Thursday, 9 May 2013

29/03/13 - 04/04/13 - Sailing - Sicily

29th March - 4th April 2013

GMIT Sailing Holiday - Sicily

  • The aims for me on this holiday were to enjoy the skills I learned last week on the day skipper course.
  • To improve all of my skills and hopefully make them more concrete in my mind.
  • To hopefully build my confidence and learn something new about sailing that I have not learned before.
  • To enjoy the break away from college work and refreshen because college has been a little bit crazy over the last few weeks!

During this sailing holiday, we travelled to some of the aeolian islands off the north coast of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

A map of the islands.
During our briefing with the sailing company, they showed us all of the best places to go and where not to go during bad weather and where we would have good shelter for anchoring in different winds etc. They were very helpful and answered all of our questions. They also said that they would be in touch with us throughout the week via text and to call them at any time if we needed anything at all.

Showing us the chart of the area.
When we went back on board, we realised that their compass was completely different to the ones we would have used at home. It was in 2 halves and triangular shaped. So we asked Lilo (the man in charge) to show us how to use them before we left.
Eventually we got going.

29th March

On the first day we went from Portorosa on the main land of Sicily to Porto di Levante on the North East side of Vulcano, the first island. 18*C - Sunny blue skies - F1-2 winds.

Our little 3 man tender!
This is where the natural mud baths are and we could smell them on approach!

We were mainly just getting used to the boat today and putting the sails up & down for the first time so we knew how they liked to work! When we arrived we anchored our boat next to Alan's and then I started ferrying people in  to the island so that they could go and explore. 

It was dark soon...but do you think that stopped us going in to those smelly mud baths?!...

The first group in to the smelly Sulpher mud baths!

30th March
On day 2, we went for a swim in the morning & some people climbed the hill while others got quad bikes to go around the island a bit.

Liz & I went for a cappuccino & ice cream in the local restaurant! :)

Then in the afternoon we travelled from Vulcano to Lipari which was the next island along from Vulcano. 18*C - Sunny blue skies - F2 winds.

31st March - Easter Sunday

Teddy & stealing Trish' giant easter egg!
On day 3 we had to stay in Lipari for the day because there was force 5 winds gusting 7 and it just didn't feel like a wise idea for new skippers to take big expensive yachts out when there was white horses in the marina. Mike had told us that as a day skipper, if it's more than a 4, then you don't take inexperienced people out and we had 3 non-sailors on our boat as well as myself, Liz & Stacy who had recently passed our day skipper.
So Trish & I went shopping and bought bits and bobs for people at home, which was good to get out of the way really! 

Jesus Bread!
There were day time fireworks for easter sunday which were cool! I had never seen anything like it before, they were like puffs of coloured smoke and sparks!
We also found some Jesus bread while walking through the town!

1st April
On day 4 it was F3-4 winds so we decided to use the wind to our advantage and get a good bit of sailing in by sailing from Lipari to Salina Marina on the next island along. It was cloudy, cold and we had a little bit of rain, ended up wearing all of our waterproofs to keep the wind chill off!

It was really nice sailing and we even got to teach the girls who had never sailed before how to tack and gybe.

We went on a small detour to Salina as I managed to sail straight past it thinking it was around the headland!

As we arrived at the marina, Hannah's boat called us on the VHF to ask for assistance as their engine had over heated and they wouldn't get in to us on sail before dark. So we had to go out and do a rescue, which I will tell you about later in 'things I learned'. Then we went to the 'Prawn resturant' until 3am and partied with the owners, Flabbio & Marchella.

2nd April
On day 5 it was too windy to go anywhere again, force 6 gusting 7-8. So we stayed on Salina for the day and rented out scooters. All 17 of us on a scooter tour around the island together, it was great craic!

We went snorkeling at the beach and then scootered all the way home. Liz & I broke down on the way home...well...we ran out of fuel and had to walk all the way down the side of the hill into a little town to try and explain to the aeolians that we needed petrol for our scooter. It didn't work very well because they spoke no English & we spoke very little Italian!!!

Eventually the man from the bike shop found us, got us petrol and gave us a lift back to our bike!

