The weather for the next couple of days is forecast to be good, there is still the washing to do, but we are not yet in extremis, so set out for Pompeii. We visited two years ago on with Lara and Katie on Lara’s birthday in September and were amazed by the scale of it. That and the heat proved very difficult for John because of the pain from his knee. Heroically he managed to cover much of the site, but was not fully able to enjoy the experience, so we have been meaning to go back and the cooler spring weather was an opportunity to do so. We walked into town and at the station discovered that the cable car was operating again. The washing may have to wait another day too!

The train journey to Pompeii is relatively short, some of it backtracking the distance we walked from the Marina to Castellemarra. The train station at Pompeii is just across the road from the entrance, where the queue for tickets was already on its’ third loop. We threaded our way round, bought our tickets and then headed into a nearby room to collect our free map and guide. Armed with these we joined the throng going through the turnstiles and clambering up the boulders-like cobbles threading up through the ancient town walls. The site was much less dusty in spring, the grass lush and littered with yellow wildflowers and washes of poppies.

It was easy to picture the piazza of the forum in its heyday, the public buildings giving way to a gallery of small shops, the people milling about as tourists do now and one side dominated by the towering presence of the volcano. It is less easy to imagine the houses in the streets moving away from the forum. The guidebook speaks of some houses occupying a whole block, but which spaces were interiors and which courtyards and how to distinguish the many rooms of these vast houses from those of smaller dwellings side by side along the street? The guide book is organised into districts and the houses very comprehensively labelled, which is just as well as we often thought we were in one district only to find we were either in a completely different area or on the cusp between two. We ran into difficulties when the number and title of a house in the book was not to be found at all and were lucky to identify some places from photographs. The courtyard of the House of the Faun, named for a statue found inside turned out to be the house of a small boy wrestling a very large fish, prototype for many a fountain. The Faun turned up later when we were not expecting him and there were figures of a world war two soldier and a Pokemon we had not anticipated at all. Perhaps they move around of an evening. The guidebook gave no indication why the owner of the House of the Tragic Poet was any more tragic than his neighbours, the butcher, baker or publican. Certainly his Beware of the Dog mosaic doormat suggested an individual with a reasonable sense of humour. Before heading further into the site we stopped for a toasted wrap sitting on the steps of the café.

After lunch we set out along one of the long streets bridged by stepping-stones, set high so that Roman pedestrians could cross the road above the filth running along the streets. On the main thoroughfares mesh infills fitted between the stones allowed for wheelchair access, an innovation since our previous visit. There were other changes marking progress. Some of the villas we had been able to go into last time were closed by locked metal gates, but other areas that had been barricaded by rusting metal girders had been made safe and opened up. The afternoon was hot, the dodging the crowds by climbing up and down the high pavement edges beginning to take their toll. The road we were following was blocked by metal fence panels, so we backtracked and were caught by the allure of trees and a green space down a side street. A garden had been planted in one of the courtyards, a box parterre containing oleander trees and roses; probably not strictly Roman, but it gave a sense of a home. The green space was welcome after the parade of streets and walls. This was an area we had missed on our last visit. We continued down hill and turned into a small amphitheatre, where a choir of French schoolchildren were being coaxed into a performance of The Lion Sleeps Tonight by a rather glamorous music teacher. She stood at the front conducting and singing along in the manner of all music teachers, while her colleague filmed them on a mobile phone. The rest of the class sat on the terraces trying to look unconnected with it all. After a faltering start, held together by the determined voice of the teacher, they began to enjoy the acoustics and ended a strong second chorus with a deep thrum of Wimberways, before the teacher, bringing her forefingers and thumbs together, drew a line in the air that brought them to a resonant silence, to be broken by applause from the bystanders. After this welcome pause we carried on through the theatre complex to a cloistered area and then on to the large amphitheatre, where we had a seat in the stalls and consulted our book. According to our guide this was one of the first areas to be excavated. Amphitheatres are probably very satisfying structures to unearth, I can well remember the excitement of exposing the buried steps on Cleethorpe’s sea front as a child. It struck me that huge as the city of Pompeii seems, because it is the most complete Roman complex to which we now have access, it must have been a small town compared to some of the sites of really huge amphitheatres, such as the one we explored at Cartagena. We climbed up the steps and were rewarded by views across to the sea from the top, but there was no way out, so we retraced our steps down and headed for the exit.

