Tag Archives: Messina

Crossing the Ionian to Argostoli

We set off from Messina at 8.40 on Sunday morning, the 28th and had an uneventful crossing to Argostoli in Cephalonia, arriving at 1030 on Tuesday.

White Lion on our radar

There nearest thing we had to excitement was passing John and Isabel in White Lion at 3 am, Italian time, in the Ionian Sea.   They had left Argostoli at 3am on Sunday and we were expecting to pass each other so even at night it was easy to figure out who we each were.   We had a chat with him and Isa on the VHF before we continued on our separate ways.   Small world.

“Are we there yet?” “Almost …..”
Sunset over Calabria

We managed to sail for some of the time, leaving the Messina Straits with the wind gusting to 25 knots from behind us giving us over 7 knots with one reef in the main sail.    We sailed for a good part of Monday and although we were motoring over night both nights, as the sun rose on Tuesday morning with the wind just getting to 12 knots, again from behind us, I just rolled out the Code Zero as we approached the coast of Cephalonia.

Sunrise over Cephalonia

We were making up to 6 knots in some of the gusts and it was lovely to watch the sun rise over the island with just the sound of the wake as we ran towards the south east corner of the island.   I’d never sailed under just the Code Zero before and it was interesting to find that we were getting as much speed without the Main Sail as with it.

On our way to Argostoli we were to pass the bay close to the hotel where Ivan and Lu are going to stay, and as there is nothing in the Pilot Books about the bay we decided to have reconnoitre.   Our plan is to anchor in the bay and pick them up from the beach in the tender, but that would only work if we could actually anchor and the beach was accessible.  It was a successful visit and I now know just where we can anchor to meet them, even sent them a photo of the place!

So with ‘recce’ completed we made our way round to Argostoli and moored on the town quay.   I am frequently asked whether the boat is moored, tied up, parked etc.  Well this time the technical term is moored because we had to use a technique called a Mediterranean Moor where you use your anchor to hold the front of the boat and mooring lines on the quay to secure the back.   I’d only ever done this in big ships many years ago so this was a bit of a first for me but by 1030, now 1130 in Greece, we were all secure and looking forward to some sleep after a well earned beer and a glass of bubbly in the aptly named ‘Compass Bar’ just across the road!

On the Town Quay in Argostoli


Ciao Italia

Tomorrow morning, Sunday the 28th, we set off from Italy for Greece, our destination is Argostoli in Cephalonia.  Our crossing should take about 52 hours, if we make 5 knots all the way, and we should be there by Tuesday afternoon.

On our way we hope to pass John and Isabel coming in the opposite direction from Cephalonia, almost certainly passing exactly like ‘ships in the night’.

Our prime reason for staying in Cephalonia is to meet up with Ivan,  Lu, Bianca and Rebecca who will be in an hotel on the south west corner of the island. I have an idea to anchor in the bay where their hotel is,and although the charts show enough depth of water there is no information about the bay in the Pilot Book.   Regardless, we are looking forward to seeing them and hopefully they’ll spend a day or so with us on the boat.

All our shopping is done, the new fuel caps and shock absorber arrived and I had the outboard engine serviced so we can pick up Ivan, Lu and the kids.  The boat is clean, courses all laid off and so we’ll have an early night and aim to be away nice and early in the morning, looking forward to fair winds and following seas.


Palermo was on our original itinerary, but then was dropped after our two wasted days in Messina. But then after our abortive visit to Taormina we decided we would visit Palermo after all. It is about 3 hours by train from Messina, a bit far for a day trip so Valeria found us a B&B and we travelled there on Wednesday and returned on Thursday.

Via Sant’Augustino, our B&B’s just on the right …..

We arrived at lunch time and asked directions of a friendly transport policemen. We got a photocopy city map, detailed directions to our B&B and crime prevention advice that wouldn’t go amiss in São Paulo. We set off wondering where our hotel actually was and following the directions found ourselves in progressively more dingy narrow side streets crowded with market stalls. As it happens this describes a lot of old Palermo off the main streets, but we didn’t know that. Our hotel turned out to be on the 3rd floor of an apartment block which, from the outside, looked pretty run down, but again, that description fits a large number of buildings in the back streets of the old town. However; once we were in the Colours B&B we were very pleasantly surprised.

