August 2013 : Menorca to Sardinia

Greetings from Aremiti, currently off Capo Carbonara - the south eastern point of Sardinia, ready to set off again - eastwards to Sicily. We have 387 miles under our belt this month our passage to and cruising the west and southern coasts of Sardinia.

After a month in the Balearics almost without wind, weather became a major consideration just at the time we were ready to leave for Sardinia. The passage of 185 miles would take anything between 30 and 40 hours, depending on what speed we could make. We certainly didn't want to motor all that way so needed some wind, but not the easterlies which seemed to have been the prevailing direction of what little wind there had been over the past month, and would make our passage slow if not impossible even with the engine. However, we couldn't afford to be too fussy - the sea between the Balearics and Sardinia is effectively an alleyway, notorious for mistrals (strong north winds producing dangerously steep seas) which develop in the Golfe de Lions off the southern coast of France and shoot southwards for hundreds of miles. We have had two sets of friends caught out in mistrals and know they are to be taken very seriously. We checked Spanish, French and Italian forecasts all were giving more or less the same warnings of a mistral due later in the week we planned to leave. However, the forecast for the day we wanted to leave was no good, with strong easterlies which left us with just a two day window for the passage, assuming the mistral didn't come early.

We left Mahon in Menorca with a forecast of south-easterlies predicted to turn more southerly during the afternoon and evening of the first day, and becoming variable and light the following day nearer the coast of Sardinia. We set off just before dawn on the first day into lightish wind more easterly than we would have liked, motor-sailing into a choppy sea which made progress a bit slow going. Early in the afternoon the wind started to come more from the south and we were able to sail for a few hours, before it dropped and we had to motor again. At 11pm under an awesome starlit sky a decent wind picked up giving us an excellent beam reach through the night. However, contrary to predictions, the wind then became stronger and more easterly again. This gave us a fast but quite tiring and uncomfortable sail, only loosening up as we approached the coast. We arrived and were safely anchored by 3pm on the second day, tired but extremely satisfied, having completed the passage in 32 hours.

Our landfall was the spectacular Porto Conte - a large almost landlocked bay just north of Alghero, giving shelter from every wind direction in some part of it. We had chosen it for ease of arrival in case we arrived after dark in difficult conditions. It turned out to be a perfect choice as the mistral duly arrived the following day and blew strongly for the next 3 days. Safely tucked up in our bay we started to get to grips with a new country.

Aremiti had spent nearly three years in Spain apart from the couple of months cruising the coast of Portugal and we had begun to feel quite at home there. However, we were more than happy finally to have moved on to a new country. Moving from the Spanish language directly to Italian is confusing so many words more or less the same, so many completely different. We certainly preferred the Spanish word 'jubilado' to the Italian 'anziani' for the over 60s. However, Italian is a wonderful language for making a wild stab at translating an English word and being right.

We made a couple of visits by land from Porto Conte while waiting for the mistral to simmer down. We caught a bus (a rather complex process of uncertain timetables, unknown bus stops, tickets from tabacs and temperamental bus drivers) to Alghero a few miles away. The walled old town dates from the days of Catalan-Aragonese rule. We wandered round the fortified walls, churches and public buildings, doing our best with a mixture of Italian and English descriptions, to follow the deep history of the town. Our initial impression has been that Italy is more affected by the crisis than Spain more litter, poor roads, dilapidation, but people are just as helpful and from a beach bar on the first night we heard a tenor singing opera.

We also took the bus around the bay to where we had come in, to visit the Grotto di Nettuno - an underground cave set into the seaward side of the dramatic limestone headland of Capo Caccia. Having viewed this fantasy-land of stalactites and stalagmites from the land, climbing the 656 steps down the 110 metre cliff, we subsequently went to inspect the entrance from the sea when leaving Porto Conte.

