As we moved down the Atlantic coast, the radio chatter subsided and began to be replaced with whistling. It was a strange sound that made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It was ghostly and somehow menacing. The odd thing was that it was more than one person. In fact, it was lots of different people. It was like a whole conversation going on in the pitch black, miles from anywhere in the middle of the night.
The mist cleared and we were confronted by an equally disturbing sight. The whole horizon was full of lights. We were about to encounter a huge fishing fleet. This was obviously the source of the whistling. It wasn't until some time afterwards that we learned that what we were hearing was 'El Silbo', a whistled language used by fishermen from La Gomera in the Canary Islands. At the time it was inexplicable and deeply troubling.
After lunch, the air became very hot and heavy, and the water started to become choppy. Suddenly, the wind direction swung round to the north west and began to build rapidly, coming directly into the bay. I realised what was happening and immediately began to lift the anchor. The other boats were all doing the same. We motored out of the bay and made our way as fast as we could towards the safety of Calasetta. The harbour was about two miles away, so around half an hour’s motoring. After fifteen minutes the wind was much stronger and more or less head onto us with the waves building alarmingly.
By the time we reached the headland, it was blowing a full gale, with large, breaking waves lifting the boat and leaving it to crash down as they rolled by underneath us. As we changed direction, our inflatable dinghy, which we had been towing and not had time to secure, flew up in the air and plastered itself against the side of the mast. Jane and I had been in similar situations before, but with the wind howling and the waves crashing, I was a bit worried that Beth might be scared. She was fine though, tucked into the corner of our deep, and very secure cockpit, she almost seemed to be enjoying herself.
The view of Tropea, as we approached, was breathtaking. None of us had ever seen anything like it. There was a high cliff, stretching along the coast, with buildings towering above it that were partly built into the rock and partly set on top. It created the effect of a gigantic, medieval castle rising out of the sea. Towards the end of the cliff there was a huge, individual rock, slightly out to sea, attached to the land by a causeway. Perched right on top of the rock was a white stone building with a small tower that made it look like an enchanted castle.
Everything was framed by clear blue water, with a border of pure white sand. Farther back, the terrain appeared to be terraced, with rows of different shades of green stretching backwards and upwards until they reached the perfect blue sky. The overall effect was quite magical, and we thought it was the most beautiful place we had ever seen.
There is a combination of shapes and colours that is quintessentially Sicilian. Arches, sandstone buildings, baroque towers, the rich blue sea and palm trees, all bathed in relentless sunshine, that combine to create a shimmering mirage of heat, history and mystery that is exciting and disturbing at the same time.
Above all, Sicily is about the sun. It has a warmth that totally envelops you and invades every cell in your body. It also creates light. The warmth and the light combine to create an idea, a longing, something to search for, something to pursue, and Sicily seduces you into thinking you might find it there.