Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Driving Sardinia, Motoring to Mahon

We're in Mahon, the island of Menorca,  Balearic Islands, Spain. Quite nice, breezy, clear, dry and not hot. Beautiful harbor.  Lovers of Patrick O'Brian's books will instantly recognize Mahon as the setting for many of the key events in the great Aubrey/Maturin  series. Those deprived souls who have not read these books (all twenty of them) should immediately start with "Master and Commander" and let the hook be set. There will be no regrets.
One View of Mahon Harbor
We reached Mahon after a thirty-six hour  251 nautical mile motoring voyage from Cagliari. The Mistral that had been blowing out of the Northwest for the past week had petered out and a nice little weather window presented itself before the next Northwesterly was forecast. We saw our opportunity and we took it. For a motor job, it was one of the most pleasant we've ever experienced. Seas were almost completely flat. Winds,  when not absolutely calm, were less than ten knots and we actually rolled out the headsails and motor sailed occasionally.  I did some fishing for the first time since leaving the Indian Ocean, no luck. 

Sperm Whale blowing
 We had a good viewing of a Sperm Whale, the first we've seen in over twenty-two thousand miles of this trip. We left at 0500 on the Monday the 22nd predicting a 1700 arrival on Tuesday. Actual engine off time at Marina Mahon was 1715. Seabird left a few hours later and beat us in by a few hours. They are a power boat, after all.
Cape Teulada, last view of Sardinia
So we're beginning to explore lovely Mahon. The Marina is alongside the town wharf and one of several in the harbor. Most of this is very upscale, big money type yachting. We read that it will get more so as we move westwards to Mallorca and Ibiza. For now Marina Mahon is affordable but at the 1st of July the "season" will begin and many places the prices will at least double. We'll be anchoring out a lot more. We've got internet and phone service established. Janet cleaned up the interior of the boat. I changed engine oil and filters. We've gone for an initial walk about  and had a good dinner last night. We'll be doing tapas and dinner with Seabird tonight. 

Monti del Gennargentu scene, Sardinia
So now we're in Spain and we'll be here almost two months. Sardinia was great and we could easily have spent two months enjoying that island. We did rent a car and spend two days seeing a little of the interior. From Cagliari we drove a main super highway Northwest and curved to the Northeast in a broad arc to Nuoro, a provincial capitol and gateway to the mountainous national parks in the east-central part of the island. 
Mario and me, pig roasters
With just a little research we had found a nice B&B, Casa Solotti, in the mountains east of town. That turned into a memorable evening with congenial hosts and fourteen other guests from four countries enjoying a roast pig dinner and numerous after dinner aperitifs. Great fun.

Dinner, Casa Solotti
Country roads were the rule on the trip back and we worked our way through the mountains in lovely country, cork forests, free range cattle and villages plastered onto nearly vertical slopes. Roads were generally quite good and well maintained if exceedingly twisty and turny. 

Cork tree forest
Belvi, interior mountain village
There were a couple dirt tracts encountered but only for a few miles and in dry conditions not a problem. By days end we had worked  south to the agricultural village of Tuili where we stayed in one of the nicest and most comfortable B&B's we've ever experienced. "Agritourismo Il Borgo dell Arcangelo" was really first class and although it was a lot quieter evening than the last night the place is a beautifully restored farm house, now part of the village,  with all amenities and a very sweet family who are still working the land, very big farmers now, after many generations.
Tuili, between the mountains and the plain
So the drive was a success. We scratched the surface of Sardinia and found we liked it very much. The countryside is beautiful, there is probably more unspoiled beach left there than anywhere else in the Med. The island is almost as big as Sicily and has one fifth the population. The Sards, especially the country people, seem to be a decent and hard working bunch who identify with Sardinia more than with Italy as a whole. With a little luck it will remain one of the very best places we've seen since leaving the Aegean.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Onwards! Sardinia

We're in Cagliari, Sardinia at Marina Portus Karalis, very much the urban Italian marina scene and very nice indeed. How we got here over the past week is becoming a blur already.

