Sicily Here We Come!

Sadly, our time in Crotone had come to an end.  This place definitely holds a special place in our heart after spending time here, and I would have loved to stay longer, but it was time to get some miles on.  We had our weather window, so we bid farewell to Crotone at 12:30 in the afternoon for our 23 hour passage to Sicily.  I’m always scheming to try and minimize my time on shift in the dark, but somehow I always manage to screw myself.  This time was no different.  I managed to have the shift leading up to and well past sunset and then again several hours up until sunrise.  Dan gets one shift in darkness, and I seem to always end up with two.  Like I said, I do this to myself…..EVERY TIME!

The passage was pretty uneventful with very few cargo ships and fishing boats around to give me grief.  Once dawn approached, Dan decided to throw out a couple of fishing lines and try our luck.  About an hour out from our destination, he managed to snag a tuna and spent the next half hour bludgeoning it to death and bleeding it out.  We now had a beautiful 10 pound bluefin tuna…..yum!  Of course, the back of our boat now looked like a murder scene…..who knew tuna had so much blood!  We pulled into the anchorage of Naxos below the beautiful, hilltop town of Taormina and the smoking beauty of the volcano Mt. Etna.  Before long, another catamaran came in and dropped anchor near us, and much to our surprise, they were flying an American flag!  When the back of their boat became visible, we saw that they were registered in Dallas, Texas.  It’s not often we run into Americans on our journey, so of course we had to invite them over for drinks and stories that night.  This very young couple had taken a sabbatical from work, bought a boat, were logging some serious miles throughout Europe before sailing the boat back to America this winter.  We were seriously impressed!

Caught a tuna just outside of Taormina Sicily!
Sushi anyone?

We planned to spend two days at anchor before moving over to the mooring balls at the other end of the bay to pick up our guests and explore the sites.  I awoke the next morning at 5:00 a.m. to the boat pitching around wildly.  Apparently the Straits of Messina were blowing strong again which sent 3-4 foot rollers into the bay and directly into the side of our boat.  We rode it out for a few hours hoping it would die down, but it only got worse.  When things started crashing to the floor and toppling INSIDE the cabinets, we decided it was time to go.  Luckily, the mooring ball field was very sheltered from the swell and could take us earlier than we had originally planned.  As we made our way across the bay, I went to the front to get our lines ready.  Not my brightest move.  A roller came, and I felt the deck drop out from under my feet….oh this was not going to end well.  As it flew back up and crashed back under my feet, I tossed my body onto the deck top and held on.  I decided to finish the lines in calmer water.

Mt Etna billowing smoke makes for an atmospheric anchorage

Before long, our friend Tim and his son joined us on Zoe.  We had big plans the following day.  We would take the bus up to the beautiful city of Taormina and explore for a few hours before meeting our driver and guide who would be taking us to explore Mt. Etna.  We wandered the streets of Taormina taking in all the beautiful buildings before wandering up to an Ancient Greek Amphitheater.  Unfortunately, it was a blistering hot day, and we were all struggling with the oppressive heat.  Soon it was time to head  back down to the bus depot to meet our driver.  We all prayed he had a car with air conditioning.

The gang headed in for a day of exploring the charms of Sicily
Wandering the ancient cobblestone streets of Taormina
The Dallas roomies back together again (though missing one!!)
Quintessential Italia!
Exploring some Roman ruins
The ancient roman theatre of Taormina
Taormina at night from the mooring field

We met our driver and guide and headed out on our hour and a half drive up to Mt. Etna.  It truly is a magnificent volcano to see up close and personal.  We made several stops on our drive up where we explored the topography of the volcano, the resulting landscape changes from eruptions, and talked about the history of the volcano.  It is THE most studied volcano in the world because of it’s unique nature.  The summit area consists of 4 summit craters.  Another part of our excursion had us putting on hard hats for an exploration of an amazing lava tube.  We descended deep into the depths of this tube complete with dripping stalactites.  It was wonderfully cool down in the tube.  We were told if there was any seismic activity, access to the tubes would be forbidden due to the dangers.  After we learned about the tubes, we headed off to some hiking trails through the volcanic sands.  Here we had some amazing views of the surrounding area and some of the ancient craters.  The diversity of landscape on the mountain is incredible.  Some areas look like you are on the moon, and other areas are rich in birch trees and abundant greenery.  Sadly, we did not see any lava flows or cool stuff like that.