Church of S Maria della Catenary – 1500

Palermo is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and rejoices in the description of its architecture as Arab – Norman.   Again, the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Albanians, Spanish and French have been here but a large number of the monumental buildings, usually churches, appear to be Norman, with heavy Arabic influences. And there are a lot of churches. You cannot turn a corner without finding one, or sometimes 2 or 3 facing each other across a piazza; and they aren’t small either.

Piazza Bologni

Although most of the buildings fronting the main streets are well maintained, every now and then the facade slips and you come across a rather sorry looking ‘doer upper’, in the side streets the majority of the buildings seem to fall into this category and yet the ground floors are generally occupied by shops and restaurants with the rest of the building looking very neglected.

This stark contrast between ancient and modern, decorated and decrepit is the defining feature of Palermo and yet it all seems to fit together seamlessly and gives the old city a distinctive character. You can walk through a thousand years of history in 100 metres, while passing tiny side streets that just look like they haven’t been repaired in that long.

And the history is everywhere, wall to wall churches, stunning architectural monuments, palaces, churches, piazzas, theatres, cathedrals and of course some more churches.

We spent Wednesday afternoon getting our bearings and visiting the Cathedral, then picked just three places to visit properly on Thursday, visiting a few churches in between. To actually see Palermo properly would take longer but would end up quite expensive on entry fees, although it would probably be worth it.

Palermo was unexpectedly good.  A lively, busy atmosphere and plenty to see; we reckon we will have to come back.  In fact there is so much to see I have split our visit into a number of  different posts.

Chisel di S.Domenico



Things didn’t quite go according to plan after arriving in Messina; we lost 2 days due to strong winds bouncing us around against the berth we were put on and didn’t dare leave the boat!

Madona della Lettera, entrance to the port of Messina

The marina in Messina is just outside the harbour entrance and is built entirely from floating pontoons. The outer ones are big heavy concrete affairs known as ‘wave breakers’, and although they offer some protection from wind waves they offer none from the swell caused by passing ships and in stong winds with the pontoons and ourselves moving against each other, well, it is uncomfortable, noisy and destructive; one of our shock absorber springs broke.   It was so bad we didn’t want to leave the boat unattended and were considering leaving the marina completely if the weather didn’t improve.

Celebrity Reflection

Anyway, our plight was noted and we were moved into a more sheltered berth and managed to spend Monday afternoon wandering around Messina.   This is our second time here, the last time was a few years ago as guests of Julian in Celebrity Reflection, which coincidentally arrived just after us

Messina was founded by the Greeks in the 8th century BC and has been occupied by virtually everyone since.  Following the Greeks came the Mamertines, then Romans, the Goths, the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs and then the Normans.  Richard the Lionheart seized the city briefly in 1189 over a dowery dispute on his way to the crusades.

Church of the Catalans. Apparently the original site predates the Normans.

The city grew in importance, reaching its zenith under the Spanish in the 17th century boasting the first Jesuit School, a University and a Senate. The city rebelled against the Spanish, aided by the French but following the Peace of Nijmegan in 1678 the Spanish recovered the city, sacked it and stripped it of its institutions.  Some Peace treaty!

Thereafter Messina went into a decline and suffered three devastating earthquakes in 1783, 1894 and 1908, and what was then left was bombed heavily during World War II.  It is little wonder that there isn’t much of ‘old’ Messina left!  Following the war the city was awarded a Gold Medal for Military and Civil valour.

The 12th century Cathedral was built by the Normans, then rebuilt after the 1908 quake and the war and now boasts a spectacular bell tower with an astronomical clock and a mechanically animated display of figures representing various aspects of the city’s history. This is run at noon every day and starts with the lion at the top roaring, then the cockeral beneath it crowing.  Then the figures below the cockeral begin moving around the tower accompanied by an orchestral version of Ave Maria played over loud speakers.  It is really cool and, so far, unique in my experience!

