Category Archives: Italy 2017

Moving right along: Crossing the Tyrrhenian Sea and back and forth across the Mediterranean to Africa

Bizerte, Tunisia: Commercial center

We could not wait for a forecast of good winds to cross the Tyrrhenian Sea any longer, so we left from Ponza Island on August 6 with a forecast of light winds and seas. Except for 90 minutes of sailing, we motored the whole 34 hours across to the west side of Capo Carbonara, Sardinia. We rested there overnight and then caught a nice breeze for sailing into the Marina del Sole in Cagliari. We stayed at Marina del Sole twice last year when we came to Cagliari to arrange our residency permits. It is a bit rundown but very friendly and way cheaper than the alternatives. In fact, we have become quite fond of the place.

We needed to come to Cagliari to do our clearance out of Italy. This process involves a trip to the Costa Guardia, where a very friendly young officer helped us with our paperwork. Followed by a trip to the cruise ship pier where the Polizia Frontiera is located. We loaded up on provisions that were delivered to the boat by the Issa Supermarket, bought diesel motor oil, filled up our diesel tank, and purchased five new fenders with blue fender covers made with Italian cloth. These are not cheap. These replace our 13 year old fenders that were oozing rubbery goo on the topsides. We also ate lots of sushi and Asian food. As we discovered last year, there are more Asian buffet restaurants than all other types of restaurants combined in the marina area.

We spent only three days in Cagliari. An enormous cold front was forecast to push south from the continent bringing strong winds from the north. We wanted to sail, not motor, so we left Cagliari on August 11 heading for Bizerte, Tunisia. It was a great sail in building northerlies for the first few hours, but when we got south of the tip of Sardinia we hit an area of large and confused seas that rolled the boat more strongly than we have experienced before. That lasted a few hours until we had just regular large following seas and strong winds. We needed to jibe a number of times during the night. It was hard to sleep at night while off watch and while on watch there was lots of freighter/tanker traffic to watch for as we had to cross the sea lanes that lead to the eastern Med and the Suez Canal. We came into the new marina at Bizerte in the morning of August 12 in strong winds and were directed to tie side-to to a concrete dock. It was a bit hair-raising “parallel parking” Sabbatical III between two other boats in winds over 20 knots. Even worse, our brand new fenders with the Italian cloth covers were getting ground into a rough concrete wall once we were tied up. I quickly rearranged things so that the 4 old fenders that we kept “just in case” took the weight of the boat, and were smashed flat, so as to spare the new ones.

Capacitor in the air-conditioning pump melted in Cagliari. Lucky I had a spare and that a fire did not result. The cold front dropped temperatures from 109 degrees Fahrenheit to 82 degrees in Bizerte and we did not use AC at all.

 

Sign outside Bizerte Marina pictures the development as it was meant to be. It is still mostly vacant land with the shell of the hotel on the left.

Bizerte, Tunisia

Restaurant on a boat, Bizerte

Fish for sale in the souk, Bizerte

Animal products for sale in the souk, Bizerte

Tunisian Customs came aboard and did a thorough inspection, opening every cabinet in the boat. They were pleasant and professional. No baksheesh was requested or offered. The marina is part of a very large tourist development financed with Gulf money. Construction came to a halt with the start of the Arab Spring, and only the marina was mostly finished. The luxury hotel is just a shell of concrete and rebar. The Bizerte Marina, with only concrete docks, has room for 800 boats but there were only 30 or forty boats (mostly local) when we were there. It was a pleasant place. We had a watchman assigned to the 10 boats on our dock who came by 20 times a day to let us know that he was watching.

There is a very nice souk a few blocks away, and the best restaurant in town is at the edge of the marina. We only stayed three days. The primary purpose of our visit was to get the boat out of the EU before she was subject to a 20 percent value-added tax. We would have stayed a few days more but, starting on August 15, three days of winds from the east were forecast. This is exactly what we needed to sail to Mallorca, Spain. So off we went.

Small boats line the quay at Porto Colom, Mallorca (Spain)

It was a very fine two and one-half day sail to Mallorca. We sailed more than 60 percent of the time (the wind died out the last day), and the seas were surprisingly comfortable. We came into Porto Colom on the southeast coast of this large island. With the help of Ben and Irene, we had reserved a mooring ball (no anchoring permitted). That was necessary since this is August, peak season in the Balearic Islands, and there are tourists and boats everywhere. Without a reservation, we would have been turned away. From the mooring in Porto Colom, it was a one minute dinghy ride to the main street where there was an upscale gastronomia/grocery store. The small town also had a number of restaurants, a self-service laundry, a bigger supermarket, a fruit and vegetable store, and a bus to Palma, the capital. After resting for as day, we went to Palma in a taxi that we shared with an Italian couple going to the ferry terminal. As it was, the Frontier Police are also at the ferry dock. The policeman was quite annoyed that we showed up on a Saturday morning but he quickly filled out a form, stamped it a few times, and Sabbatical III and us were now legally in Spain. Our 18 month clock for the value-added tax now went back to time zero. It was mid-morning and we were finished with our check-in so we wandered over to the Palma de Mallorca Yacht Club where an international classic yacht regatta was on hold for a few hours waiting for the winds to diminish. The classic wooden yachts were beautiful and each had lots of crew. We wandered around the old city (town population is 400,000) and found it charming. After a late tapas lunch, we took the bus back to Porto Colom. We stayed five nights in Porto Colom and thoroughly enjoyed the place.

