Sep 10

Off we go…at last

“Able was I ere I saw Elba”….. is one of the most famous palindromes and, indeed, able we were at last – with Elba as our first major goal.

Able to leave Livorno….

“Sailing away… but watch out for those cargo ships.”

Able to visit islands…..

Arriving on Elba

Able to swing at anchor….

Able, once again, to do what we set out to do six years ago.

We finally left Carlo’s yard on 3rd August and motored through the commercial docks into Livorno harbour ….

…….where we had a “free” berth [i.e. Luciano did not charge us]. Our intention, whilst there, was to stock up on a few things from the market, enable Luigi to come on board whilst motoring and complete any adjustments/calibrations to the new engine and finally visit a couple of sites which, despite all our time in the city, we hadn’t actually taken the time to see.

The old fort [Fortezza Vecchia]….

….a symbol of Medicean rule was completed in 1534, though some of the buildings inside date back to the 1100’s and the circular tower to 1241. Unfortunately we were unable to go inside because the system of automatically opening the pontoon bridge did not appear to be working, despite our going at the appointed 00-15 or 30-45 mins past the hour.

We were, however, able to access the New Fort [Fortezza Nueva] built between 1580 and 1596 but it was really rather uninspiring. The walk around the shaded, grassed area was pleasant and we got views of Livorno – including where we had spent a month living….

…. but the plan of the fort….

Fortezza Nueva

….was probably more interesting than the reality!!

Much more interesting was the “Quatro Mori” [Four Moors] – Livorno’s most popular monument which symbolises the victory by the Medici Grand Dukes over the pirates who roamed the Mediterranean. The huge bronze figures were the work of Carrera sculptor “Pietro Tacca”.

It is said that from a particular spot in the square the noses of all four can be seen at one time and that finding this spot is supposed to bring good luck. I’m all for that…..

One, two, three, yeah, four….

Unfortunately good luck wasn’t an immediate feature of our lives. Whilst laying out the anchor chain to put in our new markers we noticed that the windlass wasn’t working properly. When we changed anchors [back in May] we had lowered the old one and raised the new but now the chain did not seem to want to come out. We had serviced the upper part fully and wondered if we had put it back incorrectly so Mike took it apart again. No problems there. The motor was running so it could only be the inner workings and, on investigation, Mike discovered that the bearings had collapsed and jammed the worm gear. We had been on the hard when we ran it and now surmise that it was gravity which lowered the old anchor, not the windlass mechanism. It was stuck in “up mode”.

So, a new windlass was needed and, now for a bit of luck… Forniture Nautiche in Cecina had one in stock and were open the following week – even though it was the first week of Italy’s two week break when practically everyone in Italy goes on holiday and virtually no factories/businesses are open.

So, instead of heading out for Capraia we did a 30 mile passage south to Cecini to spend two nights in the marina there.

The old housing had been sealed down with sikaflex and it was a real struggle [understatement] to get it off. But a few strained muscles later and the job was done just before sunset.

We decided that we now didn’t have enough time to visit Capraia but, as the wind was in a direction which would have caused swell and roll in the islands only anchorage, perhaps this wasn’t a bad thing. Instead, on 8th August we set out for the 40 mile run to Elba and finally felt that we were properly on our way.

Elba’s capital, “Portoferraio” is so called because it was the port for iron ore export. It is a lovely harbour which Nelson described as “for its size the most complete harbour in the world”….










…but it is very expensive to berth there so we anchored out.

Early morning clouds over the eastern hills

We prefer to be at anchor anyway and the dinghy ride wasn’t too bad – as long as you were able to avoid the many ferries!

According to a billboard there are upwards of 100 ferries a day. We think this was an old advertisement because the number was nearer to 30 – but every one of them involved wash across the anchorage! Fortunately they don’t run during the night so all was calm then.

