We arrived at the hotel just before midnight. It rained. So heavily that the rainwater formed small streams that flowed down the the road. Over the Mediterranean, it lightened. Vertical long zigzag lights followed by deafening bangs. We ran from the car into shelter at the reception.
"No problem," the receptionist replied smilingly when asked if we could get something to eat, "Go to the restaurant now. The kitchen will soon close "
The hotel was located in Capo d'Orlando near the marina where Heron was drydocked. Now we were back to continue this year's cruise in the Mediterranean.
When we woke up the next morning, it was cloudy and warm.
Jørgen and Marianne, our crew, had finished their breakfast when we came down to the restaurant. A little later we all checked out of the hotel and went down to the boat yard.
Heron was already in the big boat lift. Ready to be driven over to the dock and launched into the water. The yard's sign with the text "No cash, No splash" sent its clear message. We went to Marco's office, paid the bill and after an hour, Heron was back in the water.
"Sailor's Paradise" was the word that was repeated several time the logbooks description of Corfu, the target of our journey.
The 325 mile long trip could be made as offshore sailing in 2-3 days
But the trip could also be done as daysailing along the coasts of Calabria - the foot of Italy. The foot is long and the distance between the ports is large. We had calculated the trip to six sailing days, the longest distance being 72 nautical miles, corresponding to 12-14 hours of sailing.
The reviews of the coastline in Calabria was less commendable.
"Here's so boring that not even the fish bother to be here," one wrote in his logbook. In another it said "This is Mafia land with poor and sleepy little towns".
Even Rod Heikell was somewhat skeptical in his "Italian waters pilot"
“Thefts have been reported in the area. Don't go into that harbor even if the sandbank is once removed, ”he wrote of the sandy port of Salina Ioniche.
It sounded like a stretch that just had to be finished. As quickly as possible…
Every journey has its beginning. Ours began as we threw the moorings. But alas. We didn't get out of the dock before the motor stopped.
It sounded like air in the system - and quite right. A quick check revealed that a vent screw on the filter housing had been over-tightened. It had broken the thread where air was now let in so that no compression could be created.
A new filter housing was not so easy to obtain.
Suddenly Corfu's sailing paradise seemed to be very far away.
But Jørgen did not give up so easily. He resolutely dismantled the filter housing. Went into the yard. Made one of the employees cut a new thread and insert a new screw. Reassembled the filter housing. Bled and then asked Pia to turn the ignition key and press the start button. The motor turned, but still wouldn't start.
… Hmmm (again)
After the third bleeding the compression started. The exhaust water hit the water surface with the familiar splash and the motor continued its soothing rhythm as if it would say "Now I'm ready".
The rest of the day, we spent preparing Heron for the trip to Corfu.
Strait of Messina
The next morning we started the motor. It started without any problems and we noted 9.00 as departure time in the logbook. There was no wind. We slid for motor to the east on the calm sea. Ahead we had the Italian mainland, to starboard Sicily's mountainous north coast and in the aft , the island of Vulcano began to shrink on the horizon.
Late in the afternoon we reached the strait of Messina, separating Sicily from the Italian mainland. The strait is 32km long, at the narrowest point 3,1km wide and the highest depth is 250m.
This is where the Thyrenian Sea meets the colder and more salty Ionian Sea. The basins in the two seas are very deep and have currents in opposite directions and staggered phases. This creates a tidal current. It alternates a north and southbound current that can run at speeds of up to 5 knots and create powerful whirlpools.
Perhaps Homer was inspired by the tidal currents of the strait as he let the wizard Kirke warn Odysseus of the dangers of sailing through the strait.
"On the mainland lives the six-headed monster Skylla," she warned. "She eats sailors. On the opposite side lives another monster Charybdis. She takes ships with crew down to the sea seabed with her whirlpools. Here, not even Poseidon can help, "she ended her warnings.
Like Odysseus, we started at Charybdis. There were whirlpools but they were weak.
Was it because currents were southbound? Because the wind was weak? Had the whirlpools been strong and scary before the powerful earthquake in 1783 ? Had Homer exaggerated? We didn't figure it out and steered perpendicular to the sailing route towards Skylla. Not like Odysseus to get away from the whirlpools , but because a pleasure craft has to pass perpendicular to sailing routes.