The scooter man!

3rd April
On day 6 it was too windy to go anywhere in the morning with Force 6 winds gusting 7 but it was going to die down by the afternoon. The boats were meant to be back in Portorosa tonight with the company but they called us and asked us to get to Lipari tonight when the wind died down and then travel back to Portorosa tomorrow morning in the gap in the weather.
So we decided to chill out for the day and when the sailing conditions improved, Teddy decided to clean up the boat and do odd jobs around the place.
Teddy tanning his bald patches!
Teddy on the main sheet.
Just chilling!  
Teddy sorting out the power

Having a small break 
Sweeping the decks.

Unfortunately during his busy morning, Teddy got swept off his feet and into the water where a wave nearly pushed him through a tunnel under the pontoon... his life flashed before his eyes.
Luckily, Aoife saw the whole thing happening, acted fast and saved his life.

Teddy's first cigarette with Marty after the fright of his life!

We then sailed back to Lipari for our last night. We had money left in the kitty, so we were able to go for a big family meal when we arrived at Lipari. It was nice to have all 3 boats together for the last night and to say a big Thank you to Liz for organising the whole trip for us.

We had to be up at sunrise the next morning so it wasn't a late night. Liz & I decided to sleep up on deck for our last night because we had never slept up on deck before and we had to be up at sunrise for the break in the weather anyway!

4th April
On day 7 we were up at sunrise for an early sail back to Portorosa to give the boats back. Sunrise was so so beautiful. There wasn't a breath of wind, so we had to go on motor.

I loved being up early to see the sunrise and it made me think, 'you should do this more often'. It felt so refreshing to see the sunrise and it gave me a really nice happy, wholesome, peaceful feeling inside.

We motored all the way back to Portorosa and refilled the boats with fuel, then they went through inventory with us again
We only had a few hours before our bus arrived so we went for lunch and a walk on the beach.

Then the bus arrived and it was time to leave...


3 hour bus journey to the airport.

Unfortunately the crazy high winds that we avoided by leaving early this morning, arrived just in time for our flight...Our flight got transferred to another airport...
and so did we!
Tired sailors waiting for their transfer bus at 11:30pm.

Things I learned on this trip:
  • To decide on a VHF channel before leaving marina's so that you don't have to catch up with each other and shout VHF channels at each other. Knowing which channel you are communicating on with your group is vitally important and so you must be clear about this. On the first day we made this mistake but after that we had it sorted. The importance of VHF became pretty clear to us when Grainne O'D had to radio us to let us know that their engine had over heated and that they were in need of assistance.

  • I also became more confident on the VHF because we were using it everyday.
  • I learned how to do an along side tow with two yachts. It was a great experience and everybody involved in the rescue did a great job. Everybody stayed calm and those who were not sailors or outdoor education students did a really good job at what they were being told to do.
Hannah seemed to be in charge over all and dictated to people what to do. She was brilliant. She spoke calmly to each person and told them clearly exactly what she needed them to do. 
She taught people knots from scratch and when somebody did something wrong, she didn't get mad or stressed, she just said things like: 

"Ok Mia, you see how you have the rope coming off the cleat and over the side of the boat? I just need you to take that off again and re-tie it so that it is coming under the lines on the side of the boat. That's right, perfect, thank you. And Tony, if you could hold that fender down a little bit lower, you will see how the boats will bang together much less. That's great. Good job." 

She was an absolute inspiration and she controlled the whole operation perfectly. 

Marty who was on helm of out boat (the rescue boat) also did a fantastic job. He is only a new day skipper holder himself and when Alan (the boat's skipper) wasn't around when the call came through, he took the challenge on himself as co-skipper to go out and do the rescue. 
He asked me to come on board his boat so that he had another experienced crew member, Grainne O'D gave us her co-ordinates and off he went, calmly and confidently.

We had to be careful when we tied the two boat together on springs because the masts kept clashing together in the swell, so then we had to man handle the boats and walk our boat further forward on Hannah's. This took both boat's crews and all of our strength. Now when the swell came, the masts didn't clash together.

