Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Whilst out of chronological order, our Corsican experience having intervened, our piece about Northern Sardinia would be incomplete without our feelings about the passage from Mao, Menorca across the Sardinian Sea to and including the northwest of the Island.

The day dawned grey and uninviting for our passage from Mao to Sardinia but we must go and so we did at 0500. For the first four hours Bella sailed towards Sardinia in a Force 5/6 on the beam excelling at speeds of 7 to 8 knots. Then someone turned the wind off and we motored the remaining 26 hours in flat calm. We saw two species of Dolphin, two of which played merrily around the bow for some time, and numerous turtles on the way.

Since that moment we have not encountered a single creature of the sea apart from a few small fish while at anchor.
There was surprisingly little shipping in the Sardinia Sea although that which we encountered was remarkable. We were called on the VHF Radio from a ‘Coalition Ship’ that we had seen on Radar some twelve miles away. The polite female American radio operator requested that we alter course to starboard and pass astern of her to avoid any risk of collision. Somewhat cautious, we thought, but we complied, as we were ‘give way’ vessel. As it passed we identified the vessel as a huge US Navy aircraft carrier. I guess there was some security reason for their request and that collision avoidance was a secondary or fictitious premise. This is the first time in thirty years that I have been hailed by a vessel other than a yacht belonging to a friend.
As dawn rose at 0530 and later at sunrise what I mistook for clouds were actually the limestone cliffs along the coastline of Sardinia on the horizon. After a further six hours from that first sighting forty miles offshore we dropped anchor in Cala Del Bollo in Porto Conte on the approaches to Alghero where the water was so clear you could see the anchor dug in. We have never seen water so crystal clear.
The weather was settled and we motored in calm conditions towards the Fornelli passage, a narrow shallow bit of water separating Sardinia mainland from Isola Asinara, a former quarantine island and penal colony and now a nature reserve. The passage was easy to navigate by following transits although seeing the rock beneath one as close as 3 metres is disconcerting. Past this passage a light sea breeze developed along the north coast of Sardinia that allowed us to fly our colourful cruising chute all the way to our destination for the night, Castelsardo. The Ormeggiatori, a wonderful word for chaps from the marina who help one tie up, were friendly and we were surprised at the lack of formality. Unlike Spain and Portugal we did not have to show passports or, in fact, papers of any kind, we just paid 38 euros for two nights. A bargain we thought.
We climbed the mountain into town and, after much searching, found everything that we were looking for: a phone shop for an Italian SIM carte, the supermarket with the best view in the world, a good chandlery, a brilliant fruit and vegetable store and a post office where waiting was included in the price.
It was from Castlesardo that we set off for Corsica. Incredible though it may seem we were hailed on the VHF radio by yet another warship. This time it was a Spanish fleet auxiliary carrying out ‘special operations’. He was extremely courteous and, of course, we gave way to him.
Our return from Corsica took us directly to the Maddalena Archipelago on the northeastern tip of Sardinia, an area that we were looking forward to visiting for its unspoiled, albeit barren, landscape and idyllic anchorages. Miggy sailed in these Islands some seventeen years ago. Our anchorage at Passo Secca di Morto, or Deadman’s Reef Passage was indeed spectacular with crystal clear turquoise water, white sand beaches and wild flowers in abundance. Our peace and solitude was broken by the first boatload of trippers swarming onto the tiny beaches armed with swimming gear, kitchen sink and their sarnies wrapped in paper that they will leave behind them on the shores or hidden in the undergrowth of this beautiful nature reserve. Whilst on this subject the rules of the Reserve are not being obeyed by private yachts or tripper boats who are all transiting or anchoring where they should not destroying the very flora and fauna that the rules are there to protect. No one is policing this place and it will be lost forever before too long.
Our solitude and peace was restored in the late afternoon when the Italians return home for their all important evening meal.
After only a few days at anchor the wind put paid to our plans and we were forced to make for the shelter of the Marina at La Maddalena town. It is a well known fact in sailing circles that yachties go mad if they are sat in port for too long with too much wind. No wonder they call these Islands the Maddalenas. The Maestrale wind, or French Mistral, appears to last for multiples of three days up to nine days at the most. In layman’s terms air from a depression over France is squeezed between the Pyrenees and the Alps and so accelerates to blow strongly from the west or northwest over the western Mediterranean. The three mile wide Straights of Bonifacio between high ground either side, infamous for strong winds, accelerates the flow of this pressure wind further. They say that you can add two Beaufort forces in the ‘Bocche’ to the force of the pressure wind outside.
The digital recorder given to us as a present by John and Karin Spink is invaluable for forecasts, which can be played back slowly to decipher. Actually we are getting proficient at understanding the Italian forecasts even those given in Italian. They have a continuous computerised forecast given in Italian and English that keeps us informed as long as it is reasonably accurate. Navtex is hopeless in that as soon as there is a hint of bad weather Rome and La Garde, France, give up!
