Hurtling down the coast of Italy…. At 5 knots!

August 25, 2010

As the old Army saying goes, ‘I left you in this position’, that is, just outside Rome having waved a fond farewell to the Lynch family after Polly’s wedding.  The Lynchs left on 12th August and we set off south on 15th, after waiting for a bit of a southerly blow to go through.  Since then, we’ve been out of internet contact, as the area we’ve been going through, apart from Pompei, isn’t exactly on the tourist trail and lacks such things as internet cafes and bars offering wifi access.  If you’re reading this, it’s because we’ve finally managed to find somewhere to get hooked into the http://www. 

Well, what have we been up to?  I’m writing this exciting instalment at anchor off the coast of the island of Stromboli, just north of Sicily.   Stromboli was not part of the plan initially but we’ll get to that a bit later on.  The reason we’ve been heading south with such determination is to meet up with Jonno and Lucy in Corfu whilst they’re there on holiday.  We’ve been trying to hook up with them since we left UK and the chance of getting together in Corfu was too good to miss, hence the ‘dash’ southwards.  If you care to look at your maps (what, you mean you haven’t got a map of the Med up on the wall so you can see where we are?), you’ll see that it’s about 550 nautical miles from Rome to Corfu via the Straits of Messina.  At 5 knots, that’s about 11 days worth of sailing, so we’ve got more than enough time for the trip.

Having studied the pilot book (a What’s Where of the nautical world), we had come to the conclusion that we’d be staying in marinas most of the time, as there didn’t appear to be many, if any, anchorages on the Italian south coast.  Oh, how wrong I was.  J, with her unerring instinct for a bargain, has managed to find us quite a few.  Our first stop was at Anzio, where I had anticipated going into a modern marina in Nettuno and being able to reacquaint myself with an excellent fish restaurant that I had found on one of my battlefield tours to Monte Cassino and Anzio.  Oh no.  We got there just as night was falling and J spotted a couple of yachts anchored just outside the port of Anzio.  So in we goes, Skipper heart in mouth as the depth vanishes to less than ½ a metre below the keel and down goes the anchor for a quiet night free of charge!

We were up early the next day, heading further south away from the low lying coast of the Pontine Marshes, scene of the bloody battles of the Anzio beachhead in 1944, to the spectacular mountains and sea cliffs of the Italian Riviera and the Amalfi Coast.  That night we did spend in a marina in Geata; a vibrant little town tucked in behind a headland that was once a favoured anchorage for the Italian navy.  After a leisurely start the following morning, we departed across the bay towards Ischia and the Bay of Naples.  We had a great day’s sailing, putting the sails up as we cleared the headland at Geata and running south on a single tack to our destination.

Once again, J had ferreted out a possible anchorage and we tucked in behind a little islet crowned with a wonderful castle in what has to be the most crowded anchorage we’ve ever been in.  There must have been over 100 boats of all shapes and sizes there, full of excitable Italians who have never heard to the idea of minimizing their wash in a crowded area!  We arrived there about 5pm and it was amazing to watch the place clear as the light went; by 8.30pm 90% of the other boats had gone home, leaving us in a lovely peaceful little bay.

The castle where we anchored off Ischia

The next day, we were up bright and early as we had a long trip to make to Salerno, where we had decided to stay for a couple of days to let us visit Pompei.  We had to motor for the morning, as the wind had failed to put in an appearance but as we rounded the headland by Sorrento and entered Salerno bay, we picked a nice wind which took us into the harbour at Salerno.  The pilot book had recommended us to go into the commercial port and find ourselves a berth in the marina there.  This we did, and as we approached we were hailed by a couple of bods on the pontoons who directed us into a berth.  Now, normally berthing is a fairly fraught business, with me trying to avoid putting dents into the neighbouring vessels whilst J connects lines to the shore and so on.  In this marina, by the time, I’d got Rampage lined up and was reversing into the berth, the ormeggiatoris had leapt on board from the neighbouring boats, fended Rampage off from them and did all the work normally done by J and I.  Magic!  Oh, but the cost of such service was exorbitant.  We’ll draw a veil over the price – just let’s say it was as well we’d had a few free nights beforehand.

The next day was Pompei!  I think that as J was the main motivator for this particular expedition, that she should write the account of our adventure.  Over to you, Madam.

Visiting Pompei

Mural on a villa wall.

That first evening in Salerno we set out on a recce to find the railway station as the pilot book recommended travelling to Pompei by train.  Nearly two hours later we returned to Rampage having totally failed in our mission although we did eventually discover that we could get a bus to the station from just outside the port.  Next day we were up and out for 9am and shortly thereafter we boarded a bus only to learn that we should have purchased tickets first.  However since the driver merely shrugged his shoulders and drove off, we made the first bit of the journey free of charge – an entertaining trip all through the tiny backstreets, barely wide enough for the bus to squeeze through and forcing pedestrians to leap for cover in shop doorways.

