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2014 Wrap: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a Prosperous Chinese New Year

Posted by Mei on December 23, 2014


We went back to Australia last year 2013. My father had a stroke and my mother was not coping with any of this. We and I mean our sons Adric and Jared, and relatives from all over the world, family friends and neighbours all pitched in to help in this very dire time. The help came in many forms, moral, emotional, time and effort support was very important to me. I am very appreciative of it. Thank you; you know who you are. I had not realized that paying bills, house maintenance and shopping were becoming a burden to them, when they lived at Meadowvale road. We got my parents into a lovely facility at Highercombe in South Australia. They have individual rooms. It is fortunate that the facility will look after the daily necessities and they don’t have to stress about anything. This is good and bad, because with mum’s negative outlook it is easier to do less and less. But luckily I can ask the facility to organize things, and a doctor goes there once a week and they can see him if they want to or if the nurse wants them to. We then had the pleasure of selling the house, cleaning and getting rid of a lifetime of possessions. All a lot of fun in 47 degrees C. Good thing the evaporative cooling worked. We stayed with Adric, Suzanne, Terry and Michael in Melbourne. Thanks guys.  


We flew to Greece and stayed a couple of weeks and then headed to Rome. We spent ten days in Rome. Rome was a fantastic place. We did a mixture of tours and audio tapes. We saw the Vatican museum twice. We truly loved the Galleria Borghese. Went for an audience with the Pope, us and about 100,000 others. We did a lot of walking in February. It wasn’t very cold but the down coat was great. We used cross-pollinate to find the apartment and it was central and clean. I especially liked the apartment near Campo de Fiori. PopeKevin and the guard OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


We caught a train to Germany and went via the Benina Express, the carriages were built with the views in mind and the roof was almost clear. This train avoids many of the tunnels and the panoramas were exceptional. We visited Kathy, Joerg and Paul in Meersburg. We spent a few days on road trips looking at the towns with lovely restored old towns. The restorations are done lovingly and fortunately tourism pays for this big effort. Reinvigorating murals on multistory houses etc. The regular modern buildings are very ho hum and dull. You could be anywhere. Kathy took us to an old house that had storks building nests on the roof. It was unusual enough that there were coach loads of people taking photos.

Kathy Kevin and Joerg


Ionion Islands

We flew back to the Ionion Islands. We really enjoyed our stay in Levkas Marina. Levkas is a lovely Greek town with it’s own traditions and charm. The marina was terrific although it chose an odd time to upgrade the toilet/shower blocks, but I guess timing for that exercise is never good no matter when it is scheduled. I certainly thought the start of the charter season was exceptionally brilliant timing. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA P3253503OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Kathy and Joerg came to visit us. They landed in Corfu and we led them to the marina at the base of the old English fort next to the Liston. It was such a beautiful spot. I think they would have been happy to explore Corfu instead of cruising. The Greek Corfu Easter is supposed to be absolutely amazing with a lot of amphorae filled with water and pushed off high balconies, we missed this but was there for the parades of the orthodox priests including the Patriarch of the Ionion, the 16 brass bands and the concert in the St George Church. DSC_0042

 Meganissi and Scorpius

We visited Magganissi and I think Joerg and Kathy liked the island. We sailed around Scorpios Island for a sticky, now owned by Ekaterina Rybolovleva (25), it used to be owned by Athena Onassis (29). They had a birthday party on it and Celine Dion sang. The Ionian was abuzz with helicopters, chris craft, giant white boats and paparazzi.

Lakka, Paxoi


We went to Erikoussa our last taste of Greece. The Erikoussa hotel/restaurant was lovely and the owner was very nice. Water was crystal clear 8m deep. The owner of the Erikousa hotel was entertaining and told us of his travels. We moaned about the diving in the Med, it seemed like a desert after SE Asia. He told us he went night diving near Corfu and was awestruck by the numbers and sizes of the fish. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Boot, Italy

We sailed across to Maria St Leuca, (the heel of Italy). Anchored outside the marina and it was full of little ity bitty sandflies. So annoying and the place looked very boring. Didn’t get off the boat it was that charming. Galipoli (heel) had a little island and was just another walled city, it had feint echoes of Dubrovnik, but with the same nic nacs, plastic junk from PRC. In Rocella Ionica (instep) we met some Kiwis and they had just come from Sardinia and told us where to go, we could spend months there, anchoring out. They also knew the Balearics intimately. We had repaired the red ensign Terry gave us, a while ago, and we started to fly it.  

Toarmina, Sicily.

