Sicily - Italy

June 5, 2008

Position N 37 03.7' E 015 16.9'

 

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We set sail at 0540 hours this morning from Malta and the sun was just peeking over the horizon as we cleared Valletta harbor. The wind stayed in the 15 knot range for most of the crossing to the Sicilian coast and we sailed just forward of a bean reach in a balmy 72 degrees with overcast skies. The waves were 6 foot high, steep and choppy and were hitting pretty much on the beam, making for an uncomfortable ride. For the last ten miles or so to the southeast point of Sicily, the wind increased to near 30 knots, it began to rain and we were down to heavily reefed Genoa and mizzen and still tearing over the ground at near 9 knots, with 8 to 10 foot waves knocking us about. The land mass of Sicily then shielded us from the waves but the wind stayed high and we sailed along the coast on a broad reach. A trawler passed about 100 yards off our stern in heavy seas and later we changed course to miss a head on with another sailing vessel. All this in daylight and clear conditions. We were visited by dolphins with their usual exuberant welcome, as we approached the town of Siracusa. We anchored off the town at 1650 hours. Five minutes later another American flagged vessel anchored alongside us. The crew is from Albuquerque.

June 6, 2008

Last evening we had invited Art, Barbara and Paul of "SV Sans Souci" aboard DoodleBug for "sundowners". All three are from Albuquerque and we had a great time discussing the relative merits of restaurants that are
6,000 miles away. Sans Souci is bound for Malta and we the opposite direction. This morning we launched our dinghy and fired up the outboard motor for the first time since it was serviced in Crete. It started on the
first pull and ran very nicely, providing a sense of relief since the mechanic was well out of range. We motored over to the main dock and explored the town of Siracusa seeking the "Polizia Frontiera". The Sicilian people we met were friendly and helpful and to a background of church bells playing various tunes, we soon located the office. Here we handed over a crew list (in Italian!) and received a cursory look at our passports before being waved away with a lazy "OK". We are now cleared into Sicily and the E.U.

Next task was breakfast and Annette ordered a breakfast pizza whose toppings included egg, artichoke, peas and olives. I stuck to the more traditional marmalade filled croissant and beer. Our Maltese cell phone was working in Sicily but roaming charges of US 80 cents per minute were eating through the pre-pay quite rapidly. We stopped at a Vodaphone store to add more Euros. "But this is a Maltese phone!". "Yes, we got it in Malta from Vodaphone and it has multi-country roaming. We just need to add more minutes." "You have to return to Malta to do that.......". Well, we did not entirely believe the last statement but nevertheless purchased a new SIM chip with an Italian number.

Back aboard DoodleBug we hastily re-stowed the dinghy and raised anchor at 1030 hours, setting sail for Riposto, a small town on the sea flank of Mount Aetna. We motor sailed under Genoa and main for the next six hours with light winds from the southeast in the range of 5 to 10 knots, thus blowing in the opposite direction to the forecast ten knots from the west. The Sicilian countryside lay just a few miles under our lee and we passed small villages and the occasional town, separated by green cultivated fields. The seas we were sailing through were noticeably more polluted with floating paper and other garbage and the only wildlife observed were two butterflies. I maintained there was only one butterfly and that it had overtaken us but Annette disputed this.

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We arrived at the Marina dell' Etna at 1630 hours and tied up at the dock. The docking procedure was the most entertaining to date. The bow lines are attached to the dock and are laid to a submarine anchor somewhere in the middle of the marina. The procedure is to back into the slip, tie up the stern lines to the dock and then pick up the bow lines by lifting the dock end and working forwards to the bow. The lines were heavily encrusted with barnacles, sea cucumbers and various mollusks, making the lines almost four inches in diameter. We had adopted the precaution of wearing work gloves, that protected us from the goo and sharp shells but the cone shaped mollusks reacted in horror to the unexpected disturbance by shooting out little fountains of sea water. It was like holding a leaking garden hose and we were getting soaked in mollusk spit. The challenges of sailing!

Mount Aetna broods to the west of us and we were told that we should be able to see the glow of lava tonight. The volcano erupted three weeks ago.

June 7, 2008

 Today we had arranged for a guided tour of the volcano and were met by Roberto the guide and his associate Mariella. Roberto is a geologist / vulcanologist / speleologist (Roberto Caudullo of VolcanoTrek www.volcanotrek.com) and picked us up at the marina in his Land Rover 4WD. He was extremely knowledgeable and it was a real pleasure to talk to someone who was both passionate and informed. We drove over rough trails with the LandRover grinding in low ratio four wheel drive, whilst we viewed lava flows from the different eruptions. Annette and Mariella visited a hotel on the upper slopes that had been overcome by the 2002 lava flow while I hiked with Roberto to examine a series of secondary vents. Mariella is a 2nd grade school teacher and she and Annette found lots to talk about.

