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Sardinia, Friends, Relations and Storms

October 4, 2015

As I mentioned in the last blog, we were expecting Waverunner (Pete and Kathy) to arrive in Castelsardo. Before they arrived we managed to organise the replacement batteries. It was a bit choppy and we were still on our buoy, but Luca, the man who looks after the buoys, liaised with the garage where the batteries turned up on Monday morning. Brian had disconnected the old ones and prepared them for exchange. Luca took him and the old batteries to shore, then brought the new ones back. It was tough work for them to load the new ones onto the boat but they managed. Brian spent the evening connecting them all up. The positive and negative terminals were on the opposite way round which caused a bit of reorganising, but all got done.

Yet another hilltop tower

Yet another hilltop tower

Pete and Kathy were at anchor further up the bay on Monday night, but had had to re-anchor a couple of times. On Tuesday they managed to come close to us and catch a buoy and we went over to their boat for dinner Wednesday night. It was great to see them again and to catch up on all their news. They will now have put their boat on a big ship in Genoa for transport to New Zealand.

Pete and Kathy on Waverunner

Pete and Kathy on Waverunner

Thursday 20th August we decided to head further west to a nice bay west of Santa Theresa di Gallura. But the wind and waves didn’t do what they were supposed to, being on the nose and rather high respectively, so we ended up in Sta Theresa anyway.

Santa Theresa di Gallura town

Santa Theresa di Gallura town

It was a lovely sheltered inlet with pretty walkways around the surrounding cliff faces. It is a “resort” marina with a hotel and expensive bars, so we ended up trudging up the long road into town where we found a more reasonable place to relax and have a drink close to a couple of supermarkets. The heavy weather had subsided by Saturday and we headed to Castelsardo. It was still very hot – the temperatures hovered around 30°C all the time until the last week of September.

Santa Theresa di Gallura marina

Santa Theresa di Gallura marina

It was a great sail, goosewing almost all the way without the engine. We stayed there for four nights as it was so nice. The marina had almost everything we needed – a supermarket at the end of our pontoon, decent chandlery, self service laundry, and excellent showers. We took the opportunity to haul the dinghy out of the water and scrape the barnacles off the bottom – amazing how much had accumulated.

Castelsardo harbour

Castelsardo harbour

We chatted to Alan on Lola – he cruises Sardinia and Corsica every summer – who gave us loads of information on where to go and even booked us a place in Alghero where we were to collect my sister Jessica and husband Mark in September for their two week visit to us.

Having replenished and cleaned ourselves we headed west again to an anchorage Alan had recommended just north of Stintino – off an island called Isla Piano. The area is a nature reserve with a big island called Asinara – after the white donkeys that run wild there. We had a fantastic sail – no engine all the way.

Clear turquoise waters and fish

Clear turquoise waters and fish

We anchored safely – lovely clear turquoise waters above white sand. Unfortunately the great wind we had experienced to get us there set up a heavy swell into the bay, so it was a bumpy night and morning. However it all died down and we enjoyed a fantastic sunny day. I had a “duvet” day that day though – for no particular reason except feeling very tired! But by the afternoon I recovered enough to swim and clean the waterline of the boat. I checked that the anchor was well in too.

Brian kept checking the new batteries and was perplexed that the solar control panel wasn’t showing that they were fully charged even with all the sun and wind we were getting. In the end he has decided that the electronics are adjusted so that the tipping point is just very high, so they are charging correctly. It took a lot of fiddling with various meters and wires to reassure himself that nothing was wrong!

The following day (Saturday 28th August) we headed round the corner to the west coast of Sardinia.

The narrow passage between Isla Piano and Asinara

The narrow passage between Isla Piano and Asinara

Negotiating the narrow and shallow channel between the islands was fun, and then the sails went up and we had another great sail down the coast to Porto Conte – a bay just west of Alghero.

