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Exploring Sicily and Campania

July 3, 2015

 

After a hard morning’s very hot work, me cleaning the inside of the boat and Brian cleaning the outside, it is time to update you on the previous few weeks adventures.

We still haven’t got very far! The cruising plan we started with (up the west coast of Italy to Genoa and then down via Corsica and Sardinia) has been curtailed. Our northward journey more or less stops here in Gaeta where we arrived on Sunday 28th June and we take a few weeks to explore inland. Then we head west towards Sardinia to meet friends in August.

Gaeta Harbour and old town

Gaeta Harbour and old town

I am sitting in the shade in the Yacht Club café in the marina, with a convenient electricity outlet next to me. A fat green lizard just idly scuttled past – two now! Quite distracting….

Lizard

Lizard

Lizard

Lizard

I am looking back at my diary – after sending the last blog we hired a small car for a few days, waiting for the weather to improve. A hot and strong Scirocco was followed by an equally strong northerly for a week. Brian has just washed what we hope is the last of the dry seagrass off the boat that blew in during that time!

 

There are amazing salt pans around the coast of Marsala, which are in current use. The old windmills used for milling the salt (presumably) however are now redundant but kept up in places for tourist attractions. We fruitlessly looked for birds around the saltpans, but then found a small freshwater lagoon just inland with a fine collection of glossy ibis and collared pratincoles – a new one for us. And black winged stilts and a flock of baby shelducks – cute. A trip to the marinas in Trapani helped us conclude that we didn’t really want to take the boat there – very crowded and distant from habitation.

We explored the lovely countryside of and on the way to Monte Cofano park, walking along the coast with amazing high cliffs where we spotted an eagle of some kind sitting on one of the crags. Foolishly after lunch we climbed up the inland path – very hot, little shade and very steep! However we did spy rock sparrows and Cirl Buntings. On the way back a buzzard or other large raptor nearly flew into the car – while Brian was busy looking at crows in the other direction!

Despite aches and pains from the previous day, we headed to Zingaro park next which was much busier and commercial with crowds of children on school outings. We staggered along the coast path for about an hour, and saw pallid swifts darting around the cliffs below us, then returned and drove into Castellamare del Golfo for restitutional drinks. It was very nice there and would have been a fun place to sail to – but not really en-route to anywhere.

On our meanderings we came across one of the 16th century towers built as lookout and warning beacon stations. Subsequently we found them stretching all the way round Sicily and up the coast of Italy – quite an undertaking!

Coastal defenses - 16th Century

Coastal defenses – 16th Century

When we got back to the boat we watched an Eleanora’s falcon being chased by an angry tern, and a few more Honey Buzzards still staggering over from Tunisia. The next day was spent looking for big supermarkets (unsuccessfully) and checking out our bird pond again, but nothing more exciting was there.

On a cold, wet and windy day we took the car back, and then experienced an amazing natural phenomenon that we discovered is fairly common in certain areas of the Mediterranean. It started as we noticed the gangplank (secured on its trapeze) scraping on the dock and we continued to increase its height over the next quarter hour. Then the sea came back and rose a metre, then dropped a metre again – every 15 minutes and then less frequently but with not much diminution of range for about 6 hours! It is called the marrobbio and has been found to be caused by a standing wave created in certain conditions of wind and atmospheric pressure between headlands. Marsala-Tunisia is one, but others occur in the Balearics and other places. It was the first time we had experienced it. Very weird.

We met up with Ina and Geert on a catamaran that had lost a propeller in a bay in the Egadi Islands. Fortunately they knew precisely where it would be, and a diver from Marsala went and retrieved it. After hauling out, they found that the shaft was faulty, so had to get a new one shipped from Amsterdam which was then fitted in the yard. They were lucky to be in a place that had the facilities to do it. It was nice to have someone to talk to for a change.

Kites at St Vito lo Capo

Kites at St Vito lo Capo

Eventually after more wet and windy days we found a weather window and left Marsala on 19th May. The weather forecast was capricious, so instead of the Egadi islands we went to St Vito lo Capo and secured a place on a pontoon there. It had become hot and sunny and windless, so we managed a bit of sunbathing en route!

They were having a kite festival at St Vito – what fun! And we found good icecream shops as well as a fairly good supermarket. The forecasts were looking horrid again (wave wise) and we needed to find better shelter, so headed for Palermo, booking a berth on one of the pontoons recommended by our Cruising Association comrades. We were sorry to leave St Vito though – it was a nice area surrounded by trees and beaches – a change from the industrial and treeless places we had been tied up in for the past 6 months or more.