The small town of La Maddalena is very pleasant. The Church museum has the magnificent cross and candle holders that Nelson gave to the Church after his stay here on the ‘Victory’ in 1804. A The letter in his own hand accompanying the gift reads:
Rev, Sir
I have to request that I may be allowed to present to the church at La Maddalena a gift for the church as a small token of my esteem for the worthy inhabitants, and my remembrance of the inhabitant’s treatment of His Majesty’s fleet under my command that has been received from them. May God bless us all.
I remain Rev, Sir
Your most obedient servant
Nelson Bronte
The British fleet was here in 1803 – 1805 to keep a close eye on the French fleet anchored in the Port of Toulon. Lord Nelson did not step ashore on the Islands as he felt he would be betraying treaties made with Italy. He was also a very private man who rarely left the comforts of his ship. He did however establish a good relationship with the Commander of the Port of La Maddalena who spent many nights being entertained by Nelson aboard ‘Victory’ Lord Nelson asked his Anglican Chaplain, Father Scott Alexander, to deliver the gift. The priest at Maddalena church wrote saying that a mass of thanksgiving was celebrated for the gift to the church and that the last hymn sung therein was the Te Deum in honour of Lord Horatio Nelson.
Nelson felt it strategically important that the British Fleet have a base in the Maddalenas but he died before he could so persuade the Admiralty. His wise counsel was not in vain, however, the Americans having taken heed and established a Naval Base here a century and a half or so later.
We could do with the support of Nelson and his fleet, as we are one of only three British yachts we have come across in Sardinia amongst a multitude of French and Italians with quite a few Germans as well.
Miggy had her haircut in the town at the enormous expense of 37 euros (£26). There was no styling, special treatments or the like just the removal of a massive amount of hair. I guess they charge according to the amount they cut off.
The effects of the strong winds on the axis of the Bocche di Bonifacio are not generally felt further south so we made passage southward.
We chose to sail on past the Aga Khan’s creation Porto Cervo and the Costa Smeralda, the playground of the mega rich. It is not only because he cost of a night’s stay in Porto Cervo for us would have been around 200 euros (£140) but also because there was little room for we little yachties in the bays and ports crowded with the motor cruisers, the size of which can only classify them as Cruise Liners.
We threaded the narrow Passo del Galere between Isola Nibani and the Sardinian mainland and sailed on amidst stunning scenery down to the daunting Capo Figari across the Golfo di Olbia to the idyllic and peaceful anchorage of Porto della Taverna in the lee of the massive granite chunk of Isola Tavolara.
Pausanias wrote of the eastern coast of Sardinia some 2000 years ago “…An unbroken chain of impassable mountains, and if you sail along the coast you find no anchorage…while violent but irregular gusts of wind sweep down to the sea from the tops of the mountains.” (Thanks to Rod Heikell for the quote from his ‘Italian Waters Pilot‘) This is an apt description of this magnificent coast to this day and one has to be aware of the katabatic winds to which he refers.
Harbours and anchorages south of Olbia are few and far between until one reaches the southeastern tip of the Island and those that we have visited; La Caletta and Santa Maria Navarrese are resort towns of little interest or charm. The scenery is wonderful however and the marinas provide a safe haven for a night or two. Cagliari has all the facilities and services one would expect of a capital city and it has a delightful old quarter with narrow streets lined with fine shuttered houses.
Marinas in Sardinia have been reasonably priced at around 25 euros (£18) per night but in ‘mid season’. They are more expensive as from the 1st July as it is ‘high Season’ and at Santa Maria Navarrese we paid 44 euros (£30). There are those more expensive and a few a little cheaper. In nature Reserves such as the Maddalenas there is a charge of about 20 euros (£14) for anchoring or picking up one of their buoys if laid that is if, in the unlikely event, they are around to charge you!
A mention of a new find ‘Pane Carasau Mezza Luna’. It is thin crunchy bread wafer that is a great snack or a less fattening substitute for real bread with a meal. On the topic of food and incidentally nice Frenchmen a number of French yachts arrived in Porto Corallo having sailed from Tunisia overnight. Between them they had caught 50 Kilos of Tuna, the largest single fish being 15 Kilos. They gutted the fish on the dock and in return for lending them a sharp stainless steel chopper and a load of encouragement they kindly gave us two Tuna steaks and a Kilogram fillet. The steaks were so fresh and therefore so tasty when we eat them that night and the fillet was excellent in a Risotto a couple of days later.
Sardinia has a dry, barren landscape, which, on the east coast is painted a lot greener with Holm and Cork oak trees. There is little soil to support agriculture, although they produce some good red wines and cheeses. All in all Sardinia has not lived up to our expectations although the abnormally strong winds that we have had may have clouded our judgement somewhat. Our Pilot Book tells us that Sardinia has a 1% chance of gales in July. So far we have had gales for five days out of thirteen and even now in Cagliari a strong Sirocco, a moist southerly wind from the desert in North Africa, has set in.
It is very hot, hot enough for Miggy to swim in the sea at 23 deg at every opportunity and hot enough for us to come back to the temperate climes of England on the 19th July. Our phone number there is +44 7913847047.
Miggy will next ‘appear’ on BBC Radio Solent on the 9th of August. It will be exciting for us, as we have been invited for the entire Julian Clegg morning show from 0600 to 0930 or so.