19 April 2024 – Douz Desert Trip

In late October 2023, we had intended to make a trip to the Sahara Desert with Kevin, but then war broke out in the Middle East again, and we felt that it was best (as tourists) to keep a low profile here in Tunisia. Whether that decision was required or not is one question that we will never know the answer to. However, we just finished the trip and were quite pleased with the result. Our friends Kevin and Sandy (SV NOCONA MOON) organized the rental car, hotel and Sahara trip.

We first drove about 4.5 hours South of Monastir in a rental car, staying at the Sahara Douz Hotel (4 star). This was our hotel view from the window, late on the first afternoon.

It rained heavily on the way there. There were warning signs of camels grazing in the desert, and yes indeed, we did see small herds of camels freely grazing on what limited shrubs were available. If you look closely, you will see that their front legs are tied close together, and they are branded, indicating ownership.

With a bit of wind, the sand blows across the highway – much the same way that in Canada we see snow blowing across the road in the winter.

That would explain why they have constructed “sand fences” to try and limit the amount of drifting sand on the highways.

In the morning, we were met by Afeef (rhymes with “A Thief” – but that was not his character at all) our camel jockey.

We took a short walk with him from the hotel, to meet his camels (yes, they were his camels) and we had ourselves a little caravan of 5 camels. He lowered each one of them to the ground, and we climbed aboard.

All four of us mounted our respective camels and followed Afeef as he led us deeper and deeper into the desert. Along the way, he showed us various samples of desert rose, a geological formation of crystal clusters of gypsum or baryte which include abundant sand grains.

After about a two hour camel ride, we arrived at our destination, Desert Camp Abdelati. This was about 6km from our Hotel (in a straight line) but our trek was not straight at all as we meandered between the dunes and over the small ones. As we moved deeper into the desert, the signs of civilization gradually diminished, and when we got to the camp, we had the “full effect”.

Our camels were well behaved and sometimes paused during the trek to munch on some small bush sprouts. I spotted one small desert lizard (gecko?) (sand in colour) and we saw fox tracks as well. Here, Kevin demonstrates how he (and I) frequently shifted his legs to the front for rest. Those camels are very wide! Note to file: next time, do some extensive groin stretching exercises in the days leading up to two, two hour camel rides (there and back).

At the desert camp, we had an excellent hot lunch and watched the locals make fresh flat bread buried in the hot coals of a fire.

It was an excellent, and interesting trip. One more adventure done.

Back at the marina, a few weeks ago our 220V air fryer broke. It just wouldn’t heat anymore. In “this world”, when something like that breaks, you find somebody to repair it – and don’t rush to replacing it. We took it to the small appliance repair man and he fixed it within an hour at a very reasonable cost. He told us that he had to repair some bad soldered joints on the circuit board!

Many years ago, I made a boarding step out of some leftover “teak”. It has served us for many years (at least 10), and it was much better than the white inflatable ones that don’t last more than two years – but we found it a bit heavy, and we were interested in a replacement. Kevin had Adel (a local carpenter) make him one, and we were so pleased with the result that we ordered one as well. So, after the step was manufactured in 3/4” marine grade plywood, I finished it with Marine Cetol (5 coats) and then Diane and I glued a piece of foam to the back (where it presses up against the hull) and some “fender cover fabric” over the foam to protect the hull finish. This will hang on the toe rail on the port side, just at the boarding gate. It will make getting on and off the boat easier when at anchor (and we hang the dinghy on that side) and at dock (when we have a side dock).

First Post of 2024 – 28 March 2024

It has been a while since I wrote about our life and it’s journey, so I thought it was time to post a few things here, and bring the blog up to date. I posted some of these photos and text on Facebook, but then I realized that not all of my family and friends actually use Facebook.

First off, back during the Christmas, New Years period, we traveled to Rotterdam and Brussels to visit with family and friends. In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, we visited with son Raoul (who traveled from Vienna Austria with his wife Amelia and son Thorsten), daughter Joana (with boyfriend Arend and stepson Pike), stepdaughter Julia (and husband Timo, and sons Floris and Hidde). There were lots of dinners, walks and events going on, and I could summarize with just these two photos.

We rented bicycles for the stay in Rotterdam, and here is Jonathan posing with his.

Then, we took a quick train ride to Brussels to visit with our friends Rob and Teresa Clark. In Brussels, we relived our experience downtown at the Grand Place, bought some chocolate and enjoyed the hospitality of Rob and Teresa. The city has obviously changed a lot.

On return to Monastir Tunisia, we had a few small jobs to catch up on. We contracted for a new wheel cover, so when dockside – we removed the wheel and store it on deck, covered.

Also, it’s worthwhile to mention just how close the adjacent boats are here. During the winter period, the marina fills up to 125% capacity. The boats are really jammed in tight, and there is often a problem with the water and electrical connections. This boat was launched from the fishing port nearby, and berthed right next to us. There is nobody on-board, but there is a carpenter working on it FULL-TIME, from 0700 to 1900 everyday. After two days of listening to all this racket, I complained and they moved the boat, and resultant dust and noise, 4 spaces over. We can still hear it, but at least we can talk in the cockpit. Doing maintenance at the dock is one thing, but this is a major renovation that will take a year or more – and they should have left that boat in the yard. They swapped his boat over with another one, that is jammed in just as tight – but there is nobody on board.

I should also mention the “abandoned boats”. As we move around the world, we have seen abandoned boats in every marina, yard and even many anchorages. People park their boat, go home, and for one reason or another – don’t return. This leaves the marina in a tight spot, sometimes the boat is sitting there for 10 years! Nobody pays the rent, and it can present a hazard to other vessels nearby. This boat, with the shredded sail, is just one example. Since we have been here, we have seen two sails come loose (two different boats), and whip around in the wind for months – until they are absolutely destroyed. The marina staff will assist boats that have paid their rent, but abandoned boats present another challenge, and the staff are often unable (due to legal issues) to do anything.

In mid-March, we took a one week trip to Bristol England to visit with our friends Martin and Jane Robertson. It was somewhat wet and cool, certainly cooler than we have become accustomed to – but it was an absolute treat to be in a country where people spoke English as a first language. Having said that, it was sometimes difficult to actually understand their accents. This photo is in front of the cathedral at Wells England.

We had a very nice dinner in an Italian restaurant with Jane and Martin’s son Luke, together with his girlfriend Maisie and friend Jordon. Lots of different accents!

I took this photo when we were driving through the Cheddar Gorge.

Now for the shocker…..We have often thought of sailing to Bristol, even staying for a few months. However, one look at this marina in Watchet, during low tide (drying) convinced me that this is a bad idea. Really, you couldn’t pay me to bring our boat here.

Can you imagine JOANA in this berth? Not me.

12 Watchet Marina

No visit to England would be complete without a picture of a castle. This one is from Minehead.

Anyone who was watching the news in 2022 should recall that Queen Elizabeth passed away in 2022. Her royal mark (on mailboxes etc) has been very familiar through my life as ER. What do the royal initials actually mean? The ER stands for Elizabeth Regina. The ER, or EIIR, initials were the Royal Cypher of Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth, of course, was her first name – and Regina simply means ‘Queen’ in Latin. Now, fast forward to 2024, and we are watching for the currency to change and other signs that King Charles is now the head of the British monarchy. Keeping that in mind, I found it quite surprising to find not one, but two post boxes clearly marked with the sign of GR, King George VI – Queen Elizabeth’s predecessor.

Of course, no visit to England would be complete without an authentic fish and chips dinner. Martin and Jane took us to one of their favourite restaurants, where we all had an excellent traditional meal.

Finally, as we were leaving Bristol and flying out of the airport, I thought I would make two final notes. First off, Martin drove us to the airport and dropped us at the curb. There was no parking involved. However, the airport charges people 6 pounds (almost $10 CDN) to drop someone off. INCREDIBLE. Inside the airport, there are no places to plug in and recharge your devices (not that we actually needed this), but there are several of these convenient and expensive recharging vending machines. Using this vending machine, you can rent a power bank for 3 pounds (approximately $5 CDN) per hour. This is the first time I have seen this.

We are back now in Monastir Tunisia, and expecting to leave by mid-May 2024 to continue our voyage West. In late April, we will be taking a very short administrative trip back to Canada.

9 December 2023 – A Trip to the Fabric Shop

This is just a short blog to show that yes, we are still in Monastir Tunisia, and enjoying daily life. Shannon (on SV SWEETIE) put out an open invitation to join her in an outing to the “fabric shop” a few days ago. Since we didn’t have any boat projects going on, we jumped at the opportunity for an excursion off the boat, and out of town. The daily temperatures are about 18-22C, and it falls to 11-16C at night, depending on whether there is a system moving through. It rains every few days, mostly at night.

This excursion involved first walking from the marina to the train station (in the middle of town) about 1.4km away, and then taking a local train/metro to the town of Saline another 12km from here. The trains are very cheap ($ 0.25 CDN for a 12km ride), clean, and on time. There are signs of vandalism here and there on the train (a few cracked windows), but otherwise, I have no complaints. Sometimes the trains are full, standing room only, but we were lucky travelling in the middle of the day to easily get a seat.

The building was very modest, and didn’t even have a sign out front.

However, inside was another world entirely. It was the largest fabric shop I have ever been to, and it was on two floors. A single photo really doesn’t capture the content.

We went with the idea of finding some fabric suitable for Diane to make some new fender covers, and yes – we found just what we were looking for.

If you look for this shop using Google, you won’t find it. In fact, it is our observation that in “third world” countries (if this term even exists anymore), Google is very poor to identify resources that you should be able to find. Why is that? Here is a photo of the shop’s Arabic business card, and what I translated to English.

On the way back, we stopped in for lunch in Monastir at yet another local restaurant that we have never visited before. Together with Tony and Shannon (on SV SWEETIE), we had the daily special of either rice and chicken or couscous and chicken. We clocked in about 7,000 steps, bought fabric and had lunch out — it was a great day!

22 October 2023 – New LiFePO4 Battery Installation (Winston)

When I first built SV JOANA in May 2000, I used 14 – 6V golf cart batteries (wet cells) in series/parallel to produce a 12V bank at 1640 Ah (deep cycle storage batteries). This was a common solution in that era, although a bit big. In time, I realized that this was too big, unnecessarily big, and cumbersome to charge. At that time, I had much less solar as well. The next iteration took place in May 2008, when I replaced the original 14 with 6 – 6V floor sweeper (slightly taller than golf cart size) AGM batteries, in series/parallel to produce a 12V bank at 900 Ah (usable capacity of half, or 450Ah). This seemed to be the right size for our boat. However, cooking with electricity was still a challenge and we had low voltage alarms when night sailing, requiring the generator or engine to be running for an hour at 2am. In 2012, we were early adopters of the LiFePO4 technology and bought a 380Ah battery (400Ah with a 5% safety margin) from Lithionics in Florida. Lithium batteries in general are much more suited for house storage banks. They are much more receptive to solar charging (low resistance) and always present a higher voltage than lead batteries – which is better for all 12V motors (pumps and fans) on the boat.

With the purchase of more electrical devices, more solar, and more experience cooking with electricity (we have no gas inside the boat), it was obvious that although 400Ah was sufficient for our needs, it was insufficient during the winter months (low incidence of sun) and seasonal storms (we could only last for 2 days if there was no sun). Therefore, within a few years, we realized that the optimum capacity was going to be 600Ah, not 400Ah – an important figure for “when we next replaced the house bank”.

When I replaced our 380Ah Lithionics battery in India in 2019 (it suffered from over-charging and insufficient monitoring during its 7 year usage), I was determined to “get the size right”. However, because of the extreme difficulty of importing items into India (where we were docked in 2019), I was again forced to adopt the less than desired capacity and had an Indian defence contractor build another 400Ah battery. It was just not possible to put a larger battery into that defined space, at least not while we were in India.