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We looked at the weathering of different ages of lava with the return of various levels of plant life and reforestation. I was surprised to see trees growing on "new" lava flows in the absence of other ground cover. I had always assumed that plant life followed a pattern similar to that of a forest fire aftermath, with lichens and grasses first, then bushes, then trees. On the newer lava flows, only the trees were strong enough to gain a foothold in the loose surface rubble. We chatted about the mechanism of flows, the Silica content of different lavas, the gas content and the effects of the hot gases vented from the depths, upon the exposed surface rocks and igneous rubble. Our tour was accompanied by the crashes and rumbles of explosions from the volcano, as the build up of gases overcame the cooling magma.

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Our picnic lunch was absolutely superb and we sat around a basalt "table" amongst mature trees, eating a smorgasbord of Italian meats, cheeses, pickles and fruits, together with fabulous bread. Annette has not stopped raving about the fantastic and delicious bread she has found here.

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To round out our day, Roberto produced carbide fueled caving lamps and helmets and we descended into a  lava tube to examine the internal structure and evidence of flow changes. A great and memorable excursion.

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In the evening we headed back into town to find a working ATM and in doing so stopped into a "rock" shop. Here we bought samples of Sicilian sulphur on a base of Celestina. Sulphur was mined here for a couple of centuries until the advent of oil production. Today all of the world's sulphur is extracted during the refining process of crude oil.

Back in the town square we found a political rally going on and naturally grabbed a beer to watch for while. An elderly man, impeccably dressed in a suit was wandering about accompanied by "arm candy" the age of his grand daughter. She may actually have been his granddaughter of course. He was shaking hands, smiling, being friendly and was obviously the local Pol. Just like everywhere else.

 

June 8, 2008

 Position N 38 43.0' E 016 07.7' at 1430 hours UTM
This morning as we stowed our "passarelle" (boarding ramp) and readied for departure from the Riposto marina at 0430 hours, Aetna rumbled in the background and we looked up to see that the sky was now clear. A broad river of red fire ran in a zigzag down the brooding mountain behind us - the lava flow from the eruption of three weeks ago. We made our final preparations in the darkness with the First Mate making dour mutterings about "De fire vorm comink!"  (someone has watched the movie "The 13th. Warrior" too many times).

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At 0505 hours we set sail for Vibo Valentia on the Italian coast. We were leaving so early because it is not only a big jump to make in daylight but we needed to time the currents in the Straits of Messina. I had checked high tide times at Gibraltar and made the calculations; Last night's sliver of a moon also promised a neap tide, so we were set.

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The sun rose over a clear sky with just the plume of steam and gases from the Aetna crater, plus smoke from the cooking vegetation near the lava flow. A truly spectacular view. We motored almost all day with occasional help from very variable light winds that had us making frequent sail trimming efforts in order to grab an extra half knot of speed. The Sicilian coast passed off our port beam with cliffs, villages, green fields and resort sprawl. By noon we were beginning our transit of the Messina strait and seemed to be finding the slack tide as predicted. The strait was crisscrossed by ferries, large ships were passing in both directions, small fishing boats were mixing it up in seemingly random patterns and we could also see a dozen or so sword-fishing boats. The latter are only found in the Messina strait and supposedly swordfish "sleep" near the surface of the water by day. The strange looking sword-fishing vessels have a mast of perhaps 100 feet, with one or two men keeping watch for swordfish. Below them, the vessel has a ludicrous bowsprit that looks perhaps twice the length of the hull projecting in front. Along the top of this is a catwalk where presumably a harpoonist would do his thing. We did not see any swordfish being captured but as it is a common item on local menus, one supposes that the fishing method must work. At 1630 hours we arrived at Marina Stella del Sud at the town of Vibo Valentia, Italy.

June 9, 2008

 Position N 39 31.6' E 015 55.4' at 1430 hours UTM.

 

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This morning we dropped our lines at the Marina Stella del Sud in Vibo Valentia at 0755 hours and set sail for Cetraro, some 45 miles to the north. The day was sunny with light winds and we motored with the main sail along the Italian coast. The coast here is mountainous with low steep ranges along the coast and higher ranges arrayed behind. The morning rain clouds were soon burned away by the sun and it was a postcard day as we passed the verdant fields and woods, with their sprinkling of homes, seen as red tiled roofs. Along many of the ridge tops were lines of idle windmills and I wondered as before, if they serve any useful purpose other than to mollify the gullible.


