Wednesday 2 July 2014


Cagliari is one of our favourite Italian cities.  The elegant facade of the Avenue di Roma which lines the water front; narrow backstreets adorned with washing hanging from rickety balconies, winding up the steep hill towards the citadel; and the panoramic view, north into the mountains and south across the huge bay of Cagliari towards the African coast.

Caroline's stepfather, Mick, docks next to us in the marina on Exotica, a boat belonging to Julie and Terry Clarke, and their friends Barbara and Malcolm. It is a great reunion with Mick who we met only briefly three years ago and now our paths have crossed again by chance in Sardinia. We have two lovely evenings out in Cagliari before returning to the UK.

After a hectic week we return to Cagliari for the next leg of our summer cruise. It has been raining in our absence and the boat is red with sand from the deserts of Libya, only eighty miles south but a world away from the happy and tolerant culture of southern Italy.  Our friends from Malfatano, Elena (who many of you have asked about!), Luciano and Luca visit us on Juno on their way to the airport.  They introduce us to their friends Adriana, Lorenzo and Francesco who is the governor of Sardinia, frustrated by bureaucracy as he attempts to improve the lot of the inhabitants of this marvellous island.   

It's time to leave Cagliari and head for Sicily, so we walk to the market in the Piazza di San Benedetti for provisions. Markets always seem to capture the essence of a place in a way that nothing else does. I suppose it is because they have all the ingredients: indigenous people, local produce, noises, smells and colours, all in a confined space, producing an intense concentration of local culture.  We fantasise that each stall is the shop window for a smallholding somewhere inland, where the crop is grown and harvested by the owners who then sell their produce in the freewheeling heat of the market. The stallholders are friendly and persuasive, filling our shopping bags with delicate figs, peaches, tomatoes, limes, melons and creamy white balls of buffalo mozzarella and crumbling Parmesan. Fatty returns with two fresh fish and a handful of bright red prawns, almost wriggling in the bag, having been escorted to the fish market by solicitous Italians, eager to help. For less than fifty Euros we are fully laden, with fresh produce and not a minute, or a Euro, spent in a supermarket.

Today we leave for Villasimius, the southeasterly point of Sardinia, where we will wait for a weather window to cross to the Egadi Islands on the western coast of Sicily.  When we first embarked on this sailing life we used to have a schedule, a departure time, a date and time to arrive. If there was no wind, then on went the engine and we arrived with punctuality, regardless of the conditions; the schedule was all. Now we check the weather, wait for the wind to move aft of the beam and then think about leaving. Sometimes on time, sometimes three days later, in tune with the weather and powered by the wind, not the engine.

After a long season of trade wind sailing though the Caribbean islands, an upwind beat into twenty-five knots of wind across the bay of Cagliari is hard work. But as we furl away the sails and motor up to the anchorage, the drudgery is forgotten as the coast comes into focus and we close the shore. Villasimius is a peninsula protruding south from Sardinia, deeply indented on both sides so that whether the wind is in the east or the west there is always shelter.  Today the wind is blowing from Sicily so we anchor in the bay on the westerns side of the peninsula.

As soon as the anchor is set I swim to the shore. The sand is white and corrugated beneath me and looking ahead through my swimming goggles it feels like a huge swimming pool. A shoal of sea bass in silver camouflage flit along the bottom and I can almost reach out and touch them. Approaching the shore there are clusters of huge boulders tumbling into the water and in between, small hidden beaches of white sand; and behind, the mountains of Sardinia.  The water is unbelievably clear. Small villas in shades of pastel are set into the rocks behind the beach with pathways that jink between the smooth boulders down to the water.

We are anchored with eight other yachts: Swiss, French, Italian, Swedish and German. Our large blue ensign feels rather imperial as it flutters over our transom, almost kissing the water, but it doesn't stop our neighbours waving to us, maybe through gritted teeth?  It is 8pm now and still light.  A flock of pink flamingos flies overhead in perfect V formation. A posse of black clouds cruise down menacingly from the mountains; as they pass in front of the setting sun they become animated silhouettes in shapes of monstrous creatures and lit in shades of lilac; then once away from the energy of the sun they disperse into wisps of grey and drift away across the ocean and over the horizon.