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Deep Blue
Living The Dream
Meeting friends in Malta

Just 50 miles away lies the island of Malta, where we spent two very enjoyable winters. To sail there from here in our boat would take about 10 hours. Just down the coast from us is Pozzallo, home to the largest catamaran ferry service in the Meditteranean. The ferry between Sicily and Malta takes just 90 minutes and was our chosen method of transport for a trip to Malta to meet up with friends and do some pre-Christmas shopping.

The ferry was just over a year old and had been sailed from the factory in Australia, all the way to Sicily, out-running some pirates on the way! There were only about 20 of us aboard, what felt like an aeroplane, as we skipped over the waves to arrive in the beautiful city of Valletta and then straight on to a birthday lunch with friends at the Malta Yacht Club.
We were staying the in the same hotel as our cruising pals, Angie & Wayne, with whom we had done a bit of sailing during the summer. It was good to catch up with them again and to meet up with our Maltese friends, Charles and Sandra and fellow Brits, Daphne and Jim, who we had also seen during the summer in the Ionian. As well as socialising, we each had a shopping list to complete that included both boat items and food stuff for Christmas.

It was just as well that we didn't need to do any sightseeing on this visit as our trip whizzed by and in no time at all we were back on the ferry with bulging luggage bags. It was a great trip and one that we hope to repeat again soon.

Cruisers go olive picking

We use olive oil almost everyday and we have visited several olive oil museums during our travels so, when give the opportunity to actually go olive picking, we were not going to turn it down.

Together with cruising friends, we all headed into the hills on a sunny Sunday morning (which was a miracle as it had rained heavily all the night before and we thought the trip would be cancelled) to help with the annual olive harvest on a farm that belonged to theparents-in-law of a local lady who is teaching Italian here. We were shown what to do and in no time at all, we had laid out the mesh netting under the trees in which to collect the olives and set up a couple of step ladders to reach the highest branches and we were off. The plump green and black olives were ready for harvest and came off easily as we slid our hands along the branches and let the fruit drop onto the mesh below. Surprisingly, the branches and leaves were quite soft and we did not have to wear gloves or complain of lacerated hands afterwards. The olives were then put into plastic crates to be taken to be processed later. We worked hard for several hours, happily chatting away, and after stripping 20 trees of their fruit, we had collected 240kg of olives.

Our reward was a delicious lunch of local produce prepared by mamma. We were served pasta with a lentil sauce, salami and cheese from a neighbouring farm along with their own olive oil, of course. All this was washed down with plenty of wine from their own vines. And, as if that wasn't enough, we were all given a bottle of olive oil to take away, as is the tradition when you have helped with the harvest.

After lunch, we took the olives to be processed and saw how they were weighed, washed, crushed in their entirety, had the water and oil seprated and finally the green liquid emerged. The olives that were harvested were mostly small, hard and green, which gives the oil a grassy taste, much sought after in Sicily and the sign of a very good oil. Black olives were also harvested (they are simply green ones that have matured longer) and they were included in the process too as it is too hard and unnecessary to separate green from black.

We had a great day and enjoyed taking part in the whole process. Our Sicilian hosts made us feel very welcome, even though they did not speak any English and they must have been the only farm for miles around to have such an international picking team for the day, much to their amusement.

To see all the photos, click HERE

Castello di Donnafugata

Last month we hired a car for the day, together with friends Dan & Judi on Koa, and visited the nearby Castello di Donnafugata. It was built by Baron De Spuches in the 19th century, and it was a country home rather than a defensive structure. Of the castle's 122 rooms, 28 remain furnished with the original furniture, draperies, bedding, etc., and these are open to the public. Some of the rooms were quite plain but others, especially the room in which the local bishop was received, were very elaborate. The walls of the "boardroom" (so named because it was used for meetings) were painted with the coats of arms of the 700+ aristocratic families in Sicily. On the coats of arms you see a number of lions, eagles, griffins, and the like. And even stags and bees. But then you have the Baron's coat of arms - four hedgehogs on a shield of yellow and blue quadrants. That really made us laugh! Somehow hedgehogs seem a bit wimpy compared to the fierce and/or majestic creatures on the other coats of arms. The castle grounds are now a park, and they are lovely and contain a stone maze, scented hedge maze, fountain and chapel. From here we headed into Modica for lunch at Osteria dei Sapori Perduti which specializes in local rustic Sicilian dishes. A great day out was had by all.

For more photos, click HERE

Modica chocolate festival – ‘Chocobarocco’

Modica is one of southern Sicily's most atmospheric towns, with a medieval centre and spectacular baroque cathedral. However, our trip there, with friends Terry & Sue, wasn't to sample the cultural highlights of this UNESCO-listed city, we'll save that for another trip, it was to same the delights of its annual chocolate festival - Chocobarocco.

The Spanish first brought cocoa beans to Sicily and their method of cold grinding the beans with sugar rather than melting the chocolate and sugar together is still the method used today in Modica, resulting in a slightly grainy, crunchy texture.

For the festival, the main street was lined with booths of chocolatiers from all over Italy tempting us with their colourful and delicious displays. I defy anyone to have walked down the main street and not sucumb! As well as traditional chocolate items, there was also an array of more unusual chocolate items including hardware items like hinges, nuts and bolts, hammers, wrenches and pliers; household items like scissors, irons, coffee pots; and chocolate made to look like other foods such as sausages, cheese and bread. However, the most impressive item for me was the chocolate shoes. They were like dainty pieces of art, much too good to eat - really!

Butterfly ‘Farfalle’ House

During our trip to Modica, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful butterfly house that had been erected for the chocolate festival. The 'house' was a giant greenhouse filled with potted plants and lots of colourful and exotic butterflies of every colour and size. They controlled how many people entered at a time but once you were inside, you could stay for as long as you wanted. We were able to get really close to the butterflies and see the magnificent detailing on their bodies. It was a very relaxing visit with gentle music playing in the background which provided a nice intermission before we headed back to the chocolate festival.

