Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

1996: Malta to Cagliari

This web page describes the third leg of a 7 week trip with S/Y Thetis in 1996 from Greece to Malta, Sardinia, Ustica, and Calabria in Italy, and back to Greece. The leg described here is the passage from Malta to Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy. It is illustrated with maps and photographs, also included are some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route from Malta to Sardinia
Route from Malta to Sardinia

Saturday September 28, 1996 Day 16

I woke up at 6:30 to prepare for our departure. I found an electrical problem: the alternator was hot, this was caused from the charging current coming from the shore connected charger. There must had be a current loop in the wiring. I traced all the wiring, it was a mess. There were several wrong connections, I fixed most of them. I was not sure if the regulator/alternator was working properly anymore. The regulator draws 3.4 A when the engine is off, with the engine on it charges at 40 A. We disconnected the water and electrical connections from the shore.

We went with the zodiac across the harbor to the customs house and got departure clearance. They wanted us to call Harbor Control when we are ready to leave. Lewis wanted to buy some film so we went with the zodiac right to the esplanade and he did his shopping. While waiting for him, I called my brother Nikos who still said that he will come to Sardinia. I did hope that he does, as I was getting cold feet about single handling. Lewis came back, he had used all our left-over Maltese money to buy several pies for lunch. Unfortunately, they were under the British influence and while not too bad in taste they had a heavy greasy crust. I hoped that we will not encounter bad weather after eating them.

We used the zodiac to raise the second anchor. The main anchor had not only dragged but it was fouled on a steel cable and on the anchor lines of a small ship. With some difficulty and with some not so sharp engine maneuverings we managed to disengage. Again, had I been alone this could had developed into a serious situation as there was a fairly brisk wind blowing. We moved off the berth and re-anchored off-shore, but within the harbor, to disassemble the zodiac. Lewis suggested that we use the newly repaired electric pump, to deflate the zodiac. This worked like a charm, too bad I never had thought of it before. After we stowed the zodiac, we collected our lines, and fenders. We hailed the harbor control, got clearance, and departed Valletta at 1:30 PM.

[Photo of Valletta Harbor]
Valletta Harbor

The wind was 18 knots from the NW right against our course with strong gusts up to 27 knots. For a change the wind instruments were working properly now. Again we did not want to consume our fuel before we even begun the trip, so we tacked and tacked. We did not seem to be getting anywhere, we were moving along our course line at a snail’s pace. There was considerable spray and we had to wear the storm gear. The waves were quite large. Lewis seemed to regret not leaving from Malta by the airplane. On top of that our stomachs were unsettled from the heavy lunch. Lewis was nauseous.

As the sun went down we were awarded with a breathtaking sunset over the Maltese island of Gozo.

We had a light dinner of bread and cheese and some apples. I was very tired. Lewis took the first watch, and I went to bed at 9:30.

[Photo of Sunset over Gozo]
Sunset over Gozo

Sunday September 29, 1996 Day 17

I started my watch at 00:30. It was very wet and miserable. We were 16 M South of our course. I started the engine to bring us back on course. The alternator was charging at 45 A and it did not seem to drop its rate. I was afraid of overcharging the batteries and possibly exploding them. I adjusted the sails and turned off the engine.

The moon was beautiful, just a few days past full moon. We were sailing at about 4 knots. I took out the tools and with the help of my new flashlight, which I wear on my head, replaced the regulator with the old one. There was still a problem. Now the power LED was on even if the engine ignition was switch is off, but, unlike the new regulator, the old one did now draw 3.4 A. With the engine on, there was no charging. Was the alternator damaged? I did have spare parts but I was too tired to deal with this problem tonight.

The wind changed direction, now it was from the NE at 10-15 knots. This helped us get back to our course. I woke up Lewis and went to sleep at 3:30.

Lewis had turned on the engine, it was 6:30 already. After I made some coffee I relieved him and he went back to bed. I removed all the reefs and increased the genoa. There was no need for the motor. We were sailing right on our course at 6 knots. Over night, with the more favorable wind, we managed to cover ¼ of our distance to Sardinia. The waves were now smaller and it was actually pleasant.

Later the wind changed direction again, now from the NW. This was not good and we had to tack. I started the motor to minimize the northern tack. The alternator was definitely not charging with the old regulator. I replaced the old regulator with the new. Now we were back to overcharging which meant that I will have to play regulator and control the battery charge very carefully. At least the alternator was functional.

By 3:00 PM the wind had increased to 15 knots and by 4:30 to 22 knots. We reduced the genoa and we continued sailing.

I cooked spaghetti “ala Thetis” which was eaten with great appetite and a glass of wine. I took the first shift and Lewis went to bed. It was now dark, the wind had increased to 28 knots and the waves were larger. I set the second reef on the main sail. I experienced an anomaly with the knot meter. It gave wild readings, but after I reset it, it worked normally. Not sure what caused this.

There were many large ships in this area because this is the Sicilian Channel, the narrows between Africa and Sicily. At some point during this time our red navigation light stopped working. It was too rough to attempt repairing during the night. Later our rear navigation light stopped working also. This one I compensated with a flash light. I was watching a large ship which appeared to be, from the radar, on a course which will result in crossing ours at the comfortable distance of at least 5 M. Suddenly she changed course and started coming directly at us. I started the motor, and made a 120° right turn as fast as the engine was capable, with all the sails flapping. This brought us at a parallel course and she overtook us at a distance of less than 1 M looming a huge dark shadow over us. I was very, very scared!

Monday September 30, 1996 Day 18

At 01:00, I woke up Lewis, explained the situation with the navigation lights and the traffic. I played down our near collision so as not to scare him. Fortunately there were fewer ships visible now.

