Earlier this month, I celebrated my birthday in Marina di Ragusa. Sometimes, celebrating special occasions when we are so far from home can be a bit lonely, but not this year. Rick bought a big tray of cannoli siciliani (which has to be tasted to be believed) and other goodies, chilled some prosecco and invited a few friends over for a party. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday celebration, but at the end of the evening we realized we'd only taken one photo! Fortunately our friends Sandra and Chris from "Deep Blue" did take some photos, and not only that, they posted a collage of them on their blog. You can check it out at this link Deep Blue's blog
And while you're there, have a look at some of Chris and Sandra's fantastic blog entries about cruising in the Mediterranean.
Oh, and those nice earrings I'm wearing in the photo..Sandra made them! Thank you Sandra and Chris!
After more than two weeks of completely benign weather, the forecast was predicting Force 7 winds (30+ knots) for Monday. This (naturally) was the very day that we needed to take the boat down the coast to Pozzallo to be hauled at the Scala boatyard. Unfortunately, sailing to Pozzallo on Sunday evening before the wind piped up wasn't an option, since the yard didn't have room for us at their dock. We decided to wait until Monday morning to make our decision.
On Sunday, I overheard Rick discussing our dilemma with our starboard neighbor Chuck from "Cyan" (who was eagerly awaiting our departure so he could launch his dinghy and wax the side of his boat). "But didn't you sail across the Atlantic to get here?" asked Chuck, and I immediately knew that my fate was sealed. Chuck and his wife Lynn are fearless...they even sailed through the Gulf of Aden in 2011, just days before the boat Quest was taken by Somali pirates. You may have read their articles in Cruising World magazine last year.
Since the wind was forecast to increase during the morning, an early departure was essential. We were on deck (literally) at 06:15 on Monday morning, and called the on-duty marinaro to give us a hand with our exit. In winds that were already gusting to 20 knots, but fortunately from the west, Rick managed to reverse out of our slip without giving Chuck more than his wax job to worry about. The next hurdle was clearing "Wraith", the steel-hulled boat tied just opposite us on "E" pontoon. Wraith had just been re-launched after several months on the hard, having sustained damage to her bow in a collision with a tanker off the coast of Malta. Of all the boats in the marina, this would definitely have been the worst one to hit (not only because it would have completely demoralized the owners, but also because we clearly would have gotten the worst of it in a collision with a boat that could survive a direct hit from a tanker moving at speed). We high-fived as we motored past the breakwater, then concentrated on avoiding the sand bar off the point. It would be a rough ride, but at least it would be fast.
In spite of the thick growth on the hull, we arrived at the entrance to the port in Pozzallo at 08.45, just as the ferry from Malta was docking. As we motored toward the Scala boatyard, Rick commented that the ferry's engines were still running. Fortunately, the churning in the water seemed to stop moments later. "Good" he said, "they've turned them off", but as we approached the pontoon in what seemed to be calm waters, Aisling was suddenly grabbed by the remnants of the current and thrown forcefully against an unprotected edge of the dock. "It's OK" said Giovanni, the boatyard owner's son, who had taken our lines. But actually, it wasn't. Rick groaned as he examined a nasty puncture wound in Aisling's fiberglass.
Next, we received some surprising news. Apparently, Aisling had grown during the winter! Giovanni went into the office, appeared with a long cloth tape measure, and held it in the air near Aisling's stern while his colleague held the other end of the tape measure in the air near the bow. Between them, the tape measure drooped in a long arc. "This boat is 13.6 meters long" Giovanni proclaimed. "Our papers say that it is 12.4 meters", I said. "The papers don't matter" he pointed to the tape "this boat is 13.6 meters".
Now, we do realize that Aisling's actual length overall (LOA) is slightly more than the 12.4 meters that is recognized in her official registration, but she is definitely not longer than 13 meters. This was a critical point, since the charge bands increase with each meter of length. Moving to the next charge band would cost us roughly another 160 euros. We got out our own tape, measured the boat ourselves and came up with 12.9 metres (which coincidentally is the exact LOA shown in the manufacturer's brochure). Rick went to the office and explained the problem to Giovanni's sister Maria (who speaks excellent English). Both arrived back at the dock (Maria in 3-inch espadrilles, her hair whipping wildly around her face in the wind) and the boat was measured again. "It is 13.6 metres" said Giovanni. He had apparently included the Monitor wind-vane in the measurement, which to me didn't seem like a reasonable way to calculate a price for applying paint to the bottom of a boat. However, having been previously warned to say nothing, I managed to bite my tongue. "OK" said Rick, "I'll pay the price. I just want a good job". We were completely over a barrel, since sailing back to Marina di Ragusa in a 30 knot headwind was not an option and we'd already committed to renting an apartment in Pozzallo for the week.
