Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Tunisia and back to Sardinia

Photo: From the volcano's rim on Vulcano looking toward Lipari and Salina. Chinook is in the left anchorage (mid picture).

The Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Tunisia and back to Sardinia
From the Italian mainland (Tropea) we motor-sailed to the island of Salina (46 n.m/8 hours on Octotber 3), one of seven islands in the group known as the Aeolians (Isoli Eoli). Most of these are volcanic in origin, the two actively volcanic islands, Stromboli and Vulcano being the best known. Salina is famous for its capers (the pickled berry - not adventures), specially priced here (overly-so for the tourists) and it was from the tiny marina that we spent five days biking and bus tripping around. The tourist season being over, the town was quiet. All of the islands are "steep to" therefore making anchoring tricky - especially in the windier months.

Photos: standing on the edge of the crater, and the stinky tepid pools below.

Lipari was the next island we visited, only ten miles south of Salina, and we spent four nights in a marina out of town a little, but with our bikes it was only a ten-minute jaunt. Here we met up with "Martin the Finn" on Constancia whom we had met in Cagliari last winter - and was now on his way back there. We enjoyed a couple of meals together on Chinook and swapped our summer travels. We took a ferry from Lipari to Vulcano for a day with our bikes and biked to the south end of the island. The scenery was spectacular. It was good to have to stop periodically to enjoy it because we needed the rests. As it turned out, we did anchor for one night in Vulcano's western bay and climbed to the volcano's rim and later soaked in warm (and very stinky) mud pools - said to be good for the skin. Our skins smelled of the mud for three days - what you call "deep penetration".... Constancia was also anchored there but there were only four other sailboats instead of the 50 there would typically be in the main sailing season. What luck for us.

The Sicilian Experience
With the weather due to change for the worse we sailed to Sicily (52 n.m.) staying one night in Cefalu, then on to Palermo, the capital (32 n.m.), where we spent three weeks enjoying this amazing city's cathedrals, galleries, marketplaces and old narrow streets. We took bus trips to other towns nearby. Sicily is a very large and mountainous island, beautiful, and of course, reputed for the Mafia (still with a covert influence)

A highlight in Palermo for us was the visit to the Cappuccini Catacombs where, under an old cemetery, we walked along narrow, dimly lit corridors, with thousands of mummified bodies hanging out of their wall niches (in an upright stance) grinning at us. Just like a Speilberg movie set. Originally, friars from the nearby abbey had been preserved in this manner for 200 years, then the local rich gentry got in on the act - so they could visit and sit with the relatives in person so to speak. 8000 bodies, including young children, line the walls (see photo).

But the real Sicilian highlight was meeting up again with Gioi, who had purchased a YoungSun/Westwind sister ship ("Zephyr") a few months earlier (see the March blog). Gioi and his lovely Dutch girlfriend, Lidia, are living aboard in a small marina in Palermo and had very kindly arranged a spot for us near them. We spent a lot of time with them, eating delicious Sicilian food, meeting their wonderful friends and Lidia's visiting mother. The Sicilians we discovered to be the most friendly, helpful and generous of all the Italian people and that is really saying something. Due to the speed and volume of traffic in the city, we were a bit reluctant to ride our bikes and, as strangers, it appeared to us that Sicilians had "no-rules" "Aussie" driving habits. But the longer we were there we found that the system works well, as everyone is so considerate of others - so who needs rules? To survive you need only to be nice to others (a rule of life?)... We enjoyed our time with Gioi immensely and hope to see more of him and Sicily next summer on our way east. Photos of Gioi and friends at the end of this blog.

And to Tunisia...

Photos: the market street in Bizerte and a butcher most proud of his trade.
From Palermo to San Vito at the westernmost tip of Sicily was a 35 n.m. motor, but better winds were forecast for the following day for our 152-mile overnight sail to Tunisia. The winds did not eventuate, but we did sail eleven of the 33 hours it took to get to Bizerte. Bizerte is a non-touristy city in the north of Tunisia and the three weeks we spent there was quite fascinating. Originally intending to spend only a few days in Tunisia to take Chinook out of the E.U. to avoid having to pay the VAT on her (before wintering her in Cagliari) we were forced to stay longer, having to wait for a weather window and were glad to have done so. Our friends Joe and Michele on Peregrine arrived a few days after us and we spent some pleasant times with them beside us in the marina, bus tripping (one and a half hours) to the beautiful capital, Tunis and other towns nearby. Tunisia is a Muslim country, but is much more liberal than most, with smiling, helpful people. Debby's French language skills were gainfully employed again.

Photo below: Brian and Joe sharing a hooka pipe (tobacco only!) in a local men's hangout in Bizerte

Return to Sardinia - Completing the loop
Finally, on 20 November, the weather forecast allowed us a two-day window to sail to Sardinia, thus completing the 1200 nautical mile "summer circuit" of the Tyrrhenian Sea we began in late June. And what a great sail it was - 122 miles, 23 hours with the wind on the quarter, a full moon, although a bit rolly (Brian was green) but with the winds averaging 15 knots, Chinook loved it. Peregrine left Tunisia also and sailed with us for some of the trip – they are much faster It was like taking that last ski run of the season: you want it to be memorable in a good way! We tied up in Marina Del Sole at 9:30 a.m. and met cruisers we knew from the previous winter and partied that night with them. It felt like coming home.

So, here we are again in Cagliari visiting all the old haunts, seeing familiar faces, and slowly preparing Chinook for her stay "on the hard" by herself, while we fly off to Canada for Christmas and then on to New Zealand for four months to escape the northern winter. Next year: Croatia, Greece and Turkey will be the adventure.

Keep in touch - love to get your emails,
Admiral Deborah and Captain Brian

Photos: Gioi, Brian, Giovanni and Nino - and Rita, Giuseppe and Deborah