Trip on Gaia starting 2009-09-04 in BSASep09

Sicily , Sept 2009 – report by Sue Fowle

Skipper -Phil Steele

Crew - Sonia Russé, Hannah Kent, Bernard Smyth, Peter Wakeling and Sue Fowle.

We flew out to PalermoMap at the beginning of September to pick up a Sunsail boat for a week's charter. At the airport there was no meeter and greeter so after Peter negotiated a taxi we had a tortuous trip into the city where our driver finally found the marina. Other charterers from the same flight finally arrived 2 hours later looking exhausted and flustered in the heat and high humidity.

We were sailing on 'Gaia' an Oceanis 423 - a spacious revelation to the 3 of us who had sailed PASAB on a Sigma 36. We had 4 cabins, 3 heads and room for all six of us to sit in the cockpit at the same time. Hand-over was that evening so we divided the tasks of inventory and shopping which meant we had time for a G&T on board before heading out to the least worse restaurant - as described by the locals. In fact it was a pleasant enough trattoria with a reasonable choice of menu, giving the last meat option for several days.

Briefing in a rather squalid corner of the marina was given by Claudio who had worked in Lymington Yacht Haven for a year. He gave a run down on the Aeolian Islands where most boats intended heading - about 70 miles NE of Palermo. The prevailing winds are NW so all harbours or moorings are on the E side of the islands. However N/NE winds and heavy seas were forecast for the coming week.

Peter had worked out a triangular route - NW to Ustica Island then E to the Aeolians before heading SW back to the mainland. Claudio was not too keen on us heading out to Ustica because of the heavy seas and the effect on the crew's stomachs.

After another 'committee meeting' the decision was made to head out and make a final choice of destination once we had seen the sea state. In fact, once out, it was not too bad so Peter began his week long liason with the Italian weather lady - in fact an electronic voice provided by the Italian Navy.It was hard to follow the intonation and information was frequently conflicting.

Unfortunately our late start meant the 35-40 miles to UsticaMap was done under engine as it would have taken too many hours to tack across the wind. Even so it was dusk when we arrived in the harbour - adequately sheltered but like so many, small and shallow in parts and packed tightly with small power boats. We managed a stern-to mooring as the dive rib left promising to return at an early hour next day. The boat proved difficult to manoeuvre in reverse as the propwalk negated the starboard turn so it was necessary to use the engine in short bursts - somewhat unnerving given the conditions.

Ustica looked dark with no sign of restaurants but a walk up steep steps literally brought us to the bright lights and restaurants where a mixture of English, Spanish and French secured us a table and delicious meal.

Our plan was to head out early in the morning to check wind and sea for our Aeolian destination. At

5am 3 of us were up to drop the lines and head out into a NE wind. It would have been possible to sail E but the beam-y sea would have been exhausting and unacceptable for a 12-14 hour crossing. As the other crew came on deck we decided to find a sheltered mooring for a 'holiday' day with swimming and snorkelling and anticipate a night sail if the wind / sea dropped.

The coastline of many of the islands as well as parts of the mainland are protected areas so this and the depth of the water means mooring buoys only. Later we headed off to another bay in anticipation of a pleasant meal and so 4 of us went off in the dinghy with the outboard. The only landing place was a tiny bay full of families snorkelling in a few inches of water, apparently oblivious to us. We cut the engine and drifted in as the Italians on shore watched stone-faced. Despite the anticipated restaurant being non-existent Phil and Bernard went off to get the others for a drink on shore. Sonia and I found a restaurant and as we ordered wine saw Bernard and Phil rowing out and then 2 people rowing back - the outboard had apparently kept cutting out. The 4 of us decided to eat anyway and after watching the sunset headed off in the dinghy. Again the engine cut out so Sonia, with her hair streaming in the wind, did a very good representation of Pocahontas in the Last of the Mohicans encouraging us to 'paddle, paddle' away from the dangerous rocks. By this time 'Gaia' was rocking seriously and the sea state led us to cancel our night sail and trip out to the Aeolian Islands. We headed back to our mooring buoy, by now in pitch black but found it with help of the torch and the track on Peter's GPS.

