Treasures of Calabria

After a peaceful night at anchor (despite dropping anchor in a new place in the dark), we topped up our fuel tanks before heading to the northern end of Crotone.  We tied up in our favorite little marina only to discover that the price had doubled (we were in the high season of July)!  We fell in love with this marina last year as the price was very reasonable, the people were awesome, we were given a nice bottle of wine on arrival, and fresh pistachio croissants every morning.  While the marina people were still amazing, we paid twice as much and did not get any of the special treats like last year.  Yes, I know….spoiled whiners.  By late afternoon, we were contacted by some American friends we had met last year who had just come in to the anchorage right outside the port.  Since they were making a very early morning departure, we made arrangements to meet them on shore for a drink.  We also were contacted by the Italian friends we met last year telling us they would be coming to town to meet us for dinner.  You may recall that we met the Italian fisherman last year when we were in search of the ammunition ship that was blown up in WWII with Dan’s grandfather onboard.  He brought us to his house where we met his wife, took us to special restaurants, cooked for us, and showed us around the area.  We were happy to be able to reconnect with them a year later.

Zoe is thirsty for more fuel after 356 nautical miles. The Med tends to have light winds in summer so we end up motoring than we like. Or scary winds and we stay in port. Days in between are all too rare!

We met our friends, Steve and Emily, swapping some stories and catching up from our year apart.  We were very sad that we didn’t get more time to hang out with them this year.  We were quite literally “two ships passing in the night.”  Hopefully next season, we will find each other again.  Before long, Vincenzo and Chiara showed up and off we went in search of a dinner spot.  We landed in a pizzeria.  Out came the phones and google translate as we navigated through our conversations.  We are beginning to understand more of what is said to us, and Dan does a pretty good job attempting to speak Italian.  We figure if we spend a few seasons here, we will definitely learn Italian because no one wants to speak English.  We are able to be lazy in many of the other countries we’ve visited because everyone else wants to improve their English, so they speak to us in English (therefore, we are never able to learn and practice their languages).  Here, we are forced to learn it!  I found a pizza that sounded interesting (completely forgetting that the word fritti means fried).  Our friends seemed a little taken aback at what Dan and I ordered, and Vincenzo worked really hard to dissuade Dan from his choice.  In the end, Dan ended up with a steak dinner (which wasn’t even on the menu but was delicious nonetheless) and my fried pizza looked more like a calzone with a crust more like Indian fry bread.  Chiara ordered the same, and we both concluded we would not order that ever again.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t the awesome pizza you typically get in Italy.

Before we parted company, we made plans to sail back north to the town of Strongoli where their house was located.  We would anchor off the beach and go to their house for lunch then a tour of the area.  It would take us about an hour and a half to two hours to make our way north again.  As we departed the marina and rounded the corner of the breakwater, we were suddenly hit with 15-20 knot winds on the nose.  THAT was not in the forecast!  We also had 3-5 foot (1-1.5 m)swell and waves.  So here we were, yet again, bashing into the wind and waves, things falling off the shelves.  We hoped it would get better when we got to Strongoli, but our gut told us that would not be the case.  Strongoli has beautiful sand and crystal clear water, but not a lot of protection from the wind and waves.  It took us 3 hours to arrive, and as expected, it did not get better.  We sat on the boat (pitching around and discussing the safety of Zoe being anchored here), tried another area that Vincenzo suggested (he was watching us from the beach).  In the end, neither of us felt comfortable leaving the boat at anchor to go into shore for several hours out of sight of the boat.  We felt terrible knowing that our friends had prepared a special lunch for us.  We apologized and told them, we had to go back, but we would be willing to take a cab to come to them if they wanted to delay lunch by a few hours.  We quickly hoisted sails and before long, we were flying south.  We made it back to Crotone in an hour and a half!  This time we anchored outside of the marina breakwater in a prime location.  Our friends told us they would pick us up at 7:00 to come have dinner at their house.  Similar to last year, we were treated to an amazing multi course meal of seafood caught by Vincenzo.  We started with anchovies crudo (raw but marinated in lemon so more like ceviche style) and Sardella with bread (a very spicy fish paste), then pasta with mussels, tuna steak and salad, watermelon, and lemon sorbet.  They stuffed us full!  After dinner, they drove us down to meet Chiara’s parents and nephew.  We sat visiting with them for an hour or so before finally heading home around 11:30.  We were exhausted.  It’s funny how tiring it is when you don’t speak the language.  You have to spend all your time in heavy concentration to try and understand what is being said and how to reply.  They also gifted us with Chiara’s homemade Sardella and local olive oil.  It was so nice spending time with them again.  We are really hoping to have them on Zoe in August when Chiara has her vacation time.

