From Trapani to our Sicilian Winter Home

Sun 25 Sep 2016 12:32

Our first day in Trapani was a quiet one, a few boat jobs were done but it was a lazy Sunday. The highlight was finding Osteria La Betolaccia. It was a fair walk from our berth that evening along the busy ferry filled waterfront still bustling with tourists heading to and from the Egadi Islands. Once amongst the stone grandeur of the old town, thankfully traffic free we thought Osteria La Betolaccia where I had booked a table, would be easy to find. After enquiring and receiving two sets of contradictory directions we sat in a trendy bar sipping an Aperol spritzer and an expensive but quite delicious local wheaten beer, discussing (arguing) where to try next.  An unlikely looking side street was my bet and whilst Lynn continued her sipping I walked the length of the side street to find only a rather interesting antique/junk shop but on my return, passing our trendy bar I walked the side street in the opposite direction and after passing a couple narrow cross roads came across the unprepossessing frontage of the restaurant.  Once inside the minimalist interior our spirits were soon revived with an excellent baked sea bass and a bottle of good Sicilian white.

The winds still inclement for a voyage to the Egadi’s we decided to continue our explorations by taking the cable car up the 2,480ft Monte San Giuliano which looms over this city and atop which is the town and fortress of Erice.

The Elymians originally from Asia Minor were the first to settle here around 1200 BC coexisting with the native Sicanians. Ensuing centuries brought Greek domination followed by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans who all added their stamp to this dramatic mountain top but they in their turn were ousted by the medieval Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Arabs for a period controlled Erice known to them as Gebel Hamed, as did the Aragonese and the Normans

The breeze blows much cooler amongst these ancient cobbled streets and stone ramparts and we enjoyed the spectacular views of the coast and islands and the fertile plains and valleys of the hinterland. We strolled around the village and fortifications admiring the diverse architecture and historical sites. In Greek times the place was known for its Temple of Aphrodite and her sacred courtesans but I couldn’t find them!

We left marina Arturo Stabile on Wednesday 7th September and headed out into a still rolly sea with a course set for Isola Favignana the largest of the Egadi Islands known in classical times as Aegusa (Goat Island) after a description by Odysseus telling of the large number of goats grazed there. The wind was forecast to be north west  but stayed south westerly so we decided to go into the harbour at Favignana which was pretty tight for us to get berthed but we squeezed in and got our lines set. Francesco who runs part of the harbour connected our power line to his noisy generator and told us we would have electricity after 17.00, good job we can run the aircon on our generator! We explored the picturesque village that evening which is becoming  rather touristy with up market boutiques and trendy wine bars midst the more traditional artisan shops and dwellings. We dined ashore, the food pleasant but unremarkable and returned to the boat finding out just how noisy Francesco’s generator was as we boarded a bouncing and tugging Pamarzi as she was yanked about on her mooring lines by the heavy swell coming into the harbour. Little sleep was had that night for our one hundred and twenty Euro mooring fee! 

We were glad to get away next morning and sailed around the island to the south west side where we dropped the hook in six metres on the south side of Punta Lunga and had a lazy afternoon and an early night catching up on the missed sleep of the previous evening.  Juno had taken a mooring buoy on the north side of Punta Lunga and the following day Paul Frew came over to Pamarzi and we had a pleasant few hours chatting boats and business, friends and families, finding that we had much in common.  Paul’s career has been in investment banking so it was perhaps unsurprising that when I mentioned friends David and Lynsey Quysner, we found that Paul was an acquaintance and he told us that David was now a ‘grandee’ of the industry and had been awarded a CBE. Unfortunately Paul could not stay with us for supper as his crew were arriving the following day and they would be leaving to sail to Mallorca.

We had arranged to meet Mark and Chrisy Dewey (Blue Magic) as they were sailing from MdR to Barcelona via Sardinia and the Balearics and we had only just returned from exploring ashore and buying a few provisions when Blue Magic hove into site. They dropped anchor close by and we jumped into the tender to welcome them. We had thought to eat ashore when we arranged this rendezvous but as we found  there were no restaurants in this bay invited them to dine aboard Pamarzi. It was good to see them again and we ate and chatted till late over a bottle or two of rather good red.

After waving off Mark and Chrisy next morning we had a discussion as whether or not to stay in the Egadi Islands or head back to Sicily. It has to be said that we are a bit disappointed with the Egadi’s. Perhaps we were expecting too much having heard so much about Aragonese forts and Arabic influences, marine reserves and the history of the* Mattanza.  Or maybe we were just unlucky with the weather and sea state. There are very few anchorages among the islands and non on Marittimo that are sheltered enough in all wind and sea states.  Even our anchorage at Punta Lunga was proving too rolly for Lynn to swim easily from the boat.

*For hundreds of years, fishermen in the Egadi have used dense nets to capture the Mediterranean Bluefin tuna in a quasi-spiritual procedure known as the Matanzas. This takes place in May and June, when the giant fish swim past the coasts en route to the Atlantic. The term "Matanzas" comes from an old Spanish word, matar, meaning "to kill." Many terms, such as rais (head fisherman of the Matanzas), are actually Arabic in origin, introduced in the ninth century when, during the Arab domination of Sicily, the technique became popular. There are indications, however, that it is much older, possibly originating, in some form, in the Phoenician or Carthaginian era.

