Milky crossing to unfriendly Sardinia

Police, Sailing, Sardinia

Trying to photograph an eclipse from a boat. Didn't work!

We left Menorca, the easternmost of the Balearics on the morning of July 28 (still 2018 - yes, I'm trying to catch up damnit), after watching the lunar eclipse at anchor. The forecast was for dead calm. This may seem odd for a sailboat, but we had to choose between flat calm with no waves or the full force of the Mistral kicking up a hostile sea over a long fetch. There wasn't anything in between for the whole week ahead. We chose calm.

Sunset at sea.

This meant motoring for 31.5 hours, but after checking the Italian fuel prices we had stocked up on fuel in Mahon, 230 litres in the tank and an extra 80 in jerrycans. Some dolphins came to see us off and at night the full moon (and the radar) showed us the way. We've never seen the open ocean this calm, it was like milk at night and you could see tiny insects making little ripples in the mirror-like water surface. It was beautiful, bioluminescence in our wake, more dolphins in the night and good sleep on passage, which is rare.

Sunrise over milky sea the next morning.

We had aimed for the south coast of Sardinia, as that would offer plenty of anchorages and two friend-boats were heading for the same area. To our surprise, the anchorage south of Isola di San Pietro already held around 30 boats, but we found room and soon dropped the anchor there, despite the depth sounder acting up. Apart from the fuel burnt, it was a great passage!

Sardinia looked promising.

After meeting up with friends from the Baleares and spending a few days anchoring around the area, we ended up seeking shelter from wind and swell behind Isola Sant Antioco on the south side of the town. The ground here was seagrass, which in the absence of many anchors had won the battle and taken over the area, with no sandy patches in sight. Seagrass is difficult to anchor in, but after several tries we managed to get good holding, were out of the swell and had reasonable wind shelter too. Elvyra prepared some dinner while I was on the laptop planning the next passage. Whilst I was zooming around on OpenCPN, I noticed a nearby AIS target behaving oddly. A fishing vessel named ALICE II had been on course to enter the harbour, but suddenly stopped, turned and was now heading precisely for our location on the screen. I grabbed the binoculars and looked outside, only to see the boat reversing down on us at slow speed. I couldn't see anyone on board. Even stranger, while we were swinging at anchor (we had a fair bit of chain out due to expected medium winds), they were making course corrections that kept them heading straight for us. What the fuck, I thought?

Alice misbehaving.

The wind was from the Northwest, so they weren't just drifting either, they were actively steering into us in reverse. I watched them come closer and closer and decided some action was needed. Several radio calls on channel 16 remained unanswered, and they were getting pretty close now. I grabbed the signal horn (a fancy word for a red plastic trumpet) and blew five toots, which is nautical for "WTF?". Two men appeared in a door in the side of the boat and looked at us, but took no action and the boat kept heading towards us at around 1.5 knots speed. They were getting quite close now, so I fired up the engine and told Elvyra to grab a camera and start filming, as I figured that may be useful later if we ended up in an insurance claim or other mess. I also told her to make it obvious that she was filming. That did the trick! As soon as they spotted the camera, the boat suddenly stopped its engine and resumed drifting with the wind, heading clear of us.

Naughty Alice, now no longer on a collision course.

They headed back for the port and we thought that was some really strange behaviour, but good job they buggered off. We had our slightly delayed dinner and whilst we were still eating, the same boat was doing it again! Exactly as before, heading backwards for our precise location, making small course corrections to ensure they wouldn't miss. We ate up in a hurry, put the dishes away and decided that was enough of that and we still had an hour of daylight left to go back down the coast to a previous anchorage, so we did exactly that. We never found out why they did it, although some suggested it may have been an attempt at an insurance scam, or some other way to extract money, claiming the stupid foreigners hit them and us having no chance to argue otherwise with the five words of Italian we knew at the time.

A beautiful firing range.

