Marco the fisherman
“No we don’t want any free calamari but grazie Marco”.
I’m hanging off the end of Eden Planet, our gorgeous 48-foot catamaran at the foot of a volcano in northern Sicily. I’m in a crystal clear bay negotiating a price for 3 sea bass that Marco had caught fresh that morning and trying to convince him that offering me free seafood isn’t an effective way of closing the deal with me and my kosher sailing guests.
“Fins and scales Marco. Fins and scales.”
“Trust me mate, we don’t understand either, but those are the rules.”
Marco had arrived with his catch a little earlier, putt putting along in his skiff shouting PESCE FRECO (“Fresh Fish”) to everyone anchored in the bay. He and I have developed a symbiotic relationship based on a common lack of linguistic ability balanced with an understanding of how to play the game. The way it works is that he shouts out all the fish and seafood he has and I ask him about bass, bream or tuna. He asks if I want small or large, I always answer “medium”. He then ignores my medium and throws large fish on his big brass balance scale that he holds in the air and shouts back to me “4 kilos”. Always 4 kilos. Week after week… .4 kilos. He says 60 euros, I offer him 40 euros and we agree on 50. Game over.
I spent this summer in Sicily sailing around the volcanos of the Aeolian Islands week after week as part of 7 Volcanos in 7 Days with Kosher Sailing, a new initiative to make active sailing vacations more accessible to people who keep kosher and keep Shabbat. After a lengthy business career, I decided to learn to sail and then launched Kosher Sailing, offering kosher private catamaran and yacht trips in incredible locations. The kosher travel market needed an alternative to mass market kosher cruises on mega-ships. Royal Caribbean offers 2,700 staterooms. I wanted to offer 4!
Fast forward to the spring of 2023, and my guests started arriving to go sailing with me on Eden Planet, a gorgeous catamaran I chartered for the season. I was the skipper, the business owner, the cocktail maker, the buyer of kosher cheese and wine and all other raw materials for the kitchen, and I was of course the host. With anywhere from 2 to 10 guests on board, some arrived as a group of friends or family while some booked a single cabin and trusted me to put them together with other random guests.
And so I found myself sitting down together under the Milky Way in a picture postcard bay on a kosher catamaran in Sicily while sneaking peeks at my phone telling me about 150,000 protesters gathered in Rabin Square and hearing my wife tell me that she just got water cannoned in Jerusalem while sitting on a pavement chatting to a friend.. about kosher sailing!
Eden Planet on anchor at Vulcano Island
Most nights, we anchored in picturesque bays in clear blue waters, sometimes alone and at other times surrounded by everything from superyachts to small sailing boats of all shapes and sizes. We went ashore most days to explore the pretty villages that line the coast. In Lipari, we explored the hilltop fortress first founded in Neolithic times that boasted Greek, Roman, and Crusader remains and later became a prison for the enemies of Mussolini. Further north, we swam to the beach to collect shards of obsidian, the black molten lava glass that was used for arrow heads before men learned how to work metal and pumice, which was the most important industry on the island for centuries.
And back on the boat we feasted together at sunset on Marco’s fresh fish, home made pasta, outstanding Italian kosher wine and a healthy supply of single malts. For some trips, Eitan the chef came along to create stupendous meals 3 times a day and for other trips, we all cooked together as a team. In all cases, we ate like royalty!
My ‘crews’ came from the USA, Israel, UK and elsewhere around the globe. They all had wildly different views about everything from the dinner menu to gun control and how to resolve the Israel/Palestinian conflict, but what united them all was their desire for a completely different type of vacation, curiosity about sailing, their exhilaration at getting to our next stop powered only by the wind in the sails, and their desire to switch off their phones while lying on their backs watching the stars as the water lapped against the boat. What they never expected was entertainment from Marco the fisherman, the challenge of a 400 meter climb up the active volcano of Stromboli at sunset to watch it erupt, the ghosts of Lipari’s pumice quarry, and the tranquility of a night at anchor, far removed from Trump, Bibi and Putin.