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November 2017: Shamal is on the hard in Guatemala.Mum and Dad are home in New Zealand till Jan. 2018. *ATTENTION PLEASE* if you are still interested in receiving the posts, could you please subscribe to the Blog following the two step process in the right hand column, so that new posts are emailed to your inbox. As of next year the reminder emails that are being sent out will cease. Thanks to all of you for following our Adventures.

24 July 2014

Sicily 2014

Hello Again. 
Leaving Lefkada

Yes sorry I am very late with our updates.

So time again for another newsletter from SHAMAL.  Well Levkas just seemed to keep us in her grips, but with the arrival of all the spare parts, and son Murray acting as Dad’s “Agent” handling his pension review, we did the rounds saying good-bye to old friends and new, with a couple more dinners out, drinks, and a nice cappuccino at our favourite waterfront café to download the latest weather onto the iPad.  On Tuesday 27th May we pulled up the anchor for the final time from Levkas town and motored down the canal which has been cut through the salt marshes between the mainland and the island.  We motor sailed back into Vlikho Bay for a final night there where we went ashore to a delightful Taverna (restaurant) right on the water for a meal and another weather check on the iPad.


Next morning we motored out on mirror like seas with the sun shining warmly on us.  Yes summer is well and truly on its way this morning.   This part of Greece, The Ionian, certainly is quite beautiful, and I think my favourite.  The Islands are lush and green with the evergreen pine, elm and cypress trees, and of course the lovely old olive trees growing all over the hillsides.  The western side of Levkas and Cephalonia – where we were heading – have high sheer cliffs which drop into the sparkling clear blue sea.  In some places there are beautiful beaches at the base of these cliffs, many only accessible by boat.

Atheras, Cephalonia
Argostoli, Cephalonia
Once leaving Levkas we sailed across the channel to continue on down the western side of Cephalonia.  The winds picked up and came around on the nose and we could see us heading for mainland Italy, not our intended destination, so we took shelter in Atheras, a natural harbour on the north western side of the Island.  We also found another yacht in here taking shelter as well.  Next morning it was dead calm again so we set off early for the southern part of the Island to Argostoli.  The harbour and town – which is the capital of the Island -  have the same name.  It is quaint place with a long town quay where we found a number of yachts tied up.  We chose to anchor off.  It has a pedestrianized main street with street cafés, plenty of jewellery and shoe shops, and quite fashionable boutiques, along with the usual tacky tourist shops selling things made in Asia!!!!  What was really nice is that the summer season has not fully arrived here yet and the place was not full of tourists.  But on saying that we did wake one morning to find not one, but three cruise ships had arrived in town.

Argostoli, Cephalonia
This was where we planned to wait for a weather window to sail, yes sail and not motor, to Sicily.  Tied up on the quay we met up again with s/y ‘MISTRAL’, with Captain Lo and his two dogs.  This is the guy who was running the Vasco da Gama rallies from Turkey to India and back, but has ceased to do so since the Pirate activity in the Indian Ocean.  He invited us to join his rally part way up the Red Sea in 2011 which saved us on the costs of marinas in Egypt, and the Suez Canal.  2011 was his last big rally, but he has taken one back into the Red Sea only, since then.  Lo was also waiting for the weather window for Sicily. One afternoon he took us on a long ‘dog’ walk around the salt lake at the top of the harbour.  We saw turtles which was so nice as they are becoming endangered in this part of the world, and swans with their cygnets.

Lixouri, Cephalonia
On one of our ‘waiting for the weather’ days we took the local ferry across the bay to the town of Lixouri.  Another pretty tourist town, and like Argostoli, it is recovering from damage done here in the January – this year – earthquake.  They had a 6.1 earthquake on 26th Jan followed by a 6.3 earthquake on 3rd Feb.  You will see in one of the photos how the quay dropped and large cracks opened up.  Many buildings in both towns were under maintenance at the time we were there. 

Result of Earthquake
Alec and Lo spend time watching the weather. A front was crossing the Ionian Sea just where we want to cross, with some strong winds accompanying it.  Lo would like to see it pass through before he sets off so has decided on the Thursday to leave.  Alec feels we could benefit from its winds if we stay a little to the north of it, and decides we should leave on the Tuesday.  So after our final clearing out of Greece is done and a last look at the weather forecast with Lo, we are just about to depart when we met up with another couple. Lorna is from NZ and Simon is English, on s/y ‘ELSA MAY’  So another hour passes before we finally up anchor and leave.  Then it really is finally good-bye Argostoli, good-bye Greece.  These are cruising grounds we will fondly remember.  Fickle winds for sure, but that is all over the Mediterranean.  It’s the ancient civilisations which go back four to five thousand years that have left their marks, the beautiful islands each with their own special charm and history, and the waters that surround them – a sparkling, turquoise blue.  Then in the Aegean, Cyclades and Dodecanese, the white washed buildings with their terracotta roofs and sky blue doors and window shutters with pots of red and pink geraniums growing.  And of course the people, warm and hospitable.  Last and not least are the cats.  Nearly every postcard from Greece will have a cat in it.  It is with the greatest of restraints that we don’t have one on board with us now!!

