Minnie B

Making it up as we go along

28 October 2019
28 October 2019
28 October 2019
16 September 2019
16 September 2019
16 September 2019
16 September 2019
12 August 2019 | San Gimignano
17 July 2019
13 June 2019
03 June 2019
03 June 2019
16 May 2019
16 May 2019

To Siracusa and on

28 October 2019
Phil Heaton
We had been looking at the weather forecast and although Plan A had been to visit Siracusa and for David and Jacquie to go back to Catania from there on Saturday for their return flight to Ireland, with an anticipated westerly wind of F6 for Sunday through to the following Wednesday, it was agreed to move to Plan B: go to Siracusa on Wednesday and then overnight to Licata in a westerly wind of 15kts (F4).

So we did … well, we did the 21nm to Siracusa on Wednesday 2nd October and even managed to sail for 40 minutes.

Siracusa is lovely – we were in the Marina Yacht Club Lakkios very close to the attractive island of Ortigia. We wandered its ancient streets, taking in the Doric temple of Apollo, built in 565 BCE, the magnificent Duomo which is a 5th century BCE temple to Athena and converted to a Christian Cathedral in 640 CE. It really is quite remarkable as the Greek columns have been incorporated in the outer walls of the cathedral. The streets have lovely palazzos and on the south-west side of the island is the Forte Aretusa, a freshwater spring with mythical connotations involving nymphs, Artemis (Diana), a male suitor Alpheius and a long running and alive to-day debate about whether rape was involved or they were consenting minor gods – so #Me Too is not new …

David and Jacquie took us for one of the best meals of our Italian experience at a local restaurant – truly local as we were the only non-Italians there. We dined and drank sumptuously and the craic was mighty.

Our stop in Siracusa enabled us to wash off some of the volcanic grit and dust that had settled on the boat in Catania – a long-term stay in Catania would not be a good idea.

Our route to Licata was 90nm direct, but we knew it would involve a beat so we anticipated about 150nm. We timed our departure for midday on Thursday 3rd October and slipped our lines at 1125.

There are two ways of looking at this trip which turned out to be 149nm:
1. it was an opportunity for David and Jacquie to participate in the full cruising experience
2. it was bloody awful.

So how was it? Answer: depends who you ask … Well, not really – view 2 was the consensus. So, we motored the 25nm to Isola di Capopassero and then began to sail and that 15kts wind, you know F4, turned into an F6 … oh, lumpy, noisy, lots of slamming into the waves … you know what it’s like …

Well, at one stage the tacking option included visiting Malta, but at 0100 it was decided that as OVNIs are not brilliant at pointing in big winds and waves we would improve matters by having the iron topsail contribute to a higher angle and help push us through the waves.

This was good until we were about a mile off the entrance to the marina at Licata when the turbulence had stirred up some crud in the fuel tank … and the pre-filter clogged up … and the engine shut off …

Well we had been in that situation before, so quick switch over to the clean pre-filter and quick check that diesel was coming to the engine, and the engine fired up fine, and we entered the marina.

We were helped to our berth by the lovely marineros and safe at last.

We had a quiet evening onboard … well, drinking so much wine kept everyone quiet …

The next day we moved to a more sheltered berth, climbed to the castle overlooking Licata and had a very nice lunch at the marina before we had to say a sad farewell to David and Jacquie: it was a wonderful cruise [subject to comments about the trip to Licata from D&J. Ed] and we really warmed to the Sicilian people and all the places that we visited.

For us there is much more time in Licata and the central Mediterranean. We are very happy with our choice of Licata for overwintering: there is a great community of cruisers, the town has lots of great restaurants and bars, lovely old buildings (palazzos and churches) and some of the friendliest people we have met.

The marina staff are great and we have met up with old friends Francoise and Jean-Paul, last seen in Trinidad in 2010, and made some new friends who share our enthusiasm for rugby and everything associated with it and cruising. So far, a great place to be.

However, UK and family and other friends call and so we are now back in York and looking forward to all that is on offer over the winter here.

Back on the blog in 2020.

Photos in the Gallery.

A Big Event

28 October 2019
Phil Heaton
Mount Etna is like Ailsa Craig in that it is always there [now you are being completely ridiculous; Ailsa Craig is a 99 hectares and 338 metres high lump of granite in the Firth of Clyde, the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano; Mt Etna is an active stratovolcano 3350 metres high and covers an area of 460 square miles; no more silly analogies please. Ed].

