Crewing the Med: Volcanos and a strange social switch

Sulpher vents and boats in the harbour, Vulcano, Sicily

Log & Chart

We set our course to the wind, trimming the sails as it veers and backs round the compass, each change lifting us towards our intended waypoint or heading us away. There are many new words and terms to learn.
Invariably it heads us away and we have to tack; zigzagging upwind, making slow progress. The engine is only relied upon when the wind fails to show up.
Mike who is usually banished to the back by a smoking habit finds a fishing line to busy wrestles hands, which is all it’s needs to do, a catch would be merely a bonus.

In ancient Methoni we sling our hook in the shelter of the ancient fort walls.
In the more functional Pylos we provisions for a night crossing to Sicily.

The wind has little interest in guiding us to Italy unlike the dolphins which glide playfully alongside for some time, twisting to peer back at us. My 3 to 6 am watch is featureless, not a passing ship or change in the weather, just quality reading time punctuated with the playful wittering a of board cargo ships on the emergency radio channel.

Wake to a flying fish on deck, poor bugger wasn’t expecting the side of a boat out here in the impossibly open ocean. An Italian patrol ship circles us then draws imposingly alongside, peering down without a word. Turbines spin up as peels off, searching for those who are pushed to risk their life to bring a spark of hope to it. We have seen many military and coast guard ships along the way but hardly any other signs of the humanitarian crisis present in the region.

Midway between Greece and Italy its hot with no wind. We cut the engine in 3500 meters deep of abyss and dive over the rails for a swim. It’s roughly five kilometers to the unbroken seam of sea and sky encircling us then two hundred and fifty more to the nearest land. Claustrophobic bliss, agoraphobic panic. The scene is as flat as the planet will allow.

Night watch; midnight till three, nothing but full moon and horizon. Podcasts make great company.

Glass flat seas of Italy, we hoist up a mizzen cruising chute to sail 3 knots on 4 knots of wind. A big balloon of a thing, colourful as boiled sweets. It’s tranquil; gentle rustling of sails and slackening ropes, Tigs quietly sings along to her headphones.

The gregarious local fixer-come-taxi-driver shares photo albums of a lifetime at sea while swerving the streets, dropping us at a pizzeria. In the morning he drops off croissants. At the restaurant a large pizza measures wider than my shoulders. We were supposed to share two among four but by the end it would seem I have devoured one by myself… my 9,000 calorie a day cycling habit is hard to kick. Happy pig.

Sailing up the straits of Messina, the eddies twist in tight stretches across the expanse of windless flat water.
Vessels as strange as their quarry pass us, fishing boats with crows nest masts and bizarre walkways jutting out three times their length. They hunt sword fish sleeping under the surface, spotters above sneak up on them then jab from the bizarre walkway.

We spot patches of jumping fish and spring into action, a hand line goes out the back lands two tiny tuna, I dispatch them, Tigs fillets them. Sadly we realise a little too late that we should have returned them given their size but they make a special addition to the ships paella.

Vulcano (yep you guessed it) sits on the volcanic Aeolian archipelago a neat string of cones lead by Stromboli. The air has an ancient smell of eggs wafting over from sulfur stained rocks.

I wake early to walk up the volcano, it’s only 499m but having sent my boots home flipflops add a bit of fun to the hike. They just about survive. The rim forms a neat circle around the crater of pan hard mud. Hot vapor blasts from vents of sulfur neon yellow, crystallizing to form flowers of gold, soft as snow. The stench is wonderfully rank.
A black cat says hello on black sandy beach; a gothic summer delight.


We are an odd bunch aboard. The other three are enjoying retirement from impressive careers but each have different expectations for the trip. Owner Chris is a highly experienced sailor, he’s opened his home to three strangers to help with a swift Med crossing, sharing the experience along with some of the costs.
Rightfully so, he is very much a captain of his ship, but moral suffers under the thousand tiny cuts of micromanagement. His depth of knowledge is undeniable but your left with a new respect for the underrated art of teaching.

Tigs is a lady who has traveled extensively after selling off her company to sail, spending the last seven years circumnavigating the globe collecting great stories of islands with fantastic names and narrow escapes from pirates. With a passion for dangerous sports and daughter wedded into Emirate royalty she’s a hell of a character and always a joy to talk with. I enjoy the chance to play sous chef to her master chef, though her methods causes a little friction with the captain who expected simpler grub to a set plan.

