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 the first of some planned away days at enormous expense, but had been foiled in the 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, but 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 low 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 sat looking out for both 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 heading away from Ithaca. 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 pointing at Vesuvius. We sallied on, crossed our course line and had been sailing for 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 the 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, I thought John was really going for it to make up time. When I mentioned 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 for a moment 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 far from 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 we were right to fret.
We arrived outside the marina, radioed in and waited to see the rib approach before coming to wind and taking the sails down. Now we were helpless. 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. 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 frantically fastening on more ropes. Fortunately at this point the cavalry arrived in the form of another rib and an older marinera, with less command of the English language, but more experience of moving yachts. He nudged up to our stern and pushed from behind, allowing John to steer, while calling out mocking his colleague in Italian as they escorted us through the marina. We arrived back at our pontoon, to be met by more marineras than I have seen in one place before, who hauled us pointy end in to our berth and that was the end of our adventures in August. Replacing the starter motor blew the budget and took up the remaining time we had.
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.
This 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. We 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, but still we were too full for desert. Over coffee they brought us an iced bottle of limmonchello to sample, in 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. The meal ate had been of a higher order than most and we resolved to visit again before making our way back along the moonlit harbour, deserted now, with all the bars and restaurants closed even though it was just ten o’clock.