Mind the Gap!

Despite the choppy water, we got plenty of swimming in the Baie di Mondello.

Kerry left us anchored at Baia di Mandello where it got a little windy and the dinghy capsized. The good thing is that these bouncy anchorages are doing wonders for curing my sickness. I’ll be immune in no time! 

The wind speed forecast gave a maximum of 32kn gusts but the reality was more than 40kn!

On Tuesday 15th August the weather settled and we set off for Cefalù (pronounced chefaloo). It was a nice, smooth sail, although very hot as usual. I’m really going off stern-to moorings. They offer the advantage to the marina that they can squeeze in lots of boats, so more money, but there are number of disadvantages to the sailor. Firstly the requirement to reverse into the berth. Barberry, with her long keel, is not designed for reversing, although now that we have the bow thruster it is a lot easier. Also, Kerry seems to be a natural on the helm in tight spaces. Another issue is that the stern mooring lines are always under a lot of strain. In really windy weather it feels like the cleats are going to break off the boat and the creaking noises sound really unhealthy. We have a feeling that one of our cleats is starting to suffer under the strain — you can see it move as passing boats’ wash hits us.  

An unusual place to put a boat. All the others, who arrived later than us, were in the usual place, at 90 degrees to poor little Barberry.

Of course, our boat is also not designed to disembark from the stern, which is the only option when stern-too moored. It involves lowering the swim ladder to create a gap in the push-pit railing and then jumping. When I say ‘jumping’ this is more like falling for Kerry, and hoping she lands on something that isn’t water. 

Cefalù was a beautiful town, and filled with historic buildings.

In Cefalù we were allocated a space on the very end end (no, not a typo) of the pontoon — the narrow part where yachts don’t normally go.  It was very exposed and side-on to sea swell. Also, we could not get close enough to the pontoon for a Kerry-style jump/fall, so we put our wooden plank across as a makeshift gangplank. As the pontoon was packed with other yachts the gangplank became a bit of a tripping hazard for everyone else getting off their boats, but that’s not our problem! Also there were too many yachts for the number of electrical and water points so a bit of a N.Ireland vs Italy battle ensued to get us plugged in. It also took forever to fill up our water, which was one of the main reasons we had come into the marina. Once again, the marina was being greedy with too many boats for the water pressure to cope.

Barberry, stuck on the end of the pontoon where boats don’t normally go! You can see the plank of danger here and our attempts to prevent the stern lines from snagging by adding second lines with rubber springs in them.

The water pressure was also very poor for our rather public cockpit showers as others were using their hoses at same time. Kerry’s shower seemed to involve not actually getting wet for quite a considerable time. Luckily, by the time it came round to Fraser’s turn, the water pressure had come back up a bit and he actually got wet. For some reason the marina did not provide its own showering facility. This seemed a little harsh as we paid €100 for one night — quite possibly the worst, but most expensive marina we have ever stayed in.  

Despite all our grumblings about the marina, Cefalù town was really beautiful.

The only upside of the marina was they provided an electric shuttle bus into the town. We ventured there with the aim of stocking up our fridge, which was looking worryingly empty. The town was busy with tourists and we struggled to walk through the narrow streets (which were amazingly pretty). Kerry used her elbows-out technique as she finds this easier and more satisfying than weaving around everyone. Although we were also tourists, like nearly everyone there, we somehow felt different. We were ‘boat tourists’ and did not fit into the standard tourist appearance which is, we are ashamed to say, a little less unkempt than ourselves. It was a long, hot walk to the supermarket, past the busy beaches and all the restaurants. So much so that we felt we needed to stop at one of the restaurants and fill ourselves with Italian pasta and cold beer (which Fraser has been finding rather satisfying in temperatures above 30 degrees). The lunch was excellent although Kerry did eat a good bit of Fraser’s before she realised that they had been served to them the wrong way round! 

Narrow, winding streets and little tourist shops give the town a holiday feel.

Feeling very stuffed and strangely unenthused about food, we made it to the shop and filled our rucksacks with meat, long-life bread and drinks. Sicily does not seem to stock things like salad, which were always plentiful in France. It felt like a long, hot walk back to the shuttle stop and we barely made it with heavy shopping. It didn’t help that lunch had had a funny effect on Kerry’s tummy and she sent Fraser scouting to find an emergency toilet. He actually did find one, but when he described it to Kerry her tummy made a miraculous recovery and she decided she could hold on! 

While Kerry was worrying about toilets, Fraser kept darting off to take photos of views like this.

It was a very settled wind forecast for the rest of the week so we planned to make it all the way along the north coast of Sicily, staying on anchorages, even though coast was quite open and exposed. This meant there was a chance of some uncomfortable lumpy nights — but there is not much else that can be done. On Wednesday, we left Cefalu to anchor at Tindari. This was basically a beach with a sand spit, where we needed to be careful about depth in case we ran aground. There are actually underwater statues at Tindari that you can dive down and look at. Unfortunately we arrived quite late so did not have the opportunity. We did swim to check the anchor, which was well bedded in to shingle/sand. It was a quiet night with little wind so we did not need to hang onto our mattresses as we slept (on this occasion!).

