Lefkas to Italy - Our first overnight passages for a while - in this case 2 nights to do a 220 mile leg, so we took it easy. We managed to put the sails up a few times, but basically we motored across the Ionian Sea on an easy trip.
Rochelle Ionica - This was a welcome stop after 2 nights at sea. Rochelle Ionica is a cute village, strung along the coast under an old monastery or walled defense complex - with a minimum of glitzy shops or restaurants. The marina "in process", which means 90% finished, but no charges and minimal facilities - but good protection. The docks were good, it had water but no electricity. The shore-side facility was planned to have restaurants and shops, but at the moment has a restaurant and toilet block with hot showers. The restaurant had tables for 100 and about 3 customers at lunch. The waitress told us the table would fill up a night, and sure enough as the temperature dropped the people came and by 10 PM it was a beehive of activity. We ate out 3 nights in a row (it was too hot to cook) and enjoyed our introduction to Italian food in Italy.
Reggio Calabria - Moving along our path towards Spain, we rounded the 'toe' of Italy and headed into the Straits of Messina at the end of a 66 mile day. We had kept engine RPM high se arrived at 1500, hoping in vain for a space in the 'marina' - no such luck as a guy on a bike waved for us to leave. We circled the commercial harbor and spotted friends on Ranganui, a NZ couple we had met in Rochelle Ionica. They helped us tie up to a rough concrete bulkhead where we tried to protect our hull from the big black truck tires and rubber bumpers. At 0400 a SE wind picked up and pushed us hard onto the bumpers - our fenders protected us but we did not sleep well. By 0700 we were underway, glad to leave the worst harbor we have visited in years.
Messina Straits - In The Odyssey Odysseus and his crew sail south through the Straits of Messina, with the Scylla sea monster to port on the mainland and Charybdis a whirlpool that swallows ships on Sicily to starboard - the proverbial rock and a hard place! The Scylla snatches 6 of his men (one for each of her heads) and he braves the whirlpool to get through the strait. This may be an exaggeration, but we left Reggio Calabria with winds at 5-8 knots, and within 15 minutes as we approached the straits the wind built to 30 knots on our beam as we plowed through the narrow water between Messina and Villa San Giovanni, claiming right-of-way over the three ferries that were plying the waters between the mainland and Sicily. It was a most exciting ride, and one we would have rather enjoyed at a more sedate pace. We were on our way to a safe harbor to our north as gale force winds were predicted in the Tyrrhenian Sea threatened all boats for a few days.
Vibo Valenti - The rest of the day was threatening as squalls, dark clouds, lightning on shore, and just plain ugly clouds kept us on edge. By 1400 we had pulled into Vibo Valenti, a port town with 2 marinas. We chose Stella del Sud Marina, a friendly spot run by Angela, a Canadian-Italian lady who provides what cruisers want (secure spot, water, electricity, source of beer and a laundry) at a reasonable price. We are tucked in here for a few days as we plan the rest of our trip to Spain.
Small Town Italy - Vibo Valentia appears to be a typical small Italian town: promenade along the sea, cafes with gelato, panaderias (bakeries) with fresh goodies, a modest 'supermarket', a smattering of small shops, and men sitting around talking and drinking coffee. It has a port, which provides employment for a few, but we are not sure what employs the rest of the town. People are a little taciturn - hopefully by the end of the season, we will establish a few friendships. Each weekend brings a new 'festival' when the promenade fills with people, entertainment can be heard across the water, and fireworks popping overhead - a little like small town America in the summer!
Tour of the countryside - We rented a tiny Smart Car from the owner of the marina and set out to explore our surroundings. We drove north along the coast, looking for likely places to anchor or to moor - with limited success! In Cetraro, about 30 miles north we found another 'unfinished' marina, reportedly with poor shelter. The bulkheads were very high and we noted that friends on Ranganui were anchored outside rather than tied up inside - looks like a place to avoid. We drove up into the hills and the temperatures dropped from the high 80's into the comfortable 70's and was very green, with small villages and rivers - a real change from the dry hills of Greece and southern Turkey. The highways were safe and fast we found that the Smart Car was a very pleasant way to travel.
Replanning Time - We have been emailing and calling marinas in Spain, and the response generally has been "...we have no space, perhaps later...". Thus, after two months of traveling, we have decided to tie the dock-lines a little tighter and spend the winter at Stella del Sud in Vibo Valentia. This will be an opportunity to see a little of small-town Italy up close for a reasonable price. We will travel to England to reclaim our motor-home in September, tour France, Switzerland, and Italy for a while and then settle in here for the winter for some writing, reading, and pasta.
Summer in Italy - August is vacation time in Italy and while the kids are out of school the resorts fill up and the beaches are packed. The marina is jammed with yachts and launches as charter boats and boat owners move from place to place. The boat in the slip beside us changes daily and the docks are alive with chatter and bikinis all day, particularly on the weekends. Despite our fears, boat owners have been careful, courteous, and friendly - we still stand by the fend off approaching boats, but we are not as anxious as when we arrived. The marina beside us has larger accommodations, and it has been common to see motor yachts 80' to 100' back up to their docks for the night.
Festival of Ave Maria of Pompeii - During the summer it seems like every weekend has a festival in Italy - another excuse for walking the streets at night and eating gelato. This week it was a local patroness, Ave Maria de Pompeii. Lights went up on the village streets, booths were set up selling local food, cheap Chinese imports and grilled sausages. For two days the Church of Ave Maria held ceremonies and mass for the faithful. A traditional show included several 10' high puppets, and they visited the marina one day accompanied by a drummer and collection plate. On the final night the statue of Ave Maria was carried to the waterfront while ceremonies were led by the local priest in front of hundreds of residents and visitors. Her statue was carried on a local fishing boat through the harbor among hundreds of bright candles set afloat by the locals. The evening was capped off by a fireworks show that would have made any large city proud on the 4th of July in the US - and we had a wonderful view from the bow of Long Passages.
Learning our way around town - We are gradually learning our way around the area - with minimal help from the locals. We have found that many of the towns along the Italian coast hang on the top or sides of steep cliffs with spectacular views of the Med. The marinas are, of course, down at the base and sometime several miles from the actual town. The marina here is in the village of Vibo Valentia Marina at the base of a large hill, whereas the nearest town is Vibo Valentia, 1000' higher near the main Autostrada (expressway). We decided to visit this nearby town one day and spent 2 hours wandering from place to place before we found out that "...buses sometimes don't run on time on Saturday...". On our second attempt we managed to catch it and wander through a cute town with nice parks and a few shops. Unfortunately they post no schedule, so we had to wait over an hour for the return bus. Next time, we we hope to be better prepared for the journey into our neighboring town.
Current Plan - We have finalized our near-term plans: