Around Sicily to the toe of Italy

So that was a long sail and Maria has already said if she wanted to use the motor that much she wouldn’t have bought a sailboat. We have completed 750 miles to the north west tip of Sicily. We arrive in dire need of fuel and I have called ahead to the fuel guy and arranged for us to get 600 litres, our tank holds 670 so you can imagine we were getting a little nervous with only an additional 45 litres spare in cans.

We have got the fuel and some water but another French boat has come alongside and we are contemplating how we get out of here. Of course, maria knows her boat really well and says she can easily spin Mariadz round in the small gap in front of us rather than having to be clever and go astern into a wider basin to turn. She is right and spins Mariadz on a six pence using not much more space than her length and we are on our way.

Our original plan was to go around the southern tip of Sicily, taking advantage of some northerly winds to get a good sail followed by a beam reach, wind on the side, back up to Italy. It is longer but we thought it may even be quicker if we get the winds right. However, the forecast has changed since we last checked and this is no longer a sensible plan. So we change and will now follow the northern coast of Sicily to the straits of Messina, famously tricky and you need to be careful but we have another boat that has tracked us since Almerimar, an oyster called Dalliance. As we turn north, it seems that Dalliance is about 20-30 miles ahead of us. there is little wind and a huge tide ripping between the islands on the north east coast of Sicily. We try to take advantage of the combination of small wind and the wind we are generating by ploughing through the water with our engine and are making good speed. We need to average 7knots for the next 20 odd hours. This plan will ensure we reach Messina between 5pm and 6pm the following night when the tides and wind should be good for our journey through the straights.

The start of the night watches bring their own challenges. Firstly we haven’t been this close to land, and it is incredibly brightly lit. Secondly there are an awful lot of people fishing in small boats with no AiS and little lighting. We soon realise that their technique is to shine a light at the boat so we know they are close. We can then adjust course if necessary. This continues for most of Christian’s watch and only really stops a distance into the large bay to the north of Sicily.

We also see a ring of fire which looks like it could be volcanic activity or a brush/forest fire. Our friends in Italy have described the lack of rain and we are not sure Sicily has volcanic activity in the north but it is some sight with a visible ring of fire around a central black eye, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings.

The light winds are not helping us to keep up with our timetable but winds are coming and hopefully we will make up time although I do try to fiddle with the sails to get every last 1/10 of a knot of speed! Maria is next up and comes up to join me for my last hour, we are chatting and doing the sails is difficult on your own so I hang around for the extra hour until the light of dawn starts to fill the sky. Shortly after, I go to bed to get the sleep I will need for the upcoming sailing through Messina.

Maria reports a fantastic sunset and when Christian joins her for his second watch they have a glorious display from dolphins which raises spirits. As does the wind strengthening which now means we are achieving significantly more than seven knots and catching up time. We should hit Messina at the right time.

Half way through the day and we have fifteen knots of wind, and with a little help from the engine, we are flying along at 8.5 to 9.5 through the water and 8 to 9 over ground. We are looking forward to the change of tide that will add a knot but we are making great time and are definitely on target for entering The Messina Straits at a good time for the tide. We have a poled out headsail, which we find adds speed in these winds and a preventer on the main which makes our starboard side look like a cats cradle but feels safe if there are any issues with roll or wind shifts.

Another difference with this part of the trip is that suddenly we are seeing other sailing boats. In the entire time since leaving Plymouth we have seen a lot of commercial vessels but very few sailing boats but the wind is good and they are out in force on this coast, hopefully getting in before the expected incoming stormy weather.

It starts to get more lumpy and the wind is growing with the impending strong winds forecasted. However, we are flying along and our original prediction of 5pm to enter the straits is looking pretty good. As we approach, we call up Messina VTS to tell them of our intentions, apparently there can be some hefty fines for non reporting although the advice seems confused with some people suggesting the rule only applies to boats over 45m. We take no risks and report in giving the boat details and the people on board and they welcome us in. It did take some time to do this though, since they also seemed confused as to why we reporting in! We will be following a triple masted sail training vessel used by the military which is going quite slowly so we may need to go past her as well as dodging all of the ferries and keeping an eye out for the hazards of the Messina straits.

We have heard scary tales of currents flowing against the general flow and whirlpools and although we are a larger yacht that shouldn’t have a problem, we have been very careful with our timing so that we have a good tide helping us get through the straits quickly. Hopefully no Ancient Greek monsters will swallow us whole or pull us into the depths.

