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Sunday, July 27, 2014

MORE ABOUT SICILY’S STUNNING EGADI ISLANDS

Envoy is back at Favignana Island in the Egadi Group.
The Egadis are a marine park with all boats banned from some areas and motor boats from others.
Buoys are laid in many sheltered bays and these are in excellent condition costing a reasonable Euro 25 (NZ$39) per night or less for longer periods, during which you can use any of the moorings around the Egadis. Unlike Croatia anchoring is allowed near moorings at no cost. Friendly park staff patrol the islands regularly to collect fees as do Carabinieri to ensure rules are being followed.
The Egadis have no fresh water so this is regularly delivered by tanker.
One morning we awoke to find this tanker had moored just in front of us, and we never heard a thing when it arrived

A Scirocco (strong southerly wind) lasting three days, gave us plenty of time to explore the area around our sheltered anchorage. Like outer Gulf islands home in Auckland the Egadis have winds around 15 to 25 knots much of the time, and here we get a few days of NW-N, then a few of SE to S, so move our position accordingly. Rarely has the wind dropped below 10 knots.

We visited one of the other islands, Isola Lovanzo, and picked up a park mooring in a bay called Cala Freddo. This island’s only village is in the next bay around, Carla Dogna.

Carla Dogna’s quaint harbour


Envoy on mooring in Cala Freddo

We reported earlier that Sicilian wine is great and well-priced – this extra large 1.5 litre bottle of excellent Nero D’Avola red cost only 5 Euros (NZ$7.80)

Back on the main island – Favignana there’s a great anchorage on the southern side where we spent several nights.

There are a few yachts around, mostly Italian and we’ve not seen many cruisers at all except for a couple of French and Germans. During daytime many locals cruise the area in their small powerboats but they’re mostly gone by about 1700 and then all is quiet.

TECHNICAL “Touch wood” for good luck we’ve not had any major issues, only routine things like changing the oil and filters on the Lugger and generator.
Our Lugger engine’s conventional dry exhaust never emits any smoke, and although the exhaust blows directly onto our white-painted mast I only need to clean soot stains off this area about once monthly. We even hang washing out to dry by the exhaust while under way with no risk of stains. One recent morning I started the engine, went on the foredeck to lift the anchor and saw clouds of white smoke coming from the exhaust. My heart missed a beat – what has happened? I checked our diesel handbook and it cites stuck thermostats, dirty air cleaners, or blocked crankcase vent tubes as possible causes. We were clearing a lee shore in a strong wind so proceeded on and the smoke gradually cleared. Later it occurred to me that we’d had a heavy shower of rain during the night and the exhaust cover wasn’t closed, so some rain must have gone down the exhaust and was now showing up as steam. Since then all fine – huge sigh of relief!

Every day I check the engine room bilges and under each engine for fluid leaks, and our bilges are dry so any drop of oil or water shows up. One day I found the paper towel under the Lugger stained with brown dried liquid. It wasn’t oily or smelly and I had no idea what it was – but out of the ordinary occurrences on a boat do prey on my mind. A couple of days later we decided to clean the freezer. Lo and behold we found a large plastic bottle of coke had exploded, and coke had gone through the freezer’s drain hole into the engine bilge – mystery solved. Up to then we would regularly freeze plastic coke bottles with no problems – but no more!

Although our large RHIB’s 25 hp 4-stroke Yamaha was serviced in Lefkas we only test ran it at idle – big mistake eh Frank? Since then we’ve found it runs OK up to 2,300 rpm and above 2,700 rpm but erratically in between. The Trapani shipyard was also the Yamaha dealer so after much persuasion we got them to take a look and test run. They said the carburetor needed a clean so pulled the RHIB out of the water to do that in their workshop. It was such a quick job they said there was no charge, but when we tested it there was no real change, and we ran out of time for them to look again. So far our experience dealing with Italian technicians has not been good (neither was it on our previous visit). They always say “we’re coming in half an hour”, and you wait all day but they just don’t show up!

Our washing machine has developed a slight water leak. I’m able to see the rear of the machine through an inspection hatch and it’s not leaking from loose supply hoses, but possibly from a discharge hose which can only be accessed by pulling the machine out, which is quite a major job, so we’ll leave this until Corfu where we know there are good technical resources. Meanwhile we place a towel around the leak to soak up the water.

