With Elyse, Ed, Julia and myself onboard we made our way up the East coast of Sardinia. We anchored for a late lunch in a bay just south of Arbatax. Setting off a bit later than planed, we decided not to embark on the long stretch of baron coast and instead, looked for a spot to anchor for the night. We found a small island north of Arbatax called Del L’Ogliastra with sculptural wind eroded rocks and strewn with cactus. We dropped the hook on the inside shore and dinghied over to the island for a closer look.
We climbed up the rock face as the sun set, with Elyse and Julia reaching a small shrine the summit. On the way back to Bumblebee Ed and I gave a tow to some lost looking folk in a toy inflatable boat. It was unclear where they had come from or where they thought they were going.
As we sailed on north the next morning, we stopped at tight little anchorage by a rocky inlet. The chart pointed to a wreck in amongst the rocks so we went to investigate. There turned out to be huge remnants of a ship, smashed against the rocks some fifty or so years ago.
We pushed on up the east coast for the rest of the afternoon, anchoring momentarily for Julia to have a Skype conference call. As the sun set we pulled into a calm bay just south of Caletta. The chart showed the wreck of a 1960’s Corsair plane just by the anchorage, so at first light we set off in search but failed to locate it.
Our fuel was getting worryingly low so we made a stop at the marina at Caletta. The pumps were closed as it was midday so we tied up to the quay, did a supply shop and filled up the water tanks. While this was going on a pair of dolphins entered the marina and swam a few laps.
That night we had a very generous invitation to join our friend Charlotte and her family for supper onboard their 1981 78ft Swan. We made our way to Punta di Capacciolo where we had no trouble spotting their 30 metre masts and large Swedish flag. We anchored close by and started getting ready to join them for supper.
While showering and changing, a large motoryacht swept past, rocking the boat and sending everything flying. A large bottle of liquer smashed in the galley, covering the floor in sticky alcohol and glass. We had to lift all the floorboards and wash down the bilge with buckets of water.
After congregating on the bow to help swill all the fresh water into the bilge, we climbed into the tender and motored over to supper. We had a lovely evening with the kindest hosts who showed us all around their classic superyacht and treated us to great food and some fantastic wine. As we left them around midnight they weighed anchor and set off on their long journey south to Cagliary. We were all overwhelmed by their hospitality and fantastic ship.
Olbia was our next target as Giles was due to arrive the next day. As we approached the area, the average boat size multiplied and the traffic grew thick. We selected a suitable spot for lunch, pulling in to find it swarming with ribs and superyachts. There was good reason for this as the water was bright turquoise and strewn with interesting rocks and sandy patches. We tendered across to the shore and climbed up the rocky hill to the summit. Here we found a path and followed it to the far end of the island where we found an abandoned settlement. The route back down was a bit trickier as we descended a dried up river but luckily emerged in roughly the right place.
We were close to Olbia that evening when we anchored in a wide bay by Porto Istana. After securing Bumblebee we took the coastal path for a brisk 3km stroll to the nearby marina. The marina was small and really only suitable for motorboats, here we found a fantastic little restaurant. They were fully booked but kindly let us order if we sat on the benches outside. We had some epic mixed seafood and returned along the path tired and content.
The next day we sailed into Olbia to collect Giles. We planned to pull up at the fuel quay, fill up and kill time until Giles arrived from the nearby airport. As we arrived the wind flared up and we were pushed around by 30 knot gusts. We managed to secure ourselves alongside the fuel quay with some difficulty but Giles turned up on cue and we were soon on our way with a full belly of fuel. The wind carried on blowing for the rest of the evening and after aborting a trip out of the Gulf of Olbia due to wind and waves we dropped anchor amongst a throng of other yachts by Aranci. Here we settled down to supper and cards inside the cabin as the wind howled past.
In the morning we made our way out of the gulf of Olbia and sailed towards the Maddalena Islands. On the way we pulled into Porto Cervo to gawk at the opulent array of megayachts. The whole area was swarming with boats of inconceivable scale, leaving behind them wakes large enough to almost sink us!
