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Sunday, September 28, 2014

SICILY’S STUNNING AEOLIAN ISLANDS

Envoy is now at Kalami Bay, Corfu, Greece.
Next stop was the Aeolian Islands, a group of seven stunning still-active volcanic cones about 15 miles off Sicily’s central north coast. 
At Isole Vulcano we anchored off a great south coast beach called Gelso.

Laurie, Doug and Mary enjoying evening drinks on a small beach near Gelso

Another day there we couldn’t resist having a beer or three in an atmospheric palm frond-thatched beach bar, and while chatting to their friendly staff in our happy state we decided to have a fresh seafood lunch there the next day. On our way back to Envoy we were joined by a pod of frolicking dolphins rounding off a perfect day.

Very basic but totally atmospheric beach bar at Gelso

Two views of Envoy anchored off perfectly-calm Gelso beach


Mary taking in a sunset in Envoy’s cockpit

Next day we went ashore for lunch and the chef proudly displayed a platter holding a fresh fish that looked something like a three kg snapper. Doug asked him how much it was going to cost, and we all reeled in shock when he told us 100 Euros (NZ$156). After going into the restaurant we told our waiter we weren’t all that hungry and had decided to have a pizza instead. His English wasn’t all that great, and we were unsure if they really understood us as we ate our pizzas in trepidation of being served the super-expensive fish. Fortunately the restaurant was very busy and they must have been able to serve the fish to somebody else. Nearby Porto di Levante on Vulcano’s north east coast is anything but peaceful, and we made the mistake of paying 60 Euros (NZ$94) for a mooring only to be later surrounded by boats anchoring very close to us in the mooring area for free. Fortunately the wind stayed light and in the same direction or chaos would have resulted – a mix of anchored and moored boats doesn’t work. Ashore is a mud pool said to have therapeutic healing powers, and there was no shortage of people frolicking in the mud in various states of undress putting this theory to the test.

Two views of Vulcano’s mud pool


Isole Salina is about five miles NW of Vulcano, and here we anchored off the Santa Maria Marina in choppy conditions for one night allowing us to explore this peaceful small town without the tourist hordes of Vulcano and Lipari.

Mary watches a cane basket weaver at work in Salina


Many of Salina’s streets have beautiful flower gardens

Lipari is the main Aeolian island and we anchored off Marina Corta, slightly south of the old town. With all types of ferries constantly passing, the anchorage was anything but calm although did settle down during night time without passing boats churning up wakes.

Ferries passing close to anchorages cause considerable wakes

First settled 6,000 years ago Lipari has plenty to see ranging from the impressive and largely intact hilltop fortress to the narrow cobblestone streets of the old town.

What a view of Lipari from our anchorage 

We’d leave our RHIB in this great little harbour while ashore

Panorama of Lipari

On the western side of Lipari we found a reasonably sheltered and peaceful anchorage called Valle Muria away from tourists and ferry wakes, where a rustic taverna, built into an old cave serves welcome ice-cold beers.
Valle Muria’s beach bar

TECHNICAL Doug is an electrician and helped out with a few jobs, repairing a 12 volt socket in the pilothouse, installing a new engine room 12 volt blower to replace a failed one and making it more effective by installing new extraction ducting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

THE MOUNTAIN VILLAGES OF MADONIE REGIONAL PARK

Envoy is currently in Gouvia Marina at the Greek island of Corfu undergoing maintenance.
Our last posting included a picture of a classic-looking 90 metre older-style ship. A reader informs us this is in fact a vessel called Nero, built in China in 2007 and currently for sale at 60 million Euros. But although a replica she still looks great.
With Doug and Mary we hired a car and driver for a day tour of mountain villages near Cefalu within the Madonie Regional Park on Sicily’s central northern coast.

Morning coffee in the village of Glatteri with our guide, Marco


The Gibilmanna monastery and its church dating from the 17th century were of special significance to Marco as he got married here

The monastery’s stunning gold altar

A beautiful archway leads into a hidden courtyard

The mountains of the Regional Park rise to nearly 2,000 metres

At the village of Pollina we came across a group of young boys playing soccer and Mary asked them to line up for a group photo – they were happy to oblige

Pollina is set on a mountain top

View of Cefalu area from Pollina

Laurie, Di, Mary and Doug at Pollina

Nuvarra is yet another stunning village

Our favourite village was Castelbuono where we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of wild boar hocks in the stunning wood-paneled Ristorante Nangalarruni, set in the middle of a maze of cobbled lanes - we’d never have found it without our guide.

Wild boar hocks for lunch

The castle here was built in 1316 and remains in great shape, supposedly haunted by a ghostly apparition of Queen Constance Chiaramonte.
After leaving Cefalu we’d planned to berth at Marina Capo D’Orlando. Arriving outside the marina with a 20 knot onshore wind and one to two metre swells we peered inside but couldn’t see any yacht masts or larger motor vessels, but did notice some sand banks and apparent silting. Not wanting to take any chances in the adverse lee-shore conditions we cruised on to anchor inside a lagoon sheltered by an extensive sandbank south east of Capo Tindari, near the village of Marinello. While most of the anchorages along this coast are fully exposed except to the south, this one had reasonable shelter from all directions except the east, and we stayed a couple of nights.
August is peak holiday time and ashore is busy with mostly local tourists, while large RHIBs between five to nine metres predominate on the water. There are no apparent safe boating regulations, such as we have in New Zealand, so all day long RHIBs, jet skis, ferries and other vessels travel at speed close inshore and close to other vessels, creating large wakes and making us thankful for our flopper stoppers.

