This blog episode welcomes our first guests of the 2019 summer Mediterranean sailing season on board Sea Rose. Longtime friends, Mary and Dave join us from Madison, Wisconsin. They actually ‘booked’ their date over a year in advance as they planned other travel to Europe.
Mary and Tom worked together in Oakland California almost 30 years ago at the shipping company, ‘American President Lines’. I was doing some IT consulting at APL at that time, and I met both Tom and then Mary through a corporate ski-team … yes, snow skiing, if I had a dollar for every skier I met who also sails or every sailor who skies in the off season, we’d be flying high!
Tom and Mary developed a fast friendship with once-a-week yoga evenings and plans for outings with mutual friends. They even bought a canoe together! Who knew their boating relationship would last so long? By the time I met Mary, Dave was already a well-established figure in her life – in fact, they were married!
We stayed in touch over the years as we each moved away from California. We even took turns being stewards of the jointly owned canoe! When we sailed the American Great Lakes two summers ago, we had Mary and Dave on board our previous boat while in the Door Peninsula region of Lake Michigan. We were thrilled to continue our sailing adventures with them, this time along the south-western coast of Italy!
Since we were less than a week into our summer sailing time when Mary and Dave were to arrive, we picked Sorrento (west coast of Italy just below Naples) as a meet-up location since we were familiar the harbor and it was a short distance from Gaeta – where Sea Rose spent the winter (see previous blog detailing our launch). Sorrento is a wonderful town – full of life and excitement … built on a high bluff overlooking the Mediterranean with the islands of Ischia and Procida as backdrops and with Mt. Vesuvius in clear view as well.
We reserved a spot on the dock in the tiny town center harbor to allow for wash-down of the boat, provisioning and to have a comfortable place to sleep for Mary and Dave’s first night on board. Since this was mid-May, the weather was unpredictable and the evenings were on the chilly side. Being on a dock offered an element of protection that we wanted as we welcomed our first guests of the year on board.
We had just finished our work – several provisioning runs and a good cleaning of our girl (in and out) – when we heard familiar voices approaching. Great timing to share some wine and cheese as we caught up with one another. We took advantage of being in Sorrento to dine in town before we headed out in the morning for ports less traveled. From this point forward, we would be in waters we hadn’t yet explored.
I came out for breakfast with my favorite, warm sweater on. Mary noticed that what I was wearing was a garment from St. James – a French company located in Brittany in the NW of France. Turns out she knows the owner … Mary knows everyone, BTW! She then donned her ‘St. James’ and we posed proudly (these are pretty terrific sweaters that I stumbled upon as Tom and I were tourists in the company’s main hood!).
After our time with Mary and Dave, Tom and I will need to put it in high gear to make it down under the boot of Italy, around the heel and up to the southern portion of Croatia by early June … almost 3 weeks and lots of miles we would need to travel in that time!
As we looked at the best area to tour along the way, we decided to explore the Aeolian Islands while Mary and Dave were with us. The Aeolian Islands are a collection of Italian islands north of Sicily and off-shore from the southwestern coast of Italy’s mainland; Stromboli is the most famous island of the group due to its active volcano and significant altitude. Apparently, Stromboli has mini eruptions every 30 minutes or so. Is it crazy that we are making it a point to visit this place??
We planned to move a lot of miles in the first two days Mary and Dave were on-board so we could spend the bulk of their time on board in the Aeolian’s. Our first stop was the small town of Acciaroli, about 40 miles southwest. This seemed like a big enough chunk for Day One and it looked like a cute town! It was, thankfully. See the shot below of the amazing moon over the harbor where we docked Sea Rose for the night.
We needed to go 90 miles on our second day to reach Stromboli. Therefore, we got up way too early – at 3:30 am – and, amidst rain showers and overcast skies we tossed off our dock lines and headed out. Once we were in deep waters, I headed off for more shut-eye. Luckily Tom is a morning person – I am less so!
Once the sun rose and the winds picked up, we had great sailing wind all day. Here is the view we steered toward for many an hour . . . Stromboli in the distance with the ash cloud always present off its active center!
