08/12/2008, Trapani, Sicily
Somewhere off Isola di Sant Antioco, Rick downloaded the grib files with the weather and we realized that our visit to the Golfo di Oristano and Tharros would have to wait for another season. There was a narrow weather window between the 8th and 10th when things looked good for the sail to Sicily, but by Aug 11th the wind would be Force 6-7, ON THE NOSE. We decided that Carloforte, on Isola di San Pietro, would be our turnaround point.
Entering Carloforte harbour was a bit stressful. The approaches are very shallow, and the Imray guide says that "the buoys in the approaches cannot always be relied upon to be in place". The pilot guide suggested that we follow a transit where the white belfry of the cathedral and a black and white checkered beacon line up on 273.5 degrees. I frantically scanned the harbourfront with the binoculars trying to find the cathedral and eventually realized that it has now been painted yellow. Very inconsiderate of them- and I never did find the black and white marker, either. Meanwhile, Rick had been calmly piloting us safely past the shallow spots, so we focused on finding a marina, since anchoring in the harbour is not permitted. Marina Sfredi answered our VHF call on the first attempt, and waved us into a berth near the marina entrance. The price was 67 euros a night (which apparently is what charge band 3-4 now translates to) but since we'd been at anchor for nearly a week we felt it was a justified expenditure. We'd hoped they would have potable water at the dock, but they didn't. Access to good water is becoming an issue and running out is my second biggest fear, right next to being shipwrecked.
There are no major historic monuments in Carloforte, so we were completely free of any pressure to sightsee. The town is lovely-behind the waterfront, the narrow streets of the old town are lined with elegant three-story buildings in varying shades of yellow, pink and light green. Wrought iron balconies edged with flowerpots and strung with lines of washing sit above a warren of little shops of every kind....bakeries, "frutta e verdura"shops, wine shops, shops selling Sardinian delicacies, antique shops...all our favourite things. Unfortunately, with our usual impeccable timing, we had arrived just as siesta was beginning, so we each had a sandwich and an Ichnusa beer at a little bar, by which time we were ready to fully participate in the rite of siesta and went back to the boat and had a nap.
Carloforte is a fishing town and our travel guidebooks firmly advised us not to miss the seafood. At eight o'clock (quite early for eating out in Italy) we went in search of a ristorante and eventually settled ourselves at Vitorio's on the waterfront. We haven't tasted pulpo (octopus) that good since we left Bayona, but the biggest surprise was the pasta- a bowl of spaghetti with sepia ink and a plate of...believe it or not...lasagna. We were sure we hadn't ordered lasagna, but decided not to argue the point. Now, if only I could get my hands on that lasagna recipe. Dean and Christopher would love it! We watched with great envy as the large table of Italians behind us devoured plate after plate of seafood of every variety imaginable, but after the pasta we simply didn't have the fortitude to eat another bite so never did get to the "secondi" choices. Beside us, a young couple was eating deep fried calamari and completely ignoring each other as the man talked animatedly on a cellphone (one hand for the phone, one hand gesturing just as though the person on the other end could see him) and the woman texted non-stop.
Our waiter for the evening was very endearing. He was about 25, a bit on the portly side, and made valiant efforts to speak to us in English. Since his English was about on a level with my Italian, which is to say that he knew the words for water and wine and a few verbs in present tense only, I fully appreciated the amount of effort required. Rick was convinced that the secret of the pulpo flavour was in the type of olive oil they were using, and insisted that I ask our waiter where we could buy it. He very carefully explained that we must go to the grocery store and ask for "olio oliva, extra vergine". As far as brands went, they were all (with a shrug) "uguale". I'm pretty sure he was left with the impression that we had never tasted olive oil before.
As we made our way along the waterfront, a concert was beginning just a few hundred metres from the marina. That scenario is not always a good thing- we have had a few sleepless nights listening to lackluster performances in various locations. This time, the band was excellent and the all-girl Sardinian choir that joined them for the last hour was the highlight of the evening. As they stood on the stage with their hair blowing in the wind, singing songs in Sardo that I suspect were the Sardinian equivalent of Cape Breton's "We are an Island a Rock in the Stream", it was sad to think that we would be leaving Sardinia soon.
