Saturday

In spite of the forecast Saturday dawned a beautifully clear day with sparkling views of the surrounding mountains, the clearest view of Vesuvius we have had. The wind has blown all the cloud and haze inland and is still gusting up to thirty knots according to the instruments on the top of the mast, and that is here in the harbour. We walked to the chandlers for some fuel additive and then called at the little shop for some bread for lunch and vegetables to cook for tea. The ladies were pleasant as ever; we always come out of there feeling happy.

After a while the noise of the wind on board ship becomes a bit much and we set out for the Captain’s Bar for a break from it and so that I could use the wifi to post the blog. For once the outside area was deserted, with all the chairs stacked in the lee of the hedge. Inside was humming with people and we were lucky to bag the last table in the corner. A large boat party had pulled tables together opposite and the diving crew were clustered round the table next to us, all with large beers rather than the usual cokes. In the far corner a man and a couple of women were making headway down a bottle of white wine. Everyone was loud and very cheerful. We figured they had all been let off work in some way by the rough weather, the Italian version of a snow-day. The bar staff were not so fortunate and it was all hands on deck as more people arrived and began to drag tables into the sun in shelter afforded by back of the marina building. We had not planned to stay to lunch, but the look and smell of the pasta of the day arriving at neighbouring tables proved too much. Aubergine and smoked mozzarella cannelloni in a fabulous tomato sauce. It will be bread and cheese for tea, listening to podcasts, when hopefully the wind will have died down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to Base for the Weekend

Our plans were to go across the Bay to Sorrento for the weekend, try for Amalfi, assuming the siblings Coppola had not packed in for the season and then back to Capri before coming home to base. We reasoned the later we left Capri the less horrific the expense would be. There was a storm coming from the north due for late Friday night and Saturday, but Sorrento would provide good shelter from that direction. We headed out to the hotel for breakfast and I had a pastry worthy of a Bake Off challenge, wafer thin pastry somehow spiralled round an apple and ricotta filling. John had a cream croissant. All very decadent. As I sipped cappuccino watching the local police and a group of older men engaging with banter, John phoned Sorrento. He was given the supervisors number to call. He called the second number and the supervisor was very sorry but they were fully booked. Not something that has happened to us before here. We headed back to Lyra for the details of Capri. There you had to book online, in advance. John phoned them anyway and was told they were not fully booked, but we could not reserve a berth for that evening, we needed to turn up outside and radio in before entering the harbour. Remembering the hectic nature of the harbour we did not fancy this much. Also Capri is exposed to Northerlies. Neither of us fancied riding the storm out tied slantways on our current wobbly pier, so we decided to head back to Castlelemarre for the weekend on our own finger pontoon.

We set out under engine and danced with the ferries outside Porto Ithaca before making a straight course across the Bay, the crocodile snout of Capri to starboard and a shrouded Vesuvius to port. About half way across we had to slow again as the ferries from Sorrento and Naples crossed, one in front and one behind us. A pair of Bond villain black helicopters passed overhead in close formation, with no signature on the AIS. They made several slow circuits of the Bay. To port was a large grey warship, which John thought was stationary and I was not so sure about. Then, off near the shore we saw a line of smoke stream along the water. The dark shapes of several small boats were plying to and fro through the smoke. Then the helicopters were above them dropping canisters into the sea. Each had a double parachute, but nevertheless sent up quite a splash on landing. The Captain was not happy at the prospect of one landing on us. The canisters were then followed by a string of parachutists guiding themselves down in a spiral as the canisters inflated to form boats. Then a Chinook rumbled towards the scene from the direction of Sorrento, flanked by the other two helicopters. It hovered right on the waterline for several minutes as the various small boats milled around, before rising majestically and flying off. In the meantime the warship had set out and crossed our bows heading for the scene. At this point the two original helicopters made a very low pass obviously having a close look at us. I put down the logbook I was recording events in, on top of the camera and looked natural. A big orange rib approached and we wondered if we were to be boarded, but a solemn chap in dark glasses standing in the rib merely waved that we should head away to port. John gave him the thumbs up and turned the wheel as we both smiled encouragingly.

After our bit of a detour we turned back onto our waypoint and made our way into port. It is good to be back tied up safe and the voyage had passed very quickly one way or another.