Departing Milazzo
We departed Milazzo after a couple pleasant nights and took a twenty-five mile detour  North to the Aeolian islands and spent a night anchored at Porto de Ponente off Isola Vulcano,  aptly named for the active volcano that forms the island. The island is pretty enough but the anchorage was crowded and the atmosphere ashore rather tacky and after a nice swim and a decent night at anchor we continued westwards along the north coast of Sicily to Cefalu.
Isola Vulcano anchorage
The marina docks at Cefalu will be memorable in that they were the rolliest, least secure we may have ever encountered anywhere. The marina is very exposed the a NE wind and if it had been much worse it would have been untenable.

Cefalu neigborhood
But the old town was truly lovely, evoking memories of its medieval past at every turn. The "duomo",  an eleventh century Norman church,  manages to somehow combine Norman stonework, an almost Gothic nave and an Orthodox mosaic ceiling above the alter and make it all work. Its a beautiful church inside and out.

The duomo, Cefalu
We have been traveling with Steven and Carol Argosy of MV Seabird pretty much the entire time since leaving Siracusa and had been watching the weather and plotting with them a good time to begin  the two hundred and forty mile trip up to Sardinia. Since they're a sixty-two foot power boat and we are us we have slightly different ideas about the perfect outlook.

Departing Cefalu
 They left about twelve hours ahead of us. We both got it a little wrong and the passage was broken up by some of the weirdest and most confused seas I've seen anywhere. Nothing dangerous, just uncomfortable and frustrating for about twelve hours of the thirty-six hour passage. Its hard to get it exactly right in the Med. 
Villisimius Marina
We made landfall at Villisimius, Sardinia, the extreme SE corner of the island,  where there is a very quiet and secure marina. Its a few miles to the nearest village but a popular tourist destination for the Sards and it does have the nicest beaches we've seen in the Med. It also has a salt water lagoon with resident Pink Flamingos which we haven't seen since Walvis Bay in Namibia. Something is very cool about having a flock of Flamingos flying over the boat every morning. We took some nice walks and enjoyed the very excellent restaurant at the marina.

Beaches and lagoon, Villisimius
Its only about twenty miles from Villisimius west over to Cagliari, the biggest city and the capitol of Sardinia. We had planned on using a certain marina but a nice Austrian guy with a big power yacht who bases the boat in Cagliari gave us a heads up about this place being much cleaner and more convenient to the interesting part of the city so we took his advice and here we are, quite happy.

Approach to Cagliari
We arrived about 1030 this morning and took a nice walk, a long climb really, into the old walled part of the city. Lovely architecture, nice atmosphere and the usual big Baroque church, Santa Maria, this one being just a little too Baroque for my taste.
Too Baroque?
Seabird arrived an hour or so after us and we will get together tonight for an "Asian fusion" dinner. That will be quite a break from the recent fare. Cagliari seems, old and new, to be a very attractive city. We've got a car reserved for a couple days starting tomorrow and will explore some of the Sardinian interior. Supposed to be very rugged and beautiful. In 1981 I did some flying over this island and have always remembered how unspoiled the countryside and villages looked from the air, I've been wanting to do this little exploration ever since.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Through The Straits of Messina

 Hello to Everyone,

Sword fishing boat in the strait. Fifty foot boat, eighty foot mast (two men aloft) and a hundred foot of bow sprit!
 The  strait between Sicily and the toe of mainland Italy, the Strait of Messina, is almost certainly the location of ancient Scilla and Charybdis. They have been both factual and legendary nautical hazards of the Mediterranean since Homeric times. The tidal currents generated within the strait have, as late the eighteenth century,  caused capitol ships to lose control and whirl in an occasional  circle. Smaller craft were in deep peril. Apparently in 1783 a mayor earth quake changed the configuration of the seabed in the strait and things just haven't been the same since. 