Is a windmill of any use unless coupled with a storage device, whether for water or electricity? What is used to take up the missing power source when the wind is calm like today? Do they use small diesel generators? What margin of surplus generation capacity is used if there is a wind driven component? Is the surplus conventional generation margin bigger if wind is added?

These musings were interrupted by an alarm sounding aboard DoodleBug. After a minute or so, the alarm was tracked down to the engine control panel and from there, further refined to the high temperature alarm. Then I noticed that the alarm light had the tiniest glow to it. We turned the engine off and checked the outflow of raw water coolant and the level of engine coolant in the reservoir. Both were fine. Next we researched the engine manual. It just advised what we had already done and then suggested heading for harbor at very low speed. It did mention that the alarm sensor was supposed to signal a coolant temperature in excess of 95 degrees Celsius. The analog temperature gauge indicated a normal temperature of just under 80 degrees and the engine seemed otherwise fine. We checked the engine over for water pump belt tightness, oil level and the like before firing it up again and continuing warily to our destination. On the way I formulated a theory.

When the boat was serviced in Turkey I had asked the yard to replace the temperature gauge sensor. This had not been done but I could see that instead, the engine high temperature sensor had been replaced. What if the correct sensor I had ordered had been installed in the wrong place? As soon as we docked, I measured the resistance of the two sensors. The gauge sensor should have resistance but the other is just a temperature controlled switch. The gauge sensor showed 93 ohms and the "new" sensor 85 ohms. We let things cool down for about an hour and checked again. The gauge sensor now showed 232 ohms and the "new" sensor 220 ohms. Hypothesis confirmed! Now we just have to find a high temperature warning sensor somewhere on the planet and replace it.

We are currently anchored behind the seawall just off the beach and outside of the marina at Cetraro.

June 10, 2008

Position N 40 01.5' E 015 17.6' at 1230 hours UTM.
The web mistress, daughter Helen is in England and sent us an e-mail this morning. They had arrived safely at Heathrow and were met by my sister Rosemary. When they loaded their luggage into Aunt Rosemary's car, grandson Maddox noticed that the steering wheel was on the "wrong" side and announced, "Car broken!". Now ain't he a genius at two years old?

We raised anchor at 0815 hours and headed south towards Capo Palinuro. A plateau of high pressure sits over the Tyrrhenian Sea and we continued to experience light winds from the west, blowing at 2 knots in the early morning and building to 10 knots by early afternoon. We proceeded to motor-sail northwest along the Italian coast with just the mainsail rigged.

 

The coast line continued with steep cliffs reaching down to the water, separating small coves with sandy beaches and resorts. At one point we passed an old style resort with tiled roof on the cliff top and in front of it was an elevator. The top two thirds of the cliff is vertical with the bottom third flaring outwards. The elevator looked as though it is recessed into the solid rock for the vertical segment before disappearing from view into the rock of the lower segment. The cliff was perhaps 200 feet high and we could see that the beach below with a two story building is cut off by rock buttresses on either side. Access is by sea or by the elevator. Really cool and looked like something you would see in a "Bond" movie where the head of SPECTER hangs out.

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At 1430 hours we anchored just behind and on the  south side of Capo Palinuro. There are a series of beaches here that at first glance are accessible only be sea. We then noticed that several of the cliff top homes had extensive ladder systems, snaking down the sheer cliff faces that I estimate at just under 200 feet in height. To the immediate south of our anchorage is a small islet that juts straight out of the sea. It's inhabitants are seagulls that wheel in flight around the summit and their cries echo off the cliffs behind us. A very pretty place.


Just around sunset a small fishing boat chugged across our bay deploying a long net. I watched where the end of the net was dropped and we can get around it tomorrow morning. I then checked the weather forecast for the night and received a message that the French forecasters we have been using for this area are on strike for the next week. Vive la France!

June 11, 2008

The 8th. Army under Montgomery crossed the straits of Messina to Calabria on September 3rd, 1943. On September 8th. an armistice was declared between Allied forces and the forces of Italy and a few hours later, the allies landed in force at Salerno. Over 65 years later, DoodleBug also arrived in Salerno and is moored at N 40 40.3' E 014 45.2'. There was no long range bombardment, we simply motor-sailed up the coast in light winds after raising anchor this morning at 0730 hours. The fishing boat that had laid a net across the bay the previous night was retrieving same as we were leaving and we saw no fish in the net.

