DeDanann in the Aolian islands
The continuing travels of Tony Olin on DeDannan - Having recuperated in Capo San Vito, NW Sicilia, where we stayed a few days at the very nice and friendly marina situated in the fish dock of San Vito from our experience of a rough passage coming up from Trapani, this is one of the better towns to visit, it is kept clean and has some fine trattoria's which cater for the large amount of Italian and French tourists that congregate there in the summer, it also has a fantastic beach, good street entertainment at night, interesting market stalls, and a great buzz about the place, lots of well behaved youngsters and kids enjoying them selves.
We set sail for "Isola Ustica" a small island some thirty odd miles to the north of Sicillia in fresh W winds ( the Levante ) @ 18/25 kn but the sea was kind and we galloped along @ 7/8kn all the way to the little fishing/ferry port of Santa Maria, we entered the congested port and were lucky to find the last available mooring for a large yacht on the town quay, you have to line yourself up, drop anchor, and reverse back against the anchor, then tie up to the quay, we were assisted by the local harbour master, a tiny hairy old man who gets very excited, he was a great character and we enjoyed his company during our few days there, he took €100 for four days, and a few little devils of Irish whiskey that I keep on board for those who are helpful to us.
No sooner had we tied up a van arrived and we were being touted to one of the few trattoria on the island with the offer of free transport there and back, you always have to climb great heights from the port to the villages of these islands, this goes back to a time when these islands were being invaded on a regular basis, the locals would always live a safe distance above the port in order to give them time to defend themselves, and have the advantage of the higher ground, it's the same all over the Mediterranean.
We spent our time here rambling around the island on a banger of a scooter that we hired from the owner of the trattoria for €20, didn't even ask if I had a license, but we had good fun taking our lives in our hands on this thing, the local policeman who lives in the station has one that's not much better.
These people are deeply religious, you hear the old people reciting prayers walking around the village, religious emblems adorn their homes, on the dash board of all motor vehicles in the shops etc, the biggest building on the island is the church, I've taken to swearing in Latin myself, Santa Maria, Madre Di Dio, in place of holy mother of jaysus, when we leave DeDanann we often leave the radio going to give the impression that were about, you wouldn't believe the amount of times when we return, at any time of the day or night that their saying mass on the radio, I'm sure the neighbouring boats belonging to the British and Germans must be thinking were religous maniacs like the locals here, I tell them we have 15 children, "Catholics and all that".
This island is no bigger than lambay, with a population of about 300, all living in the little village, we visited the local graveyard with fine tombs holding the bodies of generations of the various families, adorned with flowers and religous emblems, these people live long lives,many into their 100th year, I reckon the Mediterranean diet of fish as their staple diet and then siesta for a couple of hours after a meal must be good for you, nothing, and I mean nothing, happens out here between 12.30 and 16.00. If you ramble about the village during this time you see the parsiano's (shutters) all closed, windows and doors open, shaded by outside cortinas (curtains), silence everywhere apart from a bit of snoring, and tourists like us moving about the place.
They make their living very much from the sea, either fishing or diving, some of the best dive sites in the Mediterranean are off this island, the locals are great divers, born to it, cheap as well, only €40 for a dive inc boat trip etc, the waters around here are deep and crystal clear, they use nitrox instead of air as the dives are deep,nitrox is a enriched air mix with a higher percentage of oxygen and this allows the diver more bottom time for deep dives, one needs to be experienced for these dives, I have dived all over Ireland, the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean etc in my day, I was fitter then, but I confine my dives to 15/20 and no more than 30 meters usually off DeDanann on my own, most dive tragedy's are on deep dives, and one wants to be fit for them. The Mediterranean divers that run the various little dive schools are very relaxed about how they go about their business, they don't get hung up on theory and safety like in our part of the world, but they are very experienced and one really is safe diving with them. I had our three sons all diving at advanced level by the age of 14, all trained here in the Mediterranean by such schools whilst on holiday over the years and they had great fun in the relaxed environment without the fear of god being instilled in them.
We were sorry to leave here, but time was getting on, so up anchor and auld hairy waved us off, and we set sail to the most westerly of the "Aolian Islands" Isola Alcudi, 50M to the east in 10/13kn of N wind (Tramantana),these islands are called after Aeolas, god of the winds, it was believed, in ancient times, that he lived among these islands. We rolled about @ 4/5kn in the swell of a flat calm sea, joined for a while by a school of lovely dolphins, I had to quickly reel in my hand line with para vane and lures that I was streaming from DeDanann as I did not want to catch such a wonderfull creature as a dolphin, now, I must tell you I am not a very good fisherman, this line was given to me by my very good neighbour Lorenzo, back in Mallorca, as a parting gift, Lorenzo would go out most evenings in his boat for an hour or two and bring back calamari, merluza, etc without fail every time with this hand line, I, on the other hand have dragged this shagging line from DeDanann all the way from the Balearics to here, some 1400 nautical miles without as much as a sardine to grace our plates, just as well we have no fondness of fish.