Classic yachts at the Palma de Mallorca Yacht Club

Laura in Palma de Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca

In the old Jewish quarter, Palma de Mallorca

Boats and boat garages, Porto Colom

“No Urinating” sign in Palma

We are now anchored off of Plaja Es Trench, perhaps the most famous beach on Mallorca. Lots a boats here but most run off to marinas at dusk. The weather has been hot and sunny during the day but quite cool in the evening. More on Mallorca later.

M.

Selfie, Porto Colom

Fishing boat ready to go to sea, Porto Colom

View from Plaja Es Trench towards the anchorage, Mallorca

Waiting for weather in Ponza

We spent three week in Ponza waiting for sailing weather to cross the Tyrrhenian Sea back to Sardinia.  It was super hot the last week and there were lots of tourists on the island, but still a beautiful place to spend 3 weeks.  Here are some photos:

Looking south along the east coast of Ponza Island

Cala Chiaia di Luna, Ponza

Ponza Town

 

Ponza

 

Boats at anchor, Ponza

Mark at Ponza

Cala Chiaia di Luna, Ponza

Farm at Piano D’Incenso

Ponza Island

Sunset, Ponza

Piano D’Incenso, Ponza

Lighthouse at southern end of Ponza

This cute young guy and his girlfriend went around the island selling ice cream bars to the boats at anchor. Whenever we got his attention, we got two Magnum Classic bars. He got to know us well.

Ponza town and harbor. We anchored mostly at Cala D’Inferno except we were chased around the island twice by wind shifts.

We are now in Tunisia.  We will try to get the blog up to date soon.

M. and L.

 

Ventotene and Ischia Islands

 

View of the chapel at the top of the Aragonese Castle (Ischia)

Ventotone, Italy : July 5th to July 10th, 2017

After leaving the town of Gaeta, on the mainland, we sailed 23 nm to the nearby island of Ventotone. Ventotone is one of the Pontine Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. According to Wikipedia, the island is the remains of an ancient volcano. It is only 3 kilometers long and 800 meters at its widest. Despite its small size, and rather dry and rocky terrain, it is a magnificent place, and a very popular destination for tourists, including many fishermen and yachties. The anchorage is very open, sitting along the east side of the island, without any real indentation to afford shelter to boats. We were not sure we would be able to stay long, as that kind of anchorage tends to get very rolly. Luckily for us we had five days with very light winds, and all coming primarily from the west. This made the anchorage smooth and comfortable.

Ventotene is as far north as New York City. There is an ancient port at the base of the town that was carved out of the soft limestone by the Romans. It is very small with almost no turning room for any boats that venture in. It was absolutely jam-packed with fishing boats when we arrived. We had arrived just in time for their annual “Big Fish Competition”. For two or three days the fishermen competed, all leaving the harbor (and motoring right by our boat in the anchorage) in the morning and then racing in just before sunset. We counted at least 60 boats, but there could easily have been more. It was fun to see and we were sorry that we never got to see any of their catch, except one rather large Big Eye Tuna.

The small ancient Roman harbor in Ventotene

We arrived on the island of Ventotene just in time for the “Big Fish Tournament”

The water was clear and warm and we had some lovely swims off the boat. The bottom had some sand, but was primarily huge slabs of rock that looked as if they had been carved by hand and then somehow dumped there. Perhaps the rock that the Roman’s excavated to construct the harbor?

Besides the beautiful clear water for swimming there were places to walk, all with outstanding views of the sea and the nearby islands. The island closest to Ventotene is San Stefano, famous for its prison camp that was created under the orders of Mussolini. The prison is no longer used, but still stands atop the island, looking very bleak and forbidding. Beyond that (another 20 nm to the west) is the island of Ischia which was also visible.

We ran into some sailing friends as we headed to town for dinner one night. Dan Culpepper is an American sailor whom we had just met the week before at our 4th of July party in Gaeta. He was with his sister (Laurie) and the two of them were just stopping off in Ventotene on their way west. We had a lovely dinner with them at “La Terraza di Mimi”, a restaurant with beautiful views over the ocean and the nearby islands. It was a full moon that night (July 9th), and we had unbelievable views of the huge moon rising right over the horizon.

View of full moon rising across from our dinner table at “La Terraza di Mimi” (Ventotene).  The Mussolini era prison for political prisoners is visible in the photo.

Laura’s birthday dinner in Ventotene

The strange thing about Ventotene was that during the day the anchorage was really filled with boats… dozens and dozens of them, but by evening, nearly every boat picked up anchor and left. We never could figure out where they were going and why they would be leaving at that time of night. The motor-boats could probably return to the mainland easy enough, but for the sailboats it was a 4 or 5 hour sail. So why not just stay put for the night? There was a marina at Ventotene in addition to the ancient port, but with rates of at least $100 a night, it is hard to understand why they would go there rather than stay in the comfortable free anchorage.

