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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Batteries and forts
16/07/2010

Military structures dot the archipelago, including the huge NATO base on the east coast of San Stefano. Many, like this decrepit Forto San Giorgio, are derelict.
The islands of course are important, controlling eastern access to the strait and the fertile, convoluted headlands of north east Sardinia. Nelson famously hung out here for a while, pre-Trafalgar. He couldn't go ashore as the Kingdom was neutral at the time, but he was very taken with Sardinia. He wrote that Great Britain should seek to annex Sardinia rather than Malta, as its key Mediterranean base, for its harbours, facilities and friendly people. The Admiralty, of course, ignored him.
Before Nelson, one of Napoleon's first command missions (in 1793) had been to conquer Sardinia, and particularly these islands. He failed miserably. Local troops knew these complicated, rocky, shallow waters, and led his navy a merry dance. Their leader Domenico Millelire in particular sailed in and out of passages, bays and straits, taunting the French ships until in the end they went away. Millelire got the first gold medal issued by the Sardo-Piedmontese Navy for his dashing bravery.
If you know the islands well, this kind of marine guerrilla defence would be excellent. It can be very confusing in broad daylight, with modern charts and visual aids to differentiate one bay (depth say 4m) from the next (depth 1.2m with nasty rocks), or to tell which one leads to a passage and which is a dead end in which your ships will be trapped. At night, without those helpers, it must be impossible.
We've had an excellent few days in the archipelago - which have actually been very cheap as there's nothing to spend money on. But it was time to move on.

Places and people
Quarries
16/07/2010

Up the hill from the quay, to the east, are the remains of an old granite quarry. You find a collection of half-finished statues, including this blurry-faced bust identified on the tourist map as Costanzo Ciano, a WW1 naval hero. Heikell uses this name, but gives in fact the biography of Costanzo's son, Gian Galeazzo Ciano; he became Mussolini's son-in-law but was executed for treason in 1943. (He had voted against Mussolini at the key meeting which led to the dictator's downfall in July, but was captured by the Nazis and taken to Mussolini's puppet state in Northern Italy and shot there.) Whichever member of the charming family is involved, for obvious reasons they didn't complete this typically bombastic portrayal, and the man now has a great view out to sea.

Places and people
Dolphins, crystals, rigs and rangefinders
14/07/2010

About 20 minutes walk inland from the sailing yacht jetty in the northern corner of Porto Palma is a complex that houses a church, a café, a dolphin research centre and two small museums. All this is within the crumbling buildings that seem to have belonged either to the old granite mines or to some fish processing plant. It's good to see them being reused.
The dolphin research institute is one of a network monitoring sealife around the cetacean sanctuary of which this is the southern apex. It reaches to Toulon at one corner and nearly to Rome at the third. They have lots of doubtless fascinating information but sadly nearly all of it is in Italian. Some excellent pictures though.
One of the museums is dedicated to the complex mineralogy of Sardinia, and its exploitation over the last few hundred years. A huge carving is pictured which was made here and then taken by barges to Ishmalia, via Suez. You can also see examples of the many shells and crustaceans around here, many of which are now very rare but some, such as the green sea urchins, are readily seen when snorkelling.
The other little museum celebrates the sea and lives working at sea around the islands. It's rather a haphazard collection including this beautiful model of a working boat. There is also a fully rigged mast and spars and many smaller versions. Besides this, enormous basket-work cray-pots, a working, wind-up air-raid siren (demonstrated for us by the guide), an early diving bell, many ropes and the biggest knot-boards you've ever seen. Most baffling was a big metal disc, held in a vertical position, inscribed with arcs and mysterious formulae. This turned out to be a calculator for the cannon-batteries firing against enemy aircraft. Once you've got the range (see rangefinders in separate display case), you can calculate the parabola and shot weight you need. It must have taken a while to set up and then some lickety-split mental arithmetic.


