An affirmation on an anniversary After Shakespeare Shall I compare you to an Autumn day? The seasons, love, have grown more temperate. Rough winds have shaken us along the way, The summers gone too far to contemplate. Sometimes the going was tough but heaven sent Its suns and moons and stars to gild our days. Love was always in our element. The hills of home tug inexplicably And nights are drawing in as summer fades. Possessions mean so little to us now. The seasons cast their shadows in our wake, As we foregather to renew our vows. I toast our years together in this sonnet. This is our special day and you, my love, are in it.
Carloforte was an ideal place to sit out the rough weather that had closed in over this area of the Mediterranean. Majorca had been badly hit by flooding and high winds and Sardinia was getting its fair share of storms. The marina was well sheltered and the little town had all we needed for a few days rest up. We built the bikes up and explored the town which was a network of alley ways and cobbled streets as well as a pretty, waterfront promenade. We found a cool bar on the front playing classy jazz music so we settled in for a Martini on the rocks for me and an Ichnusa, Sardinian beer for himself. Sipping that fragrant aperitif took me right back to high school parties, dressed up in a bright pink t-shirt dress with black ankle strap stilettos, Blondie playing loudly and the boys smelling of Denim aftershave and trying to be John Travolta in their tight white jeans! Fun days.
We were spoilt for choice for pizzerias and restaurants but trying to take hold of the spending a bit we ate onboard as I love cooking and the local produce was inspiring. We did treat ourselves to a pizza though and I had chosen a tuna one as this island, San Pietro, was the main processor of tuna and apparently it is world famous. Though I’m sure I’ve seen that claim on every town we visit. There is even a resort round the bay called Tonnero which is a tourist resort based on the tuna cull!
The island of San Pietro was also called the island of sparrow hawks and it is still the home for many raptors which we saw regularly, the pretty little Elenora falcon, buzzard, red kite and the beautiful peregrine falcon. I am captivated by raptors. I love seeing our golden eagles at home, especially the sea eagle, huge and majestic. Even the buzzards that fly around our home are beguiling with their colouring, flight patterns and plaintive cries. I used to want to practise falconry, I loved the idea of that bond between raptor and human, training a hawk, then flying them, the intricate accessories that accompany the art, the leather hoods and jesses. Ultimately though I prefer to see these stunning birds free and in their wild environment, being luckily enough to catch them soaring high on the hillside or diving down for a kill is thrilling enough. I had hoped on my visit to Mongolia to see the eagle hunters but we were in the wrong area of that vast country and I was travelling with the Buriat people who don’t practise this art, preferring to focus on horsemanship skills instead. These were immensely impressive skills as I watched young boys ride bare back on small strong horses at breakneck speed, playing a game involving a soft ball made of inflated cow or sheep stomach, tossed across the grass plain, then they all charge for it, leaning over off the side of the horse hanging on only to its long mane, so they can pick up the ball by hand and throw it on! Unfortunately though, the breakneck speeds, often do.
Cycling round the island later, I caught glimpses of these birds and a rare sight too of pink flamingos, tip-toeing across the marshy salt lagoon, plunging their hooked heads under the water to sift for shrimp. This area had been a big sea salt producer but the workings all lay in ruins, the metal work rusted, the water fences broken, however it was now being used as a nature sanctuary to encourage birds and marine life to return and inhabit the lagoon.
Pedalling further along the coast I was in my element looking at all the different shrubs and plants along the road side, the pretty farms and albergos. One small holding had some fat hairy pigs snuffling round a large paddock, with a nice wooden shelter to give them shade, just the way pigs should be. The farms seemed to be resting after a long hot summer, some were burning off stubble, some fields had large bales of hay ready and the markets were full of autumn vegetables. Arriving at the coast we came across a geological site of which there are many round this island, a series of fossilised geothermal vents on the bed rock in a cove, fascinating. Then further on La Colonne, an arrangement of these vents, grown as columns, some towering out the water and other submerged below.
The island was recovering after a big storm the night before, when the boat was shoogled about on its lines, winds howling overhead, lightning and thunder that lasted for hours, I was so glad we were in a marina! The streets of the town were washed clean and the trees looked greener, thankful for a deluge of water. All round the coast though were banks of sea grass piled up and branches of palm and cactus washed up along with other debris. Sadly there was evidence also of plastic rubbish in some coves washed up. It is something we had not seem much off out in the eastern Atlantic but had been much more prevalent once in the Mediterranean and especially round the Balearics. It seems to be ubiquitous wherever we go and it makes us sad as humans that we have done this and the marine life has to put up with it. We had made a decision to scoop up what we could but it seemed impossible and we’d need to tow a raft behind to cope with it all. We resigned to be more vigilant when treating ourselves to a cheeky cocktail or ice cream and refuse a straw or plastic spoon and bought our own reusable steel ones, it really makes a difference as if no one wants the disposable ones, no one will sell them or then in turn no one will produce them. However it is a huge global problem brought close to our ocean home.
