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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Preparations for a Pool Party

Well you will have surmised that we survived the night. Perhaps I am being melodramatic about the fires, none of the Italians around here pass any comment on the still smoking tranches of land and the string of yellow aeroplanes pass disregarded. Indeed there have still been fireworks set off most evenings, sometimes quite dramatic displays. There was a particularly impressive one in the grounds of our own pool area late this evening, though I have did not personally witness any of it. We had been herded out of the swimming pool early as they set up for the big event.

The preparations started just after midday. We had swum and dried off and were treating ourselves to lunch by the pool. The ongoing preparations provided an entertaining floorshow. First our reluctant bar man, he of stout girth and truculent manor, started carrying the padded mattresses from the big wooden loungers off to behind the pool building. He did this rather slowly, spilling the pillow each time he moved a mattress and neither stopping to retrieve it or modifying his technique when he came to move the next mattress. By the time he had shifted half a dozen he was stumbling over scattered pillows and decided to pick them up. He then dragged the wooden bases about to clear a space. The helpful bar man, he of tall, slim stature and pleasant disposition, who seems to work all hours at all of the venues here, gave a him a hand carrying one a bit further and stacking it on top of another one. This was just in the nick of time as two hitherto unseen workmen arrived on the scene carrying a huge stretched canvass between them, like a sheet of plate glass in a comedy sketch. They sidled slowly along the edge of the pool turned the corner and balanced the canvass directly across the water from our table. The adjacent loungers were still in the way and one man held the canvass as the other dragged these further to one side. There was some discussion with the man who should have moved them. He shrugged and wandered off stage right. The duo then opened the canvass like a huge book and it trembled, glowing in the sunshine, before they lay it face down on the pool deck and walked all over the back. They did this in order to pull out some of the wooden framework to make an angled stand. They lifted the canvass back up and the good side had remained miraculously pristine. It stood before us cinematic in scale, but teetering slightly on its wooden feet. The men solved this by drilling down into the pool deck beneath and screwing it to the floor. Satisfied the pair exited stage left. We speculated that a projection of some form from our present position might be happening after dark, except that this would cause the handrails to the swimming pool ladder to cast a rather distracting shadow in the left hand corner of the magnificent screen.

A pale looking man arrived toting beach bag and paperback novel and regarded the clutch of bare sunloungers. He parked his bag, routed round behind the building and emerged with a mattress and pillow. He placed them on one of the loungers, lay on top and started to read his book. Our food arrived, prawns. Mine were sautéed and piled on lemon mashed potato, John’s were deep fried in tempura and piled on his plate. After this we ordered espressos. As they arrived the two workmen came back with the man in charge of the pool restaurant and a woman. They all looked at the screen. The woman indicated the curved arms of the pool ladder and gestured as if to ask whether maybe these would be in the way. The party headed back inside. As he passed the pool ladder the man with the drill gave it a pull, to see it could be moved. Obviously it would be unthinkable to move the screen, what a man has drilled to the spot stays there, at least till next day. We sipped our coffees, which are invariably excellent here in Italy. A group of young people, crew from one of the super yachts, arrived to survey massed mess of empty wooden sunbeds. They had a word with the helpful waiter. He smiled and showed them where the mattresses were round the back of the pool house. In one trip they brought them all back round, laid them on the clustered beds and settled on top in a nest. The tall waiter brought them drinks in plastic cups so they could take them into the pool. As John and I stood to go back to our own loungers the shorter waiter was complaining to the taller one about the unravelling of his morning’s work and the taller one smiled enigmatically down at him.

Our loungers were round the corner of the building on an area of grass, which is cooler than the immediate pool deck and there is some shade provided by sails strung above. We read for a while. Then an army of workmen arrived. There were two electricians trundling a massive black toolkit, who looked to know exactly what they were doing and who were left alone to get on with it. Other men carried the wooden loungers round from the pool deck and stacked them in pairs to make a Heath Robinson counter running along the side of the building. The manager came out and nailed together a much more rickety makeshift table on which a group of women then stacked crockery to Disneyesque heights. At the gate behind us a different pair of men were unloading a lorry full of metal sofa frames, which they began to stack two by two neatly along the line of the hedge.

