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Poof!

21st - 23rd June 2022 - Olbia, Sardinia - Positano, Italy (250.7 nautical miles)


The anchorage near the town quay of Olbia was nice and protected, however it was stinking hot. We took the dinghy across to the town wall which had a ladder that we could tie up to. Where we can we will lock up the dinghy however the padlock had fallen into the salt water one too many times and the lock would sometimes seize. Carl locked the dinghy to the ladder just as I was saying ‘Are we sure it's going to unlock??’ We stared at each other for a bit then climbed out and went in search of a supermarket. We were again trying to get rid of some rubbish bags but Sardinia seems to do this annoying thing where they have recycling bins that you have to unlock with a residency ID card. So us tourists can’t use the bins. It's not like we were fly-tipping a mattress! Anyway, Lucy had just messaged me that further down the road there were a set of bins where they appeared to be unlocked so made a beeline for them. Over 30C and stockpiling rubbish was not appealing on the boat. We bumped into Lucy and Jig in the supermarket. He typically doesn’t go with her as she is apparently a big browser. We spent about 20 mins in there, darting back and forth, occasionally seeing them down the aisles. As I walked back to the till I caught Jig’s glance as Lucy was distracted reading some labels. He didn’t quite roll his eyes but I had to hide a giggle.

All provisioned up we headed back to the dinghy. The lock wouldn’t open. We were a good 20 mins swim away from the boat in murky water. After 5 minutes or so of Carl dipping it in the water and some key fettling he managed to get the thing open. Phew. Definitely adding some WD40 to that lock before we use it again!

Both the crew of Rockhopper and Falkor were racing Schengen time. I think they had a week or so more float than us but that was it. We had discussed that the following day was a good weather window to get across to Italy. We’d be breaking our record for the longest passage yet for the two of us, around 220nm. The wind was forecast to be around 20kn from the south, around midday, building to about 27kn by 4pm and then steadily drop off to nothing overnight and into the next day. We knew we would have to be doing some motoring but if we didn’t make the move the following morning the wind would shift round to the east for days. Great for anchoring on the west coast of Italy but not so much for getting to the west coast of Italy. Falkor weren’t planning on heading to Positano, they were going to aim a bit further north for an anchorage near Naples but essentially we would be doing the same route. It’s not easy to estimate your time of arrival but we figured we would leave around midday the next day in order to arrive in daylight hours two days later. Falkor calculated their average speed a bit lower than ours and opted to leave at 8am after picking up some fuel at the marina on the way out.

We woke up to a lovely flat calm morning, just in time to hear Falkor raise their anchor and leave the bay. An hour or so later they sent a message saying that they had filled up with fuel at the dock, having taken a punch to the gut in the form of €2.29/litre. We contemplated not fuelling up ourselves at that price. Our tanks were indicating about half full but we weren’t sure how accurate the gauge was and whether the cost would be the same or more on the Amalfi coast. With a forecast guaranteeing a significant period of motoring we decided to just do it.

12pm came around and it was time to weigh anchor. Unfortunately the wind had picked up to 20 kn and the thought of coming alongside the fuel dock and tying up in that wind was not appealing at all. As we approached the marina we thought we would just check it out and if it really wasn’t tenable we would just carry on out and take our chances with what fuel we had. Just as we were coming towards the dock an enormous super yacht tied up on the opposite side, effectively blocking the wind. God love the stupidly rich. After topping up the tanks and limping off €500 lighter we made our way down the channel towards the large bay of Olbia. It was then that I got a message from Jig saying that it was pretty rough out there. They were beating into the swell and were being bashed about a bit. We were heading along the narrow channel between the markers with one engine on, 5kn SOG, sails still furled (including the Code 0, rigged for later on when the wind became lighter), and with 20kn coming from the south. I was concentrating on my phone replying to Jig. Carl was sorting out the main halyard getting ready to hoist the mainsail. I pressed send then looked up to see a large green channel marker about 15m directly in front of the boat. I yelled out CARL!! He yelled out SHIT! He jumped on the helm, took her off autopilot and we just manoeuvred out the way before impact. Last time any of us had checked we were right in the middle of the channel with the autopilot coping. I guess with the wind side on, no big keel to dig us in the water and only one engine on, it had been enough to push us off course. How embarrassing would that have been?! It was the last bloody channel marker from open water!