TECHNICAL – nothing to report

Friday, September 12, 2014

ENVOY CRUISES WEST ALONG THE NORTH COAST OF SICILY

You can’t write about Sicily without mentioning the Mafia, which has been heavily entwined in Sicily’s more recent history. Tourists don’t come into contact with the Mafia and have nothing to fear from them, but it’s estimated that 70 per cent of Sicilian businesses pay protection money or “pizzo” to the Mafia ranging from about 200 Euros (NZ$312) per month for a small shop or bar to Euro 5,000 (NZ$7,800) for a supermarket. Back in 2004 the Italian Mafia’s total annual income was estimated at 90 billion Euros (NZ$141b), of which about a third was generated in Sicily, and their total assets estimated at over a trillion Euros.
Thankfully the murder of anti-Mafia judges and police has ceased, but while a good part of the Mafia leadership are serving lengthy prison sentences the organization apparently continues to thrive, and still has tentacles in the highest levels of society.
After Amy’s departure we left Trapani for the last time, heading east and anchoring off north coast beaches – Scialandra, Capo Rama, Mondello and Porticello.

Views from our anchorage at Scialandra


We find many modern super yachts lacking in style but this grand old lady looks stunning


Along the coast of Sicily there are dozens of ancient watch towers

Although a few other boats were anchored off these beaches, none of them offer complete shelter and fortunately the winds were either southerly or very light northerlies with little swell. Again we were surprised by the very large number of RHIBs – at Mondello there were several hundred at anchor with people just sunbathing and swimming off them. In New Zealand you’d normally beach your RHIB or anchor it very close to shore and spend your time ashore, but here motor boats are not allowed in swimming areas so they have to anchor outside the buoyed swimming area. Considering the way Italians drive their small craft this is a very sensible precaution.

You rarely see a rooster tail like the one from this 70 footer

We bypassed Palermo and headed to Cefalu, anchoring off the marina and with some protection from a large marina breakwater. This is a great, picturesque anchorage, protected from all except NE winds and dominated by La Rocca (the rock), 278 metres high and the site of Il Castello, a ruined Norman castle. 

Cefalu and La Rocca viewed from the sea


Some swell penetrates the anchorage but our flopper stoppers kept us comfortable as well as keeping other boats from passing too closely.

Envoy in stunning Cefalu anchorage

View from Envoy at anchor in Cefalu

Cefalu’s extremely crowded sandy beach is quite typical

Many people choose to swim off less crowded rocks

Here in Cefalu our Kiwi friends Doug and Mary joined us for two weeks and we had no qualms about leaving Envoy unattended at anchor while we did some day trips ashore; although we’d spent some time in Cefalu in 2007 it was great to revisit this absolutely stunning medieval town with Doug and Mary.
A highlight is the Duomo di Cefalu, a stunning church built in the 12th century.

Duomo di Cefalu viewed from the sea

And from land

We found this very talented model maker in Cefalu - he charged us a Euro for taking his picture

TECHNICAL I changed the Lugger engine oil and filter after 200 hours, a job made easy by the 12 volt oil-change pump. Our large RHIB had been in the water for 9 weeks and was becoming increasingly difficult to keep clean (it’s not anti fouled), so we swapped it over for the small RHIB, which is OK while there’s only two of us aboard. The small RHIB is suspended from Envoy’s transom when not in use so marine growth isn’t an issue. The large RHIB is too heavy to suspend in that way and we tow it.

ENVOY LOG As at 17/8/14, we’d spent 130 days aboard and cruised 1,166 miles for 212 engine hours.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

AMY’S VISIT TO SICILY

Envoy is now back at Taormina having completed a 15 week circumnavigation of Sicily.
Although we’d already spent six weeks in the Trapani and Egadi Islands area we always find some new places of interest and different things to do with new visitors, and this proved to be the case with our daughter, Amy.
Having been settled by Greeks, Corinthians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish the Egadis have a fascinating legacy of history culminating in the tuna trade. Since the 1960s tourism has taken over as the major activity.
Most of the jellyfish had gone although there was still the odd one around - I jump in the water first with my mask on to do a quick check. The water is a tropical 27d so we stay in for ages.
We cruised to Marettimo and berthed in a small marina – quite expensive at 85 Euros (NZ$133) per night, but at islands like this there’s no good shelter for anchoring with any wind. Here we dined at a great restaurant overlooking the marina, La Scalatta, made famous after a visit and positive reviews from Jamie Oliver. There are no menus and the chef, Giovanni, serves whatever delicious fare he feels like preparing, with a heavy fresh seafood bias. Giovanni served us a culinary six course treat of bruschetta, clam chowder, grilled tuna, prawn risotto, mixed grilled fish and cassata and lemon gateau, of course washed down with various local wine varieties.

Jamie Oliver with Giovanni

Laurie and Amy pose with Giovanni

Laurie and Amy enjoying La Scaletta’s ambience

Amy tucks into the clam chowder

Next day we went around the island by tour boat visiting many deep sea caves and the two metre swell made it an adrenalin rush for all inside the caves, with waves bouncing us around and the thunder of blowholes.

The castle perched atop the craggy peak used to be a political prison

Inside the sea caves was a real adrenalin rush


Looking out from inside a sea cave

After cruising back to Levanzo Island we did a guided four wheel drive trip to see a cave – Grotta del Genovese which has some 14,000 year old cave paintings depicting deer, horses, cows, tuna and dolphins. 

Amy and Laurie alongside the Landrover

Entrance to Grotta del Genovese

Shopping in Favignana was of course compulsory for the girls and we found a fantastic delicatessen loaded with delicious treats.

Amy and Di enjoy a gelato break while shopping

Amy and Laurie in atmospheric delicatessen

Preparing snacks in delicatessen

Envoy’s saloon table set for dinner

TECHNICAL – nothing to report

ENVOY LOG As at 10/8/14, we’d spent 124 days aboard and cruised 1,072 miles for 197 engine hours.