We went for a second swim. The electricians had fitted spotlights on stands around the pool, the white glare of their lights dissipating in the sunshine. The young people had been relocated further along the pool so their loungers could be removed and were in the process of being served a pail with bottles of chilled fizz by the smiling waiter. The guy with the paperback had not moved and was still reclined with his book. The usual business of the pool of extended families taking turns to sleep and glamorous young mums chatting was proceeding unperturbed by all the activity. A gang of tiny children sporting bright armbands, some also hanging onto rubber rings about their middles, were jumping into the deep end and wiggling erratically like a cloud of butterflies down to the shallow end. They reached it en mass and wriggled out onto the pool side, water dripping from small brown limbs leapt to their feet and sprayed droplets into the air as they dashed back in front of the big screen along the ranks of sunbeds to jump in the deep end again. A bald man was powering down the middle taking no prisoners with his front crawl. Then three of the young men, plastic glasses aloft started throwing a rubber dart shaped ball about. It was more hectic than out on the grass with the workmen. We swam up and down a few times to cool off and then went back to our loungers. Just as well we did, for any unoccupied ones were being rolled away and stacked at the far side of the grass. The pair unloading sofas had nearly reached the gate with their neat line. As they headed off for another frame a man came, picked up the one that had just been set down and carried it off to set out on the cleared grass. On arrival with the next frame the sofa men paused and looked around for the one they had just unloaded. When they realised what had happened they looked at one another and promptly dumped the one they were carrying where they stood before heading back for another. We were becoming an island in a foment of uncoordinated activity and decided to call it a day.


We ate on board that evening and expected to hear noise from the party, but all was quiet until the loud bangs of the fireworks after we had turned in for the night. John said they were spectacular, but by the time I had found my glasses and wormed my way up the companionway past where he was stood blocking the hatch, they had finished. One of these nights I will see an amazing display of fireworks.










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Smoke in the Night

Early this morning before first light I smelled smoke and was immediately wide awake. I got up and stuck my head out of the hatch. All was clear. I reminded myself how sensitive the human nose is and went back to bed. I could not go back to sleep. John woke up and smelled smoke. I told him I had been out to check and all was clear. He went to check himself. All was still well, but John could not settle and went to sit in the Captain’s chair and read his I-pad. At which point with him worrying about it, I went straight to sleep.


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Back in Naples

It is now July, we are back in Naples and it is literally burning.

John, Lara and I had returned home at the beginning of June and spent the month at home for the first time in years. The roses were glorious and there were so many other aspects of the early summer garden we had either forgotten about or had burgeoned beyond our recognition. The vegetable garden was in full sway, Emma and Johnsey having worked really hard, and we were able to savour new potatoes, radishes and the first of the bean crops. Our time at home was blessed with some lovely weather, though we still moved the chairs round to sit in the sun, rather than seeking the shade. The English sun being rarer and less fierce than the Italian version.

That said, we left a cloudy England, our aircraft climbing through turbulent thunderclouds. The descent into Naples was even more bumpy, but on landing we emerged into thirty degrees of heat. Thankfully the taxi was air-conditioned and the smoothest transfer we have had yet. On our way through the outskirts of Naples we noticed several bonfires strung out along the slopes of Vesuvius, the rising smoke an ominous reminder of the volcano’s presence. Back on the boat we had a more mundane reminder in the shape of a layer of red dust coating everything, including the cockpit as the cover and spray hood were missing. This absence was expected but still strange to see, Lyra looking rather bald without her red hood. Just resting the bags on the deck covered them in dust, so we took everything carefully below and John hosed all the surfaces down before we opened the hatches. That night we watched yellow sea planes swoop low over Castellammare to scoop water from the sea, which they flew off into the mountains with to fight wildfires.

