Translations: Dante – Inferno Canto XXVI

“.., Both shores I visited as far as Spain, 

Sardinia, and Morocco, and what more

The midland sea upon its bosom wore.

The hour of our lives was growing late

When we arrived before that narrow strait

Where Hercules had set his bounds to show

That there Man’s foot shall pause, and further none shall go


Alan Seeger

Sardinia smells delicious, it seems to be marinating itself in all the herbs that grow thickly across it, rosemary, myrtle, mastic and juniper. I can smell it all round the coastline as we cruise along and know which way the wind is coming from, depending on the aroma I can detect.

The last few days have been delightful, the first real chance to just cruise leisurely down the coast and explore the places we come across. We’re on good time so can afford to relax a little.

However, we learned our lesson about relaxing too much as the first morning we woke after the crossing, I poked my head out the hatch to realise we were not where we anchored the previous night but around a third of a mile out the head of the bay! Luckily we came to no harm, the bay was open, the wind direction meant we were only further out than we started but we’d been so tired the night before, after no sleep for two days and an energetic crossing and we had set the anchor alarm but had ignored it in the middle of the night when it was warning us we were dragging.

Sailing takes no prisoners, one small slip always comes back to bite you.

We motored out that bay and round to the head of another, with a large stretch of beach and green forests behind. A cool but lengthy swim to shore, in the Bai di Conte, for a walk along the beach then back for roast chicken with sautéed courgettes, including dessert of baked bananas with Dolce Leche, cream and butter biscuits – my version of a deconstructed Banoffi Pie! I love cooking when I can and the conditions are right. It is inspiring having all the amazing local produce to play with. The weather seems to have taken a turn all of a sudden. It is still sunny and hot during the day but the winds are fresher and the evenings cool.

We decided to do our tourist bit, as after all we are tourists and motored over to Calla Calcina and took one of the visitors moorings provided there. This meant we could dinghy ashore and walk over the high headland at Capo Caccia to the other side and access Grotto di Neptune, one of the top visitor spots on Sardinia. Maria had told us about this place too and she had visited twice, however we were not warned about the endless stone steps that lead down to it, worse on the way back up! It was well worth it though, an amazing feat of engineering and labour to create the staircase cut into the side of these towering limestone cliffs and the grotto was pretty cool though we declined to join the crowd waiting for the 2 o’clock tour of the inner chambers, preferring to  enjoy the cliff scenery which we found more awe inspiring.

A welcome café bar back at the top served up the finest Caprese salad we’ve had to date with mozzarella that simply oozed fresh cream and mingled delectably with the tomatoes and fresh green olive oil, accompanied by some buttery flat breads, it was well worth every step. It was great being off the boat and being active, I loved walking around examining all the plants and shrubs and picked some of the abundant rosemary for roast potatoes later.

Back on the boat after a swim to freshen up we headed off in time to reach Alghero which was just round the next bay and took a berth at the SerMer marina, advertised at a very cheap rate. The town of Alghero is delightful, little cobbled streets and alley ways with bars, cafes, gelateria and restaurants everywhere. First things first and domestic duties to do, we trailed up to the auto laundry in town and had our first Italian cappuccino while waiting, but cross with the marina as they said they had a laundry at the marina which was not the case plus the showers are very ropey with a token that only lasted 3 mins before the water runs out. Any lady knows to do a full shower including the defuzzing of the legs, shampoo plus condition of long hair is a big ask in 3 mins! Anyway after doing the personal and domestic admin we had a lovely wander into town and treated ourselves to a pasta lunch. It was a bit disappointing though and J complimented me that my spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce we had the night before had been better. Accolade indeed given we are in Italy! Although there are a fair number of visitors about we get the feeling everything is slowing down and receding into the autumn and winter routine, probably the chefs are using up the last of the stocks before closing down for a well earned rest.

On our return we tried to haggle with the marina guy for a cheaper second night as the published price was not the actual price and we were not prepared to pay £60 for two nights, especially given the lack of decent facilities but no go so we popped round the breakwater to anchor out in the bay. Felt a little conspicuous as the best anchor spot was literally across the wall from his office and his window looked right at us but hey ho, we are the thrifty Scots! We could still get the free WiFi though so made use by catching up with folks at home and a nice chat with Mum. Felt a bit homesick as everyone is telling me they are missing me and “Scotland is not the same with out me” according to Maria, brought a wee tear to my eye.

Headed further south the next day after a shower of rain in the morning, the first since Tangiers, and dropped the hook in a fabulous little river estuary cove near the small town of Bosa. There were greenish grey cliffs around us due to the copper in the rock and it formed a small bowl with us right in the middle. There were fish jumping everywhere that tempted the captain to try his luck. What a performance! Firstly he strapped the rod to the stern presumably to tackle the immense tuna he was going to catch and let out the lure in the evening and left it overnight to see if anything bit. The next morning after a fair bit of wind, the line had been tangled round the dinghy and lure had gone! I detangled it all and he put some more bait and hooks on and tried again. First throw it got caught in the rigging causing much foul language. Next throw it catapulted over the solar panels and after a tug to “free” it, cut through the lines and the hooks fell to the sea bed.

