July 20, 2013
After leaving Sciacca we had an amazingly fast sail to Licata, 51 Nm away. in company with Jessie and Capella. The wind, which was astern of us gusted to nearly 40 knots.The mainsail was rigged with gybe preventers and we left the genoa furled after trying it but finding it was constantly blanketed by the main. Even so, our maximum speed recorded on the handheld chartplotter was over 11 knots! We were skillfully helped into our berth by the marineros – the wind was around 30 knots at the time!
We had considered over-wintering in Licata but, for various reasons, chose Marina di Ragusa instead. Licata seemed to have a lot going for it: the marina is near the town (which doesn’t close down over winter), it has a supermarket in the marina and the facilities are conveniently located. However, the marina itself felt sterile, possibly because it was so new and there weren’t many boats there. The cost would have been very similar to Marina di Ragusa.
July 20, 2013
Well, it’s been a long time since I last sat down and wrote our blog due to a number of reasons. Mainly, however, that my old, trusty, work laptop’s screen packed up and I replaced it with a notebook running Windows 8, aaargh!! After spending hours sorting out Mail, Skype, Dropbox, etc. etc., and loading all the navigation and other software I normally use I tried to install the Sony programs for my digital camera only for the notebook to enter into a loop it couldn’t escape from. HP, in their wisdom, don’t supply recovery software when you buy the machine and they wouldn’t post it to Italy. I could either buy (!) another copy of Windows 8 and install that or wait till either I went back to the UK to get the software or someone could bring it out to me. It wasn’t until Adam, Stace and the boys came to spend a couple of weeks with us recently that I got the software (fortunately on a memory stick as there is no DVD drive on the notebook).
February 08, 2013
After leaving Marsala at 08:30 we sailed 40 Nm to Sciacca (pronounced Shakka), motoring for the first three and a half hours after which the wind picked up and we sailed the rest of the way, even reefing at one point when a strong gust of wind came out of nowhere. It was an isolated event and the wind settled down so we unfurled the reefs.
How different the seas are here in late September compared with earlier in the summer. Only fishing boats interrupt our views of the horizons, no other cruisers seem to be about.
Sciacca won us over with her attractive old town, somewhat decrepit and pastel painted houses tumbling down the hillside to the sea. It’s by no means affluent but it is a proper, working fishing port with a large fishing fleet in the harbour next to the marinas. As a result, there are at least four well stocked and helpful chandleries and a number of basic engineering workshops dotted along the harbourside. The marina was one of the friendliest we’ve been to, even presenting us with a bottle of wine when we left, and the supermarket is only a short walk away.
For seven nights we waited for a favourable wind to sail to Licata. During that time we caught buses to the ancient Greek temples at Selinunte and to the towns of Castelvetrano and Caltabellotta, an impressive hilltop town which we visited with Henry and Mary off Jessie, an Elan 33. Henry is best friends with someone else from our Doha days – small world!
The rest of the time we spent exploring the streets with their speciality ceramic shops, interesting churches and palaces, not to mention cafes with tasty chocolate or pistachio croissants! The climb up lots of steps to the main part of the town was exhausting in the heat but worth it for the views and architectural interest. We also sat and watched he ‘old boys’ playing boules skilfully in the shady squares. They use a normal metal boule as the jack and larger, almost bowls sized compressed resin bonded boules.
Selinunte is impressive for the number and scale of Greek temples. Earlier than the Parthenon in Athens, they date from the Doric period and are, therefore, less ornate and a little more ‘chunky’ looking and constructed in the local sandstone rather than gleaming white marble. Although mostly in ruins, due mainly to earthquake damage, some reconstruction has taken place that gives a good idea of what they looked like in their heyday.
It’s like the Acropolis in Athens in the 50’s and 60’s when, as a youngster, I could climb all over the ruins. The size of the individual stone sections of the columns, is incredible, especially as they were carved in the quarry in-situ. Some of the sections are well over 2 metres in diameter! Apparently, the stonemasons (presumably slaves) cut a deep, narrow, circular trench in the stone and when it was deep enough they would saw under the resulting ‘plug’ to remove it. I can’t imagine how hot they must have got toiling in the summer heat in such confined spaces. It must have been dreadful.
October 29, 2012
What a dump! At least, that was our first impression. The marina was a fair walk from the town and the immediate environs were, initially, depressing. Many of the surrounding buildings, with one or two notable exceptions, were derelict and the area had an air of terminal neglect.
