“Why are you going by sea?” they ask. “For in the sea I stand”


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An unusual navigation, from which a beautiful book was born. “The Odessa Sail” by Luciano Piazza. (a 50-year-old Roman who quit his job a few years ago to devote himself to sailing and writing) recounts a sailing trip (for the record, a Bavaria 350 Lagoon, 11 m long) to one of the seas less frequented by yachtsmen: the Black Sea. “I started from Poros, a small island not far from Athens,” Piazza says, “and sailed along the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus, before arriving in the Black Sea.

Luciano Piazza

I have tried to recount both the preparation for the trip and the stages to get to Odessa, with all the excitement that such a long route can offer, including going up the Danube for a short distance. Then, slowly homeward, traveling back the long way to return to Rome.” The book is having great success and was awarded the Carlo Marincovich Prize for Sea Literature. We publish the second of three excerpts that Luciano selected for us (the first can be found HERE).


Hands quickly untie the knot on the stern cleats, freeing me from the ties holding me to the dock. The forward gear engaged at idle pulls Piazza Grande away from the dock making it slowly gain the open sea. I turn my head for one last glance, a nod to the little town that I now feel is mine and has made me its own, and I in turn receive glances and greetings from it. Outside the Poros Channel the wind is blowing lightly from the south, an ideal condition for an early season test for boat and skipper.

I plan to put in a few miles to check that everything is okay, that the six-month winter break has not numbed both of us. It is unusual to sail around here in southerly winds; one usually comes to Greece in summer, when the meltemi infests the Aegean Sea making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to head north. Having set the sails, I begin a general survey of the equipment, however lightly strained at the moment. I uncover the bilge, open the engine compartment, check the sea intakes: everything is perfectly dry.

Everything seems fine on deck as well; only the middle shrouds perhaps need to be slightly tensioned, but given the current weather conditions there is no urgency to do so. I open the notebook I bought before leaving and write the first page of the new logbook; by hand, with pen, rediscovering that ancient pleasure traded decades ago for the convenience and efficiency of the computer keyboard.

I write the journal by hand because I find it quicker to update or consult and to have, in the unfortunate event of a power failure, some reference for non-instrumented navigation. Writing is not the only thing I find again: back come the automatic and somewhat strange gestures I make to move without bumping somewhere and ending up in the water, back come the mocha tilting on the stove while the autopilot steers in my place, back come the gentle lapping of water on the hull, and back come the seagulls flying around Piazza Grande.

But above all, the inner emotion returns, that wonderful feeling that makes me feel alive and puts me more in touch with myself than ever before. “Why do you go by sea?” people often ask me. “Because in the sea I am,” is my pointed reply.. Once a person who stayed on board for quite a long time told me: as soon as you let go of the lines from the dock you become someone else, you transform.

After a few hours I check the Grib again, the weather forecast system I use most, which confirms the departure bulletin: fifteen knots from the south. In view of Cape Sunio I think it is convenient to go on and take advantage of the favorable conditions, even beyond the Kafireas, the strait between the islands of Euboea and Andros, which is practically unpassable in a northerly wind. It was not planned to start the trip with a night of sailing, but I ask Piazza Grande if she feels up to it and she says yes. I also ask the rest of the crew, a couple of friends, and receive the same answer. Here’s to it, then!

The sun reddens behind the mountains of Attica
And I enjoy this first sea sunset.I actually encounter a small glitch: the bow pathway lights do not come on. No matter how hard we try to check everything before departure, something always slips through the cracks. Disassembling the navigation light without dropping a few pieces of it in the water is indeed an arduous balancing act, but within half an hour I manage to solve it and the red and green shine again on the port and starboard side, respectively, reflecting in the darkness on the spray the bow raises as it passes.

During the night we pass several merchant vessels proceeding along the route to the Dardanelles, otherwise a calm and relaxed sailing that confirms to me that I made the right choice. Studying the nautical chart in the dim light of the chart table, I am reminded of an interesting theory I read a few days ago. It appears that the Black Sea in prehistoric times was a freshwater lake, with a level about a hundred and fifty meters lower than it is today and the coastline correspondingly much more advanced. The Bosphorus formed a kind of natural dam separating it from the Sea of Marmara, and there were several permanent human settlements along its shores.

At the end of the last ice age, due to ice melting, the level of the Mediterranean Sea gradually increased until it overflowed beyond the then Bosphorus Isthmus, pouring millions and millions of cubic meters of water violently into the Black Sea. The racking occurred around 5/6000 B.C. and lasted several months. The consequences were rising water levels and a very sharp increase in the moisture content that caused torrential rains over the entire area for a long period. The hypothesis is that this natural event, also attested to by the underwater discovery of Neolithic-era agricultural tools far from the coast, underlies the myth of the universal flood, found in both the Bible’s Book of Genesis and the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh.

Certainly there was no ark where all the animal species were boarded, but it is possible that the tale originated from oral transmission of a natural cataclysm that actually occurred.I am increasingly convinced that going to the Black Sea is an excellent choice.

The Odessa Sail
by Luciano Piazza
196 pages

An unusual destination, a little-navigated and little-known sea, yet rich in history and culture. A journey of discovery, a search for an elsewhere beyond the planetary standardization of tourist destinations. A long sea voyage aboard a small sailboat, confronting the daily difficulties of navigation and border bureaucracy and continually processing the thousands of stimuli and questions that such a journey brings. Six months and three thousand miles told in a lively, literate and often humorous style. Rich in historical insights, reflections, and sea life. Preface by Simone Perotti.




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