All Roads Lead . . .
The respect I have for the seafarers of ancient Rome soared even higher as we entered Porto Turistico di Roma, a large, sleek marina 17 miles west of Rome. We were sailing Reveille, our Sigma 41, and a 30-knot westerly had whipped the shallow summer waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea into a crashing frenzy that would last a week.
Mariners of antiquity put in under similar conditions to nearby Ostia, once a booming port of 75,000 inhabitants at the mouth of the Tevere river, known in English as the Tiber. Their cargo-grain from Sicily, iron from Britain, slaves from Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey-was offloaded onto barges and hauled upriver to Rome. Seafaring was so vital to the port that the city had erected a temple dedicated to shipwrights.
Flash-forward 16 centuries. Ostia Antica, as it's now called, lies in ruins three miles inland under a flight path for Rome's Fiumicino airport; nevertheless, its magnificent temples and mosaics remain surprisingly intact and open to visitors. The same flat, sandy plain that surrounds Ostia stretches along 65 miles of coastline, offering cruising sailors few good options for berthing or anchoring near Rome.
So the modern, 800-berth Porto Turistico, carved out of dunes and marshes, is a welcome haven for layovers and repairs. Fifteen minutes by cab from the airport, it's also an excellent base for crew changes. Too isolated, to my taste, for overwintering, at the height of summer, Porto Turistico is a bustling international crossroads. During the six days that Reveille was berthed there in July 2008, my husband and I hobnobbed with sailors of many nationalities, including crews from Nouvelle-Calédonie, Southern California, and the area around San Francisco Bay.
Luck-and the harbormaster-put us stern-to-stern with an aluminum 50-footer, Pamplemousse.The French-flagged boat-the name is the French word for grapefruit-has hard chines, a high deckhouse, and an orange boot stripe. Skipper Charles Deschamps and his wife, Edmée El Arbi, started their circumnavigation in October 2004 from the Pacific isle of Nouvelle-Calédonie. This was their third summer in the Mediterranean. In previous summers, they'd sailed to Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Adriatic Italy, Croatia, and Albania.
Eager to hear more about their voyage, I proposed to Deschamps, El Arbi, and their two guests that they permit us to introduce them to the American concept of potluck. We dined chez Pample-mousse. She was built, we learned, in Brittany, France, in 1983 and sailed to Nouvelle-Calédonie by her original owners. The name came with the boat when Deschamps bought her in 2003. It's a fitting reference to his career as a wholesale produce merchant.
Deschamps now spends six months of each year aboard Pamplemousse. El Arbi still works, but she joins the boat for two to three months each year. (Her name comes from her Algerian great-grandfather, who was sent to French labor camps in Nouvelle-Calédonie).
Deschamps took up sailing as an adult. In 1984, he sailed a 740-mile singlehanded race from Nouvelle-Calédonie to Australia in a 23-foot boat. He recorded his exploits in La Peur en Prime, or Fear Is an Added Bonus. In his book, he described his fellow competitors as "offbeat, often a bit wacky, but always extremely likeable." The same can be said of him.
Deschamps and El Arbi liked the ambiance at Porto Turistico, particularly when crowds strolled the esplanade in the traditional evening passeggiata. During their 12-day stay, they visited Rome three times and had a new awning made and a jib furler repaired. Later, they sailed to Elba, Corsica, Sardinia, and Tunisia. Libya, Malta, Algeria, and Morocco are on the float plan.
When I first caught sight of Greetings, a Beneteau 47.3 with the hailing port of Huntington Beach, California, I did a double take. "See that boat?" I said to my husband. "There's no way she got to the Med on her own bottom. She looks way too good." The deck and topsides on Greetings gleamed. The foredeck and cockpit were shaded by custom awnings. Silky cushions and pillows gave the cockpit the appearance of a sheik's tent.
The boat's owners, Greg and Teri Weeger, set me straight. They'd left California in March 2006 and were now in the midst of a three-year, westbound circumnavigation. Teri explained that she wanted to see the world but wasn't willing to forgo creature comforts-thus the air conditioner, washing machine, and cushy cockpit.
How did they manage to keep Greetings in Bristol condition?
"Keeping a good spray rust remover and a bottle of stainless-steel polish handy is key to staying on top of the stainless steel," Teri said. "Whenever we get into a marina, Greg usually washes the boat and tends to any scuffs. Keeping the fenders clean is a constant battle, but we found that dirty fenders can be hard on the hull. If the decks start getting yellowed, we use a mild solution of oxalic acid. In port, we remove the cushion covers and wash those, too. It's an entire day of cleaning, but then we can kick back in the glow of Greetings." Greg has sailed all his life, including many races to Mexico and Hawai'i. The couple met after Teri took up sailing in 1998, the year that they crewed on the same boat. Both sailed the 2004 Sydney-Hobart Race. The next year, they bought Greetings. Greg sold his share of a family construction business to subsidize their voyage, and Teri gave up working in marine sales. Teri's 12-year-old daughter, Sierra Behlmer, joins them on Christmas and summer vacations but stays with a grown sibling when school is in session.
How does Sierra fare as the only child on board? "Sierra entertains us," Teri said. "We do have lots of books and art supplies. Her snorkel gear and net keep her busy much of the time. We're not a TV family, and she rarely watches a movie. As corny as it sounds, we play games together-Rummikub, Yahtzee, cards." Greetings carries plenty of other toys, too: two surfboards, a kayak, a boogie board, and a radio-controlled model sailboat.
The Weegers chose Porto Turistico, according to Teri, "because it seemed like the nicest, most secure marina available. The marinas up the river required rafting up." They stayed for three weeks to visit Rome and Florence and to spend time with Italian friends who have a house set amid vineyards and olive groves. "It was a place out of the movies-bellissimo!" Teri said.
Since leaving Porto Turistico, the Weegers have crossed the Atlantic, and they're now well on their way toward their goal of seeing Fourth of July fireworks in Huntington Beach.
In Porto Turistico, we also met digital-media entrepreneurs Bob Doris and Mary Sauer from Belvedere, California, who were sailing with their 9-year-old daughter, Annie, and a professional captain. They picked up their new Swan 57, Marianna, in the Caribbean and had her shipped to the Mediterranean.
Their route for the summer took them from the Ligurian coast, near Genoa, to Sicily via Elba, Corsica, and Stromboli, an active volcano known as the world's first lighthouse. Marianna carries all the comforts of home, including an electric sewing machine; Mary and Annie whiled away windless passages doing sewing projects together.
We saw Marianna off, but Reveille was long gone when Pamplemousse and Greetings left Porto Turistico. Had we been there, we would've stood waving on the mole-perhaps joined by spirits of supplicants from the temple of shipwrights-and praying for tight ships and fair winds.
Susan Klein is writing a memoir about her family's voyages aboard Reveille.