Well, fast forward to 2023, when I decided to set this issue right, once and for all, despite the obstacles. I ordered Winston 700Ah cells from Skypower in China – delivered to Turkey where the administrative fees cost almost as much as the batteries themselves.

Also, another big piece of the puzzle was the Battery Management System (BMS), a customized JBD 250A BMS from Mueller Energy in Australia (delivered to Diane’s niece in Australia and hand carried back to Canada by her cousins Mike and Brenda Toonders!).

I picked this particular BMS for its obvious heavy duty construction, as well as passive and active cell balancing. This BMS was reviewed by Off Grid Garage, and although it has active balancing, it only “connects” the active balancer when certain voltage conditions are met. In addition to a small external monitor, through bluetooth, the BMS offers a very good app (for my iPhone) where I can see what is happening with the cells, and where I can adjust limits for safety and performance, as well as triggers for the balancer. There is even a software switch to turn off CHARGING and both an external wired switch and software switch to turn off DISCHARGE current – a feature that is very useful at the time of installation and troubleshooting.

This new Winston battery is actually described as LiFeYPO4 and not simply LiFePO4 (the cells contains Yttrium) and boasts a nominal capacity of 700Ah, yet its actual capacity is known to often exceed this nominal rating by around 12% upon initial usage. What sets these cells apart is their extended operating voltage range of 2.8V~4.0V, wider than typical LiFePO4 cells. Also, according to factory claims and real life usage, it boasts an impressive cycle life of over 5000 cycles at 80% depth of discharge (cycle life can be as much as 7000 times at 70% DOD), making it a robust choice for sustained usage. With an operating temperature range spanning from -45℃ to 85℃ (much greater than any LiFePO4 cells), it thrives in challenging environments. Its high discharge and charge rates cater to demanding high-power and fast-charging requirements.

It was here, in Monastir Tunisia that I was finally able to construct this custom battery, after returning from Canada with the BMS. The cells and other bits and pieces have been onboard since late Feb 2023. Over the past month, I first physically stacked the cells together, using the compression plates provided. Getting these compression plates connected took a few hours, it’s a very tight fit – and it should be.

Next, together with Diane, we installed 4 nylon web straps and a bottom plate of acrylic that would serve as the “case” for the battery. Then, I wired the cells in parallel and used a small 20A 3.65V cell charger (bought from AliExpress while we were in Turkey) and charged the cells up full – to 3.65V.

It took nearly 10 days to do this parallel charging with this small cell charger, but the result was worth it. While it was charging, I took the time to mount the BMS. My initial plan had been to place the BMS on the end of the battery pack, but due to “short” leads – I was forced to mount it on the side, pressing the heat sink against the aluminum battery compression plate (which I think will serve well to dissipate heat) to save space. At this point, the battery weighs about 190 pounds (21.6kg per cell. 86.4kg total), not including the aluminum compression plates, BMS and wires).

Next, I withdrew these temporary “parallel wires”, connected the manufacturer provided series interconnects and finished installation of the BMS and its balancing leads. Then, I set about actually configuring the BMS.

Here, I discovered that due to firmware limitations, the actually battery capacity entered could only be a maximum of 655.350Ah (rather than the purchased and technological limit of 700Ah). What’s more, the “cycle capacity” maximum is only 524.280Ah, again – noticeably less than the 700Ah I built! The cycle capacity built into the BMS leaves a 25% safety margin. In other words, the battery has a capacity of 700Ah, but at 0% SOC displayed by the BMS, there is still 25% (175Ah) remaining, still usable – as long as the minimum cell voltage levels are respected. I set the minimum voltage levels to Cell 2.8V and Battery 11.2V – still above the minimum limits set by the manufacturer Winston. I actually have two other current shunts (one Victron and one Balmar) that make their own SOC calculations, so I am not fussed by the issue of SOC calculations.

I then connected up my digital load tester (bought from AliExpress while in Turkey) and drew the battery down over a 4 day period. The load test was interrupted when I burned out the device at the 16 hour point (foolishly operating it at 180W, and not “under 150W” as recommended on YouTube). I figured out that a single MOSFET had burned out, and found a very good Tunisian technician who sourced and replaced it for me (in a week).

The total capacity of the bank was determined to be 82.04Ah (until the tester burned out) plus an additional 700.76Ah (after I had the tester repaired) when the BMS shut the battery down with a remaining voltage of 11.93V. This proved the REAL capacity of the bank as 782.80Ah, even further from the BMS’s “cycle capacity” of 524.280Ah, and throwing off even more it’s SOC calculations. This video explains how to use the tester.

This is a screenshot from the BMS at the end of the discharge, when it was shut down for a low voltage condition. With this BMS, most of the parameters are adjustable, so that I can run a safe battery and protect it from damage. I’ve circled three things in red: the Discharge MOSFET is now OFF, Protection (Cell UVP) is triggered, Battery voltage is 11.93V and Current is zero. The battery would still permit charging current, but no discharge, at least not until the cell voltage increases.

The next step was to fully charge the new Winston battery using a 30A LiFePO4 charger (again, something I bought from AliExpress while in Turkey), bringing it up to the top balancing all the cells.

Then, I was finally ready to remove the Indian made ULTRALIFE battery, and prepare the area to receive the new battery. The Indian battery was removed using a halyard, perfectly lined up through the overhead hatch – and then 4 people carried it up to the aft deck. Then, I cut away the old battery box to make just a little bit more room for the new battery. After cutting away 3/4 of the old battery box, I gave it a good paint job. This is a photo of the empty space, before cutting and painting.

This was what the new battery looked like from the backside, before moving it into the new space.

I also made up this functional top cover, to protect from any short circuits due to misplaced tools or hands. This photo shows the mounted discharge switch as well.

Then, Diane and I lifted the new battery (now weighing nearly 200 pounds) using a halyard and positioned it in the right spot. This photo shows the battery blocked in place and connected.

