16 June 2023 – Cap Monastir Marina, Tunisia

Continuing on from the previous post, we enjoyed our short stay at Pylos Greece, and reconnected with Steve and Liz (SV LIBERTE) and Anita and Pierre (SV XAMALA). We enjoyed a nice Greek dinner at a local restaurant the night before leaving (all three boats were bound for Sicily).

Early the next morning, we set sail for Syracusa Sicily, an expected motor-sail of 308nm. A few minor things broke during this passage: one side of our lazy-jack lines for capturing the mainsail, a mainsail reefing line (too much chaffing) and our water maker is acting up again. Oh well, that is what cruising is all about.

A small bird “hitched a ride” as they commonly do. During the 3 day (two night) passage, this little bird was seen perching at various locations, and several times flew into the cockpit when we were sitting there. This, I thought, was a little strange that he came so close to us. A few hours before arrival in Syracusa, much to my surprise – this little bird was dead, laying on the deck. Even more surprising, a few feet away was his cousin, also dead and laying on the deck! We had not one, but two birds! I felt very sad for them, and wondered if we should have made an effort to put out some water and food?

We anchored for one night in the very large bay at Syracusa, but the next day moved on to the city wall, and berthed “stern to” and laid the anchor out front. We were permitted to stay there like this (no services, no utilities) for 5 nights free. It was great being right down at the city waterfront, with tons of restaurants and shops to explore.

In this “rearward looking view”, you can see our friend’s Steve and Liz’s boat LIBERTE just beside us.

We explored the old and the new city, mostly by Tuk-Tuk (who knew that there were Tuk-Tuks in Italy?) with a driver who was eager to show us the sites. There was a stark difference between the old city, with walls that were damaged by machine gun fire during WWII – and the new city that has been established nearby.

We had to go see Castello Maniace, constructed between 1232 and 1240. This castle guards the entrance to the harbour at Syracusa, possibly one of the oldest harbours in the world. Yes – it was windy!

The old downtown area was particularly beautiful.

Since we were right downtown at the waterfront, we really liked walking through the small streets with a plethora of different shops and restaurants. We just wandered around here, discovering new things.

Interspersed in the area were many old Roman and Greek ruins.

Who can turn down the famous Italian gelato for dessert?

At the entrance to this grocery store in the old city centre, there was a cannabis vending machine. This was the first time I’ve seen one of these.

We rented a car one day with Steve and Liz, and drove to the region of Mount Etna. Mount Etna is the highest volcano in Europe and considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It extends for approximately 1,250 square km and reaches a height of 3,350m. It often has formidable lava flows, and is surrounded by the spoils of frequent, volatile eruptions. I’ve read that it is even possible to ski down the slopes in the winter, literally only a stone’s throw from the sea. We were really impressed with the evidence of hundreds of years of eruptions.

On the road, there were small pebbles, almost like gravel – that the volcano spits out on a recurring basis. We saw lots of motorbikes on these winding mountain roads, and for me – all those little stones would be cause for concern on a bike.

At the visitor centre, there were many great views, including this old crater that was not nearly at the top.

These people were walking up a very steep slope, which still wasn’t even near the top.

To get even closer to the top, you had to pay 50 euros per person to ride on the cable car – well beyond our price range. After spending the day at Mount Etna, who could turn down the cheap Italian wine?

After a week at Syracusa, we felt we had seen enough of Sicily and decided to move on. We had many meals ashore, and sadly expressed that we wouldn’t have wanted to return to any of the restaurants. We mostly found the meals to be bland and uninteresting. On reflection, I suppose that is to be expected from Italian or Sicilian cuisine. We seemed to enjoy our meals in Greece and Turkey much more. While eating at one restaurant, we came across four young tourists from India, who had just come ashore from a gigantic cruise ship. They were desperately searching for “hot” or “spicy” food, and sadly – that was not to be found.

Steve and Liz on LIBERTE stayed longer, and will reconnect with us at Monastir.

We again motor-sailed down the coast (27nm) to anchor in the very well protected fishing harbour at Porto Palo. Although we did not go ashore, we did enjoy the quiet, tranquil anchorage, occasionally rocking when a fishing boat came or left. This was in stark comparison to being “on the wall” in the city centre of Syracusa with tour boats and onshore restaurants blaring competing music till late in the evening.

The next day, we again motor-sailed (mostly into the wind) to anchor at Mellieha Bay Malta, an uneventful trip of 56nm. I say uneventful, but there was lots of shipping traffic! Before coming to this bay, I had exchanged emails with a marina in Malta – inquiring about getting a berth for a week. Roland marina answered that they could provide us with a berth for 770 euros, plus any metered consumption of electrical and water – plus 18% VAT. I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that we could fly in, at some future point, and actually get a room with a bed cheaper than that. That would be more than 1,000 euros for the week, half of our YEARLY berth cost in Tunisia! Therefore, we opted to anchor – somewhere. There are many, many anchorages in Malta, but there are also many, many boats – and most of them are on mooring balls, clogging up the very best anchorage spots. Also, the only “all weather, well protected” anchorages to be found are in the capital of Valletta – and those are completely occupied with local boats. Consequently, we anchored at the extreme edge of Mellieha Bay on the west of the main island, and it looked like an attractive, “happening” kind of spot with lots of local traffic buzzing around, but it was just not our “cup of tea”. We enjoyed a well deserved day of relaxation, watching the locals on boats zipping by and the car and pedestrian traffic on shore. On reflexion, it occurred to us that we stayed in this bay during a weekend, arriving on Saturday afternoon and leaving on Monday morning. When we left on Monday morning 90% of the anchored boats had cleared out. Did they come from the marinas for the weekend? Our view of Malta was apparently jaded because of the hordes of local boats cluttering the anchorages.

At Malta, we linked up with Kevin and his son Christopher, of SV NOCONA MOON. The last time we saw Kevin, he had onboard his wife Sandy (who flew home to Texas with a fractured ankle) and Christopher and Christine (of SV SCINTILLA) but they had also departed. Kevin had arrived in Malta several weeks before we did, and was also headed to Tunisia. Diane made us excellent pizzas on anchor the night before we left.

After resting for two nights, we left for our end destination of Cap Monastir Marina in Tunisia, a trip of 175nm.

Despite being warned that we were transiting through “migrant alley” (hundreds of boats carrying African migrants looking to get into the EU), fortunately we did not encounter any. It’s a very, very big ocean. I did hear some VHF radio traffic concerning a migrant boat with hundreds of people onboard, taking on water – about 200nm from our position. We also read in the news about a migrant boat sinking south of Pylos Greece (which we left a few weeks ago), but saw nothing on our horizon.

We arrived in Monastir Tunisia late in the day on 13 June, and completed our in clearances. The next day, we secured local SIM cards and service for our phones using ORANGE. We “registered” our phones (otherwise your phone will stop working if you’re using a local SIM card for more than 10 days), picked up new SIM cards and secured a one month plan (with 25GB of data) for a total of 57 Tunisian Dinars (about $24 CDN). By way of comparison, just the “registration” of a phone in Turkey currently costs more than 7000 TL, nearly $400 CDN! We considered this very good value compared to both Türkiye and Canada.

Our initial impressions are favourable, but we have a steep learning curve since we plan to spend “a year” here. People are friendly, but mostly Arabic/French speaking, although we have met a few who speak English.