“.., It is an equilibrium
which breasts the cresting seasons but still stays calm
and keeps warm. It deserves a good name.
Weathering. Patina, gloss and whorl.
The trunk of the almond tree, gnarled but still fruitful.
Weathering is what I would like to do well.
From “Weathering” Alastair Reid
The head lights were coming straight for us, the nose of the plane pointing at our midships.
“SY at position..,, this is the Italian Air Force, you are in danger. Please leave this area immediately”
J checked his position and it was not us however he could not see any other yachts around so ascertained it must be us they were trying to reach, so called the Air Force back on the radio and asked for more details. Well it was us, does not say much for the accuracy of their positioning techniques however we were not going to argue! We complied with orders as the plane scanned back and forth over our route, nothing charted on our maps but seemed there was an underwater training exercise in place and we had inadvertently entered temporarily restricted waters. Again! We complied, of course, and had to increase speed to full, which on a sailing yacht under motor is not really that fast and maintain a heading for an hour or so then we were given permission to enter port at Arbatax, Sardinia.
“All we need now is the Army and we have the hat trick” declared the skipper.
I could do without that and was glad to be back in Sardinia, the beautiful coastline so unspoilt and picturesque. One of the first things that hit me, as we neared the coast, was the fragrant smell, I remembered it from the autumn sail there, sage, honey, cedar, herbs. It is something I am more acutely aware of after being at sea for a while, as soon as we hit land my senses are overloaded especially the smell. I notice peoples’ aftershave, perfume, fabric softener, cigarette smoke and shops smell strong of cleaning fluid, markets of fish and bakeries of sugar and yeast. At sea you just smell the sea. Of course, the cooking smells in the galley and unfortunately the heads at times and I do have a particularly strong sense of smell, like my mother. The kids could never get away with any sly fag puffs, or worse, as I always smelt it on their clothes or hair. I sometimes think I’m a white witch as I recall a day walk on the Sleat peninsula on Skye when the boys were young and the lovely pine forest we were walking through were in the first flush of spring, with the verdant green of larch lighting up the winter weary woodlands, when I suddenly smelt banana. Yes banana. I asked if anyone had brought one along and no, there was no bananas as they looked at me as if I was crazy, when a few meters on we rounded a corner on the track and there on the path was a banana skin.
Arbatax was lovely, low key little port with a large industrial side to it which somehow was not invasive. We managed a laundry and a full shower before wandering along the coastal path and found a perfect little seaside taverna with fresh calamari on the menu. Sardinia offers so much and is a well-kept tourist secret. It has it all, unspoilt pink sand beaches that rim wide open bays with turquoise waters, shady woodlands with scented pines, pretty towns and villages clean and tidy with a rustic charm, mountains that would be a walkers paradise and simple but delicious food that is all about the ingredients and less about the jus and coulis. We definitely felt there was unfinished business for us here as we sailed the coastline and made a mental note to return one day and foray inland.
Leaving Sicily had been bittersweet, it had been a wonderful winter but having explored other islands and countries, it lacks the care and effort that the others seem to display. The friendliness of the people make up for this and there are some amazing places on the large island but crossing back to Sardinia felt refreshing. Though the initial part of the journey was anything but. I had patched up for the sail thinking that five months tied up might throw my head into a seasick spin, however by day two at sea I was feeling worse than ever. It was heavy seas and we were beating in and I was so ill. I decided to come off the meds and within a day felt much better, I continued cold turkey ever since to no ill effect, so concluded my body must have adjusted to living on water and with a little careful management I was better without the tablets or patches. After that, the sail along the Sicilian coastline was pleasant, the weather was mixed as we were still in early spring so was changeable and I was surprised how cold it was. I concluded it would be a while yet before the basking in the sun after a cool dip, was to resurrect. There were a few seabirds around, not sure whether they were migratory, some kind of shearwater and once a small bird hitched a ride on the rigging seemingly glad of the rest before bobbing off across the water to goodness knows where. However there seemed a lack of birds around in general, in contrast to at home where they are evident in every habitat, we take a lot for granted living in Scotland and I now realise how lucky we are with so much wildlife to enjoy.
We anchored where we could along the coast at Licatta and Agrigento but the suitable areas are few and far between so when we arrived at Sciatta we took a berth in the small marina for a break, fill up with water and get shopping. The friendly marinara, after checking us in, offered us a lift up to the old town, we gladly took it as it was up a long series of steep stone stairs and pouring with rain. We jumped inside his fancy car and then were let off at the town piazza, empty in the grey rain. We ambled around the square and looked down at the wee port below, Stravaigin safely tied up, when I asked J where his rucsac was, the one containing all the boat documentation, drivers’ licences and passports? A look of horror came over his face as he declared “In his car!”
