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HORIZONS OF THE WORLD
NOTE ABOUT THE TRANSLATION
PART I - From Antibes to New Zealand
FROM ANTIBES TO THE CARIBBEAN
FROM THE CARIBBEANS TO PANAMA
FROM PANAMA TO TAHITI
FROM POLYNESIA TO NEW ZEALAND
PART II - New Zealand: here my life has changed.
ONE STEP BACK: THE CHANGE
TRIP ACROSS NEW ZEALAND
THE RETURN AND "AFTER"
PART III – From New Zealand to South Africa
NEW ZEALAND TO AUSTRALIA
FROM AUSTRALIA TO INDONESIA
CROSSING THE INDIAN OCEAN
MADAGASCAR, SOUTH AFRICA AND ARRIVAL
About the author
These are horizons that have passed before my eyes in two years of my life, the two years of my sailing trip around the world.
They are not only geographical horizons, physical ones, but also cultural horizons, natural, spiritual, and not least, sentimental ones.
This book is not a marine navigation manual, nor a guide to tropical countries, or a naturalistic documentary, or a love story, but it's a bit of everything: this is my life.
The life of an ordinary person, a normal woman, that did one experience a bit less "normal".
This book is my diary of the two years of my life that have opened my eyes, not only in the physical sense, to the reality of the world, which has expanded this way my "horizons".
This diary is born as a chronicle of travel. So at the beginning it was not a secret diary, it was rather a chance to share the experiences of my trip with family and friends. In fact, every time I wrote them a letter, I sent a photocopy of my diary.
For this, from the events of the first part, little can be predicted of what happens in the second part, precisely because, being an open diary, I was not in the position of being able to write too much about personal facts.
The second part was written almost all in one go when the “waters were a bit calmed down”, and it's very intimate, secret, until now unpublished, never been read to (or by) anyone.
The reader will thus be a bit caught off guard by learning things he did not expect (and maybe that even I didn't expect to happen...), but I decided not to give an explanation or justification of it, so to leave the diary as it is, and also for strictly personal reasons.
For these same reasons I had to change or omit some names; but the situations and events described are entirely real.
In the third part then I restarted the public narrative of my journey, with the difference that I was much freer to express even my personal feelings.
I remind the reader, that this book was not born as a novel or a short story, but is simply a diary of lived life.
Enjoy the reading!
"Please note that I (the author) did the translation from Italian to English.
Being English my second language it's probably not the best, completely correct English written book. I'm not Ken Follet and I don't pretend to be a professional writer!
But I decided to do the translation by myself because I wanted to maintain as much as possible the style and the spontaneity of a daily diary, as it originally was.
So take it with a pinch of salt and enjoy the reading, keeping in mind that is written by an Italian!"
From Antibes to Gibraltar
Antibes, Wednesday, January 29th, 1992
It's been nearly 500 years since Christopher Columbus made this trip, but now that it's our time, despite all the modern technology, I still feel the thrill of the adventure, to face what, for me, is still the unknown: the crossing of the Atlantic.
After four months of hard work to prepare the sailing boat, a 24 meters sloop that will take us through this ocean, we are finally ready to set sail.
From the port of Antibes, in France, we are going, on the first step, towards Gibraltar, passing along the Balearic Islands.
There are seven crew members: Mario, the skipper, my husband, Aaron and Clint, two New Zealanders as permanent crew members, Rick and Julie, a New Zealand couple who will be with us during the crossing, Isabel, a French girl, and me.
It is 18:00 o'clock and the sunset surprises us almost immediately, just out at sea, and it is my turn in the galley. I prepare gnocchi with meat sauce and fennels baked with cheese, with great joy of the whole crew.
Then, from 21:00 to midnight, it's my first watch, with Rick, who will be my companion on duty for the whole trip.
And now I meet my dear friends, the stars, again! After a long time of life "on the ground" I finally see a magnificent starry sky, with no moon. Towards the South-West, I find Orion on my left, Sirius, brighter than ever in Canis Major, is rising now. Then I see my constellation, Taurus, with Aldebaran and the Pleiades on the masthead, and then Auriga, Gemini, Cassiopeia and Pegasus, and the inevitable Big Dipper, aft, dipped down towards the sea.
To my great pleasure, I see that Rick is also interested in the night sky, so I teach him to recognise some constellations, but sometimes there are problems with the names (how are they called in English?).
It's a bit cold, but I resist well under my new wet weather gear and thermal suit.
Then I go to sleep in my bunk and fall like a stone.
We couldn't sail, there is too little wind, but we hoisted the mainsail to stabilise the boat.
Thursday, January 30th
At 6:00 starts another watch duty. The sky around us has changed: to the East, a crescent moon has risen and near it, Venus and Scorpio are visible while Orion has set on the other side (the hunter and his enemy are never present at the same time in the sky, as the mythology wants). Jupiter is also dazzling in Lion, and above us dominates the Northern Crown, but all the stars are fading because dawn is painting the sky, with intense orange before, then with yellow.
The sea is slightly rippling, and the easterly wind increases a bit, but not enough to be able to sail, because we want to get away as quickly as possible from this dangerous area that is the Gulf of Lion.
The atmosphere on board is much more relaxed and joyous than the recent days. Although it is a bit hard to get used to the watches and the movements of the boat, after having been stuck on the land for so long, the nervous tension of the final preparations disappeared and we can now breath an atmosphere of excitement and adventure.
Every hour we mark the spot of our position on the chart and we "do the log" (that is, you write all the navigation data on the logbook).
When I was at the helm in the afternoon, we made another particular encounter: the dolphins! Two small ones have approached the boat with big jumps and then stayed for a while to play in front of the bow.
