Two summers in Europe - the Burnetts part 3

 Two summers in Europe - the Burnetts part 3

A European Summer | 2015

For David and Karen Burnett, returning to Tunisia in the Summer of 2015 meant returning to an all-encompassing warmth. Not the warmth from the Mediterranean Sun … but the warmth of the friendships they had made the summer before … and the warmth in their hearts when they thought about the summer ahead of them.

It was a heart-warming reunion, returning to Tunisia to pick up Te Anau, and it was bittersweet leaving. They had spent the summer before in Tunisia, having work done on their glorious Te Anau including an arch with solar panels, WiFi and 4G. (It’s important to stay connected!)

This was to be a memorable trip. They would sail Te Anau from Tunisia over to Malta and onto Sicily, bound for a summer they’d never forget.

Their magnificent Beneteau Te Anau had missed them and they’d missed her.

Flagstaff - Malta-Dinner-at-the-RMYC

Sailing to Malta

“We had a wonderful overnight sail and arrived in Malta via Gozo … we’d been told it was an easy ‘clear in’ to the country … and it was. It was our first introduction to the Maltese people … they were incredibly hospitable and couldn’t do enough for you. And the sail was brilliant, simply beautiful and stunning.”

This sail was made all the more special due to the anticipation of meeting Karen’s 87-year-old mother Joy, and brother Ian, in Malta.

“A few years earlier I said to Karen ‘We’ve got to convince your mother to come and spend a few weeks with us. We’ll look after her… Ian will bring her over.’ Incredibly, we did convince her and at 87 she arrived in Malta. The joy of getting the guest cabins ready and getting to the airport to meet them as part of the adventure. One moment it was just a dream, and the next moment they were standing at the jetty of the Royal Malta Boat Club getting ready to board Te Anau.”

Flagstaff - Sailing to Malta

“She was 87 at that time … and we were both concerned about how she would cope and how her balance and steadiness would be. Two knee replacements, a stroke, breast cancer, and gall bladder operations … but she was amazing. Malta was a great place because we had a really good berth.

We didn’t do a lot of sailing but we spent a few weeks exploring Malta … and we sailed along the north coast of Malta back to Gozo. We spent a week in Gozo and celebrated Karen’s birthday, and we visited a little island called Comino which was once inhabited by monks who lived in exile. Comino is famous for the Blue Lagoon – a spectacular lagoon tucked away on the island, that attracts a lot of boats – especially on the weekends!”

Thanks to good advice, David, Karen, Ian and Joy got to Comino long before the other 60 or so tourists and private boats arrived, and the stories they have to tell about the antics of some of those tourist boats are just hilarious. But that’s for another time.

From Malta to Sicily … in their own time

David and Karen wanted to sail Joy and Ian across to Sicily. They knew they needed the crossing to be as smooth and gentle as possible … so they waited an extra day. That’s the beauty of having no real-time constraints. And as luck would have it, the following day was dead flat, and they sailed from Comino to the South Coast of Sicily … sailing into the well-known port of Ragusa.

Flagstaff - Licata

They spent ten incredible days in Sicily … the kind of quality time families only dream about. And while exploring and making new friendships with locals … they were also packing up the Te Anau for the following winter.

A day’s sail from Ragusa, along the southern coast to the west is a place called Licata … somewhere that would become very special to the Burnetts.

“We had the most amazing connection with the people at the marina and the family who ran the Villa we stayed in – Villa Soriso. It was a stunning villa, perched high on top of a mountain, and the family embraced us and welcomed us as if we were part of their family. They had little English, but we formed a beautiful friendship with them that has continued.”

Wintering Te Anau – amongst dust, dirt and kindness

“We wintered our boat in Licata, but we didn’t keep her in the water … when you winter out of the water, you don’t worry about whether the lines are chafing through, or the fenders rubbing, etc. Also, the boat gets a lot of reflection from the water, which doesn’t do the hull and deck a lot of good.

We sail for three months of the year and that means our boat is somewhere in Europe unattended for nine months. We want to make sure Te Anau is safe … and know she’s being looked after,” David says.

Flagstaff - Wintering Te Anau

David found a shipyard in Licata. “It wasn’t pretty. Licata is an honest, hardworking Sicilian town – and not touristy. The shipyard was big, dirty, rundown and dusty … and there were many stray dogs running around – but that’s part of the color. The workers – and the dogs – became our friends.”

But David and Karen loved the authenticity of the town, and they found the people to be kind, decent, honest hardworking people who welcomed them into the community.

And then as quickly as it had started, that sailing season ended. Ian, Joy, David, and Karen flew back to Australia, and Te Anau enjoyed a well-deserved nine-month break.

Is it summer in Europe yet?

Karen’s mother, Joy, said her holiday in Malta and Sicily in 2015 was the best holiday she’d ever had. And at 88, she’d had some adventures. She’d traveled extensively around the world and cruised many, many times.

So there was something a little more special about this time. Perhaps it was because, at 88, there weren’t too many adventures left.

Flagstaff - Sicily-Taormina-Karens-Birthday-Location

Or perhaps it was because they had enjoyed immersing themselves in the local culture and had formed relationships with local communities. Oh, that, and the breathtaking Mediterranean scenery.

