Springtime in Sicily

Sat 5 May 2007 22:09
After a few frustrating glitches, we left Malta latish in the day. We were all checked out of Malta, had changed our money--only to find that all of the instruments had gone down. Luckily the problem was easily fixed, so we departed at midday rather thanthe planned 7am. We anchored overnight in a rundown little port right at the southeast corner of Sicily before heading for Syracuse the next morning.
Despite Malta being dry and dusty, we enjoyed meeting up with old friends, both Maltese and Australians returning to their boats for the northern summer. One of the highlights was an afternoon spent with Father George Schembri, a wonderful priest who is also a sailor and a wine maker. He brought with him a bottle of wonderful wine that he had made and a marzipan Easter cake in the shape of a lamb.We had a most enjoyable lunch, surrounded by workmen, one of whom yelled 'Jesus Christ!' when he dropped a tool on his toe. John pointed out that we had a priest on board, but Father George calmly replied that it was perfectly all right to call on the Lord in an hour of need! He has spent many years working in the Vatican and lectures now on the history of Christianity. We had a lovely discussion on the Crusades amongst other topics. Father G explained how worried he is about young fundamentalist Catholics going into religious orders and alienating parishioners with their hardline views--all very interesting. We were really sorry when he had to go off and say Mass, and hope that he will be able to join up with us later in the year.It would have been wonderful to have been able to spend time
with him in Rome, but unfortunately we'll just miss him there.
We also had a great pub night in Malta where we spent an evening with two diminutive musicians with very big hair sing 1960s folk music--lots of Hang Down your Head Tom Dooley and other hits to which we knew all the words. A large lass from Geelong had had far too much to drink and started picking up the other patrons and whirling them around the bar, with great good humour. We also spent a lovely day exploring ancient temples with our friends Edward and Natalie Bencini, who will meet up with us again in Spain.
We spent a most enjoyable 3 days in Syracuse where Ray and Helen King joined us, carrying a wonderful bunch of wild flowers that they had picked en route from Palermo. They were looking somewhat frazzled after driving through the old town of Ortigia trying to find us and were only too happy to get rid of their car. Since then we having been travelling by train which s much more relaxing and very civilised here in Sicily. The May Day holiday was on and all the families out enjoying the spring weather. We made an early visit to the fish market to stock up on the ingredients for a pasta made from red mullet which was featured in this month's Australian Gourmet Traveller. I swear that three of us spent hours filleting the tiny fish, chopping and finally pushing the sauce through a sieve. We were still at it when our guests, Irene and John Hunt arrived for dinner. The drama was on a par with the duck I cooked in Turkey last year, although the results much better. So if you see that attractive picture on the cover of the magazine, resist all tempatation to make it. Shopping for the fish had been particularly entertaining as a very large transvestite was also shopping for fish, with the fishmonger serenading her. This followed our discovery of a sex doll floating in the marina that morning, much to everyone's amusement.
I have to confess that food is a great part of the delight of Sicily, and this definitely not the place to be on a diet. As well as the very high quality seasonal fruit and vegetables--artichokes, broadbeans, blood oranges, strawberries-- the fish is the best in the Mediterranean. And as for the dolce! It is impossible not to succumb to the wonderful cakes and gelati. Almonds, pistachios and ricotta are specialities of Sicily, and even the smallest town has several excellent pasticerrias where cakes are beautifully wrapped. We love joining the locals as they line up on Sundays to buy special treats
It hasn't all been fish soup and gelati, though. As I was burrowing under a cupboard in the galley to find some bulk ingredients I was horrified to notice a large amount of water in the bilge. At first we thought it was from a leaking pump that John had spent many frustrating hours fixing, but after several hours bailing it  became clear that there was far too much water for that to have been the source. We could actually hear rushing water, but we couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Finally, with the help of John Hunt we traced it to a split pressure hose, which was fairly easily repaired next morning. Unfortunately the automatic bilge pump had accidentally been turned off so large amounts of water had accumulated. No damage was done, thanks only to the fact that I had decided to make a batch of muesli. Lots of lessons for the future on having the bilge pump switch in a better location, and having a bilge pump alarm fitted.  
We've been lucky enough to see Mt Etna above us quite clearly, as it is usually covered in cloud. Yesterday we spent a lovely day up at Taormina catching up with our old friend Bundy Walker and her friends who are spending a week in one of the town's many luxury hotels. It's a stunning town on a mountain side with wonderful views down to the bay below where, we have often anchored in the past.