Operation Get to Sicily: Part 1

8 to 12 October 2018

Brindisi to Santa Maria de Leuca, N39° 47.6’ E18° 21.5’, 78nm, 13 hours 30 minutes

to Crotone, N39° 04.67’ E17° 08.22’, 71nm, 12 hours 30 minutes

After an enforced but enjoyable week and a half in Brindisi we were by now just wanting to get to our winter berth in Licata, Sicily. We still however had about 350nm to sail and some hefty passages at that.

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Our first passage down the heel of Italy from Brindisi to Santa Maria de Leuca should have been an uneventful, if long, 70nm motor into light southerly winds. Leaving the quay at 4am distant lightening was lighting up the sky. The forecast and a check of the lightening map told us it was miles away and should disappear soon. Bright flashes of lightening still made us nervous though.

We soon had another reason to occupy our nerves. A couple of hours into our passage I noticed a wet patch on the carpet in the saloon and then that the bilge pump was running. On investigating Stefan found a salt water leak in the engine room.

**KLAXON** Salt water is NOT GOOD. It means it is coming in from THE OUTSIDE. This is NOT A GOOD THING!!

Over the course of the next few hours he eliminates various possible causes whilst I remain remarkably calm and consider our nearest safe harbours. Mysteriously the leak stopped. “Well, we’re not going to sink” he said reassuringly! It was also good to know that we had options for breaking our journey at San Foca or Ortranto if we needed to.

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And then nature also gave us a calming sign!

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During the rest of the passage Stefan became more preoccupied by steam coming from the exhaust. He spent his time alternately scratching his head looking over the stern or with his head deep in his bible of choice, Nigel Calder’s Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual.

Despite hugging the coast all day there was not much of interest to see. Just some lighthouses old and new at the cape at Ortranto. The calm conditions did, however, give Stefan a chance for probably his last swim this year.

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After a long day we eventually dropped anchor just outside the harbour at Santa Maria de Leuca with a view of Mussolini’s Steps and the lighthouse just before sunset. This exposed tip of Italy has a reputation for being affected by swell but we were in luck and only experienced a gentle roll for our short night there. Stefan did a few jobs on the engine and I cooked dinner before we collapsed in bed in preparation for another 4am start.

Day two of our passage to Sicily saw us again leaving in the dark. It was 70nm across the Gulf of Taranto in a straight line to Crotone. We had deliberately chosen to go that day instead of exploring Santa Maria de Leuca because the wind forecast was perfect for a good sail and it wasn’t long before the sails were up.

This is our favourite kind of sailing day. About 15 to 20 knots of wind on the stern quarter gives us a steady 6+ knots. The boat is stable in the swell and not heeled sideways too much. Most importantly it gave our trusty (and apparently feeling a bit poorly) Sue (1) a well earned rest. Stefan was able to enjoy some beanbag time.

We sailed nearly all the way to Crotone, only taking the sails in just before entering the Porto Vecchio (old harbour) and being welcomed to our transit berth at Yachting Kroton Club.

In Crotone we found ourselves again in Calabria, Italy’s toe and just a hop across land to the location of our last days cruising through Italy with the wonderful Susie and Mike of SV Toy Buoy in July last year.

We planned to stay two nights to recover from two long days at sea and prepare for two more but looking at the weather we made a decision to wait and take advantage of some good sailing winds on Saturday and instead do one long passage direct to Syracuse on Sicily.

A week in Crotone gave us time to wander around the old town and its somehow familiar lanes

and lived in palazzi buildings

and visit the archeological museum with its beautiful and amusing ceramic and bronze sculptures and an exquisite gold crown rumoured to have belonged to the Goddess Hera and uncovered at the temple to her at Capo Colonne.

And then an encounter with Stefan’s nemesis, the ancient coin, led to a surprisingly engaging conversation about what it must have been like when currency was introduced for the first time and you were told that this tiny circle of silver or bronze was worth the handful of corn you were trying to sell.

Stefan was disappointed that the castle was closed for renovation. His reading on the Knights Templar has been teaching him a great deal about efficacious castle design. He can now identify the purpose and value of moats and ramparts of various designs!

It was clear that Crotone, at the very bottom of Italy’s foot in the poorer south, was almost on its knees. Buildings were crumbling and graffiti taking hold but there was some bright street art to cheer it up.

Like Brindisi, Crotone also had a visible migrant population but this time South Asian. Sitting having a coffee one day we watched people disappearing into a doorway just down from the café and reappearing with shopping bags. On investigating we discovered a tiny shop run by a young Bangladeshi couple selling all sorts of South Asian groceries. We took the chance to stock up on garam masala and Stefan was ecstatic to find tiny green, fiery chillies, all imported via the UK.

A visit to the daily market also indicated that the great chilli drought of 2018 was well and truly over with more types of chillies than we have seen since leaving home. There was also no shortage of textiles at the crowded stalls.

When Friday came the forecast for Saturday was looking windier and wetter and we decided to stay another two nights and leave on Monday. It was a good decision based on the weather.

It was, however, bad timing because it gave an opportunity to a very unwelcome visitor…

 

Fen-notes

(1) Sue, for new readers and as a reminder for regular readers, is the name we gave our engine early on. She is a Perkins, a reference which may be lost on those unfamiliar with the mighty icon of British comedy and cake.

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