Southward ever Southward

Mon 13 Oct 2014 08:17
Southward ever southward we left Riposto heading for the major port of
Catania where son Charles will be joining us, sailing with Mum and Dad for
the first time sans family. Negotiating our way past tankers, container
ships and ferries we found our berth on a pontoon in the south eastern
corner of the porto vecchio, the oldest part of this port complex. Noisy,
dirty, ships being loaded and unloaded, trucks roaring in to load on a Malta
bound ferry, whilst across in the new port welding torches flash their vivid
blue white light and rivet guns crash midst an aural confusion of metal on
metal noise. We squeezed our stern in between a motor cruiser that looked as
if it had not moved in the last decade and a large nondescript yacht its
furled sails blackened with grime, our pristine artic whiteness resembling
an opening batsman in a coal mine. I strolled ashore only occasionally
retching as yet another truck belched out more smoke and diesel particulates
into the fume laden air, looking for some relief from the harbour noise and
grime and a ships chandlers for we had discovered that our Navionics
electronic chart for the western Mediterranean stopped just after Riposto
without even the warning that ‘here there be dragons.’ I found my chandlers
in an arch just beneath the railway line and they had the electronic chart I
needed but sadly in this locale there was no relief from the noise dust and
the in want of repair, down at heel architecture.
We ate aboard that night hoping that our air conditioning was sieving some
of the muck from the air. Surprisingly we slept well as the noise stopped
around 20.30 and the night was quiet, perhaps our sleep was induced by the
background level of carbon monoxide.
We needed provisions, so next morning we ventured deeper into the city
finding a cornucopia of extravagant baroque architecture, churches
predominated their striking if somewhat over indulgent carved limestone
soaring heavenwards. Ah the lengths people will go to seek immortality.
Faith in the afterlife still very strong here and amongst the shops lining
the road up to yet another square of ecclesiastical magnificence we counted
no less than seven offering religious accoutrement and tailoring. I rather
fancied myself in purple and gold robes and a big hat but Lynn insisted that
we move on to the food market. The open food market was wonderful the
noise, the smells, the colours, the people, the theatrical Italian language,
everyone appearing to be arguing or making love to everyone else. We
purchased cheese and sausages, fish and bread in a whirl of barter, banter
inter linguistic merriment.
Back at our grimy berth the marinero fishing dirty, algae covered plastic
from around our gleaming hull we stowed our purchases. No sooner had we
completed this task when a hail from the pontoon announced the arrival of
Charles. Wonderful to have him on-board again and after a settling him in we
cast off and set sail for Syracuse. ’Champagne sailing’ most of the way,
smooth seas and fifteen to twenty knots not too forward of the beam, by
late afternoon we were sailing around the ancient fortified city of Ortiga
into the huge natural harbour of Syracuse where we took a berth at the
Yacht Club Marina.
Once we had settled Pamarzi into her berth, mooring lines fore and aft,
pasarelle, power and water connections, furl and hank genoa and staysail
sheets, wash down decks and fenders and establish internet connections we
ventured forth into the old island town of Ortiga and finding a decent
looking restaurant near the harbour we dined on swordfish and tuna
marvelling in our surroundings and deciding to stay another night that we
might explore this intriguing place.
Our day in Syracuse or rather Ortiga started over rich dark coffee,
marmalade filled croissant and lemon cream filled doughnuts in a street side
café. Ortiga was founded by colonists from Corinth around 734BC and quickly
grew to rival even Athens in terms of power. It was the largest fortified
city in the Greek world and home to half a million people and commanded a
great fleet. It was during this early period that the city was connected to
the mainland by a causeway which in more modern times was replaced with one
and finally three bridges.
In 413BC the Athenians attacked but were defeated by 415BC when the
Syracusen fleet trapped their ships in the bay and destroyed them. Thus
began under the rule of Dionysius, Syracuse’s great period of power
controlling Sicily and most of the western Mediterranean. Her people
enjoyed two hundred years of peace and prosperity until disagreement with
Rome led to an invasion during which, despite orders to the contrary the
genius Archimedes was killed. Some say his killer shouting “screw you” as he
despatched the poor fellow!