The old town, however, was pleasant and worth the long walk, especially if you like marsala which can be sampled in many of the bars. Whilst there we watched a wedding at the duomo (cathedral) and visited the museum that has many Greek and Roman artefacts mainly from sunken ships. There are the remains of a wooden Punic ship that are probably unique. It was found by someone dredging for gravel off Favignana who noticed small pieces of wood in his haul.
We stayed a few nights owing to the high winds which blew continuously. One of the lazy lines (loose lines laid at right angles from the pontoon to an anchor block for berthing boats to pick up and tie up tight to to hold them off the pontoon) on an unoccupied boat moored next to us broke and we were asked by the marina to move to another berth so that it could utilize one of ours. Fortunately for us the wind was blowing the boat away from us not onto us. It was a large boat and would probably have caused damage to us otherwise.
We began to think this corner of Sicily must be particularly windy and the lack of sheltered anchorages encouraged us to use the marinas which, even though out of high season, were considerably more expensive than those in the Solent!
October 23, 2012
Early, before breakfast, we motored out of Santa Maria Navaresse marina. The forecast was for light winds to our destination, Favignana, one of the Igadi Islands, just off the coast of Sicily. Soon the wind picked up enough to sail but didn’t last more than a few hours before we were motoring again. The sea state, after the recent strong winds, was pretty horrible, causing us to roll from side to side, quite alarmingly at times. Otherwise it was an easy overnight crossing with little traffic.
As we’d motored most of the way we made better time than expected and arrived off Favignana at lunch time so changed our minds and went into Trapani, on the NW coast of Sicily, instead. The first night we anchored just inside the harbour, making sure we radioed the harbour master first to let him know our intentions as we’d read that failure to do so could result in a hefty fine.
We wanted to go into a marina to change the fuel filter as the engine had begun to surge again – an occasionally recurring problem we’ve not yet resolved. Also, we wanted to meet up with some friends from Sussex, Rick and Pauline, who’d sent us a text the day before we sailed to Sicily, asking where we were, in case we were anywhere nearby as they were on holiday in Sicily. What a coincidence!.
In the morning, we tried to raise the anchor and found we’d hooked two large diameter mooring warps with our anchor. We could raise them to within a few feet of the surface, enough to get a rope round so that we could lower the anchor away and free ourselves. Phew! For the first time, we tried using a fancy hook gizmo bought at a boat show specially for such eventualities, but it failed to work on such large lines and just slipped off.
After going into the marina we changed the filter which was still clean. My mate Dave’s suggestion that the surging may be caused by air entering the fuel system somewhere is probably correct. It’s probably only coincidental that changing the filter cures it and more than likely that bleeding the system afterwards is the real cure. If it happens again I’ll try bleeding without changing the filter.
Rick and Pauline came to Trapani to see us and even stayed the night on Muskrat. Pauline is not a fan of boats and had sworn we’d never get her to set foot on Muskrat. It was great to spend time with them and have few laughs. A long time had passed since we’d last seen them but were able to pick up again straight away. Friends indeed.
After Rick and Pauline left we had a relaxing sail on the genoa to Favignana and anchored in the lee of Capa Longa. We awoke to a flat calm and it looked like we’d be motoring to our next stop, Marsala (where the drink comes from). At about 10 o’clock a breeze picked up so we left. Soon it was gusting 20 knots and we reefed. The wind was on the nose and we tacked all the way to Marsala. By the time we arrived we’d reefed again.
October 06, 2012
It was only a short hop to Cala di Volpe from Cannigione, an attractive but busy anchorage. We had a brisk sail in gusty conditions. The highlight, for C. at least, was the enterprising ice cream seller, who’d kitted out a RIB with an icebox and ice cream signs, selling ice creams in the anchorage – 4 Euros for a Magnum!
After one night we headed for Isola Tavolera. With a very gentle breeze progress was slow, so we stopped for lunch at Cala Aranchi, a good anchorage, although not the prettiest but pleasant enough, hoping a sea breeze would kick in in the afternoon.
After lunch, still with a light breeze most of the way, which only picked up when we were near our destination, as is so often the case, we sailed to Spalmatore on Isola Tavolera. It’s the loveliest of anchorages and spectacular, being on a long spit from the rocky island. A very small community lives there and we dinghied ashore to walk along the spit and see the small graveyard (like other Italian cemeteries, portraits of the deceased are displayed on the tombs).
There are two restaurants ashore, one of which stays open in the evenings after the tripper boats have left, where we had a pleasant dinner but got bitten by mosquitoes.
