Thursday, December 4, 2008
CAPO GRANITOLA - LIGHTHOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
THERE is a lonely windswept place where the raw power of wind and waves has been unharnessed for centuries. In ancient times the Greeks built temples on its shores. Roman galleys sailed close by on their way to way to defeat the Carthaginians. Norman conquerors stood on the point and gazed out across the sea dreaming of future conquests. Now in the new millenium only a very few have seen, let alone sought to challenge, the winds and waves of Granitola. Also known as Capo Granitola or Punta Granitola, (pronounced "Graan-EE-toe-la), the southwestern most cape point of the beautiful island of Sicily stands as one of the few remaining "world class" wave sailing sites yet to be discovered by mainstream windsurfing. Only a few local Sicilians and mainland Italians have been lucky enough to sail this magic spot where sailors commonly find themselves doing 8-10 bottom turns on a single wave in perfect side shore winds.
First sailed some 20 years ago by Albino Burgio, now known as the grandfather of windsurfing in Sicily, there still are only a handful of Sicilian sailors that regularly frequent the area. Many perfect sideshore 20-30 knot plus, 2-3+ meter wave days come and go with maybe 3 - 5 sailors out, if any at all. Even with the record of 17 sailors on the water simultaneously, the place is so big that there is room for many more. Located just about 15 minutes by car south east of the beautiful seaside community of Mazaro del Vallo, on Sicily's southwestern tip, and a one hour drive south of Palermo, Faro (lighthouse) Granitola stands tall towering above the cape and the small community of Granitola and Kartibubbo. At night it's brilliant light sweeps across the wide half moon bay to the east and out across the Strait of Sicily towards Tunisia. Strong Maestrale (North west) and Ponente (west) winds funneling down the straight, after traveling hundreds of miles from Gibraltar, Spain, and France, push wave s against the lighthouse point causing them to break and peel off as they roll in across the bay. Thrilled wavesailors catch the waves and ride them down the line doing bottom turn after turn. Believe it or not local sailors have done 12 bottom turns and more on a single wave!
If wave jumping is to your liking then this is the place. The side shore winds and waves coming straight in offer perfect 2, 3, 4 meter ramps to give even the hard core all the air time they deserve. Although there may not be many locals sailing Granitola, don't underestimate their skills. These guys can tear it up and some are top notch shredders in their own right. They take full advantage of the frequent ideal conditions to hone their looping, and numerous other wave riding skills. After all who wouldn't with a place to play like Granitola in their back yard.
When the famous Maestrale and Ponente conditions turn to Scirocco (South East) and Levante (east) the geography of the cape still allows for sailing perfect side shore winds with opposite tack wave riding. Now you find yourself doing multiple cut backs and riding the peeling waves across the bay back towards the light house. About the only conditions that are not good are North, North East, and due South. Luckily prevailing winds are NW, W, and SE . Most of the great wave sailing days occur in the October through late May, early June period with July, August and September offering flatter 5.5- 6.5 afternoon thermal conditions.
When sailing at Granitola you launch out onto the emerald blue Mediterranean off a beautiful sandy beach that runs east of the light house for almost 10 miles. If the winds are really strong from the NW (Maestrale) everyone moves east about 300 meters to a beach they call Pozzittedu. There the wave break is cleaner and getting out through the impact zone in strong winds and big waves is a lot easier. There are some areas with shallow sandstone fin snagging rocks to watch out for, however its only a problem if you try to sail in too close to the beach or step on your board to head out too soon in low tide. Once 25-30 meters out from the beach there is plenty of water depth and you can head on out all the way to Africa if you want. Be warned though that if you do venture way out beyond common sense don't expect any quick pick up if anything goes wrong. Wind and current could make your next stop a visit to Libya or a port call in Alexandria.
