09 August 2016 | Underway to Rome
Italy continues to be a fun place to explore by boat. It can be frustrating at times trying to make sure the boat is safe while we try to do things inland (there is so much to do & see) since this is the high season, and there aren't that many perfectly protected anchorages but just the same, it is nice to have our home to come back to at the end of the day, away from the business of shore and we are making it work.
When we left Malta, we headed back to Siracusa for a day to re-provision and get checked back in to Italy. Jon saw a swordfish jump along the way but I missed it. We still haven't gotten around to putting out our fishing poles and we don't feel like we'd catch anything anyway. We also don't want to take the last of any kind of fish! It feels that tight in a way. Checking in took 3 hours and there was a whole new set of rules that differed from when we'd checked out a week & a half earlier but who's keeping track? We have sat through a lot of desk arranging and rubber stamping as well. I will never forget the time spent in the office because we had to sit in old fiberglass chairs that left you with itchy legs afterward from all the glass splinters. The best part of the day, aside from getting all the items checked off our to-do list was going to a fancy deli along the market street where we'd seen long lines & delicious looking Sicilian platters on our previous visit. We got there for a late lunch and had this nice sampler of all kinds of meats, smoked fishes, cheeses, little salads and vegetable dishes and even dessert, all in cute little dishes on a wooden platter. It seems one thing about Italy is you can OD on condiments and preserved meats. They really do dry sausage well and mozzarella & pasta are really good too. I'm not sure about this healthy Mediterranean diet.
It took the following 2 days to get to Vulcano Island and through the Messina Strait that separates mainland Italy from Sicily. The whole east coast of Sicily has odd currents and generally confused seas and while we rode this down with no problem, it was less comfortable and slower going back northward. Approaching and going through the straits wasn't particularly fun on the day we did it. I read that there is a marked difference in water temp between the Ionian Sea on the south of Italy and the Tyrrhenian Sea which is above Sicily and they meet in the Messina Straits. The Tyrrhenian is warmer & less salty and moves southward at the surface while the Ionian is colder and moves northward below 30 meters depth. The difference in density makes for conflicting currents, bores and whirlpools. It was just really lumpy and we had a lot of spray. All while we were going through, the local swordfish boats were zooming from side to side in the channel scouting out swordfish that swim close to the surface on their migration through the strait. Swordfish boats are unique in that they have a tall tower for a lookout and a bowsprit that is longer than the boat itself where the harpooner stands. There are stay wires all around to provide much needed support. They are on a mission to spot the fish and then sneak up to it to harpoon it. It made me nauseous to watch the guys up in the tower swing from side to side as the boat rocked in the waves.
On the other side of the Straits, everything smoothed out, the water was a brighter blue than ever and we had a nice sail to Vulcano Island where we got the very last anchoring spot right next to a little rocky hill of steaming fumaroles. The water was effervescent with bubbles coming up from the bottom and we wondered if it was eating our anchor up. Nonetheless, it really helped set the mood for being at a volcano although that night when the wind switched and the sulfur was blowing in the hatch, we wondered if we would wake up in the morning. But we did, and we had a great day of hiking the active volcano, and all around the extinct craters. There were also hot springs and mud baths but we didn't partake. We thought the better of staying another night because of the gases and moved to neighboring Lipari island where there's a large shelf to anchor on with gorgeous water. We no sooner got in and Jon found $4 in change on the bottom. Between that, the smooth black sand covered in flounder and the welcome warmer water, we had the best swim we've had in the Med so far.
We had an uneventful overnight sail to the Amalfi Coast so that we could visit places like Amalfi, Positano & Salerno. Unlike SE Asia, there are few fishing vessels and when it gets dark, you are not surrounded by the lights of other boats. There was a decent anchorage in Salerno so that became our base. It was around $90/night for a med-moor berth if you stayed less than a week and we now see that when we were shoe horned into the berth in downtown Malta, one of the many wakes we got must have caused us to bump the boat alongside despite all the fenders and the teak brow was damaged in the process. Oh well, what can you do? It'll be an easy fix with the right tools Jon says. There aren't any boats here that look like ours which is a signal. So for that the anchorage was nice and hey, it was free. We can save up for Rome.
The Amalfi coastline is very mountainous and once again, all the pinks of the roofs, the green of the land and the blue sea is really pretty. Once in the inner harbor of Salerno, the blue water turned sort of greenish brown and wouldn't be appealing for swimming to us but my gosh, just like everywhere in the Med we've seen, any beach or approximation of a beach or pile of rocks or even the underside of a building on stilts that is next to the beach is a good place to lay down your towel or beach chair to catch some rays and dip in the sea. Summertime here is a full on water & sun atmosphere no matter where you go. Kids love it. It didn't matter that a condom went floating by as we were tying up the dinghy. So funny.
We took a bus along the precarious cliffside road that follows the Amalfi coast because that was what was recommended and then got off at the start of the Path of The Gods Trail to hike to Positano. All of this is to see the pretty mountain scenery and experience the tight quarters of the road. When we first got to Greece we both wondered why the cars were so scraped up all along the sides and lots of side view mirrors we're taped together, hanging on their wires or altogether missing. But it didn't take long to realize that driving here involves cramming in to tight spaces, bump & park technique and squeezing through seemingly impossible passageways along ancient roads meant for horse carriages or sometimes, even just pedestrians. The Amalfi area was some of the tightest we've seen so far. Riding in the breadbox shaped bus, we would cringe in our seats as the driver tucked in his mirror to get past other buses. The Path of the Gods was a downhill day hike that offered great views and some quiet time between towns and we both wished it was much longer! The towns were especially cute albeit touristy and busy but strolling around the little streets and sampling the local foods is a nice way to spend a day or two & so unique for us. We visited a couple of churches and a medicinal botanical garden in Salerno called Giardina della Minerva which was the first botanical garden established as part of a medical school in the early 1300's so that students could learn about the medicinal properties of plants. The gardens were situated on 5 levels and had elaborate passageways for the delivery of water from a spring. I find myself going around looking at all this old stuff and thinking that the US has very little of their own ancient history on display. The ancient civilizations that we had weren't building the types of structures that we are appreciating today over here. It's just across the pond, a shorter distance to sail than it was to cross the Pacific, but so different. Interesting.
