Trip on a Sunsail Jeanneau 42i starting 2012-05-15 in BSAJune12

There’s No Fire without Smoke – trip to Stromboli and the Aeolian Islands, May 2012 – report by Sue Fowle

Skipper – Peter Wakeling, Crew –Phil Steele, Bernard Smyth, Becky Goddard, Michael Mahady and Sue Fowle.

This trip was a second attempt to see Stromboli erupting, as some of us had tried to do this from Palermo in Sept 2009 but had been beaten back then by unseasonal NE winds This time we chartered a Sunsail Jeanneau 42i from a small marina in TropeaMap, an historic town situated in Calabria on the instep of Italy.

The Aeolian islands form a crescent about 40nm off the coast and our aim was to visit most of them with a night sail around Stomboli on our last night. By aiming first of all for the largest and main island, Lipari, we hoped to take advantage of the prevailing westerlies to visit the other islands but were lucky to have a SE wind to take us the 48nm on the first day. The wind was F6/7, the sea running high and rain on the wind as we crossed the Straights of Messina. Stromboli was on our starboard and our bow seemed constantly attracted to it. After 8 hours the approaching harbour on LipariMap was a welcome sight until we rounded the breakwater to be presented with an apparently impenetrable wall of boats of all shapes and sizes taking shelter. However the harbourmaster and our skipper skilfully threaded the boat past bowsprits, lazylines and threatening anchors into the last, most inaccessible space. Unfortunately water left in the pipe after filling the tanks had found its way into the aft bunk because of the daylong heel of the boat so grumpily new sleeping arrangements had to be sorted out at the end of a tiring day.

Our plan had been to sail the following day to anchor off Vulcano for the night but the already strong winds of the afternoon were forecast to increase that evening so on advice of the harbourmaster we stayed well tucked up in our corner appreciating one of the fairly steady nights of the trip.

The following day we circumnavigated VulcanoMap – a fascinatingly colourful island. It’s a dying volcano which still sends out puffs of sulphurous smoke and apparently has a mud spa but us hardy sailors had no truck with pampering – and it was a bit chilly for some of us to get out of our thermals and sailing jackets. By now the wind had changed to SW and increased during the day up to F4 .After a few scary moments when the helm ‘locked’ due to the second wheel catching on a winch handle in the pocket we had a wonderful sail on a broad reach in a 3.5+m swell. Would some of us have done this in the UK without a life jacket? But sadly the sun deserted us as we neared SalinaMap and in pouring rain we, under sail, raced a motoring 50’ter to the harbour, described in the pilot book as an “easy southerly entrance, sheltered in most conditions”. Somehow the pilot book failed to take into account the effect of the mountainous landscape on the winds which, though from the west, were funnelled up the harbour with increasing velocity in a southerly direction. Anticipating an easy berth next to the 50’ yacht we were dismayed to be directed into the corner of the harbour, across the right-angled lazyline of a cat. Our lady helm, Becky, persevered valiantly for half an hour until we were safely tied up. However the slapping and banging of the boat plus the howl of the wind did not contribute to a good night’s sleep though we were very glad not to be anchored off Filicudi, one of the two outermost islands and our original destination for the night.

The following day after victualing in the local shops we headed off to PanareaMap, the most exclusive of the islands, a fact reflected in the prices! Again the pilot book was misleading, suggesting stern-to anchoring on a jetty, as long as room was left for the water tanker but one look at the rusty chains and jagged concrete made dropping the anchor an attractive proposition despite the swell. With the regular ferry traffic, often hydrofoils, it would have been tricky using the jetty. At least the anchorage was fairly calm and the view attractive with sparkling white houses covered in bougainvillea, spiky offshore islands and our goal, Stromboli, in the distance. Unfortunately Stromboli had a large sombrero of cloud hanging over its summit. We consoled ourselves with a trip ashore for an expensive meatfest – fish being the main protein on the islands.