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There were strong gusts as we turned the corner into the bay so we dropped the sails fairly quickly! We anchored in calm waters at the north end of the bay and I swam out to check that the anchor was firm – it had bounced a bit as we tightened up on the chain. The bottom was rather thin mud and sand and a lot of weed but it looked OK so long as the weather wasn’t too heavy! But as I swam around I noticed big (i.e. one metre) mussel like shells sticking up through the weed. Having reported this to Brian I got scoffed at. Hmm. So I looked up “giant mussels” on the internet and sure enough they do exist and are an endangered species!

Oh dear – we had put our anchor and a big heavy chain down among them. There wasn’t much we could do about it, so we just hoped that we didn’t knock too many over!

Sunday was spent lazing around to an extent. It was very calm and the water was clear so Brian was able to see the giant mussels beneath the boat! We had decided that we would just stay in Alghero for 3 weeks until Jessica and Mark arrived, and hire a car to investigate Sardinia inland. It would be the beginning of bird migration time so we hoped for some good sightings. With that in mind we hauled the dinghy out of the water, dried it off and put it away. Brian started to research the bird watching sites to find out which areas would be good to visit.

Alghero harbour

Alghero harbour

On Monday afternoon we headed over to our berth at Aquatica Marina that Alan had introduced us to. The marina is right under the old city walls, minutes away from the old town with sufficient shops for basics and not far from fruit and meat markets, supermarkets etc. It was an ideal place to be based. Alan turned up a day or two later and spent some time annotating a town map with all the useful places for us – he was so helpful.

We managed to return the favours when Brian fixed his multimeter (dead batteries and a blown fuse) and gave him some advice on how to check his own solar panel charging.

Meanwhile we had visited the electronics shop the marina manager (Fabrizio) had recommended and bought some spade connectors for Brian’s next project. We run various things off our 12V supply, including transformers for the computer, phone and Android charging. These are plugged into 12V car charger outlets that stop working properly after a while. We have replaced several over the years and it was getting to be a nuisance. So Brian designed and built a board over the next day or two that had spade connectors sticking out and has converted some of the old 12V car outlet plugs to fit. It works brilliantly!

Brian's magic 12V connector strip

Brian’s magic 12V connector strip

We booked a car using the Rentalcar website, to be collected from the “SicilybyCar” outlet at the airport. We headed that way on Wednesday 2nd September only to find that they were so cheap that the queue was winding around the airport lounge! Over an hour later we were given the keys to a Citroen Berlingo – a small people carrier! A great upgrade from what we were expecting.

I had booked hotels in three locations for our touring trips. Each trip was to last 3 nights, returning to the boat for a couple of nights then setting off again. First stop was the Oristano area where we had booked into a hotel in Cabras. Our route on Thursday took us through Bosa along a fantastic windy coast road. We stopped at the Griffon restaurant (now closed) to see if we could spot Griffon vultures but nothing was there.

Griffon restaurant - cliffs where they roost in the background

Griffon restaurant – cliffs where they roost in the background

We inspected the harbour outside Bosa and then continued towards Cabras. We took a small track down a valley to find a place for lunch in the shade – it was very pretty but no birds! Then on through the lagoons to the west of Cabras where we pulled into a field and crept through thistles and stubble to a small hummock. Loads of birds! Notable ones were a Golden Eagle, Curlew Sandpipers, Glossy Ibis, Avocets and Purple Herons. The Black Winged Stilts were there in abundance too. There are a lot of Flamingos around too – in all the lakes.

Lagoons near Cabras - Flamingos in the distance

Lagoons near Cabras – Flamingos in the distance

We continued to the hotel – it seemed to be being renovated but we had a great room facing the road. A pizzeria 100 yards down the road served as our evening dinner place. The hotel was staffed by one man who had to do everything from greeting guests to making breakfast. He tried to explain that there was a barefoot race on Saturday that we could watch from our balcony.

On Friday we drove round Oristano to the lagoons south of the town. The recommendations in the birding sites were spot on and we saw our first Purple Gallinules (large moorhen type birds only purple and very elusive). Clouds gathered and we headed back along tracks by irrigation canals. In one clearing we saw something large perched on a wire – it was a European Roller! Another first. Then the rain started coming down in earnest with thunder and lightning but not before we had seen loads more birds including a Hoopoe which is always fun, and Cattle Egrets which we had not seen for a while.

