The first volcano

The Straits of Messina are now tame. Especially if Corryvreckan, Lemaire or the Merry Men of Hoy are your yardsticks. Still noteworthy however, are the current which alternates between 4 knots with and 2 knots against; what the pilot book calls “strong ripples”; and heaps of ferry traffic charging across the stream.

After a lovely close fetch north through the strait Tainui turned left and crashed and banged west in the Tyrrhenian Sea, into an unpleasant little chop.

About 15 miles west of Messina are the Aeolian Islands. A chain of monstrous volcanic effluvia, they mark an uneasy interface between the Eurasian and Indo-European tectonic plates. The chosen anchorage, on the eastern side of Volcano Island, looked snug and promising. As they so often do.


Approach to Volcano Island

I finally rounded the southern entrance headland at about 10 pm. I discovered two things – firstly, the bay is 100 m deep except around a narrow sandy shore; and, secondly, that sandy shore had been hooked into by about a thousand yachts.

A fairyland of anchor lights, it was. All the boats Italian, as far as I could see. Depressed and tired after 25 slow, windward miles I groped my way in and found a spot. Anchoring in crowded waters when it is windy, I want two things – the anchor must dig in without buggering me around, and then the boat must settle back neatly between the vessels around her. It works sometimes and, to my relief, it did so tonight.

Before I lapsed into coma I had noted an acrid sulphurous smell, reminiscent of Tana Island, Heimay and Rotorua. The next morning I could see sickly green steam, the source of the odour, venting from high on the mountainside above. Strange lava plugs rose from the sea like giant prehistoric monuments. Steep cliffs plunged into the bay.

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This island’s name is the origin of the generic term “volcano”. Were it not for the 50 yachts clinging to the narrow sandy shore, it would be a mysterious and quite exciting place. The navigation chart has a specific notation by the southern bay – “designated evacuation harbour in event of volcanic eruption”. Haven’t seen that one before!

From Volcano Island it is a short day sail across to Cephalu, on the Sicilian mainland.  Cephalu, an ancient town clinging to the cliffs under a huge volcanic plug, boasts the most beautiful clear water, a fine, stolid Norman cathedral and some fine restaurants. I savored all 3.


photo 4004photo 3Cephalu beach!

Cephalu beach!


From here it is a couple of days northwest to Cagliari in Sardinia, where I will stop for a rest, stock up and prepare for the crossing to the Balearics.  


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