J takes a breather in the Forum at Pompei

Once at the station, I was taken aback to be sold bus rather than rail tickets when I asked for two tickets to Pompei.  I was told there was more than an hour to wait for the next train and as the tickets were only €3 apiece I didn’t argue too hard.  When we looked at the bus times, the wait seemed almost as long but then we saw a bus for Pompei preparing to leave so we climbed aboard…  The journey went on and on, stopping every few minutes and going through all the back streets of a number of shabby little towns neither of us ever wish to see again.  Duncan was patient for a long time but after an hour and fifty minutes (!) he suddenly could stand no more and said we should abandon the bus.  He’d spotted signs for the Circumvesuvio, the line that encircles Vesuvius and, according to the pilot book, (our bible, you may have noticed,) should take us to the ruins of Pompei. We found the station and bought tickets but the next train was not for a while so we went in search of a cold drink; it was by now 12.30 and we were both feeling fairly despondent.

A decorated fountain in one of the major houses.

The only clue about where to get off the train was a couple of diagrams of ancient temples on the railway plan.  One was at the junction with another line and the other was one stop up on the 2nd line.  We got off at the first and found ourselves in more shabby backstreets with no signs or anyone to ask about how to find the ruins of Pompei.  We hit rock bottom at this point.  It was ferociously hot; we had no clue which way to go and were seriously starting to think about abandoning the whole expedition.  Eventually, D suggested returning to the station and taking the other line to the second of the possible stations denoted as near to ancient ruins of some sort.  Thankfully this turned out to be the right place with the entrance just a few yards from the station.  It was now 2pm and had taken us five hours to get there.

The Forum - once paved with marble but this as largely robbed out by later inhabitants.

However for me, Pompei itself more than made up for all our trials and tribulations.  I don’t know enough superlatives to convey my impressions.  It was absolutely amazing and the sheer scale of it, not to mention the level of preservation, blew me away!  I loved it and dragged a long-suffering Duncan round for three hours, stopping only briefly for a snack and a drink.  I loved the paved streets with their stepping stones for the pedestrians to avoid the sewage and muck, while allowing chariots, (axels were of a standard width,) to pass either side.  We saw the forum, the temples and the amphitheatres, grand villas and higgledy-piggledy little houses and shops, mosaics and murals, bath houses and the brothel.  It was just unbelievable and I am so thrilled to have been there and seen it all.  I’d thought Ephesus and the Coliseum in Rome were impressive but for me they paled beside Pompei.  I could hardly bear to drag myself away but eventually reason prevailed and we made our way to the exit. 

The main road leading north from the Forum

Duncan then said we needed to get to the main line station where we could catch a train straight back to Salerno.  Neither of us wanted to face the bus again.  It was a fair walk to the station and we were both starting to feel a little weary by then.  En route we passed a Carrefour and decided to buy supper for the next couple of days as, unbelievably, we had failed to find anywhere in Salerno to buy food.  The journey home was much quicker and we were back at Salerno station by 6.30pm.  There was 20 minutes to wait for a bus back to the port so we decided to walk and finally got back to Rampage at 7pm, (passing a supermarket en route,) once more utterly worn out after a day ashore sight-seeing.

The small theatre and a boiled husband

Now back to Duncan:

If it hadn’t been so expensive we might have stayed in Salerno an extra day to recover, but instead we pressed on south.  We sailed on, ever southwards, and did about 45 miles before tucking ourselves away into a little bay behind one of the few headlands on the coast.  Again, the anchorage was crowded with boats small and large but emptied as the light went, leaving only a small handful of boats, mostly sailing yachts, behind.  We were up with the lark again, heading towards a marina this time, about 45 miles south.

Mosic floor

The marina was at a place called Cetraro, a pimple in the middle of nowhere with a bit a dubious write up in the pilot book.  In the event, we found it to be a nice enough and properly finished off now, with floating pontoons, electric points and water.  However, there was nobody there to tell us where to moor, so we came alongside (most unusual in this part of the world, as you nearly always park bow or stern to) and made fast to a jetty just inside the harbour entrance.  Still no one appeared – the normal practice is that some member of staff will appear within seconds of your arrival, either to tell you to go to the office and book in or to get you to move to another berth – but here there was studied indifference.

Southern side of Pompei.

So we strolled down the quay past a couple of boats to ask another English couple what the score was.  They were similarly clueless but had found out that there was a Lidl not too far away.  We stayed and chatted and then made our way together up to a wooden chalet where we thought the office might be.  The notice on the door said it would be open at 5 pm – it was now 5.30 pm, so we decided to wait for someone to turn up.  Eventually, at a few minutes past 6, a chap strolled up and opened the place.  It turned out that the reason that there had been no interest in our arrival was because we’d moored on the ‘town quay’ and it was free for visitors!  If we wanted electricity and water, that would be 10€ for a card loaded with credit for the combined water and electricity meter.  Result!  The chap also phoned for a taxi for us – don’t think it was really a taxi but one of his mates with a big old Merc – who took us all to Lidl, waited for us and then brought us back to the boat.

