Once the strong winds and swell of the last few days had reduced, (we thought!) the forecast looked favourable to leave mainland Italy and continue our journey on to Sicily.
We planned to sail on a southwesterly course across to Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily which is approximately 100 miles, so we set off on another overnight passage. We left the marina at Roccella Ionica at 10.30am, we had light winds forecast and hoped for a nice gentle sail.
Once we were out of the protection of the marina we found that the swell had not reduced as much as expected and was pushing us over from all directions making it very uncomfortable and difficult to steer. Because the winds were only light there was not enough to fill the sails with the boat moving around so much, so our only option was to continue under power.
Thankfully the sea did settle down slightly by the evening but it was still very bumpy with hardly any wind, we ended up motoring the entire journey. Luckily we didn’t have to hand steer all the way as ‘Alan’ our autopilot did a really good job of keeping us on course.
We followed the same routine through the night with 3 hour shifts, although it was difficult to sleep with the engine running and the boat rolling around. The moonlight again kept the sky bright through the night, and as it reflected on the sea you could see the bioluminescence glowing in the water.
We had kept up good speed throughout the journey and were approaching Siracusa just before sunrise, not wanting to enter the bay in the dark, we slowed down and waited outside, along with a couple of other boats and a cruise ship, until daylight.
We then received permission from the Harbourmaster to enter and anchored in Grand Harbour at 7.30am
After an uncomfortable 21 hours we were ready for a rest!
The following day we went ashore to explore, Siracusa (Syracuse) was built on an Ancient Greek site founded by the Corinthians in 734 BC. It became the largest city in the known world, bigger than Athens and Corinth and still maintains much of its Greek history and mythology today.
The Umbertino bridge links the new town to the island of Ortygia which is the older residential area full of Ancient Greek and Roman history with ruins, temples and a castle.
We walked around the narrow medieval streets (with Paul admiring the various Fiats through the ages!) to the fountain, Fonte Aretusa. It is a natural fresh water spring dating back to the first Greek settlement. According to mythology, it is named after the nymph Arethusa who turned into a spring after she refused the advances from the God Alpheus, he then turned himself into a river so that they could always be together.
Statue by the spring inspired by the myth.
The spring runs into a small semicircular lake with fish, geese, ducks and Papryus plants. A popular tourist spot surrounded by cafes looking out to the harbour.
We continued on around the coast and stopped for lunch at a cafe attached to Henry’s House Hotel, overlooking the sea (with some interesting local paintings in the loo!). We can recommend a stay here if you’re visiting Siracusa and feeling flush.
After lunch we visited the picturesque 13th-century Maniace Castle, Emperor Federico II built it upon an ancient fort. With a tall perimeter wall and four cylindrical towers at the corners, it was able to protect the port of Siracusa.
Inside the restored main hall of the castle.
View of the castle from the anchorage
We then walked back to the centre of Ortygia which is dominated by the 7th Century Cathedral. This imposing building was built around the remains of the Greek 5th Century BC Temple of Athena, its massive columns can still be seen incorporated into the structure. The baroque facade was added later in the 18th Century following the massive earthquake of 1693 which affected all of Southeast Sicily.
The Cathedral is situated within a large square, Piazza Duomo, surrounded by grand baroque palaces. With cafes and bars around the edge, it was the perfect place to stop for a coffee while we watched lots of very well dressed Italians arrive at the cathedral, we assumed for a wedding but we didn’t see a bride, we waited as long as we could with empty cups, hoping to get a glimpse, I assume that she turned up eventually!
We ended up spending a few days here exploring the Greco-Roman remains of the archeological park, the story of Archimedes who was born and lived in Siracusa and the colourful local food market. But far too many details for this short blog, we can only recommend that you visit to enjoy discovering it yourself.
Lunch at the food market 😎