Broken Ribs, Landmines and Movie Stars

There are moments in every journey where you think: I am tired.  You make silly mistakes, like shallow stepping onto a dinghy and finding yourself in the water instead of in the boat.  You accept ridiculous fates, like assuming that any and every key component of your home aboard will break just as you need it.  You dismiss the facts that you are arriving to port with fumes for diesel, gasps of air for water, and only a doomsday prepper’s cabinet for food.  We have sailed and motored about seventeen hundred and fifty miles these last months.  As our nine-year-old summed up, “Split to Barcelona is a two-hour flight?!  It took us three months to get here!”  Ahh, yachting.

In some ways, it took coming to Croatia to absorb some of the splendor of these Mediterranean islands.  I said upon entry that the Cretans were humorless, that they were polite but perhaps weighted with a bleak history of communism and war, but as we fly out of the country, I think I have spoken abruptly and without even the insight of a few weeks’ observation.  Just as NYC is not to Charleston is not to Los Angeles, Dubrovnik is not to Split is not to Vela Luka.

We arrived in Cavtat easily, like yachting easily.  Along the way, we picked up a lost fender floating in the sea, lost and retrieved a boat hook, and went swimming (illegally) for some fishing line that would now no longer be someone else’s prop problem.  We dropped our anchor off customs and backed Madame Geneva stern to on the dock.  Then, after partially clearing in, we motored to the bay on the other side of the peninsula to await the policia in the morning.  Anchoring was a frustrating chore as I repeatedly pulled up more and more weed.  We finally relocated a skinny section close to shore and found a good hold.

Cavtat is a very pretty town.  Cafes line the harbor.  Swimming holes are filled with, well, swimmers.  Working and pleasure boats compete for space in what almost seemed a lake side resort.  Of course, when the winds kicked in in the middle of the night, it was anything but a lake, but with the pine trees and overall pleasantness, there was an air of ease.  We hopped the ferry to Dubrovnik because we had heard that that was not to be missed.  Cruise ships filled the entrance to the harbor of the walled and castled city.  Game of Thrones trinket shops numbered nearly as many as the same fared restaurants.  Tourists milled and meandered through the stoned streets and down the tight alleys.  Miss it.

We couldn’t miss it entirely though.  We had to arrange the pickup of a boat part, which may sound strange to those who lack the experience of internationally locating parts for boats.  Rarely can you find what you need.  Improvisations are often necessary.  When it comes to extremely specific parts, like a Norwegian rubber gasket for the bow thruster, you are at the mercy of a great web of customs, distributors, and no set address.  So an exchange like this becomes reality:

We sailed on from Cavtat and went in search of a more serene setting and easily found it on the island of Mjlet.  With only a few other boats moored at a distance, the kids jumped off of Madame Geneva and swam to shore and climbed the rocks.  The next few days had us buzzing around anchorages and harbors on these islands off of Split.  We found isolated bays and charter packed mooring fields.  We found quaint picturesque towns and stunning natural pockets of safe waters deep within green forested fingers.  We dropped anchor ahead of a massive incoming storm, with intention to relocate to a mooring for the big winds, only to find ourselves in the throws of an incredible lightening storm.  We sat in the cockpit as the rain washed over the boat and the wind whipped free a neighbor’s dinghy, that Justin lassoed with throw rope.  We watched the hand of light, with fingers spread touch the surrounding mountains and illuminate the masts swinging in the storm.

Once boat babies now dinghy pilots

Afternoon tornados

We met up with our friends (and neighbors), Lisa and Brandon, in a bay across from Hvar.  Our attempt to come into Hvar to meet them off the ferry was ill-fated, with weather and a packed harbor.  The idea of dropping an anchor and using stern lines to tie up alongside tightly moored boats (still without a bow thruster) was simply not desirable.  Our neighbors were quickly introduced to the inconvenience of this life choice, and equally to the splendor.  Moored well off from most of the boats, Madame Geneva swung softly in the clear blue water.  Crags of white jagged rock split from the sea.  We jumped from the boat and swam.

And then, because as we must remember I am tired, I found myself in the unfortunate position of having the throttle of the dinghy lodged firmly into my ribs.  How many days have we jumped into Clover (our trusted dinghy) and zipped to and from the boat?  Six years of familiarity. Six years of anticipating movement, of leaning forward to cut into any notable waves.  Six years of being doused by waves.  And yet this day, I hop in and Justin takes off and I simply fly into the throttle.  Bruised or busted ribs?  Whatever the diagnosis (apparently broke and dislocated 2 ribs), the pain is excruciating, apparently long-lasting, and rather inconvenient as we are wrapping up our journey and days away from needing to break down the boat for her months on the hard.

