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2004 Cruise

2004 May - June

Our early summer cruise in Kabardar was entirely within the Tyrrenhian Sea. This is effectively an Italian sea, being bounded by mainland Italy, Sardinia and Sicily.

On Sunday 16 May at 1300 we left our winter base at Ostia near Rome bound for NE Sardinia, a run of some 130 miles. Predictably the wind was W3/4  and our course needed to be 265º so we set out on starboard tack. However the wind was forecast to back to NE, which would suit us fine. All went well until about 1630 when we noticed that the luff of the main had gone slack. I tried to re-tension the halliard but quickly realised that it had come away from the masthead swivel, a problem that we had encountered before. As this was not something that could easily be fixed under way, at 1700 we decided to turn back to Ostia for a repair. We arrived back to the Porto di Roma at 2045 having covered 39 miles, and were even allocated the same berth that we had left earlier.

We asked the resident rigger if he could make up a steel replacement for the Kevlar halliard that had failed, however he couldn’t look at the job for a week, so we fixed it ourselves. When I got up to the masthead I found that the problem had been caused by my failure to tie a sufficiently robust stopper in the end of the Kevlar halliard, which was otherwise still serviceable.

So, problem resolved, we set out again on 18 May at 1130 into another westerly. The Italian Meteo had promised NW - N and as we had F3/4 we tacked towards the west. By 2100 the wind was down to F2 so we gave in and motored all the rest of the way to Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda, arriving at 1430 on the 19 May having covered 142 miles. Porto Cervo is a very expensive marina catering for the rich and famous so we dropped the hook in the free and very sheltered anchorage. We noted that the 20 or 30 laid moorings were all kitted out with huge buoys, all ready for the mega motor yachts to arrive some 6 weeks later. The place only comes alive in July and August and we found that before then there was no food shop open in the village.

On 20 May we went on 13 miles to the northern group of the Madalena islands planning to anchor at Pink Beach off  Isola Budelli. These islands are reputed to be the best sailing area in Italy as they are scenically attractive, enjoy more wind in the summer and have many sheltered anchorages. We did not need to anchor because we found a small number of laid moorings, we think for trip boats, so we borrowed one of these. This is a truly beautiful spot with mostly uninhabited granite islands covered with maquis scrub, white beaches and deep azure / turquoise water. There were about 5 yachts there during the day but only 2 for the night. I even went in for a swim, even thought the water was rather chilly at 17.

The forecast for 21 May was for a brisk southerly and as Pink Beach was completely open to the S, we sailed the 8 miles to Porto Pozzo, which is like a shallow fiord on the N coast of Sardinia. We anchored in 3m. and then went ashore in the dinghy for a spot of foraging. Needless to say the brisk southerly turned out to be an E3.

On 22 May, with the wind back to V2/3 we slowly sailed the 8 miles back to the northern islands and the anchorage between Isole Budelli, Santa Maria and Razzoli. Again we found and used a laid mooring in idyllic surroundings at the northern entry to Dead-man’s Reef Passage. This rocky passage between the islands is only for shoal draft craft and with local knowledge.

The Maddalena group of islands have many anchorages and on 23 May we sailed on 11 miles with a NW3 to Porto Palma on the S side of Isola Caprera This island was the retirement home of Garibaldi, the unifier and founder of modern Italy. We anchored in a less than ideal spot, which caused problems early the following morning when a wind change put us too close to a rocky shore, and we had to move at a rather uncivilised hour.

We had hoped to defer having the boat out of the water for cleaning the bottom etc. until July, but it was clear that Kabardar was being slowed by weed and barnacles and we needed to find somewhere for a lift out, so on 24 May we motored the 4 miles to the marina at Palau to start our search for a suitable boat-yard. We found that Palau has a boat-yard and a shiny new boat-hoist but no cradles. It seemed that concrete blocks and bits of wood were the norm there, so we didn’t even ask for their prices. The marina manager there took a great interest in our Contessa 38 and even told us that he thought that it was “the most beautiful boat in Sardinia”. We have had many compliments about the appearance of Kabardar but no others as fulsome as his!

