Friday, October 5, 2018

Sailing Venice, Italy

Glass flowers climb the wall of a glass factory in Murano, Italy.
What sailor doesn't dream of sailing their vessel to Venice? It surely is a magical place and there are so many places to explore!
Sunset at sea.

The passage from Pula, Croatia to Venice was about 11 hours from start to finish. We tied up at the marina on Certosa island and set off to check in. There are only two marinas in Venice that are able to take catamarans, and Certosa appealed to us as it is like a nature preserve with all the wildlife and tranquility.
Nature trail at Certosa marina.

We caught the vaporetto (water bus) to the Pl. Roma stop and walked across the bridge to the red building on the right, the State Polizia station. We filled out a one page form, handed over our passports, and five minutes later were on our way. They did not give a Constituto di Arrivo, as we had read about. I guess it is different in each port, but it made for a quick to check out later on.

Checking in with the authorities for passport stamps and boat permit.

We spent the next two weeks exploring Venice and the surrounding islands. Quite a wondrous place, with so much history and architecture. Definitely take advantage of the family museum pass, where you can visit many of the museums for one low price. The easiest and cheapest way to get around is by purchasing the city unlimited ride pass for 7 days. It paid for itself by the 2nd day, as we were constantly going to different stops around the islands to explore different things. Taking a regular water taxi would have cost 80 euro one way for our family, and the vaporetto was only a few dollars, if you worked out the math.

Lido is a long island, nicknamed the Golden Island, due to the sandy beaches. It has a lot of shops and a large Conad grocery store near the vaporetto station. One main chandlery is about a 45 minute walk, so take your dinghy through their main canal if you want to visit that shop.

Murano is nicknamed the Glass Island, due to all the glass being made there. According to legend, all of the glass makers were forced to move there due to risk of fires in Venice. It is home to many glass factories and you can tour them and see for yourself how the glass is made. They do close down in August, but we were fortunate to catch one of the factories offering tours. There are quite a few art installations of beautiful glass-work all over the island. Popping out from hedges was some green glass flowers, a large blue glass globe was in the town square, and many small details appear along the way as you walk along. The artists have done a brilliant job integrating their glass art with nature.

Burano is the Lace Island, and you can find all sorts of beautiful handmade lace items. It is about a 45 minute ride away from main Venice though, so plan accordingly.

Venice is made up of many islands close together. It sort of resembles a fish, if you use your imagination a bit.

We visited Doge's Palace in San Marco's square, next to the Basilica. This place is huge and you need at least a full day to explore everything.

Long ago, it was a castle with towers and moats. After several fires (700 years ago) it was rebuilt into a magnificent palace, like lace out of stone. Every inch is decorated with either delicate stonework or painted scenes and statutes.

The government was housed here as well and there are many chambers leading through to others. It houses the famous Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners had their last glimpse at the outside world before facing their judgements.
Bridge of Sighs outer view and from the inside.
The time went by so quickly, as we thoroughly enjoyed getting lost around Venice and seeing new sights each day. The kids took an art class with pottery, we got to know a few of the locals, and overall just had a fantastic time. We even met up with a few other sailing families! Such fun!

After eating way too much delicious food and gelato, we found ourselves sailing back into Croatia for navigating south through the islands. We took a week to do this, as we needed to make tracks south to Greece for a quick visit with friends, before heading west to Italy and beyond.

Next up: we sail back through Croatia and encounter the Croatian coast guard while trying to exit their waters.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Solar Panel Replacement and Insulation Projects

The new solar panels installed, replacing the three that fizzled out. That black one towards the back is the one we took cross country with us on our road trip and it is still performing well. Manufacturer research is key when purchasing good panels.

While berthed at the marina in Venice, we took advantage of having an address and shipped all sorts of things: school books, boat parts, reflective insulation, solar panels (we had 3 die on us), and some other odds and ends we just couldn't find in the local shops.

In one day, we stripped the dead solar panels and installed the new ones and we were back in business!

