Post meridiem

Hill of Montallegro

In his book Harry Whitney describes the moon and aurora near arctic Crystal Palace glacier “It was a scene of rare beauty that can be witnessed nowhere in the world save in the Arctic, and seldom even there. Nature had combined ice, sky, moon, aurora and all the elements in an unusual manner and in just the right proportions of coloring upon this occasion, to paint the picture to perfection.” I had read that through in my mind several times during this voyage while trying to ease down to sleep in my bunk after some exciting graveyard shift. As we were travelling east for the most of the time we had the dawn ahead of us. The weather had been more or less on our side since Gibraltar presenting some unforgettable early morning scenarios.

Arriving Rapallo from the sea that early morning hour was an arresting experience to me. Faint dawn from behind 600 meters high Montallegro hill silhouette drew the sky cradle for a small town of Rapallo on the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region of northwest Italy. I had said good-bye to my excellent captain and crew members just a few days ago in Genoa. We had succeeded sailing that classic boat back to her birth town for summer and celebration. Genoa was amazing but far too huge for my preferences and despite all the alluring invitations I required myself back on scheduled travel towards Rapallo. Naturally the easiest way of doing it would have been by going to Piazza Principe Station and having a ticket for train. I, however, wished for something more memorable for my arrival to this magic place. I wanted to enter Rapallo from sea like so many seafarers had done in the past. Unfortunately the was no ferry of any kind available and I spend some quite time finding proper ride. My Italian is poor yet very limited and was therefore extremely lucky to come across a Dutch couple on their way towards Corsica and Sardinia for the summer. They had spent the winter on Minorca for all the special things like megalithic stone monuments, reptiles, birds and vast number of species of orchid.

Carrie and Joost Van Emst had left Minorca over two weeks ago motoring and sailing along the Spanish and French coast. The miracle of having them in Genoa happened to be my fortune. This elderly couple, as being natural science teachers, had followed their adult lives the ideas of nature study by Anna Comstock from Cornell University. While recently retired and childless they had possibilities to take over the dreams in investigation the wonders of nature all year around. Their home, “S/Y Sunride”, 32 ft Bènèteau Oceanis that is well equipped for year around onboard living was practically packed full for the summer sailing. It turned out to be their third season going around in Mediterranean as they wish to stay in place during the winters. So I got onboard with the Van Emst expedition as they headed towards east.

The quiet and beautiful small cove harbor of Rapallo is pretty much open for all the wind and waves of Ligunan Sea. The harbour basin is measured about five hundred meters from shore to shore and has multiple breakwaters. In here at last it becomes obvious and surprisingly true, Italians have greater aesthetics eye than the neighbouring French. Italians cherish the beauty of everyday life in everything they do even if it was simple breakwater.

The past few days with Van Emst had been great. We had light sunny sailing and some motoring under surprisingly calm sea towards Rapallo. Carrie turned out to be an excellent cook and the moments after dinner were quite extraordinary with discussions over various subjects. Grace Kelly and Eva Peron sitting on minke whale foreskin bar stools while guests onboard Christina O, deep-fried Mars bars and tales of distant marinas, they all came together during my stay.

Before Carrie and Joost were to continue for Corsica we decided to visit the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Montallegro built in 1558 on hill opposite the side of the Rapallo basin. This sanctuary was built on the spot where, on 2 July 1557, the Virgin Mary was reportedly sighted by a peasant, the farmer John Chichizola, returning from the vegetable market of Rapallo. Some part of its marble facade was added later in 1896. Cable car, built in 1934 with cable 2349 meters long, is the most spectacular and most comfortable way to climb up there 612 meters high. It leaves every half hour from Piazzale Silvio Solari just five minutes walk from the marina. In less than nine minutes you end up with amazing view over the town and marina. At first we had some lunch at one of the two hotels restaurant that was open for both lunch and dinner. Then we spent peaceful afternoon admiring all the details of golden interior and many offerings, mostly for miracles at sea. Next morning I got up early, had a light breakfast and walked for few minutes from hotel Italia e Lido, jus a stone’s throw away from the Castello sul Mare, to the marina and met Carrie and Joost for wishing “Buona navigazione” as they were departing for new adventures.

I sent the last hand wave for receding sailboat and tried to see famous Lavagna shipyard in the distance but it’s of course much too far. After all, it is located at the mouth of the delta Levante about 15 km SE from Rapallo. Mr Ettore Sangermani started boat building 1896 at Mulinetti, a village on the Riviera di Levante but in 1934, as the boats grew bigger, the Sangermani brothers decided to move the yard to Rapallo and then later in 1946 Cesare and Piero Sangermani transferred the yard to the current location in Lavagna. The exact location of area reserved for maintained sail boats in the days of 1951 when Goran Schild arrived with his wife for taking S/V Daphne for summer sailing from Rapallo, Italy to Crete, Greece and back, remains unclear for me. All I know it was all happening here at the beaches of Rapallo for half lifetime ago. On the first pages of “In The Wake Of Ulysses” Schildt attractively describes the feelings and anticipation of voyages ahead.

