A Circumnavigation

Thu 7 Oct 2021 06:32

The 5th September saw our return to Catania on an early morning Easy Jet flight with only thirty or so passengers aboard. Our rental car this time was an almost new VW Golf which for a little car impressed us both and made our journey to Marina di Ragusa very comfortable.

There was some unsettled weather about so our leaving was delayed but it gave us time to do some boat jobs and enjoy a Marina di Ragusa somewhat quieter than it had been at the beginning of August. Unfortunately the new cables that I had purchased did not resolve the aft cabin air conditioner problem so it will have to wait till we return for the winter and can get an expert to sort out the problem with the electronics.

We left Marina di Ragusa just after 08.00 on Monday 13th and motored out into a still rolly sea. What little wind there was directly on our stern and not enough to sail with so it was motoring until we rounded Porto Palo and were able to motor sail with main and staysail. We arrived at Syracusa  at 16.45 and after the obligatory call to the harbour master dropped the hook in our allotted position and enjoyed a quiet night aboard.

The following morning we contacted the Marina to book a berth for a couple of nights and were allocated a spot on the outer pontoon which given the now settled conditions was lovely as there was a pleasant breeze and we were away from the heat and traffic noise of the town, There was a beautiful twenty year old Wally moored next to us which had unfortunately suffered sail and mechanical problems in heavy weather and was waiting for sailmakers and mechanics. So, there we were as so often is the case moored either with the smaller yachts were we tend to be the biggest or as now with the big boats were we are the smallest. Speaking of size we had the misfortune to also be moored just two hundred and fifty metres from a vast twelve deck high cruise ship that on counting its balconies must have been capable of carrying three or four thousand passengers. Judging by what movement we saw around the decks there must only have been a tenth of the number aboard. The scarcity of passengers did not stop however the enthusiastic fitness instructor on the top aft deck who with music blaring conducted a one hour fitness session, his shouted commands even louder than the music which could be heard all over the marina. I pictured his sole ‘client’ to be an eighty year old female cruiser in pink leg warmers and a sweat band around her wrinkled brow desperately failing to comply with his body contorting instructions. Although I have to admit to not seeing stretcher bearers when at last the poor lady’s torture came to an end.

Liliane arrived around 17.00, Lovely to see her again but very sad that she was without Rob who died earlier in the year. We dined quietly ashore at a restaurant last visited in 2014 with Charles.

A visit to Ortigia market next morning to buy a few provisions and enjoy the always bustling, noisy scene. I left the ladies to their shopping and returned to the boat with the provisions. We wound our way through the narrow streets that evening up to the Piazza del Duomo a magical setting that we never tire of and dined under the towering edifice of the Duomo which in part dates back over two thousand years and imbues the piazza with a timeless ambiance.

We left our new found friends on the Wally still waiting the parts they needed next day for the fifty or so miles to Riposto. It was mostly motor sailing but we did have enough breeze for a couple of hours down wind sailing under full genoa. The seas were calm and after about twenty miles the omnipresent Mount Etna cleared out of the haze her summit as always ominously smoking.

We moored stern to in the marina with a gulet on our port side and a much neglected sixty footer to starboard. We were intrigued to see the rather nifty device fitted to the bow of the marinaro’s dinghy that enabled him to run out the laid lines to our bow without me having the usual task of dragging the filthy things up from the stern always attempting to keep the muck off Pamarzi.

The marina concourse looked drab as most of it is under redevelopment. No shops, bars or restaurants here at present so we crunched our way through the Etna ash looking for a place to dine. How do the locals put up with this? For most every day starts with sweeping and shovelling up the night’s accumulation. There are piles of the stuff everywhere and municipal road sweepers are on duty daily.

We found a Japanese sushi restaurant where the rather unique deal was all you can eat for twenty two Euros but anything you left was charged at one Euro fifty per item. It was fun and we ate well!

I crunched my way back into town first thing next morning and enjoyed watching the town start to wake as I searched for a panettiere. Exploring the town enabled me to find baroque magnificence in hidden piazzas. It was a short sail to Taormina Roads next morning where I had booked a mooring with George Rizzo at his ‘Yacht Hotel’. Grandly named for a set of mooring buoys but as ‘known’ customers we received great service. Liliane had not been to Taormina so one of George’s guys ferried the girls to Naxos Giardini where they took a taxi up to Taormina for a day’s exploring and shopping. I stayed aboard and as often happens here a swell came in contrary to the wind so we got a long line out astern to a second buoy which held us more comfortably.