It's great to see these animals, when you are so far away from the shore when around there is apparently not a soul, and it is a good omen for sailors to see dolphins.
The guard duty is organised in three shifts of two people each while the skipper remains available at all times.
Each round lasts 3 hours with 6 hours rest; each day each group's watch jumps down a turn, so not to do it always at the same time, and restarts every three days. This system also involves the galley, so every group cooks twice in a row then washes the dishes twice in a row, then rests for two more times, so there is not a fixed cook on board.
Tonight we are already ahead of the Balearics, we are sailing fast, 9.5 to 10 knots, but always motoring, as there is no wind and it's rather cold.
Friday, January 31st
00-03 hours, watch duty. We are sailing along the north of Mallorca, and we see the lighthouse of Port Sóller. The sky is full of stars, so I dedicate myself to the observation of other constellations, and while I'm looking at the sky, I see two or three shooting stars, it always makes a beautiful effect and brings me joy.
It's nice to navigate at night near the islands, although we cannot see them well in the darkness, for I know them from last summer. So I can imagine, for example, where it's now that big reddish rock with a hole in the middle ( the "Foradada"), the place where I did water ski for the first time!
From 3:00 to 9:00 I can sleep! Then out again! We are sailing along the island of Ibiza, very jagged, there is a beautiful light to take pictures, the air is crisp but not humid like last night.
I could sleep well, the sea is almost flat, and now I'm hungry like a wolf!
Saturday, February 1st
This morning we are abeam of the lighthouses of the Spanish coast.
There are many clouds and from 5:30 the wind increases and we can finally hoist the jib and also stop the engine.
The wind, from the East, increases more and more, making the boat sail on a broad reach at 10.5 knots, the boat flies like shrapnel!
During my turn at the helm, I attempt to steer the boat with waves that are almost 3 meters high, and quite close together. I have to fight with the rudder with all my strength not to let the boat go off course: it's great fun, but fortunately sometimes Rick gives me a break because at the end of the watch my arms and shoulders are sore.
While the wind is still increasing, Mario decides to take a reef in the mainsail, to make manoeuvring the rudder less hard. Now the wind is force 7.
Cooking pizza for dinner was a challenge, with the boat that shakes like a blender, it's not much fun, and at the end, I ate very little because I had to run out... to breathe! (Wind strength is now 8).
At nine in the evening, I return on watch. We are arriving at Gibraltar, after running fast all afternoon, reaching an average of 13 knots, with peaks of 16 and an even incredible 18.6 knots!
At 10 pm, I'm at the helm and my shoulders and neck burn from the effort and the accumulation of lactic acid, but the thrill of seeing the famous rock silhouetted against the horizon with the lights of the city spread around it makes me stand all efforts.
The waves here in the strait are so high that they hide the rock from view, for a few moments.
Because wind and sea are increasing, even more, we decide to stop at the port. Dubbed the Cape, we are in the shelter of the fortress, but when we try to moor the boat, the inverter does not respond to commands, and the wind pushes it towards the quayside where with a bit of luck we can dock without any damage to the vessel.
It's 1:00 in the morning and I fall on to bed very tired.
Sunday, February 2nd
This morning Mario has tried to dive to get to see what's under the boat to prevent the shaft from spinning, but the cold water has almost stopped him from breathing.
So he called a professional diver, equipped with a dry suit, which has found a huge plastic sheet and a nylon fishing cable wrapped around the shaft. Once removed it all, there was no more problem for the manoeuvre, so we moored properly at the dock.
Today we rested all day, hot showers and an excellent lunch!
Tuesday, February 4th
We are still in Gibraltar, due to bad weather. These days the sea reached force 9-10 and the wind, even in the shelter of the rock, is very strong, about 40-50 knots!
Now it's decreasing, and the clouds have been swept away, the temperature is slightly rising.
This morning Mario and I took a taxi for a ride to see the more characteristics things of Gibraltar. On the east coast, there are large flattened white rock slabs, leading rainwater downhill into large tanks that are located underground. In fact, drinking water is a problem for Gibraltar and, before desalinators were constructed, this was the only system of fresh water supply, and toilets were flushed with seawater.
Reaching the South lighthouse you can see the coast of Morocco, across the strait, and Spain, across the Gulf, to the west.
In the wildest part of the rock live monkeys, a north-African race, here called "Barbary Ape", which are protected and nurtured by the military force that occupies the area.
The monkeys are more or less 60 to 70 cm tall and have light brown or yellowish fur coat and darker muzzle. They are quite friendly but do not let the tourists touch them.
Then we went to visit the cave of Saint Michel, very impressive, with its stalactites, into which an amphitheater is built, where concerts are held.
From the top of the rock to the north you see all the military port and the airport, which separates Gibraltar from Spain and whose runway starts out at sea, runs through the isthmus and ends by crossing the main road, that is blocked whenever a plane takes off or lands!
On the opposite side, there is the Spanish large industrial centre called La Liña. From the top, you can also see the Trafalgar Cemetery, where are buried the dead soldiers of the famous battle, apart from Nelson, who was transported to London into a barrel of rum, to preserve the corpse!
When we went to buy nautical charts of the Canary Islands, we met a man who, when learned that we are Venetians, told us that he had three Genoese grandparents; therefore, he feels very Italian, even if he speaks little of our language.
He told us then that here there are several people of Genoese origin, and the local dialect is a mixture of Spanish, English, and Genoa's dialect. There is even a local dictionary called "gianito" named after many Italians Gianni who have settled here, called by the Spaniards just "gianito".
Wednesday, February 5th
This morning we woke up early, at 5:30 to take advantage of the high tide and leave from the marina peacefully.
These early rises and the few hours sleep between shifts make me suffer quite a bit!