But I started to warm up to them when the boat was pulled out of the water. The yard is clearly a top-notch operation, with modern equipment and good safety practices. Best of all, when Aisling was settled on the stands, a portable staircase was rolled up to her side. Not a ladder, an actual staircase, with a handrail! Luxury! I almost wished we were staying aboard.
Well, not really. The next afternoon, it was blowing so hard that the boat was shaking on the cradle, and the wind instrument was showing over 40 knots in the gusts. The yard is also a long hike from the town, and while Rick has preferred to spend most of his days on the boat, I've been enjoying the change of scenery in Pozzallo. In contrast to Marina di Ragusa, which is mainly a resort town, Pozzallo is an authentic, vibrant Sicilian town. Our apartment is lovely, with a sweeping view of the sea and enough room to host a party for about 40 people. It's quite a change compared to living in a space where we barely have enough room to swing a cat! (not that I ever would...) We're right in front of a nice beach, and everything we could ever need is within walking distance. The bakery has delicious bread and there's a wonderful fruit and vegetable shop called "Non Solo Frutta" just around the corner. A cappuccino at the cafe down the street only costs 1.20 euro. One morning, the barista wouldn't let me pay for the croissant that I had with my coffee. I'm still trying to figure out why!
Early yesterday morning, Katherine and her friend Leah arrived in Catania on the ferry from Naples. We were up at 5:00 and waiting for them at the dock at 8 a.m. Then we headed straight for Taormina, which is at the top of most of the "must see" lists for Sicily, and for good reason. It is a delightful, touristy village perched on a mountainside just north of Mt Etna. The view from the Greek theatre was so incredible that it exceeded all our expectations! We hope to tell you more about it later, and post some photos.
The boatyard has already finished all the work on Aisling, and we were pleasantly surprised when they gave us a price reduction on the final invoice and did not charge us for repairing the damage to the fibreglass, (although Aisling was left with a bright white bruise on her portside flank). By noon today, Aisling had been relaunched and Rick and I were on our way to Marina di Ragusa, while Katherine and Leah went off on the bus to explore Modica. We've certainly been treated well by the Scala yard, and would definitely recommend them. Maria was even kind enough to meet us at the dock in Marina di Ragusa and drive us back to Pozzallo, where we will be staying in our apartment until Monday.
At the moment, all four of us are hunkered down in front of various electronic devices in the living room. We have a new wifi router that allows us to connect multiple devices to the internet, yet is small enough to fit in your pocket. On the other hand, this may not exactly the best way to experience Sicily! I assure you, this is just a temporary situation. Tonight, we'll try out a local restaurant in Pozzallo. Tomorrow we're off to the the flower festival in Noto. Ciao!
05/09/2012, Marina di Ragusa
Sicily is wonderful! Bon and I are running every second day and as you know that gets the juices flowing. I get so much more done on run days. Yesterday while running down the shore road we came upon an old man with only one leg sitting in a wheelchair on the side of the road watching the sea. I said Buongiorno and he launched right into, what we took to mean, its a beautiful day as he spread his arms at the view. Then he pointed to his missing leg and seemed to be saying we were lucky to be able to get out and about. Bon said "we only speak a little Italian", and he smiled and said "but you understand it really well!". All of this in Italian of course and with a smile on his grizzled old face. We both said arrivederci ran on.
It's spring, temps are in the 70's in the day and down to 60 at night, no rain, only sun, the flowers are out in droves, farmers are cutting the first hay and wheat, the hillsides are green instead of brown and the tourists are not here yet, except us and a few others. The locals flock here from Ragusa on the weekends and fill the villas. It's their beach. The food is outstanding and cheap, the cold beer is delish, decent wine can be had for 1.50 to 3 euros per bottle, the coffee, oh the coffee......., groceries are cheap, the women are beautiful, the men are cool, the passagiata is a joy to take part in and watch, the Italians have a great sense of style in so many things from architecture to housewares, to clothing. It's a wonderful experience to just walk around with your eyes soaking up all this style...... as you can tell there is lots to like.
The marina is emptying out; many left at the end of April, as their contracts expired. We booked an extra month and were unsure if it was wise or not. I now think this may have been one of the best ideas I have had. We have another 3 weeks to go. Katherine arrives next week.
We are working away on maintenance of the boat and have lots yet to do but its fun messing about on Aisling. The social life here is busy. We are meeting some interesting people and having some great Sicilian experiences.
At the moment, life is good!