We said our goodbyes to George the following morning and set off to pass through the notorious Strait of Messina (the third time for us). I had checked the timings of the current flows and with the benign weather our passage was uneventful. We had hoped to see the passerella boats hunting for sword fish but sadly saw non although in an area where fishing is prohibited we were treated to the sight of hundreds of yellow finned tune leaping from the water as they pursued their prey.

We were going to spend the night in Milazzo at Santa Maria Maggiore Marina where we had stayed in 2019. On that occasion they charged us one hundred and fifty Euros for our stay and I do remember complaining about the attitude of one of their staff who seemed to have forgotten that I was a customer. They confirmed our booking telling me that the charge would be two hundred and eighty Euros. I politely complained stating the charge of the previous year. They emailed back in Italian and capital letters “ KEEP CALM”. I read later on the Navilly marina booking site that they have become infamous for rudeness and sharp practice. Bugger them I thought and after considering anchoring off the main harbour we went into Marina Nettuno inside the harbour where we were allocated a side on berth. The ferries crossing to the Aeolian Islands great quite a wash here so we lifted our fender socks to avoid them being torn apart against the timber side of the pontoon. Thankfully the last ferry left at 20.00 so all was quiet. Quiet that is except for the twittering of tens of thousands of swallows which for some reason as the light faded swarmed on the harbour. A fascinating sight but the unattended boats in the marina were covered in their guano. On occasions their rigging had hundreds birds perched in rows relieving themselves. We stayed on deck for the duration and were sufficient deterrent for Pamarzi to remain unadorned by their droppings.

Capo d’Orlando was our next port of call and we had a terrific sail there. The sea calm and the wind angle just right for us to fly full mainsail, genoa and staysail and fly we did, real ‘champagne sailing’. It was nice to be back at Capo d’Orlando Marina where we or rather Pamarzi was remembered by the staff. After all the usual docking jobs and marina formalities had been completed we dined at Pepe Rosa on beef cheek and a very acceptable bottle of Nero d'Avola.

The cricket is dead! Before we left Marina di Ragusa we had each evening been hearing the chirping of a cicada but had not been able to identify quite where it was coming from. In Siracussa we had discovered that it or one of its mates had found the inside of our mast attractive and every evening its chirpings amplified by the hollow mast had in equal part entertained and annoyed us. But here at Capo d’Orlando perhaps as a result of unfurling all of our sails on the passage here, the night was chirpless, Dislodged or deceased he was now late of this parish.

After breakfast next day it was boat washing for me whilst Lynn and Liliane went to the beach. A relaxed afternoon followed by a pizza dinner at one of the new restaurants in the marina, which was okay but not exceptional. The Capo d’Orlando swell came in that night causing Pamarzi to snatch at her moorings, a less than peaceful night’s sleep resulted.

Our colazione the following morning was taken at a new café near the marina office. Delicious custard filled croissants and superb coffee. The girls intrigued by the flamboyant chocolate powder designs on their cappuccinos. Back to the beach for the ladies whilst I relaxed and read aboard after some administrative work. Another new restaurant in the marina for dinner where we first shared a platter of fish dishes with an excellent bottle of Cataratto followed by a platter of meat dishes both were excellent.

We got into conversation with a chap on a catamaran on the inside of the pontoon we were moored to. He was from South Africa and has a house in Stellenbosch and it turned out that Goltz was friends with our friends Robert and Dee (SY Invictus) and had been to their home in Franchoek. He to is sailing across the Atlantic this winter and will no doubt meet up with them.

We slipped out of Capo d’Orlando next morning around 08.30 and motor sailed the forty miles to Cefalu where we docked in our ‘usual berth’. There being only a handful of berths for yachts with our draft. After completing all the usual tasks we took the little electric bus/cart up to the old town. Unsurprisingly Liliane (her first visit here) was enchanted by its ancient, narrow winding streets and cliff hanging restaurants and bars. It is a little touristy but has too much charm to be despoiled by the tourist tat for sale. We dined at one of the restaurants overlooking the sea. Pleasant food and nice relaxed surroundings until the arrival of fifteen eight to ten year old girls for a birthday supper. The excited chatter became louder and louder until the food arrived and they were stuffing their mouths. Little Italian girls should definitely be seen and not heard and preferably both! Fearing the deafness might be permanent we left the restaurant to wander through the quiet streets making our way generally down hill towards the marina. Coming across a gelateria we indulged ourselves as obviously had the twenty stone plus, white coated, unsmiling assistant on far too many occasions.

