The Perfect Sail

Written by Pieter Jan on Oct 18, 2019 — 4 min read

From: Le Castella, Italy
To: Bova Marina, Italy

We left Le Castella in the afternoon, thinking to cross the gulf of Squillace to Soverato, some 30 miles away. When we came outside, the weather was perfect. 10 knots of wind on the beam. My spirits soared instantly.

Le Castella, named after its castle
Le Castella, named after its castle

Sometimes the wind dropped to nothing, did a 120 degree shift and then went back to 10 knots. These windless zones were never big. Usually, a few minutes of motoring took care of it, and we never had to alter course, just tack the sails to the other side. Most of the time, the wind came from over land, so the sea remained calm, as did the ride. The words ‘smooth as butter’ came to my mind every ten minutes. I was as happy as a dog with two tails.

We passed Soverato. I said to Barbara, “Let’s just continue. The wind and the waves are perfect for this trip. The next time we’ll have weather like this, according to the predictions, is never.” Barbara agreed to round Cape Stilo and then find some place to stop.

At sunset, a helicopter passed over Vite & Rêves, did a tour around the boat and flew on. We were just sitting on the trampolines, so we smiled and waved to the pilot.

Dramatic sunset
Dramatic sunset

But we rounded Cape Stilo and the wind remained perfect. It seemed a waste to stop. We continued. Barbara was falling asleep, so I said: “I’ll do the night shift, I’ll call you when I need all hands on deck.”

Honestly, it was the best sail of my life. So smooth. It was absolutely delightful. The moon was out and bathed the world in a cool quiet light. I binge-watched “Friends From College” while keeping watch. Check the environment every 20 minutes. Do a small sail adjustment now and then. Continue watching.

I was watching the last episode of season 2 around 4 AM, when a bright light filled the saloon. My first thought: “Hmm, the sun is up early and suddenly this morning.” My second thought was: “My god this is it, we’re being run over by a Big Ship.” I jumped outside and was blinded by a searchlight of a boat that was stalking Vite & Rêves. It was not even 10 meters behind us.

And it was quiet, like a ghost ship. I couldn’t see what I was dealing with, but it looked like the outline of a destroyer. I put my hands up immediately. In my imagination I was staring down the barrel of a 76mm deck gun. The boat kept following. After a few minutes I put my hands back down. I shielded my eyes. They turned the searchlight away briefly. “Guardia Finanza,” the side of the boat said.

My mind was racing. I paid my taxes, right? I took the wind out of the sails to slow us down. I went inside to get the radio and tried to hail them. “Guardia Finanza, this is sailing vessel Vite & Rêves”. No answer. I tried with another radio. No answer. Just the boat silently following at 10 meter distance with a blinding searchlight in my face. It was spooky.

The blue flashing lights came on. Luckily, Barbara had waken up by then. I called her outside. With her by my side, I always look less like a criminal. Seeing Barbara seemed to convince the Guardia that I was not dangerous. A guy came out and shouted: “How many people on board?” “Us two and our three children!” “Three children?!” “Yes, our children!”

A brief pause. “Where do you come from?” “Le Castella this morning!” “Where are you going?” “Sicily!” Pause. “Okay, goodnight!” And they were off.

“Well that was weird,” I said to Barbara, “glad you came outside at the right time.” “They probably thought we were smugglers or traffickers.” Can’t people sail unsuspectedly at night anymore?

The rest of the night passed quietly. I took care not to enter the forbidden zone below Palizzi, where a World War II torpedo boat wreck rests on a mountain of unexploded torpedos.

We arrived near Bova Marina around 7 AM. Barbara woke up when I prepared the anchor. It took hold immediately in the sandy bottom. We watched the sunrise and the active Etna volcano in the distance.

Just before sunrise
Just before sunrise
Etna smoking
Etna smoking