After a ten minute conversation and a few text messages we were sitting in First Class on a flight to Venice, Italy. Our mutual friend got married with the intention of uniting her closest friends. It worked! Two female sailors seeking adventure. Danielle and I had both lived in Santa Barbara but had yet to cross paths. I had two weeks off work and a birthday and was looking for an adventure to fill that gap. Within minutes of meeting, I had invited myself to sail with her around Italy on her upcoming trip scheduled to leave my first day off. Serendipitous! I am a flight attendant and offered to arrange her airfare so we could fly together in style. As we sipped champagne she explained to me we were about to embark on a very privileged trip. Her two close friends, a husband and wife team, captain the private sailing yacht Volpaia, a 70′ Swan, and had a few weeks to play before the owners arrived for the season. Brooke, Cyrus, and another crew member, Lauren, picked us up at the airport in Palermo and we clicked immediately.
First thing in the morning we went to the local markets and stocked up on two carloads worth of fresh fruit, vegetables, and cheese. By 1p.m. we departed from Trapani to our first island, just in time to celebrate my birthday. We anchored in the lee of a rugged cliff in crystal clear water on Marettimo Island. We launched the paddle board and dingy and noticed we were surrounded. There were beautiful, angelic jellyfish everywhere we looked. I wanted to see what we’d be in for if anyone got stung. I stuck my finger in the tentacles and yup, they stung, but not more than a bee and it didn’t feel deadly. We swam close to shore in the warm water with our eyes pealed.
After an exhilarating swim we went back to the boat only to find the kindness and generosity of Brooke in full swing. She had stayed aboard to make me a surprise birthday dinner and cake! A cheese platter fit for a king was beautifully displayed on the cockpit table when we arrived. My jaw dropped and was left speechless. Champagne with homemade peach puree flowed as the sun set. There were even candles and a Happy Birthday crown to commemorate the occasion. I felt more loved and welcomed by four complete strangers than I ever could have imagined.
Day two was full of relaxation and exploration. The jellyfish were nearly gone and the weather was calm and warm.We did some yoga on the bow and ate fresh fruit and real Greek yogurt for breakfast. We explored caves, dove off rocks and practiced our headstands on the inflatable paddle board. From our anchorage the only signs of life were the jellies and the occasional passing fisherman. I believe there are two kinds of cruiser; those who can’t wait to get to their next destination to explore the shore and town, and those who enjoy sailing and just being at anchor. Our group was in no hurry to explore town.
The next morning we pulled anchor and sailed 50nm to the Island of Ustica. A small island with a quiet town tucked away on one side. We moored with our stern underneath an old abandon hotel using two stern lines. It created the perfect swimming hole against the rock ledge. It was time for the toys to come out. We inflated a portable palm tree, lounge chair and beach ball and headed into a cave for a photo shoot. The water inside the cave was glowing neon blue and looked like phosphlorescence. We snorkeled around the island and found a few colorful fish and a couple of starfish. This is the most sea life I had ever seen in the Mediterranean. I grew in in Key Largo, FL so am used to a flurry of brilliantly colored fish and corral. The Mediterranean took some adjusting but is equally beautiful in its own way.
The following day we explored every inch of the abandon hotel, 007 style. There was an Indiana Jones poster near the pool bar so it was probably functioning until the early 90’s. There were still lounge chairs stacked in the storage shed. The rooms were still fully furnished with beds, TV’s, and artwork on the wall. The large dining area had enough kitchen appliances to open a Sears Home Furnishing! There was even a cute little red Mo-ped parked inside the cooking area. It was definitely a beauty in its heyday and we felt bad for someones lost dream. It was surprising that everything was still so untouched for being so accessible. I guess looters don’t live in Sicily.
Later that afternoon we went to shore for a bit of wine tasting and pizza. As it turned out, we were in town during the World Cup and Italy was playing in this international event. Huge TV screens walled the town as people gathered and cheered for their country. We sat amongst the crowd and cheered and “ahhhed” along. We finished the night with a cup of the worlds best gelato. As we dingied back to the boat we watched the full moon rise from the horizon. It was the perfect ending to another perfect day.
