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.
A Sicilian Summer 2018 Part One
12 January 2019 | Sicily
At 0700 on 2nd June 2018 Swallow weighed her anchor in the brilliant sunshine and said goodbye to the beautiful Aeolian Islands which, in a month’s time, would be swamped with visitors. We set off for Sicily; our first stop is Cefalu, 52 miles away on the north coast; there was not a soul in sight, not even a bird. Two hours into our passage we were delighted to welcome around 25 dolphins joyfully playing around us. The main sail was flogging due to the almost non-existent easterly wind so we lowered it and suffered the side to side rolling caused by the sloppy sea! Later, with only 2 miles to go, the genoa filled giving us a great downwind sail. We set the anchor in 6m of water in the old harbour of Cefalu, we were mindful of staying 300m off shore as we had read that authorities are pretty hot on the rules around here; a picturesque sight of the old town and golden, sandy beach. This anchorage gave us a really uncomfortable, rolly, sleepless night so, at daybreak, we motored back around the corner to the new harbour which, although further away from the town, would offer us better shelter. This was such a relaxing spot with the backdrop of a ginormous, craggy rock- apparently a great walk to the top to see Diana’s Temple but it was way too hot for that thank you very much! We enjoyed a wonderful few days in this peaceful spot, with bird song being the predominate sound; Captain Paul treated Swallow to a bit of a scrub whilst we were swimming. Cefalu is a quaint old town, we took a stroll and visited the fantastic Norman cathedral decorated with beautiful mosaics; we also came across the medieval wash house where the villagers washed their clothes. I tried my first arancini, filled with aubergine, mouth-watering!
Four days later we moved along the lush, green, hilly coastline; after 15 miles of a good downwind sail we decided to break our passage towards Palermo by stopping to anchor at Termini Immerse. Bad mistake! We had another intolerable night of violent rolling. At 0800 the next morning we hot footed out into a light headwind for a 20 mile motor sail to Palermo for what was to be an unplanned stay of 14 days. I’d previously contacted Ben at SiTiMar Marina for a price (I’ve learnt that it’s always best to pre negotiate in Italy before you arrive); Ben was extremely helpful and friendly and leading up to our arrival we kept in touch by Whattsapp which seems to be the norm here, much more casual than dealing with marinas in France and Spain. Once inside the sheltered Cala, a 3000 year old Phoenician harbour, we sat down with Ben and finalised our ‘deal’ over a coffee- “my coffee bar is always open” explained an overworked, but cheerful Ben. This small, safe marina has good security with one unisex shower which is adequately clean and, best of all, we are right next to the town. Electricity and water, which is obviously not a luxury at anchor, was included in our price so we immediately went into a long overdue cleaning frenzy of Swallow, inside and out.
On our first evening stroll I made it my mission to locate a laundrette for the following morning; we were delighted to stumble across a Lidl and stocked up on digestives- it’s the small things! On our way back we found a lively bar, next to an Arabic looking church, with a great atmosphere. I enjoyed a well-deserved glass of Prosecco and decided I was definitely going to like Palermo very much; in fact we both fell in love with this tired but magical, vibrant, multicultural city. Paul, as is in most of the marinas we have been to, got chatting to a local, Giuseppe who visited his boat most days; they became great friends and we had a typically Sicilian evening out with him and his wife Elise, who is a ballerina at the Teatro Massimo; Elise does not speak much English and my understanding of Italian was still very much under construction, so we got by in schoolgirl French! They invited us into their beautiful home, overlooking a 12th century church, and told us a lot about Palermo; we have found the Italians to be fantastic hosts but here they welcome you with a real Palermo passion!
We saw so much, but not enough, of this city in the two weeks that we spent tied up. You learn to see past the overflowing rubbish bins and very dilapidated buildings in this constantly alive city. There are several daily, very noisy, markets here, which are the hubs of activity. The main ones are Capo, Ballaro (my favourite) and Vucciria (meaning screaming!); fresh produce is in abundance, there are colourful, well presented displays of: fresh fruit (including juicy flat peaches, and gigantic watermelons) and vegetables (shiny, plump aubergines for the Pasta Norme), dried fruits and nuts, olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, dried beans, cheese, sausages, hams, various meats, fresh fish and shellfish, salted sardines, chilli plants, spices and fresh tomato paste; it’s a Jamie Oliver’s dream! There are also certain areas with stalls offering household goods, vibrant fabrics and Indian garments. This is a crazy shopping experience; chain smoking stall holders are all shouting or standing on tables, bearing large knives, ready to hack chunks off very large, and hence very old, tuna; old ladies are shoving past you- no queuing here, mopeds are coming at you from all directions, the aroma of street food is enticing you to try arancini (fried rice balls filled with various vegetables, cheese or meat), fried calamari, chickpea fritters or spleen sandwiches- no we didn’t try these! Eating inexpensive street food is a long practised tradition all over Palermo; this is a real ‘foodie’ city, the cakes, biscuits, marzipan fruits and deserts are yummy and the pistachio gelato is the best I have ever tasted! You can even have an ice-cream sandwich, gelato in a brioche bun. It’s not just about pizza in Sicilly, historically, much of the food has been influenced by North Africa, Greece and Turkey. Much to Paul’s delight, we even found onion bhajis and giant samosas. We met up with friends from Gaeta in Kalsa, the ancient Arabic district, and devoured a delicious, cheap meal of grilled fresh fish, pasta sarde and paste norme (aubergines) and plenty of vino! We were definitely in food heaven.
Of course this capital city of Sicily has much more to offer other than food; it is steeped in history with countless magnificent buildings. We visited the 12th century cathedral, many churches, fountains, the Quattro Canti, the antique market area and the botanical gardens; we even found the oriental quarter which was lined with Chinese shops selling every household item imaginable. The most bizarre place we visited was the Cappuccini Catacombs; these macabre catacombs are lined with dressed, desiccated bodies hanging up on display; it was hard to comprehend that these were actual bodies, it was like a film set and I was a bit worried if one might fall down on us! The most moving body was that of Rosalia Lombardo, a two year old girl who died in 1920, she was probably the last body to be placed there, she looked beautiful, simply asleep; as weird as it sounds I can fully understand that her mother would want to come and visit her and remember her exactly how she was.
CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO
Two weeks later the winds became more favourable for sailing west so we reluctantly decided that we should move on; we also knew that our bank balance couldn’t withhold staying here any longer as, although the city was cheap compared to the rest of Italy, the marina was fairly expensive at €45 per night, which would increase in July and August; we spent a month’s budget here, but, hey, you only live once! The day we were due to leave we had engine trouble; luckily, after a lengthy telephone conversation with Drew (our trusted friend and Ground Control in the UK), Paul managed to get us up and running again; we learnt from this experience: the fine fuel filter should be checked more regularly in Mediterranean waters! Oh well, looks like we’re really leaving this time. So on 20 June 2018 Swallow continued her adventure around Sicily; it was great to be back at sea, we’ve been ‘quayside boys’ for too long; we sat back and admired the stunning cliffs and sandy shore. Three hours later we tried anchoring at Mondello Beach but, guess what, it was too rolly! So we backtracked 10 miles to Arenella and enjoyed a peaceful, free, night’s sleep. The next morning we fuelled up and set off for Castellammare del Golfo, 32 miles away, a good anchorage according to Giuseppe. The scenery along here is spectacular, there were a few large boulders at the water’s edge, I wouldn’t have wanted to be sat there when they came tumbling down! The sheer craggy cliffs look like they’ve had a vertical slice cut out of them; the green sloping hills are littered with fallen rocks and houses are precariously placed along the bottom. We rounded Capo Gallo, a striking point of a huge sandstone rock saying ‘don’t come near me’; the wind was strong around this tip and the rock, interlaced with nooks and crannies and greenery, rose aggressively from the sea up towards the heavens. The colours were so distinctive through my polarised sunglasses. This partly protected area of bright blue rippling sea is marked with yellow St Andrews crosses. We sailed around the outside of the uninhabited Isola delle Femmine, once used to house women and children to escape disease in Sicily. We proceeded past the airport where there were lots of fishing floats made out of detergent bottles and posts keeping us away from the flight path. We arrived at 17.30 and anchored behind the new breakwater; today we felt we had our sea legs back. Strong northerlies dictated that we would have to stay here for 9 days; Giuseppe was right, the shelter here was fantastic. Here we took the dinghy ashore a few times and ventured into town, a charming place, with Mount Inice rising above it, offering trendy bars and restaurants, an expensive craft ale pub, the usual greengrocers and butchers and useful supermarkets. On Paul’s birthday he treated himself to an Italian haircut; I observed this highly skilled young man using two different sets of clippers, a cut throat razor and scissors, perfetto! After enjoying gelato and looking around the church we witnessed a ‘Godfather’ style funeral procession with a brass band.
We used our time on board here wisely -planning for cruising the Egadi Islands, Paul did some sketching, I had a go at painting with guaches (don’t think I’m destined to be an artist), we caught up on Madmen, watched England play Belgium in the World Cup and chatted to our friends and families and most importantly, updated our log book! As the pilot book advised to be careful of building debris on the sea bed we put a trip line out with a bright orange buoy; we were highly amused one afternoon when a training yacht tried to moor up to it!
