‘Life is a combination of magic and pasta’ wrote Federico Fellini, add to that people and it covers what we have been up to these last few weeks.
We left Vibo Valentia having sorted the windlass and motored towards Stromboli, seen puffing contentedly and frequently on her pipe. We declined the night ascent but set our alarms for an early start to track down the west side in the hopes of seeing the explosions depicted on all the postcards. Nature had the last laugh, and stuck two fingers up; as we approached small wispy clouds were gathering – we saw one amazingly bright furnace explode and send up sparks then gradually she wrapped herself modestly in a thick soft grey velvet mantle and nothing more was seen. So hot water bottles prepared we collapsed into an anchorage and sleep in Panarea, sleek and perfumed, noticeably upmarket; ordered and clean with accompanying high end clothes and gift shops and just above our anchorage the site of a Neolithic settlement sitting on an outcrop above a stunning cove.
Over forty years ago we visited Vulcano with Nick, then about 16 months. I really cannot recall much more than the horror of cockroaches scuttling across the floor and a mouldy shower curtain. What a contrast to Panarea. It is still a bit of a dump, and I know it can’t help it but it is very smelly, the sulphur from the mud baths and the steaming top of the volcano still emits fumes. It is littered with abandoned tourist accommodation. The sand is black as in Stromboli but simply seemed dirty not glamorous.
Looking out from Vulcano is better than looking in.
We were heading towards Palermo where we were to meet Juliet. We anchored off Cefalu on the north coast of Sicily, a place I had heard about and was keen to visit. We didn’t get ashore this time, a rolly, pitchy night and a dramatic departure preceded a really good sail. We had rigged the inner forestay and sailed on the working gib. That night we found Sardena Pasta Bar, a novel idea of mixing and matching different pastas, homemade naturally, and combining them with a variety of intriguing sauces. I had mixed seafood salad followed by pasta with pistachio and basil pesto, clams and cherry tomatoes, it was really yummy. Juliet duly arrived, jet lagged from her travels from Sydney via Singapore and Rome. The weather was not good so we made expeditions; learning more about Palermo, visiting our favourite churches, the Arab-Norman shapes of San Cataldo with its intricate mosaic floors, Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio with its furious baroque work around the altar and earlier glowing mosaics in the dark interior.
Nearby in the Piazza Pretoria is a fountain built on a grand scale, full of nude satyrs, nymphs, humans and mermaids having a jolly good time and not leaving much to the imagination. The square is also known as the square of shame (Piazza della vergogna)
We went on BOTH the routes of the open top bus and on another day to Cefalu on the train where we had an encounter with a beautiful swan necked Japanese woman, her mother and two children. She had been on an Erasmus programme in Lithuania where she had met her future husband along with students from others countries. She was here to attend the wedding of one of these.
In Cefalu the cathedral is set daringly under a sheer cliff face. Notices say ‘This is a place of silence and prayer, respect it’. The caretaker noisily vacuumed, only interrupted as he nipped up the steps and pulled at the bell ropes, they clanged and rang out after which he resumed his disturbance of the peace. There was a very handsome Christ Pantocrator and in the museum annexe, paintings, the usual gory images; a depiction of the wounds on Christ’s body gushing blood to fill several goblets – euck!
We ascended the tower and walked in the peaceful cloisters.
We walked up to the high point behind the cathedral where there lie the remains of a castle and a Temple of Artemis. We looked down below and imagined being at anchor there. The weather continues dull and cool.
Bob and Rosie had flown into Catania and we were to meet them in Trapani. Our trip was not nice and Juliet was sick – nuff said.
Our next few days were shore bound and included a fantastic trip up a cable car to the mysterious heights of Erice, high above the salt pans and fish market of Trapani; full of ancient superstition and magic, the castle in the clouds, the whispering mists. Lawrence Durrell writes about this place as entertainingly as ever in his gem of a book ‘Sicilian Carousel’ obtain a copy if you ever visit Sicily.
Juliet left for the airport (after solving the crossword clues) and the UK, to catch up with her nephews and their families and then to join Denis and his granddaughter in France for the women’s world cup football! We continued being tourists using Bob and Rosie’s hire car which was so good to have. We drove to Marsala – yes of wine fame and no, we didn’t try or buy any. But we did visit the very good museum. I didn’t know that it had been an important Roman city called Lilybaeum, Cicero described it as a ‘splendissimus urb’. From here on a good day you can see Africa and Carthage and watch the enemy approaching. From there we went on to Mazarra which was prettier and had a museum dedicated to a dancing satyr, yet another bronze that had been hauled from its watery grave by fisherman but was really rather lovely.
The fish market in Trapani held an astonishing variety of sea life; some I had never seen before, they were sold from the market place and boats.
