After a couple of nights on anchor at Salina, Julia and I set off for tiny island of Filicudi. As we past the west coast of Salina we saw a few boats at anchor so went to investigate. We found Pollara, an impressive bay with strange rock formations, dramatic cliffs and excellent snorkelling.
We snagged the anchor on rocks as we tried to leave so I had to dive 6m down with a tripping line and secure it to the back of the anchor. Next time we will set the line to a fender before deploying the anchor amongst rocks.
There are lots of impressive yachts in this area but one really stood out. Somebody had converted a commercial tug boat into a private yacht. As we set sail again we sailed alongside Koo, an impressive 43m sloop, who eventually anchored beside us at Filicudi.
Unfortunately our anchor dragged a few times and, taking into consideration the onshore breeze, we opted to pay for the security of a mooring ball. Once ashore we climbed up the nearest hill and wound our way along thin passageways and up steps in search of the summit. The midday heat got the better of us and we were beaten back down to a hotel terrace overlooking the bay, where they served cold beer. This is where we bumped into Brendan and Adam. We took an instant liking to them and spent a very chilled afternoon chatting by the pool.
As fate would have it, they were heading west as well so we offered them a lift the next day. Alicudi is the next door island about 2 hours sail away. We found the conditions to be ideal and enjoyed a leisurely sail all the way there. Upon arrival we were forced to take a mooring buoy as there was no decent holding for the anchor. B&A kindly paid for the mooring and then treated us to lunch at the one and only hotel on the island.
After lunch we set sail for the mainland as we needed to pick up our new crewmember from Palermo in a couple of days. We were totally becalmed and had to resort to the motor for the six hour crossing to Cefalu. When we eventually arrived we took the pilot book's suggestion of anchoring just off the Old Town Harbour. Reassured to find a couple of other boats there, we settled down for a good night's sleep. This was not to be. By about 3am the swell had built up and Bumblebee was being thrown violently from side to side. Our back up plan was to shelter behind the breakwater of the new harbour but the sky was dark with clouds blocking the moonlight. It was too dangerous to move so we had no choice but to put in earplugs and ride it out.
After a sleepless night we weighed anchor at first light and motored into the new harbour. We joined a huddle of wiser sailors at anchor behind the breakwater and grabbed a couple of hours sleep.
Once awake, Julia set off by train to collect Krysia, our new crewmember, from Palermo airport while I headed into town with our laundry. We met up a couple of hours later by Cefalu Cathedral for a coffee before making our way back to the boat.
The tender has been taking on a lot of water recently and I discovered the floor section along one side was coming apart. As we set off from Cefalu for Palermo I pulled the join apart, cleaned the contacts with acetone and set about repairing it. Two things made the job very difficult; firstly, I had nowhere near enough glue for the job and secondly, as we left the harbour we were hit by 3 metre waves sending spray all over the dinghy and almost throwing me off the bow.
The sea state deteriorated even more and Krysia was overcome by severe seasickness. We were heading for Palermo where we hoped to meet up once again with Brendan and Adam, but instead pulled in to the commercial harbour at Termini. We had a break for lunch and Krysia decided to continue the journey by train. We made sure she knew where she was going; then Julia and I set out again for Palermo.
It was very fortunate that Krysia took the train because the onwards journey was plagued by large waves and 35 knots of wind in our face. What should have taken three hours took five as we ploughed through some pretty nasty conditions.
Just as Palermo loomed into sight it was blocked out by a huge dark cloud that swallowed us up and drenched us. We then ran the gauntlet between huge ferries as we passed through the traffic separation scheme. With our digital compass binoculars we were able to spot the single port or starboard lights indicating a vessel on the move. By taking regular bearings we could be sure if a ship would pass in front or behind. Eventually we arrived at Palermo, Marina Villa Igea. By 11pm we were sitting drinking cocktails in the bar of the lovely old Hotel Villa Igiea with Krysia, Brendan and Adam.
Krysia had brought out an EPIRB from England which I installed by the companionway. The EPIRB is a GPS enabled satellite distress beacon that can broadcast our location from anywhere in the world – an important piece of kit for the upcoming crossings.
Later that day we set off hiking to the top of Monte Pellegrino beside Palermo. It turned out to be a bit more than we bargained for; with the midday heat we were exhausted when we reached the top eight kilometres later! There were shouts of relief as we emerged from the steep trail to find a bar selling cold beer and decent pizza. We decided to take the bus back down to the centre of Palermo.