Palermo harbour

Palermo harbour

It was interesting to see the change in men’s hairstyles – many of the young men in southern Sicily affected the short sides and long hair on top style (reminiscent of the mohican but without the gel) – seemed to be copying one of the footballers we saw on TV. This style then grew less prevalent as we moved north!

Italy has a strange system of managing harbours and yacht berths. In many places (Palermo included) a range of small outfits set up shop on the available harbour walls. Some of them put in a pontoon or two, but that is about it. Then you have to either call ahead and negotiate the best price (in Italian usually), or rely on other people’s experience. The latter is our only option and sometimes works and sometimes not! Often there are no toilet or washing facilities, although most have electricity and water available for the boats. So we are limited to 3 days or so until our holding tank (boaty cesspit) fills up and we have to go out to sea to empty it! So I called Nixe and booked a place.

Nixe pontoon is really a bit of harbour wall (labelled in very faint letters on a ramshackle shed). We circled around with me phoning the chap and getting no answer. Finally he got back to me and told us to tie up at the fuel berth temporarily. Eventually we got a place at the next “shop” along as Nixe didn’t have a space after all. All very confusing and annoying (and not cheap either). However we ended up next to a British yacht where the woman busily sanding and varnishing chatted and told us where everything was.

The town is very grand in places, with a strange contraption at the head of the harbour wall – quite attractive in a way.

Following our guide’s directions we found a chandlery and finally managed to get 25 metres of 18mm mooring line to replace our old black ones that have lost their stretch and are showing signs of wear. Also a couple of electricity plugs and sockets to replace and worn ones, and to make a polarity reverser for those instances where the marina polarity is the “wrong” way round (another of Brian’s projects where a blue LED shows if it is right or not!).

A big Carrefour not far from the marina was useful to replenish our diminishing supplies. HMS Bulwark was docked in the harbour too – we read about its role in rescuing immigrants in the Italy/Africa zone later, but at the time I think the deployment was being negotiated.

We were surprised by a cacophony of ships’ sirens at 6pm on Saturday 23rd May. Then found that it was to commemorate the assassination of Giovanni Falcone – the anti Mafia prosecutor – on the way to Palermo airport in the ‘70’s. I seem to remember the news at the time.

We wanted to move on, so plotted a route to Cefalu (hopping along the north coast of Sicily), and had an exceptionally good sail on a beam reach, without engine (hurray) for about 4 hours. The harbour was in a lovely bay surrounded by cliffs and ruins, but a fair way into town (which is very touristy). I had to post a letter, which took a while when we found the post office shut for employee meetings!

Cefalu ruins near marina

Cefalu ruins near marina

Brian had made a set of wheels for our gangplank (for when we don’t put the trapeze up) from an old luggage trolley. The axle broke as he was putting it on, so we needed to find 8mm threaded bar to replace it. A kind man pointed us to the right place, which had the right stuff – amazing! We enjoyed celebratory icecreams on the way back to the boat.

It was just about getting warm enough to get our summer clothes out by now – a few days warranted shorts and Tshirts in between bouts of rain and cool weather. It seemed to have been a colder May than usual in this area.

We explored the area, trying to get to the ruins of the church on the headland, but it was all closed off by private properties built up around it. On our way back we saw a blue rock thrush catching a large cricket and chasing it around the bushes on the cliff. Amazingly I even got a picture!

Blue rock thrush and prey

Blue rock thrush and prey

A nice man in the Vodafone shop explained how our 3G pay as you go works when we worried that the top-up I had bought only seemed to go on the “phone” bit of the account. They automatically swap the money to the 3G bit on the expiry of the previous month. At €20 a month for 7GB its not a bad deal. However the Vodafone charges on the mobile phone sim card need sorting out – I think I have the wrong type of deal for the small number of calls I make on it as there seems to be a 10€ monthly update charge on that notwithstanding how much or little it has been used, so I keep running out of time on it!

Amazing vegetation

Amazing vegetation

 

Sunset over Sicily

Sunset over Sicily

Moving on from Cefalu we stopped at St Agata (still in Sicily) for a night after a rather bumpy trip there, then headed north to the Aeolian islands, anchoring off the eastern bay (big waves on the west) on Vulcano. Great place to stop with views of the volcano and steam issuing from vents in the side of cliffs (and from holes near the port too!).

