Good Bye Sicily

The moment has come. After 11 months in Sicily, at the beautiful Marina of Capo D’Orlando, it’s time to set sails again and move to our next destination. We avoided the subject as long as we could, knowing that until we said it out loud it wasn’t going to happen: we weren’t going to leave.

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Deep down though we were getting ready to say goodbye to those places that had grown on us, becoming part of our daily routine, and to those marvellous people we now called friends.

The same people that helped us design and build the frame for the solar panels; that gave us tips on how to fix bits and pieces, and advised us on places to visit and restaurants where to try the best of the local cuisine.

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With them we shared our concern about that engine which made a rattling noise when on; we laughed when one of us – I mean GC ! –  ended up in the water once or twice when, jumping from the boat, he missed the pontoon.

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With them we were on the radio at 4am, when gusts of 40 knots of wind swooped on Gladan with no notice, in the island of Salina, causing the gennaker to flap open and disanchoring many boats around us.

We managed to lower the gennaker and put it away and made a flash decision to pull the anchor up and leave the bay, right when a boat was about to crash on us. At full throttle, with rain hitting our face with rage, we slalomed through the many boats and went out at sea – the safest place to be in these circumstances.

We wondered around for couple of hours waiting for the sun to raise and the wind to calm down before being able to drop anchor again. Our friends were in the bay next to us. Their presence was reassuring and made us live the storm with a different spirit – knowing we were on the lookout for each other.

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Thanks to them, we discovered the restaurant Le Siciliane, in Capo D’Orlando downtown, whose host, Calogero, is not only a talented chef cooking with seasonal, fresh ingredients, but also a very skilled practitioner of shiatsu massages –  keen on fixing your cervical while delighting your palate.

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I still remember when one night after dinner, having seen me in pain, touching my neck, he reappeared from a back door with a portable massage-chair and gave me a 10minute massage right in the middle of the restaurant! I went back home with a fixed neck and dreamy eyes still picturing before them a delicious carpaccio of freshly picked porcini mushrooms followed by a mouthwatering plate of porcini tagliatelle. 

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You feel so nostalgic when it’s time to leave, and realise how lucky you’ve been to meet such special people. You start thinking that maybe traveling is not that great if you have to keep moving on, even when you’ve found people who make you feel at home.

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Then you force yourself a bit and set sails – the sea is calling. It’s time to go again. Arrivederci amici. I’m sure the wind will blow us towards you again one day.

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P.S. Read Patty’s amazing blog on life at sea & more…

 

Sailing towards Cefalu’

We set off from Capo D’Orlando Marina around midday on a Sunday morning.

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It was a glorious day of sunshine and the wind was very little: it never went over 9.5 knots. We opened the jib but kept one engine on. Gc read on the Lagoon forum that it’s a good custom to alternate the engines: so we use one at a time; it doesn’t make a big difference in terms of speed and we consume less fuel and engine hours. We turn both on only when there are strong headwinds or when we need to manoeuvre.

_DSC1197On route, there was a moment of excitement when we thought we were going to eat fish for dinner. The fishing rod kept bending forward and Gc really struggled to reel the line in. It must have been a big fish. Probably a tuna.

May is the mating season for tuna and swordfish so you find big specimens out there looking for a date. An adult bluefin tuna weighs on average 250 Kgs!

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Gc fought with the fish for fifteen minutes, rocking back and forth with the rod, trying to slowly pull it in without rushing it: the objective is to get the fish tired before pulling it in, otherwise it still has enough energy to unhook itself or pull you in for an unwanted dip. Tunas are swift swimmers and travel at a speed of up to 72.5 Km/hour so you don’t want to be towed around by them.

My contribution to the fishing exercise was mainly verbal: “Come on Gc, bring the sushi on, keep pulling!”. I avoided any parallelism with the very famous “The old man and the sea” as recently Gc had become quite aware of the growing number of grey hair.

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In preparation for the catch, I grabbed fishing net and grappa and had them ready to be used. I chose the grappa made by Nino, a Sicilian friend, thinking the fish would depart from this world on better terms with a mouthful of orange-flavoured grappa, zero food miles. It turned out the fish wasn’t ready to die at all and swam away leaving us and the Sicilian grappa behind.

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_DSC0280Thirty-five nautical miles and many snacks later, we arrived at Cefalu’; it was just after 6 pm.

