12July 2015, OLIVIA’s SICILY via the AEOLIANS to SAR DINIA, at Cala Pira: 39:10.20N 09:34.20E
12July 2015, OLIVIA’s SICILY via the AEOLIANS to SARDINIA, at Cala Pira: 39:10.20N 09:34.20E
29 June – Shenton and I arrived in Catania from Rome around 8pm, to be collected by a very excited Mum and Dad! It had been a year since I was on the boat (the last time was in Turkey), and it was Shenton’s first time. Luckily we survived Dad’s hire car driving back to Syracuse, where the boat was moored, and we had a peaceful first night. Up first thing to check out Syracuse’s wonderful fresh produce market and its (less wonderful) Lidl’s to get supplies for our sail up the eastern coast of Sicily, before a walk around town to see the sights and sounds of Syracuse. It is a lovely historic town, with winding streets and dramatic promenades on each side of town. The weather was perfect, not too hot, sunny, clear skies and warm breezes. Syracuse harbour itself is not particularly clean, with run off (or something else?) turning the Sicilian blue water a murky green.
Lovely as Syracuse was, mum and dad had been there for a few weeks with visitors coming and going, and it was time to move on! 1 July we left Syracuse marina and headed for Taormina, some 46.95 miles of motorsailing up the coast. Mum and dad had a friend (when have they not?) in the area, the Maltese mooring master George, so our safe anchorage was secured and Dad could leave the boat without running to the nearest viewpoint to check she was still in sight! The Sicilian coastline is volcanic, and drops off very suddenly – the water is very deep in most anchorages and so mooring boys are useful to avoid swinging on a lot of chain, particularly with charterboat cowboys around.
Taormina is beautiful, very Italian and romantic, perched on the hillside directly above the mooring bay, with a long winding road leading up to the town. We went up at dusk, taken by George’s friendly taxi driver, and walked through the streets filled with Sicilian pottery, souvenirs, antique shops and restaurants for an aperitivo before dinner, enjoying the wonderful views and the glamorous (and not quite so glamorous) Italians and tourists, respectively. Dinner was at George’s daughter’s restaurant (the Sicilians like to keep your money in the ‘family’!), Don Camillo, for genuine Sicilian pasta and seafood, limoncello and house wine (side note: the house wine seemed to be the pick of the wines in most restaurants. Would that the same could be said in Hong Kong!).
We came to Restless to unwind and to see mum and dad, and by day three, the process had definitely begun! We swam all day in the crystal blue water, ate our fill of cheese, cold cuts, pasta and tomatoes, and teased the schools of small fish that swam just off our stern. Taormina has some lovely coastal caves that are, if you can intercept the hordes of tour boats going in and out, very beautiful to snorkel in – avoiding the medusa/ jellyfish!
On 3 July we left Taormina for the Aeolian Islands. To get there, we had to pass through the dreaded Messina Straits! Homer fans, the Straits are said to be home to Scylla (a witch) and Charybdis (a whirlpool monster), who work together to lure sailors like Odysseus to their watery deaths. Charybdis must be mellowing in her old age, as she could only manage a moderate current and some ripples when we passed through her. The mighty Restless lives to sail another day! But while the rest of us were worrying about being sucked into the abyss, mum was much more interested in the swordfishing boats that ply the Messina waters. Swordfish apparently come to the surface in these waters, to sleep and sunbathe, and it is very easy to sneak up on them. The Messina boats have enormous 40 ft bowsprits and crows nests, made from what looks like scaffolding, and watchers scan the waters for swordfish to harpoon. Lovely. I made sure to make lots of noise to wake the poor fish up!
So we went to Vulcano, which takes after its Roman deity namesake – it is not very pretty, and it SMELLS. The Aeolian islands are volcanic, with both Vulcano and Stromboli recently active, and from the top of Vulcano you can see yellow sulphurous steam rising. The smell from the steam wafts out to the boats, and you don’t want to stick around for too long – but at the foot of the hill is a hot mud spring, famed for its therapeutic effects. My Dutch great grandmother swore by it, and Shenton and I dragged mum kicking and screaming to test it out. We loved it! Mum, not so much. After becoming mud monsters, you dive into a sea pool with jets of gas creating a natural Jacuzzi, and then swim back to the boat, shedding the mud as you go. We did smell for a few days afterwards!