Slightly discouraged by our first encounter with the natives of Sardinia, we moved on to Porto Zafferano, a beautiful anchorage in a military firing range. I had spent some time and effort translating and deciphering an official PDF document that explained how this anchorage was normally off limits, except in the months of July and August, so we could anchor there. It was beautiful, only a few boats around and no signs of human influence (although the document warned about exploring the beach due to possible unexploded ordnance). I wondered what would happen if our anchor or chain should find one such. This didn't seem to discourage some of the other boats from landing on the beach though, and a herd of goats also appeared ashore. We had some lovely swimming and a good night in this beautiful and untouched spot, but got kicked out by a military patrol boat in the morning that told everyone to leave and that anchoring was apparently only allowed from 4pm until 6am (luckily they only showed up around 10am). Didn't mention that in the document, but oh well, at least the military guys were professional and much friendlier than certain fishermen. We saw them again later, anchored in a nearby cove and going for a swim.

Thunderbolts and lightning.

A few anchorages and thunderstorms later we caught up with our friends from Kittiwake in Pula, just before the Golfo di Cagliari. A large bay with a long beach and ashore was an interesting sounding archeological dig site we wanted to visit. It turned out Kittiwake and their friends from Rocket Science also wanted to go and Rocket Science was kind enough to offer us a ride in their dinghy, so we went to the beach in two boats, just like we had seen everyone else do all day. Unfortunately, as soon as we got near, pretty much the entire beach started shouting and pointing at us. Outboard engines were stopped and we rowed ashore, where two local police officers were already waiting for us. Due to language barriers, I'm not sure what exactly ensued, but I gathered that some of the beachgoers had called the cops on us, as apparently it's illegal to motor within several* hundred meters of the beach or land a dinghy on the beach at all. A lifeguard also showed up and apologized for not stopping us earlier, and upon inquiring why every other dinghy that landed on the beach day after day wasn't bothered, we were informed that someone had called the police and now they had to do something. The two dinghy drivers were ordered to fetch their paperwork, so they took one dinghy back to the boats, which took quite a while, as they were now only allowed to row. Whilst this took place, the rest of us stayed ashore, got told off by the police some more whilst the local yobs busied themselves tossing pebbles into the remaining tender and at us, which the police pretended not to notice.

Cagliari. Many Italian towns have roads named after Dante Alighieri's and his works.

A longer discussion ensued, the gist of which was that there would be a fine, but nobody knew what amount the fine was. In the end, it took two days to find out the fine was €160 per boat and it also couldn't be paid in Pula, but had to be paid at another town and then a receipt brought back to the police in Pula, all of which is of course very simple and easy when you are living at anchor and are technically not allowed to land your dinghy ashore! Our take-away was pretty much that in Italy there are many laws, they're mostly not enforced, but sometimes you just get unlucky and have to pay your Italian "cruising tax". We never made it to those archeological ruins and just quietly rowed our own dinghy ashore late in the evening to take our trash to a bin and even that got us a hostile stare from the one remaining lady on the beach.

Dead fish in Cagliari.

After this we went into Cagliari to have a look at one of the candidate marinas for wintering. The marina was okay, perhaps a bit basic and also a bit spoiled by hundreds of dead fish floating and bloating in the harbour. One employee busied himself flinging the ones that washed up on the breakwater back out into the harbour, from where they promptly returned to him. We stocked up (getting a ride home from two nice guys in a sports car, after learning just how unattainable taxi rides were in town), explored a bit, did some laundry and went to a marina further down the bay to refuel, only to be driven back into Cagliari by half a gale blowing into the bay.

The Pizzaship was sadly closed.

Once that had passed, off to Villasimius we went, a pair of anchorages on either side of a headland in the SE corner of Sardinia. Here we got a taste of Sardinian holidaymakers in their high-speed RIBs. They all wear speedos, never look at you and only have three speeds on their boats: Full throttle, stop, and oh shit there's a Guardia Costiera boat. Said Coastguard boat would regularly tow a bunch of these RIBs away, often taking the drivers along as well. Perhaps they too were paying the Italian cruising tax?


We had originally planned to cruise Sardinia for longer, going up the east coast and perhaps crossing to Corsica, but we didn't like the grumpy look-straight-ahead locals or the rather unpleasant feeling left by Alice or Pula. But the beauty of cruising is, it's our boat and we decide where it goes, so we changed our plans and decided to leave unwelcoming Sardinia behind and head to Sicily early, which would leave us time to circumnavigate it and explore its off-lying islands.