Ready for another lively day as we would be following the path of legend through the Straits of Messina. One of the few undisputed places visited by Odysseus in The Odyssey. The straits were feared by mariners of old because of the whirlpools, violent squalls and strong currents. We felt we had already done the violent squall so hoped that we only needed to face the whirlpools and strong currents. We left the calm of Riposto early and, yep, wind on the nose. The idea had been to catch the tide as it turned in the Straits so that it would be working with us rather than against us.
The Straits of Messina
As we approached waiting for the tide to turn we were doing 1.5 knots through the water and there was some debate as to whether we were being overtaken by a block of flats we were going so slowly. Then, on the button the tide turned, picked us up and we shot into the turbulent waters at 8 knots. All the while ferries between Sicily and Italy are scooting across our path.
We have sailed on big seas, lumpy seas, and confused seas but this was like nothing else. All of a sudden we were in the middle of the boiling, churning, maelstrom. It was great!
While Carol was taking this picture the others shouted ‘It’s a whale’ from the other side of the boat. By the time I had turned my head (and camera) round it had started its dive and vanished. We read later that there are pilot whales in the area. Wow.
There are several reasons for the turbulence. The shape of the seabed, although an earthquake in 1783 apparently changed the topography sufficiently to make the waters less troublesome. The strong tidal currents are caused by the different times of high and low water in the Tyrrhenian sea to the North and Ionian sea to the South so that twice each day there is a strong slope in either direction. This is even worse if a strong wind is blowing. The Tyrrhenian sea is warmer and less salty than the Ionian and the difference in density sets up currents which flow south at the surface and north below 30 metres. Small whirlpools well up and disappear caused by denser water sinking and they are accompanied by smoother, oily patches which is the less dense water rising up. This I did manage to photograph and it is a weird feeling to see glassy calm water right next to churning, white horses.
In no time at all it was over and we were out the other side. A great experience.
There are no anchorages within range here and we still had some time to go before we reached a harbour. The next few hours were spent thumping into a big and uncomfortable sea towards the only harbour within reach. Bagnara Calabra on the mainland.
Once again a challenge for Mike. Lots of rocks around the entrance and a big sea pushing us this way and that so we had to motor quite hard to keep on course through the waves and to have enough speed to ensure Tashi Delek turned properly when we needed to. To make the harbour entrance this meant effectively driving straight for the land and then, at the last minute a sharp right turn round the harbour wall. Instantly, all is calm and we draw breath. This was the scruffiest marina yet in a generally shabby area. That’ll be 50 Euros please! Having shown us where to berth we were told that the electricity wasn’t connected to that pontoon so if we wanted power we would need to move. We didn’t want power that badly so we stayed put.
Michael, Carol and Charles walked into town to try to find some bread. It was a weird, desolate place with groups of people standing around chatting. Michael asked one such group of elderly gentleman where we could buy bread. At the top of the hill and would he like a lift? So, to our astonishment, a car duly appeared and we waved Michael off. Charles and Carol sat on the sea wall discussing our possible options. Ransom note? Never seen again? Bread?
Fortunately the latter was the case and with much thanking and shaking of hands we took our leave of the gentleman who then went back to doing absolutely nothing again.
There are special swordfish fishing boats unique to this area and there were a couple in the harbour. They have a 50ft tower up which the captain is winched. He looks for the swordfish and steers the boat from there. They have a long walkway from the front, longer than the boat itself, at the end of which stands the man with a harpoon. Apparently swordfish sleep on the surface, the captain spots them from his tower and sneaks up on them so that the chap at the front can harpoon them before they know that there is a boat anywhere near them.
Not a very clear picture but it was taken at first light. We needed to reach the Aolian island of Lipari by mid-day on Thursday 19th to meet up with Thomas and team again to see another vineyard. This meant a 5am start for Mike and Michael while the rest of us stayed in bed ready to take over a couple of hours later. Out of the harbour and, wham, big sea. Big sea sickness. Carol now keeps some pills next to the bed.