We left the island of Favignana bright and early (6:45 a.m.) for our 33 hour passage across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the island of Sardegna (Sardinia). We had our perfect weather window to cross safely and be able to sail a decent amount of the passage. We sailed through the day and night and into the next day. The passage wasn’t too bad during the night. Most of the fishing vessels and cargo ships were pretty far away from us. Since there was barely a sliver of a moon which did not rise until almost dawn, we had a spectacular view of the stars, the Milky Way, and Starlink. If you haven’t seen Starlink in the sky, it’s quite crazy. It appears as a long line of large, bright dots streaking across the sky. Thanks to favorable winds, and motor sailing when they died, we managed to average 6.1 knots of speed and arrived on the southern coast of Sardegna earlier than expected. The first few anchorages we checked out were packed with boats! Ugh….no thanks. Eventually, we found a HUGE, wide open sandy bay with Turquoise blue water. Now we are talking! We were anchored down and ready for a nap by 2:30 p.m. (32 hours later).
After 2 relaxing days at anchor, it was time to start making our way north. Our goal was to cruise the western side of Sardegna. It is considered the more wild side of the island with far less boat traffic than the eastern side. Part of the reason for this is that the western side becomes very untenable unless you have just the right forecast of winds. We did! The prevailing winds here come from the northwest which is why the western side is very exposed. The winds for the next week were coming from the NE and SE. When we did get WNW winds, they were very light.
We departed the anchorage early again to make our way to Isola Di San Pietro and the city of Carloforte. We were offered a great marina price right in the heart of the city, so we eagerly accepted it. Carloforte is a popular resort tourist destination, and we arrived the day before Ferragosto (a national holiday in August in which many Italians take the entire month off). We wandered the beautiful streets and attempted to make a reservation for dinner. One highly rated restaurant had nothing for the next several days. We found another highly rated one which said they could get us in at 10:00 p.m. Seriously? I don’t eat dinner at 10:00….I’m getting ready for bed! Well, we decided we needed to try it since Carloforte is notorious for their tuna. Long story short, the food was tasty but overpriced, and the service was not very good. All in all, we were pretty disappointed given the cost of dinner and the lost night. The next night, we went to a very highly reviewed pizza place on the waterfront. They were able to squeeze us in at 7:00 (when they opened), and it was one of the best meals we’ve had (and 1/2 the price)! We spent both our afternoons here going for bike rides around the salt ponds and taking long walks. We even got to see the wild flamingoes that hang out in the salt ponds. We left relatively early once again since we had a 45 mile passage to our next point of interest.
Our next stop was Tharros, “The ancient city kissed by the sea.” As we made our way toward the anchorage, I noticed a shadow gliding beside the boat. It wasn’t long before we were greeted by a very large, solitary dolphin who decided to play in our bow spray and follow along beside us. After our brief encounter, he disappeared. We entered the bay and grabbed a mooring ball just beneath the watch tower. In the morning, we took the dinghy in to go explore the ancient ruins. We walked the ancient basalt roads that meandered above and along the sea. Tharros is said to be one of the most important cities founded by the Carthaginians in Sardegna in the 7th century BCE. Some centuries earlier, this area was settled because it was known for an abundance of natural resources, and the presence of a safe harbor offering protection from the strong Mistral winds (those NW winds I was telling you about). Because of this, it made for an ideal place to engage in trade and cultural exchanges with the rest of the Med. The ruins are scattered over a large stretch of the peninsula. Here you can see several thermal buildings, columns, several temples, a water reservoir, and sewage structures from ancient times. We also climbed to the top of the Spanish watch tower (added during the kingdom of Arregon) for some spectacular views. From there, we walked to the very end of the peninsula, did a little bushwhacking down to the sea and then back up to the old lighthouse before heading back to Zoe to get underway. We made a brief overnight stop in another large, wide open bay before making our way to the city of Bosa the following morning.
Bosa is a beautiful and colorful little town that lies along a river bank. At the mouth of the river, there is a wall that the Coast Guard allows you to tie up to for free for 24 hours. Since the anchorage looked pretty crowded, we opted for the free wall tie. The town itself was about a 30 minute walk, or you could take your dinghy up the river. Having never been there and unsure what the river navigation and tie up options were, we chose to do the walk (we needed the exercise anyway). Thankfully, they did an excellent job with sidewalks (meaning they actually had them!), so we had an easy walk to the town. As promised, it was a really special little town that ran along a wide riverbank. I was kicking myself later for not taking the dinghy with some wine and cheese for a sunset cruise up the river before tying up for a dinner along the river’s edge. It is definitely on my list for next time (as well as staying for more than one day). We stumbled upon a quaint little wine bar serving local wines. The owner/server explained to us that these were wines from his vineyard, so we happily tried a couple he recommended (glasses, not bottles….in case, you were worried). He also served us an amazing plate of locally produced meats and cheeses to enjoy with our wine. He was incredibly welcoming and seemed to enjoy the oddity of these Americans off the beaten path. Of course, we purchased two bottles to take back to the boat for future enjoyment. This was definitely one of my favorite stops in Sardegna.
From Bosa we headed to Alghero which is a rather good sized city on the island. Here we would be picking up our first guests of the season (Dan’s nephew Terry, and his fiance Fran). Our marina for the next two nights was right outside the castle walls. Sardegna definitely has some of the most amazing walled cities that we have seen on this trip. We enjoyed two nights exploring the town and enjoying the local cuisine. Dan ordered horse one night, much to my dismay. He said it was amazing! I refused to try it. Doesn’t matter if they are bred here for the sole purpose of consumption….I just cannot unsee that image. The next night, we had suckling pig (a specialty of the area). I know, I know! How on earth can you eat THAT? Maybe if I had owned a baby pig, I would not have been able to order it….but I haven’t, so I did. It was delish!
