A Venetian Mooring

So it’s northwards now to Venice.  This involves a steady motor up the deep water channel in an otherwise shallow  Venetian Lagoon.

The channel is bounded by the Littorale di Pellestrina and Littorale di Lido on the east and oak mooring posts, known as briccola, on the west.  There are fishing villages and other residential zones as well as depots of light industry on the narrow Littorali, which face the Adriatic, and to the west there is open flooded marshland with occasional fishing huts on stilts.  After passing some minor islands we get our first views of Venice island itself.

As we look at the skyline of  terra cotta roofs, spires, domes and the Campanile di San Marco which towers above all, we are suddenly aware of a vast vessel which is moving through the Canale della Giudecca towards the Canale di San Marco, and as we round the southeastern corner of Venice to sail into the Canale a monstrous cruising ship looms above us.  Its name is Costa Fortuna, and I think it probably must do as I stare up at the folk ranged along the upper decks gazing down at us.  (The ship boasts 1,358 cabins, 4 restaurants, 11 bars, 6 jacuzzis and 4 pools.)   As we pass the ship we immediately turn towards the entrance to our waterside haven.

We are lucky to have a mooring at the small marina next to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore on a small island which faces Piazza San Marco.   The island is dominated by the belltower, the white marble facade of the church and the surrounding buildings are part of the old Benedictine monastery.  Andrea Palladio’s church and monastery were built between 1559 and 1580 and the Church houses some impressive paintings, including Tintoretto’s Last Supper.  When you climb to the top of the campanile you can enjoy a 360 degree vista.  The waterways are dotted with vessels criss-crossing the lagoon.  Some of these are the water taxis, vaporetti, which will serve us well over the next three days.

We celebrate our safe arrival with drinks in the cockpit and then eat on board.  Tomorrow our Venetian experience begins.

Crossing the Adriatic

On the morrow there are customs formalities because we are leaving Croatia, bound for Venice.   We all go ashore to present our passports and Carolyn and I buy some bread and dried figs.  These are pale and dry, quite different (and rather nicer in my view) from the dark, greasy looking figs you buy in packets at the supermarket.

I am busying in my cabin when I hear the engine start up and we are very soon heading for open water.  A queasy wave runs through me and I need to go up on deck.  It’s not a brilliant day weatherwise and although the swell is not as severe as that experienced earlier in the passage, the combination of that and the wind direction in relation to the course on which we are set creates an unpleasant motion.  It’s a 7-hour crossing that we face so I adopt a belt and braces approach, swallowing 2 Stugeron and wearing my wrist bands.  I tuck myself up under the dodger with a warm jacket, my sunhat pulled firmly down and snooze with the warm sun on my bare legs.

Come lunch-time I am ready for a cuppa soup and a salad roll then go below for a sleep.  They wake me when we enter the Canal of Chioggia but it takes me a good while to pull myself round.  I feel somewhat drugged (and blame the sickness pills).  We have entered the Venice lagoon at its southern end and Chioggia, which is close to Padua on the Po River Delta and situated on a two small islands (900x200m), is at this southern entrance.  The two islands are separated by the ‘main drag’, the Canale Vena.  We are about 25 km south of Venice (50 km by road); causeways connect Choggia to the mainland. The population is around 25,000.

Once we are tied up to the quay there is time for Bucks Fizz in the cockpit and I am beginning to rally round.  We then face a walk into Choggia to seek out a restaurant called El Gato (the Cat) which specialises in fish.  It turns out to be rather pricey but this is our shout to treat the Derricks.  Sadly when I have my platter of grilled seafood placed before me I find I have no appetite for it and a general feeling of unwellness.  Fortunately my companions help me out but we have to leave the restaurant abruptly, to the consternation of the staff, none of whom speaks English, and therefore believe that we are not happy.  Despite an attempt at miming the problem we end up leaving some perplexed Italians behind.

Carolyn takes my temperature and we find it is a bit elevated and I’ve no idea whether this is an effect of the sun, although I was never fully out in it, or a virus.  I’m better the next day and before we head for Venice we go ashore again to explore Chioggia a bit more and visit the Museum (unfortunately closed that day) which houses archaeological finds and describes the works that are being carried out to save the settlements in the Venice lagoon from flooding.

Chioggia retains its traditional role as a fishing and port city, with tourism now also an important part of the local economy.  Chioggia is a miniature version of Venice although not quite so illustrious.  But it gives us a taste of a town which arose from marshland and whose principal thoroughfares are waterways.  After lunch on board we start the passage north to Venice itself.

