Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sardegna -- and sailing onto a mooring

Islands off Costa Smeralda
Memories of our brief stay in Sardinia are a blur.  We were there for such a short time before seeing a perfect weather window and making a run for Spain.  I will comment about that in another posting.  This posting is about our observances while in Sardinia, or Sardegna as the Italians call this island.  

Before coming to Sardinia all we knew about it is that it is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, the largest being Sicily.  Sicily has an area of 9,927 square miles and Sardinia has an area of 9,300 square miles or 9,197 square miles depending on which source one cites.  Either way, Sardinia comes in a close second to Sicily regarding land size.  I find it impossible to tell the difference on our charts.  Both islands appear to be about the same size to me.

A house on the Costa Smeralda covered in
purple bougainvillea 

We have no tourist guide for Sardinia; came totally unprepared except for our sailing guidebook and charts.  Plus what we had read on blogs of fellow cruisers who have visited Sardinia over the past few years.  The only thing I remembered from those blogs is that some fairly famous artists hail from this island, plus some poets.  And that some guy who makes violins or guitars also resides on Sardinia.  None of that was of any interest whatsoever to us.

What in the world?
Being towed behind a boat.

Why were we here?  Because geographically it is the logical place to stop when headed westward from Italy.  According to our sailing guidebook, Sardinia lies 112 miles from the Italian mainland; 7 miles south of the French island of Corsica; and approximately 120 miles north from Africa.  We were headed to Barcelona, Spain; so over the northern tip of Sardinia was the most logical route.

As an example of how little we knew about this island, we assumed that the inhabitants were called Sardinians.  Nope; they are called Sards.  And like the Sicilians they feel a more special affinity for their island than they do for the country of Italy.  They are Sards first, and Italians second.  Also like the Sicilians, their language is different from that on mainland Italy.  The Sards differ from the Italians in other ways too.  They are less exuberant, more reserved.

Many rocky islets off Costa Smeralda
Much of this large island is bare rock, with a mountain range running north-south on the eastern half.  There is little agriculture and it can be very hot and dusty. About the only crop cultivated here are the cork oak trees.  This island has been inhabited by some of the same cultures that ruled much of the Med long ago; first the Phoenicians, then the Romans.  But before the Phoenicians this island was inhabited during the Neolithic period by the Nuraghese, a people totally unfamiliar to us.  The most significant remaining structures from this period are the nuraghs found all over the island.  There were some 30,000 of these structures.  Let that sink in for a moment.  30,000 of these stone structures built on this island between 1900 and 730 B.C. Today there still remain evidence of some 7,000 of these structures.  Each was constructed of truncated stone blocks built without mortar.  These served part as dwelling places and part as fortresses.  And these are found only on Sardinia.  The largest nuraghs have 3 central floors and a complex of towers, fosses and galleries.  Most are found inland on elevations from 500 to 1,000 feet.  We motored past several but never close enough to get good photos.  These 2 links provide more information and photos:

Google Images of Nuragh

After the Romans came the Vandals, Byzantines, Saracens and Arabs.  The indigineous Sards retreated from the shores to the mountains each time.  A small note is that the Romans never conquered the Sards because they retreated to those mountains.  Romans called the area Barbaria because of these wild inhabitants.  Then during the Middle Ages the Genoese and Pisans from nearby Genoa and Pisa arrived and the ravaging of Sardinia ceased under their rule.  Later the Aragonese and Spanish arrived and life finally became more ordered for the Sards.

Much later, Admiral Nelson attempted to persuade the British government to annex Sardinia; but that never came to fruition.  Nelson felt that Sardinia with its numerous protected anchorages was a much better place to protect the British fleet than Malta which had only Valetta to serve as protection for the fleet.

In 1948 Sardinia was granted political autonomy.  The multi-billionaire Aga Khan began developing the Costa Smeralda in the 1960s and other international development companies followed his lead.  We motored up the Costa Smeralda one day and Bill noted that there were more super yachts there than we have seen anywhere in the world.  One anchorage alone held 13 super yachts.  Oh...all that money.

After remaining at anchor in the large bay called Porto della Taverna for a few nights we motored 17 miles to Porto di Cugnana.  Had to...we needed to find a grocery store.  After 2 weeks of being at anchor and 1 overnight passage we were totally out of fresh produce and down to our last loaf of bread.  We anchored outside the Marina di Portisco and took the dinghy in to find a supermarket.  We also gifted that huge teardrop fender that we had found halfway between the islands of Ponza and Sardinia to this marina.  We certainly had no use for that huge thing and it probably cost about 500 euro.  The marina staff were pleased to receive the gift.  I figure they can use it near their fuel dock or on the dock where the super yachts dock.