There are small waves and a light wind from the North-West, a thermal breeze. (At dawn the earth has cooled during the night more quickly than the sea, making the air above it, colder and heavier, convoy to the sea, where the air is warmer and lighter, and, therefore, rises to higher altitudes).
Dawn is a beautiful pink-orange colour, and the sky is partially cloudy, but one can see the coast of Morocco, mountainous and full of villages scattered along the slopes.
Slowly we reach the tip of Africa that still separates us from the Atlantic, of which, however, we already feel the inward current, which creates waves and low foaming tips.
While the day is progressing, the wind, rising from the East, favourable to us, pushes the boat faster towards the ocean.
At noon finally, the Atlantic welcomes us with a beautiful warm breeze and dry flowing sea rippling just the surface. The air is clear, crisp, and the coast of Africa is closer, and we breathe in deeply. (Photo 1)
Photo 1: Atlantic Ocean
A sense of freedom and joy takes us all, and we celebrate our entry into the ocean with an excellent French white wine accompanied by "penne" with salmon.
During the afternoon, we try to hoist the light spinnaker, but after an hour the wind drops completely, so we have to furl it and start the engine.
It seems impossible that here, in the open ocean, the sea is so flat and calm, when we left the Mediterranean so angry!
From 3:00 to 6:00 I'm at the helm and the boat is surrounded by a cloud of seagulls flying in formation, and then they dive into the water to fish, then suddenly they lay all on the sea surface and then fly in a row going along the side of the boat.
The meteofax maps show that we are in a zone of high pressure while there is a low pressure on top of Morocco.
So we have no wind, and the forecast is that the situation continues this way.
Thursday, February 6th
During the night shift, we saw only two vessels, we are about 60 miles from the coast, in front of Rabat, but too far away to see the lighthouses. We keep a wide course because then the coast bends toward us, so we take a little shortcut; also, the skipper wants to avoid too close encounters with Moroccan fishing boats.
The clouds that come and go, at times, obscure the sky, that shows different bright constellations. Tonight I can recognise Bootes, Andromeda, Perseus and Pegasus while Jupiter is so bright as to have a halo of light around it.
The sea is always flat and quiet. With Mario I do all the preparation calculations to use the sextant and take a sight of the sun at the meridian passage: we would not need it, with all the electronic instruments, but it is always good not to trust them blindly, and it's also fascinating and fun to use traditional methods.
Towards sunset we can hoist the sails again, but the wind is still weak.
The sunset, on the other hand, was magnificent; the sea and the sky were an indigo-violet colour, divided by a strip of pale pink which intensified towards the horizon.
Above the sun was a perfect crescent moon, thin and stretched out horizontally, surrounded by small clouds, like cotton balls. Then suddenly, plunging into the sea, the sun flashed orange for a moment on the horizon, while Sirius peeked out from the opposite side of the sky. All this was made even more impressive by the silence of the engine, broken only by the lapping of the sea along the keel of the boat.
The night, very starry, was propitious to the observation of several nebulae and star clusters. With the help of binoculars I saw for the first time Andromeda galaxy as a perfectly faded ellipse, and then Orion Nebula, the constellation of Canis Mayor and the so-called “Praesepium” (nativity scene), in Cancer. A real show!
Friday, February 7th
The terrible shift from 3:00 to 6:00 am (so called "dog watch") was made cheerful by the presence of dolphins. Two or three, very small, that have been following us for a while and swam so fast that created a trail of phosphorescent plankton around them, forming long serpentine designs by the side of the boat, that looked like a handful of stars falling into the sea!
Last night I saw the first stars of Centaur, I wonder if you can see already the Southern Cross from the Canaries, which is right below this constellation. Every night is a discovery, this hobby becomes more and more interesting!
Saturday, February 8th
After a whole day sailing under spinnaker at an average speed of 9 knots, with a slight swell, "the breath of the ocean", and a beautiful sun that finally begins to warm us up, at 18:00 we arrived in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
From a distance, we saw the tip of the island only very late, visibility was poor because of the clouds present on the horizon.Then we came in view of the harbour, full of ships and tall buildings, that was not very charming.
We moored at Muelle Deportivo Puerto La Luz, where there is a long white wall on which every passing boat, heading to the Caribbean, draws a picture, as a “souvenir” sign; it's unique and interesting to see the traces of the boats passed before us.
Sunday, February 9th
This morning, after a good night's sleep and a hot shower, we aerated the boat and started to wash all our stuff, wet from recent days.
The sun warms up, but the air is always brisk, not as hot as I expected: at least I could wear my shorts and take a bit of sun on my "winter" legs.
Now the boat just needs a nice tidy up before departure for the crossing; I took care of the food inventory and the list of shopping and provisioning to do tomorrow.
I have not set foot on land, and I have yet to realise I am in the Canary Islands! But we go out for dinner tonight and tomorrow I will explore a bit this area.
Wednesday, February 12th
In these two days, we stocked up the boat with food and water, that is never enough! We spent the days working on board, and there is always something to do, it's never ending!
Yesterday something surprising happened: Mario met Dany (a French woman who was in Thailand when we were there last year) and later Ivan, her husband. They are no longer on board of "Targa II", but now they have a catamaran, "Highest honour" with which the son does charter cruises in the Caribbean.
Dany was very surprised to see Mario and the beautiful boat whose skipper he is now; I have not had time to go to see them because they were already leaving, but we'll see them again for sure in the Caribbean. The world is so small!
Towards the evening, we went to do some shopping in the centre of town and then we had a walk to the beach, opposite to the port, over the isthmus that connects Gran Canaria to "Isleta" a hilly promontory to the northeast.
We had dinner in a typical Spanish restaurant, where we ate the "paella": they brought us a huge one, yummy to see, but the garlic bread was better than it!
