… It was a painful mess.

Fortunately, Damien the possessed demonic drone finally stopped, and we almost threw it overboard.

Cleaning up the scene of the crime

Mila had to dig up the first aid kit and started bandaging my fingers. It would take a good week for them to heal completely. After having turned my fingers in mummy-like bandages, she now had to clean the blood from the crime scene.  Needless to say, I was of no bleeping use for the rest of the day and would not be handling any lines for most of the rest of the trip.

Damien was returned to his bag. We may give him another chance in Sardinia. Maybe taking off from and landing on a catamaran will be an easier job.

Portoferraio. Is that Napoleon’s ship waiting for him?

We weighed anchor in Calvo and headed for Portoferraio.

Its waterfront is very colorful and picturesque and, once you get through the main gate by the port, you enter the old city. Right there, on the left-hand corner is my favorite gelato place. Just great ice creams… So many flavors and so little time. I needed a big one for medicinal purposes after my drone disaster.

Later that evening, we had dinner in a trattoria next to the main gate. You just cannot get bad food in Italy.

Cathy and Bob at trattoria in Portoferraio

We wandered back, along the waterfront to our yacht. During the day this is a busy street with a lot of traffic but, after six o’clock or so, it is for pedestrians only. Plenty of ice cream-licking people watching the diners sitting at the terraces of the restaurants and vice-versa.

We pulled in the gangplank of the boat and went to sleep but not before a last drink, again for medicinal purposes only, of course.

Monday morning, after some provisioning and after withdrawing money from the local ATM, we paid our docking fee and pointed our boat to our next port of call, the island of Capraia, 26NM away on a 303 heading.

The island is a national park and only has one small fishing port that is increasingly becoming popular with cruisers. You have the fishing port, and you have the village with the fortress overlooking it from the other side of the small bay.

Capraia

There are a few restaurants in the fishing village of which two are really good. Surprisingly, there is only one restaurant in the hilltop village. Mila and I had taken a small bus to the upper village (Euro 0.80 R/T) and wanted to have dinner there but there was no table available without reservation.

Back to the waterfront… Same story. We only found one place where were given a table inside and the food was good but not that great. Beggars cannot be choosers.

Meanwhile Bob and Cathy who wanted to have a romantic dinner, just the two of them, had a delicious meal at a place where they had made a reservation. Oh well…

Gorgeous Capraia sunset.

We awoke a bit late on Tuesday and Bob and Cathy had decided to walk from the lower village to the upper and back. A good way to shake off some of the sea leg stiffness. When they came back, we sailed to our favorite swimming anchorage on the island, Cala del Moreto, on the southside of the island just behind Punta del Zenobito. On the eastside of the point there is this strange geological phenomenon where two different type of rock meet. One is dark red from the iron ore and the other looks greyish like your average granite. Imagine the forces of nature at work here millions of years ago when these islands were trusted up from the bottom of the sea.

The primeval wild beauty of nature.

Refreshed after our swim, our next destination was Marciana Marina, 20NM away.

A bit of wind to start, then motorsailing again…  We will have to sacrifice one of the crew members to Aeolus, God of the Winds…

When we arrived at Marciana Marina, and notwithstanding our previous emails requesting a reservation, there was no space at the docks. Fortunately, they have a very nice anchorage near the entrance of the marina. We dropped the hook, opened a bottle of white wine and watched the show of all the boats coming in for docking and anchoring.  Quite a show… This was amateur hour.  It is amazing how many sailors have no clue about anchoring.

Bob and Cathy went ashore with the dinghy looking for a Wi-Fi connection to reschedule their travel plans to Corsica. Mila and I stayed on board and watched the clown show.

At Anchor outside of Marciana Marina.

That evening we had dinner in our favorite restaurant in Marciana Marina, Affrichella, located on a cute little square behind the main church, then back to the boat for a well-deserved rest.

Wednesday morning, 06:15; a loud bang against the boat made me jump out of my berth and go topside where I saw a 46’ Jeanneau clanging its anchor against our starboard aft pulpit.  I had noticed this boat come in last night and anchor out on the forward port quarter of our boat.  I had my doubts about their decision to anchor so close to us and here they were after their anchor had slipped.

I tried to push their boat away with my bandaged fingers and put a fender between us.

Peaceful anchoring night scene at Marciana Marina

Mila came up first followed by Bob. The neighbor’s chain was now under our hull. I told the skipper of the other boat to release more chain to free our hull and moved our forwards, until we were free, then told them to raise their anchor and get out of there.

They finally motored away and dropped their anchor about 200m from our boat. I saw that our pulpit had been damaged and jumped in the dinghy to get their insurance information because they had damaged the pulpit.