Posted by Johnny
After four nights hiding from the weather in Marina Nettuno in Milazzo, we decided it was time to brave the elements. We were followed by dark storm clouds as we set off back to the Aeolian Islands with our new crew; Julia’s Mum and her friend Ewa.
By the time we reached Vulcano four hours later, the skies were clear and sunny. We anchored by Porto Levante and went ashore for a dip in the pungent sulphurous mud baths. With a gentle breeze the smells wafted away and the experience was strangely pleasurable.
After a quick beer in our favourite bar we picked up some supplies and headed back to Bumblebee. With three in the gallery cooking up a storm I kept my head down and looked busy.
The next day we set off for Panarea, three hours to the East of Vulcano. Julia’s Mum took the helm for part of the journey, steering us close reached in 20kts. There was reported to be a shallow water spring just off the island of Lisca Bianca so we made that our destination for lunch. The spring was a bit of a disappointment with just a few bubbles here and there and a faint whiff of sulphur. Later we headed on to Panarea, just 30 minutes away and dropped the anchor at Baia Milazzese. By now the islands were starting to get busy and we had a glimpse of what August might be like as we negotiated a patch to drop the hook amongst a sea of boats.
The Island of Panarea feels much like Salina with a higher standard of restaurants and shops. Super yachts were scattered around and fast ribs zipped back and forth. We booked a rooftop Sushi restaurant with a great view of Stromboli but soon cancelled when we saw the prices. Instead we had pizza in a charming restaurant with the same stunning view. Despite encouragement from our side, Stromboli failed to produce any fireworks.
On the 19th we woke up and set sail for Lipari where we would have lunch and break up the long journey back to Milazzo. Maria and Ewa needed to fly back early the next day. On setting out we could see white caps on the waves and knew we were in for a brisk sail. The wind speeds reached 35 knots as we careered towards Lipari at a pace of 7.2 knots. Lipari has a very sheltered beach and as soon as we arrived the wind had all but disappeared. Lunch and a swim then we were off again.
For three and a half hours we had lively following winds and huge waves as we made good time towards Milazzo. The GPS hit 8.6kts at one point. We arrived in darkness and anchored in front of the town, then rose early to drop M & E off at the marina pontoon. They caught their bus to the airport while we filled the water tanks and shopped for a few provisions. At 9am we set off back to the Islands just the two of us.
The wind was quite strong as we left. Rounding the end of the mainland the waves picked up and we found ourselves in quite tricky conditions. There was some confidence given by a large Turkish Gulet bashing into the waves in front of us but they soon turned tail and headed for shelter. I decided to carry on despite making only 4kts straight into 2.5 metre waves. It was the roughest we’d seen but appeared to be manageable. 4 hours later we reached Liapri and the wind became diffused by the Islands. Arriving at the anchorage in Lipari you’d never know there was any wind and our fully reefed sails must have looked a bit melodramatic.
After a nap and a chilled afternoon on anchor we made the short trip to Salina where we are once again at anchor. We tidied and organised the boat, Julia instigated our own individual drawers, see if you can guess who’s is who's:
Today I speared some supper then we went ashore. Julia took her computer and I took my paints.
Posted by Johnny
The Messina Strait turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax. All our research lead us to believe that if we weren't swallowed up by Charybdis then Scilla was sure to get us. Odysseus barely scraped through but we couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Granted it wasn't a spring tide and we used the calculation (4.5 hrs after high water Gibraltar) to ensue we had two knots of tide helping us along. As you can see in the pic above we were all on high alert.
There was very little traffic passing the Strait but we were excited to see a couple of swordfish boats. These odd vessels hold their skipper fifteen metres up where he has control of the steering. Out in front there is a platform from which another crew member harpoons swordfish as they rest during their annual migration. Apparently it is not unusual for one of these boats to harvest twenty swordfish in a day with this rather unsporting approach.
Our crew at the moment included Ania, Ola, Peter, Julia and myself. We headed out of the Strait and made way for the Aeolian Islands. Vulcano was our first port of call which we made in about four hours. The anchor went down with six metres depth at the stern and fifteen at the bow, this was totally new topography for us! We took the dinghy ashore and discovered the island to be touristy and quite tacky. There was some kind of football match on so the whole island seemed preoccupied. we explored for a bit before joining them.
Vulcano is particularly popular for it's bubbling sulphur springs. People flock to the island to benefit from the healing properties of caking yourself in stinking mud. The rotten egg smell permeates the entire island and stays with you for days. We skipped the mud bath and headed strait for the warm bubbling beach.
It was still early in the day so we found ourselves a Fiat Panda and headed inland. The island is tiny and we hit the far end in 20 minutes. We dropped down to the sea and up to the highest vantage point before nestling into a recommended restaurant for the local tasting menu.
The West side of the island is a bit more wild and only really accessible by boat. Luckily we had one so we navigated around to a secluded spot and dropped the anchor in 13 metres of crystal clear water. We swam amongst a few small jellyfish while being observed by some curious goats.
That evening we docked in Lipari and our guests treated Bumblebee to a night on one of the pontoon 'yacht clubs'. Lipari is the next Island along from Vulcano, is capital of the Aeolian Islands and has a totally different character. There is a long bustling high street with way too many tour operator outlets while around the coast there is a stunning wide anchorage complete with resident icecream boat, Sadly the time had come for Ania to head back home so we waved her off as a hydrofoil ferry whisked her back to the mainland.
The next day we moved on to the island of Salina, where we anchored just outside the small town of Santa Marina. This island also has it's own rather chic character with tasteful shops, nice restaurants and prices to match. We enquired at the marina to find a berth for the night would set us back 100 Euro until the 15th when the price shoots up to 170 Euro! Luckily we were happy on the anchor but it could be a different story if some weather came in..
Milazzo, on the mainland was our next port of call. Here we said a sad goodbye to Peter and Ola as we perched on the outer pontoon of the Poseidon Marina. It only took a couple of passing ferries to realise this was no place to park Bumblebee. The swell rocked her to the point I thought the cleats would tear right out. We untied asap and headed to the shelter of Nettuno Marina, tucked inside the commercial harbour walls. Our plan was to refuel, restock and do a bit of laundry in preparation for our next guests.
After weeks of fine weather the pressure suddenly dropped. Large areas of low pressure appeared out to sea, driving 4m waves and F6 wind towards us. Sailing would be very uncomfortable so we prepared for a few days land-bound. The good news was we were in the most protected marina possible, the bad news was it would set us back 88 Euros and night.
Our new guests this week are Julia's mum and her friend Eva. Needless to say this will be a slightly different week to the ones previous. Having sent off the laundry and cleaned & waxed the boat our new guests arrived the same day Peter and Ola left.
Luckily on mainland Sicily there is lots to see. We began by exploring our surrounding town of Melazzo. The trip began to take on a slightly more sophisticated slant that saw us inspecting church murals and drinking decent wine.
On day two of being landlocked we hired a car and headed West. Palermo was the destination but we were distracted by a hilltop town as we approached Cefalu. After quite a few twisting turns and steep inclines we arrived at the town of Pollina. The wind at the top must have been blowing at 50 knots, looking down to the sea there were white caped waves as far as the eye could see. We were very grateful to be on dry land.
Pollina is made up of tight winding streets and small houses that cascade down the side of the hill. At the top there is a castle and observatory where in 1550, the astronomer Maurolico first sighted a supernova. The streets are very angular with peculiar perspective and lend themselves well to line drawings.
Back down at sea level we explored the town of Cefalu. A much more touristic affair with all the usual tat for sale. The waves were crashing onto the breakwater and people (Julia included) were having a great time dodging the spray.
We ended our one day road trip with a visit to Castroreale, another hilltop town with a rich history. It is a tiny town but boats over 80 churches, some dating back to the 13th century. As the sun set the surrounding land was bathed in a glowing haze thanks to a bushfire rapidly burning up the hillside.
Posted by Johnny
The 4th of July saw us sailing out of Catania and on our way to Syracuse. For a couple of days we were back to our original crew of two. The weather had improved from the previous day and we kept up a brisk pace for the five hours it took to arrive at the Grand Harbour, Syracuse. We anchored just off the town quay amongst other boats searching out a cool breeze. After a quick swim we locked up and took the tender over to the yacht club pontoon to explore the town.
I had been to Syracuse about fifteen years previously but in that time had forgotten the aging splendour and impressiveness of the place. All the buildings are embellished with elaborate carvings and ironwork. We wandered down tight little streets, through markets and into open plazas. Julia found a café to sip prosecco and catch up on admin while I set up my easel outside.
Back on the boat that evening we had front row seats as a huge super yacht carefully manoeuvred into place on the quay. Next to it was an industrial looking Sea Shepherd vessel apparently involved in protecting the nearby marine reserves. We were expecting our new crew the next morning so we picked up the anchor and joined the larger ships on the quay to make the transfer easier. Surprisingly the Grand Harbour quay is free to tie up to.
