On that 1st April three years ago I thought about what I would do again next summer. No doubt it would have to do with my passion – climbing the highest points, of each European country, one by one. There was a country, 25 miles off the coast of Sicily, that suddenly emerged from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in July 1831, spitting, bubbling and spewing out fire up to 63 meters above sea-level, before in the following 6 months it was cleared away again, levelled and finally swallowed by the swell: Ferdinandea.
July 1831: Ferdinandea's birth
Ferdinandea - the history
Fishermen from Sciacca were the first who noticed the roaring seas, then captains of vessels passing by watched the fiery spectacle and eventually governments of several countries became alert: Who was to own the new island? Perhaps the Bourbonic Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, just because it was situated in its closest neighbourhood? Or the rather power-thirsty Brits, just because it lay as „Graham Island“ so nicely along the route from Gibraltar via Malta, Corfu, Cyprus and Suez to India? Or maybe the French, just because they had also given a name to the new island? – L'Ile de Julia. Or the Spanish, who had baptized the island „Corrao“ ? All of them were keen on acquiring „something new“ in the Mediterranean, and so a fine international quarrel broke out. And this although nobody had set foot on the island's volcanic shores, never had anybody stood atop the 63-meter high summit. The Brits succeeded first to land, and for a few days the Union Jack fluttered on the beach of Ferdinandea ...
... there the island was off again. And still is today. Eight meters below sea level one has located its highest spot, the Thomas Coleman Point. Duchesse Camilla Crociani of Bourbon sank on it a marble memorial plate in November 2000, to secure the territorial claim to herself and to her descendants, in case the island decided to return and rise again, to lift its head over the waters.
Sciacca's harbor serves as the base camp
Ferdinandea: Who is to own it?
Ferdinandea - the plan
I could not wait for this to happen. I had to get there immediately. To stand on Ferdinandea's highest summit, eight meters below sea, meant I had to learn diving – and even more: Somebody had to take me out on the sea, 25 miles off the coast, stop exactly above the summit, let me glide from the boat's rail into the water, reach out for my hand and help me down, finally place me precisely on the summit, take a picture of me with an underwater camera and carry me safely back up to the boat. Take the immense pressure away from my head without letting me explode like a bottle of champagne.
My Internet search – I cannot achieve anything in my hobby without the Internet! – yielded that only Roberto Randazzo was able to realize my demands. In the south Sicilian town of Sciacca he runs his diving school Robsub – www.robsub.it.
Ferdinandea in relief: A steep peak worth to be climbed
Ferdinandea - the action
A superficial health check, one day of theory, one day of exercise in the swimming pool of a private villa, one day of diving under „real“ conditions in the sea off Sciacca, „on trial“ – and already I „could“ dive. Out we went 25 miles, out into the open sea, until the echo-sounder indicated that we were just above the summit: Otto metri sopra la cima. And then something happened that went down in the annals of alpinism as the first intentional underwater climbing. This was not an ordinary dive, but a reverse climbing trip, different from the usual ones by the fact that I approached the mountain not from below, not up the 100-meter high perpendicular wall of emerald-green seaweed from the sandy bottom of the Graham bank, but that I was lowered from above. Small, but remarkable difference. I claim full of pride, that I have established the discipline of submarine alpinism!
The Lega Navale Italiana is where it all started
Out to the open sea!
We find Ferdinandea 25 miles off the coast
Into the water!
Walking the direttissima on Ferdinandea means diving
Down to Thomas Coleman Point
It is all like in real alpinism: You walk on a rope as well
Ferdinandea - the summit
Happily sitting on the highest point of Ferdinandea
Ferdinandea - the victory
And then I sat there, happily, otto metri sotto di livello del mare, on the summit rock of Ferdinandea. So it happened that the lowest of all mountains in the list of „highest“ ones that I describe country-by-country – http://www.gipfel-und-grenzen.de/die_hoechsten.php?sprache=EN – is only minus eight meters high. What does altitude mean after all! Everything is arbitrarily referred to sea-level, and even this fluctuates according to the definition the respective countries have chosen. My „Highests“ don't care about such sophism. My „Highests“ have to belong to independent areas. And Ferdinandea, indeed, was independent – clasped by four nations it withstood the attempts to be grabbed, by simply vanishing. Ferdinandea fulfils all criteria of independence the way I imagine it should be. And so I have decided to climb Thomas Coleman Point, and I am independent enough to present this alpinistic milestone to the gentle reader on this 1st April, 2009: Long live the bubble of underwater high-altitude climbing! Long live independence in free alpinism! It does not need to be the same as what all the others do. I am free to climb my way – independent from common opinion. If only my targets are independent and the highest within their independence – at least like late Ferdinandea.