This is a taster of the new book, ‘Moving On’ which should be ready for the Autumn. It is a short extract and concerns what happened when we went to find shelter in the harbour of a convict island off the coast of Italy. As you will see, it could have gone better! We are cruising off the west coast of Italy, bound for the island of Ponza, but the weather is deteriorating: –
“There’s a small island called Ventotene not far away, it’s a prison island, we can go there if you want,” I said.
“Go there, go there, we’ve had enough,” he said. There was a great sigh of relief from everybody and they suddenly found it possible to smile, even get excited at the prospect of some peace and quiet and for the motion to stop.
Ventotene is the remains of an ancient volcano. It is just 3 kilometres long, a mere 800 metres wide and it’s territory includes the small ancillary island of Santo Stefano, two kilometres to the east. The other islands are Palmarola, Zannoni, Gazi and Ponza, which is the largest and from which they get their collective name, the Pontine Islands, lying off the west coast of Italy. Ventotene was uninhabited for centuries due to its susceptibility to attacks. It was used as a prison island by the Romans, where the unfortunate souls that were sent there, mostly starved to death. A prison camp had also been created on the nearby island of Santo Stefano by the French, and it was later rebuilt by the leader of the Italian Fascist Party, Benito Mussolini. It was there that a former Italian communist, Altiero Spinelli, was incarcerated after having been sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1927. Whilst there, he wrote the “Ventotene Manifesto,” promoting the idea of a federal Europe after the war. In it, he denounces the responsibility of nation states for the horrors of war and calls for the creation of a federal Europe, the guarantor of lasting peace. He became a European Commissioner between 1970 and 1976 and a Member of the European Parliament between 1976 and 1986, the year of his death. He is buried on Ventotene and in August 2016, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, laid a wreath at his tomb. They had met there to discuss European Union policy after the Brexit vote.
Despite the foul weather, the small island looked appealing to our passengers as it came into view in the grey mist but it was to yield unpleasant memories.
“There’s a tiny port that the Romans built, we should be able to get in there and get some protection,” I said. Well, technically it wasn’t the Romans who did the building, they’d used slaves to dig it out of the Tufa rock.
“I don’t care who built it, I’m just glad they put it there,” he replied.
As we approached the entrance, I realised that it wasn’t going to be easy. I saw the gap in the rock, but the port itself was completely hidden. The heavy sea and the strong wind on our stern made it difficult to hold the course steady and I began to question my judgement in continuing through the very narrow passage. The waves were picking us up, raising us to the crests, which we surfed along for a while before we plummeted down, veering sideways as the next wave arrived. There was very little room to manoeuvre a boat of our size when we entered the narrow cutting.
“Turn around, let’s get out of here!” the owner said with fear in his voice.
“It’s too late, I can’t, we’re committed now,” I told him. We were heading straight for the rocks at the end of the small, cutting – and then, to starboard, I saw the passageway to the small port. It was at a right angle to where we were headed – I would never have made it simply by swinging the wheel hard to starboard, which I did anyway – I pulled the starboard single lever control to maximum revolutions astern and pushed the port one to maximum ahead.”