Vulcano marina

Vulcano marina

We finally pumped up the dinghy and got it set up with the engine. As we motored to the black sandy beach we found bubbles of gas coming up from the seabed – weird. And quite smelly too when the wind was in the wrong direction. The Aeolians are a tourist hotspot, with big tour boats coming and going on a frequent basis, knocking us about a bit. A big gang of yachts were tied up in the marina there and set off on a race around the islands one of the days we were there. Now we are in Gaeta, there is a notice about the race which started here I think!

Vulcano western bay

Vulcano western bay

One afternoon we escaped the tourist hordes and climbed a small hill to the south of the volcano, where we saw a spotted flycatcher, an Eleanora’s falcon and warblers, blackbirds, goldfinches etc. Very pleasant and wooded so quite shady. We celebrated our return with an icecream of course.

Vulcano woods and gardens

Vulcano woods and gardens

After a couple of days we moved on to Stromboli which has a more active volcano with smoke drifting up from the crater (but not a lot). It was even more touristy and a very small island. We were first to anchor on a spit of sand, then several other yachts turned up. We took the dinghy ashore to a long pumice pebble beach. All the local motor and fishing boats were pulled up on trailers on the beach with a row of small caterpillar tractors to move them in and out. The usual selection of mooring buoys doesn’t seem to work here.

Stromboli

Stromboli

There were evening walking tours we could have gone on, and an expensive boat trip at night, but it was hot and we didn’t want to leave the boat at anchor, so we relaxed back on board with the pork stew I had made to keep us going for a few days. We watched the walking tours returning down the mountain with torches later on, but didn’t see any volcanic glow from the top despite it being a bit cloudy.

Stromboli North East side

Stromboli North East side

Next day we set off on a round island trip and Stromboli helpfully belched big clouds of smoke and steam as we passed by the north eastern lava slope leading to the top. No flames though! We motored in a flat calm to Tropea on the Italian mainland with amazing buildings perched on top of the rocky bluff at the edge of the bay.

Tropea

Tropea

Tropea was great – a washing machine at last! (You see how needy we get…I managed to get four loads of washing done). The only downside was that the quayside was rather high, so exiting the boat was a bit of a steep climb up our gangplank. A beach restaurant near the marina served us a good dinner (we had arrived without food and it was Independence day, 2nd June) while we watched a yacht get stuck on the sandbank just inside the breakwater.

It was a long walk to the supermarket and back the next day which wore me out (along with all the washing etc). Brian started washing some of our ropes yet again – we had had quite a bit of sand and spray over the boat during the past few weeks. The rope that furls the genoa had some serious wear on it so we bought new from the well stocked chandlery there and put it all back together.

All of a sudden it was hot so we put our winter clothes away (hence all the washing) and got out our summer gear, packed the duvet and reorganised the boat.

Then we washed the boat, just in time for it to thunder and lighten and pour with rain!

By this time we had decided that we were really getting tired of the constant strain of finding where to shop in a new town every few days and the shops being a long way away from the boat. So instead of carrying on with the short stays in unknown harbours as we progressed up the coast, we would try to find places we could stay for a longer time, and hire a car to explore inland.

The next few days then we hopped up the coast via Cetraro and Camerota, reaching Salerno by 11th June. Cetraro wasn’t much to speak of, but Camerota was pretty.

Camerota harbour

Camerota harbour

Between Cetraro and Camerota we suddenly saw a whale leaping out of the water! It was quite a small one, but rather athletic and then it flapped its big tail flukes – confirming that it was indeed a whale. While we watched we saw a larger lump breathing, so it must have been a mother and calf. Fin whales we decided.

It was very nice to be in harbours surrounded by lots of trees. All this time there were threats of rain and thunder and lightning most evenings, although the days started clear and warm. One day in Camerota we walked along the road to the end of the bay past Neolithic caves in the cliffs, then back paddling through the warm sea. But I still haven’t been in for a swim!

On the way to Camerota we noticed the dinghy had developed a leak – Oh no! Brian found the offending area (a seam on one side) and dug out the special adhesives in the repair kit. It needed 3 applications and then 24 hours to set, so we stayed there 3 days in the end. But the first repair didn’t work so Brian tried again with new glue we found in a hardware shop – nearly worked but not quite – and then finally stuffed super glue into the gap! That worked for about a day, then it deflated again.

