Monday, December 10, 2007

Das (Italian) Boot

Well we finally left Fano! The weeks leading up to our departure left me completely Knackered. Neil (owner) took off for two weeks and Rachael (Neil’s assistant) also left for about a week. That left Glenn (engineer) and I on the boat to take care of business and I certainly had my plate full!

Neil wants the boat to be idiot proof so it was my job to learn all the bridge equipment and write up “cheat sheets” for each piece so that in a pinch anyone could operate the helm’s electronics.

I also was in charge of putting together the passage plan for the trip which entailed charting electronically, making a list of ports we could duck into, determine the times we would need to fuel up and locate suitable fuel stations, updating the paper charts and double checking the computer charts against them as well as get all the necessary bits and pieces together that we would need for the trip. Fano doesn’t have much in the way of shopping choices so some things are impossible to get a hold of.

Additionally I had my “Mate” duties of working on the boat, but luckily Neil hasn’t been really concerned about the state of the exterior because there simply wasn’t enough time to keep up with that end of things.

Then there was the challenge of working with the contractors. Typically not the easiest group of people to work with, however I must say that this group of guys were all very pleasant. The problem of course is getting across explicit instructions in a foreign language. A great challenge, but somehow we managed.

I also was put in charge of determining the manning and certification requirements for our vessel. Neil has promised to get me some more certifications as well as himself since he also holds a Yachtmaster ticket, but the trick is sifting through all the information, sometimes conflicting and figuring out exactly what certifications we need and where to get them.

And then there is the MCA, Maritime Coast Guard Agency. It’s an international organization which regulates boating. It’s highly regulated and this is one of the first boats of its size to be MCA compliant. I’m still looking into whether or not we have to fill out forms when we go to the bathroom! It’s pretty bad. Up until recently yachts enjoyed complete freedom from regulations, but in the last few years that has changed. Now the bigger boats have to do everything by the book and it’s trickling down to boats our size now. Unfortunately, the regulations are still mostly geared to the bigger boats, cargo ships, cruise liners, yachts 500 gt and up (we are 194 gross tons) and there are encyclopedias of regulations to sift through. So I’m tackling that and hating every minute of it!! It is a good education though and will help me in the long run if I move up to bigger boats.

So add all that up plus a few runs back and forth to the airport and it equates to 12-14 hr days, 7 days a week. I can’t wait to get to Nice for some R and R! Monaco will have to wait for a while. We are on the list for a permanent berth there, but as of now there aren’t any available. It pretty amazing but even though it’s winter there just aren’t any berths available in the Med. We did however manage to get a hold of one in Nice, which isn’t far away at all. We will hunker down there until our Monaco berth opens up.

But the good news is we are ready to get out of Dodge. The boat’s snag list has been whittled down from around 600 items to about 20 and we can live with that. We will get the rest done in France or Monaco and the truth is that on these yachts the snag list never completely goes away.

So Neil has arranged for a Salty Dog of a Captain (John) to fly in from the UK to bring the boat around. He has his own sea school so you know everything will be by the book. It should be educational. Carlo (Captain) and Francesco (Engineer) are also on loan from Benetti for the trip. We’ve got Chef Brenda in the galley after we let Chef Gary go before we left. He was a talky drama queen who would have driven all of us mad. And finally, at the last minute we flew in Paul for a two day interview for the Skipper’s position while in route. With Glenn, Neil and myself the crew roster rounds out at 8 persons. That will come in handy though since if we get good weather we will be running 24hrs/day along the 1100nm route.

We were delayed for a day because of potentially bad whether and then delayed a few more hours because we had to have a MCA representative come check out the boat before we left. But at 9:30 am on Thursday we were loose and away while not quite sure how far we would get because of the sketchy weather reports.

It looked like we would have to put in to port in Brindisi (SE Italy), but the weather fooled the forecasters as it often does and we were able to continue cruising. We thought again as we passed the “heel” of Italy that we might need to find shelter because of bad weather coupled with the fact that there are no safe ports after the heel for a long way until you get to the “sole” of the Italy’s “boot”. But once again we pressed on. As we tickled the toes of the boot we ducked into Reggio for fuel and hot croissants. After bunkering 7000 liters of diesel we were off again.

Leaving Reggio we were smack dab in the Straits of Messina. This is a very short and narrow strait separating Italy and Sicily and it can be downright scary as hell! It can be swarming with cruise ships, cargo ships, yachts, fishing boats and ferries zig zagging all over the place. The ferries are all high speed and ignore the traffic separation scheme (water highway) and fly through it perpendicularly. And then there are the legally insane and suicidal individuals fishing in 14 ft. boats just ripe for getting squeezed. I think you really have to be a masochist to attempt to go through the strait at night. Lucky for us things were fairly tame when we went through. It is interesting to note that the delivery Captain, master of the vessel, was down in the crew mess eating while he left Neil and I to drive through the high traffic area. What the F**K! The reality is Carlo did most of the technical driving and Neil and I did more than the Salty Dog! I don’t really know why we hired him? Se la Vie.

Well at this point we were getting consistent reports of severe weather for the last leg of our route. We had been really lucky so far and although we were all hoping for the best we all knew that it was doubtful that we would get around this storm. As we approached Corsica in French waters we checked the weather once again and with no good news in the report we decided to put in to port in Cap Corse (Cape Corsica). In the dark we approached the marina channel and crept through the channel with less than 3 feet under our props. We were unable to make contact with the dock master so it was up to us to find a suitable berth and tie up.