Our volcano guide meets up with the gang
All geared up for some subterranean exploration!
Down the lava cave we go!
Hiking near the summit. Views were amazing
Glorious day hiking Mt Etna’s lava fields!

The next day, it was time to get underway again.  Our next stop was the city of Siracusa (Syracuse).  We left early as this would be an 8 hour passage.  The best part….we FINALLY got to sail!  Well, at least 1/2 of the trip.  Once we lost the wind, our journey got very hot again, so the 3 guys decided to jump off the back of the boat into the deep sea (7000 feet/2133 meters deep)!  Luckily we threw out a line and float because the current was moving away from the boat at a pretty good clip.  I managed to make them squirm a little when I joked that I could just sail off and leave them there floating if they made me mad.  Yeah, it was a little mean….haha.  Once they were cooled off, we got moving again.  A few hours later, we spotted our first shark….EVER.  We have never, ever seen a shark in the Med.  I must admit, it was a little freaky (and I’m not sure the guys will jump into the deep sea again anytime soon).  We were then treated to dolphins a couple hours later.  There were several pods busy playing and before long they came to the boat to play in our bow spray.  This is one of our most favorite treats when we are out sailing.

Underway to Siracusa
Swim stop in over 7000 feet of water! It was a hot day!

We anchored in the big bay outside of Syracusa.  This was another amazing walled city filled with Ancient Greek history (yes, you read that right….Greek artifacts).  We visited the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the Fonte Aretusa which is a fountain fed by a fresh water spring and home to the only natural Papyrus growing in Europe.  We visited the Fontana Diana which dates back to the 9th century.  We enjoyed strolling the cobblestone streets and winding through narrow pathways.  We found a quaint little restaurant down one of these narrow pathways and enjoyed a very nice dinner off the beaten path and out of the tourist areas.  Our original plan was to spend 2 days here, but we have been in a brutal heat wave and where we were anchored was not really swimable (harbor bay….yuck) so no way to keep cool.  We decided to leave the next day and head down to a bay where we could anchor and spend the day swimming.

A greek temple turned into a church
Fountain of Diana in Siracusa
Temple of Apollo
Arethusa Fountain
Piazza Duomo Siracusa

Once again, we were able to sail most of the 4 hour passage to our next stop….Isola di Capo Passero.  The swimming was awesome except for the jellyfish that kept cruising through.  The next morning we took the dinghy to an island between the two bays.  We pulled it up on the beach and walked the path up to the ruins of a castle.  We then motored over to the end of the island in search of the marble remains from a ship that sunk during Roman times.  Tim’s son jumped from the dinghy into the water to try and spot it, but it was really hard to find among the rocks and plant life on the sea floor.  Our plan was to leave that evening and make an overnight passage to our final destination in the town of Licata.  Since we had some potentially high winds with swell getting around the point, we decided to pull up anchor, get around the point, and find another nice bay to hang out in and swim until we ready to leave that evening.

