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Elvis is IN the building!

THE BOOT 1st July 2022 - Taormina

There were two ways to get up to the town of Taormina on the hill, a taxi or the walkway. The walkway was a stone path which switchbacked up the steep slope. Since we hadn’t walked up either volcano and we were about to embark on several days of being stuck on the boat we opted for the walk. It was still 35C so we thought we’d wait until 6pm to head up there. We’d spend the morning and afternoon having a swim. In fact there were anchoring shenanigans to deal with first anyway. As we were in quite deep water we had put out a fair bit of chain. When the wind wasn’t blowing we were all nicely separated but as it started to gain pace and change direction we ended up being a bit close to a monohull on our port side. As cats and monohulls swing differently he was pretty close at one point. As we were the ones who had arrived last it was our responsibility to move. Unfortunately another cat had arrived in front of us and was settled right above our anchor. We wouldn’t be able to lift ours whilst they were there. Seeing our difficulty, the guy on the monohull calmly threw his kedge anchor (spare anchor from the back of the boat)

overboard and dragged his boat a bit further away from us. That gave us some breathing room but when the charter boat that was in front of us eventually left we decided to re-anchor a bit further away. With plenty of space around us now if was time to tackle the hill to Taormina.

We took the dinghy to shore and dragged it up onto a tiny bit of beach between two large rocks, some teenagers drinking, and a tunnel through to the other side of the road. It felt a bit dodgy but there really wasn’t anywhere else to leave her. The beach further up was roped off with swimming buoys and there were beach bars with private docks . With nothing to lock her up to we set off through the tunnel and up onto the footpath. Halfway up the hill we looked back at our dinghy to see if it was still there. Teenagers hadn’t made a target of it for their empty beer bottles. At least not that we could see. We watched another couple come in on their dinghy, take a look at it and leave. Ah well, it would either be there when we got back or not. We carried on up the hill. By the time we got to the very picturesque town of Taormina my face resembled a beetroot and we were both sweating profusely. So much for it cooling down by 6pm. We self-consciously wandered down the narrow streets looking for a place for a large bottle of water and maybe a beer. We seemed to be surrounded by beautiful people in flowing dresses and smart suits. Nobody else was sweating. After wedging ourselves in a corner of a bar to people watch and down some fluids, we came to realise why we felt so underdressed. The Taormina Film Festival was in full swing. That probably explained why so many super yachts were in the bay too. Including our buddy boat, the super yacht High Power III! As the sun started to wane, so did the colour of my face. We walked through the streets and ended up in a square near the red carpet entrance to the film festival. No tickets for us riffraff but a great spot to soak up the sights. It felt like our first taste of what we imagined Sicily to be like. We made sure we did not forget the cannolis! Beautiful.

Needless to say, when we got back down to the beach that night, the dinghy was still there. No beer bottles and no canoodling teenagers.

2nd July 2022 - Taormina, Sicily - Punta di Stropoli, Italy ( 37 nautical miles)

We’d been checking the forecast repeatedly to try and estimate when we would be arriving in Albania. We needed to give our agent, Auron Tare, an estimated day of arrival which is always difficult. We were also trying to meet up with Mike (who spent time with us in Spain and Portugal) and his wife Jo, who were travelling in their motorhome through Europe. They had been hanging around in Greece for almost a month to try and meet up with us and we had been struggling to give them a firm date. It was looking like either the 5th or 6th July which luckily was a few days within our Schengen time. The er, Ibizan one, rather than the actual one, ahem.

We weighed anchor at 11am and raised the sails. Coming out of the bay we copped the spurt of wind coming down through the Messina Strait. 6kn turned to 23kn and we put a reef in the main. We shot out away from Sicily on our way to The Boot. 23kn turned to 32kn and a second reef went into the main and one in the jib. The sea state also gave us 1.5m waves on the beam. Looking ahead we could see the exact point when it would all calm down. Once in the lee of mainland Italy the wind turned off completely. By 2:30pm we were back down to 6kn and motor-sailing with full main and jib. We still had another 18nm to go and the only interesting thing that happened was a turtle passed by. It was bloody hot too. We took turns at the helm as the sun was just beating down through the two Bimini windows and from the side. Sitting on the helm seat wasn’t an option so we stood in the shade, closer to the steps up to the coach roof, a sweaty mess.

