Prochida Maratea and Quite a Lot Between

Fri 19 Sep 2014 20:23
How quickly Prochida has become a home from home. This tiny, comfortable island, the water front town of Sancio Cattolico with its narrow, not much more than a (small) cars width, ancient granite paved streets, winding up the hillside between three, sometimes four storey high, gently crumbling buildings, within which the vast bulk of the population live, sharing the gentle climate, the fruits of the sea, the company of neighbours known for generations, so close yet so far from the teeming metropolis that is todays Napoli. They zoom about these streets of old in tiny, much scratched motorcars, motorbikes, scooters and bicycles with electric motors, dodging around those walking as they flatten themselves against the walls seeking to avoid having toes or other vulnerable parts damaged by their fossil fuelled exuberance. Above this thrice named town, for it is also known as Prochida Marina and Marina Grande at the highest point of the island (377 feet) stands the now largely deserted old town, surrounded by its grey, forbidding, defensive walls above sheer sandstone cliffs on its north west side. The walls built fully four stories high, the canon ports still evident and looking as if at the slightest provocation they could deliver their eighty gun broadside to any foolish enough to seek to disturb their Prochian idle. Clearly the defences were effective for apart from attempted raids by the Turks and Barbarossa around 1544 little has disturbed life here since the island was first settled in Neolithic times.

We took the ferry to Pozzuoli on the mainland, a busy bustling town just north of Naples. Busy in more than one way for apparently the land here is in constant, albeit slow motion. It has been estimated that over the last few centuries the land hereabouts has risen and subsided again by five and a half metres. As recently as 1970 there was a seventy five centimetre movement in six months. Scientists reckon that the next big eruption will be around Pozzuoli and will dwarf the infamous Vesuvian eruption that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. Fortunately whilst we were there the earth did not move and we were not required to dodge lava flows or pyroclastic clouds. Hailing a taxi (for later it seemed that there was only one in the town!) we wound our way up the hillside to visit the Roman amphitheatre, a huge elliptical affair set in the hillside, with seating for tens of thousands. Although the centuries had taken their toll on the vast colonnaded circumference, the remains of pillars Doric, Ionic and Corinthian lying scattered around the site, the vast subterranean complex, where gladiators, wild beasts, and sets of remarkable complexity were kept and hoisted to the stage with an intricate system of pulleys, remains almost completely intact. Apparently for one event an entire forest scene with full grown trees was hoisted into the arena.

Our minds full of thoughts of gladiatorial slaughter midst the tens of thousands of braying spectators we made tracks for Herculaneum, that lesser known victim of the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption. We hailed a passing cab and found that it was the same driver we had travelled with earlier. Our route to Herculaneum took us through the region known as the Phlegran Fields. Now scattered with light industrial units and car showrooms but between them the rich volcanic earth hosts trees and shrubs in vast abundance, every un-developed plot and there are many displays its verdant splendour in defiance of man’s concrete. Here sulphurous odours fill the air and in hidden corners hot springs and sinister bubbling mud pools warn that there is more to come. The suburbs of Napoli seem to consist of crumbling, poorly built high rise blocks, their plaster covered facades cracked and fissured, covered in graffiti. Faded, peeling paint, rusted iron work midst the hanging laundry and everywhere all manner of rubbish blowing like tumbleweed through the filthy streets. It would seem little has been learnt from the 1980 earthquake when three thousand or more died. Unimpressed we arrived at modern day Ercolano, little better but midst the jerry built squalor, many metres below it the amazing remains of Herculaneum, roofs and most of the upper stories gone but at ground and cellar level remarkably intact. Its granite kerbed and paved streets, shops, restaurants, bath houses, commercial buildings, store rooms and even the brothel indicate a lively bustling town. Mosaic floors, bright intricately painted plasterwork still evident. One would not be surprised here if a group of toga clad, freshly bathed revellers wandered down the street to the Roman equivalent of a takeaway restaurant. Sad stairways lead to non-existent first floors, the timber joist turned to crumbling charcoal by the super-heated, pyroclastic cloud that engulfed the town.

But our legs weary and toes blistered we sought respite from the ancient world in the nearest Ercolanian pizzeria. Where at least the beer was cold if the pizzas were disappointingly mediocre. Our meal served by young men in drooping jeans that appeared to defy gravity as they hung suspended around their slim hips hovering over non-existent buttocks. Rob giving quite the wrong impression when upon receiving the bill he gave the waiter’s jeans an exploratory tug! I explained to Rob that our waiter must have thought that the tip he was about to receive was not coinage! We took the much scrawled over train to the centre of Naples passing through the seemingly endless dour suburbs; a taxi to the port and soon the ferry was whisking us back to our Prochidian hideaway.