The key to a successful Matanzas is a series of vast nets weighted and buoyed which are gradually restricted in size and raised toward the surface, where the fish are despatched with spears in what is called the ‘Chamber of Death’. Dead and dying the fish, reaching 4.5 meters in length and weighing as much as 800 kilogram are hauled aboard with hooks the water running red with their blood. Delicious as the meat is one hopes that the time of this mass slaughter has come to an end and will be replaced with more sustainable less bloody methods of harvesting these fine creatures.

Decision made we opted to weigh anchor on Monday 12th September and head for the Sicilian town of Sciacca (pronounced Shacka). Unfortunately lifting the hook was not straight forward as we found the chain had lodged and jammed itself in rocks. I was contemplating donning the dive kit when our boat manoeuvring managed to free it. Winds were light but we had a pleasant enough sail to Sciacca passing the magnificent acropolis and complex of temples at Salinunte dating back to 600BC and the old, long completely silted harbours destroyed by Hannibal in 409BC.

Sciacca a small and at first sight scruffy fishing town with a busy harbour turned out to have a certain charm all of its own. We found our way into the harbour and once secured in Circolo Nautico Corallo marina set out to find supper in town. As this little place is built on a hillside that meant climbing up two hundred and thirty four steps to the town square, from where we wandered the cool, narrow streets between tall stone buildings. There were surprisingly chic, upmarket shops set amongst the old stones but no restaurants until we espied a narrow passage hung with dozens of colourful upside down umbrellas high overhead. Following the umbrellas we came across a small square similarly decorated beneath which a dozen or so al fresco tables were sited. Here we dined on Sicilian specialities with a distinct North African twist.

Next morning it was back up the steps for coffee and croissants in the square overlooking the harbour. Blue skies, light winds and warm sunshine as we watched the locals go about their business. A frail looking elderly chap took a seat on one of the sunbathed, high backed benches and drawing a penny whistle from a pocket entertained himself and us for the next half hour with well played, traditional melodies. 

Later that day the Germans landed! That is to say three charter boats each with eight or so cheerful but inexperienced crew attempted to med moor on the pontoon. They finally achieved it without damage with help from the marineros, us and other yachtsmen. One of their number we learnt was celebrating a 40th birthday and as booze had appeared on deck the moment they were tied up we feared for our sleep! Supper at a little fish restaurant on the quayside was good and we returned to Pamarzi in light hearted mood which was dispelled by the boozy Bavarians banter which did not cease till after three.

The alcohol fumes hung in the still air next morning as we left the snoring Germans to their hangovers and set sail for Licata our final port of call before returning to our winter berth in MdR. Smooth seas and very little wind meant motor sailing at best but at least the coastline was interesting and varied; vineyards and rich green farmland between mountains and pine forests, small villages nestling in the folds of the land.

The sea at times like mercury, rising and falling in the long slow swell as we motored through the deep blue waters, alone for we saw not a single vessel for many hours at a time. Then dead fish started to appear. One to port, two to starboard, then more and more and ahead the water changed colour from deep blue to pale turquoise for  about three miles offshore. It was a strange phenomenon and we postulated that a flooding river had washed fresh water fish and silt into the sea. We motored on past Agrigento and the dramatic valley of the temples with its six or seven ruined, after being sacked by the Carthaginians and later again by the Romans, but still majestically Doric columned temples the earliest of which dates back to 582BC.

Licata is a large trawler port with a recent development to create a huge marina of twenty plus pontoons, a shopping centre, restaurants, houses and apartments but sadly it is still only partially completed with just four pontoons and these sparsely occupied. Already some of the impressive buildings and roadways are starting to deteriorate but the staff in the marina office were very pleasant and my Cruising Association membership brought us a 15% discount. We dined at a little restaurant in the town on grouper stuffed ravioli in a shrimp and smoked salmon sauce probably the best pasta dish we have had in the whole of Italy. We enjoyed a very peaceful night in Marina di Cala del Sol which we were grateful for after our Germanically disturbed previous night and awoke to yet another gloriously sun filled day. Before leaving we breakfasted in the marina café on warm vanilla cream filled croissants and coffee. Three croissant and four coffees for just over a fiver!

Another quiet day at sea and by mid-afternoon we were motor sailing past the light house and Salvo Montalbano’s fictional home at Punta Secca and into the shallow waters of the approach to Marina di Ragusa. As we rounded the breakwater a waving Rosario (one of the marineros) was out to greet us and lead us into the fuel dock where we took on close to a thousand litres of fuel (our first fuelling since Greece) before moving on to what has become our usual berth on M pontoon. As soon as our lines were secured friends already docked were hailing us welcome, what a lovely way to end a sailing season. The maintenance, cleaning and polishing starts tomorrow but I have no doubt that the social scene will start tonight.

And so dear reader (always assuming that there is at least one of you!) our fourth sailing season comes to an end. The next three weeks or so will be filled with a lot of hard work but even more fun, friendship and feasting but I will not bore you with our post polishing antics. Suffice it to say that I hope my scribblings have not jaded you too much and warn you that I will be picking up my metaphorical pen again next year when I will attempt to describe another year’s meanderings in the Mediterranean. Until then, “arrivederci fino al prossimo anno.”

Roger & Lynn

The crew of Pamarzi