Toarmina is very pretty. but the anchorage was very sloppy and rolly. It doesn't worry us after staying at the Republic of Singapore yacht club, sloppy anchorages are just easy. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aeolian Islands

We had a fright last night. We were anchored at Isola Vulcano, yes there is a bubbling crater there. Early in the morning I woke to hear Kevin climb up into the cockpit. Then to my horror I heard a clear British voice, "Good Morning", beat, "Would you like a cup of tea?", I threw on my clothes in a groggy fugue, and was at the cockpit ladder when Kevin started the engine and was working his way forward to pull up the anchor chain. The wind had changed direction and this little yacht, well fendered, was just about to bump us. Kevin and Mr Tea fendered off.   The wind hit 26 knots and a few boats dragged. It was wild.   We saw these strange boats in the Messina Straits. They are designed to catch sword fish. The habit of swordfish is to lie just beneath the surface and bask in the sun. The captain spots them from his perch and creeps up to the swordfish and a guy at the end of the bowsprit harpoons them. It must actually work as you can see on the last photo. They sure have a lot of swordfish dishes. Swordfish 1Swordfish 3                 We visited Stromboli Island, Its an active volcano and spews out lava every few minutes. That night, we followed some tripper boats to a viewing spot halfway around the island. Seeing the lava flowing down the mountain like a red sparkle river was really amazing. The red jets into the air, were spectacular. I couldn't take photos as it was so sloppy, impossible to hold the camera still. Stromboli 1OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


We visited Palermo. There was a very scruffy air to the town. It felt like a difficult place to live. We enjoyed looking at the cathedral and there are some wonderful buildings. I read Peter Robb's book "Midnight in Sicily", interesting to get some insight into the world of Palermo. I read a thread about the resistance to mafia extortion in Palermo. A group of young people started up a campaign called Addio Pizzo. The word pizzo means pecking, like a chicken pecking up the scraps, the Italians use this as a euphemism for extortion.  It means Goodbye Extortion. They got a few businesses to refuse to pay the protection money and they proudly carry the sticker. We were on the look out for the sticker and found one shop, a tourist shop selling Sicilian made olive oils etc. They also have a travel agency using services that do not pay pizzo. It sounded heartening and the mafia have ignored these people considering them as very small fry. The police were a little astonished and try to keep an eye on them. The police feel like they are not alone and decided to give this organisation a property for their office. A property they had confiscated from the mafia. Lots of people join the organisation and shop at these shops to help support them. I think consumer choice is a wonderful concept. I think the mafia is regretting they didn't squash them in the early days because they are gaining momentum. I hope this grassroots organisation will overcome the habits of the oppressed. The mafia has been hurting in this economic downturn, they were hoping to do better by lending money at their horrible rates to the desperate businesses, but what happened was that businesses just gave up and closed shop. P7034506OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  


From Palermo we sailed to Ustica. It very tiny volcanic island and a ferry ride from Palermo. In fact it’s a place Palermo people hang out when they want to get away from it all. Has a special charm. The small walks around town revealed alleyways with lovely murals. The harbour is very small and we took one of the three berths available for our sized yacht. There is absolutely no room for anchoring as boats are packed on the buoys lined up like sardines, side by side with no swing room. A couple of yachts turned up much later that evening and were asked to tie up next to a concrete slipway, outside the harbour. It was a good thing it was very calm. Ustica has a marine national park and there are many dive boats operating.




Sardinia is the nicest cruising area of Italy, At least of what we’ve seen.  Caglairi (capital of Sardinia) has about 150k people. There is more money here, and the councils are very good, the buildings look much better maintained.    


Cagliari has a lovely old town. But the most interesting aspect was the cemetery. We had never walked into an Italian cemetery and it was eye opening. Mausoleums that resembled little roman temples with Corinthian columns and gorgeous sculptures, some with mosaic archangels, Mausoleums that resembled Frank Lloyd Wright glass box structures. There were these walls about 10m high that had five rows of tombs, A multi storey resting place. The old town was fascinating as many of the usual suspects invaded the island at one time, The Phoenicians, Carthageans, Roman, Vandals ??? Spanish and the Moors. Interestingly the symbol of Sardinia is the flag with the four Moors. The reason for this is steeped in a very muddled explanation. No one really wants to tell us and we suspect some serious skulduggery. Nevertheless it is waved around with serious pride. Another aspect that makes Sardinia unique in the Mediterranean is the Bronze aged Nuraghe people 1900 and 730 BC  These people were unique to Sardinia. DSC_0085 P7094625

The coast on the east side of Sardinia is lovely, beautiful clear emerald water.

 Gelato Anyone?

Gelato Anyone?

Maddalena National Park

The Maddalena islands are worth a look. We visited the house where Garibaldi lived out his years. Garibaldi was the general who united modern Italy, and gave the reins of power to the Italian king. He is considered the true patriot.  