As we passed the Maddalena Islands we spotted a beautiful inlet and pulled in for lunch. When we dropped the anchor we noticed the 30m metre Jongert ‘Anamcara’ we first came across in Corfu. The captain and mate were really helpful with advice when planning to leave Greece so it was great to show them how far we’d come. They alerted us to some strong north easterlies on their way and agreed that our plan to head for west Corsica should keep us out of the worst of it.
After lunch we continued north and set out across the Gulf of Bonifacio to spend a couple of days in and around the famous harbour town. As we set out, we met large rolling waves of about two or three metres but with a comfortable wavelength, making for a fun ride. Giles helmed most of the way, clearly having a good time.
Bonifacio is a breathtaking harbour to enter. At first we saw a tight huddle of buildings perched impossibly atop hundred metre cliffs. The entrance is invisible until you round the huge limestone caves on either side and pass the gun emplacements built into the sheer cliff edges. Inside the shelter of the deep gorge the wind is barely noticeable but the volume of water traffic took us by surprise. Sightseeing boats whip in and out, sailing boats jostle for space, little tenders buzz around and all the while gigantic megayachts shuffle into tight berths. We arrived at about 7pm and the place was rammed.
With no chance of a berth for the night we tried the smaller inlet with mooring lines coming away from the cliff. This too was full to bursting, so we departed in the company of other disappointed yachts in search of the nearby anchorages. These were just fifteen minutes up the coast and were also crammed full of yachts. After a bit of circling we secured ourselves a spot to drop the hook. It was getting dark but we were determined to explore the town. Using Google we located a rocky path that wound it’s way for 5km to Bonifacio. We left Bumblebee, tendered to the shore and found the path. By now it was dark and the path was hard work with flip-flops, eventually we managed to reach the town. We had supper in a quay-side restaurant followed by ice-cream before navigation the treacherous path once again and returning to the boat.
The wind picked up over night and we awoke with a bang! I scrambled onto deck to find the yacht in front had dragged its anchor and drifted right onto our chain. Luckily Bumblebee wasn’t touched so we paid out some slack to allow the other boat to power forward and off our chain. They anchored again upwind of us and spent some time swimming around their stern inspecting for damage. The wind continued to build and was gusting around 36 knots by 9am. We were all out on deck having breakfast, keeping a close eye on our surroundings when we too started to drag! In a flash we had the engine on and powered forward to pick up our chain so that we too could re-lay our anchor and hope for the best.
The wind showed no sign of abating, so instead of anxiously watching our anchor, we decided to head out for a sail. As we headed up the west coast of Corsica the wind developed into a full gale and we flew along amongst breaking waves and salt spraying in our faces. We were right on the edge of our comfort zone when a huge gust overpowered us, almost knocking us down. The rudder lifted out, we swung round, healed right over and came back up at 90 degree to our course. After that we furled up the sails and decided to motor instead.
Our water tanks were almost empty so we took a course for a nearby marina in what looked to be a sheltered inlet. The inlet turned out to be anything but sheltered and they were unwilling to give us water so we turned and left. We rounded the corner towards another bay where we could rest for a bit. As we motored along the wind dropped completely and for a moment there was a flat calm. It was not to last as the wind soon powered up, this time in exactly the opposite direction. The bay offered some relief from the wind as we anchored amongst clear patches of sand. As we sat and had lunch we were joined by Anamcara once again.
We headed back into Bonifacio after lunch to try our luck once again. It was 4pm when we arrived so we expected to get a berth. I phoned ahead and was told there were spaces but we could not book. As usual it was chaos inside the harbour. We waited in line with five other yachts, occasionally getting out of the way for a gin-palace to pass by. It quickly became clear that the harbour helpers in their ribs couldn’t care less about any boat under than sixty or so feet. After half an hour of this, one came to inform us the harbour was full. Somewhat disgruntled we headed up to the moorings, back towards the entrance. We were lucky and found a vacant lazyline where we managed to secure ourselves. Finally we were safely tied up in Bonifacio.
