Sailing in Italy – disappointing Calabria

Calabria – bad weather, long sailing days

First things first: thank you very much for all the birthday greetings, it was a pleasure. As was the delicious pistachio cake that Ka made. The day, which was also unavoidable this year, we spent in Roccella Ionica. Sounds almost as promising as St Tropez, but it’s not. But let me start at the beginning.


Scylla and Charybdis

We left the Aeolian Islands and Sicily with the village Scilla as our destination. The plan was to have a look for the village on the Calabrian mainland, spend the night there and wait for the right window for the Strait of Messina close by. In Homer’s Odysseus legend, the hero crosses the strait between Scylla and Charybdis, a monster and a devouring whirlpool. This is where the English idiom for being caught between two evils still comes from today. At the wrong time, the current is coming towards you at up to 5 knots, and if the wind is also against you, it will be difficult to make any progress. So the wise sailor plans ahead (as always).

Our friends Sandra and Tom recommended an app that told us all the currents and times exactly, much more precisely than Navionics & Co. This gave us perfect information for planning.

Strait of Messina

After almost 40 nm coming from Lipari, we arrived at the entrance at about 1.30 pm. The wind was OK at 14 knots and the current was moving in the right direction (southbound) at 3 knots. The following day we could have set off not before 1 p.m. and then had to challenge 28 knots of wind upwind. Excellent reasons to spontaneously change the plan and cancel the stop in Scilla. We made our obligatory radio call to Messina Control and turned into the Strait of Messina.

Journey through the Stait of Messina

Indeed, we sailed through wild waters and some whirlpools, but at 8 knots unmolested in the right direction. Just a bit of slalom between freighters, yachts and the countless ferries that connect the Calabrian mainland with Sicily. The fact that there is no bridge between Italy and Sicily is a really funny.

Not easy to see whirlpool in the middle of the water

The Strait of Messina is challenging for a stretch of about 5-6 miles. Then, at the level of the city of Messina, it widens and the current subsides. We had caught a very grey day and could not see much of the mountains on either side. At the southern end of the Strait, we wanted to spend the night after 55 nm of daily work. Anchoring is very difficult because the Messina Strait is very deep and quickly drops over 100 m at the shoreline. Knowing the difficult conditions and the lack of protection from wind and waves, we had reserved a buoy at the southern end in Cannale at the village of Bolaro. It was fixed at a depth of 57 m.

We couldn’t see Etna on the Sicilian side because of the bad weather. But we were more unusually entertained. Even as we moored at the buoy, we smelled a strange smoky-sweet scent. A forest fire. And to confirm it, a fire-fighting plane pulled into the water right next to us and filled its tanks. The filling was repeated about 10 times until the night put an end to it. It was the first of many fires on our way around Calabria.

Firefighting aircraft

After the long and tiring day, Bolaro did not look inviting enough to us for a shore visit.

Spooky sailing

Continuing our way around the boot, our plan was to anchor behind Cap Spartivento at Africo Nuovo. There were some promising anchorages and the wind was also forecast to be moderate.

Well, nothing was as expected. The wind was absurd and so was the sea. We felt like we were in a science fiction with a dystopian doomsday atmosphere. Within seconds, a warm wind of 25 knots from the south swung to a cold breeze of 5 knots from the north. Only to be cooped up again from the south minutes later. The sea was reefy and neither current nor wave remained constant for several minutes. We wouldn’t have been surprised if another giant squid had appeared. It was simply spooky. Later we met sailors who had the same experience on different days.

We didn’t see a single vessel anchored along the entire coast. This Calabrian coast is simply not a good sailing area – at least at this time of year. The sailors who have to pass through here do so in long strokes – just through.

Small ray of hope Roccella Ionica

Without a safe anchorage, we went to plan B – or C. We contacted the only marina far and wide, Roccella Ionica, 20 nm away. We were already on course at speed to arrive in daylight and then we got the green light for a free slip. The super-friendly crew welcomed us and took good care of us. Alessandra recommended the La Cascina 1899 restaurant for my birthday dinner. It turned out to be a great evening. We were very thankful that we could wait out the scary weather in the marina of Roccella.

The village of Roccella is 3 km away from the marina. We got on our bikes and found a village of the most basic Italy, which has nothing at all to do with the widespread romantic image of Italy or dolce vita. Tourists certainly don’t stray into this place. Everything is very simple, but people are incredibly friendly. The petrol station attendant fixed my flat tyre for 10 € including the inner tube. Everything here feels like it has fallen out of time. A translation app is highly recommended, because no one in the village spoke anything other than Italian.

Depressing refugee fate

At the side of the marina we discovered 14 rotting vessels, 12 sailing yachts and 2 freighters. Confiscated former smuggling vessels. The belongings of the refugees are still lying on deck and it stinks badly. Right next to the marina is a small refugee camp, guarded by policemen.

rotten refugee smuggler vessels

In Roccella you can experience how dramatically the clash of cultures. The fishermen complain that the refugee boats leave mountains of rubbish in the sea – and fishermen are no saints themselves. In fact, the sea is very littered. So is the refugee camp. The hopes and expectations of the refugees meet the panic and overload of the Europeans and this then makes for a fascist government. We spoke to Tunisians who feel very badly treated but dream of a future in Europe. Probably without a chance. A dramatic loose-loose situation with no prospect of a solution. Another experience of our trip.

Fast onward journey

In the absence of interesting destinations in Calabria, we decided to increase our distances and excelerate, whenever the weather allows. On Monday we took advantage of a small weather window. We set off early to cover 65 nm along the bottom of the boot. No sooner had we got the lines on board than Ka struck down with a witch’s foot. With severe pain in her back, the strongest swell was then exactly what she didn’t need. She struggled through the long day.

Crotone was our last destination, on the eastern side of Calabria. On the way, I had asked the harbour master Joseph to organise a doctor. Shortly after we were moored, Dottore came on board and injected Ka medicine from our own onboard pharmacy.Looking at the weather forecast, we were extremely grateful to get a safe berth at the Yachting Kroton Club. During the night it became stormy with thunderstorms and lots of rain. The next night brought the heaviest thunderstorm, lightnings next to us and infernal storms. We were so grateful to be sheltered by the harbour walls.

Storm in Calabria, Crotone beach, Coastline (without fire)

The town of Crotone is quite nice. Not a destination for a holiday trip, but also not a place you want to escape from in a hurry. Along a nice but littered beach, there is a nice waterfront street with numerous restaurants and bars. There are a few shops and you can get a good supply. So far, it’s the most pleasant Calabrian place we’ve been stuck in.

Disappointing Calabria

And with that, we leave Calabria. Our limited impression of a few coastal resorts does not, of course, allow an opinion on Calabria. For both of us, it was the most unpleasant sailing area in three years. The weather was unpredictable, the few anchorages difficult to unusable. Perhaps this was due to the time of year. Far too many days we were stuck in marinas because of stormy weather. But we also found the places uninteresting. But we met many very friendly people, very few spoke anything other than Italian.

Apulia is our next destination. A very long sailing day brings us over 70 nm to the other side of the boot. Let’s see how it feels on the heel. /Holger Binz

2 thoughts on “Sailing in Italy – disappointing Calabria”

  1. Leider kann ich den Ausführungen von Holger zu Kalabrien nur zustimmen; es gibt auch aus meiner Sicht schönere Segelreviere….
    Wahnsinn was Karin alles in Ihrer Bordküche zaubert. Respekt!

  2. Da kann es ja nur besser werden. Für Ka gute Besserung.

    zurück aus dem erstaunlich interessanten Polen, wo wir mehr als drei Wochen viele gute Erfahrungen machen konnten

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