Gaeta is a delightful place, built across an isthmus and ranging up the slopes of the headland and peninsula on either side. The scenery is mountainous with cliffs and huge caves; as had been the journey here, with the Apennine range dramatic along the shore.
We arrived at around one thirty, having made an early start at six thirty. It was not at all clear where to go, there were strings of yellow buoys and huge concrete port hand markers, but none of it looked much like the plan on our screen. An unpleasant looking sloping wall of rock defined the shoreline; there were various sets of floating pontoons and a military area fenced off with big black plastic barrages, which are designed to trap oil. On shore there were various distinctive buildings, churches, an old fort on the headland and bell towers, but with no obvious center. We hung around by an empty looking pontoon, trying to keep clear of other boats and a derelict port hand marker, the rusting hulk of which loomed perilously astern, half submerged.
Our radio call had been answered promptly enough, but then no one arrived to direct us. The marinera on the pontoon we could see was doing his best to ignore us. We watched him pulling up lazy a line and thought it must be for us, but he was resolutely avoiding eye contact. Naturally the wind was force three, having been light all day. John did a great job of just hanging there, Lyra looking huge in the confined space. Finally a second marinera in a rib swept onto the scene, but he was busy escorting a motor yacht to the fuel pontoon and waved at us to wait, which we were doing. Having sorted the motorboat out he came back and headed to the guy on the jetty. This we expected. Then the youth on the jetty hopped onto the rib and they both headed out to meet us, which we were not expecting. ‘Follow us’, the older one said and they promptly disappeared in a swirl of wake.
John set off after them, by the time we had reached the end of the line of boats to starboard there was no sign of the rib. We nudged round the line of tethered yachts and looked down the channel behind them. No rib. We carried on to the next pontoon of boats and there was the youth stood a little way in on the inside of the pontoon. There was not a lot of room between the pontoon and the sloping end wall of the marina. John turned Lyra round and we began our reverse park. At this point the rib usually hangs around waiting to nudge your bow if it looks as though it is going astray. Our rib was having to help a dinghy that was just setting off from further along the pontoon and having difficulties with its foresail. This left us coming in alongside a beautiful wooden topped boat with the narrowest of margins and a strong crosswind. I think John had looked too good holding our position in the harbour. The people of the other boat were out ready to fend us off. The man came ashore to move various ropes and lengths of hosepipe he had obviously strewn around to put anyone off coming alongside him. It meant that when I threw my line to the marinera he was not sure which ring to loop it through and just stood holding it, passing me the lazy line. I passed this on to John, who was not happy about leaving the cockpit before we had a line on. He stomped off down the deck with the lazy line. I threw the other stern line to our new neighbour, reasoning he had a right to help out, by which time the marinera had threaded the first line through a ring and passed it back to me to tie off. He took over from the neighbour, who bid me a cheerful ‘Buonjourno’, as did his wife, no doubt they were pleased we were now in without having clobbered their boat in the process. The marinera showed John the power supply and water and said the office was over the bridge, waving his hand vaguely at the shore.
Once we had stopped both of us were dripping with sweat and so took turns to shower before setting off with the boat papers. As we set out we noticed two other neighbours, a pair of gorgeous Labradors, one large, black and fluffy and the other huge and golden. They were lounging on the raised deck and made not a murmur as we passed by. The office was housed in a wooden shed by the marina exit and was not at all obvious. The man who went through the paperwork explained that there was a bigger office further in town, where they spoke English, but as he was so helpful and handed us brochures about Gaeta we never called in there. We headed across the road to a taverna amongst the pine trees and had cold beer and traditional pies, spinach and egg in our case.
Once more it felt much too hot to go exploring. We sat up on deck, now able to enjoy the breeze, watching the comings and goings of other boats. A brand new boat came in alongside us, sailed by a man and his taller son. The lad was obviously teasing his Dad about his lack of height as they stowed their sail away. A French boat came in immediately behind us, sailed by a couple, the man steering and a nervous looking woman prodding at the boat they were coming in alongside with a boathook. The man tossed one of his lines to the older marinera and spoke to him in Italian, at which point the marinera clambered on board and sorted out the lazy line for them. I was beginning to feel a bit smug at us having managed all by ourselves. Then a boat came in manned by a couple with a very attractive daughter in a yellow top and both marineras hurled themselves onboard, working furiously to tie them on. Oh the power of glamour and what it must be to wield it.
That evening we walked along the front to the far end where the fishing boats had set up stalls to sell their Friday night catch.
There were a couple of fish restaurants and we ate in the first one. They had a banked array of fish on ice, to one side of which a bowl of cockles kept squirting water disconcertingly far. Neither of us has any idea when it comes to choosing fish from such a display, but we settled on one the girl serving picked out and a couple of langoustines. Quite what they proposed to do with our selection was hard to call, but we ordered a salad to accompany them and they brought us a plate of anchovies along as a complimentary starter. While they were cooking the fish the screens flared into life and I moved round to sit next to John so we could watch the Wales match. The waitress asked if they were our team and we said ‘no, Inglaisie’, at which point they all shook their heads sympathetically. The fish turned out to have been grilled, it was very good and the langoustines exceptional. We span the meal out by having pannacotta, but had finished our coffees well before the second half, so came away with Wales losing by a goal. It was a nice surprise next morning to find they had won and are through to an historic semi final against Ronaldo.