We took the dinghy ashore and went to explore the old town. We had supper with a view out over the Gulf from a cliff top restaurant. Later we found a shop still open and stocked up on a few essentials before returning to Bumblebee for Aperol Spritz and a few hands of Rummy.
We were still desperate to fill the water tanks, so in the morning we nipped over to the marina quay, tied up and filled our tanks. We were told we could fill up and stay for a couple of hours for ten Euros, so we did just that. We had breakfast in a boulangerie and explored a bit more of the old town. Soon enough the wind kicked up again and we found ourselves moored side-on to 30 knots of wind. We doubled up our mooring lines, while boats around us tried and failed to moor alongside. As no one came to tell us to move, we made good use of the time and set about fixing the water-cooled fridge. This was achieved by cleaning the filter and having Ed give the sea water tubing a good blow.
The wind kept gusting and the lines were under a lot of strain so we decided to leave the harbour. Earlier, from above the town, I noticed a few boats taking shelter below the southern cliffs, so we made our way to join them. We anchored within a stone’s throw of the cliff and waited for the wind to die down. While securely anchored we snorkelled amongst hundreds of fish, discovered a huge drive-in collapsed cave and looked on as Elyse hurled herself of the rocks!
That evening the wind died down and we were able to cross back to Sardinia. We anchored in a busy bay just south of Is. Santa Maria, waking up in the morning to find hundreds of boats swarming around us. We sailed east, past Maddalena Island to Caprera and found Cala Coticcio, aka ‘Tahiti’. Anchoring here was a nightmare as it was crowded and deep. Once the hook was secured some boats began to depart and we decided to stay for the night. Julia and Elyse climbed the nearby rocks, attempted to tame the local goats and were eaten alive by mosquitoes. I remained on the boat trying to upload this blog post through a painfully slow 3G connection.
Friday came and with it the departure of Ed and Elyse. We sailed into Olbia, had lunch tied up to the fuel quay, took a team photo and said farewell. With Giles due to leave the next morning we spent the night on anchor by the old town and went ashore for a bit of exploration and pizza.
We pulled into the harbour of Carloforte on the evening of the 12th. A bit of Googling beforehand revealed a free town quay, which luckily had a Bumblebee size space left free. It was an awkward spot but we managed to manoeuvre into place and set to work piling up fenders and spring lines to absorb any wash from the passing ferries.
Our crew at this point included Julia and myself, plus our Sardinian friends Rossella and her brother Marco. We would be staying at their house above the harbour, so thought it prudent to leave a note on the boat with emergency phone numbers.
Our first impression of Carloforte was of a calm authentic town without the tourist tat and restaurant touts found in previous places. Here people can buy fresh fish directly from the boats and Tuna is the local speciality. Rossella and Marco (R&M) took us straight to the best tuna restaurant to sample the local delicacies; a tuna tasting menu and bottarga carbonara.
After a proper night’s sleep in a real bed, we hopped in Marco’s car and set out to tour the island. We made our way to La Conca, with it's curious rock formations that were a popular spot for cliff jumping and snorkelling.
The town itself is a wonderful maze of tiny streets and twisting steps where life is lived outside each house; old ladies set up chairs in the middle of the streets and children doodle in chalk on the paving stones.
After two nights on the town quay, with the fenders getting black from the rubbing strips, we took bumblebee out for a tour of the island’s coast. We had R&M onboard and Michele joined us too. We sailed out to the north and headed west around Carloforte, reaching a point where the cliffs dropped down into the sea. The underwater topography was a mix caves and huge boulders with a patch of sand large enough for a few boats to anchor. We sat down to lunch and dug out the masks and fins.