At 6:30pm, we eventually anchored in 3.5m of sand in Punta di Stropoli. No beach, no restaurant, just dogs barking at a nearby kennels. There was one bit of entertainment though. We seemed to be anchored reasonably close to where a fire plane was doing his runs, scooping up water for a bush fire further inland. We must have seen 20-30 runs before the light left us.

Again looking at the forecast we saw that most of the wind appeared to be coming at night so we opted to bed down early, catch a bit of sleep, then set off around 2am. We were only on the toe of the boot of Italy.

3rd July 2022 - Punta di Stropoli - Capopiccolo (85.1 nautical miles)

At 2:10am we weighed anchor. I have nothing much to say about this day. It was hot. Reading the log we made a valiant effort to sail however we were thwarted at every turn. There really wasn’t enough wind to get above 3kn SOG and what wind there was was on the nose. It was frustrating and slow and by 7:30pm when we finally anchored we were not in the best spirits. We had made it to the ball of the boot in Capopiccolo, anchoring in 3.2m. Again, not much to see. It did have a beach but the area was surrounded by jet skis. They were everywhere and seemed to like to use our boat as a marker. We also had a very curious canoeist who approached the back of the boat just to have a look inside. Didn’t say anything, just stared.

It was around this point that we were getting pretty low. Using fuel all the time, having to move rather than wait for wind due to Schengen shite and not getting off the boat. And did I mention it was so damned hot. We couldn’t wait to get to Albania now.

4th - 5th July 2022 - Capopiccolo - Santa Maria de Leuca (89.7 nautical miles)

At 9:30am we weighed anchor and left to do the overnighter across from the ball to the heel of the boot. We raised the sails in vain hope but alas, motor sailed for the entire day. After dinner I went to go and have a lie down leaving Carl on the helm. He was taking the 9pm til midnight shift. Shortly after I lay my head down I heard on the radio what I thought was: ‘Rockhopper, Rockhopper, this is Italian Warship!’ Remembering that we still didn’t have a handheld radio on the helm so Carl would not have heard that I leapt up to tell him that we had just been called by a warship. As he came inside the broadcast was repeated. Carl responded.

The Italian warship explained that we had motored into one of their war-games and we needed to maintain a distance of at least 1.5nm away from them. We could not see them on AIS, could not see their lights and had no idea what direction they were going in. We explained all this to them but they kept repeating that we needed to maintain 1.5nm from them. We turned on the radar and saw a faint red blob on our port forward quarter. I went out to look in that direction and could just make out some tiny red lights in the distance. They seemed reluctant to tell us which direction they were going and so we asked them to tell us which direction they wanted us to go in so that we could move further away. She still didn’t give us an answer. We then suggested a direction away from the red lights and got an affirmative so we did that. Within 5 minutes we heard on the radio: ‘Rockhopper, Rockhopper, this is US Warship!’ I guess these were the other players in the game. They informed us that we needed to stay more than 1nm away from them. At this point we were well confused and just wanted some guidance. We politely asked the US lady, which direction would you like us to go since we can’t see you. She told us to speed up. We again, politely informed her that we were a sailboat and that we could give her about another knot but that was it. She eventually told us to steer 120 degrees to starboard. Almost in the opposite direction to where we were going. We complied and within 5 minutes of us going along this course we heard the Italian woman back on the radio to inform us that their exercise was concluded and we could resume our original course. Eh?

Within a few minutes we heard another little voice on the radio:

Rockhopper, Rockhopper this is Elf, Elf

Go ahead Elf, this is Rockhopper. ‘

Sounds like you guys have had an interesting night. Just wanted to ask. Can you see us at all on AIS?

I’m afraid not Elf.’

That’ll be why we didn’t get called up too. Have a good night. Elf out.’

At 6:15am, we arrived just outside the marina in Santa Maria di Leuca, on the heel of the boot. We anchored in 2m. It had been a hot and sticky night with not a lot of sleep for either of us. We had motored most of it so the batteries were full. At 7am it was 30 degrees so we went down into our cabin, shut the door and put the air con on. We had a few hours before the port police opened for us to check out of the country so we took the opportunity to have a sleep. Wrapped up in the thick duvet with the air con on, it was bliss.


