Corfu to Aeolian islands

Dick and Irene Craig
Mon 22 Jun 2009 14:49

We waved a fond farewell, as Caroline was driven off in the mini bus, to the airport in Corfu. We had spent a terrific 6 weeks sailing together and had far more good sails than when she was with us for the EMYR (East Mediterranean yacht rally), last year.

Next morning at a quarter to six, we also left Corfu. Greek time is an hour ahead of the time used by most European Mediterranean countries, so we started off the log for the passage using that time, rather than Greek time.

There was very little wind and the sea was flat so, leaving Corfu behind us, we passed to the south of the island of Mathraki. Although we were expecting the depth of the sea to change, from 20metres to 4metres, it was a little disconcerting to suddenly see, through the blue, transparent water, the silvery grey rocks, which looked so close, we felt that we would not pass unscathed.

It took us 35.5 hours to reach Rocella Ionica, on the ball of the foot of Italy. We had stayed here in 2007, en-route from Plymouth to Turkey but this year, the depth at the entrance had decreased to only 2metres.

During the passage, we managed to sail for 40 minutes. There was insufficient wind and of course, it  was head-on.  For a couple of hours, from around 6am on the second day, we were able to use the cruising shute, as we motor sailed on a broad reach.

 Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon on the first day, we saw a whale spouting. As we motored forward, I am pleased to report that the whale disappeared.

On both days, we saw the cavorting of dolphins, on several occasions, but none approached the boat.

Dick saw a baby turtle. Perhaps it was hatched this year.

Traveling in a busy shipping lane, we counted 23 ships. However, having survived the dozens of ships, as we covered the first 50 miles off shore from Brindisi, on our passage to Croatia, we were not too concerned. By checking their bearings and destination, we were soon able to predict their intentions. Being so far from land, we saw no fishing boats during the night, though we did see the light from one other sailing yacht.

As we approached the ball of the foot of Italy, still some 4 hours from our destination, we approached a large fleet of fishing boats, spread out over several miles. We had navigated our way past most of them when I went below to the galley, to prepare some fruit. Having completed my task, I looked up and there, just a few metres from the stern of our boat, was the huge, blue bow of a stationary fishing boat. Dick was on watch and was in control of the situation but it was a bit of a shock nonetheless.

When only a couple of hours from the unfinished marina at Rocella Ionica, where we planned to spend the night, the boat was gradually being navigated closer to the land. Suddenly, there was a flash of silver and what I believe was a swordfish, jumped three times out of the water. I sounded the fog horn to alert Dick but it was too late, the three flashes were all we were getting.

As we entered the marina, a dredger was busy working on the silted entrance, narrowing the channel considerably. We made our way to the end of the marina and tied up alongside, passing another Lagoon 440, on the way. Later that evening a third Lagoon 440 arrived and tied up in front of us. The French owners, with a teenage son, spend 5 months on board each year, wintering the boat in Tunisia.

The coastal route round the bottom of Italy is beautiful. The rugged, mountainous backdrop with fair weather, cumulous clouds floating above them, fronted by green, wooded, neatly cultivated hills and miles of almost empty beaches, make a lovely picture. If only my camera could capture it all.

We both slept well but because we hadn’t closed the mosquito blinds on the door, when we first arrived in port, in the early hours of the morning, I heard a mosquito in our cabin. So exhausted from the long passage, I just pulled the sheet over my head.

The next day was spent doing various maintenance tasks. We were also able to use the water from the quayside, to wash the salt from the boat. A Lagoon 410 arrived and tied up behind us. The marina lights were lit.

There is so much already in place at this marina and the general day-to-day running costs are being met by someone but there is no marina office and no-one seems to want to charge boats for being there.

We left the marina just after noon on Friday, to travel the 105 miles to the Aeolian islands. Once again, the almost empty beaches stretched for miles and the scenery was simply stunning, despite the plastic greenhouses and what looked like abandoned buildings, the framework in place but the construction unfinished.

We had a tow most of the way to the tip of the toe of Italy.

As we were passing the silted up marina of Saline Ioniche, just before we turned into the Messina straits, shortly before it became dark, a microlite flew over the boat. I had seen it in the air as it left Sicily and wondered at first what it was.

Dick took the first night watch from 9pm until 2pm and was just out of the straits when I arrived at 1am, to take over the watch, for the rest of the night. He had experienced some very odd currents, both with him and against him, particularly as he negotiated the narrowest stretch. Then, what appeared to be a spotlight was switched on, destroying his night vision. A plane was preparing to land but that didn’t help Dick, as he narrowly missed a beacon he hadn’t spotted earlier, because of the blinding, landing lights.

Although there was quite a lot of light from the coast of Sicily, the sky was quite dark and the milky-way was much in evidence, as it had been when we traveled overnight from Corfu. The tiny sliver of a moon arrived.

Ahead, it looked as if a string of glittering diamonds had been strung out across the water, a few miles ahead, in the direction that we were heading. Gradually, as I approached the necklace, it broke up a little, with small fishing boats moving left and right and then back again. A new light would suddenly appear, as I approached a previously unlit boat. Other boats used flashing red or white lights and I feverishly checked the charts for beacons and lighthouses, to no avail.

I could see the flashing light, from the lighthouse on Vulcano, the southernmost of the Aeolian islands, from over 16 miles.

We anchored just below the Gran Cratere, an active crater, observing the steaming fumaroles, from the comfort of our boat.

Within an hour of our arrival, 8 ferry boats, hydrofoils, etc, had already arrived and they kept coming and going all day long, with as many as 3, at any one time, queuing for a space on the quayside.

Going ashore was amazing. We motored up to where we thought the water would be too shallow to continue. I put my legs over the edge of the dinghy, ready to jump in and pull the boat to the shore but the water was still too deep for me to stand. Dick jumped in instead and was instantly soaked to his shorts. I couldn’t hang on to the edge of the dinghy any longer and gradually slipped further down into the water, until I was standing on the sea bottom.  The water almost reached my chest.

We manhandled the dinghy onto the beach, above the water line and waddled, in our wet clothes, past the bubbling mud pools, where men and women, of all shapes and sizes, were submerging their bodies in the grey mud.

Back on Tucanon, as we were already wet, it seemed a good time for a swim in the bay. By moving closer and then withdrawing, from the numerous, hot, mineral springs, bubbling up from the sea-bed, we had fun selecting our preferred water temperature.

The wind, as forecast, came up during the night. There are gale force winds in just about all sea areas except where we are at present. I am not complaining. This bay is open to all winds from north east to south east. With the wind blowing from the west and west, south west, even while it was gusting force 8, we were well protected.

During the night, a number of boats had anchored in the part of the bay used during the day, by the constant stream of ferries. The smaller ferries were able to cope but after sounding its horn to obtain passage, to permit passengers and vehicles to disembark, receiving no assistance from any of those boats at anchor, one of the larger ferry boats had no choice but to turn around and depart.


Below: Cargo ship which had just crossed our bays and was on passage to Croatia