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Sunday, July 29, 2012, in Trapani, Sicily, Italy

Hi everyone. We’re in Sicily now, in the city of Trapani. Last week, we had just arrived in Arbatax, in Sardinia.

We had arrived in Arbatax on a holiday weekend, so we walked up the road to see the festivities. This time we waited until we were sure that it was well underway, and were finally greeted with a crowd. One street was shut off to cars temporarily, and folding tables were filled with goods: household tools (Art bought a chisel and an 18-millimeter socket that looked used to me but was very cheap), clothes, Sardinian cheeses, and candy, as always, disproportionately nougat. Two men looked to be churning butter, but when Art saw the ice in the double-layer bucket, he realized that they were making some sort of ice cream. We looked closer, and realized it was what we Americans call, oddly, water ice. A young Polish woman (who, we learned, was on a camping trip with dozens of other young people) turned to me and said “Ice cream, yes?” and we told her that we call it “water ice”. Then we realized that we call it ���Italian water ice.” Well, here we are in Italy, and here it is, made the hard way.

Up a street towards the not-yet-operating amusements, there was a string of tables serving grilled food. At least two dozen rotisserie spits, each the width of the folding table, were being turned and monitored. Some had sausages that ran nearly the length of the spit, and were pulled off and coiled, like brown snakes. Others had porcheddu, the Sardinian suckling pig. Each pig was split vertically and skewered, and you watched its otherwise unadulterated self as it spun above the flame, head to tail.

The fisherman’s cooperative was offering a dinner plate in the broad square outside of what might be the fish market during the day. The plate overflowed with fried fish and came with bread and a beverage for five euros. The line stretched for a city block around the square.

The next day was quiet, even for unimposing Arbatax, so we stayed in the marina area. A woman in the harbor office was kind enough to recommend and then call a mechanic for our generator. It was 5:30 on a summer Sunday, about the quietest time there is for commerce in Italy. He said he’d come over in a half hour, and he did. We had only been trying to line someone up for Monday morning, but we were delighted that he was so conscientious. I had to learn a new word: “Non funziona.”

Signore Giuseppe’s English was somewhere in the vicinity of my Italian, but we managed to communicate our problem and he managed to test it for a diagnosis. Our understanding was that he’d return the next morning and that he might even be able to get the part in Cagliari the next day.

That evening, the town festival continued with a parade in the afternoon. Then, chaperoned by boats from the local police, the Coast Guard, and Customs, several powerboats took on the duty of a ceremonial trip around the harbor, most likely with a religious icon onboard, among much pomp and circumstance. We could see the parade and hear the band from the boat across the harbor, but we’d been with the mechanic for most of its performance. Then we walked around the large harbor to join hundreds of other onlookers in hopes of seeing the boat festivities.

Storm clouds were everywhere, and the large harbor provided an empty horizon where rain showers were abundant. When it became apparent to us that rain was imminent, we scurried back to the comfort of our dodger and watched, less successfully, from afar. We were certain that we wouldn’t be able to stay awake to view the midnight fireworks planned for over the harbor, even though we’d have a front-row seat, and we weren’t. Judging from the noise of the weather, I don’t even know if they went through with the fireworks.

The night was windy, and we both regretted that we had decided against using our strong mooring springs to bolster our connection to the dock. The bucking of the boat yanked our stern lines, and the noise kept waking us up. Art, on a hunch, tied the end of the dinghy line to a stanchion during the night, just in case the small cleat we use in harbor wasn’t enough. In the morning, the dinghy was still on the stanchion, but not on the cleat and best of all, not drifting out to sea as it would have done if he hadn’t thought to secure it.

The morning wasn’t pretty, with clouds, rain, and winds that were stronger than the forecast. We decided to put on the mooring springs in a blustery morning chill that would have been easier in the still of the previous day. Moments after they were connected, it began to pour and the winds gusted to just under 40 knots.

Visibility didn’t extend as far as the harbor breakwater. Boats that had been anchored out in better weather were now tied alongside the breakwater, but I could only see shadows of their rigging in the mist and rain. Our dinghy jumped and jostled in the chop of the harbor. On the nearby dock, the Speedo-clad owner of a small sailboat, being drenched by the storm, pressed with all his might from the dock against the bow of his boat, trying to keep it from banging into the dock with every wave. He looked like Sisyphus to me. For us, there’s no value in pushing our 30-ton home in circumstances that involve any wind at all.

The weather was scary for about half the morning and just annoying for the other half. We thought that it had passed through, but Art decided to move the dinghy to a safer location inside the marina. And then it all started again, 35-knot winds, waves inside the harbor, and the now-muted jarring of our boat against its lines. The dock workers ran from one vessel tied up to another, adding lines for stability, helping owners add fenders. Nobody left and nobody came in. I didn’t go any farther than the cockpit all day. Here was our dry Mediterranean summer.

The night was calmer, but still rainy and windy, as if it was just finishing up a good cry. By morning, the sky was clear and the winds were calmed.