 

Ischia, Italy (July 10th to July 16th)

After five days in Ventotene the winds started coming up from the north and the east which meant we had to leave to seek safe anchorage elsewhere. We sailed to Ischia, another volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The eastern side of Ischia is only about 20 nm from Naples on the mainland, and 13 nm from the more famous island of Capri. As we sailed across the northern edge of Ischia we were amazed to see how green and forested and mountainous it was. Most of the islands we have been to in the Med are beautiful, but very dry and definitely not green. Ischia may not be as well-known as Capri, but some consider it to be more beautiful. I guess we will never know as Capri is an extraordinarily expensive island to bring your boat to and we decided not to go. There is little to no space for anchoring in Capri and so you are forced to go to a marina. Some friends of ours said that they were charged $350 a night and then in the middle of the night the marina cut off their electricity because they said they had not paid enough to keep it running all night!

Delicious seafood pasta at Ristorante Da Bellezza in Ischia

Ischia is famous for their lemons

On Ischia, however, there is more than enough room to anchor for many boats with good protection from most wind directions. There is also a large marina in the main harbor which is very popular.

We chose to anchor behind the Aragonese castle, last rebuilt in the 1500’s, which is on a small steep, rocky island connected by a causeway to Ischia, and is the most highly visible landmark around. This little islet and causeway makes for two excellent areas for anchoring, one north and one south of the causeway. Since the winds change so often around here, this was a very useful feature and we ended up spending half our time anchored north of the castle, and half south, depending on wind direction. The views of the castle are very beautiful both by day and night. The water is also very clean and clear, although the bottom is very grassy on the northern side which makes for somewhat uncertain holding. You can also tour the castle and it was well worth the visit. Besides the interesting architecture of the castle there are amazing views all around, extending to the mainland, Capri and even Pompeii.

View of the Aragonese Castle in golden light (Ischia)

View of the Aragonese Castle overlooking the anchorage in Ischia

Ischia is a very popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the mainland and there are hundreds of shops lining the main roads, with several long blocks restricted to pedestrian access only. There is a constant stream of ferries to and from multiple locations on the island. There is a very convenient bus service that takes you to the main port in Ischia town from which you can catch other buses that go all around the island. There were docks that we could tie our dinghy up to which made going into town very simple. We found an amazing restaurant about halfway between the castle and the port area, called Ristorante Da Bellezza. It was just perfect, a family run place with grandma cooking in the kitchen while her daughter served and her grandsons sat on the terrace, fishing. One day, as we sat on the terrace of the restaurant we looked across to Pompeii and saw thick smoke in the air. It looked as if the volcano was erupting. It turned out that forest fires were raging across the area, as well as up and down the whole coast of southern Italy. For a few days there was haze in the air and it looked as if the fires were causing a great deal of damage. They were certainly affecting the tourists who might have planned to go see Pompeii or visit Naples at that time.

 

Smoke from the forest fires on the mainland by Pompeii…. With Mt. Vesuvius just to the left

The forest fires also affected our plans to continue south to Calabria and then cross over to northern and western Sicily. Sometime ago we had even booked a marina for 6 days in Tropea in Calabria. The risk of smoke from fires made it seem unwise to continue south along the Italian mainland. Friends sailing in Sicily reported dense smoke and evacuations. The marina was nice enough to cancel our reservation and we are now looking to cross the Tyrrhenian Sea and return to Sardinia, where there are no reports of forest fires.

One day we took a local bus which brought us all around the island. We got off about halfway around and checked out the anchorage in the south (S. Angelo). We had thought of moving our boat down there if the winds turned easterly, but we did not like what we saw. It did not seem like a very well protected anchorage, except from northerly winds. The town itself was modern and architecturally uninteresting and just way too touristy for our tastes, but we did manage to have a good lunch at a place with stupendous views of the ocean. The bus ride back to town was hair-raising. The road up from S. Angelo zig-zags steeply up a mountain and then back down again. Our bus was a full sized city bus and the roads were two-way. When another bus came around a corner from the other direction there simply was no room for the two to pass. The two drivers would play chicken a bit, and then one would have to back up until a slight clearing could be found. To make matters worse there were lots of cars squeezed along the sides of the road, making it even more difficult to find a clearance. After one particularly difficult back-up maneuver everyone on our bus started applauding the driver. Sometimes a big tour bus would appear, which was even bigger than the city buses and then it was really something to make room for passing. It was such a crazy ride. I don’t know how the drivers can do it all summer long.

After seeing the whole island we decided that the most beautiful part was right where we were anchored, under the castle.

Courtyard in the Aragonese Castle (Ischia)

View from the top of the Aragonese Castle (Ischia)

View from the top of the Aragonese Castle (Ischia)

View of Capri and cruise ship in the smoky air due to forest fires

View from the top of the Aragonese Castle (Ischia)

Courtyard in the Aragonese Castle (Ischia)

View of the sea near San Angelo on southern coast of Ischia

On our last Saturday the entire anchorage was jammed with boats. We had really not seen so many boats anywhere up until this point. I guess mid-July is the beginning of the absolute busiest month here. Strangely enough though, by evening at least half of the boats disappeared again.

With winds forecast to come up strongly out of the northeast for the early morning hours of the 16th, we decided it was time to move again as neither the northern or southern anchorages we had been in would have been tenable. This time it was a very easy move… just 2 km away to the neighboring island of Procida. The anchorage was perfect for the conditions and we had a comfortable night there. When we pulled into the anchorage, just before dark, there were only 3 sailboats there. During the night we could hear the noise of marine diesels and anchor chains on windlass. Apparently, other sailors were not sufficiently attentive to the weather reports and got caught in the wrong anchorage when the wind shifted. When got up in the morning we were surrounded by 12 boats! That’s the first time we have seen such a dramatic change overnight.

