We take a trip back to Leanne Casellas’s trip along the Amalfi Coast. Now, it may not be action packed, but sailing off the Amalfi Coast provides plenty of relaxation and glamorous locations.
When you’re thinking of hitting the high seas, billowing sails and a decent, salty wake Italy may not be the first destination to spring to mind. Don’t be deceived; although sailing off Italy’s Amalfi Coast is a very civilised affair, it can have its share of excitement with a good skipper at the helm. This picturesque coastline has a rich nautical heritage, which saw the advent of the first maritime code – the Amalfi Table – in the 11th century.
This trip was an ideal balance of gentle cruising coupled with the opportunity to effortlessly nip in and out of the elite destinations scattered along the precipitous slopes into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The sea aspect of the trip was a pleasurable mix of calm – albeit deep – waters and beautiful coves carved out the limestone, while the forays on land uncovered the marvels of a new port each day.
Campania’s Costiera Amalfitana is the playground of the rich and famous, who cruise the emerald-green seas in their super yachts tripping in and out of salubrious ports like Capri, Sorrento and Positano. Although its heyday may be somewhat in the past, the natural beauty of this rugged coastline still draws visitors in their tens of thousands every year to the region. Many well-heeled Neapolitans and Romans could not survive without holiday homes along this part of the coast just south of Naples.
Having negotiated the terrifying hairpin bends and impossibly narrow roads on a previous trip to the area, I welcomed the opportunity of arriving in these stylish hot spots in a far more relaxed fashion – under sail.
Once we got there though, the only downside, believe it or not, was the weather. When planning the trip, early June seemed like a good time to go, as I’ve always found this time of year in Italy to be nice and warm. But this time it was not to be, although I did learn some new Italian words.
Stranissimo and variabile were two of the most popular when referring to the unseasonably strange and variable weather at the time of our visit. I lost count of the amount of people who told us how hot it had been right throughout May, but June was apparently “una storia molto diversa” –
a very different story!
We weren’t long out of Naples airport when we noticed the sky’s definite grey tinge and the further south we went along the A3, the darker the skies. By the time we reached our destination of Agropoli in the Cilento region, an hour’s drive and 110 kilometres away, the heavens opened. When we were met by charter company Kiracoulis’s local representative Edoardo and our skipper Francesco, all we could talk about was the weather.
Edoardo had a dinner suggestion for us, which would distract us for that evening at least. But before we could sit back and indulge ourselves, we had to dispense with the two chores of the holiday; unpacking and shopping for the essentials we would need on our voyage.
The six of us had overpacked for the trip. Seeing our collective dilemma over where to stow six suitcases on a boat, the tolerant Edoardo kindly offered to relieve us of our cases, which he would store in his office. We took him up on his offer and then took leave of Aris, the 44 foot Bavaria, to explore the town.
Seeking refuge from the downpour we found a small café in which to enjoy our first espresso of the trip. Twenty minutes later, armed with a hastily compiled shopping list, we hit the local supermarket with a vengeance. Laden down with all manner of Italian culinary delights, the shop’s management took pity on us and allowed us to borrow the three trolleys we needed to haul our supplies away. Edoardo’s dinner recommendation turned out to be a very a good one, with me going as far as to say that the meal at the Miramare restaurant was the best we had on the entire trip.
Agropoli is not considered to be part of the venerable Amalfi coast proper and therefore off the tourist trail. I was told, although opinions seemed to differ, that the region stretches between Vietri Sul Mare in the south to its northernmost point at Positano. The fragmented and irregular mountainous landscape of the region, which forms the dramatic backdrop to the coastline, is part of the Appennini Campani. Fresh local fare was used to conjure up a spectacular meal, with a contemporary twist to Italian food that I had never had the pleasure of trying before. It was finished with the grand finale of the host’s selection of digestivi (liqueurs), which we washed down with gusto to obliterate our disappointment over the weather. At least it had stopped raining for our walk back to the yacht.