There followed a couple of relaxed days for three of us doing boat jobs and making travel arrangements for Lynn’s trip home to organise care for her elderly mother who has fallen yet again . Lynn feeling pretty stressed with the problems at home and the impact on all aboard Pamarzi as itineraries were compromised. Her travel requiring ferries, taxis, trains and an overnight stop in Naples. I took to the heavens, cleaning, checking and polishing mast and spreaders in my bosuns chair, great views from my vantage point eighty feet above the Bay of Naples.

We sailed for Capri on Tuesday, there was little wind to fill our sails so on went the motor to cover the twenty or so miles across the garbage strewn waters of the Bay of Naples, such a disappointment to see such a beautiful bay despoiled by the careless populace of the filthy metropolis. Capri a mad bustle of tourist boats, cruise ships, ferries and day tripper excursion boats fighting for space in the tiny harbour. The miniscule marina offered us a berth for the night in exchange for €300! We declined their offer and headed for Amalfi. The coastline absolutely stunning, towering deeply fissured mountains soaring straight up from the sea, tiny communities perched at prodigious heights seeming to cling to the rock face. A coast road that at times is cantilevered from the sheer rock face then dives into tunnels before crossing multi arched viaducts, twisting and turning like a demented eel. The afternoon breeze propelling us past gloriously picturesque Positano (too small a harbour for our ship) and on to Amalfi. Rounding a headland the truly sensational sight of Amafi presented itself, a seemingly vertical town many of its buildings appear to be glued to the rock face above the ancient harbour. Pamarzi and us washed and brushed up by 19.30 we sallied forth to explore, finding interesting architecture and a lively harbour front. Then through a narrow arch way cut into the rock the dramatic town square opened up before us. On one side a magnificently baroque church approached by a stairway, the width of the square, of one hundred or more steps. Supper was had in a very typical Italian taverna nestling under the walls of the church, where the spaghetti vongole was a delight

Deciding the following morning to take an Italian breakfast in the square we were walking the quay side when I thought I recognised ‘Bertie the sea dog’ and on accosting his owner I proved myself correct for it was Steve Powell owner and skipper of the Oyster 62 Uhuru. Steve having completed his Antartican adventures is cruising the Med with his good lady Beans. During our conversation Steve mentioned that they were going to the Amalfi Musical that evening, they had heard very good reports of it so we decided to follow suit and join them. The coffee at breakfast was as you would expect delicious so to were the huge crème patisserie filled doughnut like things upon which we gorged. The rest of the day was spent exploring this vertical town before joining Steve and Beans aboard Uhuru for drinks prior to the show which was staged before (well amongst really)a small audience in vaulted chambers within the cliffs of Amalfi. The show more an operetta, told the history, loves and lives of medieval Amalfi, both the music and quality of the singing and acting was excellent, the setting lending itself perfectly to the emotion stirring tale.

Thursday we headed to Pompeii by way of a ferry to Salerno and the train to the modern city of Pompei (now one i). None of us had quite expected the scale of this vast excavation. We wandered the ancient cobbled streets and much like Heraculeum but on a much larger scale here were all the prerequisites for Roman life. Some of the smaller items such as table bases, pools in shaded courtyards and private decorated rooms really brought home the feel of the ancient community and their similarities with us. The main enormous colonnaded square magnificent with its decorated columns, vast flights of stone steps surrounding an area large enough to accommodate many thousands, though I doubt the slaves traded here dwelt long on its awe inspiring splendour.

We hired a car the next day and followed the tortuously winding coast road, tiny hamlets in almost every cleft of the rock in this truly dramatic coastline. We zig zagged our way down to Positano and then across the mountains to Sorrento for a piscatorial lunch on a terrace with a superb view over the Bay of Naples and a back drop of Vesuvius brooding under its veil of clouds as if patiently waiting the right moment to vomit its next pyroclastic onslaught on those impertinent enough to inhabit its fertile slopes.

