181 Miles Under Darkness of Night

We left the island of Favignana bright and early (6:45 a.m.) for our 33 hour passage across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the island of Sardegna (Sardinia).  We had our perfect weather window to cross safely and be able to sail a decent amount of the passage.  We sailed through the day and night and into the next day.  The passage wasn’t too bad during the night.  Most of the fishing vessels and cargo ships were pretty far away from us.  Since there was barely a sliver of a moon which did not rise until almost dawn, we had a spectacular view of the stars, the Milky Way, and Starlink.  If you haven’t seen Starlink in the sky, it’s quite crazy.  It appears as a long line of large, bright dots streaking across the sky.  Thanks to favorable winds, and motor sailing when they died, we managed to average 6.1 knots of speed and arrived on the southern coast of Sardegna earlier than expected.  The first few anchorages we checked out were packed with boats!  Ugh….no thanks.  Eventually, we found a HUGE, wide open sandy bay with Turquoise blue water.  Now we are talking!  We were anchored down and ready for a nap by 2:30 p.m. (32 hours later).

Passage plan
And we’re underway!
Half way there!
Land ho!
Beautiful Golfo de Palmas
Amazing turquoise waters
Exploring the area by kayak

After 2 relaxing days at anchor, it was time to start making our way north.  Our goal was to cruise the western side of Sardegna.  It is considered the more wild side of the island with far less boat traffic than the eastern side.  Part of the reason for this is that the western side becomes very untenable unless you have just the right forecast of winds.  We did!  The prevailing winds here come from the northwest which is why the western side is very exposed.  The winds for the next week were coming from the NE and SE.  When we did get WNW winds, they were very light.

We departed the anchorage early again to make our way to Isola Di San Pietro and the city of Carloforte.  We were offered a great marina price right in the heart of the city, so we eagerly accepted it.  Carloforte is a popular resort tourist destination, and we arrived the day before Ferragosto (a national holiday in August in which many Italians take the entire month off).  We wandered the beautiful streets and attempted to make a reservation for dinner.  One highly rated restaurant had nothing for the next several days.  We found another highly rated one which said they could get us in at 10:00 p.m.  Seriously?  I don’t eat dinner at 10:00….I’m getting ready for bed!  Well, we decided we needed to try it since Carloforte is notorious for their tuna.  Long story short, the food was tasty but overpriced, and the service was not very good.  All in all, we were pretty disappointed given the cost of dinner and the lost night.  The next night, we went to a very highly reviewed pizza place on the waterfront.  They were able to squeeze us in at 7:00 (when they opened), and it was one of the best meals we’ve had (and 1/2 the price)!  We spent both our afternoons here going for bike rides around the salt ponds and taking long walks.  We even got to see the wild flamingoes that hang out in the salt ponds.  We left relatively early once again since we had a 45 mile passage to our next point of interest.  

Wonderful town of Carloforte
Each can of the locally caught tuna was around 30 euros! That’s over 30 US dollars. No thanks!
Local wild flamingoes

Our next stop was Tharros, “The ancient city kissed by the sea.”  As we made our way toward the anchorage, I noticed a shadow gliding beside the boat.  It wasn’t long before we were greeted by a very large, solitary dolphin who decided to play in our bow spray and follow along beside us.  After our brief encounter, he disappeared.  We entered the bay and grabbed a mooring ball just beneath the watch tower.  In the morning, we took the dinghy in to go explore the ancient ruins.  We walked the ancient basalt roads that meandered above and along the sea.  Tharros is said to be one of the most important cities founded by the Carthaginians in Sardegna in the 7th century BCE.  Some centuries earlier, this area was settled because it was known for an abundance of natural resources, and the presence of a safe harbor offering protection from the strong Mistral winds (those NW winds I was telling you about).  Because of this, it made for an ideal place to engage in trade and cultural exchanges with the rest of the Med.  The ruins are scattered over a large stretch of the peninsula.  Here you can see several thermal buildings, columns, several temples, a water reservoir, and sewage structures from ancient times.  We also climbed to the top of the Spanish watch tower (added during the kingdom of Arregon) for some spectacular views.  From there, we walked to the very end of the peninsula, did a little bushwhacking down to the sea and then back up to the old lighthouse before heading back to Zoe to get underway.  We made a brief overnight stop in another large, wide open bay before making our way to the city of Bosa the following morning.