Whale off Naxos
As it turns out Alec’s decision pays off.  Once out of the harbour it’s sails up and we are off.  We have winds of no more than 25kts the entire trip with a broad reach run.  We sailed a good three quarters of the trip, but as we neared the Italian coast we knew we would lose the wind and ended up motor sailing the last 50nm.  Still we were able to make water and do the washing.  We even gave the boat a fresh water wash down, and had just finished doing so when the winds picked up again only to get another salt water wash!!  Two miles off Sicily as we were crossing the bottom of the Messina Strait Alec saw a whale.  It is the first we have seen in the Mediterranean and was quite a sight.  We motored over to get photos, but I was a little slow to get any real good ones.

Mt Etna from Naxos

We motored into Naxos Giardini on the east coast of Sicily, a delightful harbour and town we visited last year, and dropped the anchor behind the breakwater to get out of the swell.  It was dinner on board and an early night as this was our first overnight passage this season – in fact we were at sea for two nights.  We are woken early the following morning by the pilot boat asking us to move as a cruise ship was anchored out and we would be in the way of their life boats which are used to ferry the passengers back and forth to the shore.  So we up anchor and move out into the bay.  We then go ashore ourselves to book a trip up Mt Etna whose lava flow formed the headland of this bay.  So from here we wake each morning to the view of Mt Etna steaming away.

House from 1983 eruption
Mt Etna
Next morning we are ashore just after 6 a.m. to catch the bus.  First we visit the Alcantara Gorge which is only a few metres wide in parts and 20mts deep with steep vertical sides.  It has been cut into the lava by the river.  Truthfully not the most impressive gorge we have seen.  Then we carry on in the bus to the town of Rondazzo where we change to a train and round the foot of Etna to the town of Adrano.  Then back on the bus to climb to the south Station of Etna.  We drive through cultivated areas then up into forests of chestnuts and holm-oaks.  Next comes the broom with its bright yellow flowers and wonderful fragrance.  As we ascend the flora is broken up by huge lava flows, mainly from the 1983 eruption.  At one point we pass a building where only part of the roof is left showing – definitely natures forces are not to be reckoned with. We arrive at the south Station which is like ‘basecamp’.  We are at 6,200ft. This too was also totally destroyed in the 1983 eruption and has been rebuilt on top of the old one.  After lunch we take the cable car, then 4x4 truck to the base of one of  the lower but still smoking craters of Etna.  This is the one that was formed in 1983 eruption and we are at 9,550ft.  The last bit was a walk of only 100ft up to the crater edge.  But, Alec decided he would like to go to the top.  He has just been reading a book called “No Shortcuts To The Top” about a guy climbing the worlds 14 highest peaks.  So, off he heads up the path towards the summit. Pack on his back, a bottle of water, and all the information in his head from his recent readings!!! Never mind the fact that it has a rope across the path to close it off.  Our guide had not quite turned purple yelling at him that it is forbidden, as it is too active up there, but, Alec does not hear him.  It is only after a short distance that he turns to see everyone watching him going up on his own, and then he realised it was a no no!!  Once we have all re-grouped, thanks Alec, we are led around this lower crater which is still steaming.  The scoria around the rim is still warm from another eruption in 2002.  We are told it can take 20 years to cool down.  At the summit four craters are all still active and while we were there one had a small explosion, BUT, we have just learnt that a few days ago Etna blew her top again.  We missed that one !!  We also missed the first 4X4 truck descending to the cable car, and once we eventually arrived back at South Station for the bus for the trip back to Naxos, we found everyone was waiting for us!!  Etna does have an eruption every now and then, and in 2012 when we returned to Marina di Ragusa on the south coast of Sicily where we had left SHAMAL for the winter we found a light covering of ash over the boat then.

