June 2nd 2015, Riposto, Sicily
On Wednesday May 6th. Exotica finally departed from Marina di Ragusa having been moored there since September.
We slipped out at first light, 5.50 am for the 60 mile trip to Malta.
There was little wind and we motored most of the way which was just as well as our batteries badly needed replacing and would not have sustained the self-steering gear had we been sailing! We entered Grand Harbour in Valletta just after 2 pm. One of the great deep water harbours of the world and is truly thrilling to enter from the sea.
Malta is a most interesting place, although consisting of three small islands it has been at the crossroads of European history for millenia.
There are Neolithic sites to rival Stonehenge in their size and from then on they have been the occupied by all the empires of western civilization standing as they do athwart the main west – east route across the Mediterranean.
History is all around you in Malta and particularly the two great sieges, the first 1565 when a massive Turkish fleet and army failed to dislodge a handful of Knights of St John and the second from 1940 – 1943 when Italian and German air forces attempted to bomb the island into submission.
There was tremendous damage and enormous loss of life both of the islanders but also of the seamen of the convoys and escorts who provided relief.
It happened to be the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege of 1565 so there were many parades, re-enactments and fireworks (but nothing to rival Sydney’s) during our stay.
Renovations in Valletta are still going on paid for now mainly by the European Union.
We had been advised to come to Malta as they have many good shipwrights, chandleries and boatyards…and they speak English! We had booked a lift out at Manoel Island Yacht Yard for May11th. Sadly, as they were lifting her out of the water loud shouting came from Terry as he watched our TV satellite dome being crushed under the crane. The antenna only picks up German and Italian television channels, which we never watch, but that’s neither here nor there, it had to be fixed. Thus, even though Exotica was back in the water after a week we spent an extra week in the boatyard waiting for parts and workmen.
We were joined by our good friends John Studdert and Dennis Mather, both in the apartment which we took while Exotica was ashore, and then on the marina while we waited for the broken parts to be located and replaced.
John and Dennis are food and wine aficionados and we have learnt much about fine food although I feel that they have been somewhat disappointed with the quality of the Maltese wines. That didn’t, however, prevent us from tasting them!
Debbie Humble also flew down from Hamburg to join us over the weekend and update us on the goings on in the opera world.
Our enforced stay in Malta allowed us to take day trips to the ancient capital Medina – Rabat with ornate palazzos of the Maltese aristocracy, still living there and many baroque churches.
On another, very windy day we had a rough crossing to the island of Gozo by ferry and visited yet another hill top castella.
We had two short day sails around Malta, on the last one we noticed that the GPS was failing so that had to be fixed, another side effect of the boatyard blunder. Thank goodness we noticed before we left Malta. There were two quite nasty storms while waiting for the repairs but by the time we left Malta on Tuesday May 26th the weather was set fair although we had to motor-sail the whole way to Siracusa in Sicily where, after a twelve hour passage, we dropped anchor in the most perfect harbour, plenty of room to swing and excellent holding.
Last year every time we anchored we seemed to roll really badly and sleep very poorly, however, in Siracusa we had three of the most comfortable nights at anchor ever.
Siracusa is another city full of history and has been besieged by all the rulers of the Mediterranean. Now it is the tourists who take the town by storm.We stayed three nights under the walls of Siracusa.
We took a trip to Noto, a 40 minute bus ride up in the hills. Another ancient town devastated by the earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt in the baroque style in the early18th century. It has not weathered time well but did have a wonderful little opera house.
On May 29th we made our way north to Porto ‘dell Etna, Marina Riposto, at the foot of the belching, snow-topped Mt Etna volcano. This is a dusty working town with little to recommend it apart from a very good marina and excellent fish markets. We had stayed here last August, the fruit and vegetable seller well remembered singing with our own Diva then.
It serves as a jumping off point for Taormina, a charming hill top town with a fine Greek Amphitheatre and splendid views over the bay.
Our night at anchor, however, was uncomfortable due to the rocking of the boat in the swell so we returned to Riposto to let John and Dennis take a taxi to Catania airport.
We are in Riposto for a few days while we prepare for the trip across the heel of Italy towards the Adriatic Sea.