Foul Winds

We used the Flight Radar app to follow Patrick’s flight across France as he passed over many of the places we’d motored through a few weeks before.

Kerry finished her blog at Figari, at the southern end of Corsica, where Patrick had just left us to fly home. Barberry suddenly felt very quiet without him and we both took a bit of time to come to terms with not having him around — he was such good company, and we found it very reassuring to have a young and able crew member on board. Now it was back to just the two of us, as we tried to move on and plan the next bit of our voyage.

The 40-ish nautical mile route to Sardinia took us in between the renowned Maddalena Islands.

Our next step was to get to Sardinia, where we planned to travel down the east coast, then make the big jump across to Sicily. There were plenty of marinas to choose from and we didn’t have too much trouble booking them in Sardinia, although it seemed almost impossible to book anywhere in advance in Sicily. This made planning difficult as we do like to have somewhere secure to run to if the weather deteriorates. Anchorages can be very exposed and uncomfortable in strong winds, with the added risk of the anchor dragging. 

Even supposedly protected bays can be choppy enough.

Since the weather looked settled on Friday, we chose a protected anchorage to head for, in a bay called Cala Sabina. It had good reviews on Navily, which is the App we tend to use to find out more about these stopovers. Sandy bottom, no rocks, protected from forecast wind direction, oh, and no loud music! It is amazing how beach bar music travels over water and these places often seem to keep it blasting all night.

Cala Sabina has a beach bar, but no loud music.

We set off at around 7am, for what proved to be about an 8-hour sail, with some light winds to begin with and then, of course, head winds. Head winds are something you just need to accept when sailing. They generally defy the laws of probability as they occur much more often than the more desirable tail winds. We were looking forward to weaving between the renowned Maddalena Islands. The whole area is a protected nature reserve, and you need a special permit to anchor there. Kerry had got one just in case we decided on a lunch or even overnight stop.

The little green triangles and boat shapes represent boats with AIS. Only around 1 in 10 of the boats we encounter have AIS, so imagine the screen with ten times as many boats showing on it and you’ll have a truer picture of what we navigated through.

As it turned out it was not the quiet, picturesque tranquility that we had imagined, but rather super-busy with pleasure boats — everything from small RIBs to super yachts, all speeding in seemingly random directions with no regard for ‘colregs’ (the rules of the sea, such as the requirement to give way to certain vessels and pass on port side). Barberry was bumped about in everyone’s wake — it was just plain rude! We struggled to cope with this mad boating chaos and motored through the islands as quickly as possible, glad to be out the other side.  

Peace at last. Cala Sabina was a wonderful anchorage. Great snorkelling; no jellyfish! This was the view over the side of the boat at breakfast the next morning.

With relief, we found that the number of boats decreased to almost none as we headed down the east coast. We were anxious about the anchorage being busy, but, as it turned out, we found a great space, close enough to the shore, in about 5m depth, and dropped the hook onto clean sand. We nearly mowed down some snorkelers on route, but maybe they should have been a little more wary! Fraser’s first job at anchor was to swap courtesy flags, so down came the Corsican and up with the Sardinian. We were not sure if we needed to fly the Italian flag as well, but decided to leave that ceremony until Sicily since we don’t have a Sicilian courtesy flag.

Changing the Corsican courtesy flag for the Sardinian one.

Next on the agenda was swimming! Lovely, cool water with amazing clarity and no sign of the dreaded jellyfish. We checked the anchor, which looked good, then swam to shore and back, seeing all kinds of fish on the way. It turned out to be a lovely peaceful night, with no beach music — yay! 

A tiny train puffed its way past the beach at Cala Sabina, looking like a child’s toy.

La Caletta was a marina about 6 hours further down the east coast and we set off for there on Saturday. The coast was very dramatic with towering cliffs and headlands that we sailed close beneath. Naturally the wind was on the nose, but not too strong, so we motored through it easily enough. We did need more fuel soon though, as headwinds mean running the engine at higher revs than we would like. Generally we aim for 2000 revs as a maximum, which uses about 2.5 litres per hour. In head winds we often have to push the engine harder than this, which means using more like 3 litres per hour. We don’t have a fuel gauge, so fuel usage needs to be estimated to made sure we do not run out unexpectedly. We never like to get low!

Early morning stillness gave us little warning for what was ahead.

As we arrived in La Caletta, we could see the fuel depo, but it looked a little abandoned, so we decided our fuel would last until the next stop — we had plenty of full containers on board as spares. We found a space on the free pontoon, which was great (a paid berth can be €75 per night or more in Italy). This was an easy alongside berthing manoeuvre. Apparently, we were allowed one night on this pontoon, although no water or electric available. We did sneak some water from a neighbouring pontoon though (thieves!). The main mission here was to get the laundry done. The laundry bag was starting to give off an unusually foul smell as well as beginning to ooze its way out of the cupboard. Fraser took on the laundry mission with his positive ‘just want to get this over with’ attitude. A self-service laundrette was located with Goggle maps at only 6 minutes’ walk. That actually turned out to be a very long walk with a very large bag of laundry. Kerry seems to always manage to double the size of the laundry bag at the last minute by finding all sorts of other stuff that apparently needs washing.

Sunset in La Caletta harbour, where Fraser took control of the laundry situation and then celebrated by eating far too much.