We only had three nights on Elba but made the most of our time there. As everyone knows, Elba is the island to which Napoleon was exiled in 1814. Now, maybe my historical education [or memory] is lacking but, my idea of exile and the reality differs somewhat. I hadn’t realised that although in exile he was actually in charge of the principality of Elba and Pianosa. He had with him 700 soldiers and a small naval contingent on the brig “Inconstant”. Whilst there he modernised the town, constructed roads, built the “Teatro Dei Vigilanti”…..

……. and a hospital and lived in total comfort in two different properties. His country house was three miles away in San Martino so we didn’t see that but we did visit his town house…..

…..the “Villa dei Mulini” which he shared with his favourite sister, Caroline, who was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time and who loved to party.

Green was for princesses only

The Italianate gardens were really quite lovely.

Portoferraio is famous not just for Napoleon. The pictorial walking guide….

…. also pinpoints the various Medici and Roman sites that can be seen such as the remains of the “Villa Romana” with its below sea level baths.

The site of the Modello tower on the south eastern point is now a small museum dedicated to “Sandro Pertini”, a political prisoner for many years – as a result of his anti-fascist stance – who then became Head of State [1978-1985] and remained a Senator until his death in 1990.

Portoferraio is a maze of tiny back streets and alleys….










….and full of hidden surprises such as this old water fountain….

….and this interestingly decorated building.

You can decide for yourself what it might have been or continue to be.

Not having time to stay in any other anchorages we travelled to one of them, Porto Azzurro, by bus.

An often crowded harbour, with 25 visitor berths, and a large bay containing several anchoring choices it offers an attractive option in pleasant green surroundings – the shores lined with trees, shrubs and Mike’s favourite…

A smaller, but equally quaint, town….










… was until fairly recently known by its original name of “Longone” which was also the name of the C16 citadel which, during C19-20, housed notorious, hardened [Mafiosi] prisoners.

That, unfortunately was all we had time for but before we leave Elba, just a few observations.

Most provisions are available but, understandably, at a cost greater than on the mainland.

A couple of chandlers/fishing tackle type outlets on the quayside but only for smaller items.

Restaurants abound but we found them to be of poorer quality and with rather surlier staff than we had grown accustomed to in Livorno. End of season syndrome? Tourists not locals so who cares if the customer returns or not?

Pretty island – green even towards the end of a long hot summer.

Historically and architecturally interesting.

So, although it would have been nice to see more of Elba, we had an appointment to keep in Corsica and therefore on 12th August we set sail from Napoleon’s island of exile to the island of his birth – so you haven’t heard the last of him yet…..

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Aug 02

A very shaky start…..and stop!

So where were we five blog posts ago – ah, yes, I remember – we were all set and ready to “splash” and then, all being well, set off. As scheduled, the boat went in the water on Saturday 27th May….

….and Mike went aboard to check that none of the newly replaced through hulls leaked.

All good – Yippee, good work Carlo. That evening we christened “Owl and Pussycat of Ardrossan”….

….and sat in the cockpit, afloat at last, and watched the lovely sunset whilst drinking the remnants of the bottle [and another one just in case you were worried that we had turned over a new leaf]

We spent Sunday tidying up and generally getting a feel for life on board again and early on the morning of Monday 29th made our final preparations. At 9.30am Carlo contacted the bridge operator, the bridges duly opened, and waving goodbyes to Carlo and Luca off we went.

As I have probably said in an earlier post, there are three bridges crossing the canal which leads into the commercial port.

In the photograph there looks to be lots of room for the mast to pass and, in reality, there is….but it doesn’t feel like that when you are standing on deck! Mike was busy concentrating on getting us through the first one and I was checking that water was coming out of the exhaust. We had run the engine the day before to check it worked OK but only at idle so we hadn’t tested it under pressure. Suddenly as we were approaching the second and third bridges an alarm went off. Looking back Mike blames himself for not throttling back or cutting the engine immediately. BUT… when we first arrived to take possession of “Owl and Pussycat” there was an alarm sounding in the cockpit even though she was on the hard. We were told by the previous owner that it was the automatic bilge alarm. As you might remember, our mast had been removed. We had also had the bottom sandblasted ready for Coppercoat treatment and had all the through hulls removed for replacement. In their wisdom, the yard had thought to wash the boat down after the sandblasting and water went into the boat through the hole left by the mast. It fell straight into the bilge but, because there were no pipes to send the water overboard, the bilge pump just pumped it round and round and the alarm was therefore activated.