There was a small group playing music and people dancing (mostly "oldies") and the music reminded me of our Romagna's “Liscio”! In fact, the Spaniards are not very different from us, and it's funny how we can make ourselves understood with our Venetian dialect, just think that here the streets are called “calle” (like in Venice), even if pronounced differently.
This afternoon instead we went for a trip around the island, renting two cars. We left at four o'clock, and we drove for five hours almost continuously: in the North and West of the island there is almost nothing, two or three small towns, the rest are hills of reddish lava rock covered with bushes and cacti, agaves and prickly pear and an occasional palm. Only in some areas, there are expanses of cultivated bananas.
The road was very winding and sometimes steep, overhanging the sea: I have not been able to relax much to look at the view, that after two hours of driving was quite monotonous.
In the southeastern part of the island instead the coast lowers, and there are more beaches, but most of these are occupied by large mega-galactic and expensive hotels, so ugly and unsightly, with huge Hollywood-style swimming- pools.
Probably the other islands are less touristic and, therefore, more beautiful, it's a pity not to have the time to see them!
From Gibraltar to the Canary Islands
Thursday, February 13th
One last load of water and fruit. 10:30 Last cargo of diesel fuel, ready for departure.
At 12:15 we leave the port of La Luz, with Pedro of Texaco that comes out to greet us with his friends, waving hands.
For me, it is an exciting time, thinking that I shall not see the land for a while. At first, the irregular waves make me feel a little uncomfortable, but then I'm at the helm, strategic place against seasickness, and so I feel better.
At about 5 pm, the land is no longer in sight, a pod of dolphins surrounds us, there will be at least 30 or 40 of them, amazing! They are all around the boat and jump and play for half an hour: I take twenty photos, and then I finish the film, so for the rest of the time I enjoy them from the bow, whistling and clapping on the hull to call them. They are little ones, light grey, with a light stripe on the sides of the body. It seems that the ocean wanted to receive us well, not making us feel alone.
Rick has a fishing pole on the stern, and now finally is thrilling: he caught a small tuna, 3 or 4 Kilograms and after several efforts, due to the strength of the tuna and the speed of the boat, he can haul it on board (Photo 2).
Photo 2: First catch
While he is cleaning and filleting it, the cane is thrilling again and, this time, Aaron is to fight to pull the fish aboard: another skipjack, a bit bigger. Dinner is served, slices of grilled tuna and one of them ends up in the freezer.
Already since 16:00 in the afternoon, we could go sailing and stop the engine. The wind is not very strong, but the boat already makes an average of 7 to 8 knots. The night watch is a bit boring, there are no stars, it is cloudy, everything looks the same.
Saturday, February 15th
Yesterday it was a quiet day, we hoisted the spinnaker all day long, making a good average of 8-9 knots and a maximum of 10.
It seems that we have found the trade winds, right from the Northeast in this area and the waves are not yet too high, or, at least, do not give the impression to be, because they are very long, however sometimes hiding the horizon.
Overnight we removed the spinnaker for safety, also because it had a slight tear, which this morning Mario and I have quickly patched.
This morning at 10:30 we hoisted the spinnaker again, and we are running well at 10 knots, more or less continuously. We just have to watch the waves from the stern: sometimes a stronger one comes that turns the boat sharply, and then you have to counteract immediately with the rudder.
Today there is a little more visibility, and I took a sun altitude with the sextant: the result was about 5 miles off with the GPS, but I can be satisfied, for I have still little experience in using the sextant.
Today it is warm enough to sunbathe in bikini, at last!
Monday, February 17th
Last night was a little hard: I could not sleep because the wind was strong, around 28-30 knots. It was pushing the boat from the stern, but the waves, higher and harder to control, made the ship sway dangerously. All interior wood creaked, not counting the jib block and the preventer of the mainsail, which, being located on the deck above my cabin, kept me awake with their music.
When I had to get up at 6:00 am for my turn, I was feeling quite destroyed, and Rick and I have had many difficulties to steer because our arms, shoulders, and neck are sore from the accumulation of lactic acid. What's more, at dawn a small front changed the wind direction, and consequently our route. So we had to jibe and flip the mainsail (a quite demanding manoeuvre, which requires, at least, five people on deck) and then, finally the boat stopped a bit from rolling, and I could sleep at least 3 hours.
At night, there are too many clouds to see the stars, and the moon is almost full, and its very bright light is enhanced by the reflection of the clouds.
During the day, the sun heats up, but the night is still cold, and it's very humid, so I have not given up my wet weather gear.
The clouds that pass are typical of the trade winds: like a flock of sheep crossing the sky in a row in the direction of the wind, but unfortunately at dawn and dusk they always obscure the sun, so you cannot take any nice pictures.
Today I used again the sextant and this time the position was perfect, to my great satisfaction! Now I can make the calculations in 10 minutes, the problem is to see the sun perfectly on the horizon, with the sextant, because the waves force us to change position continually.
Thursday, February 20th
It's been a week since we left the Canaries and we are already halfway there!
Now the trade winds are almost constantly in the 15-20 knots, and we travel at day with the spinnaker and, at night, with a foresail. One night we held the spinnaker, but then we saw that it wasn't worth it to stay alert all time, and not to be able to sleep, to do few more miles. In the end, we would gain only one day, so why get so tired? We're not racing!
Now I got the "muscles from helmsman" on the shoulders and arms and calloused hands, but now I can keep the boat under spinnaker up to 20-25 knots of wind, making it go at 10-11 knots of speed, even more if I can bring it to "surf" the waves.
