Log #33m Sorrento Peninsula, and Capri

October 13, 2004 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 33 Turkey - Greece to Rome, The Logs

Porto Turistic di Roma, Rome, Italy

October 13, 2004

Hi Folks,

We are in our winter marina. We arrived on Oct. 10th, ahead of schedule as we thought the weather was closing in, which it has. We have had two days of rain and thunderstorms since arriving and are glad we are not anchored in some questionable bay hoping not to drag. We have met several old acquaintances, including Meg whom we met in Turkey, Glenlyon whom we met in Bermuda in 1999, Solara, another Canadian boat we first saw in Kusadasi, Turkey, in August, and Zelda, the vessel about which we sent a special log from Sayonara when Marie’s husband died of a heart attack while at sea south of Greece. More about this marina, Rome and Italy in future logs.

This is a longer log about our experiences on the Sorrento Peninsula and in Capri.


All the best,


Log #33m Sorrento Peninsula, and Capri

Porto Turistico di Roma, Rome, Italy

Oct. 12, 2004

As mentioned in my last log, the dramatic mountain-encircled bay of Senno di Ieranto (40˚ 34.5’N, 014˚ 42.1’E), was our most impressive anchorage since Loch Scavaig on the Isle of Skye in Scotland in 2000. It sits at the end of the southern arm of the Bay of Naples, a half mile long bay with cliffs and mountainsides towering 300 to 500 feet on all three sides, the opening facing southwest. We anchored at the head of the bay in five metres of water, ringed by several grotto-like sea caves, craggy volcanic cliffs, small stretches of sandy beach between off-lying rocks, and high on the mountainsides, terraces treed with olive groves. There is a smaller bay on the east side beneath an old quarry, ending in a sandy beach favored by locals. This bay, we now understand, is not to be entered with motorized vessels. The whole peninsula is part of the Sorrento Peninsula Marine Reserve which has varying restrictions in regards to navigation, anchoring, motorized vessels, and sport or commercial fishing. The part of the bay we were in had restrictions on fishing, which appeared to be readily ignored as we saw several fishing floats which were tended each morning by local fishermen.

We took Sprite around the shoreline, exploring between the quiet rocky shoals and entering into the caves, cautiously squeezing Sprite deep into the crevices. Inside we stopped and just existed in that cavernous twilight, looking into the clear bottom, the rocks and sandy ripples embraced by the narrow volcanic stone walls, with deep amethyst and orange coral-like encrustation adorning the waterline. In some parts the rock walls gave way into underwater chambers that opened into other surface crevices, producing a clear emerald green glow reflecting from below and casting fleeting verdant shadows on the rock walls above us. A few crabs scuttled across the igneous surfaces, and small fish could be seen in schools cavorting around in their group underwater ballets. Overhear the craggy, veined, angular slate gray and black rock walls were awesome mute testimony to the tortuous origins in earthquake and volcanic cataclysms. While snorkeling through one of these caves we saw our first small octopus, pulsating across from one submerged rock to another hiding place, its six inch tentacles trailing behind its dark three inch body, its colours merging with the bottom background. Back inside the cave on Sprite we just drank in the still atmosphere of the dank recesses of the cave, the emerald hues emanating from the undulating surface water and reflecting off the walls, the gentle bobbing of Sprite precarious between the jagged rock walls, the outer opening into the brighter world framed by the overarching cave entrance, and the ominous muffled booming of the low swells as they reverberate from the inner overhangs of this rocky grotto. Caves such as these contribute to the high experiences of the cruising life.