A young flamingo

A young flamingo

That night we ate indoors! The following day was the day of the race that passed us about 8am. We found out that it is an annual event to commemorate the town’s youth racing to San Salvatore four centuries ago to save the eponymous saint from Moorish attackers. There were hundreds of men of every age dressed in white shirts with flounces on the front and white shorts – and indeed bare footed. They carry an effigy of the saint and have to run about 8km on tarmac roads – ouch. The roads were lined with onlookers cheering them on, some dressed in traditional clothing.

The Santa Salvatore road race

The Santa Salvatore road race

The Santa Salvatore road race

The Santa Salvatore road race

We spent the rest of the day touring other lagoons in the area, and discovering that the flat fields of cereals we had seen were rice paddies. A first for me was a Hen Harrier that flew over the lagoons and swooped over the reeds, as well as many more species – including snipes – possibly a Jack Snipe which we weren’t sure about.

Rice

Rice

Rice Fields near Cabras

Rice Fields near Cabras

We were really pleased with our trip. We were able to spend a few hours the following day on a brief tour of Tharros – the Phoenician/Roman ruins on the peninsula west of Cabras. We noted that there were mooring buoys in the bay close to the site, and hoped they would still be there for our trip south with Jessica and Mark. We also saw a Northern Wheatear – the first this year and Spotted Flycatchers.

On our way back we kept and eye open for those vultures around Bosa and did see them this time! Huge things – black with pale beige on the back and front of the wings. We heard and saw BeeEaters on their passage south.

Back in Alghero I managed to get some washing done as well as buy more provisions and a couple of steaks after a fairly vegetarian few days!

On Tuesday 8th September we set off to Stintino this time – again an area with lagoons and lots of maquis for the small warblers – which we never did see sufficiently to identify any! However Brian found a recording of the Cetti’s Warbler on the web and we heard that many times. On the way we stopped at Lake Baratz – a nature reserve around the only natural lake in Sardinia.

Lake Baratz

Lake Baratz

It was a bit popular but had plenty of shade for us to eat our lunch, in the company of a troop of soldiers who turned up to the parking area a few minutes later!

There were 100’s of Coots and a few Kingfishers, Grey Herons and Egrets there, but not much else. We continued north to Porto Torres where a big lagoon has a boardwalk along the north edge, but apart from Spotted Flycatchers there was nothing else moving – it was very windy.

The surf off Porto Torres

The surf off Porto Torres

We headed for our hotel in Stintino only to find yet another festival (Santa Maria this time) so we had to park outside the town and hoof it on foot. The hotel was in a lovely spot in the harbour there and had a good restaurant attached. After a shower we headed off to watch the parade before dinner and bed.

Stintino harbour from our hotel balcony

Stintino harbour from our hotel balcony

On Wednesday it was still very windy with big waves breaking over the walls. The birds were all sheltering in the rushes! We toured various lagoons but found nothing special so returned for a siesta (strong winds are a bit tiring!). Stintino itself is fascinating. It used to be a tuna fishing town, with big nets and a canning factory. A project to record the history of the fishermen who worked there and their wives who processed the fish has set enlarged photos of the individuals all over the town and around the harbour wall. They still smoke tuna and other fish roe to make a local speciality. I had some one night in spaghetti – it was very salty but good.

On Thursday the wind had abated slightly and we headed for yet another set of lagoons – where we think we saw an Osprey perched on a stick in the middle! We had lunch in a field overlooking one of the inlets on the lagoon and were startled to see a Water Rail pecking its way along the mudflats right in front of us! Another first. Then we stopped for a bit of an explore in the hills east of Porto Conte and saw a couple of Firecrests flitting around the trees.

Wartime structures around Porto Conte, Alghero

Wartime structures around Porto Conte, Alghero

All this time, wind or no wind, it was very hot and forecast to get hotter! After a day back on the boat we headed for the hills to our hotel in Oliena, in the Gennargentu national park on the east coast.