SAN VITO LO CAPO
Well it was a good job that we used the trip line at Castellammare as we had a fishing line wrapped around our anchor, at least Paul now has a new lead fishing weight. On our way to round Capo San Vito we had a F3/4 broad reach with the engine in tick over as a precaution in case of heavy gusts; apparently the winds here can pour down the mountains. Later we had a great beam reach with no engine. We booked ahead here but as we entered another concession tried to poach us; this often happens in Italy usually resulting in a lot of shouting and arm waving. Our marinaro came running up the pontoon dangling a squid he had just caught; this had to go in the fridge before he could check us in! There was quite a swell here and a lot of snatching of our lines so we didn’t sleep too well. San Vito has a paradisiacal beach, with pink and white sand, and there is a soft carpet of Poseidon grass along the shore. There is a strong Arabic influence here with many cous cous restaurants in the lively town.
On 1st July 2018 the marina manager at San Vito took a line for us to keep us straight and away from the laid mooring lines as we reversed out of the berth; there was a bit of wind and Swallow, being a long keel, doesn’t like going backwards at the best of times. Of course the wind quickly died down and so we set off with just the main up and a slow downwind motor sail; we sat back and enjoyed the view of the beautiful hilly coastline; two baby dolphins made a brief appearance. Paul had his fishing rod for a while and once he had reeled it in we spotted tuna jumping and chasing the small fish! With only a few miles to go we were approaching the north western tip of Sicily and the wind indicator was reading a big fat zero! The sea became extremely bouncy around the point and on hindsight we should have stayed further out away from the shallows; it was a bit of an assault course of pot buoys, shallows and speed boats as we tried to get round for a south west approach to the harbour. 2 miles before the harbour the wind rose to 12knots, typical! We radioed the port requesting permission to enter, this is mandatory in Trapani, you have to tell them which of the five concessions you will be mooring in; they seemed happy that we had chosen to anchor. There are two extremely sheltered anchorages here, we picked west of the harbour next to the old lighthouse. We secured a spot near a 60ft yacht and put out 25m of chain in 7m of water; little did we know that the yacht had put out 40m. I was just about to prepare dinner, the limoncellos and tonic with basil were already made, Paul had just come out of the shower, cursing about our inefficient shower pump that he needed to change, and we heard a loud whistle- yes, you guessed it, the wind changed and we were about to collide with the big boy yacht! I quickly opened the seacock and the semi naked Captain started the engine and we reset our anchor; panic over. Ooops!!! The two days we were there one of the concessions came out three times to offer us a berth, we politely declined as we were happy here and well protected from the strong southerlies. I had a flash of inspiration whilst here and we stuck insect netting underneath the shower floor to catch my hair and stop it clogging the pump. It was a little too far for us to take the dinghy ashore and I was very disappointed not to able to visit the old village of Erice at the top of the mountain, but, hey, you can’t see everything! Our next stop is Levanzo, one of the Egadi Islands west of here hopefully we’ll get some great sailing.
27 July 2018 | Aeolian Islands
On Sunday 20th May 2018 at 1000 we crept out of the extremely shallow entrance at Tropea marina, bound for the Aeolian Islands just north of Sicily. Our plan was to anchor at Stromboli, just over 25 miles away, and sleep for a few hours until 0300 and then sail around to the North West of the island to watch the eruptions; after that we would sail down to the island of Panarea and anchor in daylight….well, the best laid plans never work do they? It was a beautiful morning and we could see the island of Stromboli in the distance through the heat haze; Swallow took us past the clifftop old town of Tropea which looked like it would collapse at any minute onto the sandy beach below. We dodged a few fishing pots, we knew there were some fish around as a local was selling dorade from his boat in the harbour that morning. Today was one of the best sails that Swallow has ever given us, she was perfectly balanced on a starboard close reach; the sea was smooth and we were stonking along at 5 knots; luckily an obliging commercial vessel, who we were on a collision course with, changed its course to pass behind us; we thought it was strange that he wasn’t appearing on our AIS so we radioed him in case he hadn’t seen us. As we approached Stromboli the sunlight glistened across the water on our port side towards the eastern side of the island making a glittery carpet; a perfect day! We arrived at the San Vincenzo anchorage at 1745 hoping to find mooring buoys but it would appear that it was too early in the season for them to be out; so instead we dropped our anchor in 2.7m of sand, probably a bit too close to the beach for the regulations but we figured nobody would be checking at this time of day. A few crews had taken their dinghies to the beach so that they could do the four hour walk to see the volcano crater in the dark; we decided to stick to our original plan and sail around the top of the island later on to view the eruptions from the water. We settled down to eat our chilli which I’d prepared that morning in our Mr D thermal cooker; after about half an hour we were rolling around as if we were a hammock in a hurricane! This turbulence seemed to be caused by a race running between the anchorage and the small islet of Strombolicchio to the north, this, coupled with the shallow depth made it totally untenable for us so we decided to skip the sleep and up sticks as soon as dusk came.