We set sail 2 days later (and yes! We actually got to sail) for an anchorage known as Porto Ferro. We chose a short 3 hour passage, since this was the first time our guests had been on a sailboat. We arrived in a big, beautiful bay with very few boats and dropped anchor. We explored a little bit of the the land and some very interesting ruins right above the beach. Since we wanted to show our guests as much of the island as we could in the one week they were with us, we were off and running the very next day. From here, we headed to a bay known for its turquoise blue waters (Della Pelosa). On our way, we had several dolphin sightings off in the distance. Prior to reaching the bay, we had to navigate through a very narrow and shallow channel surrounded by rock reefs. Here you had to keep a careful watch out and follow the navigation markers very closely. This is made more fun by the number of boats coming and going. While Dan drove, the 3 of us positioned ourselves at the front of the boat as spotters for any sort of trouble. Once through, we headed to the bay which was quite full of boats. The thing that stinks most about these bays this time of year is that they are packed with boats of every size and kind imaginable, but once the sun starts to drop, many of them leave creating lots of room (but we don’t come into anchorages at night, so we have to squeeze in where we can). We carefully picked a nice spot leaving ample space to others. You know how that goes, we were quickly surrounded by very large power boats. Then it go worse! A 90 foot mega yacht chose to anchor near his friend (one of our powerboat neighbors) leaving him only 20 meters away from us! They were close enough we could hear the pop of the champagne cork they were serving up. I was not a happy camper. We all watched anxiously every time they pivoted to make sure their stern deck and staircase (yes, they had a staircase into the water) didn’t bump us. Fortunately, they left before sunset, and the remainder of our night was uneventful.
We departed the next morning for the town of Castelsardo….another hilltop castle fortress. Here we had our first new experience of 6 years sailing in the med….fog. A dense, wet fog that enveloped us in invisibility. Well, isn’t that just great! If I thought night sailing was a little unsettling from a visibility perspective, this was far worse. Off in the distance, a deep horn sounded off…..a sign that something very large was out there hidden in the mist. Luckily, these big guys are on AIS which allows us to see them and track them on our screen. It also tells us how far away they are, what our closest point of interception will be and at what time. Fortunately, he was well behind us and would not cross our path. The down side of this set up is that not all private boats (including those most dreaded fishing boats) have AIS, so you are flying blind when it comes to them. For this we fired up our radar and hoped it worked well at marking them. As we were finally within sight of our destination, the sun managed to burn off the fog giving us clear sight into the bay. We were also treated to a pair of dolphins that surfaced and came and played in our bow spray. Once we were tied up, we rented a couple of scooters and headed up to the castle to check it out. It provided some spectacular views of the surrounding area, and housed a lot of very cool artifacts. We cruised around on the scooters and checked out some ruins from the Bronze Age as well as other views over the island and sea. This was definitely another favorite stop of mine, and I hope to return for a longer stay in the future.
Our next passage would be our longest one yet with our guests, over 40 miles. Dan and I were up before the sun to get underway. Watching the sun come up over the hilltop castle was quite beautiful. From here, we were headed to the famous Maddalena Islands. That can’t be crazy in August, right? La Maddalena is an archipelago and a National Park. The islands are all composed of red granite and have very little vegetation. All of the islands are surrounded by both above and below water rock outcroppings requiring very careful navigation. While they are a very spectacular sight, they can be disastrous to your boat. Well pulled into the very crowded anchorage of Cala Giorgio Marino (I know, you’re shocked it was crowded!). With boats coming and going at regular intervals, we actually lucked out and grabbed one of the two mooring balls still open. We spent a glorious day swimming despite the power yachts racing in and out of the anchorage creating 2 foot swells in the water. Terry and Fran took a couple of excursions on our kayak to some beautiful pink sand beaches to explore. There is a great deal of red coral in Sardegna which creates the beautiful pink sand beaches throughout the area. Unfortunately, most of these beaches/islands are forbidden to explore in order to reduce the impact and destruction of them.
Our last stop in the Maddalena’s was Cala Stagnali. This was a beautiful little bay with a very tricky entrance. The inlet is very narrow, surrounded by rock reefs, and gets very shallow quickly (2 meters….we draw 1.3) You have to line up with a series of markers to safely guide you into the bay. The best part of this bay is that there are very few boats. We easily found a nice spot in 2 meters of water and dropped anchor. Because of all the rock outcroppings, it made for great snorkeling. Later in the day, we headed in to explore the geological and maritime museums. From there, we headed off on foot to explore through beautiful pine forests and sandy beaches. This was another place that met my criteria for “must come back” (not crowded and great swimming/snorkeling). That night we had an extra treat when we saw the water sparkle with bioluminescent plankton. Dan and Terry jumped in the dark water and witnessed the magic of dancing lights with every motion as they swam.
We had now arrived at the end of our journey with Terry and Fran. We made our way to the city of Olbia where they would fly out later that day. We had also booked into a marina to ride out a very nasty storm on its way. Luckily Dan booked us early as many of the marinas were already full and could not take us. Unfortunately, the one that could take us was basically a floating pontoon that is only in place for summer. Not only did they jack up their rates for the storm, but there is no breakwater, and the pontoons are pitching around. As I finish up this tale, we are seeing 35 knot winds, gray skies, and impending rain (and this isn’t even the worst of the storm). I will let you know how we faired in our next blog post! Until then, wish us luck!