Scylla in Scilla and the Messina Straits.
Monsters and whirlpools in the Medina Straits
We made our way from Milazzo on Sicily to Scilla on the Italian mainland by the mouth of the notorious Straits of Messina. We would be going through them the following day but first we had a reunion with Hornblower and Tree on Tinkerbell. We also had more brownies to eat courtesy of Tree.
The bay in Scilla is right on the front of the old town and has a very rocky bottom which is bad news when it comes to anchoring. After several failed attempts we did find some sand and got the anchor dug in firmly. The nearby harbour is very shallow and there is no room amongst the numerous small fishing boats for anything bigger than a German’s sense of humour.
Swordfish fishing boats.
The old town
In the harbour in Scilla you can see some of the weirdest looking boats you are likely to find. They have a huge bowsprit (bit sticking out the front) and a tower in the middle that would be good for building skyscrapers. This is actually where the boat is steered from. The ships are designed like this to hunt swordfish passing through the straits. For the next bit I suggest all women put their fingers in their ears and hum very loudly.
The ships will often hunt the male swordfish first. If they catch them the female will come to the boats looking for their mate and are then easily caught by harpoon. (Fingers out of ears now). It does seem barbaric and soulless but the swordfish have more of a chance to escape these boats than from a huge net. (For pictures and information about these boats click here). You can take your fingers out your ears now.
The old town.
The town of Scilla is separated by a huge castle on top of a big rock. On one side and up the hill you have the old town. The alleyways twist, turn, go up and down everywhere between the old houses. Walk down these narrow passageways and you will find fishermen mending the nets and locals sat on chairs outside the front door chatting to each other. They love to talk so just saying “buongiorno” will often bring you into a conversation. You may not understand a word but they will still carry on talking and making you feel welcome. There are small fresh water streams running down between the houses and into collection points around the town.
A history of devastation.
The town at night
At night the old town glows a soft yellow from the lights and is picture perfect. This part of Scilla is probably the prettiest and friendliest town we have found to date. A local girl who heard us speaking English came up and started telling us the history of the town and what we should see. She was rightly proud of Scilla and wanted us to know about the earthquake that devastated it and the bombing from both England and Germany in WWII.
The other side of the rock is a manicured holiday resort with a long sandy beach, sun beds laid out military style and numerous restaurants lit by neon signs. Even Yin and Yan would struggle to be as different as the two parts of the town.
Not a place to be when the swell comes in.
When we got back to our boats it was scary. The swell had come from somewhere and was throwing Cygnus III and Tinkerbell around. With the anchor light at the top of the mast being whipped from side to side the boats looked like a drunks at a Barry Manilow concert. When we got aboard it was hard to stand up without feeling you were on a fairground ride. Our trouble was that there was nowhere close by to sail to and get out of the swell. Also because of the very strong tides in the Messina Straits we could not enter them until 11am the following morning. As the saying goes “We were between a rock and a hard place”
Greek mythology and Scylla
In Greek mythology it is said that that the beautiful Scylla was bathing in the bay where we were anchored. Other Greek gods were jealous of her, poisoned the water and turned her into a monster. Her body consisted of twelve tentacle-like legs and a cat’s tail while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist. In this form she attacked the ships of passing sailors, seizing one of the crew with each of her heads. (Angelina had obviously dipped her toe in at some point because she just wanted to attack me with one of her two heads and a few well sharpened knifes).
Charybdis, the whirlpool.
Scylla and Charybdis
On the Sicilian side of the narrow straits is another Greek monster called Charybdis which is actually a whirlpool and is said to suck whole boats under. The whirlpool does actually exist even to this day. The origin of ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ is in Greek mythology. Back then, the idiom ‘between Scylla and Charybdis’ was used. It basically means that no matter what you do the options that are available to you are not favourable. And that is how we felt.
We were stuck that night with Scylla grabbing hold of our boat and rocking us to bits and tomorrow we would have to face Charybdis. Remind me again of why anyone wants to go sailing?
The only reason we managed to survive is that Tree pacified old Scylla with her with brownies all night. I also assured Scylla that they tasted better than my old bones, even if you smothered me with barbecue sauce. Angelina just wanted me to sacrifice myself regardless.
Cygnus III could not stand any more of being thrown around.
It was probably the worst night’s sleep we have had aboard Cygnus III. I was up before light trying to work out if there was anything else we could do. Richard on Tinkerbell was the same and we both decided that we had just had enough.
We knew that the books said we should not enter the straits of Messina until the tide was with us but we really couldn’t stand any-more and besides, Tree had run out of brownies. We would try to get through the Messina Straits. If we were spat back out like a sex pistol concert we would just drift around until we could get in. Anything was better than what we being subject to by Scylla in Scilla, even the whirlpool.