So with Joy saying it was the most wonderful holiday she’d ever had, Karen and David said: “Let’s do it again”. And so they did.

“We’re making memories we can savor for the rest of our lives.”

We missed you Te Anau

It was a much-anticipated reunion with Te Anau and the shipyard crew at the dirty, dusty shipyard at Licata. David and Karen started getting her ready to sail back to Malta, rigging, re-rigging, sails back on, etc. They were having a radar fitted in Malta, before sailing to Sicily to meet Ian and Joy.

They were stretched for time … and it wasn’t a feeling either of them liked. They were pushing to get the boat ready to go in a week … and they needed to make some tough decisions.

“I remember the afternoon we thought we’d have to sail all night to get to Sicily to meet Mum and Ian,” Karen said. “Deadlines – it was the kind of thing we were told never to do … and we were overwhelmed. We had a family conference by phone, from the Royal Malta Yacht Club – and then we made the decision to leave that night. At 8 pm we got back to the boat, had something to eat, two and a half hours of sleep and at 3 am we were motoring out, on our way to Sicily.”

Flagstaff - Malta-Dawn-to-Sicily

“At the first glimpse of dawn, we saw a hint of a pink glow on the horizon. Forty minutes later the sun just started to lip above the horizon … it was simply stunning. Then Karen went to bed for some well-earned rest!”

Sailing into Sicily wasn’t without incident though. In a spontaneous and amusing ‘Man Overboard’ practice run, David put Karen’s sailing skills to the test and threw the Dan Buoy into the sea. As Karen was circling around and around, maneuvering Te Anau, and David was singing out ‘man overboard’ crazily at the top of his lungs, a police boat was fast approaching.

“They came up alongside us … they tied up to us in the middle of the ocean, and they didn’t have much English. Five or six of the police boarded our boat and asked to see our documentation. They were on their phones talking rapidly and gesturing. It turns out they were investigating if we had stowed anyone illegal on board. Thankfully we hadn’t – and we ended up having happy snaps, kisses on the cheek and lots of laughs.”

From paradise to hell … and back to paradise

“We met Mum and Ian in Syracuse, which is just stunning and gorgeous. We spent almost ten days there, which was unplanned, but we loved it so much: the lifestyle, food, people, restaurants, sightseeing.

We decided to set sail up the northeastern coast to the Ionian Islands. We sailed from Syracuse to a beautiful place called Taormina … a very famous place in Sicily where many Hollywood movies have been filmed including ‘The Godfather’, ‘Cinema Paradiso’, and ‘Ocean’s Twelve’.”

Flagstaff - Sicily-Taormina-with-Te-Anau-Below

But the sail from Syracuse to Taormina was treacherous … and took them nearly 13 hours. It was rough with the boat dropping off waves, and it was horrific. It was wind against current, and the weather forecasters got it very, very wrong.

Karen recalls, “My poor 88-year-old mother vomited and dry retched for the last seven hours of the sail. She was in such a bad way when I put her to bed that night (when we finally reached the anchorage in Taormina), I didn’t know whether she would be alive the next morning.”

Thankfully the next morning Joy felt fantastic and their time in Taormina was magical. They moored Te Anau at a little bay at the foot of the village and could take a bus to the village perched high on the clifftop. From above, they could look down on the bay and see their beautiful Beneteau Te Anau.

“We spent Karen’s birthday in Taormina, which was quite special for all of us. We ended up staying quite a lot longer than we’d anticipated … we were reluctant to put Karen’s mother through another harrowing trip. Where we were was so very beautiful … during the day we’d eat, drink, read, play cards and swim off the back of the boat. It was always Joy who said in the late afternoon, ‘Let’s get the dinghy out and explore other bays and islands.’

Flagstaff -Sicily-Syracuse

And so we did. We’d spend a few hours scooting around the coast, which was just exquisite. We’d come back for a sundowner or happy hour, and either cook onboard or go out to the restaurants.

It was an idyllic, brilliant holiday.”

Small Pleasures

Not being stuck to a rigid schedule is a luxury the Burnetts have worked hard for, and get an insurmountable amount of pleasure from. If they like somewhere and feel connected to the people and the area, they’ll stay. Or they can sail on. It’s their choice, and it’s a choice they value greatly.

It was time to say goodbye to Joy and Ian. It was bittersweet but they were filled with so many wonderful memories.

Flagstaff - Small Pleasures

Back on board, Te Anau felt empty, but David and Karen quickly got back into a rhythm and routine. The summer had once again drawn to a close, and Te Anau was hauled out of the water and taken back into that dusty shipyard where the people are so kind, loving and beautiful … and she is so well looked after.

It’s not about the sailing … it’s about the people

“When you sail around the Mediterranean, you travel to places you wouldn’t normally travel to. We have constantly been humbled by the kindness, generosity of spirit and friendliness of these people. For us, it’s not so much about sailing, but about the people and the communities … making friends and real connections with people.

Flagstaff -Sicily-Afternoons

It’s about sharing experiences with people. Sharing their lives, and them sharing yours. It’s humbling but so rewarding.”

And being able to share two summers with her mother and brother?

“That’s time I will treasure forever,” says Karen.

What’s next for the Burnetts? Stay tuned for their next adventure, and please also see our other boat owner stories.