I am sitting in one of my favourite spots on the boat, in our front cabin with the sunshades on the hatches and the sound of the water “trickling by” under the hull of the boat. There is a gentle rocking motion as we cross the wave direction at a comfortable angle and I can read, sleep or write as I am currently “off watch”. During the day our watches are a little undefined and we retreat if we are tired, or just to get a small break from looking out for fishing vessels, fishing pots, nets or other charter boat tourists who don’t know the rules of the road.
Part of me is here because I like to be in this spot with the sounds around me and partly because it is safe, comfortable and relaxing. It is also an opportunity to lick my wounds from our recent “mis-hap”. The wounds are not physical, but it is my pride and ego that took a bashing (not to mention my wallet).
This story is about our brand new FFR light wind sail. We have been really happy with our new FFR (Fast Furling Reacher) as it has given us great sailing speeds at low wind levels, enabling us to reduce, quite significantly, our dependence on the engine to get us to where we wanted to go. We recently left the Port of Riva di Traiano (just below Civita Vecchia), heading off towards the island Elba. It was another one of those warm windless days and we were not even sure if there would be sufficient wind for our FFR. After about an hour out, the wind picked up to about 7 knots; perfect for sailing in the direction we wanted to go.
After about half an hour of great sailing, the wind further picked up and before we knew it, it was blowing at 25 knots. Which is seriously greater than the capacities of this sail and more to the point, our capacities and experience with it !
As ever, the weather forecasts in the Med are at best poor and we are continually frustrated with the inaccuracies of all the models and information, but more on this another time.
Take small breath and realise that problems never occur independently and often one problem leads to another. The whole situation is compounded and things go from bad to worse. There is also a story of maintenance and spare parts within this.….
Surprisingly, this story actually starts with our fridge. The catch/lock on the fridge door had recently been getting looser and looser, so I did my DIY job and found that the spring inside was broken. I temporarily fixed this by re-stretching a shortened spring, knowing that a new spring needed to be ordered for a correct solution in the near future. The door was locking again, just, but it would be sufficient for a few more weeks, wouldn’t it ?
On this particular day, when the wind suddenly picked up, the boat healed (tilted) to the port side. This sudden movement projected all items in the fridge towards the fridge door – which in its weakened situation gave way under the sudden pressure. The result was that the beetroot in its salad box and the cardboard punnet of cherry tomatoes escaped before Ingrid could stop other items from also escaping and finding a new home on our galley carpet. Fortunately, the “lock ‘n lock box” with the beetroot remained intact (my life would not have been worth living if the beetroot escaped), but the little round tomatoes were rolling everywhere.
The time taken by Ingrid to clear this little disaster was the time I needed her on deck.
Taking in this light wind sail is a 2 person job and as the wind strength was increasing rapidly we had to act quickly.
The sail size is 120 square meters and even with a light wind on it a huge amount of force is created. Bringing in the sail was a very hard process under these conditions of high winds.
I would roll the sail in a little and then the cheeky wind would catch it again and unroll all the work done. This was exhausting and time consuming. In the meantime, the sail wrapped itself around our mast, shrouds and spreaders where the wind seemed to take pleasure in shredding the sail to a number of smaller pieces. After an hour and a half of struggling, the sail was finally furled and we headed back towards the marina of Riva di Traiano where we had come from – only 6 miles away.
Back in port we quickly took down the sail and returned it to its bag, making sure as few people as possible could see our “disaster” hanging in the rigging – it looked just as sad as we were.
The good thing was that Paolo from Sissail (who made the sail for us) was very reactive and organised a friend of his, who happened to be working in the same port to pick up the sail and return it to Sicily the following day. Paolo said he would look at the sail for us and see if any of it could be repaired or recovered for a replacement. We are still waiting for his response, but are not very hopeful of the result.
Paolo’s friend did explain what we did wrong, so I hope that the same will not happen again as we have learnt an expensive lesson! We are fortunate that it is only ego’s and pride that is bruised and nothing else !
A fellow sailor, a few boats down from us in the marina said that to be a true sailor, it is necessary to shred a sail and run aground at least once in your sailing career ! A day before, I would not have agreed with him, but now, I am not so sure I am in disagreement.
Other than only being 50% on the way to being true sailors, we have been having an excellent time sailing up the coast of Italy from the Aeolie Islands. Continuing on the trail of active and dormant volcanos and the paths of the Phoenicians and ancient Romans, we made landfall on the Amalfi Coast and continued onto Capri, Ischia, Ventotene, Ponza, Ostia (Port of Rome), Riva de Traiano, Cala Galera and finally to the beautiful Island of Elba.