5th - 6th July 2022 - Santa Maria de Leuca - Saranda, Albania (79.9 nautical miles)

Again the wind was supposed to fill in overnight. We had 80nm to complete to cross from Italy to Albania. We had informed Auron that we would be arriving now on the 6th so we wanted to arrive during office hours in order to check in. That meant leaving that evening. So after a wander around Santa Maria de Leuca, checking out with the port police and handing back the constituto and some other paperwork that was signed without us knowing what it was all about, we were free to leave Italy. As we had not got an entry stamp in our passport in Ibiza we did not try very hard to get an exit stamp on the way out. The port police weren’t interested in our passports anyway. We went for a stroll, had dinner and then made our way back to the boat. In time to see a true party cat with the most amount of people we have ever seen on one boat.

We weighed anchor at 8:30pm and set out for Albania. We were finally leaving the Schengen zone. There was certainly a sense of relief. With the main raised and the starboard engine on, Carl took the first watch from 9pm til midnight. I tried to get some sleep. During his watch the wind had filled in and he was sailing with the main and jib. When I came to relieve him at midnight he told me that there had been a huge lightning storm off to port. He had then been asked to alter course as there was a survey vessel ahead so we were then pointing directly into the storm. Carl had considered whether we should turn back but once clear of the survey vessel we could again keep the lightning to port and it seemed to be missing us. As the wind had picked up to 18kn we decided to put a reef in the main as a precaution so that I wouldn’t have to wake him later on. Unfortunately at around 2am the wind had died off sufficiently that I had to put an engine on to maintain speed. When Carl came up at 3am shortly after, the wind started to pick up again and the engine was off. By 6am we had 25kn, 2 reefs in the main and 1 in the jib. We were now cruising along at 7kn SOG. Our aim was Saranda which is tucked in behind the island of Corfu. In order to avoid Greek waters one needed to balloon around the smaller islands of Orthonoi and Erikousa but with 25kn we really did not want to beat into it so opted to keep the wind on our beam and pass between the islands and Corfu. Greece has a rather expensive cruising tax to pay if you sail in their waters which was a concern but we felt our route was the safer play and the quicker route. By the time I took over again at 9am we were back to full sails and motor sailing. There was a pattern forming here - whenever Carl was at the helm there was wind, whenever I was there, it died completely.

As we came round the corner into Saranda the bay opened up before us. We were officially in Albanian waters. It felt great. The clock had stopped. Albania is slowly opening up to cruisers but still assumes that visiting yachts will only anchor in specific ports. Auron had informed us that as we approached the anchorage we needed to call the harbour master and ask permission to anchor. The harbour master responded straightaway, asked us which agent we used and then waved us in. There were a fair few boats already in the anchorage which was close to the ferry dock but just beyond the swimming buoys. As we steered round a few boats to find a spot a few guys on their boats came out to wave us in and suggest places to go. There was one large mooring ball that was available but it was on its own and we didn’t know whether it was available for us or not. A NZ guy yelled out to us that a large cat had just left it so it might be ok but we chose to anchor in 5m. The water was pretty murky so we had no idea what we were anchoring in. This was us for a while now, we could finally just settle for a week.

7th - 10th July - Saranda, Albania

The boot of Italy had not been much fun at all, we were keen to get off the boat and explore. The bay of Saranda had a long promenade that ran the length of the beach with shops, bars and restaurants along it. There were also plenty of tourist pirate ships docked all along the quayside. Lots of Davy Jones and Jack Sparrows about with music blaring out. It looked fun and touristy but since we had been stuck onboard mainly for the past week we were loving it. We had the obligatory end of passage beer then put the dinghy in the water and called Auron. He was to meet us at the port police office next to the ferry dock. We zoomed over there and tied up next to the police boats. It looked like we were tying up to the customs dock and that we really shouldn’t be there but he had confirmed the spot and we saw a few other dinghies from the anchorage there too. Walking through the back entrance to the border control for cruise ships, Auron met us on the other side. He took our passports and paperwork, said a few things to some of the guys and we were let through. We had asked him to get them to stamp our passports in (a definite sign that we had left the Schengen) but when we checked later there were no stamps. He took us for coffee and explained the lay of the land. It was again great to be in a new country, one that we had both never been to. Auron explained that he was running the yacht agency business for his wife who had been in the US since the covid outbreak. He was more interested in conservation work in Albania and had been involved in securing UNESCO World Heritage status for the Butrint National Park. He had worked in the UK for Channel 4 news as a journalist and had been a member of parliament in Albania. Very interesting guy. He was really keen to build up the Albanian tourist industry but in a sustainable way. He wanted to show us the more traditional places and ancient sites rather than the areas that had beaches with a thousand sun loungers on them. We took notes. He handed us an Albanian courtesy flag and said goodbye, and we took off down the promenade. You hear all these stories about how safe places are going to be and there we were, strolling down the promenade, along with families with young kids, enjoying the sunshine. There was a cool Elvis bar with live performances. More on that later! Our dinghy could not have been in a more secure place. Getting back to it from the town side was a bit weird as we had to pass the line of cruise ship passengers waiting to get their passports stamped and just walk passed the border control to the door at the back. Weird but it seemed to work.

