Summer on Slick seems to be drifting by without me realizing it. Its been two months since I left Turkey and already we are in Malta. My two guests have come and gone and in another month or so, Nate will leave too. The sea temperature is finally getting warm enough to comfortably swim without protection from the cold, although now the jelly fish are about. The summer winds are filling in, on the nose of course, and the heat is stifling in the afternoon, leading us to the Mediterranean daily ritual of siesta. We happily partake in these afternoon breaks but are occasionally annoyed when we need things. Our fault I guess, we really should know better than to expect anything to be open between noon and 5 or on the weekends. Anyway, it is never anything serious, usually just a desire for cold beer.

To catch up on the movement about the Med though – The day after Mark left, Nate and I hired a car and drove down to Catania to pick up my friend Susanna. Nate and I stopped along the way and checked out what we could off the autostrada. We had all day and he would be stepping off the boat for ten days or so, so we might as well enjoy having a car. Probably the coolest thing we saw was Castlemola which is the highest square above the cliff-bound, seaside-city of Taormina. The square just drops off over the edge of some hundred meters of cliff and two thousand feet of open air come up from the sea a mile or so away. It really is an impressive place. When we got to Catania though, I dropped Nate off and picked up my new guest.

After provisioning for ten days of cruising we headed from Milazzo to the Island of Vulcan. The wind was about 15 knots on the nose and we had about thirty miles of pounding into it under motor and sail. Yes, its true, I have become a bit of a wuss when it comes to sailing to windward, plus I have this new motor, so I might as well use it. Anyway, along the way there were a couple of huge sword fish jumping by the boat. They would leap full body out of the water and look into to see the inside of Slick’s cockpit. At least that was how it felt. I’ve never seen sword fish jump like that without a hook in their mouths, and these guys were big too, maybe ten-twelve feet long, plus some sword.

Upon arrival in Vulcan we headed for the leeward side anchorage of Porto di Levente. This sits right below the Gran Cratere of the Volcano Vulcan, where the name of the pimples of the earth was born. Vulcan is no longer spewing anything other than sulphery gas, at least for now and there are some hot pools about the anchorage. The rotten egg smell wafts over the area and we tried to avoid the malodorous places. Unfortunately, the best of the anchorage is taken by moorings costing no less than 40 Euros per night. The rest of the bottom was uneven and lumpy with steep rock piles. Eventually we relegated ourselves to anchoring in the vicinity of the pools. This turned out to not really be all that bad though.

After a night or two of watching the coming and going of ships and ferries in the port we headed to Lipari, the capital of the Aeolian Islands. The wind was up and we had a nice sail off the wind, although it was only 4 miles long it made for some excitement as he wind blew through the nozzle between the two islands. Anchoring under the castle, we headed to town to exercise our itchy feet. Lipari gave the feel of a typical Medievel-Med-Island town, narrow streets and tourist shops complete with Castle and Church above it all. We motored around the corner to avoid the ferry wake the next morning, anchoring off Porticello. There is a pumice quarry here. There are actually many pumice quarries in the Aeolian Islands, something that has nearly led to a revocation of their UNSECO status, but that part wasn’t what was so interesting. The bottom made an area that was 20 feet deep and nearly a square mile or two of flat-glistening pumice-sand. In the clear blue waters of the Med it was maybe the biggest swimming pool I’ve seen. Obviously the pool is a haven for the tripper boats so we left for Panarea.

In Panarea the best anchorage was in the south near Punta Milazzese, unfortunately it is supposed to be a no-anchoring zone. Fortunately though, no one cares. Panarea is a nice island but the most exclusive of the Aoleans. Strangely there is really nothing to do save look at a few interesting rocks and then lounge around the nice town enjoying the dolce-niente. Internet is also difficult to find there.

After fulfilling all the requirements of visiting Panerea we headed to Stromboli. Since it was only ten miles away, we deeded to sail in the 5-7 knots of breeze that was coming, more or less, on the nose. The light air and calm seas made for an enjoyable 4 hour ride. I even took some time to leave the boat and head out in the dinghy for some picture taking. Upon arrival in Stromboli though, the anchorage was not quite what it seemed on the charts. The only place with real anchorable depths sits off a point on the north eastern end of the island and there is maybe 45 degrees of actual protection. This didn’t stop the anchorage from being full of boats and since the seas were calm it was a OK.

