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The summer is coming to an end, but along with some friends, we went to get it back in Sicily last week end. From 25 to 29 September 2014, we went to sail around the beautiful Egadi islands, just off the coast of Trapani.

 

Sailing: trip around Egadi islands, Marsala, San Vito (Sicily)

With a flight from Milan we reach Trapani, and from there the Marsala mooring with a pair of vans. In the harbor, we find two beautiful boats, a 40 and a 45 feet, ready to take on 14 people in all.

Sicily welcomes us with a temperature around 30 degrees and with an air still heavy with moisture, due to the sirocco, which in the previous weekend just  took temperatures even around 35 degrees Celsius.

Brought galley on board, we set sail in the late afternoon towards to the southern coast of Favignana, the largest of the Egadi islands. Overcast sky and light wind of mistral. The boats gets soon far from each other, choosing different routes, and soon, our skipper, starts to feed the spirit of competition ....

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Sailing towards Favignana at the sunset

Meanwhile, to the north-west, the sky is beguiling, and from beneath the clouds the sun comes out, just before going to end up in the sea. The sky is on fire, and gives us a stunning sunset, and an atmosphere of pleasant relaxation in the boat. We soon leave behind the mess of life ...

Soon becomes darker. The wind drops, and, thus, we turn on the engine. We reach the area of Punta Longa in Favignana, and now it is dark indeed. There is an area of shallow water, and a rock outcropping, marked by a lighted buoy; we must pay close attention. We drop anchor near the coast. The wind is almost non-existent, but there is an annoying long wave, remaining pf distant perturbations. They are conditions that promise a comfortable .... rolling for the night, failing the little wind to keep the bow of the boat geared toward the waves. We also make some attempt to look for a better place to the east of Punta Longa, but the conditions are similar. We prepare the or dinner. We eat in the cockpit, and, when the boat rolls more, I see those sitting on the bench in front me at least one meter beneath me, and then one meter above .... Someone feels sea-sick ....

The dawn in Favigana

The morning after waking up is wonderful. Calm sea, yet little wind and clear skies. The sun has just risen. The temperature is pleasantly high. I put my hand in the water, leaning from the transom: warm! Thus, I decide to give me a bath early in the morning, so that I may wake up completely. It's magic. Also, the others dip. We relax in the quiet of the morning and can still dream. Then, we take a coffee, sip it in the cockpit, chatting. Around us, a small fishing boat recovers the net.

About at 10 am, we start the engine, and head East, towards San Vito Lo Capo. From the middle of the week, the Feast of Cous Cous is taking place there, and we want to participate. As soon as we emerge out of the south coast of Favignana, and enter the channel between the island and Sicily, a light breeze from the north west reaches us. It lets us hope it is going to increase. We turn off the engine, and start sailing. Near Sicily, sometimes wind picks up slightly.

We have a sort of match race with our friends on the other boat. At first cross, we pass first. The skipper suggests to prepare a bottle of champagne for the next intersection, but .... this time they are in front of us, and the bottle is returned, hastily, in the fridge ...

When we are near Trapani, the wind fades, and also turns more to the north. It would require too much time to sail up to San Vito. We switch on the engine again, and begin a long and a bit monotonous navigation in the last stretch towards San Vito. I admire the coast of Sicily with the promontory on which Erice rises. Sicily strikes me because, in reality, it is very bleak, although with quite a various morphology, with several mountains that overlook the sea.

We pass a rather old catamaran, on which some particular devices (eg. Wind generator) are mounted; they clearly denounce the propensity for long voyages by the owners, as confirmed by the conversation that I will have with them the next day.

Someone proposes to take a bath off the coast just south of San Vito (Bonagia), but, after a chat via radio with the other boat, we decide to go into San Vito harbour.

After mooring boats, we go to swim in the beach aside, yet surprisingly crowded for the season (it's a Friday afternoon and we are at the end of September ....).

The evening is one of them to remember. San Vito is crowded with people for the Feast. In addition to stalls of various kinds, there are some stands where you can eat cous cous cooked according recipes from different parts of the world (Brazil, Senegal, South Africa, etc..), and according to Sicilian recipes, as well. But we go to eat at "Profumo di Cous Cous", a restaurant attached to the Hotel Ghibli. The place is remarkable. We have dinner in the garden, where the tables are distributed among citrus trees and jasmine plants that give off a wonderful aroma. I taste two types of Cous Cous (the Rais and the Cape), both with fish. The dish is rich, and offers aromas and flavors in abundance. The cake would be to much, but the waitress defines us "cannolo faces...". Cannolo is one of the typical Sicilian cake. I order one and do not regret it. A true Sicilian cannolo arrives for me and my friends, just filled with ricotta cheese, to ensure that the outer wafer remains crisp. Feast for the senses.