We had not managed to find our way to the abandoned section with the exit we used last time, with the vast dogs, but I could not face the glass rooms in which where lay the cocoon-like plaster casts, capturing the last moments of poor souls entombed in the ash. Having reached saturation point we headed back to the main entrance, bypassing the museum and gift shop and headed for our train back. It was a long weary walk back from the station, but much less stressful than the dubious taxi journey of our previous visit.


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We woke early thanks to the alarm and were thankful for the blue skies and sunshine that greeted us. The fabric shop man arrived promptly at nine swaddled in his duvet jacket with a small bag of fabric samples and a measure. He regarded our Bimini, with horror. It looked decidedly shabby, not helped by our makeshift alterations. We assured him it was not his work and showed him why the fabric shape needed to be changed so we could sail with the Bimini up and still operate the manual winch. We smiled encouragingly. He took out his phone, which was equipped with a voice translator and we had a fun time to and fro with it, checking parameters. He sat on the edge of the stern, gesturing for John to join him. After counting the zips and making a couple of measurements he matched the fabric and calculated a price, which John agreed to. Looking rather solemn our man asked us to be there when he came to make a fitting a week before the job would be complete, on 8th June. We agreed and shook hands on it and paid a deposit in cash. He gave a firm nod, packed his bag and set off back along the pontoon with a firm step. One down, two to go! We sat out in the cockpit at the ready with our books.

Ten minutes or so later a man came up to us on the pontoon, and diffidently said hello. He was from the engine servicers. We stood and asked him to come on board. He shook his head, “I just wanted to let you know I am here. I must wait for the engineer” with that he smiled sadly and wandered back along the pontoon. We sat back down and waited on. At around ten the man returned with said engineer, who was rather more brisk. He shook hands and asked if we had run the engine. No. Five minutes would help warm everything up. John started up the engine. The engineer came onboard and went below. The first chap stayed on the pontoon and smiled apologetically. John then went below and gave his tour of the engine access points, but the engineer seemed more than cognisant about our set up. He spoke English fluently and asked very pertinent questions. John seized the opportunity to query him regarding our recurrent problems with the starter motor catching fire and he was completely unfazed and thought the problem to do with a relay switch, he would check after the engine service. Then the first man began to ferry equipment on board, which we passed in a chain down to the engineer, before the man himself finally came aboard and disappeared below. They removed the companionway stairs and lay paper on the floor prior to embarking on the most thorough engine service we have yet witnessed. It took some time. We read. During the time John received a phone call from the life raft people asking if there would be anyone on hand to help carry the life raft to the van. John said yes, went for a trolley, hoisted the raft onto it in readiness and pushed it onto the main thoroughfare out of our way. We read on, occasionally John was asked to start the engine again. Time passed slowly, with just the murmur of quiet voices from below.

A rather distinguished looking man came along the main pontoon, hands in the pockets of his casual jacket. He had a reticent air, but wandered onto our spur, giving Lyra the once over. After a whispered consultation John offered him our life raft to service. “No, no, I am just looking at the boats – this is a very nice boat.” “Thank you”. We sat back down. When the man for the life raft did arrive he was a very big lad in a grubby grey T-shirt, who looked more than capable of hefting the life raft onto one shoulder and carrying it away. He seemed grateful for the trolley and even more pleased when we told him he could leave it back at the entrance. We could not give him the existing certificate as it was down below behind two men and various bits of engine, but he just shrugged and set off pushing the trolley. I suggested we e-mail a photo of the certificate when we could access it.

Finally the stairs went back in and the non-engineer began carefully carrying tubs of used engine oil and pieces of equipment away. The engineer asked for the engine on again. “Can you hear it?” No, the engine sounded good to us. “It is saying ‘Thank you’, that is the sound of a happy engine!” We smiled and nodded. John asked him about the relay, but we had jumped the gun, the engineer had not finished yet, he needed to check the impeller; we could turn the engine off again. More time passed. Then he looked at the relay. He had John turn the ignition to the first position. He asked if we had a cable tie. Now had he asked for another impeller we could have offered him a choice of about a dozen, having a spare John had bought and inheriting a collection from Alan, but there was not a cable tie to be found on board. Undeterred the engineer said he would call back, when he next came on the pontoon, he showed John the casing of the relay in question. Around it had been wrapped a cable tie, which was loose. If he pressed on the casing so a better connection was made as evidenced by the engine fans coming on. He thought this dodgy connection was the source of our problems and his solution was simply to replace this loose cable tie with a tighter one. After that he shook hands with both of us and left, so his companion could do his bit, which was to take payment. They took cards on a mobile machine. And so by 1.30 we were done with visitors for the day and on the job list there was only the nav. lights to check, which John did later that night, pacing about on deck and calling them out as I switched them on and off from below.