The following morning we had our second anchor dragging moment on Rockhopper. The wind picked up to 20kn and had changed direction compared to the direction in which we had laid our chain. Earlier we had dove on the anchor and sure enough, we were in a thick patch of weed. As the boat swung round and the chain stretch out, the anchor unseated and would not dig in due to a massive clump of weed caught on the Rocna anchor, between the spade and the roll bar. Luckily it was daylight and we were onboard. We saw that we were getting a bit close to the NZ guys boat, he spotted it too and we started the engines. We had not put down as much chain as we had wanted due to our proximity to the swimming bouys and other boats around us. Once the anchor was up, we motored around a bit and reset. Never a confidence booster though but I was glad it was just us onboard to deal with it.

Mike and Jo and their motorhome were on the way. We needed to find secure parking for it as their insurance did not cover them fully comp in Albania and they were due to come onboard for a few days sailing with us. Once again we spoke to Auron who arranged a spot for them in the secure parking near the customs office. We had a few days to ourselves chilling after the traipse across the boot.

The following morning we were visited by a snorkeler from a neighbouring boat. Mark Prior onboard Grace Richard came to say hello and invite us to an Elvis night. He had befriended Oresto who owned the Elvis bar and who would perform on Saturday if enough people turned up to his bar. Mark was swimming round to all the boats to see if they wanted to create the audience. As Mike and Jo would be arriving that day we had the nights entertainment sorted. First things first we needed to spruce up the boat for our visitors. We also needed to scrub the decks. What we thought was just dust turned out to be ash from Mount Etna when we were in Sicily.

Saturday came and we welcomed our friends onboard. After picking up supplies we took them back through border control (with a whole load of booze bought in Greece and some nibbles) and back to the boat. They had been on an epic journey across Europe in their van so it was great to swap stories over a G&T. Jo explained that there was a fair chance she would suffer from sea sickness but would give it a go on a catamaran. There was a bit of a swell in the anchorage so the test began. Later on we hopped in the dinghy and went for dinner ashore.

At 9pm the crew of Rockhopper and 12 other cruisers in the anchorage gathered at the Elvis bar. It was great to meet up with fellow sailors. Mark was from the UK and a solo sailor. Over a G&T we had a fairly deep conversation about the difference between being alone and being lonely. Not always the easiest thing to solo sail but absolute freedom I guess. Then the music started and we sung along to Elvis in his sparkly flared onesie.

Oresto had been doing an Elvis act in Corfu for decades and had finally come home due to covid and started his bar in Saranda. He had a lovely daughter who was about 10 years old. He struggled with staff so when he performed he asked his 80 year old Mum to cover the bar. He was really really good. It was a brilliant night. Oresto came to talk to us afterwards and we heard how tough it was to keep a business running in Albania. He said no one was interested in working there. No one wanted to stay in Albania. He said all the nice Albanians were there, most of the dodgy ones had left to go to the UK to earn more money. Well we drunk him out of his beer that night so we did our bit to help him out.

10th July 2022 - Saranda - Kakomea (15 nautical miles)

We planned to take the boat up the coast, stopping at a few anchorages along the way. We had had to inform Auron about the two new crew members and of our travel plans. At this point we weren’t sure whether we would come back to Saranda or drop Mike and Jo off up the coast for them to get a taxi back.