Alicusis a tiny island, shaped like a dounut, very tall and round, it has a tiny little port with docking only for the ferry, and the local fishing boats which are small one man affairs, population of less than 100 residents, some of which are Swiss, German speaking, live off the land, bohemian, naturist people, there are no roads at all, but thousands of steps to climb from the moment you step ashore, no motorised vehicles, a few donkey's do all the carting here. Their is one small shop, one trattoria that opens seasonally to cater for visitors, which I
might add were arriving on the ferry in great numbers to climb to the top of the hill, and of course the visiting yachts.
We anchored off the port in 10m of water, one has to come really close to the rocky shore to find shallow water, as we paid out the chain some 50 or so meters, the depth under DeDanann very quickly went to 40m, the weather was getting up as darkness fell so we put out our second fisherman anchor to stop us drifting onto the shore should the wind direction change, this it did during the night and the fisherman held us off, we had a rough night with the wind blowing at 25/30kn, DeDanann did not sit comfortably to this arrangement, the sea slapped and banged at the hull all night long, the noise was alarming, so after breakfast the next morning we attempted to haul in the fisherman, it would not come, we wound it on to the windlass and still no joy, so out in the fresh conditions with the dinghy to get right over it to pull her up, nothing, in the end I gave up, tied our anchor bouy to the line and left it there for a mooring for other visitors. I have had that fisherman for over twenty years now and was sorry to lose it along with 5m of chain and 50m line, the weather was too fresh for me to dive 40m on my own to retrieve it, and my air tank was low on pressure, so the fisherman had to go, I will follow the local fishermen over here and replace it with a small grapnel anchor that they use all the time.
We anchored off the town pier in 6m of water having crossed over from Alicudi some 15M off to the west, this island is a little bigger and more commercialised, they have a road that runs around the coast and another village, they have a small day tourist industry from the other larger islands of older retired people and the charter boats that come from Sicillia, the ferry's really are the life and sole of these islands, they grow some fruit and veg particularly capers that sustains the local economy, they feed off the sea and life here is very relaxed, they have a helicopter emergency service to Palermo, and all the islands have a landing pad. We stayed a couple of days here rambling about and swimming off the boat, the weather was nice, the living was easy.
We took a taxi from the port to the "centro" meaning the centre of the next village, the taxi
was one of these scooter vans you find out here, this one doubles as a builders van, in anyway, he took us up the mountain to a cross roads with a little cafe on it,
Now, we recently had a bad experience with crossroads in Sicillia, so I asked the guy as best I could, are you sure this is the "centro"? Si Si señor, "centro" and he pointed at the bend in the road, so I paid the guy his money and off he went, we got out and headed for the bend, when we rounded the bend all we could see was a church about three miles downhill,Madre Di Dio, some people never learn, so on we walked towards the church till the road ran out, we had to climb down about 500 steps to the tiny port below, thinking we could get a taxi back there, on we went, one little cafe, a few tiny fishing boats, no road in or out," jaysus, we've done it again "so faced with the prospect of climbing the mountain and then walking six miles back to the boat, it's getting dark fast, were in T shirts, shorts, and flip flops, we eventually bribed a local fisherman, Pepe, to take us back in his boat for €20, you'd want to see Linda's face when she saw what he arrived in, the auld wooden boat was in bits, no life jackets, no lights, the smell of fish and diesel was cruel, there was a foot of water sloshing about the floor as we motored around the island to the port where DeDanann lay to her anchor, home sweet home, and after a nice supper we hit the sack thankful that we were not sleeping rough tonight.
Salina is the second largest island in this archipelago, population of about 4000, it has a small ferry port and marina that's well protected, there are two villages on this island, Santa Marina and Rinello, their is a thriving tourist business with large motor boats coming and going during the summer, they also have a big sea salt business, they grow the malavasia grape here and are famous for their malavasia white wine, which is very nice.
This island attracts the well to do Italian motor boaters, lots of Italian designer shops in the village charging outrageous prices, the trattorias can hit you hard here also, for rubbish food, most of it frozen, the marina asked us for €130 per night, it was empty with only five boats in, we agreed to give them €90 and headed off the following afternoon, the further east we come the more the price we pay for everything on these islands.
