August 28th. Riposto, Sicily
Finally we have had a long period of what the Italian Waters Pilot refers to as settled weather. This in southern Italian terms means hot, sunny and not much wind. Ideal for anchoring in pleasant spots although not much sailing.
We left the Gulf of Naples on August 18th. and travelling alongside attractive cliffs dotted with villages, sailed past Positano, nestling in a large bay, came to Amalfi.
The yacht harbour here is tiny but we managed to book a berth and thus were privileged to meet Julio.
When we arrived he jumped aboard and took over the helm without so much as a by-your-leave. We were somewhat taken aback but he steered the boat through the tiniest entrance imaginable and then, with the aid of a mate, backed Exotica into an impossibly small space between a restaurant and small jetty. He did this with all the yachts that came in after us so that we were packed like sardines in a can. He is one of the most cheerful Italians we have met, we were particularly delighted when we learned he is married to a girl from North Sydney!.
Despite being a massive tourist attraction, Amalfi has much charm and we stayed a couple of days. On our first evening we took the bus to Ravello, a hilltop top town about ten miles from Amalfi. This was quite the most frightening bus trip we have ever taken. The road twists and turns alarmingly with drops straight into the sea on one side. Every kind of wheeled transport is driving at what seems like breakneck speed and when two buses meet they have to manoever around each other while motor cyclists race through the gap between them. Our driver on the way up had permanent road rage and I put his life expectancy at about four months. Fortunately on the way back it was dark.
In Ravello we visited the Villa Rufolo.
This is an historic villa which now hosts the Ravello music festival on a stage built overlooking the sea. It is also famous for its gardens and being the place said to have inspired Richard Wagner to write the words and music for the second act of his final opera Parsifal. It was thus a place of pilgrimage for us and we had anticipated terraces of lush semi-tropical flowers redolent of the exotic and erotic fantasies purveyed in Klingsor’s castle. Perhaps it was like that when Wagner was there. Not now, a mouldy old ruined house with scaffolding holding up the tower and a few beds with petunias and marigolds was our three Euros worth. However the view from the terrace out to sea was spectacular.
The next day, having failed to get ashore in Capri the previous week, we decided to join the day trippers and take the ferry from Amalfi. Capri’s port area was seething with people. It was like a football crowd and we had to queue for nearly an hour to catch the funicular from the port to the town, which was equally crowded.
We walked to the villa of the Emperor Tiberius, who ruled Rome from here for ten years. Suetonius gives details of the splendour of his life there as well as the orgies and brutality. There is certainly a steep cliff where, allegedly, his enemies and ex-lovers, both male and female, were thrown off. It was a 45 minute walk uphill in the heat and this sorted out the day trippers as it was quite quiet. We managed to catch an earlier ferry back to Amalfi.
The amazing Julio managed, with astonishing finesse and great cheerfulness, to extract us from the sardine can of boats without touching the bottom or any other obstructions and we left Amalfi and headed for Salerno where our next crew, Deborah Humble, joined us. From here we sailed south anchoring for the night behind Cape Palinuro. Our friends from Juno had named this the Bay of Peaceful Sleep and they were right as, unusually for this coast, the bay was relatively shallow, the anchor holding good and the swell minimal so we all got a good night’s sleep and met up with Johanem again in the same bay.
We started the next day at dawn for the sixty mile trip to the Aeolian Islands. This is a group of islands close to the north coast of Sicily which includes two active volcanoes. It was a ten hour motor over a glassy sea with few distractions apart from a large pod of dolphins several of whom swam, around the bow of the boat for about ten minutes before going on their way again. We have never seen so many so close before.
We anchored off Stromboli, a very active volcano with smoke and steam continually emitting from the summit. The next day we motored around the island and could see the hot lava rocks being forced from the crater and descending the side of the mountain leaving a trail of smoke. Despite this activity there is quite a community living on this island.
We stayed around these island for four days in perfect weather conditions for anchoring and swimming although some of the nights were less than comfortable rolling in the swell.
Deborah and Julie climbed 800 metres to the top of the active volcano on Isola Vulcano where the smell of sulphur and yellow colouration from the fumaroles with views of the surrounding islands, including Stromboli, were spectacular.
From the Aeolian Islands we proceeded to the mainland of Sicily spending a night in Milazzo where we had an excellent traditional Sicilian meal in an alleyway. We have discovered that Sicilians come out to eat at about 8.15 pm. If you get to a restaurant at 8pm it is deserted and you get excellent service but by half past eight it is full.
Yesterday we made the passage of the Straits of Messina, one of the world’s most famous waterways in myth and legend. The straits separate Sicily from the toe of Italy and at the top are only a mile and a half wide. To the north is the Tyrrhenian Sea and once through you are in the Ionian Sea. Unusually for the Mediterranean there is a significant current so we made sure that we were at the entrance with the first of the south going tide.
Thus we motored through the whirlpool of Charybdis leaving Scilla to our left. The water was choppy but not enough to suck us down. However we did have 10.8 knots over the ground at one point.
One of the amazing sights seen in the Straits are the swordfish fishing boats. These are motor boats with immense lattice steel masts and a bowsprit far longer than the boat. The captain sits on the top of the mast and when a fish is seen a man makes his way to the end of the bowsprit and harpoons the fish. Apparently the swordfish like to bask on the surface during the heat of the day.
Off Messina itself the wind came in, up to 28 knots at times, and we were able to sail for the first time for many days and with a favourable current we really sped along down the east coast of Sicily in a following sea.
We booked into the marina at Riposto, an undistinguished town overlooked by yet another active volcano, Mount Etna, but a comfortable berth for the night. Our plan is to continue round the coast of Sicily and scout out a berth for Exotica for the winter.
There are plenty of silly boat names around but this one was special. Do you think he has had two previous boats with this name?