It is de riguer when in Cefalu to take breakfast in the piazza in front of King Roger’s stunning Norman cathedral. It was indeed a pleasure to be back here again. After breakfast I left the girls to their shopping  and returned to Pamarzi, The north easterly swell had worsened  and the pontoon was now bucking and swaying like some kind of nautical fairground ride, Our mooring lines tugging and snatching and the passerelle dancing. I rang Lynn and suggested they delay their return in the hope that conditions would ease. Unfortunately a small yacht on the inside of the pontoon sustained damage to its stern stainless steel work as the surge dragged it back against the pontoon, thankfully we were fine. The swell did not die down and it was with some difficulty that we managed to get Lynn, with her bad ankle, back aboard. We or rather Lynn decided that dinner would be aboard that evening!

We had some ‘harbour TV’ that evening to when a thirty foot charter boat came in, He first asked to moor next to us but was told by the marinero that he was too small for that berth and was instructed to moor behind us on the inside of the pontoon. It should have been a straightforward manoeuvre as what little wind there was was straight on his stern but as soon as he started to position himself to come in you knew disaster threatened. So with the crews of six boats, assembled fishermen and the marineros watching he proceeded to make a complete hash of it three times before a fisherman jumped onto his boat and with lines he and the marineros hauled him into position. Once moored he and his lady partner went below and were not seen again. For all I know they are still there! Poor chap, I did feel sorry for him, We can all make mistakes but hopefully not as many and not in one go as he did that evening,

The swell eased over night and by 09.00 we were rounding the huge rock upon which the remains of an ancient fort stand and with camera shutters clicking we sailed past Cefalu old town the twin towers of its Norman cathedral still dominating as they have for the last thousand years.

By 15.00 we were docking in SiTiMar Marina in the city of Palermo. Greeted by Orlando we were directed to the same berth we had in 2019. Orlando said it was good to see Pamarzi again (he didn’t mention us!) and was she two years old now. He would not believe she was eight. A huge amount of work going on in the old harbour, a multi=million Euro project to improve the water front and create lakes a park, boat mooring and shore side amenities.

Liliane wanted to take us out to dinner as a thank you and on Ben’s (the marina manager) advice we went to Aja Mola a fish restaurant with a Peruvian chef. We were a little early so we found a bar in which to have an aperitivo. On the way there and walking slightly ahead of the ladies I was very nearly accosted by a gentleman of a particular persuasion. Who only relented his approach when he saw that the ladies were with me! The girls said that his face was for a few seconds one of delighted expectation before disappointed realisation followed recognition that we had different, very, tastes. Needless to say. I was ribbed about it for the rest of the evening. The food was excellent at Aja Mola. Albercore tartare to start followed by seared Albercore and squid in a walnut pesto and an usual pink blushed catarratto to wash it down.

Lynn’s ankle was not too good next morning so I took Liliane on a walking tour of some of Palermo’s historic sights, the magnificent cathedral, Roman mosaics, the glorious theatre and the ancient ‘Arab quarter’ where the historic diversity of this city is shown in the mosques, churches and synagogues that abound. Even the street signs here are in Italian, Arabic and Hebrew. We came across a street market, both sides of the narrow passage wage crammed with stalls offering all manner of flesh and fowl, dead and alive, spices, dried fruits nuts, clothes and tat in great variety, whilst street performers sang and juggled and cavorted their way through the throng. It was as if we had been transported to Marrakesh. We took a light lunch in a shady courtyard from where we could continue to watch and hear the markets activities.