It is a great satisfaction to be able to steer such a big and beautiful yacht (it's a 78 feet maxi designed by Martin Francis); it takes strong arms, but also good sensitivity not to force the helm at the wrong time and slow down the boat. When the spinnaker is full, and the boat is riding the wave, the rudder should be kept in balance with two fingers; each push of the waves on the stern must be felt in advance “with your bum" meaning that you have to feel the movement from the stern of the boat, towards the bow.
Until now this ocean is very charming: this morning I saw a gorgeous sunrise: the sky shaded from yellow into orange and pink; swirling clouds of different shapes were grey illuminated in pink, as only Michelangelo would know how to paint them. Then the sun has appeared as majestic as an egg yolk that merges with the sea, and then, passing behind the clouds, it lit them with a halo of golden flashes and the rainbow appeared on the opposite side of the sky.
Sights like that fill your heart and make you feel better, even if something goes wrong. (Photo 3).
Photo 3: Sunrise on the Atlantic
In fact, on the second day the computer that receives meteofax broke down, and, unfortunately, yesterday also the SSB radio started messing up: we can receive ok, but we cannot transmit. So Mario, at 9 pm, heard his friends who called for the radio appointment, but he could not be heard. We hope that they won't worry too much because luckily we're fine.
However now we are over half way through and from here it is shorter to get there than to go back.
Even the night watches are becoming a habit, and I'm sparing my mum "Pocket Coffee" chocolates, the only consolation to sudden awakenings and get the right energy to start over.
Mario is logically very pissed off about the radio's problem, and he always says that we cannot trust the electronic tools; that's why he continues to take every day the ship's position with the sextant and put in the water the mechanical speedometer, less precise but more reliable than GPS.
Apart from that, however, he is very happy, you can see that he is in his element and appreciates all the aspects that this crossing is offering.
Saturday, February 22nd
This morning at 3:00 for the first time I saw the Southern Cross: it was very pale because the moon is still high and obscures all the other stars, but its shape is unmistakable and, as always, fascinating.
If it were not for the full moon and the clouds, always present on the horizon, I probably would have been able to see it even in the last few nights. Now that we are already between the 18th and the 17th parallel, from what is written in my book, the Southern Cross should have been already visible from the 20th parallel.
Indeed, I did not know that, at the time of the Greeks, it was visible even in the Mediterranean, so that the constellation of Centaur around it, takes its name from a famous Greek wise man, which has given names to many constellations: Chiron. Now the cross is no longer visible in that area because of the "precession".
Last night was quite hard: the wind was very strong, about 30 knots and the boat has reached very high speeds: constant over 11 knots, with peaks of 13 and 16. But what worries me most are the waves that now begin to be very high and tight together, so steep that sometimes they make the boat veer wildly to one side, then triggering a massive rolling movement, that's hard to stop. While the mainsail and the jib are on opposite sides, like a butterfly, they take and then lose the wind alternately slamming noisily at the time when the air fills them again.
I must confess that, sometimes, I fear when I hear sinister noises that make me think that something is going to break at any moment, so I cannot sleep at all, so that when it's my turn on watch I'm in a coma.
Mario, however, is very calm and confident, as even the bombs wouldn't stir him, but rather than to reassure me, he tells me that probably in this wind the waves will rise even more, so I shouldn't bother much about them and try to get used to it!
The only consolation is that we are more than 2/3 of the way through. Therefore we are about 800 miles far and with this speed it would be likely to arrive in Antigua in four days!
During the day it's all better, it seems, and perhaps it is true, that waves and wind come down a bit and in any case everything seems to be better under control (at least for me).
By now I'm tanned, and at least, this makes me feel better!
Yesterday afternoon I saw a bird on the open ocean, so far from the coast. He circled the boat, sometimes flying furiously against the trade wind, sometimes letting it carry him; it seemed like he was lost and did not know which direction to take. He looked similar to gulls, but with a long white thread-like tail, like the whole abdomen, and an orange beak (in fact it was a tropical seagull).
Monday, February 24th
There are now only 400 miles to the arrival. Luckily Mario was in the wrong: in the last two days the wind dropped a bit and so did the waves, although some of them, irregular, are still quite high.
However, to avoid too much rolling and leaning on a side, and thus, be able to sleep better at night, for two days we had one reef in the mainsail. The jib at night is rolled in a little bit, to allow the helmsman on watch to steer the boat better, even if he's a bit sleepy. In this way, we lost some speed (now in a day we do 210-220 miles, against 230-240 of previous days). But we get less tired and strive less the structures of the boat (especially the mast, that under strong wind is subjected to several tons of weight. Also, lately, the pin that holds the boom to the mast tends to come out, so we have to check it every hour and sometimes put it back in with a hammer).
However, we are well ahead of our schedule: today is only the eleventh day and the ETA (estimated time of arrival), continuing like this, is planned for the day after tomorrow, at about noon.
Yesterday afternoon I saw the first whale: its clear silhouette flowing beneath the surface of the water, about 50-70 meters from the boat, was about 3-4 meters long.
The others tell me that they have seen another one before. After a while, Mario, who is at the helm, announces that he just saw a puff type geyser a hundred meters ahead, and, in fact, a minute later we see another whale, this time, bigger, 7-8 meters long and black in colour, that swims on the water surface, from which the head, back and tail, protrude sometimes, and its regular puff is visible for quite a while as it moves away: it was very exciting!
Last night a dolphin made a brief and noisy appearance, jumping very high on the left of our stern, but then disappeared quickly, it seemed as if he wanted to trick us. They are the first signs of life after several days!
