Oh where, oh where, do I begin? You may recall from our last post that we had pulled up a big, nasty fish trap that had been laid over top of our anchor and bridle. We spent an extra 20 minutes freeing ourselves without cutting the trap free. You would think that would’ve bought us some good fishermen karma. Unfortunately, it seemed to have cursed us. We were underway from Gallipoli to Taranto across the Gulf of Taranto. This was going to be an 8 1/2 hour passage. The winds were already at 9 knots when we got started, so we put up the main sail and gennaker. The winds continued to grow and before long we were crackin’ along at 6-7 knots under full sail. Finally! About half way into our journey, we began to encounter a few commercial fishing boats. Most were moving slowly and not very close to us. I noticed a new one tucked up into the Gulf. He was basically cruising parallel to us but quite a distance away. I kept a close eye on him because he was frequently hidden behind our gennaker, so I wanted to know where he was at any given point. Before long, I noticed that he was coming closer and closer to us. In response, I kept adjusting our course to fall away from him. Next thing I know, he is at a high rate of speed and heading straight at us! We are under full sail, so any adjustments we make are going to be painfully slow compared to his speed. Dan ran to the bow and started yelling to get their attention. How can he possibly be on this course if he sees us? As I watch him barreling toward us midship, I freeze in absolute terror. This is it. He is going to hit us, and we are going to be blasted into a million pieces. All I can do is brace myself, hands over my mouth, and eyes the size of saucers. Dan fires up the engine and does what little he can to try and get our slow boat out of the way with the least amount of damage. His big, steel hulled boat passed within a foot or two (.5-.7 meters)of our stern! I was shaking so violently, I could no longer stand up. I spent an hour in total silence, still shaking. Then, the anger came. That f-ing asshat! I can only think that he did that on purpose. He changed his course. He changed his speed. Falling off a few degrees = no problem. Slowing down a few knots = no problem. This had to be intentional to mess with us. This captain (if in fact he was one) should be stripped of his license for reckless endangerment. I was going to document all of this right then, but it’s probably better that I didn’t. It’s been a few days, and I am a little bit calmer (although I still relive it on a regular basis and get angry all over again)!
The passage took us 8 hours, mostly under sail, until we finally arrived in the bay of Taranto. Because this is a major shipping port, the port captain requires you to call for permission to enter. Dan tried to radio them 8 different times with no response, so in we went. There were probably 15-20 behemoth cargo ships anchored all around us as we made our way up into the bay. It was quite a sight to see. As we approached the marina, Dan radioed our arrival to the marina several times as well. Once again, we got no response. Finally we spotted the marinero waving us to our spot. We proceeded to get ourselves tied up with his instruction (all in Italian). It continues to crack me up that even when you tell them you don’t speak Italian, they continue to repeat themselves as if you will eventually get it. It is quite hysterical. Once we were comfortably settled in, we collapsed in the air conditioned salon and cracked open an ice cold beer. Ahhhhh. Before long, the marinero arrived again and very apologetically informed us that we needed to move to a different spot. He said the port captain felt that we stuck out to far in the fairway and wanted us moved. Awwww man! For me, the most stressful part of sailing (aside from bad weather and nasty commercial captains) is docking and undocking…..and now I had to do it twice in less than a couple of hours. The poor marinero felt so bad. So off we went to a spot alongside the concrete wall. It became quite the jigsaw puzzle with the marinero trying to bring up sand lines that were far too short in order to keep us from smashing against the concrete wall (the direction of the wind and swell come from).
With Zoe comfortably tied up and secure in the marina, Dan and I rented a car and headed inland for some sightseeing. We had been pushing really hard making very long passages with very little down time, so we both felt the need to take a break. We drove through the beautiful countryside of the region of Puglia. Our first stop was Ostuni, Citta Bianca (the white city). This beautiful place is perched high on the hills and is quite a sight to see. Although, I think I would name it 50 shades of beige (not a lot of real white remains). We wandered around for bit and then headed off to our next destination, Alberobello which means beautiful tree. This town is famous for their unique buildings which they call trulli. Because of the unique style of the Trulli, they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had heard of the town referred to (not by Italians) as the Smurf village. From the pictures, it is easy to see why (if you have ever watched the show “The Smurfs”). It was beyond adorable and definitely a worthwhile stop. Unfortunately, we were in the heat of the day, and it was blistering hot. We decided to have a light bite and drink inside one of the Trulli’s. Probably not our best idea other than the experience. We paid a hefty tab for a very small plate of local meat and cheese and 1 drink each (about $60 ….ouch).