Istrian Interlude

We woke to heavy rain and motored from Losinj.  We are going to leave the north Croatian islands in the archipelago behind and cross some open water to reach the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula.  We sail past Porer Lighthouse which is off the southwest coast of the southern cape of Istria.  From here we trace the west coast northwards, eventually reaching Rovinj towards the end of the afternoon.  By now the weather has turned fine and we all go ashore to stretch our legs.

Rovinj is the second leading destination in Istria and is also unofficially considered one of the most beautiful towns on the Adriatic coast.  Hence it is both a popular tourist resort and an active fishing port.  A wide quayside around the waterfront is backed by bars, restaurants, a few civic buildings.  A large flower market is in full swing.

The Rovinj skyline is dominated by the tall campanile of the church high above the town with its floodlit statue at the highest point, which appears to guard the roofs below. Its long history would be very different without the traditional devotion to St. Euphemia.  Beneath the church, the roofscape descends to the water’s edge and one cannot fail to notice the rather obtrusive flock of satellite dishes perched on top of the buildings.

After a short walk we settle at a waterfront restaurant where tables and chairs have spilled onto the quay and order a bottle of white wine.  We plan to eat aboard and order no food until Mike and I confer and then order a platter of steamed mussels to share.  As he takes the order, our waiter is very amused when we refer to ourselves as ‘the last of the big spenders’.

Back onboard and Carolyn serves her chicken and mushroom dish with rice, a Verity standby.  We all repair to our bunks early as we have a long journey ahead of us on the morrow.

Omelettes All Round

“You queue for hours at a polling station to be checked against one paper copy of the electoral roll.  You are given a short stubby pencil and a small scrap of paper to mark with an X, which is the sign of the illiterate, and you post this scrap of paper in an old tin box.  I mean, it’s just not cool……………………”

Waking to the sound of the World Service on the ship’s radio, this is what I hear as I sip my morning tea.  There is general mirth from our various cabins at these words, spoken by a local politician in response to questioning about people who had been turned away from polling stations after queueing fruitlessly to register their vote.   There’s disgruntlement out there and it’s pretty clear that there will be a hung parliament, the question being who is going to get into bed with whom.

We follow developments over successive days, blissfully cushioned from news overload by the limited times we can access a broadcasting station.

We’ve been woken early by fishermen lifting their nets.  Nick sees some small fish flapping around in the nets.  After breakfast we pick up our mooring and head north.  We’ve some 45 miles to cover today, our destination being Losinj.  We break at lunchtime and drop anchor off the east coast of Ilovik.  Nick makes us omelettes each customised to order. Mine’s tomato and red onion with a chunky scallion on the side.  After this a deck head survey (also known as a spot of Egyptian PT) is required.

To get to our overnight port we motor up the west coast of Losinj then along an inlet which takes us back down to the main port.  Carolyn and I go ashore and after some difficulty find a wine bar where we can use the internet for the modest cost of a glass of wine.  I’m glad to get a post out of the pipeline.  My Orange dongle is adequate for emails but it looks as if it is going to be a costly option for other internet usage – at least until I find out how much I can see and do within 1MB download at £8.   We eat ashore very cheaply at a small restaurant on the quay next to our boat.

Verity, Verity I say unto you…..

……It’s great to be fully afloat again on this peerless Oyster; the good ship Verity is ever shipshape and Bristol fashion. We’ve had the usual pre-voyage tasks to complete, marina fees to pay, laundy to collect, odd items of provisioning we forgot yesterday, Euros to change into Kuna.

Motoring out of Marina Frapa we set course for Zut and hit a nauseous residual swell.  Hardly surprising since the fetch is coming straight across the Adriatic.  With my elasticised wristbands, and a polartec-lined jacket belonging to Mike I sit in the stern with the wide brim of my sunhat pulled firmly down and my face in the wind.  After an hour and a half we come into the shelter of Zirje, at the southern end of the Kornatis and the swell abates markedly.

Fortified by Ainsley Harriot’s superior cuppa soups and Carolyn’s filled rolls we motor through the day passing through the now familiar karst/limestone islandscape of the Kornati archipelago.  We sail between Kornat and Zut.  There is late afternoon sunshine as we pass previous haunts such as Sali on the eastern side of Dugi Otok and the island of Rava where we had a most memorable meal with Mike and Carolyn in 2006.  They went back with other friends in 2009 but as so often happens with restaurants, there had been a change of management and the meal they had was lack-lustre and expensive.