Bert’s Market, Folly Beach sticker on the signpost….

MG moored top row, 3 from the left

Not to be deterred, we take our friends to Komiza on the island of Vis.  We have many ideas of how to spend our time here but all agreed that we needed to get off the boat and take a walk.  In my excitement, I suggest going up the mountain.  We decide to walk to the church of St. Nikole and assess from there.  Like a fortress, the church sits high along the hillside surrounded by vineyards and groves.  Like a fortress, the church has bricked in entries and conspicuously long and narrow embrasures.  Seeing these ports for weapons opens your eyes to this seeded and torn history where religion is on the defensive.  Sailing through Croatia, with its natural beauty and bounty, it is easy to forget that not even thirty years ago, a war raged through and tore its people into the six countries of Yugoslavia.

Literally extending an olive branch

We walk on further to get to Tito’s cave.  The road overlooks the sinking town and then the much less populated anchorages with pockets of sand that brightly illuminate the sea from this elevation.  Brandon and Lisa decide to turn back toward town; we hail a passing taxi for a ride up the hill to the base of the cave.  From there, we must climb up the many stairs to the hideouts of the infamous warrior and dictator, Josep Broz Tito.  A fighter from WWI, Tito went on to become the leader of the resistance in WWII, a communist revolutionary and eventually a popular dictator.   From the top cave, we could follow a trail to the highest point, Mt. Hum, and then back down to the town of Komiza.

We encountered a group of people who had driven to the high point.  “Make sure your kids stay on the path,” their guide said.  “Yes, we will.”  Technically Quinn was on the path, just a different one that the well-travelled and graveled road we were on.  We figured he was concerned of a fall from a sheer drop from the jagged, rugged rock with the thorny brush below.  “No, they must stay on the path because of the landmines.”  Suddenly we were no longer “strolling” down the sharp face of a former Yugoslavic stronghold with its radio towers, hidden caves, and remembrance chapels, we were trekking along a narrow, broken shale switchback with leaves, twigs and snagging vines whipping limbs and faces while we devotedly watched for the trail’s markings.  Let’s just say it was easy to keep everyone on the path when the alternative was the click of a land mine.

As we prepared Madame Geneva for her seasons’ slumber, we rented an apartment in old town Split.  Far more cosmopolitan though still quite touristed, Split offered old castle walls and churches, narrow alleys and broken fascia, mixed with boutiques and museums.  We discussed how even what seems the smallest choice affects our lives in ways unmeasurable.  How without Che, there would be no Gherty nor Quinn.  How if I had not graduated from college with so much debt, I would have gone into theatre.  How differently things would be if Justin continued with music and was part of a rock and roll band.  We talked about my time working as an extra on a movie set and how much time it requires to prepare for even a few seconds of film.

How odd then when we awoke on the day of our departure to a band playing in the large square three floors below that we should see the filming of a movie underway.  And there in our square, while musicians played and pretended to play, and dancers danced to and without music, we watched as Owen Wilson and Selma Hayek walked and chatted.  We sat perched on the window’s ledge, shutters thrown open wide and marveled in that last hour before our long journey home began.

Owen & Selma BWRarely do we know what lies ahead.  We continuously doubt and encourage our decision to live in this fashion.  We are exalted.  We are humbled.  We fear we are Icarus.  We sense we are Odysseus.  These days have been marked in hours and years, and seemed as such.  This adventure is not yet over.  But with any great adventure, there is a time for a return home.  And now this is that time.  But for the then, rarely do we know.

Getting the Anchor Set for the Last Time

One week until home, one night until the marina, three night until the hotel. That’s our plan for today, Tuesday. Last time anchoring and jumping off the boat. Last time yelling back and forth from the other side of the boat. Wait never mind that happens when we’re docking too. Last time for Mom and Dad to make sure nobody has dislodged the anchor. About a year ago I would say last time swimming when we want to, but we do live on the beach so it’s different now. Funny how the last time we anchor we can’t get anchored the first three or so times. We kept hitting rocks and the sand was terrible which was kind of funny. Also, before we got here Juan (a seagull we named because he was the only Juan. Get it?), maybe not the actual Juan but a Juan landed on our dinghy just watching us saying goodbye. And while we were coming to where we are now, a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins came across our bow and jumped out of the water saying bye. And now there is a charter boat right next to us probably not saying bye. Now there is a big red moon out and when the sun was setting, we were howling and a bunch of dogs (and people) were joining us. Now we’re chilling with a cool breeze and broken gauges so we don’t know how much fuel or water is left. The boat is a mess and really salty and tomorrow will be lots of work. Also, Brandon and Lisa will be leaving tomarrow morning. Even though we’re all sad to be leaving, we’re happy to be going back too. I would say stay tuned but it’ll be a while…

