Position: 40°01’35″N 15°17’43″E
Without irony, the Mossad agent’s critique of America’s terrorist alert levels circa 2006 went something like this, “In Israel we don’t give the terrorists any idea of how well they are doing.” Europe has adapted a similar threat scale to manage Covid regionally, rather than with blanket dictates. In Italy that means you’re living in an area that’s either yellow, orange, or red.
As a baseline you must wear a mask whenever you’re in a public place. You have to sanitize your hands and often have your temperature taken going into shops. You must keep two meters away from strangers and limit family gatherings. On top of all that, here is what the status indicators require:
- Yellow means restaurants are closed after 18:00, there’s a curfew from 22:00-05:00, and you can only travel to another yellow region,
- Orange, plus yellow, plus you can’t travel beyond your region,
- Red is yellow, plus orange, plus you can’t leave home unless you’re shopping for food or pharmaceuticals, or seeking medical help.
Like Maxwell Smart leaving work, we made our way up the coast to our winter quarters in Gaeta a day ahead of lockdown in every place we visited. I’m not sure how we managed to slip out so successfully, but I’m sure it had something to do with living on a boat.
This small, pretty town with a big marina rests on Calabria’s toecap, just north of the Straits of Messina. Squatting on a north-facing ridge, Tropea is a popular summer place for holidaymakers. The old quarter has a snug central core with requisite narrow streets and well-reviewed fish restaurants, almost all of which were closed for the season. Which is too bad, since the local supermarkets had limited supplies on hand. Fruit and veg stores offered boxes of wilted lettuce, aging tomatoes, and sprouting onions. Pickings were slim and a clear sign that year-round residents were few, penurious, and far between.
After three days the icky weather pushed through and we’d seen all we could. Stillness hung over the Mediterranean like a recumbent cat dozing in a warm patch of afternoon sun. That meant hoisting the iron genoa (aka. turning on the motor). We figured we’d top off the diesel. Nope. Despite what the marina told us the night before, the fuel dock was closed for the season. Grrr! Ciao, Tropea! A day later the town flipped red on the Covid scale. We might have been stuck there for weeks.
50 Miles Due North
Aleta had enough fuel for several days, which was good because the wind wasn’t shifting for at least another week. But my inner sales rep reminded me that filling up with gas the night before a long run was better than sorting it out later. That way you’re not stressing about running low or finding a gas station and being late for an appointment. This pro tip was handed down to me by one of the better organised and more successful sales reps in my company in 1985. I took it to heart. The nearest refuelling spot lay 50 miles north.
According to the Navily app no one in Cetraro’s marina speaks English. But, one reviewer wrote, Mimmo at the fuel dock worked in the UK for a bit and he speaks pretty good English. We couldn’t raise the marina or Mimmo as we headed north, so we decided to anchor and refuel in the morning.
Just outside Cetraro’s mole there’s an area with good holding and reasonable protection from the dominant northwest swell. The sea was still settling after storms further north earlier in the week. We’re never excited about approaching a new anchorage in the dark, but with the short days of November upon us, even early starts can lead to crepuscular finishes. (Great word, crepuscular – ed.) Twilight was long gone by the time we switched on the anchor light and settled in for the night.
The next morning we puttered into Cetraro harbour, filled up with diesel and puttered out again. Turns out Mimmo is incredibly attentive and quite charming. Swirling sands and sedimentary build up is common along the breakwaters on this stretch of coast. We narrowly avoided a grounding, by 500 meters and three fathoms.
Another 50 Miles North
As bluff as southern Italy’s coast is, a couple of notable coves jut out here and there. One of the prettiest is the aptly named Baia del Buon Dormire, the Bay of Good Sleep. Fantastically popular in the summer, there was one other boat at anchor when we pulled in under the last vestiges of sunset. Well protected by high cliffs, there is one gap open to the northeast that funnels cold air off the mountains into the bay. At three in the morning, enough wind blew to turn the blades on Aleta’s wind generator for an hour. But that was it. We had a wonderful night’s sleep.
The Gulf of Salerno
At the crack of dawn we pulled anchor for our now routine motoring day and headed for Agropoli in the Gulf of Salerno. It was here in September 1943 the Allies invaded mainland Italy. Back then, they decided to enter Italy’s boot from the top, not the bottom. Topographically, the bay is the first open plain north of the Straits of Messina with access to the center of the country. The British army headed towards Salerno. The Americans went to the southern end of the bay, landing at Paestum, a few kilometres north of Agropoli.
I wondered what it would be like watching the Allied advance from the shore. It wasn’t a secret. Over 600 ships would have been visible for miles. After the invasion of Sicily, the Germans and the Italians expected the Allied advance. Watching the armada’s steady progress meant the Axis had plenty of warning and were dug in well ahead of time. The fighting was brutal.
Our chart warned us of underwater obstructions all along the bay. Whether this indicated sunken DUKWs or unexploded ordnance, I can’t tell you. Nevertheless, I paused momentarily as I let the anchor go, half expecting a furious explosion as soon as it landed. None came. The seas, calmed over the previous couple of days, peacefully rolled Aleta all evening.