The next stop on the greatest hits list was Capri. I hadn't really thought much about Capri until I read up that it is known as a getaway for the rich of Europe with a lot of high end shopping & lodging. Oh and it is actually a truly beautiful island with very high cliffs and interesting rock formations. After an annoying morning of waiting for the coast guard office to open so we could get a much needed stamp in our constituto form, we were told by this official that we don't need a stamp and he wouldn't give us one to show the next official who would certainly think we must have one. So we arrived to the anchorage mid day when it was chucker block full of local day boats and it took forever to find a spot. But we did get a good one after a three hour tour that gave the day boats time to leave and it was right near the famous Faraglioni rock pillars that are the most photographed on Capri. We didn't have time to go ashore that day but instead toured the arch & the caves all around the anchorage area where all the tour boats take their guests. Nestled in among the mega-yachts, it was funny to see that some of their launches were practically as big as our boat!
Capri gets the prize for the highest cliffs we've seen in a while and the most steps to get up to the towns that sit on top. Once up there though, there are buses to bring you to the corners of the island on more hair raising roads. We took a bus to the blue grotto cave on the NW side of the island where a really nice coastal trail starts that then meanders its way back to Capri town going over Mt Solaro, the highest point and through some beautiful countryside. It was an awesome hike and beautiful weather day. We got a good look at what it is like to live in Capri outside of the tourist towns and what the countryside looks like. Frequent groups of laughing Italian men sitting around a table outside shooting the breeze. Toward the end we met an interesting German guy on the trail named Eric who was a joy to talk to. Turns out he organizes the Luxembourg Marathon, among other races and he's cruised around on a sailboat as well so we had lots to talk about. Like Malta, Luxembourg is another tiny country that we haven't thought much about, but we won't be sailing there! Maybe could run the marathon someday though... We ran into Eric the next day while we were walking in town and had coffee together, which was nice.
We've found that cruising the Med is different in that there aren't many international cruising boats around and there's no pattern to where people are going since movement is not dictated by the seasons. It could be different if you wintered over and we think we could do that someday but we have decided that we really would like to head out of the Med this season and back to our own backyard for a while. It has been five years already and we are kind of tired. Of course now there is this thought that we need to pack as much in as we can so we feel busier than ever. Plus I frankly think that a lot of stuff on this boat is just about ready to break after all the salt & heavy use these past few years. Jon was sitting in his cockpit chair reading while underway the other day and I leaned in to give him a smooch gently placing my hand on the back of his chair. Well, the rusted out interior frame broke and the chair went tilting back in a hurry so now we have 1 1/2 chairs- like I'm not sure I want to cross the Atlantic in a chair that no longer has any back support! And this chair is not cheap in the US so can't imagine what it will be here. And that is a small item. We are loving having more to do than we can actually muster the energy for, even though we do miss cruising with friends. Now we do get to enjoy close quarter boating though since just like driving, people here seem to like to pass close and anchor closer even if there is plenty of space. Last evening we had a little powerboat get his anchor caught on our chain and we were a few feet apart as he was trying to get it free, this in this huge anchorage where we were the only two boats! Like Jon says, fiberglass is magnetic. He did manage to get free and we shut the engine back off and went on with our evening. We had moved from Capri to a small island just above it called Procida to see a new spot as we are ready to head to Rome and wanted to make some progress toward it. We walked in to the old town and saw how the more regular Italians live and I have to say, I really liked all the open green space of Capri better! It was a gorgeous island and there were so many nice things to do! No motorbikes or cars were allowed in the storefront areas and there were so many stone pathways & stairs that were also car free. Not on Procida! But we did notice that the electric bike was more popular in Procida than ever. We probably saw 50 of them as we strolled around. You can buy one there for $1200 Euros.
I had wanted to come to this anchorage because part of it is formed by an island named Vivara that is connected to Procida by a footbridge and it was set aside as a bird reserve. I read online that the reserve is closed because there was $150 million appropriated toward development of visitor facilities that dissapeared and has not been accounted for. This is not the first of this type of thing I've read and so, I guess Italy is not unlike any other country with some rich fellows getting richer. And there is no bird park. But we noted that the bridge and the adjacent rocks are really popular for sun bathing.
In his down time, Jon continues to work on his website Venture Farther and now it has the ability to upload soundings data and display it on sat images. Although I wasn't expecting it, many of the anchorages we visit here have little or no soundings. Sometimes there will be one depth recorded. So we've been doing some depth recordings ourselves and then Jon adds them on Venture Farther. It is unique and of course enhances the usefulness of the satellite images.
I was bummed out to see that Google went ahead with their cost saving measure to get rid of Picasa because we subscribed to it to house our photos and could then link them to Sailblogs easily so that they could be seen there. It worked great and we've been doing it this way for over a decade. Google Plus doesn't offer linking. Well I guess it saves us money because we can't subscribe anymore! And I only get to post one photo per blog entry. We've gotten some really good ones lately too. You'll have to use your imagination to get what I'm writing about until we figure out something else.
We are underway to Rome today. We plan to put the boat in a marina there so that we can do our touring worry free. It might mean that we get another ding but hopefully our boat won't float away if someone should pick up our anchor again! We can't wait to see the big sights and hopefully get into the mountains too.