1 – 2 May 2017
Mahon, Menorca to Alghero, Sardinia, N40° 34.0′ E08° 18.3′, 205nm, 38 hours 30
Having said goodbye to our new friends Gisela and Peter too soon but anxious to make the long crossing to Sardinia in good time for Stefan’s dad’s arrival we cast off from Mahon at 6am on 1 May. This was to be our longest passage since Crossing the Bay of Biscay and across one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean at three kilometres deep.
Coming out of the harbour with the very first glow of the sun we got one last look at the harbour’s fortifications before the pilot boat (1) alerted us to the imminent arrival of something big in the narrow channel. We ignored the 3 knot speed limit and were out of the entrance of the harbour just in front of a waiting cruise ship. We thought about all its passengers probably still fast asleep and oblivious to all the history passing their port holes.
The weather forecast had predicted up to 25 knots of wind for the first few hours of our passage. Our experience on arrival, and that of the Swedish boat which had made the crossing the other way the day before, was that for Menorca we should add a little bit more. The wind was gusting up to 27 knots but with two cautious reefs in (2) Pintail was fine.
The sea state, however, was pretty rough – big, big waves like we had experienced on our way in and right on the beam which makes Pintail roll from side to side as she slides over them. This is definitely not our preferred point of sail in those conditions! Quite quickly and despite our precautionary tablets, Stefan was feeling sick. To date, we have both been really lucky to avoid the kind of seasickness that saw Lee “Chucky” Tanner laid out prostrate on the salon floor all night of our unexpected crossing to France and long may that continue, but feeling queasy is no fun at all.
We also had an issue with Pintail’s depth alarm. Despite by now being in deep water it just kept going off – unable to find the bottom, it was just very confused. In the bumpy conditions I managed to wrestled the bag of manuals out of its cupboard without everything else falling out and get it into the cockpit hoping to work out how to stop it. Reading a manual was a step too far for either of us so we just resolved to put up with it until the sea state calmed down. I knew Stefan wasn’t feeling at all well when he retired downstairs, lay in the salon and stuck two cushions over his ears to block out the constant beeping!
By 11am we were making good progress for Sardinia albeit in slightly a more southerly direction for our intended landfall at Alghero. The wind stubbornly refused to move round to from the north west as forecast. Deciding we needed a break from the rocking and rolling we hove to (3). With the boat a bit more stable sat in between the waves we could more safely put the kettle on for a cup of tea and settle our stomachs a little. We talked about changing our plans and heading towards Cagliari in the south of Sardinia as we were on a perfect course to sail there.
When we set sail again at 1pm the wind had started to reduce as predicted. It would take the sea state a good few hours to catch up. Just when we needed a bit of a distraction we had the fleeting company of some dolphins. Surfing inside the big waves they dived down from high above us as the waves descended. It will never stop being magical having dolphins swim with us.
We weren’t much in the mood for food and certainly not spending extended periods below to prepare anything so we nibbled on Eroski’s own version of chocolate digestives, some bread and cheese and our last Spanish tortilla. By evening I thought about making our trusted passage meal of lentil dhal but having only got so far as getting out the spices and having them roll and spill all over the place I gave up any notion of hot food. Anyway, for the first time ever Stefan was in no mood for his favourite, and most requested, meal.
By nightfall the wind had dropped and we were motor sailing. The sea state was calming and we were back on course for Alghero. We took turns at our 3 hour night watches. I got sunset. Stefan got sunrise. Having seen only three ships at a distance during the day we had no company at all over night, just a sky full of stars and a slowly reducing swell.
As has become our habit during night watches, we both kept awake listening to episodes of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. There is something very reassuring, in the pitch darkness on the jet black sea, about the soothing Scottish tones of Kirsty Young telling you at the beginning of each episode that “for rights reasons, the music choices in this podcast are shorter than in the original broadcast.”
When I got up from my last sleep at 8.30am I found that under motor we were making excellent progress to Alghero and were predicted to be there at 6.30pm – well before sunset. The sea had calmed right down although our beans on toast for breakfast was a little optimistic – beans sliding all over the place!
Our second day at sea was sunny and blue. No traffic, just the odd reassuring voices on the VHF. We knew we were heading to Italian waters when we had our first taste of an incredibly thorough and slowly read weather forecast. Even the English version of the Spanish forecast had been so fast as to be unintelligible.
Excited about our new destination, at about 11am and still more than 50nm off the coast I brought down our fading Spanish courtesy flag. Except for our three months in Gibraltar we had been flying it since September when we left Portugal for our adventures along the south coast of Spain. Suddenly all the memories of places like Chipiona, Seville and Cadiz came flooding back. But it was time to move on to another country and a new language to attempt so up went the Italian courtesy flag. I started reading up on Sardinia and Stefan was feeling well enough again to read on the beanbag.
The afternoon was dominated by a visit from a migrating swallow. More than 50nm offshore it had already made a seemingly impossible flight for such a tiny bird and we were happy for it to hitch a ride for a while. It seemed exhausted. It got braver and braver in getting close to us and seemed unfazed by our presence.
Eventually it was finding more shelter from the wind in the cockpit and astonishingly, sat on my lap for a while. It also flew inside the boat for a good look around. We parted company a few hours from the coast, hoping that it was rested enough for its onward journey.
By 2pm we could just make out the coast of Sardinia but we still had 30nm and 6 hours to go before we reached it. Those last hours before arriving in safe harbour, when the land seems so tantilisingly close are always so frustrating. We passed them by tidying the boat downstairs, the conditions of the day before had thrown everything into chaos, cooking a meal to eat when we arrived and having a shower.
We had slowed down a bit on the last approach to Alghero so didn’t arrive in the harbour until 8.30pm. We had enough light to appreciate the dramatic cliffs of Capo Caccia and the old walled city. It looked like a lovely place but once safely tied up we finally ate our lentil dhal and collapsed into bed.
Exploring our new destination would have to wait….
(1) a pilot boat is a small and often annoying boat which delivers the pilot to the big ships to navigate them safely into the harbour – they have something of a deserved reputation for creating a lot of wash
(2) putting a reef in the sail means making it smaller in surface area so the wind doesn’t over-power it
(3) hove to means stopping the boat with the sails in such a position that it sits more calmly in the waves