L.

View of the Aragonese Castle as we leave Ischia

 

Gaeta

Base Nautica Flavio Gioia Marina, Gaeta

We left Gaeta, Italy on July 5th, after spending 19 days (June 16th to July 5th) at the “Base Nautica Flavio Gioia” Marina. It was both a wonderful town and a terrific marina. We had left our anchorage in Ponza on the morning of the 16th because we were concerned about a significant easterly storm that was predicted. The anchorage at Ponza is totally unprotected from the east and good protected anchorages are few and far between around here. We also needed to get to a marina so that we could start the process of ordering and installing a replacement halyard for our destroyed main halyard. The marina in Gaeta promised very good protection from the east (and all other directions). However, when we arrived we were directed to one of the two seasonal floating docks that are set up just in summer (when easterly storms are supposed to be finished). The seasonal docks are not protected by a seawall (breakwater) but are open to the east. All of the berths behind the seawall were occupied. We were extra careful in how we tied the boat up knowing that she might get knocked about for a few hours. We moved the boat far from the dock using double bow mooring lines, and then backed down hard with the motor so that our stern dock lines would reach the steel bollards on the dock. The easterly storm was predicted to be short –two or three hours of strong wind – not long enough to kick up a large surge. The prediction was wrong. Once the wind came up after 2 am early Sunday morning the wind howled for 12 hours and the wind generated surge made Sabbatical III bounce up and down so hard that it was impossible for us to put down our passerelle in order to get off the boat, and extremely uncomfortable onboard. We, along with the other boats on our dock were getting bounced up and down quite violently (and all of the boats were much bigger than ours) and we were afraid that our dock lines, or those of our neighbors would snap. The surge would push Sabbatical III violently towards the dock, making the dock lines sag, and then pull it violently away, making the dock lines snap against the steel bollards to which they were tied. The whole boat would shutter from the jolt. Just watching the enormous forces making the dock lines sag and snap back every 10 seconds made us wonder how much abuse they could take. If one or both snapped, Sabbatical III would likely come hard against a concrete dock or our neighbor.

View of Cathedral, Gaeta

It was such a strange experience because just thirty meters away from our dock the marina has a lovely bar and garden area (on solid land, not on a dock) and there were a few dozen people there, sunbathing, drinking, and having a lovely afternoon while we were getting battered around on the boat. By evening, however, the winds died down. Mark inspected our dock lines and one had frayed to the point that it would probably not have lasted another hour. (See photo of our dockline after the storm). The neighboring boat’s lines were in even worse shape. The marina said that they had never experienced a worse late season storm in their 50 years of operation. We had to replace our dock lines the next day as they were nearly chewed through. We were relieved to see that our neighbors did the same thing as their lines were also frayed to the core.

Frayed dockline of Sabbatical III

After the storm, we really enjoyed everything about both the marina and the town. There is a very helpful and friendly American born woman who works for the marina (Jayne Koehler). She was of great assistance to us in arranging things, particularly in finding a good rigger to help us replace our snapped mainsail halyard. Within a few days of our arrival Luigi (the rigger) arrived at our boat along with Jayne (to help with any translation problems). Luigi’s English was great, however, and Mark ordered new halyards for both the mainsail and the genoa. We then had a couple of weeks to wait for them to arrive and for Luigi to make time in his schedule to do the work.

We were also thrilled to learn through Jayne that we could get our propane cooking tanks filled in Gaeta. We had not been able to fill our tanks anywhere in Italy and had two completely empty propane tanks onboard, plus one with an unknown amount in it. We were afraid to use it up and had been relying on a cheap plug in electric burner for our limited cooking (good excuse for eating at restaurants all the time). Jayne even drove us and the tanks over to the station to get the tanks filled. Gaeta is probably one of the only places in Italy that can (and will) refill US propane tanks. This is because it was long the home port of the US 6th Fleet and was home to 4000 US Navy personnel. The US Navy personnel in Gaeta came with their BBQs and other propane appliances and the town’s propane supplier acquired the hardware to service them. The US Navy is mostly gone now (shifted to Naples), although the flagship of the Sixth Fleet is still homeported in Gaeta.

View of fort, Gaeta

The marina is run by a brother and sister (Luca and Anna) who are super welcoming and friendly. On our second night in Gaeta we were excited to learn that Rod Heikell and his partner Lucinda were passing through the area and would be staying at the marina. Rod and Lucinda (Lu) are extremely famous among cruisers as they have written “the” cruising guides/ pilot books for all of the countries in the Med. Rod has been cruising the waters of Turkey, Greece, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal (others?) for nearly 40 years and everyone uses the Heikell books as reference. If sailors in the Med wanted to tell sailing friends where they were anchored recently, they might say “the place on page 354 of Heikell” or something of the sort. We were invited to an informal sundowner party at the marina to meet Rod and Lu. It was a lot of fun and we found them both to be very low-key, fun people.

