Although sailing in darkness is always a bit mysterious, the overnight passage from Tunisia was more so than usual. As we rounded Cape Bon under sail, we had not one but two close calls with fishing vessels, despite our careful efforts to stay out of their way. It was as if they were aiming for us. One did not even have its fishing gear down, and no matter what we did, our courses continued to converge. We finally turned on the engine to help us maneuver out of the way.
We arrived in Tunisia today after a 118-mile overnight passage across the Strait of Sicily.
Our arrival in Tunisia was a bit bizarre. After handing our docklines to the marina attendant and securing Gyatso between a smaller Swedish-flagged sailboat and an abandoned boat, a Health Department inspector appeared at the bow and stuck a thermometer onto each of our foreheads. Dripping with sweat in the 90°+ midday sun, we were amused to learn that we passed the inspection. He handed us a brochure about the H1N1 virus and instructed us to report to his office if we became ill during our stay. We were very surprised by his professionalism and by the contrast with our nine month experience in Italy, where we never saw anyone who cared anything about the global flu pandemic underway.
Before we could get underway today, we had to untangle the mooring lines which had become wrapped around the base of the mooring ball overnight. We took on 300 liters of fuel on the quay near the ferry docks and motored our way to Marsala, keeping well offshore due to the shoals along this coast. We spent eight days here before making the overnight passage to Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia on 15 July. The marina is located just across the street from the famous Marsala wine producers, so we took tours of two facilities, one making fortified wines (Florio) and the other (Donna Fugata) making innovative wines from traditional grapes of Sicily.
We returned to Trapani from Favignana and spent two more nights on a mooring in the outer part of the harbor — a bit cooler than being tied up at the dock. After a quiet Sunday, we launched Rinky (our dinghy), went ashore to the excellent daily market and filled our new “Gimi” shopping trolley with fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and other local food specialties. We stopped in at the local fish market and decided to treat ourselves to some fresh swordfish. We also found a small supermercato to stock-up on bottled water and a few other provisions before returning to the boat — a real Sicilian shopping adventure, which turned into a culinary adventure when we were back onboard. We ate the swordfish raw for lunch with lemon, olive oil, onion, sea salt, cracked pepper and parsley, and then seared it in olive oil and served with couscous made with pine nuts and raisins for dinner. Both meals were washed down with tasty Sicilian wine.
At the last minute, we changed plans and decided to escape the heat of the “city” by heading out to the Egadi Islands for a night at anchor. We thought it would be a nice way to spend the American 4th of July holiday. What we failed to take into account was that it was also the first Saturday in July — a “beginning of summer” holiday for Europeans and no chance for a peaceful night at anchor in the Med. When we arrived in the small harbor, some aggressive anchoring and mooring behavior by the skippers of other yachts was our first clue. The harbor filled up soon after that, including one other American-flagged sailboat that wished us a happy 4th as they passed by in the anchorage. If we had moved to a mooring in Trapani as we had planned, we would have been treated to a big fireworks show there — oh well, we had a nice night anyways.
Another totally calm day with no winds for the passage to the offshore island of Ustica which lies 35 miles northwest of Palermo. We spent two nights tied up to the quay in the tiny harbor which is used mostly by ferries and dive boats. A 47′ German-flagged sailboat was tied up next to us both nights, and one or two other cruising sailboats came and went during our stay. We had a nice lunch of grilled fish ashore after walking around the small town with its brightly colored murals painted the walls and buildings. We also made a dinghy expedition one afternoon (see below).