The next leg of our journey will take us due west for 253nm from Santa Marina, Salina in the Aeolian islands, to Carbonara East (or Villisimius) on the South East tip of the island of Sardinia. In our first season we travelled down the west and along the south coasts of Sardinia before crossing to Sicily. This time we will head up the east coast and across the north coast to complete our circumnavigation. We have planned some “chill out” time in La Madalenna, the island group between Sardinia (IT) and Corsica (FR).
It was a very rolly night at anchor so we were up and away just before 4am, 1 hour earlier than planned. It was a little bouncy until we turned the corner at the top of Isola Salina and started heading west and it was a very dark night. As expected we motored a lot of the way initially as there wasn’t enough breeze to sail. Later in the day we went past the western most of the Aeolian islands, Alicudi and Filicudi and much later in the evening Ustica, which is a nature reserve. The night was uneventful with very little boat traffic and the skies cleared to reveal a breathtaking star scape. It's impossible to photograph this on a moving boat, but without the light pollution of the towns there are so many stars and galaxies to see. We had the main up and got something out of it and tried to unfurl the gennaker several times, keeping it up as long as we could get good boatspeed and stay on a reasonable course. We were keen to arrive in daylight as always. There was a beam on swell knocking off our speed and wind was just a bit further aft and a bit too light to be ideal, so we end up burning a fair amount of diesel in the end.
We arrived late afternoon with the sun behind a massive cloud so the beach anchorage doesn’t look as welcoming as it did in the pictures. Still we know it is a wide sandy beach with good holding so we find a spot in the middle and settle in. We are the only yacht anchored (does everybody else know something we don’t??) It's late in the day but there are still a few people on the beach and a few smaller boats moving about but after a long passage we crash early and sleep very well.
We have a slow start the next day with breakfast and swimming in the beautiful clear waters. We can see the anchor from the foredeck very clearly and its well dug into the sand! This is always a good sight! With some easterly weather on the way we decide to head around to the other side of the Cape Carbonara, from Carbonara East to Carbonara West, and anchor in the bay outside the marina. This is another wide, sandy spot and the again anchor digs in well. In the afternoon we walk up to the main town of Villisimius in search of supermarkets. It’s a 2.5k hike and with all our supplies a long walk back. We find out later there is an hourly bus service, which we will take tomorrow when we come back for dinner and (for me) a much needed haircut!
Ashore from our anchorage there is a shallow lagoon that lies between the eastern and western sides of the spit. The forecast easterly is blowing quite strongly now so it is not as pleasant in yesterday or on the beach. There is a ruined Spanish tower on the eastern point but it’s a bit of a goat track to get there so I walk around to the old fort on the western side of the point. Later in the day we catch the bus up to town and I go for my haircut. This is an interesting experience in Italy, not least due to the language barrier (I show photos of a previous cut). The salon “Perruchia di Linda” had attracted my attention for obvious reasons. There are two other clients in the salon and the loud, animated and uninterrupted discussions keep me amused and in fear of my eyesight as scissors and other sharp objects flail around in the air in tempo with the conversation. I make it out alive and with a pretty good, and economical, haircut but need a drink! We enjoy dinner in town and then try to figure out the bus timetable for our return.
The weather remains unsettled and our anchorage becomes rolly overnight, lucky we are getting used to that! There are some strong northerlies coming so we decide to head north while its lighter and find a protected bay to wait it out. The northerly winds are strengthening just as we arrive, after dodging rain squalls all along the way. We have travelled around 50nm north along the east coast and found an anchorage in Porto Frailis, a bay just to the south of the town of Arbatax. It has a camping resort on one side with a beach club and there are plenty of restaurants around. The swell wraps around the point though and waves are breaking onto the beach. We have a good spot in the south east and less rolly than neighbouring boats and quite bearable in a cat.
I head ashore in the afternoon for a reccie and check out the opening times for the fuel dock in the town, as we are getting quite low. Keith has to drop me off on the rocks as there is nowhere to land the dinghy. There are some really interesting looking pink rock formations around the harbour entrance so I take a look around those before returning to our anchorage. There is an old fort on the point overlooking our anchorage so I walk up there to take a look. It’s in ruins but remarkably there is a ladder to climb up into it (no such thing as OHS here!). Getting picked up from the slippery rocks with the swell is pretty challenging too but Keith nudges the RIB into a gap between waves and I leap aboard. I am getting good at this.