We left Palau on 26 May and motor-sailed, in very light E and SE winds, the 31 miles to the port of Olbia. We found a berth alongside an old commercial quay and free of charge! The 27th was spent cycling to/from all the 5 boat-yards in the town, trying to find somewhere for a swift lift-out. Four were either too busy or would not let us work on the boat ourselves and the fifth had such palatial offices that we did not dare to ask the price! So, having again failed to arrange a lift out, on 28 May we sailed and motor-sailed 35 miles southwards to La Caletta, passing inside of the dramatic granite island of Tavolara on the way.

After a one-night stopover, we continued south on the 29 May, mostly sailing the 43 miles to Santa Maria Navarrese. We even managed to fly the kite for an hour. This newish marina is beautifully situated on the dramatic coast just north of Arbatax and is a good base for trips into the mountainous Barbagia and Gennargentu areas of eastern Sardinia. We found that the marina at Sta. Maria had a boat-yard and were able to do the lift-out the next working day. They also allowed us to work on our own boat and their charges were reasonable. Kabardar was lifted out on the 31 May and re-launched on 2 June with its bottom all clean and anti-fouled. The total cost for the lifts and the hire of an industrial pressure washer came to a little under £300.

With Kabardar safely back in the water, we rented a car for a day trip into the mountains where until fairly recently the main occupations were shepherding with a bit of brigandry on the side. We made a short stop in Orgosolo which is a small town that used to be well known for its brigands but today is better known for the many politically inspired murals that decorate buildings in the town.

As our son Philip and his fiancee Alex we joining us for a long weekend in the Bay of Naples from the 12 June, we set out eastwards back across the Tyrrenhian Sea on 5 June bound for the Island of Ponza. In light conditions with winds in the NE quadrant, we sailed, motor sailed and motored the 183 miles in 26 hours. A clean bottom and a helpful current gave us a surprisingly high average SOG of just over 7kts. We anchored in the open bay that is Ponza Harbour, which is exposed to the NE.

At around 0300 on 7 June, we became aware that the wind had increased to NE4, and more importantly, a choppy sea was rolling in making the 15 or so anchored yachts snatch at their chains. This woke us and we spent the next few hours anxiously watching our GPS position. We stayed firmly attached to the bottom but about half of the boats dragged their anchors. The crew of the French boat upwind of us stayed asleep until we used the foghorn to wake them after they had dragged some 50m. and were in danger of colliding with us.

On the 8 June we made a leisurely round trip of the island covering 14 miles with a lunchtime stop at anchor in Cala Feola for swimming and to explore the sea caves at the back of the bay in the dinghy.

The next leg of our cruise was on 9 June from Ponza to Ischia. We covered the 51 miles in a little over 8 hours. To begin with there was very little wind and we motored, but as we closed the Italian mainland, the growing sea breeze enabled us to sail a swift reach.  We anchored in 5m. under the rock and ramparts of the Citadel at Ischia Ponte.

Based on a recommendation from an Italian yachtsman, we had decided to use Sorrento as the pick up point for Phil and Alex. We left Ischia on 11 June and motored across the bay to Sorrento with almost no wind at all. However we found the marina small and full of powerboats, leaving a poor anchorage just outside the harbour entrance as the only option. After an hour exposed to the wash from the numerous ferries, we decided to head for the marina at Torre del Greco, which is a dormitory town south of Naples and at the feet of Vesuvius. After a total of 33 miles and 6.5 hours we berthed in a dirty and crowded marina. This was our first encounter with ormeggiatori (mooring men) who lease part of a harbour and then sell mooring services at prices which can be rather elastic and pitched according to their view of the customer’s depth of pocket. Thanks to Kathleen’s knowledge of Italian, we obtained a small reduction in the amount asked but even so it was the most expensive berth of the trip at €60 for one night.