Stunning! Kerry didn’t much like all the steps, but Fraser bounded up and down them like a gazelle.

We normally drink the water directly from our tanks on board, rather than carrying too much bottled water. This is because we have a UV steriliser fitted, so the water should be safe despite what bacteria might be living deep in the tanks and pipework! We had a problem though. The inline water filter was blocked, which mean that only a trickle was coming out of the UV tap. We had no spare filter of the correct size, so Fraser had to do some make-shift plumbing and fit a different type of water filter.

Fraser’s Bodgit-and-Scarper fix for the sterilising tap. Sadly, it wasn’t a success.

Unfortunately this didn’t really work and the drinking water tasted bad. Really bad — like a plastic flavoured cocktail. Kerry could not drink it at all and Fraser tried to force it down for a while but eventually had to give up too. Also we did not trust the water we got at Cefalù. Some marinas have potable water on the hoses and others state that it is just to be used for cleaning your boat. We were not 100% sure what it was at Cefalù. We had some emergency bottled water on board, so started using that, with the hope of finding a shop in the next few days. 

The monastery overlooking our anchorage at Tindari. It was a bit too far to walk with our limited time available (that’s Kerry’s excuse anyway).

On Thursday we continued east from Tindari to another anchorage at Calamona. We were trying to get as close as we could to the Straits of Messina, which is the narrow gap between Sicily and the Italian mainland.

The tide diagrams for the Straits of Messina were a little more complicated than we’re used to!

The fact that it is a narrow gap is very significant for sailors. One, it means a wind acceleration zone, as it compresses between the two land masses. Two, we would need to deal with tides again (I know we said there were no tides in the Mediterranean — we were wrong). The Tyrrhenian Sea meets with the Ionian Sea at this gap. Because the two seas have different temperatures and salinity (i.e. different densities) one passes over the other, causing an upper current and a different lower current. This is all modelled by an Italian computer, apparently, and they publish a free tide timetable. This is what we used to work out what time to go through the Straits so that the current (tide) would be in our favour. The current can be so strong that a boat with the speed of Barberry could otherwise be pushed backwards!   

Thunderbirds are go! This hydrofoil ferry sped past us as we were approaching Calamona anchorage.

We motored in light winds towards Calamona, which had no significant features compared to the rest of the coast other than a few sand covered cliffs. There was no protection from the sea at this anchorage. Although it started off quite still it got lumpy later and we were woken up in the night by the intense movement of our mattresses! We kind of had to hang on to them to stop ourselves moving around and Fraser got quite distressed that his sheet kept detaching itself from the mattress due to all the sliding around he was doing. So not much sleep was had, but at least we were close to the Straits of Messina, so all set for an early start the next day. 

Two very happy people, glad to discover they’ve got the tides right for the straits.

We were nervous about the Straits of Messina. It’s a tricky passage, with lots of big cargo ships passing through a relatively narrow gap. We had to stay outside the main shipping lanes to stay out of trouble, but also needed to avoid the numerous ferries that passed between Sicily and the mainland. All this in a current of up to 5 knots, for which we hoped we had arrived at the correct time! 

Turbulent waters, known since the time of Odysseus as a dangerous area. Here were once the twin monsters of legend, Scylla and Charybdis.

It all went well with Fraser taking the helm to dodge the fishing boats, then passing to Kerry to dodge the rather larger ferries. We passed some of the legendary swordfish hunting boats. These are weird contraptions with a giant mast — essentially a lookout tower — and an even bigger bow sprit. Apparently, they sneak up on the swordfish and spot them from the mast while the harpoon man does his stuff on the bow sprit. We actually spotted a couple of swordfish leaping from the surface. Fortunately for them they were a long way away from the hunting boats, so we didn’t witness a capture in action. It would have been sad to see one of these beautiful sea fish captured, although Fraser guiltily remembered that he had had swordfish in his pasta a couple of days ago, so he was party to it all! 

Swordfish hunters. Note the spotters at the top of the tall gantry in the middle of the boat, and see if you can spot the hunter at the end of the very long bowsprit, poised ready with his harpoon.

During all this action we looked down at the speed log and realised we were hitting 9 knots — so we had got the timing right to catch the south-going current. We were now into the Ionian Sea and it felt good! This was a major landmark on our trip. We also saw our first clear sight of mainland Italy. It actually looked less green than Sicily or Sardinia, so presumably was even hotter and drier. We arrived at our anchorage of Punta di Spropolo and were all alone there. This was strange after the hustle and bustle of Sicily. We had a lovely swim in crystal clear water, spotting no fish but one lone jellyfish. Apparently it was a fried egg jellyfish, presumably due to its unfortunate appearance! It was a great chance to try out the underwater camera.

The Fried Egg Jellyfish, luckily not a stinging variety. Fraser took this shot with the underwater camera.

We had a good night’s sleep, but were rapidly running out of bottled water by now and poor Fraser had completely run out of underwear. He had quickly adapted to wearing his swimming trunks, which he considered easier washed, by simply jumping in the sea!  

Obviously needed clean underwear again…

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