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Deep Blue
Living The Dream
Climbing live volcanoes on Vulanco Island

The Aeolian Islands, also called the Lipari Islands, lie 35 miles off the north coast of Sicily. The seven islands are peaks of volcanoes and two remain active. The islands have been inhabited from early times and have been the prey of pirates and colonisers from the Carthaginians through to the Spanish.

After waiting for a few days in Sicily for the weather to pick up, we arrived at Isola Vulcano, the southernmost of the group just 4 miles long and anchored in Porto di Levante, under the smoking volcano. The island is composed of extinct craters and one active one, Gran Cratere, that last erupted in 1890. From the anchorage, you can see and smell the sulphuric gases escaping from the top and sides of the volcano. The smell isn't too bad but is ever present. Wearing sturdy shoes, we climbed the 390 metres to the top on a path crossing now solid black lava that then changed at a higher level to red, almost sand and clay. Once at the top, we found ourselves standing on the edge of the crater itself and could see up close the gases that we being emitted and which had coloured the rock yellow. The views of the islands from the top were magnificent.

After our climb, we decided to try out a Sicilian speciality that had been recommended to us - Granita Fragole con Brioche. It was a small glass of strawberry sorbet that you could either sip or eat with a teaspoon and served with a sweet bread that we dipped in. The sorbet was cram packed with strawberries and tasted just like eating iced strawberries. Sounds like a strange combination but it was absolutely delicious.

The island is also famous for its therapeutic mud baths where day-trippers arrive to submerge themselves in the muddy waters that are reported to help relieve skin complaints and rheumatism. The mud baths are right next to the volcanic black sand beach where hot mineral springs bubble up and you can select the sea temperature that you want by simply moving nearer to the mineral springs.

We are planning to visit the main island, just 5 miles long, of Lipari tomorrow.

Food shopping abroad

Whilst out shopping yesterday, it occurred to us that we haven't shared our shopping adventures with you.

Food shopping in France was fabulous, as you would expect. The supermarkets have such a wonderful range of lovely looking fruit and vegetables and the French baguette cannot be surpassed.

Food shopping in mainland Italy, although we have only visited it once so far, was just as good as France. However, did you know that spaghetti actually comes in about 25 different thicknesses! If in doubt, number 5 seems to be what we are used to.

In Sardinia, if you were in a main town such as Olbia, the supermarkets are excellent. Once away from a big town, you have to go to the little mini-market shops that can be quite pricey and are either very good or very bad. Here in Sicily, it is pretty much the same. However, there are some differences that we have noticed.

Bread buying tends to be by weight not by item. Yesterday, we were in a little supermarket that didn't have much bread on show so I asked the lady behind the cheese counter if there was any other choice at which point she told me that she had lots more in one of many white plastic containers behind her and proceeded to open them. You couldn't see what was inside so if I hadn't have asked, I wouldn't have known that there was bread there. If you go to a bakery, you will see lots of lovely big, round loaves on show and you have to ask for a slice or half/quarter that is then cut for you. Italian bread is made mainly with semolina flour that gives it a golden, crumbly texture or with olive olive that makes it springier but which lasts longer. In Sardinia they didn't tend to eat doughy bread but large thin, crackers. How you were supposed to make a sandwich with those is anyone's guess.

A trip to the butchers is also a different experience. You usually enter through a beaded doorway (obviously to keep the flies out) and will have a display counter in front of you with not much in it. It is quite impossible to find lamb but chicken, beef, veal and pork are abundant. The other day, we went into such a shop and were met by a lady butcher. We asked for some chicken breasts and she took out of the fridge a complete chicken that she then started to cut up. They tend to cut the breasts into thin fillets and we have difficulty getting them to understand that we don't want it cut up sometimes. A chicken curry isn't the same with thin slices of chicken. Anyway, she chopped up the chicken, wrapped it up and then walked over to the cash desk to take our money and give us our change. All this without washing her hands. We can't decide whether this is a good thing because it shows that we are all too obsessed about hygiene nowadays or whether it is totally irresponsible and we now have salmonella. Will let you know if symptoms develop.

