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  • Writer's picturePeter

Down our Street

This title may sound a little odd from someone who lives on a boat, but it gives an impression of the environment we are living in at the moment, so please read on ........

Our “House Number” is L24, that is Jetty L, boat number 24. There are spaces for 50 boats on this jetty and all but 4 spaces are taken up for the winter months. Of the 46 boats, about 1/3 of them have permanent residents on board. We call ourselves “liveaboards” – because this is our home and we live aboard all year around. There are 10 main jetties in the marina that are inhabited in a similar way and a few minor jetties that have a scattering of boats. The larger boats are furthest away from the land as the water is a little deeper and the smaller boats are closer to the shore. It is organised in such a way that similar sized boats are sitting next to each other; on our street the boat lengths range from 42 to 52 feet (12,5 – 16m).

Apparently, our jetty L is known as the “L-coholics” jetty, whilst the M Jetty, for the largest boats, are simply the jetty of the M-ega Rich.

It feels like we live on a street, in a real town, with a community in its heart. We were welcomed from the moment of our arrival and quickly got to know our friendly new neighbours.

As I look out on a sunny morning (one of the reasons we all chose to be in this southernmost point of Europe) there is a variety of “normal” activities as if you were walking past houses on an ordinary street:

  • The plants are being looked after and watered – many people have mobile herb gardens, with basil being the favourite potted plant.

  • Washing lines are hung up between the mast and forestays where laundry is drying in the sun on a windy day

  • Sails are unfurled to dry in light winds after a rainy day.

  • Decks and outside areas are washed and swept, especially after the Sirocco winds that brings so much red desert dust that begs to be cleaned up.

  • Engines from outboard motors are being maintained.

  • The stainless steel, which rusts if you don’t polish it regularly, is being buffed until it shines, especially when the sun rays touch it.

  • Neighbours talk together, “Let us go play beach tennis”, “BBQ tonight ?”, “Don’t forget Happy Hour on Friday” , “Can you help with plumbing/sowing/mechanical/ electrical problem ?

  • Bikes are parked outside the houses.

  • Wine is delivered on a weekly basis.

  • Artisans are invited onboard to help with specialist jobs such as engine maintenance, stainless steel work, sail repairs, electrical installations, plumbing, upholstery and wood jobs.

Each “house” on the street is different. Some are new, some are old and in various states of upkeep and maintenance. There are catamarans and mono-hulls for different living space and sailing requirements of the owners. Some boats are “home made” but the majority are from a selection of international boat builders that range from the lower cost “production boats” to the most expensive hand finished designs. There is always someone with a more expensive or bigger boat, but it actually does not matter as we are all living a dream in a way we can afford. We all use the same sanitary facilities and we all do our laundry.

With all the people in this marina there is a great mix of nationalities. This can clearly be seen by the flags from the different countries of boat registration. These colourful flags flutter and snap with the winds, slowly wearing out until they threadbare and need to be replaced.

On “our street” there are British, Dutch, Swiss, South African, Italian, French, Maltese, Canadian, American, Latvian, German and Swedish registered boats. With similar nationalities on other pontoons, but also including Belgians, Norwegians, Danish, and New Zealanders. 15+ nationalities that are quite evident and probable a few others who we have not yet had the good fortune to talk to.

As the major single nationality seems to be Dutch, Ingrid hasn’t had so many Dutch neighbours in a long time...

Basically, this is the real United Nations where we don’t talk much politics, just discuss our environmental footprint and how we can do better – sailing is better than flying or driving a car !

Just a small note on the important subject of Flag Etiquette: Each boat is registered to a specific country and must fly this flag when sailing for identification purposes. The flag size is recommended to be approximately 1” per foot of boat length, so for our 48ft boat we have a flag that is a standard size of 1 yard and a quarter (that is actually 45”) and is flown on a flagpole from the back of the boat (1 yard is 3 feet, which is 36”).

In addition, we are obliged to have a courtesy flag of the country where we are sailing. This is a small flag that is flown on the right hand side of the mast – as you can imagine we have built up quite a collection over the last 2 years ! – at least 11 that I can immediately think of.

As the courtesy flag is flown on the right-hand side of the mast, there is space on the left-hand side of the mast for other flags. These flags can be anything you like and are often from the countries or regions of other crew members. They can also be sailing club flags or anything that takes your fancy. We run a significantly large Dutch flag in this location for some reason I have not yet discovered.