Exploring the ruins of Tharros
Zoe framed by the ancient columns
Up the Spanish Tower
Hiked to the lighthouse on the end of the Cape
Long hike!
Drone picture of the Tharros anchorage

Bosa is a beautiful and colorful little town that lies along a river bank.  At the mouth of the river, there is a wall that the Coast Guard allows you to tie up to for free for 24 hours.  Since the anchorage looked pretty crowded, we opted for the free wall tie.   The town itself was about a 30 minute walk, or you could take your dinghy up the river.  Having never been there and unsure what the river navigation and tie up options were, we chose to do the walk (we needed the exercise anyway).  Thankfully, they did an excellent job with sidewalks (meaning they actually had them!), so we had an easy walk to the town.  As promised, it was a really special little town that ran along a wide riverbank.  I was kicking myself later for not taking the dinghy with some wine and cheese for a sunset cruise up the river before tying up for a dinner along the river’s edge.  It is definitely on my list for next time (as well as staying for more than one day).  We stumbled upon a quaint little wine bar serving local wines.  The owner/server explained to us that these were wines from his vineyard, so we happily tried a couple he recommended (glasses, not bottles….in case, you were worried).  He also served us an amazing plate of locally produced meats and cheeses to enjoy with our wine.  He was incredibly welcoming and seemed to enjoy the oddity of these Americans off the beaten path.  Of course, we purchased two bottles to take back to the boat for future enjoyment.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops in Sardegna.

Public dock on the Bosa River
Colorful town of Bosa
Enjoying local Sardinian appetizers

From Bosa we headed to Alghero which is a rather good sized city on the island.  Here we would be picking up our first guests of the season (Dan’s nephew Terry, and his fiance Fran).  Our marina for the next two nights was right outside the castle walls.  Sardegna definitely has some of the most amazing walled cities that we have seen on this trip.  We enjoyed two nights exploring the town and enjoying the local cuisine.  Dan ordered horse one night, much to my dismay.  He said it was amazing!  I refused to try it.  Doesn’t matter if they are bred here for the sole purpose of consumption….I just cannot unsee that image.  The next night, we had suckling pig (a specialty of the area).  I know, I know!  How on earth can you eat THAT?  Maybe if I had owned a baby pig, I would not have been able to order it….but I haven’t, so I did.  It was delish!

Town of Alghero
Castle views from Zoe
Ancient fortifications
Strolling the castle walls
Happy couple!
My nephew and his fiancé joined us in Algerho

We set sail 2 days later (and yes!  We actually got to sail) for an anchorage known as Porto Ferro.  We chose a short 3 hour passage, since this was the first time our guests had been on a sailboat.  We arrived in a big, beautiful bay with very few boats and dropped anchor.  We explored a little bit of the the land and some very interesting ruins right above the beach.  Since we wanted to show our guests as much of the island as we could in the one week they were with us, we were off and running the very next day.  From here, we headed to a bay known for its turquoise blue waters (Della Pelosa).  On our way, we had several dolphin sightings off in the distance.  Prior to reaching the bay, we had to navigate through a very narrow and shallow channel surrounded by rock reefs.  Here you had to keep a careful watch out and follow the navigation markers very closely.  This is made more fun by the number of boats coming and going.  While Dan drove, the 3 of us positioned ourselves at the front of the boat as spotters for any sort of trouble.  Once through, we headed to the bay which was quite full of boats.  The thing that stinks most about these bays this time of year is that they are packed with boats of every size and kind imaginable, but once the sun starts to drop, many of them leave creating lots of room (but we don’t come into anchorages at night, so we have to squeeze in where we can).  We carefully picked a nice spot leaving ample space to others.  You know how that goes, we were quickly surrounded by very large power boats.  Then it go worse!  A 90 foot mega yacht chose to anchor near his friend (one of our powerboat neighbors) leaving him only 20 meters away from us!  They were close enough we could hear the pop of the champagne cork they were serving up.  I was not a happy camper.  We all watched anxiously every time they pivoted to make sure their stern deck and staircase (yes, they had a staircase into the water) didn’t bump us.  Fortunately, they left before sunset, and the remainder of our night was uneventful.

Porto Ferro
Boat shenanigans
Taking the dinghy to shore to explore
Amazing turquoise waters of Pelosa
Sand as far as the eye can see at Pelosa

We departed the next morning for the town of Castelsardo….another hilltop castle fortress.  Here we had our first new experience of 6 years sailing in the med….fog.  A dense, wet fog that enveloped us in invisibility.  Well, isn’t that just great!  If I thought night sailing was a little unsettling from a visibility perspective, this was far worse.  Off in the distance, a deep horn sounded off…..a sign that something very large was out there hidden in the mist.  Luckily, these big guys are on AIS which allows us to see them and track them on our screen.  It also tells us how far away they are, what our closest point of interception will be and at what time.  Fortunately, he was well behind us and would not cross our path.  The down side of this set up is that not all private boats (including those most dreaded fishing boats) have AIS, so you are flying blind when it comes to them.  For this we fired up our radar and hoped it worked well at marking them.  As we were finally within sight of our destination, the sun managed to burn off the fog giving us clear sight into the bay.  We were also treated to a pair of dolphins that surfaced and came and played in our bow spray.  Once we were tied up, we rented a couple of scooters and headed up to the castle to check it out.  It provided some spectacular views of the surrounding area, and housed a lot of very cool artifacts. We cruised around on the scooters and checked out some ruins from the Bronze Age as well as other views over the island and sea.  This was definitely another favorite stop of mine, and I hope to return for a longer stay in the future.

