Wednesday 23 July 2014


As we approach Palermo the shoreline turns from soaring cliffs and wooded slopes to dusty roads and bricks and mortar. The urban sprawl of Sicily's largest city reaches out through the valleys and stretches its fingers down to the sea. The wind is still gusting at over twenty knots and we rocket into the bay of Palermo at 10 knots on a broad reach with Fatty testing the cockpit cushions for comfort.

The marina of Villa Igeia is on the outskirts of Palermo: on one side the rusty cranes of the commercial harbour, an eyesore of the modern era; on the other, the elegant Grand Hotel Villa Igeia, restored in the Art Nouveau style at the end of the 19th century, it reclines graciously on the hillside overlooking the marina.  Rolling lawns, white parasols and mature palm trees soften the castellated walls; a reminder of Sicily's violent past when numerous invaders fought for control of this strategic beachhead into the western Mediterranean.

Tonino, the harbour master, directs us to our berth. He strides along the pontoon in baggy blue shorts and vest, huge shoulders hunched forward, his large bald head shining in the afternoon sun.  As we slide Juno through the tiny gap and rotate her on the spot with bow thruster and prop walk, his face breaks into a grin 'Molto bene - Carolina' and then as an afterthought he points to me 'my name is?' he interrogates using his full range of English vocabulary. I introduce myself; 'Ciao Pablo' he nods and I too am honoured with a smile.  We tie up alongside a large shiny new motor yacht, the skipper scampering along his side decks ready to defend his charge with fenders, but seeing us safely tied up with no incident he stretches out his hand: 'Franco, al vostro servicio'.  We are leaving Juno here for two weeks while we head to the UK for Emma's wedding and the last few board meetings, so we have two days of cleaning and tinkering, but first, the Grand Hotel for dinner.

We walk through the grimy back streets away from the marina, feeling slightly uneasy as darkness falls and the shadows lengthen. Around a corner the road widens and the contrast is stark.  Large black wrought iron gates are opened by a uniformed guard and we cross the red crested carpet into the peaceful oasis of the hotel.  From dusty modern metropolis we have entered the elegance of a bygone era and we are directed out to the canopied terrace where we are greeted by an army of Italian couture.  Fatty looks gorgeous in her new dress and she turns expensive heads as we are led to a table overlooking the swimming pool and beyond to the marina, where Juno is safely docked. It is a warm still evening and the perfect setting for dinner.

Back in the UK we head for the Isle of Wight in glorious sunshine because Emma is getting married to RG.  Initials alone, must be Indian surely? No, American and very charming. We have been on family holidays with the Oultons since our children were in nappies and its great to see Emma getting married to the boy of her dreams, and all in the beautiful setting of Ningwood Manor where Oults and C (nee Claire) have decided to spend the next fifty years of their lives. Great decision.

Now it's back to the small matter of planning that circumnavigation.

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