Log #34e Troubles on the Tiber and Rome-2-The Vatican

April 23, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 34 Rome - Corsica - Sardinia, The Logs

Calvi, Corsica, France

April 23, 2005


Hi Folks,


I have finished up this log while motoring from Elba over to Corsica, and over to the northwest corner of Corsica at Calvi. It is a rather long log, and so I will put other tours of St. Peter’s Basilica and other parts of our tours of Rome and Tuscany in a later log. Last night at anchor in Macinaggio, Corsica I was able to access the internet with our Italian Vodaphone card. I wonder if it will work all throughout Corsica, and if it will work when I try to send out this log from Calvi tonight? If I can’t send directly, I will have to cut and paste onto a memory wand and send it from an internet café.


All is fine with us. We had the Simrad autopilot repaired (again and another 180.00 Euro or $200.00 U.S., or $290.00 Canadian) while we were in Portoferriao on Elba, and it seems to be working well now.


I hope I can get this out tonight.


All the best,





Log #34e Troubles on the Tiber and Rome-2-The Vatican

Portoferraio, Elba, Italy

April 21, 2005


We saved our tour of the Vatican until Wolfgang and Dorothea from Germany joined us on Veleda a few weeks ago. They had a busy four days with us, the first day touring the Forum, the Colosseum, and a bus tour of Rome. The second day we toured the Vatican, and the third day they toured Ostia Antica, the ancient Roman port near our marina in Ostia.


Troubles on the Tiber


The fourth day Wolfgang and I took Sprite 22 miles up the Tiber River into downtown Rome as far as the Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) and Porto Palatina (The Palatine Bridge), but could not go beyond the rapids there. It took us 2 hours at planing hull speed. However, after playing around in the fast currents under the ancient remains of the original bridge, we headed back downstream. As I increased the throttle to get us up on a plane to head back, the engine lost power. It revved up OK but there was no thrust from the prop. Raising the prop out of the water, I was able to rev it up, and the prop turned but would not wind out. It was slipping and anything more than a fast idle would cause it to slip more and the engine would just race with the prop totally slipping.  We had a problem!


Fortunately we were going downstream, but only in a two or three knot current if that much. So we puttered back at a very slow speed. Then I was concerned whether we had enough fuel! There was surprisingly no life on the Tiber all the way from Fiumicino on the coast right up to Rome. No gas station in sight. In some areas there were levees, and a couple of bridges before Rome, but no docks, industries, homes or marinas. We saw only two tour boats the whole trip up and back from Fiumicino. However, at one landing there was a closed restaurant on a pontoon, with a couple of small power boats and a couple of human beings. We went alongside to ask if they had any gas. Yes, but it was not mixed with oil. We had no extra oil. However I asked them to put in a small jerrycan they had of about 5 litres, and I added the small jerrycan of extra fuel I had on board which was mixed, and I knew the gas I had left in the tank had a healthy mixture of 50:1or better. I remembered a Mariner dealer saying the engine liked 100:1 so I risked it, but with a great degree of concern. I tried to give them some money, but they refused. (Of course they spoke no English, but we communicated our needs.) Thanking them (I know how to say “grazie”) we shoved off again.


I kept trying to slowly rev the engine up, hoping it would engage the prop and get us up on a plane, but no luck. It slipped at anything above a high idle speed. We were so frustrated at the slow pace of heading downstream that Wolfgang volunteered to assist the engine by rowing! It actually increased our speed. I was looking for another boat that might have some extra oil on board to mix with the lean mixture in the tank, but no luck! The banks and the river were deserted.


Four hours later, just above Fiumicino, where the canal cuts off the Tiber River, we saw boats along the shore and several small marinas. However, no one was working as it was a Sunday afternoon. We saw a large RIB boat trolling down from the canal and hailed it over in midstream. It was a family of husband wife and an 8 year old boy out for a Sunday afternoon ride. They spoke some English and had some engine oil they gave us to mix in our tank. Whew, that relieved a great concern I had about burning out my outboard with too lean a gas:oil mixture. I also asked if he had a mobile phone I could use to call Judy to let her know we would be late, but that we were OK. He did, and I called and indicated we would still be two or three hours before getting back.


Thanking him we started up and continued rowing downstream. Then a few minutes later he came alongside indicating he had a phone call for us on his mobile! It was Judy asking us if she should ask the marina or anyone else to send a RIB boat out for us. I said no, that the marina might charge an arm and a leg to do so, and no other cruisers in the marina had their dinghies operational yet. The Italian boater then asked if we wanted a tow, and had us come aboard after securing Sprite’s painter to his RIB. After dropping his wife and son off in Fiumicino, he took us the last five miles or so, out the Tiber and around right into the marina and alongside Veleda. I offered him some money which he refused, and I did not want to insult him by pressing some on him. He came aboard for a few minutes for a drink of water then left. I asked him to visit with us if he could later, and gave him a Canada flag pin and a pin from our Toronto Hydroplane and Sailing Club as a souvenir. We never saw him again. A trip that took two hours up, took over five hours back, and would have been six or seven had we not had the tow. Most boaters are friendly and helpful. Thanks!