The next day I sneaked in a quick visit to the morning market, while Rick paced the deck worrying that the wind would come up before we got away from the dock. Because we med-moor bow-first, the docking is relatively easy, but undocking in reverse through the spider web of anchor lines tends to create some anxious moments. We got away smoothly at around 1130, and sailed back to enjoy one last night in Nora, where unfortunately the swell was back with a vengeance. The next day we made our way to Villasimius for one last night in another beautiful anchorage as we prepared for the passage to Sicily.
We've seen some beautiful places on our journey, but it is difficult to imagine that anything will top Sardinia as a cruising ground. Warm turquoise water, a seemingly endless selection of incredible anchorages, a fascinating history and culture ....how long would it take to grow tired of it? I'm already scheming to schedule a return visit.
And now, for something completely different...Sicily! We arrived in Trapani on Saturday night, after the bumpiest passage ever. We're glad to be here!
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We had intended to stay only two or three nights in Nora before continuing westward, but the magic of the anchorage and a few unexpected events kept us there for five nights. It isn't every day that we find ourselves anchored beside ancient ruins dating back to the 8th century B.C.! There's also a 16th century Spanish-era tower on the point, but towers are a dime-a-dozen in this part of the world and no one seems to pay much attention to them, except us.
The archeological site of Nora occupies most of the headland at Capo di Pula. The town is believed to have been founded by Phoenicians, colonized by Carthaginians and eventually taken over by the Romans. (The Cathaginians, by the way, were Phoenicians who established the colony of Carthage in Tunisia. The Romans used the supposedly derogatory term "Punic" to describe the Carthaginians.) The Nora ruins date mainly from the Roman period (2nd-3rd century A.D.) but some evidence of the Carthaginian settlement is also in evidence, including a temple believed to have been dedicated to the goddess Tanit. As we wandered along the pathways exploring the remains of the old town, it didn't take a lot of imagination to picture the settlement as it might have appeared nearly two thousand years ago. We were able to distinguish the ruins of the town forum, a large theatre, a villa with four columns and some mosaic floors still intact, an extensive bath house (which offered cold, tepid or warm water in the separate thermal rooms) a public lavatory, a temple dedicated to the Roman god of medicine and health, a large residential neighbourhood and a marketplace area. By the time we finished our tour we were as hot and sweaty as it's possible to be, so we jumped in for a swim. With the water temperature now at 30 celsius, getting "ducked" isn't a problem!
The next morning, we anchored our dinghy at the public beach and ran into Pula, about 2.5 km away. The village is a busy little spot, with a small grocery store, a few fruit and vegetable shops, the usual collection of clothing, jewelry and souvenir shops and several cafes clustered around the main square. We took a walking break to visit the tourist office and to buy some foccacia at the panetteria, then ran back and cooled off with some snorkeling. Watching the fish swimming around the underwater ruins was cool indeed! Later in the week, Rick even found some ancient-looking pottery shards near shore, but we left them where he found them, since the penalties for removing antiquities are very severe.
The following day, we walked back into Pula and made a noteworthy purchase- a small modem and SIM card that gives us....big drum roll.....internet on board! We had to pay an upfront cost of 139 euros for the modem, but 100 hours of internet time cost only 25 euros, with no ongoing contract required. We will be able to use this system throughout Italy. It seemed too good to be true- and sure enough, when we got back to the boat, we couldn't get the network to accept our SIM card activation request. So the next morning we were again on the road to Pula, this time with Rick carrying his computer in a knapsack on his back. The agent gave us a new SIM card and we're finally in business- and getting decent speeds, too! I've even been able to load some photos in the blog gallery.
We couldn't believe our eyes when we got back to the anchorage and saw a Canadian-flagged boat anchored beside us. Howard and Kelly had sailed their Endurance 35, "Rapture", westward from Vancouver. Their original intention had been only to explore the islands of the south Pacific, but having done this they decided to continue following the wind. With their circumnavigation almost complete, they have decided it is time to return home- but expect to take about three more years to complete their journey.
Two US boats had also arrived in the anchorage, so a small North American party was organized onboard Shana and Doug's boat "Hobnob" that evening. Shana and Doug had sailed from the west coast of the US via the Panama canal and had been living aboard since 2000, while Vince and Barbie had sailed their Whitby 42 from the US Virgin Islands and are cruising part-time for two months a year. We were disappointed when Howard and Kelly decided to follow the wind to the Balearics instead of continuing up the west coast of Sardinia as they had originally intended. As they pulled away, Kelly called "Hope to see you again somewhere!" but Howard, obviously a bit more pragmatic, called "Have a nice life!"