Stay tuned for a while and see you soon, Gherty 

The Last Day on Anchor

By: Quinn Walling

Today is the last day on this trip we will have at anchor for at least half a year. 😢. Tomorrow we will go to a marina and stay there for two days. But today I will tell you about what we did. So, I will tell you what we did today: we ate lunch at a restaurant and then looked at the market, which was closed. Then Dad gave us (the kids) 40 Kuna and told us we could walk around and get stuff with it. The first thing I bought was an apple cream filled doughnut, and Gherty and Che got ice cream. Then we walked down to the market and got Skittles and candy. After that we went back to the boat, but we had not put the dingy in the water so we had a guy take Gherty, Che, Lisa, and Mom back while Brandon, Dad, and I swam back. After that we played Yahtzee and I won, and that brings us to now, with Mom about to make dinner and me writing, man I’ll miss travelling…

That’s all. Bye. I really will miss traveling. This might be my last blog… EVER. Bye


Thorns and Caves

Haven’t written anything for the last two weeks (by the way we were banned from the rest of the trip). That was a big mistake because as soon as I got to my home screen it started spamming me with updates, offers, and other wonderful things I could care less for. Anyways I am going to write about what happened one day ago. So, about a week ago we met up with some of our friends (also our neighbours) and they got to stay on our boat. Skip ahead five days later and we needed something to do for the day. The anchorage was a huge bay with beaches on the shore which were divided by some houses here and there. Above the town there was a bunch of vineyards and farther up there was a church. Towering over all these subjects there was a huge mountain. We planned something and with our friends (their names are Brandon and Lisa) we made our way to the church. It wasn’t far and along the way we saw cats, dogs and cicadas. Sadly, one cat only had one eye; it was a black and white cat. It was also very small, and it wasn’t with any of her or his parents. We passed an alley way that had a mom cat and her kitten. We were just about to pass it and all there was a loud shrieking sound coming from the alley. When cats want to, they can be as loud as dogs which is very annoying in a house. We walked past them and started to walk up to the church. We pasted tons of vineyards and came to a sign that said the church (Saint Nikole) was a little bit to the right. When we arrived, we started to look around and it was cool. We walked up a steep driveway. To the right there were two rows of glass and stone graves. One had the bible made from stone. Also, another one had a small glass rose sitting in front of the tomb. Someone was around 96 when he or she died. Then I think Mom and Dad took a picture of what the church looked like because I am really rushed right now by Mom to finish.

We walked up a rounding road going up the mountain and stopped at a road that has a little split. We were very high up already, but we decided (by “we” I mean Mom) that we should go farther up. Bradon and Lisa didn’t want to continue and were joking around that they would rather sit under an umbrella and eat cheese and drink wine. We split up and as soon as we were about to continue a taxi came by. Mom and Dad flagged it down and said that we needed a little ride (NOT TO THE TOP) to a trail to go to the top. We got in the van and went to a trail that lead to the top of the mountain. When we arrived, there were steps to the right and the man said to take them to get to the top. We paid and started our walk to the top. To be honest I forgot how long it took to get to some caves called Tito’s caves, but it took a while. The caves were small but went far back. There were two and a big man-made stone wall in front of them. Dad said it was a good place for soldiers to camp out. Not the kind of camping out with marshmallows and sleeping bags BUT THE KIND THAT YOU NEED TO HIDE TO SURVIVE.

Anyways, we started to walk again when Dad looked up and saw a huge spider web and a huge spider. It is cool how that such a tiny thing can do nothing but produce silk from their own… butt? I forgot what it was called. We started to see tons of spider webs and one we saw was in the middle of killing a fly. Precious.  After another long successful time trying to not slip on rocks, trying not to go on the wrong trail, and not dying from heat we finally made it to the top. It was an amazing view of the town and the bay. Across the bay was a long and tall island that had a population of 11 people. They must know each other well there. We were going to walk down a steep and rocky trail but then a group of people started to talk to Mom and Dad, and for anyone who knows my mom and dad and how they love to talk well us kids had to sit through that. After Mom and Dad talked to them, we and the group of people said goodbye. The weird and awkward part happened after, we started to walk RIGHT next to them for a while. It’s kind of like saying goodbye to someone in a store and seeing them every aisle. I haven’t been in this situation, but I know someone (or something) out there has.  We found the trail, but Dad got stopped by the person that was leading the people and told Dad this. Make sure your kids don’t step on mines. And he kept saying that for five more times. We made our way down the mountain, and we followed the arrows warning us about mines. Quinn got paranoid. Gherty and I fell, tripped, and we got scratched by thorns and rocks. We finally made it down and the trail ended by a road. We were still a long way from town and my forehead was on fire. We started down the long and windy road that lead into town. After about forty minutes we made it back into town. We basically ran down the road to get to sea level. We found a café and slumped down into the chairs. Exhausted, we got a drink and some food. We picked this café because we didn’t see our friends so we decided to stay at a place that we were sure they would see us. It turns out they were out at the farthest beach, fast asleep for (I’m not sure) thirty minutes. We finally met and went back to the boat. Since this was a while ago, I don’t recall what happened when we got back. 