Places and people
The home of the Hero
11/07/2010

From the jetty a road leads inland. It's just a track, rather than a sealed surface. After about 15 minutes you come to a 'roundabout' with turnings left and right. We were fortunate enough to find a friendly shepherd, about to milk his bell-hung flock. He told us (and was able to make us understand) that we needed to turn left and follow the curving track. Once we'd done that, we saw a sign for the museo, which took us on a short scramble through the woods, and to the walled fence of the compound. Turn right and you quickly come to the entrance of the museum. Note (which we didn't find out till afterwards) that if you then go on another 50m you find a café, for coffee and croissants.
This compound is the last home of the hero of the Risorgimento, Guiseppi Garibaldi. He had been in exile, for participation in the republican uprisings inspired by Mazzini, spending much of the time in South America. When able to return, he bought the northern half of Caprera.
By early 1860, the moment had come for promoting an Italy of the Italians, creating a nation which had never existed before. At that time the northern third of the peninsula, including Piedmont and Nice, fell under the Duchy of Savoy, whose head held the title of King Vittorio Emmanuel of Sardinia (courtesy of mediaeval shenanigans by the Papacy). The southern third, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, an unhappy yoking of Naples and Sicily, was ruled by a junior branch of the Spanish Bourbons. In the convoluted events following the Napoleonic wars and France's protracted dithering about its preferred form of government, the House of Savoy agreed to cede Nice and Savoy itself for gains in the peninsula. This irritated Garibaldi, who was born in Nice, but in the end he yielded to such changes, and indeed to a monarchy rather than a republic, to pursue the dream of unity
Our hero raised a small force which obtained arms from the Savoy-Sardinian Prime Minister, Baron Cavour. Cavour also organised discreet naval protection for the garibaldini as they sailed south from Genoa, although publicly he denounced the action. Garibaldi's army rapidly conquered/liberated the land as far north as Naples.
At this point, Cavour became concerned that if the garibaldini invaded the lands held by the Rome, the major European powers would intervene to protect the millennium-old temporal power of the Pope. He therefore organised for the Piedmontese army to meet Garibaldi at Teano, in October, where Garibaldi ceded the territory he had won to the King.
In effect, Cavour's intervention stopped Garibaldi marching on Rome. He had handed the southern third of the country to the new regime and retired to his home on Caprera, where he ran an experimental farm for the remaining 27 years of his life. It is not clear whether he did so in a huff, or felt that he had done all he could; our sources differ on this point. Whatever his emotions, it seems that Garibaldi was essentially a charismatic mercenary captain whose passionate beliefs were well utilised by the wily rulers of Savoy to bring about a united Italy without provoking armed intervention by stronger powers.
From the shrine to Garibaldi that is his Casa Bianca, modelled on an American hacienda, you would think that he had single-handedly liberated all of Italy. The place is full of personal mementoes that further the cult - his sextants and swords, the bed he died in, his uniforms and gramophone. There is very little about the man himself. His later life is unchallenged: his first wife died in the Sicilian campaign, and for many years he lived with his partner Francesca, whom he finally married when he was 72. The small graveyard at the Casa Bianca includes Francesca, both their children (the last of whom died in 1959), plus at least two other daughters. One is described as being the child of one of the maids, the other's mother is not mentioned at all.
Notwithstanding this scepticism, there are many sweet touches. The 143 year old pine tree that Garibaldi planted at the birth of Clelia, Francesca's daughter. The tomb of his favourite mare, Marsala, and a lovely painting of his mother. For us, of course, there was a lot of interest in the two boats on display. One is a competition rowing scull. The other, shown in the picture, is the boat that the Sardinian Navy (as it then was) gave to Garibaldi in 1860, for navigating around the archipelgo. The stability of its keel, the strong construction but shallow draft are all typical and functional in these waters. They do not say what rig it carried, but it was probably the classical Latin vela of the area, a big sail suspended from a heavy yard which crossed the mast - now generally called the lateen rig.
The museum is EU5 each. You go round in small groups, led by an Italian guide, but they ticket office will give you an English leaflet if you ask. The Italians in our group were suitably reverential and we restrained any awkward questions for another time.

