Sardinia, Italy

We pulled into Cagliari, Sardinia unexpectedly due to weather on our trip from Malta to Barcelona, Spain. Cagliari is exactly the halfway mark between the two, about 330 miles from Malta. And we learned some things. We learned that it isn’t pronounced “CAGliari,” like it is spelled at all.

The locals call it “Calgary,” as in the cow-town in Canada. Or at least it sounds very similar to “Calgary.” Weird, eh? Also, the people here, on the largest island in the Med, are not true Italians. Yes, Sardinia is part of Italy now but the people call themselves “Sards” (or “Sardi” in Italian) and have their own language which is not a dialect of Italian. I thought there were a lot of sardines here but nope, that has nothing to do with it.

There is a low velocity independence movement here too which seems mostly to confine itself to T-shirts and random graffiti. It was a nice place to wait out some bad weather. In fact, the leg from Malta to here had some of the roughest conditions we have yet encountered.

Every weather situation is unique, and although on one trip we had three days of winds approaching 65 knots in the Indian Ocean and had 50 knots astern entering the Red Sea, this time the wind was only 30 knots steady but the seas were angry. They were about 12 to 15 feet in height and picked up our 22 tons and slapped us around like a red-haired stepchild in a continuous and uncomfortable corkscrew motion.

This was the first time we had to heave to (stop the boat by backing sails) just to run our refrigerator. The fridge is water-cooled and couldn’t pick up any seawater with all the motion the boat was making. Poor Ariel was also very sick; virtually bed-ridden for 24 hours. She couldn’t hold down even a sip of water. So we cut the passage short and pulled in here just before it got dark. People ask if I don’t get seasick and I usually don’t. If both of us were sick well then, who would sail the boat? There were a few moments though I felt a little less than buoyant, I’ll admit.

First, using the “Italian Waters Pilot,” as our guide, we decided to make for the small marina at Perd’e’ Sali, which should have 5 meters on entry and three meters inside, according to the chartlet (we need two meters to float). The conditions were rolly and the entrance to the marina is right on the beach behind a breakwater.

After much thought it looked like we could go in there. I repeatedly called the marina on the advised VHF channels but got no response. However, as we approached with the water getting skinnier and skinnier; seven meters, five meters, four meters (four meters! it should be five+!) the marina manager came pedaling out to the end of the quay on his mountain bike and waved at us, “NO! NO!” He then made a motion with his two hands indicating it was too shallow for us.

Great. So we turned on a dime, enough to see three meters on the depth meter and high-tailed it out of there. This was too bad as it meant the next port, Cagliari, was twelve miles away and in THE WRONG DIRECTION! On a passage you hate to backtrack but we had to do that or spend another night out at sea and with Ariel in such a state I decided we would just have enough time to make it to Cagliari before it got dark. We did and it did (get dark). We pulled into friendly Marina del Sole (mentioned but not shown in the now less than reliable pilot book) and enjoyed 360 degree protection and a very quiet night. Bliss for tired sailors.

I figured we would spend 2-3 days here to recover a little and let the seas die down. A series of lows crossing the Atlantic and coming our way had other ideas, though. We ended up staying ten days and had good weather only on alternate days. In between, the “maestrale,” or “mistral,” came howling down from the north bringing cold air and honking in here at 50 knots. I measured one gust at 54 knots (62 mph).

We had several days of this and were very glad to be safely snuggled down in the marina. Also here, we found Tim, on “Libelle,” and Bill, on “Saltaire,” two sailors we knew from coming up the Red Sea. Neither of them had planned on coming here either and since we hadn’t seen each other since those evil days in Egypt it was quite a surprise meeting up in Sardinia, of all places. We all had a good time catching up, as sailors do when they bump into old “shipmates” from past voyages.

Cagliari itself is a nice enough place. It is “the city” on the island and has a lot of shipping and manufacturing. It isn’t a real tourist spot as Sardinia has some world-famous resorts which are at the north of the island not down here in the south. And very few people speak English here at all.

So we got to enjoy a “real” Italian/Sardi city while we waited for the weather to turn. Now that we knew sardines were not involved, Ariel and I wanted to splurge a little and try some “real Sardinian food.” We ambled along the narrow, hilly backstreets of the city and found what looked a likely spot. The name of the restaurant was “Su Procciu” which means something or other in the local lingo. We walked down some steps and found the restaurant in the bowels of a cavern, packed with locals wolfing down all kinds of weird things.