I share a small cabin with Mike an Israeli millionaire fully adorned with gold trappings, out to see what this boat malarkey is all about. It transpires quickly that he’s looking for something a little more leisurely but slowly gets to grips with the rolling seas and late watches. We swap travel tips, he shares where best to hire a Porsche in Canne and I how to evade dog attacks in Albania, we joke in our differences. He speaks his mind directly, often a little caustic, interactions ashore always start with the demand “do you speak English” and never end with “Thank you“.

Jumping from one extreme in economic surroundings to another has been strange. Food is highly judged and often sent back. Sunglasses are worth more than my entire trip. I’m left a little uncomfortable with my symbiotic relationship to the lifestyle. But it’s a fascinating insight, more Great Gatsby than mariner gypsy.

Log & Chart

Screenshot of chart showing rout from Greece to Sicily

26/8/2015 09:15 36.50771°N 023.05875°E 2990 N 3 220 6.5 1011 Sm 0 x Left port of Neapoli Voion, sails up 09:50
14:30 36.43061°N 022.48623°E 3020 NW 3 Sm 0 x Anchored in Kagio in 24m depth, 55m of chain
27/8/2015 08:00 36.43061°N 022.48623°E 3023 NW 1 209 7.9 1011 Sm 1 Left anchor at 07:00, flat sea with no wind, motoring
12:45 36.45085°N 028.22685°E 3054 NW 2 305 6.4 1012 Sm 0 Motoring, 4nm SE of Akriyas Pt, switch to sail
13:00 3055 N 1 330 7 Sm 0 x Sailing
17:15 36.81523°N 021.70937°E 3082 N 1 Sm 0 x Arrived and anchored Mathoni - 59nm
28/8/2015 12:50 36.81523°N 021.70937°E 3082 NW 2 345 6 1015 Sm 0 x Gentle sail
15:00 36.91880°N 021.70022°E 3091 NW 2 Pilot 6 1015 Sm 0 x Alongside quay in Pylos - 9nm
29/8/2015 12:40 36.91880°N 021.70022°E 3091 SW 1 Pilot 1015 Sm 0 Slipped to Italy, no wind, engine her 2344
15:00 36.93805°N 021.42729°E 3105 W NW 2 279 5.9 1014 Sm 0 Paul starts watch, motoring in flat sea
17:00 36.95888°N 021.21185°E 3115 W NW 4 227 6.7 1013 Sm 0 x Switch to sail, tacking to wind
21:00 36.45455°N 020.43155°E 3143 NW 2 283 5.8 1014 Sm 0 Wind dropped to 7-8 knots - Full moon
00:00 3160 NW 2 282 6.2 1014 Sm 0 Mikes watch
30/8/2015 04:50 36.4887°N 019.4669°E 3190 N 1 285 5.8 1014 Sm 0 x Wind backing north, switch to sail
07:00 37.0443°N 019.3562°E 3200 N 1 300 5 1014 Sm 0 x
09:10 37.1577°N 019.2394°E 3215 N 1 285 5.9 1016 Sm 0 x
09:50 Water maker on
12:00 3228 N 1 280 5.9 1017 Sm 0 100 litres of water made
14:00 3241 N 1 Ran engine on full revs 3200 for 1 min
16:30 37.2441°N 018.3273°E 3256 N 1 280 6.2 1015 Sl 0 1700 rpm
21:00 37.3068°N 018.0185°E 3281 N 1 280 6.2
00:00 37.2425°N 017.4032°E 3298 N 1 277 5.8 1016 Sm 0 Paul's watch, still under sail
31/8/2015 03:10 37.3665°N 017.1695°E 3317 N 1 280 6.4 1016 Sm 0 Engine 1800 rpm
09:50 37.4689°N 016.2519°E 3358 N 1 277 6.4 1015 Sm 0 x Switch to 3 sails
12:33 37.4872°N 016.1045°E 3371 N 1 282 6.9 1016 Sm 0 Sail with mizzen cruising chute, wind drops to 3 knots, switch to motor
18:15 38.1227°N 015.6502°E 3409 N 1 Pilot 7 1016 Sm 0 Moored stern to in Reggio Di Calabria - Italy
1/9/2015 11:30 38.12271°N 015.65019°E 3409 1x Propane filled, 12:30 left marina, motoring
16:30 38.210°N 015.207°E 3435 NW 2 282 6.5 1013 Sm 0 Caught 2 small tuna
19:20 38.41664°N 014.96256°E 3453 Anchored on Vulcano, strong sulphur air - 44nm
2/9/2015 14:00 38.2604°N 014.5847°E 3455 W 2 3 5.6 1013 Sm 2 Left Vulcano at 13:00
18:25 38.5454°N 014.8315°E 3468 1012 Dropped anchor in Rinella, moved on as blocked ferry