Footnote: The overnight storm was a real humdinger, howling through the rigging and jerking us about even in this sheltered marina. Rough on a lazy line tonight!

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A Visit to the Garden

We were both eager to revisit the garden of La Mortella, to see it in a different season. The taxi we took had the same driver who brought us back from the garden last time, though he was driving a less eccentric bus. He obviously had a taste for unusual taxis, for sellotaped above his windscreen were photos of hybrid vehicles, which combined a Vespa scooter bolted to the rear of a Morris Traveller. He gave us his card so we could call him for the return trip.

The early slanting light cast a spell over the already enchanting garden, though it proved beyond our photographic skills to capture this. A summer of tropical growth meant we were enclosed by lush greenery filtering the soft light. There were fewer flowers, but the blooms that were out flooded the garden with perfume and the tropical water lilies and lotus flowers in the pools were at their most spectacular. We happily wandered the paths, so captivated it was a surprise to realise how high we had climbed. The views out showed a calmer sea, with rows of breakwater that had been beneath the surf on our last visit. The autumn light was more flattering to the blue glass pond at the top of the garden, which was augmented by the blue flowers of salvias and a climbing plumbago and so looked less out of place. The garden was busier than in spring, but we were still able to find a quiet bench to sit and take in the views and the scents. On our way back down we stopped for tea in the hanging terrace and then lingered for a light lunch, tomato bruschetta for me, ham and cheese panino for John.

We wandered back through the fountains to catch a taxi home. We had debated whether to walk, but in the event were glad we hadn’t given the lack of pavement on the fast road and the distance actually being quite far. Refreshingly the taxi back was the same price as that going out. We spent the afternoon grocery shopping and stocked up the wine cellar from the specialist.

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Breakfast Ashore and off to Ischia

We arrived at the café hungry for our pastries, sidled past a man collecting to send himself to Africa as a missionary and put our sunglasses on a table close to the interior. We both went inside to look at the display of food before returning to our table. Even though it was early there was a table of four young people already seated on our left. These looked slightly older than yesterday’s lot and all sported A5 sketchbooks. The young man sat drawing in his, but the girls just waved theirs around a bit before concentrating on their phones. The waiter brought them coffee and orange juice and then came to take our order. I went back inside with him to do the pointing and we sat enjoying custard filled Danish as a few more artists arrived to sit to our right. They reminded me of Katie’s assignment to sit sketching in cafes and felt it was an easier prospect here, where a cup of coffee rents you a table for an indeterminate length of time. Our time however was limited and we headed back to Lyra and set out to island hop.

There was no wind, so we took the short passage along the south east coast of Procida to Casamiccola. On our way we had a view of Cala di Corricella from the sea. We took a turn around most of the island, cutting up the channel to dodge the ferry traffic heading along the island tops to cut into Porto d’ Ischia or Cassamiccola, managing to pull into the harbour without a close encounter of the unpleasant kind. John had been unable to raise anyone on the phone to make a booking, so we loitered anxiously, while he called up on the radio. There was plenty of space in the harbour, but we were concerned the marineras had headed off to an early lunch and we would have to fend for ourselves. The prospect of having to jump ashore from the stern was not an enticing one and I mentally rehearsed what I thought I should do in what order and came to the conclusion there were a number of ways things could go badly. It was a relief to see a white haired chap waving to us from the second pier, even though the space he had for us was not obvious until we had committed to the turn. We nestled in between tow boats and John tied on the lazy line only to discover it actually belonged to our neighbour to port. The marinera found us another line, but the angle on this meant Lyra lay slightly skewed in the berth, despite the fact John had the line drum tight. All the surrounding boats had a similar tilt, so possibly something has moved since the lines were laid. The turning of the large ferries at the end of the pier may have had something to do with this. John headed off to pay, but came back a short time later with the news that this pier belonged to another enterprise and we needed to pay in town. Apparently we had been phoning a different marina than the one we had stayed with last time, so they had done the poaching when we arrived, so it was probably fair enough. John said he wished we were back on the other pontoon and when I set out along it and felt it give a Tacoma Narrows sashay I realised why. When the ferries come in Lyra moves less than anything here, including the pontoon. At least we were nearer the hotel where we used to stop for coffee and drinks. The waiter there was very pleased to see us and we had lunch out as well as breakfast, a virtuous chicken salad and a naughty glass of white wine.

