Cruising Sicily

 The history of Sicily goes back to 1400BC when the first wave of people took a liking to this island strategically placed in the centre of the trade routes from west to east.  After the original tribes had established themselves they were overrun by the Greeks who where challenged by the Carthaginians but they were run out of town in 480BC and the influence of the Greek Magna Graecia took over and built some great temples on the island.  The city of Syracusa on the east coast sided with the Romans and much of the Greek architecture was destroyed.

Rome's influence declined and the Arabs and then the Normans back from the crusades arrived.  Roger had a great influence and built some magnificent churches with Jesus as the central theme.  Cefalu and Monreale are the best examples.  The latter rivals the best the Catholics could build in Rome.

The Mafia is said to have influenced the life of every Sicilian but for the cruiser one can only see the positive results of development.

Aeolian Islands

We left Tropea in Italy early in the morning to sail eastwards for the volcanic island of Strompoli.  The wind was kind to us but as we neared the island it can straight on the nose so we had to motor onto the lee of the volcano which was giving off  smoke and gas.  It has the classic conical shape but unlike Mana in Vanuatu you are not able to climb to the craters edge.  The island rises out of the depths and there is no place to anchor.  We tried to  anchor in 40m of water with lots of chain but as the wind came up and it grew dark the anchor pulled out.  We picked up a mooring buoy.  A yacht and a catamaran did the same, then spent almost an hour pulling stern to stern so that the crew could share their evening meal.  What an effort.

At 4:00 we dropped the mooring and set sail anticlockwise round the island to see the red glow of the volcano as it released the pressure into its crater forming the famous "lighthouse of the Mediterranean".  We did not see the glow only a dull gray cloud over the summit - in the dark and as the sun rose.  Well you just cant trust these Italian navigation marks.

We then head south to the islands of Panarea, Salina and Lipardi on route for the safe anchorage on Vulcano.  The scenery through these volcanic island with their weather and wind eroded rocks is very dramatic but one has to keep a sharp look out for "above and below water rocks".  We pulled into the crowded anchorage on the east of Volcano right in the wash area of the numerous ferries that stop here.  Not a great place but relatively safe.  On Sunday evening the charter and weekend boat left and the bay was left to the long term cruisers.

The volcano dominates this anchorage and small town supporting the many people who come here to climb to the top of the crater.  On the edge of the bay there are hot springs and mud pools with the usual fat bodied tourist expecting some miraculous cure from coating themselves in the evil smelling ooze.  At some points the sea water was hot as the water bubbled up from underground but you had to seek out the spot and the ferry wash soon disturbed the conversations.

From the Aeolian Islands we headed south to the main island of Sicily.

Sicily Island

You can not mention Sicily with out mentioning the influence of the Mafia.  The building development is every where.  Hugh apartment blocks and good roads and railway lines. We sailed the 50nm in a south west direction with little wind to Cefalu.  It has a marina but we chose to anchor  out 38 03.253 n 14 02.207 E in 5 meters of water.  Good holding and a quiet night.  The following day we went ashore and walked past the marina towards the town of Cefalu which has one of the largest cathedrals built by Roger in the Norman style.  Jesus is the main figure which dominates the church.  The town is full of tourists but it has some great streets.  The Roman laundromat is well preserved.


We left early to try to reach Palermo where we had heard that the space in the harbour was at a premium.  Well it was.  We motored right into the Marina which is in the South west corner of the Harbour, Not the one on the northern side of the harbour.  The water is foul.  No one would answer the radio so we motored around until we found a space and went astern into it and tied up.  I took the boat papers and set off for the marina office.  Not an easy task and when I found it they were not interested only saying that the charge would be 60 Euro.  No thanks.  I walked down the dock towards the fuel berth and found the Club Mediterranean Sailing.  The fellow said I could fit into his spare berth for a few days if I didn't mind moving if the owner returned early.  Great.  We moved out of the smelly marina and squashed into a lovely place near the fuel dock.  The people were so helpful.