View of Gaeta fortress when entering from the Tyrrhenian Sea

The marina is situated nicely with easy access to strollable seaside quays that stretch both north and south for miles. We found one great seafood restaurant one kilometer north of the marina (Comeilmare) and another, more upscale restaurant about 2 km south (La Salute), so we always had a great destination point for our evening walks. If we wanted a closer-by cheap place to eat, there was the Pizzeria Rustica just across the street. The line often goes out the door but it goes quickly as all of the pizza is pre-made. There are at least a dozen varieties and the men behind the counter cut off any size hunk of as many pizza varieties as you want and pile onto a paper tray. One pays by weight. Cheap and delicious.

Just a block away from the marina there is Via del Independenza which is an absolutely charming old street with numerous fruit and vegetable shops, bakeries, butchers, and other useful shops. The nearest fruiteria was owned and run by Victoria (see photo) and her family. It is not really a store, just a little alleyway under a stone archway with crates of fresh fruits and vegies. Daily shopping expeditions were really fun. The town is also well known for its amazing fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, which has become one of my favorite things in the world (add perfect Italian tomatoes, a touch of basil and a drop of olive oil). There is also a medieval part of town, just a fifteen minute walk away which has a huge fort and a very picturesque church, in addition to lots and lots of cute restaurants.

Victoria, the fruit seller, pitting cherries for jam

Wedding anniversary dinner at La Salute

Gaeta also has a gorgeous beach that we enjoyed a few times during our stay. It’s a fifteen minute walk from the marina. The beach is at least a mile long with beautiful sand and dozens of beach clubs where everyone rents an umbrella and chairs. We estimated that there must have been more than 1,000 umbrellas on the beach!

July 4th celebration at the marina

Gaeta is a great place to while away a few weeks. In addition to being a delightful town in its own right, it is located about half-way between Rome and Pompeii and it is relatively easy and quick to take a train to both places (which we of course did). The trip to Pompeii involved switching trains in Naples which was kind of a shock to us….we have not been in a big Italian city for a long time, and we felt a bit like country bumpkins as we worked our way through the huge crowds at the Naples train station. We were re-directed incorrectly at least 3 times by various officials at the train station as we tried to find the train to Pompeii. We finally gave up and bought new tickets on what was clearly the most direct and most popular train there. We planned our trip to Pompeii so that we would arrive a little bit late in the day and thereby hopefully miss the big tourist crowds. It was still pretty crowded when we started our tour there (self-guided using Rick Stieve’s app) and super hot. By 5:00 p.m. though the crowds thinned out a bit, the temperatures cooled and we enjoyed wandering about the ancient ruins for another few hours. It was amazing how many Americans were there.

Great Synagogue, Rome

Taking the train to Rome was a piece of cake by comparison. There is a terrific bus pass that we bought in Gaeta (the B.I.R.G. pass for 14 euros) which covered all the costs of the bus from Gaeta to the train station in nearby Formia, the train to and from Rome, plus any buses or trams or trains we wanted to take within Rome itself. Trains run pretty much every hour between Formia and Rome, and the trip is roughly an hour and a half long. We spent a busy day in Rome with lots of time at the Jewish museum and beautiful old synagogue, plus a visit to the Pantheon, and several of the famous piazzas. Lots of tourists of course. It was a lot of fun and we were exhausted when we got back to the boat about midnight.

After two weeks in Gaeta the riggers were ready with our new halyards. Luigi and his co-worker spent a full 2.5 hours on the boat, with most of the time spent at the top of the mast. We do nearly all of our boat repairs ourselves, but this was one time when we were more than happy to pay someone else to do the hard work. We plan to replace the rest of the halyards on the boat (we have 7 in all), but that is a job that we can do ourselves at our leisure.

We met another American couple on a sailboat while in Gaeta (Robert and Christina from S/V Quest) and had a few social evenings with them and Jayne. Jayne even managed to arrange a 4th of July party which was attended by about 25 sailors, about half of them Americans. Lots of pizza from Pizzeria Rustica (the best pizza ever), lots of wine and beer, and even sparklers.
It was tempting to just stay on in Gaeta and would recommend it highly as a destination to both cruisers and tourists. We even met an American couple who used to sail, but when they got too old they sold their boat and now live in Gaeta full time, renting an apartment in the old part of town.

L.

 

Isola Ponza

Ponza town and harbor

It’s been four weeks now since we left Carloforte, Sardinia. We are currently at “Base Nautica Flavio Gioia”, a lovely little marina in the small city of Gaeta on the west coast of mainland Italy, about halfway between Rome and Naples. The town is quite a bit bigger than Carloforte, roughly 20,000 residents as opposed to Carloforte’s 5,000, but it is still small and charming and we are enjoying it so much that we have delayed our departure.

We left Carloforte on June 3 to anchor at the southern end of Isola San Pietro, the island where Carloforte is located. The next day (June 4) we sailed east along the southern part of Sardinia, and met up with our sailing friends Hajo and Julia from S/V Serafine, another Amel Super Maramu, in Porto Pino, one of our favorite anchorages in Sardinia. Porto Pino is great, but can be very uncomfortable if there is any swell coming from the south or southeast. After we arrived we had enough time there to enjoy a beautiful walk along the white sand beach with our friends, and to have dinner at a great seafood restaurant that we had enjoyed many times in the previous year, the Blue Marlin. Unfortunately, on our second night there, a very strong swell came into the anchorage just after sunset and after rocking and rolling uncomfortably at anchor all night, we decided we had to move on.