 Emerald Coast

We rang Porto Cervo to find out how much a night cost and it was 313 euro/night. so much for the world's most expensive marina. If you want to know what people do when they can buy a 100m white boat and not blink at the price? Come to the Costa Esmeralda to see them in their element.  The big white boats in Costa Esmeralda are like Thai fishing boats, they are everywhere. There are some boats that are too large for even Porto Cervo. We were anchored next to Dilbar in Golfo Pervero. It was weird to see staff and body guards swarming around the big guy and guests. Even swimming with him. We saw Abramovich’s Eclipse, Paul Allen’s Tatoosh, and countless numbers of yachts > 50m. They all probably have chefs on board but they prefer to dine out. No dinghies for them, only helicopters. But risky life I reckon. It was a V V windy night and the helicopter is struggling to land. Big risk appetite too I guess. DSC_0078 (2)DSC_0118  

 Balearic Isles, Spain

We left Sardinia and went to Menorca, we motored most of the way. We met Rick and Robyn off Endangered Species in the last anchorage in Sardinia. They had been moving fast from Turkey, and going to cross the Atlantic.. They had not seen anyone in cruising mode for quite a while. There are a lot of yachts sailing around Italy but the charterers and the Italian boat owners do not stop and chat like the long term cruisers. They dinghied up to our boat and asked, “Is this Duncan and Robin’s boat?” They were fun to be with. They were off to the Caribbean; their back yard and were already licking their lips in anticipation of a rum drink. They tried to get us enthusiastic about crossing the Atlantic. It turned out they knew quite a cruisers from SE Asia. It’s a small bloody world, huh? They were tired of motoring and didn't like the shop hours 9am- 2pm and opened at 5pm – 8pm. We discussed dining hours with some friends from Norway.  They eat breakfast at 7am, lunch at 11am and dinner at 4pm. I was a little shocked at 4pm, but could see the 4-5 hour gap as sorta in tune with my hunger patterns. We eat at 8am, lunch by 12-1pm and dinner 6-7pm and have done this most of the cruising life. But in Spain they have lots of little snacks to keep going because the gap is really long. They are at work by 8 or 9 so they must eat breakfast around 7am, they rush out for a snack between 11-13, if they get a chance because they get off for lunch at 2pm. No wonder they have coffee stands and snacks for stand up and run peeps. The biggest meal is at lunch and it is huge. Three courses usually and then a nap. Nothing much is open, not even a bank, only things open are restaurants and supermarkets. That’s in the old town/ CBD. The quietest time in the city is 6-7pm. Everyone is still at work, or resting. The chef only arrives at the kitchen at 8pm, we know this because a bunch of 12 Australians and new Zealanders were out looking for a decent restaurant meal at 7pm in Cartagena. Last Friday night we were walking past some restaurants and were shocked to find out no-one had started eating their mains and it was 10pm. They have big barn shopping open 10 am to 10pm everyday e.g. like having a Bunnings, next to a Harvey Normans, Good guys and Big W in the same area surrounded by car parks. Very soulless places. They are quite far outside town and very, very hideous. No one has tried to make these places look nice they are the retail equivalent of industrial parks For me the Spanish are able to enjoy a lot more hours in the day then we do. If I could get past my hypoglycaemia I would be able to enjoy it too. They are generally a slim people, certainly spend a lot of time on the evening walk with friends and their late meals. I’m sure the afternoon nap is like a power boost. We went to Palma de Mallorca and was pleasantly surprised. We had heard it was a cheap place for package tourists, but the town we found was quite sophisticated and fairly expensive. The church with the Gaudi hanging above the altar was certainly worth a visit. It is in fact the centre for boating in Mediterranean Spain. There was a lot of yachting hardware, rigging, sails, watermaker, liferaft service etc. We expected all the yachting centres along the Spanish coast to be similar. We were wrong.

