Giovanni Porzio is one of Italy’s best reporters and a passionate sailor. After many reports made in the pages of the Sailing Newspaper, we collected his reports at sea into a book. In “
The sea is never the same
“, John takes us to discover the contradictions of Italy’s southern coasts, then pointing to Sardinia and Tunisia, but also making us dream along the fjords of the Great North, between the Svalbard Islands and the Orkney Archipelago. “When I let go of the moorings, the gap is clear, absolute. The earthly world is immediately distant, irrelevant in the face of the urgency of the winds, the movement of the waves, the course of the course. Every crossing is a challenge and every landing is a discovery. The sea, like the desert, is never the same“, writes John Porzio in his preface.
WE PRESENT HERE THE FIRST PART OF HIS LONG JOURNEY TO ITALY,
ONE OF THE REPORTS FOUND IN THE NEW BOOK“THE SEA IS NEVER THE SAME“
It may not be the “long route” of the mythological Bernard Moitessier, but three months of sailing after thirty years of skimpy vacations, always with the help of a phone call from a director who wants to send you to Somalia or Afghanistan, is enough to take certain distances, take stock and go with the breath of the sea. I have been coming for many seasons to the Greek islands of the Aegean, the most rugged and secluded, lashed by the winds, where rainwater grows thyme in the crevices of the rocks and where the encounters are a goat herder, the pope of a remote little Orthodox church, and the universal presence of archaic gods. I fear, as I approach the Italian coast, the crowds, the clamor, the bustle of motorboats.
But Puglia is a pleasant surprise. Ports have always fascinated me. And Brindisi is a great port. Or at least it was. In Roman times Brundisium (“in primis Italiae portu nobile,” Pliny the Elder) was the terminal of the Appian Way: saw the fleets of Caesar and Octavian, Virgil died there, Cicero stayed there; Frederick II sailed from its docks to the Holy Land and in more recent times it was the gateway to Suez and the Indies, a strategic military port during World War II and the last Italian refuge of Victor Emmanuel III. Today the port seems to be in disarray. Ferries to Greece almost all leave from Bari, and in the great fjord stop a few ships, merchantmen, fishing boats, Coast Guard vessels, gas and oil tankers that dock at the piers of the petrochemical hub, the monster that from the open sea announces itself with smoking smokestacks and, at night, with burning torches: “conspicuous points” marked on nautical charts and amply described by Portolano.
The Marina, 640 berths in front of the splendid Alfonsin Castle, is also half-empty. Restaurant and stores closed, docks deserted, moorers absconding. Yet it is July. And the marina, funded by the European Union, cost 5.8 million euros. “Management problems,” explains one taxi driver sibilantly. “Conflicts of interest between the municipality and private parties.” Asking around turns up stories with dark contours that are difficult to verify: jealousies, political blackmail, business aims. Too bad, because Brindisi seems tailor-made to become a base for Adriatic charters and yachts bound for Greece. The only way to galley is to call a cab (public transportation does not exist) and be taken to town, on the other side of the fjord.
I want to leave as soon as possible: a light northerly wind is blowing and the pressure is stable, ideal weather conditions for heading down the Salento coast. This is the first time I’ve sailed a long stretch solo, and I don’t want to take any chances. Blue Gal is a 1979 Baltic 42 that has been with me for more than 20 years. I know it from the bulb to the masthead. My three children grew up there. We explored the Mediterranean together, at all gaits, from the Balearics to Turkey, becalmed and with force seven. It is reliable in rough seas and docile to sailing. But taking terzarols with the sole aid of autopilot (which can always go haywire…) is no easy maneuver. I check the equipment and safety equipment, engine, water and diesel tanks, study the course, set the plotter, and early in the morning leave the berth.
With 10 knots in the backyard, the mainsail is not needed. The jib wears well, and the sea, which slowly turns from the pale blue of the shallows to blue, is barely rough. It is 110 miles to Tricase, and I have plenty of time to get used to the solitude. I have no one to rely on: I straighten my senses and try to keep everything under control. The rudder, the course, the sail, the ships on the horizon, the wind, the waves, the sheet and the line I spun aft. By mid-day the mistral strengthens, 18-20 knots. I reduce the jib and maintain a speed of 6-7 knots. The sky is clear and the first geese are fringing on the ridges. No boat in sight, I pass only a fishing boat trolling, followed by a flock of seagulls. And offshore, far from the world, surrounded by the waves and the saltiness, I rediscover that feeling of absolute freedom that only the sea can give me: immersed in the primordial elements from which everything is born, the sun, the air, the water, I am master of my course, of my destiny!