“The first night in Daphne’s cramped cabin with the sound of the dark and surging sea outside the door brings sober reflection and fitful sleep. Faced with stark reality, we are suddenly aware that sailing on the Mediterranean is not purely an idyll of delight, and that our immediate future is full of hardship, uncertainty and lurking peril. But what doubts can hold their ground against the glorious, calm morning that follows the night? Our first dip in the Mediterranean utterly reconciles us to our situation.”

I ended up thinking my trip on a bench in the basilica of San Gervasio and Protasio next to road cross of Corso Italia and Via Venezia. Magnificent building and, like always, filling up the property to the brim. Sitting in front of the bench row I looked the statue of Our Lady of Montallegro, with graceful face and two small angels looking down over kneeling peasant. Humility filled my mind in the peace of the basilica and I felt encouraged by the inevitable feeling that there would be more places to discover and journeys to travel, before returning home.

Longing back to the sea

Walking the promenade of Rapallo town was great. Going around castle of Rapallo, just in front of my hotel, for relaxed sunbathing was superb. I, however, started to feel myself more and more anxious to put up some sails and go forward, where ever that might be. While lying under Ligurian sun I saw dreams of Corsica and especially Sardinia. Variety of landscapes from the white beach sands up to hilly mountain views and lapping turquoise sea. I felt the inviting temptation of Tuaredda beach at the southernmost tip of Sardinia. I soon realised planning a sailing trip from Rapallo round to Sardinia and back to mainland Italy, Amalfi. How long would it take, where should I get the boat? How about the crew? I would not expect to go by myself with this little experience, now would I? It was the start of the season for boat charter business and I expected to be late for lower cost.

I was sipping the second anise-flavored pastis of the day in a small sea front cafe on Via Avenaggi, on the eastern shore of Rapallo bay. Pastis made me think of French people and Corsica as I have not been there ever. I realised that even more than longing to discover Corsica I was actually feeling for Sardinia. I had made some calculations and based on them it should be possible to sail from Rapallo to Amalfi in less than ten days considering a few days stay in Sardinia. The plan and determination grew inside me and that must have been due to the pastis since next morning I did not feel too confident at all. I was required to push fast forward without any idea about the crew or even the boat. So I decided to get the crew first and then do the searching of proper boat. I knew already that there was multiple charter companies to choose from. Only needed to pick up the right one letting us to sail to Amalfi.

Rapallo has about 150 sunny days a year. That is about half of the sunny days when compared to home island Rhodes, Greece. At least now the sunny days were not counted since there was a heavy low around the town. After a while I discovered that my plan should be quite opposite to succeed. First I should look for the boat and maybe I was able to find travellers who have similar plans. Going around the pouring wet marina promenade later the day I started to doubt my eyes while discovering a familiar figure of Carrie Van Emst on the boat deck. It turned out to be bad luck for Van Emst expedition this time. They had an engine issue soon after leaving Rapallo and while trying to fix it the manoeuvre went hazardously wrong and Joost had broken a bone on his left hand thumb. It’s hard to say if they were tears or raindrops on her face but I realised there had been a serious incident at the sea. They had managed to turn back sailing and finally yesterday motoring into marina through the last puffs of dying engine. It was some time after Joost came back from the first aid. Luckily there were no broken bones but one puffed up and sour thumb, now packed in tight bandages and sling going over his shoulder. It should be better in a week, that’s what the doctor predicted at the hospital at least.

I was buying a dinner for the weary travellers just for the sake of putting a bit of a smile on their faces. We went to La Goletta, that was close to the marina and down a back alley away from the rush. Great food elevated the atmosphere and soon we were joking about the couple sailing in circles with their boat due to Joost’s taped thumb. The main issue anticipated by the skipper was that the fuel line gasket leaked and the line sucked in air causing the engine not to run properly. We decided to call a technician from the shipyard to take a look at it as soon as possible. Later in the evening the discussion turned towards my future. I told Carrie and Joost about my plans to go sailing around Sardinia and visiting Amalfi. It did not take too long for them to offer me a lift to Corsica at least, only if I was interested. Joost was slightly handicapped anyway and they sure did not wish to spend extra week at the marina for waiting the thumb to heal. I believe it was sometime after third round of splendid pastis drinks when we decided that I should follow Van Emst and “S/Y Sunride” as their assisting summer sailing bosun. Maybe I would finally get to taste if Sardinian limoncello was much different from the one made from Femminello St. Teresa lemons in Amalfi .

This chapter is an example from yet unpublished volume
currently identified as "The Fast and Slow Rays"
by Yumatzuga (2011 - 2013).



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