Sicilia

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We set off from Vulcano Island together with Three Sheets, leaving the smell of sulfur behind us.  We were headed for mainland Sicily, but first we needed to make it through the Messina Straits.  There are a lot of stories about the straits, beginning with Homer’s Odyssey in which he describes how Odysseus’ ships are nearly destroyed by the monster Scilla and sunk by the whirlpools nearby. Many of the locations of the journeys of Odysseus are debated, but historians agree on the straits as the home of Scilla and Charybdis.  Scilla was a monster with six long necks that lived in a cave atop a sheer cliff and would pluck dolphin and swordfish from the strait, or sailors from the decks of passing ships.  At the bottom of the cliff, a whirlpool sucked down unwary ships.  Across from Scilla, Charybdis was said to be a giant whirlpool which swallowed ships that got too close to it.

Back then, the passage was likely more dangerous than it is today.  There used to be a very strong whirlpool under Scilla but it disappeared after an earthquake in the late 1700s.  There are also accounts of waterspouts in the vicinity of the strait, and the theory is that Scilla was Homer’s description of these waterspouts.

We made a passage to an anchorage off the coast of the town of Scilla, at the entrance to the strait.  (We saw no monster, much to Dante’s relief.) This is a good place, in fair weather, to wait for the correct tide to make the passage. The current can be 3 to 4 knots which makes a big difference when your top speed is 7.5 kts.  The next morning we went through the strait without incident, ridding a swift 2 to 3 knot current. We didn’t even get to see the famous swordfish boats with their fabulously long bowsprits.  We saw no waterspouts and had no contrary winds though we did get some rain.  We did see a couple of dolphins and got a little sideways in a couple of whirlpools, but that was the extent of it.

We anchored at Taormina, just south of the strait and continued on to Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily the next day.  We had been told by Phil (remember “HelpPhil” from the running around blog post), the anchorage at Siracusa was the best in Sicily, and we weren’t led astray.  It was perfect: large, protected and with a beautiful view.  As we motored into the anchorage Dante shouted out, “Hey!  There are our friends!” and we saw Martina and Daniel from Vairea waving madly and welcoming us into Siracusa.  Sweet!  We would end up spending an evening on Benevento with the crew of Vairea and Three Sheets, enjoying a game of “International Cranium.”

The town of Siracusa itself is lovely.  It has a many bars and restaurants and an open air market that is one of the best I’ve seen.  They were selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables in season, fish (including swordfish heads, with the the sword still attached!), shellfish, bread, cheeses, spices and salt, olive oil, sundried tomatoes, capers, roasted vegetables and wine in 1.5 plastic liter bottles at 4 Euro each (and it is good!).  Vendors would be yelling out, “Cherries!  Fresh cherries here, one euro!  One euro for fresh cherries!”  Other vendors were making fresh sandwiches or fruit punch.  The crowd was a mix of locals buying their daily fresh produce, tourists gawking at the scene, and other cruisers like us provisioning for their boats.

It’s funny what makes cruisers like a location.  We judge places by the holding and comfort of the anchorage, a secure place to tie up our dinghy in town, the ability to provision well and the number of good, inexpensive restaurants in town.  This make for a great spot.  It’s not to say you don’t explore other interesting areas if these elements are missing (except for good anchor holding).  Siracusa has all of this plus a laundromat that did our laundry for us at a very reasonable price.  Add to that good provisioning at large supermarkets, as well as the fresh outdoor market. Score!  I’d come back to Siracusa any day  (and we did … two months later).

Siracusa was once a large Greek settlement, rivaling Athens.  It has Greek ruins and also has a fantastic Duomo that was built around an ancient temple.  You can still see the Doric columns of 5th century BC Greek temple in the walls outside the church.  The white facades of the buildings in old Siracusa make a stark contrast with the blue sky, giving the impression that the city was baking (happily) in the sun. Siracusa controlled the island of Sicily for several hundred years until they had a disagreement with the up-and-coming Roman Empire.  At the time, Siracusa was home to the great Greek Archimedes.  When Rome invaded Siracusa, he devised huge catapults and system of mirrors and lenses to concentrate the sun’s rays on the sails of the invading ships.  (Mythbusters did a reenactment of this famous historical incident debunking the myth.) Unfortunately, Archimedes was killed in the invasion despite orders from Rome not to harm the genius scientist.

We rented a car with Three Sheets and spent several days touring the island.  We took a trip to see the ancient Greek town of Agrigento and the “Valley of Temples.”   We also drove to the medieval towns of Noto and Ragusa and took a trip up to Mount Etna.  The Sicilian countryside reminded us a lot of California with its citrus trees, fig trees, oleander bushes and rolling countryside.  If it weren’t for the odd castle and ancient stone farmhouse, you might think you were in California.

We said goodbye to Three Sheets as we had to make our way over to mainland Italy in order to meet Darold’s relatives in Campobasso.  It was so much fun to “buddy boat” with for several weeks.  “A welcome break in the monotony!” Reg said.

For more photos, go to our Flickr site!

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