The next morning we radioed the harbourmaster to say we were leaving and weighed anchor at 11:45am. Already we could tell Jo was focusing on the horizon. We thought we’d make it a short hop round the corner to a nice beach and have a bbq that evening. The wind treated us to 16-20kn close hauled so there was a lot of tacking involved. To ease the journey for our new crew we put a reef in the main, just in case it picked up further. We positioned Jo up on the sun deck with a blanket wrapped round her so she had a clear view of the horizon. She was doing ok. With all the tacking it took us around 4 hours to get there, dodging the pirate ships. Mike’s previous experience on Rockhopper down the Portuguese coast had not provided much sailing opportunity so he was enjoying the sail faff. We dropped the hook in 5.5m at 3:30pm. I jumped in the water to go and check on the anchor and we were nicely secured in sand. The anchorage was a bit rolly so we threw out a stern anchor to keep the bows pointing in to the swell. However Jo started to feel it so we took the dinghy to the shore with a few beers. It was a small beach with a few ropey looking loungers on them. A fair bit of rubbish about the place which was a shame. We gathered what we saw and placed it by an overflowing bin. Later in Saranda we would see people walking along the promenade and when they finished their can or bottle of beer or water they would just lob it into the sea. We even saw a bin man collecting rubbish. Someone had left a metal pole by the bin and because it didn’t fit in his collection bin, he just walked to the water and threw it in the sea. It just bobbed about in the waves by the swimming area.

Anyway, back to Kakomea. We went back to the boat to prep the bbq. Poor Jo was getting quieter and quieter and by dinner time she was sitting on the sugar scoop becoming reacquainted with her brunch. She wasn’t able to touch her plate of food at all. We made the decision then to head back to Saranda the next day and hire a car instead. We weren’t bothered at all, a road trip to us was a novelty. It was just a shame that it hadn’t worked out for them as all they had done for months was drive.

11th July 2022 - Kakomea - Saranda (8.58 nautical miles)

The next morning we weighed anchor at 10:25am ready to hot foot it back to Saranda. There wasn’t a great deal of wind and we didn’t want to prolong the agony so it was a short 8.5nm motor back to base. 15nm there and 8.6nm back in half the time. Gotta love sailing. Enough time though to wish my lovely Mum a Happy Birthday.

We again messaged Auron to inform him of our change of plan and checked in with the harbour master. We had already discussed hiring a car but would be potentially limited to day trips if we had to anchor the boat. Especially with that much weed around. As the anchorage came into view we were in luck. The mooring ball was free. We had seen a catamaran on this ball in 20+kn of wind so felt confident it was securely held. I got the mooring lines ready on the bow cleats and retrieved the boat hook ready to snare the ball. Mike offered to help so I talked him through what we would be doing. This mooring ball was more of a large puck, one metre in diameter and about half a metre high off the water line. There was no pennant (a small line with a hoop to attach to), just a small metal semi-circular hoop on top of the buoy. This was going to be tricky. The sensible thought of picking up the buoy from the back of the boat where the sugar scoops were lower to the waterline didn’t twig at this point. As we neared, Mike caught the metal hoop with the boat hook and tried to tug the buoy up closer for me to thread a line through. It didn’t budge. He was in danger of losing the boat hook and frantically tried to release it, eventually succeeding. I, in the meantime, lying on my belly on the trampoline had lent right out towards the buoy, half off the boat and had managed to reach the buoy. Both hands were leaning on it now as I threaded the line through the hoop. I now had to push off the buoy to get back onto the boat. I think at this point Mike might have grabbed my legs to ensure I remained onboard. Must have been quite amusing to have been watching this from another boat. At least we were now attached. There was a decent breeze so Carl had to manoeuvre the boat in order to bring the buoy into the middle so we could attach the starboard mooring line. It was Mike’s turn to attach it. He took a different approach to me. He stepped out over the rail and tried to lean down to thread it through. Just as he was leaning forward the boat started to move away from the buoy and for some reason he stepped onto the buoy. He had his phone in his pocket and a lovely white Panama hat on. I felt for sure he was going in but somehow he managed to thread the mooring line, then leap for the boat. I wish I’d had a camera available at that time. Well it hadn’t been pretty but we were now attached. Still don’t know whether Carl had deliberately moved the boat away when he saw Mike stood on the ball.

So as to avoid the mooring lines potentially bending the pulpit seat posts or damaging the navigation lights on the bow, we tied additional lines from the bridle fixed points under the trampoline, through the buoy and back. We then loosened the original cleat mooring lines and left them as a backup. To Jo’s relief it was time to get off the boat. We took the dinghy to the customs dock again and went to hire a car for the following morning. Carl and I felt secure enough to leave the boat overnight so once the car hire was sorted we found a place to have a beer and do some planning. Auron had suggested some places to visit and Jo had done some research too.