So, when this alarm sounded our immediate concern was that one of the through hulls had now failed. OK, as I said above, we had checked them all, but we were now moving and the engine was running quite hard. Mike was trying to negotiate the bridges, watch for the car carrier which was berthed and the tanker that was now heading straight for us and at the same time was sure we were taking on water. I was frantically running round looking for that water ingress. We were both terrified that we were about to sink – well given our recent history with “Siga Siga” you can’t really blame us!!

Of course, it was nothing to do with water and within about two minutes the engine stopped. We were right in the middle of the commercial harbour. Fortunately we had cleared the bridges and had just enough speed to make it to the far wall – where I managed to grab an iron ladder and then attach a line to it, haul myself onto the dock and secure fore and aft lines to the big ship bollards.

So, there we were, parked under the cranes.

Dock security soon came along and told us we couldn’t stay there. We told them we couldn’t move! To cut a long story short, we contacted Carlo and he and his brother [former owner] came to tow us with our own dinghy – which we had been on our way to pick up at Luciano’s dock.

Between the phone calls and their arrival we had ascertained the problem. We had lost all the engine oil and seized the pistons. We tried everything we knew as well as what our trusty friend “Nigel” told us in his book but they were stuck.

Having had to wait for the bridge to re-open at 3.30pm to get back to Carlo’s we couldn’t do much else that day – though Carlo did contact a Yanmar mechanic for us who agreed to come the following day.

He confirmed the diagnosis and tried another couple of things which might have freed it but basically, the engine had to come out. Easy to say….

However….I guess when the Ta Shing yard made the Taswells they did not intend for the engines to come out. They certainly didn’t provide any way for it to happen. There is good access to the engine room and, when stripped down, it is possible the engine would fit through the largest of the doors…BUT it weighs about 200kg. It would take superhuman strength to lift it sideways, carry it to the bottom of and then up the companionway steps. This was not going to happen.

Decisions had to be made and action taken. Luigi [mechanic] told us that the smallest size he could get the engine down to was 700mm x 450mm – so our challenge was to make a hole bigger than that.

However, before any such hole could be cut we had to remove the refrigeration compressor…..

…from a shelf built above the engine, remove the engine room lights and also cut out the shelf.

To move the compressor we had to do something with the gas. Luciano said “Just let the gas go”. We weren’t happy with that. It is not ecologically sound and, as far as we could work out, illegal. We made the decision to have it done properly – which was absolutely the right decision. Had we let the gas go, no self-respecting refrigeration person would have come to replenish it – mainly because we were told that when the gas is released the oil can escape and can’t simply be replaced because it is a hermetically sealed unit. Once the oil escapes the unit ceases to work.

I have forgotten to mention that we were also approaching yet more Italian holidays so not much work was going to be done by anyone but us. Fortunately the fridge guy said he would come early on the holiday Friday morning. We spent the Thursday taking apart the electrics to the compressor….

…. which, incidentally, had to be reattached because the gas has to be cold when it is “caught”!

Over the weekend we finished the compressor and shelf work and also disconnected those parts of the engine which we felt comfortable removing – alternator, turbo charger etc.

It was now time to tackle the issue of the hole. Because of the way the boat is constructed we worked out that the biggest hole we could make in the cockpit floor, without damaging or having to remove any of the woodwork in the galley and saloon, and leaving enough of a “lip” to refit the trap door was 750mm x 460mm. Probably not as big as Luigi was going to want but we decided we would at least start with that and cross our fingers that the 700mm x 450mm dimensions Luigi had given us were correct.

Monday, the hole was cut….

….and in the afternoon Luigi came, removed the bits we hadn’t and, breathing in [us and the engine!] we squeezed it through the hole.










