May - June 2004

Menorca and Sardinia
 
On 18 May 2004 Akka was finally on the move again, after our long stay in Barcelona. There was no wind as we left Barcelona harbor, so we had an easy and boring overnight motor to Menorca. We arrived at the lovely bay of Fornells, where we had spent time last fall (see Back to the Balearics). At that time we had met a Menorcan guy, Sebastiá, so as soon as we arrived we sent him a message to say we were there, but didn't get a response right away.

After 2 pleasant days in the Fornells bay we sailed around to Mahon, and called Sebastiá again. This time we got a reply -- he wasn't at his island home in Fornells, but at his home in Mahon! So he came to the boat with his wife Mercedes, and we all went out to a restaurant for lunch. It turned out the restaurant is owned by one of his 7 brothers, so lunch (a mixed fish grill, absolutely delicious) was on the house.

We then took Akka to a slip, with Sebastiá and Mercedes aboard. As we nosed gently to a halt at the dock, Rob noticed that he no longer had any control over the throttle -- the cable had broken. How very lucky that we were going slowly, and that this happened at a harbor instead of at sea, etc., etc. Sebastiá immediately called a chandlery (for all we know, another brother) and ascertained that they had throttle cables. Andi took everyone to shore -- Rob and Sebastiá to the chandlery, Mercedes to go home to prepare dinner for us (we had just had a huge lunch, but never mind, this was Spanish hospitality). Within a few minutes, Rob and Sebastiá called Andi to return to pick them up with the cable. Back at the boat, Sebastiá took off his shirt, borrowed an old work t-shirt, and pitched in with the replacement project. Of course, we had to empty out three lockers to trace where the cable led, but it really was a straightforward job, made easier with another set of hands. (Have we mentioned that neither Sebastiá nor Mercedes speak English? Our Spanish had definitely improved.)

When we were done it was dark, say 9 - 9:30. We called Mercedes to pick us up at the dock, took the dinghy in with our toilet kits and a change of clothes, and went to their house which is about 6 miles outside of Mahon. It's really pretty. We took showers and then sat down at about 11:00 for a fish chowder, made with fish that Sebastiá caught in Fornells. Of course, Fornells is a protected area with fishing prohibited, but apparently that doesn't apply to locals getting their own food supply. Or Sebastiá just doesn't care. The fish chowder was wonderful, and the hospitality even better. We stayed over because we didn't want them to have to drive us back that night, and besides they really wanted us to, and anyway, the next day featured the royal wedding of the crown prince of Spain, and Mercedes and Andi wanted to watch it.

Next morning we all got up around 9:30 to discover that the television coverage of the wedding had already begun, despite the fact that the wedding itself was only to begin at noon. Rob and Sebastiá kind of made fun of the whole thing, but they seemed to enjoy it too. It was quite beautiful. There were 1500 guests, men in tails and women dressed to the hilt. It being in a catholic cathedral, the women all wore hats, and they were really spectacular, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Of course, there were members or representatives of royal houses and governments from all over the world. We never heard who represented the US, probably our ambassador. The commentary was all Spanish, and we were simultaneously chattering away with Mercedes and Sebastiá, so we missed a lot, but it was still fun.

The television coverage lasted till 2:00 PM, with reruns following immediately. After watching the royal vows for the third time, we decided it was time to return to Akka and set sail for Sardinia, Italy. We all drove together down to the Mahon waterfront, where we bid our friends goodbye. Familiar as we are with having to separate (maybe forever) from newfound friends, it's still hard.

Our passage from Menorca to Sardinia was a day and a half, about half of it under sail and the other half under power. Somehow we completely overestimated passage time, so in order to arrive in daylight we had both to slow down and to go farther than we had intended. Just after dawn, we pulled into a small cove on the south side of the island of Sardinia, where we anchored and relaxed for the day, recovering from the lack of sleep on the passage. That length of passage, about 36 hours, is the most wearing; you don't get into the rhythm of shorter sleep times, and just get overly tired. Another day and you're over it, or less time and you can power through, but that length is rough.

The next day the wind blew and it rained, so we just stayed put, read, and did some preventive maintenance. We sailed the following day to Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. In Cagliari, we spent more than half a day purchasing an Italian SIM card for our mobile phone, and setting the phone and computer up so that we could do e-mail, thus putting us back in communication with the world. How different cruising is now from when we first went across the Atlantic; in those days we went for weeks without news, and phone calls were made from post offices, at great expense and low probability of success. Now, we send and receive e-mail daily and Rob participates in conference calls to the States whenever there's a need.

We took a day to get the refrigeration system recharged by a local guy who thinks in Italian Lira, which haven't existed for 3 years. When he converted his total bill into Euros, he used an outrageous conversion factor and ended up with about twice what we should have paid. We remonstrated as best we could in Italian, but even after he brought his price down we ended up paying about half again what we should have. Well, live and learn!

In contrast, renting a car from the marina for a day was very cheap, so we got to tour the island a little. We were surprised to see how large Sardinia is, and how pastoral, compared to its wild northern neighbor Corsica, which we had visited the previous year. We only saw parts of the southern half of Sardinia, but we did get some feel for the terrain -- flat plains, rolling hills, and some very rugged mountain ranges. The southwestern coast, in particular, is steep and rocky. There are numerous artifacts of the prehistoric Nuraghic civilizations, and we toured one of the largest "nuraghi", large forts built by that civilization. It was a tall tower (30 meters, or about 100 feet) with several tall beehive-shaped rooms inside. Mainly intended for defense, it also provided accommodations for the soldiers and presumably for the top Nuraghe leaders.

We were keen to visit the Barbagia, the mountainous region which the Romans never managed to conquer. The weather was rainy and foggy, so we drove hairpin turns in mist, catching glimpses, rather than panoramas, of gorges and peaks. We did visit the interesting town of Orgoloso, perched on a steep hillside. The streets were very steep and narrow -- we had to back up to let another car pass more than once, or do 3-point turns to get around corners. Here, deep in the interior of Sardinia, the people cling to old customs and we saw several older women dressed all in black, with long skirts, black stockings, and black shawls over their heads (along with umbrellas). But the most interesting part of the town (well, other than its history as a hideout for bandits, but that's another story), is its murals. Started in the 1960s by the local high school art teacher as social (i.e., left-wing) commentary, murals have been encouraged and supported, and they now fill every available space on walls throughout the town. They continue to display political and social commentary, but also local characters, daily life, and simple entertainment. Many are in mock-Picasso cubism, but some are in caricature style, ranging from Che Guevara, through Sept. 11, to kids on motorcycles.

We dined at a 4-star hotel in the mountains recommended for its traditional Sardinian meals, enjoying a wonderful dinner of mountain lamb and wild pig, roasted on spits in a huge open fireplace. Marvelous, and worth the long nighttime drive back to the marina.

We spent the following day provisioning and getting our propane tank refilled, and various boat errands that are easier with wheels. The next morning, we "did" Cagliari, taking the Tourist Train around the city and realizing that with a book and on foot we would have done better, and could have used that 14 euros for a nice meal. We watched some of the Mediterranean Championship Formula 1 speedboat races in the harbor, then had a lovely evening sail to a harbor on the corner of the island, positioning ourselves for the sail to mainland Italy.

The next day we left to sail to the mainland of Italy, a bit south of Naples, to meet up with Catherine and Pietro, good friends of Lisa and Guild from LA. With them, we cruised the Amalfi coast and went to Pompeii and Naples - but that's another story.