As we approached Torre del Greco, the panel mounted GPS went on strike. Our handheld backup was still functioning OK, but our main GPS did not work again until we were well clear of the looming bulk of Vesuvius, which is just inland from Torre del Greco.

Phil and Alex arrived as planned on the 12 June and as soon as they were on board we left the oil and congestion of Torre del Greco and sailed SW 23 miles to the Island of Capri where we anchored just outside the breakwater for Marina Grande.

The following day, 13 June, we sailed NW back to Ischia with a brisk S/SW breeze which enabled us to fly the kite for a couple of hours and saw us reaching at over 8kts. We then made a clockwise tour of the island, finally anchoring once again close to the citadel, having covered 35 miles. A peaceful evening was however followed by more anchoring drama. Soon after 0400 the following morning the anchor watch alarm was bleeping and it was clear that we were dragging in the increasing SSE wind and choppy sea. We made 3 attempts to re-anchor, but with two of these we could not get a good set and when the anchor did bite well, we were too close to a concrete jetty. So, we went to a more sheltered cove on the adjacent island of Procida but even here, after a couple of hours we started to drag again as the wind and sea began to penetrate. Finally we made for Procida Grande Marina, which we entered at 1200 on 14 June having covered 10 miles. Here we were once again into the hands of ormeggiatori, but this time they helped us moor, provided 2 dock and 2 haul off lines and the price was much more reasonable at €35 per night. Ormeggiatori moorings usually include water and a 16amp electricity supply and sometimes even showers. We soon cottoned on to the fact that, even with the hydrofoil fares included, it was no dearer and much pleasanter to use Procida as our base for exploring the city of Napoli instead of going back to Torre del Greco.

Phil and Alex left us on the 15 June and we finally left Procida on 18 June bound for Amalfi in a useful but light NW2/3 breeze. Having covered 34 miles we arrived at 1630 and were fortunate to find a free Transito berth. All commercial and fishing harbours in Italy are required by law to provide some free berths for vessels in transit. Like many other bits of Italian law this is sometimes, but not always ignored! This was the good news, the bad bit was that the free berths are inevitably in the least desirable place in the harbour. In the case of Amalfi, this meant on the inside of the mole nearest to the ferry berths, wash and all. We finally got our anchor down and two warps onto the quay but not before we had clashed spreaders with the yacht on our starboard side and been rammed back into the quay by a seriously large yacht on our port side. Its skipper appeared to be so keen to grab the last free space that he made a bit of a pigs ear of reversing in. However we suffered only minor gel coat damage, for which we agreed €100 in compensation.

The following day 19 June we left the rolling and pitching of Amalfi and sailed south towards Acciaroli, some 40 miles away. Initially the wind was very light and variable but soon settled to SSE3. However by late morning it had veered to SW5 and was kicking up a choppy sea. To get to Acciaroli we had to round Punta di Licosa, which has shoal water extending several miles offshore that causes a nasty sea in winds from S round to NW. Also Acciaroli harbour faces SW and offers little shelter from this direction. So we changed plans and headed SE for Agropoli which we reached at 1400 having covered 28 miles. Once again we found a free Transito berth, but this time without being plagued by ferries.

On 20 June we continued our progress south and motored, and later sailed, the 56 miles to Maratea, arriving at 1800. The forecasts had been consistent in predicting SW winds but it was not until early afternoon that the wind veered round from the SE, (our course needed to be around 120º!). Maratea is a relatively new and very attractive holiday village and marina created from a moribund fishing harbour, and with a large statue of Christ with outstretched arms on a nearby mountain top to welcome yachtsmen in.

Late the following morning, 21 June, we left Maratea bound for Sicily by way of the active volcano of Stromboli. We planned to pass this island during the night and hoped to see some fireworks from the oldest lighthouse in the world. By dusk we could see the conical outline of the volcano in the distance, although it was still some 20 miles away. We then saw what appeared to be a small flame on the surface of the water and a thin wisp of smoke. No, this was not linked to Stromboli, but turned out to be a marker float for a very long fishing net. This had large buoys or flares every quarter mile or so and in between, the net was marked and held up with small floats about the size of tennis balls. The net was across our track and we had to turn away south by some 60º. Fortunately, although there was a swell of about 1m., the sea was smooth and we could follow the snaking line of floats. Although we did not log its length, the net seemed to be several miles long and just as desperate measures were being considered, we found its end and could get back on track. (I was thinking of coasting in towards the net and using two boathooks to push it down and under our keel and skeg!) Had the sea been rougher or it had been fully dark, we would not have seen this net.

