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Mainland Italy to Sardinia

August 18, 2015

Certainly time to provide another update. Since our last communication we have been exploring and met up with two sets of old friends. It has been so hot for the past six weeks, with only an occasional day of cooler (i.e. less than 30°C) weather that we felt we needed to head for the hills. I took frequent showers on the pontoon just to cool off.

One of the small alleys off Via Indepenza - our shady shopping street

One of the small alleys off Via Indepenza – our shady shopping street

We continued to explore Gaeta for a few more days, and got a great laugh one evening. We had found a bar which served beer and wine at reasonable prices and while sitting there heard a great commotion. A dog that had been tied to a light alumium chair came racing past (frightened by another hound we think), with chair attached and crashing along behind! The owners of both dog and chair raced after it (from the betting shop about 20 yards away) and there was much shouting and gesticulation. All got sorted out but it was a hoot.

We walked (very sweatily) round the old town, admiring the Aragonese castle and old buildings, as well as rather grand new churches. Our favourite cool alley mentioned in the last blog yielded a new washing up bowl (it had been on the list for a while and needed to be a particular size and square) and a new bucket to replace one that split.

The previous week, being conscious that Brian’s birthday was looming, I encouraged him to look for a new cordless drill. He had been trying to revive the batteries on the one we bought a couple of years ago, but in vain. So he plumped for DeWalt, with Lithium Ion batteries and I ordered them on Amazon to be delivered to Gaeta! They arrived in time for his birthday, and were opened on 9th July with much pleasure.

Birthday boy

Birthday boy

We had intended originally to head to Genoa as there is a McMurdo Epirb service shop there. Our Epirb (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) sits on the coach roof of the boat, and will automatically release and send out an emergency signal with the GPS position if we sink! Or we can take it as a handheld thing if we abandon the boat in the liferaft. It is registered with the maritime authorities in England so the emergency services worldwide can identify who it belongs to. Its batteries and release valve are supposed to be replaced every 5 years and it was now 7, so we thought we should get it done. On enquiring in the marina office and emails to the service centre in Genoa, we arranged to get it couriered to Genoa and returned before we left. It got a bit complicated as ever, but it got done and returned, ready for another 5 years hopefully not being needed!

Several yachts anchored outside the marina – a red ketch caught our eye as the lady on board brought her three(!) dogs on shore every day. One day I overheard her speaking English to them and introduced myself. Deseley (Australian) joined us for drinks that evening – her Italian husband Massimo was away for a week. One of her dogs (while we were having a drink) had a brief encounter with a small white terrier – its pale and nervous owner was most upset, staring indignantly at us and mopping a small cut on the dog’s head and apparently called the dog police! But they didn’t turn up, her dog seemed to recover and she left much to our relief!

Deseley was worried about weather being at anchor and we agreed to assist her bring her boat into the marina the same morning that we were to set off for the hills of the Abruzzo national park. The marina assistant came out in his rib (dinghy) and Deseley and I managed to get the anchor up with his help. The anchor winch switch was out of commission, so I was there holding two big crocodile clips together to make it work! Sparks and heat – whew. A huge mass of fishing net and line had attached itself to the chain too, so it was a bit of a task. Then Brian steered and the marina guy pushed and we got Calypso tied up in short order.

We had rented a car and set off late morning, out of the flat hinterlands around the coast and quickly up into the foothills, perch villages and then mountains in and around the Abruzzo Park which is in the Appenine. The temperature dropped a good 10 degrees – relief! We stopped at Lake Barrea and walked along paths for a short while, spotting two woodpeckers, then headed towards Pescasseroli where we eventually located our hotel, Valle del’Oro. We had a good room facing the rather scruffy garden, but it was cool and pleasant. They provided a fixed menu dinner every night – good fare but not quite on a par with the one in Rocca di Cilento.

Opi, Abruzzo National Park

Opi, Abruzzo National Park

The town of Pescasseroli is very touristy but pleasant enough. We bought a walking map (yes with trails marked!) and planned our itinerary. We had had an email from our friends Jean-Jacques and Mary who were touring Calabria in their camper van (their boat has been in Crotone since last year, but they have a lovely house in France which is let out when they are not there) and arranged to meet up as they headed north.

Our first day (Friday 10th July) we drove to Gioia Vecchio to see if we could see any of the bears that are famous in this area. I did identify a blackcap singing wildly in a bush, but nothing else. Then we selected a likely walking trail and headed up into the beech woods. It was a lovely track, winding gently upwards, sometimes through meadows still covered in flowers. We heard wrynecks but never saw any. The track then headed south and down again, but we missed the trail leading back to the car so clambered up a very steep bank to find the meadow and road where white cows looked amazed at us and skittered out of our way.