I haven’t the patience for this!” He promptly declared and packed up the rod, as I tried unsuccessfully, to stifle much giggling.

“We’ll buy some fish pet” I consoled.

We hopped on the dinghy and motored up the river to the town of Bosa and was  simply a delightful wee ride. The river banks were lined with tall bamboo, old olives trees, groves of twisted pines and wharfs with small pretty boats, all tied up side by side. We passed large rambling villas with over grown gardens, relics of a time when the Europeans holidayed here, now disused and abandoned. We reached the town centre, tied up the tender and went ashore for a wander. It was a lovely wee town, very rustic, rural and authentic.  We enjoyed a coffee and a gelatarie, very cheap at £1.50 each for huge scoops of creamy homemade ice cream, flavoured with nuts and fresh fruits. I fear I may return resembling a loaf of bread, brown and crusty on the outside and doughy in the middle! However the cuisine is just too nice and apart from the ice cream is all healthy, sort of.

We noticed some very dressed up ladies, teetering around on high heels, clutching sparkly bags and continually preening themselves, guest for a wedding! We came across it later in a lovely old cathedral, the doors wide open and the couple sitting in sumptuous chairs at the alter with the priest conducting the ceremony. I felt a pang of excitement at the thought of our forthcoming family wedding when our middle son marries his sweetheart in the mountains of Catalonia. It is lovely having this connection here in Sardinia as a lot of it is Catalan, the language spoken by quite a few of its people and some places names are derived from Catalan. I was intrigued to realise that sardines are named after the island and the Phoenicians named the people, sea people of Sardus or Shardana, which later became Sardinia.  Indeed another friend told me her family are descendent from this area which was historically Royaume of Savoie, Piedmont Sardaigne which included Sardinia and Nice and apparently was neither French nor Italian! An interesting heritage indeed.

We bought a delicious selection of cheese from some pretty girls in a deli who were happy to explain what they were and I left with Gorgonzola, Pecorino, Parmigiana and fresh Buffalo Mozzarella along with curious shaped bread made from semolina flour and a bag of the freshest local vegetables, all for a few pounds. I was planning what to make for dinner that night already!

Motoring back down the river with our bounty, we kept smiling at each other, thankful for our good fortune to be experiencing this together. We left the anchorage in calm sunshine, all the goodies packed away and set course for a small island, Isola di Mal Vente, where we planned to spend the night.

I had a lovely chat with all my special people on the way and caught up with their news and plans. It made me feel closer to them all, even though I am so far away but also homesick for them too. I am looking forward to my trip back home later in the month. This is the longest I have ever been away from home since being an adult. As a teenager I spent a year as a nanny in Washington DC, Somerset then London for a few months at a time but since grown this is definitely the longest and it does feel odd. I’m loving the travelling and seeing a new place almost every day. I love the different places, the foods, the sights, the landscape and I love being outdoors all the time. Two months sleeping on the water and swimming in the sea almost every day. Two months living simply with just what we have on board, mind you, that is a lot! But I miss the contact with my family, my Mum, my in-laws, my pals, my sons and their girls, even my grand dog! Yup, time for a visit home. But not too long at home, it will feel strange, I don’t want to break the spell of this magical time.

So we reached the mysterious island of Mal di Vente, misnamed from a translation of “ bad winds” to “bad stomach pains”! And it should have been an omen! It was pretty lumpy coming in and we did spy a nice calm bay but the cruising pilot suggested a bay further round so we went with it and found there were mooring buoys there. An American  boat was already on one, the occupants swimming back to it from shore, so we opted to take the other. I was charged with attaching us to the buoy by use of a docking stick that hooks the eye of the buoy and allows a rope to be threaded through. The rope is then attached to a bigger rope with a length of chain in the middle that ideally gets slipped through the metal of the eye on the buoy. Ok, all very well. So I go to the bow with my contraption and lengths of rope, hanging on to the rigging with one hand as it is very windy,  bouncy and slippy. Captain eases us towards the target and first go with the long plastic hook, I manage to attach the small line through the eye.  It is very windy and near to some rocks so the captain was focusing on keeping us on line. So far so good. However I can’t thread the larger rope through the eye as the joining knot is too big to pass through! It gets yanked ahead of the boat and I try to hang on to the pole, my arms being dragged across the deck. All the while the wind is blowing a hoolie and the waves are bouncy us all over the place.

“Just tie it on to anything” yells the captain.