The following day we were up before sunrise and headed off to the NW corner of Sicily - again wind in the wrong direction - this time following with more high seas. As this was not the PASAB we could turn on the auto pilot and relax a little.

We pulled into a large commercial harbour at TrapaniMap where there are a few boatyards with some moorings. Ours cost E60 for water and electricity but no shoreside facilities. The staffs were very helpful though re restaurants, shopping and help in arranging a taxi to the medieval village above the town. Having passed several hours of the day there we SAILED out to the Egardi Islands. Hannah, Sonia and I had a fabulous evening sail as the men rested or did nav stuff below.

We made it to LevanzoMap, again a tiny harbour with shallow water, and were helped by some Swiss sailors who were stern to. Just as we had tied up a local fisherman motored in and gave us a tirade which translated meant we had fouled his anchor and there would be trouble in the morning. Despite this we rowed ashore for a meal followed by a good sleep. But all proved true next day when we pulled up his anchor as we left and had to be disentangled by the fisherman and the Swiss sailors. From the look on the fisherman’s face I thought this was a regular occurrence!

Once more wind on the nose - was it ever otherwise? We headed around the dramatic coast into a wide bay. Late in the afternoon I needed my daily sailing fix so we put up the sails in light winds. They were hardly up when a squall hit us and we went from 0-30knts of wind and 8.4kn boat speed in seconds. Our previous highest speed had been 6.8knts. The storm caught up with us and entertained us with a light show all evening - after a stroll for shopping and cocktails it seemed a good night to eat on board.

Castellamare del GolfoMap is a quaint old town with a biggish harbour which is being further protected from the NE by a large mole. The cost of the mooring this time was E40. Unusually for the Med we were the only Sunsail boat around. Nearby is a large temple and amphitheatre so we headed off there early in the morning. We started off for Palermo in flat calm seas but stopped on a buoy en route for a swim. The buoys are usually used by dive boats so it was surprising to find there were very strong currents which necessitated some MOB practice to get the swimmers back on board! It was done successfully but raised the point as to whether MOB should be a standard procedure at the beginning of BSA trips?

All safe board once more we sailed into PalermoMap, handed over the boat and headed off for more cocktails at the Hotel Igiea, once on the Grand Tour route but now a Hilton. This was after some entertainment provided by a swimsuited blonde mooring another 423 whilst her crew threw mooring lines ashore without first attaching them to the boat.

Talking with other boats it seemed our route had been most successful - they had been stormbound for 2 nights at the beginning of the week so had only visited 2 of the Aeolian Islands and had then had to retrace their steps. Our route of over 200 miles was circular and gave us the opportunity to go ashore. Like us they had done a lot of motoring.

We benefited from having a premier yacht - Gaia was just 2 years old. The main problems were a sticky furling genoa, the dinghy engine, oars that did not fit the rowlocks and an ill fitting winch handle which finally ended up in the bay. The life jackets were cumbersome blocks of polystyrene with separate bulky harnesses. There was no explanation of the holding tanks - in fact only one of the three heads had one. The pilot book was 11 years out of date and even Peter's 2 year old one was not up-to-date either, due to the speed at which moles etc are being built.

As regards the sailing area - the distances are long with few opportunities for mooring and few spaces in the harbours. We paid for 2 harbour spaces and charges are high given the lack of facilities - early September is still High Season. Meals were mainly fish-based costing E20-25 with starters, main and drinks. Very little English is spoken. The Sicilian landscape is interesting and dramatic so we had good opportunities for sightseeing including 4 hours in Palermo on the way back.

Phil - as always -was a very competent and conscientious skipper with Peter supporting on the nav. The rest of us were good crew both above and below decks - knocking up some mean lunches! We all had chances for boat handling but were disappointed by the lack of sailing - all this despite our offerings to Neptune and Aeolus. But that's sailing!

Palermo  38.1441,13.3707
Ustica  38.7079,13.197
Trapani  38.0137,12.5003
Levanzo  37.9859,12.3413
Castellamare del Golfo  38.0323,12.8801
Palermo  38.1441,13.3707