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Making a Start

Remembering the cold miserable April weather of previous years, we delayed our departure for Italy till May, to be met by blue skies and sunshine, the roadside verges livid with fluttering poppies. Lyra was not coated in red dust either. We dumped our cases, donned our shorts and headed for the bar. A brace of special Peronis, two paper plates of today’s fresh pasta (tubes filled with aubergine and mozzarella in rich tomato sauce “bakked in the ofen”) followed by glossy espressos. “This is the life!” Then came a suitably lazy afternoon and beans on toast with Henderson’s relish for tea, courtesy of the Mustard Bus supplies from last year.

Day two, Friday, and “the party is over”. The weather started much colder and I started with a cold. My throat ached and I had no energy. John said he felt the same. We needed supplies, so opted for the short walk to the little shop with our trolley. The ladies there were welcoming as ever and we came back fully loaded. John seemed fully recovered and announced plans to give the decks a first going over after lunch. I felt drained. We lunched on bread, ham and tomatoes, followed by black coffee, and then I retired below for an Uncle David power nap. (Drink strong black coffee; set your alarm for half an hour and go to sleep before the caffeine kicks in. When the alarm sounds you wake raring to go). Needless to say I set no alarm, but when I woke I did feel much better and set about cleaning the inside, starting from the stern. The low temperatures made my task much easier, as being sealed in below decks as John sloshes water about can be oppressive in the heat. At the end of the day we both felt we had made good progress. Then John wrote his usual to do list of jobs. I could see jobs drifting away into the future like a Star Wars intro, and began to feel tired again.

Saturday and the rain began, heavy downpours interspersed by drizzle. I felt much better, but the long walk into town would have been asking for a soaking, so we nipped back to the local shop at the first weather window and now have enough to tide us over the weekend. Afterwards I again felt really drained and had a lie down, while John soldiered on with his list.

Sunday, declared a day of rest, with no chores. Not that I haven’t been doing plenty of resting anyway. The skies were less threatening, but it was cold and very windy. We wore raincoats on our walk to the bar and opted to sit inside on arrival. Everyone else was doing likewise. The Italian faces around us are beginning to look familiar, though we seldom see anyone from our pontoon in there. Two fresh pasta choices on a Sunday, John had courgette linguini and I had thicker scialatielli in an aubergine and tomato sauce, which John had to help me out with. We toddled back to Lyra full as ducks under towering black skies and sat below listening to the storm come in, roaring wind building a percussion of ropes on masts and groaning fenders to fever pitch. It went on all night. We slept badly and woke up feeling tired. I woke a fully-grown snot monster, constantly sneezing and blowing my nose, in no fit state to show myself in public, let alone walk into town to the supermarket. John sent off e-mails chasing the life raft service company and requesting an engine service and then heroically set about changing the toilet pump. He is becoming a bit morose about the lack of progress and the miserable weather. I don’t expect the sight of me is helping.

Tuesday, and I am much more presentable and feel relatively lively. We went up to the bar for croissants and coffee and bought washing tokens from the office. After picking up the red trolley we took the long walk into town and called at the upholstery shop, Tappezzeria d’Arte, en route to the supermarket. They are the people who made us the new cockpit cover two years ago and we are hoping they will be able to sort out our sorry Bimini at along last. The owner and his wife were stood together as we entered. After a halting start they remembered us and their smiles broke out. Another woman arrived behind us and was treated to a torrent of Italian, about us having a ”barque”, that we had placed an order “doue Anno” ago and here we were happily back, or so we surmised from the gestures. Our proficiency in Italian has not improved at all in the interim, but we had prepped a photograph of the Bimini on John’s phone to show them. With a bit of pointing at the calendar the owner arranged to come over to measure at nine tomorrow morning, so we left the shop much encouraged with all three staff wishing us good day. The supermarket was quite peaceful and we were soon plodding back with a full load, which we plundered for lunch. During the afternoon we washed the cockpit cover and put up the Bimini ready for morning. First John had a phone call from the engine people, who are also going to come at nine tomorrow and then came a call from the life raft servicers, who will send someone to collect tomorrow, which promises to be a rather busy day.

