Crossing from Sardinia to Minorca, sorry.. Mallorca.

With the weather constantly against us we decided to pick the best window we could and go for it. Based on the weather we knew this crossing would be quite taxing compared to our normal ‘fair weather sailor’ style we try and wait for, but the experience would be good with the different conditions, plus we’d be able to sail most of it which is a bonus as it was quite a long passage.

We had a good start to the trip. We were visited by loads of Dragonflies as we left Carloforte. They were all over the boat in varying colours all sunning themselves on the life-lines.

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We also had a bit of drama about 10 miles off shore as I was down below getting a glass of water. I suddenly heard a weird sound in the front berth so investigated only to find water on the floor sloshing around. Water INSIDE a boat is not a good thing.

Panic stations!

I called Helen who came down and kept her head as I was flapping about trying to find the leak. ‘Does it taste of salt?’ she said. I tasted. Nope, it was fresh.

Panic stations over!

Quite rightly she made me test to see if it was water from outside the hull (bad) or fresh water from our tanks (still not amazing but at least we’re not sinking). I calmed down and found that a pipe under pressure had come loose from the water tank. We quickly turned power off the pump which stopped the leak. Ten minutes later I’d fixed the pipe and mopped up all the water. Phew! We now left the pump turned OFF whenever not in use- a lesson learn’t the hard way!

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As we continued the seas and winds started to build. We left knowing that we’d have 20-25 knots downwind in 2.0m – 2.5m seas. Now this seemed to us like a doable set of numbers as we’d had similar before but numbers mean nothing when you’re 75 miles offshore looking at a wave coming straight over the the boat above the bimini.

It’s extremely hard to describe 2.5 – 3.0m seas off-shore, if that’s indeed what they where. They seemed a lot more than that to us. The size and power can’t really be put into words but I’ll try. For the most part they were fine. Big certainly, but after a while we got used to them. It was the larger waves that came in sets that blew us away. At times these would lift the back of the boat high into the air, water coming level with the cockpit seats, gurgling all around us as it tried to make a path under us. The bow was then pushed violently downwards into the trough below as we surfed and picked up speed before hitting the bottom, recovering only to see the next wave ready to throw us around again. The forces placed on the boat were incredible but she coped well, not so sure about us! It’s definitely true what they say, the boat will always hold up better than the people sailing her.

It’s an amazing feeling surfing down waves this large. We hit 12.8 knots down one of them. Helen noted I had a strange look of 50% exhilaration, 50% pure fear. That’s not far off.

Again though we started getting used to these as the day pressed on, all great experience to get. As we entered darkness though they took on a whole new level of scary.

The skies darkened so you couldn’t see what was coming, that’s bad enough but throw into the mix at this time a huge lighting storm that showed up in front of us and you can imagine us waiting for invisible waves to smack the boat with only snapshot visions from lighting flashes showing the mad seas for the briefest of moments before we were plunged back into darkness.

You can hear the waves coming which I didn’t imagine beforehand. You get this kind of low level wusssshhhhhh sound approaching signalling another large wave is drawing close. Most of those (somehow) pass under the boat as she rides over them but with some the sound carries on, getting louder, and then SLAM. Some smashed into the side of the hull like scud missiles spinning us around before the autopilot regained course. Others came over the side into the cockpit along with a refreshing amount of water down our backs to wake us up a bit.

We felt a little out of control wondering if we’d done the right thing as the waves kept increasing as the night continued. We were being pushed ever closer to the lighting storm as well which was unlike anything we’d seen. The light show was amazing, scary, and quite beautiful with the normal flashes and arcs you see on land but also huge balls of light that glowed afterwards for a few seconds.

Up until this point we’d been heading to Minorca, which was the shortest crossing point, but we decided to head to port 20 degrees to try and stay below the storm ahead. Because of this ended up heading straight to Mallorca. This worked as we kept our distance and safely watched the show rather than sail right into it. It did however mean another night at sea as Mallorca was another 65 miles. We’d take that rather than enter into the heart of such a powerful electrical storm.

