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SAILING ITALY

Trip report: from the North to Sicily, 800 miles on a sailboat among paradise islands, picturesque villages and memorable wines
Travel itineraries, hiking, kayaking and sailing in Italy and around the world

SAILING ITALY: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from this sailing trip along the Italian coasts. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/sailing-italy.htm.

Castellamare del Golfo
Castellamare del Golfo

SAILING ITALY: TRIP REPORT AND PHOTOS

"So, your crazy idea is to sail from Genoa to Sicily, by touching the most beautiful islands and shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea? Navigating for two weeks and 700 nautical miles on a 10-metre long sailing boat?"
"Exactly."
"It sounds like an excellent idea to me. Let's go."
So, in the August of 2013 some friends and I embarked on this endeavor. The boat had to be brought to Trapani (Sicily) and this transfer was also a great opportunity for an amazing vacation.
We left Genoa in the morning, after having filled the galley with food and wine. A light wind propelled us to Chiavari and Lavagna, in the Eastern Part of the Italian Riviera. It was a pleasure, as always, to sail past the green Portofino promontory and its sheer cliffs. But everything becomes more beautiful when viewed from the sea, even the buildings of Genoa and Rapallo.
Riva Trigoso, Liguria
Riva Trigoso, Liguria - Sailing along the Italian Riviera it is possible to admire its beautiful and diverse coastline.
The next day we left the Tigullio Gulf and we pointed the bow of the boat towards Tuscany. Unfortunately we had to use the engine: there was a very light wind, just enough to save a bit of gazoline. Of course fuel consumption is not a big problem on a 10-metre sailboat: even in light winds 200 euros of fuel are enough to go from the the North to the South of Italy. The maximum speed is 6 knots so it takes a bit of patience. But who is in a hurry to stop floating on the Mediterranean Sea? Definetely not me.
Spinnaker
Spinnaker - Steering the helm or adjusting the sails, life on a sailboat is never boring.
For a long cruise, it is necessary to travel by night in order to cover the distances between ports or attractions. This allows fully enjoying the daylight. For example, everyday we had time to stop in beautiful bays for swimming, snorkeling, relaxing and exploring the coast.

So we were in the middle of the sea when, at 8 PM, the sun was going down and the sky was becoming red and pink. We opened a bottle of white wine and we had the most scenic aperitif. Behind us, in the distance, we could see the Ligurian coast, in front of us just the horizon. The boat went on and in that extreme peace we sailed.
Sunset on the sea
Sunset on the sea - While crossing the Tyrrhenian Sea, sunsets and dawns are entertaining shows... and they are for free!
After a beautiful sunset and a good dinner we started the rounds for the night. Two had to be awake to adjust the route, check for other boats and admire the stars. The others slept. After two hours the changing of the guards occurred. It is a never a pleasure being woken up at 2am with the phrase "Hey, it's your turn". It feels a bit like being called to the gallows by the hangman. But then you sit under the starry sky, you smell the sea, start chatting a bit and time goes by quite quickly.
By night, one of the most remarkable and unexpected phenomenons, at least for the unexperienced sailor, is the phosphorescent plankton. It comes in small bright balls that float in the dark water. In the Ligurian sea and in many others the boat was continuously crossing these clouds of light. They are a simple phenomenon, but they always hypnotize me.
Another strange aspect of nocturnal navigation is the difficulty of perceiving distances. The lights of another ship may seem very far, and then all of the sudden you realize that a fishboat is just few hundred meters away. The GPS is a fundamental instrument, and I address my posthumous congratulations to the sailors of the past, who used the sextant and the stars. However, electronic instruments are definetely not enouth, and a lot of knowledge and experience are necessary. Do not be imprudent, please.
Dawn on the sea
Dawn on the sea
Watching the sunrise while approaching Gorgona island was another inspiring experience. It looked like a replay of the sunset of the night before, but played backwards.
We arrived at Capraia Island about at lunch time, pushed by a good wind abeam. The island is beautiful and wild and is described here: Tuscany Archipelago.
