19 February 2019 | An evening in Marzamemi
19 February 2019 | Theatre at Segesta
19 February 2019 | Temple at Selinunte
19 February 2019 | Temple at Segesta
A Sicilian Summer Part 2
19 February 2019 | Sicily
MAZARA DEL VALLO
On Thursday 12th July 2018 at 1000, as we left the Egadi Islands, there was a slight haze over Sicily and a light south-easterly wind; we headed south on a close haul and the wind increased as we passed Masala (we decided not to stop here at €60 per night); we were only 2 miles off shore but the water was very shallow along this stretch of coast, 8m in some places. Two fighter jets soared above us which reminded us of how close we were to Tunisia. This was a great sail all the way to Mazaro del Vallo, 24 miles in total. We didn’t go into the marina here, instead we anchored the other side of the breakwater opposite the beach; this was well sheltered with a moderate breeze and gave good holding in weed over sand. We had a well-deserved swim in the clear water and then took the dinghy to the beach, tying up to a rope on a rock. Our main purpose to come ashore was to dispose of our rubbish and stock up on provisions; we spent about an hour here. This is a fairly busy resort with plenty of shops and a Conad supermarket. We passed a quaint little square and a few churches; I have since learnt that here you can see the Greek bronze statue of the Dancing Satyr, an ancient piece of artwork discovered off-shore by fishing boats.
After spending two nights at Mazaro del Vallo we decided to move on to Sciacca, 28 miles away; this was a pleasant morning of sunshine and white, fluffy clouds and a warm, F3 SE breeze. We managed to get the main sail up in the bay and motor sailed into the wind along the shallow coastline towards Cabo Granitola. The wind increased so Captain Paul reefed the main sail; he was so pleased that he had introduced double line reefing back to the cockpit recently, so much easier than having to go on deck in bouncy seas. As we rounded the point the wind backed to ESE so it was still on the nose! We passed the Temples of Selinunte, two and a half miles on our port side; these temples date back to 600BC and in settled conditions you can anchor right next to them, amazing! The landscape behind the shore is starting to get hillier as we move east; we approached Capo San Marco and noticed that the coastline was very steep with scattered hamlets high up on the hills. On our starboard side were numerous white fishing floats, very poorly marked. We noticed an AIS receiver on the point so hopefully Ground Control would now be able to track us soon, he hadn’t seen us since 4th July as signals on Sicily are not brilliant. With two miles to go we steered to port towards the marina and the wind decided to follow suit and stay on the nose. My first sight of Sciacca was of brightly coloured apartment blocks which reminded me of Albuferia in Portugal. Luckily we had booked at Lega Navale as the two marinas were pretty full; it wasn’t obvious where to go and they didn’t answer the radio, well it was 2.30pm and we are in Sicily! Eventually Phillipe, a marinaro, came to help us in. We hooked up to the electrics and realised that it was reverse polarity, the live and neutral supplies being reversed; this doesn’t happen very often but luckily we carry an adaptor. This well presented, little club with its ceramic tiled murals depicting ocean scenes was full of local small pleasure boats with a couple of visiting yachts; it was so friendly and the staff were helpful but not used to British visitors; they appreciated my attempts at Italian. The bar was a welcome sight on a hot day, with beer for €2, bargain. Better still our mooring fee was €25 a night in July! Sciacca itself is the dirtiest town we have seen so far in Italy which is a shame as the architecture is wonderful with 13th century buildings. We were astounded by the town’s inability and lack of desire to maintain even a modicum of cleanliness, tidiness or pride in their beautiful surroundings. We have learnt that, in the south at least, the Italian mentality is to have an immaculate home but as soon as they step across their threshold they are oblivious to any litter, dog mess, etc. The sewage runs straight out into the sea here and consequently swimming is prohibited. The sea gulls were banqueting on discharge and rubbish; Sciacca definitely largely contributes towards the amount of plastic in the ocean. There is a massive fishing fleet here and consequently plenty of fresh and frozen fish is on offer. The thermal baths, founded here first by the Greeks due to the volcanic thermal springs underneath the town and a very popular tourist attraction, are now closed down, as is the hotel next to them. A brand new, unopened theatre stands nearby. It is such a shame as this town could be a real jewel. We climbed the steps and steep alleyways up to the town and entered a lively square overlooking the sea; there were lots of shops, restaurants and historical buildings; the town really did grow on us whilst we were there. We enjoyed a tasty, typical Italian 1al fresco’ meal at the Osteria Cappellino; this consisted of various fried starters and fish dishes and of course a nice bottle of Sicilian red!