So now your excited and you want to go, the best thing to do is to contact Thomas Corsodoro at "Sun & Surf Holidays",Tre Fontane, Sicily. Besides being a local sailor his real job is managing a number of beach/vacation home rentals in the area. He can set you up with some great accommodations either right at Granitola or within a 5 - 10 minute drive. In the off season for tourism, Late September through May, he gives very reasonable special discount rates, to wind surfers. Thomas also speaks excellent English having lived in the United States for a number of years, as well as Italian. Definitely a good thing for those that don't parle italiano. After you have made reservations for lodging with Thomas then get a flight to Palermo, Sicily and rent a car to get you to Mazaro del Vallo. Once there contact Thomas and he will take you in from there.
Also don't let the thought of this far away place conjure up visions of a hot dusty off-road trip deep into the west coast of Baja, Mexico where you must bring everything with you. You will find that the area offers many amenities in terms of places to eat, shop, and enjoy the evening . Mazara del Vallo is host to many fine and inexpensive Sicilian restaurants, pizzeria's and pubs. You can find some of the finest seafood in all Sicily there. A number of local wineries provide some great and inexpensive vino to add to your dining cuisine and there are all kinds of other places to shop from fine Italian designer clothing to ceramics. Also, where else can you walk centuries old downtown city streets paved with beautiful white marble stone?
If you need windsurfing gear, Albino Burgio's " Sea Store Sicily", located on the boardwalk in Mazara, is a first rate and complete wind and kite surfing shop carrying many major brands of gear, boards, sails, accessories, and clothing. Sail repair is also available in the area and the local wind surfers are a great bunch of people to hang out with, proud of their rich Sicilian heritage, and anxious to show off the many great windsurfing opportunities that exist in the area.
Wind not blowing? If this happens bring your mask and fins. The clear sea offers some great snorkeling and you can even swim out 100 meters off the beach at Granitola and see a sunken Greek Temple less than 10 meters down. Although not commonly seen, the waves at Granitola offer the opportunity to do some great traditional long board and short board surfing too. So bring a no wind stick with you too. If so inclined just hang out and catch a few rays, stroll the miles of beach, or take some side trips to the numerous historical sites in the area. Just 20 minutes away to the east are the beautiful Greek temple ruins in Selunite. Even greater temples and ruins exist farther east in Agrigento and to the north at Segesta but be ready for large crowds of tourists there.
You also can take a day trip to see the many wonderful and historic sites and buildings of Palermo or visit the spectacular medieval town of Erice overlooking the NorthWest coast of the Island. If you really get adventurous you can travel to 10,800' high Mount Etna on the Islands NE coast and let the big Mercedes 4 wheel drive buses take you up near the summit to see the smoke and perhaps lava pouring out of the upper craters. You can even ski there in the winter! Once down from the mountain enjoy a fabulous sunset meal at the beautiful and famous cliff side sea resort of Taormina looking out over the Ionian Sea towards mainland Italy and on towards Greece.
Traveling south go to ancient Syracusa on the SE side of the Island site of the ancient battle of Syracuse between the Athenians and the Syracusians. There is a so much to do and see in Sicily that you could spend months just touring the island. If you want to check out other great windsurfing spots Marina di Ragusa on the South side of the island near the east end, also offers some great sideshore wind wavesailing particularly in west - north west winds. Capo Pasero and Isola della Correnti on the very Southeastern most tip of the island is also a typically windy place the can also open ocean conditions. Up by Messina on the NE tip of the island you can find days when the wind funnels strong down through the Straits of Messina and you can race across the deep blue waters to the mainland in less than 5 minutes. There are a number of other sites as well if you have the time and desire to check out da spots.
Hopefully however, the famous wind and waves of Granitola will give you all the sailing you can handle and then some leaving you grinning from ear to ear as you head home already planning your next trip back- to the Lighthouse at the Edge of the World.
Sun & Surf Holidays
Via Scuderi, 21
91021 Tre Fontane
Cell Phone: 0333-3948499
Sea Store Sicily
Via L.M. Hopps, 17
Mazara Del Vallo
Sicily Wind Surfing Web Site: www.windsurfsicilia.it