So we’d had a good time in the Balearics, catching up with friends and living a holiday lifestyle. But it was time to leave these hedonistic islands and move on, our next destination being Sardinia, a 240NM (that’s nautical miles, which is approximately 444km) or roughly a 2 day sail away.
The trick with crossings is you never quite know how long it will take you. You roughly plan to move at 5 odd knots to be conservative, but at the same time it’s more often than not a little faster. The key thing is ideally not to arrive in unknown ports in the dark. And our destination of Carloforte, on the island of San Petro, had some nice shallow waters on it’s approach. So we headed off at 1pm leaving ourselves some leeway for a Monday morning arrival.
With little wind we were soon under motor and with a nice clean hull we were moving faster than previously. Indeed our time of arrival was showing 4am Monday at one stage. But we knew wind would arrive and we could just sail slowly if needs be. When we motor, out comes the fishing rod. The fact that we hardly ever see fishing boats out here tells a story. Indeed I’d read Rod Heikell’s comments in the Pilot Book saying that all that clear beautiful Med water means there are few nutrients and hence little fish. Those are my official excuses. No fish, but to my amazement I saw a turtle swimming along! In the Med!
As the sun set the sea became as flat as a pond with some wonderful pink and blue colours. And so onto night shifts. We eat dinner together which is something prepared in advance in the pressure cooker – usually a stew or chilli to go with rice or a bolognese for pasta. 10pm the first shift starts and then it’s a case of three hours on, three hours off. With hardly a soul in sight and flat seas, you pass time reading, checking the navigation, and praying to the fish gods to deliver food to your fishing rod. The early hours are always a little tougher. You wake the other person offering a cup of tea and give them ten minutes to wake properly before briefing them on your shift. Then you dive into bed hoping sleep will take you.
We motored for 12 hours before we finally got some wind. But the wind was kind and out came our favourite parasailor. To date we’re loving the parasailor. We’ve not had to deal with it in any tough winds yet and are adamant it comes down at 12 knots. The main reason being retrieving it in it’s sock which douses it is the toughest bit and with just two of us you need to be a little bit careful! But we sailed with it up for several hours, just enjoying it.
We managed to sail into most of Sunday evening but in the early hours the motor was back on and as the sun rose at 6am Sardinia was sighted. We slowly motored into Carloforte to arrive at 8am. Indeed it was shallow and motoring in being able to see the bottom very clearly with just 4m is a little surreal! A quick coffee ashore and time to catch up on a little sleep!
San Pietro is a small island just off the south west of Sardinia. Carloforte is the main town and we immediately warmed to it. Italian tourists like it but bar the odd Frenchie there were no other tourists in sight. The town square had trees surrounded by benches where all the retired men gathered in the day to discuss… well I’m not sure as I don’t speak Italian! Bound to be about football, the outfit that Matilda wore last night and the general lack of fish in the Med.
We got our bikes out and went beach hopping. It’s so hot now, this proved to be a good idea as we could take swims to cool off along the way. After dinner one evening we heard music coming from the town square and headed off to explore. A ‘disco’ was playing and old and young had gathered. The DJ played a range of music and you’d either have a group of 30 odd young girls synchronising a dance or the older generation would get up, and together with their partners, swirl around the town square. Every now and then a tune appealed to both groups and all would dance. A little black girl loved it all. She’d get up in front, watch the dance and then copy it – just a natural rhythm – brilliant! It was all gloriously wonderful and you took it in smiling away and relishing it. On came YMCA and Susie and I even got up and had a crack at the synchronised dancing! I reckon those Italians were thinking look at that man with his beard and pretty girl. He’s got rhythm that man!
Too soon it was time to move on. We’d got a tip about a bay with a sandy beach that was in a military area that per the pilot book (guide book for boats) was off-limits. But apparently come June the military let sailors in, and for a few months a year you can anchor up. Yet it’s not written down anyway. We found said beach and it was indeed beautiful. Turquoise waters with a long thin white beach. We swam to the shore and noted the signs ‘Danger, unexplored devices’ and opted not to get the bikes out to explore!
The next day we were off to Malfatano to anchor in a bay and pick up a childhood friend of Susie’s, Charlotte. The arrangement was to pick her up by dinghy. Malfatano is not exactly a major town and has little more than a restaurant and beach bar. We were a touch worried about mobile reception and had plan A/B/C in place. But yet again we could rely on our tracker and Charlotte had taken a photograph of it on her mobile on arriving in Cagliari and knew where we were. Full credit to Charlotte who had found a transfer to one town pretending she was staying in a hotel and then convincing the driver to take her all the way. It all went swimmingly well and Susie standing on the road at the entrance to the beach waved her down, much to the amusement of Charlotte’s driver!