We hoped Rossella’s friend Hugo might join us and part with a bit of wisdom as he is a deep sea diver and freedive instructor. In the meantime we thought it would be a good idea to hoist Marco’s GoPro and get some footage looking down from the mast. The mistake we made was not accounting for the weight of the halyard overcoming the camera and leaving it stranded on the topping lift! We immediately realised our mistake but it was too late and the GoPro was out of reach. Various retrieval methods proved unsuccessful including launching a snorkel attached to a line and casting a squid jig with a fishing rod (which also got stuck). In the end we sent Julia up to complete the mission, keeping the nearby boats well entertained. We returned to Carloforte and treated Bumblebee to a night in the marina.
Sunday was a national holiday and we were invited to a party just outside the town. Roast piglet was served; head and all! We drank rum, smoked cigars and danced until the small hours.
On Monday we said fare well to R,M&M and set off back towards Cagliary. We had a great time on Carloforte and were sad to leave. Fortunately we were on our way to pick up Ed and Elyse so spirits were soon raised. As we left we saw boats being mobbed by the competing marinas for business as they approached the harbour!
We anchored after dark at Porto Pino, setting off at dawn past Malfatano where we sat out the Maestrale a few days earlier. A kind English couple from the marina invited us for a curry onboard their motoryacht anchored nearby but we were already on our way.
On Tuesday we rounded the southeast corner, past Villasimius and made our way north. At 4pm we anchored off the beach of Sant Elmo, deployed the dinghy and collected Ed and Elyse in very choppy conditions. We continued up the East coast with strong following winds and waves pushing us along nicely. At the party on Sunday I chatted with a delivery skipper with ten years of experience. I mentioned a downwind sail we had not yet found the confidence to dig out of the locker and hoist. He urged me to stop worrying and string it up. So that afternoon, after a bit of discussion, saw us wrestling with what turned out to be a huge blue spinnaker. None of us had a clue what we were doing.
We connected a few lines and a halyard and hauled it up. The power of the wind as it filled the sail was phenomenal and in the ensuing moments of chaos we reached a new record of 9.2 knots. The photo below looks quite cool until you realise the sail is upside down! We somehow managed to wrestle it back down only to raise it a second time completely twisted. After these two failed attempts we were exhausted and lucky to still be onboard with all our limbs. We stuffed the spinnaker into the forward hatch and agreed to google spinnaker sailing that evening.
That evening turned out to be in the sheltered harbour of Corallo. There was a large welcoming party gathered on the quay who we guessed were not there for us. It was unfortunate though as we had hundreds of spectators as we messed up a windy stern to mooring. There was help on hand with a filthy dinghy that shoved us around making a mess of clean white hull.
The gathering turned out to be for a religious holiday. We sat confused as a fleet of boats filled with priests, officials and a Virgin Mary, then set out to sea. We left the boat and wondered up to the only restaurant, where we luckily found an empty table. There followed delicious pizza, a bit of supply shopping and a well-earned sleep.
Our next stop was the Sardinian capital of Cagliary. Here we picked up Julia’s friend Rossella and her brother Marco (R&M). Julia has known Rossella since high school in America and being Cagliary residents, the whole family came down to welcome us.
That evening we left Bumblebee firmly secured to the pontoon at Marina San’Elmo, while Rossella’s father took us out for some proper pizza. The next day R&M whisked us off for a high-speed tour of their city, before returning to the marina and setting sail by mid-afternoon.
After too many nights staying in marinas we were determined to anchor whenever possible. We decided to make the anchorage at Pula our first stop. From there we would spend three days making our way to the island of Carlo Forte where we had been invited to a party and where R&M have a house.
The next day we made our way to Malfatano, just a few hours further around the coast. During the journey the wind built up and we had our first taste of the infamous Maestrale, which blows in hard from the northwest. The current fought against the wind a kicked up an unpleasant sea. Luckily we were close to our destination which offered a safe haven from the gusts. We motored in and set our anchor; unaware we would not be able to leave for the next two days.
There is a great beach bar in Malfatano where we got spaghetti bottarga to take away, as they were fully booked. It turns out there are far worse place to be stranded than this idyllic bay and we spent an enjoyable day hanging out on the boat. R&M’s friend Michele joined us and sourced a couple of sea urchins from down below for me to try –actually not bad!