That night we motored around the northern end of the Island to watch the effusive eruptions. The volcanic eruption of this sort is named after this very volcano, the Strombolian Eruption. This is similar to the eruptions we witnessed in Tanna in Vanuatu. Although the Italian version is somewhat less frequent and less impressive. Never-the-less active geology is always interesting. The motor back was in the dark and there were many boats around. It was a bit like motoring home after the Fourth of July, except it was really really dark.

We anchored in almost the exact place we had left and in the morning, my birthday, awoke to an awful swell running through the anchorage. I pulled up the anchor and while doing so broke a small piece of cast aluminum on the windlass. I went around the corner a bit to find some protection off a black sand beach and anchored in 35 feet of water on a precipice that dropped quickly down to 100 feet. While paying out the chain it just started free-running spilling maybe 50 feet of chain into a pile. Turns out the small piece of aluminum is needed to keep the chain in line with the wild-cat. Who knew? I set the anchor toward shore and was unable to straighten all the chain. Seemed pretty good to me and I went back to sleep. Being my birthday, we went to shore and spent the day exploring the little town at the base of the occasionally puffing mountain. Eating lunch at a place overlooking the anchorage, we watched as several boats came in and anchored around Slick. She looked so small compared to all the other boats. That was a weird feeling. Then I realized that none of these people knew my chain wasn’t very straight and after lunch we returned to the boat. As I was thinking the best way to pull up, the afternoon thermals were coming in lightly and boats swayed about. There was nearly some boat-on-boat action (BOBA) between some Spaniards and Auyssies behind me so we expedited pulling up. Each time I dropped the chain though I ended up with a pile. How frustrating. Finally I just did it by hand and was satisfied with the placement.

After a nice birthday dinner we returned to Slick. It was late and time to get to bed. At five minutes past midnight the wind started to pick up and Slick and the other boats swung out over the underwater ledge. Now we were in 90 feet of water and the wind was building. The strange part was that the wind wrapped to the north-west and now the wind was coming off the tephra pile of the volcano. The temperature of the air went from a kind 70 degrees to well over 100. As the night went on the wind increased and boats began to drag. There was certainly some boat-on-boat action and many boats pulled up and went around the corner or out into open water. I was very happy that I reanchored earlier and we stayed where we were. I had 200 feet of chain out and even in winds up to 38 knots Slick held well to the black sand. I stayed up the whole night watching the action. By morning though the wind had calmed and only two other boats were remaining. Slick was covered in black ash.

We left for Messina and the wind had completely died. On the way back we bucket washed Slick to get all the ash off. The straights were kind and we pulled back into the marina in Messina. Slick needed lots of cleaning after he 8 days of anchoring and the marina was so rolley from ferry wake that she also was given some new fenders. We got diesel, we had intended to go to the fuel dock but after reading about the mafia-controlled and watered-down fuel quays of Sicily, we decided it best to borrow two shopping carts and take the jerry-jugs into town. That went well and the next day we “sailed” for Taormina. The wind here was interesting. In the area between the toe of Italy and Sicily the wind was climbing into the upper 20’s, but less than a mile after exiting the opening to the nozzle the wind was maybe 5 knots. Of course the swell was terrible. Approaching Taormina by sea is pretty impressive and seeing Castlemola from the bottom was just as amazing. We parked Slick in Taormina Bay under the cliffs and headed to shore to find Nate, who was patiently awaiting our arrival in the closest pier-side bar. After a brief turnover with Nate and some lunch, Susanna and I caught a late-train to Catania and Nate went back to Slick to endure the swell. Catania was nice, very baroque, and very dirty, just like I remember it.

With Susanna on a plane home, I was now, again, phantom-traveller-less and Nate and I spent another night (less rolley) off Taormina and then made way for Siracusa. We skipped pulling into Catania on the way down and came into the very large Grand Harbor of Siricusa and anchored off the old town of Ortiga. This place is, like Catania, very baroque, but unlike Catania, it is also very clean. We set immediately out on the scavenger hunt to try to buy some dive tanks but apparently it is not allowed in Sicily for some reason. We gave up and made a small tour about town. Nate was here the previous week during his ten day walk-about and knew his way around. It was a very nice town and I can see why it is a popular tourist destination. It was also the home to Archimedes and all his fleet-burning tricks. We provisioned and the afternoon southerlies filled in so we went to the south end of the bay and anchored off some cliffs. Many locals were there and we witnessed some BOBA, a very common thing in the Med. At the end of the day, everyone left and we had the nice anchorage to ourselves.

