Log #33j Strait of Messina to the Aeolian Islands

September 28, 2004 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 33 Turkey - Greece to Rome, The Logs

Enroute towards Salerno

Sept. 28, 2004

Hi Folks,

We are presently headed up the Calabrian shore towards the Amalfi Coast in the area known as Campania, near Salerno and the Bay of Naples. The weather has settled down for the last day or so. Doug departed from Cetraro to catch a train up to Rome to head back to Toronto. We enjoyed his company, and it was good to have an extra knowledgeable crew aboard, who in addition to being the morning watch keeper, made coffee and tea, did dishes and took us out for some very enjoyable Italian meals.

We had to wait for three days for weather in Cetraro. In Vibo Velentia we had the water pump seals replaced and it is working well now. However, we will get a spare one next port with a full Yanmar dealership, or when we get back to Canada. We will probably be back in Canada from mid December until the end of January, and hope to make a presentation on our cruising the Black Sea at the Toronto Boat Show between Jan. 15 to 23, and to other sailing clubs.

All is well with us and Veleda as we make our way towards Rome for the winter. This log gets us through the fabled Strait of Messina and over to the volcanic Aeolian Islands. I hope you enjoy it.

All the best,


Log #33j Strait of Messina to the Aeolian Islands

Cetraro, Calabria, Italy

Sept. 26, 2004

In Reggio we walked over a kilometre trying to find the pedestrian entrance to this large commercial port, until we saw a bus waiting at the end of the camber. Yes, it was going uptown and near the Museo Nationale, our destination. Very worthwhile museum! It housed artifacts from Magna Graecia, the “Greater Greece” of its extended city state network, discovered in Italy. The highlight of the museum was the bronze statues found off the coast of the Ionian Sea at Riace in Calabria. These are two slightly larger than life bronze statues, retrieved in 1972, of favored classical Greek subjects, naked muscular soldiers, probably being transported from Greece to Italy in about the 5th century BC. The spears and shields originally held by them were not found, but the sculpted bronze bodies are magnificently intact and stand arrogantly and defiantly on display.

When we left the museum about 1730 we strolled up the main street which converts to a pedestrian walk in the evenings, and finding a phone shop open, bought time on the Italian SIM card given to us by Kaelerin in Methoni. Now we could once again send E-mail via our mobile phone, a feature not available when we were in Greece on a pay as you talk service. We then looked for a restaurant, as Doug wanted to take us out for an Italian dinner. However, it was only the end of the siesta period (roughly 1330 to 1630 or thereabouts; some stores close earlier or open later) and the restaurants did not open until 2000, so we caught a bus back to the marina. Doug and I took Sprite over to the gas dock and filled up our jerry cans, and had the restaurant at the end of the camber recommended to us. OK … it saves having to catch a bus over town again.

The restaurant was wonderful! We had a lovely table on the upper balcony overlooking the port. None of the waiters spoke English and the menu was only in Italian, but we had a phrase book to help us. The menu listed the five course meals common to Italian restaurants. As listed in our Essential Food & Drink Italy guide book, “the meal begins with a starter (ANTIPASTO) … after the (next course) pasta, rice, or soup (PRIMO) … then move on to the fish or meat (SECONDO)…the vegetables served separately (CONTORNO) … then fruit, cheese, or desserts (DOLCE) … completes the meal.” We managed only three of the courses and at that had to take a “doggie bag” back to the boat. Mmmm … a good introduction to Italian meals. Thanks Doug!