Liz was back at base doing a great job on our boat, she stayed in contact via VHF the whole time and also got in contact with the harbour master who then started tracking our progress on his computer. We kept Liz updated on our progress and she let us know what the harbour master wanted us to do when we got closer.

He wanted Hannah's boat to have a stern line set up that he would be able to take on board his boat. 
He came out to meet us at the mouth of the marina in a small boat with a motor on the back. Liz had to call us and tell us all to keep an eye out for him because he had no light on his boat! (Italian style!)

When we came in, to the mouth of the marina, he asked us to come off the power, release our along side tow ropes and then Hannah threw him her stern line.
Marty then brought our boat in to the berth and the harbour master towed Hannah's boat into a berth so she could tie on to the pontoon.

This experience has been invaluable to me and I am kind of glad that it happened! I learned so much that night and I think if it happened again, I would definitely have the confidence and experience to make a good attempt at an along side rescue.

  • I also learned how to anchor in quite a small space and allow for a good swinging distance between other boats and the land! We anchored in-between Hannah and Alan's boats and it was perfect. We took transit points for a very long time and got up every hour in the night to check if we had moved... We stayed put! :D
  • I learned that it is good to go with your own judgement when you are on helm. The day we sailed to Salina, everybody wanted to stop off in this little bay and go snorkeling. I followed Alan's boat in to the bay and watched as he started to drop his anchor. To me, this looked like madness, the swell was much to anchor and I definitely didn't want to go snorkeling in it! So I started sailing out of the bay and asked my crew if they still wanted to go snorkeling here. Liz & Stacy did. So I told them I wasn't comfortable dropping anchor in these conditions and so Liz took the helm. Part of me thought I was being silly but I just didn't feel it was a safe option, so I let Liz go on helm and decide what she wanted to do. As we swapped, we could see Alan lifting his anchor. We got him on the radio and he said that there was too much swell to anchor there and they were not going to bother going snorkeling. So we did the same. I was proud of myself for making my own judgement about the situation and not just following what Alan did because he is a more experienced sailor.

  • I also learned that it is important to play around a bit when you first get on a yacht because each yacht behaves a little bit differently. I forgot to find out about this yachts prop walk so when I brought the boat in to the marina in salina, I wasn't prepared for the way it like to travel to the right when you put it in gear. I also hadn't played around with reverse etc because when I put the boat in to reverse to go in to the berth, it was like it wasn't reacting. It needed a lot more power to move than the boat I had done my day skipper on. So I will definitely play around with the motor next time I get on a yacht!

Points of Environmental Interest...

As we approached the island of Vulcano on the first day, we could see smoke coming out of the mountain side. It was absoultely amazing. It smelt really bad, but it looked crazy!

The reason for this smoke coming out of the mountain is that all of the aeolian islands are volcanic and as the smoke built up inside, it would force its way out through the mountain side and this is what we could see.

The natural mud baths, called Laghetto di Fanghi are supposed to have health benefits. The water is rich in sulfur, which is why it smells so bad! It also has anti fungal activity and other minerals that are good for your skin. They help pull excessive oils and dirt out of the pores. It is also meant to be good for achey joints. I guess that's why there were lots of old people in there the next day.
It was so smelly, I actually can't believe I got in to it...I'm glad I did it at night time because after seeing it in the day time, I wouldn't have gone near it!!
The night before, everybody had gone in and put it on their faces and everything, when they came out and had showers they said their eyes were burning.
When we saw the mud baths in daylight, there was a warning sign up saying "Do not put it on your face unless advised by your doctor!!

The formation of the land was amazing. As we sailed around the coast we could be tucked right in close, hugging the land and our depth sounder would be reading 150m - 200m at places.
This is again because the land is volcanic and so the islands come straight up out of the sea.
However, there were also places to watch out for where there would be shelves of rock below us.
The aeolian islands are a geology rich area and has provided education for geologists about vulcanology.

All of the islands that we visited were covered in these Lizards, The Aeolian Wall Lizard. They are critically endangered and have a highly restricted range and is endemic to the aeolian islands.
All of the tourist shops had items with this lizard on them.
For a great picture of the Lizard (better than mine) please look on this page:

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