Our mechanic arrived with the part he’d had rebuilt in Cagliari. After some testing, he got the generator started, and in fact it started faster than any time since we got the boat. He’d found a drop in voltage somewhere between the battery and the fuel pump electric solenoid, and found the faulty connection. The generator was, apparently, better than new.

We returned to the marine shop that had offered to inflate our fender. She tried, but she didn’t have the right fitting, and sent us to the gas station at the port. They sent us immediately to a different gas station across the street. Art was pessimistic, but the attendant showed up with an assortment of connectors, and the air hose at the gas station filled our fender in minutes. Two tasks to do, and two finished in no time, once we were able to get to the town during a business day. Art made an appointment for a haircut, and that completed virtually everything on his list of tasks.

We walked over a hill to a nearby beach town called Porto Frailis. It’s much more of a resort than Arbatax, surrounded by holiday homes, in homage to a semicircle of a sandy beach around a turquoise cove. Bordering the beach are rosemary bushes, juniper, and floral oleander, with palm trees and prickly pear cactus growing within view, as if to stay away from tourist hands prying off their fruit or leaves. Flowers grew in odd places, as if they greedily need you to admire their colors; with brazen purple or pink blooms bursting from gangly stems in medial strips and utility road pavements.

Having grown up in a place where winter strips the land of green and flowers, I’m enchanted by places where the things I consider to be house plants grow outdoors. It’s as if I’m living in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and my toys suddenly come alive.

What a city person I must be, to think that bougainvillea plants are indoor creatures and to have them astound me when they are larger than I am. When I moved to Florida, I loved to see schefflera and sansevieria grow to sizes that would have broken my pottery as if we were in a true Little Shop of Horrors.

For lunch, we decided on a languorous meal on the terrace of a hotel. Uncharacteristically, we began with an aperitif of Campari and soda. (This is also uncharacteristic for Italians, who normally wait until evening for this refreshment.) We moved on to a seafood salad and risotto made with the black ink of cuttlefish.

Tortoli is the big sibling of Arbatax, a short bus ride inland. We decided to stay an extra day in Arbatax for no particular reason other than our productivity along our season’s itinerary. Tortoli offered a new viewpoint, and more importantly, a really big supermarket.

Between France’s traiteurs, lunch leftovers, and subdued evening appetites, our freezer kept getting fuller and fuller without winding down. On the mainland, we’d bought frozen meals for those nights stuck in empty corners of Corsica and Sardinia, but we could still barely close the freezer, so a real supermarket wasn’t really a necessity. Still, the market in Arbatax could scarcely meet our needs to construct ham and cheese sandwiches for two days underway towards Sicily.

Tortoli, like Arbatax, is a real town, nearly ignored by guidebooks of all kinds. We walked up and down the main commercial street. The new part of town is decorated with large artworks and boasts wide sidewalks upon which every block offers a café. The older part of town has sidewalks barely wide enough for a single pedestrian, next to a street wide enough for a car but not its side mirror. If you passed someone in opposite directions, or if you walked by a bicycle parked on the sidewalk, someone had to go into the tiny street to make room.

We found a place for lunch one block in from the main street. We’d arrived before one o’clock and the place was nearly empty, but it developed a respectable crowd by the time our meal got to the table. It was the first meal we’d eaten in Sardinia that was targeted to locals and cost what we’d expect a local to be willing to pay. After lunch, we bought a paltry amount of needed food at the very large supermarket and took the bus back. By this time, we felt as though we’d visited most of the area around Arbatax. The forecast was promising, and we were ready to leave.

When you’re beginning an overnight sail, you only need to arrive the next day during daylight, and our sail would last only a bit more than 24 hours. We left Arbatax at 6:45 (which Arthur considers a “morning” start rather than a “first light” one), and we politely but not altruistically let the big ferry go ahead of us out of the harbor entrance. The forecast was for light winds, but we had some leeway in our schedule, and we were sailing by 9:30. In fact, we sailed for most of the voyage, if not most of the miles.

A dozen dolphins joined us after we got offshore, but there were few other visitors or even other boats in the passage between Sardinia and Sicily. The sea was flat, and Art kept wishing for more wind, though much of our day was beer-commercial perfect. I knew that I’d enjoy the night sail, because it would be calm. It’s not what a real sailor (Art) would prefer, but I like flat seas and a rotating radar.

It’s disconcerting, sailing or motoring, to plunge into what amounts to endless darkness. Our watch schedules are stunningly disproportionate; I go to bed as soon as I can after dinner, and Art stands watch until he simply can’t pry his eyes open. Normally, that’s at about 2:00 AM, and I take over while he naps, and then he’s ready to go again about two hours later. I regret to admit that I go back to bed.

On this night, I woke up on my own at 1:40 and insisted that Art go below. There was nothing around, and the radar was blank. The night was warm enough that I didn’t need to wear the fleece I’d brought up. The Milky Way came into view, but there were, surprisingly, no shooting stars. The sky looked like a snow globe that had been frozen in mid-shake.