The next day we sailed towards the Elba island. We had a relaxing lunch at Cavo before proceeding, under spinnaker, towards Punta Ala. We anchored just behind the headland in order to be protected from the wind and we had a swim, unfortunately shortened by the presence of many jellyfish particularly interested in making acquaintance with us. It was late afternoon, so we opened a bottle of wine and we had a good aperitif. Drinking good wine is an important part of a sailing cruise: it is so good to feel one with the sea and with the nature and to enjoy the great little pleasures of life. We had dinner and strangely some more bottles of wine got emptied. We had a cigar and we relaxed and slept a bit. Then, about at midnight, we hoisted the sails and we pointed the bow towards the island of Giglio (which means “Lily” in Italian). Another nocturnal navigation was carried out smoothly.
Giglio Island
Giglio Island - One of the many picturesque islands offshore Tuscany.
It was dawning when we reached Giglio. We admired its town and the barren hills as well as the semi-sunken hull of the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship grounded in 2012 by an absurd mistake. A sad view.
Giglio Island Concordia
Giglio Island and Concordia - The cruise ship hit the rocks in front of the island in 2012.
We kept on sailing, passing by the beautiful promontory of Argentario and the the wild wild island of Giannutri. Further South-east we spotted the first dolphins of the holiday (I have got to blame them, they were less friendly than usual) and we arrived in the afternoon at Riva di Traiano, near Civitavecchia. It was a big, unattractive port, but it was an opportunity to fill up the boat with wine, water and fuel (in order of importance).
In the late afternoon we sailed to Marinella. We dropped the anchor just in front of its beautiful seaside cottages and we had a short swim. We ate panzanella, a traditional dish, ideal during navigation, that is made of bites of dry bread soaked in oil, water and vinegar and mixed with tomatoes, onions and everything that comes into your mind: tuna, olives, anchovies, capers… it depends on how much one is hungry, and generally our stomachs were very demanding. Should I mention that the panzanella goes well with the white wine?
We embarked on another nocturnal navigation. While sailing we were noticing the distant glow of the lights of Rome. After admiring yet another colorful dawn we arrived at the island of Palmarola, the wildest of the Pontine islands, a real Mother Nature’s masterpiece.
Mooring in Palmarola
Mooring in Palmarola - The Pontine Islands, in central Italy, are a diverse and beautiful archipelago.
White and colorful cliffs, crystal clear waters, coves and rocks and gorges… The island is uninhabited, except for a small restaurant on the beach and some small houses dug into the tuff rock, which are rented to tourists. (There is also, I am told, the Fendi sisters’s villa… But I don’t understand how the two stylists make it to the grocery store in the morning. Poor things, they must have a really miserable life).
Palmarola cliff
Palmarola cliff
We moored in the bay, we worn the dive mask and we snorkeled for an hour admiring the fish and the sea-bottom. It's amazing how in that moment the world that interested us got smaller and smaller. Generally one leaves for a trip planning to visit a city, a region, a country. But in a so wild and beautiful bay, the goal was to visit a rock, a square meter of blue sea, a tiny beach. And there were a lot of small things that never tired us: every rock looked different, a world of its own, equally worthy of being explored in every little detail.
Palmarola cove
Palmarola cove - Snorkeling along Palmarola coasts makes it possible to discover nice spots like this underground natural pool.
Palmarola cove
Palmarola cove
So, we swam through a hole between the rocks and we found ourselves in a sort of underground natural pool, where we spotted a white shrimp. Then we also saw several sea-breams, lots of small black fish (chromis), underwater canyons whose walls disappeared at disturbing depths, colorful meadows of algae, sea urchins... It was good to get lost in those details.
Palmarola underwater
Palmarola underwater
Then we reached the main beach, where we explored those curious holes dug into the tuff rock and converted into houses, similarly to what was done in Pitigliano (Tuscany ) or in Cappadocia (Turkey).
Palmarola beach
Palmarola beach - There are original houses dug in the rocky coasts of the island.
In the afternoon we left the beautiful island and sailing along its sheer cliffs and then in the open sea we reached Ponza.