Some dolphins came to play!
Arriving Castelsardo rocking their new crew shirts
Wandering the picturesque alleyways
Up up and more up to the castle
Rented a scooter to better explore. That’s Castelsardo over our shoulder

Our next passage would be our longest one yet with our guests, over 40 miles.  Dan and I were up before the sun to get underway.  Watching the sun come up over the hilltop castle was quite beautiful.  From here, we were headed to the famous Maddalena Islands.  That can’t be crazy in August, right?  La Maddalena is an archipelago and a National Park.  The islands are all composed of red granite and have very little vegetation.  All of the islands are surrounded by both above and below water rock outcroppings requiring very careful navigation.  While they are a very spectacular sight, they can be disastrous to your boat.  Well pulled into the very crowded anchorage of Cala Giorgio Marino (I know, you’re shocked it was crowded!).  With boats coming and going at regular intervals, we actually lucked out and grabbed one of the two mooring balls still open.  We spent a glorious day swimming despite the power yachts racing in and out of the anchorage creating 2 foot swells in the water.  Terry and Fran took a couple of excursions on our kayak to some beautiful pink sand beaches to explore.  There is a great deal of red coral in Sardegna which creates the beautiful pink sand beaches throughout the area.  Unfortunately, most of these beaches/islands are forbidden to explore in order to reduce the impact and destruction of them.

Beautiful anchorages of the Maddelenas
Terry and Fran with some kayak fun

Our last stop in the Maddalena’s was Cala Stagnali.  This was a beautiful little bay with a very tricky entrance.  The inlet is very narrow, surrounded by rock reefs, and gets very shallow quickly (2 meters….we draw 1.3)  You have to line up with a series of markers to safely guide you into the bay.  The best part of this bay is that there are very few boats.  We easily found a nice spot in 2 meters of water and dropped anchor.  Because of all the rock outcroppings, it made for great snorkeling.  Later in the day, we headed in to explore the geological and maritime museums.  From there, we headed off on foot to explore through beautiful pine forests and sandy beaches.  This was another place that met my criteria for “must come back” (not crowded and great swimming/snorkeling). That night we had an extra treat when we saw the water sparkle with bioluminescent plankton. Dan and Terry jumped in the dark water and witnessed the magic of dancing lights with every motion as they swam.

Watching for shallows as we enter the cove
Exploring the local museum
Hiking Isla Caprera
Mandatory Gelato stop
And that’s a wrap – Terry and Fran return back to the States

We had now arrived at the end of our journey with Terry and Fran.  We made our way to the city of Olbia where they would fly out later that day.  We had also booked into a marina to ride out a very nasty storm on its way.  Luckily Dan booked us early as many of the marinas were already full and could not take us.  Unfortunately, the one that could take us was basically a floating pontoon that is only in place for summer.  Not only did they jack up their rates for the storm, but there is no breakwater, and the pontoons are pitching around.  As I finish up this tale, we are seeing 35 knot winds, gray skies, and impending rain (and this isn’t even the worst of the storm).  I will let you know how we faired in our next blog post!  Until then, wish us luck!

I See Dead People

Gotcha!  No, we really did see dead people, but it’s too early in the story.  Be patient, it’s coming!

After 8 days rockin’ and rollin’ on mooring balls in the Aeolian Islands, we decided it was time to head back to the big island of Sicily.  We had a fairly long passage on the open sea to our first destination, Cefalu.  There was quite a bit of swell (4-6 feet/1.6 meters) but the periods were long and slow making for a fairly gentle ride of gliding up and down each one.  We threw out a couple of lines to troll for fish since it was a long passage, and hey, why not?  As I sat at the helm in the blazing sun, I found myself lamenting the fact that we were having no luck this season catching anything.  When we were about 12 nm out from the anchorage, I started thinking maybe I should just pull up the lines and call it a day.  As I looked back, I was shocked to see the elastic band on our hand line pulled tight!  I quickly woke Dan up from his very deep sleep, and the commotion ensued.  Engines in neutral, Dan pulling the line up, me running below deck to grab the hammer, running to grab the net (yes, I do a lot of running around on this boat).  As he got the tuna closer, there were two more in the fray.  I’m not sure if they were trying to rescue their buddy or cannibalize our catch.  Too bad we had a crappy, useless net (came with the boat), or we might have had 3 nice sized tuna!  Dan got him up on deck, and the murderous scene commenced.  I took the wheel and got us underway once again (I prefer to not watch the death scene).  Dan made quick work of dispatching him, bleeding him out, and then filleting him.  After that came the fun of cleaning all the blood off the deck, swim steps and cockpit table.  Woo hoo….sashimi and poke bowls finally on the menu!

