Otranto – Straits of Messina

1st July – 4th July 2020

We left Otranto in the morning and arrived to Santa Maria de Leuca in the afternoon. We stopped to fill the fuel tanks and visited our Sukosan neighbour, Martin’s boat in the harbour. It was really hot and because we were all quite tired, decided to stop for a wee while in the bay in front of the harbour. The water was crystal clear and very refreshing. We went for a swim with the kids, but just around the boat as it is a busy waterway. On the schooner next to us, where usually you would see the radar a garden gnome was looking watchfully at the water…

It was refreshing to swim, so we started the next part of the journey well rested. Until late night on the next day we made good progress. The sea was calm and we tired, so decided to anchor close to the shore where already were a couple of boats on anchor. We had a good night’s sleep and the next morning decided not to go to shore. Some exercise would have been good for the girls but at daylight the shores were not as inviting as they seemed the night before. We also wanted to get to Siracusa as soon as we could.

After we have left the “boot” and we could hardly see the land at the horizon, slowly we realised that it was the Etna in front of us in beautiful lights of the sunset. It was an amazing sight.

The waves started to come from different directions (maybe the Strait of Messina effect already)  and they were not pleasant at all. The wind became stronger and stronger. We considered if we wanted to sail in this stormy wind and waves all night. We don’t have to go to Siracusa after all, we could choose another route.

So we turned to the Straits of Messina instead. As the time passed the wind and the waves were the same. The girls put themselves to bed. By the time we could go down to check on them they were both fast asleep. Closer to the shore the waves were a bit smaller, but the wind was still around 30 knots. In the meantime the night became pitch-dark and cold (so we changed to long sleeves and trousers) it was around 10 pm.

The Straits of Messina is a narrow strait between the east side of Sicily and the southern tip of the Calabrian Peninsula (the boot). It is between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionian Sea. The shortest distance between the island and the peninsula is 3km, at Messina it is 5km. The changing winds and currents are a constant challenge for sailors in the area. 

We can read about the phenomenon in the greek mythology. Homer wrote about Scylla and Charybdis, the two immortal and irresistible monsters in the Odyssey. On the Calabrian side there is Scylla, the once beautiful nymph who gets turned into a monster. She was loved by Glaucus, but she did not return Glaucus’s feelings. Glaucus asked for advice the sorceress Circe. Because Circe had feelings for Glaucus, she decided to poison the sea where Scylla was bathing which caused Scylla to transform into a frightful monster with four eyes and six long snaky necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp shark’s teeth.

Charybdis is keeping the other side of the straits in fear: she was a nymph once too, whom Zeus turned into a hideous monster because she stole a couple of cows from Heracles. She had an uncontrollable thirst for the sea, as such, she drank the water from the sea three times a day to quench it, which created whirlpools. It seems impossible to cross the Straits of Messina without being threatened by at least one of the monsters.

As we go ahead boat traffic is increasing. Especially between Messina and Villa San Giovanni was a bit scary to watch the 80 meter long super fast ferry ships. I got a fright when one of these ships appeared on our radar as it was going to the opposite direction and I thought that it is already behind us when out of the blue it appeared right next to us… As we approached the end of the straits the wind slowed down and the waves got smaller but the currents became stronger and in favour to our direction. Domi has previously studied the currents in the area. The speed of the currents can got at certain times of the day around 6 knots which is almost the maximum speed of our boat with engine. If we would go to the opposite direction, that could be a problem. We have arrived at the end of the straits around 5 in the morning when it was already daylight.

Where the currents met the surface of the water looked like if it was boiling. We have successfully crossed the ferry routes and got to the Sicilian side. We got to see Messina in the first light of the dawn, it seemed very different from the “land”. At the meantime many black dots got more and more visible on both sides of the straits, fishing boats of all sizes. The sky was a bit cloudy but the weather forecast promised a nice day ahead of us.

(We used Wikipedia as a source about the greek mythology.)