Did I mention that we had been pushing really hard in moving the boat and this was our downtime for some rest and relaxation? HA! For those of you that know Dan well, he doesn’t really know how to do slow and leisurely….everything is done at warp speed. This trip was no different. Our third and final stop for the night was the city of Matera. This city is renowned for its rock-cut core. It has twin cliff side zones known as the Sassi. The city began as a complex of cave homes banking a breath-taking gorge. The Sassi has 12 levels that climb 380 meters (1247 feet) and are connected by a series of pathways and stairs. You will definitely get your steps and elevation walking around this city! This medieval city clings to the edge of the canyon and is remarkably well preserved. We had rented a room here that was located inside one of the caves at the very bottom of the city. Just finding it was quite the adventure. The hotel was also a winery, so upon our arrival we were treated to a lovely glass of wine in the cool shelter of the cave lobby. Once again, the outside was blistering hot. We enjoyed the cool sanctuary of our cave room before heading out for a dinner overlooking the gorge and then heading up the gazillion steps to the top of the city. The sights were spectacular. This was definitely one of my favorite stops, so I was sad we were only going to be here for about 15 hours. This spot is high on our “must revisit and spend more time” list (which seems to be growing by the day). We had hit 3 different cities on our loop in less than 24 hours! Sound relaxing? Not so much.
It was a several hour drive back through beautiful countryside. We were somewhat forced to leave early as the rental car place closed at 11:00 (Saturday) and would not reopen until Monday. We were already checked out with the Coast Guard and expected to depart on Sunday. We dropped the car and took a 20 minute cab ride back to the boat (yep, that was the closest available car rental we could find….so two 20 minute cab rides made it a bit more pricey than normal). We returned to the cool comfort of our boat to plot our next move. We headed out into the old city of Taranto on a mission to buy some goodies specific to the region of Puglia. We stumbled on this little market where one of the guys working there spoke some English. He showed us which of the meats and cheeses were specific to Puglia and their city, allowed us to taste them, and we promptly stocked up. He then threw in some extra treats for us for free.
We decided to have a seafood dinner (something they are known for)in the old city of Taranto, so we headed out in search of a restaurant. Unfortunately, most restaurants don’t open until 8:30, and we are just not accustomed to eating that late at night. Even the ones on Google that claimed to be open were not open. We checked with several different places only to be turned away and told they would be full from reservations. We were rapidly becoming very disheartened. We wandered across the bridge to the other side of the marina to check another place we found on Google. Dan: “It’s suppose to be right here. We are standing right in front of it!” There was nothing there….just a very closed up, dilapidated building. Dan: “ I‘ve found one more place with really good reviews. If it’s not there, we are done. We are going back to the boat and calling it a day.” So, we wandered down this very sketch alley. Sketchy enough that Dan growled at me for being 10 feet behind him instead of right beside him to ensure my safety. We spotted the restaurant sign and approached. It was most definitely not open despite Google saying it was open. As we stood staring at the door in complete and total dejection, a woman stepped out of an open kitchen door to check on us. We asked if they were open for dinner. She scampered inside and another woman emerged. We repeated our question, and she signaled us to wait. She went in and spoke to the chef, and before we knew it, she was opening the door to the restaurant and escorting us in. Holy cow! They opened up their restaurant 45 minutes early just for us! With almost no English spoken and the use of some Google translate, we managed to understand that it was a set menu. She explained to us that it was $25 Euro a person. Sounds reasonable (of course we have no idea what we will be eating). Before long, the starter arrives. Out comes 7 or 8 different small plates of seafood (mussels, octopus salad, sauced squid, marinated anchovies, and on and on). Each dish was amazing. The first course arrived which was a large pasta noodle with clams and mussels. The second course consisted of fried calamari, shrimp and fish. We finished with a tangy lemon sorbet. The food was amazing, and the hospitality and kindness even more so. The chef came out several times to make sure we liked everything. Thank you Mary and Pasquale for rescuing our spirits!
We left the dock bright and early for our 15 hour passage to Crotone (on the ball of the foot). There are two areas along the southern part of Italy that require careful consideration, the Gulf of Taranto and the Gulf of Squillace. Both of these gulfs can have some very wicked winds and big seas, so finding the right weather window to cross them is very important. We were headed out of the Gulf of Taranto and our window was clear. Our biggest challenge would be arriving in Crotone after dark and dropping anchor. We have never dropped anchor in the pitch dark of night, so this would be interesting. Everything we had read said it was wide open sand (an anchor’s best friend). We had an uneventful passage, arrived in Crotone and dropped anchor at 10:45 p.m. By 11:00, we were well dug in and ready for a good nights sleep. We plan to spend a few days in Crotone and meet up with a few friends, so I will leave this story here for now. Stay tuned for more adventures on and off Zoe!