Touring Gibraltar, August 2016

Back to Orontes II and checking out more sites in Gibraltar (and remembering the camera to take pictures!)  Casemates is 1 of 2 main squares in city centre of Gibraltar, dating back to 1160 when the Moorish foundations were laid and it is lined with restaurants, pubs and leads to shopping areas.  English is the main language as Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory.  It is a very compact city due to its small area as a country! This is an English territory, but they drive on the right side of the road, like the US, not like in the United Kingdom.  Apparently this is due to Gibraltar sharing a land border with Spain.  In the UK cities, many crosswalks tell the tourists to LOOK RIGHT, as they may not be used to left-sided drivers.  Here in Gibraltar, they tell the UK visitors to LOOK LEFT!! Below are our good friends from Australia, Derek and Leanne!

Yes, we cook on the boat!  BBQ Louisiana shrimp with garlic bread!  One of our favorites, but hard to find good shrimp!!




ROCK of Gibraltar hike, September 8, 2016

Our day to hike the ROCK!  We began by taking the cable car to the top, but walked all the way back to the boat (about 10 miles all together)! Below is a good view of the runway in Gibraltar.  Our boat is in a marina on this side behind the tall buildings.  Behind the grassy hillside on the right is where you walk across the runway to the border between Gibraltar and Spain.OH NO, more tourists!!  The Barbary Macaque monkeys are the only wild monkey population on the European continent.  About 300 live in 5 groups in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve on the Upper Rock.  They are cute to watch but they do make themselves a nuisance to distracted tourists by stealing food or anything in a plastic bag. Views from the top! Above is Europa Point and below, Trinity Lighthouse.Above the Flags of Gibraltar and the European Union (EU).  Below is the Steve Jobs yacht.

 Above is view of the East side of the Rock.  Below looking down the Mediterranean Steps, which you can walk to the bottom of the Rock.  The Great Siege Tunnels are a series of tunnels (initially about 908 feet) inside the northern end of the Rock, dug out (by hand, sledgehammers, crowbars and gunpowder blasts) from solid limestone by the British during the Great Siege of Gibraltar at the end of the 18th century.  The Great Siege was an attempt by France and Spain to capture Gibraltar from Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War.  It was the 14th and final siege of Gibraltar, lasting from July 1779 to February 1783.  More tunnels were dug by 1790 and World War II, enabling the Rock to house a garrison of 16,000 men with water, food, ammunition and fuel to last a year under siege.  Some of the later tunnels were hastily excavated and have easily crumbled and are no longer safely accessed. The fortifications of Gibraltar have made the Rock one of the most fought over and densely fortified places in Europe, mainly due to its strategic importance of its position in the Straits of Gibraltar.  Over 34 miles of tunnels have been dug in the Rock and housed around 680 guns guarding all approaches to Gibraltar.  The Notch, above, on the northern face of the Rock, has a large chamber opened under it where a battery of 7 guns was installed. Continuing our walk on top of the Rock, we were made aware of preserving wildlife as we encountered them!!!

Below are pictures from St Michael’s Cave, a network of limestone caves within the Upper Rock Nature Preserve, 300 meters above sea level.  Two Neanderthal skulls and a Neolithic bowl have been discovered in Gibraltar, possibly dating back to 40,000 BC.  (The color changes are from their lighting system. Can’t say it did a lot for me or the pictures!) Beginning our descent down from the Rock to the Moorish Castle. Above the Moorish Castle and some interior areas below.

Back to Orontes II, a good meal and night’s rest after a long day filled with lots of history!!



Bus ride back to Gibraltar, August 18, 2016

About 2-2.5 hour bus ride to Gibraltar and Orontes II, so caught a few pictures of the countryside!

Views of the coast of Morocco across the Straits of Gibraltar!

Above, paragliders over the beach and below one of many Wind turbine fields used for electricity near Tarifa, Spain.

Above, looking across the bay from La Linea, Spain to the Rock of Gibraltar.  Below, La Linea beach looking towards our marina and Gibraltar.

