Ustica, Italy

Photo: The shoreline of Ustica is mostly cliffs of sheer rock. Credit: Lisa Borre.
The shoreline of Ustica is mostly cliffs of sheer rock. Credit: Lisa Borre.

Logbook Entry

Dates: 06/29/09 – 07/01/09
Distance: 52 NM
Lat: 38°42.5’N
Long: 13°12’E

Another totally calm day with no winds for the passage to the offshore island of Ustica which lies 35 miles northwest of Palermo.  We spent two nights tied up to the quay in the tiny harbor which is used mostly by ferries and dive boats.  A 47′ German-flagged sailboat was tied up next to us both nights, and one or two other cruising sailboats came and went during our stay.  We had a nice lunch of grilled fish ashore after walking around the small town with its brightly colored murals painted the walls and buildings.  We also made a dinghy expedition one afternoon (see below).

This is the island which Ernle Bradford in his book Ulysses Found makes the thoughtful case that it was the home of the King Aeolus as described in the Odyssey and not the Aeolian Islands as most experts believe. His observations, from a sailor’s perspective are very convincing because you can’t get to Ithaca on a west wind which is what Aeolus gave Odysseus to speed him on his way.

In Robert Fagles’ translation of Homer’s Odyssey, the home of Aeolus is described as “the Aeolian Island” which indicates that it was a solitary island, not a group of islands. It is also described as a “great floating island” and “round it all, huge ramparts rise of indestructible bronze and sheer rock cliffs shoot up from to sea to sky.” As we approached the island on a calm, hazy day, we could see how one might describe it as “floating” on the sea.

With all of these thoughts in mind, we decided to launch or faithful tender, Rinky, for an up-close inspection of Ustica’s shoreline on 30 June. While circumnavigating the small island in our little dinghy, we were amazed by how accurately Homer’s description matched what we saw. There were only a few tiny beaches at the base of the cliffs where it might be possible to land the dinghy. The rest of the island’s shore was rocky cliffs which plunged into the sea. After our short visit to Ustica and to the Aeolian Islands, we think Ernle Bradford makes a very good case.

Here’s a photo gallery of Leg 3 of our cruise through Southern Italy and Sicily: