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Rome to Malta

We left Rome (Ostia) on Saturday 1st October in company with Johanne and Allan sailing their Prout 37 Catamaran (Kiniska). We both had a few very minor dramas trying to leave our various berths – we couldn’t get back on the pontoon after settling our bill! Johanne and Allan needed the boat rafted alongside them to move to enable them to get out. In the process of moving the engines failed and the owner found himself anchored by his stern to the boat behind him, with the river current pushing him hard onto the boat. Eventually we all got ourselves sorted out and set off together toward Anzio (about 30 miles south of Rome). We anchored in the bay along with another yacht with an Australian family on board who are also going around the world.  We were glad they were there as a short time later Allan called to ask us to catch his dinghy which had come loose. By the time we got our dinghy out the Australians had jumped in and rescued the said inflatable. A promise of a beer (or two) and we set off into town for some food. A lovely restaurant was found – simple but well done with a good fish menu. Turned out to be really good food and service – bit expensive though!

pic: approaching Anzio
 
 
pic: Kiniska in Anzio
 
Next day we set off to Ponza, an island in the northwest group of the Pontine Islands. Our literature tells us that these Islands are the crests of volcanic craters with the north set being one chain and the south belonging to another chain linked to the volcanic area in the Bay of Naples. Ponza is a pretty island with a good anchorage in the town harbour area. The island played its part in ancient Roman history with Nero’s mother exiled here. There is an ancient Roman village on the cliffs outside the town, which is linked to the sea by tunnels carved through the cliff. Its spectacular from the sea and well protected from visitors from land (you can’t get near it). We spent two nights here, celebrating Allans birthday with him, spending some time on land walking around the town and visiting the lighthouse, churches and museum. 
 
pic: Ponza town
 
 
pic: Red Ruth at anchor in Ponza
 
Monday morning we left Johanne and Allan, who were returning to Ostia, and headed off towards the island of Ischia, in the Flegree Island group. We arrived without event and tied up in the Casamicciola Marina. It’s a very good marina running along the front of the town, with good facilities. Again we spent two nights here allowing us the time to be tourists in the town of Ischia, visiting the Castle and walking through the town. I enjoyed the best cup of coffee of the trip so far with a delicious Cornetto.  On our last night we went to a local restaurant, away from the tourists, and enjoyed a pizza and wine. It was a simple place with good food and a welcoming atmosphere.
 
Yesterday (Thursday) we set off to Procida, another Island in the Flegree Island group between the island of Ischia and the mainland. On our departure from the Marina we managed to snag the mooring line on the prop, which caused us some distress and fixed us like superglue to the yacht next to us. The marina staff were excellent and managed to secure us whilst we waited for a diver to sort it out for us. Peter had tried to sort it but the water was so murky it was impossible to spend the time below that was required without air tanks. No damage was done to the engine or gearbox and we continued on our way on the 4 mile journey to Procida, arriving in an hour. We have chosen the marina in Chiaiolella on the south of the Island.
 
The Procida Yachting Club mariners were out to meet us and tied us up professionally and securely. It is nice to have someone assist with this – we have noticed in some places they insist on doing it for you and in others you’re left to get on with it. We took a walk around the small town then settled in with dinner and a good book. We received some sad news from friends we met in Cascais - Matthias and Jennifer.  They lost their boat in a fire whilst at anchor in Mahon.  Fortunately they are safe and our hearts go out to them during this horrible time.
pic: Procida marina
Friday dawned grey and very wet and now I have a good excuse to put off doing the laundry for another day!  We will stay here until mid October as I am flying back to UK for my sons wedding.
 
A visit to the UK, a wedding, shopping, trying to fit it all in the suitcase and the return to Procida complete we are on our way again, heading towards Malta.  The plan to leave Procida on Thursday 20th October was abandoned due to bad weather.  On the preceding day the winds were quite strong lashing up the seas to the extent that entry or exit from the marina was impossible.  The winds died down overnight and Friday was the chosen morning for departure.  We left about 7am with a passage plan to Tropea on the north side of the ‘foot’ of Italy.  It didn’t take long for us to change the passage plan as the wind was once again on our nose and the seas were still quite big and rolling us around, so we headed for Agropoli instead.