The marinas in Sicily seem to be very good at making sure your business goes to the right place so no need to worry about humping back loads of shopping because you will be provided with free transport to and from the local supermarket, usually by the owners grandfather in an ancient, beaten-up Mercedes, and it actually works very well.

Fresh milk can be difficult to get hold of and organic fresh milk almost impossible apart from in France. Longlife, semi-skimmed is surprising good but only when cold.

You can't really do a big shop for perishables because you cannot keep them fresh long enough. Our fridge is very good but we can only buy two lots of meat in one go and not lots of vegetables because we don't have the space, especially when Chris has filled his beer section!

Hope this gives you an idea of what provisioning aboard is like. A bit different from a quick trip to Sainsbury's!

Santí Agate

A 30 mile/6 hour motor from Cefalý got us to Sant' Agate. It was ironic that we had found ourselves motoring after 2 days of strong winds! We were not sure what to expect here as the pilot book said that works were 'in progress' to develop the port. Yet again, as it turns out, there is actually not much work in progress and little has changed since the book was written 3 years ago. A charter company is using the marina as its base and we were able to tuck in amongst their charter boats. After the last few days, we are looking forward to a good night's sleep before we head off to the Aeolian Islands, just off the northeast coast of Sicily.

Ice cream festival in Cefalý

Imagine our surprise and delight upon arriving at Cefalý, on the northern Sicilian coast, to find that our arrival coincided with the annual "Sherbeth Festival", a festival of homemade ice cream. Ice cream was brought to Sicily and the world by the Arabs, who ruled the country two centuries ago. They mixed snow from Etna with honey and fruit juice, creating what can be considered the predecessor of ice cream, known at the time as "sherebeth". For 4 days, the town was filled with music, presentations and ice cream stalls. We paid our 4 euros that allowed us to sample three of the dozen of ice creams on display. We didn't much care for one of the cheese flavoured ones and our vote went to Ricotta and Pistachio with chocolate sauce and nuts on top!

Cefalý is a bustling resort built around a picturesque fishing village. It has a magnificent Norman cathedral begun in 1131 by King Roger which is undergoing a restoration program that includes modern stain-glassed windows that fit in perfectly. It certainly had the feel of a 'Mediterranean' medieval town with narrow, cobbled streets and ornate churches and facades all around.

After an afternoon of exploring and ice-cream tasting, we got back to the boat, which was anchored next to the marina as the heavens opened and the wind arrived. It was like that for 36 hours during which we didn't get much sleep or rest as the boat was bouncing and rocking in the waves and wind. We saw some small fishing boats in the marina break free from their lines as the wind tugged at them. Luckily, the wind blew them onto a small beach area rather than out to sea or in our direction!

Pouring in Palermo!

After 4 months without rain, we have spent the last 2 nights in the marina in Palermo where it has poured down! We never thought we would ever say this, but it has been quite a novelty (sorry to everyone back home who we know wish it would stop raining). It has meant that it has been cooler and we have been able to get on with some jobs more easily and Chris had an excuse to watch the Italian Grand Prix on the TV. We will probably be here for another day or so waiting for the weather to settle down before we set off again. We are heading for the Aeolian Islands (a group of seven apparently lovely volcanic islands) off the northeast corner of Sicily as soon as we can. We hope to get the chance to look around Palermo too. From what we have seen so far, whilst it is very grubby and dirty, there are also many lovely buildings to see too. The city was founded by the Phoenicians (they get everywhere) and then the Romans conquered it. The Saracens made it the centre of Arab civilisation and then the Normans added to the architecture. The Aragons and Normans followed until the city was liberated by Garibaldi in 1860. Today, it is the centre of the mafia though we don't expect to see much of that - hopefully.

