On Sunday 17th July we sailed to Porto Conte to the north west and tacked pleasantly along in 12 knots of wind. We arrived at the anchorage, after some initial confusion with interpreting the wording in the pilot guide, and decided to do what others were doing and anchor in 6-8m over sand and weed with our conventional anchor. Apparently, ‘autonomous anchoring’ is only permitted if you have a Sardinian stone anchor’.
We took the dinghy to the shore and had a good walk up the track, cutting into the headland like a gash, to the head of the steps that lead down to Neptune’s cave. However, the entry fee – €13 (and the thought of 762 steps, down and then back up again) convinced us to simply take in the views and then walk back down to the dinghy.
Having built up a suitable appetite to do justice to chicken, seriously garlicky creamy potatoes, courgette and carrot ribbons, we wolfed down our tea and the had our first game of chess. Stalemate!
Leaving Cala del Bolo be-times on Monday morning, we motored out of the dead calm bay to staggering views of the Capo do Caccia (Hunters’ Cape – where oddly, hunting is not allowed) looming overhead as we passed. The opening angle revealing a perfect hole in the rock half way up the cliff.
Just as we were marvelling at the formation of rock and wondering how the radio beacon managed to be balanced so precisely on the edge of the precipice, rather like a golf ball on a tee, when Ian suddenly slowed the engine and swerved to avoid an uncharted rock. On closer inspection, as we drifted by, with it inches from our starboard beam, it appeared to be a huge log!
Ian circled round and I grabbed the boat hook. We glided by and I prodded the ‘log’. Ah ha! Lava! It seems that there are large chunks of volcanic rock floating about in this part of the Med. Like icebergs in the North Atlantic. Hopefully, they would only afford us only a glancing blow as they are clearly very light and buoyant, despite their size.
On this course around North Sardinia, there is a huge promontory that adds 25 miles to your journey unless you take the Fornelli Passage. A very narrow and shallow channel between Asinara Island to the north and rocky island outcrops to the south. Here, you need to position yourself at the correct entry point out in the bay and steer towards two towers that must be in line one behind the other. You continue to head straight for these towers (and the shore!) until you spot two behind you that are aligned, and then you can turn right, keeping the two stern towers in line behind you. We negotiated the passage in fine weather and clear water so there was no problem at all. In unsettled weather vessels have to go round the long way.
We continued without incident and anchored in Stintino Bay in the late afternoon sun.
We kayaked into Stintino town and had a wander round. The walls of house s in the old town are adorned with enlarged photographs of the tuna fishermen of the town from days gone by. The industry is now defunct for various reasons but, as these amazing images show, the genti di tonnari were hardy folk from a bygone era. All cloth caps, long sleeved shirts, high-waisted trousers and rugged, weather beaten faces. If it weren’t for the fact that they invariably had bare feet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were Yorkshire Farmers.
The pics showed tough fishermen lugging huge tuna from the boats, heaving boats up on to the shore, pushing barrows of filleted tuna to the market. In one group photo which the photographer was trying to stage, things had clearly gone very Sardinian. There were men dangling on each other and laughing, men gesticulating at each other to make a point mid conversation, men grinning, oafish at the camera, men looking the other way, men having conversations with characters beyond the limits of the scene. The whole picture looked like a community of people used to working with and trusting each other on a daily basis.
Interestingly, none of the men seemed to be sickening for a good feed. Some of them were almost portly. How wonderful it would be to meet them now. I wonder what these hardy folk would have made of bikinis, sun bathing, quay side restaurants, up to date weather forecasts and mobile phone obsessions!
Setting off from Stintino we motor-sailed most of the way to Isola Rossa, our next port of call. A pretty village and holiday development with a new marina and breakwater offering good shelter to anchor. We anchored among five other yachts and three cats plus a few day motor boats.
The holding was good and we had a great night’s sleep. next morning we srt off for a long kayak ride across to this incredible beach.
We decided to stay an extra day to explore and in order to find wifi, which we did at the Coccodrillus Restaurante. We spent most of the afternoon and early evening there, had supper on board and started our first chess lesson from a book of How to Play Chess! Fiendish game!