The next day we went for a shorter (but hotter) and level path along the south side of Lake Barrea, starting in a large picnic area. We set off late and had lunch in the marshy grove by the lake, watching lots of small unidentifiable birds fluttering in the reeds. At the end of the path we saw old mill races, a rushing stream and a scout camp. The scouts were doing woodland things like constructing teepee like shelters!DSCF4357

Jean Jacques and Mary arrived that evening (delayed by a road race in the middle of town) and we headed out for dinner at a very nice restaurant. As we walked back (JJ & M off in their camper van to find a quiet spot) we saw fireflies winking around the bushes – very pretty.

We met up the next day for a gentler but stony path just north of Pescasseroli, again through beech woods and open grassy and flowery meadows. At one point we saw a group of golden eagles – a juvenile and perhaps three others. Excellent. We ate our sandwiches in the shade near some horses and returned down a steep slope next to a stream.

Lunch in the shade - Jean Jacques and Mary

Lunch in the shade – Jean Jacques and Mary

The following day, having shown them the Gioia valley and potential bear spotting place, we headed up the Diablo trail – again a wonderful walk and very shady most of the way. Jean Jacques spied a herd of deer on the way back, but they ran off into the woods before the rest of us could catch up – we heard the hoof beats and rustling bushes! The return journey was down a rather nettle strewn dry river bed and then past a farm where they were separating cows from their calves – much bellowing and disturbance.

Another lightning blasted tree

Another lightning blasted tree

DSCF4344It was time to head back to the boat taking the long route round through woods and lots of hairpin bends, stopping for coffee in a pretty hilltop town. We reached a small lake at lunchtime and walked its circumference, hearing wrynecks and woodpeckers. There were two pairs of Great Crested Grebes on the lake with cheeping offspring.

On the way back we noted a big shopping complex outside Formia (about 7km away from Gaeta) so next day we headed there and stocked up with needful things from the DIY store, new swimming cossies for me, and heavy stuff (water, wine) for our stocks, before returning the car that evening.

We were back in the heat, so didn’t do much for the next couple of days, even going out for fast food in the evenings. I managed to do a bit of administration stuff by email, dealing with our letting agents queries about new tenants for our big house, our friends who checked the place over and identified some maintenance work, and the ongoing issue of keeping the garden sorted out.

Brians light walking shoes he had bought in Turkey finally disintegrated and we had hunted for a suitable replacement in Formia without success. But just opposite Gaeta Marina there was a shoe shop that had Clarks shoes and he found the perfect pair! Yet to be tried out though.

Brian had also managed to get a domestic electrical distribution unit to replace the 3 pin plugs and sockets that were really underpowered for our needs. He fitted that – a horrid job in baking heat – and it is even labelled – looks very smart. More showers on the pontoon!

Our three weeks in Gaeta were coming to an end and the weather seemed propitious for the trip to Ponza, one of the Pontine islands which is a favoured place to set off towards Sardinia. So we paid up and left on 22nd July, managing to start very early and arrived mid afternoon. We anchored well in a bay just north of the main town. Finally we were able to get the new dinghy pumped up and in the water before making a light supper and settling in for the night, after celebratory swimming off the back of the boat – wonderful!

Looking north from the Ponza anchorage

Looking north from the Ponza anchorage

In Gaeta there were notices pasted to lampposts and walls about mosquito and rat eradication on a regular basis. We didn’t have too much problem with mozzies although there were a few around. Burning green coils and a spray every so often kept them at bay. At anchor in Ponza and then Sardinia we didn’t have any problems at all – but we noticed in Ponza that there weren’t any birds either! Now we are in Sardinia we have only seen pygmy cormorants and terns so far – plus the usual sparrows etc.

We relaxed the next morning, having more swims, making a big bolognese stew and generally sorting out the boat. We got the motor on the dinghy (its first outing) and headed into town. There is a small gap between large rocks that a dinghy can get through and we made for a beach on the north end of the bay. We looked around and had a beer in the small café, then saw big clouds gathering. We rapidly got some beer to take away, and raced back to the boat. We passed another rib towing a little dinghy in which a man was sheltering a small child! They only had oars and obviously had had to get help to get back.

Storm in Ponza bay

Storm in Ponza bay

The wind howled from the east (i.e. towards land and opposite to the way we had anchored). We were soaked by spray by the time we got back on board. Looking at the GPS the boat had moved 10 metres towards land but was now holding fast. We decided to hang on, but most other boats in the bay raised their anchors and headed out round the other side of the island. One small motorboat had broken free and was rolling up on the beach.