So, a week from seizing the engine it was finally out.

The sides of the hole were treated with epoxy, as were the edges of the trap door. A stainless frame was made and fitted to the door. Appropriate holes were drilled and hefty bolts and screws purchased.

We then discovered a remarkable product called Butyl. Carlo’s idea was to use Sikaflex when we came to replace the trap but we weren’t keen on this idea and Mike went on an internet search, having remembered that when we had been going to replace the seals on the windows of “Siga Siga” – a job we unfortunately didn’t get to tackle – we had been sold a different type of sealant, a Butyl tape.

Because of its remarkable properties Butyl seals, is totally waterproof and is flexible but doesn’t “set”. It acts rather like “Blutack”. It meant that we could put the trap door down during our return to the UK to seal the boat from rain, knowing that we could easily lift it up again. We hope that we don’t have to put it to the test again in the future but, if we do, we know we will be able to get it open.

Anyway – to return for just a moment to the cause of all this trouble – loss of oil. You will recall I said that I was running round like a headless chicken looking for a water leak and I therefore looked in the engine room several times from both sides – so why didn’t I see oil.

Well, this is a photo of the engine after it stopped.

No signs of spurted oil. The oil had just dripped from beneath the gasket of the filter. Aha, you say, the filter was replaced badly when we serviced the engine. Not so, I’m afraid. You may remember me saying in an earlier post that some parts were hard to get and others fairly easy. Well, we couldn’t initially find a Yanmar oil filter but the one that we took off was a Bosch and, having changed oil and fuel filters on “Siga Siga” lots of times we knew that alternatives were generally fine as long as the measurements of the hole diameter, screw thread and the gasket etc were the same. So, we had checked the one we bought directly against the one we took off and also with our Vernier. Perfect match. What we did not spot – probably either because we haven’t come across one before or because it has never mattered –  is that the filter we bought had a small metal “lip” on the inside of the gasket – you can see it below….

….and that lip stopped the gasket “spreading” to form the correct seal. Something so simple has caused all this mess. Well, you learn by your mistakes I guess.

Having removed the engine, Luigi took it away for full diagnosis at his workshop in Viareggio. Initially he sent us a quote for about €4,000, plus tax, for parts plus a similar sum for labour. Mike had done some research and a new engine was going to be up to four times the cost of the quoted parts. So initially we went with that quote. However, subsequent emails from Luigi raising new issues and increased costs resulted in us taking a trip to Viareggio to see an alternative second hand engine he could also offer. In the end we had a long talk and asked him for the best deal he could do on a new engine. To complicate matters further, there are new engines known as “common rail”. I am sure someone can tell me why that is their name but I can’t tell you! Anyway – we were given the choice of the new “leaner, greener” common rail or one of the last series of mechanical ones. They were both around the same price. More economical and more eco-friendly sounded great – BUT, it is computer controlled – like most modern cars. Fault occurs, computer shuts down engine, Yanmar mechanic with diagnostic computer required to fix it. We reasoned that you don’t get many of those wandering around in the South Pacific – or when you want one in the middle of any passage for that matter. We know from [sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet] experience that, given parts, we can take engines apart and put them together again. We can “cobble” things to limp to port if we have to. You can’t cobble a computer controlled one. So, in the end – the choice was obvious and we ordered a new mechanical engine.

I just want to take time out at this point to give huge thanks to three very good friends – Steven [Swanson], Malcolm [Bullock] and Steve [Toms] for their advice and thoughts about what decision we should make. Some decisions made by “committees” are poor [insert your own experiences here!] but we found their willingness to join this debate and give their – as they put it – “for what it’s worth” comments invaluable. Thanks Guys.

All of this had actually taken more than four weeks but obviously we spent lots of that time doing other stuff on the “to do” list that we had hoped to make inroads into whilst sailing round some of the Italian islands e.g. Mike once again honed his splicing skills making new lines for the fenders….

….and fitted our new AIS.

He also cleaned and painted the engine room….