Soon we spotted more of these monsters, but this time they lay parallel and to the south of our course. At 2200 I retired to my bunk and was soon asleep but at about 0100 was roused by a shout from Kathleen – “come and look at a volcano erupting”. We were passing the NW side of Stromboli and Kathleen had seen some red hot lava shot out over the crater rim. However the show was over as suddenly as it had started and when I got out to the cockpit, all that could be seen was a plume of smoke lit up from underneath by a red glow.

We had decided to head for Portorosa which was the nearest of the Sicilian marinas in order to see if it would be a suitable place to leave the boat whilst we were back home for July and August. To avoid arriving there too early, we sailed slowly with a NE2 towards the island of Vulcano, aiming to enter an anchorage soon after first light. At 0630 we dropped the hook in the Porto Poniente anchorage, and enjoyed breakfast and a few hours sleep. We were away again at 1140 and sailed the last 25 miles to Portorosa with a rather more helpful NE3/4. We arrived at 1530, having covered 127 miles since leaving Maratea.

We were immediately impressed by this marina, which is a purpose built village of some 600 villas and apartments built around a series of artificial waterways with about 450 berths. Shelter is excellent because the whole complex is about ½ mile inland, the staff are friendly with some speaking excellent English, and security is good because the whole site is fenced with a single guarded entrance. A telephone call to the other candidate marina, which was at Palermo, showed that it was more expensive than Portorosa, so we decided to use the latter as our Sicilian base. As an annual contract was going to cost little more than the price for the 2 months of July and August, and Sicily is the center of several possible cruising areas, we decided to pay up for a year.

With a berth reserved, we left Portorosa on 24 June at 1000 for a tour of the Aeolian Islands. These islands are named after Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds and the waters around the islands can be wild at times. There is even talk of an Aeolian Triangle and several pleasure boats have been lost between here and the Srait of Messina. However in late June we experienced calm seas, light winds and unbroken sunshine.

With the wind NNE2/3 we made slow progress on 320º although our course needed to be 345º. The wind gradually died so we had to motor the remaining miles to Vulcano and we dropped anchor in Porto Ponente at 1500 having covered 24 miles. On the way I looked back and saw the misty outline of Etna, some 35 miles away to the south.

All the 7 Aeolian Islands are volcanic in origin but Vulcano is particularly strange. It consists of 3 extinct volcanoes and one dormant one, Gran Cratere. There are warm volcanic suphurous mud pools that are supposed to have curative powers and a natural jacuzzi at the end of a beach, where hot water and gases bubble up from the sea bed. We declined the delights of the former but did try out the jacuzzi. We climbed up the dormant volcano Gran Cratere, which has fumaroles emitting sulphurous gases along the spectacular crater rim. The island sometimes has a distinct aroma of hydrogen sulphide. Also the beach around Porto Ponente is made of vocanic ash and is a dark charcoal grey in colour, a real black beach. It seems that Gran Cratere erupts about every 100 years and as its last eruption was in 1890 we wondered if the local authority had an evacuation plan.

On the 26 June we motored the short 4 miles to the next island, Lipari, and, as there is no anchorage near the main town, we went into the small harbour of Pignaturo. Once again, Kathleen’s knowledge of Italian secured a useful reduction in the price asked by the ormegiattori. Later in the day we saw some swordfishing boats arrive. These are strange creations with a steel lattice mast of some 15m. and an even longer boom out over the bows. In calm weather swordfish rest or sleep on the surface and these boats, which are conned from the top of the mast, creep up on the unfortunate fish, which are then harpooned by a man at the end of the boom.