Palermo is the most exiting city outside the great cities of the world.  The open air market is to be seen to be believed.  It seems to run for miles through the ancient streets of the city.  Near the harbour it start with fish, every variety one can imagine right up to a full sword fish ready to be cut up.  Next comes the meat section.  Luckily the meat is in display cabinets.  In general it is good.  Further along the road is the clothes, then material, then hardware and finally fruit and vegetables.  We could hardly hold back.  The next day we talked to the main bus depot and caught the local bus to Monreale.  It is the greatest example of the Norman architecture in the world.  I believe the inside rivals the Sistine Chapel.  Same story but it is made in glass mosaic tiles not paint.  The cloister of the abbey next door is wonderful especially the tiles on the columns.  As we were walking out Denny recognized a friend from our suburb in the ACT.  His wife speaks Italian and they come here every time they visit Italy.  They offered us a ride back to Palermo in their car.  We had to stop in the main square to have a drink and meet up with the friends they were staying with.

We stocked up with food and wine which came from a very large tank and dispensed via a bowser.  I filled a 20 Lt plus a 10 Lt with red and 10 lt with white.  I had almost as much wine as diesel!  Well thankfully it keeps and we don t drink it at 2 lt per hour.  After paying the 100Euro for our three nights at the Club we set off anti clockwise round Sicily.  The Cape San Vito is known for its bad weather so we expected some wind.  What we got was the most confused sea I have ever sailed into.  I think the swell enters the Golf Di Castellammare and bounces back out plus there seems to be a current running past the Cape.  We struggled for three hours to round the Cape and start out track southwards. The wind came up at over 35 kts so we were down to one reef and the stay sail as we tried to get to Trapani.  At 1700 we gave up and headed towards the land to anchor in some shallow water.  We dropped anchor off the small town of Bonagia 38 04.191 N 12 35.559E thankfully the wind was off shore and we could rest up.

The next day we motored round to Trapani to find an inexpensive place to leave the boat.  We were directed to a run down marina and placed at the end of a wharf with the bow almost in the channel.  great this will be cheap.  Wrong 55 Euro a night.  Well be needed to be along side as we were off to the mountain village of Erice.  We took the local bus to the base of the cable car then up the mountain to this mountain top village with Saracen and Norman castle remains.  I almost came a cropper with my well worn shoes on the smooth stone pavers on the steep roads.  On our return to Trapani we found out that the America's cup circus had come to town to hold one of their qualifying round and the locals think all sailors have as much money as they do.  We left the next day after being ripped off by a fish merchant giving us sword fish almost half the weight agreed at the time of the sale.

This area is famous for the catching of sword fish.  Each year the fishermen set their nets in a maze for miles around the islands so that the fish follow the net to the end where they are easily caught.  We came across these nets but the fish had either not arrived or had gone.  The small harbour was full so we anchored off on sand.  We sailed around the island and set off for Masala to stock up on some wine however there was no wind so we chose to motor further east to Sciacca after passing the Greek temple of Selinunte Acropolis which is as big and almost as complete as the one in Athens.  The harbour of Sciacca was very dirty and full of trawlers and rubbish.  We anchored out  37 30.148 N 13 04.325 E.

The Greeks built many temples along this coast in the BC period.  The next one was at Empedocle.  We stopped in the port and tied up to a wharf and took the bus to the ruin site as the sun was going down.  The temple of Concordia at Akragas near Agrigento  is the most spectacular.

Siracussa was the last port of call in Sicily.  We entered the bay with a hot wind from the west.  It was so hot it felt as if an oven door was open as we sailed into it.  The city was started by the Geeks who built a hugh ampitheater and theater which was staging a play so it was full of modern speakers, stage lighting but the same old stone seats.  The wispering cave next door is worth a visit.  After a few days R&R and a good weather window we left for Greece.  Read the next stage...