After our less than auspicious start we got another worrying message from Jig. He said they were heading back to Olbia. I asked how strong the wind was and Lucy replied that it was 20kn but that they were beating right into it and they really didn’t want to do that for two days straight. We were still in the bay, not yet out into the open water of the Tyrrhenian Sea. By this point the wind seemed to be funnelling through a gap in the mountains to our starboard side. It was around 35kn AWS. We had hoisted the main with two reefs in and unfurled the jib with two reefs. We started to have a doubt. Of course then with 35kn pulling at the furled Code 0 on the front the wind started to open up the sail. It was making an incredible flapping noise. It was no good, we had to take it down or risk damaging it. Carl donned his lifejacket with a safety line and made his way to the bow. In order to detach it from the bowsprit he had to lean right out halfway over the crossbar. It was a nervous few moments but he managed to get it free and we just dragged the whole salty lot back to the cockpit. We’d sort it out later.

So, decision time, 35kn in the bay; a report from Lucy and Jig saying it was 20kn out in open water but they were beating into moderate swell; a forecast that was telling us that it was going to die off throughout the day; easterlies for the next several days after that ...

We opted to carry on.

Whilst still in the bay the wind topped out at 39kn AWS as it funnelled through but as soon as we came out into open water, sure enough it dropped to 20-25kn. For us we weren’t quite beating directly into the swell which was about 2m at this point. It was more rolling in from our starboard forward quarter. I could totally get how uncomfortable it would have been for a monohull but it was just about manageable for our cat. By early evening we were shaking out the reefs in the jib and by 8pm we were back to full sails. There is always significant leeway on a cat. The wind and swell was pushing us sideways, which in this case was north when we wanted to be going south. As it has been a bit lively that day we didn’t really start our watches until 9pm. I took the first one. As we changed over at midnight we conservatively put a reef in the main as the wind was around 17-20kn. That saw us through both our watches overnight. With the sun rise came the always welcome sight of a pod of dolphins.


By 10am we were both awake and the wind has dropped to around 15kn. As we were pointing into the wind quite a bit we really weren’t doing more than 4kn SOG so we shook out the reef in the main. It was around this time that we were despairing about how far north we were. We were on a similar latitude to Olbia, just 100nm to the east. We needed to be going south-east. We had chosen not to tack sooner as we knew the wind was going to die off and wanted to make as much easting as we could before beginning that game. It was around 6pm that the forecasted light wind had finally shown up and we attempted to get the Code 0 back in place. We flew her for about an hour before finally admitting defeat and putting an engine on. The wind had come round to the SE which was now hitting us on the nose as we tried to motor-sail down the coast of Italy. I remember Carl getting quite frustrated at this point as the wind was just not playing ball. We had 13kn but just not in the right direction. We could sail it but then we were worried that we wouldn’t make it to our destination in daylight the following day. We had added miles and miles onto our journey by coming this far north. At one point we came close to Ponza island and contemplated making for the anchorage. It was nearing sundown and we were both frustrated. After a short discussion we made the call to carry on. By midnight I came on watch to find a Carl in better spirits, the engine was off and we were sailing. Of course shortly into my watch the wind died completely and I had to furl the jib and start an engine.

The sun rose to a cloudy day on our final approach to the bay of Naples. We motor-sailed through the gap created by Sorrento and the island of Capri, dodging near constant fast ferries who had no intention of deviating from their course at all. We had made it to the Amalfi coast, a place I had wanted to see for many years. Apart from a pretty arsey ferry boat who played chicken with us until I had moved over practically into some rocks, it was all I had imagined it to be. We dropped the hook in 12m, just off to the right of Positano. It was 3:38pm and we had logged 250.7nm. We were hot and sweaty and tired but elated. I messaged my Dad to say we’d made it. He congratulated us and asked whether we had ‘spliced the mainbrace yet’. As the daughter of a ex-Navy commander I was embarrassed that I had to look that one up. Yes, Dad, we absolutely did!

24th June 2022 - Positano

We’d stayed onboard that night, soaking up the sights and sounds. One of the very expensive looking hotels across from us had an opera singer which you can just about here on the video. It was a wonderfully Italian experience sitting on our bow, listening to the music and seeing the town light up. We would also occasionally get the ‘eee-awwww-eee-awww’ from an ambulance going in and out along the coastal road, another very Italian experience. The anchorage was deep and pretty rolly as there was a constant stream of boats going back and forth. Even when that had all died down the anchorage was fairly exposed so there was a bit of a swell anyway. We were glad we were on our cat. It was totally worth it to just be there though. Behind us were several mega yachts with every watersport toy imaginable.

