11 Sep 09 - Return to the Tyrrhenian Sea

This is a sailing blog so you need know little of the past two and a half months. Our retreat to Scotland from the Mediterranean for July and August because the Med is too hot, crowded and expensive was easily justified - forest fires from Los Angeles (not quite Med but similar latitude) to Athens. Was Scotland any less hot, crowded or expensive? Less hot, but in events and expense - certainly not! We return to Selkie Dancer by way of Luxemburg on the 21st of September with the intention of sailing north to Elba, west to Corsica and south to Sardinia to leave Selkie Dancer at Cagliari for the winter. I am impatient for the off - I hope October lives up to our expectations - Jinti will report in due course.


29 Sep 09 - Autumn Cruise - Tyrrhenian Sea

Riva di Traiano, Civitavecchia.

After three busy months at home we are back on the boat for our autumn cruise. Poor Selkie Dancer must have got very hot and dry during the scorching Italian summer ashore and I could almost imagine I heard her going oooh! aaah! blisss! as she was settled gently back into the water.

Our general plan is to go north to Elba and then across to Corsica and on south to Sardinia where we will leave the boat in the water over the winter.

While close we took the train to Rome for the day. I found a Nia teacher, Emanuela, and danced with her in her studio – fantastic! We took the open top bus tour, ate a pizza, took photographs at the Trevi fountain, had a difference of opinion about the quickest way back to the station and resolved to dig out the air miles and visit the city properly in the future.

The day dawned when we had decided to leave and Andy was having doubts about the weather so we decided not to do a long trip but to move up the coast into Civitavecchia harbour. We turned into the long approach to our destination dwarfed by three huge cruise liners and numerous ferries, luckily none of them were on the move at the time. Through a narrow entrance, gingerly making our way in, looking out for the wildly gesticulating man who usually appears and signals where to go – he did and we tied up. The pilot book describes this as a ‘hell hole’ I can quite see how this might be, in the height of summer with no air flow and the smell of the fish market nearby; but for us, at this moment it was our breaking loose, our first trip and escape from an expensive marina.

The fishing boats that lie opposite us here in the Darsena Romana of Civitavecchia look very clean, all sparkling white with the waves catching the sun and reflecting in curvy patterns on their hulls. When we walk around the back we get a different picture. Dark interiors, big drums of menacing coiled wire rope contrast with bright footballs - for floats I think, not nautical football, men busy fixing nets and splicing ropes, the smell of diesel and fish mingling with the salt air.

I do love the Italians, they are enthusiastic, they enter into everything with gusto, they engage, they talk, they question, they all have an opinion and they all like to share it with everyone else. You could be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the bus is related or at least good friends but no, they just love to talk and they all chime in with advice and suggestion which of course is then up for dispute and further discussion. The talk is loud and versatile, words explode, conversations can take place on mobile phones and to individuals at the same time and then of course there are the associated hand gestures but that’s a whole other story.

Isola di Giannutri (The Giant Nut Tree – thanks Mac!)

We had a fantastic sail to this memorable island, a pretty amazing seven and a half knots most of the time. It was exhilarating and just how it should be, strong wind and low sea state. And then we arrived, had lunch and swam. The wind was veering and our anchorage was no longer tenable; we knew we had to move so we did and so did others and soon we were part of a circus milling around looking for a suitable place to anchor. But the bottom shelved rapidly so denying us anything other than deep water and precious little protection but with nowhere else to go we settled for a sleepless night in a pitching boat listening to the crash of the surf on the nearby rocks. We left early next day for................

Isola di Giglio

As I walked back to the boat, the warm morning air soft against my skin, the smell of good coffee and the anticipation of the croissants freshly bought I wondered what the day would bring. We never know. We like this. This is what makes the journey interesting - where are we going to spend the night, who will we meet, will there be any difficult situations? Hmmm............first we have to leave. All the checks are gone through, aft lines are cast off and Andy goes forward to raise the anchor – all well and good – that is until the engine stutters and dies. We are in the middle of a small and busy harbour, a ferry about to leave and probably one arriving soon. Panic, but don’t show it, keep calm. I quickly go and check the fuel. I can’t believe it, the fuel line is closed, no wonder the engine died. This could be a demotion but I’ll face that later. We always unzip our mainsail so it’s ready to deploy and now we raise it to catch the little wind there is and steer the boat gently and safely to the harbour wall. Just as we tie up there is a roar of ferry engines and off it goes - Phew! I am mortified, I turned the fuel ‘off’ instead of ‘on’, just assumed that it was in the ‘off’ when clearly it had been ‘on’. We have changed the wording of the check list so that we cannot make this mistake again. It was all rectified quite quickly and off we went. We motored around the island anticlockwise to a wide anchorage underneath the Castello that we had visited the night before. This is a magical place; you enter in through the narrow archway and are immediately plunged back into the middle ages, the narrow streets, steep, cool and shady; a soft silence as we are led up and around and come to a tower which proclaims that it last saw action repelling Turkish pirates in 1756. This is the walled town to where the people would retreat when under threat, it was also the day after a three day wine festival – we could smell the grape in the air and maybe this was why it was so quiet – like Scotland on the 1st of January.

