Sunday, 17 August 2014

Naples

The urban sprawl of Naples, and its one million inhabitants, spreads across the horizon, from the green slopes of Vesuvius down to the bay of Naples. We are in the middle of the city where our friend and hotelier, Paolo, has secured us a berth at the marina in Santa Lucia, positioned under the battlements of Castel dell’Ovo which takes its name from the the legend that it was built over an egg placed here by Virgil in Roman times: it is believed that if the egg breaks, Naples will fall.  





Motoring into the marina at Santa Lucia is an obstacle course. There are children swimming in the channel, rowing boats marooned off the pontoons and people sunbathing everywhere. Harbour walls enclose the small marina, with restaurants on three sides and a narrow entrance through the breakwater. In amongst this melee is the Savoia Yacht Club, the oldest in Naples where Paolo is a member and where his yacht is docked. We reverse up to the pontoon where Gaetano catches our lines. He hands us the tails to heavy lazy lines which emerge from the green swamp below, covered in mud and strewn with mussels which I assume grow to such large proportions filtering the organic-rich effluence in the harbour.  Next to the sailing club on the harbour wall is a boat rental business where large families of Neapolitans cram into small wooden rowing boats, shouting at each other with great gusto, then happily manoeuvre all of twenty metres to the end of the pontoon where they tie up for the day. 

It is a noisy scene: the water is full of rubbish but it doesn’t deter the bathers who hurl themselves, and their offspring into the green water which is strewn with plastic bags, cardboard boxes and various other unmentionable objects. Conversations are held across the marina at full voice; the Neapolitan dialect is incomprehensible to me but the gestures and the volume are unmistakably Italian. Two women have a lengthy, and what appears heated, conversation with each other from opposite ends of the pontoon, bawling at each other at full tilt, then to our relief, roaring with laughter.  One beautiful young mother in a yellow bikini, engrossed in conversation with a friend, gives her misbehaving son the occasional admonishment accompanied by a hefty swipe across the bottom, which seems to do him no harm as he just grins and continues to torture his younger sister. We feel rather self-conscious, with Juno sitting regally at centre stage, the only yacht on the pontoon, presiding over this densely packed swimming pool of Naples.





















Jamie and Lucie arrive from the UK and we eat at a pizzeria on the harbour wall, Jamie’s favourite meal of Italian beer and authentic Neapolitan pizza.  Another Mistral is brewing, so the following day I stand guard on Juno while Caroline, Jamie and Lucie visit Pompeii where they have arranged to meet Terry and Julie, our Australian friends from the boat Exotica.  Naples has been fascinating, its inhabitants fiercely loyal, but I am quite glad to escape the clamour of the harbour for what I hope will be the calm of the islands.







Isola di Procida is a small island, but with ten thousand inhabitants it is the most densely populated in the Mediterranean.  We anchor in the very protected bay of Cala di Sant’Antonio, off the little fishing town of Corricella. No sooner is the anchor in and the tea made than a Coastguard boat approaches us and three uniformed officers ask to see our documents that are transferred, slightly comically, in a long-handled fishing net.  It soon becomes clear that we need a permit to anchor in the protected waters surrounding the island of Ischia and without one, we are about to receive a three hundred euro fine. Claiming genuine ignorance, I refuse to sign the form that will confirm my admission of guilt and I call Vincenzo, the freezer engineer who has been so helpful to us in Naples. He talks to them on my mobile, which is also transferred from vessel to vessel in the fishing net, and he apologetically advises me to sign the form and then stay overnight at the Marina Grande where his friend Antonio will help to rescind the fine.  I reluctantly sign the form and retrieve my documents from the landing net.  In a rather pathetic but satisfying show of resistance I hold onto the net while I check my documents, forcing the coastguard officer to lose his grip. The net is now mine, but I hand it back with a smile.

Marina Grande in Procida is friendly and efficient and everyone we speak to shows their irritation at the aggressive tactics of the Coastguard. I buy the necessary permit and visit the coast guard office in the port where the duty officer photocopies my permit and send me on my way. ‘Don’t worry’ he says, making a sweeping gesture with his hands suggesting that the matter is closed. After a night in Procida we leave the marina, our faith in Neapolitans restored, and set sail for the volcanic island of Ischia. 



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