“I’m trying. but I can’t get the knot through the eye”

As J can’t see what is going in at the bow due to the canopy being in the way, or hear over the noise of the wind and the waves and his unsolicited advice is not helpful. I pull hard on the line, fearful I might break it but it was either the stick or my arm! However, just then the whole mooring buoy lifts clean out the water and up to the deck – great!- so I push the large rope through and drop it back down thinking mission complete, but no, the other end of the rope needs attached to the boat at the cleat. Oh jeez, ok, I manage to pull the rope tight enough to get an end which is rapidly being pulled out my hands as the yacht is being pushed backwards by the wind when the captain calmly strolls up to the bow asking,

“Is everything all right?”

“It is now” I gasp, tying the rope to the cleat, my hands numb from pulling , my wrists having lost a layer of skin as the rope pulled through and my knees scraped from being hauled across the deck!

Anyway, we were safely on, though the swell was awful as we were sideways on to the swell and wind blowing from the bow, the worst conditions.

I decided to go in the water as it sometimes sorts out my nausea/inner ear imbalance so lowered into the choppy water for a swim. J joined me and we swam around a bit, I wanted to swim to shore to explore – or camp the night in a stone bothy I spied! – but it was very choppy so settled for a swim round the boat then back on, dried and time to cook dinner. I planned a nice meal of some of the nice produce we’d bought of sauté aubergine with grated parmigiana, roasted potatoes with rosemary and green beans with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil however one minute down below in the galley to switch the gas on, I promptly returned and stated the captain would have to make tea!

I edited the menu plan and ended up only managing to eat some boiled potatoes before retreating to the back cabin, as it gets a little less motion, medication washed down with hot chocolate, my remedy, and lay in bed feeling very sorry for myself. I do hate been afflicted by sea sickness and am getting weary of feeling rough on a regular basis.

Island of the bad stomach indeed!

This tiny island had a poignant history though as I later learned in 2008 a former truck driver, Salvatore Meloni and his followers seized Mal di Ventre and declared it to be an independent state as part of a controversial effort to win the independence of Sardinia. Meloni declared himself president of the Republic of Malu Entu and set up a presidential residence in a blue plastic tent! He declared the nation tax free and claimed that over 300 people wanted to move there. He was later charged with tax evasion to the sum of five million euros and in 2012 Meloni was convicted for his role in trying to take over the island and sentenced to 20 months in prison. Last year, Meloni was arrested and started a hunger strike in prison, asking to be considered a political prisoner but sadly died after two months. Got to admire his convictions though.

The next morning J hadn’t slept too great either so at daylight he pronounced,

“Let’s make like the shepherd and get the flock out of here!”

As soon as we were underway, it felt so much better and after a breakfast of instant oats – another fail safe remedy – the sail to Buggerru (yes that is not a typo!) was delightful. We passed a small island called Isola Catalunya that Maria had visited with her family, I hoped we could return to Sardinia with her one day and she can show us around as he is very familiar with it.

Decided against the bay at Buggerru as it looked a bit open to the wind direction and slightly uninteresting so sailed on another hour to Calla Domestica which was perfect. A tiny cove with two small sandy beaches, high sandstone cliffs all around and interesting ruins on the shore line. Once settled, we swam ashore in the turquoise waters and bought a Cornetto at the wooden temporary beach bar from a smiling girl with long dreadlocks and nose piercings. We later learned why she was so happy as it was the bar’s last day, that evening we saw them vigorously deep cleaning everything and the next day numerous trips by tractor, removing the rental pedalos, sitontop kayaks and decking, the commercial summer now at an end .

We walked round the bay, then swam back for dinner which I was happily able to make and eat! A nice quiet night all by ourselves in the cove, the Sunday day trippers gone and eventually were the only yacht in the bay. There had been another French boat during the day that left as the sun went down but only after  a bit of a pantomime as they managed to break their anchor windlass after trying to pull the anchor up while reversing at full speed! Not one of the six men aboard seemed to have a clue what to do so J offered to swim down and attach a rope to the anchor so they could attach it to a winch and at least get it on board however they decided to haul the anchor up by hand and slowly limped off hanging onto it while waving a grateful farewell to us! It takes all kinds.

That night, we settled in for “movie night”, a great favourite when we convert the salon to a home theatre with lots of cushions and covers, low lighting, surround sound and of course popcorn, though it felt strange watching a movie about the end of the world in this calm, sheltered cove in Sardinia.

Well the end of the world nearly occurred overnight, as a huge storm kicked off during the night with howling winds wakening me and causing us to check the anchor alarm. The noise of the winds howling over us and the remnants of the breakers dancing around the cove made me feel very glad we were tucked safely inside here and not out at sea!  All was well though in the morning, the winds died down, the waters of the cove a bit choppy but the sun was out. A quick swim to freshen up as we had the cove all to ourselves then off round the coast to the holiday island of Isola di San Pietro and a marina in the main town, that J had researched and been assured of a good price. I was looking forward to a calm berth, a roomy shower and laundry to freshen up the linen and towels. Guiseppe, our friendly marinera zipped out in his rib to meet us at the breakwater and ushered us in to this delightful little marina, SiFredi. Home for the next few days to wait out the forecasted stormy weather and sample the delights of Carloforte.

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