Charlotte got off to a fabulous start as she had bought some homemade brownies and these were to be a regular treat while she stayed with us. Over the next few days life evolved into a nice, simple, slow routine of a few hours sailing, swimming, chatting and futile efforts at catching fish. In the evenings a little sundowner and the BBQ came out.
Tom laid down a challenge to the girls to try and make bread. We had the ingredients and out came ‘The care and feeding of sailing crew’ (the bible for life at sea) and a bread recipe was sourced. A few hours later and fresh bread was served. Some mutterings that it was a little sweet and dense but it got good marks in my book. The girls even produced a version with olives in it the next day.
Charlotte was lapping up life at sea and got stuck in wanting to learn as much as possible and picked things up quickly be it helming, setting the sails, anchoring, or dropping the parasailor. On one drop when we decided to try dropping the doused sail through the hatch into the forward cabin, she offered to go down into her cabin to pull the sail through – it just made sense. It was only afterwards we told her this role is endearingly known as the “sewer rat” on a race boat!
A few days later we arrived in the city of Cagliari, on the south east coast of Sardinia. Here we had booked the San Elmo marina based on the fact that we were Cruising Association members and would get a discount. How expensive could it be? After all, Cagliari isn’t really a big glamorous town like Palma. We parked stern to with Charlotte helping out nicely and marched off to the office. Much to our astonishment they wanted 110 euros a night and the discount was a mere 5%. Furthermore they would not let you have the wifi code for the boat and typed it into your iPad for you so you couldn’t see it. Now Palma cost 80 euros a night but that was full of super yachts, and was downright swanky so you couldn’t complain. This was just your average marina. We paid for one night and walked off.
On the spur of the moment we thought we’d check at Marina Del Sole, a neighbouring marina a 5 minute walk away. The entrance looked a bit grubby and it looked a little run down but we asked. The marina man smiled when we told him our predicament. 50 Euros including water and electricity per night. No brainer – back we went, asked for our money back, and a 2 minute move with Charlotte getting another go at stern to parking!
We read up about Marina Del Sol and it drew mixed reactions. Many loved the family run marina with its quirks and overlooked some of the less than perfect facilities. We were the same – it just grew on us. Yes, the entrance was run down with old planks needing repair but a new pile of planks were sitting waiting for someone to fix the entrance. The permanent tent marquee that served as an office and bar was basic. The old man that ran the place looked like Grandad out of Only Fools and Horses, took his time, his dogs laid about the place. But upside, it had a nice feel about it. A large beer only cost 2.50 and a coffee was a mere 70c. It was homely. And they helped with whatever you needed, the son being charming. It spoke volumes when you could see Sant Elmo full of empty pontoons. And I’ve always said in life I hardly remember the 5 star hotels, but I always remember the different and quirky places. It’s all about people!
We explored the old town of Cagliari (more hills!) and enjoyed a farewell dinner ashore with Charlotte. They next day we bade her farewell. Just our type of guest – keen to get stuck in, keen to learn, and a fab cook too!
We now had a week to ourselves to explore Sardinia before our planned crossing to Tunisia. We opted for a week trying different anchorages on the east coast.
And we swapped roles! Our approach has been to master our own roles and then we would swap and teach the other. Many go for the model of man helms, female handles lines. Some do it the other way round siting the man is stronger. In our case we’re both of an age that we are both strong enough and mobile enough to do the lines. We based our decision on the fact that Susie is the more organised one so well laid lines etc suit her and Tom can deal better with the carnage that can sometimes ensues on the helm. Of course we were both rubbish at each others roles to start! And post exercise, conversations involved lots of lessons learnt. But we are getting better…
Each day we got into a rhythm of a 4 to 6 hour sail, and anchoring for the night enjoying BBQs, furthering our bread making skills and catching up on admin. Tom was trying all his different lures in vain. Fish are on strike for the summer! The bays were all lovely, most had day trippers but as the sun started to descend just the yachties were left. Our favourite time of day.
We’ve already agreed we’re definitely coming back to explore Sardinia more. The scenery is beautiful, it’s not too crowded, gorgeous bays, and very unspoilt.
So our time in the European Mediterranean is at an end, and enjoyed it we have. Next we head off to North Africa where Tunisia is our first stop. Time for some adventure! Jolly excited. Oh – and rumours are there are fish to be caught…