12th July - Ksamil and Butrint National Park

Our plan was to head out south of Saranda and stop for lunch at Ksamil which was set of beautiful islands across from the main town. Jo volunteered to drive. She was used to it as they had found less arguments ensued if she drove. The beautiful islands turned out to be heaving with tourists. Every inch of the beaches were covered with sun loungers, umbrellas and bodies. The stretch of water between the beach and the islands had every kind of water slide, pedalo and day tripper boat. Apparently we could bring the boat round to anchor here but Auron had actually warned us off the place. Remember he wasn’t in to overly touristy places. We did stop and have a lovely salad for lunch on our way to Butrint.

The national park encompassed hilly terrain with freshwater lakes, wetlands, salt marches, reed beds and islands. It sprawls across a peninsula that is surrounded by Lake Butrint and the Vavari Channel which links Lake Butrint in Albania with the Strait of Corfu. It really was beautifully situated, complete with Roman amphitheatre, gymnasium, forum and the remains of an aqueduct. At the top of the castle you looked out over a small island which had the Castle of Ali Pasha, famed ruler of Albania of the 19th century although it was previously occupied by the Venetians. After wandering through the site, taking pictures of the little turtles that had taken up residency now, we hopped back in the car and took the little car ferry across the river to check out Ali Pasha’s castle. We then took a drive through the countryside and stopped off at a tiny little village for a beer. The owner of the restaurant, who was having a coffee outside, dusted off some beers out of his fridge and brought us a cold glass to pour them into. Very friendly guy.

We made our way back to Saranda to stay the night on the boat. The wind was due to pick up the following day so we had already decided to stay onboard for another night. However the following day we would be heading north towards Gjirokaster and had booked rooms at Hotel Fantasy for the night. Carl and I were super excited to be off the boat for a night.

14th July - Blue Eye and Gjirokaster

On our way to Gjirokaster we stopped off to see a few touristy things. One was the Blue Eye, a natural spring feeding the river. The hole descends at least 50m with water bubbling up. It was quite picturesque but as usual slightly tainted by the throngs of us tourists hovering around. The boys in the back of the car fell asleep on the way to Gjirokaster and missed out on a stunning drive along a powder blue river with bridge crossings every once and a while. We stopped off at a town called Permet for lunch where a young teenage boy and his sister served us. They were on their school holidays and wanted to practice their English. It was still pretty hot so doing a long walk was not really appealing. After a shorter walk and a stop to pick up more water for the drive we were back on the road.

We had been forewarned that we may not be able to drive all the way up to the town of Gjirokaster, another UNESCO World Heritage site on a steep hillside. We thought we’d get as close as we could to the hotel then try find a place to abandon the car. At one point I ran ahead up a slope just to see if there was a way forward. The roads were cobbly, crazy steep and narrow but Jo did brilliantly.

As it turned out we got close enough to find a small flat carpark which was shared by a couple of hotels. A porter from our hotel came down, directed us to wedge our car as close to a wall as possible and then took our bags up to the hotel with us following on behind. The place was stunning. Our hotel had a panoramic view across the valley. The old city dates back to the 1300’s and was part of the Byzantine Empire although no doubt there was something here before. We showered, changed and met downstairs for a cocktail before heading into the narrow streets to find somewhere for dinner.

15th July Gjirokaster and Hadrianopolis

The next morning we checked out, flung our bags in the car and walked up to the castle. On the way up we stopped off to buy some oregano from a lady who had a little stall on the castle approach. It smelt gorgeous. Mike and Jo had introduced us to bread dipped in a mixture of olive oil, oregano and salt which was a favourite. The castle was filled with WWII military paraphernalia, either abandoned or captured by the Italian and German occupation forces. There was even an American airplane that was forced to land near Tirana in 1957 due to technical issues. Whilst in town we also took a guided tour of the Cold War tunnels deep in the rock. It was explained to us that they were designed to accommodate Socialist party officials in case of a nuclear attack. The tunnels lead directly to the old Party headquarters in town.

Whilst Carl and I grabbed a drink, Mike and Jo negotiated with an art dealer to buy a few pieces. The joys of being able to just bung it in the back of the van and take it home. We bought a ceramic jug in Positano and it’s still in the bubble wrap on the boat, just getting in the way.

Back in the car we briefly stopped off at another ancient site in the valley. The remains of Hadrianopolis (the Albanian one - there appears to be a few dotted about. He did get about, old Emperor Hadrian.) It was not particularly well looked after but we had the site to ourselves so worth a 10 minute stop.

