Friday 15 June 2012


We wake early on Saturday in Cagliari. The wind has moved to the west as forecasted and it's time to head for Sicily. Not having had time to say goodbye to Patrizio, an Italian teacher who we met in Cagliari, we exchange contact numbers over VHF before we are out of range and the Sardinian coastline disappears into the murky haze.

Whenever the wind shifts away from the warm southerly Sirocco with its dusting of red sand to the high velocity Mistral in the North, there is always a day of dirty, muggy, airless weather before the Mistral establishes itself with punching gusts that come from nowhere out of an electric blue sky. As afternoon turns to dusk I am sitting in the cockpit watching the setting sun shimmering on the sea while the twin steering wheels dance back and forth to the tune of the auto pilot whirring away tirelessly, maintaining our course for Trapani, 175 miles to the South East. Glancing at the chart plotter I see that we are in fact closer to the coast of Libya than Sicily, but we feel a universe away from the recent scenes of violence in Tripoli. This is the first time that Fatty and I have done an overnight passage on our own and I sleep in the cockpit while she stands watch between midnight and 3am. I sleep remarkably well, as each time an unfamiliar noise awakens me I can simply raise an eyelid, cast half an eye over the boat and slip back into a dreamy fitful sleep.

When dawn starts to break the sky is still murky and the Italian coast guard warns of fog near Trapani. Using our AIS to identify other similarly equipped boats and radar to spot those with no AIS, no lights and no brains, we are confident that there are no dangers lurking in the mist. As dawn turns to daybreak the sun starts to burn off the fog and we see the outline of the Egadi Islands which guard the West coast of Sicily, followed by the lighthouse marking the shoals off Trapani. We call the marina and they send out a rib to the breakwater and advise us that they are moving some boats around to make space for us and by the time we arrive in the harbour two marineros assist us with our lines and welcome us to Sicily.

Somehow I had expected Sicily to be dark and mysterious. Instead everyone we meet is open, friendly and welcoming. After a day cleaning the boat following our overnight crossing, we walk out of the friendly oasis of the marina and find ourselves in the middle of the port with fishing boats stacked 10 deep against the concrete wall and not a soul in sight. We round a corner towards the centre of town and find a dead duck on the pavement; the street is deserted with shutters closed and we quicken our step in the direction of the beckoning street lights. The dirty dusty road opens out into a square with a restaurant and tables scattered on the paving stones under a maroon canopy. Within moments of our arrival, the restaurant quickly fills up with local families and they crash around shouting and reorganising tables so that the men can sit at one end, women at the other and excited children loosely penned in between.

When we return to Juno after dinner, the dark streets seems less threatening and we find an alternative route through ancient streets with high classical facades on either side, yet still all is deserted. Occasionally a shaft of light spills through open shutters but the buildings are all dilapidated and in desperate need of repair. At midnight Kim and Tina Oxenham arrive by taxi from Palermo and we make our plans for the next leg of our journey.

The following morning we decide to buy provisions and visit the hillside town of Erice before sailing to the Egadi Islands. We walk out of the marina gates and today the back streets of the port are transformed. The deserted alley ways of the previous evening are now thronging with Sicilians elbowing their way into the fish market. Inside, the concrete floor is slick with the slime of fish scales. Huge tuna hang from steel girders, while agitated shoppers shout at the fishermen who shout back with equal gusto. We buy a slab of fresh tuna and some sea bream and retreat back into the sunshine to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the market stalls. One stall keeper is retrieving cherries which have fallen from his stall into the gutter, and idly throws them back onto the pile that women are vigorously combing with their hands and cramming into plastic bags.

Laden with fish, fruit, cheese and bread we return to the marina and stow our provisions before being collected by Toni who drives us the short distance to Erice. Erice is a hillside village, 750 metres above the town of Trapani, and so steep that a cable car system carries visitors up the vertical slopes to the eerie above. The narrow streets are cobbled and smooth from the tread of decades of tourists and the view from the top is panoramic and more like that from an aeroplane, extending from Marsala in the South to Capo St Vito in the North.

We say our goodbyes to our neighbours in the marina and set sail for Favignana, the largest of the Egadi Islands, just 8 miles to the West of Trapani. As we motor across the short stretch of water to the island we spot a collection of masts tucked into a bay on the Eastern end of the Island. As the wind is forecasted to increase from the South tomorrow, this North facing bay is perfect shelter and we anchor in aquamarine water, already at 27 degrees and warmed by the sun. Dinner on board is under a beautiful sunset of crimson and pink and as we retire for the night the wind is already starting to build and I can hear the anchor chain stretching taut and straining against the cleats on the foredeck.

The morning dawns clear and the wind is up. After a morning swimming in the clear water we weigh anchor and set a course for Marsala, back on the Sicilian mainland. Out of the lee of the shore the wind is gusting at 25 knots and we have a boisterous sail across the short distance to Marsala. Once again the marina staff are friendly and welcoming and we eat raw seafood in a restaurant in the port. The following day we walk into the old part of Marsala which is a handsome town of a bygone era, largely untouched by tourists. Centuries of occupation by Moors, Turks, Greeks and Venetians have left their mark and it feels more like Tunisia than the Mediterranean towns a short distance away in Sardinia.

From Marsala we head East down the Southern Coast of Sicily stopping at Sciacca and then onto Port Leone. With a strong following wind we pole out the genoa and full main and Juno is steady as a rock as she surfs down the waves at 9 knots in 20 knots of wind. This will be our downwind rig for the Arc in November and I feel a surge of confidence at how easily Juno handles when she is powered up on a square run, which is likely to be our point of sail for 2,700 miles to St Lucia.

This coastline is rich with ancient Greek sites and we sail past the ruins of the town of Selinunte which dates back to 600 BC and was then one of the wealthiest towns in the known world. Our destination tomorrow is Agrigento which was founded in 582 BC by the Greeks and was later known by the Romans as Agrigentum. It was sacked by the Carthaginians and later largely destroyed by the Romans, yet still today it remains one of the best preserved site of ancient Greek architecture. We are told that tomorrow it will be 37 degrees so we have booked a car to take us to Agrigento early in the morning so that we can return to the boat before the midday heat.

1 comment:

  1. It looks lovely - we know that coast and impressive ruins well having spent a delightful Hogan family holiday there. Lovely clear water in the Egadi's and amazing sights on the mainland - enjoy! You are definitely not missing anything here with storms and autumnal temperatures in England - in June! xxx