4 July – (14.6nm) Onwards to Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian towns, for supplies and sightseeing. Mum, Shenton and I walked into town for pizza, ice cream and some shopping. Restless was anchored at the foot of a cliff, atop which sat a deserted monastery, beautiful to look at. Catholics know where to build their churches. Another vessel was in town, The World, a cruise ship on which you can buy a cabin and live aboard as she travels, yes, The World! We last saw her in Auckland, and it was great to see her again. Mum and I have decided to buy a cabin and leave the boys to their blue water sailing. We spent the night in Panarea, a smaller and more beautiful island, dodging the coastguard who kept moving boats on for no reason, and we snorkelled and drank limoncello until the sun went down.
We started as we meant to go on, which meant the next few days were spent in the same happy way, attempting to sail in the lethargic Sicilian winds, snorkelling, swimming, DRINKING CUPS OF TEA, eating and drinking. We ambled from Filicudi (great swordfish, I’m told) to Cefalu (a gorgeous Arabic flavoured town with a church square to die for) to Terrasini. I haven’t mentioned the Sicilian food! The rumours are true. The fruit is amazing (and, being without preservatives, is best eaten fresh, and quickly), the tomatoes are huge and sweet, the basil smells amazing, and the limoncello, made from enormous sweet lemons, is delicious served very cold. I was in heaven with hundreds of different cheeses to choose from - burrata, mozzarella, cheddar, ricotta – and the meat eaters were happy too, with amazing cold cuts, salamis and seafood.
It was time to move on once again, to have a few days in Sardinia before it was time for the real world. 8 July (167.17nm) we headed for Cagliari. The weather reports were for increasing winds later in the week, so we set off as soon as possible, at 5.30am (a time I am used to getting home, not getting up!). The day saw three turtles, dolphins and a school of tuna, with intermittent sailing and motoring, until around midnight, when things got a bit less fun for mum and me, and a lot more exciting for Shenton and Dad! With the tide against the wind it was lumpy and rough, and we were very pleased to see the southern Sardinian coast at around 10.30am on 9 July 2015.
Cala Pira Bay is a great postcard introduction to Sardinia, with the clearest blue water we had ever seen, it was like swimming in a fish tank. Shenton and I snorkelled around the rocks all day, swam ashore to the beach, which was covered in perma-tanned holidaying Italians, and in the evening the four of us went to the beach bar, for time warp 60s music, local beers and ice cream!
Does it sound like we couldn’t improve on that kind of perfection? Wrong! The next day brought us to Porto Giunco, some 4.77 nm, where the water was even clearer! Shenton and I decided to make sure we had used all the toys onboard before we left, so it was time to sail the Bic dinghy and get the hookah scuba system out. Sandy white bottoms and crystal clear water does offer much in the way of scuba exploration, but Dad was pleased, as Restless got her bottom cleaned. After a lazy lunch we upped anchor and motored around to Villasimius. Opting to stay out of the marina and in clearer waters, we anchored in the bay and took the dinghy into the marina (full of gorgeous Rivas) to have dinner at the marina pizzeria, for great pizza (mum ate a WHOLE PIZZA by herself!) and rosé. Sicily might have the best limoncello, but Sardinia has the better wine!
And then it was time for us to leave paradise. The next morning we sadly motored around to Cagliari, a fairly industrial port, and took Restless into Marina di Sant’Elmo for the night. Lunch at the marina pizzeria (MORE pizza!) before we walked around Cagliari town, up the winding streets until we found a local eatery. Sardinian cuisine is a bit more exotic than Sicilian, given the Arabic, Spanish and Greek influences in the area – there was wild boar, squid and octopus on the menu. We finished the trip on a high, with gelato before bed!
In between swimming, eating and sailing, we had some good family powwows, discussing the various options for Restless for the coming few years. Obsessed as Mum and Dad are (well, let’s be honest, Dad is) about sailing, in 2015 Restless has seen some competition for Mum and Dad’s attention, in the shape of a certain new granddaughter, Mia, the Etchell Worlds in Hong Kong in November, and commitments back in New Zealand. Three weeks of discussion led us to some conclusions, and as most of you are now aware, Restless is now going on a cruise across the Atlantic, and will be arriving in Fort Lauderdale at the end of September. From there, north or south? The debate continues! Watch this space…..
And so, with heavy hearts and even heavier bodies, Shenton and I piled into a taxi at the crack of dawn on 12 July to head back to Hong Kong. Another adventure on Restless was over, but we will be writing the next chapter of this adventure soon