On 27 June we motored a mere 3 miles to the anchorage at Porticello, at the NE of the island of Lipari. We anchored just offshore from an abandoned pumice mine. This island is also known for its obsidian, a form of volcanic glass, which was greatly valued in prehistoric times. Five thousand years ago it was used for knives and weapons but today it is valued for jewellery. As we left Lipari we noticed many small pieces of pumice floating on the surface of the sea.

Our next island destination was Salina, the setting for the film Il Postino, and on 28 June we made a 20 mile round tour of the island, anchoring for lunch off Malfa and for the night just outside the harbour at Santa Marina.

For the 29/30 June we sailed back northwards to Stromboli hoping that this time we would both see some natural fireworks. This volcano is regarded as relatively safe as it is constantly letting off steam and not building up pressure for a big bang. We left Salina at 1000 and anchored off the northern tip of Stromboli island at 1500 to wait for nightfall. On the way we saw 2 swordfishing boats in action, they seemed to follow a random course like a swallow chasing insects. At about 2100 we motored round to the NW side of the island, close to the Sciara del Fuoco, (The Path of Fire!). No chance of anchoring here as the water depth is about 300m., so we drifted about for 2 hours waiting for some action. The volcano erupted several times each hour, but only emitting smoke, ash and stones. We did not see any sparks or lava, but in the darkness, the noise of the stones and ash rushing down the 900m. slope into the sea was impressive. We returned southwards, with a stop to get some sleep at the Porticello anchorage on Lipari, finally arriving back at Porto Poniente on Vulcano at 1300, having covered 63 miles in total.

On 2 July we left Vulcano to return to Portorosa and enjoyed a leisurely reach in an E2/3.

On the way a shoal of young tuna, which followed us for hours, joined us. They seemed to be trying to get into the turbulent water either side of the rudder and took it in turns to aggressively chase each other away. At 1630, having covered 21 miles, we were back in Portorosa and our early summer cruise was finished.

We covered a total of 1063 miles spread over 48 days

2004 August - September

Our late summer cruise took us around Sicily which is the largest island in the Mediterranean, with side excursions to visit Malta, Comino, Gozo and Ustica

We left Portorosa, which was our  base, at 1030 on 21 August bound for Messina. We had very light winds in the N quadrant and motored most of the 38 miles, arriving at Nettuno marina at 1730. The weather forecasts for the adjacent land were predicting sunshine and temperatures of 40° and even at sea we had over 35° and some 33° down below, a bit of a change from the rainy 18° we had left at home.

Nettuno marina at Messina has been created by enclosing a slight bay in the strait with a floating concrete wave breaker. It is however close to the main docks and the ferry terminals. The ferries across the straits of Messina are frequent and run 24/7, which means that the water in the marina is always far from calm. In one 5 minute period four ferries went past. We were allocated a berth on the inside of the heaving wave breaker and spent a wakeful night surging and jerking at our moorings. It was also fairly noisy with the ferries on one side and a main road on the other. It was by far the deepest place that we have ever been tied up as we were showing almost 30m under us.

The Strait of Messina is one of the few places in the Mediterranean that tidal flows are significant, so we waited until 1130 on 22 Aug to join the S going stream. We had winds in the N quadrant which started off at F2 but built to F4 and we broad reached SW in style under genoa only out into the Ionian Sea. We had intended to anchor off Taormina but as we were sailing so well we decided to carry on another 10 miles to Riposto. In the Med. a decent breeze should not be wasted. As the day went on we had better and better views of the summit of Etna, which in summer is usually hidden by the heat haze. We entered the marina Porto dell’Etna at Riposto at 1730 having covered 39 miles. Porto dell’Etna is a new marina with 5 star facilities, created from part of a fishing port under the slopes of the famous volcano. The town is not much concerned with tourism and the waterfront was busy with fish being sold soon after landing and fruit and vegetables sold from the trucks, trailers and car boots of the producers. Sicilians prefer to buy local produce and their diet includes more fish, fruit and vegetables than ours.