In the morning we headed for Malta, unfortunately when we rounded the bottom of Sicily the wind was way more blown-up and the seas were building. Rather than make a 55 mile hop to windward we pulled into a dumpy place called Porto-Palo. When I checked into the Costa Guarda they told me to keep everything locked down as they had some recent thefts from yachts. Great. After a hitchhike to town and back in the heat the wind had built even more and we motored Slick to the windward side of the bay and breakwater for more protection. We then had the entire place to ourselves and the fishing boats all stayed on the other side. In the morning we made the hop to Malta.

It was quite a nice time spent in Italy. I think every time I go to that country I fall in love with it a slightly different way. When I was young it was certainly one of the first and most favorite of foreign destinations. I knew prior to arrival that the winds of Italy were not fantastic and while I didn’t like them, I couldn’t get too upset. Its called the Motorterranean for a reason. The thing that really got me this time was a realization of how fantastic the food ingredients are here. This is the first time in Italy that I was able to cook my own food in my own galley and the freshness and variety of meats and cheeses is incredible. Produce is cheap and great and even the steaks are reasonably priced. So this was quite a welcome feature. On the negative side though, well, everywhere you go people try to steal your stuff. Some things about Italy never change I guess. In all my time traveling, I have never (outside of Italy) had anything stolen from my companions and I other than a pair of flip-flops by a drunk in Solomon Islands. In the rest of the world – no problems. Here in Italy though, one of my guests had a cell-phone stolen, My friend had his dinghy stolen (he recovered it, complete with motor) in Taormina and If I think back years ago we had a backpack taken from us in Florence, that event caused no end of problems as we lost a passport and some apartment keys. Welcome back to the white-world I guess, where people steal things and you must lock everything down.

Anyway, on to Malta. The wind wrapped around to the North and we had downwind sailing under jib alone for the first 30 miles or so before the wind died. With the following swell and no land in site it felt a lot like being in the Pacific again, except we didn’t catch any fish. A thousand miles of trolling and still no fish. We pulled into Mgarr on Gozo and there was Col and family on the cat “Finally my Darling”. They were waiting for us. We stayed the night in the anchorage and over evening cocktails caught up on things since Turkey. In the morning we checked in and made some provisioning and then headed to Dwerja, an anchorage in a great big bowl behind something known as Fungus rock.

This was a nice anchorage and very protected from any winds but north-west. We decided we would do some diving and took the skiffs over to an undersea arch, an above-sea arch and a swim through that led to an inland lagoon. This was all pretty cool and it was nice to get some dive time with these guys. There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife but the undersea formations are worth it, if you are in the area. The next day, Nate and I did some snorkeling in the caves around the anchorage and then both boats headed for Comino Island.

If you are Maltese, and you have a boat, you spend every weekend at Comino Island. This is the home of the finest swimming in all of Malta, the Blue Lagoon. Tour boats flock from all over to come here and people fill in the rocks above the lagoon and swimming area in mass. At the end of the day, a tremendous exodus occurs back to Mgarr and Valletta. Col adequately described the place as a rookery. The first day we anchored outside the lagoon and stern tied to some rock. The local tour boats didn’t like this at all and one guy in a 50 foot jet boat full of tourists tried to run me over while tying. Then once tied they would honk at us because they had to drive around. I found this to be a bit annoying but once the anchorage cleared out a bit we let the stern tie go and free swung. The tour boats there though are quite rude and come right up next to your anchored boat with the most wake they can. Anyway, part of the culture I guess.

That afternoon we did a dive on a wreck. It was a patrol boat that was intentionally sunk and it was quite a nice swim through. One more evening of cocktails and Col and family departed for Sicily. It was nice to have a boat to cruise with, even if just for a few days. I don’t think I have really buddy-cruised with anyone since the first few days in the Philippines. Hopefully we will catch back up with them or someone else.