Exploring the castle and monument at the southernmost cape of Sicily

Once we got past the point, we found a nice spot to anchor and swim.  The water was refreshing and crystal clear.  All seemed well until those lovely jellyfish made their appearance.  This time, the guys spotted one that was 18” (.46 meters) in diameter….YUCK!  Just before 7:00 p.m., we were underway for our overnight passage.  Man, we’ve done a lot of these in the short time we’ve been here!  As forecasted, the wind was a little blustery (on the nose) and the water was a little choppy.  This time, I took the 10-2 shift. This was one of my least favorite passages thanks to all the fishing boats that were out at midnight.  They are not on our AIS tracking system which makes it hard to see what direction they are going or how far away they are.  At one point, I had one coming straight at me!  I deviated my course 10 degrees, and he continued to come straight for me.  I ended up changing my course 30 degrees further, heading toward shore and was shocked at how close he passed beside me despite my change in course.  I was not a happy camper.  Before long, I noticed 2 more fishing boats heading in to port.  Once again, they were headed my way.  At that point, I fired up our second motor and zoomed out of their way.  I was finally clear of the bay and the busy ports deep inside.  By the time Dan came up for the 2-6 a.m. shift, I was pretty worn out from the stress of playing chicken with the fishing boats.  He told me later that his shift was very peaceful and quiet.  Of course it was!

Overnight passage coming up!

So, here we are in the marina at Licata.  Our guests disembarked here, and we have been busy getting the boat cleaned up and ready for a temporary shut down.  We were happy to be in the marina today as the winds kicked up to 30 knots with 40 knot gusts…..not fun!  This will likely be our last post for a bit as we are heading home on Sunday.  We will leave Zoe here in the water for the next 4-6 weeks and return home for my son’s wedding and the close on our house (finally)!  Super exciting events, but dreading the trek home in the middle of busy, summer travel time.  We will be back with more adventures sometime in August!

Beat some weather in and are now snugged up in a marina in Southern Sicily
Zoe’s temporary summer home
Our Sicilian wanderings so far….

Benvenuto in Italia (Welcome to Italy)!

After picking up our documents to officially check out of Albania, we were underway for Italy at 5:00 p.m.  Since we had never been to Otranto and were unsure of where to handle all the formalities of checking in, Dan decided to hire an agent to assist us with the paperwork. When we were last in Italy in 2018 (our first year onboard) we did it incorrectly and narrowly avoided a problem.  This time we wanted to do it right. Since Otranto is not a major port of entry, we were told we need to arrive very early because the officials were only there for a few hours in the morning (hence the 5:00 p.m departure the day before).  This was slated to be a 13 hour passage with no real wind to sail with.  As we got outside the bay, the seas were a bit bigger than forecasted (shocking, I know) and the winds were up, but straight on our nose.  This still meant no sailing, but it also meant slowing us down quite a bit.  I opted to take first shift since I prefer to ease myself into driving in the dark.  Unfortunately, by doing this, I inevitably end up doing double nighttime shifts and Dan only gets the middle (I think I may need to rethink my strategy).

Sunset on our passage across the Adriatic
Land ho!

Our passage across the Adriatic was pretty uneventful, and we arrived bright and early at 5:00 a.m. (managed to shave an hour off despite the slow start).  We dropped anchor in a beautiful, sandy bay and headed down for a nap.  Not long after falling into a deep sleep, the agent called to tell us he arranged a spot on the wall for us, and we needed to come right now.  So, up we popped to pull up the anchor and head into the quay.  We quickly tied up and Dan bugged out with the agent to get us formally checked in to Italy.  Ironically, all the officials were housed right behind us (probably could’ve saved some agent money there, but who knew?).  We were a short walk to the castle walls and cobblestoned streets.  Inside the walls were lots of lovely little shops and restaurants.  The next day, we rented a car and headed inland to the town of Lecce, known as a “foodie” city.  We entered one of the gates to this ancient walled city and set off to explore.  Lecce is known for it’s Baroque buildings and is over 2000 years old.  It is nicknamed the Florence of the South.

The charming medieval town of Otranto
Zoe tied up to the transit dock. Coast Guard, immigration and customs were right behind us
Aragonese castle. Famous as a staging ground for numerous crusades
We love strolling Italy! So picturesque.