I think it is not very interesting for you to read a travel brochure of all of these locations, so I offer a few stories and personal insight of this part of the journey and a collection of our favourite photos.
The Amalfi Coast has a fantastic world-wide reputation, but as I had not been there, I was not sure what all the fuss was about so this was a chance to find out for ourselves. Our marina is in Cetara, just west of Salerno and East of the town of Amalfi. The marina manager asked us when we arrived, how much we were paying in other marinas? Being a good sales man, it was clear that the prices of our other stays were very reasonable, €60-70 per night. He laughed (the only time I saw a smile) and he said this is “The Amalfi Coast” and it was much more expensive here. But for cash, a reasonable price could be agreed. We did agree on his “reasonable price” as all the other marinas were double or more of his price.
Well, we were here and so had better make the best of it. Ingrid organised a ferry trip to Amalfi Town (45 minutes by ferry) and then we would see what we wanted to do. It is true that Amalfi and the Amalfi coast is beautiful, beautiful houses, cute streets, limitless lemons (for Limoncello) and limitless tourists. The shops in Amalfi were tourist shops selling the same local foods, drink, hats, bags, ceramics, glass and fridge magnets with “Amalfi” written on them. Quaint, but what a tourist trap with exorbitant prices. The only reasonably prices item was the bus tickets out of there and so we ended up with an amazing journey along the cliff edge roads of the Amalfi Coast. The massive 40-seater bus seemed to take up 1-1/2 lanes of a 2-lane road, which had a rocky wall on one side and a vertical drop to a rocky coastline on the other. Quite hairy ! Especially with the temperament of Italian drivers on the Sunday afternoon of our visit. All I can say is that I am glad that I was not driving and that our bus driver must have done this road a million times as he knew every hairpin bend, every narrow section and how to make stupid Sunday drivers back up and let him through.
Once we were back in our marina town of Cetara, though a little off the beaten track, we quickly appreciated the beauty of this simple town and its limited flow of tourists.
The Amalfi Coast is just south of Naples and the active volcano Vesuvius (though there is no current evidence of any recent eruptions of escaping poisonous gasses like on the Aeolie Islands), and of course, Pompeii. But this is a very real, active and dangerous volcano.
I was last in Pompeii about 50 years ago and all I can remember is getting excited about the green lizards that could run much faster than any attempt I made to try and catch one. Therefor it was time to appreciate a little culture and a wander around the ancient city of Pompeii. It is worth reading “Pompeii” by Robert Harris as a good background historic novel, before or after a visit. In addition, for cultural reasons I made Ingrid watch a few episodes of “Up Pompeii !” with dear Frankie Howard. I am not sure which had the most accurate historic content, but I did enjoy seeing them again. However, I am not sure if Ingrid appreciated the cultural content of Frankie Howard’s gags.
The site of Pompeii is truly well kept, well organised and interesting. I loved the mosaics and a feel for the size of the town in the shadow of Vesuvius and I wonder if the local Neapolitans give a thought to the doorstep they are living on ?
I did think it is bizarre that the museum which holds some of the perfectly preserved remains of the ex-inhabitants in their death throws was so popular with the visitors. Especially if you consider what an outcry that would cause if the same was done on a “modern day” disaster area.
Unfortunately, once you have seen a perfectly preserved street, you have seen them all and 4 hours wandering around as a tourist was enough for us. Next stop, after lunch and a gelato, yes you have guessed it, is the climb to the top of Vesuvius. In the end this was not so exciting as there was no volcanic smoke, eruptions or lava flows to be seen, only a never-ending lava like flow of tourists. However, we are pleased to have climbed on all of Italy’s active volcanos !
One of the best parts of our visit to the Amalfi coast was on opportunity to meet up with another “Gabris” who happened to be on vacation from Hungary at the same time we were there. We can (and often do) complain about social media and facebook. But through this platform I have managed to “meet” other
members of my family from Hungary and in this case to meet Zsuzsi and her husband Zsolt. We had a great lunch at the Ocean Deva restaurant and took the time to get to know each other better and catch up on our diverse lives and family.