We up anchor and motor around to the fuel dock, arriving at 7:30am the next morning, fortunately just beating a big powerboat in. We refuel quickly and we are on our way to Olbia, which is 74nm north. We manage a little bit of sailing with the main and gennaker along the way, but again mostly motoring as the breeze is just too light. At least we are not flogging into it. There are some interesting looking islands to the east of us just before we enter Olbia harbour and they look to be very popular with charter boats and day trippers, but sadly not for us to visit today. We arrive at Olbia late afternoon and anchor in front of the town quay. We are too tired to go ashore and after a few nights in a rolly anchorage, this one which is deep inside a well-protected harbour feels like being on land.
The next morning we pick up a hire car to explore inland Sardinia a little. Firstly we visit Porto Cervo, playground of the rich and famous, just out of curiosity really. This is the heart of the Costa Smerelda with its famous and exclusive yacht club. The town turns out to be just one big resort/coastal strip mall with every high end brand name represented and it looks so fake. We wander along for a bit, have morning tea and decide we hate it so time to move on. We drive along past the famous Yacht Club, the marina is disappointingly empty of gin palaces and there are not as many big luxury boats around as we expected. Perhaps they have gone out for the day.
We enjoy the drive through the country side and stop are some ancient ruins. Firstly the Giants’ Tomb (Coddu Ecchju). This is a collective grave that probably held the remains of the dead from the nearby village of La Prisgiona. It is thought to date back to the Nuragic Age around 1800 BC. The next stop is at a Nurhage, the ruined village of La Prisgiona dating to the 14th century BC with its round stone dwellings around a central stone keep.
We visit a couple of villages in the hills, which feel somewhat deserted apart from the odd clutches of men sitting in cafes watching the world go by. After a quick bite to eat Google Maps takes us into tiny hilltop town of Tempio Pausiana. We obediently twist and turn our way through ever narrowing streets, thankful we are only in a Fiat Panda as we watch a guy in a jeep try and do a 16 point turn to get out. Just as we pull your wing mirrors in and breath in deeply, we arrive at the central Piazza and the view opens up, phew! This place is quite remarkable, really a place that time has forgotten. There are not many people about and it doesn’t feel too lively. It’s all stone - buildings with stone facades, stone churches and stone roads – there is no shortage of stones in the hills of Sardinia so why not use it. We wander around soaking it up, and then go in search of a winery. Again Google takes us on a bit of a detour (4 minutes faster) and we find ourselves on a dirt road, flanked by dry stone walls, wine grapes and then trees covering the road. Oh and no phone signal. Thankfully we emerge back on to the main road and arrive in Monti. We find a winery, well actually a coop, but no tasting because of the “pandemico” so after a brief description from the manageress we buy a few bottles on spec and hope for the best. That’s it for the day, so we head back to Olbia, via Lidl of course, and take our loot back to the boat in the RIB. We have dinner ashore finally having a wander around Olbia which itself is quite lively and animated. Plenty of tourists and locals out and about too.
Our next destination is La Maddalena, which is the island group off the North east corner of Sardinia. It’s only a short hop north to get to the French island of Corsica, (although we did not have time for that). It is a national park area and a special permit is required to visit, which we managed to get online. It's half price if you pay in advance (ie double if you turn up without one!) and the park rangers come by our boat every day to check on us.
We are up reasonably early and head out of Olbia Port, motoring up the coast to arrive at Cala Coticcio on the island of Caprera (which means goat I think). It is already quite busy; it is one of those iconic “must visit” anchorages and we squeeze in amongst the throngs, thinking we probably won’t stay the night. The daytime comings and goings are incredible, an entire fleet of charter boats comes in and just drop anchor anywhere, professional skippers stay on board and then they are all gone after a couple of hours.
We paddle around the bay once the bulk of the charter fleet leave. The water is an incredible blue, crystal clear, and it really does deserve its reputation as the “Tahiti of the Maddalena”. Fortunately only a handful of boats stay the night and it is relatively peaceful.