Agropoli is a nice town which was clean and tidy with wide streets.  Driving was in contrast to Rome and Napoli with a sense of order.  We perambulated the main street and square in the evening and were pleased to greet and be greeted by the local people who looked you in the eye.  This is something that we could not find in Rome or Napoli where everyone avoids you.  It may have something to do with both places being ‘big city’ but it certainly made you feel alienated.  The name Agropoli is said to be a corruption of Acropolis as the town has very Greek origins.  As we were on a push for Malta we only stayed overnight.  The Marina is well protected but has no facilities in terms of toilets, showers or internet. The nearby restaurant/hotel can sell you access tickets to the local hotspot but they didn’t have any left when we went to purchase!

pic: Agropoli

Saturday saw us up and away at around 09h30.  The passage plan was to head for Messina with a safe haven in Tropea if required.  We built this in as the weather forecast and outlook was for Thunderstorms over the whole area, which from experience can be quite difficult at times to sail in.  We had the main sail up and were motor sailing until about 07h00 the following morning when we took out the Yankee.  We also picked up half a knot of tidal benefit which helped with the speed over the ground.

Once past the turning point for Tropea we could see the thunderstorms on our Port side and were quite glad we had decided not to turn as we would have been heading straight into them.  It was extremely black ahead and I have to admit to a sense of foreboding when looking into the darkness.  There was no sense of anything within the darkness – no hint of any light, space or anything – just a big black nothing-ness.  It reminded me of the kids movie the Never Ending Story!  However we did not need to worry as the darkness dissipated as we travelled onwards. 

At about 9pm I was on watch when I heard a whooshing noise beside the boat.  I immediately looked to see what it was and found to my delight a Dolphin swimming alongside.  It was a larger dolphin than we have seen since entering the med and it spent about half an hour swimming and leaping alongside us.  This was an amazing spectacle as it was night time with no moon and oily seas.  The only light was from our navigation lights, so as the dolphin swam underwater I could see its white shape and when it leapt out of the water it appeared to be completely white, just like a ghost.  (I know its getting close to Halloween so maybe ghosts and spooks are on my mind)!!

I called Peter on deck at 00h30 when I spotted the volcanic flares of Stromboli.  This was especially exciting for us as we sailed around Stromboli in 2004.  At that time we sailed past in daylight and were able to see the rocks and pumice being thrown out of the crater, hitting the sea and boiling the sea surface with giant hissing sounds.  The sea temperature then was 32 degrees Celsius.  This time, from the distance of 16 miles, we could see the red and orange firework display of the eruptions.  Unfortunately we were too far away to take any photographs, which was a pity.  As we arrived in Messina on Sunday morning we were able to watch the entrants from the Rolex Middle Sea Race heading north through the Straits on the first leg of their race from Malta, round Sicily, Stromboli, Lampedusa and back to Malta (a total of 606 miles).

Although we have sailed in the Straits of Messina previously we had not actually visited Messina. We tied up in Nettuna marina, with a strong current on our beam. The marina was clean and smart but at 80 euro for the night so it should have been!! We spent some time in the afternoon walking around the town near the marina.  The town has apparently been rebuilt twice in the past century, first after the 1908 earthquake and again after the Second World War.  Some of the buildings are quite grand and again we noticed that the streets were much cleaner.  The evening was spent reviewing the weather forecasts for the onward trip.  Every forecast was predicting different weather conditions. Eventually we decided to go with one and to keep an eye on what was happening.

The passage plan for Monday was Messina to Malta with stops in Catania, Syracusa or Marzameni if required.  Once past Marzameni it is 60 miles across the Straits of Sicily in open waters.  We left Messina at 6am with a 15 knot southerly wind and tide against us.  By 9am the tide had turned with a knot of benefit which stayed with us for the rest of the journey.  We were sailing on a beam or broad reach on the whole journey.  At 1230 we hove-to and put a couple of reefs in the main as the wind was increasing to 20 knots.  We took advantage of the stop to have some lunch before turning into the wind again.  For the next 16 hours our average speed was 7 knots over the ground with a Force 5 wind.  It really was a most excellent sail. The forecast gale force winds  didn’t materialise although we did experience a few squalls and we got wet a couple of times!  Arrival in Malta was very early due to the benefit of the current so we pottered outside the harbour entrance for a couple of hours before tying up at the Royal Malta Yacht Club.  The pontoons are empty just now as they are waiting for the race entrants to return from the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

 

pic: Royal Malta Yacht Club pontoons - Middle Sea Race