Mt. Etna
 Our passage of the strait in company with Steven and Carol Argosy of "Sea Bird" was without the stuff of legends. The pilot books say that the flow north starts about an hour and forty-five minutes before high water at Gibraltar. It seems odd to use a tidal station hundreds of miles away, but timing it in that manner and at a neap tidal period  all we noticed were some strange ripples and a change, within a few hundred feet, of a negative one knot current to a positive two knots. Very welcome once the swap occurred.
Approach to Taormina
We had motored up from Siracusa to Taormina and spent two nights anchored off Taormina Roads in very settled conditions. The town of Taormina is situated on a cliff above the sea and is a truly spectacular sight. The massive form of Mt. Etna, 10958 feet high, with snow fields and lava flows, smoking away just to Southwest, dominates the landscape.  The views from the town are equally spectacular and the town itself is a baroque beauty. Its also been thoroughly discovered and is filled with low end tourists hoping to see the rich and famous high end tourists. Every expensive European brand you can imagine is represented by its shop on the main drag. 

Street scene, Taormina
View from Taormina
 This is the southern end of what might be called a Sicilian Riviera. The coast north towards the strait is lovely but almost completely developed  on both sides. Its just a little too much for our tastes  so we were not tempted to stop and continued on, took a hard left turn clearing the strait and headed another twenty-five miles to Milazzo where we are now comfortably side tied at the Nettuno Marina Milazzo.
Taormina Roads. Airstream at lower left.
We'll spend two mights here and have been laid back relaxing and catching up on boat jobs. I've got an outboard which suddenly doesn't like to run at low rpm,  a fuel hose is cracked. That may get fixed this afternoon. The weather has finally become much like a real summer. We've been socializing with Sea Bird, very nice to have nice company.

More views from Taormina
 The plan is to depart tomorrow for the Aeolian Islands just twenty-five miles to the north and spend a few days, then back down to the north coast of Sicily and work our way westwards until the weather cooperates and our desires cause us to push on to Sardinia. Life here is good if not terribly exciting, and excitement can be greatly overrated, so were having a good time.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

PS: Replacing the outboard's carburetor fuel supply hose worked. Yippee! That's excitement we like.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Its the loveliest of afternoons, 75 degrees, gentle breeze, crystal blue sky. We're anchored securely at the north end of the bay of Siracusa. A few hundred yards to our east lies the beautiful old city of Ortygia, ancient Syracuse. 

Approaches to Siracusa
And a few hundred yards to our west the shoreline is low lying and undeveloped beach. On those beaches in the winter of 413 BC the last surviving Athenian ships were run ashore and burned after losing a desperate sea battle within this small bay to the combined forces of the Syracuse and Sparta. It had been the last chance for the Athenian  force to save itself and escape their disastrous invasion attempt. The seven thousand or so survivors of the thirty thousand invaders were rounded up soon after. The leaders were executed despite promises of mercy to them and their troops. The remaining forces were imprisoned in a stone quarry where they were systematically starved and tortured to death. Very, very few of the Athenians who had departed a year earlier ever returned home. It was a debacle of almost twentieth century proportions.

Urban beach scene, Ortygia
Today the old portion of the modern city of Siracusa, Ortygia,  is one of the nicest urban areas whose streets we've ever wandered. There's a wonderful market set behind the ruins of the ancient temple of Apollo. Many streets are too narrow for automobiles. There are some beautiful churches and piazzas and cafes and trattorias hidden within courtyards. It's one of the nicest of cities, full of character, good food and sweet people. 

Via di Roma, Ortygia

The market
 We had motored up from Ragusa in calm conditions spending a night anchored out in the bay at Porto Palo and then continuing on to Siracusa. We've got friends here, BeBe and Sea Bird are anchored nearby. We just met another American boat, SV Benevento, a Pacific SeaCraft 40 with Darold, Jennifer and Dante Massaro which is here as well. Actually its a San Francisco boat heading east and they're nearing the end of a two year cruise.

Cathedral duomo, Doric columns in a Baroque church, beautifully done.
We've had some nice walks in the city, the cathedral is very nice enclosing the original Doric columns of a 6th Century BC temple to Athena. Its easy to get pleasantly lost in the neighborhoods. Tonight it will be dinner for seven at a local trattoria favored by Steven and Carol (Sea Bird) from previous visits. 
MV Sea Bird
The plan is spend a few more days here and then continue north to Riposto and Messina and then through the Straits of Messina to the volcano islands to the north.

Dinner with Sea Bird and BeBe

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream