Thursday, June 11, 2015

Taormina Roads--Mt. Etna; through Strait of Messina; and Scilla

Mt. Etna viewed from the mooring

We finally (mentally kicking and screaming) dragged ourselves away from the lovely old city of Siracusa and what is arguably the most protected anchorage in Italy and motored about 55 miles northward to Taormina Roads.  Taormina is just another roadstead anchorage, like so many other Italian anchorages, and provides no real protection, completely open to the east and south.  We had met a man who wintered in Marina di Ragusa at the same time we were there and he had mentioned that he had established a mooring field at Taormina Roads.  

Mt. Etna viewed as we sailed away.  Note
the 2 vents rather than only 1.

As we approached, we phoned George and inquired if a mooring would be available for a couple of nights.  George can be reached at phone number +39 335 822 4656.  He has a website at:  The moorings are structurally safe and not overly expensive.  It also is possible to anchor nearby the mooring field but the moorings offer better protection under the tip of the land jutting eastward than does the more exposed anchorage area.  George offers a full concierge service for boats on his moorings.

Taormina city on the ridge with ancient Saracen castle
towering above the town.  The castle wraps from the uppermost left
mountaintop around to the right past visual range.

The next day we had hoped to visit the town of Taormina high on the hillside ridge but yacht BeBe had other plans.  Bill noticed that the fresh water pump was cycling on too frequently, which could mean a leak somewhere.  Nope; all the interior of the boat was dry as usual, thus indicating the possibility that the one-way valve on the pump was failing.  

He took it apart and found a tiny bit of trash caught inside the one-way valve.  Problem solved.  Except that when he re-assembled the pump he tightened something too much and broke a fitting.  He searched through our spares but that part was not in inventory.  
Ah-hah!  That concierge service that George had mentioned!  
Why yes, we do have a small job for you.

Leaving Taormina.  The city is on the opposite
side of that point.  The Saracen castle is on the top
of the 'hill' on the far right.  It was quite large.
Within 20 minutes George returned with the needed plumbing part.  The threads even matched!  Cannot beat that service!  Bill finished reassembling the plumbing and all was good again.  But the day was shot as far as land exploration went.  Neither of us felt like going into Taormina in the heat of the afternoon.  Besides, Bill and Janet on S/V Airstream had described the city to us as a shopping haven for stylish items such as $10,000 watches. thanks.  That is so not us.  We opted to laze around the boat and appreciate the views of Mt. Etna to our left and the Saracen castle perched high above Taormina town on our right.  Absolutely gorgeous views!  And did not require even leaving our cockpit.

Here is a link to info about Mt. Etna:

Another town on eastern side of Sicily with a
castle or keep towering above the modern city. It is
the squarish structure middle right on top of hill.

A train encircles this huge volcano and that would have been more interesting to us than shopping in upscale stores in Taormina, but by the time the water pump was fixed it was too late in the day to consider this train excursion.  

We were sorry to miss seeing the ancient Saracen Castle, which we were told is well over 1,000 years old.  Later, I read online that the castle is closed now.  That makes me feel better about not making the effort to get up there.  
Royal Clipper
exiting strait south

Scilla beach looking west at northern
end of Messina Strait

Next on our itinerary was the somewhat dreaded Messina Strait, that strip of sea that separates Sicily from mainland Italy.  The dangers of this narrow passage of water have been known since The Odyssey was penned by Homer.  It is plagued by tidal streams and whirlpools, some of which have been known to cause even a 74-gun ship to be whirled around on the water's surface.  A major earthquake in 1783 altered the sea bottom and to some extent tamed Scilla (the Render) and Charybdis (the Sucker-down) from the severity supposedly encountered by Odysseus so very long ago.  
  1. Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology, meaning "having to choose between two evils". Several other idioms, such as "on the horns of a dilemma", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", and "between a rock and a hard place" express the same meaning.

First glimpse of Scilla high on the hill.  With castle
 on top of hill at the point.  Tiny harbor is behind it.
The pilot book states to check the times for high tide at Gibraltar and then time your passage of the strait accordingly.  The Messina Strait connects the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily to the Ionian Sea south of mainland Italy and east of Sicily.  Because these 2 seas experience high tides at different times, this causes the strong tidal streams through the strait.  A large volume of water basically 'falls' through to the other side causing the strong tidal streams flowing either northbound or southbound.  One hour and 45 minutes after high tide in Gibraltar causes a north-setting tidal stream through the Messina Straits.  We did not bother to check the Gibraltar tides and instead used the Total Tides program.  It worked perfectly for us!  We arrived at Reggio di Calabria on the eastern side of the strait approximately 30 minutes after Total Tides showed the tidal stream to begin flowing northbound.  This allowed us to ride the current or tidal stream completely through the strait.  We exited the northern entrance approximately 10 minutes before the current should have ceased.  It would soon begin to flow southward.  Worked like a charm!

Ruffo Castello as viewed from our mooring
This slightly dreaded passage turned out to be nothing to worry about.  Timing the tidal stream makes all the difference in the world.  There were many eddies and small whirlpools which caused our bow to veer starboard and then to port, but the autopilot corrected smartly each time and we never veered off course.  Thirty minutes before arriving at the separated traffic scheme, we had hailed the Messina VTS as required on VHF Channel 10 numerous times but never received a response.  Finally Bill called them on the phone and that sufficed.  After taking all our information they instructed us to monitor Ch 13 instead of Ch 10 and that worked fine.  Also, as stated in the pilot book, the wind went from almost nothing to 27 knots in the narrowest part of the strait for a brief time, then back to almost nothing.  This wind anomaly is caused by the high land mass on either side of the narrow water passageway.  

