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.


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




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.


View of the Aragonese Castle as we leave Ischia