Installing the new panels. We removed the plastic protective covering afterwards. The aluminum foil protects the gelcoat from any solder that may drop while working.
The 3 panels that stopped working were sold by Greesonic and we had no response from their company. These panels were less than 7 months old! Having no choice but to replace them, we did our research and purchased from a reputable EU company. We have had a few questions about our choice of using flexible solar panels instead of installing rigid panels, and I know there is an ongoing debate over rigid versus flexible. Basically, we installed our panels on the roof, and chose the semi-flexible route, as they best fit this space and we could walk on them if needed. While opening/closing the sail bag or managing reefing lines, etc, we sometimes have to walk up there. While we usually don't step on the panels, sometimes it can't be avoided. The fact that these panels don't mind being stepped on, was the deciding factor in our choice. We think the reason the three panels fizzled out was due to poor manufacturing (which seeing as they are out of business, just confirms this). We had ordered those panels shortly after receiving acceptance of our offer on RoundAbout2 and dealing with the aftermath of the hurricanes and losing RoundAbout1. Should we have researched the company further, yes. Did we have the time dealing with all the chaos, no. We purchased through Amazon, among with all the other replacements we needed. Our recommendation is to research the vendors on Amazon, as one would do with other companies, and do what is best for your own boat.

Another project we crossed off the list was insulating the boat with the reflective insulation (it looks like aluminum covered bubble wrap). We noticed about a 10 degree drop in temp after it was all installed. We covered our hatches with it, as well (we are currently sewing outer covers and will put the insulation inside of that, instead of on the inside of the hatch, to avoid crazing of the lenses).

Sewing reflective window covers.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Roman Architecture Ruins in Croatia

Exploring the Roman Amphitheater in Pula, Croatia. 

For the past week or so, we have been sailing in northern Croatia. From Zadar, we hopped through a few islands, stopping in a lagoon off the village of Punat. We then made our way to Icici, to pick up some mail from Opatija marina, as well as our cargo, and then sailed along the mainland coast to Pula to check out of the country.

Excited to see the Roman amphitheater lit up at night!

Pula is an industrial port but is famous for the well-preserved Roman amphitheater and Augustus Temple. The cranes put on quite a show at night, with color changing lights. The anchorage outside of the marina has good holding and offers good protection from the wind and swell.

Roundabout docked at the customs quay with the color-changing lights on the cranes in the boatyard.

We wanted to check out the sites, refill our gas container for the dinghy, and explore a little more of Croatia before heading to Venice!

The Amphitheater is well worth a visit. Constructed in 27 BC - 68 AD, it is the ONLY remaining Roman amphitheater to have four side towers with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved. It is among only 6 of the largest surviving arenas in the world and is the best preserved ancient site in Croatia. Today, it is used as a venue for concerts.

Walking through this place was like going back in time. From the outdoor arena space to traversing underground to where the beasts and gladiators were kept, ancient storage and work spaces, we learned quite a lot about this period in time. Matthew is studying Medieval history, as part of the California 7th grade history standards, so this fit in perfectly as a boatschool field trip!

Down below, where the chambers for the beasts and gladiators were, is another part of the museum. Ancient pottery, art, storage urns, and tools are among the numerous artifacts on display.

So much to see!

Cargo Delivery!

Cargo inspection officers.

This has been one of our most frustrating experiences ever, waiting for our cargo to be delivered from St. Thomas.

10,427 miles
365 days
143 emails
27 phone calls
and we FINALLY have our stuff!!!!!🎉😃🤸🌎
A year ago, we shipped about 800 lbs of stuff to St. Thomas for us to later pick up once we closed on our boat (Roundabout1) in the BVI. Hurricanes #Irmaria blew those plans all apart and after things settled down, we were able to get our cargo out of St. Thomas and over to Miami. From there, it was supposed to be delivered to us in Greece. Due to the shipping company missing the boat (literally), our stuff did not make it in time before our visas expired. After literally 100 emails, we learned our stuff was stuck in Hamburg, Germany and needed to get rerouted to Rijeka, Croatia.

I still get heartburn thinking about it all and marvel at the incompetency of the shipping handler.