After about two hours, Art showed up and told me to go back to bed. I showed him the light from one boat on our starboard side and its badge on AIS. I showed him a perplexingly bright boat on the port side that I’d been watching. It appeared to be red (going in the opposite direction from us) and then white, and then growing, as if getting closer. AIS didn’t see it, and neither did the radar. Art told me that it was a star, and it was starting to look like it was a little higher than where I imagined the horizon to be.

Below decks, on my way to bed, I used the head, and lay down. Soon it sounded as though someone was filling a swimming pool. The sound was coming from the head. Water was pouring into the bowl and spilling over the grate (that is intended to capture extra shower water, but not forever.) I went up to the cockpit and got Art, who immediately turned off the water pump. I pumped the spilled water overboard and went back on watch while Art tried to figure out what was going on. My boat-turned-star was now higher in the sky, almost at the level of other stars. I began to wonder if I’d been watching Venus and confirmed that it had been as soon as I had Internet access.

Without the pump on, the toilet wouldn’t overflow, but no other source of water onboard would work either, not the other head, not the sinks, not the showers. Art found a way to test the switch to the water pump from the head and decided that the problem was with the switch and the switch could be turned off independently. We had water again. Then he tested the failing head. It worked. We had a second head again. Of course, this added some complexity to the diagnosis, but by now it was four in the morning. I went to bed and Art went back on watch. Art: many hours, me, about two.

He woke me up in the morning, after I’d probably had the equivalent of two nights’ sleep, and he took another rest while we still had a few hours before the waypoint. During my watch, I passed a fishing boat with enough concern that I held the autopilot control in my hand, but this watch was otherwise uneventful and proved to be very short when Art came back out after about an hour,

We had decided not to go all the way to Trapani, but stop at the nearby Egadi Islands, which, based on Italian plurals, must mean “Egads!” And it should, because they are composed of stunning rock cliffs climbing out of turquoise and navy blue waters.

The archipelago was connected to Sicily, but Marettimo went off on its own 600,000 years ago, and Favignana and Levanzo took their leave 5.000 years ago, with at least 5.000 years of human inhabitation going along for the ride. In fact, cave art dated to 12,000 years ago was found as late as 1949 by an artist who was vacationing there. I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist, but did anyone check this tourist’s fingernails for watercolors?

A lighthouse welcomes visitors from the north from a high point on Levanzo. Near the lighthouse is a sheer cliff of what appears to be volcanic rock, and from top to bottom, Art spied a rope that could have no other purpose than to be climbed from the sea up to the lighthouse by the insane.

We anchored in a cove near the only town on Levanzo, and dinghied ashore for lunch. The town is rustic and charming, although not really beautiful. Art thought that it reminded him of Greek islands, of light-colored houses with painted blue shutters. But the houses weren’t the squeaky-clean whitewash of Greece, and the windows were very small against the very plain building facades. It’s as if you expected to meet a movie ingénue’s twin sister for a date, and the moment you saw her you realized that they were fraternal twins. A strong family resemblance does not make a pictorial calendar.

Still, there is something endearing about this very real-looking place. Laundry hangs from most balconies. There are as many inflatable boats as there are houses. And next to the place that we tied our dinghy, two fishermen were sewing their nets while a hopeful seagull looked on.

Though it would be possible, we thought, to visit this ancient cave, the Grotta del Genovese, from a tour boat in the harbor, we were uncomfortable leaving our own boat to bounce around in the anchorage for hours on end. Ferries from other islands and from Trapani seemed to be a better way to approach this visit. On our way back to the dinghy, I saw that the fishermen had human company now, and that one of them was carving rick-rack cuts into a watermelon for his friends to share. We spent the afternoon aboard, hiding from the heat of the day, like everyone else.

Most of the other boats in our harbor were just inflatable dinghies, and I assumed that they came from nearby Trapani. Some, and surprisingly not all, had canvas covers to keep the relentless sun from frying the occupants. People swam ashore from the dinghies or swam alongside their anchored boats. There were three or four sailboats anchored in the cove as well. Most people didn’t bother taking a trip as we had into the town. By nightfall, all of the dinghies and nearly all of the sailboats had gone.

In the morning, we motored to Trapani, ten miles away, on the Sicily mainland. The Trapani harbor is just perfect for good protection from the weather, long but not round. Several of the marinas were near the head of the harbor, where large freighters and ferries awaited their workdays and nearly melted into the expansive surroundings.

We’d reserved a place at a new pontoon called Cantiera Levante well into the protection of the long harbor. There wasn’t much to the marina, a waterfront field cluttered with inflatables on trailers awaiting launch by the yard’s single crane. Docks amounted to a single pontoon equipped with power and water. Onshore, there was a sort of Quonset hut, and just outside of that was a set of patio furniture. That was apparently the marina office. The daily rate was about one-third less than another marina next door. For us, this would be perfect, and might even be home for a few days or more.

Hope you’re all doing fine. Let us know what you’re up to.

Love, Karen (and Art)