Taormina Puppets
The following day it was ashore for supplies and a good look around the tourist village.  On returning to SHAMAL a large tourist boat had dropped anchor not far from us ,but also picked up a mooring buoy to hold her into the swell.  They called us over and asked if we would move just in case we were to swing in the night and bump into them.  Well we wouldn’t have as we still had enough swing room, BUT Ann hold your tongue!! It’s no big deal really!!  So we up anchor once again and this time motor right across the bay to drop anchor under the delightful cliff side town of Taormina.  The anchorage was much better with little or no swell.  This seemed to be the preferred spot of yachts here anyway.  The following evening another New Zealand catamaran motored into the bay and anchored next to us.  Bruce and Lesley Tebbutt off s/y MIDI.  Together we took a bus up to Taormina.  It is situated on the slopes of Mount Tauro 200mts above sea level.  It is quite enchanting.  Everything built on terraces.  Alec says he has never been in a town where every second building is a hotel.  It was founded in 358 B.C. so has a rich history.  We visited the 3rd century Greek theatre which is still used today for festivals, walked the narrow streets to see plenty of VERY expensive up market boutique shops.  The famous Sicilian puppets are seen hanging from shop fronts. We enjoyed one of the most expensive coffees we have ever had.  My iced coffee was 7euros  NZ$10 !!!!  We then walked back down the zig zag path to the town below where the boys enjoyed a cold beer, and a chilled Prosecco for us girls.  Once we had seen the sun set we decided to stay on for a meal at our seaside restaurant. It was nearly midnight by the time we got back to our boats so we did not leave the following morning like we had originally planned.  We ended up the next evening on board MIDI enjoying the company of Bruce and Lesley and their friends.
Naxos from Taormina

But we need to keep moving, so the following morning we are up before sunrise and head north into the Messina Strait.  Again there is no wind, only a few fishermen about.  By 0900 we have to drop anchor.  We have headwinds of 18-20kts and the current against us.  We are down to 2.8kts and it is just not worth it. We anchor off the beach at Scaletta Zanclea.  We are not sure why this place exists.  It sits under high cliffs with the railway line running along the coast and the highway running under the cliff.  The houses can only be two deep as it is such a narrow part of the coastline.  Well we suppose you have to live somewhere !!
Currents N. end Messina St.

By 1400 Alec has had enough of sitting here so with the wind now at 15kts we move on.  He decides to use both motors, something we generally don’t do, and as we motor out the wind picks up again, 18-20kts.  But within a short time we now have the current in our favour and are doing over 6kts.  As we head up the Strait the wind gusts to 26kts but again the current is carrying us along and we are doing over 7kts.  Then at the northern end of the Messina Strait Alec watches the S.O.G. (speed over ground) increasing to 10.5kts.  6.2kts of that is the current. The winds are dropping as we fly through the northern end of the Messina Strait, over the whirl pools and tidal streams and out into the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Sails up and we are on our way out to the Aeolian Islands which lie 35nm off the northern coast of Sicily.  Then the wind drops, then dies completely.  We are not going to make it before dark.  Not that we can’t night sail, but we usually like to arrive in a new place if possible in daylight.  So with no wind and the sea like glass we drop anchor in 3.6mts of clear water and a nice sandy bottom, so good holding.  We are 400mts from the shore.  The forecast is for a calm night. An interesting thing we see as we are coming into our anchorage is a couple of Sword fishing boats.  These fish migrate through the Messina Strait in June.  The boats are fitted with a huge mast, and at the top of the mast there is a basket  where up to three men sit and act as lookouts for the fish which ‘sleep’ on the surface during the day.  Then the front of the boat is fitted out with a bowsprit which is longer than the boat – maybe 15mts.  At the end of that stands the harpooner.  The whole thing is quite an elaborate setup.  See photo.
Sword Fishing Boat

Next morning there is still no wind about so we motor on out to the first Island in the Aeolian Group, the Island of Volcano.  We drop anchor on the eastern side of the island under the ‘Gran Crater’, and yes this one too is steaming away. Not far from where we and other yachts are anchored, there are hot mineral springs bubbling up from the seabed!!  The following morning we are ashore to take a mud bath in the mud pools.  Oh help the temperature is 36 degrees c and parts of the pool are even hotter,  But I join the others already smothering themselves in the ‘therapeutic’ mud and coat myself from head to toe.  Not a pretty sight but let’s see if it works. Alec does so too, and we wait the 15-20  minutes for it to dry before returning to the pool to wash it off, then it’s into the sea beside the pool for a final rinse.  The sea temp is 30 degrees C. here. Well, one does not forget that they have had that mud bath for days.  It is nearly impossible to get all the mud off, no matter how many times we swim and shower. Also our clothes needed to be washed a least three times to remove the smell.  I think only now are we not smelling of sulphur any more.  As for the therapeutic effects – maybe you have to have a mud bath every day for a week to see them.  That is what some of the Italians do.  Go out to the Island and stay a week taking a mud bath twice a day!!
SHAMAL by Spring

In the afternoon we motor over to the next island of Lipari.  This was just to have a look, and then we motor back to the north east side of Volcano. Two days later it is Alec’s 65th Birthday.  We start the day early with a walk to the top of ‘Gran Crater’. A real lunar landscape but with spectacular views out over Lipari and some of the other Aeolion Islands. Then it was back to SHAMAL for a swim and to clean the hulls and back into the village for coffee.  We will have a nice dinner out a little later.

The picture says it all !!
Again it is time to move on.  We are heading back along the northern coast of Sicily in a westerly direction.  This time we are able to hoist our M.P.S. The big brightly coloured sail like a spinnaker.  That stays up until it starts to rain and we run out of wind.  We drop anchor off the old harbour town of Cefalu.  A very picturesque town which all and sundry have left their mark – Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Arab.  We were going ashore the following morning, but during the night a huge swell rolled in.  The other boats left the bay and headed around to the marina during the night.  We rode it out until daylight then upped anchor and headed on west. The next anchorage is outside the fishing harbour of Porticello.  The place looks rather ‘dead’ and it is still raining so we don’t go ashore that evening.
View from Vulcano Crater

It was from Porticello that we were to visit the capital, Palermo, and the following morning it is warm and sunny so we take the tender into the harbour to see if we can bring SHAMAL in.  That was a bit of a joke as it is crammed with fishing boats rafted up three deep in places.  We decide to move on passing the city of Palermo as the marina there is expensive and very full, and onto Mondello.  We drop anchor again, this time in a big sheltered bay between two capes with very high cliffs.  We are able to go ashore and visit this prestigious seaside resort but won’t visit Palermo from here as the winds are strong and we don’t want to leave the boat at anchor here.  After two nights in Mondello, we are able to move on making it around the NE end of Sicily and into Trapani.  

Trapani is a busy harbour with two yacht marinas, a big fishing harbour, a commercial port, plus facilities for cruise ships, and ferries which run services all over the place.  There is also large salt works here.  We dropped the anchor in front of the old lighthouse alongside half a dozen other yachts.  We had a grand view of all the coming and goings within the harbour.  We did have to move a couple of times within the harbour due to wind changes, but it was a safe place to leave SHAMAL to do some site seeing.  We visited the beautiful Medieval town of Erice which sits on the summit of Mt San Giuliano, some 2,480ft  behind Trapani.  We took the cable car to the top then wandered through its narrow lanes with cobbled squares.  There is a lovely castle, and beautiful views in all directions of the surrounding coastline and country side.
The Catacombs, Palermo

We also did our trip to the capital Palermo from here.  Palermo was founded by the Phoenicians – BC, but the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times.  Today sadly it is a ‘grubby’ city.  Again more rubbish which is just dumped along the road side.  It is said to be the main city of the mafia on Sicily.  Maybe they control the rubbish collections and things weren’t going to plan so it just wasn’t being collected ???  The two places I wanted to visit were a church which is said to have outstanding paintings – it was closed, and the Catacombs.  This was open.  They are not really old, being built in the first few years of the 18th century, but they are famous for the 8,000 odd skeletons, mummies and preserved bodies that are housed here.  All a bit too macabre, but still interesting.  Many of the bodies are in a standing position and dressed in a variety of different clothing.

Back in Trapani we picked up our first visitors for the season, my cousin Simon and his wife Kay.  They had just spent time in Sweden having wonderful adventures of their own tramping around the country side and visiting friends, and also tramping in Spain.


So after a week in Trapani we upped anchor to move on – actually we dragged up a rather large cable which held us firmly in place, but thanks to helping out other people over our time in the Med who have done the same thing, Alec and I knew what to do and within 20 minutes we were safely on our way.  Just hope it was not the Cable for the lights to the lighthouse.  No we did not cut it !!
Another Beautiful Sunset

After an 80nm along the southern coast we spent a rather rolly night at anchor off a small fishing village, then it was another 30nm run to Licata.  By then the seas had dropped and we anchored outside the harbour and took the tender ashore to see the town where we did the Wi-Fi over cold drinks and a sumptuous plate of nibbles all for the price of drinks only.  It was back to SHAMAL for a light dinner.   During dinner we were blinded by bright lights being shone on us only to discover it was the Italian Coast Guard who had literally sneaked up on us.  They asked for our paper work which we handed over in a fishing net, and once that was cleared they were on their way again.  With all the boat people trying to enter Europe they were only doing their job.

So the next day sees us back in Marina di Ragusa.  We have now fully circumnavigated Sicily over a period of a couple of years.  A beautiful Island with a wonderful history and one we would recommend people to visit.
Alec at Crater of Vulcano

We will sign out for now.

Love to you all

The Admiral and The Commander



1 comment:

  1. Hi Ann and Alec,
    Just finished reading your latest blog while spending a few hours at the Coolum Beach Info Centre. I love the description of your sailings and sight seeings. So much more to see from a historical aspect than OZ and I really enjoy seeing the old towns you have visited.I did not realise Alec was 65 , must be the mud baths, so Ann , don't mud bathe too often as Alec will end a cradle snatcher!!
    Great to hear from you again , safe sailing.
    Peter B