As we approached the coast, we were greeted by hotels with sun loungers and parasols down to the water. A single ship came through the strait and the ferry traffic was much quieter than we were used to in the Sound in Denmark. After a few miles we arrived at a small marina in the town of Reggio di Calabria.
The marina was at the entrance to a ferry port. The outer pier was reserved for a few guest berths. The waves from the ferry traffic created some surge , though mostly at the guest berths. On the opposite side was a railway station, where you could keep track of arrivals and departures. They were quite a few of them.
"Take taxi" answered the friendly Ormigattore when we had moored and asked where the baths and toilets were.
Taxi for shower and toilet? Weird.
A quarter of an hour later, a low-stemmed, heavily built, gray-haired older man came out onto the pier.
" Toilet? Shower? Cheese? Wine? "He shouted to us and our Italian neighbour , the only other guest boat in the marina. The Italians pretended not to hear him and looked away.
But Carl, who had read Heikell's pilot book, recognized him. It could not be other than Saverio, whom the book praises for his cheeses and wines in the otherwise not particularly positive review of the port.
"Fromaggio e vino" Carl replied, promising to look at the goods in half an hour.
When it was getting dark, Saverio returned to the boat. He was furious. Now he had been sitting in his car waiting for over 20 minutes. Why had Carl not come as they had agreed?
Carl and Marianne left the Herron and went with him to the car. But the cheeses and wines were not in the car. They were at his home.
"I will drive you. It only takes one minute »he said eagerly a couple of times until they finally was persuaded to get into his old Toyota.
After driving for five minutes, they still had not come to Saverio's cheeses and wines.
"No mafia, no mafia," he reassured as, after a quarter of an hour's drive, he turned onto a dark road that led them down to the sea.
He stopped in front of a large gate. Got out of the car, opened a lock and pushed the creaking door until the opening was so wide that his old Toyota could just get through. Inside the square he opened another gate. This time for a workshop with an old car, a rubber dinghy, a stock of various boat equipment and lots of tools.
He pulled out a large cheese from the fridge, cut two pieces and gave them to taste. Then he wrapped the cheese in paper and told that it was cheap because it was the last one and that he would like to add a bottle of his good white wine into the bargain.
Half an hour later, Carl and Marianne returned to Heron. in good shape, but Saverio had also given them his word that he did not belong to the mafia.
Meters of Pizza
The next day we continued the sailing out of the strait. Fishermen in small dinghies were already at work in the waters rich in plankton and fish. Inside the coast, we saw cars on the E90 highway, extending from Lisbon in the west to Iraq in the east. The road is nearly 5.000 kilometers long, runs through 5 countries and along the coast of Calabria.
During the morning we got some wind. We set the sails and turned off the motor. The speed was halved, the sailing time to the destination doubled. When the wind a little later weakend we started the motor and pulled the sails in.
Occasionally, a town appeared on the coast. In some, there were hotels with the mandatory sun loungers and parasols down to the sea. In others, small boats lay permanently at anchor near the coast without protection from wind and waves from the south. Not good to know how they would weather a scirocco.
The wind remained weak until we had less than one hour sailing to Roccella Ionica.
Then it changed direction and came out of a bag with a strength of over 10m / s. When we were very close to the harbor, it disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
Roccella Ionica is built on top of a Greek settlement of Amphissa. It is a popular seaside resort, known for its annual Jazz festival and its location in the heart of the Mediterranean, as expressed in a brochure for the town. In the harbor there was an outdoor restaurant with lots of tables and chairs. Ambitious because the town was far from the harbor, where there were not many people. But a few hours after dark, all tables were fully occupied. The menu was as original as it was simple and cheap. Pizza in meters. We had a whole meter for the modest amount of 11 €.
Go on… go on…
"It was a very long sail yesterday," said the elderly man on the Israeli neighboring boat. Like us, they had sailed over 60 nautical miles the day before. "We want to do something shorter today".
So would we, and when we got out of the harbor we headed for Le Castella 48 nautical miles to the northeast.
An hour before arrival we were visited by a group of dolphins. They swam playfully in front of us and next to us. Once in a while, one of them dived under the keel. It was like it was smiling when it appeared on the other side a few seconds later.
We got no answer when we called the port office and sailed into the inner harbor. Here we found a vacant berth. An Italian from one of the neighboring boats kindly took our moorings and assured us that the berth was free.
