A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

Western Med Blog 11 (Pontine islands and southwards down the leg of Italy)

Western Med Blog 11 (Pontine islands and Southwards down the leg of Italy)

We left the Tiber River the on the morning of 25 August 2017, without using the swimming pool that had swung Veronica on the Marina [as she had laundry to do and ran out of time!] and headed to Anzio. Adjacent to the modern Anzio is Porto Nero, built by the man himself but now just a sunken navigational hazard but marked by literally hundreds of buoys left by what is obviously a massive underwater archaeological effort.

We anchored, did not go ashore despite the pleasant surrounds. It was here that Davy Jones’s Locker claimed the second pair of sunglasses from Veronica this season! [unfortunately the water was not nice and clear, so…even though the depth was only 4m, they were not to be found. Even though you know where they entered the water and starting sinking, the wind direction was changing, and thus so was the position of the boat around the anchor radius!}

It was a brilliant sail from there to Ponza, in the northerly group of the Pontine islands, 40Nm with the Genakker up all the way. It is a long time since the wind strength and direction remained so constant for so long and we had such a hassle free spinnaker run. We had been to Ponza before in a charter boat in 2009 when we had anchored on the north shore. This time the shelter was on the SE shore and we anchored with literally hundreds of other boats near Cala Inferno, famous and so named because it is in a deep amphitheatre of bright white cliffs that are Rhyolitic in composition and comprise crumbly pyroclastics. At low sun angles and in certain light becomes deserving of the name it has been given. The geology and the setting are dramatic and some of the scantly-clothed girls on the boats around added to the spectacle. We took a long dinghy trip along the spectacular harbour. It was early in the morning and the Gaurdia were shoo-ing away boats that had cheekily anchored in the harbour approaches, before the big ferry arrived and needed the turning room. Interestingly, a week or so after this we met some New Zealanders who had been anchored at the much higher and precipitous Isola di Palmarola just to the northwest of Ponza. They showed us an i-phone video they had caught, of a section of the cliff collapsing. There had been an earthquake at Ischia a few days before this and I am sure the events were related, so the warning signs all along the base of the cliffs are to be heeded.

Julia, daughter of Caesar Augustus, and famous for her adulterous ways, was exiled on Ventotene by her own father. She had a large Villa built in which she continued to entertain her lovers. The architect of the small harbour that is literally hewn out of the rock was Agrippa, her second husband. Octavia, Nero’s wife was also exiled on the island at the request of Nero’s mistress Poppea Sabina. By contrast, our arrival did not make the history books, we anchored out between a 85ft Oyster and a circa 250ft, two-storeys-above-deck level super yacht. We felt positively belittled but in good company. We rowed the dinghy into Agrippa’s old harbour and had a pleasant morning pottering around town and having an extremely good value to money breakfast at a cliff hanging restaurant, whilst trying hard not to think too much about the recent Ischia earthquake.

It was 40Nm to the Fleegree islands, Ischia and Prodica. We left late and the ill-conceived plan was to anchor off one of the islands. However, when we got there within an hour till dusk we realised that our inattentiveness and/or poor shading on the map in the pilot guide, had not made us realize that unless you were a local you could not anchor overnight at either island at this time of the year. So we ran the gauntlet with the numerous ferries plying the waters to Naples, prepared dinner and had a glass of Prossecco on the run and watched a rather wonderful sunset in the channel between the mainland and Procida. For the first time in about two months we turned the steaming lights on and then picked our way through a mussel farm to slip into Porto Miseno situated in what the geologist in me interpreted as a side-vent crater of an ancient volcano. Luckily there were 3 other yachts in there already, so we could see the part of the bay to anchor in, avoiding all other hazards, of which there were many. In the morning the surroundings were interesting cliffs, with ancient caves. We both went for a SUP and have to report disappointingly, that our proximity to Naples was evidenced by quite a lot of rubbish in the water.

We then had a fantastic sail, on the wind but in light conditions, all the way across to Capri. We anchored for about 4 hours under the cliffs at Marina Piccola (not a Marina at all) just west of the famous and much pictured Isola Faragliono arch. It is a spectacular anchorage albeit deep and crowded. It is a second time we have visited Capri and not gone ashore, which I guess is a bit of a travesty. We were going to stay the night but ultimately decided to scamper to the small fishing village Marina del Cantone on the Sorrento peninsula. It was not in the pilot guide at all but Captain’s Mate, the Cruising Association app, had an excellent write up about it. On arrival, as advertised, Rafèal came out to meet us and handed us some mooring lines from one of the buoys he managed. He also ran a water taxi service which we hailed in the morning to venture ashore to explore the very pleasant little hamlet, have breakfast and a little walk up the hill. [The anchorage is somewhat rolly with swell running in but is definitely well worth a visit.]

