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D + 28 : Epilogue

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Last time waking up on the AFAET, bags packed, everybody’s departure arranged, the ship’s papers signed, there is not much more to do than having a last cup of coffee and reflecting on the last four extraordinary weeks.

Fruit stand in Bastia in Corsida

Our Catalan speaking fishermen in Alghero, Sardinia, who sold us three lobsters

As in previous summers, we were immersed in Mediterranean culture. We met fishermen proudly selling their fresh catch, farmers offering the produce from their fields in the streets, merchants talking happily about their wines and cheeses. Saw again the outdoor restaurants with their inviting Mediterranean menus, laughed about the miles of neatly aligned deck chairs on the beaches, heard the excited screaming of children in the water and the never ending noise of crickets in the pine trees. The mornings were calm, the afternoon windy, the evenings never ending and a plethora of Coast Guard, Navy, Guardia di Finanza and Carabinieri ships were bobbing idly in the ports as all the other years before. We were in the Mediterranean indeed.

Making money shuttling visitors back and forth in Vernazza, Cinque Terre

One must be ultra-rich to be able to afford a church and a bell tower in white marble - Pisa

Portovenere, the old Doria Family seat, is today a minor tourist attraction close to La Spezia

Portoferraio, rebuilt by Cosimo I from Florence, after it was sacked by Ottoman corsairs

Fake History - Napoleon's house is the small villa on top of the palace

But this year was also different. Shop and restaurant owners shared their worries about the absence of summer tourists and wondered how they will survive the season, hotel rooms were easily available and dinner reservations never a problem . Marina owners made every effort to lure us into their empty ports, sailors on private boats raved about the most peaceful and beautiful summer season ever experienced, in the absence of economic activity the water was clean and inviting as never before. But everybody wondered whether the virus will ever go away and visitors will return. Or will they stay away forever?

The Citadel of Calvi which deterred pirates like Turgut Reis but was not match for the Royal Navy during the siege in 1794

Giroletta, the former pirate hide-out, is today a peaceful destination for sailboats

Our beloved companions who enjoyed surfing on our bow wave

This summer reminded us of how fleeting power, success and wealth really are. What we noticed over the last four weeks of sailing was the constant change in history. Nothing lasted forever. No town, no state, no culture, no business. The Phoenicians and Greeks came and went, Rome stayed for 1’000 years but was replaced by Germanic and Arab tribes, Pisa rose and collapsed, Genoa dominated but eventually had to cede ground to Spain which then went bankrupt 200 years later, the Ottoman fleet spread terror for decades but suddenly faded away. We saw ancient ports which were silted and became unusable, towns which were powerful trading centers but ended up as quarries, fortifications everywhere reminding us of fear and anxiety.

Tharros, the once powerful trading town on Sardinia's west coast

People felt far safer in places like Castelsardo which was built on a volcano & easy to defend

On every hill in Corsica and Sardinia there are these Saracen watch tours

What was constant however, was the will of people to survive and to stay. The picturesque fishing villages nestled high on the rocky cliff, the fortified hamlets up in the hills, the old towns hunkered down behind impressive bastions, quarries used over centuries. It was as if someone wrote on the map “we stay”. The communities willing to adjust survived. The ones hoping for everything to last forever disappeared

It can't be the most profitable business but this women from Castelsardo sells her hand made fruit and bread baskets with passion and a most charming smile

The Spanish influence is still very noticeable in western Sardinia - we found this El Nino statue in the cathedral of Bosa

Cagliari survived into modern time since its citizens moved from the lower part to the rock

Cagliari's beautiful Roman theatre is partially carved into the natural rock

The traditional red coral business did not make it - there are no corals left in Sardinia - we wondered where these pieces were from - we saw them in shop windows in Alghero

The cause of the change was sometimes a mighty, aggressive new neighbor like Rome, Spain or France, sometimes events in a faraway country like the closure of the Bosporus by the Ottoman Empire, or severe climate change like in late Roman North Africa which made the towns uninhabitable. Other times there were pandemics which destroyed entire trade networks as during Justinian’s rule or in 1347,or new technology as the one that replaced the tuna fishers from Favignana, sometimes incompetent Emperors who ruined their countries with run-away inflation. On several occasion, the cause was due to a lack of decentralization. In a few instances it was insufficient centralization. The causes were manifold and different for every case. What ties them together is that the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Genovese, Pisani, Spanish and the Turks – they all believed at the peak of their power that “it was the end of history” – to borrow a catchy phrase – that their rule would be permanent and last forever. None of them seriously thought about sustainability and what it takes to make something very long lasting. Early warning signs were frequently ignored.

Old NATO radar equipment on the top of the Santa Caterina Castle in Favignana

Original tuna fishing boats in the Tonnara of Favignana - now a museum

The Temples in Salinunte are the only thing left of this once Greek 30'000 people town

Completely rebuilt after devastating earth quakes in the 17th century, Syracuse is built in a homogenous baroque style but badly maintained today - balcony repairs

Genovese Trading Empire at its peak in the mid of the 15th century

We set out to sail the long forgotten commercial routes of Genoa La Superba. But we found much more than just old churches, castles, ports and towns. The true finding of these last four weeks was that no ruler, no business, no technology and no culture last forever. But that we – as a community – always have a chance to pass a storm or mighty change if we get our act together, run affairs prudently, stay open to new ideas, respect the view of others - be it our own people or foreigners - and maintain an honest dialogue on what works and what does not. If I had to declare a winner, I would pick Vernazza, the village in Cinque Terre that clings to the rocks just above the sea. It was built to survive pirate attacks – today it attracts thousands of visitors every day – and produces a fantastic Vermentino white. Its business model fundamentally changed, but Vernazza is still here and its citizens make a decent living.

The beautiful harbour of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Liguria

We will continue our exploration and these thoughts next year when we sail from Tunis to Malta to Calabria to Puglia to Corfu and Athens. The trip will take us deeper into Magna Graecia and away from Genovese routes. We join them again in Athens in August 2021.

The preliminary plan for 2021

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Aug 23, 2020

Dear Hugo & Jenny,

What an amazing trip! Thank you so much for including us once again. A beautiful sailboat, congenial company, a superlative crew, amazing meals and spectacular Mediterranean land and seascapes, made for an absolutely unforgettable adventure!

We are so glad the sailing saga continued this year, despite all manner of Covid related obstacles & challenges. Welcome respite from an unwelcome lockdown.

Kudos to you & Jenny for your passion, perseverance and generosity!


Dave & Randy

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