However, we did take Sprite up the fabled Tiber River into the Eternal City of Rome!


The Vatican Museum


As I write this log about our tour of the Vatican a few weeks ago, I must note a historical event has since taken place, with the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, his funeral and the Conclave, electing Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005. Our trip to the Vatican two weeks prior, consisted of the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The museum had a long line-up extending 200 metres outside the ramparts of the Vatican, but it moved quickly and efficiently. Judy and our friends rented audio phones to detail all the extravagant works of art and artifacts accumulated by the Vatican over the centuries in this fantastic museum. The accumulated treasures held me in awe!


There was corridor after corridor, each with a different theme of artifacts, sculptures, paintings, ancient maps, and the walls and ceilings ordained with extravagant murals, cornices, cherubs, angels and haloed saints. Raphael (whose tomb we saw in the Pantheon) first came to the attention of the Popes at only 25 years of age, when he painted wall and ceiling scenes of the Stanza della Segnatura and the Papal apartment for Pope Julius II in 1509 to 1511. They must have been restored as the colours were vivid and dramatic; the backgrounds light pastel yellows, deep Wedgewood blue, and intense radiant gold; the subjects in moving postures, pointing, emphasizing, caressing, holding staves or books, brandishing swords or spears; all in rich flowing robes of intense scarlets, golden yellows, azure blues, cream whites and heather greens, the folds and creases contoured to their positions and movements. The architecture framing these masterpieces had intricate detail that would attract the eye and lead from one dramatic scene to another.


There was an intriguing symmetry, especially in the multitudes of ceiling paintings, framed in marble white edging, intricately molded into geometric designs; even the very spaces between the major scenes contained smaller but intensely detailed minor images or symbols. The domed ceiling of Stanza della Segnatura centered on an eight sided image with Wedgewood blue background, flesh-coloured  angels and cherubs in flowing robes, posturing on each of the eight sides and reaching up to a small central roundel framed in bands of crimson and gold, with a verdant green background and detailed gold and crimson image as the centerpiece. Touching on four of the eight sides were round framed images of saints watched over by more cherubs and angels. Again, these frames themselves were works of art with intricate gold filigree designs in between the two molded bands encircling each saint. Touching the outer circumference between each circular painting were four rectangular scenes representing Biblical themes, again with intricate double molded white marble framing. The four spaces between these nine masterpieces (Don’t lose track of the symmetry – the one central octagonal image, four circular paintings and four rectangular paintings) were four sections, each with two smaller but detailed images with ornate gold and white marble framing. The four rectangular paintings extended to the arched corners of this ornate domed ceiling while the four circular ones touched on the centre arch of each of the four mural covered walls. Thus on the ceiling in this extravagantly painted room were nine major circular and rectangular works of art, plus eight smaller images; a mind boggling extravagant array of Raphaelian masterpieces in mathematical precision and perfect equilibrium!


A corridor which Judy and I found of nautical interest was one of wall murals displaying a series of maps of the ancient and medieval world up to the 16th century. We enjoyed the ancient maps of the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe and the early renderings of the North American and Caribbean coasts, identifying many places we have explored with Veleda.


The Sistine Chapel


The Sistine Chapel built in 1473 adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, was at the end of the Vatican Museum, another grand awe-inspiring edifice, rectangular in shape, 13 metres (42 feet) wide, 43 metres (138 feet) long, and reaching up to a barrel vaulted ceiling 26 metres (83 feet) high. The lower halves of each side wall are painted, one with scenes of the Life of Moses, and the other with scenes of the life of Christ, completed by medieval Florentine and Umbrian painters between 1480 and 1482. How can I start to describe this masterpiece of a chapel? I brought with me a pair of binoculars, and just sat at the edges of the walls and scrutinized the fantastic details of Michelangelo’s ceiling and his end wall of The Last Judgement. It took him four years from 1508 to 1512 to complete the ceiling, but he was not commissioned to do the end wall until 1534, completing it in 1541.


The ceiling has the central painting of The Creation of Adam and other scenes of Genesis from the Separation of Light from Darkness to the Drunkeness of Noah. I cannot begin to describe the dozens of Biblical and religious masterpieces on this vaulted ceiling and its arches and cornices. The Last Judgement on the end wall is centred around the beardless figure of a youthful Christ casting into the damnation of Hades the evil ones on His left, while on His right, the righteous are ascending to Heaven. There are over 300 figures in this work of art, ascending and descending, portraying attitudes of upward struggle on one side, or horrors of their downfalls on the other. The figures were originally painted naked. When criticized for this exposure of human forms, Michelangelo painted one of the critical Cardinals in hell; the one at the bottom right, with the ears of an ass and a serpent around his loins. Under a later Pope another painter, Daniel da Volterra, was commissioned to partly cover the figures with their current raiment. I’m not sure if it was the same time as a prudish Pope ordered all the genitalia in all works of art throughout to be covered by painted or sculpted fig leaves so as not to stimulate carnal thoughts within the Vatican.


The museum’s exit was the descent of a wide dramatic spiral staircase with ornate wrought iron railings bedecked with Papal coats of arms, designed by Michelangelo with mathematical and geometric precision. A dramatic end to this great museum.