Fish on!! It’s always the cheap handling and not the expensive trolling rig!
Poke bowls and sushi on the menu!

As we pulled into the anchorage, there were only two other boats already anchored.  We carefully chose our spot, leaving a respectable amount of distance between us and our neighbors.  Anchor dug right in, and we enjoyed our new scenery.  Cefalu is yet another beautiful, ancient city on the island of Sicily.  This also meant it was an extremely busy tourist destination.  Our anchorage was on the outskirts of town which provided us with some peace and solitude, along with some very picturesque views of the rocky promontory.  After a 20 minute uphill walk, we were immediately thrust into the bustling tourist scene.  It is considered one of the major tourist attractions in the region (and we had never heard of it)!  Cefalu is a member of “The most beautiful villages of Italy” association (did not know that either), and it certainly lived up to it’s title.  Our first stop on our exploration was to the summit of the promontory.  We were still under an intense heat wave, and the climb was quite high so our goal was to get it done fairly early (something we regularly fail at and just about kill ourselves in the heat).  At the top are the extensive remains of a Norman castle.  It was a long trek up, but the views were spectacular and the remains of the castle a treasure to explore.  By early afternoon, we were headed back down to the bustle of town.  In the heart of the town is the cathedral which was built in 1131 in a style of Norman architecture (also known as Sicilian Romanesque).  As are most cathedrals and churches in this part of the world, it was stunning.  Throughout the town are cobblestones roads, tiny alleyways lined with plants and flowers, and many shops and restaurants.  I can honestly say that this was one of my favorite stops this year (except for the crowds, of course).  I’d really like to revisit here in the shoulder season when it is far less crowded and hard to move around and see things.  On a side note, if your are into the HBO show The White Lotus, some scenes from the second season were filmed here in Cefalu.

Pulling a 150 lb dinghy onto the beach for a day of exploration…already tired!
August has been a time for Italian vacations since Roman times. And they do take it seriously!
Atmospheric Cefalu old town streets
UNESCO listed Cathedral from 1131. Erected at the site King Roger II was saved from a shipwreck
Summertime hustle and bustle in Cefalu
Exploring the Temple of Diana high on the hilltop
Long and steep hike to the hilltop fortress but views were worth it
View of Cefalu as we depart for Palermo

After a long, intensive heat wave, comes the typical fun of strong winds and thunderstorms before ushering in much nicer temperatures.  We had been watching a weather system for a week in the hopes it would moderate.  We prefer to be in a marina when bad weather hits, and unfortunately the storms always seem to come at the worst possible time.  In this case, it was arriving for the weekend.  The problem with weekends is that this is when charter boats get turned over (returned on Friday and new charterers pick up late Saturday for a Sunday departure).  This meant that almost all of the marinas Dan called on said they had no room for us.  The other problem is they are at peak summer rates which means rates ran anywhere from $150-$300 per night!  Yikes!  As we continued to watch the forecast, the predicted forecast only got worse.  Luckily, Dan finally found a marina in Palermo that said they could squeeze us in.  We quickly booked 2 days and continued to anxiously watch the forecast (really hoping it would tamp down to a minimal disruption).  We decided to get some miles on so that we would be staged near Palermo in order to arrive before the afternoon winds kicked up making docking extra “fun.”  Our first potential anchorage was still about 2 1/2 hours out of Palermo, so we nixed that one and pressed on to our next choice.  Arenella was only about 20-30 minutes outside of Palermo harbor and known for good holding.  It’s not a very big anchorage (by my standards) so finding a spot amongst those already anchored and the small rental boats out for the day was a bit of a challenge.  This is pretty much the only time that Dan and I get into it….he feels a lot more comfortable being closer to other boats than I do.  We finally settled into our spot which unfortunately still wasn’t great.  Because of the depths of where we needed to anchor and the amount of chain we needed to put out, we were now only 35 meters from a beautiful rock cliff.  Sounds lovely….it was lovely….but by evening, we were on a lee shore (stern to the rocks so if the anchor let go, Zoe would be rammed into the cliffs).  Unfortunately, we did not plan for the fact that the wind had been blowing hard from an unusual direction (East), and while we did not have strong winds, the swell in the small bay was insane!  As the 2-3 foot rollers smashed into the cliff wall and caves behind us, they projected back out causing a washing machine effect.  We all pitched around in the anchorage quite violently.  Dan and I decided that we needed to do an anchor watch through the night due to our proximity to the rock and limited amount of reaction time if something went wrong.  We each took several hour shifts throughout the night.  I spent most of my time running to the back of the boat to try and see if we were closer to the rocks.  It’s amazing how much closer things look in the dark of night!  Eesh!  By 4:30 a.m., Dan came to bed and said the worst of it was over (oh sure, short watch for Dan again).

