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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Police behaviour
19/05/2010

We have been boarded only twice in Roaring Girl (so far). Once by the UK Customs, in 2005, in the Thames Estuary, primarily as a training exercise for some newbie who'd never been on a blue-water yacht. They were very polite, but it was still four men with guns. The second time was in France, in the Ile Porquerolles, when they checked our registration papers.
Otherwise, we've shown papers at various ports and that's it.
This week the Cabinieri have been very busy in Elba. T'other day they boarded another boat in Portoferraio. That vessel doesn't carry a captain's licence of any sort: they're not required in their home country. The police told them that they should have such papers here in Italy and threatened them with a '3000 fine! Fortunately they decided the paperwork wasn't worth the hassle and left them alone, leaving the crew pondering their approach to such things.
We checked our papers and dug out our International Certificates of Competence, just in case.
We saw the same vessel visiting a yacht anchored off Biodola when we walked there. And yesterday they visited an Italian yacht right next to us in Portoferraio. He didn't have an anchor ball up, and was fined and made to hoist something. (He chose a black bin bag stuffed with something and tied up like a toffee.) The police ignored the several other non-Italian yachts flagrantly disregarding the rules around about and returned to harbour.
We'd got our paperwork ready and were happy to be visited, but obviously we weren't interesting.
So, if you're sailing to Italy be prepared with the documents and have an anchor ball to deploy.

Life on Roaring Girl
The three strong crew of Aquila
19/05/2010

We're mentioned Mike and Linda before, and indeed Lucy. It's been a delight to anchor-buddy with them and explore Elba. They've been great fun, always up for an adventure and so easy to be with. We've missed them since they headed off to Liguria to meet up with family, and we intend to be anchored together again in Corsica and Sardinia.
The gallery with this post is mostly a feast for Bichon-lovers! Lucy has been very good while we eat, snoozing gently on her cushion unless aroused to paroxyms of friendliness by the waiters or passers by. She is a full participant in the walks, keen to explore everything and get her nose into any passing mud. She had not seen sand before the beach at Biodola, and thought it the most exciting discovery ever. And, for a wee dog, she's kept up the pace really well, only needing to be carried after the fifth mile or so, and even then only if the hill gets really steep.
Aquila left on Sunday, hoiking up their anchor in the pouring rain. We were happy for them when it cleared away about half an hour later, giving a good day for their voyage towards Livorno - though they later told us there was little wind and a swell, so it wasn't much fun as a passage. We plan to head for Marciana Marina in a day or so, and then Corsica at the weekend, weather permitting.

Places and people
Gastronomic explorations
19/05/2010

This month has seen a special campaign to encourage eating local food. The tourist people have promoted a gastronomic tour, with participating restaurants in various towns. Starting by chance but rapidly turning to design, our days out with Aquila have taken the shape of a hike, followed by lunch at one of these restaurants.
All have been excellent. The most 'touristy' was the Mambo in Rio Marina: it is right on the seafront, and correspondingly mainstream. But what they did was very good, and they had superb pizza bread nibbles hot from the oven. Caffecondidas in Portferraio introduced us to the excellent Aleatico wine, in which you dip sweet almond biscotti for dessert, and also dish up excellent steak. The Osteria di Noce in Marciana gave us a lovely lunch with great seafood, and a warm welcome on their terrace with its beautiful views northwards.
But the easy winner, and a restaurant to be sought out if you are ever here, was the Quattro Rioni in Capolivere. This place fused traditional cuisine, the finest ingredients and inspired creativity to make a stunning meal. We had earned it after a steep six miles or so, and enjoyed every mouthful.


