North Through The Messina Straits

Messina Strait

Sometimes days don’t go quite as expected……

All started well on out trip up the Messina Strait. Somebody accidentally set their alarm clock an hour earlier than planned, but that was no bad thing as it turned out as the extra hour meant we got a slow sail in. Plus we got to see the sunrise making a golden glow on Etna before the clouds gathered around her peak.

Etna glows pink in the sunrise

We ran the engine at 2000revs and were making 6kts. Wahay! We’d happily take that all the way up. We assumed we had a bit of north going tide from the ‘bastardo’ – a counter tide to the main stream in the middle of the straits, that runs close to the shore. The main stream was forecast to run north from 10:00am; our plan was to move out into it when it did.

So we’re going along great for a few hours when our speed dropped 0.5kt in the blink of an eye. It seemed early for the tide change so we checked over the stern to make sure we weren’t dragging anything – nothing seen. So we put it down to the wind that had freshened up from the NE (despite being forecast to be from the NW).

Over the next two hours we watched our speed drop off more and more. Soon we were down to 4kts. We cut in to shore which brought it back up to 5. Then we hit a low of 3.3kts. It got worse too – a speed over ground (SOG) of only 2.6kts. By now the current should have been with us, so the only thing for it was a few more revs which gave us a touch more speed.

Just after midday, after 6 hours of bashing north, we were swirled around and spat out of the top of the straits having found where all the tide was. How we wished for the flat water and nothing-to-see-here dullness of our first trip down the straits. We had had some minor excitement watching a fleet of warships heading south, but the overall feeling was one of frustration as other yachts passed us and helplessness over what was accounting for our poor speed. Problems with the engine? Dragging something with us? The NE wind? Or the bastardo current being a right proper bastardo!

The ferries look like they’re lined up ready to set off as soon as we’re in their path – we call passing them the jaws of death manoeuvre after the challenges in video games

The sea chopped and swirled near the top of the Straits

Swordfish boat with spotters sat up high

It didn’t help our mood that once around the top of Sicily our SOG under high revs was still lower than expected. Doom! And it was cloudy and cold. Gloom!

As we rounded Cape Rascolmo we got some pleasure when we were able to get sails up and turn the engine off for two hours of peace and a slow sail towards Milazzo.

At Milazzo the anchorage north of the harbour wall already had two boats there and as we arrived the wash from three ferries had created a rollercoaster swell. We nosed our way in to the beach but couldn’t find a depth we liked in the steeply shelving seabed. Instead we went to the anchorage at the harbour entrance and found a spot in 4m off the small boat mooring buoys. The ship wash wasn’t so bad as the ferries have to slow down to enter and leave and what little wind there was had us pointing bows into the roll. The view was ‘industrial’ to the east, or very Blade Runner as Colin described it when night fell and thousands of lights lit up the chimneys and gantries. To the NW we had a view of the harbour and the town rising up to it’s castle.

Our view from the anchorage – Hydrofoil and Milazzo castle

During the evening we were brought quickly on deck by some loud air horns. A procession of boats – a huge tug, tripper boat, and fishing boats decked out with flags – was heading out of the harbour. It was a religious event where the relic of a saint is taken out to sea and a ceremony performed off the beach at the other anchorage.

The convoy carrying the relic of a saint

We slept well other than for a big roll in the night from the swell of a ship passing out at sea.

Sailing Info

8th May – Taormina to Milazzo: 55nm travelled (8nm sailed)
Anchored in 4.4m in sand, 38 12.79’N 15 14.915’E
Weather – started bright with cloud building through the day. Winds from the NE, F4 to F5