Friday April 18, 2014. It’s 4:45 PM and as I am writing this I am sitting at Kismet’s charting table, the boat heeled by 15 degrees. We are motor-sailing back to Marina di Ravenna. The Adriatic sea is flat and there is a light breeze. Kismet makes the best out of both and turns every small gust into a little more speed toward our destination, Marinara, also known as Touristic Harbour of Marina di Ravenna.
We had arrived in Marina di Ravenna on Sunday April 13, Marco, my dad and me. Kismet was at the Pier 12 shipyard to have her generator and water maker fixed. We had planned to have the hull cleaned by a diver and do the seasonal engine maintenance on Monday, then bring her back to Marinara, leaving promptly the day after toward Venice. There we would meet Luca, Marco’s brother, his wife Camilla and the little ones Alessandro and Leonardo. Unfortunately a cold front approaching from the north-west and a low pressure area on the Balkans had made the weather unstable and the sea rough. Several gale warnings had been issued. We definitely had to wait for a better weather window coming on Wednesday.
We spent Tuesday morning fixing a small issue with the aft hatch and the afternoon walking up and down the beach, collecting shells and watching the sea gradually becalming. My mom wasn’t feeling well and had decided to stay at home instead of joining us, so bringing her some nice shells seemed like an appropriate gift! We all picked our favourite ones by color, shape and dimension. But that wasn’t it. The sea also brought us a brand new piece of rope, a yellow Frisbee and a… coconut, which we tied with the found rope and named Wilson as it reminded us of Willson from Cast Away (ok, that was a football, but they had the same face!) We thought it wouldn’t be good to eat but indeed it was, both juice and meat. Sweet!
That night we recorded wind gusts up to 42 knots. At 6 AM we checked once again the weather forecast and the wind was expected to decrease significantly, but the sea would still be around 4 Douglas. We were in for a bumpy ride, at least for the first few hours!
Our friend Gianmaria, who was transferring a boat in the opposite direction, had texted us that the sea and wind were ok northern of us, so he had left and was heading south. Time to leave as well! In case it would be too uncomfortable for part of the crew, we could always turn around and head back to shelter.
As we headed out we found exactly what had been forecasted. Wind almost straight on the nose, 1.5 to 2 meter waves, chilly air. With 50% of jib and 50% of main out to help a bit with the speed and stabilise Kismet, engine at 1800 RPM, we set our first waypoint 10 miles east of Punta della Maestra and the second one right at the entrance of Bocca di Lido, Venice.
As we were approaching the first waypoint the sea and the wind gradually decreased. Close to Punta della Maestra we spotted another sailing boat going the opposite direction, closer to land, with only her main sail up. Would that be Gianmaria? We learned later that it was indeed him! Close to Venice the sea flattened, the wind dropped and a nice sun came out to warm a bit our cold skin. At 6 PM we were finally entering the lagoon.
Our charts do not have all the latest updates but the channels are well marked as the cruising ships also enter through this route. Just keep close to the green conical buoys on the right and follow them in. We keep the Lido to our left and approach the Manicomio. Here we are supposed to take a small channel on the left, stay south of San Giorgio, which is in front of Piazza San Marco, and then head toward Isola della Giudecca.
The traffic is crazy, with Vaporetti, water-taxis and even a large dredge making its way through, blowing the horn twice while coming alongside. We reply back with one blow and quickly get out of its way. The entrance of each channel is marked by the “dame”. They are like “briccole”, but with an extra taller pole in the middle. They carry a number and a direction, plus a green or red marker (which is often so faded you cannot really tell which is which). There is a sailing catamaran coming out, so we think that is the way to go. Wrong. Our chart plotter shows we are not going where we should. U-turn and back out. Where is the right channel?
There it is, much closer to the island. Briccole on the left, island shore on the right, exactly like we were told. We turn port to enter it and… Kismet stops suddenly! Our keel has touched the bottom. Luckily enough we were really really slow and the bottom in Venice is mostly soft mud. Engine backward, a bit of bow-thruster to pivot and we are out. Phew! We knew it was low tide, but we have much less depth than our charts report.