Places and people
Exploring Elba
19/05/2010

We have had a great time exploring Elba in a way we didn't manage to do during our visit last September. And it's a very lovely island, with something for everyone. See the gallery about our explorations for the pictures: some were taken by Linda of Aquila. This is quite a big collection, but barely does justice to this jewel of an island.
Elba's history is based on its extraordinary geology; the island is composed of two lithodomes that emerged slowly from the magma (showing a patience and lack of drama that Icelandic monster would do well to emulate!) These two domes, the western Mount Capanne and eastern Mount Calamite have different contents, but both yield a lot of granite, haemitite and iron, along with many other minerals. Mt Calamite actually roughly translates as Magnetic Mountain, which reflects the magnetite within it. Double check the compasses in this area.
There have been mines here throughout recorded history, reflected in place-names such as Portoferraio (iron port). The Etruscans smelted metal here, as did the Romans, and Napoleon reorganised it all to yield even more. The last iron mines only closed in 1981, while there are still several open granite quarries. The mining heritage is celebrated in festivals throughout the year.
All these rocks result in the beautiful beaches that nestle between steep cliffs. We paddled at Biodola (main picture) but it's not warm enough yet to swim. There are pebbles that glitter with the pyrites in the pounded rock, or wide stretches of fine golden sand, as well as black or even dark green beaches.
Another striking feature of the Elban environment is the wildflowers which are exquisite at this time of the year. Rock roses, broom, poppies and many more flourish across the hills, bright dabs amongst the luxuriant greens of oak and chestnut and tall wild grasses. Later in the year, the hills are sere and brown but right now they are all the colours of the rainbow.
We have done several hikes in various parts of the island, and it is impossible to pick a favourite. The woods on Cabo Enfola were beautiful, and the twisted granite shapes above Marciana, and the views across bays below Capolivere. We would recommend the island to anyone looking for an enjoyable week, with lots to do, including diving, walking, riding, cycling and - surprise - sailing.

Places and people
Portoferraio update
19/05/2010

We wrote last year about this excellent anchorage, which is easy to find and big enough to hold many boats. At that time, we were told by the harbour office that you had to call ahead in your dinghy and we recorded this advice. (See the photo gallery for the latest pix.)
This spring, life has been a little more relaxed. As you dinghy into the harbour, keep to starboard (to avoid the fishermen's lures). Then swing in to port and tie your dinghy to the chains in the south western corner of the harbour, directly under the office. There are several dinghies and RIBs there semi-permanently at the moment, and Bridgit has been fine there. The ormeggiattori will move your boat if they need to (as they did to Bridgit one day), but nobody has given us any grief or charged us money.
They may be more rigidly controlled in the high season.
Otherwise, subject to our comments on police regulation and poor anchoring in later posts we have had an excellent revisit here.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Losing the plot in the city of renewal
12/05/2010

We have posted before about the ability of Rome to renew itself, the way in which land, stone, water and space are reused to meet the needs and ambitions of different eras. There have been long periods when parts of Rome have been left to rot, when the Forum was farm land and the Colosseum pillaged. But overall, one of the most striking features of Rome is the palimpest of reuse and recycled materials.
On our last sightseeing day we walked in south eastern Rome, heading from Trastevere station towards Ostiense, intending to visit the peculiar area known as Monte Testaccio. On the way, we would have to pass through a mysterious area marked on the map only as Mattatoio.
Crossing the bridge, you can see this collection of buildings, with Testaccio behind it. It looks promising at first, as if it might be a pleasant walk through, with maybe some interesting things to look at on the way. There are more pictures in the gallery.
What a disappointment. This is the old market of Rome, the place the farmers brought their stock - what London's Nine Elms does today, and Covent Garden used to be. Today, one building appears to house a farmers' market, in the modern, suburban sense of the term, but it was closed. Much of the rest is completely abandoned, boarded up with grass growing between the lovely buildings and wire fences all around.
There is an irony. The only part of the site in full use is the School of Architecture of the University of Rome. Big spaces, recently modernised with good facilities inside. Lots of students. All on the edge of this abandonment crying out for creative redesign and reuse.
And the insult is next door. Right across the street. A huge area is surrounded by hoardings, enclosing a large hole and some emerging second-rate apartment blocks. The signs proclaim a new market area, destined to regenerate Ostiense.
What a dreadful waste. A loss of some beautiful spaces with which nothing seems to be being done while an ugly complex, which could be anywhere, springs up next door. Such a circle of stupidity never ceases to enrage us, but in Rome of all places it seems even worse.
Over this short-sighted waste looms Testaccio. This hill, 50m high, was made by the careful management of rubbish. When the cargo coasters of Rome were unloaded at the docks here, there were always broken amphora, the clay pots in which the ancients transported wine, grain, olives and so much else. These were carefully stacked here, in one place rather than littered along the banks. Over the centuries, small caves have been hollowed out in the base of the hill, housing wine-cellars (it's always cool), motor workshops and chi-chi bars. The clay remnants have mouldered away and the hill (closed to visitors) is a cool vision of trees.
Sarah earns our way working in regeneration. This jumble of history, care, reuse, waste and short-sightedness exemplifies so much of what is mistaken in our current approaches to urban renewal. We have immensely enjoyed our time in Rome, and learnt so much that it was sad that this was our last memory of the Eternal City.