This photo shows the battery with it’s top cover in place, and the remaining items placed around it. In summary, I am very pleased with the overall installation and expect it to last for a decade or more.

I fully charged the “old” ULTRALIFE battery and load tested it at 358 Ah (when it’s BPM shut off the discharge at 10.8V).

This screenshot from the Victron monitor shows that over it’s 4 years of use, the Indian made ULTRALIFE battery consumed 584 charge cycles, suffering a deepest discharge of 297Ah and an average discharge of 168Ah – in other words, not heavy usage.

Finally, I came across this handy image a few years ago that illustrates cycle usage. A decade ago, I naively thought that each day was “a cycle” but of course this will entirely depend on the severity of the discharge – how deeply you take the battery down.

Several other cruisers at the marina have shown interest in buying it, and I am keen to see it go to a new home where it should still have many years of life left in it.

3 October 2023 – More of Tunisian ruins

We have discovered what might be the best hardware store in Monastir. At least it looks like it has a lot of stuff, and the staff are very helpful. It is called Society Generale Znati et Cie, located just outside the Monastir Medina.

At another automotive shop, I recently ordered these 10 oil filters. They are made in Tunisia by MISFAT, as an equivalent to my Volvo oil filters. I have to change oil every 100 hours, so it pays to have a stack of these. Now, I think I have enough stock until we get back to the Caribbean.

On 30 September (my 67th birthday), I went on another tour – this time only with our friend Kevin, as unfortunately Diane was feeling unwell. This was destined to be another day tour of the region, and the first stop was at Kairouan, Tunisia’s first Islamic city, and formerly the capital in the 9th century.

Here, we saw ancient water pools (Aghlabid pools) constructed in the ninth century. There used to be aqueducts in place that carried the water from the mountains, but these have disappeared through the course of time.

The next stop was to the Abu Zam’A Al-Balawi Mausoleum and mosque. Abu Zama participated in the first Muslim military expeditions in Northern Africa and died in AD 654.

The next stop was to the Great Mosque, revered as one of the most impressive and largest Islamic monuments in North Africa. The mosque occupies an area of over 9,000 square metres (97,000 sq ft) and attracts pilgrims by the thousands. We were told that the city of Kairouan swelled to over a million just last week with the influx of pilgrims.

The Great Mosque is one of the oldest places of worship in the Islamic world, and is a model for all later mosques in the area. Its perimeter, of about 405 metres (1,329 ft), contains a hypostyle prayer hall, a marble-paved courtyard and a square minaret. In addition to its spiritual prestige, the Mosque of Uqba is one of the masterpieces of Islamic architecture, notable among other things for the first Islamic use of the horseshoe arch (seen in some of my photos). These clocks depict the prayer timings, changing on a daily basis.

The next stop was to Bi’R Rita or the Barruta Well. This well represents one of the last implementations of a “water drawing well” in Tunisia. In ancient times, the city of Kairouan suffered an obvious lack of water. They collected rain water in pools, but also used this system of water wheels to lift the water up from shallow water tables. The water was used for drinking, cooking, cleaning, irrigation etc. The camel, as a beast of burden – was used to draw water up, tied to a primitive water wheel.

Next, we drove to El Jem, the successor to the ancient Roman city of Thysdrus. In a less arid climate than today’s, Thysdrus prospered as an important centre of olive oil production and export. It was the seat of a Christian bishopric, which is included in the Catholic Church’s list of titular sees. This amphitheatre was built around 238 AD and is one of the best preserved Roman stone ruins in the world, and is said to be unique in Africa. Like other amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, it was built for spectator events, and it is one of the biggest amphitheatres in the world. The estimated capacity is 35,000, and is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved.

Kevin and I enjoyed barbecued lamb shish kebob directly in front of the Amphitheatre at El Jem.

The tourist “camel rides” were tempting, but we gave it “a miss”.

The last stop we made was to the museum, which was mostly about mosaics – and yes, they were well preserved and displayed.

Here, I would like to make a point about entrance fees. Throughout our travels, we have often seen entrance fees for citizens/residents at a lower price than tourists. In this case, the tourist entrance is 12 Dinars (about $ 5.17 CDN) and the local price is only 6 Dinars. By the way, that entrance ticket included both the El Jem amphitheatre AND the museum. In my opinion, this is easily explained when comparing the value of their local currency. What is also interesting though, is that they divide their Dinar into “thousandths” and not “hundreds” like we do with the dollar or the euro. The actual tourist entrance fee is 12.000 Dinars, and not 12.00 Dinars. This may seem like a trivial point but I can tell you that we have frequently been confused by the pricing of items, because of this single extra digit.

23 September 2023 – Cap Monastir Marina, Tunisia

On 15 September, we returned from a two month vacation to Canada and took respite from the heat in Tunisia. This strategy mostly worked, but a hot spell started up as soon as we arrived! A few days ago, we (Diane, Kevin and I) took a one-day excursion to actually see the sites in Tunis. Although we have passed through, or driven to Tunis (to fetch our luggage), we had not yet taken the time to see the city.

Downtown Tunis looks very similar to many streets in France or Italy, with large stone buildings, shaded walkways and trees.

We started with Tunis’s old Medina (an old walled part of an African town) classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – entering through this gate in the city wall (which has largely vanished through history).

Founded in 698 around the original core of the Zitouna Mosque, the old Medina of Tunis continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages. Today, it is a bustling, crowded narrow shopping “lane” (I hesitate to say street), where you could spend a day wandering around and looking in shops.

We stopped at the exterior of the Zitouna Mosque, but unfortunately it was closed. This mosque is the oldest in the city and covers an area of 5,000 square metres with nine entrances.

There were other places of worship evident, a synagogue and this cathedral, for example.

Later, we drove to the neighbourhood of Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Known for its cobbled streets and blue-and-white houses, Sidi Bou Said is a charming town on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean, with al fresco cafes, Tunisian eateries, and small art galleries.