Our view of the cliffs 35 meters (about 100 feet) off our stern. Too close for a comfortable sleep!

The next morning all was calm, and we made our way into the harbor of Palermo.  This is an incredibly busy harbor with huge ferries and even bigger cruise ships coming and going all day and night.  We quickly skirted our way in, and headed to our designated spot.  Before long, we had two marineros on board scampering around adding to our lines and tying us off to our neighbor’s boat.  With the upcoming wind, they made sure we were quite snug in our spot.  That evening, we headed into the heart of the old city for dinner at a highly rated pizza place with craft beers.  The place was packed, but we managed to snag a small table for two between 2 umbrellas.  That may seem like an odd detail to include, but as I mentioned earlier, thunderstorms were expected.  Yep, they arrived about half way through our dinner.  We were the only table in the gap of the two umbrellas, so of course we got rained on.  We quickly finished our dinner and made our way back to the boat.  We were soaked by the time we got back on board.  The winds had kicked up too which made walking the floating docks to the boat quite a bit of fun as well!

Fifteen minutes before the rain!
Exploring beautiful Palermo

The following day, we decided to explore some of the sights of Palermo (the city is over 2700 years old).  We wandered through the crowded and quaint little streets before spilling out at the Palermo Cathedral.  The long history of this cathedral has led to an accumulation of different architectural styles.  From there, we headed to the Catacombe Frati Cappuccini Di Palermo (the catacombs).  Here come the dead bodies I promised you!  We’ve been to the catacombs in Paris which were pretty cool in their own right, but nothing prepared us for what we were about to see here in Palermo. To say it was a bit of a horror show would be an understatement.  As you walked down the tunnels, you were soon greeted by walls of bodies, each hung neatly into carved archways.  Each mummified body was fully dressed in the clothing of their period and varied in their degree of preservation.  Some hung on the walls as entire families.  There were sections for men, women, children, and professionals.  Further in, many bodies were just laid on shelves.  These were the bodies whose families no longer paid for their upkeep and the prestigious location on the wall (they got a downgrade).  I found it all fascinating (Dan got the heebie-jeebies….creeps).  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), we were not allowed to take pictures inside the catacombs.  We have however included some from the website along with it’s link for those of you with a morbid curiousity, like me!


Photo from Atlas Obscura (link above)
Photo from Atlas Obscura (link above)
We saw this first hand and can attest to the remarkable preservation of “Sleeping Beauty”
Nightmare material

From the catacombs, we walked through the Palace grounds (the palace itself was closed) and then over to the Teatro Massimo (“Greatest Theater”).  Palermo was very rich in beautiful architectural buildings around every corner.  We also visited an amazing fresh fruit and vegetable market that was host to all kinds of local products and “street food.”  It was also teeming with people and hard to get around but fascinating to see none the less.

Porta Nuova Gate with it’s Arab influence from when Saracens occupied Sicily
Wandering the Palermo street markets
Palermo Cathedral and a colorful tuk tuk
Teatro Massimo and steps from a scene in the Godfather Part III
Hand written menu – in English- this place was a gem!
The street food scene in Palermo is justifiably famous

In the end, we spent 4 nights in Palermo waiting the for the wind and seas to die down.  The seas were more of the problem, since they would be on our nose to our next destination and were running 3-4 meters high (10-13 feet).  NO THANK YOU!  We still ended up with 5-7 foot seas somewhat on our nose which was not much fun.  Eventually as we rounded the island, they began to come more from behind which gave us a nice burst of speed for the 9 hour journey to Trapani (our last city on Sicily).  We called on the radio for permission to enter the harbor (apparently they fine you if you don’t) and were told we had 24 hours to stay.  Seriously?  What the hell?  We also had a visit from the Guardia di Finanza (our first ever).  These guys thoroughly check all your paperwork for you and your boat and are known to strike terror in the hearts of boaters.  Lucky for us, Dan is very meticulous and organized with our paperwork, the guys were very kind and friendly, and actually thanked him for being so well prepared.  At this point, we really didn’t feel like spending any time here, so we got up early the next morning for the short hop to the island of Favignana.  We will be here for a couple of days as we await our weather window to make the 33 hour crossing to the island of Sardinia. Stay tuned for adventures in Sardinia!

Mooring Ball Chaos, Boulder Spewing Volcanoes – Welcome to the Aeolian Islands!