Palmarola white cliffs
Palmarola white cliffs
It was almost sunset when we anchored in the Bay of Chiaia di Luna (“Moonlight”), that was almost deserted. I recommend looking at the photos. Otherwise, I should write a long description full of enthusiastic adjectives, causing drowsiness. I write just that on one side there was the sunset over the sea, on the other side white and multicoloured rocks, and in front of us an endless vertical cliff with a long, deserted beach. Volcanic eruptions and landslides were the creators of such masterpieces. I don’t know any artists as good as the nature - although, I must admit, the creations made by the volcanoes are random and sometimes even a little catastrophic.
Ponza island
Ponza island - Another beautiful island of the Pontine.
Sunset at Ponza
Sunset at Ponza
We had dinner while it was getting dark and the blue bay was becoming pink, red, and finally black. After dinner, three of us got into the tender and rowed for a quarter of a mile to the beach. In the dark, it was a pretty thrilling experience: sometimes the reflections of the moon shone on the foam of the waves, detecting the presence of a rock near the tender or of the beach in the distance. Once we arrived, we realized that we had forgotten our flip-flops on the boat, so we rowed back to take them. The second trip was the good one, so we finally landed on the shoreline.
The access to the beach of Chiaia di Luna is prohibited due to the risk of rocks falling from the cliffs, so the beach is always deserted. However, there is a way to get there from the town of Ponza: a tunnel in the tuff, about two hundred meters long, that was dug by the Romans 2000 years ago and connects Chiaia di Luna with the other side of the island.
We entered the tunnel and then, with a slight claustrophobia feeling, we walked through it by using the flashlights. After few minutes (but it seemd much more) we were back in the open air. With a sigh of relief we walked on a paved road and we reached the seaside town of Ponza. There were a marina, colorful houses, ice cream parlors and tourists (and so there were other people besides us in the world… we were almost forgetting). It wasn’t particularly lively evening, as we were tired after a day begun with a nocturnal navigation and continued swimming and rowing, but it was quite an adventure.
It was midnight when we went back to the tunnel. We had to jump over a fence in order to enter it: from the beach to the town the access to the tunnel was open, but in the oppositite direction it was closed and apparently prohibited. On the beach we found our small rubber-boat and we rowed back to the sailing boat. Luckily it was the right one, despite the darkness. We were tired. Good night.
The dawn at Chiaia di Luna is not bad at all. Actually, it amazes and excites.
Chiaia di Luna, Ponza
Chiaia di Luna, Ponza - The name of this bay means moonlight, and it's indeed ideal for a good night sleep in the nature.
Sunset at Ponza
Sunset at Ponza
We weighed the anchor and we headed to Ventotene, which was twenty miles to the south-east of Ponza. After a nice sailing we moored in the harbor in order to walk into town and to stock up on food and... well, wine, of course. The distinctiveness of this beautiful island is the Roman port, carved into the stone, with piers and bollards obtained directly from the tuff rocks two thousands years ago. The town is very picturesque.
Ventotene port
Ventotene port - The harbour of this island was built by the Romans about 2000 years ago.
Ventotene
Ventotene
Ventotene port
Ventotene port
There are some beaches, very popular, as opposed to the wild Palmarola and Chiaia di Luna. Despite the crowds, they are significant because by snorkeling it is possible to explore the underwater tanks dug by the Romans to raise eels and other fish. It was all so amazing that we remained speechless… luckily as otherwise underwater we would have been drinking. It was sufficient to wear the mask and to swim for a few meters to spot clouds of sea breams, natural pools, a starfish… go there, please.
Cloud of fish
Cloud of fish - Seabreams.
Starfish
Starfish
After a peaceful night in the port (ah, so that's what sleeping means... finally) we sailed towards our next destination, Procida. We reached it soon, after having sailed along Ischia. There was a fairly good breeze, so we decided to sail all around Procida. Then we moored in the bay of Corricella, a magnificent town of old colorful houses, wedged and piled, with the rocky promontory of Terra Murata and its castle on one side. It was a masterpiece.
Corricella, Procida
Corricella, Procida - The island of Procida, in front of Naples, boasts some quaint towns and spectacular shorelines.
Corricella, Procida
Corricella, Procida
Enraptured by so much beauty we plunged into the sea first and in the panzanella later.