Our next destination (on June 6) on our trip east was the anchorage at Porto Giunco on the east side of Capo Carbonara, just at the most southeastern tip of Sardinia. We had a hitchhiker with us for the short (55 nm) trip… a fit Sicilian man named Salvatore. Salvatore is an interesting guy who likes to spend his vacations ocean kayaking in various places around Italy as well as traveling extensively around the world. He needed to get back to work in Palermo in a few days but was unwilling to paddle into the large swells that had suddenly arrived in southwestern Sardinia. Nor could he wait them out if he was going to get his kayak back to the ferry in Cagliari in time. So he paddled up to us and asked if we could tow his kayak (loaded with lots of very well packed supplies) and bring him onboard for the day’s trip. Once we moved away from the southwest corner of Sardinia the swells became less pronounced and we mixed sailing and motoring for the trip of about 10 hours. As soon as we dropped anchor in pretty Porto Giunco, Salvatore hopped off into his kayak and paddled off.

Salvatore in his ocean kayak

Salvatore paddles away from Sabbatical III in Porto Giunco

The next day we did our first big crossing of the year. A 200 nm sail across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Isola Ponza, a small island just off mainland Italy. 200 nautical miles is not a particularly long sail for us, but it was the first overnight sail of the season which is always a little anxiety producing, at least for me (L.). We also were aware that the Tyrrhennian Sea has a reputation for being rough so we were trying to cross with good conditions. The weather forecast looked perfect, with strong winds forecast, but from the right direction to get us where we wanted to go in a hurry. Winds were supposed to be moving around quite a bit, but were predicted to be coming primarily from the northwest, and we were headed northeast, which should have been perfect. The first several hours of the passage were great…. perfect wind and comfortable seas as the island of Sardinia blocked the potential swell for many hours. After an afternoon lull in the winds where we motored along comfortably with flat seas, a big, uncomfortable swell started building from the north, and the winds started picking up on the nose. Just before sunset, the winds finally switched around enough that we could set our sails again. Just after pulling out the mainsail, we heard a loud noise, and saw that the main halyard had snapped, and our mainsail was stuck while sliding down the mast. Mark had to go up on the deck and wrestle down the sail. It ordinarily would not have been too bad except that the boat rolled badly from side to side from the steep seas. Mark had to hang on tightly with one hand while trying to gather up the sail with the other, and got quite seasick working on deck. He had to cut away the various lashings of the sail since untying them was impossible with the roll. We managed to get the sail off (dry) and dragged the whole bulky mess down below and stuffed it into the forward cabin. Fortunately, Sabbatical III is a ketch so we could continue sailing with just the jib and mizzen. It was a long, uncomfortable night with very large seas and wind over 30 knots plus the added distraction of a continuous loud clanging sound as the now loose main sail furler (roller) constantly banged inside the mast. It was a pretty unnerving sound, but there was nothing to be done until morning. By mid-day (June 8) we had reached our anchorage in Ponza, and still rattling and clanging away, we dropped our anchor. Within an hour Mark had used the spinnaker halyard to rig up some spare lines inside the mast just to stop the clanging. After a few hours of sleep we were ready to start enjoying our time in Ponza.

The mainsail fills the forward cabin (tan cloth is the UV protection on the trailing edge of the sail)

Ponza turned out to be a delightful island. The town is small and cute, packed with all the things we love about Italy… great fruit and vegetable stands, wonderful coffee shops, good restaurants, nice walks, clean water for swimming and a pretty and quiet anchorage protected from swell from the west and north. We happened to arrive just at the beginning of the ten day long celebration in honor of the patron saint of the island, San Silverio. The celebrations began at midnight on the first day where there was a huge fireworks display, followed by a colorful flotilla of brightly lit boats bringing artifacts to the church located above the anchorage. There was also apparently a procession of townspeople to the church, but we could not see that from where our boat was sitting. Each day at noon, they set off a few fireworks and there were some religious activities going on in the churches as well. The town was decorated with lights and processions led by priests went through the streets.

Laura enjoys cappuccino and pastry in Ponza after rough passage across the Tyrrhenian Sea

Man sleeps on the sea wall during a warm afternoon (Ponza)

Small boats at Cala Feola, Ponza Island. We took the bus to this beach and had a great lunch.

Lunch at Cala Feola, Ponza

Restaurants are very expensive in Ponza but we found a terrific gastronomia that prepared some of the best food we have had in Italy. We went four times and brought home wonderful food for dinner…. veal, lamb, chicken, potatoes and other perfectly marinated and roasted delights. It was a whole lot cheaper than eating at the restaurants and a lot of fun. During the week the main harbor was pretty empty, but on the weekend, all of the docks were jam packed with visiting yachts. We did not stay in the main harbor, but in the adjacent anchorage (in front of Frontone Beach) which was convenient and perfect for swimming. There were quite a lot of boats in our anchorage as well, but everyone anchored well and at safe distances from each other. I wonder if it is the same thing in July and August when there are three times as many boats? I guess we will see.

Ponza streets decorated with lights in honor of San Silverio, the patron saint

Beach at Cala Feola

Sign to the beach (Ponza)

Religious procession in honor of San Silverio (Ponza)

Religious service on the street in honor of San Silverio (Ponza)

Statue carried in the religious procession in honor of San Silverio (Ponza)

We sailed over to the nearby island of Palmarola (June 13) as someone had told us that we had to go there to see a spectacular sunset. We found the anchoring there to be a bit iffy, as the bottom is just rock with small areas of hard sand. Our anchor was jammed under a rock, rather than being dug into the sand. We normally would not stay in an anchorage like that, but the wind forecast was light enough and there were so few other boats around that we decided to stay. It was a gorgeous place and we had a great swim and enjoyed the sunset. The next afternoon it started to get rolly so we headed back to Ponza where there was more protection from the swell.