May 7th...fingerprint day! We were particularly impressed with the preciseness of our appointments- 0925 for Rick, 0931 for me. So the whole process should take no more than six minutes each, right?
Tim from "M" pontoon, an American who has already successfully navigated the Permesso di Soggiorno process, had scoffed at the idea that we actually had an appointment for a specific date and time. "Trust me, it's not a real appointment" he said. "I went to the Questura three times before they finally took my fingerprints." We sincerely hoped that he was wrong. In any case, the wisest course of action seemed to be to show up at the appointed time.
When we arrive at the Questura shortly before nine, a long line of would-be immigrants is already waiting outside the blue gate. Maybe they didn't have appointments? But the officer on the desk is unimpressed when we show him our notices. He shakes his head and (I think) says that we are too late, and that we will have to come back at 7 a.m. on Friday and sign up for a time. Oh oh. But since by now we know that things aren't always as they seem, we ask to speak to Doctor- Professor Carbone.
Dr. Carbone is as gracious as he was during our previous visit. He takes us to the forensics department, where we are told that we must first speak with the immigration department. Alas, back at the immigration department, it becomes clear that we will not be fingerprinted today. Dr. Carbone speaks with the Director and then gives us the bad news. "Your paperwork has probably arrived from Rome" he said "but it is in a very large pile that hasn't been sorted yet. Perhaps in a fortnight...." then reconsiders "....or at the end of the month, to be safe. Be sure to have four passport photos with you when you come back." We exchange worried looks and explain that our contract with the marina will end at the end of the month, but Dr. Carbone reassures us that everything will surely be sorted out by then. And even if it isn't, we shouldn't worry, because it isn't our fault. He is very apologetic about the sad state of the Italian bureaucracy and actually looks relieved when we explain that the immigration system in Canada is probably not much better than the Italian system and in fact may be worse.
Now we are off in pursuit of passport photos. We are told to go to an optical shop near the roundabout, then we are told that the shop will probably be closed, because it is Monday morning, but finally we find the shop and it is open after all. Rick's approach to communicating in Italian achieves even better results than usual. "Per favore, passport photos?" he asks, and the man behind the counter says "We speak English here, sir!" In fact, both the optician Giovanni and his father Pietro (also an optician) speak perfect English. My photos are ready in less than a minute, and when I comment that they are far more flattering than the one in my Canadian passport (which admittedly isn't saying much) Giovanni tells us that he and Pietro are also Canadians.
As Giovanni takes Rick's photos, Pietro tells me his story. He explains that he emigrated to Montreal with his parents as a young boy, but decided to return to Italy in 1980. "I had three optical shops in Montreal and I was making lots of money." he says. "And my parents were not happy with me when I left. But what good is money without the time to enjoy life? You don't get a second chance at living your life!" He explains that when he decided to move to Sicily, he had been advised to set up his business in either Ragusa or Syracusa province. Why? Because in these provinces, there was no Mafia. "It is very safe here" he said. "Twice I have forgotten to lock the shop when I left at night, and both times no one took a thing."
Meanwhile, Giovanni asks Rick how we came to be in Sicily and they discover that they share a mutual passion for the sea. In Giovanni's case, this revolves around fishing. He takes Rick to his computer to show him photos of the many large fish (mahi mahi, tuna and others ) he has caught in the waters off Marina di Ragusa, where his family owns one of the large waterfront villas. But he also tells Rick that the Italian economy is in big trouble, business is slow and he is thinking of moving back to Canada. I doubt his father will approve. "Buon vento!", he calls as we leave, and Rick replies "Fair winds!".
Before going back to the bus station, we drop in at the Hertz office to confirm our reservation for the day before Katherine's arrival in Catania. Then, with a little time to kill, we decide to have coffee in a small bar across the street. All the patrons seem to be men over the age of 70, drinking espresso or buying lottery tickets. Rick asks for "Due cappuccino" and an elderly gentleman corrects him "Cappuccini" he says. "Plurale". When Rick digs in his pocket to pay for the coffee, the elderly man smiles and shakes his head. "Drink your coffee before you pay", he says. "And if you don't like your coffee, don't pay". "Buon consiglio" he adds (good advice). The barista scowls, and points out that I have already proclaimed the coffee to be "molto buono". Not just buono, but molto buono. So of course we pay.
It has turned out to be a good morning after all. Suddenly, all worries about fingerprints have evaporated. As we walk to the bus station in the warm sunshine, I think how lovely it would be to spend a few months here every year. Even if the entire Permesso di Soggiorno scheme turns out to be a bust, we're allowed to stay in Italy for 90 days every six months. And maybe, just maybe, someone at the Questura will eventually find our paperwork!