They may have screwed up their anchoring, but they were friendly folks and gave me all the info I needed to pass on to my charter company.  They will solve it…

Of course, no more sleep after this. We had planned to stay another day and go to the top of Monte Capanne, the highest point of the island but clouds were rolling in and Bob and Cathy said that they preferred to go back to Porto Azzurro as they had so much enjoyed Umberto’s hospitality and cuisine.

Cathy at the wheel with Swee’pea, our mascot

So, Thursday morning, we sailed back to Porto Azzurro. We had some really good winds and truly enjoyed the ride.  I had made sure that we had a place at the wall this time.

On the way, we passed Calvo again where Damian the Possessed almost amputated my fingers.

The colorful Moby ferry was at its jetty again, but we easily resisted any temptation whatsoever to stop and take the drone out. Onwards to Porto Azzurro…

The “Admiral” enjoying the ride.

We arrived in the port basin and called the harbormaster for our dock assignment.

He could not find our reservation and we had to bob around for about fifteen minutes before we finally got our yacht at the wall.

As soon as we had settled in, we walked to downtown and made reservations at Pegaso.

A refreshing warm weather favorite, Aperol Spritz.

Millie and I walked around a bit, then sat down for an Aperol Spritz at a café on the main square.

Life is good.

At 19:30, we showed up at Pegaso’s for a delicious meal and, yes, we ate basically the same thing as last Saturday.  Umberto was running all over the place. This guy is amazing, a real human dynamo, supercharged, but he found the time to sit down with us to chat and have us enjoy two grappa’s each for the guys and limoncello for the ladies.  We then went back to our boat for our last night before returning to the base.

Close reach back to the base. Looks like the jib needs a bit of trimming.

Early on Friday, Bob and Cathy went for a last walk and we then dropped the lines to return to Scarlino but, first, we had to go to the marina of Punta Ala because the fuel pump in Scarlino was broken and we had to return the yacht with a full tank. .

We had a great sail all the way, clocking over seven knots. What a way to end this cruise!

Fun times with a great crew!

After having refueled in Punta Ala, we went under jib only for the last five miles to Scarlino.  Even with the headsail only we still reached over five knots.

We parked our boat for the last time and made arrangements for Bob and Cathy to get a taxi to the train station. They needed to go to Livorno to catch the ferry to Corsica. We will see them again next week in Sardinia.

Mila and I stayed on board for the night and got checked out the following morning.

End of the trip… We fold the ASA flag that will be raised next in Sardinia.

Dragging our heavy luggage for half a mile under the blazing sun to the hotel was no fun and, after check-in, Mila immediately started taking care of the laundry while I checked all the unanswered emails.

Around 13:30, we went for lunch to our favorite little fish store.  Back from lunch,  Mila started working on accounting and administration while I took a two-hour nap.

A few more hours of working on the computer and then dinner at a small deli around the corner from the hotel. A bottle of delicious local red wine, a wild boar mousse, a selection of tasty local cheeses made for the perfect finale of our stay in Tuscany.

Next stop Sardinia.

Join us in September of 2022 for our next Tuscany flotilla.

Capt. Jean De Keyser

July 10, 2021.

ADDENDUM:

On July 11, we took the Moby ferry from Piombino to Olbia in Sardinia.

Many of the Moby ferries are highly decorated, inside and out with Loony Tunes and other popular characters like Batman, etc.

We were on the Moby Aki where a large fiberglass rendition of Sylvester the Cat welcomed us at the reception desk.

Sylvester.

The ferry carried cars, commercial trucks, campers and motorbikes as well as regular pedestrian passengers.  Most of the passengers hung out on deck or in the restaurant and bar areas where there were even playgrounds and arcades to keep the kids busy.

We had decided on renting sleeper seats in a special quiet area of the ship and, from the portholes, we could see, during the passage, our sailing grounds off Elba.

Mysterious Montecristo.

The ship got even close enough to Montecristo so we could get some decent pictures.  No Count of Montecristo to be seen.  The island looked pretty desolate and rocky but, if you want to learn a bit more about its very interesting history, you should check out the Montecristo Wikipedia page.

After a five and a half hours, we finally arrived in Olbia and took a taxi to the apartment we rented for a few days. More information on our stay to follow.

Capt. Jean De Keyser

TURKEY IS TOPS! Our 2021 ASA Sailing Trip

After a thirteen-hour long flight from Miami to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, with screaming kids in the row across the aisle from my seat, we arrived in what I would call the hair implant capital of the Middle East.

Nowhere else have I seen so many men walk around with partially bandaged heads following a hair implant surgery.  They were at the airport and visiting tourist attractions.  They were everywhere. Somehow, I prefer to remain bald…  Bald is beautiful and way less painful…

We took a taxi to our Airbnb in the Taksim Square area.  The house was located in a small alley at the bottom of some streets from the main drag.  It looked a bit like Montmartre in Paris.

