After a long winter in Licata it was time to leave. The bottom was scrubbed (Hoppetossa’s of course), the course planned and the mindset was to go! On the 30th of April we left early in the morning with a good forecast, even though the summer had not started yet, in the direction of Malta. After 3 hours of motoring we set full sail, activated the wind vane and we were sailing! The wind was coming from a perfect direction and the vane was performing well. On our way we saw the first bunch of dolphins swimming around the boat which we took as a good omen!
After 13 hours we arrived on Gozo, one of the islands in the Maltese archipelago! It was a quite relaxed sail but we were very tired. First we tried to anchor but there were too many rocks and the anchor was scraping and jumping over the bottom of the bay. So we decided to go to the Marina in Mgar (Ghawdex in Maltese) on Gozo. It was a bit different than Licata (to start with, the cars were on the wrong side of the road) and the harbour was quite wavy from the ferry’s going in and out.
The names here are sounding quite strange in our ears!
The Maltese language is a nice mixture of Arabic, Italian/Sicilian and a wee bit of French😊
But English is also an official language which makes it more easy to get along.
Maltese is actually the only Semitic language that is written with latin letters.
Gozo is about the same size as Manhattan in New York and it’s a lovely place!
According to legend Odyssey’s was here living in a cave (you can still visit it) with the nymph Calypso who bewitched him so that the he stayed with her for seven years before he came to his senses (or not) and left💞
In the harbor we saw a big group of Barracudas swimming around.
Maybe a hundred or so…
Obviously they often do that when they are young. When they get older they tend to be more solitary.
They are not dangerous, but going for a swim with them? Näää, don’t think so!
After two nights in the Marina we left to go for an anchorage on Malta and of course a ferry came in when we unmoored and the current dragged the rope straight into our propeller. After asking for help from the marinero he first got angry at us, so we did the same to him. Then he became calmer and helped us. We had to call for a diver (we did not want to swim with that much current in the water) and two hours later we were on our way again.
We went to Melienna bay to the north of Malta where we encountered some people from Licata for anchor!😀 We had to change our anchor place in the evening though, because the wind was changing, and we slept our first night of the season behind our anchor.
The next day, the 3rd of May, we sailed to Valletta. We sailed against the wind so we had to use our Iron sail. Luckily it was not that far and soon we arrived in Valletta. Because the predictions promised a lot of wind the coming days we found a place in the Marina next to our neighbors from Licata, Frank and Eva!
We even found a “Svensk Kebabpizza”! and I have to confess that we have visited a shop called “Little Sweden” because I (Jill) really, really wanted Knäckebröd😋 There’s something for everybody here and even if it is a very small island compared to Sicily, there’s so much to see.
Valletta is the capital city, named after Jean de Vallette, the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John (The Knights of Malta) in the year 1566.
And what a city it is! Filled with baroque palaces, bastions and fortifications, Gothic cathedrals, Mosques and churches side by side !
We specifically like the typical wooden balconies that you see everywhere, often in vibrant green, blue and red shades and with the front door in the same color.
We have not seen any stray dogs at all but there are a lot of cats. It’s nice to see that they are well fed and they seem to be treated in a good way. There are many “Cat Hotels”, special feeding places with small houses for them to sleep in!😻
Another nice thing is that a lot of the apartment buildings have their own names!
It can be names like Paradise, Heaven, Refuge, Villa Mare, different kinds of birds and flowers but also funny names like on the picture below -Big Family or China Girl!
We came here primarily to visit our friend Antolina who is working and living here.
If it wasn’t for her we might have missed this lovely island! So happy we didn’t!
This is definitely a place to come back to💙
We have stayed for a week but when the forecast was good again we left for Porto Palo on the south west point of Sicily. We had to sail and use our engine every now and then to arrive in daylight. Just before we arrived we saw some military ships maneuvering and after a while the VHF was calling ‘Hoppetossa, this is NATO war ship….. After a short, clear and friendly conversation we were told to stay away for at least 1 mile because they were maneuvering. And yes, we saw a helicopter landing on the ship. Soon we arrived and enjoyed a nice night for anchor again.