Places and people
Banned beach
07/07/2010

As it cooled in the evening we went ashore and visited the famous Spiagga Rosa, the Pink Beach at the eastern end of Budelli. This is now off limits to all water activity and the beach is fenced off. There is a small, crusty settlement behind it, which we think is connected to, or at the very least condoned by, the park management, obviously keeping guard. The beach itself is pristine and exquisite, the sand, which stretches back through the dunes, as soft as fine, expensive talc with a delicate rosy flush like the very last hint of dawn in a clear sky. It must have been mauled while still open to the public but now it is this tiny jewel, much written about and barely seen.

Places and people
Flowers and lizards
06/07/2010

The paths on the uninhabited island wind between scrub maquis and flicker with lizards. Flowers bloom, even as the hot salty wind blows. This wonderful thistle, under a rock, was its own tiny star.

Places and people
White cliffs of Corsica
05/07/2010

Move over, Dover. These amazing cliffs stretch south east from Bonifacio to Pte Pertusato, the southernmost point on the island.

Places and people
Castles and sieges
04/07/2010

The great citadel of Bonifacio was first built by the eponymous Tuscan Count, who built a castle here in 828. The Genoese won the town in1187. The native inhabitants were massacred or expelled, replaced by loyal Ligurians, and a form of Ligurian dialect is still the language of Bonifacio, rather than Corsican.
There have been all sorts of wars here, but two sieges stand out for romantic bravery. In 1420 Alphonso V of Aragon wanted the place. He led a crack army, who isolated the port in August. The defenders were reduced to starvation but fought with everything they had, from boiling water to pitch. Astonishingly, they held on, even though the army carried the newly invented musket. Their leader was the valiant Margeurite Bobbia, whose ingenuity saved the day. Eventually the townspeople built a boat inside the walls which managed to break the blockade and call on the Genoese for help. The fleet was slow arriving; in order to keep Alfonso fooled, the remaining survivors dressed up in armour and paraded the ramparts, convincing him the soldiers had come. By this time Xmas had come and gone, and the Aragonese were so demoralised that they decamped. One of the greatest armies in the Mediterranean had been held off by civilians, mostly women and children: the kingdom of Aragon never really recovered.
In 1554, over 60% of the population was wiped out by plague. While Bonifacio was still recovering, Henri II of France turned up, helped by the notorious corsair Dragut. (We last met him at Girolata, which he sacked in 1541 as revenge for having been captured there by Andrea Doria.) Bonfiacio resisted 18 nights and days of cannon attack. They managed to smuggle out an envoy to Genoa, but he was captured by the Turks, who made him carry a forged letter refusing help. This made Bonifacio surrender to avoid worse damage, and for a short while the town was French. Genoa got it back, though, in 1559.
Under the Genoese, who gave the town various tax breaks and commercial advantages, Bonifacio then prospered. Once the French took over Corsica, though, it joined the general malaise of Parisian neglect and many traders left, despite its advantageous position on the strait and the lovely harbour. It is really tourism that now gives it what prosperity it has.
And indeed this is very much another tourist town. Like Calvi, the quay is lined with overpriced bars, and the haut-ville is full of souvenir shops of varying authenticity. Unlike Calvi, it contains at least one very LOUD club, which goes on till about two in the morning. It also has an endless succession of tripper boats, staffed by a range of arrogant jerks. One of them insisted on running his engine for hours last night, filling the cockpits of all the stern-to boats on our side of the quay with fumes. Needless to say, if we do find time to do the tour of the grottoes, we won't be going with that company.
We are taking two nights here to do a bunch of stuff we have had little opportunity to do for a while. We left Calvi marina four weeks ago, and apart from the flying visit to Castlesardo have not been on mains electricity since. We needed to use the printer/scanner, and, much more important, to give Roaring Girl a really good wash in fresh water. The salt builds up and damages the gear.
Plus, we can catch up with ourselves on this blog ... don't' forget that where we mention an album in the post, we've made an associated set of pictures which you can see by clicking on the 'photo gallery' tab to the right of the main blog text. The album will have the same title as the post it illustrates. You can also see where we are by clicking on the map to the right. And if you feel moved to comment, you can do so by clicking on the 'comment' tag at the end of each post - or simply send us an email.
Very last comment this time is to say Happy Independence Day to our US friends, particularly Mike and Linda who are now battling the new anchoring ban in Mahon and, for yesterday, Happy 50th birthday to Dave, Pip's older brother, down there in Christchurch NZ, and hope the puppy gets well really soon.

