Sunday, August 31, 2008

The challenges of Italy

August 14th, 2008
Isole di Ponza
coordinates 40 54.265N,012 57.832E

The challenge is that, surprisingly, this is the first country where relatively few people speak English. Or if they do, they choose not too. When they realize we don't speak enough Italian, I swear they speak faster waiting for us to kick into gear and all of a sudden comprehension will roll over our faces. The boys think it is hilarious to watch their mothers face as comprehension never quite appears. It is easy enough to point and use our limited Italian when ordering food, but it is another
story when trying to find places to anchor. The second factor of the great challenge.

After leaving Stromboli a couple weeks ago we made our way up the coast line looking for decent places to anchor and explore the mainland. The potential anchorages are few and far between up this side of the coast. Our plans and their back ups not always working. We were often finding ourselves still desperately searching as the sun set. Not a position you want to be in when sailing around a foreign country. Sometimes this equation ends up costing a lot of money as when our back up plan included
what was to be a tiny run down fishing marina but turned out to be a brand new fancy, Marina di Stabia, costing us 130 Euros a night. OUCH!

We eventually find spots suitable but have had some very rolly nights, such as anchored off the lovely town of Positano. From the water it has amazing charm, with all the buildings tucked into a rocky valley. Climbing up the mountainside and utilizing every inch, it is covered in colorful homes and verandas over looking the sea. From the shore it is an equally amazing tourist spot. Every one of the charming buildings lining those charming winding roads was actually an expensive boutique just
waiting to separate you from your Euro. We are quickly learning a few tricks to hold on to our Euro's a little longer. Number one, order all your food for take out. There is a little fee they tack on to your meal and it seems to be arbitrary as to the percentage of the take out fee. One day we spent as much to sit and eat the pizza as the pizza itself cost.

While we were in that spendy marina we decided to make a quick run into Pompeii and it was fascinating. As a kid I think we always pictured it as a few people and homes partially uncovered but it is a full standing, sprawling city. Entire mosaic floors, giant stone grinders for making flour at the bakery, public baths, and beautiful frescos still intact. They had raised cross walks out of giant stones so the locals didn't have to step down into the street with the donkeys and the equivalent of
water fountains at nearly each corner in town to refresh yourself. Entire neighborhoods, a local theater and stadium where the gladiators honed their talents still stands tall. We did later see on CNN that they are concerned with the state of the ruins and if not cared for better will disintegrate rapidly in the future. We think it would be fun to see it come back to life like Old Colonial Williamsburg. Quickly, we made haste through the ruins since we couldn't afford to spend another night in
that marina. Again, we struggled with the local metro system since no seemed to be able to tell us if or where the closest stop was to our marina. Though we started only 3-4 miles away from the marina we now found ourselves 2 miles in the opposite direction. Nothing a brisk walk won't do for you.

Along with all the water loving Italians who are on vacation this month, we really enjoyed the islands off the coast of Naples. Isola di Ischia, Ventitene and Ponza were delightful anchorages despite the throngs of people flocking to their favorite get-away's. The only down moment would come when Lisa jumped off the dinghy one day onto a boat ramp, missed her footing, falling flat on her right cheek and knocking herself out cold momentarily. A blazing headache, a beautiful black eye and a mumps
like profile were all she had to show for it. Luckily, no broken bones sustained nor stitches needed. It is quite a conversation starter though, with the locals always giving Bruce the questioning glance. Poor guy.

From here, our weather faxes indicated that the winds were really going to be picking up so we wanted to get somewhere comfortable before they arrived in a few days. We set out for Rome the next day. Next time I'll let you know what happens when the gale arrives early.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tyrrhenian Sea