There was a quiet relaxed atmosphere in the little harbor, which was a few hundred meters from the town. We walked up the pedestrian street, which led us to the fine and well-kept castle of Castella and a nice beach with nice cafes and restaurants.
The harbour master came early in the evening. He rolled down the window and asked what the beam of Heron was. Then he wrote an modest bill, accepted the payment through the open window, which he then rolled up before driving his way.
The next morning we studied the weather forecast. Still too much wind and seas to sail over open sea to Corfu. Along the coast there were no seas and up in the morning we sailed to Crotone a couple of hours away.
A few miles from the harbor we sailed through the Luna gas field from which natural gas is extracted from four platforms.
Crotone is an old town. It was built by the Greeks and was one of the largest cities in ancient Magna Grecia.
The inhabitants were known for their simple way of life and strong physique, which earned them many victories in the ancient Olympic Games. This is also where Pythagoras lived and created the foundation of the physics and mathematics of today's sciences.
More recently, the city faced major problems when two large companies went bankrupt at the end of the 80s. Unemployment rose and many residents chose to leave the city. The low point of the economy was reached in the middle of the 90s as the Esaro River crossed its banks and flooded the city.
Culture, education and tourism have since been focused on. Unemployment remains high. But when you came out of the harbor area and entered the boardwalk, Crotone seemed like a luxury seaside seaside resort.
There is barely 150 nautical miles across the open sea from Crotone to Gouvia in Corfu.
The weather models uniquely pointed to a good weather window for the next two days. Well, well, except for the thunderstorms. But it seemed to be what meteorologists call "distant lightning," or grain of light, where lightning leaps from cloud to cloud and does not hit the earth's surface. After the next two days, the warning sounded on a lot of wind and heavy seas.
If we wanted to go to Corfu, it was now.
The next day we left Crotone over dinner. It blew well and there were some seas when we got out of the harbor and sailed through the gas fields. After a few hours the wind weakend and the seas calmed down. Exactly as the weather models had predicted.
During the afternoon we lost the land recognition. There was not a single ship. Neither in sight nor on the AIS. We were all alone. Only had water around us and humbly worked our way toward our goal on the over 2.000 meter deep sea.
“Red sky at night, Skippers delight” is one of the old proverbs. The sky was red as the sun began to set. But not to the delight of the skipper because it was full of too many dark clouds.
We got ready for the night. Woke up Jørgen, who had offered to be a permanent night watch. Took life jackets, lifelines and torches up in the cockpit. Lighted the lanterns, set the instruments for night mode and got used to the darkness.
A few hours after dark, we got a ship in sight. At the AIS we could see it was a freighter from Libya on its way up the Adriatic. Our courses were intersecting. Within 20 minutes we would pass each other with a distance of 15 meters. So there was a risk of collision. We called the freighter on the VHF. Was acknowledged by a calm, dark and slightly sleepy voice telling us we were being observed. Next, the voice repeated that it was our intention to turn 45 degrees to starboard and pass on the aft. Then the voice ended the conversation with also wishing us a good night.
At the aft, it was beginning to ligthen. Initially only horisontal from cloud to cloud, but gradually it became vertical roaring zig-zag lightning. Soon, it began to ligthen on both sides. When we got the 'heel' across, we managed to get mobile coverage from the city of Santa Leuca, which lay 30 nautical miles to our port side . We just manged to download an updated weather report before the coverage disappeared.
It didn't look too good. Now the forecast said heavy thunder in our area for the next few hours. But someone wanted us well. It thundered and blasted all around us. Just not in the circle with our position as the center. It was almost as if someone, perhaps Poseidon, was holding a protective hand over Heron with the crew.
The thunderstorm continued for a few hours. When it got bright, it eventually stopped while Othonon emerged from the morning dawn. The island is Greece's westernmost point. This is where Homer let the nymph Calypso keep the Odysseuys captivated by his love for her for 7 years.
Soon the scents of the green trees came out to us and we sailed into the narrow strait and got Albania to the port and Corfu to the starboard.
The waters were gentle and calm, almost like the Sound in our homewaters. Still, we both felt that after 3 years and 3.500 miles we had for the first time reached a place where we were far away from home
We continued for a couple of hours along the east coast of Corfu and then docked in Gouvia Marina.