entering the Messina Straits
According to Greek mythology the narrowest point of the Messina Strait was guarded by two horrible monsters. On the one shore there was 'Scylla' a six headed monster with dark green eyes and razor sharp teeth who would lay waiting in her cave poised ready to snatch anything edible that came too close to the shore. On the opposite shore there was 'Charybdis' a giant whirlpool that would swallow anything that ventured too close.
Thankfully for the modern day sailor the six headed monster is a myth, although as we passed the cave it felt as though someone or something was watching us ;-). On a serious note there are strong tidal streams, eddies and whirlpools to be considered along with possible winds that come from the mountains plus a traffic separation system (TSS) right down the centre. Yachts are required to radio in their passage plan to the control tower that monitors the Straits before entering. We decided to stay on the Italian coast and cross over to Sicily once past the busy ferry terminals that constantly transit between mainland Italy and Sicily.
Interestingly, the AIS for this R-O-R-O ferry showed him travelling backwards across the Straits!
It was necessary to time our entry with the south going current and ideally a wind with some north in it especially as we were at full 'springs'. There wasn't any wind predicted so we only had to focus on getting the tidal stream right by referring to high water Gibraltar and adjusting as necessary - and they say that there are no tides in the Med! Alternatively there's an app available from the Google Play store that can be downloaded that will automatically calculate the tidal strength and direction down to the minute, although we still cross checked it with the tidal calculations for Gibraltar for peace of mind. Link to 'Correnti Stretto di Messina'
our sedate tidal stream
just 3 hours later... for an exhilarating ride!
We departed from Scilla within half an hour of the turn of the tide and were soon in the grasps of the tidal stream, clocking 7 knots over the ground. Flirtie took it all in her stride as the autopilot maintained course and corrected as the various eddies, bubbly water and whirlpools tried to capture us and whirl us around.
eddies, bubbly water and whirlpools
Despite feeling a little anxious it was interesting to watch the movement of water all around us. Within an hour we were out of the strongest streams and started to head towards Sicily with Mount Etna in the distance. We had intended to spend a couple of nights at Taormina Roads on one of the mooring buoys or in the nearby anchorage before pushing on to a marina to hide from the next Mistral. The mooring buoys in Taormina 'Yachthotel'
are maintained by George, a Cruising Association honorary local representative (HLR). He offered us a buoy for €40 but advised that with a pending storm on the way we'd probably find Naxos more comfortable for the night but we should move early to seek shelter in either Catania or Siracusa further along the coast. As we headed over to Naxos we took the opportunity to obtain the latest forecast which indicated that stormy conditions were approaching sooner than originally forecast. There seemed little point in anchoring for the night and to not venture ashore and then have to push off early the next morning so we decided to continue on towards Catania about 25 miles further south.
A short while later we found ourselves heading into a long swell that eventually turned into short steep waves making the last few hours very uncomfortable as we were tossed from side to side whilst we noticed in the distance the Guardia Finanza stalking us, like pray. We expected them to board us but instead they circled us before waving and speeding off.
The waves hindered our progress and our arrival at Catania was going to be much later than anticipated so we decided to phone ahead to reserve a berth at one of the marinas there. We phoned two marinas to find that they were full. The remaining two didn't answer even with us trying to contact them repeatedly on VHF once inside the commercial harbour. We were beginning to think that we'd have to berth alongside a fishing vessel or harbour wall if we were unable to find a berth for a few nights until we spotted someone standing at the end of the pontoon at Circolo Nautico NIC who directed us to a vacant berth just before dark. We suspect that he had heard us on the VHF but didn't answer and instead walked to the end of the pontoon. It's certainly been a long day with us covering a total of 62 miles.
Total distance this season: 1004.02 nautical miles