Autumn flowers

Autumn flowers

It was a longer drive this time but interesting countryside with towns perched on the sides of mountains. When we arrived there was yet another festival going on! It was just too much of a coincidence to have three in three trips! But our hotel was at the bottom of a very steep hill and the old town was at the top and it was very hot, so we just flopped indoors. The hotel was very good again (thanks to Booking.com recommendations) and had its own restaurant with a set menu that was excellent. One day we had a dish flavoured with Myrtle – it was very nice but we both had vivid dreams that night! I later tried a Myrtle icecream – tasted a bit like Listerine but not unpleasant.

On Monday we headed down to Fonni (yet another hilltop town) then up into the wild hills where it was certainly cooler. But devoid of birds we were sad to find.

Gennargentu plateau with pig

Gennargentu plateau with pig

There were a lot of pigs rooting around for acorns under the oak forests. It seems to be cork harvesting time and many of the cork oak trees had been stripped down to their dark red inner layer. The scenery was fantastic with deep gorges and high rocky mountains along with strange bare plateaus. We did see a flock of thrush like birds that didn’t stop still long enough for identification, but we think they might have been Fieldfares.

Gennargentu mountains

Gennargentu mountains

The following days we toured the area, walking in nature reserves and finding trees to shelter under for our lunches. There were an awful lot of Great and Bluetits!

On our way back through Bosa we stopped to watch vultures again – many more this time. They seem to return to their roosts around 4pm so we were in the right place at the right time for a change.

Wild jazz band on Alghero waterfront

Wild jazz band on Alghero waterfront

So our three weeks were almost up and it was time to clean the boat and prepare for our visitors to arrive. I have to say that the first day it was too hot to do anything except lurk inside, do some admin work and look at passage planning for our trip. We found that the weather for the next few days wasn’t too brilliant so decided to stay in Alghero for a couple of days after Jessica and Mark arrived.

Their first day (Saturday 19th, arriving at 10am) was nice and warm. They explored the old town (more than we had) and we went out to a rather distant but very smart hotel for dinner. It took a while to find out how to get in – we had to buzz on a gate to be given access to the gardens which had various meandering paths to follow through thick foliage to get to the building.

I had kept the car for an extra three days, so next day we went back down to Bosa to watch the big waves that were forecast (and wind) on the cliffs.

On the way we followed the road up the hills behind the coast to the prehistoric site of the Nuraghic settlement. It has been largely excavated but more needs to be done. A young lady came to give us a guided tour – in Italian! Fortunately Jessica was able to translate most of what she said. The central towers are huge, and were surrounded by smaller huts, rebuilt examples of which we had seen near Oristano. The remains of these towers are scattered all over the area – apparently close enough that they would have been able to communicate with each other by signals of some kind.

Nuraghic tower

Nuraghic tower

Reconstruction of Nuraghic huts

Reconstruction of Nuraghic huts

We reached Bosa Marina (Bosa by the sea really) and watched kite surfers whizzing around the bay – it looks very physical! The hot weather that had plagued us for two and a half months had broken – just in time for our visitors to arrive – what a shame! It looked quite unsettled for the next week at least.

Bosa seaside

Bosa seaside

A short lunch at the harbour café, then up to the castle after getting the marina details for our trip south by boat. The castle is really just a set of walls the walk around which we had to be chaperoned, but there is a Byzantine church with recently discovered wall paintings inside. The views from the walls are excellent though.

Bosa from the Castle

Bosa from the Castle

We managed to see more vultures on the way back, before dinner on the boat. Jessica and Mark took a day trip boat to Neptune’s Grotto.  They said it was enormous and extraordinary.  First though they helped us inflate the dinghy and got it into the water.

We went and shopped for provisions and then I took the car back to the airport – that took a couple of hours. Brian and I went out for our last drinks at our favourite café on the harbour front and then we met up to go to a very nice restaurant in the old town that Jessica and Mark had discovered.