On the way out of Camerota, despite having noticed the sand bank (like the one in Tropea) near the breakwater on our way in, we sort of got a bit too close and Alixora gently ground to a halt! Fortunately Brian managed to get us free after a minute of hard reverse throttle!

Salerno harbour - not many yachts

Salerno harbour – not many yachts

By the time we got to Salerno it was obvious we needed a professional repair for our sad dinghy. Amazingly the local chandlery helped with a number to call, and a shop that sold dinghy’s confirmed that this chap was a specialist repair person. So we got hold of him and he came all the way to the dock, only to report that it would be impossible to repair – cheap Chinese PVC exuding oil apparently. Oh dear!

So eventually we arranged to buy a new Zodiac dinghy from the dinghy shop – the price was about what we would have paid in the UK but still painful!

New dinghy!

New dinghy!

In Salerno we were tied up to one of those privately owned pontoons I described before, in a very bleak industrial dock area. Fortunately though there was a toilet and shower, and it was well protected (though still a bit bumpy where we were at the end of the pontoon). However, a short walk away from the port we found a lovely public park with huge trees and very cool. Salerno itself has interesting areas – cobbled alleyways and little shops – but very busy. Swifts, swallows and martins scream above the parks and buildings – we found this in most of the towns we visited.

We looked at the map and decided this would be a great place to go for an explore inland. So we arranged a rental car (got a very good deal online) and collected it on the Tuesday morning – an almost new Ford Focus diesel – very nice. The first day we explored the coast between Salerno and Amalfi, heading inland past lovely forests, rivers and up twisty roads. We stopped for a wander around a steep river valley and found it full of lemon trees, grown on trellis work. We found that the area is famous for Salerno lemons and that the main product is Limoncello! And lemon sorbet too.

Lemons on terraced trellises, Salerno

Lemons on terraced trellises, Salerno

The next day I had booked a couple of nights at what looked like a good base for exploring the Cilento national park, and we headed out having packed the car with enough for a couple of days. On the way we stopped off at Paestum, a Greek and Roman archeological site. The ruins are extensive but not very interesting apart from the three huge temples that remain almost intact. The museum however gave a flavour of the excitement the archeologists must have had, with loads of perfect black and red pottery (very fine) and other remains (some Bronze Age) which they have unearthed from tombs and houses. There is a famous tomb with paintings on the inside of the stone walls and roof, now in the museum, showing a diver and various themes of eating and drinking. The history from about 500BC to 500AD is very interesting – the local inhabitants first got ousted by Greeks arriving from city states to claim a bit of fertile territory to provide food and goods for the people back in Greece. Then the Romans popped up and took over until it all went pear shaped.

When we arrived at Antico Convento in Rocca di Cilento we were stunned. The village is medieval, perched on top of a hill, with a castle (ruined) perched above, and the B&B is housed in an old convent. The room was huge, the welcome extraordinary and the food first rate – so we booked another two nights there!

View from our bedroom in Rocca di Cilento

View from our bedroom in Rocca di Cilento

Paolo and Concetta were so friendly it was great. The first night we had far too much to eat, so the remaining days we had to ask them to tone down the quantities!

The area north of Cilento is famous for its water buffalo and hence buffalo mozzarella, which we were served. Paolo made us sandwiches for lunch with the cheese and prosciutto I couldn’t eat the night before and a bag of apricots from his tree and we went off to see the sights. A very active tourist group has published an excellent guide complete with pull out maps of various walks in the area – called Monte Stella. And it has an English version!

We did a lot of walking, one hike up and down and around the peninsula of Punte Licosa, another investigating the old water mills around the valleys.

Woods and paths, Cilento park

Woods and paths, Cilento park

A third day we headed to the north east end and climbed Monte Corbella – a stiff uphill hike once we found the path and then back down. Disappointingly though we saw very few birds, although we could hear serins and warblers in the trees. I did see a long black snake wiggling through the water in the river at Monte Corbella, and we were constantly disturbing basking lizards.

Chestnut tree struck by lightning?

Chestnut tree struck by lightning?

While investigating the watermills, we heard a woodpecker and spent a while trying to see it – without much success although it probably was the spotted thing that flew over our heads!  But we found a chestnut wood with three old trees severely burnt from the centre, but still standing and alive – we imagine struck by lightning.