As we go through the strait, it is as easy and calm as going through any race or past any peninsular on the south coast of England. I’m sure there are bad journeys too but we had one to two knots of tide helping us through. We had also taken down our sails in case there was a funnelling or fluky winds but it was all fine and we could have kept our downwind sailing rig going through the straits. We are well behaved and observe the Traffic Separation Scheme although, because we are overtaking the triple masted ship and there is nothing else round, we do not hug the coast. There are half a dozen ferries criss-crossing the strait which is fine although we do spot on AIS that two are clearly double ended because they are going backwards! That looks confusing when you check your instruments and see something coming backwards towards you!

As we exit the straits, we wonder what all the fuss is about, but I’m sure that it can be bad in less benign conditions. At the end of the TSS, we can turn towards the Italian side and our eventual destination. We have been chatting to the other boat from Almerimar, Dalliance, and they have arrived in this marina prior to us. It sounds like we will be in similar places although there are two distinct areas of the marina, one at the top of the port and one at the southernmost part. We call into the port control having been warned there are large fines for not doing so. They are happy for us to proceed but Maria is worried about the stern to mooring in a potentially tight place and has asked that I bring her in today. Gulp. We observe the correct approach into the funnel that leads into the harbour and then turn sharp left and left again into the marina. On our starboard side are a lot of small speedboats tied up to the wall and on the port side a lot of boats of similar size to us all stern to the wall with lazy lines. It is blowing 20 knots down the channel which will be a bit of a problem since it will be a cross wind blowing us sideways onto one of the boats.

Our standard approach in these situations is to turn right, line up the stern with the gap and then use the bow thruster to steer Mariadz in by adjusting the bow and changing the direction while slowly going backwards. I am wedged into the slot a little leaning on one of the boats which causes some concern for some of their crew. Unfortunately stopped there is very little I can do to adjust Mariadz except using the bow thruster to keep the bow straight, expecting that the stern is reasonably protected from the wind by the other boats. I am waiting for Maria and Christian to stop sorting the fenders and get me a stern line ashore which gives me some control of where I am since I can power forward against that and keep myself off the wall and away from the other boats. The staff are really helpful and take our shore lines and as the guys tie them, one of the staff has got aboard from the adjacent yacht with the lazy line to hold the bow. We are now stopped and can relax. All of the boats around us have two lazy lines that go from their bows to a fixed points in the middle of the marina. Unfortunately, the one we have does not have enough angle to hold our bow away from the boat down wind from us. We have fenders at the ready and the skipper seems happy enough even if some of his more nervous crew and passengers are worried. We have to stay like that for most of a day until the boat upwind of us leaves and we take a second lazy line with a better angle which keeps us off next door. The type of boat is familiar to us being a large sun odyssey like our friend Stig in Ipswich. We get talking to the owner Ivan and his family later and they are lovely people with an interesting view on the current conflict in Ukraine since they have a foot in each camp despite having gone to Canada a long time ago.

The other local treat is the taxi driver, Saverio, who brings bread and pastries in the morning as well as providing a taxi service in his old Mercedes. When you look at his card he also has a chandlery, provides gas, boat services and rents cars. He is very friendly and we decide to use him for the trip to the other side of the port to meet the crew of Dalliance who have a table booked in a restaurant close to their yacht. Saverio is trying to persuade us against the tourist hot-spot to a rustic trattoria and as we arrive the building is quite unimpressive and also empty (although apparently it filled up later so we may not have been able to get a table anyway). We decide this isn’t for us and I pop in to say we are going somewhere else to eat but may be able to get together for a beer and a chat later.

Back in the car and Saverio has just the place for us. As we drive there we are graced with some stereotypical Italian driving and I am passed my seat belt to put on! Saverio is also showing us lots of laminated mentions of him in various guide books. Who knows mariadz.com may join that illustrious list one day. As we arrive all of the signs are good. It looks a really nice place with outside tables and a lovely charm to it. It is full of Italians and we don’t hear another English voice all night. However, before I am allowed to sit down, Saverio wants to take me away to show me things. Now I do have a track record of being kidnapped in Italy and taken to see things or pick vegetables so Maria is not surprised. We get back in the car and Saverio drives further out of town showing me his home before going into an industrial area and stopping next to a gate. On opening these gates he drives down a slope to a lock up/garage and apparently I am to get out. He opens up the garage which has boats suspended from the ceiling and pictures of semi clad women like a number of car garages I have visited. He opens up the other side of the garage to a beach onto the straits, it is really quite picturesque and I’m sure maria would have loved it. Back inside he asks me if we like wine and brings out a bottle of red and a bottle of white. I think the plan is we try it, love it and buy lots off him. He also has a number of rounds of cheese and would like me to try one. It is very nice and he is already wrapping it. He says we can have the wine but the cheese is €25. Maria likes cheese and so that is a present for her then! We return to the restaurant where of course Maria has ordered wine already so Saverio’s wine will have to wait. Unfortunately despite being full of locals, the restaurant seems to be mostly a pizzeria. Not what Maria wanted to eat at all although the pizza is good and my seafood linguine was nice. Overall Maria is disappointed. We get back to the boat and it is our first night sleeping when the boat hasn’t been moving so hopefully a good nights sleep for all despite the heat.