It is said that the Aeolian are a living myth where fire, water and wind along with the mix of cultures from the numerous civilizations have made these islands a true inspiration.  In 2000, they were named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our first stop in this archipelago, was the island of Vulcano.  We had arranged for a mooring buoy for the next 3 days after seeing some strong winds headed our way over a two day period.  Not only was it a good thing we came in early, it was also good that we reserved a buoy ahead of time.  When we first pulled in and told the marinero we would be staying 3 days, he informed us we could not because they were booked full.  We told him that we had made a reservation and were told 3 days would be okay.  He said we were good and all was well.  Whew!  From our mooring, we had a spectacular view of the volcano.  The island has black sand beaches, mud baths and thermal springs.  Some of the beaches have underwater fumeroles that bubble up to the surface.  If you are not careful, it is very easy to burn yourself.  One in particular was extremely bubbly and had been buoyed off to keep swimmers out.  Dan got as close as he dared and shot some video.  The mud baths were also shut down, and it was very evident as to why (the mud was a bubbly cauldron that looked ready to boil you alive).  Unfortunately, all this geothermal activity makes the island smell horrid.  You cannot escape the overpowering sulfur smell that burrows so deep into your nostrils you can actually taste it!  Gag!

Zoe in the mooring ball field – secure – or so we thought

The next day, we headed through town to the volcano in order to hike to the top. We arrived at the entrance at 11:00 and were greeted by a big red light.  The sign very clearly stated that hiking was prohibited after 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  Dan was not happy, and stated that we were going anyway.  Now I was not happy.  It’s pretty clear who is the rebel, and who is the religious rule follower.  He stated he was going anyway and would meet up with me later.  Fine by me.  Did I mention that it was already really hot?  He ended up changing his mind while bemoaning the stupidity of arbitrary times the whole way back to town.  We decided that we would try again at 4:00 p.m.  Instead, we opted to rent a scooter and explore the island.  We spent a few hours driving the island, doing some hiking, and taking in all the beautiful sights.  We returned the scooter and started back up toward the volcano.  I know this is going to come as a great shock…..it was even hotter than it had been at 11:00!  We decided it was just too hot, and thought we would try one more time early in the morning.  We headed back to Zoe to relax before dinner.

That red light over Robyn’s left shoulder? Meant no hiking the volcano for us!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Scooter rental on a sketchy road on a volcano
Dan enjoying the view on a scooter stop
“If you see dead animals or withering of trees…..RUN!”
The mud baths – which were closed during our visit – with supposedly curative properties
Video of carbon dioxide spewing from the sea bed near Zoe

At this point, we have spent the last few days pitching around in 2 foot rollers that come into the anchorage from the non-stop flow of huge, high speed ferries.  It has also been very windy, and Zoe has been bouncing around on her mooring ball.  As I began to prepare dinner, Dan kept hearing some odd banging noises.  We checked, nothing looked amiss. He decided to go below deck to get cleaned up since he had a 7:00 p.m. business call.  All of a sudden, I noticed we had made a very odd pivot.  We were now 90 degrees different than everyone else on mooring balls or anchored…..so weird.  I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the fact that something odd was happening.  By this point, Dan is below and completely naked (of course, or the story wouldn’t be near as entertaining)!  All of a sudden, Dan’s anchor alarm starts blaring.  We don’t usually set an anchor alarm on a mooring ball, but with the earlier high winds Dan thought it would be a good idea.  He’s yelling up to me to turn it off, but I can’t get into his iPad.  I run down below and he gives me the code to open it and turn it off.  Hmmmm, why do we look so far away from our original position?  The winds had calmed down by this point. Sometimes we get a GPS error, so maybe that’s it.  I head back up and notice we are oddly close to a pocket cruiser that was off to our side.  Uh oh.  I assume we have broken free from our mooring and run to the bow.  Everything looks normal!  The floats are below the water line at the center of the boat, our lines are still tied to them and creaking against the hulls (under strain).  Next thing I know, the marinero is racing out to us on his dinghy telling me to start the motors.  I run back and fire up the engines.  No time to call for Dan, but I know the engines firing up is going to signal to him that something is very wrong!  The marinero has me throttle forward, but Zoe barely moves.  I give her a lot more gas, and we slowly lumber forward.  Dan has hastily dressed and is back on deck and I tell him what little I know.  Now, we have 2 high powered tenders helping to push us all over the mooring field.  Of course, everyone is out on their decks watching the spectacle that we are (my favorite thing).  Between our engines and their powerful tenders we are moving forward and backward.  When we finally stop, they explained to us that the entire concrete block moved with us and when it hit deeper water, it was no longer holding us in place.  Seriously?!  The wind and our weight moved the entire mooring block?  We sat for a bit feeling very uneasy.  Before long, the marineros were back.  They told us they were moving us to a different buoy.  Of course, the winds were up, and we were being moved into a very tight spot surrounded by other boats that required us to be bow and stern tied.  We were finally settled in for the night, Dan took his call late, and dinner was horribly overcooked.  Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning, we headed for the island of Lipari.  We grabbed a mooring buoy here as well (hoping the last incident was a “one and done”), since the anchorages are quite deep and very busy.  3 marineros met us on their tender, one boarded us, and they proceeded to bow and stern tie us.  We had two lines to our bow and two to our stern, tightly locking us in place.  They handled everything!  Boy, I could get use to being spoiled like this.  We were tucked into this little cove surrounded by stunning rock cliffs.  Off in the distance, we had a great view of the castle.  We had planned to only spend 1 night here, but I talked Dan in to staying two.  Once we were settled in, Dan and I headed into the main part of town and wandered the quaint little streets lined with restaurants, shops, and boutiques.  The main street is lined with a variety of tiny, cobblestoned alleys where the locals live.  From there, we headed down to the waterfront to rent a scooter.  We spent 3 hours exploring mountain top views, cute little villages, rugged cliff top trails through interesting rock formations, and beautiful churches perched high on the hills.  We returned to Zoe in the heat of the day and relaxed until we headed back into town for an amazing seafood dinner.  I have never had any interest in sardines and anchovies at home, but in this part of the world, they are quite yummy and becoming a frequent part of our diet.  Lipari is the largest island in the archipelago and the most populated.  In the town and close by there are numerous excavations uncovering a multitude of human civilizations.  There are ruins and remains spanning dozens of ages of man from prehistoric through Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, and the Spanish.  Within the grounds of the castle walls are numerous museums housing these incredible archeological finds.  Our second day here, we spent several hours exploring the castle walls, numerous churches, archeological sites, and several of the museums housing incredible artifacts from many civilizations and time periods.  Unfortunately, as beautiful as our little mooring field was, it was also inside the main “highway” of large ferries and tour boats which means we spent 24 hours a day bouncing around in 2 foot swells.  It’s probably a good thing we don’t have guests yet since this would likely make someone seasick.