Thoughts turn to food and the trofie with pesto, green beans and potato I had planned for this evening. I go below to search for the jar of pesto I know is in the store. Can I find it? No I can’t! What to do? My heart is set on this, I am desolate! Andy suggests I swim ashore and find some. Ha! Ha! Then I think some more about it and it becomes a challenge I cannot refuse. I unearth a waterproof bag in which I put some euro coins, a dress, my shoes, a towel, sunglasses and a lipstick – Ha! Fooled you, no I did not put in a lipstick. I strapped this all around my person with a dive belt minus the weights, climbed down the ladder, adjusted my snorkel and mask and struck out for the shore about 200 metres away with a big red airbag attached to my back. Imagine the surprise of the sunbathing lady as I arrived on the beach, extracted my dry clothes (yes it had worked) and transformed myself ready for the search for a supermarket. I got the last ‘special’ pesto in the store and even had enough left over for two bits of bread. I retraced my steps, redressed into swimming mode having safely stashed away the pesto and bread in the waterproof bag and off I went again. It was worth it, a very simple and tasty dish. Recipe available on request.

Elba next stop

Ciao! Jinti and Andy

11 Nov ‘09 ‘repellent child’ growled my Dad -

He often said this and tonight I proved that I had progressed from ‘repellent child’ to ‘repellent adult’.  To a couple of naked men, half way up the swimming ladder and threatening to board the boat, I said, in my best schoolmarm voice, ‘what do you think you’re doing?’  They took one look at me and scarpered!!

After that amusing little incident from Giglio to Elba we went; motoring across to Porto Azzuro.  We spent twelve days around the island.  Portoferraio, the capital, got its name presumably because the island was so rich in minerals and iron in particular.  It would be of absolutely no use to try and sort out our compasses here as the presence of metal around the coast seriously disrupts the readings.  

We were welcomed to Marciana Marina by Janet, the sister of a friend from Edinburgh.  She has lived here for the past thirty years and so was a mine of useful information, help and a washing machine!  Then my friend Mary came out, it was lovely to see her and we had a great time, some good sailing days, one horrendous sleepless night at anchor (in the morning only one half of my bikini was left on the line!), we did lots of swimming and were treated to exotic cocktails – very spoiling.  We visited the villa where Napoleon lived for the nine months he was here; all trompe l’oeill decoration and a tranquil green garden overlooking the blue Mediterranean.  On our return down the steps into the town of Portoferraio we were drawn by the hubbub of celebrating people and a brass band.  We came around the corner and found ourselves outside the town hall where there was a golf buggy bedecked in flowers with a ‘Just Married’ sign hung in anticipation.  A rather large Pavarotti ‘look alike’ bridegroom and his similarly proportioned wife-to-be were clasping flowers and kissing well wishers before disappearing inside to do the deed. All this to the accompaniment of the band who were accommodated in the tourist train.  I was sad to see Mary disappear off into the bowels of a Moby ferry that went off with little regard to a published timetable – oh well!

Our trip to Corsica was uneventful, crossing between the prison island of Pianosa and the island of Montecristo, which being a nature reserve, was totally unlit and looked very mysterious.  It loomed and then retreated slowly.  There was a swelly sea and then it was morning.  There is a certain hour at which the sun’s rays pierce the water and give birth to myriad sparkling white stars which spread over the surface of the sea ever wider, into infinity.  It is as if the night is giving up its stars to the day.  This glittering sight is only there for a short time and is magic.  Corsica is stunning from the sea, a dramatically beautiful island.  Its savage craggy mountains forming the backdrop to the deeply green wooded hills which drop down to the narrow coastal strip and the bright blue green water which today has foamy crests curling and rolling and spume blowing off the top of them as the wind whipped up to a force 8.  We have two anchors out.

Languages are proving a real challenge at the moment.  Having spent two years endeavouring to speak Spanish we next try Italian.  Now we are in Corsica and must remember our school French, then in a few days time we revert to Italian.  I am getting in a grand muddle.

Alastair arrived in Porto Vecchio, Corsica and left from Arbatax, Sardinia and although it seems that a lot of his visit was in a port because of contrary winds, the other days have been incredible – From Cala Rondinara to Bonifacio we made 7/8 knots and were going beautifully, Porto Palma to Olbia with the storm gib, Gale 8 and large tricky seas from Olbia to Arbatax, cup a soups and salty snacks when it was too difficult to do anything else. As usual Alastair has stimulated Andy into new thought on rigging and boat things in general!

