The Straits of Messina
22 September 2017 | Messina
Geoff/warm and sunny
22nd Sept. Milazzo to Messina
This journey took us through the fabled Straits. The Straits are about 7 miles long and at the narrowest point, only just over a mile wide. They are busy with shipping and small boats, avoiding the alternative of the long sail around Sicily. The Straits have a rigidly enforced 'Traffic Separation Scheme, reserving the middle for large vessels with north and south-going lanes and large fines for those flouting the rules. Small vessels take the inshore passage on the western side.
Unusually for the Med, there is a strong tidal stream through the Straits. Luckily it was in our favour, running up to 3 knots, which sped us through. We encountered standing waves at the narrows and considerable whirlpools and disturbed water through the Straits. This gave us a fast but somewhat uncontrolled ride as, close in to the western shore we were pushed around by the whirlpools and eddies.
This Sicilian side of the Straits is where, the Greek legend has it, the gigantic sea monster Charybdis, created the tides by sucking in, then blowing out the seawater. The giant whirlpools she created, sent many vessels and their crews to their doom. Having been through on a spring tide this idea seems less implausable, although not as fierce as those we have experienced in the Western Isles and Brittany.
According to Homer, Odysseus had to pass through the Straits and forewarned by Circe, chose to risk the eastern side where Scylla, a six-headed monster, was in the habit of snatching and eating sailors from passing ships to sate her appetite. Odysseus calculated it was better to risk 6 men than the whole crew and ship. Predictably each of Scylla's heads took a sailor as the ship passed and their death cries were terrible to hear. Odysseus's plan seems to have been justified as the remaining crew and the vessel survived.