Full service mooring ball field!
With a high crosswind, a marinero used his tender to keep us in position
All tied up and enjoying the picturesque surroundings
Lipari’s castle
Exploring the castle grounds
Lipari and it’s picturesque alleyways
Ornate church in the Castle
Roman Amphorae on display in the museum
Guard house high on the castle walls
View of the neighboring island of Salina
Boarding the tender for our ride back to Zoe

From Lipari, we headed to the island of Stromboli, but first we made a short stop at the small island of Bottaro.  The sole purpose of this stop was to swim the many bubbling fumeroles coming up from the sea floor.  Needless to say, it was very crowded.  We finally found a small patch of sand amongst the many boats and anchored Zoe.  We jumped in the water and swam over to the area of the most active bubbling springs.  They were definitely quite impressive to see.  Once we had our fill, we picked up anchor and continued on our way to Stromboli.  This island is known as the world’s oldest lighthouse as it has a continuous eruptions every 15-20 minutes.  Stromboli is the furthest most island in the archipelago and only inhabited by about 500 people in the summer.  Many do not stay in the winter due to the isolation.  Between sunset at 2:00 p.m., nasty winds and high seas, they become somewhat trapped here with the inability to safely get boats in and out.  There is no water here on the island, so it is brought in by a huge tanker.  Talk about your island fever!  

Approaching the island of Bottaro with a view of Stromboli in the distance
The open water carbon dioxide fumaroles of Bottaro
Front row seats to volcanic activity

We had made arrangements to hike up the volcano to a viewing spot with a guided tour group a few hours after we arrived.  Needless to say, I was very apprehensive about this endeavor.  Not for fear of the volcano but for the 400 m (1300+ ft) ascent in 2.1 miles.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been hiking and even longer since we’ve done that kind of elevation.  We met at the top of the hill in front of a beautiful church.  Coming from Zoe, it was a 150 m (almost 500 ft) to the meeting point.  Hmmmm…..was that included in the 400 m climb?  I might be okay (although I was already hot and tired).  Of course it didn’t!  Up, up, up we went. Our first water break was in a very old cemetery high on the cliffs.  Apparently there had been a cholera outbreak in 1884, and this was where many of the bodies were buried….far from town.  As we continued on, there were steep climbs in slippery volcanic ash and winding switchbacks through dense forests of sugar cane and caper bushes.  It was still quite hot despite a 5:30 p.m. departure and by the time we arrived at the viewing area, we were drenched in sweat.  The hike was timed to arrive just before sunset in order to get the best viewing once the sun went down.  Not long before we reached our final destination, you could hear the rumbling of the volcano.  Once we reached the viewing area, we settled in to watch the show.  We were treated to an amazing view of the sunset over the islands, and then the mighty power of this active volcano.  Every 15-20 minutes fire and spark spewed into the air with flying boulders of fire and a rumbling that shook you to  your core.  Wow!  It was amazing!  We spent several hours making our way back down in the dark, arriving back in town at 11:00 p.m.  We were both sore and exhausted, but it was so worth the experience.  We dragged the dinghy off the beach and into the water to make our way back to Zoe.  I was quite shocked when I opened up the boat.  Platters were strewn about the floor, a bottle of wine was toppled over, my spice rounder was toppled with jars of spices scattered all over the counter top.  What the hell had happened while we were gone?!?  Had we been broken into?  Nothing appeared to be missing.  So the next question was…..what the hell had come through to make a wake big enough to trash our galley area?  We’ve been in plenty of rough seas and nothing had ever caused that much chaos inside the boat.  Despite the late hour of the night, we cracked open an ice cold beer to enjoy before heading to bed.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep since the mooring field had us rocking pretty violently through the night.  There really wasn’t any wind, so we are still not sure what caused all these rollers.  Unfortunately, Dan’s anchor alarm went off several times, and after our incident in Vulcano, we did not ignore it which meant we were up repeatedly making sure everything was normal.  It was.