Finally, back to “the Rock’ and our boat again!!

Palermo, August 15-16, 2016

We stayed a few more days for sightseeing in our walks around Palermo!  We also visited the Immigration Office here but were unable to apply for long term residence here, but sent to Houston Embassy to start the process!

Above is the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese, an evangelical church.  Below a Bank of Italy.

Above and below show the Piazza Sett’Angeli.

Above and below are pictures of Chiesa di S Anna, a Baroque church of Saint Anne the Mercy.

Above is the Statua della Liberta, Statue of Liberty


And our last night in Palermo, we splurged with a 4 course seafood dinner!! Delicious!

Palermo, Italy, August 13, 2017

Walking around Palermo with Steve’s brother’s family, David, Tamra, Tanner and Trent!  Many interesting places to see!  Below is Church of St. Cataldo,  markets on the street (guarded by the “Lion Dog”, which we saw in the same spot guarding the store every time we passed!!), and interesting monuments!


Below are pictures of Palazzo Reale, palace of the Kings of Sicily and nearby botanical garden which was a wonderful  walk.

Below are 3 pictures of Chiesa di San Domenico, a baroque Church of Saint Dominic, built 1640-1726 with beautiful Italian marble.

Above is Massimo Theater, opera and concert hall.  Below is Tamra in the cold Tyrrhennian Sea waters off Palermo, Sicily!

Had a great day with David, Tamra, Tanner and Trent!




Palermo, August 12, 2016

Again, we had delicious croissants at our B&B, then started walking again to check out the best sites to share with Dave, Tamra, Tanner and Trent, whom arrive late tonight!  Below are some churches/museums we passed in Palermo.

Above is the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti (Church of St John), built with 3 domes and cubic forms with Oriental and Arabic architecture.

Above and below shows the fountain and buildings surrounding Piazza Pretoria.  Beautiful plaza!

Next we walked through the Quattro Canti (Baroque, octagonal square with 4 fountains topped by statues in niches on each building facade facing the intersection)!  VERY interesting!

We then walked to the Cathedral of Palermo!  Beautiful with incredible combination of architectural styles since it was started in 1185.  Even took a tour to the top of the roofs!  The views of the city were incredible!

Then to the interior of the cathedral!  Beautiful altars and “treasury from the past”.

Then of course, to end our day, we treated ourselves to delicious gelato!!!


Time to Service the Life Raft

We bought our life raft at the Annapolis Boat Show a few years ago.  For those who don’t know, this is the largest boat show in the US, and one of the largest in the world.  All of the life raft manufacturers were represented at this show and we had the opportunity to make side by side comparisons to help us decide which raft to buy.  Also, these same manufacturers offer special pricing if you buy at the boat show (or shortly thereafter) to entice you to buy.  Given all of that, we purchased a life raft by Revere, a six person Offshore Commander.

Someone not familiar with life rafts may wonder why on earth we bought a six person raft when we very rarely have that many people on board.  Simple, these companies allow only four square feet per person when sizing these rafts.  A six person raft will allow three people to lay down at the same time with not much room to spare.

Life rafts have a three year service life before needing to be opened, inspected, and repacked.  Also, some of the contents of the survival kit such as flares, flashlight batteries, etc. have shelf lives and must be replaced at regular intervals.  Being a US company, Revere has many service centers located around the United States and Caribbean, but only one location in Europe.  This facility is located in Grosetto, Italy, about two hours northwest of Rome.

The Grosetto location is a company named Eurovinil (EV) Survitec Group, which is a firm that also manufactures their own line of life rafts, inflatable boats, and similar products.  Apparently, this company used to manufacture the raft for Revere until a year ago when operations were moved to another firm overseas.  (This was per the folks at EV and I have not confirmed it independently.)  Since EV was the original manufacturer, they have maintained their status as an approved service center for Revere life rafts.  We made arrangements by e-mail to have our raft serviced and confirmed that we would be able to witness the inspection and packing.

Life raft and luggage ready for the trip to Grosetto

I had bought a folding cart to help transport the raft to the service facility.  I checked the specifications and the raft weighs 86 pounds.  Pretty heavy, but manageable.  We put the raft on the cart, secured it with bungee cords, and got a ride to the train station.  The cart complained, but held the weight.  At the station we had to go up and down stairs to get to the platform for our train, and that was when I realized how heavy the raft was.  When the train arrived I was able to get it aboard and next to our seat for the one hour trip to Grosetto.

Laura on the train to Grosetto

At Grosetto, we disembarked and walked to our hotel, only a short 100 yards away.  We put the raft and our luggage in the room and went to visit the walled medivial city of Grosetto.  It was very pretty and interesting and we had a great time relaxing in the piazzas.

The next morning we took a taxi to EV’s service facility and were met by Ms. Francesca Crugnola and Alberto Scala, the head of the raft service and repacking department.  We discussed the service that our raft would require and how it would be inspected and repacked.  At first, the EV folks wanted us to pull the emergency cord on our raft to watch the raft inflate.  While this is the ultimate test of performance, it stresses the raft and associated equipment by inflating it with very cold nitrogen, and should not be done as a regular practice.  This is why most facilities use an alternate source of dry air or nitrogen to inflate the raft, rather than pulling the emergency cord.

Once we explained that we did not want to stress the raft, they asked if we would like to watch a different raft be inflated from the emergency cylinder.  (Apparently most of their customers like to pull the cord!)  We agreed and they provided another raft that needed service to allow Laura to pull the cord and witness the inflation.  It was an experience we hope to never have to do, but it was educational to realize how much force is required to trigger the auto-inflation.

After the other raft was inflated and we asked a few questions about location of the knife for cutting the safety line, etc., we turned our attention to our raft.  The technician carefully cut open the straps securing the canister and removed the raft.  The raft is vacuum-sealed, and thus enclosed in an airtight plastic bag.  This was also cut open and the raft removed.  Several tests and inspections were conducted on the compressed air cylinder, valve, and the hoses between the two.  The cylinder was then removed since replacement of the cylinder was part of the service.

The cylinder was weighed with a precision scale to determine if there has been any leakage.  CO2 does have weight, and with a sensitive enough scale you can determine how much, if any, has leaked out.  In our case the cylinder was well within specs, indicating the cylinder would have properly inflated the raft.

Opening the vacuum sealed bag

Opening the raft and inspecting

During inspection of the raft, we found the only problem.  Although the raft itself was fine, there is another vacuum sealed package with water, flares, flashlight, and other survival gear inside.  The water is in small foil packets of about 8 oz. each.  One of the foil packets had either leaked or was punctured, contaminating the contents of the package.  This probably meant that the flares were no good, and perhaps other items as well.  The technician simply discarded the packet to be replaced with a new one.  We were told that the water packaging had been redesigned to prevent occurrences just such as this.

Unfolding the raft

Our raft was then inflated using dry air from their compressor.  The raft inflated properly and no leaks were immediately apparent.  The raft was then lifted to a rack and left inflated to check for any leakage.  The acceptance criteria is six hours with no leakage, although ours was checked until the next morning since six hours was after the work shift.

Raft fully inflated and undergoing inspection

From the above photo you get an idea of the size of the raft.  Six people would have to be very good friends to spend much time together here.

Life raft (in slings) inflated and waiting on six hour leakage test

At this point we left the facility to allow EV to finish the leak down test.    By now the luggage cart was really drooping from the weight of the raft, and arrangements were made to have the raft shipped back to the marina where we were staying so we would not have to take it on the train again.

We left for a sight-seeing trip of Pisa and Florence, spending several days seeing delightful countryside and all of the sights.  We returned to our boat in time for the raft to arrive, just as scheduled.

We used a spare halyard to lift the boat from the dock and swing it onboard Orontes II.  It easily went back to its cradle mounted on deck, where we hope it happily remains for another three years.

Life raft in it’s cradle back on Orontes II

Decal showing the raft is inspected until June 2020