Exploring southeast Sicily - Ragusa

Against a backdrop of the Monti Iblei hills, southeast Sicily is home to some of the island's most beautiful towns including the sumptuous baroque architecture of Unesco-listed Ragusa and Modica. A visit from UK friends, Terry & Sue, seemed like the perfect excuse to do some exploring.

Sitting on top of a hill is the busy workaday town of Ragusa Superiore, the provinces capital. Further down the hill, and practically built into the hillside, is Ragusa Ibla (old town), the historic centre with twisting alleyways and baroque palazzi. Like every other town in the region, Ragusa Ibla was destroyed in the 1693 earthquake, and a new town, Ragusa Superiore, was built on a high plateau above the original town. But the local aristocracy was loathe to leave the tottering palazzi and rebuilt Ragusa Ibla on exactly the same spot. The two towns were subsequently merged in only 1927.

As you wander around Ragusa Ibla, it is easy to think that you are getting lost but sooner or later all streets seem to lead back to the Piazza Duomo with the beautiful Cattedrale di San Giorgio set high above a grand staircase. The extravagant facade rises up like a three-tiered wedding cake, very appropriate as a wedding party emerged from the Cattedrale just as we got there.

In the piazza we enjoyed sampling wine-flavoured ice cream from Gelati Di Vini before making our way down to the Giardino Ibleo, public gardens, which gave us a great view of the surrounding valleys and hills.

Marina di Ragusa
11/05/2011, 36 46.49'N:14 32.43'E

The marina opened for business just two years ago and this year is the first time that they have had such numbers overwintering here. Our friends, Dan & Judi, spent last winter here and really enjoyed it but there were only a handful of boats here, so not much atmosphere. They told their cruising friends about it and also wrote a great article on the marina for a USA cruising association magazine. The result is that there is a real international mixture of cruisers here this year - UK, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, Germans, New Zealanders and Australians.

The marina is next to the town of Marina di Ragusa (Ragusa-on-Sea, if you like, being 20kms from the town of Ragusa) and surrounded by long sandy beaches. The staff are very friendly and helpful and the local people must think that the United Nations have descended on them for the winter but they seem quite happy about it!

There are several shops within the marina, including a small supermarket, chandlers, fashion and homeware and a great café that are trying hard to accommodate the over-winters needs (happy hour prices and an affordable meal - we don't ask for much!). Together with two washing machines and a dryer and lovely toilet/shower facilities, the marina looks like it will be a great place to be this year.

First impressions of the town are very encouraging though having bikes is handy for getting to the supermarket and shops. There is a local market on a Tuesday morning and lots of restaurants, cafes and bars to try out.

More to follow once we've done some exploring.

Goodbye Greece – Hello Sicily!

After spending the summer exploring the Ionian, we finally decided that it was time to start making tracks over to our winter destination - Marina di Ragusa, on the south coast of Sicily.

The journey over to Sicily took just over 2 days and we didn't have the best of weather for the journey, but we did have a full moon at that time which lit the night sky so that it never got 'black' dark, more of a silvery shimmer everywhere. We arrived back to one of our favourite places, Syracusa where we dropped the hook. It was several days, however, before we could go ashore as a storm followed us in bringing with it strong winds and rain.

When the storm had finally passed over, we ventured out and met up with some Australians who had arrived 24hrs behind us. They too had come over from more or less the same place as us in Greece but they had been hit by the storm whilst they were still travelling and we thought we had it bad! However, it hadn't stopped them from putting the fishing line out and they had caught several fish on the way over, too much really, and they kindly gave us some of their fresh tuna. It lasted us several meals, though we can't say we would recommend Chinese black bean tuna! So, thanks to Karen & Neil and good luck getting to Oz for June! (Makes us look like real snails!!).

We made the journey from Syracusa to Marina di Ragusa in two hops, spending one night in Porto Palo, on the southeast tip, which seemed to be a major fishing port with some very large sea trawlers. The last leg of our 2011 cruising was spent getting drenched as a thunderstorm passed overhead. However, arriving in Marina di Ragusa and seeing our friends Krissy & Ni stood on the front of their boat, Finalement, waving to us made up for it all.

We tied up to the land, dried off, met up with other friends, Dan & Judi on KOA, to whom we are very grateful for convincing us to spend the winter here, and then headed off in search of pizza!

Ronnie & Vikki come to visit

On 25th September, our first visitors of the year, Ronnie & Vikki, arrived in Preveza to join us for a week exploring parts of the Ionian.

Having both been used to being on boats prior to this trip, it didn't take them long to get to grips with life aboard including cooking a delicious dinner for Chris and I one evening. Our time together was filled with visiting Levkas, Meganisi and the mainland, snorkelling in crystal clear waters, having a beach BBQ and finishing off the week with a traditional Greek dish - Gyros (spit roasted pork with pita bread, tzatziki, chips and salad). Unfortunately, we didn't get much wind to sail but when we did, we had a great sail to Sivota in the south of Levkas and the extra crew made all the difference.

For photos, click HERE

Beach BBQ in Ithaca

We spent two nights at anchor, off the beach in Pera Pigadhi, SE Ithaca. The steep-to slope above is called Koraka, corresponding to Korax in the Odyssey. Together with Stephen and Barbara aboard Roma Gould III, fellow Brits & from Norfolk, we had a wonderful beach BBQ. It was a perfect, warm evening and we shared stories of our summer travels as the sun set. Another great snorkelling experience around the nearby caves capped off a great two days before both boats set off again.

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Who: Chris & Sandra Mennem
Port: Shotley, UK
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