Destination Sibari

Kite Cam

Kite Cam

Wednesday the 2nd of May

I listened carefully to VHF channel 68 on route (an automated system continually broadcasts the marine weather forecast for Italy in an almost unintelligible manner) to determine if the calm conditions would last the night. As there was no mention of gale warnings I was confident of an easy run, and so it was until reaching Crotone at approximately 1am. No moon, my small world faintly illuminated by the tri-light and the red glow of the instruments.

The sea was almost pitch-black though my wake glowed intermittently, lit by mini vortexes of phosphorescent plankton. A spotlight pierced the dark and came to rest upon Eileen of Avoca. “What on earth…?”

The spotlight moved on and I made out the navigation lights of an approaching vessel. The glaring light returned. Should I continue? Should I stop? I took the latter option and waited to see what would transpire. All was still. A nearby dolphin leapt from the water adding to the surreal moment.

The blinding spotlight returned as a large gray motor vessel came alongside. I could just make out the silhouette of her crew as they came to within a few meters of Eileen. It was the Guardia di Finanza. They questioned me for nearly 20 minutes and then as unexpectedly as they had arrived they said their polite good-byes and disappeared into the night. How bizarre!

Little did I know at the time that the Calabrian Mafia families were feuding in Crotone and all unusual traffic was subject to careful scrutiny by the police.

Shortly afterward I had a most dazzling display by a group of dolphins. Dazzling because they were bathed in the neon glow of phosphorescent plankton. The spectral display as they performed their intricate dance under the bowsprit was breathtaking. If only I could have filmed this!
30 minutes later the wind returned from the N NE with a vengeance. It was 2am and I certainly was not in the mood to fight a headwind. I put in two reefs and set a course westward. A small marina just south of Punto Alice (Ciro Marina) and 10 NM distant offered me a convenient bolt-hole. One I was eager to use. By 4am I’d made fast to the quay and promptly went below to sleep.

Tuna

Tuna

By sunrise the fierce winds had died and the sea was tranquil once more. I rounded cape Alice, set my fishing line and sat back to enjoy the sunshine. Before long, and to my great astonishment, I finally caught my first fish. I confess that at the time I had no idea what sort of fish it was (apparently a small Tuna) but it looked edible.

Having finished my cooking fuel and being but a few hours from my final destination, I reluctantly threw my prize back. Eating my catch will have to wait for another adventure.
By 18:00 I’d navigated the incredibly narrow and ridiculously shallow passage into Sibari and made Eileen secure.

Thursday the 3rd and Friday the 4th of May were spent travelling by foot (6km), train (600km), metro (25km), foot (2km), and finally car (1500km), back to Belgium.
Eileen of Avoca will sit at Sibari for the next two months waiting for her next trip to Greece.

Roccella Ionica to Le Castella (45NM)

Le Castella

Le Castella

Thursday the 1st of May

A 7:30 start. No wind, no waves, just a beautiful sunny day. More kite flying, unsuccessful fishing, and dolphin watching. By 17:00 I was entering the small port of Le Castella. Not a worry for a shoal draft vessel like Eileen, but the bedrock is of serious concern for sailing vessels drawing more than 1.5m. I had a couple of hours to visit the town and do some housekeeping before the final leg to Sibari.

Velenosa completed her journey here and Marina I, stayed the night as they were bound for Gallipoli (the Italian Gallipoli) in the morning and the crew insisted on a good rest.

With no mutinous crew to contend with I voted, seconded and carried the motion to make good use of the prevailing calm and left at sunset foregoing sleep in order to arrive at Sibari by 9am.

Tropea to Roccella Ionica (105NM)

Velenosa

Velenosa

Wednesday the 30th of April

Just before sunrise I was able to contact the Italian boat (Velenosa) and rendezvous to pass the Messina strait in company. It was an easy passage through the notorious waters, but the turbulent current was still evident and I was glad I did not have to traverse this stretch in poor conditions. The Homeric tales of whirlpools off Scilla were never far from my mind.
Three hours later the wind backed and I was faced with making way against the prevailing conditions. The sloop rigged Velenosa was happily tacking in the Force 5/6 conditions but if I was to reach Roccella Ionica before nightfall I would have to take a more direct course and motor. After a wet and bumpy 4 hours at no more than 3kts the wind dropped and shortly afterward the sea calmed. I am always surprised by how rapidly the sea can change.

kite

Kite flying while sailing

Before long the water took on a silky smoothness interrupted only by a long and gentle swell. It was time to make use of my new toy. A kite to which I had fashioned a camera mount. Following me by no more than a mile was what I supposed to be Velenosa, (it turned out to be another yacht altogether called Marina I) and as I flew my black and red kite the vessel approached.