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We decided to stay at anchor just outside the small harbour, in what is definitely a picturesque scenery: ahead of us a rocky promontory and on top of it, standing out against a clear blue sky, the remains of some stone buildings.

After settling in, we had a refreshing swim and found a small beach on which to do a bit of yoga and some push-ups. Exercise is always welcome after many hours of sailing.

We took a hot shower, left the dingy inside the port and walked to the town centre.

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The landscape was grand and when the sun started to set we experienced a feeling of fullness which was then taken to the next level by a beautifully cooked dinner at La Botte, in a side street of the main road, Via Vittorio Emanuele. A bottle of Rapitala’ (grapes grillo, catarratto and chardonnay), a freshly fished sea bream for me and ravioli alla cernia with langoustine sauce for Gc. Had life ended there and then, we would have had no regrets.

Or maybe just one: I didn’t allow Gc to order a dessert.

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Ikaria: the Wine Tasting Experience

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‘A man is sitting in a cafe. He’s sipping his coffee while slowly studying his cards. He is 96 years old and has never lost a game. A younger man walks in, he brings bad news: “Vasilis died, he was 87 years old”.
The old man sits there in silence, taking in the news, impassively.
Two weeks later a similar scene takes places in the same bar: a friend steps in and tells everyone that Panos, the 83-year-old man who lived by the port, just died.

The 96 years old man throws the cards on the table, visibly upset and shouts: “what’s going on nowadays with these kids who die so young?’

Georgios pauses and looks at us intently enjoying the effect the joke has had on our small crowd. We are still recovering from the ecstatic waves of laughter.
Our attention now moves back to our wine glasses and their precious content as well as the food on the table prepared for us by Eleni, with fresh ingredients from their organic farm.

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Georgios and Eleni live in Ikaria with their 4 children and they run a winery and an agro-tourism business hosting people in their beautiful stone houses in Pigi.

I’ve come across their website while reading about the island and its wine tradition and immediately decided to book a wine tasting for the 2 of us plus our Dutch neighbours.

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We all meet at the farm around 6 pm after exploring the Southern part of the island and stopping at Therma for a dip into Ikaria’s famous mineral water springs.

After a small introduction of himself and the farm, Georgios gives us a tour of the vineyard spread over a terraced hill. We then have a chance to peep inside Eleni’s kitchen while she’s preparing canapé food for the wine tasting. Finally, we sit at a long table on their covered terrace. One of their guests, a French man, joins us for a glass.

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It is a gorgeous evening and we enjoy the sunset while tasting Georgios’ wines.
He let us try 3 different ones, a white and two reds. We sip the wine while tasting Eleni’s starters. Everything is just perfect and I take a mental picture of the place, the lovely hosts, the sunset, feeling inebriated by the wine and the company.

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Of the three wines we try, the last one, The Philosopher, is my favourite. Aged for 10 years in barrique, this wine is full-bodied and as rich on the nose as it is on the palate: a mixed bouquet of red berries, tobacco, vanilla, liquorice, inebriates the nostrils while its velvety texture cares the palate.

 

Eleni and Georgios are already quite famous as they have been interviewed many times by different magazines and TVs, all trying to get to the bottom of Ikaria’s fame as the island of longevity.

When asked about the secret of the island, Georgios says it’s all about living life at the right pace, and enjoying it: healthy food, grown organically, fresh water, great Ikarian wine, strong family ties and plenty of sex, even when you are not a spring chicken anymore!

Watch our video on “Ikaria – Sailing Gladan”

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Ikaria: the island of longevity

We set off sails from Samos on a Monday early morning. We checked 2 or 3 different weather forecasts before departing towards Ikaria as the island is famous for its very strong winds.

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Ikaria reaches an altitude of more than 900 metres: winds slide off the mountain slopes acquiring speed, and gusts of 30 plus knots are not uncommon on both sides of the island when the wind blows. Sailors are advised to keep 5 miles off the coast to avoid bad surprises.

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The island derives its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the sun: his wings made of wax started to melt and he fell in the sea, in the same spot where the island is – so the legend says.

Together with a few other blue zones (areas of the world where people live on average a decade longer than those in America or Europe), Ikaria has built a reputation for its longevity: around one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s.

Their secret? Couple of glasses of wine every day, little meat and fried food, sage or mint tea, bust most importantly a very active sexual life…even through their late eighties!

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The sailing was good as the weather was quite clement with us. We only faced 30 knots in the channel between Samos and Fourni, as expected, and then sailed with 25 knots all the way to the port. The wind direction kept changing quite often so we kept an extra eye open.

We arrived at the port of Evdilos, in the northern part of the island, around lunchtime and managed to moore stern to. The port is quite small and the constant swell makes the stay rather uncomfortable. We discovered only afterwards that the port on the Southern side is better protected and would have probably been a more suitable option.

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Ikaria is an unspoiled, wild island. Moving around the 255,000 square metres takes time as roads are quite narrow and winding. They go up and down the mountains around the island’s perimeter and it is common to find pebbles and gravel along the road as the rocky mountains are sanded by water streams.

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The island is lusciously green in the north where in springtime it’s a great feast of colours and perfumes: the yellow brooms, the dark green maritime pines, the little lilac flowers, the delicate daisy flower all moving rhythmically, gently caressed by the sea breeze.

Our first stop with the car was Nas, in the North, where there is a very spectacular, picturesque scenery: the fresh water stream coming down the mountains joins the open sea. They face each other fearlessly mirroring their contrasting natures: the first placid and contained, the second wild and limitless. In between, witnessing this constant shift of personality only a little strip of sandy beach.

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Stone steps take you down to the beach and back up to the tavernas that populate the village. Sitting on the balcony of one of the few restaurants already open in early May, Artemis, we admired the view, breathed in the salty air and enjoyed fresh fish cooked in the oven (both skala and palamito were absolutely delicious!) and salad made with greens from the garden, all accompanied by a perfumed, delicate white wine from Ikaria.

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Reds and whites are both produced on the island and winemakers are getting more and more skilled, obtaining interesting results.

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Wether it’s a blend of Assyrtiko, Fokiano, Koudouro and Reteno or white Begleri, Ikarian wines are full of flavour.

20170503_125604The southern part of the island reserves even more surprises. Arid, rocky, dominated by the majestic mountains, with its natural hot springs in Lefkada, several spas in Therma and the beautiful beach of Seychelles. Loads to discover!

Watch our video on Ikaria!

Vulcano – Eolian islands

Visiting Vulcano island is an experience that sticks with you for a while: if anything the smell of sulphur certainly will!

We got to Vulcano easily after 3 and half hours sailing. There was little wind so we had to motor almost all the way there from Milazzo.

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The sea was finally calm after a few stormy days, some whirlwinds still forming in the sky, stretching all the way to the water.

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Incredible to see at a distance – not very pleasant to experience directly with the boat, I’m sure.

We anchored on the eastern side of the island, Porto Levante, opposite Fumaroles Beach, where the mud pond and the hot springs are.

The morning after we decided to climb up the vulcano. The only one still active on the archipelago, together with the more spectacular Stromboli.

It’s an easy walk, not to steep and the vulcano is only 386 metres high. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water as there are no refreshments available along the way.

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Once on top the view is grand: the huge crater below you, the blue sea all around and the gas emissions coming up the volcanic soil: the so called fumaroles. Make sure you don’t breathe them in for too long tough, they are quite toxic.

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We walked along the edge of the crater and managed to spot Gladan, safely anchored in the well sheltered bay.

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It was quite hot on top, despite it being the beginning of October, and our stomachs had started to rumble so we decided to make our way back to the centre and enjoy a well deserved meal after our short but intense adventure!

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After lunch we went back to the boat and had a very pleasant surprise: some fishermen came around with their boat offering some freshly fished capone and gamberoni. What a dream! With 15 Euros we secured a delicious dinner for the 4 of us. DCIM100MEDIADJI_0033.JPG

We couldn’t leave the island without visiting the mud pond and experiencing the ticklish sensation of swimming above the hot springs. It’s 3 euros to access the pond so we paid the entrance and made our way to the mud pool.

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I did it many times as a teenager when the entry was still free and I remember the funny looking people all covered in mud walking around the pool waiting for it to dry out. Somehow though I did not remember it being so gross…!

When we stepped in the initial feeling was of disgust! You really feel like a pig crawling into mud…and there are so many people in such a small space.

After the first few odd minutes though we started to enjoy it. The mud was hot and felt very good, forming a protective layer and gently releasing heat on the skin.

The abrasive consistency of the mud and the acidity of the sulphuric acid peel off your dead skin and leave you with a baby skin when you wash it away. The mud treatments are also supposed to be highly beneficial for arthritis, cervical and skin problems.

And there is always the fun side of it! Who can resist the temptation of turning into incredible Hulk for a few hours..

Once the mud is dry and you get tired of the very intense smell of sulphur surrounding you, it’s time for you to go down the staircase and immerge your body in the warm sea water. Follow the bubbles coming up from the sea bottom and you’ll find the hot springs. Relax while washing off the mud. Be careful as you should definitely try not to get any in your eyes as Gc very well knows!

A quick stop at the supermarket to buy some Insolia wine and some crisps to accompany our G&T and there we were, back aboard of Gladan, sipping our aperitif and getting the bbq ready for the night. We had fresh fish to cook…What a treat!

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The day after we started making our way to Lipari but stopped very soon for a yoga session on the beach of the Faraglioni. The perfect spot to feel blessed and perform a sun salutation while breathing in the sun and breathing out all your worries…if you still have any left after such a great time around the Eolian islands!

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Sailing from Leros to Sicily: Chapter 3

Zakynthos and the shipwreck bay

We continued sailing towards our destination, now stopping more often than before and taking it easy as we came to the conclusion – with great disappointment on my side, initially- that we won’t make it to Sicily in time for me to see my family reunited and my friends there on holiday.

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We had a few delays along the way: we were in Milos for 4 days as the wind was too strong and the sea quite rough, making it very difficult for us to cross to the southern part of the Peloponnesos. We also stopped a few days in Koroni to rest as we were quite tired after sailing for many days, stopping only at night to sleep.

Sailing teaches you a big lesson: you and your plans mean nothing when at sea.

You are just a minuscule pawn on a big chess board: you have no control on your moves. No point in being stubborn and trying to impose your will: no matter what, you’ll have no chance to change the course of the game.

All you can do is second the elements.

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Sometimes I look at sailing as a metaphor of life: when the wind is constantly on your nose and you struggle to make any progress then it’s probably time to stop and wait for more favourable conditions before setting sails again. Like in life, sometimes it’s wiser to step aside and gain a new perspective on things before making the next move.

Having come to terms with the new circumstances all was left to do was take a deep breath and enjoy the journey! Tough thing to do when sailing in the beautiful Greek waters with thousands of wonderful islands to visit, right?

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Next stop along the way was Zakynthos. The name sounded very familiar to me and I then remembered why! Ugo Foscolo, a famous Italian poet, dedicated a poem to the island where he was born.

In the poem, Foscolo laments the fact that he will never be able to go back to his beloved homeland with its luxuriously green slopes and its turquoise waters which gave birth to the goddess Venus.

Having been exiled from the island, he will never be able to be buried on its fertile soil washed by crystalline waters.

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He compares himself to Ulysses as they share a similar fate. Ulysses, though, did manage to go back to his Ithaca eventually. The poet instead will never see this dream come true.

Gc and I started reciting the poem while sailing, feeling very sympathetic towards the unlucky poet.

High on poetry and sea breeze, we kept on going until we saw an unusual movement of boats, yachts and super yachts – all concentrated in a small patch of sea.

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What was going on there? People call people.. and our curious souls couldn’t resist the temptation. We joined the crowd.

And what a beautiful spectacle started to take shape in front of our eyes! Clear water, white sandy beaches, and a bay enclosed within steep reefs, stretching high in the sky.  What a divine scene! The colours so vivid and intense, the water so crystalline it almost looks transparent, the sky so blue. A brown carcass resting on the beach.

What’s that? I grab the binoculars to ascertain the nature of that ‘thing’…we are still too far to be able to distinguish the contours.

I look intently….Wow! Hundreds of people are on the beach surrounding the ‘thing’. A shipwreck – that’s what it is!

DSC_3028 What’s this massive wreck doing there? I started wondering. Well, story goes that in the October of 1980 the ship was carrying cigarettes illegally, smuggled from Turkey and destined for the Sicilian black market controlled by mafia. The Greek coast guard had tailed it for a while and grown suspicious: they wanted to search the goods.

It was a stormy night and the waves were getting higher and higher. The ship would go up and then slide down the wave, in an rhythmic way, every time reaching new heights. The crew grew restless as they became aware of the coast guard chasing them.

The captain decided to hide in the bay: it was the only way to shake them off their tail.  The high waves though pushed the boat too far inside the bay and it got stuck on a shoal. The crew somehow managed to escape.

For months after the incident, locals would help themselves with cigarettes and whisky from the new ‘free market’: the Panagiotis shipwreck!

Some believe the Greek Ministry of Tourism to be behind all this. A smart way to attract more tourists!DSC_3021

We loved the place and the touch of mystery around the wreck, but decided to wait until all the day-trippers had left before approaching land! That way we could enjoy the beach and the wreck by ourselves.

We anchored in the bay and had a light lunch with a mixed salad.

It was roughly 6pm and the beach was almost empty. I prepared our pic- nic bag with crisps, G&T and some olives. We boarded our dingy and made our way to the beach. Best place for our aperitif!

DSC_3096On the beach, we bumped into some very nice people who happened to be the owners of one of the super yachts anchored in the bay. They were so nice as to invite us for a drink on their boat that night.

The drink turned into a dinner and we had a great time aboard their luxurious boat. Great hosts and great food cooked by their chef.

The night was a bit rocky as there is a big swell in the bay. It is not advisable to anchor in the bay unless the weather is very calm and, even so, expect some swell if you decide to spend the night there.

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Sailing from Leros to Sicily: Chapter 2

KORONI and the turtles

We stopped in KORONI on our way to Sicily from Leros. We set off from Plitra in the morning and got to KORONI after several hours of sailing. The town looks very cute once you get close enough: blurred shapes start turning into nicely built houses and villas, a medieval castle on the left hand side dominates the bay and a cute cluster of houses and flats climb up the hill.

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The road facing the sea is dotted with bars, restaurants, ice cream parlours and ‘ouzerie’,one after the other. Walking along it you end up to the castle, a magnificent building that dominates the surrounding sea.

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20170815_202701We were starving after a day out sailing and went to a nice restaurant and had a fish platter for 2 and a small caraffe of ouzo. The food was just ok, not the best we had in Greece but our tummies were now full and we started wandering around the streets to get to know the place a bit better.

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Our attention was caught by a group of people standing by a kiosk. They wore a blue t-shirt with ‘ask me about sea turtles’ on it. Who can resist such an invitation?

We went there and enquired about sea turtles! It was only the day before that I had seen a big turtle swimming by our boat in Plitra so I was more than happy to find out more about these interesting creatures.

The volunteers told us that Zangla beach in KORONI is one of the areas where female turtles lay their eggs. Exactly the same place where they hatched at least 20 years earlier- the wonders of nature and ‘no GPS’!

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Sea turtles keep coming back every 3 years during the breeding period (May to October). They live up to 80 years and start laying eggs in their 20ies- just like humans!

The little turtles hatch at night and reach the sea following the reflection of the moon on the water. The short journey from the nest to the sea is very important for them as it strengthens their flippers and their lungs before their first dip.

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The volunteers also told us that they go for a long walk on the beach every morning at 6.15 to check the nests and help baby turtles who might have lost their way to the sea. People are encouraged to join them.

We really liked the idea! At 5.45 am the day after I woke up Gc with some nice espresso still hot from the Moka and with a torch in one hand and the pillow marks still on our faces, we started speeding towards Zangla beach with our dingy.

We saw a group of people moving in the dark and waved at them. It was the volunteers together with some other tourists who had decided to join them for the day.

We started walking towards the first nest -there were 46 all together on Zangla beach- which had been marked with some bamboo canes and protected with a mesh to prevent foxes from digging them out and eating them.

During our long walk we saw signs of flippers along the path marked by the volunteers, which meant that some baby turtles had made it to the sea safely the night before. We also noticed some foxes footprints and broken shells: a clear sign that some little turtles never made it…

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We were told that couple of days before few baby turtles had been found in the garden of a beach house. The outdoor light had been left on at night and the turtles had mistaken it for the reflection of the moon on the sea and gone the wrong way. Those didn’t make it either….

After 2 hours of walking, we didn’t see any baby turtles that morning, but we learned a lot about the Caretta Caretta turtle and how important it is to respect their environment and to protect them. The mother will go to the beach to lay the eggs, if she encounters obstacles along the way she will try 3 times. After the third attempt though she will give up and release all the eggs at sea. The baby turtles have no chance to survive if that happens.

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Sailing from Leros to Sicily: Chapter 1

 The couple-breaking cocktail!

We left Leros at the beginning of August and started our journey towards Sicily. The first few days were great: just the right amount of wind to sail pleasantly.