Lastly, we visited the ancient city of Carthage which offers a superb view of the surrounding coast. It’s predecessor ancient Carthage was one of the most important trading hubs of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the most affluent cities of the classical world. The city developed from a Canaanite Phoenician colony into the capital of the Punic empire which dominated large parts of the Southwest Mediterranean during the first millennium BC.

Ancient Carthage was completely destroyed in a nearly-three year siege by the Roman Republic in 146 BC. It was re-developed a century later as Roman Carthage, which became the major city of the Roman Empire in the province of Africa. It was one of the largest cities of the Hellenistic period and was among the largest cities in preindustrial history. Whereas by AD 14, Rome had at least 750,000 inhabitants and in the following century may have reached 1 million, the cities of Alexandria and Antioch numbered only a few hundred thousand or less. Carthage and Alexandria Egypt were the next largest cities in the Roman empire. Sadly, history has not been kind to the remaining amphitheatre.

As an added bonus, our guide (Najd) stopped by Port Yasmine Marina in Hammamet on the way home. We have heard many good things about Port Yasmine Marina, but the reason we did not stay there is that historically – there was little, if any, of a live-aboard community. It seems that most cruisers berthed their boats, and flew home. This is not what we were looking for. However, it does seem to have one now, and although slightly more expensive than Monastir, does look to be in much better condition. It has a 150T travel-lift and very good protection from swells. I have heard though that with the presence of super yachts, the management are much more fussy about contractors working in the yard, and it is consequently more expensive than the popular Port-a-Peche (fisherman’s harbour) at Monastir.

10 July 2023 – Cap Monastir Marina, Tunisia

We have been acclimating to the differences here in Tunisia, some subtle, some are obvious. Our marina is situated only a few hundred metres from downtown Monastir, within easy walking distance of grocery stores, the market and hundreds of shops and stalls. Although, we most often take our bikes, preferring to bike rather than walk.

This is a landscape view of the marina and the adjacent city of Monastir.

One evening, we went for a walk downtown with Kevin, stopped in a few shops and had a hamburger at a small restaurant. Not surprisingly, the prices were about 50% less than in the plethora of restaurants in the marina complex. We were surprised to see people milling about downtown, and enjoying the urban spaces there. This is what it looks like at early evening, compared to daytime.

With the heat, obviously more people are out in the early evening.

The downtown area is clean and modern in most places.

One thing I’ve noticed is the distinct lack of motorcycles, or even scooters. Nearly everyone rides around on a moped, probably an indication of the economic wealth of the average citizen. None appear to be new, but this one is pretty average.

This photo shows the entrance to the marina, which is well protected from storms and surge.

Walking around the marina grounds, our boat is situated very close to this travel lift and haul out yard. It looks tidy and professionally run (maybe a 50T lift?).

We see that there are some ruins near the marina, and several private swimming holes.

Although it seems that most people go to these beaches instead.

There is a “castle looking structure” right in the town centre and I’ve learned that they were called Ribat’s in the beginning of the Muslim era. These were small religious communities in charge of watching over the Tunisian coast. The people lived in fortresses, looked out for enemy attacks from a high watchtower, and warned the population in case of danger.

Apparently, a line of ribats stretched all along the coast of North Africa. The capital city of Morocco is named Rabat, and right through to Malta, there are the remains of ancient ribats. It is said that thanks to their high towers, a light signaled-message could be conveyed in one night from Ceuta in Morocco all the way to Alexandria Egypt.

One day, Diane and I stumbled upon a fancy looking restaurant downtown called “Smokehouse 67”, obviously part of a chain. Here, we bought beef by the kilo, and they cooked it and brought out “all the trimmings”. It was delicious, and with plenty of leftovers for the next day.

We are also situated right next to the Bourguiba mausoleum, containing the remains of former president Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisian independence, who died on April 6, 2000.

Inside, it is quite simple, but clean and well built – like all Muslim mosques.

Most other people are buried here, in the adjacent cemetery. Diane noticed something peculiar. For a Muslim burial, the grave should be situated perpendicular to Mecca, with the deceased’s body positioned so their right side faces the Islamic holy city. They are not positioned on their back, as Christians are, but on their side – facing Mecca. Just looking around you can see that there is obviously some variance in the actual direction.

This looks like the city mosque, located downtown. Another odd thing is that we have seen many round-a-bouts, but not a single traffic light yet.

The marina does not have wifi broadcast throughout. Instead, they have a “cruisers lounge” where very slow wifi is available. So, we head to the cruisers lounge when we have updates required on our iPhones, iPads and MacBook Airs. Our wifi on the boat comes from a mifi device (MiFis, or Mobile Hotspots, are small, portable devices that allow multiple users to connect to the internet through a mobile network). They tend to be battery powered, so they can be used to connect your laptop or tablet on the move – wherever you can get a mobile signal. The term MiFi is a combination of ‘Mobile WiFi’.). Cellular data and service is very cheap here.

One downside of Cap Monastir Marina is that most of the spaces are open to the public. I suppose that is so that they can use the restaurants, hotels and diving shop – just like we can. Most of the docks where the boats are berthed do have locking gates, that you need a key fob (RFID device) to enter. However, we are positioned on the outside wall, near the travel-lift, with the other “big boats”. We do not have any locking gates, but we do have 24/7 security guards. People walk by the stern of our boat, looking us over – but we have had that kind of situation before, and it is of little concern. All electrical and water consumption is included in our year-long contract, with a total cost of 2,000 euros (about one quarter of the cost we were paying in Türkiye. That’s not why we’re here though. We really wanted to show some “westward” progress in our very slow circumnavigation, and it is far cheaper than any European marina in the Mediterranean. It is also an easy solution from an Immigration perspective. We are permitted an entry of 120 days. We can easily fly out for a week, and re-enter with a new visa. In Europe, we are strictly governed by the Schengen Agreement, which limits us to 90 days in, followed by 90 days out. This is not a good solution when we live on the boat. It is also possible to get a national, year-long visa where we could stay for a year in Spain, or France for example, but then we are confined to that country and the marina fees are “crippling”. We also have to apply from our home country, a few months beforehand. So, here we are, in another Muslim country, where they speak Arabic and French – positioned on the coast of North Africa.

