Siracusa, Sicilia to Cetraro, Italy
April 12-22, 2004

Travelogue #3 Spring 2004

We have departed Syracuse but there is a bit more to say about the wine. There is a bulk wine store in old town where there are 7 barrels of wine, 3 red, 3 white and one almost black. The barrels hold about 50 gallons or so and it is possible to taste before you buy. We had some of this wine the other night and I thought it quite OK. Then I bought 2 liters of the best (read most expensive) red wine at a price of 2 euros for a liter. It is still an ok wine but there is an aside about it: one can get their MDR of fiber from the stuff. It has not been filtered and is very cloudy, it doesn't need to be chewed but it is thick.


Easter egg and Kathy

Kathy in the galley

Etna from our cockpit in Riposto

Market in Riposto

Wine store in Riposto

We had a great Easter, as we seem to do each year. We are now on our way back to Riposto, where we are expected. We get to sail off and on for about 7 hours and then arrive in a well protected marina at the foot of Mt. Etna. It really quite different to look up either when sailing or here in the marina and see Mt. Etna. It is a classic and of such historical significance, nature’s way of saying Efes. This night is without swells and comfortable, a change from the past week. At 9 am we are up and on our way to Taormina, look that up in the web, which is the glitzy place of Sicily. They say there is some serious wealth here, and it is easy to believe after you visit it. The village is hung on the side of a mountain with a view to the west of Mt. Etna, incredibly beautiful. I was able to send the previous log from here, perhaps you can tell it is from a special place!

Etna from Taormina

Pagoda in Taormina

South from Taormina

All of us, you included, ask people to say "cheese" when about to take a picture. Well, there was a family walking down the dock here in the marina and taking pictures. The photographer instructed, “say formaggio”, which is "say cheese" in Italian. There is not one syllable in the word formaggio which would produce a smile. Another by the way, I was not expecting to find a good wine in Italy, so when I have been fortunate enough to find one I bought a couple of bottles; we now have a couple of bottles of several different wines and seem to be adding to the cellar at the rate of several a day.

The straits of Messina are referenced in Homer’s Odyssey as follows.

“And all this time, in travail, sobbing, gaining on the current, we rowed into the strait – Skylla to port and on our starboard beam Kharybdis, dire gorge of the salt sea tide. By heaven when she vomited, all the sea was like a cauldron seething over intense fire, when the mixture suddenly heaves and rises.” The Odyssey, Book 12 transl. R Fitzgerald.

Scylla was said to dwell in a cave atop a sheer cliff on the eastern side of the strait. She had 12 feet which dangled down and 6 long necks with horrible heads which reached down to pluck dolphin and swordfish from the Strait or sailors from passing ships. At the bottom of the cliff a whirlpool sucked down unwary ships.

We had a good walking tour of Messina and found it to be a rather stylish city. The buildings are not new but are great looking with early architecture. The large El Duomo in town has the largest pipe organ in Italy inside. It is the third largest in Europe, and Kathy did not get a chance to play it.

Small harbor in Messina

Downtown Messina

Messina church and clock

Astronomical clock face

Astrological clock face

Messina Glockenspeil

The finger pier that we are tied to has a depth of 92 feet of water below. The ferries pass within 200 yards of us all evening and most of the night. It is very active as this is the narrows between Italy and Sicily. Think of a state with an area a little larger than New Jersey with a population of 7,000,000 people and almost all enter and exit through a single point. Like a major intersection where all traffic converges. It is busy.

We pass through the Straits of Messina and have no difficulty other than a monster head current of 4+ kts. We went through several whirlpools and in fact one of them had the force to almost take the wheel from me. It is a very active locale. The water south of the strait is 400 to 500 feet deep, 1 mile wide, and broadens to 2 miles wide; north of the strait the water is but 200 feet deep and running south.

Cape at west side of Messina


Fishermen & dog in
Strait of Messina

Scilla from Strait of Messina


Whirlpools at Charibdis.