Almost Montmartre.

Independence Avenue with all the luxury stores was nearby and, although there was a COVID lockdown in effect with all restaurants closed for sit-down dinners, we found one that let us come in for a delicious dinner.  Someone must have greased the hands of the local lockdown enforcers.

An adorable little red tram runs from one end of Independence Avenue to Taksim Square on the other end.

Taksim Tram.
The “Admiral on Taksim Square.

The following morning, we visited Taksim Square and took a cab to the Fatih neighborhood to visit the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi museum.  As soon as we got out of the taxi, we were accosted by a nice local guy who showed us to the door of the Blue Mosque.  He insisted that he was not a guide and did not want any payment but, if we could, please, visit his small store in the nearby bazaar.

Seven Hills restaurant with view of the Blue Mosque and of the Bosporus.

The Blue Mosque was a disappointment because they were doing major work inside and we could not see the famous ceilings.  When we left the Mosque, our guide was there to take us to his “small shop” which turned out to be a modern and beautiful oriental carpet store with literally hundreds and hundreds of colorful hand-knotted carpets.  We were invited to sit down, drink a welcome tea and, about one hour of negotiating later, we were the proud new owners of a gorgeous silk carpet.

Next stop, a rooftop restaurant with a view over the Bosporus and with a huge menu of seafood and excellent wine.  After having enjoyed this delicious meal, we headed for the Topkapi palace, historic home of the Ottoman Sultans.  They sure lived in the lap of luxury and surrounded by unbelievable beauty and I don’t necessarily mean the Harem…

Topkapi Palace Fountain.

Last stop of the day was the Hagia Sophia.  This used to be the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church, became a mosque, a museum and, recently again, a mosque.  It is huge and, when it was a church, must have been stunning inside.

That night, we found another restaurant where we could eat inside.  By now, we were getting more familiar with the Mezze or Turkish appetizers, like smoked eggplant bites, marinated seabass, stuffed grape leaves and more.  Not much room left for a main dish but enough to eat a few decadently sweet Baklavas.

The decadent but addictive Turkish Delights and Baklava.

The following morning, we had to get up at 4:30 AM to get our taxi to the other airport of Istanbul, Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side of the Bosporus for our flight to Dalaman from where we took another cab to Fethiye where our charter base is located.

It was an hour-long drive from Dalaman to our hotel in Fethiye and we were impressed by the modern infrastructure of the roads and bridges.  The road was lined with colorful flowering bushes like Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and Oleander.  No palm trees but lots of Mediterranean pines, olive and citrus trees.

We were booked for one night only at the Unique Boutique Hotel in Fethiye but, next trip, we will make sure to stay longer.  It was absolutely beautiful with super friendly staff and a great restaurant.

The Unique Boutique Hotel in Fethiye with the ECE Marina in the background.

The room was tastefully decorated in a rustic Mediterranean style with an unforgettable view from the balcony of the marina and the bay.

We met our crew for dinner, Arthur and Khristina from Indianapolis, our friends, Casey from Cape Coral and Eric from West Palm Beach.  Our last crew member, Julie from Chicago was arriving the following day late, due to some confusion with the airline bookings.

It became immediately obvious that we were going to have a great week together. We immediately sensed a great chemistry among us.  Many hours later and after many Rakis, the national drink, similar to the Greek Ouzo and the French Pastis, we retired for a well-deserved rest.

Our first crew get-together.

Saturday morning, we went to the marina to do our provisioning and to get checked in on the yacht.

S/V Sail Sirius, Bavaria 50 Cruiser. Our home for the week.

All went smoothly and, in the early afternoon, we sailed to our first overnight stop, Kapi Creek.  Winds were in the 20 knots, and we were flying on board of our chartered Bavaria 50.  Kapi Creek is a well-protected anchorage with a restaurant that, due to the lockdown, was closed.

Med mooring in Kapi Creek.

There was no docking space available, and we had to anchor out with stern lines to the shore.  The dockhands from the restaurant came to help us put the stern lines out and told us that, for around $20.00 per person, they could deliver dinner to the boat.  Thirty minutes later the dinghy reappeared with an unbelievable spread of food that we enjoyed on board with plenty of local wine and Raki.

Let’s splurge.

The following morning, Ismael, one of the employees of the charter base, showed up in a RIB to deliver us our last crew member, Julie, and soon we weighed anchor for a second day of sailing.  Not too much wind to start and we had to motor sail for a few hours, after which we only needed the genoa.

Special delivery of our last crew member, Julie. What a service!

At the end of the day, we sailed to Göcek, the other main city with marinas in the Gulf of Fethiye.  We called on CH 73 and got a dock for the night.  D-Marina is a modern, well-equipped place and host to multi-million yachts of Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern millionaires.  