In the morning, Nate and I moved into the rookery proper and stern tied along with some other boats and proceeded to watch the morning migration. Nate had noticed the windlass wires getting hot (and some smoke) so we decided it best to take the connections apart and clean it up. We did that and reassembled it, just in time. We watched the shit-show of the rookery for awhile and the wind was starting to pick up on our quarter and we decided to go back to anchor in deeper water soon. Just about when we were thinking about being ready a guy in a 30 foot power-boat came in. They didn’t seem to really know what they were doing so we thought it best to let them do it before we pulled up in the crowded and tight anchorage. First they tried to stern tie but couldn’t quite get it right, with only a 1-1 anchor scope it is pretty hard to get it to stick. Then they went out to free swing and while anchoring managed to catch Slick’s anchor. Wonderful. I ran to the foredeck and had a closer look. No only did he catch it by dragging his anchor on a 1/2-1 scope, basically dredging the bottom, but the clown pulled it up too. I yelled back to Nate to start the motor, then yelled a mild obscenity or two at the power-boat. The guy didn’t know what to do and the wind took him down into two other anchored boats. There was certainly BOBA, a three-way even. I jumped in the skiff as Nate held us off the rocks with the engine. We removed the stern-tie but the powerboat still had our anchor in the boat orgy just down wind. Nate was cool in keeping Slick safe even though her leash was being pulled over where we didn’t want to be. I ran over in the skiff and tried to get the power-boater to motor forward. He eventually did and I got the anchors separated from their Anchor-on-Anchor-Action. I motored a short distance away from the trio and non-challantly tossed the hook in the water. Then once back on Slick, we pulled up and went out into deep water around the corner where we stayed the night. It was the Fourth of July and as every night in Malta, there was a constant pounding of fireworks. I guess the thing that was really annoying about the whole AOAA episode though was not so much that they guy didn’t know how to work his boat and not even that he caught or picked up our anchor. The annoying part was that he didn’t know what to do so he chose to do nothing. If Nate and I had not been on board, Slick would have surely ended up on the rocks and the guy would still be holding the leash. He motored away after that, but I gave him a wave anyway. His girlfriend waved back and hopefully they know there are no hard feelings from the guys with the giant American flag flying for America Day.

We left the next day for the capital, Valletta. The motor down was not so interesting other than the mass-migration out of the capital heading for the rookery. Good thing we didn’t stay in that zoo any longer. Pulling into Valletta though was, well, amazing. I have never seen a place so fortified from attack by land or sea. I can’t even think of the number of fortresses from eras gone by that I have visited in my life and this one is by far the most complete and impressive. It was built mostly by the Knights of St. John in the 16th Century. As if the citadel, castle and numerous outer walls and batteries are not enough, there is a constant barrage of fireworks from all over the city and countryside, all day and all night protecting the twin-harbors.

We spent the daylight hours in hot-siesta, or break as they call it here, and went for a wonder around town at night. The design of the town and overwhelming fortification is truly intimidating and amazing. The town itself is also every bit as quaint as other historical centers in Europe. While in the capital we repaired the windlass guide and the last dinghy floor repair didn’t take so we took care of that too. We also learned two things about Malta, the fireworks never stop in the summer and are celebrating the permanent feasting that occurs for the patron saints and that there are two types of Maltese – those who eat pastries and those who don’t.

A blow is coming and we decided to head back to Mgarr and wait for it to pass. On the way out we wanted to see the other harbor so we took a drive through Grand-Harbor. It was equally amazing but on the way out a pilot boat buzzed us at speed and the wake submerged Slick up to her mast. Unfortunately the V-berth hatch was open and my bed got soaked, with a bathtub of sea water. Along with my wet bed all of my things were wet too. I was furious. I had never had a pilot boat buzz so close and at such speed. But what can we do? So I dried my things and we continued motoring in the otherwise flat water toward Mgarr. About an hour later the diesel stopped running. A problem we keep having as the Racor filter I have is slowly leaking somewhere. We went into the drill of bleeding and restarting only this time the filter was clogged. Good thing I bought a new one the day before. We finally got it running and then had to try three different anchorages before finding one that was protected from the coming wind and the current swell. All this combined with tearing my foot open between the pads of my big toe and ball the day before led to a miserable day.

Yesterday was a little better. We decided to take it easy and have a break while we waited for the big winds to arrive. A cat next to us fouled their anchor on a massive old mooring and I freed it for them so they gave us a three liter box of wine. That helped with the relaxing for sure. Next up, three days of thirty knot winds and then we try to head to Corsica.