Anyway, they say there are two kind of sailors. Those who have run aground and those who will. We now belong to the first category I guess.
We call up the marina where we are supposed to stay overnight and after some talk we reach the conclusion that our best option is to go through the San Marco channel all the way around and reach the marina from the north west rather than from the south east. When it comes to depth, the San Marco channel is safe enough as all the large cruising ships go through it.
Toward the end of the channel is time to turn port and go around the island. Something strange going on here. Some of the briccole seem to be missing and there are instead some orange buoys, but they are not where they should be. We slow down to assess the situation and, sure enough, our keel touches the bottom again. Count two! We easily get out and call the marina again. Yes, they confirm that many signals are gone and haven’t been replace yet. We just have to stay very very close to the island’s shore and will get through. We proceed very slowly, sometimes with only 50 cm under the keel.
There is only one more obstacle to overcome. A 20kV power line crosses our way. We were told that its height is 30 meters, so there should be enough clearance with our mast being around 20 meters. As we get close it is difficult to judge whether we can make it or not. What if the line is lower? What if our mast is a little higher than we thought? Just the day before we had read of 4 Polish sailors whose mast touched a power line and they had all died. Better safe than sorrow!
Marco stops Kismet and backs-up. I go down and start to look through all the documentation to find out exactly how tall our mast is. In the mean time with a binocular we read on the pylon: clearance is 33 meters on the left (where we should go through) and 16.5 meters on the right. From the papers I read that our mast is 22.40 meters above the waterline. We seem good to go, hopefully the sign on the pylon is correct and none reversed it by mistake. As we pass under the power lines they seem so close. We all hold our breaths but eventually are through. There is the marina on Isola della Giudecca. Time to moor and enjoy a well deserved aperitif!
We spend Thursday strolling around Venice on a sunny and warm day. Lunch with Luca, Camilla, Alessandro and Leonardo. Alessandro will be sleeping on board Kismet tonight. We hope it is going to be an exciting experience for him. For sure he is thrilled and after three bed-time stories falls sound asleep in his berth.
Unfortunately excited children tend to wake-up early and the morning after at 6:30 AM he is already 100% active. We have breakfast on board and as his parents come to get him we do a little ceremony hoisting on Kismet a Venetian courtesy flag that we had bought the day before. We leave soon after following backward the GPS track. The tide is even lower than the day before but now we know where we should or shouldn’t be.
Back on the San Marco channel we follow our way out dodging the usual traffic. As we approach the exit channel through bocca di lido a Coast Guard RIB comes at full speed toward us. The channel is closed today as they are working to install the last part of the MOSE system, which is supposed to preserve Venice from the raising water as the lagoon’s floor slowly sinks. We have to go around the island, but our chart doesn’t know anything about this recently dredged area. We carefully follow the markers and look where the other boats, which anyway have much less draft than we have, are going through.
Finally we are out and as we leave Venice we cross routes with the sailing ship Belem, entering Venice escorted by two tug boats. We head once again toward Punta della Maestra, this time on a completely flat sea and with a light aft breeze that our own speed turns around. No way to sail. We set the propeller to overdrive and the engine to 1800 RPM. We make more than 8 knots. It is really cold with the sun hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Gustavo, our auto-pilot, does most of the job.
As we go around Punta della Maestra the wind shifts and increases. Time to unfurl the main and, as the wind shifts even more, the jib. We keep the engine on to make some speed and stay close hauled toward Marina di Ravenna. We could switch the engine off and just sail, but we would do nowhere close to the 9 and something knots we are seeing on our chart plotter.
We cross many fishing boats heading back to their home ports, each with a trail of sea-gulls. We spot large tunas jumping out of the water while hunting for small fishes. As a shy sun lowers on the horizon, we see at the distance the entrance to Marina di Ravenna. Another adventure is about to end and we are already looking forward to the next one!