Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© ErN 126, entry July 2004  

f Ships & Sails & Water Cabs
     —and Poor Little Rich Girls


bay with boatsI 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.

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). 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.

Since 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 Atlantic.

[Phocea update 2014 here.]

As the 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 Sicily.

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 watch 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!"

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