So far in all the blog I have written this is by far the longest. This is the longest one I have ever written and it is the last one I will be writing for a long time. The shortest was properly around 67 words. The good old times where I didn’t know how to spell dolphins. When we get home, we will probably be jet lagged for a while, but as soon as we are out of that state, we will probably go by the store called Bert’s. Anyways I need to go help everyone with a lot of stuff. And this is now were I leave all yall. Farewell, adios, and goodbye.

Prickly Bushes and Cliffs.

So first off, we’re in Croatia and we decided to “walk” up a mountain. Great idea, right? And another thing is that this is when Lisa and Brandon (our neighbors)  came so we decided to “walk” up a mountain with them. Then Dad brought us over to the land because we were on the boat. And we started walking and about an hour and a half in, Lisa and Brandon started going back and we took a taxi up the rest of the way to the caves. Then we walked up a bunch of steps and saw a little cave with old walls in the entrance. Unfortunately, it was pretty small but then we realized there was another bigger one a bit farther, so we walked there. It was big and cool, with old walls over most of the entrance and two different sections it was awesome. The one side had a different wall over the entrance there which I could climb easily. The cave went pretty far back too. The other side was completely open, and the back of the cave had two holes which Quinn and I took a picture in. Then we started going to the very top of the mountain because there was a direct path back to the town. It took a while with a few stops because we were so hot and tired, but we got there! The highest part of the island! There was a chapel at the top which definitely surprised me. Then we started looking for the path down and realized we had to go backwards. So, we went that way and bumped into a tour group and Mom and Dad started talking to them while we tried to skip rocks on the ground. Then while we were about to go the tour guide said not to go off the path because of the LANDMINES!!! What the heck!!! And we could tell he was serious about the landmines, so we were paranoid the rest of the way. We were also very tired, so we fell a lot. Well Quinn didn’t seem as tired as the rest of us, but I still think he was ready to rest. After an hour and a half of whacking prickle bushes into each other we got to the road. After that it was easy, and we found a restaurant and collapsed with chicken wok and cold drinks. By the way never ask me if the hike was worth until it’s done!

Stay tuned, Gherty!

Caves and Landmines

By: Quinn Walling

We had an idea to walk up a mountain. At the time we did not know how tiring it would be. It was a long walk with many views along the way, and mountain around us. The walk was about 1 hour thirty minutes, I think. Anyways we were trying to get to the Tito’s caves by FOOT. (We had Mom’s and Dad’s friends our next-door neighbors Brandon and Lisa walking up with us, but they ended up going back down the mountain when we got in the taxi). It would be a extra mile and a half if we did not take a taxi (but we did) so once we got there (from the taxi) it was only up some steps. There were big spiders in their webs catching flies and looking for food. We got to the Tito’s caves and they had walls of stone around them. Here is a picture of Gherty and me sitting in a cave. Anyways, the spiders were really cool, they were called Ozyptila spiders (I think). Once we were done with the caves we came to a little church building at the highest point on the island and ate a snack we packed there. Right before we started down the path we ran into a tour guide (not literally) and he said to Dad, “Make sure your children stay on the path,” and Dad said “I know, because of the cliffs, right,” and the guy said “No, because of the landmines.” So we spent the hike down worrying about landmines. The hike was about four miles long and we were all scared because of the landmines.

*Two hours later* (That is about how long the hike back took)

Once we got back down we had to find a conspicuous place (Dad’s words) to have a snack (we had chicken wok) at a restaurant. Fun Fact #1: it looked like kindergarten at the restaurant because of the chair colors (Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow). In the middle of the meal we found Brandon and Lisa, then finished the meal and went back to the boat. 

Last blog this trip! Stay Tuned for next trip!

Quinn, Signing out.

I want to go to that!