The next morning we were trying to decide whether to call a water taxi service to take us to shore or to take the dinghy. The taxi service was run by the company that offered mooring balls for visiting yachts. As it was €120/night for a ball we had chosen the anchorage. Since we weren’t on the ball they offered us a taxi to shore for €60 but we would have to return by 8pm. All in all not the best deal so we braved the small landing beach where about 20 day tripper boats were coming in and out at any one time. Some people on Navily had said that they had left their dinghy on the beach there so, whilst we were nervous about doing it, there really wasn’t any other choice. As we were going to be out for the day and it was another scorching hot day, I’d put on a dress and tried to look better than usual. After weaving between the boats, leaping out into the water to hold the dinghy while Carl raised the outboard, then heaving the dinghy up a steep slope onto the black pebbly beach, I needn’t have bothered with the looking better effort. Still, Positano baby! Yeah! As no-one came to tell us off about leaving our dinghy there we abandoned her for the nearest bar for a cold glass of beer. We could keep an eye on the dinghy for a bit to see if it was drawing any attention. Apart from a flotilla of kayakers who appeared and pulled their boats all around ours it seemed like no-one was bothered. We therefore spent the day wandering around, buying some pottery and having the most expensive G&T that we have ever had. €29! Cough! It was Fishers though, a local gin from Aldeburgh near our home in the UK. We did a bit of bar hopping and had dinner on the sea front. The dinghy was still there on the beach where we had left it. All in all a lovely day.

25th - 26th June 2022 - Positano - Ficogrande, Stromboli (115.9 nautical miles)

Wishing we could stay longer but knowing we couldn’t, we weighed anchor at 10am the following morning to head south. It was to be another overnighter to Stromboli, a volcanic island off the coast of Sicily). Unfortunately after a few attempts at flying the Code 0 the wind gave up entirely and we had to motor pretty much the entire way. Carl had the dawn watch and as I came up to take over he asked ‘If you were to draw a volcano, wouldn’t it look exactly like that?’ He pointed out in front of us and there on the horizon was a perfect pointy island with smoke coming out of the top; every 25 mins or so, Poof! We were sailing our boat to an active volcano. Cool.

The town of Stromboli is on the north eastern corner of the island. In 2019 a huge explosion sent a pyroclastic flow down the north western side. As we approached you could see the black rubble that spewed out slope from the top all the way down to the sea. On our port side was the tiny little island of Strombolicchio, a volcanic plug from the original volcano. Either side of the town were anchorages, one in Ficogrande and the other closer to a mooring ball field, a bit further to the east of the island. We were getting some breeze from the south east so oped for the more sheltered Ficogrande anchorage, just behind the swimming buoys. The anchorage was reasonably deep and our first attempt put us a bit too close to the swimming buoys when we backed down the anchor and stretched out the chain. We settled in 8m of black sand making sure not to be too close to the ferry dock on one side and a small concrete dock on the other which was used by a water supply ship. According to Navily reviews if you anchored too close to the dock they would move you at any time of the day or night. I jumped in to check on the anchor and the water was crystal clear with black sand underneath us. It was also 29C! It was 9:35am.

After a bit of a sleep we took the dinghy to the beach to explore the town. The most interesting pebble beach we’ve landed on. Big boulders of volcanic rock. As you can imagine on a pointy island the walk up to the town was pretty steep. It was also very hot. There didn’t appear to be any cars on the island, just little golf buggies. The police buggies were quite sweet. There were guided walks up the volcano but due to the 2019 eruption you could only get to a certain point. We saw a few a group of people with decent hiking boots congregating ready to go up. Carl had his deck shoes and some trainers. Our hiking boots were back in the UK which was a shame. In fairness it was 3pm and around 38C. The thought of walking up a volcano to see hot lava (or actually not see it, due to the restrictions) was not particularly appealing. We did decide that at dusk we would take the dinghy round to the north side of the island to see the eruptions. Apparently in the dark you could see the red lava being ejected at each 25 minute puff of smoke. Before that, we were told that there was a fantastic pizza restaurant in town. Had to be done. It was down a small alleyway and as we approached the entrance a guy was just leaving. He said he was a local guide and that it was the best place to get proper Sicilian pizza. It really was good.

Back on the boat, we could see that several other boats had anchored near us. Just before sunset we loaded up the dinghy with a bottle of red wine and a few plastic glasses, donned our head torches and set off round the island. It was a popular thing to do as plenty of tourist boats were hovering there too. We don’t have any navigation lights on the dinghy. It’s not legally required as the boat is under 7m long however, as darkness fell we did feel particular vulnerable, in our dark grey little boat. Much bigger boats were moving back and forth and we were as visible as an invisible thing. But to see the spurts of lava it needed to be dark. We waited for several 25min puffs and tried to capture it on video. I thought the whole experience was pretty cool but Carl was distinctly underwhelmed. Sitting in the lee of a volcano hoping for a large eruption seemed a bit silly to me. Once we’d had our fill, dodged a few boats and had a sip of wine, we headed back to the boat.