The waiter asked if we were “dua persona” and I nodded holding up two fingers (pretty good with the Italian, so far). He found us the only free table in the back and we sat down and before we could ask for a menu he vanished and a woman appeared with cutlery and a jug of wine. Alright! Things are looking up. She then dashed off to get the menus we assumed. Wrong. Back she comes balancing five plates on her arm and bang, bang, bang they are all on our table and off she goes again!

Well, we had different plates of fish which appeared pretty tasty, so after looking at each other we decided, what the hell, just eat! We did and they kept coming back and throwing more food at us. We had nine plates of appetizers, all good, pasta, a full lobster, nine cookies, two jugs of wine (that would be me, not Ariel) and the whole meal took almost three hours to get through. It was great and wasn’t too expensive either considering the quality and amount of food; 66 Euros ($80) for the both of us and we were the only “out of towners” there.

For our American friends and family: with the dollar only worth about .80 Euros, Europe ain’t cheap! Normally, we eat on the boat or a meal a day in a restaurant for less than 66 Euros but tonight was a splurge and well worth it. Food is one of the most important parts of traveling and a great way to experience another culture.

Our feeling is, and some of our cruising friends may disagree, but if we couldn’t afford to eat out at least once a day then it would be time to call it quits and fly home. And Italy is one of the world capitals of good food. Not only main courses, Italians love ice cream. They call it “gelato” and it is a little lighter than what we have in the US.

It is also very, very good with many fresh fruit flavors made with chunks of real fruit. Our favorite place here became “Isola de Gelato,” or “Ice Cream Island.” They claim to have 280 flavors and for only one Euro you could get a cup full. I think we went there every day. Our other culinary adventures included one night in a restaurant where my Italian didn’t fare so well. I ordered “spiedino,” which is a shish kabob. You can see the photo, very small, and only there was only ONE and it cost a full $8.00! I complained and the waitress (who was Chinese, by the way) explained to me in Mandarin that in Italian “spiedino” is singular and “spiedini” is plural, so tough!

One other nice thing about Cagliari is they even had a coin-operated laundromat here – the first we have seen in Europe. To wash and dry one big load of laundry cost 18 Euros ($21), less than half of what we had paid way back in Rhodes, Greece. Of course it was much more than what it would have cost in the US. Remember those taxes and that exchange rate? For us it was well worth it.

As the weather kept getting worse and our time here lengthening we decided to rent a car and go see the interior. We drove all day north up country roads into the dark heart of Sardinia where the “banditti” (plural) used to roam. We stopped in little medieval towns along the way but each town was closed for business.

Every place had at most one or two tiny cafes open that served beer and coffee only. No food. Finally we found a lunch place around 3 PM and had some hearty peasant fare; chopped suckling pig. Later that afternoon found us in Nuoro, a mountain town where we planned on spending the night before returning to the boat the next day. According to our Lonely Planet guide, there were two tourist information offices.

We parked in front of one and it was closed too! Then we hiked around for a while before we found the other. When I asked them why their other office was closed in August during peak tourist season, they asked, “Which other office?” They didn’t know about it as apparently the other office is a “fake.” Must be a front for a travel agent or something nefarious (and probably run by Egyptians). The girls manning this office were friendly and a little too honest; recommending we go somewhere else for the night as Nuoro was a pretty dead place (!).

We agreed and headed “up the mountain” to a little bed and breakfast place, Casa Solotti. We met two other nice couples, one English and the other Italian and had a pizza dinner together next to the Olympic swimming pool one kilometer away in the middle of the forest, ie, nowhere. Very strange urban planning, we thought.

After a sleepless night of listening to the neighbor’s dogs give their views on the world and the old wooden shutters creak and bang in the windy night, we had breakfast, said goodbye to our new friends Richard, Nicky, Alexcio and Nicoletta and left. We returned the car to Hertz who proceeded to rip me off for one extra day. I was, and still am angry with them and have cancelled the charge. We will deal with Avis next time.

Sardinia is backwoods Italy but the roads are fantastic. All are in great condition and coming from Greece we were really impressed. One of the nice things about cruising in a sailboat is you have to be flexible and let things develop. We enjoyed our surprise stop in Sardinia. Next stop: Barcelona. Maybe.