We have been to 3 grocery stores, namely Monoprix / Monoprix Max and Magasin General (MG). Most things that we expect to find are there, with few exceptions. The selection of cheese and yogurt is very good, and prices are similar, if not cheaper than Türkiye – and definitely cheaper than Canada. The MG store right at the base of the marina also sells wine and alcohol products, much cheaper than what we would pay in either Canada (our home) or Türkiye (where we spent the past 3 years).

We have also been to the local Monastir marche (market) which operates 7 days a week (everyday but Monday). There, we found nearly all fruits and vegetables that we normally buy with the exception of bananas and strawberries. It seems that some of these fruits and vegetables are only on offer when they are “in season”, so we will likely see different things available throughout the year. The watermelon is very good, and also very cheap.

I’ve had to revisit the alternator installation when we were at Pylos Greece several weeks ago. Here is what happened. I passed the dead alternator to a Greek mechanic called Peter. This is what the back of it looked like.

Peter pronounced it non-repairable, and got me a new one 24 hours later. It was pricey at 340 euros, but I had nowhere to turn. On arrival, he “offered” to come out to the boat (on anchor) and help me install it. Why? Because I was puzzled with the electrical connections at the back. Onsite, Peter actually struggled with both the mechanical part (the belts) and the wires. He had no tools. He had to borrow a pair of reading glasses. The belts were poorly aligned by him. With the wiring – evidently, he had never seen crimping pliers or heat shrink tubing, and wanted to wrap the connections in black electrical tape. I offered him ring terminals, heat shrink tubing and crimping pliers – but I didn’t want any sticky electrical tape on those wires! When he was finished, he left a single black wire dangling – and when asked about it, said it was unnecessary. Don’t worry about it……

When we tried to start the engine, it would not turn over. Peter used a big screw driver to short the starter solenoid, and the engine started – and then he pronounced his work complete! Um, OK, but not what I was expecting. A few hours later, I connected that single dangling wire to the nearest connection (looks like ground) and the engine started and worked fine, EXCEPT for the two inductor lights (coolant temp and battery) that continued to remain on, when the engine was running. I measured voltage and current – and the alternator was certainly working. I also confirmed that the engine was not running too hot. I measured it with an IR gun and the gauge. The engine has run for over 100 hours like this, and I did another oil change on arrival at Monastir. So, a few days ago I was paid a visit by Youssef, a very gentle and capable Tunisian mechanic who spoke Arabic, French and English. It took him a few hours to figure it out, but by troubleshooting with me, he managed to get it connected correctly this time. No material cost, just about $75CDN for his labour. Essentially, he just swapped the wires that were connected to the voltage sense and tachometer (W) and it seems to work fine now.

In fairness, I should point out that replacing an alternator on a marine engine is rarely going to be an easy job. Volvo (which doesn’t “make” alternators) considers my engine, circa 1992, to be well out of production and has very few spare parts available. I replaced the original alternator when in Malaysia 5 years ago, and it wasn’t easy then either. There are no off-the-shelf plug-and-play alternators that fit easily.

More “looking back at Türkiye ….. With the last blog, I reported that “By way of comparison, just the “registration” of a phone in Türkiye currently costs more than 7000 TL, nearly $400 CDN!”. When we arrived in Türkiye in June 2020, this import charge was only about 450 Lire. At least twice a year it was raised by the government, and in January 2023, it was raised to the “sky high” price of 7000 Lire, but I read just this morning that the government has raised it again (6 months later) to over 20,000 Lire. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the Turkish government is DRIVING inflation, and the prices are unsustainable.

In preparation for off-season storage, we removed and bagged our sails, and took them to the local sailmaker for inspection, cleaning and repair. We will revisit this in April 2024.

Walking around the marina, we also saw many boats that had made covers for their furling gear, presumably to keep out the sand that invariably falls from sandstorms or rainstorms laden with sand or dust. This was the first time we have seen this. So, Diane whipped up two custom covers for our jib and staysail furlers using her skills and residual materials.

Next week, we are flying back to Ontario to visit with friends and relatives, and to buy things that have been on our list for the past two years.

16 June 2023 – Cap Monastir Marina, Tunisia

Continuing on from the previous post, we enjoyed our short stay at Pylos Greece, and reconnected with Steve and Liz (SV LIBERTE) and Anita and Pierre (SV XAMALA). We enjoyed a nice Greek dinner at a local restaurant the night before leaving (all three boats were bound for Sicily).

Early the next morning, we set sail for Syracusa Sicily, an expected motor-sail of 308nm. A few minor things broke during this passage: one side of our lazy-jack lines for capturing the mainsail, a mainsail reefing line (too much chaffing) and our water maker is acting up again. Oh well, that is what cruising is all about.

A small bird “hitched a ride” as they commonly do. During the 3 day (two night) passage, this little bird was seen perching at various locations, and several times flew into the cockpit when we were sitting there. This, I thought, was a little strange that he came so close to us. A few hours before arrival in Syracusa, much to my surprise – this little bird was dead, laying on the deck. Even more surprising, a few feet away was his cousin, also dead and laying on the deck! We had not one, but two birds! I felt very sad for them, and wondered if we should have made an effort to put out some water and food?

We anchored for one night in the very large bay at Syracusa, but the next day moved on to the city wall, and berthed “stern to” and laid the anchor out front. We were permitted to stay there like this (no services, no utilities) for 5 nights free. It was great being right down at the city waterfront, with tons of restaurants and shops to explore.

In this “rearward looking view”, you can see our friend’s Steve and Liz’s boat LIBERTE just beside us.

We explored the old and the new city, mostly by Tuk-Tuk (who knew that there were Tuk-Tuks in Italy?) with a driver who was eager to show us the sites. There was a stark difference between the old city, with walls that were damaged by machine gun fire during WWII – and the new city that has been established nearby.