The following day we motored up the Costa Smeralda and past the La Maddalena islands.  Yeah; I know those islands are beautiful but they held no special interest for us.  Just another over-crowded place and we were getting tired of crowded mooring fields.  Plus, I did not want to pay for the special permit to go to these islands plus the 3.50 euro per meter per day for the privilege of a mooring; no anchoring allowed.  We continued onward.

Hey look!  There is the French island of Corsica just off to our right.  Birthplace of Napolean Bonaparte.  How many realize he was Italian rather than French since the island where he was born belonged to the Italians at the time.  We would miss beautiful Bonifacio and skip Corsica; we were headed to Barcelona because the weather was right for a change.  If we departed Sardinia at 0800 the next morning then we could arrive in Barcelona between 2 weather systems.  Another strong system was going to come down through the Gulf of Lions starting a few hours after we would arrive in Barcelona.  The time to get across that dreaded stretch of water was now.

Had to sail onto a mooring buoy in that tiny cove
where those 2 masts are located in middle
Our final overnight stop in Sardinia was at the Isola Asinara National Park and Marine Reserve at the Cala D'Oliva mooring field.  No motors or engines are allowed near Asinara.  One must sail only.  When was the last time you sailed up to a mooring buoy?  We used to practice doing this on our previous boat in the British Virgin Islands during off-season when there were no charter boats crowding the bays.  We were pretty good at dropping the mainsail and coasting right up to the mooring pennant.  But we had never done this on BeBe.  And a ketch with a skeg-hung rudder handles very differently from a sloop with a huge spade rudder.

Decided not to chance picking up this mooring under
sail because too close to rocky shore.
We executed this perfectly!  Not to sound like bragging, but we did do it perfectly.  Wind was from the WNW at 12 knots as we approached the bay.  We had no idea where the moorings were located; neither the sailing guidebook nor the park website illustrated the location of the mooring buoys in this bay, just stated that there were 8 mooring buoys in this bay and boats must navigate under sails only.  We entered the bay on the northern side and got as close to shore as possible looking for these buoys.  Finally spotted them in a small cove in the center of the larger bay and headed to a point just north of the cove.  I was at the helm while Bill was on the bow with a pole to pick up the mooring pennant.  

Photo taken from our moored boat.  Looking
back at the direction from which we sailed
into this small cove.
As we sailed south almost even with the buoys, I furled the genoa.  (Love having electric furling at the helm!  Faster and easier than manual furling.)  The boat immediately slowed from 5 knots to just over 3 knots SOG.  I turned to starboard and aligned BeBe with the desired buoy.  This further slowed the boat speed.  If we missed the first 1 then there was another buoy ahead of it, so all would not be lost if we missed the first 1 or if it had a broken pennant.  About 3 boat lengths from the buoy I yelled at Elisabeth to spill the main.  She did.  And the boat coasted up to the first buoy.  Bill quickly picked up the pennant and secured it to a cleat as I told Elisabeth to hurry and completely spill the main this time.  This brought the boat to a stop right at the buoy.  No need to slowly drift up to the next buoy.

As I furled the mainsail and Bill tidied the lines on the bow, people on a boat on another mooring began to applaude.  Why...thank you!  Guess we do remember how to sail after all.  Only thing we did wrong was to not fully explain to Elisabeth what we hoped to do.  She had never handled the main sheet before this experience.  And she had never heard the term 'spill the main' yet she handled it perfectly.  She might not be familiar with the term but she understood the concept of letting the mainsail move freely out to the side to empty the wind from the sail in order to slow down the boat.

Motoring away from the small cove on Asinara island
in zero wind.
An hour or so later the park attendent came and collected the mooring fee ($54 for our sized boat for 1 night) and handed us a park brochure.  Elisabeth was looking at it while I cooked dinner and she noted that for this zone boats are allowed to turn on engines for alignment to a mooring buoy only.  Under no circumstances can an engine be used other than briefly for alignment to a mooring.  Why was this not stated on the park website or in the sailing guidebook!!  That little tidbit of information might encourage more sailors to stop at this island park.  I am sure that the idea of sailing onto and off of a mooring buoy intimitates some sailors and that keeps them from stopping here.  And it is the perfect jumping off point for passage either to Barcelona or to the Balearic islands.  

Fishing boats were all around Asinara island in the
morning, even though it is a restricted area and
no fishing is allowed.  Bill said they were grandfathered.
Their grandfathers fished there so they are going to
fish there too.  Ignoring that the area is now a park.

At 0800 the following morning we raised the mainsail while on the mooring buoy.  Wind speed was 0.0 knots.  We let the boat drift for a couple of minutes so we could say we tried to abide by the park rules and sail off the mooring.  Then I started the engine and we motored out of there.  No one came to fuss at us that early in the morning.  Bye-bye to Sardinia and Italy.

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