Cliffs at Isola Palmarola (near Ponza)

Mark closely watches the weather forecasts and he could see that a big easterly was brewing for the coming weekend, and the anchorages in Ponza are totally unprotected from that direction. On Friday, June 16th we left Ponza and sailed to Gaeta (about 35 nm). Since there are no anchorages with protection from the east in this part of Italy, we thought it would be better to be at a marina. Plus we needed to get a new halyard. That easterly turned out to be an unusually late and powerful winter storm and Sabbatical III came close to suffering serious damage even while berthed in a marina. More on that later.

L.

Hauling out in Carloforte

Giuseppe Sifredi runs the crane at the Sifredi Boatyard

[Note for email subscribers to our blog.  Your experience may be enhanced by viewing the blog on our web site by clicking here:   http://sabbatical3.net/blog/?p=7193 .  Video posted on the blog has not worked for email programs.  It works best on the blog web site.]

In our last posting, we were still uncertain about our visa status in Italy because we had been asked for a new form proving that we are officially residents of Carloforte.  As far as Carloforte is concerned, if you live on a boat in the marina you are not a “resident.”  So it was impossible for us to provide the required form. That has all been resolved thanks to a friend who “knows a guy” and made a telephone call on our behalf and explained our situation.  After 3 weeks we received a message from the Questura (immigration police) asking us to return to Cagliari.  There we were presented with cards granting us two years of elective residence in Italy.

Also, in our last blog posting, we had been waiting for Sabbatical III to get hauled and have her bottom painted.  Our time finally arrived and on Thursday, May 25 we made our way to the Sifredi boatyard to get hauled.  We knew exactly what was required of us for the haul because the week before we were on hand to watch Serafine, an identical boat to ours (an Amel Super Maramu) get hauled.  There is very little water depth and room in the place of our haul.  Giuseppe Sifredi had me steer a slow zig-zag course in the unmarked “channel” and turn sideways with a very strong dose of the bowthruster, with a dock at my stern and a power boat just a few feet off my bow.  The depth sounder showed that we were touching bottom.  The backstay of the main mast was slacked and the crane leaned over and Giuseppe and his assistants attached four large shackles to the chain plates of Sabbatical III.  Boatyard workers held on with lines to keep the boat from swaying uncontrollably in the wind as Aldo Sifredi, Guiseppe’s father, slowly lifted Sabbatical III out of the water with a 90 metric ton crane and then turned and squeezed her into a small space next to the work shed.

Squeezed in and touching bottom, Sabbatical III waits to be hauled

Giuseppe Sifredi and worker prepare the boat

Out of the water

Guiding her down

Marine growth

Prop is covered with growth

Laura and Julia (of Serafine) watch the action

The bottom was covered in marine growth as was the prop. Plus there was a gash in the keel from my unfortunate interaction with an underwater and unmarked rock off of Lavezzi Island, Corsica last fall. The boatyard workers went right to work scraping the bottom and then power washing. Laura and I were able to sleep on the boat which had great views towards both the straits separating Carloforte from Sardinia (looking forward) and the salt pond (saline) looking aft. There is also a nice bathroom with shower in the yard so we were reasonably comfortable.

View across the salt pond to the Sifredi Boatyard with its crane holding Sabbatical III

The next day they started painting the hull with the Joton Nonstop ablative paint that I had ordered. I had a worrisome repair task that I had just became aware of the week before. I had checked the rudder stock and quadrant as I always do every Spring but this time I found evidence that sea water was coming up the rudder packing into the aft section of the boat and had made the steel quadrant rusty. The quadrant turns the rudder in response to turning the wheel. The rudder compartment was dry when I looked but water must have been pushed up past the rudder packing while sailing in large seas in the previous season. Hajo (Hans Joachim) of Serafine came over to help and together we set to work on the rudder. We needed to get the quadrant off of the rudder but it was rusted in place. We were able to borrow a mechanical puller and even with generous applications of PBBlaster, it took a lot of force to finally get the quadrant off of the rudder post. After wire brushing and painting, it looks like new. Instead of replacing the packing, we just tightened the packing nut that compresses it. So far no more water has entered, even after we had an extremely rough sail 10 days ago. (More on that in a subsequent blog post).

The famous headless flamingos of Carloforte

View across the salt pond to the town of Carloforte

Salt pond, Carloforte

Besides the usual maintenance tasks that need to be done when the boat is out of the water, we also needed to get our old washing machine off of the boat and the new one we had purchased (from Amazon Italy) on the boat. This is not that easy a task. Fortunately, once we were back in the water on Tuesday, May 30, the boatyard used their 90 metric ton crane to do the swap. When I went to install the new washer, I was a bit annoyed that it was a tiny bit wider and taller than the dimensions that were advertised. It has to fit into a beautiful teak cabinet and it was one-half inch too deep and one-half inch too tall. I broke off a plastic protrusion at the rear and cut a small slat inside the cabinet to deal with the extra width, and then reset the top lid of the teak cabinet so that it just fit.