Tyrrhenian Sea
August 7th, 2008
coordinates 39 59.932N,015 25.721E

At least from the water side point of view, Italy lives up to it's romantic visions of terraced hillsides and fertile grounds, villas hidden in between the larger towns of apartments and hotels and the drier rocky mountains. The water is much warmer than the Ionian Sea at a balmy 82 degrees and the air a very warm 90 degrees with just enough humidity to make you wish for a bit more wind. The hazy days make way each afternoon for ominous thunder clouds over the land that occasionally create enough
noise and even visible lightning to make you think they might get to you, but they don't. The smaller more quaint, quiet and yet untouched towns look much like Greece with their colorful red and purple bouganvilla and geraniums, perched on blue covered porches and doorways.
August, we have heard, is when all of Europe goes on vacation, and we would have to add to that, they all own a water craft of some sort and flock to the sea. They race out at sunrise and don't retreat until sundown, which is near 10:00pm. It is wonderful to see them take advantage of the time they have to share together and the resources at their feet.
We have managed thus far to avoid the expensive marinas and found plenty of comfortable and safe anchorages to lay our own hook.
We had the fortune of making our way through the Straight of Messina with the current rather than against. It can get up to 4 knots in there. Homer wrote of Odysseus in the Odyssey, fearing the great sea monsters here. Scillia had long legs that sucked vessels and sea creatures right up into the sky and Charybdis swallowed them down into the ocean. In truth is it possible that water spouts could have occurred in the straight when the winter storms and gales are howling seeming to suck them into
the sky. There was a whirl pool, the guide book states, under the town of Scillia created by the strong currents could wreak havoc on unwary ships but in an earthquake in 1783, changes the underwater topography lessened it to menacing eddies.
From Messina we made a bee line to Stromboli Island, home to yet another perpetually active volcano. It experienced a large eruption in 2002-2003 that caused a large strip of the western side to slide into the ocean. Flowing and spewing lava and ash into the sky and sinking into the water as well, helped to create a 10 meter tsunami that covered the shores of Stromboli itself and Sicily. Today it sends out mild smoke signals at regular intervals visible during the day and exciting fireworks displays
of lava and red hot boulders at night. The island, still inhabited enjoys it's fame and runs a very nice little tourist industry of it's own there. Understated but getting the job done, you can take day time and evening hikes to the crater's edge to view the show. Free to anchor there, we were happy to watch from the water.
Back to the main land we have dotted our way up the coast as we head toward Naples. Our stay last night at Punta di Degli Infreschi was a very popular spot with the locals for a day get away with fun caves to swim into and explore. Likely 40 some odd boats crammed themselves in this cove for a delightful stay only to find the Ohana Kai Klampets already on a mooring there hanging all their laundry out to dry. Lovely. Upward we go toward Naples, Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Buon Giorno!

August 2, 2008
coordinates 38 13.753N,016 21.021E

Buon Giorno,
We wrapped up our stay in Greece by taking a week to relax around the islands of Lefkada and Meganisi. We spent a few days provisioning on the north end near the marina. These islands are reminiscent of Tonga due to the sheer numbers of charter boats milling around the waters. The calm flat crystal clear waters and wonderful consistent wind between the islands provide the perfect cruising grounds and quiet get away's for people from Europe. The Onassis family owns a private island tucked in the
middle which of course draws everyone to sail by for a peak. So much for privacy. On the south end of Lefkada is the bay of Vasiliki, wind surf heaven. A large bay, it is perfectly calm until about 1pm where nearly every afternoon the wind whips up on cue. Hundreds of wind surfers can be seen skimming back and forth the waters. We decided they look like little leaf cutter ants diligently marching back and forth carrying their prized possession across the water. Bruce even had chance to join
in on the fun.

We waited for the right weather window and slipped across the Ionian Sea to make landfall in Cape Rizzuto, Italy, down between the toe and heel of the boot. The greeks had colonized the southern part of Italy and Sicily around 11BC creating the Magna Graecia Era which attracted many great philosophers such as Homer and Pythagoras to spend decades here. One lovely overnight sail 10-20 knot winds N/NW and we arrived. A few dolphins ushered us into the country. One night on anchor and the second night
we moved down to Roche Ionica and found a free marina and our first slice of thin crust pizza. Delicious, we have traded in our cravings for feta to mozzarella. We are working our way down around the toe through the Straight of Messina today and look forward to see just how far north we will make it with the boat.