Next day off to Syracuse, one of our favorite cities! There’s a big bay just outside of the city that makes a perfect anchorage!
No wind and a lot of diesel fumes later we arrived. I (Rein) noticed that there was a lot of water coming into the boat which was not usual (Hoppetossa is a very ‘dry’ ship) so I was surprised. After investigating it seems that the exhaust hose has a hole, so part of the cooling water come into the boat. That means, finding new hose, breaking up half of the kitchen and replace the hose! But first we had to take the dinghy to go ashore. It was the first time for the season and the outboard was not performing as it should. So after cleaning out the carburetor (why didn’t I do that last winter!) the outboard was performing as it should but the day was gone. Time to deal with the exhaust.
Problem 1: Finding the hose. We went to several specialized stores but nobody had them, even the big warehouses were empty. So no new hose! Another option was to patch the hose and for that we needed a piece of pipe.
Problem 2: Finding a piece of pipe. Again we walked from shop to shop with no luck. We almost gave up, but when we went back to our dinghy we saw a water pipe lying around as scrap on an abandoned construction site! It was made of good material (HDPE) and after measuring it we saw that it was exactly the right size! Yeaahh! So we cut a piece of both hose clamps and went back to our ship.
Back on the boat we started fixing and breaking up the kitchen. Finding myself (Rein) in the strangest positions to get to places and taking the old hose off. After a few hours the old hose was off. With a piece of new hose, old hose and the pipe we made a patched hose and the next day the patched hose was on again, the kitchen repaired and the engine was running without spitting gases and water into the boat. You see, if you are a sailor, not rich and think you are young and inventive enough, you can fix everything! It´s just a pity that the body needs a few days to fix itself again! Well, after some other small repairs we were good to go again.
Meanwhile we were exploring the town and saying hello to friends from Licata! It is not so strange that in the beginning of the season everybody is close by. And even if it’s only a few weeks since we saw them it’s so nice to meet again! But of course it means that we have to say Goodbye and that’s not as easy to get used 😔
The weather has been a bit unstable with rain and hard winds so it´s been very nice to be safely tucked up here for a while.
After Syracuse we wanted to go for anchor in Naxos close to Taormina.
When we anchored there was an annoying swell and we decided to continue our journey to the city Crotone on the toe of Italy. That means about 30-40 hours of sailing depending on the wind. Even though Taormina is a beautiful city, we had been here last year and there was a good weather window coming so….
So next day we left with a soft breeze from the south but we knew it would change to the north and get a bit more. When we proceeded the waves were getting more and more confused. It was not only the current but also that it was blowing further out. After a while we saw the white caps on the waves on the horizon and as soon we came into the influence of the Messina Strait the wind changed to north and soon we were going fast with a northerly wind. With full mainsail and a little furled in Genua we were making 7 to 8 knots in not the most comfortable way. But Hoppetossa liked it. She was jumping up and down and keeping her passengers safe. Yes, this is a good ship even though Jill got some salted water over her!😀
After Messina the wind slowly died out and since we were not really in a hurry we let it be. During the night there was a bit of wind, some more wind but nothing furious. While we were sailing a big freighter changed its course and pointed his bow toward us. Now the AIS system showed its worth. We saw his name and we could call him directly on the VHF. After our question if he had seen us the operator mumbled something and changed its course.
This was our first night sailing this year and that’s always a bit special.
We both like it, but even though we sleep in 4-hour shifts we know that we will be a bit tired when we arrive at our destination.
Still, it’s certainly worth a bit of tiredness to watch a spectacular sunset and the full moon 🌕 rising surrounded by a mysterious halo!
So after a beautiful night sail we arrived the next day in Crotone. We went to the fuel station and the owner offered us a berth at the dock for a reasonable price. Next to the fuel dock there was the dock for the coastguard. On one evening the commander of a coastguard boat couldn’t resist giving gas and making a lot of waves. The waves were so big that our neighbor’s boat experienced some damage. His cleats were ripped out and sunk to the bottom. Since he was sponsored and the Austrian television was waiting for him in the Baleares he was in despair.