Super yacht in Göcek

Göcek is a vibrant small town with a charming tourist shopping area with plenty of restaurants.  As these were still closed, we had again a festive takeout buffet brought to the boat.  Wine and Raki were served abundantly…

Dinner on board.

On Monday morning, after a late and leisurely breakfast, we headed west in the bay of Fethiye again for some brisk sailing and, around lunch, we anchored in the crowded Tomb Bay where we could see antique Lycian tombs carved out from the cliffs.  Holding was bit risky, and we decided to sail to the anchorage of Kucuk Kuyruk.  

Typical anchorage with Med mooring.

The wind was blowing and after several futile attempts to anchor with stern lines to the shore, we started looking for another place to spend the night.  We finally found Cigdem Koyu a tiny bay with a narrow entrance and opted to secure the yacht across the mouth of the bay with a bow line to one side of the shore and the stern line to the opposite shore.  Even though we were mostly out of the wind, it made for a rolling night.  We had dinner on board, courtesy of our lovely female crew members.

Arthur steering the yacht.

Our participants started emerging from their cabins around 08:00 and we enjoyed a nourishing breakfast while watching the goats climbing over the rocks on the shore.  What a peaceful scene.  Breakfast over and dishes washed and stowed away, we started sailing again, enjoying the 15 to 25 knot winds, courtesy of the Meltemi.

Goats roam free.

June 1st and the lockdown in Turkey is officially over.  Restaurants are open again for sit-down service and we voted to spend the night in Wall Creek, home of the waterfront Adaia restaurant. We docked starboard to dock, squeezed in between a Jeanneau 469 and a Lagoon 420.  Capt. Casey expertly docked our Sail Sirius in between these yachts.  We immediately made 8 o’clock reservations for dinner and struck up a conversation with Lola, a Russian crew member on the neighboring Lagoon.  She told us about some submerged ruins on the other side of the bay.  Five of us set off on a discovery expedition to the ruins but I had to give up when my old ankle injury started acting up.  I will try again next year…

Sailing…

Dinner that evening was delicious and the service excellent.  The fusion of Mediterranean and Near Eastern cuisine makes for an interesting but tantalizing gastronomy.

Great sailing with consistent winds.

Wednesday midpoint of our trip. Let us make the most of our sailing as we only have two days left after this.  Fortunately, the Gulf of Fethiye is close to 70 square miles and counts hundreds of small bays, coves, inlets, and islands to make it the perfect sailing playground.  We left Wall Creek for another day of spirited sailing with plenty of tacking and jibing and docked for the night at the restaurant in Sarsala Creek.  It was not as luxurious as the previous place but the view from the hill above the restaurant made up for it.  Spectacular…

That evening we splurged on Mezze and more Mezze and on a delicious lamb dish.

Mezze and more mezze.

We had hoped to have shore power and water at the dock, but the restaurant did not offer these facilities so we opted to spend our Thursday night again in Göcek where we would also have access to Wi-Fi.  The restaurants in town were open, but Eric and Julie offered to cook on board and went shopping for food.  They prepared a delicious meal with, again, generous quantities of wine and Raki.

A local cat climbed on board in the hope of getting some food scraps.  Needless-to-say, after such a great dinner, we spent a blissful night.

Feed me!

Our last day has arrived and we need to be back at the charter base by 16:00 but, first, a hearty breakfast at a local eatery in Göcek with plenty of Turkish coffee and some more, final shopping.  We left the marina and raised the sails but, in between some of the islands and the mainland, the winds were too squirrelly, and we had to wait until we got out in the main Gulf area to really get good winds and off we went towards Fethiye.  It made for a very enjoyable sail, and, with a tinge of sadness, we dropped the sails to enter ECE Marina, our base in Fethiye where we pumped out, refueled and got back to our slip.  An hour later, a male nurse came on board to perform the COVID tests that we needed to be able to fly back to the States.

COVID test… No fun.

A last dinner together is always a bittersweet occasion, but we celebrated it at one of the top seafood restaurants in Fethiye, Hilmi, on the waterfront.  This place was amazing.  They had an unbelievable choice of Mezze, and the fishes in the cooler counter were so fresh that they still seemed alive.  We chose to limit ourselves to a large selection of Mezze and desserts and to skip the main entrees altogether.  From our vantage point, we enjoyed a spectacular sunset.  With dinner over, we crammed into a taxi and returned to our yacht for a last night aboard.

And a stunning sunset for our last dinner together…

The “Admiral” and I had to get up at 03:00 the following morning to catch our flight to Sabiha Gökçen Airport.  From SAW, we had to take a bus for the one-hour long transfer to Istanbul International.