At 1000 on 24 August we left Riposto and, with the wind ESE4, sailed S on a sparkling close reach to Syracusa, which we reached at 1800 having covered 47 miles. We anchored in the large anchorage close to the city. Syracusa was one of the great city states of the ancient Greek world and is one of the tourist highlights of Sicily. It is a great place to visit in a boat with a vast sheltered anchorage with an easy entry and good holding. There is a small marina for those who do not like dinghies and the town quay for the passegiata (evening walk-about) posers, but most visiting yachts seem to prefer to swing at anchor. There are all the services of a major city close to hand, the interest of the old city on Ortega Island and fascinating Greek and Roman archaeological sites.

Porto Palo, which is at the S tip of Sicily, was our next destination for a one night stop-over before going on S to Malta. We left Syracusa at 1030 on 26 August with the wind SW4/5 so, as our course needed to be almost due S, we were close hauled with main and a few rolls in the genoa. However when we reached Cabo Murro di Porco we found that the wind was increased to SW5/6 and we had a moderate head sea. Had we been racing or had a train to catch we would probably have battled on but as we were sailing for pleasure, we quickly decided to go back to Syracusa to wait for a kinder wind. We were back in the anchorage by 1300 having covered 13 miles. Earlier that morning, we had watched a fire-fighting sea plane scooping up water just outside the harbour entrance. However by the afternoon, the plane was picking up water from a quiet corner of the anchorage, presumably because it was too rough outside.

The following day we set out again at 0900, this time with a much friendlier wind direction. It started as NE3 and gradually veered to SW3/4 as we neared Porto Palo, which we reached at 1530 having covered 36 miles. Porto Palo is a simple fishing harbour but with plenty of space for yachts to anchor.

Our next objective was Malta/Gozo, and we left Porto Palo at 0615 on Saturday 28 August in a flat calm. We were aiming to arrive in office hours for the immigration, customs and port police as the following day was a Sunday and the Msida office probably closed. The wind slowly arrived from SW but very light and, with our course at 216°, we motored and later motor sailed as the wind backed to SE3. We arrived at Msida marina in Valetta at 1530 duly flying our Maltese courtesy flag and a ‘Q’ flag. We had covered 62 miles. I thought that the Portuguese were keen on form filling but I can now relegate them to second place as the Maltese are several steps ahead of them. The most impressive part of the process was an entry in a large old-fashioned ledger book. A quill pen would not have been out of place for this task. To be fair, they also created a computer record of our entry, which was accessed by the port police officer when we checked out from Gozo.

On 31 August, having explored Valetta a little, and ridden on their classic Bedford buses, we motored in almost a flat calm along the N side of Malta looking for an anchorage. We eventually chose Santa Maria Bay on the small island of Comino, which is tucked in between Malta and Gozo, dropping the hook at 1515 having covered 21 miles. The following day we went first to the Blue Lagoon, which is also off Comino. This is an attractive spot with white sand and blue water that is very popular with yachts, runabouts and tripper boats. The result is that it’s beauty and peace has been ruined by it’s popularity. There are even disco boats there until late evening.

We stayed for about an hour and a half and went exploring in the dinghy before going on round the SW side of Gozo to Dwejra Bay, arriving at 1430 having motored 11 miles. This is an almost circular small bay with cliffs all round and with ‘Fungus Rock’ in  the entrance, leaving two narrow passages. Once inside it is possible to anchor in 7-10m although the bottom is rocky in places and the holding a bit ‘iffy’. Kathleen’s choice of a spot for anchoring turned out to be ideal as we had a perfect view of the setting sun shining straight through the hole in Fungus Rock, from the boat.

Again with little wind, on 2 September we motored clockwise around Gozo with a stop for lunch at anchor just off San Blas beach. We entered the small marina at Mgarr at 1500 having covered 15 miles.