One thing we did note while in the strait.  A small sailboat decided to transit the strait southbound under sail.  I think this was foolhardy (going against the tidal stream and under sail); but what was really foolhardy was when that sailboat, under full sail, crossed in front of a cargo ship which was traveling at over 20-knots.  From our viewpoint it was a close call and the sailboat was rocked violently by the bow wake of the cargo ship.  That was foolish!  Size, and especially size combined with speed, always trumps sails!  Sure, I know the cargo ship is the 'give-way' vessel but that is plain foolish.  That huge cargo ship going over 20-knots does have limited maneuverability; not the mariner's definition of that term but the logical definition of that term.  I think that woman sailing that little boat should count herself lucky that the cargo ship altered course to port to avoid collision and that the ship responded fast enough that all she got was a violent rocking.

Our destination was Scilla (pronounced Sheila by the locals) which is just eastward of the northern exit/entrance of the Messina Strait.  As we exited the strait and headed toward Scilla, there were 4 swordfish boats working the area.

One of the unique swordfish fishing boats
Swordfish and tunny regularly migrate through the Messina Strait and peculiar boats have evolved to catch them.  The swordfish swim southwards in the spring and northwards in June.  The swordfish boat favored today is about 50-ft long with a single very tall lattice steel mast which has a chair on top of it for the captain who can steer the boat from his perch.  An electric winch hoists him up and down.  The bowsprit is a catwalk that extends 50-ft out in front of the hull.  These boats operate only during daylight and only during calm weather.  Swordfish like to 'sleep' on the surface during the day, or move sluggishly.  The fishing boat can creep up and harpoon the 'sleeping' or sluggish fish.  This method is effective, as evidenced by the large swordfish we have seen both in the open-air markets in Siracusa and here in Scilla.

BeBe on mooring in tiny Scilla harbor with a
swordfish fishing boat in background.

Another view of BeBe on mooring in tiny Scilla harbor
with swordfish fishing boat out in the large bay.

Today we walked all over Scilla and my legs and hips are screaming at me as a result.  Seemed like it was straight up, up and up; as this old town is perched at the top of a steep rocky point.  An old castle sits atop the very tip of this point.  
One of dozens of water
fountains all over town.
Each different.
And a tiny harbor is sheltered on the eastern side far below.  This harbor looked too small for a boat our size, but friends Bob and Suzanne Rossi on a sister-ship Amel were here recently.  If they could fit; we could fit.  A guy came out in a small rib and assisted us in tying off to a small mooring and a stern laid line.  A bit scary when looking down at the rocks and boulders on the seabed below!  Water is crystal clear and this tiny port seems very protected from winds from any direction.  It costs 30 Euro per night for the mooring.  There is nowhere to land a dinghy but that is not a problem as a free water taxi is provided to boats moored here.

Castello Ruffo on the point at Scilla.
Beautiful white beach below.
Castello Ruffo behind the
obligatory church

We also visited the Castello Ruffo (old castle).  It was originally built for military purposes and was later converted into a residential property in 1532 by Count Paolo Ruffo.  Count Ruffo took over Scilla in 1532 and spent the next few years residing in this castle.  After first walking all over the uppermost level of Scilla we were too tired to have much interest in traipsing through this old castle.  But it was not far from our route on the way down from the city, so we stopped for a few photos if not for a tour.

BeBe and Bill overlooking northern end of Messina Strait
with beautiful white sand beach below.
Someone is building a boat.

Rather than write about Scilla, here are a couple of links that tell all:

Entrance to
Castello Ruffo
Looking back towards Scilla from the
castle, church bell tower on left, drop-off
to beach on the right.
The butcher in one of the supermarkets at the very tip-top highest elevation of Scilla (oh, be still my pounding heart!!) had a few interesting foods with which we were not familiar.  For dinner tonight we are having some small triangles of pounded and ultra-lightly breaded beef filled with thin slices of ham, cheese and a few leaves of spinach.  And a few bite-size wraps of thinly-sliced zucchini wrapped around cubed cheese and small bit of a seasoned bread crumb mixture.  Along with fresh ravioli and a commercially prepared sauce that all 3 of us love.  We love the Italian foods!  And I do enjoy the prepared items that are available at some of the butcher shops for convenience.  It has been a long time since we have had access to convenience prepped foods in supermarkets.  No idea what any of it is called but it has all been good.

Typical street in Scilla.  Only a few streets
are wide enough for cars.  Bill and
BeBe at end of this street.

One of many picturesque buildings near harbor

Sculpture in piazza at Scilla

Sign on back identifies this as a
Tuk-Tuk!  Has 3 wheels just like
the tuk-tuks in SE Asia.
In Italy?

Tomorrow we move on.  Had planned to visit the Aoelian Islands and Elisabeth was looking forward to stopping at Vulcano.  I think because she is a Star Trek fan and wanted to be able to tell her friends that she had been to Vulcan.  But weather forecast is not good for sailing out there and then north unless we wait on the western side of Vulcano for 3 or 4 days and we do not want to waste time doing that.  So, we will skip the Aoelian Islands and miss Vulcano and Stromboli.  Cannot see it all.

Bebe is moored off to the left of this photo.  This is the large bay or indention just north of Messina Strait on
the mainland side.  Tomorrow we move to a marina on the opposite side of the point in the background,
about 35 NM distant.

1 comment:

  1. Ahoy BeBe, enjoyed your blog and the photos. Scilla looks lovely. We're at Villasimius on the SE tip of Sardinia heading for Cagliari tomorrow morning.

    Miss you,
    Bill & Janet


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