Home Up Winter in Alghero

Finally, it was time to leave Spanish waters and head for Sardinia some 200 miles East.  A good crossing, with a mixture of sailing and motoring saw us tying up under the old city walls on the town quay at Alghero, just over a day and a half after leaving Menorca.  Shibumi, who we hadn't expected to meet again, and who we were going to say goodbye to several more times before they finally did head home, were wisely anchored in the bay outside.  Wisely, because the town quay was costing us 75 a night, but we were planning to spend the winter in Alghero so needed to sort out the arrangements.  Things are different in Italy and in Alghero harbour there are at least 8 different marinas, everything from a single pontoon upwards, each of which had to be visited, the owner or ormaggiatoro (how long have you got!) tracked down and negotiated with (eg: he'll be in such and such a bar at 1pm - we never did actually meet that one).  As is often the case we settled on the first one we visited, Aquatica.  Nice people, we'd written in our notes, and so it proved.  Also theirs was the nicest price.  It was the smallest, newest marina and they're working hard to build the business.  Just under the old town walls and minutes walk into the town.

We stayed long enough to confirm that this was the place we wanted to spend the winter, book our Christmas flights to the UK for 4.99 with Ryan Air (which was the clincher) and then we set off to circumnavigate the island. 

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First stop was Porto Conte - the largest natural harbour in the Med, but (fortunately) too shallow for commercial use. great for yachts though.  The entrance is guarded by dramatic cliffs, it's completely surrounded by pine clad hills and apart from a couple of hotels, virtually empty.  We stayed for a week, sat out a gale, and then took the opportunity, with the temperature in the 90s to walk two miles to a very small, very expensive mini-market in the middle of nowhere, where we were able to buy virtually nothing.  Why did we do that? No idea. 
Sardinia, the second largest island in the Med is a beautiful and dramatic place.  Golden beaches and mountainous terrain.  Apart from the Costa Smerelda it remains relatively undeveloped and even there the development tries hard not to disrupt the natural beauty.  Mostly it manages this well, and if it sometimes seems a little twee, this is surely better than the concrete high-rises found in other parts of the Med.

We sailed north and clockwise around the island - through the very narrow and shallow Asinara passage following leading marks with one eye and watching the bottom through unbelievably clear and shallow water with the other.  

We visited Stintino, a charming fishing village built on the hill between two long narrow natural harbours.  A marina has now been built in the outer bay, but as the facilities have yet to be connected it's free to use at present.  Long walk to the village though.

Next stop was Isola Rossa.  The whole area is pink granite (similar to the work surfaces at Ketley Cottage, but of course free!).  It's an undistinguished holiday town with the novelty that the harbour wall where we berthed is a concave curve.  This means that although the mid ships section of the boat is too far off to step ashore, the bow and stern are touching the wall.  This caused one of those moments of sharp exchange between person on helm and person waiting to step ashore with mooring lines - "Of course I'm not too close, I'm a mile away."  Crunch!

Then, the Bonifacio Straights.  Like the Straights of Gibraltar, the wind always howls through and is either behind you or dead ahead (you can probably guess which in our case).  Unlike at Gib the Bonafacio is strewn with hazards and therefore wrecks.  Once through the Bonifacio you're into the Madalenas, a dozen or so islands rich in natural anchorages and facing the bays and coves that make up the Costa Smerelda. The Aga Khan certainly got it right when he chose to invest so much money developing this part of the coast.

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The Madalenas are such a perfect cruising ground, that it's impossible to anchor anywhere that isn't gorgeous and you are assured of finding shelter from wind in any direction.  Also, the wind funnelling between the islands makes this a challenging area for yacht racing, which is one of the reasons that Porto Cervo attracts the 'super yacht' set all through the season for regatta after regatta.

During our time sailing in the Madalenas and the Costa Smerelda we anchored in Porto Liscia, Golfo Saline (where we sat out a 45 knot gale), Porto Palm, Stagnali, Golfo Arzachena, Golfo di Cugnana, Cala Volpe (all beautiful) and of course Cervo.  We also met up with Shibumi again.

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Porto Cervo is the centre piece of the Costa Smerelda and in the season is filled with the rich and famous.  Nontheless, ordinary mortals can still anchor in the bay just outside the harbour in reasonable shelter (though it took us 5 goes to get our anchor to hold).  From here we could watch the fun as the 'super yachts' come in to berth at sunset.

After the slightly soulless sophistication of the Costa Smerelda it was just a slight relief to arrive in a real town.  Olbia is certainly that.  Stalinist architecture,  demolition in progress, disused cranes and families of rats on the quay.  You'll notice the rat guards on Samarang's lines (paper plates to land lubbers, but rat guards to us sailors). Inspite of all this apparently negative stuff, the place just buzzes with real life. 