We had to go see Castello Maniace, constructed between 1232 and 1240. This castle guards the entrance to the harbour at Syracusa, possibly one of the oldest harbours in the world. Yes – it was windy!

The old downtown area was particularly beautiful.

Since we were right downtown at the waterfront, we really liked walking through the small streets with a plethora of different shops and restaurants. We just wandered around here, discovering new things.

Interspersed in the area were many old Roman and Greek ruins.

Who can turn down the famous Italian gelato for dessert?

At the entrance to this grocery store in the old city centre, there was a cannabis vending machine. This was the first time I’ve seen one of these.

We rented a car one day with Steve and Liz, and drove to the region of Mount Etna. Mount Etna is the highest volcano in Europe and considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It extends for approximately 1,250 square km and reaches a height of 3,350m. It often has formidable lava flows, and is surrounded by the spoils of frequent, volatile eruptions. I’ve read that it is even possible to ski down the slopes in the winter, literally only a stone’s throw from the sea. We were really impressed with the evidence of hundreds of years of eruptions.

On the road, there were small pebbles, almost like gravel – that the volcano spits out on a recurring basis. We saw lots of motorbikes on these winding mountain roads, and for me – all those little stones would be cause for concern on a bike.

At the visitor centre, there were many great views, including this old crater that was not nearly at the top.

These people were walking up a very steep slope, which still wasn’t even near the top.

To get even closer to the top, you had to pay 50 euros per person to ride on the cable car – well beyond our price range. After spending the day at Mount Etna, who could turn down the cheap Italian wine?

After a week at Syracusa, we felt we had seen enough of Sicily and decided to move on. We had many meals ashore, and sadly expressed that we wouldn’t have wanted to return to any of the restaurants. We mostly found the meals to be bland and uninteresting. On reflection, I suppose that is to be expected from Italian or Sicilian cuisine. We seemed to enjoy our meals in Greece and Turkey much more. While eating at one restaurant, we came across four young tourists from India, who had just come ashore from a gigantic cruise ship. They were desperately searching for “hot” or “spicy” food, and sadly – that was not to be found.

Steve and Liz on LIBERTE stayed longer, and will reconnect with us at Monastir.

We again motor-sailed down the coast (27nm) to anchor in the very well protected fishing harbour at Porto Palo. Although we did not go ashore, we did enjoy the quiet, tranquil anchorage, occasionally rocking when a fishing boat came or left. This was in stark comparison to being “on the wall” in the city centre of Syracusa with tour boats and onshore restaurants blaring competing music till late in the evening.

The next day, we again motor-sailed (mostly into the wind) to anchor at Mellieha Bay Malta, an uneventful trip of 56nm. I say uneventful, but there was lots of shipping traffic! Before coming to this bay, I had exchanged emails with a marina in Malta – inquiring about getting a berth for a week. Roland marina answered that they could provide us with a berth for 770 euros, plus any metered consumption of electrical and water – plus 18% VAT. I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that we could fly in, at some future point, and actually get a room with a bed cheaper than that. That would be more than 1,000 euros for the week, half of our YEARLY berth cost in Tunisia! Therefore, we opted to anchor – somewhere. There are many, many anchorages in Malta, but there are also many, many boats – and most of them are on mooring balls, clogging up the very best anchorage spots. Also, the only “all weather, well protected” anchorages to be found are in the capital of Valletta – and those are completely occupied with local boats. Consequently, we anchored at the extreme edge of Mellieha Bay on the west of the main island, and it looked like an attractive, “happening” kind of spot with lots of local traffic buzzing around, but it was just not our “cup of tea”. We enjoyed a well deserved day of relaxation, watching the locals on boats zipping by and the car and pedestrian traffic on shore. On reflexion, it occurred to us that we stayed in this bay during a weekend, arriving on Saturday afternoon and leaving on Monday morning. When we left on Monday morning 90% of the anchored boats had cleared out. Did they come from the marinas for the weekend? Our view of Malta was apparently jaded because of the hordes of local boats cluttering the anchorages.

At Malta, we linked up with Kevin and his son Christopher, of SV NOCONA MOON. The last time we saw Kevin, he had onboard his wife Sandy (who flew home to Texas with a fractured ankle) and Christopher and Christine (of SV SCINTILLA) but they had also departed. Kevin had arrived in Malta several weeks before we did, and was also headed to Tunisia. Diane made us excellent pizzas on anchor the night before we left.

After resting for two nights, we left for our end destination of Cap Monastir Marina in Tunisia, a trip of 175nm.

Despite being warned that we were transiting through “migrant alley” (hundreds of boats carrying African migrants looking to get into the EU), fortunately we did not encounter any. It’s a very, very big ocean. I did hear some VHF radio traffic concerning a migrant boat with hundreds of people onboard, taking on water – about 200nm from our position. We also read in the news about a migrant boat sinking south of Pylos Greece (which we left a few weeks ago), but saw nothing on our horizon.

We arrived in Monastir Tunisia late in the day on 13 June, and completed our in clearances. The next day, we secured local SIM cards and service for our phones using ORANGE. We “registered” our phones (otherwise your phone will stop working if you’re using a local SIM card for more than 10 days), picked up new SIM cards and secured a one month plan (with 25GB of data) for a total of 57 Tunisian Dinars (about $24 CDN). By way of comparison, just the “registration” of a phone in Turkey currently costs more than 7000 TL, nearly $400 CDN! We considered this very good value compared to both Türkiye and Canada.

Our initial impressions are favourable, but we have a steep learning curve since we plan to spend “a year” here. People are friendly, but mostly Arabic/French speaking, although we have met a few who speak English.

28 May 2023 – Pylos, Mainland Greece

On 1 May, as planned, we finally sailed out of Alanya and went along the Turkish coast to Kas, where we checked out on 6 May – and checked into Kastelorizo Greece. Along the way we stopped at several familiar Turkish anchorages.