We headed back to the boat on Sunday and found that car parking (never easy) was worse as a German Navy frigate was parked in the opposite dock and security was tight. So the shopping we had picked up on the way back (via a nice riverside stop) and our luggage had to be lugged about ¼ mile out to the boat. We did find (at last) another silicone baking sheet in the huge hypermarket Brian found.

On Monday we went off for another countryside tour among lovely forests (mostly chestnut around here). We stopped in a town (I can’t remember which!) which was all decked out with extraordinary decorations for an undefined event. Very pretty. Then up to a mountain top lake – no birds though apart from hooded crows (common) and a couple of grey herons.

Back via supermarkets again to stock up with food for our next trip. Brian and I have developed a liking for a particular kind of chocolate biscuit to have with our mid-morning coffee – so we stock up on those wherever we can!

Tuesday we returned the car (unfortunately with a couple of scratches (oops) which they studiously noted), pumped up our new dinghy (not straight forward) and got ready for departure the following day.

It was the last week of June already. I had booked a long stay in Gaeta from the end of June but we hoped to do a bit of anchoring in bays on the way, like famous Amalfi and Capri! Unfortunately although there had been little wind, a nasty swell had set in from the south west (we didn’t notice it in the harbour) and as we motored along the coast we could see boats at anchor swaying around like mad. Finally we ended up in Nerano where we tied up to a buoy. It was so bumpy there was no way we could get the motor on the dinghy – so we just sat and swayed for the night, heading off first thing the next morning.

We admired Capri from a distance, then as we rounded the peninsula we found that the swell was now North West! So much for hoping to anchor on the north coast then. In addition the bays are frequently marked as marine reserves with anchoring prohibited.

Cliffs and caves at Gaia

Cliffs and caves at Baia – yellow buoy shows marine reserve

We did pick up a good west wind, so headed north across the bay to Baia and managed a couple of hours without the engine. The forecast now had winds blowing in all directions and quite strongly so we had to find a secure berth. Baia was lovely and we managed to get a place on a pontoon with Brian expertly slotting us into a very tight space.

Baia Castle

Baia Castle

We walked up to the Aragonese castle museum on Friday (free amazingly) and saw more statues and pots – but again the history of the Greeks from Evvia this time (been there) coming to set up their little enclaves and then being taken over and absorbed into the Roman system was interesting. The remains of the Roman baths just in front of the marina, and other Roman remains on the bluff behind the town were very impressive.

However the price of our berth was rather steep, we had no particular reasons to be there and still couldn’t try out our dinghy (it was marooned at the front of the boat), so we moved on and arrived here in Gaeta on Sunday. Monday I spent most of the day with a washing machine, then Tuesday (before starting this blog) we cleaned the boat inside and out. Wednesday has been spent continuing to write the blog and probably half of Thursday- the days disappear without trace! We have a lot of housekeeping stuff to catch up on, so domestic duties will take precedence for a while.

We haven’t explored much yet – but Gaeta seems a really nice place with a new town (where we are, with some trees) and an old town and another Aragonese castle just to the west of the harbour. We are in a “proper” marina with excellent facilities including a good free wifi connection. There was even a marinero who came out in a dinghy to guide us in! That hasn’t happened for a while. If we hire a car we can park almost next to the boat! Hurray.

Today (Wednesday) we walked along the small alley just behind the main seafront road about 100 yards from the marina entrance. It has loads of fruit stalls, butchers, a baker, small groceries etc so shopping won’t be a problem. There are fish stalls further along but they were shut in the morning – we will have to try an evening expedition for them.DSCF4273

The peach and nectarine season has now started in earnest and the shops are full of wonderful fruit again. Cherries, plums, melons etc. The onion supply has resumed (onions and sweet peppers kind of disappeared for a while). It is nice also to have decent butchers! We are keeping our pork intake up as you might have guessed.

There is an American lady here (Jayne) who liaises with members of the Cruising Association if we need any help and who speaks fluent Italian.

 

 

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One Comment
  1. Vicky Horne permalink

    Hi Brian & Rose
    Completely captivated by your adventures and enjoying them very much.
    Nice to hear from you as always and good to find you are both well and exploring as usual.
    Thanks again.
    September is nearly here so we will be in Kas taking Charlotte to Greece for a few weeks
    Warm regards
    Vicky & Co xx

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