But what gave us the most pleasure is that we saw a ship a dozen miles away, and Mario was able to be heard with the VHF and so he could ask them to communicate by telex to his brother that we're good and that is just the SSB that is broken. It was very funny to make himself be understood from their radio operator, because it was a South Korean cargo ship, and he spoke very little English. Eventually he wished us a safe journey, saying that he is always worried when he sees these "little boats" passing by, that cross the ocean, especially when it's bad weather; then he told us that he loves Italians! The ship is called "Asia Tarassini" and is directed to Bilbao, Spain.
Tuesday, February 25th
This morning, for the first time, we had a lot of rain.
During my turn from 3:00 to 6:00 I got two “nice” showers, so as not to forget this terrible watch, which luckily for us is the last of the series because now we'll get there, tomorrow. Everything still seems very strange: to get where? I half expect to see the islands of the Mediterranean, not some tropical islands, the Caribbean?
All in all these days have gone by so fast that it does not seem possible that we have come so far!
In the morning, on the deck of the boat, we found, as on other occasions, a flying fish. What a bad luck for him to end up, during one of his long flight, right on our boat, to die! With all the ocean that there is around, he had to land right here! Is this the fate? A death so stupid, having spent his life flying over the sea!
Speaking of animals, pity that these days I have not seen many more, not dolphins nor whales.
Wednesday, February 26th
At 4:30 we finally see the lights of the island of Antigua! At dawn, around 6:00, its silhouette is very clear and vast, to our right and the wind is strong and the waves are irregular for the presence of the coral reef on the seabed. We do the last manoeuvres to adjust the sails and take the boat into the wind. I am at the helm, and I take the boat, between a cloud of spray, to the entrance of English Harbour. It's very exciting, exhilarating, fun, here we are, in just 13 days exactly we reached the Caribbean!
The trip was less hard than I thought, we were also lucky, I have to admit, it is still a very rewarding and satisfying experience. (Photo 4).
Photo 4: Arrival to Antigua
But something went wrong, unfortunately, at the very end!
While we were manoeuvring to remove the sails, at the entrance of the bay, a batten of the mainsail came out from the pocket and went to hit Rick's hand like a spear and gave him a deep cut.
At the same time, also the sheet that pulls the roller furling system of the jib came undone, so that we had to take a lot longer to get the jib down from the forestay, instead of wrapping it quickly as usual. Good thing we got here!
Finished the manoeuvres, I give my attention to Rick, disinfecting and bandaging his hand and giving him painkillers to ease the pain.
Once anchored in the bay, Mario goes to Custom Office for paperwork. Then he accompanies Rick and Julie to take a taxi to go to the hospital (the cut is deep to the bone, surely it will need stitches) while Clint, Aaron and I stay on board and begin to put it back in order.
In the bay, there is also "Endeavour", the beautiful class J sailing yacht, the legend of the America's Cup!
The view of the Bay, with the beach fringed with coconut palms that shade the bungalows and the mangroves that reach the sea, reminds me immediately of Phuket, as well as this beautiful stiff wind, hot and dry. With this intense light, I take immediately the opportunity to take pictures: we are undoubtedly in the tropics!
The place inspires me to make lunch, so I invent a new recipe: cold pasta, that I called English Harbour: "Farfalle" with salmon, crab, shrimp, diced mozzarella, many spices and olive oil, it's fabulous!
After lunch, we move into the dock since Mario has found a mooring.
During the afternoon, the weather is tricking us, and we are sprinkled by 4 or 5 showers, 5 minutes each, but very intense.
Then Rick and Julie return: he has nine stitches in the hand and a load of antibiotics to prevent infection, but now he feels much better.
I wish Mario would take me to see some places around here since he was already here in '85 and told me a lot about it, but now he is too tired, and the rain does not leave us in peace.
I think we will spend a lazy evening on the boat, and we'll go to bed early.
Tomorrow the adventure!
Sailing in the Caribbeans
Friday, February 28th
This morning I went with Rick to St. John, the island's main town, to buy some fruit and vegetables at the market. So I started to see some of the Caribbean picturesque folklore: the colourful wooden houses surrounded with many flowers, hibiscus bushes and palm trees.
People, with very dark skin, dressed in bright clothes, especially women, all wearing large cotton aprons, knee-length, white collars and large straw hats on their heads, decorated with colourful ribbons.
The colour combinations are the most bizarre, but strangely they don't clash at all, perhaps because of the contrast with their dark skin and the green vegetation around, they all seem like flowers!
We took the bus, a half hour journey on an asphalt full of potholes that made us jump to the music that you always hear inside and outside of the bus. Here people love music a lot (of course especially reggae), so it is normal to have the radio on in the bus, in bars, in every home, in taxis, in the stalls, etc.
It is very nice to sit elbow to elbow with these people, quiet, cheerful, unhurried and very kind, almost familiar. The driver who stops to allow an oldie to get down for a moment to deliver a bag to the daughter waiting outside her house, with the phone in one hand and the baby in the other. A guy who, hanging from the door of the bus (there was no room to sit down or even to stand up inside) lost his straw hat to the wind; or he stops to deliver a box of bananas to a postman, to carry it to a certain family, together with the mail...
Arrived in St. John: what a strange city! Nothing of what I expected, colourful wooden houses, not tall or modern buildings, just the same houses of the villages but more crowded and organised in a grid of parallel roads.
Many of the shops seem externally only houses and only a tiny wooden sign, swinging in the wind, warns you that they are actually selling clothes or food, or other things. And so most of the city looks like one of the “far west”, including the cactus: only the new shopping centre, called "Heritage Quay", is different, but very touristy, made especially for Americans who disembark from cruise ships right here around the corner, where the port is.
Another thing that stands out from the rest of the city is the cathedral, in typical English colonial style, with two large bell towers on either side of the facade of the church, all made of grey stone.
Along the way then there was someone that was selling "naive" artists paintings of the place, but to look at the pictures and to look around me was pretty much the same thing, the same people, the same colours, like in a mirror.