Of course this was now Italy, so Fraser’s few words of French were useless to him. Kerry was actually enjoying this, as she no longer had the pressure of being the expert linguist, having just as little knowledge of Italian as Fraser. The laundrette turned out to be not self-service at all, so Fraser dropped off the large, pungent bag with the laundrette staff, who seemed to understand enough English to tell him to come back later. He did feel a little sorry for them, hoaking through that lot! Sure enough, he turned up a few hours later and everything was beautifully folded and ready for collection — job done! Until next time…

We never tire of beautiful views, and Sardinia certainly didn’t disappoint. This tower was just outside the restaurant in La Caletta.

That evening we were feeling a little like spoiling ourselves, so located a nearby restaurant with a good reputation for pizza and sea food. But, for the first time on our travels, we were turned away. How was this possible? I mean, we were even wearing clean clothes. They did say we could try later that evening, but Kerry decided on a different strategy. She loitered at the front of the restaurant, somewhat blocking the menu board and impeding access for other customers. This worked really well and within minutes one of the staff came to fetch us. They set us up a table in a quiet spot, well away from the other customers. It may have been meant as some kind of quarantine, but we loved the spot.

More calamari? The empty plate to his left was originally piled high with fries, and the bread basket to his right was originally piled high with Sardinian bread.

The service was excellent. We ordered an unknown local wine that turned out really good, then both ordered identical courses of calamari fritti and chips. The calamari (squid) portions were a little small, but once Fraser had stuffed down this and his chips and the (supposedly shared) side of Sardinian flat bread, he was feeling rather satisfied. At this point, the waitress appeared with two more portions of calamari. She said a lot of Italian words, then put them in front of us. Kerry had barely touched her chips so had loads of room and got tucked straight into the mysterious second portion. Fraser looked at his in alarm, but, being brought up to always finish his meals, worked his way though it in a slow and painful manner. Having just about finished this, the waitress then appeared with a second portion of chips. This was too much for Fraser and he turned it away with his best attempt at Italian for ‘no, no, no!’

Sardinian flatbread that resembles lembas bread from Lord of the Rings. Apparently a single sheet of this can keep a full grown elf going for days. Fraser ate a lot of it

Fraser felt very full that evening, but, more worryingly, Kerry felt strange, as if the wine had affected her really badly. Fortunately, she swayed and hobbled her way back to the boat okay, but was still not feeling great the next day as we set off for Arbatax. She seemed to have some sort of grumbling stomach complaint. On top of this, a live band played loud music virtually all night. Not even good music!

Kerry seemed to find these light fittings very amusing for some reason. Something about aliens and R2D2?

Arbatax, our next destination, was 8 to 9 hours away, and yet again head winds were forecast, increasing in strength throughout the day. As we were both feeling quite jaded and the sun was very strong, we swapped watches every hour, the off-duty crew staying below and lying under a fan. After a few hours, the head winds got very strong, up to 20 knots, with Fraser sticking his head out from his break to find spray sweeping into the cockpit. It was tiring sailing, with the noise of the engine and wind, while trying to watch out for fishing pot buoys with salt spray fogging our sunglasses. 

We passed countless different boats around La Maddalenas, including this tiny catamaran with so many people on it that it’s barely staying afloat

The final part of the journey seemed to take for ever and Kerry was feeling worse, trying to muster her remaining energy to helm the boat into the harbour as Fraser prepared lines and fenders. We needed fuel now, with all the motoring into head winds using up the reserves. Kerry took us neatly into the fuel pontoon, but they turned us away, saying they had run out of diesel and there’d be no delivery until the next evening — that was very disappointing! After that, the marina staff guided us to our stern-to mooring and Kerry once again got us perfectly reversed into position. Once we were safely tied up we both just wanted to lie down and cool off. We basically crashed! I think we were both suffering a bit from heat exhaustion after a very long day in the sun.

This was one of those headlands that just never seemed to get any closer, even after hours of pounding into waves in a headwind.

On Monday, we prepared Barberry for big crossing to Sicily. This would be 35 hours, so the longest passage we have ever made. We still needed fuel, as we always like to have enough to ensure we can make to whole passage under engine, in case of no wind. Since the fuel pontoon still had no diesel, Fraser carried two empty containers to the local car fuel station to get another 40L. This was hot work, but having the little folding trolley on board made it much easier.

You’d hardly know there’s a supermarket here, but this is the local Co-Op! Not a great range of supplies, but beggars can’t be choosers.

We also shopped for provisions at a very small Co-Op, but that would have to do us. In the middle of our preparation, the marina asked us to move berths as a large boat needed the one we were in. This sounds like nothing, but in the heat of the day, this is actually a big task and we ended up soaked in sweat. We both felt tired still, so uneasy about setting off for Sicily the next day. Kerry was also filling herself with Actimels and Imodium to try to sort her stomach out.  In the end, the weather decided for us — it looked better for an overnight Wednesday to Thursday crossing, so delayed by a day. That gave us a much-needed recovery.

Back in the French canals, locks ruled our lives; now it’s weather forecasts. This is a screen shot from the Windy app, giving a snapshot of the expected weather for our crossing to Sicily. At least it looks as if the air temperatures will have cooled down!

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