Every corner of the world’s oceans has their own peculiarities. The roving squalls of the equatorial Pacific, the steep winter seas of the stormy northern Atlantic, the dreaded gales of the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the magically flat waters of the Great Barrier Reef are just four points on a star of widely varying conditions within the ocean sailor’s universe. However, when we add an overlay of human interaction onto the warm waters of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, nature and humanity can collide in some outlandish ways.
Every summer in the central Mediterranean, tens of thousands of tourists and hundreds of cruising vessels flock to the southern islands of the Tyrrhenian. Here, the clear blue sea and generally benign climate conditions create the ideal haven for cruising sailors, local boaters, sunbathers and divers who revel in the balmy, relatively calm weather, perfect for romantic dinners at beach resorts and fun-filled deck parties in safe, cozy anchorages.
However, as with all things oceanic, trouble is always knocking at the companionway. Indeed, if Odysseus, the great sea captain from Ithaca, were to rise from his grave and take the modern wayward sailor under his wing to offer counsel, he would leave no doubt that trouble is always lurking just beneath the water’s surface.
It was mid-summer and I motored the 37 miles from Scylla on the Calabrian coast in southern Italy (the reputed location of the two dangers from Homer’s Odyssey: Scylla and Charybdis) to Isola Vulcano in the Lipari Islands of the Aeolian island group. My Cal 30 Saltaire entered the tiny, overcrowded anchorage at 1700. Vulcano, known for its therapeutic, bubbling pools of warm lava, is the southernmost of the Lipari Islands off the northeast coast of Sicily.
With my eyes quickly shifting between the beach and the depth sounder, I searched for a good spot to anchor when someone out of the blue yelled, “Bill!” On his 30-foot sloop Barbablu were Cosimo and his son Dario, whom I had met at the public marina in Reggio di Calabria. As I passed their boat, Cosimo yelled, “Turn left fast! There are rocks!”
Hitting the hard stuff
Bang! Crunch! Too late. For the first time since I had owned Saltaire, I managed to get her stuck on hard ground. To be sure, she had run aground numerous times before, but I had always managed to pull her off the hard within a few seconds.
Saltaire had run aground in Puerto Madero, Mexico, and Garry’s Anchorage on the Queensland Coast of Australia, but the bottom in both places was soft and silty, allowing for a quick extraction by simply throwing the engine into reverse and revving up the RPMs for a few seconds. In Nadi Waters, Fiji, while my wife Marilu and I were motoring to the island of Malolo Lailai, Saltaire ran up onto coral, but the bouncing of the waves enabled a quick extraction.
This time proved to be a much greater challenge. I quickly threw the gearbox into reverse, and with the light swell from the crisscrossing of nearby motorboats intermittently lifting the keel from the rocks, Saltaire slowly inched her way back towards the edge. At one point, she refused to budge. What would I do if she got stuck with the dropping tide? The bottom of her fiberglass keel could be ground off like cheese on a grater, turning her hull into a giant funnel!
I waited until a large swell crossed under her and then quickly gunned the engine, finally pulling the keel out of the shallow hole and continued to use the small swells to make progress. Ever so gradually, I pulled her — bang, bang, bang — into deeper water. Having had enough excitement for the afternoon, or so I thought, I decided to anchor 150 yards to the south in a depth of only 40 feet. The evening merriment was just getting started.
After a quick swim, I rowed my dinghy, Saltine, over to Barbablu for a little visit. Dario passed me a cold beer, and while we were talking, the wind suddenly shifted from the northwest to the east. Naturally, all 50-some-odd vessels in the cramped little anchorage, most of them anchored no more than a boat length apart, banged into each other as they swung into the wind. “So, this is the Med way,” I mused.
Anchoring in tight quarters
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