When we woke up in the morning we found ourselves anchored in one of our most spectacular anchorages, right under the active volcano of Gran Cratere on Vulcano and beside the hot mud pools - not to mention a very strong smell of rotten eggs. Around us the sea was bubbling and white, where fumaroles were steaming on the sea bed. After our late arrival we had a leisurely start to the day before going ashore. The village of Vulcano had a very relaxed Bohemian feel although I'm sure it's very different in the summer. We found a very nice bar and sat for a couple of hours interneting and drinking coffee which then turned into lunch. We felt we had to try out the mud baths - it had to be done - which were pleasantly warm depending on how close you got to the bubbles but, I have to say, they were very smelly and a bit disgusting with all the slimy mud and who knows what else! From there it had to be a quick dip in the sea which was initially freezing but you could change the temperature by moving around the fumaroles. The only trouble is you were then covered in the gloopy mud excreted with the bubbles which we then discovered didn't come off!
We're always fascinated by volcanoes and so the next morning we climbed to the crater at around 1,000 feet. It was a hot and dusty climb and, in places, the paths had been washed away by the winter rains but it was so worth it. It was a 'proper' volcano with the deep round centre and hot sulphur steam hissing out all around. And the views over Vulcano, the other Aeolian Islands and Freya anchored in her bubbling bay were truly stunning.
The biggest island in the group is Lipari and it was very close by and so we headed over there later in the day. The marina is a little way out of town and so we walked along the coast - a very pleasant but a very energetic day after our volcano climb earlier - for an evening wander and drink. I should imagine it's heaving and very commercialised in the summer but now it was a very pretty old town with a pretty harbour in which to enjoy a glass of wine and nibbles.
We left at about midday the next day in order to arrive at the start of the Straits of Messina with the start of the southerly current. The Straits of Messina have a reputation for fierce unpredictable winds and whirlpools. In ancient times many ships sunk here and in the Odyssey, Odysseus had to choose between which of two sea monsters he had to face in the Straits, been driven by the wind into Scylla a six headed rock monster or face Charybdis a whirlpool. They lived up to it. From the forecasts it looked like we would be sailing at last, even if the winds in the Straits would be quite brisk, but not to bad.
Fifteen miles from the Straits the wind increased and we were off. It was very exciting for about half an hour but then it dropped before becoming squally and from all directions which makes for very frustrating sailing. About ten miles out the sea started to build but seemed to settle a little on the entrance. After several attempts we managed to check in with Messina VTS (Traffic Control) and we were in. The winds picked up averaging around 35kts, gusting 45+ knots, mostly on the nose, and the seas became huge, breaking over the bow, soaking us and making it difficult to see where we were going - Paul as his glasses were covered in water and me as my eyes stung from the salt. After all our careful calculations the southerly current never seemed to appear and at one point we were only making 1.5 knots. We had 3 reefs in the main, no foresail and were being tossed around like a washing machine - but Freya took it all in her stride - apart from finding a couple of new leaks in the hatches. It took us 5 hours to get through the Straits and then it all became very flat and benign as we motored, yet again, through the night to Roccella Ionica on the bottom of Italy's foot.
We knew the marina had problems with silting and so we'd exchanged a few emails with office and were assured all was fine! We later discovered the planned dredging hadn't actually happened. It was 7.30 in the morning and so we weren't surprised there was no answer on the radio and so we took the entrance very wide and very slowly trying to avoid the sand bank when there was a loud crunch and we were aground! We were bobbing right in the middle of entrance but stuck fast. All of a sudden there were people on the radio telling us they'd tried to call us! The Italian Coastguard then appeared, first in a van which wasn't much help, and then in their rib with flashing blue light and pulled us off. They told us to carefully follow them in, along a route scarily close to the rocks on the harbour entrance but we were in safely! It was all done with smiles and no damage done. We later discovered an email sent after we left Lipari telling us not to enter without calling and giving us a phone number. They were going to send out a dinghy to show us the way!
Click here for the interactive map of our travels