Following my last day in Taormina and my arrival last night in Milazzo I caught a good rest to get up early today to repack my suitcase and remove a number of items that I was not going to need on my sailing trip through the Eolian Islands. This will be my first sailing trip ever, and it will be combined with Italian language studies, offered by a Milazzo-based language school called Laboratorio Linguistico. A very unique concept, although now I was a little nervous, wondering I would get seasick, or whether I was going to have decent ship mates. Various thoughts of uncertainty were swirling through my head.
I had already met my cabin mate Claudia, a cool Lufthansa flight attendant from Germany. We had already shared a room overnight at the student apartment that is located directly above the Laboratorio Linguistico language school. In the living room of the school, prior to our departure on the sailing trip, I met another one of our ship mates: Lawrence (or, as he called himself, “Lorenzo”), a Catholic priest from the United States in his mid-fifties, whose parental grandparents had emigrated in 1910 from the island of Salina in Sicily to the United States. Lorenzo was going to join us on the sailing trip and was going to stay two more weeks on the island of his grandparents to study Italian.
So I had met two of my sailing trip colleagues already, and they were pleasant, gregarious people. At 9:30 am we headed downstairs to our meeting point where we would meet our skipper, Francesco Di Santi, who also co-owns the Laboratorio Linguistico language school and teaches Italian. Sure enough, our captain was already there with his station wagon and we packed all our belongings in the car. Yumiko, a language student from Japan, had just finished her stay at Laboratorio Linguistico and needed to get to the train station to take a train to the Palermo airport back to Japan. We packed her and her luggage into the car as well.
Stuffed to the gills the four of us drove Yumiko to the train station and then continued on to a small town outside of Milazzo called Portorosa, location of the sailboat harbour. We drove into the marina, parked our vehicle and started unloading our luggage and carrying it to the boat. In the midst of a scenic channel reminiscent of the canals of Fort Lauderdale, we saw our boat: the Solitaire II, a 14 metre long sailboat with 4 cabins that would be our home for the next seven days.
Claudia and I were going to share a cabin at the front of the boat, and when we looked in there, it was a long, narrow space which featured a single bed that could be split into two bunk beds with one higher than the other. We both unpacked our suitcases and stashed our belongings away and then stowed our large suitcases in the rope storage compartment at the front of the boat. Space is definitely an issue on a sailboat.
The same goes for the bathroom. This four-cabin sailboat had two bathrooms and Francesco proceeded to instruct us how to use them. The faucet above the wash basin could actually be pulled out and turned into a hand-held shower faucet while the toilet actually required some intense hand pumping action in order to draw in sea water to flush out our unmentionables. Needless to say, no toilet paper was to go into the bowl, the paper would need to go into a plastic bag stored under the wash basin. The hygienic arrangements on a sailboat are not for the unsqueamish, and it’ll definitely take a bit to get used to these facilities.
Other than that the Solitaire II was a very comfortable boat with a kitchen / living room area right when you climb inside the boat, a sitting area for about 8 people at the back of the boat, and the possibility to plunk yourself down at the front of the vessel.
With our luggage stowed we were ready to proceed with our preparations for the sailing trip: food shopping. We hopped into the car again and drove to a supermarket in the local village where we picked up all sorts of stuff: vegetables, fruits, salad ingredients, basic staples such as milk, eggs, bread, butter, cold cuts, even sweets, and of course drinks which included wine, water, soft drinks and juices. 350 Euros later we loaded the car and drove to the train station where we picked up another passenger for our boat trip: Herbert, a TV travel journalist from Germany who was going to use this trip as a scouting opportunity for shooting a segment of his television program next year.
Herbert, just like the rest of the gang, seemed to be a pretty easy-going fellow, and we squeezed him into the backseat of the car with his luggage on top of our knees. Within a few minutes we were all joking and ribbing each other. Herbert, who hails from Munich, speaks Bavarian which is a very similar accent to my own Austrian dialect, so in our car you could hear Italian, English, Standard German and Bavarian-Austrian, all spoken at the same time. A wonderful start for a linguistic travel nut like me….