In the morning we were treated to the spectacle of a local gaff rigger race. We watched them before the wind came up when we left for La Caletta. It was an idyllic sail in gentle winds with smooth seas, marred only slightly by the haze that partly obscured our view of this most scenic part of Sardinia. Once away from the islands in the NE corner there’s a paucity of sheltered anchorages and, as the wind was blowing from the north, we went into the marina.
So we could hike to the old hilltop town of Posada with its tower and magnificent views we stayed a couple of nights in the marina. To get to the top of the tower involved climbing from the top floor up a slightly rickety vertical ladder bolted to a wall, through a small opening onto the roof. With rucksack and camera it was a tight squeeze.
From La Caletta we anchored off Gonone, outside the small harbour, and spent a slightly rolly night there so left early the next day. We stopped at Cala Luna, reputedly one of the loveliest in the Med, which it would have been but for the many hired RIB’s churning up the water. Shame.
Our next stop was Santa Maria Navaresse where we went into the marina to wait for a forecast gale to pass through before continuing our journey south. It’s a pleasant, hilly town, more touristy than most but not excessively so. Whilst it was windy, the gale did not really materialize until the fourth day, so we spent longer there than anticipated.
As no airline was continuing to fly to LGW during the winter from anywhere in Sardinia we had to re-think our plans for the winter. We thought Corsica might be an option but a lack of convenient flights were an issue there too. So we decided on Sicily and to sail straight there from Santa Maria Navaresse, an overnight passage of about 180 Nm.
September 28, 2012
This part of Sardinia is probably the most frequented by boats. There are islands with anchorages where you can find shelter from most wind directions. To visit the Maddalena archipelago, which is a nature reserve, you have to buy a permit, you’re only allowed to stay overnight on a buoy, not at anchor and you are not allowed to discharge anything, including detergents in washing up water.
We went to Palau to buy a permit, although we actually bought it on line. It’s valid for two weeks but we were asked for it only once. You can also pay per day but it’s 40% more, if you’re asked to pay at all, that is. I know what I’d do next time!
Italian macho male is alive and well in Palau as evidenced by the entertainment provided by the many powerful ribs returning to the marina, each determined to be first. As a town, Palau has little to recommend it. It owes its existence to the many ferries that carry foot passengers and cars to and from the Maddalenas. We found a couple of good supermarkets on the outskirts of town.
This part of Sardinia is close to the Bonifacio Strait which has a bit of a reputation for being windy, and it was. We spent part of our two weeks holed up waiting for the winds to abate. Gales are experienced for 22% of the time in September. When gales weren’t blowing we had some fantastic sailing and anchored in unspoilt calas such as Portese and Stagnali on the island of Caprera from where we cycled with Ann & Tony to the bustling town of Maddalena across the causeway. We will remember Maddalena for the roads which are paved with attractive but uneven slabs. Not at all bike friendly.
The entrance to Stagnali is rock strewn and needs careful pilotage. Helpfully, our friends on Razzmatazz had been there before and gave us the co-ordinates of their waypoint at the start of the leading marks to guide us in. Some of the rocks have weathered into animal like shapes and are a feature of the area.
While in Stagnali the tell-tale on our Johnson outboard motor stopped working (indicating that cooling water was not being pumped round the engine). We returned to the ‘mainland’, to Cannigione, to try to find a new impeller (which we suspected might be faulty, even though it was still intact). We caught a bus to nearby Tortoli, where there was a Johnson dealer, only to find he didn’t have one in stock. Incredibly, there was another dealer about 5 miles away and one of the shop’s customers very kindly gave us a lift there in his car. After fitting the new impeller the engine worked fine again.
While in Cannigione we saw some large dolphins that seemed to have taken up residence and next to the attractive anchorage was a large, tranquil lagoon populated by a variety of wading birds.
After spending a couple more days in Cannigione waiting for another gale to pass we reluctantly decided not to continue to Corsica as we had originally planned but to head back down the east coast, hoping to find better weather.
September 09, 2012
After leaving Calasetta, on the small island of Sant ‘Antioca at the SW of Sardinia, and sailing round the southern end of the island and up the east side we anchored for the night before going up to the harbour at Porto Ponte Romano, where we’d been told you could berth for free. When we got there we could see why. It’s a derelict port with rusty rails and eyes to tie up to against a concrete quay with giant rubber fenders. Presumably it fell into disrepair after the minerals that were exported from there ceased being extracted. There is nothing to commend it aesthetically as it is an industrial wasteland.
But, it does have the most surprisingly wonderful restaurant. It’s in an unpretentious workmen’s cafe/bar, where we had one of the best meals we’ve had anywhere, with ingredients fresh from the market that day (there is no menu) and freshly baked lovely bread (still hot from the oven) and freshly made pasta. It was just like eating with the family as they all came round to see how we liked it all. Marvellous!