What a difference a paint job makes.  The boatyard did a great job.

New washing machine is lifted aboard

Our friends Hajo and Julia on Serafine were waiting five weeks for their new dinghy to arrive, and we were waiting for our bottom paint job and for some replacement items to arrive from SVB in Germany (a new liferaft, autopilot motor, and assorted other parts). One thing we could not get was propane for our stove. It was impossible to get our American gas bottles refilled. Italy is the first place where this has been an issue. I bought a little two-burner electric cooking top, but that is only good in a marina where there is shore power. We enjoyed walking around charming Carloforte and dining with Hajo and Julia numerous times. Serafine’s dinghy and our liferaft and autopilot arrived on the same day, and two days later we both left Carloforte for the sailing season. They were heading for Corsica and we for mainland Italy. More on that in the next blog post.

M.

Giuseppe Sifredi in front of the Sifredi Marina office

Left to right: Hajo (Serafine), Giuseppe, Julia (Serafine), Laura, Carmela (much loved marina office manager), Mark

Finally some video:

Above:  Getting Hauled

Below:  Old clothes washer is lifted off Sabbatical III

 

 

Return to Sardinia

View of Sabbatical III tied to the seawall in Carloforte

At the end of April we returned to Sabbatical III berthed safely in the Marine Sifredi in Carloforte.  Our 250 pounds of baggage also made the journey safely.  We have been busy getting the boat ready for another sailing season.  The first order of business was a trip to the Sardinian capital of Cagliari to meet with the Immigration Police (Questura) to finalize our application for a visa renewal.  We had received a registered letter with a list of all of the documentation that we were required to bring, and we made sure that we had it all in quadruplicate.  Things seemed to go well until the Immigration official asked for another document that we had never heard of.  We showed him our letter with the list of documents and he said that there was a new document required and we had ten days to get it.  Turns out it is not so easy to get this document when one lives on a boat and not in a house or flat.  After a few days of trying to work this out, we came to believe that we would not get our visa renewed.  We then had a friend make some phone calls to explain our situation and our prospects now look reasonably good but not certain.  But we cannot make plans until this gets resolved.

When the mistral did not blow too hard, we walked to the end of the seawall to watch the ferry come and go.

The second major task is to get Sabbatical III hauled out and have anti-fouling paint applied to her hull, plus perform some maintenance to the bottom of the boat.  The small boatyard associated with the marina is well behind schedule hauling and painting boats, in part due to the high frequency of days with mistral winds.  The mistral is a strong, cold, northwesterly wind that blows from southern France into the northern Mediterranean and on to Sardinia, with sustained winds often exceeding 66 km/h (41 mph), sometimes reaching 185 km/h (115 mph).  It is most common in the winter and spring, and strongest in the transition between the two seasons.

The Delcomar ferry from Portovesme, Sardinia makes its way to Carloforte

Navigational aid at the end of the seawall, Carloforte

Sabbatical III tied to the seawall with her newly purchased anchor chain waiting to be installed (Thanks Francesco!)

Marine Sifredi with the fishing harbor in the background on the other side of the seawall

New anchor chain from France

Looking down the length of the starboard seawall towards Marine Sifredi and the town of Carloforte

Since we are waiting to hear about the visa and our haul date, we took some time out to tour the interior of the “mainland” of Sardinia.  We already know the  Sardinian coast fairly well from our two sailing circumnavigations last year.  But we had never seen the interior except for the road from the Carloforte ferry port of Portovesme to the capital city of Cagliari, which is a fairly unattractive part of the island.  We just returned from our six day excursion yesterday and can only say that inland Sardinia is spectacularly beautiful.

Carloforte

The first evening of our excursion we attended a perfomance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Lyric Opera of Cagliari.  We sat in the first row for a fine performance by the resident company. We then spent the night at a B&B in Cagliari.  In the morning we went to the airport to pick up a rental car and drove through beautiful countryside to the Agriturismo Il Ginepro.  An agriturismo is a working farm that accommodates guests and provides breakfast and supper made from local products and wines.  In the afternoon, we walked in the hills above the farmstead and then drove to the coast about 15 minutes away to walk on the beach.  An African dust storm obscured the view and the hoped for sunset. The supper was fantastic.

Spring flowers near Il Ginepro

Spring flowers near Il Ginepro

The Agriturismo Il Ginepro

Laura at Il Ginepro

View towards the ocean at Il Ginepro

Flower garden at Il Ginepro

Field of wild flowers near Il Ginepro

From Il Ginepro, we drove to the northcentral mountains of Sardinia.  We stayed one night at a B&B in Sorgono (“Cuccumiao” run by a lovely young woman named Paola) where we happened upon a beautiful winery (“Su Binariu”) on a small country road.  The two men working there were excited that two American had come through the gate and asked that we return the next morning when the winemaster/owner was there.  So we did.  We sampled some wine and bought two bottles.

Country road near Sorgono

The Su Binariu vineyard near Sorgono

The Su Binariu winery near Sorgono

From Sorgono we went to an agriturismo near Tonara and then to an agriturismo near Belvi. The latter provided fine hikes and excellent meals and wine.

Walking path in the valley beneath Belvi, Sardinia

Walking path in the valley beneath Belvi, Sardinia

Horse in paddock along the walking path in the valley beneath Belvi, Sardinia

M.