Early this evening there were fireworks in spite of the rain and a glorious rainbow over the derelict steelworks coming to earth in Castellemare.


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Favourite Haunts Revisited

We have been here in Casamicciola for three days now and have managed to visit most of our favourite places, frequented the usual shops, bars and restaurants and found a few new ones.

We made sure to visit the garden, La Mortella on Tuesday, when it is open. As usual we took lots of photographs as there are always beautiful new flowers to record and the place itself is always compelling. At this time of year the tropical plants are in full spate, some of the pathways are submerged in jungle and there are flowers that defy belief. What we took as empty pots of sand and water in spring are lush with what look like a cross between a water-lily and a nasturtium. In the ponds the tropical water lilies are in full flower, each vibrant colour and waxy form more enticing than the last. We had recently seen many lilies in the glasshouse at Kew; here they are flourishing outside, despite the fountains and waterfalls. Even specimens of the giant lily have been moved out of the glasshouse here to take their chances in the crocodile pool. The hibiscuses are in full bloom and all the pathways are lined with fragrant jasmine, honeysuckle and what looked like a deep purple wisteria. The garden was busy with tour groups, but we managed to find a quiet table in the tea rooms for a cuppa.

On day two we visited the Castella, taking a taxi there so we had the energy to explore the steep passages of the citadel. On our arrival in the square at the foot of the causeway we were greeted by a lorry full of the tall filigree metal archways of electric lights used in the festival at Lacco Ameno. The archways were being set up along the causeway, so a festival must be afoot. We wandered out to the base of the citadel, paid our entrance fee and began to explore, winding up the steep cobbled streets. There is an elevator to the top, but there was a long queue for it in a dank tunnel, so we decided to walk. It is like St Michael’s Mount or the old town in Ibiza, but without obvious residents. The cobbled streets are punctuated by museums and churches, some partial ruins others well maintained, giving the weary pilgrim a chance to pause for breath. Indeed the views from the various terraces and balconies are spectacular. There was a gallery of modern art and a café with views across the Bay. By the time we came out we were both rather hot and weary, but glad we had made the effort. We walked back into town along the sea front and could not resist a pizza restaurant in a glasshouse with tables outside under bright umbrellas. I had a classic Neapolitan pizza and John chose pepperoni, both had thin crusts with puffy charred edges, oozing molten cheese, not the food of supermodels me thinks. After lunch we wended our way down the main shopping street into town and caught a taxi back to the boat.

Today we woke to the sound of heavy rain drumming on the deck above and thunder rolling round the hills. Time to catch up with the blog. It is due to clear up this afternoon, if so we will go for a walk along the sea front to Lacco Amino.







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Brava Capitano, Brava!

In order to avoid arriving in Cassamicciolla during the luncheon void, we had quite a leisurely start to the day and then puttered across the windless bay under engine. At first the log was not working, which annoyed John as he had spent some time the previous afternoon evicting small crustaceans from the paddle wheel till it ran freely. This problem sorted itself out, though the engine hours refused to make an appearance and then the rev counter went blank. A couple of hours in and the wind vane pirouetted wildly before settling down to show wind direction the stern, the exact opposite of observation. The wind speed was also reusing to admit to more than a slight breeze, even though we could feel it building. John went below and clicked things, coming to the conclusion there was a persistent malfunction of some kind in the instruments, but nothing to worry about. Not to be outdone the steering wheel had developed a distinct wobble, though fortunately the autopilot was still performing admirably. Still it was better than an engine fire and we continued boldly. We crossed paths with two of the ferries and saw a large silver tuna flipping over in the water astern. As we came into the channel between the islands we were busy watching the progress of a small yacht on our starboard bow, when I spotted a large school of small grey dolphins busy fishing alongside us. This is always a thrill, though when we looked back at the yacht he was heading straight at us, also dolphin watching. Fortunately the dolphins span off to where he had come from and he turned again to follow them away. John tested the steering and said he thought the wheel was ok. I asked as to the location of the emergency tiller and was not thrilled by John’s rather vague response. We sat keeping our thoughts to ourselves, I was imagining being lowered into the large aft locker to ferret about for the tiller, whilst John made secret plans to bring us in on the autopilot if need be. As we came up to the harbour mouth two ribs came racing out towards us and we wondered if competition for yachts between the local ormeggiatori had reached fever pitch, but they sped on by, so John radioed in and we lingered slowly turning in the harbour as usual. The main man came out and indicated a narrow space between two yachts. He had a colleague in a rib standing by to nudge us, should the need arise. I held my breath and stood firm on the windward line, but John made a textbook docking, so much so that our host said “Brava Capitano, Brava”, telling us it was a pleasure to welcome us back.