Here in Sciacca we made two wonderful new friends, Yuki and Ugo who live in Malta; their Italian yacht was moored next to us and Yuki, who is Japanese, cooked us a delicious beef katsu curry followed by Marsala wine and sesame biscuits (Ugo is from Milan). They hired a car and took us to Selinunte, which we had sailed past, and also to Segesta. I was a little nervous to be driven by an Italian but Ugo was on his best behaviour and drove sensibly; the roads were so quiet too, compared to Palermo or Gaeta. Selinunte, with five temples, is a small coastal site of the ruins of an ancient Greek city which was destroyed by Segesta with the help of the Carthaginians. On our way to Segesta we stopped for lunch at the inland town of Arcamo; here we had the best ragu arancini that we’d ever had; Yuki and Ugo also introduced us to bombolone and ciambella, delicious donuts. It was a welcome change to experience some of inland Sicily with its abundance of vineyards; luckily the car was air conditioned as it was a scorching 34 degrees outside! Segesta is a larger hilltop site with a Doric temple, amphitheatre, church ruins and a mosque; the view over towards Castellamare was magnificent.
LICATA AND AGRIGENTO
The 20thJuly 2018 was another boiling hot, windless day with a slight sea mist; we slipped the lines and departed Sciacca at 0700, heading east. We passed the chalky cliffs which reminded me of the Isle of Wight; it was a galaxy ripple kind of day and the sea mist met the coast forming a white fluffy cloud along the shoreline. After a few hours the wind built and gave us a light beam reach; with only 12 miles to go the wind backed to an easterly (on the nose) and died to 3knots, this gave us a very rolly passage on the bright turquoise sea. We noticed that this low lying part of the south coast has a drier landscape than we have seen on other parts of the island, barren in places. On land we noticed a new type of wind turbine, instead of resembling a windmill the blades were vertical; we couldn’t work out how they were moving as our wind indicator was not spinning at all. We didn’t see any sea birds or fish, in fact this 50 mile passage was pretty uneventful. We arrived at Licata at 1530, Yuki and Ugo were waiting for us, they had gone to San Leone the day before and so had a head start on us. The four of us explored Licata the next morning; we walked uphill to the 17th century Castle of Saint Angelo and visited the massive cemetery which sparked lots of conversation about how our three different cultures deal with death. We also visited the Black Christ’s Chapel and the archaeological museum. Licata, which once thrived on the mining, refining and shipping of sulphur, is a working town with no frills; we noticed a lot of rubbish, but not as much as Sciacca, and also many stray dogs, especially on the beach and outside the marina. The marina itself is well run with friendly, helpful staff and close to the town and a large supermarket; many liveaboards overwinter here but it wouldn’t be for us.
Whilst we were here we took a two hour long bus journey to Agrigento to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Valley of the Temples; on this site of over 900 hectares we visited seven Greek temples and other remains such as necropolises.; unfortunately we had underestimated just how long we would need to spend here, we ran out of time and energy under the scorching sun and so did not get to the Kolybetra Gardens; we also did not look around the town of Agrigento itself- definitely a place to return to one day.
We left Swallow here for a few weeks whilst we returned home for a special family wedding, knowing she was safe in the well sheltered Marina di Cale del Sole.
