Our third visit to Italy in ITIKI started in rather dramatic circumstances as you may know. We crossed overnight from Ionian Greece to the sole of Italy’s boot. From there we made our way up through the Messina Straits to the Aeolian islands before heading on to Sardinia and the Maddalenas, before crossing to the Balearics (Spain). We actually didn’t make landfall at Sicily, although we came pretty close to it.
This leg of our journey started after a sneaky last night in Greece, after officially checking out. It was an early morning departure 06h00 for a 186nm journey across to the toe end of Italy. Specifically, to Marina Rocella Ionica, which is a well-worn path for cruisers heading westward. We were expecting good pressure to start with so playing it safe (have we finally learned?!) we put one reef in the main and the genoa. Seas were very lumpy initially and we didn’t get a lot of breeze until we got away from the island but then we made good speeds and shared watches throughout the day. About 3pm Keith noticed that our first reef-line (the new Dynalite one) had chafed through the outer sheath at the (very smooth) cringle. It looks like the core will hold though. Once it comes time to shake it out we will need to be careful that it doesn’t peel the core like a banana, as happened with the gennaker halyard, which we had to cut. As evening approaches the breeze drops (as forecast) and we swap the genoa for the gennaker. We then need to go to full main and one engine. We keep that configuration through the night and into the next morning. We try a couple of times to switch motors off and sail again as we get a bit of breeze, but it doesn’t last and is taking us off course so motors go back on. We are keen to ensure we arrive in daylight.
We start to see the lights of Italy in the early hours of morning, about 40nm out and this is when it seems like our passage is almost over. We have made better time than we expected and should be in mid-morning. Our arrival is a bit more dramatic than we expected though and at 10nm out we see the sorry sight of a Bavaria 50 very low in the water, looking like it is in trouble. The main is up and strapped on but no headsail. As we get closer we can see that despite it being in reasonable condition otherwise, it has been ransacked and windows stove in, blankets and clothing scattered over the deck. Water is pouring into the foredeck hatch. It’s all I can do to stop Keith from jumping aboard to close the hatch. The boat could be a crime scene and not something we want to get involved with. It’s likely stolen and scuttled and this open hatch is probably not the only problem. We call in a Securite over the radio and wait for the Guarda Costiera to arrive about 10 mins later. By the time they get there though the boat has completely disappeared below the surface and we are in 80m of water. They seem to know about the boat already. We find out later that they took some migrants off it and probably just left it there, which is a shame, and also a shipping hazard! There are a collection of these stolen boats in the marina itself and they probably didn’t want any more of them, hoping it would sink without a trace before anyone noticed. We settle in to our Marina berth and of course our first night in Italy is celebrated with pizza, pasta and chianti at a local restaurant.
We really have no reason to stay in this area so we move on the next day. This was one of those days we went from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C and then back to Plan A again! This part of Italy is well known for its lack of safe and protected anchorages, but if conditions are calm you can get away with anchoring in some places. Initially we were going to anchor at a spot called Bova Marina (not a marina but that is just what they call coastal towns), on the south western end of the toe. We were still getting Southerlies at this stage and although we had a nice time sailing the anchorage was quite exposed. The forecast showed light northerly coming out of the Messina Straits (the channel between Italy and Sicily) so we decided to head across to Taormina on the Sicilian side and make our transit north from there. As we got to the very tip of the toe another change of plans. As the northerly in the strait was only 5kts (allegedly), we decided to head up to Regio di Calabria on the eastern side of the channel. There is an anchorage just north of the (€220 per night!) Marina at Regio di Calabrio called Galicio that looks ok. Well the forecast of 5kts from the north turned out to be BS. More like 20-22 and awful short chop. We persisted with it though, covering our recently cleaned boat with salt yet again. We had so much spray coming over the coach house that I had to close the saloon doors. We had fun dodging a huge fleet of windsurfers and kite surfers who were enjoying conditions more than us! The airhorn was ready to blast anyone who was not paying attention as although we were under motor, they are much quicker and more manoeuvrable than us. Then thankfully the breeze backed off. It’s amazing how 17kts feels like a relief after slamming into 22kts. Its 14kts by the time we anchored at Galicio and dropped to nothing from then on so we had a very calm night, albeit listening to 80s music from the beach club ashore – that would have been ok except for someone yelling in Italian over the top of it (possibly an aerobics class). There were also local fishermen coming and going all night in small dinghies around us. Apparently the pilot books say you can’t anchor in the Messina Straits, most people take this to mean anywhere between Italy and Sicily, but it’s really only means the short section at the north which is the narrowest point and includes the shipping channel. Anyway, as we don’t seem to have an Italian pilot book we didn’t know this until much later. By the end of the day we have done 64nm, not quite what we planned!