The next morning, I wake up early to the sound of the rigging and halyards flapping. A strong North East began to blow in the night. The day is magnificent. The sun emerges from the sea near the peak that overlooks San Vito. I go outside on the dock of the port to measure the wind with an anemometer and I get a gust at 24 knots. Hmm ... it looks promising. There is also a decent wave breaking. Some colleagues windsurfers enjoy themselves between the beach of San Vito and the mouth of the harbor. I meet the owners of the catamaran past the day before. They are from Cristchurch, South England. They're wandering from June .... They impress me: they are a couple about in their sixties. She is a little woman; you would not say to be a blue water sailor. He is a quiet gentleman. They're headed to the East, but today will remain in port not to get the sea in the face, sailing upwind.

After breakfast and food supply (only gin and tonic is not enough to feed ....), we set sail for the 11. Getting out from the port will not be trivial. The boats are large, the channel between the piers for mooring offers a limited space, the wind can quickly push the boats downwind. The first boat comes out with the bow into the wind, and the boat operator of the marina helps to push the bow quickly in the wind. Our skipper decides to leave, directing the stern of the boat to the wind.

Both maneuvers succeed well. On leaving the port waves of almost three meters welcome us, that makes the boats pitch significantly. I take a pictures of our friends, with the keel almost coming out of the water.

We take off, and the boats choose different directions. Our friends remain near cost, with only genoa up. We also raise the mainsail and we head for 280-290 heading north, towards Marettimo, the outermost of the Egadi.

Steering with North East

Saturday, September 27th, will be a day that I will remember for a lifetime. After the beginning of our sailing, in which our skipper steers, my turn arrives. I have 15 years of sailing exeperience with dinghies (and now with a skiff), and I have acquired a good feeling in steering with this type of sailboats, but I have virtually no experience with cabin cruiser. Conditions are not the easiest to get started. The wind is from north-east, between 15 and 20 knots, and waves up to 3 meters reach the boat at the stern side. We sail at a broad reach.

I take the helm under the watchful eye of the skipper. In these conditions, one must continuously correct and compensate the forces acting on the boat: the gusts, hitting the mainsail, would make the boat to haul off, and so the waves, when they reach the stern (while striking the bow would make it bear away). With the rudder, basically you have to make the boat bear way to compensate for these two forces, playing in advance for the mass, and therefore the inertia of the boat, but you do not have to exagerate with the correction to avoid ending up to bear away too much. With Laser 4000, everything happens more quickly, with immediate response to steering corrections.

The steering wheel confuses me. With the bar helm you see immediately the orientation of the helm. With the wheel you don't, and it's not enough to know that it works like the steering wheel of a car (turning to right the boat goes right and vice versa). However, I pretty decently manage to steer the boat, except for a few occasions when the gust arrives and makes luff the boat, I answer bearing away, but I convince myself to luff ... because the concomitant arrival of a wave on the stern thwarts my bearing away; so, I turn the wheel on the opposite side, thinking to bear away, and instead luffing even more. Skipper comes for help... The next day will be much better, by trying the broad reach again, but with more affordable conditions.

After about twenty minutes I let other people steer, and pitch to the other roles. To Navigate with strong wind and have to do on the boat is much more fun than hanging around in the engine ...

We go down quickly, until, having reached the North side of Levanzo, we begin to jibe. Also in other roles I still have a lot to learn. On the occasion of one of the jibes, I am at the aft winch on the left. The winches work (ie slow) counter-clockwise, and rotate clockwise. But I wrap the jib sheet counter clockwise to retrieve and pass the jib. Our skipper is steering, and is giving orders to everyone to do the jibe. I'm almost at his feet, but with the "third eye", catches me and tells me: "what are you doing with that winch?". I understand and I correct the error. From these details you judge .... a good skipper!

Levanzo lighthouse

Soon we reach Levanzo, west coasting along on port tack. Levanzo is almost uninhabited, and this fascinates me. On the north point, on top of the cliff that plunges into the sea, there is a lighthouse; now it is automated likely, but for a long time it must have been the home of a lonely guardian. The west side of the island, illuminated by the warm light of the sun beginning to drop into the sea, is wild and deserted, and for that, at the same time, disquieting and inviting. I'd like to walk on the ground, enjoying its wilderness.