At 4:30 in the afternoon we made our first attempt at anchoring. Because this island is volcanic, it goes from shoreline to extremely deep water quickly, making anchoring a challenge. There is one bank or shelf off Stromboli that makes anchoring easier but the wind/wave direction was making that area quite rough so we tried anchoring close in to shore with a stern anchor also along the shore. Well, this didn’t work! As we tried to set our anchor, we pulled it into deep waters and had the entire anchor and many meters of chain hanging from our poor windlass … yikes. We would join the multitudes on the shallow bank and deal with the rolling of the boat as the rough seas pushed us around! By dusk, we were securely on our anchor but we had lost the opportunity to go to shore for this evening. At least we were at Stromboli and we had a full day of exploration ahead of us. Plus, we had the added benefit of having this cool near-shore island and lighthouse as one of our views!
Once we were settled, we observed the regularity of Stromboli’s mini eruptions ourselves. We would hear a loud sound like the let-off of pressure from a tire pump and this was accompanied by a change in the ash cloud. Sometimes it would appear almost black as more rock material was emitted, sometimes it would be white plumes of smoke. Each episode lasted no more than 10 seconds but it was certainly a little nutty to be this close to regular volcanic eruptions! As night approached, we also had Mother Nature’s additional gift of an amazing sunset.
After darkness had fully taken the day, we could see trails of tiny lights descending the mountain in switch-back patterns. We knew that many an adventure company offered guided hiking tours up Stromboli and that these excursions leave the village around 5 pm with the goal of arriving at the overlook into the crater of Stromboli before dusk. This gives patrons the opportunity to see the fiery explosions in their red/orange vibrant colors against a darkening sky! After the ‘show’, each person is given a head-lamp for the steep hike back down to the village.
We wanted to hike Stromboli, but not at night. Given the active nature of this geology, people can only ascend Stromboli with a certified guide and hiring our own guide to take us up during daylight hours was going to break the bank so we opted for exploration of the lower elevations!
As we walked around the darling town the next day, we couldn’t help but notice these tsunami warning signs placed quite frequently along paths and roadsides!
There were also a number of signs designating meeting places should evacuation be necessary. Gosh – guess this really is an active volcano!
Back on the boat, we began to notice a bunch of black sand-like material all over our deck and on our cushions and … EVERYWHERE. Yup – this was ash from the continual eruptions!
For our second night in Stromboli, we picked up our anchor before dusk and drove around to the side of the island where you could watch the regular eruptions. As with the hike to overlook the crater, the darkening sky allowed for viewing the fiery explosions when they were more visible. Lots of tour boats bring eager passengers on this excursion both from Stromboli and from the neighboring islands. Also, any private boat in the area makes the pilgrimage at least one evening while visiting! It was beautiful to watch these events; however, it was difficult to capture the true wonder digitally. The below pre-dusk shot is the best we have to represent our experience.
The next morning, we set off for another of the Aeolian islands, Panarea, about 12 miles to the southwest of Stromboli. There was report of an excavated circular hut village dating back to 1500 BC that we wanted to see. Cala Junco seemed to be the best place to seek this out, so we anchored in this tiny yet stunning cove for a lunch and exploration stop.
After lunch, we sailed another 15 miles to our destination for the night, Isola Vulcano, where we hoped to view yet another active volcano! Here is a photo of this night’s anchorage.
Tom and Dave took on a re-con mission to find details on the hike up to view the crater while Mary and I pulled together a dinner. We learned how to play the card game known as ‘Sevens’ – a game we would end up sharing with several future boat visitors! We always enjoy evening time with our friends, bobbing in beautiful harbors, talking about our children and lives and generally being very appreciative of the beautiful world we inhabit together.
We set out early the next morning for the hike up to the crater. The wildflowers along the path were glorious, both in appearance and in fragrance! What a nice time of year to visit this and the other Aeolian Islands.
We left the islands the following morning so we could get Mary and Dave to Sicily where they would catch a flight to move on to the next part of their vacation. We got a berth at the marina in Milazzo along Sicily’s north coast. Mary and Dave took us out for a perfect ‘final’ dinner where we enjoyed wonderful Sicilian food with amazing wine and long conversations.
We said ‘good-bye’ to Mary and Dave early the next morning and did a very quick preparation to get underway ourselves. Tom bought some food while I did our laundry and we met back at the boat so we could immediately head out. The clock was advancing and our time to be up in Croatian waters was getting closer each day – no time to waste! Tune in next week for our trip ‘around the boot’.
This fall, after we put Sea Rose to bed for the non-sailing season, we will create YouTube videos of our summer’s adventures and we’ll share the drone footage of the ancient circular hut village, the crater on Isola Vulcano and more. Be sure to subscribe to youtube.com/c/LifeFourPointZero to get notifications of the videos as they are published!