Trip Reports

The Wandering Rock (17-Aug-2002-11-00):
11:00 AM local time, Saturday, August 17 (0900 August 17 UTC) 38 27 N 014 57 E. Temp. 79, Humidity 68%, Cloud Cover 10%. At anchor in front of the town of Lipari in the Aeolian Islands, Italy.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

Our choice to call at Catania on Sicily was based on two needs. One, we wanted to consult electronic technicians to see if our radio, radar, and autopilot, among other pieces of equipment, could be repaired. Secondly, we were to meet with Fred Feller and family, who were bringing some parts from the US. It was really great to see friendly faces from home. The Fellers are the only people, aside from Theresa and Caroline, who have traveled abroad to meet us. This special effort on their part, plus a fee which was really quite modest, assures that their photo with the Captain will be displayed with honor on the pages of our website. They were so delighted with this that we have decided to make the same offer to all of our readers. Write for details.

The Fellers had studied some Italian but didn't remember anything other than "ciao," so we gave them some of our language advice. The first thing to do when you're not understood is to speak slowly and shout. The other person will soon switch into the same mode. If this doesn't accomplish what you need, the next thing is to loudly yell, "Speak English! What're you, stupid or somethin'?" This simple trick has gotten us more than half way around the world.

What we determined from the technicians, at some expense, was that, although they could make the repairs, they 1) would charge us more than the original cost of the equipment, 2) could not guarantee their work would render the various instruments usable, and 2) couldn't complete the repairs until the end of August as all of Italy is on vacation and therefore parts, though available, cannot be obtained. This practice of everyone closing up at the same time, not limited to Italy, is not only not the American way of doing things, it is rigidly stupid, indolent, and inefficient, and I have felt this way long before it actually caused me any personal inconvenience, as it is an offense to commerce and trade. Any Italians out there want a piece of this? So we are ordering new stuff from the US and are looking into having it shipped to Spain where we can pay VAT of 16% on it, according to their reading of the "Yachts In Transit" provision of law, which is more generous than Egypt's, where the tax is 100%.

But not completely satisfied with this outcome, the Captain, who, if you weren't able to deduce this from our dispatches, is a licensed HAM, assisted by Chief Junior High Frequency Gizmo Specialist Terry Shrode, determined that they could make a jury-rigged antenna with parts already on the boat. The problem with our radio was that the antenna tuner, which was not disconnected from the antenna during the lightening strike, had a bunch of fried thingamajigs inside. Hey, I'm a licensed AMATEUR radio guy, not a licensed professional. What needs to happen with the kind of antenna we use is that the length of the antenna has to have a certain mathematical relationship to the frequency on which we transmit. Since we use the backstay as our antenna, its length is impossible to adjust. What the antenna tuner does is fool the watchamacallits in the radio into thinking that the antenna wire is the length it should be, even though it isn't. Sadly, we must live our lives in a world where even radio equipment is dishonest in its dealings with other radio equipment. Anyway, it's a simple matter to bypass this deceitful box, figure the math and construct an honest antenna for a certain frequency, the downside being, you need a different length wire for each frequency. So we made up two, one for our email contact in Brussels, and one for our morning weather net in the Med. We hoist the wires up the mast with a halyard, and, bingo, we have email. Slap me five, Radio Man.

Having met with our friends, obtained the diagnosis on our electronics, and made our antennae, we were about to leave Catania when we saw a weather fax showing a front approaching and also heard predictions on the radio of gale force winds in the vicinity of the Strait of Messina, not a good place to be in a blow. So we delayed our departure until the weather system came through and this gave us the opportunity for some sightseeing. Catania sits at the base of Mt. Etna, and in fact much of the stone used for the construction of roads and walls is basalt. So that was our first destination. Etna has had a major eruption since we left home and we were able to see the results of that as well as take a four-wheel drive van up to a place near the summit, where nature has left a big fat ugly mess.

We also went to Syracuse, where Athenians made fools of themselves in a disastrously unsuccessful attack in 415 BC that so weakened them that the outcome of the Peloponnesian War was, though almost a decade away, a foregone conclusion. Nicias, the general who was ordered to lead the attack, had opposed it for good reason but was forced to bear the burden of a policy he had realized was foolish. He was captured and executed. Thucydides has the play-by-play.