It was a long night and neither of us got much sleep. As dawn broke the seas calmed, the skies cleared, and I remember us looking at each other to kind of say.. ‘thank God that’s over!’

The following day was easy in comparison. Calm waves and sunny. We were even visited by a huge sea turtle.

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The wind however dropped off in the afternoon meaning we needed the engine on for a while. This wasn’t such a bad thing as our batteries took a hammering over night – due to how hard the autopilot worked. I have to say though I wouldn’t have liked to try and hand steer through that so well done autopilot!

The miles ticked down but it was frustrating still being closer to Minorca than Mallorca as we passed under it. The issue was that by the time we’d now get to Minorca it would be dark whereas if we did another night we’d be in Mallorca bright and early the following morning, further towards Gibraltar and getting out of the Med before we REALLY get hit with bad weather.

The second night was no picnic either but after the first one everything seemed more controlled. We put in a double reef and furled the head sail just before a front hit – reading the signs perfectly. We sailed with this setup overnight in 18-22 knots of wind and the boat seemed very balanced so we could both sleep a little more on our off-watches.

Morning broke and we could see land before us. Luckily the winds and seas calmed as we drew closer to land and we picked up a mooring buoy in a sheltered bay and promptly fell to sleep.

I’m extremely proud of us both for handling this crossing. It was by far our toughest yet. We worked together well, sail changes are getting much faster and smoother. Looking back it was great to experience everything we did on the 220 miles or so over from Sardinia.

That’s the thing about sailing isn’t it? You always look back the next day at the positives, forgetting the madness of you being in a tiny bit of fibreglass in the middle of nowhere at the mercy of the sea.

Carloforte

Our last stop in Sardinia wasn’t really in Sardinia. It was just to the bottom left of Sardinia. A lovely island called San Pietro. We headed to the Marina at Carloforte and instantly fell in love with the place. A beautiful town with mazes of small back allies, tons of really good cafes and restaurants, just a really chilled out town – just what we needed for a few days rest before crossing back to the Balearics.

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It also gave us a chance to give Interlude a well needed makeover. Every inch of her was cleaned and polished and she looks so much better for it. It’s amazing how much work we have to put into keeping her clean and tidy. Coastal hopping, or doing longer crossings, means salt gets everywhere and if you don’t keep on top of it your boat starts dissolving. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration but it feels like it!

Getting fuel was a laugh. We always like to top the tanks up before a major crossing but the fuel dock isn’t deep enough for yachts our size so we got the jerry cans out and made a few trips to the local garage over the road much to the amusement of the lady serving us over, and over, and over again. I might have arms like Mr. Tickle for a few days but Interlude’s all topped up and ready to go.

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The first night we were there a massive town-wide fun run took place. A crazy event with no one seeming to know where the route actually was. A few people would run past us, look around for some sort of route marker that wasn’t there, then cut down a side street with others blindly following. Moments later they’d all run back out with puzzled looks on their faces and run off to try a different street. People were running all over the place and no one seemed to have a clue where to go. There were a lot of sneaky shortcuts taking place but as no one really knew where the start and finish was I’m not sure that can be classed as cheating or not. The race was won by a 75 year old man who did a walk around the block and back over the line, others are reportedly still running trying to find their way back.

The bars were pretty amazing I have to say. Each of them lays on food for free if you have a drink, and it’s GOOD stuff, kind of like tapas taken to the next level. As we explored the town plate after plate was presented and we ended up stuffed without having to eat a meal at all. I’m not quite sure how the bars haven’t been firebombed by the restaurants losing out on business but no one seemed to mind.

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We also met fellow ARC rally participants in the Marina onboard an amazing catamaran named 99 Bottles. We were starting to get worried we were leaving it too late to get back out of the Med so it’s good to see others doing the same. We agreed to catch up in the Canaries for a few drinks before we cross Atlantic which is something to luck forward to.

We spent two nights in Carloforte and loved every second of it. A real gem before leaving Sardinia and its islands.