Bob and Rosie left us and at this point I got quite grumpy. We clearly weren’t going to get out and linger in the Egadi islands (Ischia and Capri had also escaped me), my laundry had cost 45 Euros and the water is still not potable so we have to be very frugal with our use, the fuel dock card machine eventually worked but not before we had had to consider making a hot walk to an ATM – turning the card machine off and on again repeatedly was the solution. Sadly it was my card that was “in” when it finally worked!
Now we were positioning ourselves for our next guests, Mary and Phil. Back we went east now, along the north coast of Sicily, stopping for the night at Capo San Vito and Sferracavallo. It is a nice town and we could have lingered. There was a market and an upstairs cafe and I swam for the first time and it’s the 4th June!!! There was a youthful apprentice Mafioso stationed on the pontoon where we left out dinghy who demanded 5 Euros protection money. I did ask him why he was not at school but apparently it’s the holidays.
Finally we got to anchor and spend a few days in Cefalu under the commanding rock up which we had walked. Coffee and cornetti in the square in front of the cathedral, wandering the streets to buy bread and fruit and yet another parmesan grater and consume more gelati. Feeling buoyed up after a delicious lunch overlooking the sea, we returned to the tender to find him shrivelling up – oh dear and now Andy is in a gloom and the tender has definitely returned to intensive care. So began our search for a replacement until someone suggested re tubing it and this has led to more investigation, the most promising solution is Nikkos in Lefkas who knows of a priest on the mainland who might be able to do it – he is searching for his contact details. That would be different!
The weather has really flipped, it’s now a vicious 38C, we are in Lipari to meet Mary and Phil, at a very nice marina (pontoon) sheltered from the swell and ferry wake. Amongst the services and first on the list is ‘mooring with dead body’. Not sure if Google translate has failed them or they really mean it.
We have used the kayak, in Panarea where we had returned to show off the nice bay. We cannot use the tender and so are a bit committed to being attached to the shore. We found a great place to swim under a slash of pumice, a production that was big once but has now ceased; all that remains are were rusting piers and dilapidated equipment. The bay was popular and busy with drones, kayaks, SUB’s and people swimming, all in crystal clear warm waters. Continuing our journey back to Lipari ahead of forecast strong winds we heard a toot, then another and looking behind we saw a blue flashing light atop a Guardia Finanza patrol boat – eek! Guilty feelings at once! It soon became clear that we were its target so we slowed up to let them approach, big bully boat with large fenders and unsmiley Italian officials. It was alarming to see this big boat looming up to us. They wanted to see our documents, the boat papers, then to see our passports, then changed their minds once they realised we were really quite boring. Off they went after a bigger fish and stayed much longer with them.
The sword fishing boats were out on our trip from Lipari to Reggio di Calabria. Amazing looking things, fast and manoeuvrable, no sign of them one minute then suddenly they are behind you, their long proboscis like a delicate battering ram protruding from the bow and the tall ladder of a mast from where the crew, equipped with a basket full of bottles of water and, I imagine, some rations spend their time scanning the sea for sightings of fish. We did not see them in action. Apparently the sword fish swim in pairs as they have mated for life, the bigger female and the smaller male. The fishermen target the female, knowing the male will come to her rescue and then they are both taken. Not nice and in nature if it was the other way around the female generally scarpers or else she’s eaten her mate long ago!
We heard on the radio that there was a swimming contest across the straits of Messina – ‘all ships proceed with caution’. It must have happened at slack water as by the time we had arrived, carefully calculated of course (depends on high tide at Gibraltar but luckily there are apps!) the tide was on the turn in our favour and there was no sign of the race. The wind was strong and the sea here choppy and contrary. It was a relief to arrive in Reggio. On ‘Captain’s Mate’ we had read the legend of Severio. He must be lying in wait for visiting boats or have a web cam of the area. No sooner had we tied our last line (it had been a tricky docking with a cross wind) than he arrived pressed his wine upon us, took our cornetti orders for the following morning and disappeared. Next morning they were in the cockpit! Later as Andy and I were out in search of a supermarket we met him negotiating a roundabout in his tiny original Cinquecento. We gave him some money for the cornetti and wine and managed to politely decline his offer of a lift to see his other produce but admired his car. Inside the Ipercoop at the vegetable counter trying to decide which code to use for the selected tomatoes, I asked the lady next to me for advice and she replied in a Scottish accent. First I thought she must have married a Calabrian but she was horrified by this and it turns out she’s from Aberdeen and with her husband is ‘living their dream’ on their 47’ sailboat just like us. What an amazing coincidence – ‘of all the HUGE supermarkets, in all the towns, in all the world, I bump into an Aberdonian!’.