When I (Rein) went to the coastguards boat I talked to the decks man who excused himself and I told him that the commander should talk to the Austrian. After an hour nobody had talked to him and we went together back to the coastguard quay. There everybody was busy ignoring us, something that makes me very angry. One of the decks men even managed to give my neighbor ‘the finger’. So I yelled very hard ‘HEY COMMANDORE, WE HAVE TO TALK, NOW’. Sorry, I am from Amsterdam and I don’t acknowledge authorities, something that will give me trouble in the future, I know. So a pretty commander came to us and started to turn things around and wanted to send us away.
We didn’t and when we told him to drive slowly he didn’t want to listen. And then we told him about ‘the finger’. Then they were going to investigate. We went away and later, when we were drinking beer with our neighbor, they were finally coming to him and the owner of ‘the finger’ had to apologize! The next day the neighbor managed to get some people to fix his boat and he could continue his journey. Goodbye Jürgen, we hope you finish it and get the money for the children.
The old, historical part of Crotone is charming and genuine, and the new modern part with it’s many beautiful facades and a wonderful promenade along the beach is also lovely.
You can see that a lot of work has been done and is continually going on to repair, restore and enhance the city!
It’s well worth a visit and the whole of Calabria has a lot of nature, historical places and culture to offer.
The water here has a fantastic turquoise-green-blue color that we have named “Ionian blue” after the Ionan sea outside.
We are staying on the fuel pontoon in the Porto Nouvo (the New harbour)
and the very nice and friendly owner, Marco, is treating us with fresh croissants every morning!
Fun fact-Pythagoras, the famous mathematician and philosopher, started a school here around 530 BC. He was the one that over 2 000 years ago made an absolutely amazing discovery about triangles that we still use a lot-Pythagoras Theorem 🧐 The pupils in his school had VERY strict rules about diet, clothing and behavior. For some reason they were forbidden to eat or even touch any kind of bean or legume!
Maybe some kind of reversed vegetarianism?😏
After catching up, exploring Crotone, bunkering and feeling harbor rot coming we decided to leave. Looking at our options we decided to go directly to Albania. A 150 mile trip with not too much but favorable wind.
After 30 hours of uneventful, but nice, sailing we arrived in Sarandë on Albanias south coast and just a few km from Corfu in Greece. We actually met some people, for some reason Swedish, that had been swimming from Corfu to Sarandë and were also going back the same way!🙃
We were out of the EU so we had to get clearance from the customs. After reporting with the VHF to the harbor master he gave us a warm welcome and told us to call our agent. We moored at the quay side and there she was, our agent, a very nice woman named Jelja Serani.
We went to the office and the paperwork was quickly done. With the papers we went to customs and then I realized why we had an agent. This way the custom people don’t have to deal with foreigners like us. They don’t have to talk to us and everything goes much more smoothly.
When I came back on the boat I noticed that Hoppetossa was kissing the bottom, aj! So we left the quay and anchored in the bay instead. We were tired but could enjoy the sounds of the city which are a bit special. The sound of Church bells, Mosque singing and Arabic sounding music were coming in the night towards us. How wonderful it sounded. We really felt like we were out of EU (which we were of course)
You really need an agent in Albania to help you with all the paperwork and as a “go between” with the customs and the coast guard. It doesn’t cost you much, we payed 50 Euros and for that cost you’ll get all the help you can imagine. The paperwork you really can’t manage by your own, but Jelja and her husband also helped us with a number of other things-renting cars (their own), arranging trips and even going with Rein to a dentist as you will see if you continue to read…
Some days after our arrival I (Rein) was eating candy and after a while I noticed that women were running away from me and even the crew on Hoppetossa didn’t take me serious anymore. Now that is not strange by itself 😉 but I also noticed there was something missing in the front of my mouth.