I was back at 04:00. The wind had decreased and I removed the reef and opened all of the genoa. We were now moving nicely again at 6 knots. Nothing else happened in the next 3 hours other than that I was getting very sleepy. At 07:00 I went back to sleep for 2 hours while Lewis took charge.

The wind had decreased further to 8-12 knots and it was now very calm. We were moving slowly at less than 4 knots but it was very pleasant in the sunshine. I started looking at the navigation lights. The white one had simply burned and I replace its bulb. The red one had broken contacts, they must had corroded. I replaced, with some difficulty due to its awkward position, the whole unit with a spare.

By noon the sea was dead calm, but we were still moving at our course. I made omelets with the left-over spaghetti for lunch together with bread and cheese and fruits.

All afternoon we were basking in the sun while Thetis glided on the glassy water at 4-5 knots under full sails. Occasionally we passed some distant fishing boats.

After a lovely sunset we started dinner preparations. Spaghetti again with pesto which we found in the supermarket in Malta. Lewis made a very elaborate cucumber salad. After dinner we had to start the engine because there was almost no wind and we were hardly moving. Lewis took the first watch and I went to sleep at 10:30.

Tuesday October 1, 1996 Day 19

Lewis woke me up at 1:20. The sea was still calm and the moon was up, no traffic was visible. The wind had shifted to the NE at 5-10 knots. We continued motor-sailing but I adjusted the main and rolled in the jib. We were ¾ of the way to Cagliari making an easy 6.7 knots.

Later the wind shifted again to the SE and strengthened somewhat. We continued motor-sailing but I strung a preventer to hold down the boom in case of an accidental jibe. I had been thinking about the regulator/alternator problem. The symptoms of the old regulator: LED on when it should be off and not charging when it should, were consistent with it being mis-wired. I checked on the multi-conductor plug of the harness. Yes, it can be connected either up or down, there was no notch to force only one way connection, and it was connected the wrong way! I flipped it and miracle of miracles it worked! Now how about the new regulator? I plugged it in, correctly this time, and there was no charge at all! The old one worked just fine. Either the new was damaged by the mis-connection or it had never worked properly.

The wind picked up so I turned off the engine. We sailed with the boom way out, since the wind was almost behind us. I opened the genoa a little and we made better than 5 knots.

About 35 M from Cagliari as we approached Cape Carbonara, Lewis prepared lunch. The wind had increased and there was considerable swell. Lewis told me that the head (toilet) did not work, not sure what the problem was but we will deal with it when we get to the harbor.

Later as we approached the harbor we called the authorities on the VHF channel 16 and they told us to enter and tie down near the other yachts. We entered the harbor [39° 12.65' N 09° 06.77' E] at 4:30 PM. It is huge, with an outer and inner harbor. As we prepared to anchor a lady waved us to come sideways. We did notice that almost all the yachts were sideways. She helped us with the lines and we secured the boat. The only problem was that the red lens from the navigation light came off and fell overboard. Again I had a spare and replaced it. Now we were running low on spare navigation lights.

[Photo of Cagliari Harbor]
Cagliari Harbor

The lady who helped us was Lydia Numbers from the American yacht Salubria from California. She and her husband left California 8 years ago and had been living on the boat. He was now back in the US and she was alone on the boat, a nice one custom-built in Taiwan. She gave us a lot of information about where things were in Cagliari.

As we were talking with Lydia, a small cruiser labeled Policia di Finance came and tied along side us. I was a little concerned about their fenders but it was all right. There were several very young men in immaculate uniforms. They took our papers and passports and disappeared inside their cabin for over 20 minutes. Then they handed them all back, said “benvenuto,” smiled, and went away. Before 10 minutes went by, 3 of them were back on foot this time, accompanied by an older person with more gold braid. They asked for our papers again and two of them then came aboard and started inspecting our boat. They were extremely polite, and asked to see the fire extinguishers, the flares, the toilet, the engine etc. They pointed to a date written at the flares “1991” and muttered “infractura, due centi lire…” I quickly pointed to them the official Greek inspection papers which stated that the flares expire on 1999. I improvised that 1991 must be the manufacturing day. They all nodded their heads and seemed relieved. They smiled, shook our hands, and left. For myself I now wonder, did we or did we not have valid flares?

We went ashore. Cagliari is a substantial town with heavy traffic. We easily found a bank with an ATM machine and got 100,000 lira each. We then bought a 10,000 lira telephone card and I tried to call Alice from a phone near the boat. The card did not work at all. We tried another telephone but it did not work either. We then noticed that the card had a diagonal dotted line at one of its corners. We cut off the corner and miracle of miracles it now worked so I left a message for Alice. Lewis did the same for Inga and Joshua.

We got back to the boat and we entertained our selves with the delightful task of dismantling the head (toilet) pump. It was full of papers which were jamming the impeller. Lewis looked very meekish. After we put it back together again it worked fine. There was quite a mess to clean up. At least we had hot water and took nice long showers. We were by now very tired. We went ashore and got into the first restaurant we saw. It was not very remarkable but who cared. The wine was fine. After dinner we both called home again and did find people to speak to. I found Alice and had a nice chat. I also spoke to my mother Pitsa. I then called my co-worker Pei. She, unfortunately, had some very discouraging news from EUTELSAT. It seemed that there were all sorts of problems which I was too tired to even follow. We agreed to call her at the office on Thursday morning so that she could give me a detailed report and decide what we were to do. Finally we walked exhausted back to Thetis and fell asleep without any extra ceremony.