Wintering in Marina di Ragusa
Updated: Jan 8, 2019
It’s the 4th of January 2019. About four and a half months since we got Polaris in August. To get her we worked hard in lots of ways. In the lead up to August we undertook 12 months of market research, sailing research and education, selection activities including chartering a similar boat and finally test sailing the top three choices. This eventually led us to make an offer and conduct another test sail with surveyors. Not to mention the weeks spent chasing the vendor to complete a never ending ‘fix list’. But after all of that; the decision to do it, the financial commitment, the effort and paperwork we found ourselves with this big beautiful boat in the South of France and no idea where to put her. You see we bought Polaris when she became available on the market, rather than when we were ready to set off for a couple of years or at the beginning of the Mediterranean summer sailing season. Therefore we needed to find a winter home during the months of September until April during which we would be safe from adverse weather, have an opportunity to get to sail her and also continue to work remotely and save extra money to put toward our travels. We chose Marina di Ragusa, (MdR) in Sicily.
The Live-aboard Community
We arrived in MdR on the first of September and have been living on-board full time since then with the exception of the odd trip back to London for work and a current stint we are doing in the UK over Christmas and early January. In that time we have watched the winter live-aboard community ramp up from a very quiet start at the beginning of September until now, where this wonderfully diverse community of sailors is truly buzzing with ideas, experience, talents they want to share and knowledge they freely give to one another. We feel immensely lucky to have the kindest and most knowledgeable neighbours. We have fallen into a lovely rhythm of regular meet ups centering around trips to the market, coffee drinking, sewing, social evenings and many more. Many collaborative groups have been developed too via Facebook and Whatsapp like the ‘Convoy to Greece Group’ , a great idea of one of our neighbours'. This is a group committed to following more or less the same path and timings which we collectively believe to be a good idea from both a safety and social standpoint. We will look out for each other along the way and if possible help each other solve problems which may arise. For me, living in this marina, I have made more new friends in a couple of months than I have in the UK in a couple of years. Friends I certainly wouldn’t have otherwise met from all over the world.
The marina itself is extremely attractive and well maintained generally. There are four bars that serve decent snack food and a sushi restaurant. The reception service desk staff are very attentive and helpful and there is a meeting room which can be ‘borrowed’ for yoga class and other get-togethers. The marina is reasonably large which can mean it’s a bit of a walk to get to those bars, the town and the showers etc depending on where your boat is moored. We were offered a spot on the east wall. It means we are as close as you can get to the beautiful beach and town which is just over the wall. I like to walk along the coach roof and onto the bimini of Polaris in the morning to see what the beach looks like, is it wavy or flat calm for paddle boarding? Could it be the day we take out the kitesurfing gear again? (I'm in the earliest stages of learning!). Being on the east wall does mean though that we are quite exposed to the effects of extreme weather- there is a ‘surge’ which causes the boats on our wall to go up and down slightly according to the sometimes changing water level. This is because the wall isn’t a wall at all. Fish swim into the marina from under it, in fact you can see where it ends just a few feet below the water level. The wall is quite a public walkway which is frequented by locals and therefore is much less private than the pontoons. This really doesn’t bother me, I like people watching. They look at us on our boats, we look at them on their walks with their dogs. Sometimes they come over to ask us about our travel plans. The people never cause any problems they are always very friendly.
The town of Marina di Ragusa
Our marina is situated beside a beautiful little town called Marina di Ragusa. A town which is populated sparsely in winter with locals who tend to be friendly and interested in integrating with the marina folks. The winter season doesn’t kick off properly until October because the marina fees do not switch to the much less expensive winter rates until then. However because we were able to get quite a good deal we decided to go for it and arrive at the start of September. This means we have had the privilege of watching this Italian summer holiday destination wind right down and become a sleepy town with a lively marina. Right from the start we noticed the care and effort that was taken by the local community to put on public social events, music, fashion shows and an unbelievably impressive end of summer fireworks show.
Sicily as a wintering destination
But its not just the town of Marina di Ragusa to explore, MdR is situated in the Ragusa province which includes some really worthwhile sightseeing visits. Nearby is the even smaller sleepier town of Punta Secca, made famous by the hit TV series called Inspector Montalbano. You can hang out by his iconic house on a gorgeous little cove and line up for your turn to take a selfie with the other tourists. Then there is Ragusa Ibla, some say it is the most picturesque town in Italy. Next on our list in the area is the town of Modica, the home of chocolate and Scicili, a nearby town which impressed two lots of family visitors who came to stay. All of these towns are Unesco Heritage sites and importantly have featured in the Montalbano tv series! So if you have seen it you can picture how beautiful the area is. Beyond the Ragusa province though there is much to discover in Sicily. Sicily is in the heart of the Med and has an incredibly rich history. You can feel this as you explore, try the food, look at the buildings and talk to the people. The people here are so proud of their Sicilian heritage. They are generous and welcoming and we continually note examples of their openness and interest in chatting to us. The more time you spend here the more you can identify a Sicilian culture so very distinct from Italy. And the island is extremely well placed for sailing, what better place to start the summer sailing season at the end of April.
A time for reflection
As I write this I am in our flat in London. Being back here provides a welcome contrast to the sunny days of MdR, gorgeous as they are. We’re enjoying the crisp fresh weather and the Christmas/ New Year's atmosphere. It’s a chance for us to catch our breath and reflect. To consider what we want to get out of the next year. To stand still on even ground and to sort through things we will not need when sailing. It's refreshing. But we are also appreciating all the diversity around us in London and Dublin, both of which we have spent time in over the past few weeks. We are enjoying the sophistication of these great cities because soon we will again be living a much simpler life. More than anything else, being back means spending valuable time with our families and friends which we are savouring especially because we realise that next Christmas we might be much further away. Right now we appreciate that being with family is the most important thing.
Towards the end of this month we will head back to MdR to start working on Polaris. We will look forward to meeting our sailor friends again and re-joining that unique community. We will enjoy the sunsets there, the food, the feeling of quiet and space which is hard to find in London. We will have visitors to share this with too. We will have long walks and bike rides together. We will spend a few months installing new equipment, maintaining the boat and getting everything ready for sailing. We will go to and from London getting the flat rented out and packing our belongings up there before returning to MdR for the last time. Finally one day in late April when the weather looks good we will drop our lines and and leave this gorgeous place.