We spent the first night in Amorgos, in the beautiful bay of Ormos Kalotiri, SE of Nisis Nikouria. The passage has very shallow waters and it is advisable to keep close to the northern side of Nikouria island. We crossed in the middle where the water is just above 1 metre deep. Our draught is 1.20 mt, I still don’t know how we managed not to touch the sea bed!

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We had previously visited Amorgos- the monastery carved in a cave on a steep promontory dominating Agia Anna, the cute little kora with its narrow streets and picturesque houses, the turquoise water and wild nature, the Diomarini’s taverna and its seafood!- so although the temptation to stop again for a few days was very strong, we continued towards Ios.

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We were all energised at the idea of getting to Sicily and we thought it’d be quite easy – couple of weeks and we’d be there! I had family and friends waiting for me there, longing for a comfortable sail aboard our Gladan.

The second night at Ios we were at anchor again. We got there late in the afternoon, just in time for a swim before a nice dinner at one of the tavernas on the long, sandy beach of Manganarimanganari

Folegandros was our next stop and we decided to spend the night in the port as the wind was going to pick up at night.

The small port can’t fit more than 10 boats, but the port captain tried to squeeze in as many yachts as possible so we were all on top of each other.

He wasn’t very helpful during the mooring manoeuvres: he would move around lazily and clumsily, shouting at us to get closer to the other boat instead of helping with the ropes.

Gc got upset and his Italian half took over the English aplomb: he started shouting something not very complimentary back at him. Luckily enough he did so in Italian and the guy didn’t understand or pretended not to.

Our neighbours happened to be Italians and they did understand! They started giggling while helping us with the ropes. Eventually we moored and settled in the port.

Mooring is always a tricky time. Even the more experienced sailors and solid couples put their relationship at risk every time they enter a crowded port. Even more so if the wind is blowing.

Here is the perfect couple-breaking cocktail: a crowded port, badly designed pontoons and wind blowing at 25+ knots. In these circumstances, it is 100% sure that the couple won’t talk to each other for at least a night. There is a 50% chance that she might end up sleeping in another cabin, and a 25% chance she will pack her staff and leave without even turning to say bye.

We have seen couples shouting at each other all sort of swearing words and coming up with new ones we never heard of. Sailors do have loads of time in their hands to be creative that way!

We have seen couples pushing each other out of the way – normally men do that to the ‘silly women who can’t understand anything and can’t even follow simple instructions’…just quoting some sailors here!

Normally it’s all over once the ropes are safely secured to the pontoon and the engine is switched off.

That’s when the man tidies up bits and pieces, turns the navigation instruments off and starts flavouring the well deserved cold beer after a long day at sea. The woman on the other hand, withdraws to her cabin cursing the man, the bloody boat, the day she decided to move on the bloody boat. beer

Why couldn’t I just stay in London with my friends and my reassuring routine…Ops, I gave myself away, didn’t I?

Couple of beers later, the man is quite relaxed and has forgotten what happened before. He is breathing in the sea air while polishing the boat, stopping from time to time to contemplate her: she’s definitely the most beautiful on earth, her shapes, those morbid curves, the big hulls, how could he do without her? What would his life mean without her, the boat!gladroman

He suddenly realises that it is unusually quiet around him. Wasn’t there someone else on the boat?  And isn’t it dinner time yet?

The woman is still in the cabin pretending to watch a movie while thinking she’ll be leaving the following morning. He peeks in and asks her what is she up to.

Time has come for THE confrontational talk: the post-mooring debrief.

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She dries her tears away and sits at the table listening to his lectures on ‘how to moore best’.

Reluctantly she somehow ends up agreeing with him and can hear herself saying ‘ ok, we’ll try to communicate better next time’. Next time? Next time? You silly woman! You have been tricked into it again….

Alicudi – Eolian Islands

Our friends came to visit us and we spent some nice days sailing around the Eolian islands. The sun was still hot and it felt like summer during the day. At night though, temperatures dropped and it was not always comfortable to eat outside on the deck.

Alicudi was our first stop: the island with no roads and no vehicles. Houses didn’t even have electricity until the ‘90ies.

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We decided this would be our first stop as the weather conditions were ideal: there was barely any wind. Since Alicudi doesn’t have any bay where to get shelter from the prevailing winds, this was the right day to be there.

We spent the night at one of the mooring buoys on the left hand side of the port, paying 30 Euros, despite the initial request for 50.