After the caves, we went over to the quarry where there were some signs in Italian and English welcoming us to the park and giving some guidelines and regulations. We wandered around the half dozen closed buildings of the quarry, each having an explanatory sign to indicate its original function. None of the buildings were open and all were intact, although absent of equipment. There were some paths going uphill around the sandy beach at the end. Judy did not feel like climbing and so I went on upwards thinking the path would just lead up to another level. It went up and up and up, so I felt I should then explore it to the top. Near the summit were two private (at least they were fenced off with gates) but uninhabited terraced olive farms. For the second one, the gate was unlocked, and so I entered, going downhill to find a stone residence with a concrete patio having a spectacular view over the bay. I wandered through some of the olive trees out to the crest of the hill to see Veleda, 500 feet below sitting placidly in the shimmering water, the only vessel in the bay. In the olive groves I noticed long netlike strands linking several trees, and could not figure out what they were or for what they were used. They were a loose synthetic material. As I climbed back towards the main path, I saw a stand of prickly pear cacti, their green-turning-red ripe fruit perched lusciously on the tips of the cactus fronds, several of which had already fallen over-ripe to the ground beneath. I had never eaten prickly pear fruit before, although I have seen cartons of them in fruit stores. There was a torn rag hanging off a post nearby which I took to twist a few pears from the cactus, and wrap them up so I avoided the short spiky barbs on the rosettes.  I did get a few stuck in my hand, but nothing serious. So with a half dozen prickly pear wrapped in this old cloth, I set off down the main path to head back to Judy.

However, rather than totally retracing my steps (that is boring) I diverged and went along the spine of the saddleback towards a medieval Martello tower (there are many of them dotting the capes and high points along the coast) overlooking the south shore on one side, and another olive grove on the side above the quarry. This olive grove farm was part of the park system as there were explanatory signs at various points. Again there was a dwelling (uninhabited) with a large concrete patio giving a spectacular vista over the bay, used as a work/eating/rest station during the olive harvest. The roof was a concreted semi-domed affair with concrete gutters to collect rain water into a cistern. I saw large fine mesh nets strung between the trees, causing me to duck down as I went through the terraces. These open nets were the dark synthetic material I saw earlier wrapped up rope-like between the trees. That is the way they collect the ripe olives as they fall or are shaken from the trees at harvest time. I also saw a palisade of wooden (bamboo?) slats sheltering a small orchard of lemon trees. The palisade can be removed in better weather, but protects the trees from stormy winter weather. As I wandered beneath the trees, I saw a few ripe lemons that if not picked would rot, and so I just had to salvage a few of them into my wrapped cloth with the prickly pears. I am impressed by the amount of arable land generated on these steep mountainsides by terracing. From the water, the features just look like inhospitable steep inclines, but the terracing allows for hundreds of acres of vineyards, olive groves, lemon and lime orchards, as well as other garden plots, plus residences with fantastic panoramas over the mountain valleys and coastal areas.

Going down seemed to be a dead end, and so I went back to the upper path, and along the saddle back above the quarry looking for a path down. No luck! I had to retrace my steps, past the olive farm and Martello tower across a hillside and down the original path which seemed to be along the top of a stone wall towards the quarry. Two hours after having left for what I thought would be a fifteen minute exploration I arrived back at the quarry to a worried Judy who had been waiting in Sprite for my return (Mea Culpa!).

Next day, five miles over to the fabled Isle of Capri! Enroute we circled, taking pictures of the dramatic offlying islets of Il Faraglioni. These are a couple of dramatic high pinnacles with a narrow gap between them and a tall arch in the middle of the one closer to the island. The gap was too narrow for Veleda to go through and the arch was too low for our mast, so we just circled around taking pictures of them from different angles. Rod Heikell in his Italian Pilot said several vessels of the Italian Navy had their pictures taken coming at 30 knots through the arch. He also said they were destroyers; but I question whether a destroyer’s mast would get under that arch. It would make a great picture though!

Judy wanted to go to the Marina Grande and the Blue Grotto, as well as Villa Jovis, the palace of Tiberius, an emperor known for his depravity and debauchery. We heard the marina could be quite expensive, but that it might not collect fees off season. In we went, directed to the first pontoon just inside the breakwater. The inner pontoons were for local boats and some mega yachts. Nothing was said about registering or where the office was. Good, we hoped no one would show up to ask us to pay. However, the location next to the opening of the breakwater was horrible. Ferries and tour boats came in and out at speed, creating metre high waves as they angled over to or from the far side of the harbour. Sprite was bouncing on her dinghy tow arms astern as much as if we had been in a heavy stern sea. This went on every five or ten minutes all day.