Meeting friends in Sicily

After a 30 hour crossing from Sardinia to Sicily, when we did some great sailing at high speed through the night, we arrived at San Vito Lo Capo, in the northwest corner of the island, at exactly the same time as our friends Terry and Sue, who had come to spend a week with us from the UK. The heat was welcomed by them but it was a huge difference to what they had left back home. However, after a swim in the warmest seas of our trip so far, and a beer, they seemed to easily settle into life aboard Deep Blue.

We were a bit concerned by the amount of baggage they brought with them and soon realised that most of it was staying with us. Terry should not have offered to bring out anything that we needed! Cheddar cheese, champagne (not requested but very much enjoyed), steaks, organic sausages and bacon from our favourite butchers, Cattermole's in New Buckenham, magazines, Sunday newspapers and stuff for the boat including the next electronic chart that we need for our journey and propeller anodes from Fox's Marina in Ipswich where our friend, John Skerratt, did a great job of sorting it all out for us. As an aside, we originally met John on a sailing holiday about 10 years ago when John was skipper of the flotilla group that we were in. You can imagine our surprise to meet him years later when we were boat shopping just before we left the UK.

We had a varied week anchoring out and mooring in a couple of marinas along the coast. In one harbour we tied against the town wall at no cost, and the other, a large unfinished marina, also allowed us to tie up with no cost involved. A good breeze meant that we could get some good sailing in too. Unlike Sardinia, the coast towards Palermo, the capital of Sicily, was quite built up so we didn't find the secluded coves that we had got used to until we got to a bay just outside Porticello. The bay was in a lovely setting and the swimming was great. Porticello however was the dirtiest harbour that we have ever experienced, and it was the first time that the antibacterial hand gel was used after landing there in the dinghy for a quick explore!

The week passed quickly and we arrived in Palermo in time to see a little of the city before, all too soon, they left for the UK. We are moored at Florio Yacht Club, and the manager, Alex Paladino and his staff, could not be more friendly or helpful .

Cagliari & Villasimius

The journey down to the south coast of Sardinia has surprised us because our pilot book, the book that describes the country, the marinas and everything that we need to know about a destination, gave the impression that 9/10's of the east coast was not very interesting and yet we have seen mountains, miles long beaches, beautifully coloured rocks and cliffs that change colour depending on the time of day. All in all we are very happy to have travelled down the east coast.

We visited Cagliari on 1st September because we knew we could not anchor out there and the marina prices drop a little in September, so we spent 2 nights in Marina del Sol, a family run marina. The father resembled granddad from Only Fools and Horses. It was very hot, as he himself said, and yet there he was with a full, white beard!

With laundry, washing the boat and shopping to take care of, we didn't have a lot of time to visit the city but we did see lots of ornate buildings, as Spanish architecture dominates the city. The views of the city and coast from the top of the Bastione di St. Remy were fabulous. There is a bar/restaurant up there with huge hammocks to relax in whilst taking it all in (see photo). A great place for a long weekend.

Our thoughts on Sardinia
We have very much enjoyed the past 6 weeks here in Sardinia. We only travelled down the east coast from Porto Cervo, in the northeast, to Cagliari on the south coast. The scenery changes as you go south from quiet, turquoise coves and nice, low-rise holiday developments that melt into the hillside to quite dramatic steep sided cliffs of red and orange, very long beaches and not much shelter to duck into if necessary. The sea water is the clearest, bluest and warmest that we have ever seen.

The people are very friendly and do their upmost to help you. Chris went into a chandlery shop the other day which was similar to an old-fashioned UK shop with a man at a counter and all the goods behind him. You had to ask for what you wanted. Not speaking the language didn't deter Chris. Out came the paper and pen and his shopping list came to life in various sketches. After a while, the shop keeper ushered Chris behind the counter and together they rummaged through the boxes of bits and pieces until exactly what we needed was found. A few more bits of sign language and Chris left the shop with some items thrown in for free. What more could you ask for.

If you do have the chance to visit Sardinia then hiring a car is a great way to see the island, which is the second largest in the Mediterranean. The island is quite mountainous and has lots of grottos and caves to explore. The northern end is where all the nature reserve islands are that we didn't visit but which look lovely. Each town or village has its own identity and at Easter and during the summer there are lots of festivals and fireworks.

