Round the Toe

 Up Retracing Steps


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Our first stop in Sicilia was the commercial port of Milazzo (actually we anchored outside - off the town.  It's not the most attractive place in the world, being home to Italy's major oil terminal, but this did manage to light the sky in a way that Stromboli had failed to do.  We were also there long enough to witness the annual trip out in a boat for the local saint.

Milazzo was in reality just an overnight stop to catch our breath before following the route of Odysseus through the Straits of Messina.   Odysseus had to chose between the monster Charybdis on one side who sucked the sea dry 3 times a day swallowing any ships along with the water and Scylla on the other side who with 12 legs and six necks swept sailors off the decks of their ships as they sailed past.  They're not there any more, but on one side is still the Charybdis current and on the other is the town of Scilla.  It's a fantastic thing to be sailing through legends.

The Admiralty pilot says that an earthquake in the 19th century rearranged the sea bed in the Straits so that they are now more placid than in Odysseus's time.  They're still quite exciting though.  With the wind blowing against just the residue of a neaps tide it was white water rafting all the way - more than the autohelm that had coped with the gales in Biscay, was able to handle. We motor sailed our way through.  It certainly wouldn't have been much fun in a lateen rigged boat that couldn't sail to windward and without an engine.  Odysseus though didn't have to cope with the afternoon ferry rush hour between Messina and Reggio.

We holed up in the marina at Reggio di Calabria to shelter from forecasted gales and here we met 68 year old Saverio.  He's mentioned by Heikell in the pilot.  "Sometime ormegiatoro, sometime taxi driver and supplier of victuals to cruisers".  He stopped by our boat and we struck up a conversation in broken Italian (he speaks no English).  "Come to lunch with me tomorrow" he says.

We know this one - local taxi driver takes you to his mate's restaurant, we eat bad very overpriced food, taxi driver eats for free, we probably detour via another mate's gift/carpet shop on the way back, etc.

Gracia pero no gracia Saverio.  He insists.  "At a restaurant?"  I ask.  "No, no at my home, I have fish" he replies.

I say I'll ask Lindy.  Lindy says "Absolutely not."  I go back to Saverio and say "OK".  - How did that happen?

We were duly collected at 1230 the following day by Saverio in his taxi and off we go.  We pass a scruffy block of flats where Saverio tells us he lives.  So why aren't we stopping?  Uh oh!. Finally we are taken down towards the sea where he has a large double garage. You drive in one end and the other overlooks a very scruffy piece of shore. There is a cooker at one side, a fridge, a shower/toilet and an upstairs gallery.  Near the beach end (still inside the garage) is a small table and plastic chairs - a large RIB sits on a hydraulic ramp above the table.  We are told that there are 3 women nearby on the sand, one is his wife/girlfriend, who is Polish.  So we sit and have a beer while Saverio stirs a pasta fish sauce and checks the swordfish steaks in the oven. We are eating our spaghetti when the ladies return in bikinis - one in tears, we never worked out why.  We are introduced (though not to the crying one) and then Saverio leaves to take her home. We're left with ?wife and her sister,  who turn out to be Russian not Polish - the sort of detail you might be expected to know about your wife.  They speak no English so we converse in mutually broken Italian while Saverio is away and we get on famously.  They arrived from Russia 18 months ago, we assume they're illegal.  They tell us they provide domestic services and we didn't pursue exactly what line of services.  The sister is funding her 20 year old daughter's education in Russia, but thinks she may never see her again. She can't go back and her daughter will never be able to afford the fare to come to Italy - there's a brief moment of sadness and then Saverio returns.  We eat swordfish and drink homemade wine followed by cheese, salami and fruit. We are then driven into the mountains for a tour before returning to the harbour. We've eaten well, had a fantastic day and not a penny has changed hands.  Shame we didn't have the camera with us. 

The following day Saverio does our shopping for us.  He delivers it all to the boat and gives us the receipt from the supermarket.  As far as we can tell the only profit he makes from the whole transaction is that the wine he provides is his own homemade stuff we drank at his garage. The day we left Saverio threw a bag of mixed fresh bread and 2 croissants onto the deck before 7am. Again no charge!

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We then faced the south coast of Italy with few charted anchorages or marinas and also the Golfo di Squillace. This is on the ball of the foot of Italy and backed by a lowish strip of land in an otherwise mountainous country, so any northwesterly wind in the Med tends to funnel through into the gulf.

As the wind was very light we decided to go from the Straits of Messina and cross the Gulf at night (120 miles) to arrive late morning at an anchorage. Well - the weather started quietly enough but within 2 hours we had 2 reefs in the main, wind against current and lots of spray. The wind varied between 10 knots and 38 knots, gusting unexpectedly so we motor sailed, sailed with main and staysail, had all reefs in and out at various times all through the night - very confusing and quite tiring.

Arrived at Le Castella, motored around to find a decent anchorage, bounced and dragged our newly painted keel over a very uneven rocky bottom.  Much signaling from a local fishing boat, who was trying to tell us it was too shallow - We know!  Round Capo Rizzuto and anchor in sand near a small local holiday resort.  Literally minutes after anchoring there's a resounding crash, which we ignore (?BBQ lid fallen off again).  The following day we discover our davits have snapped (these suspend the dinghy over the stern of the boat).  We are very glad they waited for us to anchor and didn't snap in 40 knots of wind in Squillace.  We jury rig a repair and add davits to the job list.

Next day we made our way to Crotone - avoiding regatta to one side and gas platforms to the other and anchored off the beach.  Next morning, as always, I check the engine oil.  The dip stick is dry - horror!  I refill and start the engine, to find that we're blowing oil out of the exhaust.  Bad news, but we're extremely lucky to have discovered the problem before the sump ran completely dry and we seized the engine.  So into Crotone harbour to find a mechanic.  The problem turns out to be a blown oil cooler and the local guy can refurbish ours - this is the poorest part of Italy and they're used to patching things up rather than just fitting a new one.  Good news.  He can also remanufacture our davits - though because of the thickness of the local accent we don't understand that this involves sending someone 200 kilometers over the mountain on an all day trip to obtain the material.  This in turn leads to a disagreement over the bill.  But in the end all is sorted out amicably and we end up with some very strong (though slightly agricultural) davits.  Crotone is a slightly dusty, but friendly place and its people are similar.  This is a different world from the wealthy north of Italy.

As a finale there is a grand firework display at the end of the harbour wall, less that a hundred yards from the boat.  We have no idea what it is for, we just sit on deck and watch it all happen directly over our heads.  Our Italian neighbour, with large power boat (we think he's a northerner) is less impressed and is out the following day with a tape measure - there is presumably a regulation about the distance of fireworks from his boat.  I'm sure this would be an important thing to be aware of in Milano, but suspect it will cut little ice here!

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Last updated 18th March 2018