Every family has their quirky unique sayings that are odd but fitting for them. With our Madame Geneva crew we have travelled and seen a castle on a hill or a distant cove or island and said ” I want to go to that.” I’m thinking this morning about yet another Fourth of July flying flying our American flag abroad. This time in a harbor full of flags with two headed dragons and medieval shields on them. We are surrounded by towering dry mountains and signs written in a language where letters are often backwards, or numbers, or backward numbers, or a space helmet with a line through it or upside down backwards space helmet numbers with a line through or near it. We are in Tivat, Montenegro, former Yugoslavia on American Independence Day. There probably won’t be a parade today unless, coincidentally, today marks the day in 1991 we bravely beat back the Macedonian insurrection. The fireworks for the entire region have been used up back in Malta as they set off rockets at all hours of the day and night, every day and night, cuz….they like exploding stuff in Malta I guess. I genuinely miss the picnics and barbecues, beach parties, potato salad and all American sparklers and babies 4th of July holiday times back home. There aren’t any Shriners over here driving tiny cars with funny hats but there are lots of tiny cars and plenty of funny hats here too now that I think about it.

In Montenegro we have seen tractors loaded with hay holding traffic up and a Rolls Royce driving down the pier at the marine after having rolled out of its super yacht. Yep! We left the east coast of Italy last week needing to leave the EU before our time ran out and we violated our visas. It was always the plan to come to Montenegro. Its the only non EU country around the Adriatic Sea except for Albania but they have pirates so we stayed 50 miles offshore as we transited north. It’s beautiful and safe and, why wouldn’t you want to go to that? The natural scenery here is simply spectacular. It took nearly 2 hours to reach the port from the mouth of the bay and we are only 1/3rd of the way inshore. Huge, hot, modern and ancient with friendly locals and English! We make a point not to be the pushy tourists who demand everyone cater to them and speak English rather thinking ourselves as travelers gently dipping our toes into cultures ever so gratefully and carefully. Nearly everywhere we have been in Europe the past 2 years we have been able to communicate. I can order a beer and ask for the toilet in German, French, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and broken English. My Irish is second to none. My Sicilian and Sardinian are suspiciously similar to my Italian, I just wave my arms more spastically as it becomes clear I’m not getting through. Maltese and Montenegrin though..we are all thankful they have had the experience to recognize that if any of us stand a chance of eating meals, buying fuel or purchasing marine hardware and actually paying for it then english is our best bet.

Safely tied to Oscar dock in Porto Montenegro and making acquaintance with marina neighbors from England and charterers from Russia we have gotten quite comfortable this week. We have been traveling hard of late and nobody in our crew seems to mind some real down time. We played and swam at the pool for a whole day. The kids likely swimming several miles each and sleeping hard that night. We acquainted ourselves with the local bus system and explored some of the amazing towns in the bay like Kotor, the ancient walled city and Perast, the beachy town just ashore of the hand built island, with a hand built church on it, “our lady of the rocks”. Seriously cool. The buses travel along the steep shoreline around the bay and are modern and cheap. They fill them up to capacity though no one has a cage with a chicken in it or an open topped bucket of fish like in the Caribbean. The driver smokes and misses the stone walls on one side and the cars, trucks, other buses, bicycles, motor scooters, Russian guys in ill fitting speedos and their mustaches by literally centimeters. We actually hit a taxi cab and kept going. Several times the driver would lean on the horn and wave arms to signal the oncoming traffic to back up and move so we could get by. One car had only 3 wheels on the pavement at one point, it’s right front dangling over the sea! I mean, fun!

In an attempt to stave off the heat and expand our horizons we looked though our Montenegrin options and found that well inland, across the entire country (which is roughly the size of Connecticut) lies the Tara River gorge. It’s the second largest river gorge in the world. Second only to the weee Colorado river gorge. Let’s all say it together now “I want to go to THAT!”

We went to that. We drank the water from the river, donned wetsuits and helmets and rafted the whitewater, ate trout from the river and beef from the valley (the children were oddly smitten with the powered chicken noodle soup “a la Lipton” appetizer and fried donut balls). Some cliffs rose 3,000 meters. The air was cool, the water was cold, the checkpoint bridge in the woods to Bosnia was guarded by soldiers…wait, what?

Yep. We paddled to Bosnia. Apparently that’s a thing you can do. Being the right side river bank of the Tara as the river is the border here when we beached our raft and climbed the waterfall were were in Bosnia. Ok kids, add another country to your list. “Yes, Gherty, Bosnia is a country. Well of course you’ve never heard of it. I never expected we would go to it. We already covered the topic of genocide in Berlin and Amsterdam a few months ago. I mean, how often must we discuss such things.? Hey look, deer prints in the mud! A butterfly!” Ahhhh homeschooling.

