31 March to 4 April 2019
Monastir, Tunisia to Santa Maria Navarrese, Sardinia, N39° 99.15’ E09° 69.2’, 270nm, 48 hours
The weather kept us in Monastir another week. The wind howled and the rain dumped sand on Pintail’s deck. We needed a break in the prevailing north-westerlies to get north west and found a perfect window that would get us all the way to Sardinia. We thought about breaking the journey on the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria or back on the west coast of Sicily but in the end decided just to do it in one long hop – our second longest sail to date. At 270nm this passage would only be shorter than our Biscay crossing and would take us about 50 hours. That’s two full days and nights at sea. But if we’re going to cross the Atlantic later in the year we need to get used to long passages!
To fuel us on our journey I used some local bsisa (barley) flour to bake some chocolate and almond biscuits (they tasted better than they looked!). I also made a batch of roasted pepper and lentil soup, a vegetarian chilli and some houmous. We had everything ready in case of a bumpy ride and the need for quick and easy to prepare meals.
Having stocked up on spices, almonds and dates at the market and, most importantly, filled Pintail’s tanks with the cheapest diesel since Gibraltar (43c per litre!), we were ready for a civilised morning start on Sunday. Not being allowed to leave the country with local currency, we spent the last of our dinars on water, Tunisian flatbread and French sticks and as soon as the customs and immigration offices opened we checked out of Tunisia.
Motoring away from Monastir harbour something made Stefan check on the engine. It’s not something he would normally do so early in a passage but was a good job he did. Salt water was finding its way into the engine bay. He’d caught it before the bilge pump went off and quickly identified and repaired the source. But we have a sailing boat and with wind on the stern quarter we gave the engine time to recover and the fix time to heal, set the sails and started what was to be our longest uninterrupted sail ever.
By midday we were making 5 to 6 knots in only 10 to 12 knots of wind and Pintail was lovely and balanced making life on board very easy. It being Mother’s Day, we sat chatting in the cockpit about our Mums, remembering Stefan’s by listening to the Paul Simon album she bought us a few years ago and thinking about mine eating Battenberg cake with my Uncle David in memory of their mum, my Nan.
Through the afternoon Stefan tried to nap and I sat watching distant trawlers, searching for the gas and oil platforms promised by the chart. Plotting our position every two hours we were making good progress at a steady 6 knots in lovely sunshine off with the coast of Cap Bon just visible in the haze.
By sundown we were feeling a bit cold and darkness, typically, coincided with a proliferation of fishing boats weaving about in our path and those offshore platforms. At 3nm off Cap Bon we were close enough to get an internet connection and download the latest weather forecast. All good for the next two days. The predicted calm was coming but not before we sailed through the night. Sleeping is so much easier without the engine running.
By change of watch at 6am the wind was down to 8 knots and the sails starting to flap. We furled in the genoa and I went to sleep. When I woke again for breakfast we had visitors. Having dolphins swim with us never gets old. This must have been a pod of about twenty, playing at the bow. I sat dangling my legs over the side staring at them for ages, almost close enough to reach down and touch them.
You would think that far out to sea there would be few navigational hazards but the Sicilian Channel is a relatively shallow stretch of water with many reefs and exposed rocks. One of these reefs was right in our path and we had calculated carefully to ensure we gave it a wide berth and passed it in daylight. At 9am we safely negotiated our way passed the slightly oddly named Keith Reef and Sylvia Bank. This area of shallows north of Tunisia and west of Sicily plays havoc with the current and creates an adverse current which for most of our second day slowed us down by 1 knot, undoing any time advantage we had made so far. But by then we had got into a passage making rhythm and time didn’t really matter – as long as we got to Sardinia in daylight.
We didn’t see a single ship all day. The dolphins found other entertainment and the water got calmer and calmer until it was like glass. I needn’t have worried about preparing our meals in advance as it was as calm as anything in the galley.
Our second night passed entirely uneventfully. We changed watch every three hours with nothing to report to each other. I got the sunrise watch and let Stefan sleep a bit longer whilst enjoying seeing the rugged outline of Sardinia come closer into focus.
We were excited to get back to Sardinia. We had loved our two months there back in 2017 and Santa Maria Navarrese about halfway up the east coast did not disappoint. Once safely tied up in the small but friendly marina and recovered from our long passage, we took a couple of days to explore this lovely little town with its dramatic backdrop in the shape of Monte Scione. That’s Pintail bottom left with her proud, new red forestay.
Santa Maria Navarrese sits on the edge of the Gennargentu National Park. As the crow flies it is not that far from Nuoro, Orgosolo and the Altopiano del Golgo which we had explored on our roadtrip Into bandit country. It’s only ancient things are a 2000 year old olive tree on the sea front and a church built in 1052 by shipwrecked Basque sailors. The modern church up the hill is, however, more interesting in its architecture.
In front of the harbour we took our first tender ride of the year to explore the small islands in the bay.
The largest, Isolotto di Ogliastra, was covered in prickly pear and surrounded by wind hewn rocks. Seabirds had shown no respect to the Madonna and Child perched on its cliff. Either that or Mary had gone grey.
Outlying rocks provided a home (and another toilet!) to seabirds including our favourite cormorants.
After two days at sea we enjoyed stretching our legs along the pine fringed beach that sweeps from Santa Maria Navarrese to Arbatax.
We couldn’t make it all the way without wading through the river halfway round.
Refreshed by our reintroduction to Sardinia we planned an unhurried week or so making our way to the northern coast and across to Corsica and we planned to do it taking advantage of the many anchorages on the way…