As I write this, the mighty Maestrale continues to blow at around 30 knots. With all our faith in the anchor and chain, Bumblebee forms cocoon in which we ride out the weather. Food, drinks, games and the occasional trip ashore keep us sane. The forecast for tomorrow looks promising so we should be on our way again soon.
Our last day in Sicily was spent on Favignana, in the Egadi Islands. Julia, Kasia and myself spent the night on a mooring buoy under the shelter of a windward cliff. Kasia (aka Katie) had joined us for a week to help with the crossing, we enjoy her company and she has quite a bit of sailing experience. We needed a suitable weather window for the crossing to Sardinia so I kept a close eye on the forecasts, regularly switching between GFS, COAMPS, WW3 & WRF prediction systems while also keeping an eye on wave heights. At an average speed of 5.5 knots I anticipated a crossing of 27 hours. For the previous few days strong north-westerlies had been blowing which would make the journey tedious but northerlies were forecast to come the next day.
We spent a lazy day conserving energy and avoiding the midday heat. Once the air had cooled we topped up the diesel tank with our two 20l jerry cans. We piled into the dinghy with the empty cans and a shopping list and set off for the shore. We took a taxi to the fuel station, where we filled up and left the cans. We then went on to find some wifi and shop for provisions in the town before returning to collect the fuel a few hours later.
6am on the 3rd saw us up and quietly motoring out of the anchorage. Some reassurance was found as we joined a French ketch apparently embarking on the same journey. We jostled for pole position as we passed Marettimo, both using a bit of motor to keep the island a safe distance.
A few hours into the journey the predicted Northerlies began to shift to the West causing us to lose course. We began motor sailing and lost the French ketch into the distance fairly quickly. To our disappointment the wind settled to a steady North-westerly and the engine became our main propulsion for the bulk of the crossing.
At some points we dropped all the sails and motored dead into the wind but there were often times when the mainsail would fill while staying roughly on course. Tacking into the wind would have doubled our crossing time and would have raised concern with those expecting us on the other side.
The day passed slowly and was punctuated by a few dolphin sightings and one or two ships passing on the horizon. The AIS receiver provided the comfort of knowing there were numerous boats around us just out of eyesight. We knew the night was going to be dark as the new moon was only at 0.2% and would set soon after the sun. The stars were spectacular but the low light made the waves invisible. Luckily the forecast was correct about the calm night and gentle current pulling us toward Sardinia. We took shifts during the night but tried to have two people on deck at most times. Kasia was a great help and we would have struggled were it just the two of us. She also brought along plenty of audiobooks which preserved our sanity. Cabin Pressure and Absolute Power both got a lot of airtime.
We made landfall at 11am the next morning and were welcomed into Villasimius marina by an attendant in a fast Rib who showed us to our berth and helped with our lines. I entered the last entry into my logbook, then we set off in search of some bubbles to celebrate a safe crossing.
Later that morning I hauled out the dinghy to carry out some repairs aided buy two-part contact adhesive and penne pasta. All three of us managed to catch up on a bit of sleep and were feeling back to normal by the evening. My parents had flown over to see us in Sardinia and find out just what we’ve been up to. So we dug out our cleanest dirty clothes and set off for the twenty minute walk to their hotel for supper. We had a wonderful evening telling them about our trip so far and hearing all the news from home.
The next day they treated us to lunch in the marina and we took them out for a short sail on Bumblebee. After a quick tour of the boat we left the marina and headed around the coast past their hotel. We anchored in a small bay off Isola dei Cavoli for a drink and a swim before rounding the island and sailing back to harbour a few hours later. My Mum looked a little nervous as we healed gently in the breeze but looked more confident with the wheel in her hands, while my Dad (who’s far from an old salt) spun yarns of reluctant boating expeditions with my grandfather who was a passionate sailor.
We ended the day with supper nearby, eating local lobster and enjoying a wonderful view of the sun setting over the marina.
