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main index © Jeff Matthews entry July 2004
Everything is related to Naples
Number 126 in this series. Link to all items here.
Of Ships & Sails & Water Cabs—and Poor Little Rich Girls
had my maiden voyage last summer as a
real sailor along the southern Campanian coast of the
stunning Cilento national
park. I learned "starboard" and "port,"
and—squinting my eye and brandishing my hook (though
brandished eye and squinted hook may also work)—how to
say, "Arrr, matey,
fortune rides the shoulders of them what schemes!"
Thus, I now find myself taking a more personal
interest in things of the sea here in the bay of
Naples this summer.
that the Italian naval training vessel, the Amerigo Vespucci,
was in port a few weeks ago. She is a "tall ship," one
of those spectacular square-rigged vessels that, under
full sail, glide along like clouds of silver from
another age. Interestingly, the Vespucci is
more modern than she looks, built in 1930 (in the
shipyards of Castellammare di
Stabia near Naples, by the way). In Naples, the
Vespucci was moored at the main passenger
terminal at Beverello Pier right next to one of those
new luxury barges that are larger than an aircraft
carrier, and carry 3,500 passengers and 1,000 crew.
The good ship Godzilla—the
ugliest things afloat.
there is a regatta coming up, the waters are now
swarming with good-looking craft. One of them is the
sleek and graceful four-master, Phocea
(photo), property of Lebanese billionaire Mouna Ayoub.
She made her money by being unhappily married to a
wealthy Saudi for 18 years, so I see how she had the
$5.5 million dollars for that boat. She bought it from
the ex-mayor of Marseilles, Bernard Tapie. I don't
know how a mayor could afford the Phocea, but
Bernie did spend sevens months in jail
for defrauding the Olympique Marseilles football
club of $15 million.
The Phocea was designed by Michel Bigoin and
built at the Toulon Naval Dockyard in 1976 for
yachtsman Alain Colas. Amazingly, Colas then sailed
the Phocea in the Observer Single-Handed
Transatlantic Race. The boat is 246 feet (75 meters)
long, and Colas sailed her alone (!) across the
[Phocea update 2014 here.]
summer gears up, the bay is also aroar with jet-skis,
dangerously in the hands of ego-driven
speed–merchants. I have read somewhere that they are
not supposed to do any vroom-vrooming within 300
meters of shore. I am waiting for two or ten of them
to collide. I hold daily vigil with a pair of
binoculars from my balcony. So far, no luck, but the
summer is still young. Two hydrofoils, though, had a
low-speed "fender bender" in the port the other day.
It scared the 150 passengers, but no one was hurt.
Admiral Pierluigi Cacioppo, commander of the port,
chalked the incident up to understandable human error.
Beverello Pier is at saturation point. There are 215
departures and arrivals a day of regularly scheduled
boats to Capri, Ischia and the Sorrentine peninsula.
The passenger pier runs 17 out of 24 hours. That's one
boat coming or going every five minutes. Add to that
congestion the presence of large cruise ships moored
at Beverello and the nightly departures of large car ferries to Sardinia and
The newest wrinkle is the water-taxi. They don't call it that; they call it the Metro del Mare, the allusion being to the metropolitana, the new urban train line in Naples—a sea-train, in other words. But it's still a water taxi. The routes cover the coast of the Campania region, starting at Monte di Procida at the western end of the gulf of Naples and finishing down south at Sapri, the last town in Campania. Stops include Pozzuoli, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, Salerno, and towns down the Cilento coast along the string of medieval Saracen towers perched on the hills of the still isolated coastal range. The fares are comparable to those of the train. It's not as fast as the express train but not much slower than a local—and you get a spectacular sea trip in the bargain. After all, a train is still a train. (I know…a sigh is still a sigh…).
Sigh, indeed. Now that Mouna is single again, I can see myself springing aboard the metro del mare, making a grand gesture out towards the Phocea, and yelling up to the skipper: "Cabbie, follow that boat!"to main index to miscellaneous portal