Voyage to Sicilia Part 6 - The jump to Sicily whilst Etna sends up fireworks!

It is funny thinking about this day now, reading the log book and realising what an adventure it all was, whereas at the time, you’re just in it.

It was a very early start due to the clocks going back (0315) so had to traverse the dodgy entrance in pitch darkness.  The transit (impossible to see in the dark) takes you towards the beach which instinctively feels all wrong – driving the boat out of the harbour and towards land (which is only about 50 metres away) following some vague instructions from the harbour master to make the turn out to sea after passing the groyne on the beach.  We took it very slowly, with ZZ close behind, saw the groyne and passed it, starting to follow the line of beach when the depths started dropping rapidly.  I turned away from the beach, the depths still continued to fall –EMERGENCY STOP.  Then tentatively picked our way out to sea.  It looked like we’d found another sandbank and should possibly have turned earlier.  We didn’t hit it anyway but it was a bit scary and closest we’ve come to grounding.

So, out to sea, waning but still bright moon ascending.  A bit of breeze ahead to keep us motor sailing at 7 knots, nice.  Felt much more confident out there on this occasion – yet again, another beautiful night of the type that as you gaze at it and exhale, you realise you’ve been holding your breath for ages. That inner stillness which is so often sought by all us; I didn’t expect to find it out at sea, at night. 

As we ran along the toe of Italy, the beginnings of daylight revealed steep-sided mountains with a layer of cloud falling off a high, verdant plateau in the distance.  The sunrise touched the mountain tops first, pink and rugged, then slowly filled the land and the sea with warmth and light.

Even 5 miles offshore, the smell of pines, herbs and undergrowth drifted across the water. The toe of Italy is definitely one to be explored by car in the future.

0830: Just turned the toe of Italy – Tim said to me, “can you see anything in the distance”, I looked, “not really”.  “Look again”.

OH MY GOD!  I don’t know what I was expecting to see but through the mist was the HUGE smoking cone of Etna, rising up 50 miles ahead of us.  My heart filled, stabbing with emotion – we are nearly there.  I had been looking forward to this moment, wondering what it would be like to spot Etna from the sea, for a long time – but I never expected it to look anything like as good as this.

The closer we got, the more incredible it looked.  Little did we know, we were looking at the aftermath of the previous day/night’s eruption!  Which was nice.

1200 – Note to self and others – crossing between the toe of Italy and Sicily needs careful consideration in a north westerly and the sea-state bears no relation to forecasts.  I thought we were far enough south for the infamous Straits of Messina to have no effect on our passage – I was wrong.

We were expecting a bit of a blow, good wind, when we cleared the toe of Italy and we were hoping to finally sail without our motor. As predicted, the wind started to rise, quickly.  I got the binoculars out to check out what looked like a load of white water a few miles ahead of us – wow, that was some serious white water.  I called Tim up and we put a reef in the main.  Within 15 mins we were in a crazy white-water ride, 2-3 metres on the beam, horrible horrible sea.  Turned off motor and tried to sail but it was impossible to hold a course, we were all over the place, though persevered with different sail plans for an hour or so.  Gave up in the end and motorsailed on the best course we could make.  Three hours, that’s all it was – but it was enough and a good reminder of what we like – and what we don’t!  And how doing something like that for a few hours is okay, but over a long passage would be total shit.

Anyway, it turned out that it is better to cross the straits lower down – and in a NW wind, funnelling through, and possibly wind against tide which would explain the sea state, it is something we should have avoided had we known.  Hey ho. Not to be repeated.

As we approached Riposto, the coast was swathed in thick mist (which turned out to be the smoke from Etna), with Taormina perched on its cliff top location, just managing to poke through.  The whole coast looked very other-worldly as we neared the good-looking waterfront of Riposto, with the sun struggling through the murk.

Smoke belching from Etna illuminated by the sunset - worth every moment of worry to get here!
Ended up in the corner of the marina in a tiny, motor-boat berth and a horrible swell entering the harbour - for €55 a night!  In October.  We were peeved momentarily but the view of Etna, as the sun began to set with smoke billowing out of the top was just incredible.  And with hindsight, it was by far the best place to view Etna from and isn’t that expensive for Sicily – I would have paid €100 a night for that view.

Zikk Zakk aka Natasha and Thomas
What a day!
Zikk Zakk came over for sundowners.  Felt pretty revved up; fine G&Ts in hand (ice, lime, good gin – if you’re going to drink ‘em, make ‘em good) whilst staring slack-jawed in wonderment as Etna’s belchings turned fire-red as the sun set behind the mountain.  What a day.


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