Places and people
San Giovanni in Lateran
12/05/2010

This cathedral was the first great church built by Constantine and can reasonably be called the mother-church of Christendom. For around 1000 years it was the home of the Pope, and more Popes have been elected from here than from the Vatican. It was becoming very dilapidated by 1308 when Clement V moved the seat of power to Avignon. Although, after various schisms and challenges, the papacy was firmly re-established in Rome in 1417, the church was in a dreadful state after various invasions, and the Papal palace was built on the Vatican Hill instead. So in the mid-sixteenth century Sixtus V ( an old, ambitious man, a keen city planner and with huge resources) pulled it down and built the present church instead. It was then remodelled in the seventeenth century, and even later amendments made, so much of what is here is modern copies.
Not the doors though (of which there are pictures in the gallery attached to this post). These enormous bronze defenders were taken from the ancient Curia, the Senate House. They hung there through the debates of the Senate about theology and governance, they saw the arrivals of the Goths, the Vandals, the Normans and the Risorgimento. There must have been so much bronze in the Rome of antiquity and so little has survived the intervening currency crises that these are especially impressive and humbling.
There are lots of stories that hang around this cathedral. The rattling bones of Sylvester, the Arab-trained Pope of the tenth century who was believed to be a magician; the majestic procession of Leo1 that persuaded Attila to turn back from Rome, and the tomb of Innocent III, who excommunicated King John of England.
Amongst all this drama and pomp, the cloisters are a gem. They have the still contemplativeness familiar to English eyes from reformed monasteries now working as colleges or schools. Not large they are decorated with the exquisite Cosmati mosaics. These glittering decorations were made by families of marble cutters, often using rare stones taken from the decaying remains of ancient Rome, including the valuable and unusual red and green porphyry.

Places and people
San Clemente basilica
12/05/2010

We're still in Elba, but these are are last updates about Rome. (Then we'll write up Elba as well!)
This magnificent church lies just beyond the Colosseum on the way to the great basilica of San Giovanni Lateran. It is not huge but has astonishing frescos on the ceiling. You cannot take photos inside it, but if you want to see the details, visit their site and take the virtual tour. The apse mosaic, made of Cosmati work, is particularly amazing and we have some pictures of such work taken in St Giovanni Lateran in the next post. The picture is taken in the calm cloisters outside.
Besides the ornate decorations, the site is fascinating in its depth. The first known place of worship on this site was a temple to Mithras. The shrine is still here, deep beneath the earth. You can walk in the now dark corridors and peer through the grills at the marble and stone statues. Whether by accident or design, one statue stands in a shaft of tunnelled sunlight, bright and white.
The little corridors are the narrow streets of ancient Rome. The temple and associated school lie on one side. On the other are intertwined buildings with herringboned floors and tight-fitting tufa-block walls. One of these was apparently at one time the Roman Mint. Next to it is the remains of a large house.
This is the house of a man called Clemente, believed to be a freed slave. He was an early convert to Christianity and in 1AD his house was a domus ecclesiastes or a house church. Before churches could be built, and in secrecy, believers would gather here for prayer and worship. It is possible that St Peter and St Paul came to this house and walked on these floors.
The house had its own spring, and this is still running. The subterranean rooms are filled with its sound, the sweet water still gushing out of the rock into a channelled basin. Now it runs into even deeper channels, the noise coming up through the gridded floor. You can put your hand into the spring and taste the water, the same as that drunk by those earliest church fathers.
After Constantine legitimised the faith, a very early basilica was built on the site, above Clemente's house. It has a particular fondness for St Cyprien of the Slavs, and fresco remnants adorn corners in his name. You can wander the naves and chapels peering at the fragments of paint and the carved pillars. It is still consecrated space and Mass is celebrated down there.
The current 12th century church is then above the old basilica, with its Renaissance frescos and spectacular marble floors. It is now the base of the Irish Dominican Order in Rome.