As we were planning an early departure, we called at the port office late the afternoon before to check out. This small office had 3 desks, one each for customs, immigration and port police. More forms had to be completed, which were solemnly passed from desk to desk, plus a phone call in Maltese, which included the name Kabardar. What they were asking about us is of course a complete mystery. All was in order and we were cleared for departure the following morning, so we left Mgarr at 0700 on 4 September for the run N back to Sicily. The wind started off NW1/2 but settled to W4 and we sailed 345° at a good speed towards the fishing port of Licata arriving at 1730 after 74 miles. This the longest run that we have achieved in a day sail. Licata is on the SW coast of Sicily, a region that has not seen much tourist development. We spent one day there (Sunday) before heading on to Sciacca which was rumoured to be encouraging visiting yachts by offering free marina berths for periods of up to 2 weeks.

We left Licata at 0930 on 6 September with the wind NE2. This however soon veered to SE3 and we sailed 300-310° under main and spinnaker for some 3 hours. With us as the crew, it takes about 15 minutes to get all the gear out and the kite set up and flying, but having it in a snuffer is a great help. Downwind, Kabardar is not happy with both main and genoa and we usually have to furl the main, which means that we are down to 500sq.ft. However if we can use the spinnaker we can keep the main working as well and have some 1250sq.ft., a big difference in light conditions. The spinnaker run was not to last however as the wind continued to veer and by 1620 we had to motor into wind for the last 10 miles into Sciacca which we reached at 1830 after 53 miles. As we sailed NW we could see and hear thunderstorms just inland along the coast, but we stayed dry. However within minutes of tying up on the Circolo Nautico pontoon, we had to dive for cover as a thundery downpour did a good job of washing the salt off the boat. The following morning we were approached by the ormeggiatori who gave us a fulsome welcome and a fistful of tourist literature. Bearing in mind the rumours of free berthing, Kathleen asked, in Italian, about the price for a berth and could only get ‘un poco’ (a little) as an answer. We gathered that they just expected a contribution for water and electricity. Sciacca is an attractive place with many interesting old buildings and is a good base for exploring the region. We used local buses for a trip to the amazing Greek temples at Agrigento.

Before leaving on the 9 September, we met the weather forecasting guru Frank Singleton who gave us some advice about the best sources of weather forecasts for the Med. We set out at 1000 and closely followed the coast so that we could see the Greek ruins at Selinunte, which are right on the shore. The wind was unhelpful and on the nose so we had to motor and motor sail. The plan had been to head for Marsala but as we approached the westernmost point of the island the wind and sea increased to NW5 and a moderate sea. We were also meeting a S going current of about 1kt and the net effect was that we had an SOG of only 3kts, so we decided to divert into Mazara del Vallo instead. We anchored in the outer harbour at 1630 having covered 38 miles.

The following morning, 10 September, we were checked out by the Guardia Finanza or the Italian Financial Police. For some reason this well armed force operates fast patrol boats in most major ports. They circled us in their high-speed launch before coming in close and asking how many persons were on board, where we had come from and where we were going next. They declined offers of papers for inspection and coming aboard but circled us several more times, peering in through the windows before zooming away. Perhaps it was a quiet morning and they needed to tick a few boxes, or perhaps they were looking for illegal immigrants, which we have later learned is one of their main activities.

We left Mazara at 0930 and motored 33 miles round the western tip of Sicily to Trapani, arriving at 1430. The wind was still straight in our teeth but rather less strong and the sea had quietened down a good deal. We found a berth at the back of the Trapani Boat Services, who offer the only visitors’ berths in the port. It was not cheap at €40 per night but a gentle perfume of the town’s sewage was included free. Trapani is an interesting old city and a rarity in Italy as it has pedestrianised streets that are pretty much clear of traffic, scooters included. The nearby hill town of Erice was also worth visiting. We needed to exchange a Camping Gaz cylinder, and eventually found a gas supplier whose shop was on the ground floor of a crumbling 16th century palazzo in the old Giudecca or Jewish quarter.