Our day there was pleasantly spent midst the ancient ruins and limestone
baroque glory of the rebuilt areas of the city which followed the
earthquakes of 1693. It was in this area that we found yet another lively
and colourful market.
But our southing had to continue and next day (Friday 3rd October) we
slipped our lines and enjoyed ‘champagne sailing’ in gently rippling waters
surrounded for some of our journey by playful pods of dolphins. Charles
slapping the side of the boat brought them leaping and flashing with
curiosity into our bow wave where they frolicked in the foam eyeing the
strange creatures peering down at them.
Our next port of call Marzamemi an almost deserted village. We arrived
mid-afternoon the sun still strong enough to heat our teak decks hopping
hot, the breeze non-existent in this shallow natural bay where the still
quietness reduced us all to whispering. The little marina, Caribbean in
style its ‘Yacht Club’ headquarters three timber shacks on the beach behind
which a dusty road silently edged the sand, no vehicles traversed its dusty
surface and on its far side the two bars and small collection of dwellings
were all locked and shuttered up. Further up the beach we found a restaurant
also closed. On its sun bleached veranda a motley canine crew sprawled, not
one of the five misshapen mutts stirring more than a disinterested eyelid
as we stepped over and between them to survey through dusty panes the
darkened interior. We would be eating aboard tonight!
As Lynn cooked the meat filled Catanian sausages that evening we discovered
to our horror, no red wine! Torch in hand I made my way along the creaking
and gently swaying pontoon, across the beach to the mutt haven restaurant
from which glimmered a faint candle light like glow. The door grudgingly
squeaked open and I stepped inside the shadowed interior. There were no
diners but as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom the chef, at least I
presumed he was for although he did not speak his piggy eyes followed me as
I walked between the empty tables to the bar, his twenty stone or more body
was clad in once white kitchen slops; he stood as still and silent as the
town. My confident traverse across the dining room had been prompted by a
slight movement behind an ancient, much used coffee machine which gave out
the occasional soft gasp like the last breaths of a frail old lady. “Buena
Serra”, I cheerfully greeted the small fellow lurking there. “Momento” he
responded in a harassed tone as if beset with far too many tasks for one man
to deal with alone. I smiled and waited and watched as he carefully prepared
an expresso coffee twisting and turning knobs and taps on the gently
wheezing asthmatic machine. Satisfied with his efforts he sipped the dark
brown frothy liquid from a small cup whilst I continued to watch and wait.
Finishing his coffee he set the cup down and enquired “Si?” “Vino rosso?” I
ventured “Uno litro” for I knew not the Italian for bottle. “Si” he
responded. I smiled marvelling at his range of vocabulary as I glanced back
at the chef who had not moved. When I looked back the little man had gone.
As I peered over the bar seeking him he suddenly reappeared bearing a clear
plastic cup full of red liquid which he placed before me. I sipped the not
unpleasant contents making savouring gestures with my mouth and eyes. “Si?”
he said. I was getting the hang of this, “Si” I replied. He disappeared
below the bar again triumphantly re-emerging some minutes later with a large
plastic bottle filled with what I hoped was the same liquid that I had just
imbibed. Smiling now he said “Si?” I returned the expression in an
appreciative tone “Si” Expanding his vocabulary usage he said “Cinque”. “Uno
litro” I questioned thinking he had only charged me for my glass. “Si” he
responded smiling as I placed a few coins in his upturned hand. I grasped
the slightly buckling plastic bottle and we parted both no doubt proudly
reflecting on our linguistic skills. As I closed the oil starved door Uncle
Fester still stood motionless in his grubby slops and my small garrulous
friend had returned to his tinkering with the breathless machine.
We motored out of silent Marzamemi at ten the following morning into a
heaving sea under a dull and overcast sky but once around the headland that
marks the south eastern corner of Sicily we had sufficient breeze to motor
sail as we now headed westward towards our final destination for this season
Marina di Ragusa where after topping up our fuel tanks we berthed stern to
on pontoon M joining seven other Oysters.