Porto Conte at sunset

Porto Conte at sunset

On Tuesday it was time for sailing practise! We went out into the huge Alghero bay, got the sails up (first reminder that the boat has to be “in the wind” for the mainsail to go up) and our companions had lots of fun (and hard work) tacking up and down the bay in a very pleasant gentle breeze. We managed to sail 20 miles that day! By early afternoon we were all tired so headed in to Porto Conte bay, hoping to pick up a buoy on the west side – but they were all occupied. Oh No. So we headed over to the rickety marina on the east side and eventually woke up the marina manager to come and point us to a berth. All tied up (more practise with fenders, mooring lines and lazy lines) then we went out for a scout around. Brian checked the weather forecast and it looked a bit iffy on Thursday, so we decided to leave the next day.

The end of a family meal on board

The end of a family meal on board

In a fairly stiff northerly breeze the following morning we got assistance from the marina to pull us around from a tight spot where we had berthed, then headed south for Bosa. The waves from the north were a bit bigger than our visitors were comfortable with, but we did manage to sail without the engine some of the way with just the genoa out. After a while the waves calmed down and we headed into Bosa entrance without much trouble. Often with narrow entrances it can get a bit rough as we had to turn side on to the waves to get in!

Porto di Bosa marina is up the river towards the main town – we had never sailed up a river before.

Bosa town from the river facing west

Bosa town from the river facing west

The marina guided us in to a berth – finger pontoons! Wow – first time in ages that we could tie up alongside! Of course all the fenders were set a bit too high so they had to be adjusted, and we showed the crew the secrets of setting springs (lines that run from the middle of the boat to cleats on the dock at front and back) to prevent forward and aft movement. Soon we were able to step ashore and take walks and find a bar in our case – which was excellent and cheap, noisy but fun.

We do enjoy sitting and watching people – our favourite occupation apart from book reading, bird watching (and sailing of course).

The next day Mark woke with a dizzy spell which he went ashore to walk off – we were worried that he might not be well enough to continue sailing for a day or two. However we were harbour bound for at least two days and in the event he was fine. In the afternoon we all piled in to the dinghy and motored up the river to Bosa town, tying up under Ponte Vecchio. We separated and went walking in different directions, agreeing to meet up at the bridge in an hour and a half. Brian and I went up through the town, climbing through cobbled alleyways and steps until we reached the carpark just below the castle that we had visited by car a few days before – phew.

Bosa town from Ponte Vecchio

Bosa town from Ponte Vecchio

We met up again as planned after treating ourselves to icecreams. We took the dinghy back to the boat and Jessica and Mark headed back by land, after visiting an eighteenth century house.

The town is lovely, all the houses painted in bright pastels as seems to be common in Sardinia. The riverside buildings are old warehouses now converted into residences and cafés etc.

On Friday (the weather still looking rather stormy) Brian and I headed off to the big supermarket not far away, while Jessica and Mark headed for the beach just around the corner on the north side of the estuary. They found a secluded spot and had a swim too. In the afternoon we headed off on our own in the dinghy for a mile or two up river to see if there were any birds – there weren’t apart from egrets and kingfishers, but it was a lovely spot.

By Saturday all was calming down and we cast off from Bosa, sailing down wind again but in much calmer seas, managing to goosewing some of the way. The buoys just off the ruins at Tharros were still there and we managed to tie up to one – more learning opportunities – using our usual technique of me going to the front of the boat in the dinghy to grab the buoy and then thread a mooring line through it. It all worked out fine even though it was a bit breezy.

Tharros from Alixora moored to a buoy

Tharros from Alixora moored to a buoy

Then it got even more breezy from the east, meaning that the fetch across Oristano Bay made it rather choppy! Jessica had a bad night and both were grateful to be put ashore the next morning to explore the ruins. However it turned out to be the hottest day of their holiday and very hot among the rocks and they had to retreat to a restaurant for lunch and recovery.

