Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ponza anchor dance

The Pontine Islands lie close off the west coast of Italy between Rome and Naples off Cape Circeo (named for Circe of Odyssey fame), and Ponza is the largest of these islands. I don’t think I’d ever even heard of it or them before, but Ponza looked like a good overnight stop between Rome and Sicily. Then an old friend (reconnected via Facebook) recommended several restaurants on Ponza, and other people started saying how great it was, so we decided to linger.

Our first anchorage was on the west side (sort of the back) of the island. When we started from Rome, the winds would have made this a great anchorage, and it was very pretty and impressive. But the winds shifted bringing swell into the anchorage soon after we dropped the hook. A guy in a Hallberg Rassey with a French flag was already moving around the anchorage, whether he was having problems getting it to set or was looking for a more comfortable spot, we don’t know, but it was a little annoying. Then two or three boats left. It was a little bumpy, but we were facing into the swell, so it was bearable if somewhat unpleasant. When we awoke the next morning, the Frenchman was gone, and so were most of the other boats. As Märzen and I did our morning routine, we watched more boats leave until when John joined us, we were the last boat but one, and it was getting ready to leave. Good idea.

We went around to the other side of the island, the side facing Italy, and found beautiful, flat water. Great! Rounding the point to our intended anchorage, we saw a commercial vessel filling the cove. Seriously. Its anchor was down, and it had multiple lines to shore. Oh well, the cruising guide said there were many possible anchorages on the east side of the island in settle weather, which we had, so we found a pretty one and dropped the hook.

It was really beautiful, and lots of Italians were out enjoying the beach and the weather, plus two British-flagged super yachts were anchored a bit off shore. Both super yachts had all their toys in the water, and one was even pulling a water skier with one of its tenders. John made a long-deferred minor repair to the dinghy, we put it in the water, and we piled in (even Märzen) to go exploring.

That was a really fun ride in our go-fast little boat. First, we checked out a passage at the tip of the island that we had watched a local sailboat negotiate while our chart said it had two rocks awash in the middle. One rock was sometimes visible, but the other was well hidden, and we admired the daring of that boat to attempt it. It wasn’t much farther to go around. The rock formations on this island are impressive, and we took the dinghy through a natural arch and a couple of narrow passages, just because we could. We also found tunnels in the rock near town and checked those out. Later we learned that they were part of the Roman water system to get water from the other side of the island (by our first anchorage) and redistribute it.

Rock arch that we took the dinghy through

Finally, we checked out the harbor at the town of Ponza to see where we could leave a dinghy to go ashore later. Nothing was obvious, so I decided we should ask one of the boats that was anchored in the harbor. None were obviously English-speak, but there was an Austrian boat, and I figured I could try German if they didn’t speak English. They didn’t, and I managed in German, but I didn’t really like the answer. Then we spotted a Dutch boat anchoring. Well, they didn’t know about the dinghy, but they said that winds were expected from the southeast, so we should probably come in because it would be more comfortable in the harbor.

OK. We did that, and it was very nice and very pretty—the first night. We took the dinghy ashore yesterday to find the restaurants we’d been told about and make reservations for dinner. We spotted all three, but only one was open to take our reservation. The family we had rescued the other day told us Acqua Pazza was the best, it was the one open, so that made our choice easy.

First night in Ponza harbor (lights are for a religious festival)

As we approached the dinghy where we’d left it locked, we saw some guys doing something to it. They put a big chain and lock on it! It turns out that it’s a private dock (not shown in the guide). They said we could leave the dinghy there for free if we only tied it so that they could move it as needed. Since we had locked it, that would be 20€ for an hour. John did a fine job of negotiating by saying 10€ and not budging. With yelling and expressions of disgust we escape our learning experience for 10€.

When we came back in the evening to go to dinner, a different guy was at that dock. First, it sounded like he wanted to charge us by the meter. (All of the discourse at this dock is in Italian with only a word or two of English on their side and the reverse on ours.) Then he said, no problem, just for dinner? Just give him a tip. How much we asked? No problem, he indicated, just some cigarettes. Big problem: we don’t have cigarettes. Go away then, he said and gestured. We looked around by the fishing boats where the Austrians and the earlier guy had said we could tie up, but there was no way to get the dinghy between the boats to tie up. They were really packed in there. I suppose we could have rafted to a fishing boat, but they’re all Med-moored end to end, and we can’t see how they even get off the boats, much less how we could. Finally we saw a dinghy leave a spot next to the first dock, so we went in there under constant surveillance from the dock guy, but he didn’t protest. That area seems to belong to the Winspeare Concert Café across the street, but they didn’t chase us off. Just to be safe, we went in and had a drink. It was a friendly place with reasonable prices, and I think we’ll go back tonight.

Fishing boat area of the harbor

Dinner at Acqua Pazza was very nice. Thanks, Mom! We learned at the music café that it’s very posh and during the high season royalty goes there. We had their tasting menu, which was quite unusual in that every course featured fish, except dessert, of course. I especially liked the swordfish tartar and tuna tartar. Not ocean friendly, but definitely local fish. The servings were quite large for a tasting menu, and we were stuffed by the time we left.

As we approached Solstice, we thought she was much closer to the Italian neighbor than she had been. They were all out in the cockpit looking, so we motored up. They asked if our anchor had moved, and we said no since they were in front of us, and if we had drug, there would be more distance between us, not less. Looking around we noticed that most boats had people on deck and that the wind was starting to pick up from the opposite direction of where it had been before.

Great. So much for the after dinner glow. We spent the next few hours watching boats drag and re-anchor and keeping a close watch in case we started to drag. Finally we did drag a little, but it was OK until it happened again. Then we leapt into action, got the anchor up, and started looking for another place to drop it. By then the wind was maintaining 20 knots and gusting into the 30s from the southwest. We decided our original anchorage on this side of the island would be sheltered, and it would be good not to have to worry about other boats dragging down on us.

I think that it’s scary moving at night, but we have instruments and radar, so we dodged some big boats and a poorly lit fish farm and made it back to our old anchorage, where the wind changed direction again making it a lee shore. And exposing it to wakes and swell. John let out all the chain in 14 feet of water over sand and stayed up until things settled down. He came to bed about 3 o’clock, and he can sleep until noon if he wants. Then we’ll talk about going back to the harbor because we want to go back to that café with the dinghy tie-up and maybe even check out another of the restaurants.

Solstice (in the distance with orange fender balls) in Ponza harbor


Since I’m posting this from our anchorage in Sicily near Castellamare, I can add that we did go back into the Ponza harbor so that we could return to the Winspeare Concert Café and also try another restaurant. We had excellent Spritzes and antipasto at the café and highly recommend it. The restaurant was OK, but we were the only customers, and the family that runs it watched our every move, so that was a bit weird.

Spritzes and antipasto at Winspeare Concert Café

1 comment:

Terri Potts said...

It's so good to see I'm not the only one who takes pictures of food and drink.