Anyway, we wanted to visit and the best plan seemed to be to go to a marina in Catania, hire a car for the day, take the cable car and then special four wheel drive bus to 2990 metres and walk around a crater and watch smoke, ash and steam spew from the top of this mighty volcano. So we did.

Catania was our base for this and we stayed at the Diporto Nautico Etneo which was only OK but it was a case of location, location.

Architecturally Catania is quite fascinating, with 18th century baroque buildings and the Greco-Roman theatre with extensive galleries, evidence of plundered marble, and houses from the 19th century onwards taking advantage of the safe structure of its foundations and walls. Well worth the visit.

We were up early to be at the cable car for opening time at 0900. The ride up was pretty impressive and then it was into a 4x4 bus along with a party of French tourists. On arrival at the bus terminus in a barren landscape of volcanic dust and grit, surrounded by lava flows and with Etna steaming and smoking threateningly, we were met by a guide who took us around a mini caldera or crater from an eruption. We were at just under 3000 metres and with the risk of mini eruptions no-one was allowed to go higher.

We just love volcanoes – they are where one gets up close and personal with the core and essence of our planet and there is a real sense of how puny are human beings and all our constructions and engineering. The power of the natural forces in our planet is beyond anything our science has the capacity to design and build. We are in awe and have our respect renewed when visiting volcanoes.

We took photograph after photograph and really enjoyed our visit, and especially that David and Jacquie had such a great experience too – a must do on Sicily.

We then went out to the coast and visited a few small harbours and villages before returning to Catania.

Photos in the Gallery

The Sicilian St-Tropez

28 October 2019
Phil Heaton
Well, that’s what the guide book calls Taormina. First though, on Friday 27th September we motored the 40nm to an anchorage just north of Messina, passing by the Scylla and Charybidis* without encountering them – just some turbulence reminiscent of Strangford Lough.

The next day was the 29nm to Taormina. We managed to sail goosewinged for about 90 minutes with poled out genoa and prevented main. Arriving at Giardini Naxos we anchored in 6.5 metres and took the dinghy ashore for aperos – a beach landing.

On Sunday we took a taxi into Taormina and strolled – after coffees and cannoli. The long main pedestrianised street, Corso Umberto, is lined with shops for tourists and there are hundreds of restaurants and bars. The Teatro Greco is in a dramatic setting high on the cliffs with an amazing backdrop of the hills, Mount Etna and the sea of the bay of Giardini Naxos – the Greeks certainly had an eye for a setting … then the Romans came along and built proscenium arches blocking the view. Such Philistines [silly, they were Romans; the Philistines lived in the what is now Israel/Palestine and were exiled to what is now Iraq and did not like theatre; the Romans liked theatre … especially involving Christians and lions. Ed].

Here is a curiosity – DH Lawrence lived in Taormina and when King George V visited the town, Lawrence was the only British resident who chose to ignore him. Undeterred the king called on Lawrence and even helped to water his garden.

We had another very nice lunch. The day was only slightly marred by an attempted rip off by a taxi driver – he was mightily annoyed that he did not get away with cheating on the published fares.

*Scylla was on the Sicily side of the Messina Straits and a supernatural female creature with twelve feet and six heads on long snaky necks, with each head having a triple row of shark-like teeth, while her loins were girdled by the heads of baying dogs – lovely eh?

Charybdis was on the Calabria side, lurking under a fig tree, and drank down and belched forth the waters three times a day and was fatal to shipping – eek.

So, Odysseus narrowly escaped their clutches and it appears that we did too.

Photos in the Gallery.

The Luxury Adventure Cruise begins

28 October 2019
Phil Heaton
We left Palermo on Sunday 22nd September for the 35nm trip to Cefalu. With a 13-15kts SE wind off the shore we had a cracking sail, just motoring the last few miles to the anchorage where we dropped in 6 metres and had a lovely evening with views of the inshore rocky outcrops and the massive hill of La Rocca.

The following day was quite windless and we motored the 55nm to the island of Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands. We were unsure about landing the dinghy so decided not to anchor and some negotiations got us a mooring for two nights at a reasonable price and a landing place in Porto di Levante.

On 24th September we climbed to the volcanic crater which had sulphurous fumes escaping from fissures in the rocks which were also marked by yellow trails of sulphur. The views across to Lipari were stunning.