Sailing onto Capri was a great experience for us. We set our Anchor in The Azure bay, where the water was truly azure in colour. Unfortunately, every single tourist also wants to visit and see the beauty of the Azure Bay. I think that about 40 boats per hour passed through the bay area to see the caves, drop anchor for a swim and/or lunch or to just look at the bay as a part of the round Capri boat tour. Some private boats with only 2 people, others were like an open topped bus with 50 people onboard. Fortunately for us, once the sun set, which was quite early here as we are on the south side of the island with tall cliffs all around, we were alone and had the bay and sea birds to ourselves. We had another lovely evening of Pasta and Prosecco in the comforts of our own floating home. That is to say alone until the sun came up when the first tourist boats started to return again !
Moving on from Capri, we visited Ischia which was lovely and we set our anchor just below the castle at Ischia point. We did not visit Prodica next door, but we will save this for another time.
Passing through Ventotene where we stayed in the harbour marina and onto Ponza which gave us an additional few quiet nights of anchoring. We heard many stories about how beautiful the islands are and I think Ponza is worth a visit, but Ventotene is a little small for anything other than a short stop over (20 years in the prison ?) on the way to somewhere else. It is interesting to know that Caligula banished his family to this island so he could safely, in his mind, maintain his hand on power in Rome.
We also had a short visit from a beautiful Peregrine Falcon that needed a rest as we sailed on from Ponza. A rare sight so close on our solar panel.
We were actually heading for the Porto di Rome (Ostia). As I had to make a small visit to Aberdeen, it was necessary to have a good marina where I could leave the boat and Ingrid whilst having access to an international airport. We also have our friends, Christina and Carlo (from Abu Dhabi) who are originally from Rome and they also just happened to be there at the same time as us. Ingrid spent a day with them in Rome and they came to join us for dinner on the restaurant “Ocean Deva” once I was back from Aberdeen. It is always a pleasure to catch up with close friends where time apart not so important, especially with the benefits of social media where a chat and video calls are so easy.
I have been visiting Aberdeen on and off for 42 years now and there are so many memories of my early life, first job and career in the oil industry associated with this city. I love to go back and breathe the fresh cool air and think how my life has grown and changed over the years.
On my return to Italy, Ingrid and I spent a day looking around Rome. For me, I just really love the way Rome is. The ancient Rome, beside modern and contemporary Rome, side by side – The Colosseum, The Circus next to a road, shops and ordinary buildings – just amazing. We were also lucky enough to be there on Italy’s National day – the benefit was that due to the parades, the streets were blocked off for cars and therefore a little easier to wander around to enjoy the sights.
Most major monuments and museums are organised so that you need to book your ticket in advance and most tickets are sold out early – as we found out. There was still a huge amount for us to see and atmosphere to soak up, so much that our day visit was only enough to whet our appetite and want to come back again but better organised for the future.
Our final destination and the “End” of our year in Italy was the Island of Elba. People told us how lovely it was (but people have said this about every island and we have formed our own opinions) and we knew it had something to do with Napoleon’s exile from France.
Being unsure of the weather and our recent “experience” of the ripped sail, we were probably a little cautious. It was noted that Porto Ferraio has the most sheltered harbour on the island - but we have been in sheltered harbours and felt they were not as sheltered as expected. As we wanted to play it safe, we booked into the marina down town for 3 nights while we expected 3 days of storms and unsettled weather.
The town was lovely, with an(other) old castle overlooking the harbour and nautical approaches. The residence of Napoleon is a good visit (from historical interest) and we learnt that he was actually Governor of Elba after his abdication in France – we thought/assumed he was imprisoned there, but this was not the case.
The down town marina is great. The boats range from your average 12m long sailboat to 65m mega yachts. These “high rise” yachts do take over the marina a little, but with only a maximum of 12 guests, they do not over burden the city. Almost everyone stops to take photos and selfies with the mega yachts as a part of the scene – and we did also !
The storm did rage around us for the 3 days and we discovered that the harbour and marina are actually amazingly well protected from the winds. We looked outside on our first morning and thought we had judged the weather wrongly, like usual. However, once we climbed up the hill to the light house, we could see the rough sea outside the bay area and we were pleased with our choice.
Overall, we thought that the island was beautiful. A balance of sustainable tourist trade without all night music pumping discos, no high-rise hotels or cheap tourist shops. The island is small, but not too small and there seems plenty of walking and visits that can be made in beautiful nature on this quite mountainous island. This is probably our single “favourite” Italian island – we hope for an opportunity to return one day.
Our time in Italy is almost at an end at this point as we need to get to Gibraltar for the beginning of July. We look at the weather reports and try to plan our next 378 nautical mile hop to the island of Menorca, Spain.