Last boats leaving

Last boats leaving

The waves reached about 2 metres – we were bouncing up and down. Other boats were assisted by ribs that had come out to help including to tow the stranded motor boat off the beach. Finally the coastguard came round to make sure everyone left (just us and two others) were OK. The wind and waves dropped about 10pm, just as we were having our dinner!

The following day all was calm again. Brian spent a happy half hour bailing water out of the dinghy, and I pumped out our stern lockers which had filled up with the waves crashing over the boat! We had refreshing swims then headed for shore again, this time nearer to town.

Boats for hire

Boats for hire

We found a small beach where the water became very shallow so I was able to hop out and pull the dinghy ashore between ranks of small motor boats that were for hire. We wandered around the very pretty town, found bread shops and rubbish bins and a nice bar which we then frequented for the rest of our stay. That night big clouds threatened again, but in the event there was no wind – just rain! Getting back into the dinghy in the shallow water (above my knees) was somewhat undignified the first time I tried – ending up in the bottom with my legs in the air!

Our favourite bar - Sailors retreat

Our favourite bar – Sailors retreat

The forecast for going to Sardinia just needed to show wind that was anything but west – which it didn’t for over a week!

So our days anchored outside Ponza town became very relaxed, with frequent swimming, trips into town for shopping and evening drinks, and our usual morning ritual of lots of cups of tea, Sudoku puzzles, emails, checking the news, reading, followed by coffee and biscuits. And then, oh gosh, its lunchtime!

Ponza main harbour

Ponza main harbour

We had made arrangements with our friends Pete and Maggie to pick them up for a few days sailing in Sardinia. Our target date was 6th August in Olbia, so we had plenty of time and it was so hot! The distance to Olbia from Ponza is about 160 nautical miles, so it meant a dawn start to arrive 30 hours later in Sardinia. I researched the charts and pilot books and found a couple of good places where we could anchor and recover before heading into Olbia marina to prepare for their arrival.

Calm again in Ponza

Calm again in Ponza

Finally the wind changed and we set off on Friday 31st July for a very uneventful crossing – no wildlife and virtually no shipping. The wind wasn’t strong enough to sail without the motor which was a bit tedious. We stood our usual 4½ hour watches overnight, and managed to get a few snoozes during the day. We dropped anchor in Porto della Taverna in the early afternoon of Saturday – a lovely bay in a nature reserve – and slept for a few hours. We stayed there on Sunday too, relaxing and swimming in the clear waters, before heading for Olbia marina on Monday.

Leaving Ponza

Leaving Ponza

The last lighthouse

The last lighthouse

The marina is very smart but not really well developed. There is a bar and restaurant (rather expensive) that have only just opened, and rather inadequate shower and toilet facilities a long way from the pontoons. A laundry service collects and delivers to your boat, so that was a bonus.

However there is a huge shopping mall about 15 minutes walk away, and a free shuttle service to the mall, airport (10 minutes away) and town! But the shuttle only runs at limited times…..ah well

That ferry is going faster than us!

That ferry is going faster than us!

We spent the next couple of days exploring the air conditioned mall, one late afternoon and evening spent shopping and eating there – it was so cool. Even at 9.30pm, leaving the mall we were blasted with hot humid air outside! The marina is full of Auchan shopping trolleys, brought down by those of us who are fit enough to trundle them (mostly down hill it must be said) from the shopping mall. They are collected and returned to the shopping mall in small lorries from time to time!

Brian had become concerned that our domestic batteries (getting a bit old now and having had to put up with deep cycle processes for a couple of years before we installed the solar panels) were not charging fully and spent a lot of time connecting them up one at a time to try to find out if all were getting tired or whether it was just one. The decision at the end was that all of them were a bit weary. The Cruising Association notes of various harbours around Sardinia included a recommendation for one near Olbia where a garage supplied boat batteries (similar to tractor ones) at a good price.

Very fine yacht outside Olbia

Very fine yacht outside Olbia

Clearing the rear starboard cabin for our visitors meant that he could get into the battery compartment much more easily. I then had to extricate him in order to put the cabin into order and give it a bit of a clean before they arrived! He cleaned the fridge out before loading it with all the food and drinks we might need if we were to feed and water four people for the next five days!

Pete and Maggie arrived on Thursday afternoon, collected by the shuttle service and we had a great evening in the bar and restaurant updating each other on the events of the past five years – the last time they visited. Pete very kindly paid for all the food and wine every time we went out to eat – most generous.

Pete & Maggie

Pete & Maggie

They brought out new bits for our oven and a new Kindle for me (the old one had almost died) and more Earl Grey teabags and instant coffee! Wonderful presents. The new Kindle is great – Brian is very jealous despite having his new drill…..I am most of the way through the entire Patrick O’Brian Captain and Commander books. It is a good thing we only have two sails – I couldn’t cope with the top main gallants, studding and others – let alone all the other bits of the wooden ships that are described! The language is fun too – I am tempted to start every sentence with “which”!