Bonifacio so dramatic - limestone cliffs, blue grotto caves and rock stacks, houses perched on high, defying gravity as the rocks slowly erode beneath them.  The dizzying fall of Roi de Aragon steps, the Kissing Pigs wine bar.  I noticed that the dogs of Bonifacio have a certain class, they are not mutts.  They drape themselves over the steepest of stairs that rise almost at a 45 degree angle from the street; they lurk under benches and the shade of trees, they meet up together in the town squares and then pad off purposefully to their next appointments.  They were most attractive.

Porto Palma anchorage which we thought would be good for a BBQ and swim -wasn’t.  The next morning we left it just a little too late to run for the security of a nearby marina and ended up picking up a buoy in a force 7.

OLBIA - Huge seas and winds from the Madelenas to Olbia where we had coffees and pastries and the only cost was for the removal of rubbish at five euros.  In the huge barn of a modern museum we were escorted and monitored by staff - lest we got lost finding the exhibits?  Hot water bottles and warm nighties, it’s getting cooler. Only in Italy and perhaps only in Olbia would you find a dirty old fuel dock manned whoops! Madammed by an elegant lady in gold high heels and a matching toning cream and beige ensemble, dog to match.

Amazing encounters - as time goes by I am less surprised.  Someone walking along the dock sees either the Saltire, or the Red Ensign or Burntisland written on the stern of the boat and then there is a connection ‘are you really from Burntisland?’.  In this case a salty sea dog turns up and after he’s gone Andy says, ‘did he have a beard?’, yes he did, ‘I think that’s the chap who did my yacht master exam!! And so it was.  He came aboard another night and regaled us with stories long into the evening!

Arbatax - Arrived at the end of a hard day, a bit battered, welcomed in to a Marina with pride.  Lucio took our lines and showed us around.  Great toilets and showers, a restaurant and coffee bar, washing machines that worked, it was a joy.  And as Lucio left us he told us that Alan would be on duty tomorrow and that his English was good.  Well, I thought Alan not a very Italian name and thought no more about it but it turned out that his English was excellent because he was from Barrow-in-Furness.  He had pitched up here seven years ago on the way east, liked it and never moved on.  He was a delight and a reassurance in the wild winds as he helped secure the boat clear of the down wind pontoon.  The accepted way to get from the marina to the town was across the road, climb over a fence and ...........VIETATO ATTRAVERSI I BINARI – do not cross the railway lines!! Yes we did and feel real locals now; mind you this was a train, a little steam engine pushing out clouds of dense black smoke, attended by serious men with enthusiasm and boiler suits.  The wind howled and the church bells sang out Ave Maria only some of their bells are missing and so it’s a bit of a guessing game, it’s pretty whatever.

Cagliari - From Arbatax to Porto Corallo to Cala Pira and on to Cagliari, discreetly letting off our out of date white flares on the way – an interesting exercise as mine decided to catch fire!  Four months ago we met Colette and Martin Brady on Hejira in Porto Cervo and they told us about Marina del Sole where they keep their boat so here we are.  It is a marina of character, definitely living a ‘natural time’ philosophy.  Informal to the point that you wonder how they make any money.  There are people wintering here on their boats and then there are the boats that look like they’ve been here forever, they are the ones with the satellite dishes, the tubs of herbs, the bikes, the permanently rigged washing lines, the cats and the five inch thick growth of shellfish on their waterline – enough to supply the local restaurant I should think.  The office here is a series of pointed tents, of the sort I imagine they had at Agincourt, a bar at one end, the room behind, a seemingly chaotic muddle of empty boxes and bits and pieces – a bit of a glory hole.  At the other end a table piled higher than our solicitor’s and that’s saying something.  Nearby another table groans with magazines and books in many different languages.  There are five permanent rescue dogs that have been adopted by the staff.  On the first morning while trying to find someone to be interested in our arrival, I found the place deserted, music playing, the telly on full blast and, carefully laid out behind the bar, five plastic plates with what I took to be someone’s breakfast, it was a bit of a Goldilocks moment but then looking at the contents, - chopped liver etc I realised it was food for the dogs!! They seem to be the only souls that merit attention.

Cagliari is a really interesting city, go into the old town where no cars can go and it seems to murmur peacefully to itself.  It doesn’t have the clatter and clash of other cities.  Tonight there is a beautiful flamingo pink sunset over the cut out mountain backdrop.

We are both feeling sad that our period of sailing is again coming to an end but feel so lucky that we can do it and share it with family and friends.  We really do love to have guests and I hope that next year we will see a lot of you taking advantage of Ryan Air or Easy Jet to come and join us.

Andiamo a nostra casa - Jinti

2009 - Autumn Cruise

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Seek Shelter

The Italian love of graffiti has become part of the establishment.  The Moby line ferries that sail around Elba, Corsica and Sardinia are bright with colourful cartoon characters painted large on their sides.  They have taken the place of Eddie Stobbart lorries as we collect the pictures and indeed the names, there’s Baby, Lally, Love, Tommy, WonderAki and Cargo to name but a few.


Could be worse !!

Click here for more 2009 photos


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Click here for a link to google earth and more detail of our route

Click here for a link to google earth and more detail of our route