Thursday, April 15, 2010

BCU Training in Sicily

For sure the first BCU course ever hold in Sicily, maybe the first in Italy. On request of Maremotu Sea Kayak School, Roger Chandler landed in Catania as a British Canoe Union coach. He organizes courses and expedition for Coastal Spirit up in north Wales but this time he worked in Sicily.
A group of five selected Sicilian paddlers was ready to follow for five days the 3 Star Sea Kayak training and assessment, Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning course and the training to have access in the future to the 4 Star Leader Sea Kayak assessment: Andrea, Gianfranco, Giuseppe, Francesco and Vincenzo.

The first two days have been spent along the lava shores of Catania. Day one we start from Santa Maria La Scala, a little fishermen village, and goes to paddle on a calm sea, manoeuvring around the rocky shores and polishing with the help of Roger our paddling strokes. At the end of the day our muscles were a bit aching...

Day two we decided to start from the arbour of Acitrezza and work around the protected area and eventually landing under the castle rock. Towing techniques and an efficient forward paddling was our main objective of the day, with the discovering of the big difference between the Greenland style and the large blade paddles.
Luckily for our spirit a bar was right on the waterfront so we started with good food and drinks and ended in the same way.

Day three, as the program was, we drive  to Capo Peloro, the northeast tip of Sicily, into the Messina Strait. This place is famous for the strongest current into the Mediterranean Sea, changing direction every four hours and running up to four knots in spring tides. 

The wind was locally blowing from south with gusts up to 20 knots, full force 5. On the south side of the cape a dumping surf was smashing the beach and we spent some time to launch and land. The difficult thing of the day was paddling in the wind while towing two rafted kayaks, in an incident scenario that Roger created for our delight. After many hours into the water and a hard work, during the de-briefing, we received the congratulations of our teacher for the 3 Star Sea Kayak award! Yeaaaaah!

Now the problem was to found a more challenging sea and complicated coastline. The weather forecast for Palermo (our initial plan) were not promising very bad conditions, except for a light rain. The only option was the southernmost point of Sicily: Portopalo and the island of Capo Passero.

We arrived in Portopalo (province of Siracuse) late in the morning. An increasing wind from NE was inflating the waves and the channel between mainland and the island of Capo Passero was a chaos beyond our imagination, with clapotis running in furious lines from the crash of NE breakers against a huge swell from SE.

Roger gives us the possibility of an additional coffee and than he gives us three new scenarios. Our leadership in these conditions and self rescue abilities are the work of this apocalyptic day. At the end of the day a huge smile is on our faces, incredulous to have been able to manage the situation...
Last day is mainly theory and, despite the 200 km of distance from Catania, the Lega Navale Arenella of Palermo was the perfect place with all comforts to rule this really interesting Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning course. In the evening, after seven hours of lesson, our brain were well cooked but still enough working to enable us to reach a local restaurant. Ricotta cheese as a starter, Sicilian beer, lovely pasta and fried fishes were the necessary ingredients to recover our energies from the intense five days.

The calm sea of the next morning was perfect for a relaxed paddling.

Thank you Roger for teaching us so many things in a so nice and professional way. While we are thinking to come and learn more in North Wales with Coastal Spirit, you will ever be more than welcome to come in Sicily again, whenever you want. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Island of Lampedusa - day two and three

After a relaxing breakfast we walk down to the kayaks on the beach. The wind, is blowing from NW instead the forecasted NE, and this is a great news because we have to paddle eastward for about 7 km and only two km north to close the island circumnavigation.

It is a succession of little bays and beaches, caves, arches, and bunkers. Exploring all the corners of the coast we disturb a hawk and a grey heron. Into a small cave we discover a hidden little and silent beach, before facing the noisy NW increasing force 5. The sea state is 4 on the east corner of the island and for us it is not safe to enter the caves on this side.

We are back at the campsite a bit late for lunch and we decide to walk into the protected area of the island, to see the famous Isola dei Conigli (rabbits). The place is breathtaking. Arriving from land the view is open on a turquoise crystal water and a pink-yellow beach rounded by white layered limestone walls. And the little island of the rabbits seems to be there to protect the beach from the south-west swell. This beach is so special that sea turtles come here year after year to bury their eggs. We watch the sunset and come back to finish the day with a pizza and cold beers.

In the morning we are waiting the opening of the ticket office for the ferry to Linosa. But the bad news is that the ferry will not reach the islands this sunday. After some minutes of confusion we are back at the campsite talking about maps, charts and GPS.

The afternoon is dedicated to more land exploring and the evening to a fish barbecue. All are happy, even if Linosa, the island of sea turtles and dolphins, will wait for another trip in these african waters.


Island of Lampedusa - day one

South, 110 nautical miles off-shore, there is the 9 km long island of Lampedusa, a layered limestone fragment of the African plate, emerging from the Sicily Channel sea floor.

At the end of March we land in the island after a night spent into the ferry from Porto Empedocle. The weather forecast was advising prevailing winds from SSW in the morning, rotating at NE in the afternoon, so we choose to go straight to paddle along the northern cliffs of the island. The layered limestone and sandstone succession is full of caves at different levels and in some points it is over 100 meters high. Sea gulls seem the only animals able to live here.

Exploring all the caves we encounter, after hours of paddling and before the end of the cliffs, we found a deep sea cave at the end of which is possible to land and have a restoring lunch and some stretching. Than we go on, with only three hours of daylight remaining.

We spot the first dolphins at the western point of the island: two fins sliding into the waters. Than the coast is less high, with dry river V-valleys cutting the coast. The wind turn to NE early and we fight a bit when crossing little bays. The absolutely beautiful color of the water, the view of gorgeous beaches and the approaching of the end of the day don't slow down our peace and soon we land on the small beach of the campsite.
Guys can't believe the beauty and the serenity of the place. Hot showers, a cooking pasta competition between sicilian and american cookers and an red wine coming from the black grounds of Mount Etna give a perfect end to a beautiful paddling day.