The Lion
The Cockeral and mechanical figures

The inside of the cathedral is also pretty spectacular with a fabulous carved and painted wooden ceiling.

Fountain of Orion

Outside the church is another survivor, the Fountain of Orion.  This was commissioned in 1547.     Dotted around the city are other monuments all with explanatory sign boards and in all Messina is an interesting place and pleasant enough to stroll around.  Although it is busy it doesn’t seem crowded, or particularly ‘vibrant’.

Apart from the magnificent cathedral and clock tower there isn’t a lot in town to grab you.  It had everything we needed as a base to explore Sicily and made a pleasant stop over, once we’d got a decent berth!  We’re now planning some visits further afield.

Sanctuary of Mount Camel. Built in 1930.


Salerno to Messina via Stromboli

We’re now on our way to Sicily now, planning to spend a week in Messina visiting some of the island before heading off to Greece. This was to be an overnight passage and I planned to sail along the north and west sides of Stromboli in the night so we could see the volcano erupting as we passed.

Last sunset in Arechi

We slipped from our berth in Arechi at just before 9 on Thursday 18th and stopped off to fill up with diesel, and I managed to drop a filler cap in the water. Doh! They are held on to the filler pipe with a small chain, like the ones used to stop sink plugs walking and as I put the filler nozzle into the pipe I could feel the serrated underside of the nozzle rub against the neck of the pipe. Even as that was happening I could see the cap dropping into the water, in slow motion obviously. Now who carries spare filler caps? So, with the only other one like it on the fresh water tank I decided to use the pretty chrome one from one òf the Black Water tanks. This obviously had a fractionally different thread and so had to be sealed in place with gaffer tape. Very pretty, but, hopefully water tight. Mercifully it wasn’t to be tested as the weather was very clement.

The trip had three highlights. I managed to fly our Cruising Chute for the first time this year for about an hour at lunch time, we had a visit from a school of dolphins in the evening, come to see what all the gaffer tape was about, and of course, Stromboli over night.

The dolphins were with us for about 15 minutes, with one hanging around darting from bow to bow by itself for another 5, almost as if it was stuck there!    It is wonderful laying on the netting watching them only a few feet below you.

Dolphin Victory Roll
Dolphin Victory Roll

As the sun set, anticipating little wind over night we lowered the sails and motored on towards Stromboli. I’ve mentioned before that it is sometimes referred to as the biggest lighthouse in the Med and that is certainly true. I came on watch at just after midnight and immediately noticed the characteristic ‘rotten egg’ smell of sulpher and within half an hour could see the intermittent bright orange smudge of light, as the lava erupted, from about 20 miles away.

Just after 2 am the moon rose, followed by, I think Venus, and Valeria came up on deck at 3.30 to watch the fireworks. We slowed right down and headed directly for the island and at a distance of about 5 miles had a grandstand view of fans and plumes of Lava being thrown up into the air.   Being west of the island the moon was behind it, silhouetting it as the Lava show continued and we watched brief trickles of molten rock on the lip of the volcano. Really spectacular.

Stromboli. 22 September 1979.

Way back in 1979, 38 years ago !!!,  I was a Cadet in a Shell tanker called Aulica and we sailed passed the island in daylight, on our way to Messina from Genoa.

ss Aulica.
Stromboli in the dawn, 19 May 2017

By sunrise we were south of Stromboli and on course for the Messina Straits.  The wind picked up gradually to about 20 knots, from right in front of us, meaning we were battering our way into it and our speed was right down. Once in the Straits the wind dropped off and we found ourselves being escorted by the Italian Navy.

We arrived in the Marina del Netuno at 2.30 and have booked to stay until the 27th when we’ll set off for Cephalonia. In the mean time we plan to explore a bit of Sicily, and find a fuel filler cap, and a spare. Doh!!