During our college days, we were fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Actually, we still are. We own the DVD and soundtrack of this musical-comedy about transvestites from Transylvania. We know the words to all the songs and can't help but jump to our feet to dance "The Time Warp," which is what we were doing seven years ago on Berkeley East when our peaceful anchorage in Ponza turned into a true rocky horror.
That dark August night, a violent, unexpected swell developed so quickly that we could not move BE out of the anchorage away from the crashing waves. Instead, we had to endure constant pounding that would have been more comfortable at sea than at anchor just a few yards from land. All we could do was hang on, hope that the anchor chain didn't break, and distract ourselves with the quirky songs of the cult classic film. Later, we would learn that this is a common occurrence in Ponza, so much so that coastal restaurants close and boats are removed from the harbor at the first inkling of trouble.
So one might wonder why, after spending one of the worst nights of our cruising life in Ponza, would we risk a return to the island? There really was some logic to the madness. First, Ponza was the perfect distance and direction for our initial shakedown move of the season. Over the winter, a lot of work had been done on Berkeley East's engine, and adjustments had been made to her sails. Ponza offered the opportunity to test everything without getting too far away in the event of a problem. The weather was also forecast to be mild, plus we were armed with local knowledge that we didn't have that fateful night seven years ago, so we were smarter. Lastly, Ponza is one of the most beautiful islands we have ever seen and we wanted to visit in the offseason, with fewer boats and fewer people.
With our fears dissuaded, off we went to the Pontine Islands. BE performed beautifully on the passage; her engine purred, the sails looked great, a new coat of bottom paint increased her speed and we were in Ponza in record time. The forecast was accurate; conditions were calm, dead calm, giving us three days of relaxation. While the temperature was cold (no swimming) the skies were clear and unlike our last visit during the peak of summer, there were very few boats.
Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Island archipelago just three hours west of Rome. A cluster of former prison islands, the five volcanic Pontine islands are shrouded in history and encircled by pristine water. Dramatic rock cliffs, secluded white beaches and hidden sea grottos make it a popular Italian tourist destination; when Romans need a break, they sail to the Pontines.
We took the dinghy around the coast, hiked the interior, had leisurely lunches ashore, and sailed to neighboring Palmarola. And we constantly, religiously, incessantly, checked the weather. Nights were so still; it was eerie. But we still slept with one foot on the floor, ready to move, just in case.