Whirlpools in Strait of Messina

We arrived at Isle Volcano of the Aeolian Islands after a great sail with 14 to 18 kt winds. We anchored in a very closed bay on the NW side, just below the still active volcano. There are trails to the top and it is the main attraction of the island. There is an Algida (ice cream) stand at the very bottom of the trail. I am sure they do a great business in the summer, not today. It is rather cool, we have not seen the temp rise above 69 since we have been here this spring. We are ready for some warm days, please.

Isola Vulcano from anchorage


Force 10 winds at anchorage


Leaving Vulcano with
ring of smoke.

A Bavaria 50 pulled in to share the anchorage just before dark. It is a chartered boat out of Piraeus (Athens). He is a long way from home if he has to return the boat to Athens. The night was a bit unsettling as the wind rose a bit. By morning it was blowing hard enough to cause us to check everything out and sort of plan what ifs’. The Bavaria picked up anchor and left in the face of a gale, don't know what possessed them to do that. They were gone.

The wind is a constant 20 to 30 kts with gusts from 40 to 50 kts, top gust was 54.4. We now have a 22 # Bruce fastened about 10 feet up the chain from the Bruegel. This is the way Costas taught us. We have a 45 # Bruce dragging along astern to slow down the sailing at anchor. It is raining buckets full right now; we are about 100 yds off the beach and the wind blown spray is what you call a williwaw. This is a storm where we are fortunate to be in a very secure protected anchorage. By night there is a relative calm outside, only 29 kts, but you can sleep with that wind if you are connected to the bay as we are.

There is a new thing in the US where one can have instant messaging; it has been in Europe for the past several years. For only 10 cents I can send a 160 character message to anyone with a cell phone. I have recently contacted one of our most electronic friends in Tucson and the system is now working there, what a way to get weather reports!

The night was uneventful and the morning started with brightness and clarity, what a difference. The decks are black with volcanic ash and dust but it sort of washes off with a few buckets of salt water. The problem is that there is also dust and ash in the rigging and spars, it will wash down with morning dew and later rain. We are now on our way to Isla Salina which is only 10 miles away.

Salina is a small green island grown up around twin volcanoes, inactive for centuries. The marina section is very small and we are the third sailboat in place. We are on the far southeast part of the island and just below a rather high volcanic peak. The wind is currently from the west and we are getting the action of a pretty good downdraft and a second action caused by the wraparound of the end of the island. It is windy but again we are safe and have no seas. These islands are very aptly named, The Aeolians, as we have only been here 3 days but the wind has been high each of the days. The town is linear, as was Roccella Ionica, and has its main street one block away from the water. Our first impression is that it is charming in much the same way Gaios on Paxos is charming. I believe we will stay here a few days and tour the island, it beautiful island and offer a superb dining experience. For lunch we had an antipasto of a baked broccoli item, it is of broccoli, egg, milk and a little water. It is baked in individual portions in a small 3” cup and served surrounded with a generous serving of mussels. The broccoli and a pasta dish which is cooked with fish eggs, and voila you have a meal.

Traumerei in Isola Salina

Water delivery to Salina

Salina marina

There is a brochure about the island, just like all of the towns we have visited, but this one has a major difference; it is written by someone who speaks and writes English very well. Speaking of the communes of Malfa and Leni: “They were the emblem of an ethnic-cultural diversity accentuated by the geographical divisions of territory that was often hostile to social interpenetration.” The complete brochure reads like this and has great photos of beautiful places to see, thus we get on a local bus and for 5 euros we can ride around the island all day. We go to Malfa and walk about the town until we find a very small restaurant with a very small menu. After lunch we traveled the interior of the island. Salina consists of two volcanoes with a verdant valley between them. It is not a real valley, it is just the steep sided passage where the two volcanoes come together. The area is extremely rich in plant life. The volcano peaks are always in the clouds during this time of year and the resulting moisture combined with the growing conditions make for healthy plants. The area reminds me of areas on Maui.