27th June 2022 - Ficogrande, Stromboli - Cala del Formaggio, Vulcano (29.9 nautical miles)

At around 4am that night the wind started to pick up. As there was a large catamaran behind us I got up to have a look at the distance between us. As we were anchored in 8m we had put out a fair bit of chain. Obviously the cat behind us hadn’t put out as much. We were now only about 10m from them. I sat on the sugar scoop for a while trying to decide if we were dragging or just that our chain had stretched out on the seabed as the 20kn wind pushed us. Carl joined me and we both decided that we weren’t comfortable being that close to them. It was now around 5am and the faint glow of the dawn light was appearing on the horizon. We were going to head over to Vulcano today anyway so we made the decision to start the engines, up anchor and put the kettle on. It was still pretty dark so we could do a swing around the north of the island to get one last glimpse of the red lava before heading out. In the lee of the island the sea was really calm and there was no wind. Not much red lava on display either but it was still beautiful. Sunsets are fantastic but if you can drag yourself out of bed a good sunrise is quite magical. Whilst we were in the calm we hoisted the main sail with one reef. The second we came out of the lee of the island we were blasted with 30kn winds from the east. We quickly spun her into the wind and put another reef in the main. Back on course we unfurled the jib with one reef and started to move away from Stromboli at 5.8kn. The wind was pretty strong and we saw a boat behind us turn back but after motoring the entire way from Positano to Stromboli we were glad of saving some engine hours. We were coming up on Panarea island and had seen some lovely anchorages in Navily so were considering stopping for a night before carrying on but since we had some wind we were going to use it.

Obviously, knowing our luck, after we had made the decision, passed the island and set out for Vulcano, the wind died. We tried the Code 0 for a bit but it just wouldn’t fly so on came an engine. Carl flung out the fishing line to see if we could catch anything on the way over. We hadn’t so far in the nine months since we had been living onboard but hope springs eternal. Our early start had meant that we were now coming through the gap between the islands of Lipari and Vulcano at 11am. Coming round on to the western side of the island we were aiming for a bay called Porto di Ponente to anchor. From our vantage point the anchorage was full so we moved a bit further round to Cala del Formaggio to take a look. Our luck seemed to change as we saw two boats leaving. The sails had long since been taken down but as Carl weaved the boat round the others and swung her into the wind to drop the anchor, I realised the fishing line was still out! How we didn’t hook a poor unsuspecting paddle boarder I do not know. Oops. We dropped the hook in 6m of sand and rock. The smell of sulphur was faintly in the air and their were pumice stones floating in the water. The tour of Sicily’s volcanic islands continued. We jumped in to go and look at the anchor and we were surrounded by rock. We’d worry about that later. It was another scorcher of a day and after a swim we took the dinghy round to the little dock in Porto di Ponente. We weren’t sure if we could tie up there amongst the fishing boats but confidence is your friend in situations like this so we just tied up, threw out a stern anchor to keep us off the rocks close to the dock and locked it. The guys around us didn’t seem to mind so all good.

Whilst Stromboli was the quintessential volcano shaped island, Vulcano actually felt like one. In fact it was the origin of the word ‘volcano’. The island was thought to be the chimney of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. Pumice stones, yellow sulphurous rock with steam coming out through the cracks and that distinctive eggy smell. The town was geared up for tourism although the mud baths ‘Laghetto di Fanghi’ were closed. Apparently due to increased sulphur gas activity. A reminder that we were still on a very active volcano. We could certainly smell it very strongly around the area. I have to say, in 35 degC heat, it didn’t look very appealing. Similarly, the walk up to the top of the volcano was barriered off and people had been fined if they had trespassed. I guess what was left was hanging out on the black sandy beach. There were some really interesting sculptures around the town and we had the best lunch at a rooftop restaurant looking out over the bay on the other side of the island, watching the large ferries coming and going.