Our first stop was Museo Faggiano.  This was a private house up until 2001 when during renovations, the owner discovered archaeological  remains dating back 2500 years ago.  He discovered cisterns, secret passageways, tombs, skeletal remains, a Knights Templar fresco, and many other treasures.  It took them 7 years to fully excavate the site which they turned into a museum open to the public in 2008.  The building dates back to pre-Roman times.  It is said to have been a Knights Templar house between 1000-1200, and then a Franciscan convent until 1600.  We spent a great deal of time exploring every nook and cranny of this fascinating piece of history.

Down into the secret tunnel of Knights Templar
“If God is with us who can be against us?” Inscription on found wall
Very narrow stairs into very small tunnels!
Secret room beneath the main house
Pottery shards and remnants from a time long past
We really enjoyed this unique museum.

From there, we headed to the ancient Roman Theater from the 2nd century(not discovered until 1929).  Although we were not able to explore the interior, we did get some great views from above.  After that, we were off to explore a number of spectacular churches.  Each one we walked into was more incredible than the previous one.  Here again, I will let the pictures tell the story.

Ancient Roman theatre
Robyn getting a custom apron. It says “Robyn cooks from the heart” in Italian
Strolling the streets of Lecce
One of Lecce’s fabulous churches
Architecture is amazing
Nice large glass of Moretti beer to cool off with!

After a couple of days, we were on our way once again.  Our next stop was Santa Maria di Leuca in order to position ourselves for our next big passage.  Here, we were at the very tip of the heel of Italy preparing to cross the Gulf of Taranto on a 13 hour passage to Crotone (located on the “ball” of the foot/boot).  The gulf can blow some pretty big winds with choppy seas, so once again, timing was very important.  We decided to make this passage during the day with a 5:00 a.m. departure.  This would get us into Crotone while the sun was still up (important to us when anchoring in a place we have never been).  As continues to be our misfortune, what little wind we had was square on the nose…..more motoring!  We also learned that this part of the world is quite warm right now, so making this passage during the day was a dumb idea.  We were sweltering!

Lighthouse at the tip of the “heel” in Santa Maria De Leuca
Our passage across the Gulf of Taranto to Crotone

We arrived in the town of Crotone and dropped anchor in a big, beautiful bay surrounded by beach clubs, restaurants and a lungomare (seaside boardwalk) that went on for miles.  Luckily the depths were shallow enough that we were anchored pretty far out from the chaos.  The next morning we motored 2 hours north (yep, still not sailing) to a bay in Strongoli.  Our mission here was to search for the Italian ship (the Nave Petrarca) that Dan’s grandfather had died on when it was torpedoed by the British during WWII.  We had an approximate location, so this was going to be an interesting endeavor.  We stopped and asked 3 men fishing off their boat if they knew where the wreck was, and they pointed us in a general direction.  After searching for over a 1/2 hour on Zoe, and Dan searching by swimming while I used Zoe to try and hover near the supposed spot, we had no luck.  Dan then jumped in the dinghy to search further from Zoe while I remained on board watching him.  Eventually, frustration took over, and he decided to zoom over to another boat where a man was fishing.  Before long, they both came over to the boat where I used Google translate to explain what we were looking for a why (I then proceeded to butcher the language trying to read it to him).  He understood and knew exactly where to take Dan.  Dan followed him in the dinghy while I made notes of the land features of where they were.

Vincenzo leading the way to the wreck of the Nave Petrarca

Dan came back to the boat so that we could move Zoe closer to area (we had been nowhere near the pieces of the wreck).  As we motored over there, he told me that the man had invited us to have lunch with him (the first boat of fisherman had returned and one of them translated the lunch invitation).  We dropped anchor in very shallow water and Dan swam the pieces of the wreck.  This was a very special moment for Dan as he had never met his grandfather and had only heard the story from his dad growing up.  It took a fair amount of research (all in Italian) and it was gratifying to actually find it.  Article on the Petrarca and it’s demise is here:  