At one point, we had our stuff on an express truck, to be delivered to us July 16th. Then we learned that it was taken off the truck, because a larger shipment which would create more revenue for the truck service was taken instead. Argh!!!!!

After more phone calls and emails, we finally received confirmation that our cargo had been loaded onto a different truck on July 20th and would arrive on the 25th or 26th of July. We had to extend our sailing visas for Croatia, costing us more time and money, and so the overall expenses to get our stuff was way beyond the initial costs.

Waiting at the shipping agent's office. We went back and forth a couple of times for various parts of the clearance process.

July 26th arrived and we had an appointment to meet the clearance agent at 11am in the city center of Rijeka. I brought Zach and Cadence with me, as Jared and Matthew had some projects to work on back at the boat. This guy knew his stuff and was the most efficient person out of this whole process. We learned that they normally only handle commercial goods, but after hearing our story, they wanted to help us out. We told him we were very grateful and appreciated his expertise!

Customs building next to the port.
We showed up on time and were led into the agent's office to wait until the customs officer had returned from break. Half an hour later, we were in the agent's car to pick up the customs officer, to inspect our cargo.

Waiting to inspect our cargo. It is behind this door!

We arrived at the port storage warehouse and waited about 20 minutes for someone else to unlock the door.  A localized squall had come through and was now soaking everything and everyone in the process. Oh well, at least it cooled us off from the heat.

Upon entering the warehouse, we immediately spotted our two pallets and were a bit dismayed to see the outside covered in black grime. I thought it was mold at first and the customs inspector said he would just look at a few boxes and we would be on our way. He went pretty quickly and I was relieved to see that the boxes under the plastic wrap were dry.
Inspection in progress. 

We hopped back in the agent's car and dropped the customs officer off at his office and then returned to the agent's office. We had another hour's wait for paperwork to be prepared, and so I took the kids to get a quick lunch. Finally, we paid the fees (the agent also lowered his fee as he felt for us after learning our story and seeing the potentially ruined cargo), and were on our way back to customs to show the receipts so it could be cleared and released to us. A truck was scheduled to deliver our cargo to the marina around 6pm that day, and so 7 hours later, we were done with the entire process.

Our stuff has arrived! We unloaded the truck and brought it all onto the boat.

Our cargo was given an estimated value and we paid 25% VAT for that. Due to the look of the outside and thinking it was mostly ruined cargo, they lowered the value and our cost. This turned out to be a blessing, as when we later unpacked everything there wasn't any mold at all! The black grime was just from shipping. We were so grateful to close this chapter!

This was the boat inside and out! It took about 2 days to organize and sort everything. We also donated some duplicate items to local families and to the fire victims of Greece.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Failing Electronics

Tech is great...until it doesn't work.

We set sail north from Zadar early Saturday afternoon, to a bay just off the town of Rab. We sailed cautiously, as our wind instrument wasn’t working. Three dashed lines was all it would display. Being as our autopilot computer had just failed (we were able to purchase a spare while in Zadar), this was a bad sign.

About a mile out from Zadar, Jared went below to check for corrosion on the wires. All of a sudden, everything went dark. We had blown a fuse in the process.

Matthew was with me at the helm, and so I put him on watch, meaning he also had to hand-steer our course. We have a backup chart on our iPad, which came in handy. I went down below to see if I could help Jared. The wires behind the nav station were all fine, and same for the wires at the base of the mast. The blown fuse was replaced and everything came back on line, including the wind display.

However, a few minutes later, it was back to those dashed lines again. We knew then that our system was starting to fizzle out and we would be breaking out another boat buck to replace it. It seems that for a boat 6 years old, we shouldn't be having these issues. At this point, she is practically brand new with all the upgrades and repairs we have done over the past 7 months! At least we now know every inch of her and that all the work has been done as it should.

View of Roundabout at anchor from the top of the fort.

We arrived to our anchorage five hours later, dropped the hook, and Jared went up the mast to see if the issue was at the top. Nope, those wires were clean and looked really good, so it must be the display itself. I searched online and did all the tests mentioned, including a reset, and no joy. We would be buying a replacement kit. Fortunately, there are a couple of Raymarine dealers in our area, so hopefully we can have this task completed in the next day or so.