Ok action stations. We knew he worked at the marina so should be ok to get it in the morning once he comes to work, however, would he come to work? It might be his day off? Likely he didn’t know the bag was lying on the back seat along with his kids toys and jackets, maybe his wife would take the car for the day? It was all too tenuous so we decided to try to get his number and call him, he had said he lived in the town so could not be far away. We called the office but no reply. We called various numbers we had but no reply. Nothing for it we had to march down the stairs, back to the office in the rain and hope someone was still there. Alas no. All in darkness, no one around. Except a guy in his car in the otherwise empty carpark. I took a chance and went over and asked if he worked for the marina? Luckily yes and after I tried my best in very poor Italian and much gesticulating, he knew the guy! He called him straight away and told us he would be down with the bag after his dinner, about 20 minutes. Praise the lord! Luckily there was a trendy little quay side bar just along the wharf so we ordered a glass of wine and sure enough 20 minutes later the skipper appeared back from the agreed rendezvous point with rucsac on back and a huge , but sheepish, smile on face.
After another anchorage at Mazal Del Volle, we returned to Favignana, our port in the Egadi Islands on the way out last year. It was quieter and the prison guards had a bigger boat, maybe business was booming, and we managed to hike up to the top of the island to visit the old fort and picnicked in glorious sunshine, out of the cold wind. We anchored again in Calla Rotunda but no swimming this time though J did snorkel in his wet suit to clean the prop just as the coast guard called in to check us out. We treated ourselves to the best gelatos again but I suffered, my own fault choosing one with Dolce Leche and chocolate and having had my gall bladder removed as an emergency a few years ago I am supposed to cut back on the fat, however I don’t always, so suffer the pain instead.
Being over 50, for a woman sucks. Plain and simple, everything changes and deteriorates, eyesight, hearing, strength, shape, stamina, energy, mood, the lot. Great for living on a boat.
And yet I like living on a boat so I put up with what I can and when it gets too much I just have to admit defeat and give in for a while.
So I took my ailments and moans, with me as we set off finally from Sicily on the overnight crossing to Sardinia, boat stocked with fresh food and water and I practised with the new navigation instruments in the daylight before darkness fell and the watch system started.
It was a beautiful crossing, settled weather, uneventful save a few shooting stars, one that made me duck as it seemed so low! Just after my 3am watch started I was joined by three dolphins in the dark, their bodies glowing, their slip stream like the tails of comets as the phosphorescence in the water lit it up, looking like blue white streams under the surface. I was entranced and had to remind myself to check the AIS system occasionally that warns of other vessels in our area. This little family group stayed with me all night for six hours even once it got light, I sat on the bow just watching them and they would turn their heads every now and again and our eyes met, magical. Then they just go. The morning heralded Mother’s Day and I felt a bit down and very out of it. We were at sea so there was no phone reception and I could not speak to my mum or mum-in-law, though I had left cards for them and ordered flowers. It is without doubt the worst part of being away, missing family and friends. That feeling was brought even closer when my middle son called once we had reception to say our “number 4 son” as we call Stew, our crew mate on the Biscay crossing, had lost his dad suddenly. We were heart broken for the lad, he and his dad were close and he had shown us with pride on the crossing, the beautiful handmade wooden sea kayak his dad had made him and he was in the process of making him a wooden canoe. The mood onboard changes when we get news like this and things are quiet for a while. It felt good to finally speak to all my boys once we arrived in Sardinia and reception pinged back.
After the Air Force welcome to the island and Arbatax, we enjoyed a few lovely quiet anchorages at Orosei and San Teodoro, reveling in the pretty coastline, even the architecture is noticeable by it not being noticeable! The houses are low and roofs contour with the land, the building materials match the colour of the rock so it is hard to see the villages at times, peeking through the trees and shrubs. We tied up alongside the town quay at Olbio, a very pretty port town, famous for its mussel farms in the gulf and so of course went off to sample them in a seaside restaurant. They were good but not Mull’s Loch Spelve good. We enjoyed a lovely day ashore and I even found a designer outlet on the quayside and came away with three items for E30, two dresses and a top, very happy! Also found a great supermarket so stocked up including buying a shopping trolley which we should have done last year as makes the groceries run a lot easier. I remembered my Mum’s wicker one that Dad made for her out of a walking stick, log basket and two scooter wheels! She pulled it through the Botanic Gardens to Byres Rd in Glasgow and returned with it brimming with fresh meat, vegetables and bread. That was before she could drive and was one of the reasons, I am sure she determinedly took her test six times before finally passing and could then drive to the supermarket!