CATANIA and TAORMINA
After flying back from the UK at the end of August we decided to spend a few days in Catania, another city founded by the Greeks; our dear friends Karen and Tony accompanied us. We stayed in a cheap and cheerful area not far from the port. Shortly after arriving we found ourselves amongst the evening hustle and bustle of Piazza del Duomo where we saw the cathedral, town hall and Elephant Fountain, which is said to protect the city; Catania was destroyed in 1693 by an earthquake and rebuilt with beautiful baroque design. Here we introduced our friends to the delicious arancini and sat in the square with a prosecco soaking up the atmosphere; the city has a real 1950’s film set feel about it. We had planned to visit Mount Etna the following day but the clouds prompted us to change our plans; instead we took a bus to Taormina to visit the ancient third century BC Greek theatre; this is the second largest Greek theatre on Sicily after Syracuse and is really impressive. The views over to the sea and the backdrop of the beautiful, although threatening,Mount Etna were amazing, despite the clouds. Taormina town is perched high above the sea and is worth seeing although rather touristy, I can imagine it would be extremely crowded during the summer months. We later wandered around the park before catching the bus back to Catania for a wonderful local meal at a small family run restaurant in a side street; delicious food and great personal service! We spent our last morning at the colourful market which was typical of Sicily and didn’t disappoint; the speciality here is fish and there was plenty of it on offer. As usual there was not enough time to experience enough of this vibrant city; it was time to say a fond farewell to our friends and board the bus back to Licata, this journey was the worst white knuckle ride I have ever experienced!
RAGUSA and MARZAMEMI
Before leaving Licata we had to employ a diver to give Swallow’s bottom a good scrub; the fouling in this marina is notoriously bad. We set off on 29 August 2018 at 0745 into the bright sunshine, with very little wind. With just the main sail up Swallow motor sailed at a good speed, thanks to her clean hull. At one point we were very close hauled into the wind and we seemed to have 1 knot of current against us too; this uneventful passage had us arriving in Ragusa at 1400. Ragusa is a pleasant contrast to Licata; the town is immaculate with even the tiny litter bins having recycling facilities. There is a lovely beach and promenade close to the marina and the town is buzzing in the evenings. I was looking forward to trying the Arancina Sicillian, filled with Modica chocolate but they had sold out! The large marina here is clean and friendly but it’s a long walk to the shower block. The wifi had a poor signal so, at €6 for 2 hours, we declined to use it. This is a popular over-wintering marina with a large live aboard community but, again, not for us as the adjacent town closes down for winter. We decided to only stay one night here and take advantage of the favourable weather; we are keen to continue east towards the Italian mainland and onwards to Greece where we will be spending winter; there are some beautiful places to visit from Ragusa but we will save them for another time; as Captain Paul keeps telling me “we can’t see everything”.
So the next day we enjoyed a nice beam reach on a smooth sea, still against the current which slowed us down slightly; after 36 miles and rounding the Isola delle Correnti, where a crazy wind came from nowhere, we reached Capo Passero. We anchored opposite a castle in 10m of sand. Here we were treated to a stunning sunset and a bright orange moon; there was a tiny island with a small castle and lighthouse on one side of us and an imposing palace up on the cliffs on the other side; life is good! The next morning we set off for Marzamemi, a sleepy fishing village, only 3 miles away. We had telephoned ahead and booked a mooring with Salvo at Marina Sporting Marzamemi; the wind became quite frisky as we arrived so the staff helped us in and promptly presented me with a set of steps for climbing down from the bow, great service! We spent two nights in this charming village which came to life in the evenings; plenty of seafood restaurants, boutiques and market stalls; Captain Paul especially enjoyed watching hundreds of starlings roosting at sunset.
On 2nd September 2018 at 0930 we slipped our lines at Marzamemi, bound for Syracuse, which was to be our last stop on Sicily. The genoa led us downwind on a great broad reach; we rounded the Maddalena Peninsula through the Plemmirio Marine Reserve and sailed right into the bay. Here it is mandatory to notify the harbour master of your arrival; we dutifully radioed on channel 16 and were told to anchor in the middle of the bay; so we secured Swallow in the mud at a depth of 9.5m. This is a fantastic, sheltered anchorage opposite Ortiga, a peninsular housing the old town of Syracuse and joined to the new town by three bridges. You can tie to the Quay wall here but it looked a little high for us to alight, also it’s reported that an obligatory €10 daily ‘rubbish removal’ charge is charged, even if you don’t have any refuse. We took the dinghy into a little harbour underneath one of the bridges and chained her up as dinghy theft is apparently common here. We really enjoyed wandering around Syracuse, which was once an extremely important city under Greek rule. Ortiga is full of alleyways with unusual ‘arty’shops and beautiful buildings, the best of which being the magnificent cathedral which was built on top of Athena’s Temple, you can still see some of the temple’s original pillars. The street market, near to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, sells fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, spices and souvenirs; they get pretty peeved though if you only want to buy two pears! We had great fun in the interactive Leonardo di Vinci and Archimedes Museum; it was fascinating learning about Di Vinci’s obsession with the workings of the human body and how he was inspired by Archimedes’ mathematical brain. Only having two full days here meant that we didn’t get to see what the modern town of Syracuse had to offer (although we did take a visit to Lidl to stock up); there is an archaeological museum, a Greek theatre and a Roman amphitheatre. From here we need to press on towards Greece but, Sicily, we will be back!
Egadi islands Sicily
12 January 2019 | Egadis
On 3rd July 2018 we ventured to the island of Levanzo, one of the Egadi Islands, just off the north western coast of Sicily; there was a morning mist over Mount San Giuliano. After radioing Trapani VTS to depart at 1000 we had a fantastic starboard close reach past the tiny Isole Maraone and Isole Formica, the latter of which has a tuna factory. A ferry sped up behind us and we had a hydrofoil heading straight for us; this, coupled with the fact that there were pot buoys everywhere, meant that our nice balanced sail was interrupted!
These islands are a marine reserve run by AMP. There are plenty of buoys for use and you have to buy a permit to use them on the three main islands; we dropped the main sail at Cala Fredda and tied up to one of these orange buoys; the friendly AMP guys came along in their dinghy and charged us €105 for a week, they told us that, as were under 10m, we were also allowed to anchor in certain areas free of charge. You always feel a bit safer on a buoy not having to worry if your anchor might drag; however we did see some strange practices by the Italians, such as a yacht anchoring next to us a few feet from a buoy, a disaster waiting to happen, not to mention the fact that they were damaging the protected grasses! They saw sense once I gave them my ‘what on earth do you think you’re doing’ stare! We went ashore and walked around to the little hamlet which consisted of a small convenience store, a restaurant, a bakery, a clothes shop, a post office, a doctor, and one church; there was a small harbour where the car ferry comes in from Trapani. We then walked the other way, through cypress trees along the shore, to the next cala; such a pretty little island. The next morning the cala became very rolly as the wind changed so we were off!