We motored for an hour to the North West tip of the island; the crescent moon and Venus were shining brightly, there was lightening behind us and we could see the lights from the hikers’ torches on land and also the navigation lights of other boats. We turned our engine off at 2150 opposite the Sciara del Fuoco and waited for the fireworks; wow, what an experience: the eruptions, which happened every 20 minutes, resembled a giant roman candle; red hot spikes fired hundreds of feet up into the night sky and then bright orange and red glowing boulders and lava spewed down the slopes towards the sea where they cooled and solidified, constantly adding to the rugged coastline. After watching a few of these spectacular performances we sailed off into the night to look for a suitable anchorage.
As we approached the island of Panarea we had a startling radio call from an Italian ship’s captain asking us if we wanted to go “green to green or red to red”, this confirmed that we were definitely not receiving other vessels on our AIS; there were so many lights twinkling, on the island of Salina, in the distance on our starboard side that we couldn’t see him at all so Captain Paul decided on the standard ‘ port to port’ passing; we turned to starboard but still couldn’t see him so Paul changed his mind and started to go to port; all of a sudden I spotted his port light so he would basically have T-boned us, of course I dramatically screamed at Paul to go back on the course agreed and all was well! In comparison to Salina Panarea was in total darkness, so, although we could have just navigated with our plotter, we didn’t feel very comfortable entering the anchorage and decided to carry on down to Vulcano Island and anchor in daylight; we were both shattered but agreed that the sleep deprivation was worth what we had experienced tonight.
There are great anchorages either side of the northern tip of Vulcano below the island of Lipari; we arrived at Porto di Levante, the eastern anchorage, at 0600 and were both ready for a long sleep; unfortunately the hydrofoils bringing in the tourists start running early morning and their wash caused us intolerable rolling! We cat napped during the day and Paul fixed a broken data cable on the chart plotter; we noticed, and smelt, sulphur pouring out of cracks in the side of the volcano; we watched the rather large car ferries do a 360 turn and drop their anchors as they approached the harbour; a ginormous gas tanker anchored for the night next to the pier a few hundred metres from us and ran a large pipe ashore. There’s a nice beach of black, volcanic sand here, great for exfoliating your feet and you can swim among the sulphur bubbles, a natural jacuzzi! We observed people wallowing in the mud bathes in the hope of restoring their youth. Once all the commercial traffic had ceased for the night we enjoyed a very calm, peaceful evening.
After a brief visit to Cabo Orlando, back on Sicily, we spent a few days at the western anchorage on Vulcano, Porto di Ponente, where we took the dinghy ashore and walked over to the eastern side for a warm swim and a cold beer at the beach bar; here you can find pumice and lava rock, unfortunately I couldn’t find any obsidian, the beautiful black glass-like rock which is formed from the solidified lava. This area has a very relaxed feel to it; there are a few stalls selling jewellery and nik naks , small shops , car rentals where you can hire a mini moke, a supermarket and various bars and restaurants. We climbed up to the crater of the volcano early one morning, before the sun was too hot; this took us about an hour and was well worth the trip; the soft sandstone was hard to walk on but higher up the terrain was black gravel. We saw that stones had been laid to channel water down the sides of the volcano when it rained. The experience was, literally, breath-taking, as we were overcome by the fumes of the bright yellow hot sulphur which was pouring out everywhere; Paul managed to melt the bottom of his shoe when he stood on a hot patch! The crater is incredible, some people had climbed down inside to place lava stones spelling out their names. On the way down everyone laid a stone on a rock pile to mark their presence; the descent was faster but more difficult on the loose ground. We experienced fantastic views over to Lipari and down into the harbour where Swallow was waiting for us.
A few days later we enjoyed a gentle close hauled, hydrofoil dodging sail of four miles north to Pignataro on the island of Lipari; I had previously emailed Assunta at Eol.Mare and booked us in, luckily we were still in May so only €35 a night for us (with 3rd night free); this would rise to €50 in July and €110 in August!!! Marco the marinaro welcomed us in and promptly produced a set of steps so that I could easily climb off the bow onto the pontoon- definitely the red carpet treatment! Next to the marina is a cute little bar situated on the black sand of the harbour, well more of a shack really; here we enjoyed a cheap Italian beer and watched the local men playing cards. We took the 20 minute walk into Lipari town and noticed a few boats at anchor in the bay. Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian islands and was inhabited as early the Neolithic times when obsidian was plentiful and trading was lucrative; there is so much history here which is depicted in the town’s archaeological museum where, among other artefacts, we saw beautiful Greek carnelian jewellery and thousands of amphorae! Pumice and sulphur souvenirs are plentiful in the shops as is beautiful obsidian jewellery.