Back on Pamarzi in Amalfi Harbour it was pretty rolly as a south westerly swell swept into the harbour sending masts a swaying, it worsened during the night depriving us of sleep as the boat lurched and tugged and fenders groaned and squeaked against our neighbour. Next morning eyes smarting and muzzy headed we decided to leave and retrace our passage to Capri and across the bay to Prochida where we knew we would find shelter and would put Lynn one ferry journey nearer the airport. Liliane desperate to spend more time in Capri opted to take a ferry there and join us in Prochida in the evening. Rob, Lynn and I extricated Pamarzi from the still rolling Amalfi harbour and headed out into an uncomfortable two metre swell with frustratingly little wind and what there was on the nose anyway. We motored with just a little mainsail to steady the boat. Turning between Capri and the mainland the seas eased, the wind came on our beam and we had a glorious reach across the bay. A call to my new friend Francesco, the marina manager, secured us berth 09 where we had been docked previously. Boat washed down, sheets and lines hanked and tidied, Lyn and Rob took to their berths to catch up on sleep. I was completing the last few jobs when I returned a friendly wave from a large, three decked motor yacht moored further along the pontoon. A short while later the waver appeared on the pontoon at the shore end of our passerelle calling out a greeting and making admiring comments about Pamarzi. “She is very beautiful, an Oyster – no?” said the fellow who I later learnt was called Diago. “Which model is she?” he asked. “A 575” I responded, “would you like to come aboard?” Diago joined me on the afterdeck and after we had introduced ourselves he produced two bottles of wine, one white one red and proceeded to tell me about his vineyard and winery. One thing led to another and we repaired to the cockpit where the wine was opened and we proceeded to exchange our views and histories. Diago telling me that one of his businesses was mining diamonds and precious metals from the sea bed using a ship that he had bought from the British government. We found that we shared many interests and happily chatted the afternoon away enjoying each other’s company and a goodly part of the two bottles of wine. I had to see Francesco to settle for our berth and Diago had a business call to make, as we stepped onto the pontoon Diago’s very beautiful (and much younger!) wife Titziana greeted us saying she was on her way to buy some Prochidian delicacies from the bakers. When I returned to Pamarzi after my meeting with Francesco, who I learnt was also a musician playing the drums in no less than three local bands; there on the cockpit table was a beribboned parcel containing some of the delightful sweet flaky pastries that Titziana had spoken of. I waved my thanks to them as they sat on their afterdeck attended by crew. They returned my wave gesturing me to join them, which I did. Well look at it this way I could sleep or spend another couple of hours in the company of a very interesting, hugely wealthy guy and his drop dead gorgeous wife on their vast motor yacht – what would you have done? Diago and Titziana gave me a guided tour of their boat and we talked and drank more wine, finally parting with handshakes and man hugs and kisses with Titziana.

On the south side of the island that evening, Liliane returned to us from Capri, Rob and Lynn refreshed from their sleep and me feeling slightly heady from lack of sleep and surfeit of wine we dined down at the old fish dock on simply grilled dorada.

Final travel arrangements made next morning and Lynn looking rather forlorn watches from the pontoon as we cast off heading for marina D’Arrechi in the Golfo di Salerno. She for her ferry to Naples and a lonely night in a near airport hotel before her morning flight to Liverpool. A good reach across the bay of Naples but the wind along the Amalfi coast let us down and we resorted to motoring the last twenty or so miles to the very large and very new (not yet completed) marina D’Arrechi, completing our mooring around 19.00 we ate aboard as there was little around this vast complex, whose charges one has to say for his time of year were on the high side.

Southwards now ever southwards we head for Maratea a longer sail than our rule of thumb anticipated we arrive at 21.00 in this little harbour towered over by a statue of Christ lit atop the cliff several hundred metres high. In the dark it is impossible to make out what is mountain and what is sky so the arms outstretched the twenty one metre high Christ seems to be hovering above the harbour. Good practice! Little harbour, no marineros, big boat but there is plenty of space on the outer pontoon so we moor side on and enjoy a restful night. Next morning I visit the cheerful, friendly harbour master and arrange my week long stay. With the help of a marinero we warp the boat to a Med moor position where she lies comfortable with two bow lines. Rob and Liliane make their final arrangements for their homeward journey and I busy myself with boat cleaning. Wednesday morning I wave them good bye and settle in to my Maratean home.

I like it here, the people are friendly, the odd visiting yacht appears for an overnight stop, German, Austrian, English and all moor at a respectful distance from the towering Pamarzi (for so she seems in this modest harbour) but they come and chat and admire. My routine is to stroll into the harbour front village in the morning passing the hillside church of Ava Maria its handful of worshippers singing hymns in the cool of the morning for the sun rises late here over the high cliffs. Clutching my loaf of still warm bread I breakfast as the sun rises over the cliffs and the warmth of the day begins. Pamarzi shines. Her decks, her gel coat, her bright work even her windows and port lights are spotless. An evening walk into town, my favourite restaurant, warm greetings from the patron as he smiles at my growing confidence and vocabulary in Italiano.

Friday, the call has come, it’s on its way, and today is the day. The harbour master comes to see me he gesticulates for he has no English but I know what he means. We walk together back to the inner harbour where the grey truck holds Petite Pamarzi II. Our new tender is here, I consult with locals, the crane driver is found, an hour and a half, three of us sweating in the sun and she is launched. Oh the joy of a proper tender again, no wobbling dinghy and miniscule engine. A couple of hours spent putting anchor and rode together and sorting out the rest of the kit and I’m pressing the starter button. Just once, then ease the throttle forward obeying the three knot harbour speed limit. The open sea a few more revs and she is up on the plane ignoring the chop. I romp around like a new driver on passing the driving test before returning to the harbour and mooring her next to Pamarzi.

A weekend alone before Lynn returns and David and Brian join the crew for the voyage to Sicily.


Alone on Pamarzi