Back at the marina we carried what seemed like hundreds of plastic bags full of food to the boat and stored them under deck in the various cubby holes in the kitchen. Our skipper Francesco was getting the boat ready for departure, so we had another couple of hours and headed over to the shopping complex by the marina where the group enjoyed various pre-departure meals. At 4 pm finally we got going: our sailing trip had officially begun!
Well, our 60 horsepower engine tuckered us over to the marina’s gas station where we filled up. The fuelling took quite a while during which Herbert and I, both of us in the travel journalism business, had plunked ourselves down in the front of the boat and chatted about our various travel experiences. Herbert is the producer of a 30 minute television travel magazine for the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation and has created about 300 travel programs over the last 20 years or so. Along the way he has traveled to all sorts of neat places around the world, and has many interesting stories to tell.
Once we had filled up our vessel we headed off onto the open water to our first destination: the island of Lipari – the largest island in the Eolian archipelago. Because we only had 3 knots of wind, we used the diesel engine in addition to the sails and were traveling at a speed of about 5.5 knots. I stayed on deck until about 6:30 pm when I got a bit chilled and went downstairs. The minute I was under deck I immediately started to feel sick and I even made a quick turn into the bathroom, just in case I was about to lose my lunch! I was really surprised at the instantaneousness of this nausea attack, it felt like my stomach literally turned on me from one second to the next.
Once in the bathroom, my stomach calmed down again right away, it seemed as if the security of having bathroom facilities nearby seemed to calm my innards right down. So I came out of the bathroom, and Lorenzo, who had been sitting at the dining table, commented on the fact that he too thought that I was just about to get sick when I came downstairs. He offered me some dry crackers and that helped my stomach even more. I decided to lie down on one of the benches in the living room area and ended up falling asleep.
I woke up again when it was already dark and when our boat was getting ready to dock at Lipari harbour. Even at night the view was breathtaking. After our skipper had attached the boat we got ready for our first on-board dinner: pasta with a Bolognese sauce prepared by Francesco’s mother-in-law, complemented by a salad, bread and cheese – delicious! Two bottles of vino rosso were also consumed and the atmosphere among all the boat travelers was very upbeat and positive. My stomach had definitely settled down and a good appetite had manifested itself.
Many topics were touched on in our animated discussions. The most interesting conversation centered on on Francesco’s cross-Atlantic sailing voyage a few years ago. Together with two other friends, Francesco sailed from Tenerife across the Atlantic to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. He indicated that he spent two years preparing himself physically and mentally for this trip and admitted that a trip across this fierce ocean does inspire fear, before departure and during the trip. A simple hurricane could crush you and destroy you without anyone ever discovering any trace of you, so a cross-Atlantic sailing trip is a definite life-or-death experience.
Francesco explained that for the first two week they had nice meals while the remainder of the time they had to conserve water as much as possible and make do with dried food. At the end when they reached St. Lucia he said he felt like he was born again. This cross-Atlantic sailing trip had been the experience of a lifetime.
I asked him how this trip had changed him from that point forward and he said that ever since then he is a lot calmer now and doesn’t need to travel as much any more. He feels more grounded, and more rooted to his local area. I found it very interesting that a monster trip like this would make a person more attached to his own local surroundings.
Late at night, after a fulfilling meal, Lorenzo and I decided to go for a walk and we trekked along the coastal road for about two or three kilometers from the sailboat harbour to downtown Lipari. The town was hopping: lots of local youth were out and about, enjoying their Saturday night. The action in the various hospitality establishments was still going strong, even at midnight. We came across Lipari’s fortification which is perched on a rock with harbours on both sides. Even at night this town was beautiful.
Finally at 1 pm we retreated to the boat where everybody had already gone to bed. I tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake me roommate, but to no avail. The quarters were just a bit too tight for me to sneak in unnoticed. But my cool cabin partner Claudia did not mind, she was very easy-going about it all. My first night on a sailboat – time to rest up for the excitement of tomorrow, the exploration of Lipari.