Our overnight anchorage is to be at Brbinj, coincidentally the first anchorage of our first sailing trip in Croatia.   There is a single buoy and we are the only boat in the north part of the cove which is sheltered from all winds.

I prepare a small selection of bites to take with drinks which we have in the cockpit, gazing out over the utterly still surface of the water.  There are no singing cicadas this early in the season.  A few houses are nestled into the gentle hillside slope across the bay.  We feel quite alone.

Carolyn has prepared spaghetti Bolognese which we eat in the saloon.  It’s been Election Day in the UK and over cheese, wine, coffee a lively debate ensues.  Nick and I have also been negotiating on the Dorset house offer.  So with a sense of anticipation for results to come we go to our cabins and are gently rocked to sleep.

It’s an Ill Wind

Time in England is jam-packed. Returning on Saturday afternoon we have tasks to get done. On the morrow we will be driving to Dorset to view two possible houses, thence to Sunbury for a BBQ and back home to pack for an 0300hr departure for Gatwick on Monday. The two houses we view are different and, inevitably, each has features we really like and some drawbacks as well. But the first one we see has fewer drawbacks and over a pub lunch with Stuart and Angela we talk ourselves into a position of feeling we’d like to make an offer. Charlotte has already checked these houses out on the internet and clearly favours the first so is glad to hear that this would be our choice when we see her later..

When we get back home I’m feeling slightly panicky because our bags are still unpacked although the bedroom floor is littered with clothing that needs to be whittled down. Once done I feel a whole lot better and we still manage to get a bit more than 4 hours sleep before we need to leave for the airport.

As I settle back into my seat, with a light novel and the Independent crossword to fill flight time, I’m already sinking into a state of anticipatory relaxation with ten days afloat on Verity in view.

Arriving at Marina Frapa there are high winds and it is immediately clear that we will not be able to set sail the following morning. We already face an exciting passage north, to Venice, and we do not need to factor any more excitement into the journey. It’s an ill wind if it does not blow us some good and both the Derricks and the Lights feel that we can make use of a quiet day or two in the marina whilst we sit out the weather. Three of Jandia’s crew are aboard and are good for company and entertainment. In the evening we meet at the covered Boules court for a match. I’m co-opted to the Jandia team and we win. The victory is ascribed to a particularly fortunate throw on my part which gives us 4 points in one game. At a stroke I become Jan Dear. We repair to Konoba Lanterna for a rather raucous meal. Martin from Arabesque joins us, hotfoot from his evening flight into Split. There will be some thick heads in the morning.

On Tuesday the wind is still raging and the weather maps show we can expect no relief in the next 24 hours. It’s another day in the port, easily filled by time with my book, my netbook. During the day Nick spends quite a bit of time on the ‘phone: we offer on the house and Dan needs advice in the matter of sorting his employment status and future. The men have running repairs to carry out. In the evening we are invited aboard Jandia for drinks and Yorkshire canapés because the return Boules match is blown off.

We have booked to eat together at the Atrium restaurant, another lively evening ensues. We have people to argue along the spectrum of political beliefs but are brought to a calmer moment when Nick thumps the table with an empty wineglass and breaks the top off its stem.

As Wednesday dawns it’s clear that the wind is showing now signs of relenting just yet. Nick has a date with Jandia’s bilges and I have offered to mix up the marinade which her crew need for their butterflied rack of lamb. I buy some mustard on the way over to their pontoon, do the business and then wait for Nick to finish toiling in the depths. Carolyn and Mike have carried out a first tranche of provisioning and after pizza lunch there is more shopping to do. In the evening five of us eat at Ilirya. I’ve enjoyed eating ashore and made the most of it, choosing octopus salads, seafood risotto and calamari. Whilst in the restaurant there is a flash downpour and the young owner tells us that this can mark the end of the high winds we have been experiencing, known locally as the Jugo.

Sure enough when we wake up on Election Day the wind has gone and we can head north.

A Bit of a Bulletin

It’s time for more St Vaast days…. but not many on this occasion. Nick has been in France for a week already. He travelled over to rendez-vous with our builder, and his two insurance agents and an expert on dry rot. We found the evil ‘champignons’ earlier this year and removal of plaster below the windows in our bedroom and the second principal bedroom shows the insidious tendrils creeping laterally along the walls to who knows where? Who will pay for the eradication and remedial works that will be necessary? Fortunately we have all the invoices and guarantees the Lecanus handed to us the day we completed on the purchase of our French abode. It clearly states that water-proofing was applied to all the exterior walls at the time of repointing etc. So it should be ok, but you never know. The meeting takes place and Nick tells me with justifiable pride later, that he is fairly sure he followed all the deliberations. Given that French spoken between themselves can sometimes sound like bursts of machine-gun fire I’m impressed. Before treatment can be applied the builders will have to remove plaster from exterior walls in all rooms of the house to check the extent of infestation. However as far as we are concerned business at 104 will continue as usual.