One of my big fears-A crown was gone and I had swallowed it 🥺.
Out of the EU and now going to find a dentist oh oh! But how wrong I was! Our agent brought me to a clinic managed by a young married couple. The wife was the dentist and the husband was the technician, and everything was very modern. To make a long story short. I got a new crown and everything went very smooth….. Wonderful.
Oh, and the missing crown. We didn’t make any effort to capture it😁
Since the 1990’s the population in Sarandë has nearly doubled (now about 41 000) and the city has recently gone through a bit of an uncontrolled building boom with new hotels and houses everywhere to accommodate for the tourists. It’s now a modern and touristic city with a nice promenade along the waterfront and with numerous bars and restaurants. We like it a lot! The people are enormously kind and helpful and the city has a kind of calm and laid back feeling to it.
What we also like is that the church bells are chiming very cheerfully in the morning and shortly after that the muezzin starts to sing from the minaret! Freedom of religion!
Albania (Shqpëri in Albanian) is a fascinating country with a long, complicated and often brutal history.
It was completely closed for tourism until the fall of dictator Enver Hoxhas communist party 1991.
Suddenly the Albanians were free to travel abroad, which they certainly did. When the borders opened up some of them were boarding the ships in the harbors, forcing the crew to take them to Italy, Greece and Turkey, and now the number of ethnical Albanians living abroad is estimated to be higher than the total population in Albania (about 3 million)!
The Albanian language (shqip) is also special! Although it is an Indo-European language it’s not closely related to any other language in Europe!
And it has this lovely letter ë that I (Jill) like for some reason! Another funny thing is that the Albanians nod when they mean “no” and shake their head when they mean “yes”. So be careful answering questions with your head.🙃
Together with our friends Cris and Clint we rented a car (Jeljas) and traveled a bit inland for a day.
We visited the “Blue eye”, a fresh water spring with a very intense blue-turquoise-green color. No one knows how deep this spring is since nobody has been able to dive to the bottom of it, but it’s at least 50 m and the water is 10-12 C! It’s a truly magical place with clouds of big, metallic blue dragonflies swarming everywhere! Albania, even though being a small country have more than 3,250 species of plants, which accounts for 30 per cent of all flora in Europe! 🌼🌻
After a cold beer in the sunshine we went to Gjirokastër, an ancient Ottoman city, high up in the mountains with a spectacular view over the river valley below. This is a UNESCO world heritage and the old stone houses, some also with stone roofs, which look like small fortresses have given the town the name “The City of Stone”.
This was a wonderful trip were we travelled with an oldfashioned car barge over the river and got flowers from the old couple that owned the café where we stopped for a drink.
At one point a policeman stopped us on the road and naturally we became a bit tense and wondered what we had done wrong… but he just said “Good day Sir”, reached inside the car and put on our lights!😂
Cris’s croqueted skirt got ripped and an old lady selling tablecloths at the roadside helped her to mend it!
The people here are truly amazing❤️
We found a lot of rhubarb beside the road around the Blue Eye, or so we thought until I tried to make a pie for us the day after! It turned out to be so called “false rhubarb” with a horrible taste, bläää! So we had to eat strawberry pie instead, poor us!😊
Further north in Albania…
We are now sailing north towards Monte Negro and of course we also wanted to see more of Albania, so yesterday we stopped in Porto Palermo (Panormes during antiquity). This is a lovely, tranquil place, hidden from wind and swell behind a small peninsula with an interesting castle on it!
