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Stevie P sails to the Americas
16th Sep 2009 - 21st Sep 2009
A storm is brewing

Luckily, or perhaps by design, none of our passages have required an early morning start. Thankfully, this allows for a lie-in and/or a morning of exploring before setting sail mid-afternoon. So having spent a bit of time writing my previous post in what appeared to be the only internet café on Lampedusa, I wandered round the local market and purchased some much needed fresh underwear (I was yet to come across a laundrette and the 34°+ heat was not helping matters). Much better.

So we left Lampedusa at around 14:00, and headed west towards the Tunisian mainland, unfortunately again under motor as there was barely a breath of wind. That evening just after dinner of (very nice) reheated pizza and salad, we were treated to a fantastic light show - an electrical storm at some distance of our starboard bow (see pics). This is not an uncommon sight - we had seen them from a distance on previous passages, but not at this magnitude, duration or intensity; the forked lightning lighting up the otherwise pitch-black landscape. There was no sound of thunder, and therefore we assumed it was quite a way off (remembering that your distance from the storm can be measured as the time between lightning flashes and thunder claps).

It was coming to the end of my watch - and the centre of the electrical storm was slowly coming round from being on our starboard bow to more on the beam (i.e. to our side), meaning that it was much closer than we had thought and that we were about to pass it. Looking directly up, what had been a clear, starry sky had turned in to thick, ominous cloud. We were just about to pass through the side of the storm. Almost instantly, the wind picked up from being 3-4 knots (effectively nothing considering we were going 6 through the water) to 25-30 knots on the nose (force 7 and too strong to sail). So it was time to quickly close the hatches and take down the sails that we had speculatively raised in case the wind picked up. The next few hours were spent crashing through waves - not much sleep was had. However, the weather passed and we were able to make good progress. We arrived in Port El Kantoui, just north of Sousse, in the early morning.

El Kantoui is a purpose built holiday resort on the East coast of Tunisia - the kind of place Thomson might sell you a package holiday. There are golden sandy beaches where you can go paragliding, hire pedalos and generally soak up the sun. It was good just to top up the tan, and relax for a day or so before parting company with Roger, Margaret and Rado.

After packing our bags (during the storm, mine had decided to unpack itself and throw its contents across the cabin) and giving Vittoria a good clean above and below decks, Rado, Roger and I got in a taxi to Tunis - they had a plane to catch whereas I had booked a night in the capital. Margaret had decided to stay on in El Kantoui for a couple of days.

I had thought the hotel I had booked was close to the airport, and was walking distance to tourist attractions such as the ruins of ancient Carthage. Unfortunately, it was a good 20 mins taxi ride to both. I also only checked in at 4pm, by which time the sun was setting and most places were closed or closing. It being Ramadan, there was not much going on in the city as everyone was in their homes waiting for sundown to break fast. The hotel I had booked also seemed to be a package tour destination - a big pool and close to the beach, but nothing around the hotel to speak of. So after a beer in the hotel bar, I retired to my room and decided to make the most of the following day.

After a decent buffet breakfast, I ordered a taxi to take me to the Carthage Museum. A pretty straightforward request. The taxi driver, obviously thought he spotted a naive tourist, and tried to convince me I wanted a 3hr tour around the entire city for 50 euro.
"No thanks. Just the museum." I insisted.
"I take you to Carthage, Sidi Bousaid, La Marsa, and Airport. 40 euro."
"No thanks. Just the museum."
"I have a wife and four children to feed."
"Well, get a better paid job then." I thought to myself.
As it was raining, and I had my rather large pack with me, and wanted to see as much as possible in a short space of time, he managed to talk me round, but only after we had negotiated a price of 30 euro.

So he took me round a few of the sights, Sidi Bousaid (a very pretty suburb overlooking both the Mediterranean and the city of Tunis), the President's house, the museum, finally dropping me off at the airport. I don't really whether I was getting a good deal or he was ripping me off, but I definitely got the impression it was more towards the latter.

Stepping out of the taxi, my bag, without asking, was loaded on to a trolley and taken to my check-in desk. At last, some decent service. Or so I thought. The porter demanded a euro for pushing my bag 15 metres on a trolley. It left me livid, and thinking that everyone in Tunisia was out to milk every last tourist dollar and cent out of you. They managed quite well with me - I could barely afford a coffee in the departure lounge. To be honest, Tunisia is not somewhere I'd rush to visit again.

So, the first leg of my adventure was over, and I was returning to the UK for a few weeks before rejoining Vittoria, Roger, and three new crew members for the trade wind passage across the Atlantic. This Mediterranean passage has been good preparation, and has taught me a good few lessons:

  • Sea-sickness shouldn't be a problem - although I was a little queasy at times, it didn't really affect me. Saying that, the swell in the Atlantic will be much bigger, but hopefully the winds should be behind us.
  • I'm really glad to be going on Vittoria, and with Roger as skipper. Some skippers run their boat very strictly, and Roger is definitely not one of those. The more laid-back approach suits me fine!
  • Travelling light is the backpackers' mantra for good reason. I don't think I'll need any jeans, and I may leave all the gadgets at home, just taking my iPhone (which I found invaluable - especially when I found some free WiFi) and relying on the odd internet café. Definitely should pack more boxers though.
  • I don't need to spend lots of money on any more specialist sailing gear. Yes, I will probably get wet, but that's all part of the fun. The weather and the water should be relatively warm where we're going, so I should dry out pretty quickly.
  • I really enjoy the night watches up on deck. Although I might get a bit bored after three weeks at sea.
  • There's really not much to do. Compared with sailing in the Solent, where you're changing direction every couple of minutes, when making long passages you just point the boat in the right direction and sit back and watch the world go by at 6 mph. You just need to avoid anything solid - e.g. rocks and other boats.

So in conclusion, a couple of weeks sailing round the Med was really enjoyable, as you might expect. Four different countries in 14 days and a pleasant mixture of sun, sea, and sailing, is an ideal break. Although it's not fully representative of an Atlantic crossing - it's good enough preparation. And all for just a couple of cheap flights and a small contribution to food on board. Perfect.

Next: A change of tack
Previous: Here, there be beasties (small, flying, bloodthirsty ones)

Diary Photos

Camels on Gammarth beach, Tunis

Camels on Gammarth beach again

View across Sidi Bousaid

Sidi Bousaid

The blue and white of Sidi Bousaid

Mosaic in Carthage Museum

Carthage ruins

More Carthage ruins


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