We set sail on Friday morning aiming at a bay called Cala di Volpe – Fox Bay. Maggie started to look a bit weary, so as soon as we got there we anchored and all fell into the sea to cool off. We thought it was just that she had not slept very well the previous night. There had not been much wind and it was very warm. We ate on board (after being asked to move into the northern inlet). Pete cooked an excellent carbonara – with help from Delia. It was a new recipe on us and will be tried again.

Another weird super yacht - and good clouds

Another weird super yacht – and good clouds

The bay is full of huge mooring buoys for huge pleasure motor boats. We saw one ugly thing looking like a submarine (although they are all a bit ugly) that is owned by a Russian oligarch. It cost £300m to build, designed by Philippe Stark. We found a YouTube guided tour – its internal decorations seemed a bit naff. Its name is a bit naff too – “A”. How difficult is that to give out over the radio?

The tenders to these ships tore up and down to the big luxury hotel at the top of the inlet, making the evening very noisy and bumpy. However after dinner we were treated to a fantastic firework display – none of us had seen anything quite as clever and dramatic.

Cliffs north of Olbia

Cliffs north of Olbia

On Saturday we headed further round the top of Sardinia to the Maddalena islands where I had booked a berth in the marina. It was a good wind and we sailed most of the way. Maggie became even more lethargic and Pete found that she was very hot so our diagnosis was heat prostration, exacerbated by the multiple sclerosis from which she suffers. We swathed her in wet cloths and after a discussion with Pete in a nearby bar he wizzed her off to a nearby hotel with air conditioning. We joined them later for dinner and she was still quite poorly. They stayed in the hotel for the following day and night, during which time Maggie made a full recovery – and the temperature dropped too.

La Maddalena

La Maddalena

Brian and I wandered round the pleasant town on Sunday, full of tourists but still interesting.

On Monday it was windier than we would normally set sail, but Pete and Maggie were game, so we set off with help from the marinero to get out of the rather tight berth. We put out about 1/3 of the genoa and raced down wind. The dinghy flipped over as the wind caught it (fortunately it was stripped down to basics) and Pete and Brian spent a fraught quarter of an hour getting it sorted out!

National park areas in northern Sardinia

National park areas in northern Sardinia

We headed back to Cala di Volpe, aiming at the quieter southern part of the bay. It took five goes to get the anchor to set! I was pretty fed up by the time we were finally secure – but Pete as usual jumped in the sea and went to confirm that we had a good holding in the sand.

Brian cooked a good dinner and we retired happier – especially as the wind dropped! Another night-time light show – this time fantastic cloud lightning behind the hills and out at sea that went on for hours.

The next day we motor sailed down to Isola Pirri – a small bay not far from Olbia and again had some difficulty anchoring. It was Pete and Maggie’s last night. We celebrated with pork spare ribs and ratatouille cooked and served up by Pete. I must say that I really enjoyed not having to cook for a week!

View from the anchorage at Isola Pirri

View from the anchorage at Isola Pirri

On Wednesday we relaxed all morning, swimming and reading and discussing yachtie things, then after lunch headed the short distance back to Olbia marina. They packed, we all headed for the bar, and after a small panic about the airport shuttle they were collected and taken off. Brian and I had hot dogs for dinner!

Moby Ferries in Olbia - all painted with cartoons

Moby Ferries in Olbia – all painted with cartoons

After a week of excellent conversation and late nights we slept very well and are still making up for it!

On Thursday we made use of the laundry service, and after checking the weather decided to head up to the bay where garage that sells boat batteries had been recommended before the weather turned. We arrived mid afternoon on Friday in Cannigione – a small town on an inlet just south of the Maddalenas. A westerly gale was forecast and indeed arrived and has been blowing for two days now. I managed to book a buoy which is great, and makes us feel very safe in high winds. The distance to shore is not too great, so the waves don’t bob us around too much (the inlet runs north and south) and it is much quieter than a marina (and cheaper too). On Saturday we explored the town after a lazy morning and afternoon siestas and found the supermarkets, garage and a good bar. The garage was closed, but opened on Sunday and we have ordered new batteries hoping to get them delivered early next week.

On a buoy in Cannigione

On a buoy in Cannigione

On Tuesday we expect to meet up with a New Zealand couple on Waverunner (the previous owners of Sweetie, the dog we helped to re-home in Kas) who are on their way to Genoa to have their yacht shipped back home. A much easier way to do it!

 

 

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