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It's 3 miles up the estuary so fantastically well protected. You can moor on the commercial quay for free, but to stay there for more than two days you are required to complete a form and take it to the post office to buy a  10.33 stamp.  Challenge 1 is to find the post office.  Challenge 2 is to guess which of the different counters deals with mooring stamps and then to select the correct ticket from the selection of deli-counter type dispensers.  Having done this you discover that the post office doesn't have change, but will give you Lire stamps for the balance.  Lire of course are no longer legal tender, but there you are. If you happen to need low denomination Lire stamps, then we have some!

Oh, Olbia also has the biggest and best stocked supermarket that we'd seen since mainland Spain.

We left Olbia to make our way to Cagliari, capital of Sardinia.  We stopped at a few more pretty bays and harbours on the way, including Santa Maria Navarrese, a pretty village, but directly across the bay from  Arbatax, a large harbour serving  Sardinia's plywood industry.  It also puzzlingly seemed to be the home of the largest fairground ride we had ever seen.  We spent what seemed like hours examining it through our binoculars.  Perhaps it was something to do with plywood? But, no matter how long we looked at it, and we got a closer look as we sailed past it on our way out, all it could possibly be was a big dipper.  We just couldn't understand why it would be built here.  

We learned later that it was actually the biggest drilling platform in the world, laid on its side for repair!  Well, when they don't need it for drilling any more, it will make a great fairground attraction.  

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The pilot says, "thunderstorms seem to home in on the gulf of Cagliari". Would that pilots were always so accurate! They hit us one after the other as we crept into the harbour, but every time the rain cleared there was the old town of Cagliari, piled up on the hill, getting closer and closer. 

Cagliari is a huge dirty commercial harbour and Marina de Sole in it's corner is a family business run by father, son and a  grandfather who's a dead ringer for Del Boy's granddad.

It's a dilapidated affair with pontoons held together with plywood and bits of old packing case and has the least flow of water of the whole harbour with the result that it has a permanent oily sheen and there are many dead things floating there.  Not the place for a swim then, but it's extremely sheltered and inspite of the squalor, rain, long walk, etc, etc - we liked Cagliari.  We liked it a lot!  The old town is built on the hill that dominates the harbour.  Visiting it is like walking up through the inside of a multi-layer wedding cake.  Each gate one passes through seems to open on a new town in a slightly different style.

In Cagliari we also had one of our most interesting restaurant experiences at the restaurant Quattro Mori (literally the four black men - they also grace the Sardinian flag).  There was no menu, we ordered a drink and they brought antipasti.  They then brought more antipasti, and more, and more, and more.  We must have had more than a dozen dishes pile precariously on our table.  Not dainty cuisine nouveau morsels, but dishes of stuffed pimientos, deep fried courgette flowers (OK that is a bit cuisine nouveau) and octopus, stuffed squid, etc, etc.  It all looked fantastic, but an impossible quantity, especially as we had by now noticed the size of the primo, and secondo courses.  Also we had no idea what any of this was costing us.  Nor at that time enough Italian to find out.

We ate a couple of dishes each and sent the rest back untouched (perhaps you only paid for what you ate we reasoned).  We skipped the primo and went straight into the secondo, opting for fish rather than the other option of horse meats steaks on the basis that the fish should be a bit lighter and our stomachs were already gently swelling. More wrong headed reasoning as it turned out.  Three different whole fish, a large squid and an eel - each!  After the fish course, an aperitif and a litre of house wine, we were in a kind of gluttony induced narcotic haze.  We gladly accepted the proffered plate of Sardinian pastries and sweets, ordered a kind of sweet cheese Cornish pasty smothered in honey (called Seadas) all topped off with coffee and of course the local grappa.  We also accepted that we would probably need to be removed from the restaurant by forklift truck and that paying for the meal was probably going to require a second mortgage - it is after all the duty of a tourist to be ripped off.

But we needn't have worried.  It turned out that Antipasto was 12 no matter how much you eat and that the other courses were fixed price as well - in retrospect we now realise that many of the Italian diners were only having Antipasto and at 12 the Quattro Mori deserves a mention in  Great Lunch Venues of The World - if anyone ever writes such a book.

It was finally time to move on.  We hopped around the coast in the direction of Carloforte, a small island off the southwest corner of Sardinia that had been recommended to us by everyone who'd been there.  The final leg was a marathon 10 hour beat into 30 knots before finally tying up at Marina Sifredi.  We were to be storm bound in Carloforte for 8 days before we could head north to our winter base.  We moved onto the free town quay after 3 days and met David on Night Owl who has a house very near ours in the UK.  It is truly a very pretty place, but by now it was in the process of closing down for the winter so after 8 days we were ready to move on.  In two more days we were back in Porto Conte for a last couple of days of freedom at anchor, before admitting the season was over and making our way round the corner into Alghero.


Up Winter in Alghero
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Last updated 18th March 2018