Sciacca – September 10th. 2014
We continued our journey down the east coast of Sicily stopping for two days in Catania, the second largest city on the island and a busy seaport. The yacht marina is on a rather ramshackle pontoon but despite that we managed to get two important repairs done to the chart-plotter and the air conditioning.
After a jolly dinner party on board Deborah Humble left us at 5am the next morning. Later in the day we explored Catania. It is pretty grimy and uninteresting around the port but the centre has quite some charm if somewhat faded and the open air markets are a feast for the eye although very wet under foot in the fish section.
One expects extra fresh food in such markets but they won’t let you choose your own. He can’t have liked the look of us as the bag of tomatoes we bought were rotting the next day. Where was our Diva to charm him!
From Catania we motored over a glassy sea to Siracusa where we arrived mid-afternoon.
This is Syracuse, a city of much power in classical times. We took a walk around the island of Ortiga, which together with the harbour, was the reason why the city was to rule the Southern Mediterranean for so long. Now, as so often in Italy, it is faded glory with a seafront of impressive buildings which appear deserted and even the occupied ones have plaster falling off the walls. The centre of the town, however, is much smarter, full of designer and art shops for tourists.
We had planned to spend a couple of days in Siracusa to explore more thoroughly but on awakening the next day Julie checked the weather which forecast a strong Mistral headed our way. We were on a mission to find a place to overwinter Exotica and did not want to be holed up in Siracusa for a week so made a quick decision to leave for Ragusa, a large marina on the south coast of Sicily.
So within twenty minutes of making the decision we were on our way.
We motored for many hours but once round the south-east corner of Sicily the wind came in and we had a few hours sailing and arrived in Marina di Ragusa to a warm welcome from the marineros. The next morning the westerly wind came in with a vengeance, it blew for 6 days covering the boat with Sahara sand and thick salt. We doubled up the lines and were comfortable and secure.
Marina di Ragusa is a large and fairly new construction, well laid out and tidy with really excellent, helpful and pleasant staff. It is a favourite place for live-aboards. These are people, nearly all couples, who have sold up everything to live on their boats. They cruise the Mediterranean during the summer and hole up in marinas during the winter. Ragusa is very popular for wintering and we met people who have returned here for a number of years running.
Many have already returned for the winter so we took much advice, the outcome is that we will leave Exotica in Marina di Ragusa over the winter where we are very happy that she will be secure and cared for. This is a great relief and means that we can enjoy the last few weeks of this year’s cruise without the anxiety of not knowing where we will end up.
We stayed in Marina di Ragusa for a week and got to know some of the live-aboards very well. Went to their regular Friday night drinks session, they have a very active social life when all the boats are in for the winter. It almost made us feel like staying on.
During our enforced sojourn in the marina we took a bus to the town of Ragusa. Another place of great antiquity and power in classical times although destroyed by the earthquake of 1693, along with most of the south east of Sicily. It was rebuilt in two parts, the upper town, Ragusa Superiore, is the current modern city while Ragusa Ibla, is built on the site of the destroyed city. Stunning Baroque churches, palaces, museums and colourful houses built into the side of a steep ravine.
The walk down to Ibla, is accessed by a very long and steep set of stairs.
The town itself is marked by narrow streets and a wide central piazza dominated by the Cathedral. There are also multiple other churches, almost as many as houses. We speculated as to where all the congregations were to be found to fill them.
We had an excellent lunch at a sidewalk restaurant where we were serenaded by an accordionist playing the theme from the Godfather. There is a rather ‘Don’t mention the war’ attitude about the Mafia. Some deny that it exists. Terry is currently reading Midnight in Sicily, a book about the Mafia and if half of what one reads is true then I don’t think I would be playing that tune on an accordion.
Once the winds had abated we set off for a leisurely cruise along the south coast of Sicily, stopping first in Licata, another popular marina for overwintering. Here the marina is close to the town and the shops but has the reputation of covering the bottom of boats with a forest of growth.
There is a great Arabian influence in the tiny streets near the port where the balconies on both sides seem almost to touch. Tiny produce shops with groups of men passing the time of day outside. One could only see women on the balconies, usually smoking cigarettes.
Sailing from Licata we could see the mausoleums in the cemetery on the hillside characteristic of this area.
From Licata we had another short motor to San Leone, we were guided through the shallow entrance to the small marina full of RIBS and small motor boats. A dusty and rather downtrodden town overlooked by the city of Agrigento.
It was Julie’s birthday and we were determined to eat out, however the best restaurant in town, we were assured by the female harbourmaster, did not look so splendid in the daytime.
We settled for one adjacent to the petrol station which turned out to be very elegant with excellent service and delicious food.
We have now arrived in Sciacca, (pronounced ‘shacker’) yet another hillside town. There are 241 steps up to the main square from the port but the town looks charming. It appears to be a centre for ceramics and almost every second shop is filled to bursting with gaudily painted pottery and tiles. We don’t have any room for them on board Exotica.
Here we plan to stay for a few days and meet our final crew for the year, Terry’s sister Margaret and friends Sue and Richard McKenzie. We plan to explore the south west of Sicily while they are here and then head back to Ragusa.