So today we’ll celebrate our country’s independence in Montenegro, I will mop the oil from the engine pan and look for the source of the slow leak, hooray. Then tomorrow we will clear customs and head north from Yugoslavia to….wait for it…..Yugoslavia! No, now it’s Croatia and by all accounts another magnificent former Soviet gem on the Adriatic. Happy 4th July. Independence is wonderful.

Stay tuned.

Much love.

The Gods Must be Crazy

We awoke early Monday morning to the violent slamming of the v-berth door.  All thought flattened, compressed and buried, and we sat up to the roll of the waves on the beam.  5:15 am and somehow daylight.  The last nights at anchor in Otranto had been mast moving and stern presenting but still somehow lulling.  But now, with the daybreak upon us and an errant horn blast from nearby, we figured we should get moving.  In the cockpit, we found the source of the horn:  a neighboring sailboat once again had lost its hold and was fast approaching another boat.  Engines on, arms waving, voices spirited, and the whine and crank of a windlass confirmed our early departure design.

We played the day right.  Boiled water for our coffee while we brushed teeth and checked electronics.  We needed only to hoist the dinghy and its engine aboard.  We counted the waves and waited the lull.  Justin unloaded the dinghy of its seat, gas, lock and line.  I received all at the transom, keeping the dinghy close but watching the waves and shoving off with any swell that would send the little boat under the big boat.  So many moments of this ‘yachting’ are consumed with the anticipation of miniscule periods of time.  To get the engine of the dinghy onto Madame Geneva takes a calm, beatific pause.  Steadying the beam of the inflatable to the descended transom requires the assistant to sit with feet on the dinghy while being at the ready to receive a 50 lb engine from the captain.  It just ain’t easy.

The ‘hard’ part done, we moved to getting the dinghy itself onboard.  Justin attached the spin halyard so I could hoist (literally wrap the line around the winch and press a button…not exactly the most difficult part).  Boat lowered back on deck, I moved to join the captain on the bow to flip the boat for the most aerodynamic ride.  I held the bow of the tender and on the count of three (how arbitrary is that, by the way?!), we flipped.  And the wind grabbed the small boat for a sail and took me on a ride. I came down with my right leg crumbling beneath me as my left leg slipped between the life lines and the beam of Madame Geneva.  The pain took my breath.  We verified that I did not in fact break my leg and carried on with our departure.

After many days of still air, we found breeze.  On the nose.  The water was small waved and short in set, exactly the kind of pattern that our fair lady despises.  Autopilot was quickly overruled for some hand steering in order to avoid the harsh slamming of the bow.  We had only 40 miles to Brindisi, our point of departure from Italy.  We were doing the Schengan dance, bow out of the EU or else be stamped with “Illegal Immigrant” on passports with a five-year ban.  Not exactly an option.

Three hours later we were still banging up the coast, and only ten miles along.  Green was the crew when we went dark.  The house bank of batteries shut down and we had no electronics.  No charts, no depth, no autopilot…nothing. [captains note: the banging was rather harsh but not unprecedented. In an extremely rare, I’d say freak, instance the house battery isolator housing shattered leaving no connections between our battery bank and everything DC we have come to depend on!] The only anchorages were exposed to the wind (and we had no windlass with the absence of battery).  The last marina was off our port, but had shallow depths outside of its jetties and we had no depth meter.  We decided to head in.

The bow thruster, now working, could not be controlled as (we suspected) the controller was powered by the house battery, not the forward battery.  This would prove to be an incorrect assumption (turned out that our controller had broken loose and was swimming in sea water in the bow but who was to know THAT?!) but regardless we had no bow thruster and were steaming into a skinny marina.  The bow is loose without a thruster.  She is a kitten responding to a sheep dog.  God love the captain.  My heart was faltering and his was in it.  Keel likely inches from bottom, Madame Geneva was pulled from the stern and we swung between two Med moored boats.

San Foca turned out to be quite the respite.   We rented a car and were able to clear out of Italy (even if it took two days, and had Justin in a sealed off room with no means of communicating).  We received a brand new marine stereo (thank you Fusion for honoring a questionable warranty!).  We jumped off of cliffs.  I was told I look five years younger and had the name of a movie star.

We had traveled from Malta to Syracusa and down along the tickle zone of Italy.  We were wary of the southern shores of Italy but we were weather indulged and anchored well.  We rented bikes and swam in the late days of preseason southern resorts.  We carried on to Otranto, which was a delight in design, shopping, food and wine (it helped too that there was literally a food & wine festival going on!).  We found street vendors of second-hand wares (or in my case a first-hand ware of vintage seventies designer glasses).  We found gelato.  We found restored frescoed ceilings in cathedrals with glassed walls of human remains (skulls and bones piled twenty foot high).