There was a nice long open key so we spun the boat around and tied up our lines just as the wind started to kick up. A local Italian offered some advice. He suggested we get off the key and move to another across the marina due to the wind. We thanked him and decided to follow his advice. Removing the lines we started to pull away, but didn’t get very far. We caught a line in the prop and were going no where in a hurry. A mistake, but it happens and I could easily see it happening to me since I’m not from ‘dees here parts. However, I was a little surprised these local Mediterranean guys didn’t see it coming. We tied up parallel to the key when it’s actually set up for, not surprisingly, Mediterranean style docking. That is, you drop your anchor and then back the stern up the key and just tie off the stern so you are perpendicular to the dock. Whether or not they realized this I don’t know, maybe they did, but didn’t expect there to be lines under water running perpendicular to the key to assist the Med. style docking.

In any case the starboard prop had seized up. It’s really is amazing how a relatively thin line in the water can seize up an 1100 hp shaft like kryptonite stopping superman. It happened to us before on Gloria’s Sun and Pierre and I free dove each about a dozen times to cut the line away. That was in daylight in warm Bahamian water. Now I would happily have dove in and saved the day here, but not in these conditions without any of the necessary implements of destruction at my disposal. The water is cold, it’s pitch black out and we don’t have wetsuits, an under water light, scuba gear, fins or even a snorkel. Weeks ago I did recommended getting this gear for just this occasion, but it didn’t happen. Not because they didn’t want to spend the money, but because they just didn’t think something like this would happen before getting back to the Med. where we could get some really good gear. I’ve learned to trust my intuitions and maybe I should have been more forceful regarding this one. In the future I’m not getting on a yacht if it doesn’t have this gear. These type of things happen, they actually happen quite often and it’s not worth the risk or the inconvenience.

Well Carlo was a little upset with himself, but Neil didn’t blame him and everyone seemed to be happy and in good spirits. For myself I was apprehensive and couldn’t help but make it known. The key was very low and we were forecasted to get really heavy winds and they were going to be right on our beam pushing us into the key. I saw trouble a brewing, especially if the tide rose in tune with a wind generated tidal surge, but no one else seemed to worry about it. It was decided to leave one person on watch and the rest would go to bed.

I went ashore with Brenda and had a couple of beers at Les Isles. I got back around midnight and relieved Captain John of the watch. By now the wind had picked up considerably and I would go out every 15-20 minutes or so to check on things. Well since the key was so low the movement of the boat was slowly working the fenders out from between the boat and the key. By timing it right, waiting for the boat to bounce away and placing all my weight to bear upon the fender I was able to get them back into place.

As the wind picked up so did the speed with which the fenders would pop out, but it was still manageable around 2am when Glenn appeared to relieve me. So I went down to my bunk and around 3am he came down to rouse me. He was losing the battle which was fast becoming a very large scaleWhack a Mole game and needed help. We have 8 hotdog shaped fenders and 2 large ball fenders. The balls were taking the brunt of the force, but as the hotdogs popped up with greater frequency we were in danger of the balls popping up also and that would have spelled disaster. I didn’t see that we had any choice and decided to loosen up the stern line so that the next time the boat bounced away from the key we could stomp the ball fenders back in to place. I did just that and Glenn got the ball fender back in to place followed by me using the windlass to tighten the stern line back taut. It was a success!

However, the success didn’t last long. I went back down to bed and an hour later Glenn was rousing me again. The “moles” were popping up faster now and he was losing the battle. We repeated the aforementioned process, but it was clear that the winds were getting stronger and I decided to bring in reinforcements. I went down and woke Neil, Carlo and Francesco. With there help we adjusted the fenders and lines and set out an additional line. Then Glenn and I tagged out and left the relief team in place to man the situation. Through all this we were battling 45-55 knot winds.

When I awoke a few hours later a found all three guys wearing their immersion suits and sitting with there weight on the fenders to keep them in place. Francesco signaled to me to get a hacksaw since his words were lost in the howling winds. As I rounded the corner of the deck I was nearly knocked back over by the wind. It was one of the situations were you could literally put your weight at a 45 degree angle and not fall over. I retrieved the hacksaw from the engine room and Francesco hacked off a rusty piece of metal that was in danger of gouging the boat. Then we adjust the lines some more and although the winds were even stronger we had managed to get the fenders and lines set up to where things were more manageable.

They all agreed that they could keep going for another hour so I went back down for another bit of sleep. The fact that I could sleep through all this is a gauge of how tired I was. Upon awakening I gulped down a cup of coffee and some breakfast quiche, donned my immersion suit and went to relieve one of the guys. Glenn joined me shortly and we took over. Before I went out I checked out the wind speed and saw that it was 50-60 knots and we had a max reading of 69 knots. Knots are faster than miles per hour. 63 knots is hurricane strength!!

Things weren’t pleasant, but at least we weren’t out at sea at this time. After a while the winds abated just a little and we had managed to fine tune things so that once again one man could keep things under control.

Well, I’m gonna break it off here and post this much. I’ve actually made it to Nice and I’ll pick up where I left off shortly…….