Arenzano to Capraia – 20th to 21st of November
Early in the morning we leave Arenzano behind us with the first sun rays breaking through, and set sail towards Capraia. We are left almost windless and we make our way underneath a dark wall of clouds, our bow pointing towards the horizon where the sun is mirrored on the flat, silver sea. Slowly the land seems smaller and smaller, and as the night comes in, we‘re surrounded by nothing…No land, no boat, only the big, full moon and its reflection on the water. “Now we only need some Dolphins” says Maurice. The words have hardly left his lips, when we hear a splash next to us. We climb up the bow and we see a school of Dolphins playing in the clear waters. The sea looks like a mirror of the sky, and only if you look closely can you see the sparkles of bioluminescence around the animal’s fins. “As if we ordered it from the universe” Kay says, smiling.
Later at night the wind picks up, and we sail with solid 9-12 kts on our side. There are still no ships around; we‘ve got all the sea to ourselves. And as I head to lie down from my shift, for Captain Loucas to take over, I ask him: “After all this time at sea, can you still even imagine a different life?”. “No!“ says Loucas and laughs, “Especially having four walls around me”, he says. And it is true. There is something life at the sea offers you, being so close to nature, open to all the elements, a feeling of being so small and at the same time having complete freedom. It’s the simplicity of life, and constantly learning about your surroundings, and most of all, about yourself.
Early in the morning we reach Capraia. Whilst Kay and Loucas do some trials on how to improve the crane for offloading, Maurice and I take the time to wander around. There’s plenty of beautiful nature around and crystal clear waters surround the coast. The houses are rusty, shaped by life. As we are here off-season, the streets are mostly empty. Almost nothing is open, except for one bar filled with the locals that are still around. When I ask Maurice for his impressions he replies: “It’s beautiful and exactly how you‘d imagine an island with only one town.“
We decide to move further and sail another 30 nm over to Elba. Underneath a cloudy sky we see birds of passage heading south, announcing the winter and the cold days ahead. But for now, the time hasn’t come yet to wave our morning swims goodbye.
We stay and rest in Porto Ferrario, Elba, for a whole day, doing some minor repairs on the boat, and exploring the old part of town. Steep stairs lead up to the old fortress, and one can really get lost in the narrow streets, with all their corners. There are many little restaurants and cafés inviting one to rest, and watch life and people pass by. The harbour lies beautifully at the base of the city, sheltered from the weather, and the greenery on the bays and the hills around, give the island a paradise-like feeling.
Passage – 23rd to 25th of November
We leave Elba behind, as the midday sun soaks the coast in a warm orange color. As we sail around the peak of the island and we head towards the mainland, the wind picks up and we fly over the growing waves, close-hauled with 27 kts in our sails. Later on, after having played some teasing games of dropping and changing directions, the wind is steady again and it is a night sail as beautiful as it can be… A sky full of stars is over us, the boat moves in a constant, calming rhythm, and we make our way towards Pompei. The cool air on my face, and the magical feeling of being underway at night, keep me awake and make me forget about the digits on the clock.
The next morning the sun is out, warming us and as we sail further, as the landscape of the coast to our left is constantly changing. The days move fast, they almost seem to fade into each other, and with them, my many impressions. The wind leaves us from time to time, so we use one of those motionless moments to take a swim just before the sun is setting. There’s a big, slow swell coming through, and the evening light makes the flat surface of the sea glitter. It’s one of those moments to fully breathe in, until the last second. A moment to put into a “jar” in your mind, so that when you open it up, you can relive it.
And as the sun goes down, our surroundings change, the wind jumps up from almost zero to hauling, and ahead of us are dark clouds. The wave height increases and the angle of the wind is against us. We reef the sails, as the rain gets heavier. Whilst on one tack we can see the coast, on port tack one can only see a misty stretch of black, lit from time to time by lightning bolts in the distance. It’s only the beginning of the night, the predictions show nothing better in the near future, and the next shelter from the big upcoming storm on Friday is another 100nm (in tacks) south. So we decide to turn around. And with lightning around us, and the waves now in our back, we arrive at the port of Rome at 5:30 in the morning. We warm ourselves up with some mountain tea before we go to sleep.
Rome – 25th to 29th of November
The port of Rome lies in Ostia, a town of rusty buildings that stand next to each other in blocks. It seems like a rough and real place, non-touristic but full of life. Big waves break on the long beach, and the spume gets carried all the way onto the promenade. With the wind hauling and the heavy showers of rain pouring down, we make use of the time to create some order, clean, and wash. These are calm days filled with conversations, laughter, and good food cooked together. It is a strange feeling to wait for the storm to pass, not knowing when we’ll continue our journey. At the same time, in it lies the beauty of living in the moment and to get to know a place you would otherwise maybe have simply passed by.
As Rome is only half an hour away, we decide to take advantage of the opportunity to go exploring. Electrified by the rush of the city, our feet carry us fast through the streets along the river, bombarded by sounds, pictures, and impressions. Until at one point, we take a corner to the left, leave the traffic behind us, and dive into the calm and narrow streets of the old Jewish town. Fewer people and less noise, here and there some cars and scooters squeezing through. The alleys are lined with little shops of craftsmanship – shoemakers, tailors, goldsmiths -, as well as fashion shops and antiquarians. We walk past many little restaurants and cafés full of people, dunking the streets in the sound of loud mumbling. We pass by a small open door, through which one can glimpse, and we see a young man baking bread, and fresh croissants carried out on a tray.
With restless legs we walk further, getting lost in the city, from time to time ending up in crowded places, which we escape immediately through the empty side streets. And all of a sudden we find ourselves in front of the Colosseum. It’s impressive to walk through so much history, to imagine the things that happened here, the same places where we are now, thousand years ago.
As the blue hour arrives, we watch the star birds fly over the roofs of Rome, unable to take our eyes off this beautiful spectacle, taking place as the night creeps in. In huge formations, the birds paint fascinating patterns in the light-blue and pink sky, resembling the movement of waves. Constantly changing their form, after an incomprehensible (for a human) act of rhythm.
Notes by Hannah Gruner, volunteer crew at Aegean Cargo Sailing – Italy Voyage 2021