SUMMER READINGS From Brindisi to Roccella Ionica/1

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sunset toastGiovanni Porzio is one of Italy’s greatest reporters and a passionate sailor. In his book “The Sea is Never the Same,” he recreated the essence of reportage, that is, “reporting” from a journey news, but also stories, feelings and images. It is from this very book that the story whose first part can be found here is taken.

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.

Does one sleep standing on Blue Gal?
Does one sleep standing on Blue Gal?

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: it 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 depart 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 extensively described by the 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.

A relaxing moment aboard Blue Gal during a motorboat ride
A relaxing moment aboard Blue Gal during a motorboat ride

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. Is reliable in rough seas and docile to sail. But taking terzarols with the sole aid of autopilot (which can always go haywire…) is no easy maneuver. I check the equipment and safety gear, 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! I watch the skin of the sea changing its appearance and color at the passage of a cloud, at the flow of a current, and let my thoughts run.

Discover all of John Porzio’s reports!

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