Teulada

The weather wasn’t great for making the crossing back to the Balearics but we wanted to press on. There’s a few cool islands to the West of Sardinia that we were keen to take a look at, and a convenient stop-off-point on the way is Teulada, a relatively new marina.

In the guidebook it says “It is difficult to know why this large harbour was built here”. It’s in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest village and with only a campsite nearby. But that’s exactly what we loved about this place.

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We got a welcoming reception. After docking we met a couple who have been touring Sardinia via camper van. We swapped a few tips and a few stories and they told us there was a restaurant, bar and shop at the campsite so once we were settled we headed out.

The campsite is lovely, but you can already see that the season is ending for them. The pizzeria was closed, the store a little lacking in fresh produce (although we did pick up some bread rolls) and the bar was empty.

We followed the signs the beach though and found a great snack bar run by the French ‘Madam’. The sun was still warm so we basked there for a while and did a spot of people watching.

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There was a yacht anchored off the beach, sheltered by an islet and once more we kicked ourselves for paying the marina fees. In our defence though, this lovely anchorage is neither on the charts or in the pilot. Would recommend it if you’re sailing through.

We could have stayed here for a few days, or weeks, but we have a bit of a schedule now so I’m sure we will be pressing on in the morning.

Cagliari

We were so glad to finally make it to Cagliari, we’ve been looking forward to this place. It’s also the home town of the Cattels (my sister’s partner’s paternal family) so it’s nice to have that connection.

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We stayed at St Elmo marina, which was a bit out of town, but the service was fab and the facilities were better than most we’ve had in Italy. The walk down the waterfront is nice and avoids the busy main road.

The town has great cafes and restaurants. We had a great chocolate cake, but with apricot jam in the centre.

Sharon, I kind of get what you mean with the cake and jam thing. Although you can’t beat a homemade Victoria sponge – thanks Alan!

Everywhere we’ve been just lately we’ve seen Italians drinking these huge orange drinks and we’ve wondered what they are. We finally plucked up the courage and asked a waitress for one. Aperol and spritzer – tastes like burnt orange, quite refreshing but not sure we’ll be having another for a while. We also got some free sangers :)

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We went to an amazing deli that doubled as a wine bar at night. Had some great local produce – cheeses and hams – and some totally awesome wines.

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We also went to a local bar where the locals were watching their local footy team play. Unfortunately they lost but it was a great atmosphere and the people were so friendly.

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The next day we took our huge shopping list into the chandleries and came out with one or two items. Typical! Phone credit is also one of our biggest headaches and a trip to the phone shop can take an hour. After that we were in need of some R&R.

The local cafes were closed but we’d seen a Maccas the day before and were sure we could find it again. When we found it we though it was closed – in a permanent boarded up kind of a way – so kept walking to find the new one. Half an hour later we were back in the same spot and followed some students into a 1980s style Maccas. It was inside the ticket office of the bus station and had somehow managed to miss out on every refurbishment and upgrade of the last three decades. It felt like the bread rolls had come from that time period as well and we realised that we’d wandered around so long that the local cafes were probably open now. Fail!

We eventually made it back to the boat with our supplies. After our long crossings we had some rest to catch up on. We were relaxing in the front berth when we heard a few familiar cries from nearby. Next thing CABOOM!! We both raced on deck. In all honesty I was abandoning ship. A heavy metal boat had lost control in the 15 knot cross winds and had come to rest against our anchor and the anchor of the boat next door.

We jumped about like crazy people with boat hooks and fenders before settling into polite conversation with the sailors onboard as we held the boats apart. They were a really nice American couple who had travelled all the way from the US with the ARC Europe rally and were hoping to settle in Sardinia. Anyway not much damage done, a scratch on our anchor and a few scratches down the side of the American boat. The marinaros cleverly attached a line across the marina to their front cleat and using the winch on the boat pulled the boat slowly into the berth opposite. All’s well that ends well.