Our missing spray-hood is a result of a triumph. We have finally found someone to replace it and the cockpit cover. We have tried to do this over each winter since we started out, men have come and quoted, some have even measured up, but then nothing happens. It was the same when we asked at the boatyard if we could arrange to have canvass work done overwinter here. Then, before we set off on our travels with Lara our need for a new cover came up in a chance conversation with a couple on the marina. They had managed to have the boatyard arrange for similar work on their boat and described the location of the upholstery shop in Castellammare that had actually carried out the work. Unfortunately we had then both set sail and all John and I were left with was a rough description of the shop being on the right on the road into town, near the centre. The morning after arriving back from Sorrento, leaving Lara asleep, John and I set off to walk the road into town, as we could think of no other way to find the shop. It was a long hot walk, but nowhere near as far as we thought, having covered the route in the shuttle bus, because the traffic can make the bus creep along slower than walking pace. Just as we were running out of steam we found the shop, a tiny place full of fabric catalogues with a couple of heavy duty sewing machines. The young man in the shop spoke no English, but had a very smart phone. We had to all stand out in the street for him to pick up a signal and then took turns to speak into the phone in our own language for it to translate. The upshot was that he would come out the next day at ten to see what we wanted; we should let the marina know so they would let him in. We celebrated with cappuccinos on the sea front, although we had been at this stage before and then walked back. John said it had been worthwhile to realise the town was in walking distance and we had found a lovely supermarket next to the coffee shop. Next day we entered new territory when our hero arrived bang on time. This was even more impressive when we realised later that the day was a public holiday. John had spent some time on Google translate and had a few pertinent sentences in Italian at the ready, but in the event the young man brought along a friend who spoke English. Together we all surveyed our existing spray hood, which looked much shabbier under such scrutiny. There were the bits we had painstakingly mended, first with a spidery looking running stitch and then with the chunkier lockstitch of the awl. There were the slits in the clear plastic, where the rope had lashed it, cunningly bodged with strips of black electricians tape. There were a few places in the process of unravelling, with pieces of twine dangling tempting fate. Yes they could replace the cover and do the plastic window and fit new fixings. They could do this in the month we were to be away. John asked how much and our man phoned his Dad. The quote was good. We all shook hands, exchanged contact details and arranged to call into the shop with a deposit. The next time we heard from them was as we were waiting for our luggage to come out on the belt at Naples airport. The covers were ready, could we go into the shop and arrange for them to come and fit them?

Day 2 back in Italy we trundled the shopping trolley into town, called at the upholstery shop and were shown three shrink-wrapped packages of red canvass work. The boss was there with a carefully rehearsed English speech, they could come fit the covers tomorrow, first thing, then we should pay. More hand shaking and we were out on the street again. We went round the supermarket, where everyone is also really friendly and look to be related, and then we stopped off at the café for two cappuccinos and they brought us complimentary biscuits. All in all a good start.

Back on Lyra we unloaded and then headed off to the pool. Vesuvius had disappeared in an opaque fog, smoke from the various fires we had seen the day before, which were now running rampant along the foothills of the volcano. That night we watched the yellow planes ply to and fro again, but this time they were dumping water on the mountain in front of us.

Day 3 and we were up and ready early. Father and son arrived, with a third hitherto unseen young man. They were all very crisply dressed in immaculate shorts and new T-shirts. They were a couple of hours fitting the spray hood and cover, which looks great. I wish they could refurbish me. We paid the balance and thanked them. After the long wait it was hard to believe it had been so straightforward. We just have the Bimini to sort out now.

On the fire front three planes have been plying to and fro all day. A change in the wind has lifted the smoke so that a massive dirty yellow plume is rising from Vesuvius and sprawling across to Pompeii, in much the same way that the pyroclastic flow must have done in the Roman eruption. We can now see ribbons of bright orange flame breaking out along a wide stretch of the foothills, above where the massed houses are, but not far above. It is a long way from here and we continue swimming in the pool and reading our books, but I looking at the range of the windswept smoke I wonder if people in Pompeii carried on with their day to day events sorry for the poor folk at Herculanium, so near the erupting volcano, but feeling safe at their own distance from the event.

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Goodbye to Sorrento

Early this morning John and I returned to the supermarket near our restaurant for some supplies. As we came back to the lift we stole another look into the cloister garden, it being too early for a wedding. I realised the photography exhibition we had been trying to track down was on the second story of the cloister, so maybe we can come back before it finishes. It is only a few miles between Sorrento and our base in Stabia. Today we intended to make the most of the wind and sail back, so set off early to allow for the zigzag course we would need to take. It was a splendid sail, enough wind to reach eight knots at one point, but never so much as to feel uncomfortable. If you can keep out of the tracks of the ferries and the Bay of Naples is a glorious sailing area.