Meanwhile I swam and Brian got into the dinghy and we both cleaned barnacles and coralworm and green slime from the waterline – again! It was cooler on the boat it appeared, and we enjoyed an afternoon sunbathing.

Jessica and Mark reappeared, Brian collected them from shore and they completed their recovery by swimming in calmer seas – lovely.

The weather forecast for Wednesday was looking very bad – high winds and rain – so we decided to head off early on Monday (7am) and seek shelter with hopefully a day doing a little sail training again on Tuesday instead of passage making.

We had a great motor sail down the dramatic coast and made good time, so were able to phone ahead and book a place in Carloforte, Sifredi marina which had good reviews in the Cruising Association notes.

Carloforte is an island on the southwest tip of Sardinia. There is just the one town, with a very pretty harbourside row of smart houses and cobbled alleyways behind which we explored later.

Carloforte Harbour

Carloforte Harbour

We arrived in good time and found excellent facilities – combined shower, toilet and basin cubicles which we all prefer – and loads of hot water. A washing machine and dryer complete the benefits of this place.

The woman in the marina office explained that there was a good service linking the frequent ferries from Carloforte to the mainland and then a minibus direct to Cagliari airport where Jessica and Mark were booked to fly from on Friday. The approaching storm meant we were stuck here, so that was really good news for our visitors.

Brian and I found a good bar for our people watching while Jessica and Mark explored the town. We finished off the chilli that had been a staple for a few days, with hot bread from the pizzeria/bar we patronised – excellent.

Tuesday we did manage to go out for a sail – but the wind was a bit stronger than anticipated and the crew didn’t seem to want to do much tacking practise – we were on a good course for Algiers much of the time! But they enjoyed the speed and the sailing. Regretfully we turned away from Algiers to get the wind behind us for lunch (a lot smoother ride) and then returned to our berth in Carloforte where we went out for a meal at a new pizzeria which was very good.

The next day the storm started – strong winds and rain in a cyclone that is unusual here. We went off in search of a hire car – finally finding a small shop where the owner offered us an old banger for a couple of days – no paperwork and cash in hand! We took it and Brian and I went off to find the famous Eleanora Falcon nesting site – they have their young at the end of August and they are flying by early October ready for their trip south to Madagascar a month later!

There might be a black falcon there somewhere!

There might be a black falcon there somewhere!

We found the site and found the falcons soaring around the unique rocks that attract them here. The falcons lay their eggs in holes in the rock – and the rocks here are full of holes! Amazing geology as well as the birds. The Italian version of the RSPB, supported by the English one, has put up lots of information boards on the process. We started back for a late lunch and the old banger burst a tyre! Oh no – in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately an Italian couple (also tourists) stopped and took us back to town. The rent a wreck owner was still there and told us to return at 4pm which we did. He gave us another old banger which was in better condition and we headed back to the nesting site a bit further up the coast. It was extraordinarily windy but the falcons were still flying and enjoying themselves. They threw themselves into steep dives then headed back into the wind and swooped right up again around the cliffs – incredible acrobatics.

Rocks with holes for Eleanora Falcon nests

Rocks with holes for Eleanora Falcon nests

That night and the following morning it poured with rain and carried on blowing a gale (40 knot gusts recorded). Jessica and Mark took the car, getting soaked before getting into it, but then the rain held off and they explored the same places we had – an amazing island.

That night we had a lovely meal out at the recommended tuna restaurant – and it didn’t rain on the way!

Friday dawned bright and sunny – just in time for our visitors to leave. What a shame, but we did manage to fit in a lot during their two weeks.

We are now planning to head for Sicily – probably leaving here on Tuesday. It will take 48 hours more or less and we will end up at our old favourite Marsala! Or anchor off the Egadi islands if the weather holds – but probably not. We will see.

We have to start planning where to spend the winter. It will probably be Sicily now that Tunisia is so difficult. But a big part of our decision is that we can get boat parts and other stuff easily in Italy using internet suppliers and mail order, whereas in Tunisia you can’t get anything through customs. Alixora needs a bit of attention and hopefully we will have better facilities here to do so.

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