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The cruising guide was vague on marinas in Salerno other than there were three. There were no contact radio channels listed or e-mail addresses, just an incomplete set of phone numbers. We began calling by radio some 5 miles off and spoke to the main commercial harbor pilot. He in turn gave us some more phone numbers and we got a response from the third number we called. The man we talked to had limited English (but much better than my Italian!) and indicated that we could have a berth. What we could not get out of him was "where" but he did manage to indicate the "Tourist Marina". We sailed into this harbor looking for someone waving at us and moored at the fuel dock. After buying some fuel, we asked the fuel dock guy if he knew of "Azimuth". He waved over at the commercial port. I redialed "Azimuth's" number and had the fuel guy talk to him. He talked for some time and then announced that we were too big to go into Azimuth's mooring and too big for the "Tourist Marina". He suggested we contact "Auturio". There was still no answer from Auturio's number. "Just ask anyone over there", he suggested. We motored into the main commercial port and as we bobbed around in the middle, we stopped a small power boat and were in the process of handing the lady within a slip of paper with our cell number, when "Auturio's" dinghy showed up. We followed this and were squeezed into the tightest slip we have ever been in. We met Auturio at the main dock and negotiated a slip price. He began at 92 Euros per night but we settled at 75 on a handshake. He was not interested in boat documentation or insurance verification. I felt like I should kiss his ring.

 

June 12, 2008

6/12/2008: We had set the alarm clock for an early start to visit the ruins of Pompeii. The dawn was grey, the wind whistling and the sound was of rain hitting the cabin top. Back to bed! We called a "rain day" wherein we catch up on accumulated boat chores. Annette did several loads of laundry (she dries the clothing on a line strung in the shelter of the Bimini) and I worked on a couple of maintenance issues. By afternoon it had stopped raining and we showered, cleaned up and headed into town. I tried a couple of internet cafes for WiFi access with my own laptop and received rather surly negatives. Then we found a cafe / bar that offered free WiFi. The "pay for access" internet places had been crowded and here we were not only the sole users but we had beer and pastries, while I was able to update the website and catch up on a backlog of accounts. The proprietor was very friendly and spoke excellent English. At around 6 p.m. we were getting hungry for supper and Annette asked him to recommend a restaurant. He explained that no restaurants open before 8 p.m. and suggested that by the time we return to DoodleBug, shower and clean up, it would be nearly 8 p.m. This statement really hurt our feelings because I had just showered, blow dried my hair, shaved and was wearing one of my best "buttoned" shirts along with clean shorts. Similarly Annette was freshly bathed and coifed and was wearing jewelry and stylish clothing. This is as good as it gets, Buddy!

June 13, 2008

This morning's alarm clock heralded a much better day for outdoor touristing. We walked through town and caught the long distance train to Napoli. Here we switched to a nearby railway station for a local train, the
"Circumvesuviana". As we waited on the platform, we met and chatted to fellow sailor "Harry". Harry had sailed aboard "SV Cloud Nine", off the coast of Greenland. I had recently read an article about this vessel (April 2008 issue of SSCA bulletin) as it transited the Northwest Passage in 2005. Harry works at expediting conferences for the E.U. and they had just finished such an event in Salerno. He mentioned that last week an Italian politician took the unusual step of openly criticizing the degree to which organized crime controls Italian politics. That same evening the speaker's home in Rome burned to the ground. I thought it was supposed to be horse's heads on the first warning.

The last time I visited Pompeii was in 1969 when I was with five other likely lads, traveling by military surplus truck. We camped out at Herculaneum and climbed Vesuvius but were actually in transit and headed for the Palermo ferry and Africa. The purpose of our trip then was to climb Mt. Kenya.

The last time Annette was here was in 1971. She was in Napoli to get an engagement ring resized, to have a wedding dress tailored and fitted and for her mother to try and talk her out of marrying me. When they visited the Pompeii ruins the site was closed, as the museum workers were on strike. The ring and wedding dress were taken care of but neither the archaeological visit nor her mother's admonishments were successful.

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Back in 2008 we gazed in awe at the ruins of the Roman town of Pompeii. The town was laid out in a grid of paved and cambered roads to handle drainage, with solidly built sewers. The remains of roofing tiles were on many of the buildings and looked little different from today's villas. There were bath houses, bakeries, market areas and fine homes. All of the components of a thriving, town based community. I have always found that my experience of such places as Pompeii, Leptis Magna, Sabratha and the like, to be more compelling than visiting the odd ruin of a single building or temple. Pompeii

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already had nearly five hundred years of history of conquest, invasion and earthquake, before being finally buried by the AD79 eruption of Vesuvius. I had imagined that the inhabitants of the town were wiped out without warning but indeed the town was in the process of being rebuilt from the devastating AD 62 earthquake. It is likely that most of the inhabitants had fled during the eruptions and the casualties would have been amongst the servants who were told to, "Keep an eye on the place. We'll be back in a couple of days".

