Giovanni 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 fifth part can be found here is taken.
Pilgrimage to the two small graveyards is the obligatory sad ritual before the hard upwind to Bonifacio. We tack downwind to the Mouths lighthouse, planted as a sentinel to the channel, and set course. Marguerite is at the wheel: focused, happy. I look at it as fathers look at their children growing up, with a mixture of pride and nostalgia. Navigation lends itself to easy metaphors: they are, my three boys, good sailors, but will they be able to weather the storms, to hold firm to the tiller of life?
Another lighthouse towers above the sheer white cliffs of Bonifacio Fjord, so narrow that a chain was once enough to close its mouth. But inland it widens into a deep inlet capable of accommodating ships and ferries-a shelter redoubtable from all winds. It is no coincidence that, as evidenced by the impregnable fortifications, the ruins of the towers and the medieval houses perched on the mountain, everyone tried to conquer it: Greeks and Romans, Saracens, Pisans, Genoese, Turks and Aragonese.
At night the lighthouse light casts fantastic shadows on the cliff. Today, light signals are almost superfluous, made obsolete-with the age-old craft of the watchman-by electronic and satellite technology. But for centuries, when the sea was an indistinct darkness, spotting a flame on the horizon could mean salvation from shipwreck. One must be grateful to the lighthouses.
Before the computer age, it was normal to scan with binoculars and stopwatch in hand the black line of the earth’s curve in search of the luminescent clue, to check the period and succession of flashes, to compare them with data from pilot books, to calculate the range and to correct the course by tracing it in pencil on charts with the help of compasses and a square: it was a high duty of the skipper, who could rightly feel himself in the shoes of Nelson or Francis Drake. Today you only need to press a button on the plotter, and anyone can do it. Is convenient, I don’t deny that. But so trivial and hasty! You lose the habit of observing, reflecting, interpreting signs. The art of navigation is reduced to computer software: the age-old liturgy of maritime gestures compressed into an iPad app.
I like to steer – it is my night game – taking the stars as my compass, like the argonauts. Not only the polar: the constellations, if you keep track of their movement and occasionally peek at the needle in the binnacle, are also a good guide. And they repay you with an ocean of splendor.
The cruise draws to a close. With a hint of sadness we hoist the sails and launch Blue Gal into the fresh breath of the Mouths: with the mistral and the wave at the little garden we cross them in a flash, slip into the strait between Razzoli and Spargi and are already at Capo d’Orso. But as soon as we round the cape the wind turns south and strengthens, forcing us to reef and reduce the jib.
We pass off Porto Cervo: a forest of masts in the Marina and megayachts at anchor, with generators running and the fashionable Wally speedboats as tenders. There is no longer a trace of the bucolic “clover-shaped lake” with the sandy shore full of red coral shards of which I read in Ganymede’s Diary: “Deer Cove is a wonder: come there, here, forever! The hills are laden with lentisk bushes, laurel bushes, brambles and pinasters. Black cows graze on the one to the south. Everything is idyllic and georgic.”
We gain miles with difficulty, slowly, toward Porto Rotondo. The sea has clouded, has a metallic, gray-green color. And the blue glaze of the sky faded into an ashy blue rag. The sirocco, with its gusty breeze, seems to be telling us to turn back. To turn the bow to another long course.