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The next day we decided to explore more of the local area. One of the big attractions are the salt plains which are the habitat for hundreds of flamingos. It was just a few kms away so we set off on foot. We both knew there was a major road in the way but secretly hoped that there would be an underpass or bridge – nope. Simon came to the rescue though and managed to find another park atop a hill that overlooked the plains so we headed there.

The salt plains are pretty in themselves, rectangles of lilac, green or blue. And if you look close enough there were lots of pink dots! Not really the up close and personal experience I was hoping for but the ice cream in the sun almost made up for it. Nice views over the town too.

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From there we wandered back into town. We climbed up the Bastione Saint Remy, a historic rampart.

Cagliai9Cagliai7Cagliai6Had an amazing lunch before heading back via the supermarket. Tomorrow we’ll set sail again.

Sicily to Sardinia crossing

Although we’ve loved getting to know Sicily it was time to set sail and press on.

We’ve finally committed ourselves to doing the ARC rally across to the Caribbean, instead of wintering Interlude or visiting Greece, Turkey and Croatia. Our feelings are pretty mixed about this. We’re missing out these amazing countries that have topped our wish list but it leaves an awesome reason for an Interlude II sometime down the track and it means we don’t have to go back to work over Winter (winner!). As you can imagine we’re hugely excited and gigantically nervous about our planned Atlantic crossing and glad that we’ll be doing it with 250 or so other boats.

So that said it was time to press on West once again towards Gibraltar and our eventual departure from the Med – boohoo!

So after all but a short stay in Trapani, we were already preparing to leave for South Sardinia. We were up early, picked up some bread from the nearby bakery, went to the fish markets and grabbed some veggies (the fish stalls weren’t set up yet) and had a lovely coffee while we waited for the fuel dock to open. Actually we miss-ordered and got both a cappuccino and an expresso so I downed the lot and was feeling pretty awake!!

We hunted down the fuel dock, which is between the fishing harbour and the local yacht harbour, actually you can just follow the trail of diesel. This is the worst fuel dock we have been to. I jumped onto the dock to secure the lines and landed on the greasy concrete barely keeping to my feet. Then I had to clean them before getting back on the boat!

The fuel dock man basically fills your tank until it overflows, a lot, and then just says ‘don’t worry’ when you rush to stop it entering the water and covering your boat in the same slick of diesel that is now covering the dock and the water. Once that is complete you have to weedle your way back through all the litter in the water and random tyres that are tied both above and below the waterline, before setting out to sea and washing all the lines that you used to tie up at the dock as well as half the boat which is also covered in diesel.

After that we were running late by a couple of hours but hoping to make them up somewhere along the way. It’s a pretty big crossing and we were hoping to complete it in a day, a night and then arrive the following day before sunset. The days are getting shorter already so it’s giving us a bit of a challenge that way, it’s also getting a bit more autumnal all round. I think it’s the first time since Spring that we started the day with a hoody on. Yep times are changing.

By the afternoon we’d picked up some big winds and we we’re racing along in a ‘I’m loving this’ kind of a way. There were lots of birds around, also making the crossing but the other way around and not loving it so much. We were visited by a number of swallows (I think) and one was so exhausted she landed in our cockpit and then hid in our bookshelf for hours but unfortunately didn’t make it through the night.

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By evening we’d picked up some really big winds but luckily not before we’d popped in a couple of reefs in the main sail (so proud of ourselves for this). The winds were also pretty gusty which mean’t that we probably had less sail then we needed to most of the time, and were going slower that we should be, but the gusts had us too scared to shake the reef out. This was not great for our expected arrival time which we stared at nervously. We didn’t want to have to do a night entry to an unknown harbour as it can be pretty tricky but we also didn’t want to hang around for hours at sea waiting for dawn again. We were headed to Cagliari too which is a pretty busy commercial harbour.

The next day brought little wind but blue skies. We motor-sailed, then motored as the wind continued to drop. We finally came to the conclusion that we were not going to make Cagliari before sunset and started eying up Villasimius, a marina just a little further South. Villasimius was a great and well-need bolt hole and we were much relieved to make it before darkness. There’s not really much there and so I think we’ll be setting sail again in the morning.