I proudly prepared and cooked the fresh sardines and squid we had bought in town and they were delicious, out on deck with a chilled local wine, life is good. The next anchorages were delightful at Calla de Bolte and Cala Coticcio, little coves with a few tasteful villas nestled into the coast, high quality but not showy. I even managed a swim in one sheltered cove but it was cold especially when coming out the water as the wind was chilly. We cruised up the Costa Smeralda, well known for its beauty and expensive yacht marinas especially Porto Cervo built by Prince Aga Khan where billionaires keep their yachts, it was stunning but we decided not to go in to gawp at the posh toys and headed for an anchorage just north of it and saw our first glimpse of the dark and rugged skyline of Corsica.
The Maddalena Islands, just off the north coast of Sardinia, are a national park and marine wildlife reserve, there were plenty anchorages and we chose a delightful one by chance, Cala Coticcio, on Isola Caprera. It turned out it was the poster picture for all the tourist brochures and we could see why. As we motored in we noticed a fishing buoy but not the other end as usual and as I went up to the bow to get ready to anchor I suddenly saw the other end attached to the rocks with tiny floats and we were directly over the net! This can mean a variety of things, we rip the net, the rope fouls our propeller and at best tangles it, at worst rips it off and the boat sinks! I yelled to J to stop the engine, just in time and we had only caught the top rope under our keel. We slowly managed to reverse but the net was caught under the bulb on the end of the keel so gently we allowed ourselves to drift towards the visible fishing buoy that has a tall plastic pole attached to it and I could grab it, haul onboard with its weights attached , pull it across the deck and slowly we drifted back and could see the net all on one side and free of our keel. We then dropped it on the other side, once we had hauled it across the bay to a safe distance that we and no other boat would get fouled in it again!
Drama averted we picked up a mooring buoy and poured the sailor’s remedy, a stiff rum! It was a lovely cove, pink granite like at Tinker’s Hole off Erraid back home and we dinghyied ashore for a good scramble along the rock and up to a high vantage point to see the boat and the blue seas all around. I was in charge of dinghying as I am not very good, I find it large and unwieldy and with my dyscalculia I struggle with directions and coordination, however I persevered and improved at berthing and manoeuvring the large rubber beast. I needed to master it before we hit Corsica as I may have to be deployed in it to secure us to mooring lines hung off a cliff in Bonifacio or we might literally “hit” Corsica!
As evening wore on the feral goats forayed along the rocky shoreline, horns locking in play fight, one female lying on a rocky ledge, her eyes closed and face raised to the warmth of the setting sun, not a bad life.
All changed overnight though as the swell set in and the wind picked up. We were not too sure about the safety of the mooring line so stayed up into the night watching movies and keeping a watch. It finally blew over enough to allow us to get to bed but I felt like a sausage lying on a handkerchief with a someone holding each corner and rolling me from one side to the other and back again – all night! As soon as it was light we headed off and had breakfast underway and found a sheltered calm bay to anchor and recover. The final night in Sardinia and in fact Italy, for now, was spent in Maddalena town, a pretty port and we tied up at the fuel berth awaiting a marina official to book us in however no one appeared so we stayed the night for free.
The next day we wandered into this pretty holiday seaside resort, finding a market on the pier with fresh fish and wine by the draft. We purchased a large whole tuna and took our empty water bottles to be filled with delicious wine for E3.70 a litre. To be honest I wasn’t in the mood for cooking a whole fish but steaked some of it and made some chips to go with it. I didn’t enjoy it but J did so that was fine. The rest I baked whole with curry spices and I enjoyed it a bit better, even more so mixed with mayonnaise and fresh pineapple for lunch the following day. I felt a bit down, I’d had a virus for a couple of days and was just a bit off and realised I was a bit travel weary as well. I was missing home. I had been calling family and they were telling me how lovely it was back home with Spring showing our west coast off to its best. My favourite time, fresh green nettles shooting through perfect for soup, wild garlic blooming great for pestos, primroses lighting up the woods round the house and the song birds waking me up each morning. I was weary of moving on each day and the restrictions of living in a space the same as my lounge at home. I tried hard to remember this time was running out fast and I must enjoy every day as it is a fantastic experience but occasionally I gave into a teary whine for my wooden home and my large cosy bed.
My mood seemed like the seas and spring weather, ever changing, some days smooth and calm, some days flat and dull, other days stormy and edgy. It was all part of this adventure and I, and the captain, just had to ride through it, quietly.