Should you find yourselves cruising in this area don’t miss the Aeolian Islands, each of which has a charm of its own; the sailing is great too as there is plenty of wind! Unfortunately we didn’t venture to Alicudi, the furthest west island or to the rocky Filicudi; we also regrettably missed Salina which has a double cone volcano but we will definitely be back; right now Cefalu is beckoning.
Lazio to Calabria
13 June 2018 | Tropea
On Monday 8th May at 0900, with a tear in our eyes, we finally cut the apron strings of Gaeta to embark on the next leg of Swallow’s adventures. For most of this 30 mile, slightly swelly, passage to Ischia the wind was on the nose, not as predicted; with just after 6 miles to go we managed to turn the engine off for a great beam reach. We sailed between the islands of Ischia and Procida heading for the promontory of Ischia Castello; there was quite a lot of commercial traffic and we had to radio an Italian cargo vessel whose captain was very obliging and said he would take action to avoid us. At 16.30 we found a spot in the anchorage south of the castle and enjoyed a peaceful night. The following day we paddled the dinghy to the quay whilst bailing out water all the way; unfortunately in Gaeta we decided to fit an air deck into the dinghy- this was kindly donated to us by a fellow sailor. We were delighted that the floor would be more stable; the following morning we realised that the air deck had blown the seal on the bottom of the dinghy! So now the floor is sealed with lots of glue but is very leaky! Paul assures me that we won’t sink but will just have to put up with wet feet; sadly a new dinghy is not in our budget at the moment! The small part we saw of Ischia was beautiful; the locals were friendly and the shops not too touristy. We bought some carrots and the owner let us have them free- it’s the small things! The wind was changing direction so once back aboard Swallow we motored around to the North anchorage for more shelter, an equally beautiful view of the island and castle.
After two nights at Ischia we weighed anchor at first light and set off for Agropoli; Paul’s already loving the new windless which he fitted in Gaeta- no more hauling up the anchor chain by hand. Ten minutes into the journey and the Guardia Costeria raced over to us to let us know we were in a restricted area- oops, we hadn’t noticed that on our chart plotter! Today we managed to have the engine off for an hour of our ten hour trip, for this time we enjoyed a great beam/broad reach; the rest of the time we motored into wind with just the mainsail up. I called the port, using my best, well-practised Italian and asked for a transito berth, this was free for the first night and an astronomical €50 after that- well we are in Italy! Consequently we only stayed two nights but we managed to squeeze in a visit to the ancient Greek temples at Paestum (10 minutes by train); these temples, of Hera, Athena and Neptune, are three of the most preserved of their kind in the world. It was a magical feeling to be able to climb up into these impressive structures and wander around where the Greek Gods were once worshipped. It’s at times like this that I wish I knew more about Greek mythology. Later that evening we walked up to the medieval town; on our way we stumbled across a taralli shop; we have become very partial to these Italian, cracker type, snacks. The owner let us try various sweet and savoury ones and we bought some with roasted onion in them, delicious! The old town is at the top of quite a few steps and through an archway which leads to the winding passageways. The castle was still open at 1930 so we walked through the tunnels and looked out past the turrets like two big kids exploring! The castle and town offer fantastic views of the bay and there are lots of little shops and restaurants in which to while away the time. As always, the locals were friendly and the fishermen along the quay were very interested in where we were from and where we were heading. We also managed to catch up with our friends from Gaeta, Janet, Horst and Polly, enjoying a quick drink aboard Tutunui .
On Saturday 11th May 2018 we gently motor sailed for 37 miles, in the sunshine, down the luscious green coastline which has villages nestled into the hills and lovely sandy beaches. We edged around Capo Palinuro and anchored in the stunning Buondornire Bay, which, as the name suggests, gave us a great night’s sleep! We had the anchorage to ourselves, with only the roosting seagulls for company; literally hundreds of them flew out of nowhere, past us and over towards an outlying rock, they circled on a thermal, soaring higher and higher; some were gliding in silence above us- it’s a miracle that we didn’t get guano bombed! Suddenly a pair of egrets flew through the melee and headed for the hills. Then all the seagulls peeled off to head for their chosen roost for the night; we were truly surrounded by the beauty and noises of nature. We awoke the next beautiful morning to the sounds of the sea lapping on the beach, the seagulls squawking and the sparrows tweeting. The craggy, limestone cliffs (or maybe sandstone, not sure) are so striking; the caves are so colourful and the beach is golden; it’s not high season yet so there are no swimming buoys out. Watching the sea ripple across the bay is hypnotizing. It’s so idyllically calm and peaceful here but not to be underestimated as any wind other than from the north can set up quite a chop in here; sadly strong winds and rain were coming the following morning so it was time for us to be on our way. We had hoped to do a night passage down through the Aeolian Islands to be able to sail past Stromboli , the oldest lighthouse in the world, and see it erupting but strong north westerlies were to be coming right across the islands , so instead we headed for Vibo Valentia, 86 miles south.
