Photo: Sea turtle in the Bay of Naples. Credit: L. Borre.

Summary of Gyatso’s 2009 Cruising Season to Southern Italy, Tunisia, Malta, Greece and Turkey

Image: Map of Gyatso's 2009 voyage in the Mediterranean. Credit: L. Borre.
Map of Gyatso’s 2009 voyage through the Mediterranean from Italy to Tunisia, Malta, Greece and then Turkey.

2009 Cruising Season Summary

To say we touched the shores of five different countries on three continents during the 2009 cruising season sounds like a lot, but while we were underway, it just felt like we were slowly island hopping our way from Italy to Turkey. What was impressive is that this year’s cruising grounds happened to take us through the crossroads of the eastern and western basins of the Mediterranean Sea and across the cultural divide between Europe and Africa, and Christianity and Islam.

We departed from Gaeta, Italy, in the first week of May and reached Marmaris, Turkey, our planned “outbound” destination in the Mediterranean, on 1 October. Not long after setting out, David decided to attend a retreat at Rabten-Choeling Tibetan Center in Switzerland in late May, so we “parked” Gyatso in Vibo Valentia, Italy, for a month. Lisa spent the time helping our friend Jayne transfer Aorangi, her classic Swan 47, from her winter base in Gaeta to Sicily.

We spent a major part of the cruising season visiting Southern Italy, including Sicily and her islands – the Aeolians, Ustica, Egadi and even the remote island of Pantelleria. From Marsala, Sicily, we sailed overnight to Tunisia where we spent a week visiting the ancient city of Carthage and ‘clearing out’ of Europe just long enough to renew our tourist visas and avoid VAT tax on the boat before sailing on to Malta.

Our stay in Malta was longer than expected due to engine repairs, but we were rewarded with time to explore the small island nation and to see friends Alan and Joan of Moonstruck who were on their way west and back across the Atlantic. We sailed back to Sicily, enjoying time in the beautiful and historic city of Siracusa before sailing east to Greece.

A month in Greece was just enough to get a taste for this beautiful country and to whet our appetite for more. So far, our time in Turkey has been short. We arranged to have Gyatso hauled-out and stored on land before catching a flight back to the U.S. a week after arriving.

In 2009, we sailed almost 2,000 miles and visited 16 mainland and 22 island ports along the way. Of the 39 passages we made, six were overnight, and the longest was 145 miles. Our daytime passages were longer on average than last year, at 40 miles per day. The longest day sail was 73 miles across the “instep” to the “heel” of the boot of Italy and the shortest was to cover the four mile distance between the islands of Vulcano and Lipari. We found ourselves tied to a dock or town quay 25 times and at anchor or on a mooring 13 times.

The sailing conditions in the Med continued to live up to the reputation of either too little or too much wind. With more frequent and longer passages than last year, we found ourselves learning to live with motoring and motor sailing rather than setting out in contrary or seasonally strong winds with names like scirocco (southerly) and meltemi (northerly).

We encountered a few more American boats this year than last, especially when we arrived in Turkey, a popular cruising base. However, we spent most of the cruising season, socializing or waiting out weather with French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, German, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, British and Australian cruisers. At the marina in Marmaris, we found not one, but two other Tayana 37s, bringing our season total to three. The other was an American-flagged Tayana 37 that docked right next to us in Malta.

For the past two years, we’ve been asked the question, “Where are you heading?” many times. Our quick answer for the lack of anything better to explain where we were going was always, “Turkey.” Even though for us, the cruising life is more about the journey than the destination, we have always found it useful to have some goal in mind, otherwise it would be way too easy to find ourselves lingering a bit too long in any one place thinking, “What’s the rush?” And just when we think we have found the ideal seaside community where we could easily spend the rest of our lives, we pull-up the anchor or drop the dock lines and point our bow back to sea. Another gem is yet to be discovered and appreciated just around the next cape or across the next strait.

Given our interests, planning a route through the Med has threatened to be overwhelming. Rather than trying to see everything and visit everywhere, we have focused on themes for our explorations: ancient maritime history; geology and natural history; and food and wine. This year’s cruise did not disappoint.

We were both very moved to see archeologists at work on a newly discovered mass grave from the battle of Himera, a deciding battle in Phoenician and Greek History that took place on the north coast of Sicily. The find had recently been written-up on National Geographic’s website. Beyond that, we’d be hard-pressed to pick favorites among the ancient sites we visited, including: Carthage, Cumae, Delphi, Paestum, Siracusa, Segestum and Motya.

We were also awed by the volcanoes we saw during the year and will never forget the view from near the top of Mt. Vesuvius toward the Bay of Naples, the thrill of watching Stromboli erupt every 20 minutes as we sailed by at night, the sense of amazement while hiking to the rim of Grand Crater on the island of Vulcano, and the majesty of Mt. Etna when we spent a night in its shadows on the eastern shore of Sicily. We visited the Campi Flegrei (“fields of fire”) volcanic landscape near Naples on several occasions.

In the food and wine department, we had great fun exploring the culinary delights and regional cuisines of Southern Italy from Rome to Naples and the mountains of Campania to Sicily and her islands. We’ve just scratched the surface of Greek cuisine and can’t wait to savor the many flavors of Turkey when we return. Lisa made it a regular habit to shop in the local markets, returning to Gyatso with her shopping bags full of colorful fruits and vegetables. David kept track of the wines we tasted by removing the labels and compiling them into a notebook. We became fans of white wines like Falanghina, Inzolia and Greco di Tufa; red wines such as Aglianico, Piederosso and Nero d’Avola; and fortified wines such as Malvasia and Marsala. In keeping with the “when in Rome” philosophy, we also enjoyed many evenings sipping Prosecco.

Perhaps we enjoyed the Mediterranean diet a bit too much. Either that or the effects of living aboard a boat for four years finally caught up with us. Instead of living aboard this winter, we decided to spend two extra months in our homeport to focus on health and fitness. We’ve also been working on writing projects, including an article about Sicily for the Ocean Cruising Club’s journal Flying Fish.

These are just some of the highlights from our third year of cruising in Europe and the Med. If you are interested in learning more about our trip, visit the logbooks and photo galleries on this website.  We’ve recently brought the website up-to-date and also added a few short video clips. And based on the feedback we received this past year, we’ll go back to sending out occasional email updates when we’ve added another logbook or photo gallery to the website.

What’s Next? We return to Turkey next week and are scheduled to re-launch on 1 March and hope to get underway in early April, depending on weather. We plan to spend another year or two in the Mediterranean before heading toward home again. The Black Sea and more of the Eastern Med are on the list of possibilities.

Here is a photo gallery with some of the highlights from our 2009 cruising season:

David & Lisa
Annapolis, MD
1 February 2010