We departed again at a leisurely 8:30am for a “short” 40nm hope across to the Aeolian Islands, off the NE corner of Sicily. This group consists of several volcanic islands, the most well-known one being Stromboli, which is still quite active and regularly puts on a light show at night.
We motored north up into the Straits hugging the starboard shore. The Straits are not as busy with shipping as we expected, that said we had a nervous moment as a car ferry decided to leave just as we were passing by and we had cruise and cargo ships both over take us. We radioed VTS for permission to cross the channel and in no time we were turning the corner and pointing towards Isola Volcano at the south end of the Aeolian Island group. The wind gods are feeling happier today after giving us a beating yesterday and we get the Parasailor up. The angles are a bit flukey but as we get further from the coast it becomes more consistent. Later we change to the gennaker to get a better angle to our destination. Even without the main we get along at great speeds and better angles. We approach Volcano from the western side checking out a couple of anchorages, but end up opting for the town harbour anchorage, Baia di Pontente. It's already very crowded but conditions are calm and we squeeze ourselves in.
We go ashore early in the morning and walk up to the rim of the crater of the volcano of Isola Volcano (wondering how they decided on the name for this island???). Lots of acrid sulphur on one side but it’s quite spectacular and great views across to the island of Isola Lipari. Looking down into the crater it was a heart shape. We walked around the small town for a bit and then as we were heading back to ITIKI the police were doing the rounds of the anchorage telling everyone to move on. I guess they need to turn the crowds over. The weather is lovely and calm so we pick up an anchorage on Lipari’s west coast, all of 3nm away, one of the rare white sand “beaches” (Punta Di Levante) in this volcanic area, although still a bit on the deep side. Boats come and go all day, fishermen come by to sell their catch and we have a beautiful sunset.
Overnight we had a couple of storms pass through. Winds were not strong but they brought some rain and we had to bring all of the cocktail deck cushions in. Early morning brought a stronger westerly with a big swell and backwash from the cliffs which saw waves going over the transom. This is called getting “pooped” and it’s not very nice. ITIKI is bucking up and down like a bronco on our anchor. It’s raining moderately so we quickly get the bimini clears up and beat a hasty retreat in big seas around to the east coast of Lipari, with me holding the crockery drawer closed until we turned the corner around the south of the island and got out of the swell. We anchored at Punta di Capistelo on the southern part of the bay around the town of Lipari, a bit too close to another mono. Not a great anchorage, very rolly, too deep, probably rocks and weed and we did not feel happy about leaving the boat to visit the town. We chat to the guy on the mono and he recommends an anchorage on the island of Salina which is protected from Westerlies so we decide to give it a go. As we head north past the white sand beach on the north east of Lipari we see a Saba 50, Double Shot. This is Andy and Mel and their kids who were on the dock with us at La Rochelle and came to our baptism. How funny to see them after so long! We have a quick chat but by now its blowing strongly from the north, so we head across to Salina. We have travelled all of 15nm today, including our detour by Lipari town.
'The anchorage outside the Marina di Salina is not quite what we expected, still a bit deep and steep but that is par for the course around volcanic islands. Still it's protected enough, we have it to ourselves and it turns out to be a good choice. I go ashore for a wander and Keith stays on board to make sure ITIKI is settled in the anchorage. We were expecting storms overnight but nothing eventuates and we have a calm night.
We walk around Salina the next morning and decide to take the ferry over to Lipari Town for a couple of hours, rather than move to a crummy anchorage for the night. We have lunch in Lipari town and enjoy walking the streets of the old town, up to the castle. Museums are closed but wander into the church, have a gelato and head back on the ferry again. It is a pretty town with colourful houses and plenty of tourists. We decide against heading up north to Stromboli, the most active volcano in the group. It’s quite a way north and conditions are not so favourable. Anyway we also have heard that the volcano is not really doing much in the way of spectacular fireworks at the moment, so we are probably not missing out.
Our nicely protected anchorage has become very rolly overnight with a change of conditions so we were up and away just before 4am, 1 hour earlier than planned. We have a long passage of 253nm to the south east corner of Sardinia for the next part of our Italian adventures.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.