Once the craziness of the day starts again we up anchor and head around to the bottom end of the Caprera island, to Porto Palma. Here we can see lots of sailing school boats which is really lovely. We stop here for lunch to watch for a while; its well protected but nothing special so we head around to the western side of the island to Cala Stagnali and like the vibe of it so here we stay. Ashore it’s a nice walk up to the Garibaldi House (Garibaldi is the father of modern Italy) and this is where he retired to. We share the bay with one other boat for the night, which of course has to anchor nice and close (and swim naked off the back)!
We will have westerly winds now for the next 4 days, not really strong but enough to keep us on the eastern side of the islands. That rules out a couple of places we would have liked to go but there are plenty more to explore. We go around to the southern end of Santa Stefano island where there is a lovely long bay, Cala di Villamarina. I walk up to what looks like a disused quarry, lots of rusting equipment, piles of stones and randomly a large statue of a fisherman’s head and shoulders overlooking the bay. After lunch we headed over to Spargi island, checked out a couple of anchorages before deciding on Cala Ferrigno. Initially we anchored and tied to a rock, (swimming lines ashore which I thought I had done for the last time in Greece!) but then another boat left the large granite dock and we tied alongside that instead. I went for a walk up into the hills to an abandoned farmhouse, with great views across the channel. Got chatting to the couple of the other yacht here, an Italian guy with an American wife who live in Singapore. We joined them for drinks later in the evening.
We left our dock relatively early to head across to Budelli Island. This is another popular daytime spot so we wanted to get in before the day trippers. Found a nice spot and chilled for the day, watching the many comings and goings, taking a RIB tour of the area in the afternoon but it was very choppy thanks to the westerly.
After breakfast we jumped in the RIB and went over to see the Spiaggia Rosa (or pink beach). You can’t walk on it, swim in it or take the RIB ashore so we park the RIB nearby and walk over to look at it. It really doesn’t look very pink to be honest. We get some drone shots to get a better look but I really might have to photoshop them so it looks pinker.... After morning tea we up anchor and motor across to Santa Maria island where there is a reasonably popular beach anchorage, Cala Santa Maria. The larger tourist boats disgorge the seething masses here who just seem to hang out at the small, crowded beach. We took the RIB onto the beach and walked up to an old lighthouse (described back on the beach as “rotten”). Nice view across the island group but the lighthouse was indeed in ruins, as was the scaffolding holding it up. Got back to our RIB and as we were pushing off from the beach we were told off by the lifeguard for leaving it there. Oh well, better to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes...
Back to ITIKI for lunch and then on to the next stop. We checked out a couple of possible bays to anchor in but they were rejected and we headed to Giardinelli island. It’s a whole 11nm from last night’s anchorage. The water here is more of a greenish colour but still crystal clear. The bay is full of power boats and RIBs but by 5:30, magically they are all gone and we have the bay to ourselves. We stay here for the next couple of days sheltering from the westerlies and waiting for our weather window to head west to the NW tip of Sardina. We have very much enjoyed our time in the Madalennas, such a lovely cruising ground with short distances between some very different anchorages, and pristine waters. We continue to push west though and leave in the early morning, navigating around the rocks in the dark, following our entry track on the chart plotter as it is poorly lit. We motored most of the 66nm to La Pelosa at the NW tip of Sardinia, and arrive just as the wind turns to the east. It’s not well protected here and pretty rolly, but we are getting used to this and it means another early morning start to get to Menorca in the Balearics.
Our third visit to Italy in ITIKI started in rather dramatic circumstances as you may know. We crossed overnight from Ionian Greece to the sole of Italy’s boot. From there we made our way up through the Messina Straits to the Aeolian islands before heading on to Sardinia and the Maddalenas, before crossing to the Balearics (Spain). We actually didn’t make landfall at Sicily, although we came pretty close to it.