Olbia has some great clothes shops and the sales start at the beginning of August with up to 70% + off. There are also plenty of ice-cream shops too. Chris's favourite was chilli chocolate!

We have enjoyed both white and red Sardinian wine which you probably won't find outside of the island. We have hardly eaten out so can't really say much about the food but if the supermarket in Olbia is anything to go by, then everyone must eat well.

We hope to return one day and explore the west and northern coasts.

Visit from Deb & Joe

As we made our way down the east coast of Sardinia, my sister Debra came out for her second visit this month, this time with her boyfriend, Joe, rather than the 3 children! They flew into Olbia where they hired a car and drove to meet us in Cala Gonone. Unfortunately, the hire car broke down and they took several more hours more to meet us than planned. During their visit, we used the car to visit Grotta Ispinigoli, which houses the world's second largest stalagmite, standing at 38 metres high. The grotto was incredible and part of a large underground cave system that extended down the coast. The scenery was also incredible with winding roads carving through the mountains. Next day, we anchored off Cala Luna, a popular tourist spot during the day, and got up early to dinghy ashore to see what it was that drew all the tourists. Our early rise was rewarded by the most perfect beach and natural caves all to ourselves. The morning sunshine showed off all the fabulous colours and contours in the rock. How lucky were we. We waved goodbye to them when we reached Porto Frallis as they drove back the 2 Ĺ journey back to Olbia and we continued our journey south. (See photos in the Gallery at Italy/Sardinia/Deb & Joe's visit).

45 nights at anchor

After 45 nights of continuously anchoring out, windy weather meant that we headed for the marina today. 45 nights is quite an achievement as last year, we probably an anchored out about 6 nights. Our solar panels and wind generator provide us with all the energy that we need. Motoring also helps keep those batteries fully charged. We have only had to go to a fuel pontoon to fill the tanks with water. It is just as well that we haven't had to go into a marina, we checked out the prices last week and it would cost us 96 euros a night in July and August. Luckily, here in Santa Maria Navarrese, the price is a little cheaper and at last Deep Blue can have a good wash (thanks Deb & Joe for the help). However, it is surprising how well you can wash a boat with just half a bucket of water when you have to. By the way, we are very clean and no one has told us that we smell. After our dinghy had been in the water for so long too, barnacles had started to appear underneath it! Chris got to grips with getting them off with a scraper. Luckily, having worked hard during the winter to apply the special antifouling, there is nothing at all growing underneath the Deep Blue. She has a clean bottom!

A Surprise Wedding!

We met our French friends from La Ciotat, Jean Louis and Christine, in Porto Cervo, the celebrity resort in NE Sardinia, where else! At 150 euros to pick up a mooring buoy in the marine that offered no electricity or water, we decided to anchor next to it instead for zero euros. We ventured ashore to have a look around and came across the Lord Nelson Pub where a pint cost 16 euros, about £12. Makes the UK look cheap. We spent just one night there before going back down the east coast to show JL and Christine some of the places that we had found during the previous couple of weeks. On the day of Christine's birthday, JL came over to talk to us about 'something important'. One of the Rules of the Sea, apparently, is that the Captain of a ship has the right to marry people. And so, on Christine's birthday, JL was going to marry them. We are not sure that a Captain has the right to marry himself but JL was determined. So, whilst Christine rested, we put together a text to be read out that evening. At 8pm sharp, we were aboard their boat Jersey pretending that we had dressed up to celebrate Christine's birthday. As JL wanted the whole thing videoed, Chris then had to get Christine to show him how the video worked under the pretence of buying one ourselves. The things you have to do for love! Once that was mastered, JL declared his true intensions and with Neptune overseeing the event and Chris and I as witnesses, he married himself to Christine. We spent about 10 days together before they turned around and started to make their way back to Corsica where they intend to spend the winter. We wish them all the very best as Mr & Mrs and look forward to catching up with them next year.

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Who: Chris & Sandra Mennem
Port: Shotley, UK
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