A piece of the wreckage

After spending time with what was left of the wreck (the torpedo had blown the ammunition ship sky high leaving only small pieces of debris behind).  We hopped in the dinghy and headed to shore to meet our new friend.  He did not speak English, and we do not speak Italian so this was truly an adventure.  We got in his car and he brought us to his home where he and his wife made us an amazing home cooked multi-course lunch with local wine.  After a couple of hours, we told them we had to leave because the winds were coming up and we had a marina awaiting our arrival.  Back on board, we spent two hours bashing back to Crotone (imagine that….going in the opposite direction and the damn wind was on our nose yet again!).  We came into the marina and tied to the quay.  After welcoming us, the marinero handed us a bottle of local wine to enjoy.  Wow!  On top of that, each morning we were brought freshly made croissants from a local bakery.  Holy cow, I love this place (my waistline, not so much).

New friends in crotone – Vincenzo and Chiara!
A Calabrian speciality called sardella. This yumminess is spread on bread with olive oil,
Homemade pasta with local red wine. Perfectly al dente and Tutti Bene!
Robyn trying local snails made in the Calabrese style

The next day, our new friends from Strongoli drove down to the marina and picked us up.  They drove us back to their town and up to the old city of Strongoli high in the hills to the cemetery where a memorial had been constructed to honor the lives lost on the Petrarca.  Once again, we would have never been able to find this treasure on our own as it was hidden in a lower courtyard of the main area of the cemetery.  His grandfather’s name was not on the memorial, and we learned that the names were for the bodies that were found (18 out of 82 lives lost….very sad).  We were then taken to see the castle and panoramic views of the old town where our new friends once lived.  From there, we headed back down to Crotone for some lunch.  They took us to this little local gem where you had to ring a doorbell for admittance to this beautiful little fish restaurant.  There was no menu (or English) so our hosts expertly ordered a fancy fish feast for us with very tasty local wine.  Numerous small plates of different fish came out for us to try.  It was an absolutely amazing lunch.  We returned to the boat and made plans to meet for a pizza dinner the next night.  We were told that Crotone has the best pizza outside of Napoli, and our friends have a Sunday night pizza tradition.  Mind you, neither of us still speak the others language, so watching our interactions was I’m sure quite amusing to those around us.  Google translate became our best friend on both sides!

Memorial to the lives lost in WWII on the Petrarca in Strongoli
15 February 1943 tragedy struck the Muzich family. Lost my grandfather nearby.
Strongoli castle
Hilltop views of Storngoli
Views from the town were amazing
Lunch with our new friends at Brizo in Crotone
Prawns made “crudo” style
Sardella (yum!) in the background and sardines with pickled onions
Pasta with sea urchin. First time for everything!

Once again, our friends arrived Sunday night (this time bringing gifts of homemade sardella and a huge can of locally produced olive oil).  They drove us to a beautiful spot on the water and a poolside table.  They ordered a delicious “pizza by the meter” with several different flavor sections.  It was excellent!  After returning to the boat, we enjoyed a quick apperitivo onboard (it was getting close to midnight).  We said a sad farewell to our new friends with a promise to reconnect when we return to Italy in August where they will hopefully join us for some sailing.

Pizza by the meter in Crotone

Our next journey was to Sicily and the town of Taormina.  This would be another 24 hour, round the clock journey.  We headed out of our beloved little marina spot a little after 12 noon.  Care to take bets on whether or not we sailed?  Of course, we did not!  There was either no wind or it was directly on the nose. The wind gods have not been playing nice with us so far this year 🙁

Sunset on our way to Taormina, Sicily

It was a pretty uneventful, overnight passage.  However, about an hour out of our destination, Dan landed a 10 pound (4.5 kg )tuna.  Woo hoo, yummy eats for several days!  So, we have arrived in Sicily and will keep you posted on our next adventures as we make our way around this beautiful island.

Bluefin tuna! Sushi coming up!
Overview of our journey from Albania to Sicily