Zoe in the Stromboli mooring ball field
Dinghy stowed on shore and hiking gear being prepped
Our hiking target for today -the active caldera of Stromboli!
Many others had the same idea!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Quite the fireworks show…fire and massive boulders hurled into the air!

We had mixed emotions about leaving Stromboli after only one day but decided that another night of violent pitching around did not sound like much fun.  We left fairly early the next morning and cruised the west side of Stromboli where the activity is most visible.  Although we could not see the fire and sparks in the brightness of day, we were treated to the rumbling and spewing smoke (and an occasional boulder plummeting to the sea).  Still, quite an impressive sight.  Our next destination was the island of Salina.  This was another quaint little seaside village.  In the evening, we headed in to explore the village.  We tied our dinghy in the marina and threw out a stern anchor which we had just replaced in Lipari.

Leaving Stromboli and heading to Salina
A daytime view of the active part of the volcano we had hiked the night before
Stromboli in our wake…

  You put a stern anchor out to help keep the boat from surging into the dock or rock wall that you are tied to.  After wandering the very expensive little town, we headed back to our dinghy.  Dan pulled up the line to the stern anchor, and the anchor was missing.  Are you kidding me?  The bowline he had secured it with was still in tact. That doesn’t make any sense.  The only thing we can figure is that the shackle came loose freeing the line.  Sure enough, below our dinghy in about 2 meters of water lay our anchor.  The sun was already down, so it was getting harder to see.  Dan decided we’d go back to the boat so he could get his swimsuit on and then come back.  Ummmm, why?  By the time we get back, it will be dark and impossible to see.  Plus, someone else might spot the anchor and take it themselves.  My suggestion…..strip to your skivvies.  They are black and look like a swimsuit from a distance.  So, off came the clothes, over the side he went, and anchor retrieved.  Yes, we had a good laugh about that one.

Charming town on the island of Salina
Dinghy check… dinghy anchor- gone!

We decided to make one final stop in the Aeolian islands before heading to the northern side of Sicily.  We headed out to the island furthest west in the archipelago, Alicudi.  This island is the least developed for tourism (definitely my kind of place).  Since Alicudi is so exposed to wind and swell from all directions, and lacks any safe shelter, you should only go there in very calm conditions.  Since it is the top of a volcano, the depths drop extremely fast, and there are not a lot of secure anchorages.  Because of this, we decided to take a mooring ball once again.  This island is a very picturesque mountain soaring steeply into the sky.  The island only has about 150 inhabitants living on the terraced slopes of the mountain.  There is only one road that is 200 meters long running from the small pier to the helicopter pad.  Everything up the hill is transported along cobblestoned paths by donkeys.  It is quite a sight to see.  Dan and I hoofed it up some of the hill to explore an old church and were exhausted.  I can’t imagine having to hoof it up to some of the beautiful houses that were perched much, much higher than where we were standing.  There really was nothing much to this island other than it’s natural beauty.  By the end of the evening, we were joined by many boats.  It was another unrestful night.  For some reason, the mooring lines had been made extremely long which allowed all of us to stretch way further than necessary.  By morning, our neighbor’s dinghy was banging on our hull as I watched the stern of his boat pass within a couple feet of the side of our boat.  Time to go!  Dan and I dropped lines and headed out.

Approaching the island of Alicudi
Almost a perfect volcanic cone – the depths around the island drop quick!
With only one road, donkeys were the only way to move goods around the island.
Definitely putting the burden in “Beast of Burden”!
Drone shot of the really steep island of Alicudi with Zoe in the foreground

In 8 days, we had explored 5 of the 7 Aeolian islands.  The next time we see you, we will be on the north coast of Sicily.  Stay tuned for some exciting new sights and adventures!

Leaving Alicudi with a fishing line out – fingers crossed!