The engine room has two 12 volt blowers to extract hot air. One of these is not working and has a wiring problem that I can’t resolve, but we have an electrician friend, Doug Gooch, arriving next month so hopefully he can help me on this.

ENVOY LOG As at 2/7/14, we’d spent 85 days aboard and cruised 757 miles for 136 engine hours.

Monday, July 21, 2014

ENVOY VISITS SICILY’S EGADI ISLANDS

Envoy is now in Trapani Harbour, north-west Sicily.
Leaving Sciacca we headed further west along the mainland coast in near-perfect conditions until several miles later we spotted a nice sandy bay, partially protected by the breakwater of a nearby marina. It looked idyllic with people swimming in the calm water, the sun shining down on golden sand and a good anchoring depth of four metres. Then the sulfurous smell of sewage hit us – how can people swim in this?
Unfortunately Sicily has a huge litter problem ashore - on roadsides and beaches as well as a sewage problem at many harbours, marinas and beaches.
We moved on to anchor under the protection of the breakwater outside Mazara del Vallo harbour, where it was flat calm, the water was clear, everything smelled good and it was the first time we’d anchored in 11 days – unusual for us as we normally mostly anchor. I wasted no time in getting in the water to inspect under Envoy’s hull, clean the RHIB and clear our speedometer impeller which had gotten fouled with something. It was great to be “on the pick” again and we had a calmer night than we’d mostly had in marinas.
The Egadi Islands beckoned and we’d had enough of towns and marinas so bypassed Marsala, the home of Marsala dessert wine, to visit another time. Marsala’s name comes from when the Arabs conquered it in 830 AD and named it “Marsa Allah” – Port of God.
We were cruising in glorious conditions with smooth seas for the first time in many days. The weather seems unsettled and summer is later this year - in mid-June the daytime temperatures are only reaching low to mid 20s.
There are three main islands in the Egadi group, about five miles off Sicily’s north-west coast. We headed to the largest called Favignana, about five miles long and two miles wide, roughly the shape of a butterfly, and found a great spot on the southern side called Lido Burrone to anchor off. Here are several small sandy coves set in between a rocky coastline, with crystal-clear water. Although Envoy was the only cruising boat there, the beaches were busy with land-based locals and tourists.
Being used to New Zealand’s stunning beaches it’s difficult to get hugely excited by those in the Med, but these were much better than average with the plus of the imposing fortress of Santa Caterina looking down on us from 300 metres above.

Envoy at anchor with castle (barely visible) on hill behind

The fortress was originally built by Normans in the 11th century, re-built by the Aragonese (Spanish) at the end of the 14th century, and over the centuries mostly used as a prison.
From late afternoon until late next morning we had the area pretty much to ourselves until the tourists arrived. They don’t call Sicily “the windy island” for nothing, and the forecast showed southerly winds up to 32 knots, so we moved to anchor off the island’s main village – Favignana. The biggest problem in strong winds is other boats dragging their anchors so we anchored outside the harbour, well clear of a throng of a dozen yachts anchored closely together in shallow waters inside, deploying our flopper stoppers to combat wakes caused by numerous hydrofoils and ferries.

Hydrofoil zooming in to Favignana harbour passes close to Envoy

Favignana is an attractive village, albeit centered on tourism.
The deep waters and strong currents of the Egadi Islands have always been a breeding ground for tuna and for centuries different conquering countries have fished here. This culminated in the late 19th century when mainland entrepreneur Ignazio Florio bought the islands from the Spanish, developed a fleet of 90 fishing boats and built two canning factories. Then they grossly over-fished anchoring large nets between the islands catching 5,000-10,000 tonnes of tuna annually. In those days many weighed 200-300 kg, and some up to 500 kg. But sadly man’s greed depleted the fish and the industry closed down in the early 1980s, although there has recently been a revival in tuna fishing on a smaller scale. The canning factory is now a museum. 

Over fishing of tuna caused the demise of the industry like elsewhere in the world

Favignana’s now-abandoned tuna canning factory

Open 18 metre wooden tuna fishing boat in museum 

These derelict trawlers laid-up ashore will never taste salt water again

Initially we couldn’t find a place to leave our RHIB as the fishermen and locals jealously guard their spots, but found a supervised jetty where we could leave it for 10 Euros (NZ$16 ) per day with no security concerns, and obtain water in our plastic jerry cans. Mostly this was free but one day they asked for 15 Euros (NZ$23) for 220 litres. Another day it was only 5 Euros (NZ$8) for 150 litres.