After our final run into Pula, we took time to visit the tiny church of Sant. Efisio on the shore near the public beach. Tradition has it that this church marks the spot where Ephisius, an early Roman Christian, was martyred (or, according to our tourist brochure, "martyrized") in 303. Once a year, between the 1st and the 3rd of May, a procession from Cagliari makes its way here to honour the Saint. The 800 year old church was being decorated for a wedding when we visited it, and it was a lovely site to see this musty old building transformed with linen swags and greenery.
The nights in Nora were as lovely as the days- we spent hours sitting in the cockpit looking at the brilliant stars, thinking about how the ancient Carthaginians and Romans would have looked up at the stars from this very spot. The only drawbacks were the intense heat and an occasional swell that rolled in- which Rick's stern anchor couldn't completely resolve.
On Monday, we eventually pulled up the anchor and moved down the coast to the anchorage at Porto Malfatano- another very pretty spot, overlooked by another old tower. There was a lot of weed on the bottom, with a few sandy spots. We anchored in 35' and the anchor to bit very well in one of the sandy spots. The water was so clear that we could see the anchor in 35' of water without a mask, but Rick was far more interested in the tiny beach hut on shore, where pasta lunches were being served. We had a wonderful spaghetti with "bottarga" (a dry Sardinian caviar made from mullet roe) and sat for a while enjoying a local "birra" (Ichnusa), staring at the view and watching two small Italian boys play with our dinghy. "Vroom vroom" is part of the universal language!
The next day we continued westward to Carloforte on Isola di San.Pietro- but we'll continue with that story in the next posting.
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Sailing down the east coast of Sardinia was not part of our original itinerary. Since all of our reading and preparation had been based on exploring the western part of the island, it was a complete surprise to discover that the anchorage in Arbatax had a view worthy of a charter-company brochure. The turquoise water was warm and amazingly clear-perfect for swimming or just for sitting and staring. With one empty water tank, we toyed with the idea of moving in to the marina for the second night, but decided against it when we were told that the water on the docks was non-potable. Ashore, there was little to see other than the "rocce rosse", an unusual formation of large red rocks located on the beach near the port. Shopping opportunities are available almost everywhere though-the nautical sports store had a selection of underwater prescription lenses and Rick managed to have a pair fitted into a snorkeling mask before we left Arbatax on Friday morning. He's so thrilled with it that he's been jumping into the water to check the anchor at every opportunity! We sailed away from Arbatax without realizing that one of Sardinia's major nuraghe sites (more about that later) was only a short drive away.
There were lovely mountain views and sandy beaches off the starboard side as we made our way to Porto Corallo, about 30 miles south of Arbatax. Here, we were surprised to find that the marina (39 euros/night, with potable water available) was more than half empty. The Italian family beside us, accustomed to fighting the crowds in Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, were amazed by the sight of empty berths in such a pretty place. There was a large campground across the road, with camp sites and tiny cabins nestled under tall trees. The only business establishments were a pizzeria, a small caf� where some elderly men were drinking coffee and a tiny market in the campground. For once, we were as far from the crowds as we are when we cruise in Nova Scotia.
We stayed only a single night in Porto Corallo, then sailed to Cagliari. We had intended to anchor off Poetta beach, but changed our minds when we saw the roll in the anchorage. We continued into the harbour at Cagliari and took a berth at the Marina Del Sole (35 euros/night), where we were happy to hear that potable water and laundry facilities were available. The next day was Sunday, when most businesses are closed, so we decided to catch up on a few jobs around the boat and dedicate Monday to touring. We should have checked the guidebook first! All the museums and historic sights are closed on Mondays- but that gave us a chance to do the laundry, buy some provisions and do a little shopping. Unfortunately, the walk into town was long, hot and a bit dispiriting, along dusty garbage-strewn streets. The amount of litter in some of the more populated areas of Sardinia is a strange contrast to the incredible natural beauty of the island. On the bright side, there is a gelato (ice cream) shop at about every 20 paces here. Also, the cappuccino is the first thing we've tasted that's as good as the Spanish caf� con leche. Oddly, they serve it lukewarm, but perhaps that's just as well when the thermometer is pushing into the mid-thirties by 10 a.m.