In port I was to learn that they believed I was signaling them, one of the crew even confessed to have taken out a guidebook to decode my curious message. They were delighted to learn that it was just my attempt to take some novel snapshots and video footage of Eileen of Avoca underway (a birds eye view).
In port (No charge for visiting vessels for up to 5 days) we met to exchange accounts and together with the crew from Velenosa we sat at the restaurant terrace to a meal of pizza, pasta and beer.

Tropea – spectacular

Tropea, Italy

Tropea, Italy

Tuesday the 29th of April

Most of the day was taken up playing tourist in Tropea, a spectacular town accessible by climbing a long stairway from the marina. The evening was spent hunting for some EP 90 oil to lubricate the propeller shaft (lo and behold, the staff at Delta Italia hadn’t bothered to top this up and there was only a small amount left in the delivery hose). I know the type of oil because I gave David at Yarmouth Marine Services a call to find out whether I could fill it with olive oil in a pinch.

Apparently you can!

However the helpful staff at the nearby boatyard gave me what I needed (no charge) and I was able to use the correct product after all.

Checking the tide table for the Messina strait, kindly provided by a helpful north bound Englishman, (I’d not downloaded the 2008 tables from the Internet and only had 2007 in my Mediterranean almanac), I found I needed to arrive at dawn near Capo Peloro. A nearby Italian registered boat (Velenosa) was planning to leave at midnight but I left Tropea before sunset in order to take my time and do some real sailing.

Procida to Tropea via Capri

tired

Feeling tired

My main concern for this next leg (over 160NM) was obtaining a good weather forecast. The last time I’d had Internet access was just before my departure from Fiumicino and I was not comfortable remaining ignorant of the long-term weather trends.

I resolved to make a short (2 hour) stop at Capri which I felt sure would have an Internet café or at least daily weather forecasts posted at the marina. The former was indeed the case and before long I felt ready to continue my journey (but not before feasting on a delicious pizza), saying my good-byes to the amazingly busy port of Capri.

I have since resolved to invest in NAVTEX or at least a 3G / GPRS data modem.

On to Tropea. The remainder of the trip went without incident but the lack of significant wind and a presumed average speed of 5kts meant that the recently serviced Beta engine had a thorough workout. There followed the now customary visit by dolphins and many a valiant but consistently unsuccessful attempt to fish (using a new white rubber octopus lure purchased at Ventotene).

Arriving just before sunset on the 28th of April I completed the obligatory formalities (Passport, Boat Registration and insurance papers) and caught up on some much-needed beauty sleep (ok, anti-zombie lookalike sleep).  :)

Ventotene to Procida (28NM)

Saturday the 26th of April

In stark contrast to the previous leg, Saturday was not the best of days to go sailing. The wind had turned and the swell had grown considerably (Force 6 on the nose is never pleasant) but there was no other option given the schedule I’d set myself. My entire trip hinged on making significant progress on a daily basis. Had I more time available I would have happily sat out much of the uglier weather in port, but I had to be back at work on the 5th and the longest part of the journey still lay ahead. At this point, nothing short of a gale would see me skip a day.

Broken Autohelm mount

Broken Autohelm mount

Just north of Ischia the mount for my Autohelm broke. Years of water seeping into small fractures in the timber had weakened the laminated block and it came away at the level of the evidently rusty screw heads. I was near several well-sheltered ports so rather than spend the night at an anchorage as originally planned I made for Chiaiozza (20Euros with water and electricity) to make repairs. Lavish use of 24hr Araldite had my tiller-pilot mount looking as good as new. I spent the rest of the evening taking in the sights of this unexpectedly pretty little port.

Ponza to Ventotene (23NM)

Ventotene Local

Ventotene Local

Friday the 25th of April

Effortless sailing to Ventotene, though the wind did get somewhat boisterous upon arrival. I made for the old port (originally carved out of the bedrock by the Romans) and moored bow-to to the quay.