Kevin, Rick & Robin





Mediterranean Spain

We sailed to Barcelona to catch up with Adric. It was lovely to see him. He has got a different job with his company and is working in IT in the web department. Jared back in Melbourne also got a new job within his company, and working in consulting. They both like the shift and are happy with the direction. We were in Port Vell and a quick walk to the Ramblas. We were there about two weeks and we saw practically everything. I really liked the modernista buildings and the Segrada Familia was stupendous. I thought the Picasso museum was interesting tracing his life and “periods”. What a phenomenon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   We bought a Brompton bike in Barcelona. It seems like such a bike friendly place, flat ground and huge boulevards. That is until we discovered it was the bike theft capital of Spain. It made me a tad paranoid about our combo locks. Apparently 4.5 seconds to break. We have used these locks half way across the world. But the evidence was clear, especially if you looked at the bike racks in Barcelona, giant thick freaking D locks plus a motorbike chain on the tires, seat and frame. Also there were several skeletons on the bike rack, say a frame chained to it, nothing else. Ulp!!! As we crawled down the coast, we met up with Enki II in Valencia. Alex, Diana and Claudia were enjoying the rounds. They were edging the yacht towards the Canaries. They wanted us to come along. We started to think about the jobs we needed done. Kevin wrote it all down and it was huge. Because we were not preparing for a crossing when the boat was in Greece there were a substantial backlog of must do items. I honestly didn’t want to be so goal orientated that we miss major bucket list sites like Alhambra. Or get tense and anxious about it. The Spanish people are very nice and there is a lot of depth to this society. We don’t have to rush home. We won’t be back to Europe for a long time. Once we get to the Caribbean it begins the sleigh ride home.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We got to Cartagena and liked the place. We had intended to stay for winter here. We got stuck into the prep for the Atlantic Crossing. New batteries, fix water maker, fix gen set leak, get new sheets, our dyneema preventers failed. The more we thought about the list the longer it got. We set a date the 1 October to have everything finished. We didn’t make it.  


We did a trip to Portugal to see Peta and Michael. They were going to stay in Cascais. We caught the train there from Cartagena. It was a long boring trip the scenery wasn’t great. I think we crossed the mountains in the dark. It was fun to visit them. Peta chose the hotel that overlooked the water. They got the room with the view. Unfortunately it was above a tub thumping Irish Pub. It was also bad luck the window frame was wraped and would not close. Ear plugs didn’t cut it and Peta decided to sleep on the bathroom floor with the door firmly shut. Poor Michael almost stepped on her when he tried to get to the loo. We went to Sintra by bus. It was really lovely to be in the mountains. The best ruin had to be the Moorish castle. A view to kill for.  
Kevin, Peta and Michael

Kevin, Peta and Michael


We flew to Madrid and went for a walk around the old city. It is a beautiful city. I was fascinated by the impact the discovery of the Americas had on Spain. I stumbled across the Columbian Exchange; widespread transfer of animals, plants, culture, human populations, communicable diseases, technology between the new world and old world.  The plants will astonish you. The better nutritional properties these plants had on the old world actually kept more people alive. This probably contributed to the population explosion. Read this about potatoes.  Apparently the wheat crop to make bread is dicey at best. Not reliable supply and lot and lots of labour. Keeping the flour dry and insect free was probably tricky too. Peasants from Britain, Ireland and France were always on the knife edge of starvation. It took till the 1800 before the common folks began to realise that the potato would keep them alive. I was also curious about the other foods so widespread in Asia especially the Chilli. What did the Indians and Thais do without chilli and how did it get there? It appears that the Portuguese traders spread the plants throughout the world. The most perplexing fruit for me is the dragon fruit, introduced to Australia by the Vietnamese. Have you seen the plant it looks like a cactus.  
Two Aussies in Madrid

Two Aussies in Madrid



We are back in Cartagena now and Christmas is around the corner. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Just yesterday I happened to look at the lottery system in Spain. We have had many people trying to sell us these lottery tickets and we have waved them aside, not paying any attention to the detail. Yesterday I decided to see what it was about and discovered the El Gordo Navidad is the biggest lottery in the world. The prize pool is 2.4 billion euros. I kid you not. They have a participation rate of nearly 100% and the whole country sits in front of the TV (22/12/2014) for the Draw and it lasts 3 hours. They have two children from an orphanage who get the numbers from two huge spinning balls and one sings the lottery number and the other sings what the prize is. Yes as you can deduce there are a lot of prizes, there is apparently 5% chance of winning something. Before the draw everyone knows that each ticket of the first prize is worth 4 million euros this year. There are 160 tickets of the same number and each ticket costs 200 euros. You can buy a decimo or a tenth of a ticket for 20 euros. Last year an entire village bought all the tickets with the same number and scooped 540 million Euros. The lottery has been going since 1812. But hey it is the Spanish equivalent of the Melbourne cup; the draw that stops the nation. We went into town to get some of the action but alas the lottery shops were closed on Sunday, the last day to buy the tickets was Saturday. But you know about clouds; there is a draw called the El Niño (now why do I know that name???) and it is drawn on Jan 6 for only 540 million Euros. We will buy some tickets, wish us luck. Next year we will spend some time touring Spain and in the Spring we will take the boat into the Atlantic and sail north till mid August and then turn around and head south and cross the Atlantic at the end of next year. We are not sure how far north we can get and it will be weather permitting. This post was an epic, I had dropped of the planet and now I’m back. My new year’s resolution; smaller ones in the future and more regular.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a Prosperous Chinese New Year.