We reluctantly left Corricella and we sailed to the port of Procida, on the other side of the island. It was hellishly hot, but the town was very nice.
Procida
Procida - The Vesuvio on the background.
For dinner we walked again to Corricella, where we sat outdoors in a simple “trattoria” with the best (and heaviest) pasta with anchovies of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea. By dining out, it takes just a little to notice the differences between northern and southern Italy. We saw the portions increase, the prices decrease, the tax receipts disappear. A downside, the latter, that doesn’t take anything from anyone’s warmth and friendliness. It's just a habit (quite common also in the North), that will definitely ruin Italy pretty soon... along with many other problems of our country.
Back to the boat, I slept outside, on the cockpit, in order to better withstand the heat. We left early the next day, heading South. It was good to sail along Capri island, then the sky began darkening. The wind that had been pushing the boat until that momento stopped blowing and we had to use the engine. We wanted to escape possible storms. We coasted the Amalfi Coast.
Amalfi
Amalfi
In front of Positano we fished a “bonitto” and a small kind of tuna (I am unable either to take or to kill any living animal, but luckily one of us was quite experienced in fishing). In the late afternoon we arrived at Salerno and we moored in the new Marina of Arechi. Here there was a change of crew, with a few friends who left and others who came in. I remained, of course.
Meanwhile, we were caught by a violent storm. Luckily we were safely moored in the harbour. We had dinner in the boat with the freshly caught fish, filleted and marinated, and with a rich pasta.
The day after the fear of further storms convinced us to stay in the port. How to kill time? We took a sudden decision: reaching Amalfi by bus.
We found ourselves on the narrow and winding road that follows the Amalfi Coast. It was a one and a half hour long trip that lasted a lifetime, including spectacular views and turns at 4mph. Amalfi is a small masterpiece, with its church and its buildings along the coast.
Amalfi
Amalfi
There is a public boat that for two Euros carries tourists to the sandy beaches at the foot of the western cliffs. We got it and, strongly attracted by the good breeze, we stopped on a nice stretch of sand where it was possible to rent a windsurf. As soon as I went out to the sea, boom in hand, beautiful and athletic and happy, someone – a naughty god - turned off the wind, which for an hour did not exceed the 0.5 knots. So I stood still on the board in the middle of the bay , until a slight breeze brought me back to the beach where I returned the equipment and paid the rental. Then, the wind started again to blow strongly. Aeolus is a pig.
We got a panoramic beer, then by the last ferry we went back to Amalfi. From there, another, bigger ferry brought us to Salerno, as we could not bear the thought of wasting another lifetime on a bus. It was a very touristy daytrip, but it allowed us to enjoy unforgettable views (also because the weather forecasts were wrong and no storms ruined our day).
Salerno
Salerno
In the evening, a friend and I stayed in Salerno to enjoy a bit of social life after days (or were they years) of navigation. We were surprised by the liveliness of its streets: there were many shops, bars, restaurants… After an aperitif we explored the beautiful streets, full of young people. We had dinner in a food shop with a few tables. We had fresh fish and fried squids a bottle of Falanghina (a typical white wine). We spent just 9 Euros each. Also the bars were extremely cheap: a bottle of beer or a chupito costed one Euro (with the receipt!). Of course, there were also more upmarket and expensive bars.
It was a happy evening that left us a very good impression of Salerno, a vibrant city where people know how to have a good time.
Throughout the holiday, the predominant winds were from the North, with intensity between 5 and 15 knots. The following morning was no different. We left at dawn, sailing towards Sicily at a good speed of 7-8 knots.
Just south of Salerno there is a wide gulf with a quite flat coast (plain of Battipaglia). Further South some fascinating cliffs reappear. It's not a famous stretch of coast, but it’s enjoyable and not over-built (there is often a lot talk about unauthorized construnctions in the South of Italy, but Northern Italy shores are probably in a worse situation).