Next morning after having checked in with the Frontier Police (not necessary, no problem, and they didn’t stamp the passports since we came from Greece, an EU country), we started off into the Strait of Messina heading north into the Tyrrhenian Sea. We have had conflicting recommendations as to the best time to transit the strait, depending on high tide at Gibraltar (?) or at the north end of the strait, as the current can get up to four knots with or against your course. Neither our pilot book nor the marina was very precise as to the time parameters of current, speed and direction of tidal flow. This strait is reputed to be the site of Scilla and Charybdis in Homer’s account of the Odyssey. I do not think Odysseus got over this far in his ten year voyage home from the Trojan War, but rather that Scilla and Charybdis were in the Levkas Channel on the northwestern coast of Greece, as indicated by Tim Severin, who followed what he considers to be the route described in the Odyssey in a replica of a Greek sailing vessel of the time. However, the currents and whirlpools in this area of the Messina Strait gave birth to the legend. The tidal streams are caused by the different times of high and low water in the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, and further complicated by strong winds from any opposing direction and overfalls from irregularities on the sea bottom. We stayed closer to the Capo Peloro (Sicily) side where Charybdis, the classical giant whirlpool, swallowed ships that went too close. The opposite side on the mainland cliff was Scilla ( a community there still bears that name), a 12 footed monster with six long necks to pluck dolphin, swordfish, or sailors from passing ships. At the bottom of the cliff was a whirlpool to suck down unwary ships. Apparently a whirlpool did exist beneath the cliffs of Scilla until an earthquake in 1783 shifted the sea bottom, easing up the currents of both Scilla and Charybdis. However to sail the strait even today, one would have to plan the wind and tidal currents accurately.

We started out at 4.5 knots with low cruising revs on the engine (2100 rpm), but within 45 minutes our speed dropped to 1.5 knots as we saw the swirls and currents of the opposing tide. As we were in no hurry, and we had plenty of searoom with no shipping nearby, we played around in the currents of Charybdis seeing how Veleda would be influenced by them. We locked the helm amidships to watch how Veleda’s course would be affected, and at one point went into neutral to see how we would be swirled around in the eddies. It was not a violent movement, but enough to swing us through 270 degrees in 90 seconds at one point. We had enough power to overcome the currents but it was interesting to watch the swirls, ripples and mini-whirlpools develop. These turbulent waters lasted for over an 8 mile stretch from just north of Reggio until we were well around Capo Peloro into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

We altered more towards the Sicilian side as we went up the strait to look at one of the swordfish boats under way, the ones with the fantastically tall mast, and the skipper steering from that position seeking slumbering swordfish near the surface. In addition these boats have a bowsprit platform, longer than the boat, projecting 15 metres or more ahead from which the fishermen spear the slumbering swordfish. I wouldn’t want to be the skipper up on that tall mast in any kind of a rolling sea!

Rather than heading directly for the Aeolian Islands we went along the north coast of Sicily to a sheltered peninsula at Milazzo, where we paid 22 Euros alongside a pontoon exposed to the wash from the ferry docks 100 metres away. However, we were glad we were there rather than at anchor as a heavy storm came through around midnight, lashing us with winds gusting up to over 60 knots. The bad fall weather started the beginning of September while we were in Crete, and we have been weather bound several times since. We will be happy to get into our winter marina near Rome by mid October.

The weather had cleared by morning and we set of in a light force 2 for Vulcano, one of the volcanic Aeolian Islands, 20 miles north of Sicily. By noon a more lively force 3 breeze came up, allowing us to sail for an hour until it worked up to force 5 (about 20 knots) when we furled the genoa. Then in the next hour it went up to force 7 (30 knots, a Near Gale) then up to force 9 (40 to 45 knots, a Severe Gale), of course right on the nose! We altered course to try to get into a lee beneath the cliffs on the south of Vulcano, then worked our way up to anchor in Vulcano’s east bay, Porto di Levante (38˚ 25.01’N, 014˚ 57.71’E), by 1500, sheltered from the strong NW winds. In our wander over town we went to the black sand beach on the west side of this northern isthmus to check out the bay there. The strong NW winds had died by this time, but we saw the sad sight of a 10 metre sailing yacht washed up on the beach, in the process of being hauled off by some large fishing boats. By 1800 the wind changed to the east, now putting us on a lee shore, albeit a light force 3 breeze. As the weather forecast predicted NE force 5 overnight we weighed anchor and went 2.7 miles around the north tip over to the west facing Porto di Ponente (38 25.17’N, 014 57.25’E). We were sheltered from the light wind, but spent a most uncomfortable night rolling around from the swells left over from the westerly gale that afternoon.

First thing in the morning we shifted back around to the east bay again to get out of the swell, and to take Doug and Judy in to the ferry to the next island, Lipari, where they wanted to see the well reputed Aeolian Museum. I stayed with Veleda, as we didn’t trust the anchorage, or the wind, and after seeing the fate of the boat swept ashore yesterday we didn’t want to take any chances.

More about this volcanic archipelago in my next log.