Once we had stopped John managed to reset the wheel with surprising ease, but we have yet to solve the problems with the electronics.

It is a great pleasure to be here, relaxing into the holiday feeling. There is something very satisfying about sitting on a boat at night, looking out over the lights of the town and hearing the traffic noise at a distance, being at the same time part of it all, but other.







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September Song

We arrived back in Italy on Saturday in time for a late lunch. It is hot and sunny here, just as home was beginning to feel quite autumnal. Still it has been a splendid summer to have spent at home and we have happily bothered John the gardener making changes to our plot.

On our arrival Lyra looked remarkably clean, no sign of the usual dust from forest fires during summer or red Saharan rain. We unzipped the cockpit cover and were met by a wave of hot, stale air, so the first job was to take the cover off and put the bimini up instead. It was cooler inside the boat, as a good part of the interior sits below the water line. We tossed in our bags, opened the hatches and headed for the bar. The barman shook John by the hand and welcomed us back. Cold beer, cold wine and pasta stuffed with aubergine followed by great coffee. We toddled back along the harbour and the Captain made the unprecedented decision that we could leave the chores till the following day. Naturally the shore power had stopped working, but John plugged into another supply and we set the fans going and fired up the fridges. Not that we have much to put in them, but John has checked Google and the supermarket is open Sunday morning. Scratch supper of tinned and dried goods tonight, but we won’t want much after such a big lunch.

We went back to the bar for breakfast today on our way into town to stock up at the supermarket with our trusty red trolley. Castellemara is looking rather smart these days, the trees on the road into town are a reasonable size now and the acacias were flowering pink and white. The railway line has been cleared of litter and there are some smart new planters with various cactus plants set at intervals. The sea front now has a wide modern promenade and the Edwardian bandstand is fully restored. Apparently the cable car has also started running again, but unfortunately yesterday was the last day of the season. After filling our trolley we walked back along the cycle path and so had done over twelve thousand steps before elevenses. By a stroke of good fortune the electrician was on the pontoon as we arrived back and he has shown John how to reset the fuses when they trip out. The shore power is under our control. Then came the usual deck swabbing and cabin cleaning. Caprese salad assembled from our newly acquired perishables for lunch and then on to engine and radio checks. Broadsword came through to Dannyboy, so if the nav lights are working when it goes dark tonight we will have completed the usual weeks build up in one day and are off to Ischia in the morning.




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An Abrupt End of Play

This part of the year’s voyaging has been brought to an unexpectedly sudden close, when John’s tooth had an unsuccessful altercation with a roast peanut, one of the beer snacks given away by the bars here. Obviously there is no more terrifying prospect than a close encounter with a strange dentist, so we have booked flights and are off back to Blighty. Fortunately the tooth is not hurting – yet – so we have been able to enjoy a couple more days in Ischia.

Yesterday we made a much more thorough exploration of the old town and made our way as far as the castle on the peninsula we pass on our approach up the channel. It took a while and we were hot and tired by the time we reached it and there was a ticket booth at the base, so we decided to leave exploring its’ steep alleyways for another day. On the way we passed a small white dog asleep in a shop doorway, which was so like Scamp we did a double take. Scamp himself is nearly home after adventures with French police and customs on the Mustard Bus. We had lunch in the restaurant overlooking the harbour entrance, sharing the lemon pasta to start and then sharing an amazing mixed fish special. That evening we are too full to even contemplate starting on our contraband supply of baked beans brought over by Johnsey in the bus.

Today the garden was open and as we had been unable to go with the girls and Johnsey as we volunteered to look after Scamp, we set off eagerly. La Mortella did not disappoint us, so many different flowers to see as well as the lovely structure. We did see a small sausage dog that must have made it past the gate in a backpack. Probably just as well we didn’t try to smuggle Scamp in he would have been bound to draw attention to himself chasing the garden cat.

Tomorrow we are bound back to base and thence to the enchantment of East Midlands airport and home. By the time John’s tooth is sorted the football will be due to start so that’s the end of sailing till September.


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