Sailing Campania
Sailing Campania
In the late afternoon we arrived at the Bay of “Buon Dormire” (Good Sleeping), protected by Cape Palinuro. It was a beautiful bay and in fact there were a dozen boats at the anchor. We had our usual spectacular dinner on the water and we had a good night sleep (as suggested by the name of the bay). The next morning we went swimming and we explored caves and cliffs and beaches, then we sailed to the Bay of Infreschi, which was spectacular but too busy (in August it may happen to find some traffic also in the sea, every now and then). Luckily, it was sufficient to sail for another mile to find a wilder stretch of coast where we could drop anchor with no-one around.
After a few hours of pleasant moments on the sea, plunging and relaxing and sunbathing and walking on the rocks, we began our long navigation towards the Eolie islands. It was 70 miles that we spent eating, sleeping, drinking and kidding. A light wind was pushing us when, about at 4 AM, we saw a red light in the sky, in the distance: it was the “Sciara del Fuoco” (Trail of Fire) of Stromboli, that is the lava trail erupted from the active volcano. In the dim light of dawn, that red light became less evident, but Stromboli didn’t lose its charm. There was an absolute silence and it was exciting to sail along the volcano, admiring its black magma walls that plunged into the sea.
Stromboli
Stromboli - Reaching Stromboli by night, it is possible to see the red trail of fire that daily descends from the active volcano.
At Stromboli there is a small village of white houses. One may wonder why anyone would live there, counting time between one eruption and the other. The point is that thanks to the volcanic emissions the soil is very fertile. Moreover, nowadays there is a lot of tourism.
Stromboli and Panarea are separated by ten miles of blue sea, which we covered by motor (someone had switched off the wind even if we were in the Aeolian (Eolie in Italian) Islands). We didn’t have to haul the mainsail or ease the cunningham, but we could admire the two islands and also the volcanic cones of Lipari and Salina in the distance. Contemplation was a good way to keep busy.
At Panarea we moored to a buoy and went ashore by tender. We saw amazing things.
Panarea
Panarea - Another beautiful island of the Eolie archipelago.
Panarea
Panarea
White houses in the middle of flowering trees, green and blue and transparent sea, barren hills as if in the Far West, with cactus and prickly pears; then we followed a trek and we arrived at the remains of a prehistoric village perched on the top of a small peninsula. The surrounding small bays had such clear water that we could count the number of stones on the sea-bottom. We took a breath and then, excited, we left the path that follows the coasts of the island and we descended to the beach where we plunged with joy. A half hour of snorkeling allowed us to discover fish, orange algae and some small jellyfish that, thanks to the dive-mask, we avoided skillfully.
Panarea
Panarea - On this spectacular stretch of coast there are the ruins of a prehistoric settlement. People have been enjoying these waters for some thousands of years, but I'm pretty sure that nobody gets bored.
In case you don’t know, I inform you that prickly pears are very tasty, but touching them is one of the worst ideas you could ever have, even worse than offering dinner to a sumo wrestler. They are in fact equipped with small, irritating transparent thorns (I'm talking about the prickly pears, not the wrestlers), which go everywhere. As they are almost invisible, it is difficult to remove them and they spread more easily than the bubonic plague: if an innocent man uses a glove to pick the prickly pears and leaves it on a chair, and then another man touches the chair, and then he shake hands with someone… wham! Here it is… an epidemic breakthrough of thorns of prickly pears.
Eolie islands
Eolie islands
We had dinner on the boat, moored in the beautiful bay, and for fruit we had some prickly pears. Then we spent the whole evening scratching, and I still feel the stings if I think about it.
The next day we left the beautiful Panarea and we sailed towards Lipari, the most populous island of the archipelago. We coasted its shores and we admires the town, then we passed through the channel that separates it from the island of Vulcano. Pointing the bow north-west, we arrived soon in a beautiful bay, surrounded by colourful cliffs. Here I should use words such as beautiful, masterpiece, spectacular, and so on.
Lipari
Lipari
After a long swim we sailed along the western cliffs of Vulcano, under its colorful smoking crater. We moored in another bay, almost deserted (while the most famous bays were rather crowded). We rowed on the tender for 20 minutes and we got to a nice little cove surrounded by black rocks. The water was clear, the sea-bottom strange and lifeful, with lots of small fish and rock arches under which it was possible to swim. It was one of the most beautiful snorkeling moments of the holiday.