Then we went to the market, in a large square of dirt, surrounded by a wooden palisade. Although it's not at shocking levels, cleanliness leaves much to be desired here, so that once bought fruits and vegetables, they should be washed immediately very well before they can be delivered on board, to avoid the problem of cockroaches.
I love this tropical atmosphere, this hot air, these bright colours, these odours loaded with spices, fruit, and salt, and these people.
On the way back, we passed a school from where 12-13 years old girls came out, all dressed in cotton aprons, white checked purple, with white collar and white socks (they remind me a lot of our school uniforms from the sixtieths). Then in front of a primary school, boys and girls had white checked green jackets or aprons, and that contrasted greatly with their dark skin and with coloured ribbons that all girls have, to tie the thick and curly black braids.
Then we go back to Nelson's Dock Yard, where the boat is moored. Here the historical area was declared a national park, and there is still the shipyard used in 1700 by the British to fix the hull of their ships, which were tied with the ropes to two rows of colossal and massive stone columns, positioned on either side of the stone slide (Photo 5).
Photo 5: Nelson's Dock Yard
Then there is still the house that was of Admiral Nelson, where there is now a museum and other ancient buildings. These were homes of former officers and British soldiers or former warehouses of naval material, now transformed into bars, restaurants or boutiques, but all with style, careful to keep the environment similar to how it once was.
It is an exquisite and charming surrounding, especially at night, illuminated by old bronze lamps and refreshed by the breeze that intensifies the scent of the flowers of the frangipani trees surrounding all these houses.
In the evening, Mario took me to eat at the '"Admiral Inn", a restaurant where he had been years ago, right across from the Dock Yard. This is in a beautiful garden, under a pergola where grows a dark red bougainvillea, where we ate wonderfully by candlelight: a real luxury restaurant with impeccable service.
Of course, we ate fish cooked in Creole sauce.
We really needed a night like this, intimate, the two of us alone, after 13 days of an ocean in 7 people in a confined space!
After that, we were so relaxed that we went straight to sleep!
Sunday, March 1st
Today we took a day off, and we hired a jeep to get us around the island.
Just as we left, we headed to the East of the island where there is a beautiful sandy beach, semi-circular, fringed by coconut palms: Half Moon Bay, it looks like a postcard.
This Bay is only one of the 365 beaches of Antigua, one for each day of the year, as they say here.
Then we went to a place called Harmony Hall, which was an old mill to grind the sugar cane (the island is full of them), converted into a bar. Climbing the spiral staircase outside the stone tower, you arrive at a circular terrace which dominates between two charming bays, at the bottom of which you can see the coral reef that separates them from the open sea.
Nearby there is also a restaurant and art gallery, where there are always exhibitions of paintings by local artists, fantastic for colours and subjects, especially the local nature and the people. In the background, you could hear good classical music, at that time they were playing the Nabucco of Verdi.
In the interior of the island you pass several villages, more or less full of houses, but all with at least one church, from which several people were coming and going. Everybody is dressed up with stylish shoes and handbags, hats and coloured ribbons, it seemed like a movie set in America in the last century.
Here they are all very religious, most are Christians, but of different beliefs and with religion still lives many superstitions derived from Africa, ancient heritage of magical beliefs and mysterious rituals.
Driving along the old road of the banana and sugar cane plantations called Fig Tree Hill, we arrived at the Curtain Bluff Hotel, a very nice club beside Carlisle Bay, in the southern part of the island. Here we ate sitting under a porch around a square courtyard adorned with hibiscus flowers and dominated by a huge mahogany tree. The sugarbirds were precisely picking up the sugar at our table, with no fear (they were about ten, black feathered with a yellow abdomen and a beak with two red spots and two white stripes over the eyes).
Then we continued to the west, passing through the Darkwood Bay until we got to St. John.
Late in the afternoon, we returned to the South East of the island, to Shirley Heights, a hill which overlooks the two Bays of Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour, the most beautiful view of the island.
Here there are several ruins of the military English quarters from 1700, in fact, this place was a strategic place from which you could protect the main port against enemy attacks from the sea.
Here every Sunday afternoon they organise a barbecue, with "steel bands" music (so named for the large metal drums of all shapes and sizes, whose deafening sound accompanies the rhythm of reggae).
There was a black man who wove the banana leaves in different shapes (baskets, animals, bags, boats) and Mario asked him to make him a hat.
Then there was another one who sold the "maracas" made with dried gourds, and he used some dry painted carob pods as musical instruments (by shaking the seeds inside).
In this island, there are many carob trees, which often shade the streets with their umbrella shape.
After about an hour, when the rain made us run away, we went for dinner at another famous restaurant, the oldest in Nelson's Dock Yard, the "Copper and Lumber Store."
The ceiling is made with exposed wooden beams, Oriental rugs on the red stone floor, the tables and chairs in the eighteenth-century English-style. A row of windows overlooks the fort walls and the shore of the port, the candles on the table and copper lamps on the wall, the dark red leather seating studded with buttons.
Menu: a dish of shrimp with spinach and a mixed seafood plate “au gratin”, and then a huge lobster full of flesh, so that I almost could not finish it!
Monday, March 2nd
Today we came down to earth again: the week started and we had to work!
I did some provisioning from the supermarket at English Harbour, I cooked lunch and dinner, in the afternoon I thoroughly cleaned the kitchen and started the campaign "Prevention cockroaches", sprinkling boric acid everywhere.
Today everyone was eating on board, since eating out it's a bit more expensive!
Friday, March 6th
It was a week of demanding work on board, we are moored at the yard that is handling the boom, the technicians are putting in place the SSB radio and they're also installing a new one as a backup. Mario has also bought a new GPS.