I don’t even try to berth stern-to with Eileen of Avoca. The slightest breeze makes maneuvering in reverse (an arcane art practiced by only a few brave Yarmouth 23 owners) an unpredictable and potentially hazardous exercise.

This island is a scuba divers paradise but has little else to offer tourists on an extended stay. As I looked over the produce displayed on a small three-wheeled van the purveyor came to tout his wares. “Seven Euro and made with my own hands” he stated enthusiastically while I examined a jar of pickled capsicum. After this unexpected proclamation I couldn’t help but turn to examine his dirt-encrusted fingers as he reached for the jar.

I reluctantly abandoned my intended purchase.

Fiumicino to Ponza (70NM)

Leaving Rome

Leaving Rome

Thursday the 24th of April

At first light I cast off to brave the persistent swell at the entrance to Fiumicino. With considerable trepidation I watched the sets of breakers and timed my exit. The rain from earlier in the week had swollen the current, steepening the oncoming swell. I didn’t want to be in the wrong place should a large set of waves break, so I set the engine to full throttle and powered through the danger zone. Safe!

Hoisting the sails I adjusted my course (150°) for Ponza (60NM away). There was not much in the way of scenery but the settling sea and favourable westerly breeze were more than enough to keep my spirits high.

By 19:00 I was carefully threading my way through the shoals off Punta Rossa arriving at Porto di Ponza soon afterward. I had no luck contacting the private “mini-marina” staff by radio so I made fast to the first pontoon confident that someone would not be long in stopping by to extract a fee. I did not have to wait long. A quote of 10 Euros per meter (subsequently reduced to 50 Euro after observing my startled reaction) saw miserly me off to set anchor in the bay (beyond the buoys marking the ferry-maneuvering zone). Contrary to what is stated in my pilot, it is permitted to use this free anchorage.

In the remaining light I set about inflating my tender (a Sevylor diving kayak). Keeping a dry backside in this contraption which has an access hatch at its centre is a bit of a challenge but despite this I’ve convinced myself it was an excellent purchase. (see: http://www.nextag.com/sevylor-diveyak/search-html)

After a brief morning wander through the bustling port and side streets of Ponza in search of fresh bread and a strong espresso, I paddled back to Eileen on a caffeine high, and weighed anchor.

Poor weather delays departure

Tuesday the 22nd and Wednesday the 23rd of April

Eileen of Avoca was ready to go, but a heavy swell made exiting Fiumicino (a distributary branch of the Tiber River) dangerous if not impossible (see photo).

I spent the next couple of days preparing for my trip, stocking up on delectable local produce and reconnoitering the river’s mouth to gauge the height of the breakers. Despite having traveled more than 1000km unnecessarily, I was pleased to have kept the car. It enabled me to revisit Ostia and the many venues nearby that I’d come to know over the Christmas New Years holiday period.

From Rome to Sibari with Eileen of Avoca

Entrance to Fiumicino

Entrance to Fiumicino

Sunday the 20th of April
Late afternoon start for the 1500km drive to Rome.

Monday the 21st of April

Arrived by 6am and attempted to sleep in the car waiting for Delta Italia to open (no easy feat in a Fiat 600 unless you are a contortionist on Valium).

Eileen of Avoca was still in her cradle, awaiting some finishing touches. I was assured that all would be in order by late afternoon, so after transferring my electronic gadgetry (GPS, EPRIB, Laptop, Handheld VHF etc.) to the boat I steeled myself for the additional 500km drive to Sibari. Arriving before 5pm, I had just enough time for a brief chat with the friendly marina staff and to look around the enormous marina complex.

First impressions were not encouraging. With nearly 3000 places for yachts, I was expecting a bustling metropolis of boating activity. What I found was dilapidated ghost town.

My major concern was with the marina parking, where I had thought to leave my car for 10 days (with my Aries wind-vane in the back seat). The prospect (real or imagined) of not finding anything upon my return was making me decidedly apprehensive.

After a short ride to what passed for the town centre, (20 Euro for the 6km in an unofficial taxi) my misgivings grew and when the regular coach to Rome arrived at 23:00 I could not bring myself to take it. Instead I walked the 6km back to the, marina, picked up the car and retraced my route back to Rome.

For peace of mind, if for no other apparent reason, I would leave the car at Delta Italia and carry the vane gear lashed to the floor of the pushpit.