Loading supplies at jetty costing 10 Euros to leave our RHIB

Huge pile of discarded anchors formerly used for tuna nets

In one of Favignana’s piazzas is a statue of Ignazio Florio, who controlled tuna fishing in the 19th century

He must have done alright as he lived in this mansion, now a tourist office

This great atmospheric shop offered a combination of delicatessen delights and local crafts

Favignana’s harbour has a great sandy beach

Envoy anchored with flopper stoppers to reduce the roll caused by ferry wakes


TECHNICAL Nothing to report (that's great!)

ENVOY LOG As at 24/6/14, we’d spent 77 days aboard and cruised 681 miles for 126 engine hours.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FISHING PORT OF SCIACCA

Envoy is now among the Egadi Islands, north-western Sicily.
At Porto Empedocle it was nearly time for Chris to leave us, and the marinara, Giuseppe, was a huge help during the five hour process of getting a stamp in Chris’s passport. First we went to the Customs office, and were directed to Coastguard. They were happy to record Envoy’s arrival, but directed us to the Border Police for Chris’s stamp. The officials are friendly, but everything takes time and patience is a must. Nothing seems to be computerized and information is hand-written into huge, heavy ledgers, reminding me of what we used in banks about 50 years ago. They wanted to photocopy some documents but their copier had broken down. It was a 15 minute drive to the other side of town to see the Border Police, and the first challenge was to get into the Police complex as it was fenced and gated and the intercom on the gate didn’t work. So we waited for a car to leave and bounded through the gate before it closed. After a 30 minute wait we explained what we wanted, but he Police weren’t going to make this easy and wanted to see all our passports, our ship’s papers, Chris’s flight ticket, details of how he would travel to Palermo to catch his flight, and a statutory declaration from me as Captain, stating why Chris was leaving Envoy. We assembled the required papers and a policeman came down to the harbour to check them, gave Chris the much needed stamp and made him 100 Euros (NZ$156) poorer. I offered to pay something to Giuseppe for his considerable time and help but he declined. Chris later said that when he went through emigration at Palermo Airport the official didn’t even look for an entry stamp.
Chris left us after six weeks and 625 miles of fun cruising, and holds the record as the guest who’s spent the most time aboard Envoy (and who’s done the most work!)
With a Scirocco (strong southerly wind) forecast, we decided to stay on at Porto Empedocle for a few days. Our neighbour, Michel, showed us his compact but stunning Fiat Rabath, with a 1.4 litre, 16 valve turbocharged engine capable of pushing the car to a cracking 200 km/hr. One night they drove us 25 km down the coast for dinner so we had a heart-stopping demonstration of the Fiat and Michel’s driving prowess!

Michel’s grunty Fiat Rabath is capable of 200 km/hr


Close to our position in the harbour was a sombre looking prison now turned into a museum. Here in 1848, the prison’s governor fearing a revolt had 114 prisoners moved into a pit accessible only through a narrow opening through the floor above. He also ordered that firecrackers be thrown down among the prisoners to quieten them down, and it was later found that all 114 had been asphyxiated by the sulfurous fumes. 

Sombre-looking prison where 114 prisoners tragically suffocated

The Scirocco didn’t eventuate and we cruised on to Sciacca. We had a wind up to 23 knots on the nose with 1.5m seas and a head current so could only made good about 5 knots at 1,600 rpm towing the big RHIB.
Sciacca doesn’t have a proper marina, but two yacht clubs rent berths to visitors. It’s not well-protected and numerous trawlers coming in and out of the harbour added to the swell causing Envoy to roll at her berth (it was too shallow to use a flopper stopper). The floating pontoons moved around so much it was even difficult to walk a straight line down them, and that was before our evening drinks!
Sicily is still a major fishing area and several dozen 15 to 25 metre trawlers are based in Sciacca, leaving and entering at all hours, and making no speed concession to the pleasure craft moored at the yacht club. 

Looking down on Sciacca harbour where there are many fishing boats. Envoy was moored right side of picture

Cost was 40 Euros (NZ$63) per night including water and power, but there was some problem with low voltage (190 volts) so we didn’t use it. It’s going to be fixed some day soon (yeah right …read some month or year).
Sciacca’s an interesting place to wander around, and here the wind really was blowing so we stayed three nights waiting for the wind and seas to drop.