The west coast of Sardinia is reputed to be less travelled by yachts or by foreign tourists. And so it turned out to be. Much of the coastline is rather deserted, barren and rock-bound with rather few yacht-friendly 'niches'. From Porto Conte we moved (just as in the Balearics, usually more motoring than sailing) in a series of hops southwards. 28 miles to Bosa 40% sailing - where we anchored in the busy harbour and had our first encounter with an 'Ormeggiatori' - sinister sounding men who run sections of harbours this one refusing to allow us to tie our dinghy to the pontoons in his domain! Bosa is an enchanting town built on river just inland from sea - houses in vibrant pastel colours built up steep hillside to 12th century castle.

Then another 30 miles 40% sailing - on to Capo San Marco the headland at the northern tip of the Golfo di Oristano. We anchored off the remains of the ancient city of Tharros. Initially a pre-historic bronze age settlement it became a mighty port under the Phoenicians and then Romans. (We are also making good progress in our knowledge of Mediterranean history).

The next hop was 51 miles all motoring - along the Costa Verde an almost completed deserted coastline of large sand dunes backed by the multiple folds of gentle hills inland their reddish brown soil and rocks thinly coasted in green shrubby macchia. No roads, no ports. The coast became increasingly mountainous with interesting remains of mining operations. We stopped briefly for quick circumnavigation of Scoglio Pan di Zucchero - a stack rising 133 metres straight out of the sea. Our destination was the small town of Calasetta on Isola di Sant'Antioco, one of two large islands off the south west coast of Sardinia. Unassuming, friendly and laid back this was a most restful place to be. We met couple on their 20 metre traditional displacement motor yacht here who have been live-aboards for 26 years! What they don't know about the Med .. We also met a delightful local couple sailing novices just spent his redundancy money on the yacht. They recommended our next stop Paradiso Tahiti!

This took us around to the southern coast past Capo Teulada - southernmost tip of Sardinia. Amazing to find that Tunisia is only 100 miles away to the south of here - not surprising that two owners of large fuel-guzzling vessels told us that they would be going to pick up fuel in Tunisia (at around a quarter the price they would pay in Europe). Porto Scudo in the Golfo di Teulada was not exactly Tahiti but did have brilliant clear turquoise water. Very remote, being a military area it is usually off limits to yachts, but unrestricted in July and August. Another mistral arrived while we were there, but in this well sheltered cala down in the south of the island had far less impact. Strong winds continued as we moved across eastwards to Malfatano even more gorgeous. The combination of bright hot sunny weather with very strong winds always seems incongruous to us, coming from experience of British waters where nasty weather always involves getting cold and wet. Then on along the Costa del Sud beautiful coastline of golden beaches, headlands capped by little round Spanish towers, backed by scenic mountain ranges. Round into the Bay of Cagliari we spent a night behind the headland of Pula. More lovely water and beaches and the ancient site of Nora. This is another Bronze Age/Punic/Roman port wonderful location for an anchorage - although while we were there, in the aftermath of the mistral, it was too rolly to be entirely restful.

Then into the capital, Cagliari, for a stop of a few days. We explored the town - both dilapidated and magnificent. The front has many grand and well preserved buildings. The walled Castello district however tips over the threshold from picturesque decay to derelict. We enjoyed the excellent archaeological museum and the medieval look-out tower and the thriving Marina district.

We hired a car for a day driving about 400 k on winding roads around the island. Highlights were the Nuraghe Su Nuraxi - huge and impressive remains of the Bronze Age 'Nuraghic' civilisation of 3,500 years ago. Into the mountainous Barbagia region we stopped at Fonni - highest town in Sardinia at 1000 metres and boasting an astonishingly large basilica and a series of curious murals around the town. Returning back south on the eastern side we passed through a series of mountain villages set in a truly spectacular landscape of peaks, crags and pinnacles. We ended the tour by getting hopelessly lost in the outskirts of Cagliari.

Our time in Cagliari was spent at Marina del Sole the first marina we'd been in for a month. This was delightfully quirky not much sign of health and safety, but a great welcome and can-do attitude at a great price. A good 'pit-stop' for taking on water, fuel, cleaning the decks, and a good food stock (the marina very helpfully rents a beat up old car for shopping and errands round town).

Now at the end of August, here we are, in a beautiful bay, checking forecasts for our next passage ..

Julia and Chris