But let’s not be worrying about this. For the immediate I have met up with long-time friends John and Gill on the Cap Finistere which is crossing from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. We happen to have booked on the same ferry and they are going to take me to St Vaast and stay overnight before continuing to Monaco. Nick and John occasionally worked together and the friendship has continued into retirement. Gill and I get on well. It’s great to welcome them to 104 not least because we have had some good stays at their home on the Somerset Levels. I am treated to a ride in John’s vintage E-type and arriving find Nick has done a sterling job. The house and garden are beaming, as well as the sun – in which we sit to have afternoon tea.

In the evening we go to Au Moyne de Saire for dinner which is fine because we have good dining company although it would have been great to take our guests to Fuchsias if the hotel were open on Monday evenings when the choice is limited.

Before they leave we take John and Gill on the customary walk around the Hougue. It’s a fine slightly breezy day and all six of us enjoy the trot, not least Gill’s girls – Esme and Blossom the little white terriers – who lead a charmed life and have managed to behave well in their short time with us. We can even forgive them for chasing Rooney because we have never seen him shift so fast and the exercise must have been beneficial!! There is just time to whistle round Maison Gosselin and show Gill the delights of our local grocer before he shuts for lunch. It’s a great place to shop at Christmas if you want to give friends consumables as a present. It seems more and more of our contemporaries prefer such gifts.

We’ve got pate and cheese at the house, so buy baguettes and have lunch in the sunshine. After a conference over the GPS and who will have it, they are off, he in his Jag, she in her hired Mini Cooper.

Most of these St Vaast days are spent gardening. But I do get a phone call from Imprimerie Charon telling me that the crepe paper that Anne has ordered on my behalf awaits collection. On July 18th the ten-yearly Fete de la Mer will take place in this small coastal town. It’s a Festival to the Sea and the St Vaastais decorate their houses with garlands of paper flowers. Each road has its colour scheme andmany of the local women join forces to make the simple flowers and string them on cords. This is only required for the heart of the town and as it happens the Poulets and Lights have houses the other side of the crossroads which mark a limit. It’s not de rigeur for us. But not a bit of it, we are going to decorate our houses in any event and Anne things a glorious riot of colour would be a good scheme. So I collect my order – a large box of pre-cut crepe paper which sets me back 60 Euros. When I calculate the many hundreds of flowers to be made, and each flower will take at least 2 minutes to make – that’s a lot of fiddly finger-work.

To my huge relief when the Poulets and Daniel come for a Red Thai Salmon Curry (thanks to Waitrose recipe cards) later, I learn that the box contains paper for a quartet of adjacent houses: ours, the Poulets, Daniel and his mother, Genevieve. Well that is better…… and Genevieve – a seasoned crepe paper flower maker – is going to help. Better every minute. After the meal is over Francois suggests pool, and I get my lesson in paper-making. It’s a mountains of flowers that needs to be made, and the volume will be vast at the end. In the year we are juggling houses and belongings but, tant pis. When in Rome, When in France……….

As I go round and put the garden to bed for the next three weeks or so I stop to enjoy blooms current, and gaze at the buds of blooms to come. I find the Solomon’s Seal which I bought at the nursery in Penzance has three lovely stems. A favourite of mine and my Mums’ we always think of Lear’s inventive cartoons. The Lewisia plants I bought with some trepidation with Anne last autumn have budded stems. I’ve not succeeded with these before. The surviving Echium, plundered from the gravels in the garden on Ile Tatihou, is a giant who will surely flower in this third summer. I think I am going to miss the Dutch Iris and the bulbous lilies I rescued from the narrow bed and potted up. This year I have seen the Camassia in their prime and the dwarf bearded Iris too. Definitely a case of swings and roundabouts.

Shellsand: What it is, How to find it and Why you might want it.

I’m sure my conchological  friends won’t take offence when I say that every now and then I escape the world of normal pursuits and regular people to indulge my eccentric fascination for the humble shell.

