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Friday, July 20, 2007

Sensational Sicily 2007

It didn’t take long for Sicily to work her magic on us.  Our first port of call was the enchanting town of Trapani on the west coast.  The town dock where we tied up was a bit scruffy but we soon fell in love with this bustling Italian town with its distinct Arab influence.  We loved the amazing food, the wonderful pottery, fantastic clothes and the colourful and animated people.
We biked all over Trapani exploring far and wide.  One day we took a bus to the foot of Mt Giuliano and caught the cable car to the tiny Aragonese town of Erice at the top. It was wonderful to wander the cobbled streets, explore the ancient castle and enjoy panoramic views over Trapani and to Marsala further down the coast. 
We stayed a week in Trapani and only left because we were worried about our weight……we’d discovered Angelo’s – an amazing patisserie right behind Bandit.  Every night David would visit and return with a beautifully boxed and disgustingly rich dessert.  Time to go!
From Trapani we worked our way around the north coast.  One night as we were anchored in lovely Castellamare David happened to read the town was (and still is) a mafia stronghold on Sicily.  Close to Palermo, it was where so many of the mafia dons holed out.  We loved Castellamare and felt very safe there.  The local markets were an absolute job with an abundance of fresh produce as well as the delicious Italian cheeses, olives, oils and cured meats.
Marlborough friends Helen and Zak Ensor were flying into Palermo so we found a safe anchorage at nearby Terrasini to await their arrival.  We anchored off the town in crystal clear water and enjoyed a late afternoon swim.  Shortly after we’d gone to bed a dreadful smell enveloped Bandit and we quickly realised that our delightful anchorage was in fact the outlet for the town sewer which was released each night!  Needless to say, our morning swim was off!
We loved the north coast of Sicily especially the Capo Gallo nature reserve where we picked up a free mooring for the night.  Swimming was not great as once again we were plagued with nasty jellyfish.
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Onto Cefalu, perhaps one of the prettiest towns on the north coast.  We anchored off the marina and walked into the delightful town and once again, just loved exploring and soaking up the wonderful Italian atmosphere. First time visitors to Italy,  Helen and Zak loved it.
Perhaps the best known and definitely most picturesque town on Sicily is Taormina, on the north east coast.  With its sweeping views over to smoking Mt Etna, ancient Roman ruins and amazing position high on the hills overlooking the sea, Taormina really is spectacular. 
The only downside is the exposed anchorage which is affected by swell and is constantly rolly.  We wanted to enjoy Taormina as much as possible but after three nights of constant rolling and not much sleep we couldn’t take any more.
We headed for the mainland coast of Italy where we spent a couple of nights anchored near Crotone in Calabria waiting for a weather window for an overnight passage to Corfu in the Greek Ionian Islands.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gorgeous Greece 2007

Some of our best sailing memories are of the gorgeous Greek Islands.  We are lucky enough to have visited dozens of them during our five seasons in the Mediterranean and, have to say, we would go back in a flash.  Greece really is magical.  So…we figured it would be nice to reminisce and add a splash of Mediterranean colour to the blog. 
We love everything about Greece but especially the amazingly colourful fishing boats which fishermen seem to spend hours in whether fishing, mending nets or painting them in bright colours.  Greek scenery is gorgeous – the blue and white in the Cyclades, red and white in northern Greece and the Italian influence in the Ionian.
When we bought Bandit and began planning our Mediterranean odyssey, Greece (where we’d both been before) was high on the agenda.  In late July 2007 we euphorically sailed into Greek waters after a two day/night passage from Italy.
Corfu was a gentle re introduction.  With its lush green slopes, Italian cypress trees, Genoese architecture and pastel coloured villas it was reminiscent of the beautiful Italian towns we’d left behind.
But the minute we stepped ashore in Kassiopi and heard traditional Greek music, saw Greek dancing and tasted ouzo again…we knew we were in Greece and it was wonderful to be back.  The spanakopita (spinach and feta pies) tasted better than we remembered, the lamb stifado, grilled sardines and octopus were divine and the Greek yoghurt and black olives became a Bandit staple. 
We had lots of visitors that first season and have some very special memories of some wonderful times and, sadly, of an exceptionally sad time when our dear friend Zak Ensor died in Corfu.  It was Zak’s first Mediterranean adventure and he loved Bandit and the precious few weeks he had sailing in the Aeoli Islands, Sicily and Corfu.
His sudden death entailed a rushed and traumatic trip back to New Zealand where we gave him a wonderful farewell at Tyntesfield.  We returned emotionally drained and exhausted but had our good friends Johnny and Jenny Oswald arrive to help us pick up the pieces.
 Soon after son Sam turned up.  He was in Europe for the Rugby World Cup and after watching a game in the south of France caught buses, trains and ferries to Corfu.  One of my oldest and dearest friends Stephanie from Australia arrived too.  Steph and I had travelled to some fantastic places in the 1980s including Israel and Egypt and had lots of fun recounting some funny stories.
 From Corfu we trickled down through the northern Ionian to Paxi, Anti Paxi, Levkas, Menganisi, Skorpio, Ithaca and Kefallonia where Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed.  We loved Kefallonia especially Fiskardo and the main town of Sami which was a great working town with fantastic provisions and a wonderful atmosphere.  I found a fantastic lady who washed, dried and ironed my sheets for five euro – and threw in a big bag of fresh apricots as well. 
After leaving Jenny and Johnny in Kefallonia we slowly made our way back up to Preveza where we were leaving Bandit for the winter.
In Preveza we hired a car and headed inland driving up to the remote Zagoria Villages near the Albanian border.  These were intriguing, built of slate and stone.  Life is pretty basic here – not many houses have power or running water but the people, despite being very poor, were incredibly friendly. 
From Zagoria we drove to Meteora where dozens of monasteries perch precariously on the top of rocky outcrops.  They were built so the monks could live safely and avoid persecution.  Some had perilous access by basket and rope only.  Our drive back to Preveza was memorable for two reasons – it snowed on the high pass we drove over and we got completely lost.  So lost (we were following a map that was entirely in Greek) we ended up back in Meteora after six hours on the road.  Yeap – we’d done a huge circuit through some fairly exciting countryside.  Oh well, another night in Meteora!
Once we made sure Bandit was safe for the winter we caught the bus to Athens – a six hour trip along the Gulf of Corinth – and had a few nights there before flying to the UK to spend the winter working and dreaming of our next season sailing in the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Enchanting Egardis and amazing Aeolis 2007

