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                              SICILY - ITALY

June 7/2009

We really have enjoyed Greece, especially the scenic Ionian islands with their densely forested pines, interspersed with towering cedars clinging to the high mountainous terrain. But we were anxious to experience Italy so we impatiently  waited out another blow that went through the Ionian Sea  (from the direction we need to go!). Too much wind, or NO wind...that's the "Motorterranean" for ya!

Passage from Greece to Sardinia, Italy

June 8

Weather forecast predicted northerly winds Force 3-4 so we pulled anchor and drifted out of the bay. As the majestic mountains with their luxurious cover of pines grew smaller on the horizon, we fought with light SOUTHERLIES trying to make a course line but tacking fruitlessly to cover 3 miles for every 1/2 mile gained. But finally, clear of the islands, the promised northerlies appeared and filled our sails. We were sliding along at a comfy 6 knots, flat seas and a beautiful blue sunny sky. We were reminded of what sailing is all about. The wonderful conditions continued all night long and we silently slid through the black water, the full moon reflected on the rippled surface like a golden highway.

June 9

Everything onboard is working ("at the moment," ...our new catch phrase) and it is another bright sunny day. About mid day the wind died so we took advantage of starting the engine to make water and charge batteries. Suddenly we noticed a huge school of tuna following the boat, playing in our wake like Ascension's hull was Mama. We quickly put our fishing gear into action. But hours later, the fish were still swimming beside the boat, behind the boat, everywhere, completely ignoring our lures! So we amused ourselves by just playing with them, coaxing the curious fish to the back of the boat with the hook, so close we could have just scooped them into the cockpit, but by then  they had become our pets.  The fish just swam along with Ascension for several hours, despite the engine noise or us watching them dart through the water.

June 10

We could see Sicily on the horizon. It is where the toe of the boot of Italy looks as if it will kick this island into the sea. The largest island in the Mediterranean,  the population of 5 million is concentrated on the mountainous  coast.

Taormina Roads

We made landfall in Sicily, Italy at Taormina Roads (37.50.75N 15.17 E). As we entered the bay, we were immediately approached by the "keeper" of the mooring buoys who offered to let us tie up to one for a mere 30 Euros per night! We politely declined and dropped our hook less than 50 meters away, good holding, same water, same scenery, but for free!

In our opinion, this was the most beautiful anchorage on the east coast of Sicily, under the majestic smoking Mt Etna with with packed clusters of washed pastel and ochre colored Venetian houses spilling down the surrounding cliffsides. Train tracks followed the coast, jammed between the cliffs and the water and there was no end to the trains, passenger, freight, tankers, day trains and the like, all day long.

The town of Taormina is a top the hill overlooking the bay. We left our dinghy in the nearby port of Naxos and took a bus up to the stunning Medieval town perched on the rocks 1000 feet above the coast,  The center of the village is a maze of steep, narrow streets, white homes with colorful window boxes and now, instead of the typical blue shutters we had been seeing in Greece, dark green shutters.

We explored the honeycomb of alleyways, too narrow for cars.

Where Greece had cats everywhere, Italy had dogs. You had to be very careful where you stepped to avoid the doggy "landmines."

Many vantage points offered a special view of the surrounding hillsides of citrus trees and olive groves, Sicilian farmland and the great blue ocean.

Catholism is strong in Italy and we came upon some wonderful little churches and chapels The old town of Taormina was enchanting, with long standing stone tenements, ornate iron railings around balconies, passageways, charming shops and restaurants in twisted cobblestone streets.

Taormina seems to be known for its ornate doorknockers

The colorful pizzerias beckoned us and we shared our first truly Italian Pizza at a little bar in the town square.

Mt Etna

June 11    Above us the ever present Mt Edna loomed, dominating much of the coastline, constantly puffing like an indolent pipe-smoker. We decided to rent a car and have a closer look at Europe's largest volcano.

Mt Etna has erupted 130 times over the last 25 centuries. Dramatically standing 2 miles up in Sicilian sky, its foothills are made of ancient lava flows making for a rich and fertile soil that apparently produces excellent wine and citrus fruit. At the summit we found only hostile bare slopes of dark lava, the road leading to the parking lot and a cluster of huts and cafes.

piles of lava lined the road

We continued our drive along the toll highway, through green farmlands of wheatfields, vineyards and olive groves surrounded by rough stone walls. The poverty was profound as we passed old run down honey colored towns.

We eventually reached the town of Siracusa. The newer part of Siracusa was dirty and shabby with not a lot of charm. We sought out the anchorage and confirmed that it was a protected place to anchor, but we were not overly enthralled with the surrounds. We were however, able to find a wonderful supermarket to stock up on cheap wine, feta cheese and buffalo ball mozzarella!

Back in the anchorage, The weather was too unsettled to move on. The anchorage was very rolly, especially with the passing boat and ferry traffic during the day.

Straight of Messina

It is important to time travelling through the Straight of Messina to make sure that the direction of the tide is in your favor. We finally left very early in the morning, but the huge waves and high north winds stopped us in our tracks and drove us back to port after several hours of crashing and bashing through the seas.

June 13   We made another attempt to transit the Messina Straights and this time we were able to sail, tacking from shore to shore. The current was against us through the straight at about 2 knots but there were no noticeable whirlpools or other annoyances. It improved after Reggio Calabria, then flattened past Messina.

shoreside towns along the Straight

Messina

We were not very impelled to visit the large busy port of Messina, a sprawling city of featureless architecture. We exited the straight just as it was getting dark so we stopped for the night at Scilla (38.15.15N 15.44E), anchored beside the harbor and it was rolly.

Throughout the area were crazy swordfish boats, with high lookout towers.

There bow extended at least 3 times the length of the boat.

 

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