Tuesday 5 August 2014


Cefalu is a medieval town on the north coast of Sicily, perched on a rocky promontory under the dramatic backdrop of La Rocca, a huge rock that towers over the town. It is so picture-perfect that it was used as the setting for the famous Sicilian film, Cinema Paradiso, and tourists from all over Sicily flock to Cefalu to stroll the narrow cobbled streets. We anchor in milky blue water outside the small marina and wait for the wind to back to the west to take us to the Aeolian Islands.  It also give me a chance to catch up on admin after a frustrating few days in Palermo where we suffered more gear failure than in our entire three years afloat.

While in the UK for the last two weeks the marina called us to say that a pump was running on board. They then kindly went aboard and disconnected the pump. What they forgot to tell me was that they turned off every switch, isolator and breaker that they could find and when we returned to Juno in 35 degrees, the freezer had been off for ten days, full of meat from the butcher in Palma, and as we open the freezer door a fetid smell pervades the interior of the boat. Even after removing all the putrid meat the smell lingers on, despite baking powder, bleach and all the other remedies that Google recommends.  Never mind, we close the freezer and switch on the fridge - only that doesn't work either. I fit a filter to the capillary system to clean the refrigerant and a satisfying sheen of ice covers the interior as the fridge starts up.  We can manage without the freezer – but not the engine.

Fatty and I provision up at the supermarket.  The staff collect us from the marina and load our three full trollies into the back of their van, secured by a small Sri Lankan man whose job is to sit in the back and cling onto the trollies to stop them smashing through the door.  We have drinks on board with our neighbour Franko and his charming family and later that evening, Gill and Lisa and their two boys, Cameron and Samuel arrive to spend a week with us cruising the Aeolian Islands. 

The next morning we prepare the boat to leave: shore power off, water tanks full, pasarel stowed, all ready to cast off the dock lines. I start the engine.  Ignition on, depress starter button – nothing. The panel flashes 'neutral' indicating that the engine is in gear so I make sure that we are in neutral and try again. Silence.  We try and diagnose the problem, checking the sender on the gearbox. All the continuity tests are fine and by midday I reluctantly conclude that the problem is beyond our capability. The girls head for the swimming pool at the Grand Hotel and Gill and I work our way through the engine, convinced that it is a simple problem, if only we knew what.  I send some emails to my contacts at Oyster but it is Sunday so we plan another night in port.

On Monday morning I stay on board to make some calls about the engine and everyone else heads to town.  Palermo was founded 3000 years ago by the Phoenicians and in AD 831 was conquered by the Arabs.  When the Normans invaded in in 1072 they made it the seat of their kingdom when it became the most cultured city of 12th century Europe and the architecture in some parts of the city bears testament to its splendid past. However since that time it has gone into a long and terminal decline and today it is rubbish-strewn and chaotic with crumbling apartment blocks dominating the skyline.  However, restoration projects are underway as the city works towards reclaiming its grand past.

Back in the 21st century my engine still wont start so I am on the phone to Paul Bennett at Oyster and to Udo, our engineer in Palma. Everyone is very helpful and I get a call from Lyndsay, who commissioned our engine at the Oyster yard in Ipswich.  I talk him through the problem and our diagnosis and he suggests that we next check the start relays in the control box. 'Before you do that Paul, just check that no-one has pressed the emergency stop button on the top of the control box'. I had already done this but I again locate the red button. This time under Lyndsays direction I twist it anti-clockwise half a turn and it pops up with a loud mechanical click.  I am convinced that we have found the problem and when I press the starter, to my relief I am rewarded with the reassuring grumble of the diesel engine waking from its slumber.

Cefalu is a gorgeous little town with views across the Tyrrhenian Sea from its position high on the cliffs.  The Piazza del Duomo is the centre of the town, dominated by the imposing cathedral that was built in the 12th century by the Norman king with the unlikely name of Roger II, to fulfil a vow to god after his fleet was saved during a violent storm off Cefalu. Beneath its ancient fortress-like walls the square retains the Arabic influences of its past with restaurant tables gathered under palm trees where the occupants of Cefalu sit and watch the world wander by.

It is a hot and windy evening in Cefalu and we are woken during the night by ferocious gusts of hot wind, heavy with humidity, which screech across the bay.  We move Juno further away from the rocks to the middle of the harbour and let out fifty metres of chain, just as the wind dies away and calm descends on the bay.  We have encountered these vicious gusts on several occasions after a very hot night and I think it must be caused by the high temperature accelerating the Katabatic effect as the air high up on the mountains cools and plunges down the cliff face into the surrounding sea.

We are woken early by the coastguard 'Meester, meester, you must move your boat, SAR, SAR'.  We stumble into the cockpit to see a coastguard vessel with a large unmanned yacht in tow.  We assume that it has come adrift from its mooring somewhere and the local coastguard is towing it to safety.   As we are now awake from the commotion and the wind has moved to the west overnight, we weigh anchor and set sail on a broad reach across the fifty miles to the Aeolian Islands, making landfall in time for a late lunch, anchoring in the lee of the large mountainous hulk of Salina.


  1. what dramas - the meat and then the engine.
    that must have been a stressful 24 hours!
    oh well another learning

  2. might need a new freezer if we cant get rid of the pong!

  3. Strange.......how did the emergency stop button get depressed. As A says 'another learning'! Not sure that this really counts as gear failure........more like skipper failure!

    We are out on Stavros S Niarchos on Friday in the solent......not quite the same as the Cefalu...but look her up. Never sailed on a Brig before.


  4. Paulus. The very helpful marina staff got an engineer off one of the big stink boats to look at the pump. He was obviously very through in switching everything off - i guess when you have two 1500 horsepower caterpillar engines our baby vw is easy. Isolating the engine using the emergency stop button is only for emergencies! Enjoy your sail. We are now anchored off Panarea. More anon.

  5. Lovely writing as always! Would lemons do the trick with the freezer? They seem to take away most smells...Also, are those bullet holes in the apartment blocks?

  6. Great idea Ruth, we will try lemons from Stromboli.