We arrived at the port of Lipari, after a pleasant sail from Salina, about 8m to the north and tied up on one of the small marina's in the bay on a floating pontoon @ €45 per night.
The largest of the seven Aolian islands, population 11,000, a fine town built around a citadel and old harbour, they have a real supermarket, butcher, etc, and a hospital.
The main industry since the island has been inhabited is pumice stone quarrying, they ship the pale pumice all over the world, they also enjoy a thriving tourist business and have many small hotels to cater for mainly French and Italians.
Their are many fine old buildings, with grand entrance doors, great floral decoration of balconies on the pretty town houses all along the narrow streets of this town, lots of old properties for sale in need of work, could be a great place to retire. Amazing amount of ferry traffic from morning to night, the skippers of these ferries know their stuff docking in very confined space missing each other with just feet to spare.
The island has a thriving agri business growing olives, malavasia grape,capers, and lots of other fruits, they also fish in small boats mainly during the hours of darkness, no nav lights or anything like that, I think poaching is their game. The locals fish off the harbour wall all the time, catching tiny fish, they'll eat anything out of the sea in this part of the world.
We stayed a few days here rambling about the island on a scooter that we hired, first time I had to produce a license, great flora grows wild along the mountain roads, hibiscus, oleanders, bueganvillia, heathers, and an abundance of ferns everywhere, their is a volcano that puffs away all day above the town with a path leading to the top were tourists trek in great numbers. The marina was the most uncomfortable that we have tied up to, the swell from the ferries is dire, DeDanann had to be rigged with breast lines, she would roll to such a degree that we had to fit a lee board to stop us being thrown out of the bed early in the mornings as the first ferries came into the bay. The tourist season is nearly over and the marina's are almost empty, this is a great time to cruise these islands, the weather is still good, shorts, T shirts all day, one sheet on the bed all night and nice for sleeping without turning on the aircon. We liked Lipari above all the other islands and hope to return again.
We sailed over to Vulcano 6M distant and anchored off the very nice beach there, they have a good sheltered port with a small marina and docking for the many ferries that come and go all day.
They enjoy a thriving tourist industry of mainly Italian and French elderly people, several large hotels that centre their business around the Natural open air sulphur baths, the sulphur seeps out from the volcano at ground level, Madre Di Dio, they stink to high heaven of raw sewage 24/7, the night we arrived off the beach we stayed on board, had dinner and hit the sack, the wind shifted, now I didn't know about any baths, I got out of bed at 03.00 cursing our sewage holding tank, thinking we had a leak, and lifting the cabin sole to see where the stink was coming from.
They also enjoy a good sea salt business, olives, fruit, and malavasia grapes. We were anchored at the toe of the volcano, it hisses and puff's all day , lighting up the sky at night, a great source of entertainment sitting on board at night.
The prices here as in the other islands are reasonable, the exception being Salina, the food for us is rubbish, but, if you like Italian food it's fine, all over we found the tables poorly set, service generally not good, toilets are not good anywhere we have been in Italian waters, rubbish management also not good either, we in Ireland would do a much better job when it comes to hospitality if only we had the weather.
We stayed a week here swimming, fishing, and lazing about, but time was getting on and we had a naming ceremony to attend for our latest grandson, Che, like the great Che Guivarra, this guy has the rebel blood of the Irish in him, with a mother who hails from west Belfast, I was particularly looking forward to coming home as I had not been to Dublin since last march, this is the one big negative about living away, not seeing the grand kids grow up, we talk to our three sons every week and this does the job, but not seeing the little ones as they grow so quick is a bugger.
We left Vulcano on a windless flat calm morning and motor sailed to the harbour in Milazzo, on the NE coast of Sicilia, the marina there was full, so we headed back out a mile or so to the smaller marina Santa Maria maggiore , and tied up there, the marina is in the old part of Milazzo, we spent the next few days visiting the sites around the old city, there were three church's within site of the boat, two of them rang bells every half hour the third rang on the hour, it took a few nights to get used to this, you are never to far from god here in Sicilia, the marina office was like a shrine to holy mother, run very well by a mother and daughter, they set about looking to charge me €75 per night, I looked at all the holy pictures and thought this would be a good time to produce my Saint Christopher medal that I wear all the time and put it to them it would be un-Christian of them to charge an Irish catholic that kind of money, we agreed €600 euros "cash" to moor up for thirteen days. We readied DeDanann for to leave her and set off for Palermo to fly home to Dublin, on our return, we will head south through the dreaded Messina straits to the south of Italy and on to the Ionian Islands off Greece before the winter sets in.