While sailing towards Alicudi, we had been reading about the many legends from the island. Apparently, locals used to bake an hallucinogenic bread and feed on it daily. That would cause for them to report seeing witches and dressed up pigs flying around the island.

Once ashore, we chose one of the walking trails suggested on a map at the bottom of the stone steps. We picked the “very difficult” one: 3 and 1/2 hours, bottom-top and back.

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We started to climb the steps and bumped almost immediately into a suntanned, short and tired-looking man pulling a mule up the steps of the island, in slow motion. The mule, we were told, was carrying a wooden box full of earth, weighing 100 kgs.

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The island has no roads and the only way to move across the villages is climbing up and down the steep, stone-cladded steps that like a maze go around the cone shaped island, connecting the few houses and shops scattered around.

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Half way through the climb up, already sweaty and warned down by the fatigue, we stopped in front of a sign “We sell capers”. Pippo, a 45 years old well built man greeted us assuring that his capers were ‘capers only’, unlike the others which are fully covered in salt.

flowers

We had only been exchanging a few words, when he invited us on his terrace saying: “come see my oven”! Pippo was in distress as the night before the oven had exploded due to a gas leak. His wife was cooking one of his favourite meals “turciniuna”, a Sicilian dish made with animal guts, when at some point there had been an explosion and the entire kitchen had been filled by potatoes, peas and guts!

pippo's house

Luckily enough none of them was around when that happened so no one got harmed.

Most of the Alicudi inhabitants, who happen to be his 11 siblings and some relatives, had precipitated to see him and make sure nobody was hurt. Pippo’s dog escaped and it was nowhere to be found.

One hour later, knowing everything about Pippo and his past- he was a fisherman and navigated the Med for many years; he was shot at in Spain when fishing illegally in a bay; he was meant to go to Australia but was caught by the police just outside the travel agency and forced to join the navy (military service was still compulsory back then)- we decided to continue our adventure and go all the way to the top.

landview

We stopped once more before climbing up the crater: this time we met Piero, one of Pippo’s brothers, who was so kind as to give us some cold water (which is as precious as gold considering that a mule has to carry it all the way up the island on its back!) while answering some of our many questions. How long would it take for him to walk up and down? How could people build houses and transport all the material up there? And most importantly…did he know about Pippo’s oven?!

We managed to get to the top and finally saw the crater: well… it was a wild crater, only bushes and goats paths! No view to enjoy!

Exhausted and hungry, we started our descend and followed the path back to the port where, in no time, we took our clothes off and went for a long, refreshing swim in the crystalline sea. We then rested our tired bodies on the beautifully dark, sandy beach.

While relaxing on the hot stones a train of images swirled in my head. The wilderness of the island, the hostile look of the cactuses contrasting the delicacy of the coloured flowers: cyclamen, narcissus, bouganville. The olive trees, the oranges, the capers…the mules. What an incredible island!me

Winter in Leros

You might wonder what you can do an a remote island with less than 8000 inhabitants during the short and windy days of winter time?

Well, we have found a small community of live-aboard people staying in our marina. They’ve all sailed around the world and have so much experience and so many fascinating stories that we are always all ears when in their company, trying to absorb all the little tips that you only get from the people who have done it! When you listen to them recounting their stories it all just seems very simple, easy, natural, and that’s because it’s like second nature to them. For us instead, being novices, even small problems can sometimes cause a crisis!

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Despite living on a secluded island we manage to have fun and keep active. Last Sunday for example we organised an excursion with our friends and managed to get lost on a promontory off the lovely village of Alinda. The sun was shining, the strong meltemi had taken a day off and we set off for our trekking adventure high spirited and full of enthusiasm. We had a little mascotte, Pasca, who spent most of the time barking and chasing the poor goats away. It was funny to see animals 5, 10 times bigger than her hop around the hill in distress, scared off by this little monster, and climb up the mountain until they conquered an inexpugnable position!

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PASCA – our little mascot!

We had been walking for more than 2 hours when we decided to split in two groups, some of us dared to follow the path of a water stream that had cut into the valley creating very deep gauges. We can only imagine how strongly the water must come down when it rains heavily. And believe me it can rain heavily here in Leros!

Eventually we got to our final destination: the fish restaurant! Famished but satisfied by the mission accomplished we enjoyed our fried calamari, shrimps cooked in ouzo, cheese saganaki, and much more.

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday with beautiful surroundings, great company and excellent food and drinks. Γεια μας!

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