Salina marina

Lava valley on Salina

Lighthouse on Salina

Monday April 19 and we are still here. The weather news is full of gale warnings, both near and in other locations. Some are in gale conditions now, some are scheduled for a later time, most likely when we sail. We decide to leave the boat in its secure spot and take the hydrofoil to the next island, Lipari. It is only 15 minutes by the fast ferry. Lipari is the capital island of the Aeolian Islands and is a very nice, moderately sized town. We are able to find a so-to-speak large market, at least 3 aisles of displays, and purchase some needed items. The harbor is active and clean. There is a very large cathedral at the top of about 60 ramped stairs. Each stair has a rise of 8 inches and ramps up, perhaps 10 inches, to the next step about 7 feet away, and at the top you can view out across the town and the sea. We found a small shop, tavola calda, where we had lunch. He had tables in front of the shop but they were in the sun, so he pulled the table and our bench up onto the sidewalk for shade. Everyone walked around us as though this is what was done each day. We came back to our island and our boat in midafternoon and prepared to leave tomorrow for Stromboli, we hope.

Lipari harbor from cathedral

Sidewalk lunch in Lipari

Street in Lipari

Tuesday morning and we are stuck again; the forecast was for force 7 winds and increasing. This morning the wind is blowing at least 50 kts as there is salt spray blowing off of the small wave tops. This is within 100 yds of shore but it is not much different when you go further out. I notice that there is a sailboat going from left to right; this is one of the few we have seen. He is under a deeply reefed head sail and going about 8 kts, and is being followed by another sailboat with a deeply reefed main and reefed jib. He has too much sail up and is rounding up in the very high winds and 10 foot seas. While watching and scanning the horizon I now count 4 more boats, so this must be a race. No one, let alone no group, would be cruising in this weather. The third boat has three forestays and only has the innermost jib hanked on, and it is raised only halfway up the stay for a 30% jib. Still, the boat is ripping along. I have checked my chartplotter and by their direction it appears that they are headed for Palermo, another 65 miles. Thunder and lightening send me back to the confines of Traumerei where I will write of sailing and not sail myself; perhaps tomorrow.

Racers drying out on Salina

Last look at Etna

Leaving Salina

The above mentioned race was called off at 8:45 this morning. This afternoon some of the race boats started to arrive in this small harbor where we are. So far 7 of them have arrived and are telling horror stories. The race started in Rome on Sunday and was supposed to be a non stop race around Lipari and back to Rome, one way it is 250 miles. They covered the 250 before dawn this morning, and one of them is a 24 foot boat with a purple mast (shades of the McDades). We heard that one of the 103 boats in the regatta sank and the two aboard were rescued from their life raft. On another boat, some hardware associated with the main sheet and traveler burst and released the boom which hit a young man in the head and killed him. They are a bunch of very tired people and glad to be in a harbor away from the big seas where they reported winds exceeding 45 kts, with gusts up to 60, and very large seas. The boats are draped with bed sheets, foulies, rugs, clothes, sleeping bags, etc.; everything got wet. A couple who are sailing the regatta moored adjacent to us and used our boat as a pathway to the dock. They are from Rome and very delightful to meet. He is a member of a yacht club and asked if he could help us find a berth for our boat this summer while we are in Rome.

Wednesday and this is our day to escape. This is a nice place but it is difficult to be forced to stay in a spot. We leave at 5:30 pm sailing with a couple from England and have timed our departure so as to arrive at Stromboli after dark to better see the eruptions, then arrive on the mainland at early light. In that it has been raining for the past few days, Mt. Etna, look left and see a beautiful sunset crowned by the green flash and see the smoke coming from and the volcano does an eruption show for us each 10 minutes for an hour and a half as we pass by. The sparks, read lava, are thrown into the air with great force and shower down the mountain side. There is a red/orange glow at all times but just prior to an eruption there is an increased intensity in the light, what a sight. We are 1 mile off of the shore. The fronts having passed, we are moving in no wind and agitated leftover seas. About sunrise we arrive in Cetraro. Last night as we were sailing beneath Stromboli, via the sms cell phone protocol. We kept up a running dialog regarding our location, Stromboli activity, destination, and so forth. He complained that at the time he was at his desk and having to work while hearing of the trip. This is a neat way to communicate. We are in a secure harbor after an all night journey and it is time to put this log and ourselves to bed.

Stromboli from Traumerei

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