Over dinner, as usual, we discussed the weather forecast and when the best time would be to pass through the Messina Strait, the 3km wide channel between Sicily and the Italian peninsula. The Strait has strong currents running mainly from south to north but there is a weaker current from north to south, alternating every six hours. There was also said to be whirlpools and eddies in the channel. During a spring tide it was inadvisable to sail through there, engines only. Guess what time of the lunar month it was…

It had been blowing around 20-25kn from the north which would have been a perfect sail down the coast of Sicily but it tended to funnel at the strait and what with whirlpools, eddies, strong currents and a narrow entrance with swordfish boats about, we opted to wait another day for it to calm down. We needed to enter the strait at slack water, as the tide was turning to go from north to south. That would work out to be an early morning crossing and we were still 70nm away. So one more night in the Aeolian islands and then we would head down to an anchorage on the northern coast of Sicily, not far from the strait in readiness to cross the following morning. Sadly such a brief visit but interesting nonetheless.

29th June 2022 - Cala del Formaggio, Vulcano - Cala dei Liparoti, Sicily (19.4 nautical miles)


At 10:20am the next morning we carefully raised the anchor, luckily not getting caught on any of the rocks underneath us and came out round the coast of Vulcano. Not much wind but we raised the Code 0 just in case. To no avail unfortunately, we motored all the way down to Cala deli Liparoti, dodging fast ferries all the way. The anchorage was pretty nondescript, just somewhere sheltered to stay. We arrived at 2:25pm and anchored in 2.9m. It felt a bit exposed to the open Tyrrhenian Sea and passing ships but we would be leaving at 5am the next morning anyway.

30th June 2022 - Cala dei Liparoti - Taormina, Sicily (53.2 nautical miles)

At 5am in the dawn light we weighed anchor after a restless night. The anchorage had been bit rolly due to passing traffic but I guess there were also a bit of nerves for the strait crossing so it wasn’t a good nights sleep. We had 20nm to do before we arrived so plenty of time to get there for 9am when the tide would be favourable. There was very little wind anyway so no conflict in trying to sail versus getting there. As we approached, Carl radioed the Italian VTS (Vessel Traffic System) to let them know we intended to cross. Sometimes there are big vessels coming or going so they might have told us to hold off etc. Nobody answered. After several attempts we took no answer as a ‘good to go’ and made our way forward. Near the entrance were a few fishermen sat in there little wooden boats. As we manoeuvred around one of them he directed us to go further out and round into the strait. We knew it got pretty shallow at the corner but our shallow draught could handle it so we had tried to cut the corner. However, what with eddies and whirlpools were weren’t going to ignore some local knowledge and we headed out further after giving him a wave.

Well. I have to say it was a bit of an anticlimax. Our usual motoring speed is around 5kn. The most we achieved was 8.3kn SOG, assisted by the tide, and as for the whirlpools, a slight disturbance in the water closer to the coast. Sailing in the Solent had certainly prepared us for tidal sailing and the 11kn push we got from the tide racing between Guernsey and Herm Island was still reasonably fresh in our minds. Not that I’m complaining, plain sailing is all we wish for. Pretty soon the wind was indeed funnelling through and we had around 15kn to play with. We rolled out the jib and turned off the engines. As we floated by we caught some long distance shots of the Sicilian swordfishermen. A fascinating boat with a long gantry out the front and a 25m lookout at the top. As the swordfish are said to sleep on the waters surface, a guy creeps out to the furthest point on the gantry with a harpoon, far away from the noise of the engine. The other guy at the top of the lookout can drive the boat from up there and tries to spot one. We kept well out of the way as they moved back and forth.

Coming out from the channel the funnelling wind started to wain and we had to put an engine on. We motor-sailed with just the jib out on a barber hauler as the wind was from behind. Our destination was Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily. We arrived at 3:25pm and anchored just outside the mooring field. A few beach bars on the shore but the town was way up on the hill with Mount Etna smouldering behind. Pretty soon a rib came out to us and George explained that we had anchored a bit too close to the mooring field. Or we could pick up a ball for €120/night. We chose to lift up our anchor and move further back. A bit deeper and slightly less protected from the northerly wind but still ok. We finally settled in 9.9m.

It was again absolutely boiling hot and time for a swim. We’d made it from Sardinia, down the coast of Italy, across the Aeolian volcanic islands and through the Messina Strait. It was the end of June and we still had 10 days before we needed to leave the Schengen zone. Just over 200nm across the boot of Italy to go so doable. Even time to stay an extra night here while we waited for a weather window to take us across. We’d given up on exploring more of Sicily. There just wasn’t any time. Our thoughts drifted to Lucy and Jig on Falkor and hoped they were ok. They had left Sardinia and we could see on MarineTraffic that they were just south of Naples. They were on their way. The next time we would see them was Albania where we all could relax.

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