My parent’s visit was short so we spent the next day with them, chilling out at their hotel. We had a swim at the hotel’s beach followed by a delicious lunch and a bit of sketching and lounging around. Later we said fare well, thanked them for a truly spoiling few days and headed into the town of Villasimius for a look around.
Will and Oli were due to arrive in the evening of the 27th so Julia, Krysia and I spent the day exploring Palermo. After a decent burger and a wifi session, Krysia introduced us to the phenomenon of Pokemon hunting. Armed with her Iphone she lead us down obscure streets in search of curious augmented reality creatures –a sort of urban treasure hunt, although the treasure was a bit lost on us!
Later on Will and Oli arrived and we spent a third night in the marina at Villa Igiea. In the morning we refuelled and set off for San Vito Lo Capo. Our crew now five strong.
For five hours we motor-sailed west, cutting the engine whenever there was enough breeze. We heard from Brendan and Adam that the beach was overcrowded but fortunately from the boat the scene was much improved. Bright turquoise water showed clear sand patches for easy anchoring. We had a swim, prepared some food then moved bumblebee closer to the shore and took to the tender.
The town of San Vito Lo Capo caters for a large influx of Italian Tourists but still manages to feel quite authentic. Will had his birthday coming up the next day and we found some good present shopping amongst the usual tourist tat. A local recommended Frish as one of the towns hotspots, so we set off to see what this watering hole had to offer. Not much! It turned out to be a fried fish shop with friendly staff who had no idea how to make the drinks on their own menu!
From SVLC we rounded the coast and sailed goose-winged downwind to a sheltered bay on Isola di Levanzo, the nearest of the Egadi Islands. We stayed briefly for a swim and supper before making our way to Trapani, back on the mainland. We had strong northerlies and a bit of swell for the return, making for a spirited sail. Oli took the helm for a fair bit of the crossing, keeping a close reach and riding the waves well. The light began to fade and it was dark by the time we made landfall at the large commercial harbour. We helped ourselves to a vacant berth in a quiet marina at the far end of the harbour.
That evening we welcomed Katie, our sixth crew member who will be helping us cross to Sardinia a few days later. Despite being close to midnight, Julia and Oli nipped into Trapani and somehow emerged with a birthday cake for Will.
The next morning we left Bumblebee securely moored and went off in search of Erice –a medieval hilltop town accessed from Trapani by cable car. Julia and I had visited Erice a few years before but still can’t get enough of the spectacular views and maze of tiny streets.
We returned back to Trapani after lunch as it was time to say farewell to Krysia. We made sure she caught her bus to Palermo, while Julia went back up to Erice to retrieve her phone! After topping up the water tanks and washing down the decks we set off back to the Egadi Islands.
Our destination this time was Favignana, the southern of the three islands. It was getting late so we took a mooring buoy in a sheltered bay on the south east coast. The wind picked up so we spent the evening down below after converting the saloon bed back into a table for supper and a few rounds of Dobble. The Egadi Islands are a carefully regulated marine reserve with certain rules about anchoring. In many of the bays you are obliged to lift your anchor at sunset and take a mooring buoy to protect the beds of Posidonia grass below. There is some irony that the Islands used to be the scene of Tuna fishing and canning on a huge scale.
The next day saw us circumnavigating the island. We pulled in at another bay on the south side and dropped the anchor. We intended to hike up the hill to a ruined fort, so took to the dinghy armed with hiking shoes and mixed optimism. While hunting for the base of the 300m hill it became apparent that the midday heat would be a problem. The decision was taken to explore the main town instead.
Back onboard a few hours later we continued around the island and had a leisurely sail back to Trapani. Will took the helm as we passed between Levanzo and Favignana, cruising with a steady broad reach through the wind shadow of the northern island, then somewhat caught off guard as it picked up again soon after. We took a berth in the marina next door to our previous spot, which turned out to be a much better run affair. Early the next day we saw Will and Oli onto their bus to the airport and returned to Bumblebee for a bit of cleaning, organising and an oil change.