Offshore Sailor

Taormina to Vulcana

Taormina to Vulcana


August 2012

An early start on a flat calm day saw us leave Taormina, heading north to clear the Messina Strait by lunchtime. The strait is an exceptionally busy waterway, with large ships, a vast number of ferries and hurtling hydrofoils demanding more than a casual lookout.

Among the other craft, a strange speciality are the swordfish boats. There must have been half a dozen of them at work as we passed through. The helmsman sits atop a towering mast (50ft or more I would guess) from where he can see the fish basking on the surface. Once spotted, they are snuck up on and then dispatched by a man with a harpoon who stands at the end of an extended bowsprit. Now, I don’t mind a spot of fishing and have a reasonable head for heights but I think I’ll pass on this method. Just wouldn’t know where to stow all the gear.

This is one of the few places in the Med where you can be helped or hindered by the tides. The strait forms the gateway between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas which, depending upon the time of day, are at different levels and have disparities of both temperature and salinity. For those that like to know such things, the north-flowing tide commences 1hr 50min before HW Gibraltar and sets southwards 4hr 30min after HW Gibraltar.

When you reflect that this is the site of the whirlpool, Charybys, dreaded by ancient mariners (contended by experts to have been tamed since the days of Odysseus by changes in the underlying rock formations) it still commands respect.

Anyway, we had somewhat more pressing matters on our mind. We hadn’t taken on fuel since Levkas and, what with the numerous windless days, were running a mite low. However, some 15nm west of the Strait was Milazzo where there was very convenient fuel dock we had used five years previously when eastbound for Greece. There aren’t a lot of good reasons to go to Milazzo – a scruffy ferry and fishing port alongside a huge oil refinery (though it’s said to have fine beaches) – but topping up the tanks was one of them and for that we were grateful.

Prior knowledge also dictated where to go next. Just 20nm or so off the Sicilian coast lie the Aeolian (or Lipari) Islands, notable amongs them being Vulcano – and sorry, there are no prizes for guessing how it came to be named.

As volcanoes go it's surprisingly accessible. The ascent starts just out of town. The climb takes about an hour. To walk around the rim (see header photo, lookng down onto the anchorage) takes about the same and the descent - which I found more agonizing than the climb - also the same. Incidentally, the tourist ferries (of which there are many) dock in Porto di Levante on the eastern shore – also suitable for yachts but busier and less sheltered than Porto di Ponente.

For those that take their pleasures ludicrously, you can wallow nearby in a volcanically warmed mud pool, the sulphurous composition of which is said to be therapeutically beneficial. Not for me, thanks. I prefer to climb out of pools cleaner than when I went in.

All in all, Vulcano is laid back and exceedingly friendly. Even the policeman who arrived in his RIB to chastise us for anchoring too close to a bathing beach (300 metres is the norm, but some allow 200m) did so most amiably. Guaranteed to bring the hippy out in even the most staid of us all.

TIP: Don’t run your watermaker in close proximity to a volcano. One skipper I talked to had operated his in a nearby gin=clear anchorage. It tainted his entire water stock with the piquant whiff of sulphur.


Andrew Simpson

Andrew is a writer, illustrator and editor - mainly in the field of recreational boating. In addition to several books he has been a monthly contributor to Britain's most popular boating magazine for over twenty years. Andrew and his wife Chele spend about six months of every year sailing. After some years in the Mediterranean, they are now in the Caribbean. If you enjoy his blogs please share them with your friends. Comments or questions are also welcomed.

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