Saturday night was to be ‘street food’ night. We had found the area where the sellers offered their tasty looking morsels in 2019 but had not eaten there. It certainly lived up to our expectations. Meat, fish and fowl were offered from barbecues and steaming pans in a myriad of different styles. We could not identify all that we ate but is was all very tasty. The whole area hustled and bustled with activity as dishes were presented by theatrical waiters and impatient dinners waited their turn to be fed skewers of meats or bowls of steaming food. The narrow alleyways festooned with light, music of all kinds pulsed from doorways. Whilst in a small square ten enthusiastic African drummers beat out  a tattoo. A large, bald, smiling black chap cavorted through the crowds balancing a glass of wine on his head whilst his mobile sound system blasted out a reggae beat. All good fun and a great way to close Liliane’s trip with us as she fly’s back to Belgium tomorrow.

After getting up at six to see Liliane safely to her taxi we anticipated a quiet Sunday but the yacht on our portside had a different idea. Around lunch time the disco started and given the volume of the music the rest of the pontoon had little option but to join in the celebration. The garrulous Italian ladies on the aging seventy foot motor boat on our starboard side who had rent the morning air with their loud chatter now screeched their appreciation of the music from the upper deck as they writhed and contorted their scantily clad, slightly too voluptuous bodies roughly in time with music whilst maintaining a grip on their wine glasses. Gradually the alcohol consumption had its inevitable effect and by early evening the music and dancing subsided to a much more subdued level.

We ate unremarkable food at an unremarkable restaurant that evening. The only saving grace being the friendliness and courtesy of the staff. The food was actually remarkable in one sense and that was the quantity! We only managed to eat part of the first three courses and only a mouthful of the final course although it was the best. A deliciously rich dark chocolate concoction.

Because of the forecast of strong winds around San Vito Lo Capo on the north west corner of the island we delayed our departure from Palermo till the Tuesday. Monday was given over to a little provisioning and a lot of laundry. Even when ‘living the dream’ there are domestic chores to be done.

SY Annabelle moored behind us late afternoon and we got chatting with Peter and Jane from Dublin who  apparently have over wintered in MdR for the last couple of years and will again this year, so hopefully we will meet up with them again.

Wanting an early start in the morning we ate onboard after derigging the passerelle and disconnecting the power cable, so we just have to slip our mooring lines in the morning.

By 07.15 we were motoring out of Palermo harbour. But, much to Lynn’s chagrin, it was into a heavy beam on swell, one of her least favourite sea states. After a couple of hours she lay down in the saloon not reappearing until four that afternoon  as we approached the entrance to Trapani harbour. She missed some good sailing as despite the rolly conditions for a good part of the journey we were making eight knots under full main and genoa with the wind just aft the beam. We had a great sighting of a pod of small dolphins during the journey; they came streaking towards the boat leaping right out of the water to play in our bow wave.

As one must we radioed the Trapani harbour master for permission to enter and once granted we motored into the outer harbour where in calmer conditions we could prepare mooring lines and fenders. A tricky berth between a seventy foot motor yacht and a catamaran and two other boats moored side on to the fishing boat dock but despite the gusting cross wind we were coming in fine, until three marineros, one in a dinghy, two ashore, cocked it up. Lynn correctly threw the first one the windward stern line which he dropped in the water. Then the marinero in the dinghy tied on the leeward bow line which with the cross wind did not hold our bow. I had to continue to use the bow thruster to keep us off the motor boat. Then a third marinero jumped aboard Pamarzi and took the stern line off the cleat – why! Lynn was really pissed off. Then one of them realised that they had not prepared a windward bow line. Now all three of them were shouting, I assume obscenities, at each other while they looked for anther laid line and Lynn kept indicating that perhaps one of them should take our other stern line! Eventually they sorted it out without resorting to hitting each other and they left us in peace.

Our berth is just a few yards from the marina restaurant which is pretty much where we were on our visit here two years ago. Really rather good food, we shared a triptych of fish tartare, salmon, sword fish and squid, followed by veal steak with pecorino shavings, rocket leaves and French fries. Revived and sated we returned to Pamarzi and enjoyed a quiet night.

Albeit a touch on the scruffy side it is fun being near the fishing harbour and market. There is lots of activity and every morning sees additional stalls set up selling fish and vegetables. I remembered from our previous visit that a lady brought a van selling croissants and morning pastries so I walked down to the market enjoying seeing the stalls and hearing the banter and sure enough there she was. Back to Pamarzi with cream filled croissant and similarly filled brioche type buns. Financial paperwork took up most of the rest of the day whilst Lynn enjoyed the sun on the foredeck. We took a light supper aboard to balance out our recent indulgence.