We tried to go for dinner on our last night to a groovy wee restaurant built into the cellars of the town but when we arrived it was all in darkness, we should have known though, as no one was about the streets at all. We did find a friendly taverna and had pasta with seafood washed down with a Sardinian Processco, not too shabby!
The weather forecast improved and after cleaning the boat inside and out, freshening up the laundry and ourselves, we took our leave of Carloforte and headed over to the mainland for our last night on Sardinia. It was a lengthy trip, good conditions but felt a bit tedious. Maybe I’m getting used to the wonders of sailing but you settle yourself into the routine of being underway and never think how long it would be if you were on land. Mostly we do between 5 and 7 knots which is basically 6-10mph, though it feels fast when you are sailing along! The coastline was beautiful, the inland hills and ridges were so tempting. I was longing to explore the higher places. Maybe on the way back.
“Sailing yacht Stravaigin, Stravaigin, Stravaigin, this is Italian war ship, do you read me?” Yikes! We went to the channel they requested and were politely told we had entered a restricted area and could we move out of it as quickly as possible? We asked if we could proceed on our heading to the anchorage were headed for and were granted permission but asked to increase speed if possible. We explained we were going as fast as our engine would allow but would do our best.
They were very nice and wished us well on our travels, as a huge rocket exploded on the hill side, sending black smoke high into the air above the bay we were passing, they were not kidding when they said they were undertaking a live exercise!
We increased our speed as best we could and left them to it, a sobering thought that just across the water on the north African coast there was a war taking place, so incongruous as we go about our travelling lifestyle and yet a nation is being ripped apart. We were following a larger yacht, a sail training boat for the joint forces and we both anchored in the same bay, Cala Tuaredda lovely spot with clear waters and a stretch of beach in front. We jumped in for a swim in the bay, the cadets jumped in and swam for shore, where the beach bar was still open!
We made sure we had an early night as the following morning we were leaving Sardinia and heading across to Sicily, an open crossing of two days and one night, our last for this year. I was kind of glad as I find these nonstop crossings a bit tough. I took all my medication and hoped for the best. The weather forecast was good though as soon as I went up on deck to raise the anchor early in the morning, the heavens opened and a torrential rain storm pelted down, I was soaked within minutes, knicker wetting weather!
However as is the norm, within no time, the sun was out and we dried off, though my shoes took all day as they seemed to have soaked up gallons!
The crossing was actually pleasant, winds to sail by initially and the sea state not too bad. However it built a bit meaning J doing the cooking as going below set me off. As we sailed into the night and darkness I took my watch as the stars peeped out and the sickle moon did its best to provide some light. I was treated to a few shooting stars, one with a long tail and mesmerising phosphorescence as our hull surged through the water. In my off times I tried to sleep but the noise was too much and I had been troubled by sinus headaches, for a few days which were worsening, so I dozed and felt glad I was returning home soon to a stable bed and the quiet of my home in the woods.
The night went fairly quickly with only a few ships passing by and we arrived amongst the idyllic Egadi Islands off Sicily’s north west coast. We dropped anchor in a town bay at Favignana, under the hillsides topped with a mediaeval fortress and the pretty almost Arabic looking houses lining the bay. A tidy up of the galley and back to bed to get some energy for getting ashore later.
The autumn weather was certainly changeable and regular lightning lit up the hill behind us with rumbles of thunder resonating around the bay. Rain showers got me out my bunk to close the hatch directly overhead and the wind set up the cacophony of mooring lines and anchor chain. That coupled with the church bells peeling on the hour made for a noisy but happening place! This little island was obviously a favourite visitor spot in the summer and we were glad we were here out of season. It had a charm to it at this time of year, the locals seemed relaxed and glad to slow down, the restaurants and gelaterias still open but reduced hours. I had received a welcome message from an ex student who was now a friend and colleague of my youngest son as they worked together in Iceland, he is a Sicilian and rightly proud of his country. He recommended a few places to visit on the island and said he was envious of us being here as he was now back in Iceland and it was getting cold. It must be quite a challenge living and working in the Arctic when you are used to warm waters and cruising about on a scooter in shorts and t-shirt. I love my job at the college for many reasons, my colleagues are great but my students are amazing. They never fail to impress me with their skills and dedication once they get started on the outdoor adventure course and it is rewarding to see where they end up at the end of the year, working all over the world. Many stay in touch and I love seeing how they continue to develop. I was sorry to miss graduation this year as I’d hoped to be there with them but we were not yet at our marina so I could leave and fly back for it – I sent them a congratulatory message and received many nice messages in return, I think they are quite proud really that their tutor is away on an adventure of her own.