The next day were three crew members stronger as Peter, Ania and Ola joined us for the coming week. The day was still young so we left Bumblebee on the quay, hired a car and headed inland. Our destination was Laghetti D'avola, a half hour drive to a river deep down in a gorge with a series of gin clear plunge pools.
That evening we learnt it can be hard to find a pizza in Syracuse after 11pm. Luckily we did find a place although it might just be the strangest pizza restaurant in Sicily.
We set off from Syracuse on the 7th and made our way to Aci Trezza, a small town just north of Catania. We intercepted a pod of playful dolphins mid-way through the journey. When we arrived there were no obvious yacht berths so we pulled up stern-to onto the fishing quay. We expected to be moved along at any moment but no one seemed interested in our spot, we later realised this might be something to do with the sunken ship just under our keel!
We explored the borosilicate islands just outside the harbour which legend has it are the remains of spears hurled by the Cyclops at Odysseus. We had supper in town followed by a few drinks onboard and a round or two of Dobble.
Toarmina was our next stop. Using our previous experience we skipped the laid moorings and dropped the anchor instead. It was a lovely calm evening so I went up the mast again to try and fix the mooring light. After a bit of swimming in the strong current we went up into the town to look around.
The next day saw strong winds and currents kicking up quite a swell. We tried to pull into the little bay around the corner but were forced to return to the shelter of the anchorage. We were not alone as every boat in the area, large and small, retreated to the sheltered bay. Julia and I made our way up to the hilltop town above Taormina while P,O&A chilled on the beach in front of the boat.
At about 6pm I made the decision to set sail for Calabria to begin our passage through the Strait of Messina. It should only have been a gentle sail of three hours as the sun set. When we left we were immediatly dealing with a very chopped up sea as the current fought with the wind. I was confident that as we sailed further out the waves would settle and the conditions would improve. Despite the predictions of four different weather forecasts this turned out not to be the case. The crossing took five hours and it wasn’t until after dark that we reached Porto Bolaro having dealt with +30kt winds, +2m waves, a seasick crew and resorting to our back up destination.
Porto Bolaro is just an hour short of Calabria so we were still in a good position to enter the Strait the next day. As it turned out we had the marina pretty much to ourselves. It was expensive but made up for it by being exceptionally clean and boasting a bar and private beach. The next morning we would set off into the Strait of Messina.
Bumblebee and her crew; Dagmara, Nik, Julia and myself felt recharged after chilling out for a day in Roccella Ionica. We slipped our mooring at sparrows and gently motored into the early morning calm as the rest of the crew slept down below. The last leg of our journey to Sicily was an easy 45 nautical miles but we wanted to arrive with plenty of daylight to negotiate the mooring buoys at Taormina.
We never lost sight of land and it wasn’t long before Mount Etna loomed into the haze before us. We were greeted by a herd of Sicilian dolphins, a few cargo ships but a notable lack of sailing vessels. As we approached Sicily we could see the multi faceted coastline coming into clarity and could make out the hillside clusters of villages surrounding our destination. Taormina had been recommended by several people as a worthwhile stop so were optimistic about what we might find. We were advised to get in touch with George who manages the mooring buoys in the large bay but hoped we might manage on our own. We arrived to the north in the most spectacular small bay, surrounded by cliffs, palm trees and beautiful architecture. There was a cable car ascending up to the old town and even a guitar player perched on top of the cliff. We helped ourselves to the best buoy and got ready to tender ashore. Sadly our perfect spot was also the private mooring for a day tripper boat and we were quickly moved along and sent on our way out of the tiny bay. It was getting late so we resorted to calling up George and going in search of his buoys, ten minutes around the corner. Luckily he had space for us.
I hindsight it was a rubbish deal, we parted with 50 Euros for a mooring where we could easily have just anchored. We were 50m off the shore so obviously no water or electricity and a constant swell that kept us all awake that night. Luckily the town of Taormina is stunning and made it all worthwhile.
We left the next morning, zigzagging through the super yachts and observing where the wiser sailors had dropped anchor for the night. We plan to come back this way and will not make the same mistake again.
We sailed four hours south to Catania and found a space on the pontoon of the most sheltered yacht club in the main harbour. There were not many cruisers on the pontoon and most space was taken up by race kitted day sailors. The marina was probably the dirtiest so far with a permanent oil slick on the surface and rubbish floating everywhere.. not a great start. We disembarked and with some difficulty navigated our way across the main road and into Catania. At first glance the city was dirty and disappointing but after a few locals pointed us in the direction of the town centre we slowly discovered the finer side to this city. The Piazza Duomo is breathtaking, as is the Bellini Theatre and many more grand buildings scattered about. N&D treated us to a ride on one of the tourist road trains we had seen in several towns before. It turned out to be a an excellent way to see the city although the lack of suspension and evening light resulted in lots of blurry photos.
