Naples to Sicily (The South Tyrrhenian Sea), September 16, 2022
A new crew member in Sarah:
After many hugs and saying our goodbye's we dropped Tayla and Jez off at Naples Central Station where they would continue their adventure by rail to Rome and then eventually back home to Melbourne. It was very sad to see them go, but we would also be home in a couple of months and it didn't seem like we would be apart for too long. After their departure there was barely enough time for a coffee before our extended family member Sarah would be arriving at the very same station. Sarah would be joining us for the trip from Naples to Sicily and we had 2 weeks to get her to Catania Airport. The trip would entail tourist traps, charming little towns, some underwhelming towns, terrifying thunder storms, some very long day sails, battery failures, another wedding and also one of the absolute highlights of the 2022 sailing season. But more on that later...
Naples to Agropoli:
As soon as Sarah was on-board we headed off to Positano. We were only going to be there for the one night so we wanted to give Sarah as much time there as possible. Once again Positano did not disappoint. First thing the next morning we headed off across the Gulf of Salerno towards the charming little town of Agropoli. At the foot of Castello Angioino Aragonese there is a small anchorage that is just outside the Agropoli marina but still inside the protectio of the main breakwater. The area was once used by ferry's and to be honest, we weren't 100% sure it wasn't still in use. Never the less we anchored right in the middle as we had the anchorage to ourselves. Agropoli was really quite nice and in retrospect, I wish we had stayed for a few days. We had bad weather coming and were about to get stuck in a very average anchorage in a town that was not one of Italy's finest. In contrast, Agropoli had a protected anchorage, lots of interesting places to explore and many many restaurants. In fact, Judging by the number of restaurants, in peak season Agropoli must be teaming with people. Perhaps they come by ferry.
The next day we moved on (the curse of needing to be somewhere by a date). Only a few hours into the passage South we could see lightning on the Western horizon. This developed into a terrifying storm front that was heading our way. There was nowhere we could shelter so all we could do is speed up or slow down to try slot into gaps between the squalls. Thankfully it passes as fast as it arrived and we made it through without incident. The September weather was proving to be unstable. We had chosen the bay of Sapri to hide in from the strong Nor-Westerly winds that were coming for the next few days. Unfortunately the bay didn't offer much protection from the swell and it really wasn't all that interesting to explore. Alas, we should have stayed in Agropoli. When the wind did finally calm down we moved onto Cetraro. We never made it into Cetraro old town and from a distance it looks like a interesting place to visit. However we were positively knackered from a long uncomfortable sail and a rather sleepless night in Sapri. We had booked into a comfortable marina and had planned to catch up on sleep.
During that night I had left the boat plugged into shore power and in the morning we discovered that one of our batteries was overcharging, resulting in overheating and most concerning, it had begun to vent hydrogen. This we needed to address ASAP and for the remainder of the sailing season we would need to keep a very close eye on battery charging.
First thing in the morning we were on our way to Stromboli "the lighthouse of the Mediterranean". Stromboli is 924 Meter high volcano that rises vertically out of the Mediterranean sea 35 Nautical Miles north of Sicily. It is known as the lighthouse of the Mediterranean due to it's continual eruption throughout all recorded history. There is a small plateau of usable land on the Nor-East corner where a community of very brave people call home and off shore from this town there is a very questionable anchorage. The weather had become very calm so we dropped the hook and crossed our fingers that the wind wouldn't pick up or swing around. At dusk, armed with torches and a bottle of wine, we motored the dinghy around to the Nor-West side of the Island, killed the engine and drifted in the inky dark of the Mediterranean sea watching natures firework show. Every 15-20 minutes Stromboli would erupt, spewing lava high into the night sky. What a fantastic show and the sound that followed was just incredible. We must have sat there for 2 to 3 hours. Watching Stromboli erupt was easily one of our top highlights of the 2022 sailing season.
Lipari and more bad weather:
A short sail away is the holiday Island of Lipari. There is no anchoring in Lipari, so we checked into one of the makeshift pontoon marina's in the bay out the front of Lipari town. The bay is quite open to the East and the pontoons don't offer a lot in the way of protection when bad weather comes in. Thankfully we didn't hit directly by any storms, however further out in the East there must have been some weather as halfway through our second night there the swell had become diabolical. Lipari town was really quite pleasant. The promenade had a good selection of shops and a mixed bag of restaurants. We were able to swap out our empty gas bottles and we even found Panko bread crumbs in the super mercato. (I insisted we purchase all of their stock).
The second night at Lipari was very uncomfortable. We needed to find shelter from the weather and swell so we headed directly to Milazzo on mainland Sicily. We had a cracking sail there with 18 knot winds at about 60 degrees. Milazzo is industrial but calm and secure, so once again we caught up on sleep and did no sightseeing.
We woke fresh the next morning to news that finally a marina on the East coast of Sicily had room for us. All of the marinas in Catania were full however Syracuse (much further down the coast) did have room. It was going to be a big sail to get there, so we needed to get going. Later on we would discover that we didn't miss much in Catania. In fact it's hard to find anything nice to say about the place. Sailing through the Messina Strait was a real treat. The beach resorts and fishing villages of Punta Torrefaro were beautiful. Though I don't think I would like much swimming at those beaches as the current through the strait was immense. We stopped over that night below Taormina where we would later return by bus to visit. The following day we sailed down past Mt Etna, grubby Catania and on to the historic (and slightly dodgy) town of Syracuse. This was Sarah's final destination before flying home, but first we had some touristing to do...
Built on Isola di Ortigia, the old town of Syracuse has an interesting Greek and then Roman history. It was one of the most important outposts for the Greek empire and as such, the entrance to the island is dominated by the remains of the Temple of Apollo. Understandably the surrounding area is now dominated by restaurants, cafes and high end fashion stores. However you don't need to walk far before you are mingling with the locals and it was here that we once again found ourselves crashing someone's wedding.
Sicily's public transport system is just awful. Taormina is by far Sicily's number one tourist destination, yet getting there via public transport is a challenge to say the least. Taormina is only 120km from Syracuse, however we spent 8 hours on public transport that day just to visit the site. That said, Taormina IS stunning and an absolute must see. The streets and the views are just amazing and the ancient Greek amphitheatre (which is carved out of the hilltop) overlooks Mt Etna and the Ionian sea. It truly is something to behold. I suspect it would have been difficult for patrons to concentrate on the show as the view would have been so distracting. Sadly though, Taormina is a real contrast to ordinary Sicilian life and it really highlights the economic issues outside the tourist zones. Much of which is believed to be a result of organised crime in the 1900's.