We started our little sailing potter down the Amalfi coast by passing Isolotti Galli, one of the Siren Islands which according to Greek mythology, Circe warned Odysseus about, in Homer’s Odyssey. The sirens were seductive creatures, half bird-half woman, who lured sailors by their enchanting music to shipwreck on the rocky islands. It was therefore necessary for me to be bound hand and foot to the mast as we went past! [he wishes!]

We stopped in Positano for lunch anchoring close in amongst the super-yachts and looked upwards at the villas clinging to the terraced and foreboding mountain side. This coast is a place where you just keep taking pictures. You say to yourself, that is enough and then around the next corner there is some amazing viaduct or ancient tower or impossibly long and zig-zaggy staircase down a cliff face to the sea. We looked in at Amalfi for the possibility of getting a berth but gave that idea a miss when no one came to greet us, there was no obvious space and it was chaotic.

Above the villages and certainly between them there was evidence of a recent bush fire. I remember thinking that I was impressed how the fire fighters had kept it away from the houses. As we left Amalfi heading for Salerno we had our next spectacle for the day. A Canadair water bomber started doing water-scooping pick-ups in front of and behind the boat, climbing to do drops on the mountains behind that were still burning. It was a bit of excitement that rounded off a day that had left the senses tingling from the imagery and surroundings.

In Salerno, the first big town we had visited in a while, we anchored between the two marinas as directed by Heikell in the pilot’s guide. The version we have dates back to 2009 but we did note the warning that there had been reports of dinghies being stolen. We went ashore in the hope of eating at the rather salubrious looking restaurant we had spied from the boat. The plan was that we could look down on our dinghy from there. A very friendly and helpful fisherman type, who said he would take care of our dinghy, greeted us. The dinghy did not have the motor on it, as we had rowed in, so we felt reasonably comfortable accepting his offer. He even took our rubbish for us. The restaurant overlooking the dinghy was full, so we had to forage further afield and thus were very relieved to find the dinghy still there on our return. The friendly fisherman refused to take the beer money we offered him. We hoisted the dinghy on deck of the boat that night.

The next day Veronica wanted to take the bus back along the cliff-hanging road to Amalfi. We motored into the marina and were lucky to find one of the concessionaires who agreed to let us leave the dinghy on their pontoon. The public bus ride to Amalfi was spectacular and a different and complimentary perspective to the trip in the boat along the coast. It was however, hot, bothersome and long with much jerking backwards, forwards and sideways as the bus stopped and started and hooted its way around blind corners. It was interesting to note that there were different hooter signals, certainly one that signalled to cars to proceed and another to say, bus coming through. Amalfi itself is small with narrow attractive streets and definitely worth visiting. We decided to take the high-speed ferry back; it was quicker and more comfortable.

To our relief, the dinghy was there when we got back and another boat had arrived in the anchorage in our absence. It was British flagged but called “36 deg South”. Now Cape Town is 34 deg S and Cape Agulhas is 35 deg S, so they probably were not Surf Africans. I went over to chat anyway, and discovered that they were Kiwis from just south of the Bay of Islands. We ended up having a fantastic evening of drinks on their boat and weaved our way across the 100m gap back to our boat much later. We never usually do this at night but decided to lock our dinghy to the boat. Shockingly, the next morning ... our Kiwi neighbour’s dinghy was gone. It was certainly superior to ours with a hard bottom and a bigger motor. We were devastated that this happened right next to us, but not as much as they were of course. Interestingly they had mentioned during drinks that they too knew about the dinghy problem and one of them had stayed on the beach that afternoon with the dinghy while the other went to the shops for fear of the warnings by Heikell. We kept in touch by email afterwards, they bought a second-hand dinghy and had a spare motor but they spent 2 days more in the Marina dealing with reporting and sorting their new second-hand dinghy.

So on that sad note, indicating that this cruising life is not always plain sailing, I will end this blog. In the next blog, we head south for the Aeolian Islands and Sicily.