To the west, we see Marettimo on the horizon, of which, however, stands out only the outline, being backlit.

We can overcome Levanzo, without further jibe. In the channel between Levanzo and Favignana, we see far away our friends' boat, that sailed along the coast of Sicily, then passed to the north of Favignana. We get out two binoculars to make sure to watch them, of course, not because we are worried that something has happened .... but to be sure of being able to prepare the usual bottle of sparkling wine to cheers to the victory! It is them, and when they are in route behind us, the gap shows to be huge .... Jokes begin without saving.

The destination for this evening is a special place, especially in this season: Cala Rotonda, on the south-west coast of the island. It's a round a bay, with a relatively narrow mouth, which offers a perfect shelter with this wind direction. The coast here is rocky and some caves open along it; the bottom is covered with Posidonia, with some emerald patches where sand emerges. We anchor in one of these. After about ten minutes our friends arrive and do the same, and we put the two boats paired, to be able to switch between them without the aid of the tender.

We take a relaxing bath to rest after five hours of sailing. The rotation of the winds from the north has refreshed the air, and we have a colder feeling now at 18.00 in the evening compared to the morning bath of the day before.

Drinks and chatter in the cockpit. Then, we have dinner with a couple of great rice recipes cooked by one of the women of the crew. The evening continues chatting, while someone observes the stars with binoculars....

Our friends' boat

The next day, unfortunately already the last of this long weekend, we reason about what to do: to circumnavigate Marettimo, or go visiting the museum of tuna laboratory of Favignana? At the end we opt for this second solution. However, out of the bay, our friends' boat sails towards Marettimo and .... we practice in the maneuvre of man overboard recovery, to satisfy a "volunteer" who wants to test the operation with his inflatable jacket.

So, times get long for the museum, also because in front of the harbor of Favignana the wind drops. However, the morning is fun for me, because I take the helm again, and I get the boat hauled, with the wind (always north-east wind), just over 10 knots. I also try to tack, without particular problems in those conditions.

Favignana harbour

At Favignana, we moor at the quay. We go ashore and give us a snack (pasta with shrimp / seafood salad). We talk about film and disasters at sea ..... and our skipper tells us that in extreme cases would be ready to eat us ... Encouraging!

We go out at the sea again in the early afternoon, for the last sailing towards Marsala. The wind is cool but quiet (about 15 knots), and the wave less than one meter and a half. Our skipper called me again at the helm, and I really enjoy it .... The navigation is still at broad reach; conditions are more simple, but, in anyway, such as to ensure exciting sailing. On port tack, I find the perfect balance and harmony with the boat. I correct slightly bearing away only when the gusts push the boat to luff. Then, I almost leave the helm, waiting for the next gust. I enjoy the sailing and feel one thing with the boat. Under the mainsail, I admire the glare of the sun on the sea, and I fix the image in my mind. Tomorrow, I will be back in the office with my legs under a desk ....

The sea in the channel between Sicily and Favignana and is only 20 meters deep. We have an area in front, called "Stagnone" (it means Lagoon), where the depths are even lower. The skipper calls the jibe. I begin to bear away, but at the time of passing the jib, we realize that the sheet is caught in the tender. I luff again, and I keep the boat just above stern wind, while my team mate goes to bow to release the sheet. When this is free, I bear away again and execute the jibe. At the time when the mainsail is passing, I start to bear away on the new side instinctively. The maneuver (it's my first jibe with cabine cruiser) succeeds well. I was expecting worse, because I'm used to the jibes with Laser 4000, which, except in light winds, generally require perfect timing, and often help from gods ....

I steer the boat on starboard tack for a while (skipper, sometimes, reminds me not luffing too much, but maybe I just want to go back to Favignana ...). Then, I leave the helm to another guy, and, sitting leeward, I enjoy the foam raised by the boat in the last strecht towards the harbor.

We return to Marsala mooring at mid-afternoon. Check out with the staff of the charter that rented boats, shower, drink, and then dinner at restaurant "Il Gallo and e l'innamorata" in the center of Marsala.

The next morning, wake up at 4:15, transfer to the airport of Trapani, arriving in Milan at 8.00, and at 10 am back in the office. It's strange .... Like being woken up from a dream.

We are a little bit tired, but it was worth of it: it was such a great week, the images and feelings will struggle to fade, until the next sailing.

Good Wind. Fabio Muriano

 

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