Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 by Peter Knego
While in Tuscany on a recent assignment, Peter Knego embarked on a special Trek to the island of Giglio, where efforts were well underway to remove the wreck of the ill-fated COSTA CONCORDIA.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
I owe this entire experience to my dear friend and traveling companion Rob Di Stefano for not only helping arrange a rather complicated but seamless itinerary but for also being able to drive a manual car through the Italian countryside.
There are certain things one cannot postpone, especially in the ephemeral world of ships. My mantra has always been “ships first, sights later”, even when visiting regions such as Greece, the Ukraine, China and the Philippines for the first time. In this latest instance, that mission has evolved to include a shipwreck of such renown that it almost sent the cruise industry into a downward spiral when it occurred some ten months ago off the otherwise tranquil coast of Tuscany.
Completing a round trip to the island of Giglio from the Rome-adjacent port of Civitavecchia in one day is a non-starter without a rental car (especially on a Sunday when truncated train, bus and ferry schedules do not jibe). With a little luck and a great deal of advance planning, after disembarking Windstar Cruises WIND STAR, we were on our way up Italy’s Tyrrhenian coast. Were it not for the road signage and the stone-walled citadels on “yonder hills”, I could have easily convinced myself we were on California’s Highway 101.
With all the roadside trattorias closed, we made good use of a wedge of Reggiano Parmesan purchased earlier in the week.
We turned off at the town of Orbetello and drove westward along a causeway and a rocky promontory until the marina of Santo Stefano appeared. Tantalizingly, passengers were milling about on a small ferry, even though several on-line searches did not show any midday departures. By the time we were able to secure a parking place, the ferry was well on her way to our anticipated destination, Isola del Giglio. Fortunately, that was not the only departure not featured on the on-line schedule and we booked passage on the next sailing at 3:45. This would actually pan out better than our original plans, which were to take the scheduled ferry over at 4:30 and back without going ashore, so now we would have almost an hour to spend on the island.
A surprisingly lackluster lunch at a local pizzeria was followed by a quick self-guided tour through Santo Stefano’s indifferent streets to the closed fortress atop the hill.
While the warm charm of Italian hamlets such as Santa Margherita, Trieste, Genoa and even Messina was missing, Santo Stefano was certainly not devoid of visual appeal.
We were back in the marina in time to witness the 1972-built, 1,273-gross ton ferry ISOLA DEL GIGLIO return. Her profile was familiar and it was only after doing a quick check on Fakta Om Fartyg that I realized she was one of those sleek, dark-hulled ferries built to traverse the Norwegian fjords.
Before long, we were clambering on board the ex STAVANGER and settling in a bench on starboard Bridge Deck.
After a day of scorching sun, thick humidity and biting flies, it was a great relief to be in the soothing breeze created by the little ISLOA DEL GIGLIO as she sped into a ten-or-so-mile-wide patch of Tyrrhenia between Santo Stefano and the ship’s namesake island. At one point, a mysterious woman with raven hair asked to be photographed with Santo Stefano in the background. Rob later told me that he saw her asking other passengers to do the same as the little ship chugged along.
Initially, Isola Del Giglio was but but a graceful silhouette in the strong backlight of the afternoon sun but eventually, off the ISOLA DEL GIGLIO’s starboard wing, a white segment along the shore morphed into a dramatic and sobering sight.
As we grew nearer and the name on her bow and flanks could be read, we could hear the sounds of welders’ torches and clanking steel. The extended stabilizer and giant rock that was wedged in her keel was no longer visible and all of the windows and portholes on the ship’s port side had been sealed in metal plating.
Audible gasps resonated along the deck as fellow passengers pointed their cameras and shook their heads. Multi-lingual “How could this happen?”’s and “It’s unbelieveable!”’s were among the many things muttered as we maneuvered into otherwise beautiful, serene Giglio harbor.
As we began to disembark, my eyes met the wide stare of the raven-haired woman, who turned back to the ship and said, “Bless the beautiful lady and those who perished”, then scurried off. We later wondered if she might have known someone who was lost in the accident or if she, herself, might have been on the CONCORDIA’s last voyage.
Once herded ashore, we had little time to reach the hill overlooking the wreck. It was so tempting to stop for a coffee and admire the tranquil beauty of Giglio but the last ferry back to Santo Stefano would be leaving in a mere hour. We hurtled up streets that seemed too steep for cars to navigate, to a main road that circled the promontory above the CONCORDIA.
A small gathering of local women were picnicking on the knoll and an elderly gentleman who apparently lived on the outcrop welcomed us to take photos of the ship. In the midst of clucking chickens, barking dogs and curious cats, we dragged out our cameras and clicked away.
Below, the once proud and heralded COSTA CONCORDIA was now a disgraced monument to hubris and tragedy.
There was no time to reflect upon what unfolded in that rocky bay: the piles of deck chairs lashed to the ship’s side; the half-cut funnel; the missing mast and the titanic machinery operated by an army of workers to secure and ultimately right (both metaphorically and literally) the wreck.
Beyond the CONCORDIA, we could see the mainland, another large crane complex outside of the harbor and the approaching Toremar ferry GIUSEPPE RUM, which we would have to catch in a mere thirty minutes.
We scrambled back down the mountain, past those stucco residences and the lovely little marina where a cafe called Doria bore the name of another proud Italian ship that capsized.
The sound of workers and machinery grew louder once again as the departing GIUSEPPE RUM backed past the now-brightly-lit behemoth. As the sun set behind Giglio, my cameras remained fixed on the COSTA CONCORDIA. By this time next year, unless something goes awry with her complicated salvage, she will be nothing more than a stain on the rocks.
Maybe one day, her many secrets will come to light.
End Of COSTA CONCORDIA Trek
Special thanks: Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano
For an earlier account with images of the ship prior to the salvage efforts, please see Mike Tattoli’s
Capturing COSTA CONCORDIA report from June of 2012.