In Taormina we went to the buoy field run by George, a very good move as among other services he had a boat taxi to shore. Next day we took advantage of this and then caught a bus up the steep and curving road.
After coffee we wandered, took in an exhibition of contemporary bronzes by Francesco Messina and strolled around a peaceful quirky garden laid out by one of those travelling Victorian gentlewomen, Florence Trevelyan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Trevelyan It was gentle, full of palms, olives, and cypresses; in some places the bougainvillea threatening a takeover. There were follies to rest in, strangely Japanese in structure. We looked down to the boat through a steep ravine tumbling below us where birds swooped and wheeled catching insects in the warm evening air.
How could I have forgotten the stunning setting of this ancient theatre? Placed of course on the site of an ancient temple, or am I making that up? You look down through arched and columned spaces to majestic cypresses and the sea and across to the threatening bulk of Etna.
All change on Sunday morning as the wind was up; we weren’t sure how to occupy ourselves or our visitors so they suggested leaving so we could get on with our trip. It turned out to be a very good decision. Mary and Phil managed to book an extra night in their Air B&B and in less than an hour from the decision had packed and gone! Indecent haste almost !
We had a very lumpy, nasty short sea experience, I was secretly thinking we should turn back but after an hour everything settled down – a bit. The seas and the bucking of the boat had been so violent that somehow there was a malfunction and when the wind died and we turned on the motor we immediately had engine overheat warnings come on. An hour later, finding no blockage in the sieve or dirt in the impellor, we started again and it went fine. During this break I took advantage and with the life sling had a cooling swim. We anchored for the night 30nm west of Roccella at Capo Spartivento where we had overnighted on our passage west last September and swam and had a peaceful calm night, just the occasional little Thomas or Henry whizzing past. The moon is beautiful at the moment and we are glad of this as we need it for the night sail.
Now at Roccello Ionica, I have caught up on the washing a total of 8 Euros compare with Trapani – GRR. I love this place; a doo is softly cooing in the dark and fragrant pine woods, it is quiet and peaceful, it is cheaper every day you stay and it definitely knows how to slow down. We rented bikes and what a dream of a ride we had. The electric bikes made short work of the hills. We went up, up past the castle and down, down the other side then up to the aerials carrying on around a ridge in this very folded landscape, the wildflowers, the view but overwhelmingly the smell, hot dry and herby. Occasional houses sat above the sea; we were offered water at one and scared by the pack of snarling dogs at another. At the bottom we rewarded ourselves with a granita for Andy and bergamot ice cream for me, a flavour I hadn’t had before but which was divine.
Sicily and Italy we have LOVED for the people, the food, the towns and cities, the ancient sites, the language, the gelati and the culture BUT for the sailing and the swimming – NON!
From Roccella we begin our two day journey towards Preveza, Greece. The motor is on and then, oh joy, the churning and straining of the engine stops, natural elements take over and we move to the beat of the waves and the flurry of the wind. The hydrovane is doing the work and we are relaxed – for the time being anyway……………..Oh ha! ha! Did I say relaxed? The second night when Andy assumed the watch at midnight it was the start of what proved to be a very interesting 3 hours! First he noticed a reefing line had broken so he shook out the reef and tried to sail. Unhappy with the speed he then restarted the motor. To his surprise there was no indication of rpm. He then realised that the battery was not charging – flat batteries are not helpful, how would we operate the anchor or anything without this? There is no life without electrics! So all extraneous users were turned off – the fridge, the radio, the radar – keeping only the auto pilot and lights we motored on while my electrician pondered the problem and I slept. On opening the engine bay he was hissed at by a steaming, salt encrusted red dragon. This was promptly turned off and we drifted on while he diagnosed and fixed the problem – what a clever chap – useful to have around! – Although he confessed later that at the nadir, the darkest point of the night, he had envisaged a ‘For Sale’ sign.
All is well, we are in Preveza and the incredibly bureaucratic heavy job of getting DEPKA and tax are over. A form from one office, cash only to the bank, on to the Port Police etc. etc. – it is incredibly hot, a torpor has settled in Greece, people hide in the afternoons and only come out in the marginally cooler night air.
In a restaurant last night, sitting over the water on decking, our peace was suddenly disturbed by a flurry and a stirring in the water. Poseidon was waking? Abruptly an explosion of little fish catapulted themselves, lemming like onto tables, under tables, flapping, gasping. People were moved from stillness to action, it energised everyone; women recoiling and hugging skirts to thighs, little boys and men leaping into action, revelling in grabbing these squirming fish and returning them to the water. Oxygen deprived, are they brain damaged and what will that mean? Google it!
We are leaving soon, for Corfu, very slowly to enjoy some swimming and kayaking en route and then return home until the beginning of September.