Recently three of us ran shellsand workshops in Reading and Cambridge.  The aim was to offer an introduction to the pleasures and merits of collecting and sorting shellsand.  In all some 15 participants, ranging from novices and students to seasoned collectors, sorted a fraction of shellsand from Porthcurno.  Porthcurno is a small village in the parish of St. Levan located in a valley on the south coast of Cornwall. It is approximately 9 miles to the west of the market town of Penzance and about 3 miles from Land’s End.

Porthcurno beach faces southeast, is narrow and has two embayments.  Access into the second embayment is possible at low water.  The sediments at this beach are intensely carbonate-rich, pale, biodiverse shellsands and gravels.  Apart from numerous surf clam valves, shells of macro-mollusc species are seldom washed in.

To a conchologist shellsand is a magic substance which can give you hours and hours of shell-collecting pleasure (particularly in the winter months) long after you have returned from a trip to the beach to look for shells on the strandlines.  To a geologist it is a sediment that contains 50% or more carbonate grains.  The shellsands we are familiar with from the coasts of Britain and Ireland are skeletal (also known as biogenic) sediments because they are composed of biological remains: molluscs, serpulids, barnacles, bryozoans, echinoderms, forams, brachiopods, decapods, otoliths, ahermatypic corals.

Christine Street told us that finding shellsand is a matter of close inspection and luck. You find deposits of shelly material on different areas of beaches at different times, and tracking them down means getting to know your beach with its wind regime, tides and currents as well as its shape and topography.  Her experience centres mainly around small Scottish islands and over the years she has visited a goodly number of them.

When prospecting for deposits it’s wise to have x10 lens around the neck which allows you to pick up a small sample in the hand and inspect it closely.   What you see should give you a clue as to whether it is worth taking a sample home to sort under a microscope.  By and large, shellsand is usually best found as the tide retreats.  There may be a series of tidelines which may contain deposits.  Where there are ridges and furrows on rippled sands, the shellsand collects in the dips, and also in the small scour moats that encircle scattered rock outcrops.

Generally speaking curved sandy bays are most productive. Some of the more interesting ones, at least on islands, are those coves with a southwesterly or northwesterly aspect where the prevailing current from the south or north sweeps past, into and around the curve of the bay and where there is a projecting curved rock outcrop at the mouth to prevent all the deposits being swept out again. Also those beaches which have a partially submerged reef can have interesting deposits that have been prevented from escaping on the outgoing tide.

These are of course broad generalisations. Beaches can be changed by very rough weather: most shells may be scoured away, although other interesting deposits, displaced from the seabed offshore, may be beached after a storm.

Bas Payne talked us all through collecting, cleaning, grading and sorting a shellsand sample.  I outlined a few guidelines for identifying molluscs species and touched on the merits of recording species distributions for publication via a digital database which the Conchological Society manages.  This biological information is accessible via the National Biodiversity Network (NBN Gateway) and is used to inform conservation management and biodiversity research.  So our time is usefully spent.  For most of the time we peered down microscopes, retrieving the shells we saw and naming them.

Many of the shells were no more than a millimetre or two.  They are intricately and perfectly formed, amazing.

Some Shellsand Beaches with a Star rating

ORKNEY:  Papa Westray, west of the southern  jetty.  HY4950.    Small shells become trapped by rocks to the extreme southeast and float in on the incoming tide.

SHETLAND: Fetlar, the main beach in the south is Tresta. HU6190.  Small shells are trapped mainly to the westward side by the projecting promontory, carried on the outgoing tide.

THE HEBRIDES

EiggThe Singing Sands.  NM4790.  A north west beach with rocks at the southern end.

TireeGott Bay. NM 0546.  A very curved, wide southern beach. Small shells tend to be in the centre of the tideline and below, where the current swirls them. Central rocks may attract shellsand where the sea scours out the sand round them.  Also Balephuil:  Barnacle sand and shells.   NL9541.

CollFeall. NM1454.  The northern bay on the western promontory curves gently and attracts a long tideline of tiny shells on some days, mainly to the west.

BarraScurrival to the north.   NF7208.

EriskayPrinces Strand.  NF7811.

ColonsayBalnahard in the north-east.   NR4490.  Also Kiloran Bay:  NR4098.  A curved northwestern beach

IonaPort Ban. NM2625.  A small western cove of white barnacle sand. Many small shells may become buried.

THE SCILLIES

St Martin‘s: St Martins Flats.   SV9316.  A vast sandy beach with many interesting shells.

CHANNEL ISLANDS

GuernseyVazon Bay. On one occasions this beach yielded a small but very varied shellsand deposit close by the inland curving seawall.

HermBelvoir Bay and Shell Bay have magnificent tidelines of small shells/shellsand