We left Palinuro at 1400 on a smooth sea with a tiny amount of wind on the nose; this was going to be a bit of a slog but a necessity so as not to get caught in what was coming. Early evening I commented “wouldn’t it be lovely to see some dolphins now”; within a minute I nearly jumped out of my skin as a single dolphin leapt out of the sea next to me, he then doubled back and went to join his mates who were playing in our wake, incredible! Well it added a bit of excitement to our monotonous passage. After eating our airplane style dinners we donned our warm clothes and lifejackets as it was getting dark. We worked out that Stromboli was 45 miles away on a bearing of 210 degrees so we were keeping our eyes peeled for any flashes of light. I was lucky enough to see a small red ball in the sky before I went below deck for a sleep. I awoke a few hours later to the sound of the coast guard calling us asking if we’d seen a small lost aircraft; of course then I was worrying that we’d crash into debris! Paul had had an eventful watch with lots of lightening, a few Stromboli flashes, three pods of dolphins and lots of sail trimming! We arrived at Vibo Valentia at 0600, a lot earlier than planned, so we had to wait on the fuel berth until the ormeggiatori were out of bed; we had pre booked on the phone, so they were expecting us and Danielle jumped aboard and sorted our lines. The marina, Stella del Sud, is so friendly and has possibly the best showers I’ve seen since we left the UK, so at €25 a night (with our CA discount) we were sure we’d stay here a few nights before deciding our next move; this would give us a chance to do the laundry and stock up ready for some more anchoring. This was a pleasant, old working town with a nice seafront but not much to see; consequently we got a lot of chores done here and stocked up at the discount supermarket, Qui.
After four days in Vibo Valentia we decided to head for Tropea which would be an ideal point to head off for the Aeolian Islands. We fuelled up before leaving, €1.62 a litre, ouch! Only 12 miles along this luscious green coastline today, but we had a great downwind sail with the genoa. Unfortunately the rain followed us all the way. The entrance to the marina is really shallow on the starboard side so they have laid buoys which are quite confusing but realised that as long as we kept them to starboard we were fine. We stayed here for two nights and walked up the 200 steps to the old town which was very rewarding. What a beautiful old town with a vibrant atmosphere, full of upmarket shops but reasonably priced restaurants; the views up there were fantastic; the buildings are embedded into the cliff. Everywhere was selling red onions with which they make a great relish. We spent an evening enjoying a pizza and planning the next part of Swallow’s adventures.
A Roman Holiday
22 April 2018 | Rome
Whilst in Gaeta for the winter we took the opportunity of spending a few days in Rome which can be reached in just over an hour by public transport. We took a fifteen minute bus ride to Formia station at a cost of 1.20 euros each and caught the train to Rome for 8 euros each, bargain! Once outside the station we had to orientate ourselves so that we could find our accommodation, which I'd pre-booked online, in downtown Rome; an easy task you might think for experienced navigators such as ourselves, well suffice to say what should have been a twenty minute walk took an hour; sea charts and plotters are a piece of cake for me but give me google maps and that silly lady telling me to go east up this road or that and I find it very challenging- not quite sure why! Anyway, we still managed to reach the Relais Palazzo Taverna by late morning, this was a friendly, clean and comfortable little place in Via dei Gabrielli; they kindly let us check into our room early so we refuelled with a cup of tea and set off for Vatican city, a fifteen minute walk; in true Carole style I had an itinerary set out for us so that we could pack in as much sightseeing as possible during the short time we were here. It was raining and so we were constantly pestered by street sellers trying to entice us to buy an umbrella- Paul relented although he did drive a hard bargain! We were also accosted by several touts trying to sell us 'skip the line' tickets for the Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica but as it was November we decided to take our chances. We were in luck and went straight in to the museums, including the amazing Sistine Chapel, where we spent hours admiring the fantastic artwork and treasures through the ages up to present day; you don't have to be religious to appreciate what a place of beauty this is. There was a bit of a queue for St Peter's and by now it was still tipping down so we saved that for our last day.
Early evening we walked to the Pantheon, which is incredibly just under 2000 years old; this dome shaped building, where Raphael is buried, is an amazing piece of architecture and entrance is free; we sat here in awe for a while. The next hour or so was spent aimlessly wandering around looking for a place to eat and we found ourselves at Piazza Navone; I'm not a fan of touristy restaurants that literally try and drag you in off the street , I'm more a lover of the little back street eatery, but, Captain Paul was hungry and so there was no deterring him once a waiter had promised a delicious meal with a glass of Prosecco and Limoncello thrown in- not the best of Italian cuisine, he hates my ' told you so' face!
Our hotel was in a quiet area and the streets were lined with antique shops and small trendy cafes, not too touristy; after a delicious breakfast we hopped on a bus back to the other end of town for a day at the Coliseum ; the rain had stopped and this was a really enjoyable day. I'd researched the internet and found a great site, Rome Toolkit; we followed the advice that, as your ticket covers Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, it's best to start at Palatine Hill where there aren't any queues, then by the time you get to the Coloseum you just go straight through; your ticket lasts for two days so you can split the visit if time allows. The Coloseum is too impressive for words; it's hard to believe that crowds gathered around this giant amphitheatre to watch the Gladiators, who were slaves, fight each other or animals to the death.
I was determined that dinner this evening was going to be a better experience so I messaged a friend in Gaeta who has friends in Rome and managed to get a recommendation for a typical Italian restaurant visited by the locals. Before dinner we walked along the river towards the Spanish Steps and then to the Trevi Fountain, luckily being that it was a chilly winter's evening there were not too many people swarming around. Dinner lived up to expectations, I can thoroughly recommend La Correli which was near to our hotel.
On our last day we visited Saint Angelo's Castle, initially the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Roman Emperor; the ashes of Hadrian, his family and other Emperors were once buried here; later turrets were added and the church used this castle to protect the Pope, there is a secret passageway that leads to St Peter's; the building was also once used as a prison. St Peter's Basilica was our final stop, we only had to queue for about twenty minutes; Paul is not a lover of churches but he was certainly knocked out by this one, an absolute work of art!
Three days is certainly not enough time to fully appreciate this wonderful city of ancient buildings, there is beauty everywhere you turn, we will definitely be returning. Ciao for now!
Gaeta Winter 2017
15 April 2018 | Gaeta
We feel very privileged to have experienced a winter in such a welcoming place as Gaeta; the town and inhabitants will always hold a special place in our hearts. I can see why this coastal area is a popular all year round holiday destination for the Italians.
Gaeta has seven beaches along a stunning coastline; we have spent lots of time, in all weathers, down on the beautiful Serapo beach (ten minutes’ walk from the marina). This beach is great for swimming and is very shallow. Serapo is overlooked by Monte Orlando Park on the peninsula where there is so much to discover: Roman ruins, Split Mountain with its chapel and church, Turq’s cave, an Aragonese castle, the Mausoleum of Lucio Munazio Pianco, old batteries and tunnels, roman cisterns, birdlife and Mediterranean vegetation- we found some wild rosemary. As you descend the other side of the peninsula you come to Gaeta Medievale which is the old town gently sprawling down the hill accessed by many sets of steps and very narrow streets, at first it seems as though you are wandering into people’s back yards. Most of the houses have roof terraces with spectacular views. There are many old churches here; we have visited the beautiful St Francis of Assisi which dates back to the thirteenth century, this church, with its magnificent outside staircase , overlooks Gaeta Medievale, the views are wonderful. The cathedral, with its 17th century crypt and imposing bell tower, is stunning. The Annunciation church holds the Golden Chapel and is also worth a visit. Of course none of the churches are open in the middle of the day when we were usually exploring, so we did have to make a concerted effort to go and visit them first thing in the morning or late afternoon! Every time we go out for a walk we discover something new about this town, which is so full of history. There are loads of wild cats wandering around here, which, if you know me well, you will appreciate that this is my worst nightmare; they are protected and very well fed and like to take their afternoon nap on the parked up mopeds! You can be fined thousands of euros if you persecute these creatures. Luckily Paul loves cats and makes a big fuss of them so they leave me alone.