The following morning, we awoke to steely skies and squalling winds, and just as we were about to take Edoardo up on his offer of a local excursion by car, it all cleared and before too long we were underway with a brisk wind at our heels.
In just over four hours, doing an average of seven knots, we had squared up with the largest town on the Amalfi coast, Amalfi itself, with its whitewashed buildings spilling into the sea, inviting us to avail ourselves of its charms. Not half-an-hour after mooring, we were basking in the sun eating a sumptuous lunch on deck.
That evening we found a pizzeria that, judging by the queue, was the culinary equivalent of a goldmine. Not far from Naples, the birthplace of pizza, Pizzeria al Teatro just had to be good. Thin crispy bases, with just the right mix of fresh ingredients to ensure they didn’t go soggy, put smiles on our decidedly-pink faces.
That night as we were rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the water, we had a premonition of good things to come. So it was with relief that we awoke to blue skies the following day. True to the previsione (forecast) the weather had taken a turn for the better.
With a spring in my step, I went out to find a pasticceria for some breakfast pastries to set us up for the next leg of our journey. As I walked the five minutes it took to get the centre of town, Amalfi positively sparkled. We washed the pastries down with copious quantities of good, strong coffee, then pushed off for another day’s sailing headed for the island of Capri.Sailing so close into the coast, it was fascinating to see how every available bit of arable land, despite the steep gradients, had been transformed into terraces growing grapes and the infamous giant lemons of the region. Protected from the winds by the proximity of the land, the sun had a soporific affect on us, with lolling about on deck about all we could muster the energy to do.
Opposite Positano we passed the three small islands of which, legend has it, were mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey in the guise of three sirens who lured fisherman to an unceremonious death.
Approaching the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula the average depth of the water was 70-80 metres. Rounding it at Punta Campanella in the straits between the mainland and Capri, Bocca Piccola, the sailing charts registered depths of 424 metres. The slopes went deeper down to 1200 metres in some places off Capri. We had just sailed over the deepest coastal waters in the whole of Italy.
Our spirits were lifted when we awoke to brilliant sunshine the next morning, if not roasting temperatures. Our journey back around the Sorrentine Peninsular brought us to one of my favourite spots on this coastline – Positano. It being such a glorious day, we had to stop along the way for another swim, which we did in the emerald, sparkling waters of Nerano Bay.
Drying off and back underway, it wasn’t long before we recognised Positano’s black, volcanic, sand beach and its mess of colourful buildings, which fall down the steep gradient to meet the sea. Positano doesn’t have a marina, so we were ferried to land by the little taxi boats, while Francesco pressed on without us to secure the one and only berth left in Amalfi.
The Spiaggia Grande promenade area is awash with touristy outlets, but also some very good eateries. It is only when you get into the back streets that you can come across some real finds, particularly of the panoramic kind. Our penultimate day proved to be gloriously sunny and we welcomed the opportunity to explore Amalfi a little further. That afternoon we sailed back to Agropoli and the end of our trip. We very sorry to see Francesco go; he had been a real godsend, boasting an expansive knowledge of the area and a great sense of humour.
The combination of warm days, cool evenings and light breezes meant we never made it much over seven knots cruising under sail and 10 when motoring. Each leg of the journey was roughly four hours which made for plain sailing to cover the total 120 nautical miles of our week at sea.
Coping with sailing
With a change in conditions the sailing could have been a lot more challenging, as violent winds and treacherous stormy swells have been known to batter this steep coastline.
It is always a good idea to check weather conditions in advance of any sailing trip. My advice is not to get caught out like we foolishly did and always take waterproofs irrespective of the time of year.
Another consideration when going away in a group is to be aware of the expectations and limitations of your fellow travellers. One person’s choppy seas can easily be another person’s tidal wave. It is also a good idea to agree on a meeting point when in port, thus avoiding delays in departure or to other communal gatherings like lunch or dinner. An acceptance of the confines of a yacht bathroom’s is a plus – they are often on the small side. However, all marinas offered use of shower facilities, which are included in your marina fees.