16th July Saranda

The boat had survived on its mooring ball without us (I wasn’t worried, honest) and we were back in Saranda. We waved goodbye to Mike and Jo and went into town to provision. It was time to move on. We had spent a chilled 11 days in Saranda but we were keen to see more of the coastline. We had one last evening out and were again blessed with an Elvis performance. His bar is pretty small but there was a crowd of people sat on the sea wall outside his bar listening to the music. Shame they couldn’t come in and at least buy a beer. Sat next to us were two Ukrainian women. The war had recently broken out and I simply asked whether their family were safe. The women had been living in Germany and had come to Albania for a holiday. She told me her mum had come to live with her in Germany but her dad was still in the Ukraine. He had to escape his town when the Russians invaded. Hard to imagine what she must have gone through, not knowing if he was safe.

17th July 2022 - Saranda - Gjipe Beach (23.4 nautical miles)

We had told Auron that we were going to head up the coast of Albania and wanted to check out of Vlore or maybe Durres. He explained that if we wanted to do that we would have to pay another agent the €50 in Durres. Or he could check us out here in Saranda but we just shouldn’t stay in any ports. Just anchor in smaller places. It seemed a bit dodgy but we got it in writing that we could anchor so opted for that. Whilst we were getting ourselves ready to go our old super yacht friend High Power III turned up at the fuel dock to stock up. It was getting embarrassing now, like our shadow.

By 10:20am we had checked out and had dropped the lines from the mooring ball. It was a flat calm sort of day, no chance of sailing. We motored the 23nm up the coast towards Gjipe Beach. A pirate ship had just vacated a spot so we motored in and dropped the hook in 6.8m of lovely sand. The beach was quite busy, with jet skis bombing about and around us. We made sure to have a swim close to the back of the boat. There was a little beach bar which looked good to visit but as we were thinking about it a coast guard patrol boat came by. Feeling nervous about the fact that we had checked out and were still in the country we smiled and waved at the guys on board. They waved back, but then they hovered around us for nearly two hours. At one point they had switched off their engines, drifting, and almost collided with us. We think they were more concerned with the speed boats that came and went, ferrying people to and from the beach, and the jet skis that were flying about but they were too close for us to just leave the boat. We unfortunately stayed onboard. By the time they left the sun had gone down and the bar looked empty.

18th July 2022 - Gjipe Beach - Sazan Island, SE anchorage (38.5 nautical miles)

We had heard from Lucy and Jig on Falkor. They had finally checked out of Italy a couple of days ago and had come across straight to Vlore which was ahead of us up the coast. As we weren’t really allowed to go into the port of Vlore we agreed to meet at an anchorage on the south eastern side of Sazan island. The wind was due to be coming in from the west so if we got close enough in it might be quite protected. Falkor were keen too as they fancied a swim. The ports aren’t often that appealing to go for a dip. It was a military island but Navily had suggested that we were allowed to anchor there.

We left at 9:50am and raised the sails. The wind was around 8kn from the WNW so we motor sailed for the first few hours in about 0.5m of swell. By lunchtime the wind had built to 18kn and the engines were off. The wind was now coming from the NW so we tacked up the coast, achieving around 6kn SOG. I took the opportunity to do some hand steering to try and optimise our VMG (velocity made good), the speed with which we were actually going in the direction we wanted to. Felt good to take the helm and steer the boat for a time. Close to the mainland the wind appeared stronger and then would drop off a bit further out to sea. We were gaining more ground on the tack heading out to sea but of course the wind was steadily dropping so we would slow down. It therefore became a judgement call as to how far out you went before tacking back. We could see the island coming up ahead and as we neared we saw Falkor in the distance heading in. They radioed to say there was plenty of space and that it seemed well protected. Nearing the island the wind picked up to 32kn AWS. We still had full main and jib but the sea state was reasonably flat and we were so close to the anchorage we decided to ride it out. By 5:45pm we dropped the sails and motored in behind Falkor, dropping the hook in 5.1m. It was still pretty windy as it wrapped round the island but we were out of the swell. We had dumped out 40m of chain and had given Falkor plenty of room. We were the only two boats there. After making sure we were settled, we went over to Falkor for a few beers.

Great to catch up with them again. It appeared that the boot of Italy had not been kind to them either and it really was the final straw. They were going to try to sell Falkor in Croatia and head home. Carl and I were gutted but at least we would bump into this lovely lot quite a few times over the next month.





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