The sun came out on Panarea so after a trip ashore next day to visit a pre-historic village we headed off in the early evening towards Stromboli whose cloud was now more of a bandana. Clipped on and as the light faded we approached the barren, west side of the island and true to form there was an eruption every 20 minutes, the cloud turning fiery before a fan of red lava lumps cascaded down the volcano’s sheer slopes. It was awe inspiring but we wondered about our insurance position should we return with holes in the mainsail! However this may have been the least of our concerns.

Heading round the north of the island we met a sight like Blackpool illuminations – moored yachts, pleasure boats cruising around, a ferry departing and the lights of the small town, San VincenzoMap. Suddenly it all bore no resemblance to the chart plotter or the pilot book but again our redoubtable lady helm spotted mooring buoys. Aided by plenty of crew muscle and a spotlight we managed to pick up the second buoy and as a precaution used 2 warps. Hardly had we finished mooring than we were asked for 35 euros for the overnight privilege. So after a delicious Becky beef casserole -is there no limit to her talents? - we headed off confidently to our bunks for our first really quiet night’s sleep. At 0800, being awoken by the arrival of the nautical greenbin men, we found that, although still attached to the buoy, we were nowhere near where we had been 9 hours earlier and were very close to the black lava shore though still in 10m of water. Skipper Peter’s app showed our boat had found its way through the moorings, avoided the jetty and had a pleasant night out – we decided it was the fatal attraction of Stromboli yet again. (Secretary’s note: The extraordinary track as shown on Peter’s mobile phone app is reproduced at the end of this newsletter. It shows the boat meandering through the moorings, past the ferry jetty, and ending up at the only part of the shoreline with deep water up to the shore.) Somewhat taken aback, we motored round to hear the roar of the eruption and see the puff of ash before heading back to TropeaMap in calm seas and brilliant sunshine.

The boat had no major problems and Sunsail provisioned it for us, which with flight timings and distance to local supermarkets was a worthwhile service. The spec for these Sunsail Mediterranean boats is fairly low and though we had harnesses and strops there were no clip-on points. As always the lifejackets were really flotation vests. Our price included outboard, necessary in the swell and eventually a replacement boathook – again the Stromboli effect! The attitude in the marina was very laid back – so much so that the shower block was not well looked after and any bar, restaurant facilities were still closed. Tropea is a delightful town, accessed from the port by 200 steps and full of restaurants at reasonable prices. Everybody was very helpful, including when our skipper, not realising he had left his manbag with the boat keys in it , had to face the 200 steps again and negotiate waking people to drive back to Tropea after midnight with the bag!

On both trips to the islands plans have been seriously affected by weather and the area seems to have its own weather patterns. Forecasts were available in the harbours and gave accurate predictions at 2 hourly intervals. Harbour staff were competent, helping us to moor, and spoke some English. There was electricity on the harbours but water was not available on each island. On Salina we paid 80 euros and were able to include water and electricity – as long as we didn’t tell the Germans! Apparently in August we would have been charged 300 euros a night+ utilities so perhaps the Aeolians are not for faint-hearted or shallow-pocketed sailors. The main season seems fairly short and everywhere had the ‘out of season’feeling. There is no transport on some of the islands but local taxis do tours which on Lipari gave us the opportunity to see the very varied, volcanic landscape as well as have some insight into the lives of those who live there.

In all we covered 138nm, most of that under sail.

Positions for Chris Wallace to enhance the report on the website:

Tropea – 38.40.45N 15.53.47E

Lipari – 38.28.03N 14.57.15E

Salina – 38.33.02N 14.50.45E

Panarea – 38.37.54N 15.03.38E

Stromboli – 38.48.10N 15.14.6E

Thank you to Peter for arranging the trip and skippering, Phil for some great 42ft dinghy sailing, Becky and Mick for victualing and Bernard for making G&Ts and me for the morning cups of tea.

Tropea  38.6809,15.9036
Lipari  38.4654,14.9575
Vulcano  38.3906,14.9681
Salina, Italy  38.4724,14.9584
Panarea  38.6375,15.0782
Stromboli  38.80277,15.235
Tropea  38.6809,15.9036