The marina basin at Stabia seemed huge after our run of increasingly small harbours. It took a moment to recognise our pontoon and we crept along, looking anxiously to see if anyone had been put in our berth. The ropes we had left tied on had acted as a deterrent and all was clear. Alongside berthing without assistance is always a worrying prospect for me, but luckily Lara is here. Lara is coolly confident; she refers to herself and I as ‘the dream team’, though I feel I am more the stuff of nightmares. Anyway it went really well, Lara stepped off first with two ropes, bow and middle, and stopped us with the front cleat, giving me the easy task of stepping off a stationary boat to attach the stern-line. And low and behold the shore power is working. We allowed ourselves a celebratory beer over lunch at The Captain’s Bar.

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Sorrento by Day

This morning we headed for the lift once more. This time the drains smell was unadulterated. Once up in the lift we headed over to look down at rock edged rectangles of the Lido far below. From here it looked idyllic, arrays of sunbeds and people swimming and floating about on airbeds. We retired to one of the cafes looking out over the Bay and sipped cappuccinos to the accompaniment of the O Solo Mio on the accordion. Lara is counting how many times we hear it today and so far is up to three, including the lift music on our way up.

Our first stop was to visit the church, imposingly high, filled with the standard painted and plaster saints. Lara and I went down into the lower chapel, which housed arrays of small silver plaques cast in the shape of people, infants and, rather oddly, legs from below the knee. They were presented on the walls around the alter behind glass panels, like a display of medals. Some of the figures wore classic draperies and others fifties style clothing. We assumed they were memorials, chosen from prototypes fashionable at one time or other. We rejoined John and went outside to look in the cloister. It was a lovely peaceful space, but a wedding was in progress, so we did not linger. Outside the church a small white horse and carriage stood waiting in the shade to spirit the happy couple away. Already guests of the next wedding were arriving in a large open topped car, which was not allowed to wait, so the driver roared off down the street after dropping them off. Next we retraced our steps of last night and explored the old town with Lara fearlessly photographing the goods on display. Stopped in our tracks by a waterfall of molten chocolate in one window we went in and were given samples of delicious sweets and tiny biscuits with soft centers. We bought some traditional limonchella sweets and a box of mixed biscuits as they reminded me of the ones we had at Aigues Morte last year. Lara fancied some cherries, but we decided they were best bought on our way back.

We emerged from the old town near the cliffs on the way down to the old harbour. None of us could face the trek down to explore further, so we sat on a form in the shade. The wedding pony and trap arrived and did a natty reverse park, which caused the driver to praise his little steed and blow kisses. The horse put his best foot forward and bow. Neither of them could see us watching from above. Just as they were settled the tourist train came by and the horse and carriage had to pull forward to let the train turn. Next on the scene were the bride and groom, trailing their photographer, who had a great time capturing the veil billowing about in front of the view. The photo shoot ended with the couple in the carriage, stowing such yards of lace and veil there was little room for the groom. They set off at a trot with the photographer jogging alongside. We sat a moment longer and then went for a walk along the front. We called back for Lara’s cherries and I think the shop man remembered her and was all smiles that she had returned. On our way back to the lift we passed a roof top restaurant away from all the crowds and so had a light lunch amongst the bougainvilleas.

We were having a post lunch siesta on Lyra, when the sound of a brass band caused me to sit up from where I was lounging in the cockpit and look around. Sure enough a uniformed band of young people were marching along the dock from the ferry. They carried banners and were accompanied by smartly dressed adults, naval officers in whites and a handful of nuns. I called to John and Lara, who were resting below. John came up the companionway stairs and Lara popped up from her hatch and we watched them march up the steps and head into town, waved on by a clown on stilts. A second band from Pompeii brought up the rear with more banners and supporters. They all trouped back about an hour later, when they had gained a group of cheerleaders with glittering pom-poms, but had lost the nuns. They marched back onto the ferry like children following the Pied Piper.

Do not think our lunch out stopped us returning to the garden restaurant for another evening of their glorious food. This time we had reserved a table over the phone, but were pleased to be given the same table and the same waiter, who seemed happy to see us too. This time our table was adorned with an arrangement of coral roses; they put out flowers to denote the reserved tables, a clever strategy in such a large space, but how on earth did they know we were us? This time I had lamb chops and fabulous mushrooms, but was sure to leave room for desert and managed a pear and ricotta baked cheesecake with some of Lara’s strawberries. Heaven.

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