Tuesday showed us a more interesting side of Cagliari (pronounced CAL-yar-ee, not Cag-li-AR-I as we had originally thought). We had cappuccino in a sidewalk caf� as we waited for the tour bus that would give us an overview of the sights- salt ponds full of pink flamingos, the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, a medieval "castello" and many, many churches. We spent much of the afternoon in the archeological museum within the castello, where we saw artifacts so old that the dates made my head spin. This island is believed to have been inhabited by primitive men more than 350,000 years ago. The exhibits had artifacts from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, as well as from the Phoenician and Roman eras. The most interesting exhibits relate to the "nuraghes" (stone towers dating to the pre-Phoenician era, 1800-500BC) that are scattered across Sardinia. I hope we will see at least one nuraghe site, and perhaps the ancient graves known as "giants' tombs", before we leave the island. In the Vice-Regal Palace, we walked through an exhibit of the work of Costatino Nivola, a famous 20th century Sardinian artist and sculptor who was a friend and contemporary of Jackson Pollack. Then we wandered slowly downhill toward the Via Roma and the marina, stopping to buy Katie Waller's birthday gift in a little shop along the way.
Before leaving Cagliari, we had to make a decision on our next steps. In the interest of truth-telling, I must say that the past two weeks have been difficult, and both of us have been out of sorts and wishing that the road to home was not so long and fraught with complications. The reports on Rick's mother's progress continue to be very positive, though, and Rick's brothers and sisters and our own children have been very supportive, so we have decided to keep sailing, at least for a while. We'll explore a bit of the west coast of Sardinia before crossing to Sicily where our friends Roy and Joanne will join us in mid August. Janet Cooper will also join us for a few days later in the month, and then we'll cross to Tunisia and try to get back to Halifax in early September.
Yesterday, we arrived in Pula (Nora)- a beautiful anchorage beside the ruins of an ancient Phoenician/Roman town. The water is crystal clear and 28.9C. There are anchorages on both sides of the peninsula. We checked the west side first- there was a great view of the ruins, but nine boats were rolling and pitching and the holding looked poor with lots of rocks and remains of the Roman buildings underwater. It was also only 8-12' deep in the parts we scoped out, so we decided to head to the east side, where we found great holding in 24' of hard packed sand. It's a bit rolly here too, but it's very beautiful- there's a view of the ruins off the starboard side, a long sandy beach off the port and stern, and a backdrop of mountains in the distance. Not a bad place to spend a little time!
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We spent four days in Obia, worrying about Rick's mother and waiting anxiously for news from home. Rick's brother Al has generously stayed behind in Halifax instead of going to Scotland with June and the boys as planned and he has been giving us daily updates. Christopher and Katherine have also kept in close contact and yesterday we were even able to speak with Rick's mom on the telephone. It was a big relief to hear that she is steadily improving and expected to make a full recovery.
Although the Lonely Planet describes Olbia as a town where there is "precious little to see", it wasn't a bad place to pass some time. There is a long concrete pier where you can tie along side for free, but we opted to anchor just south of the channel and west of the red channel marker. There is good holding here in about 15' of water and thick mud. We discovered later that the bottom is also littered with rocks that can shorten your scope and play havoc with your neighbors when the wind shifts.
I was glad that we weren't in a remote anchorage when I broke a filling in a tooth on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, we decided to go to the tourist office to inquire about a dentist. Rick also wanted to ask if there was a chandlery in the town. The agent-a German woman who spoke English fluently- was obviously not in a happy mood. She provided us with the name and phone number of a "good German dentist" but was quite skeptical about the possibility of finding marine charts anywhere in Olbia. Also, she mentioned, absolutely everything was closed on Sundays, including the bar next door where she usually buys her morning coffee. When I asked if we could bring her some coffee, she immediately whipped out a notepad, wrote down the Italian phrase for "cappuccino to go" and directed me to a coffee shop about a five minute walk away. There, I was provided with a tiny plastic cup of cappuccino covered only by a paper napkin, with three packages of sugar and a stir stick stacked on top. I had to take baby steps all the way back to the tourism office to avoid spilling it, but when I arrived she was smiling happily and had called all over town trying to locate a chandlery. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had already found it, right around the corner from the coffee shop.