After lunch we had a wander round. There had been an earthquake centred on Casamiccola since we last stayed here and we had been concerned things may have changed, so it was reassuring to see all the sea front looking exactly the same. One of the buildings off the square had metal rods supporting some of its’ archways and there was a van full of rubble parked before one of the long passages leading off the front, from which came the sound of drills and shovelling. The shops along the front were exactly as we remembered, the wine seller, the mini-markets, the bakery and the more tourist focussed bars, gelateries and souvenir shops were all untouched, but further back the restaurant with the yellow walls was shrouded in scaffolding.

Undeterred by our gastronomic excesses of the day so far we walked into the neighbouring little seaside town of Lacco Ameno for dinner. It is a pleasant walk along the coast and the town is more of a tourist trap with its’ variety of shops and restaurants. The posher clothes shops all had fur coats and quilted jackets on display. We had dinner on a terrace above the harbour listening to the swish of the sea rattle the pebbles of the beach below. I must try to make pasta with ham and blond beans; it has a surprising taste of home.

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Exploring Procida

We have never stayed more than one night in Procida before, but had ventured so far as the adjacent harbour of Corricella with Lara one evening, with the help of her phone navigation skills. This morning we set out to retrace those steps and then climb up to have a look at the impressive fort that guards the channel. First we stopped for coffee in the main harbour. As we sipped our cappuccinos the place gradually filled up with young people carrying backpacks and motorcycle helmets They arrived in clusters of four or five and tagging on to groups already seated by hauling chairs and tables across the café. First the girls arrived and ranged on three tables along one side, then some boys took the armchairs along the opposite front, they were soon joined by another bunch of lads who pulled more of the armchairs and a small table across to form a barricade across the entrance. Undeterred a further mixed group squeezed in and formed a nest just behind us. The young man serving quietly took the orders and threaded his way back and forth through the tangle of furniture he would no doubt have to put right later to serve them all. As we rose to leave our table was absorbed into the huddled collective behind. The pastries and small pizzas looked very tasty, so we resolved to come for breakfast tomorrow, but earlier, before school was out.

We made our way up the street away from the port and managed to retrace our steps from before up the hill with the shops side, parked bikes and two-way traffic. This early in the day we were spared the pairs of impeding grannies. In this cooler weather we made better progress up the steep hill, but remembered to turn left along the quieter side road before the square at the top. We kept to one side as motor scooters hurtled by and stood in gateways for the occasional small car to pass. The walls are high and largely windowless. In one small opening someone had made a shrine with a plaster bust of Jesus, candle ends and a nosegay. In the next such opening was a battered electricity meter. We came into a viewpoint looking out across to Naples and then headed steeply down another of the narrow streets. This time we did not turn down the steps to the fishing harbour, but continued on, climbing again, to arrive a bit breathless at the start of the fort. Close up it looked pretty derelict. Two large British cannon stood sentinel facing the channel. From their vantage point the view was spectacular. The curve of the pretty fishing harbour of Corricella, with brightly painted boats strung out inside the rocky breakwaters before a backdrop of dusty pastel houses mounting the steep hillside reminded me of my first visit to Capri back in the day. Beyond the headland opposite rose the even higher crags of Ithaca. Spectacular.