Our Italian friend Vincenzo snapped this picture of us under sail after we decided to return to Crotone
A common meal starter in parts of Calabria is Sardella. It’s a spicy fish paste made from juvenile sardines and mixed with Calabrian red spicy peppers, topped with olive oil and spread on fresh bread – its quite tasty!
Robyn enjoying some homemade seafood pasta
Vincenzo and Chiara – the best Italian hosts!

We departed Crotone very early for our 64 mile passage to Roccella.  This would require us to cross the Gulf of Squillace which is notorious for nasty winds.  Forecasts showed the gulf would not be blowing until late in the afternoon.  Wrong!  The winds hit 18-26 knots with 1-1.8 m (3-6 foot) choppy seas.  We were able to sail most of it on a reefed main and genoa.  Since we were taking the seas on the side, things were flying off the shelves again.  I know….why haven’t they learned?!  Well, we keep trusting the forecasts!  When we know what’s coming, we do stow everything we can that might move.  I guess we just need to do this regardless of what the forecast says.  Eleven hours later, we were pulling into the marina in Roccella.  After days of pushing really hard, we decided this would be a reset.  We would get Zoe cleaned up, rent a car for a few days and do some exploring inland.

Leaving Crotone you have to navigate through some off shore oil rigs and workboat traffic
Forecasts in the Med can be fickle, and the forecasts in the Golfo di Squillace especially so. What was supposed to be a light wind day turned into a rollicking beam reach in 25 knot winds
Zoe in Porto delle Grazie in Rocella Ionica

Similar to home, Italy is under an intense heatwave, so we decided to get off the boat and head into the mountains to do some hiking and get some relief.  Up, up, up we went.  The higher we went, the more stressed I got.  We were in an itty bitty 2 door Fiat 500 (comically small….and gratefully so).  We traversed hairpin turns up, up, up.  No big deal.  A little stressful was the fact that we were on a road sized for one car, but it was two lane.  Still not a huge deal.  The huge deal was the 1000+ foot (305+ meter) sheer drop off over the side with no guard rails!  I was practically sitting in Dan’s lap (like that would’ve kept us from going over the edge).  The road turned very rough making it even more challenging.  Back home, this would’ve been considered a 4 x 4 road.  We found a place to park off the side of the road and took a beautiful hike through a forested area.  Surprisingly, it was not significantly cooler like we had hoped, but amazing sights and smells (pine)nonetheless.  We completed a loop and then headed further up the mountain in search of a waterfall we had read about.  Once again, we parked off the side of the road and headed off.  This trail went down, down, down.  It was a winding, slick trail with many steps carved out of the rock.  We eventually came out at the river’s edge.  There was a sign for two different waterfalls.  One that went straight up a steep looking goat path, and one that went down.  We opted for the path that went down as we were a little leary about the footing coming back down the really steep uphill path.  Turns out the downhill wasn’t a whole lot better.  It had very narrow, rock cut steps, many of which required handholds due to the unusual height of the steps.  We got most of the way down to the bottom of the waterfall and decided to head back up.  We were already hot and tired from our first hike, and the return to the car was going to be all uphill.  We meandered our way back down the mountain, checking out all the quaint little villages perched precariously on the sides of the gorge.

