Ancient bikinis and flying Swans

Sicily was the place for us to catch up with family this year with Barb joining us at Marina di Ragusa, but before we set off on the high seas we took the opportunity to go inland. Tucked away near the medieval hilltop town of Piazza Armerina is the fabulous Villa Romana del Casale, which houses the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Now you might think it’s hard to get excited about a few small coloured tiles, but these ones have been around since about 300AD. There are more than 3,500 sqm of floor tiles, and they are extraordinarily well preserved having spent the best part of almost 2000 years covered up by several metres of mud after a landslide. The villa is thought to have been part of a huge Roman agricultural estate belonging to a noble family. The mosaics depict incredibly detailed stories including scenes from Homer, great hunts and girls (nicknamed the Bikini Girls) showing off their decathalon skills with discus throwing, hefting dumbells, ball games and running. Even Fitzy thought they were good! (The mosaics, not the girls).

Our next stop along the coast was near Sicily’s biggest tourist drawcard, the Valley of the Temples. This 13 sq km archeological park has an assortment of temples in various states of ruin, but the most intact is the 430BC Greek Temple of Concordia, upon which the UNESCO logo is apparently based. The temple survived when others didn’t, partly because it was reinforced when it was turned into a church in the 6th century, but also because beneath the rock it sits on is a layer of soft clay, which dampens the effects of earth tremors. With any luck it should manage to survive a few more years yet! Heading west we stopped at Sciacca, famous for it’s thermal baths, healing waters and mineral-rich mud. Barb & I were certainly up for a bit of pampering, but alas it was not to be as the complex was closed for renovations/repairs. So we didn’t get to experience the “uplifting breast-toning treatment for 200 euros” (what a bargain!) as mentioned in the Lonely Planet. C’est la vie.

We enjoyed some time at anchor out at the Egadi Islands before heading in to Trapani. The best way to see the old town is by foot, admiring the many Baroque buildings and narrow streets, following in the locals’ footsteps during the evening passeggiata. All too soon it was time to farewell Barb and set off for Sardinia. As we were sailing out of Trapani harbour a large Italian Coast Guard ship was coming in. We couldn’t help but notice the dozens of Africans crammed on the aft deck, presumably plucked from the water somewhere off the coast nearby. I can only imagine that these are people who just want a safe place to live and a secure future for their families. We couldn’t help but reflect upon how incredibly lucky we are, to have the freedom we have to be able to do the things we are doing. How lucky are we to be born in the right country?

An overnight sail took us across to Santa Maria Navaresse, on the east coast of Sardinia. We planned to be in Porto Cervo for the Rolex Swan Cup (hoping to race, although not with Loki), so had some time to hire a car and drive up to the Gorropu Canyon. We enjoyed a very pleasant hike into the gorge with its spectacular limestone cliffs towering up to 400 m above us. Going north along the coast the impressive massif of the Supramonte dominates the landscape. There are various bays strewn with grottoes and crystal clear beaches. Just had to stop for lunch along the way and enjoy the stunning torquoise waters at “the swimming pool”, le piscine di Molara.

As luck would have it we met up with a Norwegian yacht, “Concerto”, whilst we were at anchor in La Maddalena Archipelago National Park and managed to secure crew positions aboard their friend’s 65 ft Swan, “Coeur de Lion”, for the Swan regatta. It was an absolute priviledge to sail with Bjorn, Peder Lunde (4 times Olympian – gold & silver medalist, and Whitbread Round the World skipper!), Einar, Hendrick, Daniel & Jorgen. Those Vikings sure know how to have a good time! Thanks guys for a great regatta, it was terrific fun. Local photographer Gianluca Muscas captured some nice images of us from the water too.

With 112 entrants, the regatta included races for the maxis (90 – 115ft), mini maxis (60-80ft), Grand Prix racers, S & S’s, Swan 42 One Design and the World Championships for the Swan 45s. What a fabulous sight! Seeing all those beautiful yachts roaring about the picturesque coastal courses. Most of the time I was simply too busy enjoying the racing, so not many images from me I’m afraid. But I’ve included here a few images from one of the world’s best renowned yachting photograhers, Carlo Borlenhgi, who was there shooting the action each day. I particularly like the shot showing the maxi, Highland Fling (115ft) having a bit of an oopsie with her spinnaker! Being at the regatta also gave us the opportunity to catch up with our friends Oguz & Nihal who flew in from Turkey to enjoy the festivities. A great time was had by all.

Now Loki is all packed up and ready for another winter, this time at Gaeta, about two hours drive south of Rome. We are about to head homewards and are very, very much looking forward to catching up with dear friends and family upon our return. Thinking of you all. Keep well & stay safe.