For the first time we were asked for proof of competence to sail our boat. C. has an International Certificate of Competence (free through membership of the RYA) which satisfied the local, immaculately white uniformed, coastguard. Even though we always say C. is the captain (and she is, of course), because we might be asked for proof of competence and only C. has one, the chauvinistic Italian officials asked if I had one too.
From Porto Ponte Romano we motor-sailed/sailed to Teulada and anchored there. After a couple of nights we went into the Marina di Sant Elmo in Cagliari. We’d ‘phoned the Cruising Association’s local rep. at the marina and asked about someone checking our propeller. The marina called back and asked for our ETA. We were met on arrival and an engineer immediately came on board and pronounced everything inside the boat ok so the marina arranged for a diver (also an engineer) to come the next morning to check under the boat. He turned up on time and also said all was fine. We asked him to fit a Jubilee clip on the propshaft just before the ‘P’ bracket, which he did. The total cost was 50 Euros, not bad and very efficient.
Cagliari, like Alghero has a very pleasant and interesting old town through which to wander.
Overall, the south coast is more developed than the west (not difficult) but sympathetically and not to excess. We were impressed with the holiday centres and hotels which are low key and blend unobtrusively with the landscape.
From Cagliari we had a gentle sail with winds of 5-16 knots and fairly smooth seas to the Gulf of Carbonara at the extreme SE corner of the island, where we anchored outside the marina at Villasimius. The following night, to suit the changed wind direction we went round the corner to Guinco where, in the nearby lagoon we saw pink flamingoes and oystercatchers. The wind turned northerly again so we returned to Villasimius to wait for a fair wind for the passage up the east coast. It failed to materialize so we sailed/motor-sailed/motored nearly 60 Nm up the coast to Porto Frailis, a picturesque bay just south of Arbatax. The coast from Cabo Carbonara is just gorgeous with hills, one behind the other, reminiscent of Japanese paintings. There is hardly any development along this stretch of coast, even though it is littered with long, sandy beaches.
We spent my birthday in Porto Frailis, doing a bit of grocery shopping, drinking coffee and beer in cafes during the day and going ashore again in the evening for dinner in a good beachside restaurant, Il Faro, overlooking the bay and our boat.
Snorkelling has, so far, been a, not unexpected, disappointment as we’ve seen very little sea life apart from the usual smallish fish and the odd sea urchin and star fish. Although whilst sailing we’ve seen lots of flying fish, dolphins and sea birds.
North of Arbatax the scenery changes. Still fabulous but with more cliffs and caves and more mountains, all fairly inaccessible both by land and sea. Small power boats race along the bottom of the cliffs looking like white mice scurrying along a skirting board where the sea has swept the bottoms of the cliffs clean.
After Porto Frailis we sailed to Cala Comina and on to Olbia where we were thinking of wintering (until we found out that EasyJet stop their flights to Gatwick at the beginning of November). We entered the harbour with the wind astern, ghosting along on just the genoa – very relaxing – but didn’t like the anchorages so went out again and anchored on the south side of the bay. The bottom was very hard and, for the first time, our new Spade anchor took two attempts to set.
The following morning we woke to fairly windy conditions so we cautiously unfurled only part of the sails and set off for Palau on the north coast via an intricate passage through the many islands around the Costa Smeralda (where the very rich and famous spend their holidays afloat in some of the largest private yachts afloat). It’s a beautiful part of the coast but we were too absorbed in the sailing which was demanding, not just because of the strong winds but, being August, the hundreds of other boats, to notice. The pilot book says to avoid the area in July and August but what do they know?
September 09, 2012
Where did it go? One moment the summer was stretching ahead, now it’s nearly over.
After waiting in Fornells a few days for decent weather, we left early in the morning for an overnight passage to Alghero on the NW of Sardinia. Again, the wind played ball and, although rough to start with, the sea gradually lessened and we had a great sail all the way, arriving late afternoon the next day. We were in touch with Ann & Tony on Razzmatazz, a racing catamaran, who had left Addaigh in Menorca the same day we did, but, being somewhat quicker, arrived before us and anchored in Porte Conte so we diverted there instead. It proved to be a settled and sheltered anchorage in scenic surroundings.