Eventually we tore ourselves away and headed up into the fort, closely followed by a small bus and a pair of taxis. The bus stopped in the open area inside the outer wall, but the taxis pressed higher, squeezing through a stone archway, the first sounding a warning on his horn. We followed them and the road continued up between houses with flower filled window boxes and metal balconies, along which washing fluttered overhead. There was a large domed church with bells and a museum. We decided to visit the museum, which meant more stairs to climb. The walls of the staircase were lined with old photographs, with captions in Italian. We arrived at a landing where an old three piece suite had been thoughtfully placed for those needing to rest before tackling the next story, but we pressed on to the top. There was another sofa and chair before a doorway barred by a red tape and a sign promising guided tours in Italian, English and German. Peering over the tape through the doorway we could see rooms displaying household items, old tools to the left and embroideries to the right. All was silent. The place felt deserted and we had turned to go back down, when a girl appeared and asked if we wished to see the museum for three Euros. When we did she let us through the tape and after checking we were English took us into the room with the tools and asked us to sit on long wooden benches behind the doorway. She disappeared again and came back with laminated cards, which we were to read, before making our own way round. The cards told a story, the tale of a young poet arrested in his world tour by the love of a local girl, causing him to go native for a while before resuming his travels, promising to return. She then died of TB, but managed to send him a letter absolving him of his promise, which inspired a torrent of purple prose from the young man, for which he became renown. These artefacts on display were the sort of objects people of that time would have used in a typical household setting, though of course the rooms of this museum were more exalted than those that would have been inhabited by a local fisherman’s daughter. After we had finished reading the girl took the cards back, in case there should be a spate of further English visitors, and we were free to make our way round. In a room of lace making cushions and spindles was a drawing of the local beauty herself, rather in the style of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. This room led out to a terrace with stunning views and a charming collection of succulents. The final room was actually a shop of artefacts the museum had obviously been given, but for which it had no space. There was some beautiful lacework, crochet and embroidery and various small tranklements of dubious value. All in all well worth the three Euros and the climb to the Sleeping Beauty eerie.

We headed back down to the harbour and had lunch in the same restaurant where we had dined with Lara on our previous visit, apparently the site of the film The Postman, though not the Kevin Costner one. It was most pleasant sitting in the shade, eating more of the lovely spiral pasta, this time with spinach and shrimp, watching the fishermen mend their nets.

 

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Finally We Cross the Bay

Today we finally made our way a deux across the Bay of Naples. That is not to say that we had not tried to venture out in August. We had set out to sail to Ischia for our away days at enormous expense, but had been foiled in our attempt. It happened like this.

It was the time of the fires and we were glad to be out at sea. There had been a bit of wind coming from exactly where we wanted to go, which meant for a pleasant breeze as we motored into it, of course John then wondered if we should have a go at sailing. Great. The radio alarm noise bleeped. There was a warning to all shipping that planes would be in the area collecting water for the fire fighting. A helicopter passed overhead, though there was no sign of the yellow planes. I reasoned we would be more visible with our sails up and agreed we should give it a go. We pulled both sails out and tacked towards Vesuvius. It was very peaceful with the engine off. We both sat looking out for lobster pots and light aircraft. I spotted an orange buoy, which as we passed closer turned out to be a child’s football being carried along our starboard side. We tacked and headed for Sorrento, eventually coming quite close to the cliffs. John trimmed the sails so we could sail closer to the wind and we pressed on as far as we dared before tacking again. We were still heading for Vesuvius. We sallied on, crossed our course line and had been sailing over two hours when we noticed a small orange ball ahead of us on our port side, making better progress towards Ithaca than we were. As we grew near to Vesuvius we could see large black scars that the fires had left on its’ flanks. No smoke was rising from these wounds, but the atmosphere was still too hazy to take a decent photograph of what we could see. It was pleasant enough, but at the rate we were going we would not arrive before evening. We tacked again and this time Lyra was pointing towards Capri. John decided we should put the engine on and make some progress. He hauled away the jib, but we just pulled in the main to the centre for if we wanted to sail again when we were a bit closer. John turned the engine on and turned towards our waypoint. The engine sounded different and I thought John was really going for it to make up time. When I said this he slowed down. There was an acrid smell. We had smelled this smell before. John ran down below and the engine room was full of smoke. I turned the engine off.

We sat in the silence and then decided to turn round and sail with the wind back to Castellammare and call for a tow. I looked for the numbers of the coast guard in our pilot book and wondered if we should report ourselves as a hazard, in view of the aeroplane situation, but John said no as a sailing boat under sail we were not helpless. Of course the wind was light and with it behind us we hardly seemed to be moving at all. John phoned the marina and they assured us help would be waiting on our return. We should radio in on our approach and they would come out and tow us to our berth. It took nearly three hours and would have been a pleasant sail, as the wind was on our quarter and had come up a bit, had we both not been fretting about our arrival. In the event it was not as straightforward as we might have hoped. We arrived outside the marina, radioed in and waited to see the rib approach before coming to wind and taking the sails down. There was just one guy in the rib, a German, who spoke excellent English and gave clear instructions for me to set up the tow. Usually when we have been towed before the rib provides impulse and John steers as normal. This chap had other ideas and had clearly never towed anything of our size before. He tried to haul Lyra to starboard, pulling across her bow, steering wildly with the rib and threatening to sever the tow- rope with his outboard. John could not steer properly with the sideways momentum from the rib. The concrete baffles of the harbour wall were looming uncomfortably close and both men were issuing terse instructions to yours truly, running up and down the side deck fastening on more ropes. Fortunately at this point the cavalry arrived in the form of another rib and an older marinera, who pushed from behind, allowing John to steer, while mocking his colleague in Italian as they escorted us through the marina. We arrived back at our pontoon, to be met by more marineras, who berthed us pointy end in and that was the end of our adventures in August. Replacing the starter motor blew the budget and took up the remaining time.