Places and people
More comments on passarelles
Cold and windy
10/05/2010, Still in Portoferraio

Thanks for the comments. Rather than just reply we thought we'd add another post.
Here in the Med everybody carries a passarelle. Some people manage to get away with clambering off their bow or off their sugar scoop stern, but it can be well dodgy, especially as it risks having to have your boat too close to the dock. These aren't forgiving floating wood pontoons; they are solid concrete constructions, often with chains, rings and other damaging metal protrusions. So, if you are in this vicinity you need such a thing, and you need to work out a way to stow it. Ours gets lashed onto the pushpit when we're underway.
They vary from a simple plank with a couple of holes (to facilitate the lashing on board), to extraordinarily sophisticated, purpose made, folding contraptions of gridded teak and steel. Ours is about 1.8m long - the length you need depends on the fitting on your boat and whether you have to get over an obstruction such as a dinghy or a sugar scoop stern. We're sorry we don't have a pic of one of a catamaran but they're generally run off one of the hulls and need to be long enough to cover any scoop.
We (Pip) got an aluminium ladder from a hardware store and a light plank. Ours isn't plywood, but it was just cheap, light seasoned wood. It's screwed into the rungs and then painted, with a few bits of non-slip deck covering glued on top. That's the basic object. We like the ladder and light wood combo because it is much lighter than a single plank needs to be to take the weight: also two things have to break, and we have heard of simple planks snapping which would be a really bad moment!
The wheels come from a hardware store, and are held on with a long bolt through the bottom rung. This could be done with a bar and cotter pins: essentially it's just an axle. We take ours off for stowage. Some people don't bother with the wheels, and some put a fender or bit of bumpering under the end of the plank.
The lines holding it up have a bit of bungee in which really helps. They run to lifting eyes, which again are bolted through the ladder. We did try holes in the plank but that wasn't wide enough. We also tried a chafe-protected line through the ladder and that didn't work at all.
Some people decorate and carve their passarelles: we remember Bella of Lymington who had a simple plank, beautifully finished and with her name in flowing calligraphy along its length. We are not organised enough for that, but on the other hand if it did break or rot, it's cheap and easy to replace.

Life on Roaring Girl
Getting off the boat while tied up – the introduction to passarelles
09/05/2010

Any cruiser contemplating visiting this area has thought about Med mooring: coming in bows or stern-to and either picking up laid lines or using your own anchor to hold you off the dock. But once you've done that, how do you get off the boat?
The answer is - walk the plank!
These gangplanks are called passarelles in the fancy jargon, and they come in all shapes and sizes. The picture is of Roaring Girl in Ostia. (Note our fancy new netting and tightened guard rails while we're at it!) Our passarelle was made with help of Dave from Englander in Barcelona, who whisked Pip off for a plank and ladder, and helped the development of this sturdy tool. In Ostia we have also improved the system for raising the passarelle up - by the two lines leading up to a metal yoke which in turn is attached to the spinnaker halyard. We experimented with bits of wood and what have you, but in the end got the purpose made bit of kit, which has worked much better.
It is equally important to stop it waving from side to side, and that's where the red lines back to the pulpit come in. Lots of boats have pulley systems to help with this job, but we haven't achieved that refinement yet.
A key challenge for us is how the passarelle is attached to the boat. We have made a hole in the plank and that fits over the fitting to which we attach the foot of the cruising chute, a raised wedge of steel with a hole in attached to the bow roller. (One disadvantage of the Rocna anchor is that it has to be dropped as the shank is too big for the plank to sit smoothly over it.) This provides, essentially, a pivot point. Flashier boats, like Roysterer in the gallery) often have a purpose built fitting which attaches to their passarelle by a hinge arrangement. Other boats, particularly those with sugar scoop sterns, can just have a plank, like Morgana) which sits on the steps and across to the dock.
We found in Ostia that the water level rose and fell more than anywhere else we have been in the Med. We're not sure why but southerly and westerly winds depressed the water level significantly, even if they brought rain with them. This means that being able to adjust the passarelle is more important than usual. For some, like Aquila, the American flagged boat in the gallery, there's the added frisson of making sure the end will actually sit on the dock if the wind is blowing the boat away!
The most scary, we think, is Malaika's, the steep one which goes across their dinghy and has few hand holds, but Benji and Heather (who took their pic) are happy with it. Motorboats often have nifty electric extenders, and some classic boats have beautiful gridded teak passarelles that fully deserve the name. We like ours for being light, practical and cheap, but it needs care to cross, just the same.