There is a big concrete pontoon where you should be able to dock, which we did, but we had heard that the military could send you away so when we saw a police car coming, tired as we were, we quickly ducked inside the boat and hoped that he would go away, and after a while he did! But soon he was back again and we realised that there was no use hiding. He was very friendly but told us that we were not allowed to stay at the pontoon because there was marijuana growing on the slopes close by!!😏 When Rein told him that it was not a problem because he’s from Amsterdam he started to laugh and said that it was because the military wanted the pontoon for themselves but that we were welcome to anchor a few metres out in the bay instead. He came onboard checking our passports and boat papers and wanted a glass of water for himself and a beer for his friend (who was not a policeman)😂
After this funny encounter we found a good spot to anchor in the beautiful bay with a line to a pole, and the next day we visited the Castle on the small peninsula. It is said to have been built by Ali Pasha of Tepelena in the early 19th century but it’s probably a lot older than that and has been used as a fortress by the Venetians that controlled this part of Albania between 1420-1797. This bay has also been a Soviet Submarine base, a prison, and a military zone! For many years, no cilivians were allowed to come here and it has remained sealed off until the fall of the regime 1991.
The castle itself with it’s twelve rooms and a Harem is very well preserved and the view from the roof is breathtaking! The entrance fee is 200 Lek wich is about 1,60 Euro and it’s well worth a visit.
The water is crystal clear and a few tourists in caravans are camping on the small beach. Sometimes a bus load of tourists are popping up, swarming into the castle and then disappearing again… It’s a small paradise💙
When you sail in Albania you have to ask permission to travel along the coast and there are a only a few places you can visit. Since the country is now seeking to be a member state in the EU this will probably change but for now the military wants to keep in control.
The next place where we could stop was Durrës , a big harbour about 80 miles north. A bit far for a daytrip so we decided to travel by night instead. We tried to sail but the waves were short and unpleasant and we needed a bit of speed to keep it comfortable so the engine was helping out a bit now and then. Rein studied the map and saw that it was a big area where it was not allowed to fish or go for anchor. After reading the description it turned out to have been a minefield during WWII. And it also said that it was not wise to travel there at night! Uh oh😮
We tried to call the coastguard on the VHF but there was no answer, so we decided to take a detour of about 20 miles around the area. Better safe than sorry and the benefit of going a bit further out from the coast was that we had favourable winds during the rest of the trip. Towards morning we saw some Italian Fishing boats in the restricted area, why am I not surprised!😏 and when we later asked our agent about it he told us that we could have sailed through it, there shouldn’t be any mines left. Anyway I think we made the right decision.
Early the next morning we entered Durrës and were met by our nice and friendly agent Illir Gjergji. Durrës is one of the oldest cities in Albania and also one of the largest ports in the Adriatic Sea. Eventually there will be a Marina for yachts but for now we are tucked in between the BIG guys, tugboats, pilots and coasters. And work is going on 24 hours a day.
Durrës today is a modern and bustling city but it was founded already in the 7th century by the ancient Greeks under the name Epidamnos and later Dyrrachium.
There’s a nice promenade (with a beach developing outside) along the seaside with a Tivoli and number of bars and restaurants to choose from. You can see that a lot of work is going on to develop the city and it would be interesting to come back in a couple of years to see what has happened.
We like it here🧡 but we are also curious about Montenegro so after three days we decided to leave but…after 45 min the batteries didn’t charge and the smell of burning electronics filled the cabin. Rein looked in the engine room and smoke came from the alternator, which Italian ‘specialists’ had just renovated!! So back to the harbor, where Illir stood waiting for us. He took Rein and the burned alternator to a workshop where they found out that the alternator was scrap and that we needed a replacement. Albania is not a rich country and everything here is reused and recycled which is a good thing. We could not find a new alternator here but we could adapt an old one.
Illir and Rein went to another workshop and then the best mechanic in Dürrës was goint to install it, and now it works again! Yippee, tomorrow we can leave again. Later we found out that the V-belt was put on the wrong pulley so maybe the best mechanic in Durrës had a bad day😀 But it functioned for a while!
Fun Facts-Mother Teresa, though born in the then-Ottoman Empire and now-capital of Macedonia, Skopje, was Albanian. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work helping the poor in Calcutta, India.
Lord Byron, the eccentric British poet, was also a fan of Albania. After a visit 1809 he wrote “Land of Albania. Let me bend mine eyes on thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men”😀
It has been a pleasure to be in Albania and I’m sure we will come back, but now we’re off to Montenegro….