Vulcano, Eolie
Vulcano, Eolie - Sailing along active volcanos is never boring either.
Vulcano, Eolie
Vulcano, Eolie
It was late afternoon when we left for another long nocturnal navigation. Palermo was our destination. The black sky sometimes was suddenly lit by the lightings of a nearby thunderstorm. We could do without, but in the end we weren’t hit by heavy rains nor tornadoes.
Sailing Sicily
Sailing Sicily
At dawn we were sailing along Palermo and the surrounding coast. We admired the rocky mountains behind Mondello and we continued in the direction of Castellammare del Golfo.
Palermo
Palermo - The main town in Sicily and its surroundings offer some beautiful views
Mondello
Mondello
We reached it in the afternoon, at a speed of more than 8 knots, pushed by a strong breaze from the north-east.
Mooring in Castellammare is a real pleasure: the port is modern and safe and, from the docks, it is possible to admire the old town, its castle on the sea and the houses perched on the hill.
Castellamare del Golfo
Castellamare del Golfo
Castellamare del Golfo
Castellamare del Golfo
We had dinner at a lovely restaurant - as broadly know, the Sicilian cuisine is something heavenly. Since our table was in the middle of a busy street, we could also observe the beauty of Sicilian women: among the one hundred and fifty of the women who walked by during our dinner, at least 143 were between pretty and jaw-dropping beautiful. I think that the men were not bad either, but I didn’t check as I am not prepared in this field.
Our last sailing day brought us from Trapani to Castellamare. We coasted the picturesque town of Scopello and the beautiful Zingaro Natural Reserve, then the pretty and touristy San Vito Lo Capo, also famous for the Cous-Cous Festival. We noticed some old salt-works, then we sailed along cliffs and beaches. We stopped for a swim under the shadow of a Dolomite mountain, the promontory of “Monte Cofano”, in front of Cornino, a nice seaside town. We didn’t know what the hell the Dolomites were doing in Sicily, maybe they were on vacation. Behind the town, there were huge marble mines.
Sicily
Sicily - Sometimes, in summer, the Dolomites are on holiday in Sicily.
Sailing towards Trapani we passed by the “tonnara” of Bonagia. This is a “trap” where tuna fish were captured. It is a fascinating, but cruel, subject. Tunas were trapped into smaller and smaller nets, until they were all packed inside the smallest fence (the “dead chamber”). Here they fought and swam and jumped. The fishermen harpooned them on the fly in order to pull them on the ground. It was a dangerous job as a 150 pound fish, harpooned at the wrong time, could easily drag a person into the “dead chamber”.
Another sad and interesting aspect of tuna fishing is the huge amount of tunas fished everyday in the world. I am surprised they aren’t extinct yet. They breed a lot, but similar slaughters are rather poignant.
A nice wind (still from the northern sectors) pushed us for the last miles of our long navigation. We arrived in view of the Egadi islands and our final destination, Trapani, was not far away. Now the coast was flat, so that a kilometer offshore the water was just few meters deep. A good use of GPS, maps and pilot books is recommended to avoid the shallows.
Trapani harbour has one entrance for merchant ships and boaters. We called the port authority to get identified (strange rule introduced to avoid clandestine boats) and we moored in the new "home" of our lovely sailing boat. Our journey was terminated, after 800 miles of navigation along the Italian coasts. As you might expect, we opened a bottle of wine. In the evening we walked to the lively Trapani, where we had dinner with some seafood cous-cous. The restaurants were full and the service was very slow, so eating out was the last great effort of our trip.
The evening ended with a nice display of fireworks. For a moment we thought that Trapani was celebrating our arrival. Instead, the “Holy Mary” festivity was grabbing the spotlight. We found in fact that August the 16th is the city annual festival day. We went to sleep.
The feat had been accomplished. The boat was in Sicily and we were on it, safe and sound. We felt one with the boat and the sea and the navigation. It is a beautiful feeling, although it might cause addiction. We were satisfied, full of joyous team spirit and we strongly believed in ourselves. We were ready for new journeys, new life and new winds.
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