Boat Life Italy People & Culture

Puglia: a lesson on how to host from South Italy

Written by Renato Matiolli

What a lesson have we learnt in the last few days.

It all started with out first bigger crossing. On our back, the Balkans, Croatia and Dubrovnik…. in front of us the whole Adriatic… and on the other side, Bari… Italy and food… what better motivation do you need?! In a straight line it should be around 200 km and we had estimated a 16 hours journey. However, due to quite strong winds in the beginning (35 knots), high waves and our limited experience, this trip took us 300 km and just over 24 hours. But in the end, what started as a series of unfortunate events, turned out to be a series of wonderful lucky coincidences. One never knows what the destiny holds until it is over… I guess.

So going back to the beginning…. our first bigger crossing was quite challenging. On the morning prior to the departure we stopped by a fancy marina to check some small thing on our Volvo starboard engine. Charlie, the Volvo mechanic, was really nice. He solved our problem for free by teaching us how to jump start the engine in an emergency, but he also pointed out that we had some big work that needed to be done quite soon. This is one of those works that will make a big hole on our budget, but if not dealt with, may leave us without propulsion in one of our engines. This was some non-pleasant news to be heard right before our biggest crossing so far.

Since Charlie did not have the spare parts available, and our plan was to sail (and not motor) to Bari, and we wanted to be on time for our guests’ arrival, we left the work to be done later in Italy or in Greece. So we left the marina and went to the Port Authority to check out from Croatia. Docking at the police was easy, but leaving was quite hard as there was a very strong wind squeezing us against the dock. The journey had started with a bit of a stress.

DSC00663_FotorOnce we were a few miles out of Dubrovnik, the wind was 35 knots, instead of the 15-20 knots forecasted, and the waves were quite high (for Med standards), with short periods and banging the hull from the side, making big noises, getting our boom and sails to rock left and right, and things falling all over the place inside the boat. It was clear that this was not going to be a pleasant sail. We also had to move away from the direct course to ease this banging on the boat, and once the sunset came, we already could not see land on either side of the boat.

Since the wind and waves were too strong, we decided to use half sails, but it was when we noticed that the reefing system for the main sail was not set up properly… so we had to use a smaller area of the sail than what we wanted to be on the safer side, therefore slowing our planned cruising speed even more. To get things worse, our front sail (Genoa) was not opening more than 30% of its area, so this also made our boat to move even slower.

A few more miles out we realized that while we had raised the dinghy all the way, its outboard engine was not up all the way and the bigger waves were hitting it and putting more stress on the davit structure that holds it above water. So there I was, in the middle of the night, with high wind and waves, above that cold water, in the middle of the Adriatic, hanging outside the boat inside the dinghy to raise that engine. I have to tell you, it was quite a scary moment for me, and also to think that my weight was putting even more stress into the davit structure. At this point, Sarah was almost crying, but Feijão, as always, was the only one handling the situation with placid calm, sleeping through it all.

At about 75% of the way to Italy, 18 hours after our departure, we were super tired, getting too far from our course, and our mainsail started to rip apart close to the mast, so we decide to give up on sailing and we motored the rest of the journey to Bari. We finally made it safely to Italy.


P1120221_FotorIn Italy our luck stared to change. From the radio, Bari Port Authority was nice and sent us to Ranieri Marina. At the port, two great guys, Nicola and Cezare, received us. They called the Italian authorities to complete the formalities. This is pretty cool, they actually come to your boat and you don’t have to go to them, as you do in other countries/cities.

Later, Nicola pointed us to Luigi, who introduced us to Fernando, a Brazilian sail maker and repairer who has been living in Bari for 25 years. He speaks portuguese with a very thick Italian accent… amazing guy! Though it is high season for boat works and Fernando was super busy, he managed to find a space in his tight schedule to help a fellow countryman and fix our sail during his day off on a Sunday. This was great, it meant we did not have to spend too long paying marina fees in Bari.

Fernando is the best ambassador Brazil could have in Bari, married to an incredible full blown Italian woman, Rossana, they have a huge group of fun friends who get together every week to have fun around a huge table with great food and drinks from Southern Italy.

We met him a few hours after we arrived in Bari and on that same day him and his wife invited us to their friend’s house for an amazing Italian dinner with 20+ people sitting around a huge table, eating, drinking, talking and joking at the same time. It was such an incredible welcome to Italy. On the next day, they invited us to go for lunch at their house, for some more true amazing Italian food, cooked by Rossana. Fernando also found some extra time to prepare us a bag with a “sail self repair kit” for our long journey ahead… what a fantastic guy. These people REALLY know how to host. We are still on baby steps and have lots to learn from them.

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Our guests, Haroldo and Rosa, were the most pleasant surprise, they arrived in Bari not too long after we did and were super understanding about the whole ‘sail ripping apart situation’, and the fact that we had to actually stay in Bari for a couple of days, instead of sailing straight after they arrived as planned. So they made the best out of it. Learned about fixing the boat and enjoyed Bari with Fernando, Rossana, their friends and us.

Once our sails were fixed by Fernando, Rossana took us shopping for some true Italian provisions, we said our good-byes, and off we went. We sailed by Polignano a Mare and got an incredible sight of its town on the top of the cliffs. A sort of mini-non-white-Santorini.

Panoramic view of Polignano. Apulia.  P1120254_Fotor

We kept moving south until we found Monopoli, a charming little town where you can moor at the city wall for free! Nice! But this is actually quite interesting, as its free, everyone wants to moor there, so the boats start to moor next to one another, side by side, and if you are the one next to the wall, they will than use your boat as a passage to get to shore. And that was exactly our situation. At one point we had two sail boats moored on our side, one in front with another 2 boats moored on his side, and a mega yacht (previously owned by Berlusconi) behind us. We were completely surrounded, it was actually quite funny. And guess what? We were the first to leave… so, as you can imagine, on our departure, there were a lot of people helping and yelling to get things right. A great team effort and a true anthropological experience. Italy! Italy!!… what an amazing and unique place.

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In Monopoli, Sarah found her much loved ice cream, our guest found a shop with a lot of local delicacies (local wine, olive oil, all sorts of deeps with artichokes, olives, zucchini, etc) and Feijão found a neat bay to explore.

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Before heading to Greece, we went further south to Brindisi to clear customs and make sure we had done all the formalities right, just to figure out from Port Authority and Italian Customs that we did not need to stop by and could had gone directly to Greece. Well, not a problem, we walked around Brindisi and figured out that the town was also lovely. And had one last gelatti for the road.

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Next stop… Greece! We are excited for this crossing and so are our guests. The wind looks promising and it will be awesome to have friends helping during the journey.

About the author

Renato Matiolli


  • wow…wow…beautiful blue water….good food……fun….whadda way to
    do things…wish we could be there…….

  • Really excellent adventure…step by step…day by day…that’s the way!!!

    Seguimos continuamente a vossa aventura e nos sentimos um pouquinho parte dela…fantastico, parabens!
    Quando passarem pela Italia novamente, e se houver modo de visitarem Florença, mesmo em outros tempos, nos contatem e sera’ um prazer te-los aqui conosco.
    Buon vento!!!!
    Claudimar e Rejane

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