Judy just had to see the “romantic” Blue Lagoon of which she had heard so much. To go (it was at the far end of the island) we had to take a ferry (8 Euros each) to the entrance, and there we transferred to small white double ended rowboats with plastic hose around the bulwarks for rubbing strakes. These small boats took us over to another vessel where we paid 4 Euro for the rowboat, and another 4.30 Euro each for access to the cave. There is a low (1.3 m) narrow entrance to the cave through which the rowboat had to time its entry to surge inside in the trough of a wave, while we huddled down on the sole to protect our heads. Inside the grotto was a large dark cave, no interior lights. The cave is about 30 metres long and 15 meters wide. There was a rectangular cutout on one side where Tiberius had a swimming pool, but nothing was to be seen as there were no lights illuminating that closed off area. There was a beautiful azure blue glow from the water from the natural light at the entrance to the cave reflecting off the sandy bottom. It took about four minutes to be rowed around the black cave. We were unable to hear the minimal explanation about it as other boat skippers were singing in Italian, their voices echoing through the cavern. Then back out to the launch to take us back to Marina Grande. That’s it! Not worth it! We paid 32 Euros ($50.00 Canadian) for a fifteen minute ferry ride to the cave, a ten minute wait for a row boat, a four or five minute row around in a dark cave, and another fifteen minute ride back to the harbour. To those of you who wish to go to Capri, don’t bother with the Blue Grotto trip. The caves we explored with Sprite the day before at Senno di Ieranto were far more attractive and interesting.

I get turned off with high touristy and expensive places such as Capri. The crowds, the noise, the overpriced everything, the hucksters flogging their wares or services are all too much! At least the funicular to the upper town was only 1.30 Euro each. It was a more interesting section than was the harbour area. It had narrow streets, interesting architecture, lush foliage, and as we walked higher only small municipal electric vehicles were allowed. As we walked away from the main part of town up to Villa Jovis, we passed some beautiful mansions, their high walls draped in semitropical flowers (we could identify hibiscus, bougainvillea, oleander, morning glories; there were many others), tall pine and cypress trees majestically standing aloof behind. The wrought iron gates revealed long flagstone walkways trellised with overhanging vines. It was an hour long walk through the narrow passageways from the upper town out to Villa Jovis, but the views were spectacular, and we were away from the tourist onslaught.

Just before the site of the Villa was a lovely park through which we wandered to catch our breath from the long uphill walk. The park overlooked both sides of the island, and had spectacular views down the mountain cliffs to the emerald green shallows of the rocky wave-lashed shore and the offlying islets of Il Faraglioni. It provided a pleasant interlude, strolling through the dry needle-strewn paths to the various lookout points, the pine trees providing shade and quiet whispers in the light breeze.

Villa Jovis is a national park site, the entrance fee a moderate two Euros. I got in free as a senior citizen, showing my Ontario driver’s license to verify my age. We followed the arrows to go through the ruins, almost as extensive as Knossos on Crete. There were no dramatic murals or mosaics but we saw the large cistern, part still used today to store water for fire fighting on the pineclad mountain top. The ruins were on several levels, the top one giving another spectacular view over the east end of the island. We could just see across the five miles of haze to the Sorrento peninsula and the mountain enclosed cove where we last anchored.

On our way back down we picked up some groceries (meat is expensive, vegetables moderate, and some good cheap wines available). Back on Veleda we were ready to head out next day, back to a quiet anchorage on the Sorrento Peninsula. However a dock official came by at 1700 requesting a mooring fee. A whopping 60 Euros ($94.00 Canadian) for one miserable night and  rocky day, and having to pay another two Euro if we wanted a shower!!!! I let him know my displeasure and asked when the low season started … November! Aaaarrrggghhh! This was by far the most expensive marina we have ever been in, more than the Holiday Inn marina in Key West, where at least we had the facilities of the Holiday Inn included. It is definitely not worth it to take a boat into Marina Grande in Capri. It is rip off land!

For anyone going to Capri, I would recommend you stay at anchor if the weather is calm. If not, go from Sorrento by ferry for a day trip. Don’t bother with the Blue Grotto. Take local buses and the funicular and avoid the open backed taxis. The romance of Capri is over-exaggerated; many of the towns on the Sorrento Peninsula and the outlying islands are just as quaint and scenic, if not more so. From now on when I hear the song about the Isle of Capri, I will remember far more fondly the Sorrento Peninsula, and some of the other offlying islands.