Places and people
Safe harbour
03/07/2010

Bonifacio is an "excellent harbour, closed in on all sides by an unbroken ring of precipitous cliffs, with two bold headlands facing each at the mouth so as to leave only a narrow channel in between." Thus Homer describes the home of the Laistrygonians, where Odysseus went with his fleet early in the Odyssey. The inhabitants fell upon the fleet and burnt it, killing many of his men, and leaving Odysseus with small support for the rest of his wanderings.
Two women of this tribe are described, the daughter and wife of the chief Antiphates. The former is a 'strong girl', while the latter is of 'mountainous proportions'. This extends to their menfolk, who are 'more like Giants than ordinary men'. Scholarly disquisitions point out that the 'bad' women of the Odyssey are usually described via their unfortunate effects on the hero and his allies, while the 'good' women get their own narrative. What's more, those who oppose him and bring chaos to his journey, are the agents of Poseidon, warring with Athena's ambition to create civilisation and order. The Laistrygonians are important examples of Poseidon's actors.
The description also prompts comparison to Magellan's and Drake's stories of giants in Patagonia, allegedly fierce, 9ft high occupants of this remote area at the edge of the world as known by Europeans. Could it be that, as the people of Mediterranean and North Atlantic explore, their first encounters become enhanced in the re-telling, so the yarns are all the better when they get home?
Another way to look at this story is to consider the timing. Could these have been the prehistoric occupants of Corsica, the people who built the statue-menhirs of Filitosa and who were already beginning to feel the incursions of those tribes who became the Toreen conquerors? If so, perhaps their fierce reaction is less surprising. Maybe they had already learnt that strangers brought death, and had decided to get their retaliation in first.

Places and people
Gardening in the street
01/07/2010

The potted gardens of Castelsardo's high town are striking in their variety and luxuriance. No need for guerilla gardeninghere!

Places and people
Modernisation of traditional craft
01/07/2010

In the streets of the old town, amidst the cafes and souvenir shops , women are still weaving. Many are sticking to the older forms, which presumably sell well, but some are experimenting with other colours and shapes. We were very interested in the similarities and differences with the flax weaving practised across the Pacific. This tradition is alive and well in Aotearoa/New Zealand. When we were there in 2008, Pip's mother took us to the museum in Petone which had a special exhibition on about the work. Also, Lou, in Christchurch has done quite a lot of weaving, and some of her little baskets are on Roaring Girl today.
One of the major differences is that, here in the Med, it never seems to have become usual to use woven fibres for clothes, unlike the many skirts, hats and cloaks of the south.

Places and people
Weaving natural fibres
01/07/2010

Castelsardo is a major centre of the ancient Mediterranean art of weaving vegetable fibres to make important utensils. Historically they used a very wide range of materials, such as myrtle twigs, reeds, and palm fibres. The castle houses a small museum of the craft, which includes this wonderful boat. These fassois were used by the lake fishermen of Oristiano, who quanted them with long reed poles, and laid woven basket nets to trap their prey.


Places and people

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