We sailed to the furthest west island of Marettimo; this was a good F3/4 broad reach with 1m troughs. It all got a bit crazy on our approach with 28k of wind! We took a buoy at Cala Conca in the south as strong northerlies were predicted. It was Mother Nature at her best here: the sheer rocky cliffs were very sparse with clusters of bright green and yellow vegetation such as lichen; the 200m high rock, which has been forced up over the years by seismic activity, is laminated in multi-coloured layers, some diagonal and some parallel to the sea. We enjoyed a relaxing swim in the bright blue water and floated about soaking up the view and listening to the birds. The evening brought 20 knots of wind with 30 knot gusts; our wind scoop was on overdrive, the sun cover was in danger of flying away and the dinghy kept flipping over! Swallow repeatedly surged forward and kept bashing into the buoy; Paul’s attempts to adjust the lines by torchlight were futile. The noise was horrendous, hence another sleepless night! We had thought that a southerly bay would be protected in strong northerlies but the wind came across the island, poured over the edge of the cliffs and funnelled down on top of us, giving us a sharp, hard punch! As I watched the sunrise the winds calmed down a little; we decided to move one and a half miles around the south eastern tip of the island to Finocchio, hoping for more shelter. We hooked up a buoy and quickly realised that we had picked up some rope around our propeller, we’d have to deal with that once the swell had calmed down. Paul swung the boom out and hung his flopper stopper over the side; in case any of you are now having awful images in your head I must explain that a flopper stopper is a device to limit the rolling of a boat at anchor, using resistance; in Palermo he had some steel cut into an equilateral triangle and weighted one end with an old anode. This was fairly effective with a slight wind which held us into the swell, the true test will be a totally windless day when a slight ripple enters the bay and hits us beam on, Swallow loves this violent rocking but we obviously find it totally intolerable and usually end up wanting to sell her and go home! After a couple of hours I noticed that the motor boat in front of us was getting very close to us; we quickly realised that the flopper stopper had caught the chain of the mooring buoy and was dragging it down the side of the boat, making us kite forward; Paul got in the water and pulled the stopper back over the chain whilst I pulled the buoy tightly towards the boat, another crisis averted!
It’s now day four into Swallow’s Egadi adventure and the sleepless crew are very snappy! We cat-napped in the breezy shade of the sun cover listening to the wind howling, the waves rushing on to the shore of the tiny pebble beach and the squawking seagulls; Swallow was bouncing around and the burning sun created jewels sparkling on the bright azure sea. I’m looking up at the clear blue sky and the cliffs with their nooks and crannies, caves and loose rocks; this is a peaceful haven during the day but at night can seem a very dark, scary place ,especially when the winds are gale force. I’m reminding myself that nature is a very powerful source, not to be underestimated, the wind and sea can be relentlessly cruel and unforgiving at times. The AMP guys came along and advised us to stay put for a couple of days and wait for the swell to die down; we couldn’t go anywhere anyway until we’d cut the entangled rope free! They told us that a couple of years ago high winds had brought down some of the cliff in front of where we were moored- eek!!
The next morning the sea was still too rolly to go ashore or even swim; two other yachts came in and had real difficulties securing to the buoys. Everything calmed down the following day and so Paul braved the windblown tiny black jelly fish infested waters so that he could dive down and free the rope from the propeller; he bumped his head on the hull on his way back up! At last we could escape Maretimmo, I don’t think our bodies could have taken another night of being thrown around. We set a course for Favignana, the largest of the islands; there was a very light north westerly wind so we motor sailed on a port beam reach, after an hour we were able to turn off the engine, we looked back at Maretimmo and thought how inviting it looked but I don’t think we’ll be rushing back any time soon!
There are many mooring fields around Favignana but we chose the southern side as the winds were predicted to stay northerly; we tied up in Punta Lunga. This time we went alongside the buoy to pick it up, which we found much easier than trying to grab it from the bow. Engine off and RELAX! This was a Sunday in July and so the bay was crammed with Italian motorboats on a day out from the mainland; once the evening came they’d all gone and it was so peaceful and still, yes it was finally still, we knew we’d sleep well tonight. We stayed three nights on the buoy; our week’s permit had now expired so we moved just around the corner and anchored for a couple of nights. This is a beautiful island but full of tourists at this time of year. A mountainous ridge, Montagna Grossa, runs from North to South and from the bay you can see an Arogonese fort at the top. Finding somewhere to tie up the dinghy was a bit of a challenge but we eventually spotted a little slip way on the peninsular. It took us about 15 minutes to stroll into the lively little town; here we found lots of lovely little gift shops and of course many eateries, gelateries and bakeries offering arancini with every flavour imaginable , mouth-watering gelato and an abundance of little cakes adorned with pistachio nuts. There is an old tuna factory here where tuna was once processed and canned, here you can learn about how they used to catch the large tuna in the nets attached to the sea bed by massive anchors, which are now lying on the foreshore. Many people hire bikes here to see the rest of what the island has to offer. Next we will be heading south back to Sicily.