We had to wait to get our negative test results by email before we could check in and get into the duty-free area.  IST is an unbelievably modern and beautiful airport with all the most luxurious duty-free fashion shops.  I do not know of any airport in the USA that could compare to this one.

Fourteen hours later, we landed in Miami, breezed through customs, got our car back and drove three hours to our home in Punta Gorda.  We travelled twenty-four hours, door-to-door…

Exhausted but with unforgettable memories, we crawled in bed. 

Great and fun crew. New and old friends. We will get to sail again with them…

We will return next year!

IT IS FRIDAY, WE MUST BE IN CAVTAT

We are always being told that, when we get lemons, we should make lemonade and I have – figuratively – been making lemonade for the last few months.

With all our trips in the Med having been cancelled, we had plenty of time for other projects, like remodeling our new home in Punta Gorda, Florida, and replacing the teak slats of the seats in the cockpit of my sailboat with Flexiteak.  Still, my mind wanders to where we would have been this week, if not for that bleeping virus.

Dubrovnik

We had planned our trip from Dubrovnik to Montenegro and the awe-inspiring Bay of Kotor. Last week Saturday, we would have left the ACI Marina of Dubrovnik and, after sailing around the fortified waterfront of the old city, we would have spent the night at anchor in the charming small city of Cavtat. The anchorage is absolutely stunning and, although you could dock the boats at the seawall, we prefer to anchor out and enjoy the view. We would then go ashore by dinghy for food in one of the local restaurants along the promenade.

Waiting to be released from Customs
Waiting to be released from Customs quarantine

The following morning, we would motor to the customs dock and, while the crew members would now not be allowed to cross the gate, the skippers would take care of all the paperwork with Croatian Customs and the Harbor Master to be cleared out of Croatia and head for Montenegro. Once all the formalities have been done, we are not allowed to set foot on Croatian soil and must go straight to neighboring Montenegro. Fines are very high for violators and the Croats keep track of us on their radar and with their patrol boats.

Keeping an eye on us

Our next stop is the small town of Zelenika in Montenegro where we clear customs. We must show all passports and boat papers to Customs and the Harbor Police and, again, in the meantime, the crew cannot leave the quarantine area. Once we have been cleared through customs, we can lower the yellow quarantine flag and raise the Montenegrin courtesy flag on the starboard flag halyard of our yachts. We now are officially in Montenegro and, after a short sail, we end up in the brand new Lazure Marina with its fabulous restaurant. We had the best meal and service there last year for half or what we would have paid in Croatia.

Lazure Marina

After a restful night digesting all that good food and wine, we leave the Bay of Kotor and anchor outside a blue cave for some swimming and snorkeling with lunch on board. Time to go to our next overnight anchorage in the small Bay of Bigova. The local restaurant, Grispolis, serves great Mediterranean seafood and they offer a free shuttle service from and to our anchored yachts.

Tuesday, after breakfast, we weigh anchor and sail back to the Bay of Kotor. After a lunch and swim stop in the bay of Zanjic with its beautiful Serbian Orthodox monastery on a minuscule island, we re-enter the majestic bay, the largest fjord in southern Europe, and go to our next destination, the super luxurious Porto Montenegro Marina. Our sailing yachts look puny compared to the super yachts of Russian oligarchs, Arab Sheikhs and other multi-billionaires. Still, the docking costs are reasonable and soon we go discover the port with its exclusive shops. If you are looking for Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Rolex, Balenciaga or other expensive items, this is the place. All that window shopping makes us hungry and we leave the marina for a delicious meal in nearby Tivat.

Wednesday’s destination is the walled medieval city of Kotor, the city of cats. It is located at the very end of the bay and towering mountains protect it from every angle. Before reaching Kotor, we make a short detour via the twin Perast islands with the Byzantine church of Our Lady of the Rocks.

The Perast Islands with St. Mary of the Rocks

The municipal marina of Kotor is quite small, and we have to cross the busy road to enter the main gate but soon we are wandering along in the narrow streets. Cat-themed stores are everywhere and there is even a cat museum. Of course, there are felines everywhere. Thank goodness there are no cats on the menus of the local restaurants but you will have plenty of good Mediterranean and Balkan food to choose from.

Cats Galore

Overlooking the city is the imposing fortress of St. John.  It is quite a climb to get there but the spectacular view is the reward for the intrepid hiker.

So, now we are Thursday and we have to make our way back to Dubrovnik. No time to waste but first a stop in Zelenika to clear out of Montenegro and then on our way back to Cavtat, under the watchful eye of the Croatian radar system to make sure we do not stop before we get through Croatian Customs.