Back at Napoli we asked for directions when switching from the "CircumVesuviana" railway station to the intercity station. The railway employee insisted that it was impossible to travel to Salerno by train. We must take the bus. We ignored him

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and walked around the corner to board the Salerno train a few minutes later. Then followed a miserable forty five minutes, as there was no air-conditioning on the train and the windows did not open. Should have taken the bus.

June 14, 2008

Up bright and early and I serviced the engine and transmission (messy job!). Meanwhile Annette worked on a post-card project (less messy). Our first stop of the day was the post office to mail the aforementioned
postcards, plus mail S/V Forever's errant memory chip we had recovered in Crete. The post office took the memory chip package but directed us to a nearby tobacconist in order to buy postage stamps for the postcards. Obvious really! We bought the stamps and then schlepped the postcards back to the post office to mail them. Va Bene!

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Onwards to the railway station to catch the train to the town of Paestum, where spectacular Greco-Roman ruins lie. The train was an hour late and we stood on a crowded platform inhaling the subtle fragrances of human shit, body odor and cigarette smoke. The toilets on the trains void directly onto the tracks and although there is a sign indicating that the toilet should not be flushed whilst the train is at the platform, there was ample olfactory and visual evidence that this sign is commonly ignored.

We arrived in Paestum in late morning and the train disgorged us to an empty and uninhabited station. The road outside was also empty. There was map on a nearby poster but it did not indicate either a railway station or the location of the ruins. Finally we found a passing taxi driver who waved down a lonely and empty lane and indicated one kilometer. He did not offer us a ride however.

The museum and ruins were spectacular. The museum was large, modern looking and contained all sorts of artifacts that were discovered at the nearby ruins. Unfortunately only a few were labeled in a language other than Italian; a surprising oversight for a destination for International tourists. The three most spectacular buildings were the partially restored temples of Hera, Neptune and Ceres. This was not a huge town and the effort to construct these massive buildings must have been considerable. Altogether a very pleasant day.

We returned to the completely deserted station and were the only passengers who boarded the train back to Salerno, after a wait of perhaps five minutes. In Salerno we walked in mid-afternoon through the main pedestrian walkway, now a locked and boarded ghost town. During the work week it is packed solid with shoppers and every few steps is a coffee bar or ice cream parlor. Many of the shops display clothing and it  is obvious that the Italians take their fashions very seriously. My river-rafting, amphibious, boat shoes have received some curious looks.

That evening we again went back into town as the city returns to life at 6 p.m. We needed a final check of the weather, since we have a tight weather window for the passage to Corsica tomorrow. In addition we were nearly out of beer. We have seen nothing that even looks like a super-market and when we have been directed to such, they have been just a marginally larger local store. We asked for beer at one liquor store and the proprietor kindly directed us to a nearby butcher's shop. Here we bought some bottled beer that had been stuffed in a case under the counter and out of view. 

 

On our return to DoodleBug we passed a wedding party. The bride and groom were in full wedding regalia and having their photographs taken. Both were wearing matching dark and fashionable sunglasses.

June 15, 2008

 

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We dropped our lines this morning at 1025 hours and motored out of the Salerno harbor amongst a swarm of other vessels. My guess is that most of the male population of Salerno head for the marina on a Sunday morning. We motored along the coast in light headwinds and a choppy sea with 2 to 3 foot waves, sunny skies. By noon we were passing the island of Capri and Vesuvius in the background. There must have been some kind of current exiting the Bay of Naples as the waves were now in the 6 foot range with an occasional 8 footer. Capri is renowned to be hideously expensive and I watched as a 10 million dollar plus power boat was exiting the Capri anchorage and being thrown violently from side to side whilst rolling like a pig. Apparently the laws of physics still apply no matter how expensive the vessel. Now clear of Capri, the waves dropped to the 3 to 4 foot range and the headwind gradually increased in strength as the day wore on but we managed to keep enough of an angle to the wind to motor-sail with the mainsail and make good progress. Our weather window is tight, with gale force winds in the Straits of Bonifacio where we are headed and a wind shift forecast for tonight. We are expecting a strong blow from the southeast giving us a broad reach and then we need to transit the straits before strong headwinds reassert themselves.