As luck would have it, Olbia was hit by an intense thunder and lightening storm while I was walking to the dentist the next day. I was drenched to the skin by the time I arrived, but was relieved to find a modern, well-equipped office with a pleasant dentist who spoke very good English. It's odd that almost every time I've broken a filling I've been in a foreign country . When I mentioned this to the dentist, she said "Ah, your teeth have heard many languages!" Half an hour and 120 euros later, I had a brand new filling. If any of you ever have the misfortune to break a tooth in Olbia, I would highly recommend Dr. Isabella Hillis.
The Lonely Planet wasn't quite right about there being nothing to see in Olbia. On the way to the dentist, I had spotted a sign that said "Aquedotta Romana, 1000m" so I decided to check it out before going back to the boat. The road led through a rather bleak industrial area, with garbage strewn along the way- broken glass, water bottles, bits of shredded plastic, a single sequined sandal .Eventually, I arrived at the remains of the aqueduct, which was sitting in a field surrounded by some olive and chestnut trees, with a view of mountains in the distance. By just squinting just a little, I could ignore the ugly apartment building in the foreground. There was no one there but me - kind of a surreal experience.
The next day, we decided to go ashore for lunch. As we struggled with the menu choices, a woman seated at the next table leaned over to offer assistance. Maddie was perhaps in her early sixties, very beautiful and elegant, with thick flowing gray hair and multiple bracelets on her tanned arms. She smoked her cigarettes with the kind of flair that you sometimes see in old movies and that immediately made me want one myself. Her husband Michael (an American) was also very friendly and full of questions about the cruising lifestyle. Their permanent home is in Connecticut, but Maddie had once lived in Sardinia and they were spending the summer in a house in the hills outside Olbia. Maddie was happy to give us the benefit of her knowledge about Olbia and recommended that we try a trattoria on the outskirts of the town for dinner. She drew us a map on a paper napkin and provided a list of the items we should order. As Michael pulled her away from the restaurant, she was still calling out advice on where to buy lavender oil to keep the bugs away. We could hear Michael saying "Maddie, they sailed here all the way from Canada, I'm sure they can figure out how to deal with a few mosquitoes!". We went to the tratorria on our last night in Olbia and had an unforgettable meal- five little plates of mixed seafood as antipasti, followed by a fantastic pasta with tiny vongole clams in oil and garlic and then a fresh fish that had been baked in a crust of salt-all this and more wine than we care to admit, for 50 euros. Molto grazie, Maddie!
Early the next morning, we pulled in to the yacht club's fuel dock to fill up with diesel and water. The only person on the dock was an elderly woman in full face makeup, with dyed hair in a French twist, wearing a pair of platform jeweled mules and a colourful button-up cotton dress that looked suspiciously like the bathrobe Mom wears in summer. As I jumped onto the dock with the spring line, I wondered what on earth she was doing on a fuel dock at that hour of the day. Much to my surprise, she picked up a permanent line from the dock, held it between the tips of two fingers as though it was a live snake, then leaned over and dropped it on our deck. "How sweet", I thought. It wasn't until she started barking orders to Rick about where to tie the lines that I suddenly realized she was the fuel dock attendant!! She had some bad news for us, too- they didn't accept credit cards and the water was non-potable. I sprinted to the town, withdrew the money we needed to pay the fuel bill- 384 euros for less than one tank- and then we were on our way south, dead into the wind and a rough sea, for a 12 hour slog to Arbatax.
We chose to continue down the east coast of Sardinia in the hopes of shortening the distance to Tunisia- the best place for us to leave the boat if we need to go home for a while. We probably should have opted for the west coast, where there are more places to put in, but it's too late to turn back now. It was already dark when arrived in Arbatax on Wednesday night and dropped the anchor in 15' of water on hard packed sand just north of the mole. There is good holding here and it is well protected from all but the NE although there was little bit of a roll at times. We were pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful the anchorage was when we came on deck on Thursday morning. We also saw whitecaps and more on-the-nose wind outside the harbour, so we opted to sit it out for the day. After a break, we'll continue south and decide which way to turn the bow when we get to the bottom of Sardinia.
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|Corsica and Sardinia||