We had to be in Palermo for the 14 September to pick up brother Stephen and nephew Edward so at 1030 on 12 September we left our smelly corner at Trapani and set out eastwards. The wind was SW3, which was fine for direction but rather light and we sailed, with the kite up for a while, round Cabo San Vito into the Golfo di Castellamare. We anchored off the beach at Castellamare at 1630 having covered 34 miles.

The following day we motored the 16 miles round to Palermo and after some indecision settled for the Marina Villa Igeia, which proved to be a big mistake. This marina has good shelter, pontoons and security,  but it was the most expensive marina we have ever been in at €150 for only 2 nights. This price of €75 per night was a reduction on their standard terms which amounted to over €90 per night, only reduced because we objected strongly when told that water and electricity added some €30 per night. To make matters worse, we found that the showers and toilets were in 2 dilapidated portacabins and were just plain dirty and open to the street for all the local dossers to use. We will not be going back there!

Stephen and Edward arrived as planned on 14 September and the following morning we left Palermo at 0930 bound for the black basalt island of Ustica, some 35 miles to the N. This island is sometimes described as looking like a turtle swimming away from Palermo. We sailed in a NE3 until early afternoon when the wind backed and dropped to E2 so we motored the remaining miles to Cala Santa Maria, the only harbour on Ustica, arriving at 1600 after 40 miles. This harbour is open to the S and E and is of the ‘find a space where you can’ variety. We dropped the anchor, complete with a tripping line, and backed into the quay, running out all our 50m of chain, trying to avoid other boats’ anchor chains and numerous fixed moorings. Relying on the anchor, in questionable holding, to keep us off a rough stone quay is not our favourite situation. The first night was pretty calm and stress free but during the second, the swell began to work in and it was clear that, with the wind strengthening and coming round into the S, we would have to be on our way.

At 0730 on 17 September we raised anchor, fortunately this came up without any big dramas, only the tripping line was caught round another anchor warp, and we set out into a SW5/6 and a moderate sea. If we had been in a more secure harbour we would have stayed put but Cala Santa Maria was becoming untenable and we had no choice but leave. The other two yachts in the harbour had left at 0200 when the swell and surging had really got going. We were sailing an exhilarating beam reach on 140° but the sea became rougher and Kabardar was repeatedly plunging her bows and up to her old trick of taking water through the forward ventilators. The 15cm gunwhales on Kabardar are great for keeping feet and stray shackle pins on board, but the small scuppers can mean that at times there is a lot of oggin on the decks, and great cascades of the stuff pouring over the stern quarters. Although nobody actually disposed of their breakfast, only the regular crew were not feeling somewhat green. However by 1200 the sea was easing somewhat and the wind first veered to W3/4 then swung between SW and SE as series of heavy shower clouds came past. We did not get rained on but could clearly see the heavy downpours on the coastal mountains of Sicily. We were kept well occupied with numerous sail set changes. As if to remind us that it had not really gone away, the rough sea returned as we closed the Sicilian coastline and, after what had been by far the roughest sail of the season, we entered the marina at Cefalu at 1625 after 61 miles.

Cefalu, originally a fishing town, is now one of the principal tourist towns of Sicily with many interesting old buildings, but still with many people living in the town centre, washing strung out across the streets etc. The Norman cathedral with its 12C. mosaics is a gem and up on La Rocca behind the town there are ruins that pre-date the ancient Greeks.

Stephen and Edward left us on 18 September but we stayed on because the weather, although still very warm by UK standards, had become much less settled and several fronts meant rain or showers every day. We had considered going back to Portorosa by way of Alicudi and Fillicudi, the westernmost of the Aeolian islands. However neither has anything much of a harbour and are settled weather destinations only, and the weather had become distinctly un-settled. So at 0930 on 21 September we left Cefalu for our Sicilian home base at Portorosa. The wind was rather light and variable, mostly from the N so we motor sailed for most of the 61 miles eastwards, tying up in our berth no.78 at 1845.

Our tour of Sicily, plus the excursions to Malta, Gozo and Ustica had taken us 712 miles in 32 days.

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