Being “stuck” at the yard hasn’t actually been an issue – mainly due to the succession of cars we hired and, most importantly, that we could continue to live aboard. The post about Tuscany which I put up in June gives an idea of how we spent some of our days and there has also been stuff to see sitting here on the dock.

Fishing is an extremely popular pastime in Italy [I think I have mentioned this before]. Every weekend two campervans have turned up on the wasteland opposite us. The vans are parked to the left of the yellow dumper and you can see one of the occupants fishing on the far bank.

Moored behind us is a small fishing boat which also turns up periodically with his net attached to the stern of his boat and the hauling mechanism powered by the small Honda generator. Later at night he moves out into the middle of the river/canal and looks quite spectacular when he turns his light on to see if there are fish in his net.

There are apparently eleven of them in all between April and August, but the three most important events are two which take place in June – which we didn’t really know about until too late- and the “Palio Marinaro” in July.

There are separate races at each event, with two different rowboat categories – the four man ‘gozzetta’ ….

……and the ten man ‘gozzo’..







……seen here practising close to us.

Having watched the practice we were pleased that we were around for the July race which takes place on the sea near the port. The races were due to start at 6.45pm with the women’s gozzetta race followed by the men’s gozzetta and then the main event – the men’s gozzo with teams from each of the cities districts [“Rioni”] taking part.

We arrived early to get a good viewing spot and whiled away the time people watching and generally gazing out to sea….
…….or watching the kites.

A string for each “Rioni”

The “Paulo Marinaro” ….

… considered the most significant of the three main events because according to the blurb written about it, it can apparently change the classification of a team: the team that wins the four man gozzetta race is promoted to a ten-man gozzo for the following year, while the team that comes last in the ten man gozzo race is relegated to a four man boat. We are not sure this is what happens in current practice as a team from the district which won the four man race was also taking part in the ten man one. Whatever, it was good fun.

To be fair, things did start on time but, there was a lot of “practicing” going on – some teams rowed the course about three times before they lined up!










Lining up was in itself quite an art. The cox had to catch hold of a line attached to a buoy and hold the boat until the starter’s gun.

At last they were off and about ten minutes later we had the winners of the first race…..

….and then the start-up line for the second.

Dusk was beginning to fall and it became increasingly difficult to capture what was happening…

… the extent that I couldn’t snap the winners of the men’s gozzo – by 9.00pm I could only just see them, but here they are on one of their practice runs.

I have written previously about the big motorboat yards up the adjacent canal. I don’t know if it is they who pay for dredging but periodically in June and July there have been dredgers trying to keep a passage open.









A bit of a losing battle we think as an island “created” just before we left for the UK had virtually dissolved back into the water two weeks later.

Where the river meets the sea the water is really shallow almost all the way across. One day we were called by Carlo to look at a dolphin that was in the process of being rescued. She had beached …. but divers recovered her and swam with her and all ended happily.

Some nights when sitting in the cockpit we have seen evidence of thunderstorms in the mountains to the north. Rain is rare on the coast in Livorno during the early summer months – but when it rains…it rains….

….and I believe there is an increasing chance of thunderstorms as autumn approaches. I would rather we didn’t see any at all whilst on the boat – though expect we shall, but I really hope we aren’t still in Livorno to see them!

To that end I return to the engine saga. We returned from the UK on Thursday 20th July and our engine had arrived. However Carlo was on holiday so the crane wasn’t available until Monday….and then the wind blew so we couldn’t man handle the boat around to the crane – but the engine was delivered to the yard.










On Tuesday morning it went in – another tight squeeze and a few frightening moments when everything looked rather stuck….

… but it was finally lowered into place.

Luigi was then called away to assist a big man with a big engine on his big boat for which we assume he was going to open his big wallet and was therefore of much more interest to Luigi than we could ever be. To be fair, Luigi has been great with us and has done the work at a very reasonable price and we don’t blame him for not wanting to miss the opportunity of a big job.