Down at the fish market next morning we had our morning coffee and pastries in the sunshine at a little café and watched all the comings and goings. Returning to the boat I gave her a good washdown which proved to be a complete waste of time as there was a huge storm overnight that sluiced Pamarzi with more water than I had with my hose. We were just finishing dinner in the marina restaurant that evening when a voice called “Well hello Pamarzi”. It was Peter and Jane who had followed our recommendation and berthed in Vento Maestrale Marina. We enjoyed chatting with them and look forward to getting to know them better.

Away by 07.30 next day it was an uneventful light wind motor sail to Sciacca where we arrived late afternoon and after all the usual berthing jobs we walked up to Primo Amarre our friend Peppina’s trattoria where we received a wonderful welcome from her and Massimo. She sat down with us and offered us a whiskey, which she was drinking and we chatted for half an hour or so before she prepared her famous couscous a mare for us. We were her only customers that evening so she stayed and chatted with us and invited us to go with her to her sister’s piazzeria a bit further up the coast. It would have been fun to go with her but we have another early start in the morning so had to decline and say our farewells.

What a plod it was to Licata next day. Wind right on the nose, eight hours of motoring into the one metre swell but Lynn is fine with the waves in that direction. We arrived around 16.00 and were allocated what has become our usual berth (no. 47). An easy med. moor with no crosswind and a marinero who knew his job, we were in the process of doing all our berthing jobs, tender passerelle, power supplies etc, our engine and instruments still on when a German voice from the pontoon said “Welcome to Licata”, how nice we thought and smiled, saying “thank you”. But his next words were “DO YOU HEAR THAT NOISE!”, Did he click his heels? I’m not sure but he was referring to the chime of our shallow depth alarm that you can hear in the cockpit but his boat was three boats down the pontoon. He clearly expected it turned off immediately! Lynn and I looked at each other in open mouthed astonishment at his rudeness. He said nothing more before goose stepping back to his boat. We will henceforth remember him as the ’German T**T’. What a contrast to the delightful German couple we had met in Licata (SY Merlin) who were so friendly and courteous. Finishing our mooring jobs we relaxed for an hour or so laughing at the foolish man before dressing for dinner at a new restaurant in the marina called Luna. It doesn’t open till 20.00 so we had an aperitivo and nibbles at a nearby café. The nibbles being a selection of meats, cheeses, olives, nuts, crisps and even little sandwiches.

We both ordered the fillet steak at Luna. The service was delightful, the amuse bouche of bresaola delicious and as for the steak. The beautifully trimmed twelve ounce steaks perfectly cooked, were served in a shallow bowl on a bed of soft mash and a rich beef jus. The meat soft as butter and full of flavour, probably the best fillet steak I have ever had. A glass of excellent red each and a bill of just Euro 54.

A bit of provisioning at the nearby Conad supermarket after a breakfast coffee and croissant was followed by a relaxed day aboard. We could not resist another visit to Luna that evening where the roast sea bass was excellent and the charming young lady who is head waitress gave Lynn a gift of a handbag clip as we left. Ni I did not know what it was either! Apparently it enables you to hang your handbag off the table rather than putting it on the floor.

The last trip of the season was a bit of a slog with the wind and the waves on the nose again. By 15.30 we were outside the entrance to Porto Turistico Marina di Ragusa waiting to be guided in past the huge dredger working there. Depths under the keel were much better than when we left. They are obviously shifting a considerable tonnage. It was a bit breezy but we slipped back into our berth comfortably enough with Gianca and Albertina’s boat to starboard and a Discovery 55 (SY Dandilyon X) to port.

And so here we are yet again at the end of another, albeit short, cruising season. We fly back to the U.K. on the 16th October so we have eleven days to prepare Pamarzi for winter, Sam and Florencia return on the 9th and with their help I am sure she will be ready. Sam and Florencia and their new assistant Titziana will be maintaining Pamarzi as usual over the winter months and supervising the engineers and technicians who will be working on her.

As for next year’s cruising plans have yet to be made but it could well be a return to Croatia and Montenegro.  So if I have any, I wish my readers adieu for another year.