Our cute Italian Fiat high in the Calabrian mountains of Asperomonte National Park
Cooler temps and wonder hikes
Had to deal with rush hour. Felt like parting a sea of sheep…
Well marked trails and beautiful scenery
Climbing up from a waterfall gorge. Off boat adventures can be a nice change of pace
The mountains were calling – and we must go!
One of several waterfalls we visited in Asperomonte National Park

The next day we opted for a shorter drive to another set of mountains and another waterfall hike.  This drive was every bit has hairball as the last one!  At one point, we came to a complete standstill behind a huge herd of sheep blocking the road.  Dan honked and honked (they were in no hurry to move) and slowly parted the sea of sheep with the car.  We drove and drove seeing no signs of any type of hiking or waterfall.  Eventually we parked the car in one of the few spots big enough to turn around and go back and decided to follow the road on foot for a bit just to see what was ahead.  Unfortunately, the road was in the blazing sun, and it was blistering hot.  As we trudged down, down, down, we finally stumbled on a bridge and signage indicating a trail to the waterfall.  Yeah!  Off we went.  As soon as we hit the water’s edge, the temperatures dropped and we were cooled.  We crisscrossed the river over these rickety, log bridges with smaller waterfalls crashing below us.  The forest was dense and tropical.  It was a welcome hike through very peaceful terrain, and we had it all to ourselves.  We were treated to several different waterfalls, and it appeared the trail went on and on.  The problem was we didn’t know how far it went or where it ended.  In the end, we were getting eaten by mosquitos and decided an hour was long enough since we still had to come back UP the hot, dirt road we had come down.  It felt good to be out hiking again.

This ike was highly reviewed but challenging to find the start. What a relief when we found it!
Beautiful river gorge to explore. We had it ourselves
Many crossings of the river on shaky wood bridges

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at this little restaurant hidden in the forest.  The owners welcomed us in, and we were the only ones there.  We muddled our way through the language barrier and settled on a multi-course of their local specialties.  Dan had ordered the lamb chops and not long after, we heard the tinkling of “cow” bells.  “I hope that’s not your lunch arriving,” I said to Dan.  We both kind of chuckled.  We had an amazing lunch and a special experience, all alone in the garden of this little gem.  As we headed out, we ran into our second “traffic jam” of the trip.  A big herd of horned cows and babies coming down the road, and what was hanging around their necks?  The tinkling cow bells we had heard earlier.

Wonderful Calabrian specialties deep in the mountains of the region
Fiat versus bull. I’m sure that would have ended badly!

Our final day with the car, we decided to go explore some of the hilltop villages.  These were quite a sight to see perched high on the cliffs.  We briefly wandered in and out of the sleepy little villages, but in the end, it was just too hot.  Dan found a highly reviewed little winery that we decided to check out, but they didn’t open until 3:00.  He contacted them about coming to visit and before we knew it, the winemaker himself came and opened up early just for us.  It turned out this was really more of their local tasting room, and the actual winery was 20 minutes away in the valley of the gorge.  The winemaker began explaining the wine making classifications of Italy (in Italian, of course), and we were actually able to follow along pretty well.  Before long, his English speaking daughter arrived.  She had come in from the vineyard to help translate for us.  Both had graciously opened up for us despite a big winery event they were hosting that evening!  Had it not already been sold out, we would have loved to have gone to that.  I have to give a big shout out to the wonderful family of Azienda Agricola Cosimo Murace located in Bivongi!  We tasted a variety of amazing wines, which we then of course purchased.  We bid farewell with a promise to return to the actual vineyard when we come back through.  As we headed back to the marina for our final night in Roccella, we stopped at a little specialty market and bought up a bunch of typical local products made right there on sight.  We also hit a market where we stocked our boat with a ton of Calabrian specialties that had become some of our all time favorites.  After all, we would be leaving Calabria very soon.

Italian mountainside villages are so picturesque
We think our boutique winery hosts enjoyed a visit from a pair of long distance travelers! Here we are with the master winemaker.

The next morning, we departed before 6 a.m for the 59 mile passage to Reggio Calabria.  This would be a “staging” stop for our departure through the Straits of Messina the following morning.  Along the way, we were treated to a large pod of small dolphins frolicking in the water.  As we began to approach the tip of mainland Italy, we noticed large tanker planes landing on the water.  Unfortunately, a large part of Southern Italy was on fire in the mountain regions.  For several hours, we were treated to the spectacle of these planes and helicopters coming down to the water (sometimes uncomfortably close to us), scooping up massive amounts of sea water, before banking sharply around us and heading into the hills to dump it.  The rumble of the engines as they flew over us was so loud it gave you chills.  We’ve included some video (which still doesn’t do it justice), but you will get a feel for just how spectacular their piloting skills were.  