We found we could have cleared out of Otranto instead of Brindisi.

With all of this, one thing is clear:  without the obstacle, we have no idea the triumph.  Without our fouled approach to Brindisi, we would not have driven through the lower lands of the Italian boot.  We would not have seen the pale yellow fields interwoven with olive trees.  We would have missed the well stacked ruins in the farmlands.  We would not have found the steps to the Adriatic Sea.  We would not have realized you can pass a motor scooter alongside a car with oncoming traffic on a country road.

I do not know how many more beats my heart has but I know that each one now is strong.  And anyway, I look younger and have the name of a movie star.

Much love and stay tuned.

All Roads, Wait, No Roads Lead to Malta

With the promise of Indian food, we set off for Malta.  It is amazing to me how the tantalizing carrot changes form.  Never had I, nor any of our Madame Geneva crew, set foot in Malta but we felt certain we could locate a non-Italian restaurant within the former British territory.  Not to worry: our retirement from pizza, grilled vegetables and vongole has been short-lived; the thrill is back.  What we knew of Malta was little. There was the lore of catapulting severed heads across the bay and the shoving of bodies on crosses in retaliation, but really it was a less studied and more instinctive knowledge that drove our desire to leave the seas of Sicily and dip into the hot, almost African waters.

We announced our arrival, not in a “We come this way from Messina!” fashion but more of a “don’t get mistaken for a refugee boat” kind of way.  10 kilometers out we radioed the Coast Guard advising of our status and intent, and again at 1 kilometer out.  Given permission to enter the harbor, after Justin and I said “Marsamxett” about fifty times to one another without the finger on the VHF before Justin confidently spoke the name of bay we were approaching to the port police, we motored past the huge sandstone walls of the fort and old city of Valetta.  We arranged space at the marina just past the navy station, at the foot of the hill ascending to the gated and fortified city.

Bravely, we set out in search of our promised dinner.  Novices, we walked.  The heat baked through our shoes and soaked our shirts.  The kids deteriorated and turned on each other.  Water was drained.  The path along the harbor was deceptive and followed unforeseen fingers deep into the ‘new’ city with stores boarded up.  And that was only a mile walk.  We found a pub to regroup.  Cooled down with Sprites and the tiniest of gin and tonics, we searched on Google Maps and found a restaurant along the bus route.  We were all growing up:  we could now say Marsamxett AND we knew to take the bus everywhere.

We used our days dockside to take care of boat projects, including fixing the battery charger and water heater.  In the afternoons, we had late lunches and explored the history of Malta.  Very few times do I feel like we are nailing homeschooling.  Most of the time, I fret over all the things I neglected to teach them.  I remind myself (or more likely, Justin reminds me) that the experiences and exposure alone are the greatest education.  But then, there are times that I feel the universe slides into home (and in a non-apocalyptic way).  As we journeyed into Sardinia and Sicily, I focused their WWII history lessons on the Mediterranean.  They watched a documentary that included Malta’s involvement.  How cool to take tours of the old map rooms, infirmaries, and forts where the stories told were echoes of what they had already learned!  Truly, homeschool, check!

Valetta was fully adorned for their film festival.  Red and gold tapestries hung between the buildings that stretched dramatically up and down the steep stoned streets.  Slippery sidewalks were carved into pocked steps as the declines and inclines sharpened.  Pedestrian bridges stood high over courtyards and alleys.  Red carpets were rolled out from the outdoor theatre and down stairs high above one of the many Roman Catholic churches.  Café tables and umbrellas, decorating the centers of streets, did not deter the working cars or trucks moving through the town.  One evening, in search of a perch over the Grand Harbor to hear what we could of the Queen tribute band, we instead stumbled into a four-piece jazz band playing on a bridge while crowds of people sat where they could to hear.  The stairs leading down to the bridge, the café tables, and the thick stone railings were all filled.  The notes danced along the narrow pathways.  All roads lead to jazz.

We cruised up to St. Julian’s Bay, a few miles to the north.  Barely were we out of the harbor before we turned into the bay.  We found a nice spot outside of the chaos.  Anchorage is allowed just outside of the local boat moorings.  Boy do these people know how to take a permission and exploit it!  The sea and wind, so settled, we had no concerns with the anchor at only 3 times the depth.  We then proceeded to watch as yachts motored at 7 kts into the bay, drop anchor while in forward, slam into reverse and leave their boats.  Swinging and dragging, no one seemed particularly fazed.  We were fascinated and determined to cancel our plans to go to the film festival (lest we leave our boat unattended).  Instead, we had a lovely Greek dinner and found the greatest supermarket.  Ahhh, provisions!

