4 tips for getting through Messina Strait on a sailing boat without getting eaten by seamonsters

This is not so much a ‘how-to’ but really a relay of some really good information we gleaned from some other cruisers and our own experience along the way. If you are reading this then you most likely already understand the concerns with completing this passage, so I wont dwell on any issues regarding deadly seamonsters and devastating whirlpools. We have now made passage through Messina Strait twice, once going south and once going north during our cruising in the Med.

Here are my tips:

1. Know the rule of thumb: The North flowing tide commences 1 hour 50 minutes before high water Gibraltar and sets southwards 4 hours 30 minutes after HW Gibraltar. I’m not sure but I presume you must account for time zones etc?

2. Forget the rule of thumb! :) This Italian website is better www.correntidellostretto.it, unfortunately we didn’t have this for our southbound passage. The website gives you a map view of the strait with current directions and strengths shown for whatever date and time you need. The tables allow you to get a much more precise feel for when your window for making passage occurs. We took a screenshot of the times over the window (whilst we had wifi in a marina) during which we thought we would arrive. This way if we were too fast, or to slow, we could see when the next best time would be.  

 Click on Data/ora and put in the exact date/time you expect to be there and which way the currents are heading, really useful for departure planning.

Click on Data/ora and put in the exact date/time you expect to be there and which way the currents are heading, really useful for departure planning.

  Note: STANCA = Low Water, PICCO = HW    Also, its worth remembering point 1. If all else fails most new chartplotters have tide info which include Gibraltar.

Note: STANCA = Low Water, PICCO = HW

Also, its worth remembering point 1. If all else fails most new chartplotters have tide info which include Gibraltar.

3. Make sure you check in with Messina VTS.

Messina VTS must be called when you enter their coverage zone. They are extremely professional and will advise on how you should proceed given the time of day and also the vessel you are in. On our southbound passage, we had the timing very wrong. Messina VTS advised there would be 6 knots of current against us and requested we wait at a nearby anchorage (they provided the lat/long of the recommended anchoring area). To say the least, I was grateful, we would have basically stopped if trying to motor against this. On the way back out we had no problems.

4. Avoid Messina marina and fuel dock if the weather is bad.

Beware the marina and fuel dock at Messina are both extremely exposed and should be avoided if possible if weather is unfavorable. We learnt this the hard way and needed to stop here to pick up crew.  The marina is also extremely expensive (>100 Euro), as per Italian standards in the summer season.

Thanks Chris from S/Y Splice for telling me about the website mentioned.

Brenton Schoemaker