This leg of our journey started after a sneaky last night in Greece, after officially checking out. It was an early morning departure 06h00 for a 186nm journey across to the toe end of Italy. Specifically, to Marina Rocella Ionica, which is a well-worn path for cruisers heading westward. We were expecting good pressure to start with so playing it safe (have we finally learned?!) we put one reef in the main and the genoa. Seas were very lumpy initially and we didn’t get a lot of breeze until we got away from the island but then we made good speeds and shared watches throughout the day. About 3pm Keith noticed that our first reef-line (the new Dynalite one) had chafed through the outer sheath at the (very smooth) cringle. It looks like the core will hold though. Once it comes time to shake it out we will need to be careful that it doesn’t peel the core like a banana, as happened with the gennaker halyard, which we had to cut. As evening approaches the breeze drops (as forecast) and we swap the genoa for the gennaker. We then need to go to full main and one engine. We keep that configuration through the night and into the next morning. We try a couple of times to switch motors off and sail again as we get a bit of breeze, but it doesn’t last and is taking us off course so motors go back on. We are keen to ensure we arrive in daylight.
We start to see the lights of Italy in the early hours of morning, about 40nm out and this is when it seems like our passage is almost over. We have made better time than we expected and should be in mid-morning. Our arrival is a bit more dramatic than we expected though and at 10nm out we see the sorry sight of a Bavaria 50 very low in the water, looking like it is in trouble. The main is up and strapped on but no headsail. As we get closer we can see that despite it being in reasonable condition otherwise, it has been ransacked and windows stove in, blankets and clothing scattered over the deck. Water is pouring into the foredeck hatch. It’s all I can do to stop Keith from jumping aboard to close the hatch. The boat could be a crime scene and not something we want to get involved with. It’s likely stolen and scuttled and this open hatch is probably not the only problem. We call in a Securite over the radio and wait for the Guarda Costiera to arrive about 10 mins later. By the time they get there though the boat has completely disappeared below the surface and we are in 80m of water. They seem to know about the boat already. We find out later that they took some migrants off it and probably just left it there, which is a shame, and also a shipping hazard! There are a collection of these stolen boats in the marina itself and they probably didn’t want any more of them, hoping it would sink without a trace before anyone noticed. We settle in to our Marina berth and of course our first night in Italy is celebrated with pizza, pasta and chianti at a local restaurant.
We really have no reason to stay in this area so we move on the next day. This was one of those days we went from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C and then back to Plan A again! This part of Italy is well known for its lack of safe and protected anchorages, but if conditions are calm you can get away with anchoring in some places. Initially we were going to anchor at a spot called Bova Marina (not a marina but that is just what they call coastal towns), on the south western end of the toe. We were still getting Southerlies at this stage and although we had a nice time sailing the anchorage was quite exposed. The forecast showed light northerly coming out of the Messina Straits (the channel between Italy and Sicily) so we decided to head across to Taormina on the Sicilian side and make our transit north from there. As we got to the very tip of the toe another change of plans. As the northerly in the strait was only 5kts (allegedly), we decided to head up to Regio di Calabria on the eastern side of the channel. There is an anchorage just north of the (€220 per night!) Marina at Regio di Calabrio called Galicio that looks ok. Well the forecast of 5kts from the north turned out to be BS. More like 20-22 and awful short chop. We persisted with it though, covering our recently cleaned boat with salt yet again. We had so much spray coming over the coach house that I had to close the saloon doors. We had fun dodging a huge fleet of windsurfers and kite surfers who were enjoying conditions more than us! The airhorn was ready to blast anyone who was not paying attention as although we were under motor, they are much quicker and more manoeuvrable than us. Then thankfully the breeze backed off. It’s amazing how 17kts feels like a relief after slamming into 22kts. Its 14kts by the time we anchored at Galicio and dropped to nothing from then on so we had a very calm night, albeit listening to 80s music from the beach club ashore – that would have been ok except for someone yelling in Italian over the top of it (possibly an aerobics class). There were also local fishermen coming and going all night in small dinghies around us. Apparently the pilot books say you can’t anchor in the Messina Straits, most people take this to mean anywhere between Italy and Sicily, but it’s really only means the short section at the north which is the narrowest point and includes the shipping channel. Anyway, as we don’t seem to have an Italian pilot book we didn’t know this until much later. By the end of the day we have done 64nm, not quite what we planned!