In the last days, in the evening, around sunset, we went to swim at Galleon Beach. There is a beautiful white sand, and the water temperature is warm, pleasant and invigorating.
Today Mario and I did our first dive, just outside the bay, to try the new diving equipment. There was a disturbing wave on the surface that made us hit the boat and kept us from having complete control of our movements, but then we went down along a rope anchored to the bottom at almost 6 meters depth. The visibility was not great, again because of the wave that moved the sand. However here there is not much to see, but the dive has served us to begin to regain confidence with all the diving equipment and with breathing techniques and underwater behaviour.
Sunday, March 8th
This morning we went for two dives with an instructor from the Dock Yard Diving Centre, with six other people.
Before we went to a place called "Snapper Point" and we dropped anchor in 15 meters of water. As we went down along the chain, we found a platform of rock encrusted with corals, and then a step dropping down to 22-23 meters. The seascape was not great, a bit monotonous, but still we had fun, we saw two lobsters in the den, along the cliffs, then, on the bottom, a stingray hidden in the sand.
The second dive was far more beautiful. We went to a place called "Pillars of Hercules" because here there are rocks that look like Hercules' columns, very high and massive. Here, just below the shore, the sea becomes deep, around 13-15 meters, and is full of high cliffs that form beautiful canyons and tunnels. Being more exposed to light, compared to the previous site, the cliffs are richer in colourful corals and fishes of all kinds.
Here we stayed underwater for about 40 minutes, wandering up and down among these rocks, looking for lobster and grouper dens. It was nice, but the place still has not reached the beauty of the waters of Thailand. And here the water is cooler: with my 3 mm wetsuit I was feeling just OK while there I didn't need it.
After a lazy afternoon to rest, at night I made pizza, for the happiness of the entire crew.
Then we went to eat ice cream at "Abracadabra", a restaurant run by Italians (here is full of them!) and we saw a movie projected on the screen in the garden.
Friday, March 13th
One by one our extra crew friends leave. First Isabel, which left as early as two days after our arrival here, to return to Paris where she works in advertising, and then, yesterday, Julie has found a place on another boat that is going to the South. Between her and Rick there is a bit of a crisis, so much so that she decided to be alone, after five years that they were together. A bit traumatic for him because she told Rick just yesterday, that was his birthday, not a nice gift, really! Incidentally, I think Rick suspected that something was going on between her and Aaron, so the atmosphere on board was beginning to be a little tense...
Thank goodness that at least Rick has quickly found work on another sailing boat which is located in Puerto Rico, where he will fly in two days.
Saturday, March 14th
We arrived in Martinique! It took 19 hours of navigation, half sailing and half motoring, as we left yesterday evening from the island of Antigua at 18:00. It was a night of continuous rain squalls, along the islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica, and we saw Mount Pele, covered by a hood of clouds full of rain.
Even during the morning (we arrived in Fort de France at noon) it rained a lot, so much that for 10 minutes, when I was at the helm, I could not see anything at all, just a wall of water, and I had to steer just looking at the compass. But when the sky cleared we enjoyed the view of this beautiful island, with green hills of various shapes, covered with trees laden with flowers and fruit.
Fort de France, however, is a small town that doesn't look very charming, because, unlike St. John in Antigua, although larger and built up with wooden houses, is much more dirty and there aren't those beautiful and various bright colours of Antigua.
Even people seem less friendly, more surly.
Sunday, March 15th
Today we moved to the other side of the bay of Fort de France, Point du Bout and we landed to see the small marina and shops that are around, typical touristic environment.
Late in the afternoon, the guests arrived for this first cruise, two couples, friends of the owner.
Tired from the flight, after a dinner of spaghetti with lobster and whiskey shrimps, they went straight to bed and fell asleep.
Mario, to welcome them, had bought some beautiful tropical flowers, large and fleshy and, surprise! Inside one of them, there was a tree frog, tiny, 2 or 3 cm at the most, that started to jump all around the boat! Then Mario has captured it and brought it back to land.
Wednesday, March 18th
We were two days at Point du Bout because the guests wanted to see the island. So we took the opportunity to do some other work on board, other supplies at the supermarket (here there are all the products that you can find in France) and to take a short dive underneath the boat to check the seacocks. There was a lot of current and much plankton in suspension (I saw some beautiful Ctenophores) and then, scouring the bottom, we saw a sea snake curled up on the seabed. It was yellow with black spots and with a triangular head and, in doubt if it was poisonous, we decided, in a second, to go up!
This morning we headed South, and after sailing for about two hours, we stopped to swim and eat in a very pretty little bay, with a small village on the shore with a church and a beautiful white steeple. Here I made a lot of pictures because the colours are beautiful and the water gorgeous, really turquoise. We did a tour of the bay with the dinghy, and the fish were jumping from all sides as we passed. The place is called Petit Anse d'Arlets. (Photo 6).
Photo 6: Martinique
Thursday, March 19th
Today we went to St. Lucia, in the beautiful Marigot Bay, a "hurricane hole" that is one of those places that, in the event of a hurricane, are very safe, because it sheltered from all sides and with fairly high hills around it. The inner part of the bay is closed by a strip of sand where various very tall coconut palms are standing. (Photo 7).
Photo 7: Martinique, St. Lucia
Here there are some bungalows with a large front garden, where in the evening the crabs that feed on coconut come out from the holes. In front of each bungalow, there are bushes of colourful flowers (hibiscus) and bougainvillea of all shades of red and purple. There are also huge ficus plants that parasitize other trees, such as palms and carob trees, and have huge leaves streaked with yellow, gorgeous! This is one of the most beautiful bays I've ever seen!
Friday, March 20th