Latish next morning, we left for Capo Testa furthur to the East. As so often seems to be the case recently, we were heading directly into the wind. Progressing by motor sailing. We arrived and anchored. I felt sure, as noted in the pilot guide, that I was dropping the anchor on to a perfect sandy spot about two metres square. Since high winds were expected we put out nearly all our chain. We swam out to inspect it and, yes it certainly looked like sand but the anchor lay on its side and on further investigation it appeared that we had landed on a smooth rock with a covering of sand. Not much to dig into. Luckily, the weight of the chain alone seemed to do the job and the strong winds forecast weren’t due til much later.
The following morning, after great deliberation and reference to the wind reports from various locations, we decided that we would be better returning to Isola Rossa, where we knew that the holding was good and where we could head into the marina if necessary.
We had the wind behind us the whole way back. With the headsail alone we sped back in double quick time on a nice even keel. My favourite point of sail.
We anchored head to wind, pointing at the beach. Putting lots of chain out. As predicted the wind picked up at 0500hrs and we had spun right round. In the meantime, a French boat had anchored in front of us on much less chain. As we span in the night, both scribing circles round our anchors, we ended up about five metres from their bow! We rapidly pulled up some chain.
After breakfast, we thought it would be a good chance to go snorkelling on the rocks about a hundred metres from the boat. Ian had been swimming earlier and found a really good quality mask and snorkel on the sea bed so I tried it for size. Perfect fit! Off we paddled towards the jagged rocks in the distance. As soon as we had swum a mere thirty metres from the boat we realised that there were many large, unyielding and uncharted rocks lurking right below the surface! How fortunate that we hadn’t dragged our anchor or anchored any further over to the south side of the bay as we would almost certainly have hit them!
The visibility was good for snorkelling and we saw about six different varieties of fish, sea cucumbers, and many sea urchins. I dived down to pick up a green speckled shell. It was a perfect dome with a hole underneath and dot patterns vertically around from its head to its belly. There were still a few spines attached to some of the dots. These shells are the skeleton of one of the many sea urchins around here. Apparently, they are a delicacy that are an acquired taste. The effort of harvesting and preparing them must be a kind of guide as to just how much one should appreciate them.
As soon as we returned to the boat we moved across the bay (now deserted) to anchor further away from these errant rocks. We took the dinghy ashore and managed to persuade the bar man in a very nice hotel, Albergo Corrallo, to allow us to watch the Tour de France final day in Morzine. Didn’t spot you, Claire and Nick! Ooo, it did look wet!
Anyway, we returned to the boat to find that a swell of one metre was being driven into the bay. No other boats were anchored by this time. Clue! So we decided that, on balance, rather than pitching and rolling all night, we would head into the Marina Isola Rossa. What a lovely place and delightful staff. I forced myself to speak Italian and was rewarded with a mini, good-natured lesson and lots of grins.
It was incredibly hot in the marina because the high wall presented an excellent wind shield (as it should). It is probably an age thing, but I have recently discovered that the heat makes me sweat copiously. Whereas with most people this perspiration is evenly distributed throughout their entire body, with me, I seem only to perspire from my head and face! I am literally like a watering can. People could shower from me, if they turned me upside down and I’d almost certainly produce hot water! I could supply a small village with its daily water requirement; or I’d be the perfect sprinkler system for a lawn.
So, I have tried various items of apparel to combat this problem. One is to wear a cap. Another is to constantly wipe my face and head with a towel and the third, slightly less flattering option, is to wear a bandana. It was this last method that I had momentarily forgotten I’d employed when a slim, fresh faced, cool looking (as in temperature) young Canadian asked us for some help. She glanced at me as I responded to her question, clearly surprised that a yacht would have a permanent water feature on its deck and wondering what on earth a red-faced, dripping, middle-aged woman was doing on board. Realising my shocking appearance, I disappeared below to try and freshen up and cool down.
We had a good night’s sleep, although Ian managed to beat me at chess! Stupid game!
We left the safety and comfort of Isola Rossa by midday and and headed out into the bay. Before we had even put the dinghy on the back of the yacht the rain, thunder and lightening had begun!
Fantastic! Ian instructed me to put the phones, lap top and iPads into the oven! I kid you not! Apparently, this will stop them being zapped by lightning. The rain came lashing down, rivalling even my water producing qualities.
Luckily, up ahead brighter weather beckoned. We continued on, hopeful that it couldn’t last.
After all, this is the Med and it is the middle of July!