On Wednesday all the bits that had been taken off were replaced including the gear box which was manoeuvred into place using a temporary chain hoist.

It was then up to us to replace the shelf and the refrigerator compressor. Paulo came again and assisted. A great job – he has simplified the wiring and made it much more user friendly. The trapdoor was then fixed in and everything else made shipshape.

As we were also doing some final provisioning over the weekend we happened to walk through the centre of Livorno and discovered that a festival was taking place. So….we went.

Fire eaters

Livornese conversation….











Mr Caterpillar…before his balloons were released


Nuevo Venezia canals

…and plazas












Artwork on display

The band played on…..

A fantastic evening.

Now for the moment of truth.

See you next time……….

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Jul 24

Celebrations in the UK

Well, they say every picture tells a story and generally that’s right – especially when its photos of people having fun. Our recent short trip to the UK was one big round of fun so for this post I will rely on pictures rather than words which is rather unusual for me, as you know. It will probably be the shortest so far.

We arrived at Stansted on Thurs 6th July and had a really pleasant BBQ with Andrea, David, Fiona and Martin. It was warm. We sat outside until midnight. Was this really the UK we wondered?

The following day we went to a Dog Show. Neither of us had been to a proper dog show before. I had once gone to a local fete with my Retriever, Charlie, who won “most smiley dog” or something like that – but this show was for real!

Mylo on the run

Lovely lady Calypso

…and young Meira or Miera….Sorry!

As well as watching Andrea show her three dogs we amused ourselves trying to guess the number of spots in the Dalmatian ring and watching the agility dogs….

…. they were amazing. Well, some of them were though one or two decided that once off the lead the food tents were fair game.

That evening we met up with Caroline and John and several of their guests for a pre-wedding get together before the first “Big Day” on Saturday 8th July at the Athenaeum in Bury St. Edmunds.

It was a very special day. Gorgeous weather, great guests, lovely family and a fantastic bride and groom.

Mr and Mrs Joplin

Yeah… confetti sisters

Margaret….giving her daughter away and her speech. Amazing lady.

Who said you could tell that story……

Morecambe… or Wise….

Even we managed to scrub up well.

Lots more guests came for the evening – including Andrea and Fiona, the latter of whom……

……now awaits “A level” results [more celebrating hopefully].

Caroline and John showed us all how it should be done….

….and then we bopped the night away.

Nothing like a spot of “uncle dancing” before being the last people to leave.

It was then up to Cheshire for some more food in the garden – this time with Chris and John.

Can’t remember what the joke was but it was obviously a good one.

House projects took up two days of the week and then I met up with some of the “Sundowners”….and remembered to take my camera this time.

A few members of “the best team”

You will hopefully see more of them soon as there is a little get together planned in Valencia in October.

On Thursday 13th Mike joined “the boys” in Manchester – to decorate the venue for the following day and I was with “the girls” in Holcombe Brook…..

Bride to be….

…and bridesmaids

…… arranging some of the table flowers.

Top table stuff….

Simple but very beautiful and very effective was the overall approach to Jenny and Tom’s wedding.

Mum, daughter, freesias from the garden, beautiful bouquet..gorgeous

The venue was “Victoria’s warehouse” in Manchester which is quite amazing – but unfortunately I wasn’t set up for fairy lit photography so this was the only photo I got.

Suffice to say Jenny was a most beautiful bride and Tom a lovely groom. Thanks to Andrea Seed who put this photograph, and those below, onto FB which I could steal!

We had just enough time the following day to recover over a big breakfast in Chorlton with Steve and Mary when it was time to party, party, party, yet again to celebrate Dave’s 60th.

Mary’s amazing creation..

Fabulous friends

WOW – Dave is 60!

….and us!

And that, dear friends, is that. We left the UK on Wed 19th July having really enjoyed everyone’s celebrations and just sorry that we can’t join Phil and Emma [Happy Wedding Day], Chris and John [Happy 1st Anniversary], Peter and Lin [Lin’s 60th] and everyone else who has reason to celebrate at the moment.

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