To the west of Sicily lie the beautiful Egardi Islands, a group of four rarely visited by yachts or tourists.  As they were on the direct route from southern Sardinia, and the cruising guide said they were fantastic, we decided to stop for a few days.  
We pulled into the westernmost island Marettimo after an uneventful overnight passage and were stunned by this gorgeous island.  Colourful fishing boats lined the small dock, the waters were deep and crystal clear and the rugged coastline was spectacular.  The people ashore were relaxed and friendly and the town tiny and quaint.
From here we went to Favignana, the largest of the Egadis and famous for its annual Mattanza - tuna kill.  Huge tuna run between Sicily and the Egardis in the season and local fishermen string nets out to corral the fish and then spear them in a bloodied killing frenzy.  In early days the islands had many tuna processing plants but as stocks have dwindled these plants have closed and today the tuna industry has become a boutique one.  A handful of shops on the island sell expensive tuna products and restaurants sell tuna steaks, risotto and pasta.
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 The Mattanza has become a bit of a tourist attraction but one that we weren’t sorry we’d missed.  We love tuna and don’t mind catching the odd one but the sight of hundreds of huge tuna being slaughtered just doesn’t seem to make sense in these ecologically aware days.
The waters around the Egardis were thick with nasty brown jellyfish making swimming almost impossible.  We’d jump in with snorkel and mask and quickly check for jellies before having a quick swim around the boat constantly on the lookout.
We enjoyed the Egardis so much we decided to head on up to the Aeoli group which lies off the north coast of Sicily and includes the active volcano Stromboli.  There are seven islands and we visited six.  Anchoring here can be a bit problematical as being volcanic the waters are incredibly deep and the bottom is often rock.
Our first stop was Filicudi where we got our first shock – 40 euro ($90) for a mooring!  It was too late to go anywhere else so we reluctantly handed over the cash, pockets hurting.  Next day we moved on to Salina, famous for its sweet Malvasi wine made from grapes which are first air dried before being processed into wine.
We’d picked up Marlborough friends Helen and Zak Ensor in Sicily before heading up to the Egardis.  They’re grape growers and were intrigued at the intensive hand methods used in cultivating grapes here so did an island tour to check things out, buying a bottle of Malvasi en route.  After Salina we headed on to Lipari. 
The main town was a great place to wander and soak up the holiday atmosphere but the anchorage wasn’t great so we headed to neighbouring Vulcano, an active vulcano and walked to the top where you could look down into the smoking crater. 
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Then it was on to glitzy Panarea – island of the rich and famous and sure enough, Dolce and Gabbana were in town, well their gold motor yacht was anchored off in the very crowded anchorage.
We had drinks at a trendy bar and just as well Zak offered to shout – it cost 30euro for two beer and two glasses of prosecco.  Next night on Stromboli it was our shout and the same drinks cost 10 euro!
Stromboli didn’t perform for us.  She puffed white smoke at regular intervals but we didn’t get to see the red lava that she often blows at night, earning her the name Lighthouse Island. 
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Stromboli was a lovely island and we enjoyed a day and night here.  It would have been nice to linger in the Aeolis but they are very unprotected anchorages.  So, with a Mistral forecast we set sail for Sicily, having a rip roaring sail through the Straits of Messina.  As we did we watched the local fishermen try to spear swordfish from the long bow of a very strange looking boats.
Luckily for the fish, we only saw the fishermen miss.  The swordfish got to live another day!