Porto Ercole Tuscany – Part II Sailing
Continuation from Porto Ercole Tuscany
Mollusks in hand we turn the corner on pier 4. Rows of tall masts sway gently on either side of the walkway. The gentle cling-clang of the hitches and ropes sing like a music box and the masts are the dancers moving sinuously closer then backing away. I quicken my pace almost leaving Raffaella behind, there she is near the end of the pier, fabricated entirely from wood, hand-made, bi-mast forty-five foot boat.
I am no sailor, but I love to sail. The agency in Porto Ercole had found the perfect boat, complete with captain and crew. Fausto is already on board with 3 beautiful girls catching some sun on the foredeck. As we arrive at the plank, laid down from the rear of the boat, securely tied to the pier and with rope handles to facilitate boarding, Gianni greets us. Gianni, a man of the sea, loves his boat and shortly after our greeting was promenading us to the main cabin. It is immediately obvious that Gianni spent more time at sea than he did on land. A stout man, with large calloused hands, and a deep tan broken only by the wrinkles from a bit too much exposure to the hot sun over the water, Gianni speaks with a heavy Tuscan accent. His boat is his life, he speaks of it as if it were a child that had just won the Nobel prize.
Gianni’s pride is well merited, the floors are polished teak while the cabinets, trim and banisters are shellacked maple. Leather upholstered benches run the length of the cabin on one side and the other is a complete kitchen. Between the aft sitting deck and the lounge, a half wall that could be closed with sliding glass in case of inclement weather, divides the two areas. On the half wall a completely stocked bar with wine cooler.
At the end of the main cabin, a set of stairs that leads to the lower deck and the sleeping cabins. Each cabin is complete with its own bathroom and shower and a sign over the toilet, “if you have not eaten it, then it should not end up in here.” We set our things in the cabin at the far end of the corridor and move back to the main cabin. Lorenzo, our absent friend has arrived with his new beaux.
Several years ago Lorenzo had become one of the top hair stylists in Milan and between the fashion shows in Milan, Paris and New York was really stressed out. While in Torino Raffaella had stopped in at the Milan shop to have her hair done and after about a half hour could tell that he needed a break, so she invited him to join us. To our amazement he had accepted.
Raffaella rushes to put away the fish while I greet Lorenzo. Gianni is definitely uncomfortable with Lorenzo and quickly moves away with his crew to attend to launching our cruise. Fausto and his friends arrive in the cabin, some dressed some not so dressed, aroused by the commotion. I pop bottle of prosecco while the crew member dedicated to the main cabin produced several long stemmed flutes. All with a glass in hand, we salute our captain and his crew with a boisterous cheer as we lay off the dock lines and move slowly out of port.
Lorenzo’s cell phone rang at this point. Without looking, he pitches it overboard. A look of horror consumes his face as he races to the side rails to see if he could recover it. Fausto’s friends had already found the boat’s sound system and are playing a CD of a d’Alessio mix. Gianni gazes at us, every once in a while, from the wheel just to make sure that the boat would survive our visit, and quickly turns his attention back to the course. We are still under motor power but the motor’s hum is barely audible in the cabin.
We clear the promontorio of Monte Argentario, the wide sea opens before us, and Gianni cuts the engines. The boat settles its aft pitch flattening in the water. Gianni shouts a few commands that I do not understand and the “Waft” of the sails opening resounds in the air, catching the wind. The boat pitches about 9 degrees to one side and jolts forward. The sudden movement causes Lorenzo’s beaux to fall into Fausto's lap, and the girls clack with laughter. Lorenzo glances at his friend, I am sure I saw a bit of jealously in Lorenzo’s eyes as his beaux quickly apologizes and moves away.
Our destination is the Island of Giglio, just a couple hours away. We would set anchor offshore, make dinner, then head home. The others settled in smoking cigars and drinking prosecco on the aft deck. I moved toward the front of the cabin and sat with my back against the main mast. I was alone with my cigar, the wind in my face, and only the sound of the water breaking against the hull. I awoke to Raffaella stroking my hair. She hands me my cigar and informs me that we would arrive shortly at the Island of Giglio.
Gianni had tied the wheel and was drinking grappa with Fausto. The island is clearly visible. Several boats are on the horizon, as we point for the cliffs of Caletta. The Island of Giglio is a favorite destination for scuba diving because of the coral reefs and extensive marine life. We navigate well away from the diving boats and throw anchor just offshore.
The water is crystal clear, deep blues and green create a patchwork of colors. From the boat it appears that you could touch the bottom below. Schools of fish parade around as if it were Carnival. Flashes of bright colors reflect the sun’s rays from under the surface as the fish swarm. Gianni and the crew fold the sales and begin preparing the cabin for dinner. Lorenzo dives into the clear water. Before too long our entire party is splashing, diving, enjoying this private location.
The sun is setting, it is time to begin preparing dinner. A quick shower to rinse the saltwater and off to the kitchen. Raffaella and Fausto are cleaning the fish while Lorenzo entertains the group with stories about this or that model and their eccentric behavior and most interesting to all their dirty little secrets regarding their perceived defects.
Fausto is in charge of the kitchen. His great grandfather had started a restaurant in the late 1800s. As kids he and his siblings grew up in the business and still today run the family business although each brother has his own profession. Lorenzo complains, without the usual subtleties, that he is thirsty. I find a Falanghina, a white wine from Lazio. This will go marvelously well with the pasta. It has a good body that pairs well with fish while it is also very drinkable as an aperitivo.
Fausto begins the sauce. He pours the oil into a hot skillet with two cloves of whole garlic, and sautés for several minutes. The shellfish are added whole. It is important that the clams open under the heat to assure that they are edible. He separates the shrimp heads and places the tails into the oil. The heads are placed in cheesecloth and boiled for about 3 minutes in 2 cups of water.
Salt and pepper are added sparingly to the shellfish. Once the clams are all open, he turns down the heat and adds the shrimp stock to the oil and lets this simmer. Being good Italians, a pot of spaghetti is on the boil, another 11 minutes and we will be in paradise. Finally, just minutes before straining the pasta chopped parsley is added to the sauce that has now taken on a light orange color from the shrimp.
The captain and crew have prepared a large table on the aft deck and another smaller one in the kitchen. Lorenzo supervised the preparation of the plates and silverware, Fausto prepared the sauce, Raffaella served the plates and I drank some wine. The sun has set. Our conversation is bright and colorful, laughter fills the air as we enjoy the peace and beauty of the Island of Giglio and partake of the bounties of the sea, and drink this marvelous wine. Most of all our pleasure is in our friendships, new and existing, the exchange of ideas, the whit of experience and we share our appreciation of life. We still have several hours to return to port but our day is complete and our lives enriched.
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