'Bear Neccessities' en route to Stromboli

Lidl was great, after a dearth of places to shop for food, water and the basics over the past few stops.  We got loads of heavy shopping, enough to keep us going for about a week and both crews made their way back to their boats feeling very happy with life.

We invited James and Tina (their boat is Bear Necessities) round for a drink after we’d eaten and fell to discussing routes and where we were going.  They were on their way to Palermo on Sicily and their next stop was to be the island of Stromboli.  We’d planned to head straight on the next marina along the mainland coast at Vibo Valentia, about 50 miles south (starting to see a pattern here yet? 50 miles is a comfortable day sail).   It turns out that Stromboli was also about 50 miles away and the same again to the Straits of Messina, so we decided to join Bear Necessities on the trip to the island.  Now, Stromboli is a volcanic island, rising up from the sea in a cone.  The volcano is still active, releasing a continuous stream of vapour from the top of the cone and occasional bursts of lava, which is what attracts people to visit the place.

The black sands on the beach at Stromboli

We left early and had quiet crossing, only managing to sail for a couple of hours in the middle of the day.  The anchorage is pretty open but with the settled weather we’ve been having, it wasn’t a huge problem.  We had a swim, something to eat and then all went ashore for a few drinks.  J and Tina were much amazed by the black sand on the beaches and didn’t find it at all attractive.  After the first couple, we set off to look around the place and passed a poster about trips to look at the lava flows by night from the sea.  So on the spur of the moment, we decided to go back to Rampage and head round the island to join in the fun.  It was only a couple of miles round the corner (Stromboli is only about 10 miles round and is roughly square in shape) and we saw what we think was red hot lava on the upper part of the cone and the occasional burst of fire and sparks from the top of the crater lip.  Great trip although there were lots of other boats there, none of them paying much attention to anyone else, so it was a bit nerve wracking for the Skipper keeping one eye on the traffic and the other on the volcano.  It really was one of those nights that will stay with us for a long time.

J and I looked at the charts and where we planned to go next and came to the conclusion that we have a couple of days in hand and still get to Corfu by 31 August, so we decided to take a day off and stay at Stromboli.  Bear Necessities had to meet up with some other friends on the next island along, so they left today, leaving us to go ashore and explore the island a bit more.  The town is small, with very narrow streets so the only vehicles here are little 3 wheeled trucks, golf trolleys and scooters.  There are a few shops, including the usual tourist stuff but also some great bakeries and the like.  Tomorrow, we set sail early for Messina, where we will encounter the only tidal gate in the Med; have to make sure we get there when the tide is in our favour or, like Odysseus, we will never make it through.

Stromboli, seen as we left for Sicily.

That’s all for now.  If we can get this up on the site tomorrow, I don’t think we’ll bother to update it but if it’s any later, we’ll add a bit to it!

Quick update.  We’re now dodging the Sicilian Mafia in Messina on the Straits of the same name between mainland Italy and Sicily.  Having heaved ourselves out of our pits at 6am, the run down here on the motor went well and we caught the southbound current to sweep us in here.  After lunch we had a nap (to compensate for the early start) and have now done some laundry and are about to set out in search of internet facilities.  Here hoping.



  1. Great pictures and commentary … thanks !! Hope on our next trip to Italy my wife and I can get to Pompeii and further south.

  2. It’s like a real time adventure mystery….
    Will they make it through the Straits?
    Will they find Lucy and Jonno?
    Or will the Mafia lock them in a trunk???

    Tune in next week for the next instalment….

    (Cue orchestra with up-tempo train-ride music a la Dick Barton, Special Agent)

    Lovin’ it x

  3. Up Pompei! Glad you got there in the end after such a marathon journey. I remember the train ride there being very enjoyable for the most part. Also fascinated by your visit to Stromboli – only 3 weeks till we go to Sicily so we might visit it too. Good luck with the rest of the trip to Corfu! Ciao!

  4. Like Lizzie I don’t recall having a problem getting to Pompei, and like J I was absolutely blown away by it. Stromboli sounds great too – I think volcanoes are fascinating and would love to see a real one erupting.
    Great to hear all about your adventures and good luck with avoiding the mafia.
    Oh, and please tell us what a tidal gate is in your next installment!

    loads of love

    • Well, bully for you. I’m sure that thousands of people find Pompei with little or no difficulty. However, they’re probably starting from Naples, where there are signs to tell you where to go, not from Salerno (the arse end of the universe as far as tourism goes)and have to resort to guess work and prayer. Love J xxxx

      • Actually, we were travelling from Sorrento not Naples, which is a bit further up the coast from Salerno!

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