We settled in for a couple of days on the islands as the weather for continuing was not good, benefits of this was enjoying the tuna which was on every menu and our first Canolo, a pastry like a brandy snap filled with sweetened ricotta cheese. We sailed for a night round to Calla Rotunda which was an idyllic circular cove with clear waters and interesting rock structures. A few visitors cycled over to the cove and lay in the sun then swam to cool off. It seemed mainly couples enjoying time together, some enjoying their time a little too earnestly but hey ho, as my Mum would say:
“It’s the heat, it gets them all bothered!”
The waters were so clear we could see hundreds of fish all around our boat, time for a spot of that fishing game again! J dropped in a few bread crumbs and bits of cheese which were devoured and brought more in however as soon as he stealthily lowered his baited hook, they took off! Not to be.
Once the sun went behind the hill that dominates the island, one by one, the day trippers shook off towels, packed rucsacs, put on shoes and pedalled off leaving as all alone in this little cove. It was heaven making dinner with the vegetables from the market, zucchini fritters, juicy tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, fresh spinach leaves with cream cheese then eating out on deck with the orange and gold of the setting sun as a back drop. I tried hard to capture the moment and feeling, thinking one day I will be old and tired, I must remember these halcyon days, being bronzed, hair sun-bleached and feeling young again with my man. It had been a tough year with tragic losses of two friends, a sore loss to us as friends but more so, a desperate loss to their wives left behind. My heart went out to those brave, strong women having to carry on for the sake of their families but aching inside for a part of them gone.
The night was so peaceful only punctuated by the sweeping beam of a nearby light house and the occasional fishing boat passing by the entrance to the cove sending small waves to rock us. We were set to leave at first light in the morning for the crossing to the mainland of Sicily, a long day, but as the captain checked the updated weather he announced we were going back to the town as the weather was not looking good for a comfortable ride. We had a stiff sail back to Favignana, anchored back in the bay then promptly went back to bed to catch on sleep. The next day we took advantage of the Italian government’s scheme of free berthing at town quays, so came stern to and secured a spot right next to the Polizia boats, reckoning should be safe enough! I was mystified by some policemen who were looking intently into the water by the quay, more and more joined them, then one appeared with a bag. Oooh, maybe there is contraband thrown in the bay? The scene of a crime? A hook was let done attached to a line – and an octopus was hauled up ! They all looked very happy and carried it down into the galley of the police boat, then promptly motored off – for essential training exercises of course! One boat was left at the quay with a police man in the cabin on look out, who promptly fell asleep in the sun, presumably not much crime on Favignana.
We got the bikes out and did a fabulous tour of the other end of the island, exploring the coastline, fascinated by the endless Roman quarries of tuff stone that pocked the ground inland and at the coast. Calla Rossa was amazing with azure blue waters so we stripped off and went for an impromptu swim, J realising we could anchor here the next day if the wind directions were good. It was clear that in the season these coves would be packed with tourists in the coast and boats in the bay – lucky again we were out of season. We followed the lovely wee cycle track that led round the coast, enjoying the little fields delineated by stone walls and beautiful trees and plants everywhere. The aroma of fig, aniseed, wild mustard and mimosa scented the air and I breathed it in deeply.
Back in town we explored the streets and many shops selling every kind of product from tuna, it being a huge part of the history of the island. Blue fin tuna had been fished here for centuries, the migrating shoals passing through the islands gave rise to massive hunts, the mattanza, where they were herded, hauled up in nets and using gaffs, men proved their strength by hauling in fish which can grow as big as 600kg! The strongest and fittest fisherman hailed as heros. A local business man had built a huge processing plant in the town where they apparently came up with the process of preserving tuna in olive oil in tin cans with keys to open them. The bonanza did not last of course, the tuna stocks fell drastically, fish being caught weighing a mere 50kg and it was stopped. The elaborate tonnaro buildings lying empty, their blank eyed windows looking out over the bay, the chimneys dormant, the slipways clean. I thought about the stories of herring on our east coast, cod in the north sea, basking shark on our west coast, whales in the Atlantic.., Will we ever learn? I’m proud to be Scottish but I am sometimes ashamed to be human.