Raising the yellow quarantine flag

If we arrive too late in Cavtat, we will have to stay at anchor with our yellow quarantine flag up and we will have to remain on board until we can clear in the morning. If the Customs office is still open, we will be allowed to clear and can then have dinner ashore. We love Cavtat and try to make sure that we can spend that night enjoying a good meal and gelato along the waterfront.

CAVTAT

We will hang out most of Friday morning relaxing in Cavtat before our last sail back to the ACI Marina in Dubrovnik where total pandemonium reigns. Before docking, we must refuel the yachts and the only fuel dock is right on the river with many boats waiting in line. If you drift too much to port, you will end in the shallows. It is a zoo with impatient skippers barking orders to their frustrated crewmembers. 

As soon as we have refueled, we must find our slip in the overcrowded marina and maneuver the yachts to the dock. ACI Marinas are all over Croatia and are excellent but the one in Dubrovnik is awful. We cannot wait to be at the dock and get out of there as soon as feasible but, that having been said, we leave with unforgettable memories of a fantastic sailing trip.

This is what we would have been doing this week on our last of four weeks of sailing in Croatia and Dubrovnik.

Let us hope that we can do it again next year.  We do not need another stinking crisis and it is more fun than replacing the teak on my boat.

Fair winds! Stay healthy and safe.

Capt. Jean De Keyser

WHEN SAILING AND HISTORY MEET… MED SAILING ADVENTURES AND NIKOLA TESLA

 

The Krka National Park with its stunning waterfalls has been one of our favorite destinations when we sail in Croatia.

Located upriver from the historic city of Sibenik, it definitely is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the country. Whereas “normal” tourists travel there by car or bus, we do the trip motorsailing up the river, through a canyon and across a lake before reaching the small village of Skradin with its history reaching back to the Roman times and beyond.

Skradin has excellent marina facilities operated by ACI. You either dock at the marina or take a buoy across the river where the swans will come beg for food.

From Skradin you can hike or bike to the Krka falls or you take one of the gullet ferries.

Hiking through the forest surrounding the falls or when swimming in the cool fresh water with hundreds of small fish darting to-and-fro around you, you do not realize that this magical place was the location of the second oldest hydro-electric plant in the world. It opened on August 28, 1895, only two days after the one at Niagara Falls. Pieces of the old turbine can still be seen there.

It was the brainchild of Nikola Tesla the incredible genius and constant nemesis of Thomas Edison.

Tesla, an ethnic Serb, was born in Smiljanin in what is now Croatia when it was still part of the Austrian Empire. He was the brain behind the development of the alternating current and, when he arrived in the States, he teamed up with Westinghouse.

His invention of the polyphase alternate current was used during the 1893 Chicago World Fair to supply power to the lighting of the show and the functioning of several electric motors.

Tesla died in the United States in 1943 but his final resting place is in Belgrade, Serbia.

History, culture and gastronomy combined with fun flotilla sailing makes for unique vacations experiences.

Although the so-called pandemic has ruined our plans for for 2020, we are looking forward to returning to all these interesting places with old and new sailing friends in 2021.

In the meantime, stay healthy and safe!

Capt. Jean De Keyser

 

HOW TIME FLIES… AND OTHER NEWS…

Celebrating Father’s Day and our twelfth anniversary

As they say in the social media vernacular, OMG! It has been since April that I have not written a blog… Time to catch up with the Med Sailing Adventures Team…

So, for those of you who have not followed our Facebook postings, the Admiral went to Peru in March to visit her parents in Lima and to celebrate their birthdays with them. Little did she know that the virus would strike so fast and, before she knew it, she was stuck in Peru with a very strict stay-at-home policy. Meanwhile, I drove to Florida to our house in Punta Gorda. Sick and tired of the cold and the snow.

Being in sunny Florida, while there was still the occasional snowfall in Chicago, helped me a lot coping with the solitude caused by Mila’s absence.

She finally made it back on June 6 and we are now staying on our sailboat in Burnt Store Marina. We sold our house here as we wanted to downsize but have not decided on a new property yet. In the meantime, we celebrated Mila’s half century and our twelfth anniversary and we are enjoying our stay in the marina.

A beautiful SW Florida sunset

There is something to be said for staying on a boat in a marina. It is so peaceful and we sleep so well at night. The fellow liveaboards are very nice people, always willing to help, and the sunsets as seen from a boat are spectacular.

While I was still in the house here, in solitary confinement and with Mila south of the Equator, my therapy was mainly cooking and enjoying a good wine. I would post what I called food-porn pictures on Facebook but, ever since she came back, I have not posted too many. So here is one to wet the appetite of the ones who are gastronomically adventurous.

Anticuchos de corazon… Que bueno!

I brought our small Weber gas grill on board and prepared a typical Peruvian dish called Anticuchos de Corazon. They are skewers with pieces of beef heart marinated in a spicy mixture made of Peruvian peppers and herbs. It is a finger licking delicious dish. If beef heart makes you a bit queasy, you can also make it with chicken.