Sunrise starts are painful but the views are nice
The skills of these water scooper pilots were incredible to watch. They worked tirelessly all day to try and get the numerous wildfires in the hills under control

We spent one night on a mooring ball in Reggio Calabria and hit the water to cool off.  Astonishingly, our mooring was in 50 meters of water (164 feet)!  I will admit, it made me a tiny bit uncomfortable swimming in that depth of water (yeah, I know….silly).  The currents were pretty strong as well, so we didn’t stray too far from the boat.  Unfortunately, we made the decision to eat on board so when Dan went in to pay for the mooring, the owner was disappointed we didn’t come in for dinner.  Ironically, his restaurant had good reviews, was right on the waterfront, and I had been eyeing it online as a place to eat if we went in to town.  When Dan got back, he told me what a cute restaurant it was and how disappointed they were that we didn’t come in.   Now, I was sad and disappointed too!  We just had stupid grilled chicken and salad instead of delectable, local seafood.  Shout out to Ristorante la Capanna….we will be back, and we will be joining you for dinner!  The owner’s daughter walked Dan to a local dessert shop that was very highly reviewed (also evidenced by the flock of people).  He returned to the boat with his treats which we enjoyed later.  The few times we’ve splurged on desserts, we have been very disappointed, so we weren’t really hopeful this time as well.  Boy, were we wrong!  We shared two different kind of desserts that were some of the best treats we have ever had!  Mirco Gelateria for the win!!!

In Italy, the mooring ball field operators tend to dinghy out and assist with tying up. Nice touch when there are only two of us onboard and it’s windy.
Firefighting helicopter refilling before his next run. Heroes!

As I mentioned, we only planned to be here one night in order to time our crossing of the Straits of Messina.  This passage can be extremely dangerous if not timed correctly.  We spent days looking at wind patterns and tides to determine our safest time to pass through.  In addition to the winds (which get funneled down from mainland Italy and Sicily), there can be very strong currents that you can either ride or fight your way through.  On top of this, there are eddies and whirlpools that rise up creating challenges.  At the narrowest part of the strait, is a “freeway” of giant car ferries crossing from one side to the next (more games of frogger with giant ships).  The last bit of fun is the result of wind and tide running in opposition which creates short, high breaking seas in the center of the strait.  We saw moderate levels of all (except for the giant ferries which came out 6 ferries in a row as we approached).  In seafaring times, before all our awesome technology, many boats were claimed in the Straits of Messina.  It was a pretty easy passage but definitely a little nerve wracking not knowing what we might encounter.  Once through the strait, we made our way to the island of Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands where we will wait out some nasty winds headed our way.  In our next post, we will bring you the sights and adventures of these interesting volcanic (some still active)islands!

Italian website on current flows in the Messina Straits. For us, it was critical to have a northbound current (Correnti Montante in Italian) and little of the prevailing southerly wind. Timing was everything.
The payoff is a 4 knot current in the right direction as Zoe zooms through the Straits at 10 knots
In antiquity, the cauldrons created by the currents would swallow up unlucky boats who entered at the wrong time. This was the biggest cauldron we saw – timing definitely is everything.
Busy shipping channel through a chokepoint means both of us were constantly on the lookout for traffic to avoid.
Swordfish boat in the Straits. The swordfish in the Med tend to migrate through the straits and are easier to find. That is a spotter in that tower with binoculars looking for prey to harpoon.
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Tom Strebel
Tom Strebel
6 months ago

I literally just want all of the food. I don’t need the boating hijinks and worrying about wind, waves, or boat traffic. Looks like a great time, and I hear the water is much warmer than normal, which makes swimming a bit nicer, though harder to cool off.

Mark Garcia
Mark Garcia
6 months ago

Buongiorno……another great post and tale of adventure. Glad all is going well in Italia. Thanks for sharing. Be safe out there.

Jim Krueger
Jim Krueger
6 months ago

Another great post, keep them coming! Nice to see the Odyssey of the Seas out there, one of our favorites! Robyn, your writing makes me feel like I am on the boat with you guys! It would be way to stressful for me! Be real careful out there, can’t wait for the next post!

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