As we slowly cruise through the crisp morning air, early risers were greeted with a soft glow on the horizon that silhouetted Alicudi, the first of several volcanic islands we encountered today. A wispy layer of low-lying clouds obscured its peak. Overnight Sea Cloud had cruised 120 nautical miles south to bring us to the Aeolian Islands, one of Europe’s most active volcanic hotspots. Since prehistoric times, this island chain has long profited from passing ships plying the trade routes which traversed the Mediterranean Sea. The sun shone brightly but the air was cool. We encountered great heaps of volcanic rock, some exposed in the cliff face with their convoluted strata, others rising in solitary pinnacles.

As we have ideal conditions this morning, the captain has the crew climb the rigging and unfurl the sails, and we ourselves are transported back to the Age of Sail and Exploration. During the morning program, Expedition Leader and geologist Paula Tagle walks us through the complex tectonics of the Mediterranean Basin which give rise to its volcanic activity. Afterwards, the chief engineer gives us a tour below decks in the ship’s engine room, where an equally complex marvel of engineering keeps us fully powered.

After lunch we take the Zodiacs to shore in Lipari, the most populous island in the chain. Here we take a coach tour around Lipari’s winding roads, whose many tight bends and switchbacks were never designed with such large vehicles in mind. Bravo to the drivers who consistently thread the needle! We see incredible vistas, obsidian outcrops, and piles of pumice. These great heaps of volcanic ejecta embody the tumultuous seismic history of this region.

Our day in the Aeolian Islands was at once busy and yet utterly relaxing. We head back to Sea Cloud, take a dip in the ocean, then cruise through the islands into the night. Next stop: Sicily.