Today, we received a notice that the European Union countries will probably ban entry for U.S. citizens and residents for fear that they might re-introduce the virus in Europe. The crazy part is that they will allow visitors from China. Go figure but, in the meantime, we will not be able to return to the Med until 2021. Our trip to the Seychelles is still on for October of this year.

Although we will miss sailing with our friends in the Mediterranean, we are looking forward to 2021. Most of this year’s participants have already committed for 2021. Unless a new plague, revolution or out-of-space alien invasion hits us, next year should be a banner year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

We will probably stay a few more weeks in Florida and then drive back to Illinois to see the kids and the grandkids and all our friends up there. Hopefully, we will be able to do some sailing on Lake Michigan as well.

More news in a few days!

Stay healthy and safe.

Capt. Jean De Keyser and “Admiral” Mila.

A SAILING ADVENTURE CLOSER TO HOME.

Several years ago, Mila and I used to own the Yachting Vacations charter company and ASA sailing school in Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Burnt Store Marina is the largest deep water marina on Florida’s west coast and is strategically located on Charlotte Harbor, the second largest bay after Tampa Bay. It is a great place to sail from with many attractive destinations nearby, like Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, Boca Grande, Cayo Costa, and it is an excellent departure point for sailing trips to the Keys, the Ten Thousand Islands in the Everglades, the Dry Tortugas, St, Petersburg and so on. If you ever are in SW Florida, pay a visit to Burnt Store Marina. You will love it. Also, Check out this YouTube video to get a good idea of what a special place Punta Gorda is.

The beautiful Burnt Store Marina

One day, I do not remember the date or the year, an acquaintance called me and told me he had a friend who wanted to learn to sail. The friend’s name was Fred and he was a very wealthy farmer from the Midwest. A few days later, I got a phone call from Fred who interspersed his sentences with quite a few expletives. He told me that he was well in his seventies and that he wanted to buy a sailboat and learn to sail on his boat. Could I help him with that? Well, of course, we could.

We agreed to meet at our base in Burnt Store Marina during the second half of March but, when I did not hear from him around mid-March, I called him and he told me that the reason he could not make it was that there had been a lot of (expletive) flooding in his area and he was building (expletive) levees around his (expletive) farmhouse. He suggested we meet in April.

Sunsets on Charlotte Harbor are spectacular!

On the agreed date in April, Fred showed up in our office in the marina. He was a tiny but wiry guy with a shock of white hair, dressed in a pair of jeans that was two sizes too big for him and a black T-shirt with sweat stains. A pair of suspenders ensured that his jeans would not fall victim to gravity. This is how he was always dressed. In all these years that I have known Fred, I have never seen him wear anything else. If you saw him, you would never have imagined that this guy was a multimillionaire. He was slightly bent over and walked shuffling his feet.

In his very colorful manner of speech, he described his sailing ambitions. He wanted to learn to sail singlehandedly and he wanted to buy a sailboat. We discussed his goals and the options, and he decided that he would like a Catalina 32, and not a used one, please… We made an appointment for that afternoon with the Catalina dealer in Palmetto, north of Sarasota, to look at a brand-new model at their dock.

During the drive to Palmetto, Fred gave me a lot of details of his life. He had a huge farm where he lived with his wife who had no interest whatsoever in sailing or in any of Fred’s other adventures and did he ever have some. He told me about the time that he thought he needed a vacation in Mexico. So, he took his crop duster plane and, basically only with a radio and a compass, he flew south. Just that easy, not complicated, fly by the seat of your (two sizes too large) pants. No big deal.

He also mentioned that the reason he peppers his conversation with lots of colorful expletives is that it was because he was a bit brain damaged. “I was dusting my crops flying my “GD” plane and hit a phone cable. The “GD” plane went down and I got a bad “GD” head injury. Haven’t been the same since”. He also has not flown a plane yet either after that. He sure was an interesting character.

We arrived at the marina in Palmetto and he fell immediately in love with the Catalina 32. When he went inside the main cabin, he stated that it was way nicer and more comfortable than his “GD” combine back at the farm. Yes, it even has air conditioning? The salesman told him this little beauty could be his for a mere $185,000.00. Fred told him that he never liked to haggle with car salespeople, and he was not going to do this with a yacht sales guy either. He told him to inform the owner that he would take the boat for $165,000 or he would go somewhere else. Ten minutes later, Fred was the proud owner of a brand-new Catalina 32 without even knowing what starboard was.

On the way back to Punta Gorda, my new sailing student mentioned that he liked the gated community of Burnt Store Marina and that he would not mind having a vacation home there. Did I know a good realtor by any chance?

Fred’s boat on the portside of the S/V JAVI

One of my neighbors was a realtor and I called him from the car. An appointment was made for that same evening and, after I had dropped Fred off at the marina, he went house hunting with Alan the realtor. Twenty-four hours later, Fred had bought a $250,000.00 small villa near the docks where he would keep his boat. Alan was only too happy to receive an earnest money check for close to fifty percent of the price of the house.

Fred did learn to singlehandedly sail his thirty-two-foot pride and joy and he was actually surprisingly good at it. During the next three years, once the crops at the farm were in, Fred would come down to Burnt Store Marina, stay at his house, shuffle to his yacht, throw off the lines by himself and go out on Charlotte Harbor for a few hours of sailing.

We always knew when he was coming back into the marina. Did I forget to mention that Fred was almost deaf too? When he motored back to his slip, the stereo would be blaring classical music for the whole marina to enjoy. It was mostly Beethoven but, the way he barged back into port, the Ride of The Valkyries would have been way more appropriate.

The original Snow Birds: white pelicans from the Midwest spend their winters here.

Getting the boat back in her slip was always a bumping experience and the poor yacht had the gelcoat and fiberglass scars to show for it.

Fred has passed away since and I have no clue where his yacht ended up, but he certainly was one of the more colorful characters that has ever passed through the doors of our business. He was also the cause of one of our memorable sailing adventures.

After he had bought his boat, we had to wait a few weeks to bring her to her new home in Burnt Store Marina. Some final paperwork needed to be done as well as some finishing touches of the commissioning.

As there still was no dodger or bimini and as the daytime temperatures were very high, I decided that we should make it a night sail from Palmetto, south along the coast, to Boca Grande Pass and from there to Burnt Store Marina. The weather forecast was good and should make for quiet sailing. Alan, the realtor, and Joe, one of our school’s sailing instructors, were going to come along for the ride.

The sun set once we were out of Tampa Bay and we set course, following the coastline, for the Boca Grande Channel. It was smooth sailing, nothing to worry about. I was standing watch when we were a few miles out, abeam of the Venice inlet, and that is also when the weather changed. The wind picked up with gusts around 30 knots, the seas built up, rain came down with thunder and lightning. We had already reefed the sails before the sun went down and we did not have to worry about that for the time being. My two crew members went down into the cabin and this is when, on a brand-new boat, we lost the steering. Suddenly, the wheel turned loose in my hands and the rudder did no longer respond to the wheel. I dug up the emergency tiller from the lazaret, removed the cover plate of the rudder post and, to my relief, saw that the rudder was still there, which meant the it had not fallen off. I put in the emergency tiller and regained control of the yacht.

Venice, FL, inlet. A great sailing destination.

We were still being tossed around and we agreed that it would be very uncomfortable to keep on going to Boca Grande Pass with an emergency tiller in this kind of weather. We called Tow Boat US to come get us and tow us into the Venice inlet. As a Gold Member, it would not cost us a dime, except for a tip for the towboat captain.

We were heading towards the Venice inlet under power, with bare poles, and steering with the emergency tiller while waiting for Tow Boat US to show up. About two hours later, we were solidly attached to the towboat and finally got into the inlet where everything was way quieter. The weather was still bad with thunder and lightning but at least, in the Intracoastal Waterway, the water was more tranquil. Tow Boat USA was going to bring us all the way to Burnt Store Marina. What a deal!

This was now a smooth ride and Joe and Alan took advantage of it to get some shuteye while I stayed at the tiller to help steer the towed yacht.

As long as we were in the ICW, everything was all right, except for the occasional thunder and lightning but, once we emerged into Charlotte Harbor, all hell broke loose again with high waves, heavy winds and the regular thunderclaps.  At one point, I heard this crackling noise on top of the mast followed by a flash of light and a loud bang. I thought we were being hit by lightning, but it was a St. Elmo fire discharge. Still, it was a scary experience.

It was hard work for the towboat captain, and I was exhausted holding the emergency tiller to keep the yacht in sync with the towboat.

When we got close to the Burnt Store Marina channel entrance, I called the office and instructed our yacht technicians to be ready to receive us at the dock. We finally entered the channel and the flat water inside the marina and, before long, we were at the dock. I hopped off the yacht, told the dock hands to secure the boats and bolted towards the bar of the marina for a few beers and a burger, then home for a well-deserved siesta.

As far as the steering failure is concerned, the cables had come off the quadrant and got totally mangled. Catalina ended up sending someone from the factory to have this repaired.

Good old Fred and his yacht will always be one of those memories that make for a good story at the bar with fellow sailors. I hope to see you at a bar soon so we can swap more tall tales.

Stay safe and healthy!

Capt. Jean De Keyser

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