This is new territory and a “new country” for us! The minor changes between these two countries were immediately noticeable in the shops and restaurants. Buildings were frequently painted in pastel colours with white/blue accents being the most common. Pork was offered on the menu, and yes – we had pork gyros with tzatsiki.

On Monday morning, 8 May, we hauled anchor at 0515 and sailed 75nm to Lindos on the island of Rhodes. As I was picking up anchor, the UP anchor windlass foot switch was “sticking” in the ON position (this switch was over 20 years old), but I was able to safely stow the anchor. Along the way, Kevin nursed a transmission oil leak that was getting worse by the hour. When we arrived, after turning the windlass switches ON, I noticed that the UP switch was still stuck in the ON position, with the capstan continuously turning, wearing the friction plate. I immediately shut the electrical off, but I continued to lay the anchor, by hand. After the anchor was set, I had a closer look and decided to just cut away the foot switch (cut one wire in the chain locker) and use the wireless remote (that I installed 4 years ago). The next day, I realized that I was carrying a spare foot switch, and subsequently replaced it. I also ordered two new foot switches and a replacement friction plate (which was still OK) to be delivered to our home address.

There were more observable differences between Greece and Türkiye. First, there were no calls to prayers with “Allah Akbar”. If there were mosques, they were very quiet. Second, it seemed strange to see that very few of the houses had roof-top solar hot water heaters – a common feature in Türkiye on the roofs of single homes and especially apartment buildings. Many were installed, but it seemed to be less, and more camouflaged.

We rented a car for three days on the island of Rhodes and discovered another cultural difference when comparing it to Türkiye. When we picked up the rental car (at Rhodes and later on Crete), we were told to return it “with the same amount of fuel”. In Türkiye, we rented cars many times from different providers. Every time, the car was picked up empty of fuel, so empty that the warning light was flashing. It was always our challenge to return the car empty. Without exaggeration, several times I saw these guys siphoning the fuel from the car after return. You have to stay there a while to realize this.

This little park in the city of Rhodes even had an aqueduct.

We went to a very well stocked chandlery just opposite Rhodes Marina. Eric had a long list of things he was looking for, and found nearly everything. In Rhodes, we visited the Medieval City of Rhodes, and specifically the Palace of the Grand Master, and the Archeological Museum (site of the 15th century hospital).

The Medieval City of Rhodes was constructed around 1309 to 1523 and the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988.

We marvelled at the grandeur of these fortifications and exhibits. We only spent a few hours there, but you could spend months and still not see everything.

We sailed further SW along the coast to the furthest point on the island of Rhodes – Prasonisi Beach. This was a windsurfer’s paradise. Although these days, there are also kite surfers and hydrofoils – all kinds of self sailing devices.

After a night motor sail, we made the 111nm passage to Crete, anchoring in the protected waters of Spinalonga Bay. The small city of Eloundas is a tourist town, but a very pretty one with many appealing shops and restaurants along the waterfront.

The protected bay is huge, and has very good holding to keep your boat safe in strong winds. With a car rental, we drove to the other side of the island where we saw greenhouses and many Pakistani migrant farm workers. The other side of the island looked quite a bit different from the touristy side.

We also took a tourist boat ride over to Spinalonga Island, which was formerly a military fortification (Greek / Italian / Ottoman / Greek) and even a leper colony for nearly a century.

This was the remaining text of one of the leper colony inhabitants: “My life has passed, full of sickness. I came as a guest, but no hospitality did I receive. Oh God, well you know, help comes from you. I found no better way than to worship your throne. Fatiha for the soul of the forgiven Mrs Raslye, daughter of coffee-shop owner Bilal Aga. Year 1280, 21 Ramazan (29 February 1864).”

As a group, we visited Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete – which has been called Europe’s oldest city. Settled as early as the Neolithic period (this is before the Romans, before the ancient Greeks, and even before the Egyptians), the name Knossos survives from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete. The palace of Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace was abandoned at some unknown time at the end of the Late Bronze Age (1380–1100 BC) – the reason is unknown. The population of the urban area in the First Palace Period (around 2000 BC), is expected to have reached a size of as many as 18,000 people.

Both at Rhodes and on Crete, at government operated tourist attractions I requested “senior’s admission prices”, which tended to be about 30% cheaper. However, the response was that these seniors prices were only available to EU citizens. This was very disappointing and reminiscent of the same response when in Australia and NZ. I am certain that this is not the case in Canada (where we come from) or our neighbours in the USA. Very disappointing.

On the way back to Eloundas, we stopped at a mountainside taverna for a very authentic, economical and excellent lunch.

After a few days at the Spinalonga anchorage, it was time to leave – and our 3 buddy boat convoy moved further up the coast. We went on ahead to Soudhas and waited for PIED A MER and NOCONA MOON. Unfortunately Eric and Pam on PIED A MER went back to Heraklion with a mysterious engine problem (oil leaks, inconsistent and erroneous oil pressure and tank level readings on their Axiom display) on their starboard Yanmar diesel. At the time of writing this blog, the exact reason for their oil leaks was not known, but suspected to be related to incorrect oil level (over spray) and incorrect oil filters. They remained at Heraklion. After another day, we split from the group and sailed directly to Pylos on mainland Greece. This solidifies our strategy to sail from Pylos to Sicily, and then to Malta and Tunisia. After all, we did not have an aggressive schedule to follow. Kevin and Sandy on NOCONA MOON left Crete as planned (with their guests Christopher and Christina of SCINTILLA) and took the narrow weather window direct to Malta. This is NOCONA MOON under sail.

On Pylos, we anchored for several days – just exploring and waiting for the right conditions. We wanted to fill up with diesel. I discovered a problem with our Volvo alternator, and replaced it (ordered one at the chandlery, and it arrived within 24 hours). Also, we are waiting for our friends Steve and Liz on LIBERTE to arrive. They may be sailing with us to our next port, Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily. While shopping at a supermarket we found that ground beef is nearly half the price of that in Türkiye. Astonishing!