When we set our anchor the propshaft coupling let go again! I had gone below to check it as it seemed to be making a funny noise and watched the shaft slide out of the coupling! After much research and many emails to Oyster and various specialists we reached the conclusion that the coupling was too loose, allowing longitudinal stresses to be taken by the roll pin. During the winter we had all the stern gear refurbished and overhauled and new cutless bearings fitted. It seems the engineers must have taken too much off the bore of the coupling when they trued it up and it no longer was a tight interference fit. Although it seemed a nice fit on initial reassembly, after the first failure, the shaft could be pushed back into the coupling by hand, whereas it should have taken a few taps with a hammer.
The best solution was to replace the coupling. We took the opportunity to replace it with a different type, one that clamps around the end of the shaft, secured with four hefty bolts. We ordered the part from T Norris in England to be sent to the Cruising Association’s local representative at Aquatica Marina in Alghero. Delivery was quoted as 4-5 days so you can imagine our surprise and pleasure when we received a ‘phone call the next day saying it had arrived! We cannot praise T Norris highly enough, they are knowledgeable, provided the right parts at a reasonable price, good quality products and a service second to none.
Fortunately, we were able to fit the new coupling at anchor and only incurred the cost of a diver in Cagliari a few days later to check that the propeller and rope cutter were positioned correctly. They were. So far, touch wood, it all seems to be working fine.
Whilst sorting the propshaft we had time to visit the delightful town of Alghero with its many towers and narrow cobbled streets. Also, we visited the nearby cave, Neptune’s Grotto. It’s an impressive, cathedral like cave complex with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Most memorable though was the climb up from the anchorage and the descent down the face of the cliffs via 654 steps to the mouth of the cave and the climb back up again! Apparently the caves were discovered by some fifteenth century fishermen who thought they were the home of the gods, hence the name.
Initial impressions of Sardinia were that it’s less crowded than the Balearics and the locals are friendly and helpful. The island itself is mountainous and craggy, being mainly of granite, with miles of some of the finest sandy beaches we’ve seen anywhere.
All during August the weather was hot and settled, with blue skies and calm, clear seas. Sea breezes piped up in the afternoons with such regularity you could set your watch by them.
After leaving Porto Conte and Alghero we sailed down the west coast. The first leg was just under 50 Nm to Capo de Marco Sarda where we tied up to a buoy. Other cruising boats were noticeable by their absence. Near the moorings were the Roman and Punic ruins of Tharros which we visited by dinghy the next day. Although not much remains above ground now, it was evidently a sizeable harbour town with temples, baths and under street drainage.
The next leg was again nearly 50 Nm to Calasetta, where we anchored for the night but didn’t go ashore. We found the west coast to be quite rolly with winds of between F2-7 on the same day, making for interesting sailing! Despite its lovely scenery and glorious sandy beaches, I have to say that the rolly seas did not endear it to us. Having said that, we later found the east coast to offer little in the way of sheltered harbours and anchorages which is why, presumably, most people cruise the north and south coasts.
September 08, 2012
We waited in Porto Pollensa for a favourable wind to sail to Menorca and Joe let us stay on the buoy for a few days extra as nobody else needed it. We moved off the buoy, a short hop, to Punta de la Avanzada, a sheltered anchorage just behind the headland at one end of the Bay of Pollensa. These are free (we think) buoys put out in summer to protect the posedonia grass that grows on the seabed.
The next morning we left at 0920 for Fornells in Menorca, about 50 Nm away. The winds were initially up to F5 and we left with reefed sails expecting more wind further out but that didn’t happen so we unfurled them completely and had a good but increasingly rolly sail to Fornells. If it hadn’t been for the swell (which was viscous in places) it would have been a great sail. As it was, after 9 hours, we were pleased to arrive and again found laid buoys. They were mainly red/orange, marked as being for under 8m long craft and white for under 16m (stated as being suitable for up to 16 knots of wind). The larger ones were few and far between but we found one. During our stay we had some strong winds, double the rated 16 knots, and there were many 12m+ craft on the 8m buoys but they all stayed safely put.
Fornells is a holiday town and during the time we were there there were festivals and parties. The best being when 40 or so finely groomed horses with immaculately liveried riders paraded round the town, led by a donkey, into the square where they reared up for the benefit of the crowd. They circuited the town a number of times repeating the display. It seems it’s traditional for the locals to imbibe large quantities of pomada, local gin and bitter lemon sold in plastic cups everywhere.
Our friends Ann And Tony on Razzmatazz were also in the cala and together we caught the bus to Cuitadella for the obligatory sightseeing. Of course, it turned out to be one of the hottest days and a large, cold beer with lunch was very much appreciated. We vaguely remembered the city from when we holidayed in Menorca in ‘97. It’s a lovely and interesting city.
Despite the many attractions of Menorca, we only stayed there waiting out a few windy days so that we could press on to Sardinia