Christmas in Gaeta starts in early November with the turning on of the festive lights which certainly puts our hometown of Southampton to shame- we’ve never seen anything like it; it seems that the mayor’s popularity is largely based on his decision to stage such a spectacular display each year, coupled with the firework display every weekend for nine weeks running! This certainly brings in the tourists, who arrive in coachloads at the weekends. As well as overhead decorative lights in just about every street there are also various impressive installations, such as a large ape, Manny the mammoth, an igloo scene with penguins, fish, shells, a train and a colour changing Christmas tree in front of the town hall, with an ice rink and a Christmas market. Via Independezia was also lined with poinsettias. The old town also has a nativity scene and Christmas grotto for the children; there is also a family games room with giant versions of popular games such as drafts and ludo. We were lucky enough to have a visit from our little 20 month old grandson in November and he was mystified by it all! Christmas day , and in fact all that week, was sunny and fifteen degrees here so we put our beef in the slow cooker and enjoyed an early afternoon walk along the beach, as we got back to the marina the town slowly came to life and some of the surrounding bars and restaurants were open. Scarlet joined us aboard Swallow and I managed to produce a delicious roast dinner with all the trimmings- unfortunately we couldn’t source parsnips, but hey we did have sprouts and homemade cranberry sauce. The Italian’s don’t eat turkey at Christmas, instead they have either capon or fish; they also seem to celebrate Epiphany, 6th January , in a big way; friends we have made here, who live in Rome, told us that the Italians have adopted the 25 December and Santa Claus from Northern Europe, the old tradition is that the good witch would bring presents on the eve of Epiphany but she would deliver a piece of coal to the naughty children, hence, Via Independezia was full of witches on broomsticks after Christmas. New Year’s Eve was predictably well celebrated here too, we certainly had to pace ourselves as the partying didn’t kick off until 11.30pm; we had dinner aboard Scarlet and then ventured out armed with our Prosecco for midnight- everybody is popping corks in the street at this time! There was music, dancing and fireworks everywhere- not to mention constant bangers going off around us; the ice rink was packed too. Everyone was in good spirit and there were no police around, a pleasant contrast to other busy places at New Year; there don’t seem to be any alcohol related incidents here maybe because apparently it’s not the ‘done thing’ to be drunk in Italy, especially if you are a woman; this town, however, is very traditional and I’m suspecting it’s probably a different story in Rome, for example. We managed to last ‘till 3am but the town was still rocking long after we were pushing up zeds!
There are lots of places to go for delicious locally cooked food here including of course plenty of pizzerias; our favourite is a family run business in an old Roman building, La Rete in Via Independezia, which has a great menu of not only pizzas but freshly made seafood dishes too; the owner has a boat here in the marina and takes a lot of pride in his restaurant. There is a great fried seafood place in Gaeta Medievale that sells the best takeaway fried calamari ever! Also near to that is Molo, where you can taste an amazing range of flavours of homemade ice-cream. The local pie, Tiella, has a range of fillings encased in a very light pastry made from pizza dough and is very tasty; we were lucky enough to have one made for us by Giussepina who owns the apartment which we have rented three times now for friends and family visits and when Swallow was hauled out, consequently, we have become friends with the lovely Joseph and Giussepina ; we have sampled lemons fresh from their tree and Joseph's delicious homemade wine, there’s plenty of that in Gaeta too! Just before Christmas we were invited to dinner at Anna’s house, she owns the marina with her brother Luca; this was a wonderful experience of Italian hospitality, fourteen guests, made up of family and friends, treated to Anna’s delicious cooking- just like a Dolmio advert! Anna also has mandarin trees in her garden and so she made us all a bottle of mandarin liquor for Christmas, hic!
After Christmas we spent five weeks visiting family and friends back in the UK; it's so easy to get home from here; you can reach Rome or Naples airport in a couple of hours. Our dear friends Drew and Jackie came to visit in March and we took a memorable daytrip to Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town which was destroyed in 79AD by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; they didn't have much luck really as they had already rebuilt much of the town after an earthquake several years earlier. Excavations of this site began in the 18th century and are still continuing; as well as beautiful homes, shops and eateries,300 skeletons were uncovered on the shore- seeing these decayed people entwined with each other, trying to shelter from the ash was incredibly moving; this place is really worth a visit. The National Archaeological Museum in Naples holds many treasures from the excavations of both Herculaneum and Pompeii; sadly we didn't make it here, but it's first on our list when we return to Gaeta.
There is an American naval base in Gaeta where 1000 servicemen were once based, there doesn't appear to be a lot going on there these days but there are still a few American bars dotted around; so I was hoping that maybe St Patrick's Day would be celebrated here- as this day is my birthday we like to go and celebrate with a Guinness or two; sadly not the case here , we would have had to go to Rome for this. Instead we met up for lunch with local friends, Jen and Francis, who we stumbled across on one of our walks up to Mount Orlando; afterwards they invited us back to their apartment and made my birthday special with Guinness, Prosecco and birthday cake. Francis is American and his father was once based here and so had lots of stories to tell us about this area.
We are almost ready to leave Gaeta now; we had Swallow lifted out of the water and power washed in the Base Nautica Flavio Gioia yard; seeing Swallow up on the hoist always makes us rather nervous but all went well and we were very pleased with the professionalism of Tony and his team. Captain Paul has worked hard scrubbing and painting Swallow; being Copper coated he only had to anti foul the prop. Anchoring should be a lot easier this summer as he's fitted a new electric windlass, I assisted with laying the cable but apparently I take too many tea breaks! We also now have a new radio with a cockpit handset and a wind instrument; luckily Horst, a fellow sailor, was able to hoist Paul up the mast to fit this. We've checked all of our safety equipment and as soon as the non slip paint is finished on deck we'll be ready to set off for Swallow's next adventure towards Sicily. As for Gaeta and the wonderful friends we have made here-we will be back!