Nik and Dagmara were departing the next day so with their hire car we ticked off the no.1 Tripadvisor recommendation; Mount Etna. It took an hour of negotiating the winding roads to reach the unearthly landscape of the base station at 2800 metres. From here you can take a cable car and then a 4wd ride up to the summit. The only problem was they wanted us to part with 163 Euro each for the privilege! That wasn’t going to happen so we decided to hike it instead. Needless to say we didn’t get very far but we found a small crater and experienced the sensation of climbing an active volcano.
We said farewell to N&D and made our way back to Bumblebee, made ready then headed out to see in search of Syracuse. Unfortunately I failed to notice the 2 metre waves while checking the forecasts. As soon as we left the safety of the harbour we were being thrown all over the place. Heading for deeper water did nothing to calm the swell so we aborted the mission and headed back to safety to try again the next day in more settled conditions.
Posted by Johnny
We made landfall on the Italian coast at 7pm on the 26th, arriving tired but elated at the harbour of Santa Maria di Leuca. Instead of paying for the marina we followed another yacht’s lead and tied up on the fishing boat quay. We left a note on the boat in case it was in the way then set out to explore the town and find pizza. Julia had been holding back on her primary food source for two months in anticipation of proper Italian pizza so the stakes were high. Our other two crew members; Dagmara and Nik were also famished. Luckily we were not disappointed. Later that evening we had a call from the port authority asking us to move Bumblebee, Julia explained in broken Italian that we’d be off at the crack of dawn and managed to haggle some extra time.
We still had a long way to go to reach Sicily so the next morning slid quietly out of the harbour as the sun began to rise and set the chart plotter for Crotone, across the Gulf of Taranto. A thirteen hour stretch and some 70 nautical miles. To pass the time we played chess, listened to music, sketched, did some laundry and prepared some mouth watering meals. While gathering in the dried laundry we discovered a bumblebee had stowed away for the crossing. We kept him safe in a jam jar with a bit of honey and water to snack on.
I had a line out trolling for the entire crossing to Italy and again for the Gulf of Taranto with not so much as a nibble. As a fisherman I know this is the fault of my equipment but it’s getting increasingly hard to justify the expense of new lures with Julia’s sharp accounting and my lack of results.
We pulled into Crotone as the sun was setting, having navigated around three large offshore gas rigs. The approach was rather bleak and industrial while the marina was expensive and smelly. Luckily things got a bit better in town and there were quite a few impressive buildings and scattered ruins to make a stroll worthwhile. The waterfront seemed to be the only place with restaurants and we were relieved to find a roof terrace above the street with a light breeze.
All four of us onboard were pretty knackered by now from the long passages so we planned a short hop of three hours for the next day to Le Castella. We arrived in a tiny marina and moored up stern-to in a slight crosswind. At one point I thought the propeller fouled a nearby mooring rope and we had a tense few seconds in contact with the next door boat. Luckily all was OK and we were securely tied up and looking for a beach in no time.
As you might guess Le Castella boasts a fairly impressive castle. It has been sympathetically though thoroughly restored and we had a great time climbing the tower and enjoying the panorama that unfolded in front of us. Another fantastic pizza and then to bed in preparation for 60 nautical miles to Roccella Ionica the next day.
The sailing on this Greece to Sicily trip has been a mix of gentle 15 knots stretches broken up by flat clams that we had to motor through. Not the most challenging or exciting sailing but thankfully very safe. We had several dolphin sightings along the way but as we got closer to Sicily they seemed less inclined to play alongside the boat.
We absolutely love Roccella Ionica. The marina is brand new, clean and well run. We refuelled then nestled into our finger pontoon berth amongst five or so other yachts. There is a great restaurant in the marina that does pizza by the metre and a place to hire bikes for the ten minute ride into town.
We rode into town along the waterfront and let Julia lead us up the steepest hill right up to a palace currently under restoration. From there we cruised down the winding streets in search of supper.
After several long passages we were all in need of a bit of r&r so the decision was made to stay a second night in Roccella Ionica. We put our time to good use, catching up on admin, cleaning the boat and keeping out of the midday sun. That evening we went on the advice of the marina staff to a steak restaurant on the far side of town. A civilised establishment with all the impressions of fine dining but the prices of a street café. Once again it was early to bed for an early rise the next day as we leave the mainland and head for Sicily.