We set sail for our next island destination the following morning. There was so much to learn about this sailing yacht that differed from mine. I live aboard my own sailboat, a Horizon Nemo 39, Que Sera, have my captains license, and have been sailing since birth, but this ‘hydraulic’ thing added a whole new element. Winches bigger than my torso controlled easily by the touch of a button. To furl in the headsail, button. Hoist the main, button. Bring in the jib sheet, button. Bring up the anchor, button! So many buttons, then one high speed and one low speed for each. It took a few days to learn the lines but of course the fundamentals are the same. It’s easy to get spoiled and I know one thing for sure, I will be upgrading to an electric anchor windlass as soon as I get home.
We arrived in Cefalù, mid-day and anchored outside of the small harbor under stone homes hidden within the cliffs. There were freshwater springs onshore that overflowed into the ocean and you could see the two mix like oil and water. When we jumped in, the surface water was cooler than below which was surprising. Still refreshing, we went for a swim and took turns taking warm showers off the swim platform. Ah another luxury of a fancy yacht.
Our next stop was 50nm to Vulcano Island. Yes, it is an active volcano island. We moored in a stunning private cove with a small beach underneath a rock slide area. This is the closest I’ve seen to a ‘beach’ in the Mediterranean. For some reason, I had expected the postcard image of Santorini, Greece to be a common occurrence.This was not the case. The islands are tall, rock islands with cactus, a few green shrubs, and a few seagulls. They remind me of Baja California but without the wildlife.
At 2am, I could no longer ignore the banging against the side of the hull. It sounded like the dingy was smacking into us repetitively and reverberating through my body. I opened my door to find Brooke and Cyrus looking at the chart. They were deciding where to move. Not because the boat was in danger but because, ‘we are in danger of losing sleep.’ When I peeked outside, there was whitewash coming from every direction. The wind was only blowing about 15 knots but the swell had gone wild. It was as if we were being osculated inside a washing machine. We attached a fender to the stern line and tossed it in the water so we could retrieve it in the morning. We motored into the moonlight and found a little protected cove around the corner. In the morning when I woke and looked outside, there it was; my first and only ‘beach’ in the Mediterranean! It was narrow and short but most definitely a beach. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had discovered the beach. It was a popular place and we had a continuous flow of boat traffic all morning.
Around 11am we moved into a main anchorage on Vulcano Island. We took a mooring here as it was 50 meters and the local was rather insistent. It was overcast all morning and soon started to pour. We put on our bathing suits and headed to shore for some hot spring sulfur mud bathing in the rain. Now this is my kind of adventure. It looked like a wide shallow mud puddle where you would see hippos bathe at the zoo, and it smelled about the same if you added some rotten eggs. We went for it anyway. We painted our faces with thick warm earth mud and soaked for about an hour. Just steps away, the ocean floor bubbled with hot sulfur water and made a perfect place to clean ourselves off. Our skin was incredibly soft but our bathing suits may never recover. We stopped by a grocery store for a few fresh items, smelling like pond scum, and headed back to the boat for my last supper.
Once again, Brooke out did herself and made a delicious shrimp dinner with fresh mozzarella, avocado, mushrooms, brilliant red tomatoes, an array of sauces, and extra love. The quality of food in Italy is unmistakably some of the best in the world. Come to think about it, so was the company. We wined and dined, and enjoyed our last night together aboard the lovely Volpaia.
As I sit here in First Class my trip has come full circle. Reflecting on my experience leaves me feeling full and humble. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to have been part of this grand adventure. When I invited myself on this trip on a whim, I had no idea what lay ahead. Danielle put herself on the line by inviting a stranger into the intimate home of her close friends. Being together in this space proved to be one of my greatest experiences of all time. We all formed a unique bond that I’m sure will last a lifetime. I gained priceless knowledge from a couple who have been sailing the world together for over a decade. As we parted ways we felt like we’d know each other for years. We did not exchange a hug of goodbye, but a hug with promise of a next time.