Finally sailing from Catania, we were happy to have a nice southeasterly to blow us right up to the Strait of Messina. For about an hour. The wind died, turned around on the nose, and blew 25 to 30, or at least that's what our newly rebuilt wind instruments from Signet said. I would have called it 18. As the Captain retired for the night with the words, "You have the bridge, Mr. Shrode," we were tacking and behind schedule to get through our window for currents in the Strait, or so we thought. The Captain has been relying on a computerized tide program, and the currents in the Strait of Messina are linked to the tides at Gibraltar. But when Mr. Shrode approached the Strait on his watch, we were still within the window yet the current was already adverse. A glance at the Admiralty Tide Tables, which we have on board and which in the past have been consistent with our computerized program, showed a difference from the computer of five hours, almost an entire tide. Fortunately, the conditions by the time we got to the Strait itself were benign and unlike Odysseus we lost no crew.

From there we motored to the island of Stromboli, an active volcano rising right out of the sea. Another aspect of the month of August being a vacation month for Italians is that all of the anchorages and towns in the Aeolian Islands are ridiculously crowded with holiday-makers who are busy not being able to ship Maverick's electronic parts. In addition to that, none of these places have what you would normally call anchorages. They are shelves off the islands that are small and in general about twenty feet deep, after which the bottom drops off precipitously to two hundred or more, and they are completely exposed open roadsteads. So what you have is a very uncomfortable and unsafe situation. That night on Stomboli was a restless one for the Captain because after we got ourselves pretty well situated a charter boat pulled up about half a boatlength away and, while still moving forward and giving little thought to swinging room, the devil-may-care skipper let go his anchor and dropped out about half the scope he needed right on top of it, disdaining the practice of setting it. I should have said something but instead I just kept getting up throughout the night about every twenty minutes to see whether the wind had changed. Later, another boat anchored in a position directly over our anchor, which meant that getting our anchor up would require his moving. We had planned to leave before dawn to sail around to the other side of the island where the eruptions that occur every few minutes could be seen dramatically in the dark; but we abandoned that plan when it meant awakening our neighbor at three AM. I'm sorry to say that the Italians seem to have the least boat sense of any sailors we've encountered on our voyage. Great do-wop singers, though.

The next day we sailed to Lipari, another of the volcanic Aeolian Islands, which according to some are the "Wandering Rocks," or the "Rolling Stones," of the Odyssey. We again found crowded anchorages and captains standing on their bows fretting over their situations. We elected to anchor instead near a megayacht in 75 feet. 75 feet weeds out the riff-raff and so there is no crowding, and after anchoring in over 100 in the South Pacific the crew of Maverick was not intimidated by the depth. So we are currently situated in front of the castle that overlooks the harbor at Lipari, and at night when all the powerboats and ferries stop running, leaving us rolling in their wake, it's pretty nice. Last night there were a lot of fireworks and a loud band at the castle until 4:30 in the morning, but even so the Captain slept better than the night before on Stromboli, knowing that Maverick was safe. I think these islands would be a lot more pleasant to visit in a different month, but I sure wouldn't recommend that anyone come here in August.


It's easy to buy horse meat steaks in Catania, and the restaurants that feature this delicacy often have a nice picture of a horsey out front.

We met a couple, Joe and Floy, on a boat named Lizabeth, who have been cruising the Med for twenty years. When Joe, who's from Kansas City, pulled up beside us in Lipari and asked how much water we were anchored in, and we told him 75 feet, he said, "What the HELL are we DOING here!" This is the new Maverick motto.

Dave Tolmie writes in to say he has met Jerry Ragavoy and he declared, after a few refreshments, that Dave sings better than Howard Tate. However, I happen to know he wasn't speaking of the singer Howard Tate, but rather the hairdresser by that name, who is, to be fair, still a pretty good singer and an excellent Greek scholar. Dave's favorite coming home song is "Tie A Yellow Ribbon," and it is said that his rendition of it will make grown men weep.

For photos, previous dispatches, maps, and more visit

Next report [more or less] from this location: Just One More Train Ride, Joe

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