Life on Roaring Girl
Ostia Lido
09/05/2010

Ostia itself is a funny little town. Administratively it is part of Rome, and, with 90,000 residents, is the largest non-independent Commune in Italy. The townspeople are defiantly not Roman: if you ask a local whether they are Roman, the vehement denial will claim Ostia alone as home. In the picture are the lovely Stephan and Mauro of the chandlery in the Lido; Mauro is a great practical joker, and Stephan speaks wonderful English.
Ostia Antica, the port of ancient Rome about a mile up the Tiber, was abandoned by the fourth century AD, the river silt making it unusable, and unable to compete with larger ports up the coast. For hundreds of years not much happened around here, unless you're an Anapholes mosquito. Napoleon built the watchtower, shown in the main picture, at the first bend in the river, but that was about it.
The new Ostia was built in the late nineteenth century, largely on malarial swampland that was dug and reclaimed by fishermen brought in from Ravenna. A small part of the marshes is still left, kept as a nature reserve and home to seabirds and, we were told, otters. It's almost always deserted except for the volunteers who scythe paths through the reeds.
Ostia became an unsavoury hinterland to Rome, a place of violence and secrecy, with an appalling reputation. In the fifties, as part of the Italian film movement that worked to understand and define the post-war, Republican Italy, Ostia was a frequent film venue, used as a place to understand dislocation and distance while within easy distance of the centre of Rome. In 1975 the famous director and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in the marshes, and not long afterwards, a lot of money and effort was pumped into the place.
The porto turistico is the main result of this, with space for a lot of boats, a wildly expensive boat yard, and various shops. It is a major leisure site in the town, judging by the hundreds of people who take their passegata along the front. For festivals they mount small fairs and markets, but a lot more needs to be done to make Ostia distinct from the enormous competition it faces.
You can get most of the things you need in Ostia. The unremarkable crossroads in the gallery is key for cruisers: it is home to the covered market (one of two in the town), the nearest hardware store, several big supermarkets, and a chemist. The bus to the hypermarkets at Fiumicino stops along here too.
For us, Ostia is reminiscent of the backyard to London, those parts of the Thames Gateway creating an identity that doesn't only rely on commuting to the big, congested city half an hour up the tracks. But it needs more oomph, and more inclusiveness. And most of all, it seems, it needs ways to deliver well-paid work to residents so that the local economy really benefits.

Places and people
The Ara Pracis
09/05/2010

This extraordinary monument was erected by the Senate to commemorate Augustus' victories in Gaul and Spain, which, according to them, brough the peace of Augustus to the Empire. We know the Gauls (at least) didn't think so - look at the evidence of Asterix
The monument itself is like a huge, castled throne, with ornately carved marble all around it. The throne itself places the emperor higher than all those around him, and the carvings are heavy with symbolism. The figures carved into several faces depict the imperial family in great detail, together with other senior figures from the senate. These marble processions are interspersed with key legends in the Roman narrative: the killing of the sow by Aeneas, the suckling of Romulus and Remus and other indications of the god-blessed imperium. The carving is exquisite and the faces resonate today.
The building originally sat at the other end of the Campus Martius from the enormous pile of the imperial mausoleum. A huge column, now on the north side of St Giovanni Lateran stood between them and the suggestion is now that it acted as a sun-dial, pointing at midsummer directly at this statement of successful ambition. A table top display gives the approximate positions, and also illustrates the scale of this massive training and parade ground.
The building suffered from the flooding and high water table then endemic in the area, and eventually was excavated and moved to the present site under Mussolini. The building in which it stands, a stark grey box with many windows, is very unlovely from the outside. From the inside it works absolutely brilliantly to showcase this extraordinary monument.
The exhibition hall also brings together copies of the many heads of the family, including those of Augustus and his long-serving and much beloved third wife, Livia. The head of Augustus, of which the original is the in the Capitolini, is a sensitive, pensive face for a man who made such a difference to history.
The mausoleum, long denuded of its illustrious ashes, is the big, green-covered circle outside the polished glass. It is closed to visitors and stands as a mournful block in the streets, too big and clumsy to renew, and to potent to destroy.


Places and people

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