Fully loaded, we left the festive St. Julian’s for Gozo, still a part of Malta but its own island.  Cliffs, caves, and waters so many shades of blue surrounded Madame Geneva.  I dropped my most perfect anchor, in a narrow patch of sand.  Dug in, we dove in.  The many worlds we lived in during those few days seem quite unimaginable.  We were one of two sailboats.  We were swinging with and almost into five aggressively vacationing tour boats.  We avoided swimming into jet skis, inflatable rafts, speed boats, chartered boats, double decker cruise ships for a few hours and then in still silence we watched the light play over the fair and gentle sea lapping at the craggy edges of the tall caves and deep coves.  We ate well and we slept well.  Kayaks were inflated and the kids explored on their own.  More so than anywhere I can remember on this trip, we had a vacation, a respite.

Malta, it seems, is what you make it.  Choose your journey.  Or choose them all.

Much love and stay tuned.

The Malta Experience

By Che Walling
We took a bus to town to go find something to do. This is not any town. The entrance is one sight to behold. A long bridge with high walls guard the entrance. On the end of the wall there are large spikes rising from each side. In front of the entrance was a fountain that had three huge figures holding up a big bronze bowl that was pouring water in the next level of the fountain. A bonus feature was the space between the fountain and the entrance. It was slippery from all the people that have come and gone, so we had the ability to slide on the ground while running. The first thing we saw when we entered the city was two giant modern buildings. If you look right and left when you first enter, there are stair cases rising to the wall so you could look over. In front of the right modern building is a huge theater. A old stone stair case rose to the entrance for the theater. It was a open air theater with columns rising from each side. Farther ahead there was a street with steps on the side of the road going deep into the city. Anyways, when we entered we started to look around for something to do. We came to another wall over looking the bay. On the other side of the bay another row of high walls rose. We came across a building called The Malta Experience. There was a cafe with a bunch of weird banners. Near it there was a booth that had a sign that read Malta Experience. Behind the booth there was a stair case that lead down into a deep dark underground tunnel. We got our tickets, Dad said gherty and I could go because there were some Quinn problems. We went down the stair case and walked down the tunnel. We came to in a rooms with a red velvet curtain. A person checked our tickets and we went inside. The room was like a movie theater. Rows of seats and a big screen. We sat at the top row, while some one gave us headphones because it had to be translated to English. It started talking about statues found in weird places and what they meant. Then it started to mention war. It was talking about Hitler, Rommel, and Mussolini. It talked about operation minced meat, and how Mussolini was killed. Then it ended and we got up to leave. We exited the room and someone asked us if we were part of the tour. We said yes and the lady said to go up some stairs and wait for the rest of the people. When all the people got there, we walked into a long room. It was 500 feet long and really tall. We found out it was a infirmary. We found out that is was a place were all the sick would go. The person giving us the tour, told us that it was a place for the sick, injured and the people at death’s door. But it was all for men. Yep, a whole big room with a heap of sweaty, sick, even people who are almost dead. If there was an arm or a leg that needed to be cut off there was a doctor for that. The first way to remove the arm was a saw. It usually took 5 whole minutes of sawing. Then someone found out that you could use a guillotine. The guillotine way could do it in a few seconds. On each side of the wall there was a glass dome,That was used for the restroom. People would have to go into quarantine for forty days. If anyone tried to leave they would be killed. The reason for that is because if you carried a bug or sickness then if the people just go onto the main land then a lot of good health people would get sick. They would kill you because one life is better than a lot of lives. We left the room and made our way down some steps, into a underground theater, which we were told was once a garden. They built a theater on the garden and then it soon burned down. It took them a long time to rebuild it. We moved into another room, it looked like another infirmary but this one had a lower ceiling. The knights cross was hanging from the ceiling in ribbons. On each side of the walls was a wide, not deep hole. We were told that is was a bed for four people at max. Two bed holes down there was a big wood door. It did lead into the garden before the garden was made in a theater. Later in time the room hosted a wedding for a prince. At the wedding , the room could hold about 900 people at most. And in that room, is were the tour ended. We soon got out and explored a huge bell tower with three rows of stone walls in front of it. All of them were going down, I had a little theory that they were walls at which some one can rest their gun on the top and shoot. In gaming terms, they were like waves, or level that someone had to past. Then we soon got back and explored some more. We ate dinner and made our way back to the boat. Right now, in the present, I am writing this while we are going to an anchorage in a bay. We were here before but we stayed at a marina, which in Quinn’s blog we explained about the falling-off-the-dock experience. And this is were I leave you.