We departed again at a leisurely 8:30am for a “short” 40nm hope across to the Aeolian Islands, off the NE corner of Sicily. This group consists of several volcanic islands, the most well-known one being Stromboli, which is still quite active and regularly puts on a light show at night.
We motored north up into the Straits hugging the starboard shore. The Straits are not as busy with shipping as we expected, that said we had a nervous moment as a car ferry decided to leave just as we were passing by and we had cruise and cargo ships both over take us. We radioed VTS for permission to cross the channel and in no time we were turning the corner and pointing towards Isola Volcano at the south end of the Aeolian Island group. The wind gods are feeling happier today after giving us a beating yesterday and we get the Parasailor up. The angles are a bit flukey but as we get further from the coast it becomes more consistent. Later we change to the gennaker to get a better angle to our destination. Even without the main we get along at great speeds and better angles. We approach Volcano from the western side checking out a couple of anchorages, but end up opting for the town harbour anchorage, Baia di Pontente. It's already very crowded but conditions are calm and we squeeze ourselves in.
We go ashore early in the morning and walk up to the rim of the crater of the volcano of Isola Volcano (wondering how they decided on the name for this island???). Lots of acrid sulphur on one side but it’s quite spectacular and great views across to the island of Isola Lipari. Looking down into the crater it was a heart shape. We walked around the small town for a bit and then as we were heading back to ITIKI the police were doing the rounds of the anchorage telling everyone to move on. I guess they need to turn the crowds over. The weather is lovely and calm so we pick up an anchorage on Lipari’s west coast, all of 3nm away, one of the rare white sand “beaches” (Punta Di Levante) in this volcanic area, although still a bit on the deep side. Boats come and go all day, fishermen come by to sell their catch and we have a beautiful sunset.
Overnight we had a couple of storms pass through. Winds were not strong but they brought some rain and we had to bring all of the cocktail deck cushions in. Early morning brought a stronger westerly with a big swell and backwash from the cliffs which saw waves going over the transom. This is called getting “pooped” and it’s not very nice. ITIKI is bucking up and down like a bronco on our anchor. It’s raining moderately so we quickly get the bimini clears up and beat a hasty retreat in big seas around to the east coast of Lipari, with me holding the crockery drawer closed until we turned the corner around the south of the island and got out of the swell. We anchored at Punta di Capistelo on the southern part of the bay around the town of Lipari, a bit too close to another mono. Not a great anchorage, very rolly, too deep, probably rocks and weed and we did not feel happy about leaving the boat to visit the town. We chat to the guy on the mono and he recommends an anchorage on the island of Salina which is protected from Westerlies so we decide to give it a go. As we head north past the white sand beach on the north east of Lipari we see a Saba 50, Double Shot. This is Andy and Mel and their kids who were on the dock with us at La Rochelle and came to our baptism. How funny to see them after so long! We have a quick chat but by now its blowing strongly from the north, so we head across to Salina. We have travelled all of 15nm today, including our detour by Lipari town.
'The anchorage outside the Marina di Salina is not quite what we expected, still a bit deep and steep but that is par for the course around volcanic islands. Still it's protected enough, we have it to ourselves and it turns out to be a good choice. I go ashore for a wander and Keith stays on board to make sure ITIKI is settled in the anchorage. We were expecting storms overnight but nothing eventuates and we have a calm night.
We walk around Salina the next morning and decide to take the ferry over to Lipari Town for a couple of hours, rather than move to a crummy anchorage for the night. We have lunch in Lipari town and enjoy walking the streets of the old town, up to the castle. Museums are closed but wander into the church, have a gelato and head back on the ferry again. It is a pretty town with colourful houses and plenty of tourists. We decide against heading up north to Stromboli, the most active volcano in the group. It’s quite a way north and conditions are not so favourable. Anyway we also have heard that the volcano is not really doing much in the way of spectacular fireworks at the moment, so we are probably not missing out.
Our nicely protected anchorage has become very rolly overnight with a change of conditions so we were up and away just before 4am, 1 hour earlier than planned. We have a long passage of 253nm to the south east corner of Sardinia for the next part of our Italian adventures.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.