Our Stay in Malta was brief and we did not do much in the way of exploring other than taking a taxi a few times to town for groceries. The grocery stores in Malta are completely unlike the European ones in that they stock more American goods. Cereals, potato chips, condiments, REAL roast beef, you name it. We really stocked up. After that, we had nothing more to do except to set out for Siracusa, Sicily and then on to Taormina, a picturesque anchorage on the eastern side of Sicily within viewing distance of Mt Etna and with a romantic mountaintop village.
The trip from Malta to Siracusa was pleasantly uneventful. Seas were flat calm for the entire 85 mile trip. We arrived at the anchorage mid afternoon and actually dropped our anchor in the exact spot that we did last year. Siracusa is a near perfectly protected anchorage if you pick the right spot. We dropped anchor in 25 feet of water and spooled out 175 feet of chain, which is way too much, but I sleep well at night that way.
Last Christmas, Carol bought me a drone with a built in video camera. I had used it quite a bit over land but for some reason I was hesitant to try it over the water. The wind was at 0 knots and I figured if I was ever to do it, now was the time. It was fun, but I was so nervous that the video was kind of crappy, so, I won’t post the link here. I tend to get braver as time goes on, so stay tuned!
Our friends Bill and Janet on Airstream, who we met while in Turkey a few seasons back, were also anchored in Siracusa. Through them we were introduced to another family, Bill and Judy on BeBe, who had their Granddaughter Elizabeth along with them for a few months. They in turn introduced us to yet another couple, Suzanne and Bob, which gave us a perfect excuse for a party aboard Seabird!
The Cocktail Party
That lead to dinner the following night at our favorite Siracusa restaurant, La Tavernetta da Piero. It really is nice meeting new cruising friends. It is interesting, because back in Connecticut, our former home cruising grounds, sail boaters and power boaters were like the Hatfields and the McCoys! They had their marinas and we had ours. I have no idea how that started, but it was long before we got into boating. It may have been the tendency of power boaters to pass sailboats close by at 25 kts and sailboaters tendency to cut us off in a channel. When we started cruising, things changed. Most of our friends that we met along the way owned sailboats and we have had a lot of fun. Of course, at Seabird’s cruising speed of 8 knots, I would be hard pressed to throw a 6 inch wake!
The Cruise to Taormina was a short one at 48 miles. I had mentioned before that we had no mechanical issues. I had forgot about the battery issue. Toward the end of last season, the battery that starts our generator and emergency wing engine was starting to fail. On my list of springtime repairs was to replace it. As it turned out, getting a large 8D size battery was an issue and we had to settle for two smaller ones connected together. After the repairs were done and the mechanics had left Marina di Ragusa, the engines still barely turned over and started. I decided that I probably never had a bad battery and it was probably something else. After tracing the wires I found the problem. One of the tiny wires connected to the starter was chafed and touching the oil filter, causing a partial short circuit. I felt really stupid for not having checked that out initially but I repaired it and it was working fine now so not to dwell on it………
Taormina is a special place. It is a mildly protected anchorage as long as the wind is not coming from the South, Southeast or East with a beautiful mountaintop ancient city towering above you and an active volcano just off in the distance. While there, we rented a mooring from our friend George, who operates his business “Yacht Hotel” from his sailboat in the mooring field. Yacht Hotel is not a hotel at all, but a mooring field for small and large boats. It is aptly named, however, because of the price (gulp!) he charges per night. For a mooring ball in the most spectacular anchorage in all of Sicily, it costs 80 Euros per night. Well guess what? In prime season, you need to call well in advance to secure a spot there and just after our departure from Taormina he was planning on adding more mooring balls to meet demand. This is truly capitalism at its best. Supply and demand sets the price. I recommend it wholeheartedly as a stop.
The City of Taormina on the hill
Straits of Messina
After staying in Taormina for two nights, it was on to our next stop, Milazzo after passing through the Messina Straits.
Traversing the Messina straits is VERY interesting. First of all, you have ferry boats going back and forth all day from Sicily to the Italian mainland, crisscrossing your path all the way up. Secondly, and most important, is the current, which can run 4 to 5 knots in either direction. You might think it is a tidal situation, but since the Mediterranean has very little tide, it has to be something else. To make a point, the tide is ALWAYS flowing into the med from Gibraltar. That seems strange, but the Med is such a large area that the evaporation rate is huge, so water from the Atlantic is always pouring into the Med. slowly at low tide and fast at high tide to replenish what is lost.
On one side of the Messina Straits is the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the other side is Colder and saltier Levantine intermediate water. The explanation gets very complex and wordy, but in short, the small changes in tide from Gibraltar cause huge current variations that are difficult to predict and have been studied since the days of Homer.
If you are interested in a more thorough explanation of this phenomenon, this link below will take you to an explanation:
We have been fortunate going through three times and had at least most of the trip going with us. It is a very wild ride for sure! You would think it would be fun getting a 4-5 knot push from the current, but it is not! The current is not always straight and you encounter counter currents and whirlpools intermittently, which creates havoc with the steering system.
We arrived in Milazzo in late afternoon. We arrived in the harbor and called the harbor master on channel 9 as directed. He motored out in his small inflatable and directed us to enter the basin between two boats. Seabird is 19 feet, two inches wide. I have never been afraid to squeeze through a tight space, but it looked to me like he was directing me through an opening about 17 feet wide. I know a little bit of Italian, but not the words for “Too narrow!!,”. Finally, after 10 minutes of Carol and my sign language, a light bulb went off in his head and he directed is around the outside corner to, for us, docking heaven: a side tie!
Seabird with our treasured Side Tie against the dock in Milazzo
It was a nice, but expensive marina. I don’t know what else to say about the place.. The town was a nice stopover and we had dock water to wash the boat. The guy in front of us on a gorgeous 80 foot sailboat asked for a tour of the boat and he told us that If we wanted to sell it to him, he would buy it. I don’t know what his infatuation with Seabird was, especially coming from his beautiful, sleek sailboat. That just NEVER happens to us when we actually WANT to sell a boat.
Our plan was to stay for a couple of nights, then move on to another small port on northern Sicily, Cefalu.
Next blog….Seabird gets fleeced…….
A few more pics…
Our friends Bill and Janet aboard Airstream in the Messina Straits
A cliffside home in Milazzo, Sicily
Periodically, during the month, in Siracusa, they close an entire street
and cover it with artwork made of flowers. It is a huge project, very
beautiful, and sadly, gone the next day.
Mt Etna as seen from our boat while moored in Taormina
This is a view from the harbor we anchored in
while in Taormina
On the streets of Taormina, Sicily. To get to the
top from the harbor, the road meanders back and
forth and the houses are terraced.
Siracusa in the Background
You can cruise the world this way…or that way……
This ship is called “The World”, aptly named because that is all it does. It continuously circles the globe. It is basically a huge floating condominium complex with homes starting at over $1,000,000 each. On top of the purchase price you pay a large maintenance fee. The Sicilian Coast
Guard kicked us out of our favorite anchoring spot here in Siracusa harbor because this
beast was arriving and wanted our spot. I didnt argue…
And last but not least…….
While our boat was out of the water being worked on in Marina di Ragusa,
The marina was kind enough to rent us one of their apartments at a
bargain price! This picture was taken from our balcony. There were some-
times as many as 8 of these bulls in the yard at any given time. This was
as close as I wanted to get. It was the way that they stared at you…..