Skipping Along the Aeolian Islands

Rod Heikell, author of The Italian Waters Pilot, proposed the area bounded by Ustica, the Straits of Messina and the mainland be designated the ‘Aeolian Triangle’. A part of the Tyrrhenian sea where unpredictable winds come together and terrify sailors. History is on Rod’s side. The Aeolians are named for Aeolus, the keeper of winds.

When Odysseus visited the Lipari Islands, Aeolus generously hosted the captain and his crew. After a month, Aeolus arranged for a west wind to blow his guests safely back to their home, Ithaca. He also gifted them a satchel of winds. Winds from all directions except the west. Nearing Ithaca, Odysseus fell asleep and his crew, full of curiosity, opened the satchel. With a roar the winds escaped and blew the ship all the way back to Lipari, to Aeolus’s chagrin. From that point, Odysseus and crew were on their own.

You may have guessed our last couple of days in Sicily were spent in the Aeolian islands. First stopping at the marina in Lipari for a night to avoid some weather, we moved on to anchor at Panarea the next day. Besides a couple of people walking their dogs on Panarea’s beaches, our sense of isolation was, for the first time in months, complete. The Aeolians are a favourite stopping point for summer cruisers heading to and from Sicily. Prices in summer are mindbogglingly high. Even this late in the season, what would cost 20 euros in Spain, runs 60 to 120 euros here. Negotiation is theoretically possible, but more often there’s a take it or leave it insouciance to deal with.

This is one of the world’s most active geological regions. The islands, volcanoes in various stages of dormancy, are black with pumice. Simple plants, like grasses, haven’t had time to take root on the upper reaches of the mountainsides. Given the circumstances, human habitation looks precarious. Yet there are plenty of hotels available and houses for rent at premium prices. The provincial administration has placed strict limits on home building in an attempt to preserve the environment. Not, it appears, out of safety concerns.



Volcanoes play a big role in our cruising life. We climbed them in the Caribbean, we admired them in the Azores, but until we came to Sicily, we hadn’t seen one as busy as Stromboli. Mount Etna was only blowing off steam the day we visited. Stromboli promised more. One of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupting every 15 to 20 minutes for the past 3,000+ years, Stromboli is best viewed at night. Or in our case, early morning.

Pulling anchor at 0:Dark30, we covered the 10 miles to Stromboli’s north side in a couple of hours. Blessed with a clear, still night, we could see deep red-orange fires seething under smoke and steam for miles. On the quarter hour-ish the fires intensified. A couple of times thin spurts of glowing magma shot up hundreds of feet. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed whenever that happened. We weren’t showered in ash or treated to rivers of magma flowing down the face of the mountain, which is probably just as well. But we had the sea to ourselves and bobbed contentedly as sunrise spread her wings and stole the show.



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