The next day and Christian has decided that his only real chance to get home for his important meeting early in the week is to leave then and via connections get back to London. It’s a shame because we was keen to do the whole trip to Brindisi and until a storm came into the Adriatic we were looking good to get that done. So maria and I will do the remaining sailing on our own including the odd overnight passage. We ask Saverio to be around at 10am to take Christian to the airport as we all get ready. At 10:30 he hasn’t arrived and Christian is starting to get nervous about his flight. Apparently there was car trouble but fortunately it is a very small airport locally so Christian was able to catch his flight ok.

Having seen to back to to Mariadz, who can only be described as orange. Although we have had no rain, the moisture every night provided a sticky surface for the sand in the air to stick to and Mariadz is filthy. She has looked after us across the North African coast and Sicily so the least we can do is get her back to looking her best. Maria and spend a few hours cleaning her down, cleaning all of the windows and getting the stainless water stains off and she is back to looking beautiful again. It was hard work but we are both pleased, as even the cockpit gets a thorough clean.

Maria is keen not to cook tonight and we aren’t impressed by the recommendations we have been getting so it is back to the internet to look at reviews and menus to decide where to go. We are also conscious that our wedding anniversary was whilst at sea and my usual preference for us getting into the bedroom only partially worked, we both spent a bit of time in the bedroom but never together because of the watches! So we have decided to push the boat out and have a really nice meal. Maria has found a fish restaurant that offers a luxury experience for a fixed cost with an allowance against the wine. You know the fixed cost is going to be a lot when they offer you free wine with it! The Ristorante L’Aragosta looks great and they can fit us in for 8pm. It will be eye watering expensive and includes beluga caviar on the set menus but we should celebrate belatedly our wedding anniversary.

As quite a posh place we both decide to dress up for the occasion and just after 7:30 I notice Saverio is not parked in his usual spot and so I call him to take us to the restaurant. By the time I speak to him, he says yeah I can leave in about 30 mins which would make us late for our table. I persuade him to come and get us and we shouldn’t be too late. However, as we head up to the car park and get in the car, it is clear he doesn’t know this restaurant. He asks the staff but it is ok because I can set up the sat nav on the phone and direct us in. We set off but it is clear that Saverio thinks he knows where we are going and doesn’t need the sat nav, or so he thinks. He pulls up outside the wrong restaurant and is clearly a little irritated when we say we still have a few kilometres to go across town. Eventually, he gets us within a five to ten minute walk and we give up and get out of the taxi. We have paid him and can get another her taxi back when we are ready rather than being on the clock. The walk is uphill so not quite the start we wanted to our evening.

We arrive at the restaurant which is in a residential area. As we go in, the restaurant is quiet hopefully not a bad sign. The maitre d turns us around and walks us across the road to another restaurant room. We walk in and one wall is filled with wine on display and the room is sectioned into small dining areas, each of which has a table and a sofa. It looks lovely and perfect for our anniversary. We explain it is our wedding anniversary and agree our food. They don’t speak English but on the whole our limited Italian is holding up well even if we have to get them to repeat things a few times.

The food is amazing, two courses feature beluga caviar and lots of different fish and crustaceans both cooked and raw. Just our kind of stuff and reminds us of the many fine meals we shared at Carlo’s restaurant in San Michele Salentino.

We have both had a wonderful evening, a unique experience and a great way to celebrate our anniversary. Maria was particularly pleased with the wide selection of after dinner digestives such as amaro and limoncello although some of them weren’t to her taste….

We return to the boat and listen to some music, sing some songs and and dance a little before falling into bed late. Tomorrow we will be leaving and continuing the journey to Brindisi.

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