Our Street and all the other streets are branched off the main central boulevard. This 10m wide pontoon is over 200 meters long and makes an area that is suitable for anything from BBQ lunches to folding up large sails. There are dinghies and bikes on the edges and a tented pagoda in the centre for meetings and parties. This floating boulevard extends to the shore and links the boaties to the mainland where we can find The Marina Office, the bathrooms, bars and restaurants.

As the walk to the bathrooms is quite considerable – advance planning is required for a 12-minute walk – we have finally bought our own bicycles to make this journey more efficient. We actually bought electric power assisted and foldable bikes, so we can get around easily and with less time wasted. I must admit, I was a little hesitant about having an electric bike. After all, these are for old folks, right ? As I am not yet in that category and there seemed to be no reason not to keep the legs functioning to their full capacity. However, as Ingrid has a hip that is sometimes painful, she was adamant for the need for an e-bike, so would I be left behind and could I keep up ?

Test driving the bikes in the aisles of Decathlon, I realised that there really was a need to keep pedalling, otherwise you get no-where and the assistance only engages when you start to pedal. With hesitation and not wanting to be left behind on a longer journey, I decided that I would also go for an e-bike, especially as it did not need to be “e” all the time.

Riding the bikes back from Decathlon, only a 25 km downhill journey, we expected a simple and easy time. Knowing that the main roads were full of “would be” Formula 1 drivers, we consulted Google Maps to help choose a safer, secondary road home.

Google chose a great route for us, but seemed to think we had just bought off-road mountain bikes that needed to be properly baptised. The route took us on a short cut through mud and deep puddles of water on “roads” that passed through farms with livestock and their freshly distributed waste material. Needless to say, that I ended up carrying the bikes through the deepest water to stop the bikes (and Ingrid’s shoes) getting too dirty on their first day.

Most of the journey was fast, fun and effortless as we free-wheeled down-hill, kilometre after kilometre on empty roads through beautiful countryside. It was only the last part, with the wind against us and a long uphill section that I was very pleased to have a little power assistance to make the end of the journey as easy as the beginning.

Yes, the e-bikes are great to give that extra help when needed and I would highly recommend anyone, of any age, to switch to an electric bike at the next convenient change.

For us in Marina di Ragusa, the coastal road is flat, but every other road to the shops are up hill and power assistance is a real pleasure.

In addition to the extra cycling, we have also started to take advantage of the flat coastal paths and we manage to run 2-3 times a week. At first this was tough, not having done any serious running for well over 9 months, but we are slowly getting back to some form of fitness. With the generally milder weather in Sicily, we hope to continue running through the winter and get back into shape. We are up to 6km per run, and so we will see if we are able to either reduce our running time, increase our distance or make a combination of the two.

One of the strange consequences of being in this part of the world and our time zone is that the sun rises at 6:50 in the morning and sets at 16:50 in the afternoon. We therefore have great light early in the morning (while still sleeping) and it is starting to get dark early in the afternoon while we are outside and active. It is not so easy to adjust, but at least we have bright mornings that give a real incentive to get up, rather than lazing in bed until the daylight appears.

Before we start our day though, we make the first tentative plans of activity and clothing as we look through the window hatch above our bed. From here, we can see if the sun is shining or if it is raining. We make an estimate of the wind strength by seeing how fast the clouds race across the sky and the wind direction is shown by the way the flags are fluttering – assuming there has not been a heavy dew when we can see nothing at all !

As people like to enjoy different things, we have joined the “Walking Group” within the boating community. Here, a well organised Dutch couple plans a different walk/hike each week that is between 10 – 15 km long and takes us to different parts of Sicily. These walks are great as it gives us an opportunity to see and explore areas which we have not had the time to discover on our own. The best part is that we don’t need to worry about getting lost and trying to work out if we are in the right place or not. Just walk and don’t lose the group!

This last week we visited a Unesco World Heritage Site – Pantalica: an amazing Necropolis of rock cut chambers in the limestone hills, north of Siracusa with an approximate age between 13 and 7 BC. There are over 4000 such chambers in the area and it was a great day to walk and see the chambers in a variety of locations up and down the cliff faces. How on earth did they manage to do this work with the simple tools in their possession ?

Besides spicing up our history and culture levels, the walks also give us an opportunity to meet with other boaties to exchange ideas about sailing, life in general or whatever is on our minds.

Life in our street is good. However, many tasks awaits us over the next months. One of them is the complete boat maintenance in preparation for trouble free sailing for the year ahead.

More on this on my next blog, assuming I have time to do something other than socialising, lazing in the sun or just generally enjoying life.

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