There was the option of a mud bath but such wimps that we are, we passed on this opportunity for a serious skin treatment …

The next day we headed for Lipari, dodging the hydrofoils and the other ferry traffic. The anchoring information showed limited options because of steeply shelving seabed, so we did a reconnaissance near the main town and then in the bay to the north. This latter had some good options but they were near a dilapidated factory, quite a distance from the jetty for landing and open to the NE wind that was blowing, so we returned to Lipari town and found the best spot had been vacated. Getting the anchor to set took a bit of patience as the seabed was covered in thick grass. All was good and we went ashore for aperos.

We visited the town again the following day and toured the narrow streets and citadel, the Castello, a massive Spanish bastion enclosing the cathedral and 17th century bishop’s palace. The views from the pine shaded citadel are quite impressive. We had an excellent lunch at a local very friendly restaurant and were entertained by one of the staff’s acrobatics involving a lamp-post. The Gallery shows who among our company thought they had the agility to emulate the feats of strength and flexibility.

We had to choose between a detour to Stromboli and heading for the Straits of Messina and the more substantial Mount Etna – so onwards to Etna then.

Photos in the Gallery.

A wonderful cruise with David and Jacquie … and some events

28 October 2019
Phil Heaton
So Norma flew back to England and then to Northern Ireland where there was a very big send off for Roy, Norma’s stepfather.

We had a bit of a problem when berthing in the Sitimar marina which turned out to be a failing flexible coupling (between the engine and the transmission). Fortunately there was a refurbished part available and a decent mechanic so that was good then.

Being left all alone in Palermo, Norma had insisted that Phil went to the opera at Teatro Massima on the Sunday, which was La Traviata – absolutely superb and a shame we could not both have seen it.

David and Jacquie duly arrived on Wednesday 18th September as the mechanics were just finishing their work and were able to join in with the trial run outside the harbour – all good.

As compensation, Phil took them to a bar for Negronis – allegedly the best in Palermo at Botteghe Coletti, but subsequently we have had outstanding Negronis at Café San Angelo in Licata – which created the right start to the cruise.

We spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday exploring Palermo and Monreale, and this included the oldest bar at Taverna Azzurra where essentially you buy a beer at the bar and stand in the street … or sit on an available plank … next to the refuse bins … and feral dogs … and several hundred young people …

We had coffee and cannoli at Antico Caffe Spinato – brilliant cannoli – and lunch at Moltivolti, a co-op restaurant that serves the local community and whose profits go to helping refugees arriving in Sicily – simple and excellent.

Our tour took in Piazza Pretoria with its baroque fountain, the very striking crossroads of Quatro Canti, the Cattedrale and a roof-top walk, the triumphal arch of the Porta Nuova, the Palazzo Normanni and strolls through the myriad backstreets and boulevards. Palermo has character and was much enjoyed.

We took the bus to Monreale, some 8km from the centre of Palermo, for the Arab-Norman architecture of the Duomo di Monreale – magnificent building with the most ornate baroque chapel and tranquil but sumptuous 12th century cloisters in the adjacent monastery demonstrating Islamic art in the mosaic inlaid marble columns. The cathedral authorities were very good as the sensible bus arrives only an hour before the lunchtime closure, but the ticket allows a return visit in the afternoon to see all the splendour.

So, on Saturday evening Norma returned and the mantle of domestic goddess could be returned to her.

Photos in the Gallery.

To Palermo, Sicily

16 September 2019
Phil Heaton
One of the features of cruising life for our generation is the massively increased life expectancy of our parents’ generation. We all know what it means.

So, with news that Norma’s 94 years old stepfather had been taken into hospital and was not in good shape and with guests arriving in Palermo on Wednesday 18th September we decided to press on.

We needed decent wifi for Phil to have an OCC conference call on Wednesday 11th September so we stopped in the marina at Vibo Valentia and then undertook an overnight passage to Palermo. The trip to VV was a motor, but we had 8-11kts NW wind on Thursday 12th September and sailed nicely close-hauled for over six hours, and then the wind eased away as we passed between Lipari and Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands – Stromboli was smoking and cloud-topped but no lava.

We arrived at Sitimar marina in Palermo at 0800 and Orlando, the Marineiro/manager was extremely helpful and got us berthed nicely.

So, Norma flew back on Sunday 15th for a funeral in Northern Ireland and will return next Saturday and our guests will arrive on Wednesday to be hosted by Phil … who is now starting to appreciate that Norma really is a domestic goddess … and she is now concerned that her favourite recipe file has been lodged in the engineering and technical section of our bookshelves …
Vessel Name: Minnie B
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Hailing Port: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Crew: Phil and Norma
Minnie B's Photos - None Traditional Village
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Added 3 August 2014