Wandering around Rab town.
More of the town.


Enjoying the sights and cooling off with frozen treats.

We decided to check out the old town of Rab since we were in the area. What a beautiful place! It is so green! Huge trees spread out to shade the walking paths, landscaped gardens show off vibrant colors, and the medieval architecture is stunning. We wandered around for most of the day, stopping only to cool off in the sea.

Later that afternoon, we hauled anchor and sailed on to Punat, which is the town next to a very shallow lagoon. The charts stated that the entrance is dredged to 5m but it was mostly around 2m or so. The shallowest spot we saw was 1.8 (our draft is 1.5), yikes! If you decide to visit this lagoon, exercise caution and stick to the channel. It's easily seen in bright daylight.

After quite a show put on by mother nature (lots of thunder and lightning), we woke up early to make the rest of the way towards Rijeka. We are picking up mail and hopefully, our cargo here. It's also the location of the Raymarine dealer we need to visit.

Constantly on the lookout for fishing gear left out in random places.
We motored most of the way, due to lack of wind. The final hour, as we were approaching the marina, we turned off the engines and let the sails do their job. Speeding along at 8 knots felt wonderful! We had no sooner tied up then Jared was off to the chandlery to pick up our new electronics. The store hours were extended just for him and we were so grateful for this! We really need our wind instrument functioning!

So for tonight, we will enjoy the unlimited power and water (a/c on full blast), give the boat a deep clean, get all our washing done, and stock up before we head over to Venice in the coming week or so (waiting on a good weather window).

The perfect tree for climbing! This was in one of the gardens near the fortress.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Zadar and the Sea Organ

Greetings to the Sun solar art (left) and Sea Organ (right)
photo credit: zadar travel (couldn't fly our own drone with the wind)

It sounds like a fairy tale, a magical musical instrument played entirely by the sea. It was brought to life the other day as we sailed by, on our way into the anchorage. The soft whimsical notes drifted out to us and we all fell silent as we enjoyed the melody.

Upon dropping the hook, we went ashore to check it out from land. It truly is a lovely place, sitting in the sun while enjoying the music. Kids jump around on the steps, swimmers splash in the sea, and sunbathers lay out to soak up the sun.

The sea organ is comprised of what looks like steps leading down to the water. It's the clever engineering underneath those steps where the magic takes place. The lower steps allow air and water to flow inside. That water and air is then funneled into resonant chambers under the steps, and pushed out through the channels on the upper stairs. These cause the undulating, wind-chime like notes to be produced. As the sea is always in motion, the organ notes never sound the same, each note completely unique.

The stairs extend for about 70 meters (approximately 210 feet) along the coast. There are 35 pipes of different lengths, diameters, and angles, which were built vertically into the coastline and these slant upwards towards the pavement on shore, ending in a canal. Built into the pipes are whistles (also called labiums) which play 7 chords of 5 tones. Above the canal, there are perforated stone stairs through which the sound escapes as the sea pushes the air outwards. 

It was an idea brought to life by architect Nikola Basic, along with the assistance of a few experts in the field of music and engineering, and is now one of the hottest tourist spots in Croatia.

Our crew playing on the lights.

At night, the place takes on an entirely different atmosphere. Near the Sea Organ, is a solar panel art installation known as Greetings to the Sun. It soaks up the sun's power throughout the day and then puts on a color-changing light show at night. While it was beyond the kids' usual bedtime (sun sets around 9pm here), we went ashore for the sunset and to see this beautiful light show in action. It is an evening we won't forget! Being Friday night, there was an arts and crafts fair, musician stands everywhere, street corn, cotton candy, and other tasty treat vendors, and hundreds of families out to enjoy the evening. Our kids joined in playing with the locals, dancing on the rainbow circle of light, playing tag, and stopping only to eat ice cream before rejoining the games.

I think this is our most favorite place in Croatia, besides the Krka Waterfalls and National Park.