Sciacca cathedral - we’ve seen more than a few similar but never tire of them

Stunningly ornate pipe organ in medieval Chiesa di Santa Margherita

Sciacca is famous for ceramics and mosaics and this stairway is adorned with them

Quirky ceramic chop in Sciacca

This Sciacca medieval courtyard drips atmosphere

Even small supermarkets have fantastic delicatessen areas

TECHNICAL - Nothing to report

ENVOY LOG As at 19/6/14, we’d spent 72 days aboard and cruised 649 miles for 114 engine hours.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

PORTO EMPEDOCLE AND THE VALLEY OF THE TEMPLES

Envoy is now in the Egadi Islands, north-western Sicily.
Leaving Syracuse after six great days we cruised further south down Sicily’s east coast, trying to avoid marinas due to their cost, and anchored near Porto Palo, then outside Ragusa marina, then outside Licata. Unlike most of the Med the southern coast of Sicily is quite shallow and we were mostly cruising in eight to fifteen metres.

This lighthouse at Porto Palo is built inside an old fortress

From a distance these look like houses and apartments but ...

Closer up you can see that mausoleums occupy much of Licata’s prime waterfront real estate

When Chris arrived with us in Italy he was cleared-in like us as “crew”, so his passport wasn’t stamped. With Chris’s departure imminent we had to get his passport stamped so he would be able to leave from Palermo airport without problems, so we decided to go into the harbour at Porto Empedocle.
Here there’s no proper marina but we moored stern-to a small jetty alongside an eighteen metre motor yacht called Rhapsody in Blue, powered by twin 800 hp Cats, and owned by a charming retired French couple, Michel and Marie. They live in Paris and drive down to stay on their boat for about four months each summer. They mentioned they consumed about 10,000 litres of diesel when they made the 72 hour trip from France to here, and this probably explains why they don’t leave the harbour too often.
The jetty is managed by very-helpful Giuseppe and cost 45 Euros (NZ$70) per night including power and water. Porto Empedocle is rarely visited by cruisers, but it’s a busy small port with many fishing boats and some large ferries plying in and out.
The water is badly polluted by floating trash, diesel slicks and sewage, detracting from the experience – the fisherman seem to just throw most of their garbage into the water.

Envoy moored alongside Rhapsody in Blue at Porto Empedocle - it's laundry day

This nearby motor boat hadn’t been used for so long that mussels are growing on the trim tabs

From the harbour it’s only a short bus trip to the Valley of the Temples –one of Sicily’s premier sites. Five Doric temples were built along a ridge around the 6th to 4th centuries BC, close to the ancient city of Akragas, of which little remains. A couple of temples are in a surprisingly good condition, particularly the Temple of Concord - traditionally visited by local prospective brides and grooms on their wedding day, which was appropriate as our visit coincided with our 43rd wedding anniversary. Built about 430BC, it was converted to a Christian Basilica in the 6th century and reinforced, explaining its remarkable appearance today. During early Lonely Planet advises a full day to visit the site, but we’ve now seen so many ruins ranging from the spectacular to the mundane, that four hours was plenty, although the site is right up there with the best and well worth seeing.

This eight metre long statue of man was constructed to support part of a temple

The Temple of Concord is remarkably preserved

Great distant view of the Temple of Concord set in glorious countryside

A modern-day work in bronze with the Temple of Concord behind - ladies don't look too closely!

Not far from the Valley of the Temples is the town of Agrigento, said to be home to many of Sicily’s drug-trade-controlling crime families. Lonely Planet said the medieval section of town is worth a visit, but we found it disappointing. This may partly have been because everything was closed and deserted – Sicilians enjoy their siesta between about two and five pm.

TECHNICAL
Chris and I spent most of a day in Porto Empedocle stripping down the main Raritan head to replace the joker valve - now how good a friend is that! Tight access makes this a difficult job, but when Chris finally pulled the old joker valve it was clearly in very poor condition and when a new valve was installed the head worked well again. We’d never replaced this valve in the eight years we’ve owned Envoy, so this was long overdue. From now on we’re going to flush the head with white vinegar once a month or so, allowing the vinegar to stay in the flushing system for a few hours to break down some of the solids build up that occurs.

The old clogged joker valve would no longer close. The new one has a slightly different design

ENVOY LOG
As at 8/6/14, we’d spent 62 days aboard and cruised 602 miles for 97 engine hours.