Messina Strait and more

Licata, Messina, Portopalo, Ragusa, Sailing, Sicily, Siracusa, Taormina

This followed us through the Messina Strait.

After a short night near Milazzo, we left at 4:30 in the morning and flushed ourselves down the Messina Strait. That's the narrow bit of sea between Sicily and Italy. The currents here can be on the strong side (thus the flushing), so much in fact that some ancient dude named Homer thought they were sea monsters. To be fair, they probably have eaten their share of sailors. It was a bit tricky, but nowhere near as crazy as the fishermen in the area, which are focused on catching highly valuable swordfish from odd looking boats. When doing so, they don't really look left or right and pay no heed to anyone else, which combined with the strong current sweeping you ahead whether you want to or not, can make for some pretty interesting situations.


After the strait we caught a little wind and sailed on to Taormina, a very vertical town, which made us decide to skip the visit and just swim in its nice clear waters instead, which was much more kind on my creaky old knee. We then anchored our way down the east coast, stopping at a small place called Brucoli and then anchoring off Augusta, outside a dreary looking refinery harbour and finally making it to the huge natural harbour of Siracusa, the ancient home of Archimedes. Amongst many other inventions, he had built a giant claw used for tipping over Roman ships attacking the city.

Picturesque afternoon market in Ortigia.

This looked like a very interesting city to visit, but like Trapani, it had a bad reputation for dinghy thefts, so we decided to move to a marina in the little Porto Marmoreo on the north side of town to let us explore in safety. We needed to fill the water tanks anyways. It was a bit shallow here, but a helpful man in a RIB guided us through the shallows to a tight berth with a meter water under the keel. This was expensive, but not as expensive as a new dinghy, outboard engine or both.

Bench explorers.

The boat safely berthed and guarded by a watchman and his big dog at night, we went to explore. The market at Ortigia was colourful and we learnt how to eat a Bastardi, which is what the locals call the big prickly pears. At night the city is most alive, less hot and much more beautiful, as the colourful street lighting brings out the good parts while hiding the grubby. We also hauled supplies from the supermarkets, which were a long walk away down a busy road with a narrow or non-existant sidewalk and found a laundry near the marina which was run by a friendly American lady, who gave us a good price on just doing the washing. Most other places in Italy insist on charging for drying, folding and even ironing, which is silly to pay for when you can just hang it in the warm wind on the boat.

Ortigia at night was very pretty.

Filling the water tanks turned out to be not such a great thing, as Siracusa seems to have a well documented problem with its water table in September being so low that the seawater enters through the porous rocks and the wells turn slightly salty. It was safe to drink, but made the tea taste rather awful. This was the only time we broke into our emergency stash of bottled drinking water and just used the tank water for cooking, dishes and washing ourselves.

Fancy fountain.

The next stop was already on the Southeast corner of Sicily. There's a big fishing harbour there named Portopalo, and not much else. On the east side a fishing fleet is moored and there are two long breakwater arms providing good shelter if you pick the right one for the weather situation and don't mind switching sides when it changes. The fishermen are friendly and behave themselves, apart from being somewhat careless with their fuel and styrofoam boxes - I nearly jumped into a floating diesel patch once and the boxes seem to have difficulties staying on the boats.

Doom cloud.

It was late September and the weather was taking a definite turn for the worse. Dark clouds filled with rain, squalls and thunderstorms came marching through and we waited a whole week for a weather window to get westwards along the coast. We didn't really get a good one, but decided to move on anyways, motorsailing upwind and often reefing and unreefing between squalls and getting drenched with rain showers. At Marina di Ragusa, the entrance was quite shallow and they were slow to respond to our VHF calls, so we felt our way in carefully. Just as we had made it in, the RIB that was supposed to guide us showed up too. The friendly ormeggiatori showed us to our berth and helped us dock. In the office we were told that no boats were allowed in or out this night due to a fireworks display being launched from the breakwater. We stayed on the boat to watch and got the show of a lifetime! It must've gone on for an hour and cost a fortune, but we were impressed by such a welcome.

Ragusa staged quite the welcome party for us.

Here we pumped the brackish water from Siracusa out of our tanks and replaced it with much tastier Ragusa tapwater. The town of Marina di Ragusa was mostly holiday homes and apartments, sprinkled with shops and restaurants. As we got stuck here for another week due to more bad weather blowing through, we took the bus to Ragusa and explored around, ate Pizza (one day before the good Pizzeria shut down for winter) and lots of excellent Gelato.

Ragusa Ibla

The weather was bloody lousy, a gale pushed big swell on shore, flooding the beach bar and washing up several trees, which would not be very nice to bump into at sea. With big onshore swell, the shallow marina entrance was unsafe (we had only half a metre under keel coming in) and we were stuck here, unable to leave, grudgingly paying day rates for the berth. On September 30 (2018, do keep up), we finally escaped, filling up on Diesel on the way out and motoring the remaining 37 miles to Licata, our berth for the winter.

Bella gelato.