So today we tried again, this time heading for Procida first, a quieter harbour than Casamiccola. There was not a breath of wind, so we motored throughout on a straight course. Just out of the harbour we saw a shimmering of small fish along the surface of the water and not long after the dark backs of a pod of dolphin, circling calmly to starboard. They were the first Italian dolphins we have seen, small and dark and not at all curious about yachts. We took them for a good omen. It was very quiet out in the bay and we made steady progress. As we passed Naples we saw that many of the scars on Vesuvius have already greened over. The engine puttered away steadily and we arrived at Procida with no drama whatsoever.

That evening we explored further along the harbour, which is much cleaner than when we first saw it over a year ago. Just as the street was petering out there was a small restaurant, with a Lady and the Tramp ambiance. As we sat trying to figure out the Italian menu our waiter brought us small glasses of complimentary Prossecco with small balls of tempura batter. The meal ate was of a higher order than most and we resolved to visit again. Although we had shared our first course of spiral pasta with olives, tomatoes and prawns and our mains (mine a rocket salad with strips of steak and John’s baked seafood in a fragrant bisque), were not huge, we were too full for desert. Over coffee they brought us an iced bottle of limmonchello to sample, with a couple of frosted thimble glasses. It was definitely home made, very strong and lemony with a worrying aftertaste of ether. One glass seemed prudent. We made our way back along the moonlit harbour, deserted now, with all the bars and restaurants closed even though it was just ten o’clock.

 

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Pool News

Today all the main fires visible from the marina had stopped smouldering, though the planes were still heading off behind Vesuvius with their payloads of salt water. John had checked the weather forecast and a front was due to come through this afternoon, so the fires have been put out in the nick of time before the wind blows up. The forecast means we decided to stay put, so we headed off into town on the shuttle with our backpacks to stock up with supplies first thing and went to cool off at the pool after lunch onboard. By the time we arrived the pool was packed out. The loungers had been laid out near to where they had been moved for the party, rather than moved back round the decking, but even so all were full. We settled for a couple of easy chairs at the top end, which had the benefit of fabulous views across to the finally visible hulk of Vesuvius. To the left of us a line had been slung between two trees along in front of the hedge from which hung an array of glass bubbles, each holding a tealight, with white paper decorations above and below each bubble. They must have looked very pretty hanging in the darkness last night. Then I noticed the paper shapes below each bubble were angels and the nature of last nights gathering took on a mournful aspect. No wonder it had been quiet.

We swam to cool off and had the pool to virtually to ourselves, probably because the breeze was beginning to blow and the thought of the chill on coming out was putting off those used to Mediterranean climes. As we swam the bar staff were busy lifting planters down from the wooden pedestals along the pool side and moving everything back against the wall. The wind was playing havoc with the tablecloths, teasing magazines and hats. Along the line of the hedge the angels were dancing. We had a lovely long swim, the water was the most peaceful place to be. Coming out was not at all bad, being used to an English summer we dried off unperturbed by the wind chill. Our chairs were most comfy and we read for a while, but the wind ruffled our thoughts and became tiresome, so we headed back to Lyra to shower and eat. As we sat on deck we noticed bright beads of flame climbing a ridge someway behind Castellammare. Bt the time we were ready to turn in the beads had joined up an a wall of flame rampaged along the ridge. These summer fires must be a nightmare for people living in some of the more isolated houses standing so idyllically up in the hills.

Tomorrow the weather is due to be calm and we plan to visit Ithaca and Proceda for a couple of nights at enormous expense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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