Balearics & NW Italy

We’re not in Kansas... er, Washington DC anymore!

Getting ashore med moored

Suzanne “backs” off the boat in Palma de Mallorca

Greetings from Italy, where we are really getting into this Mediterranean cruising! In all honesty, it took us a while. The Atlantic crossing was more than a bit tiring. We’d had enough sailing after 30 days at sea and would have been happy to stay put somewhere for a while, but with family meeting us in Italy, we had no choice but to keep on going. Portugal and Spain were pleasant, but after a while, we got a little tired of one touristy beach resort after another.

Once we got to the Balearic Islands, things started to improve. We had a chance to catch our breath, we got away from the 30 knot winds that dogged us along the southern coast of Spain, and we found a few places with other than beach umbrellas and tourist bars. The old part of Ibiza was fantastic, as was the city of Ciutadela on the island of Menorca.

Palma de Mallorca presented our first experience with “Med mooring.” Until then, the marinas we’d stayed in had finger piers. Not so once you get east of Gibraltar. Here they cram as many boats as possible along a sea wall or pontoon, either bow or stern to the pier. For most boats, this requires having a “passarelle” -- a ramp to get on or off the boat. Due to the way Liberty’s dinghy davits are rigged, stern-to won’t work for us. That’s ok, because the Morgan 46 has this great bow roller platform, which we affectionately call “the battering ram.” While not exactly sleek and sexy, it proved to be an excellent place to step when getting on and off the pier. As you can see in the photo above, we had no need for a passarelle. The time may come when the pier will be too low to just step across, at which time we’ll find a plank, like many boats have, and just lay it across. In the meantime, this works just fine.

We thought we were pretty lucky to find a wall to tie up alongside in Ciutadela on Menorca (for the pricey sum of $74 a night). There was no need to climb off the bow -- we could just step ashore from the beam. You have to take the good with the bad, though. Soon we had two other boats rafted up outboard of us with all of their guests traipsing back and forth across our deck whenever they wanted to go ashore.

That wasn’t nearly as bad as when the twice daily ferry went down the narrow channel without slowing down. You can see in the photo how close it came. What you can’t see is how badly all the boats bounced around in the wake he left. We were glad we’d bought extra fenders while in Gibraltar!

ferry

That’s close enough, Buddy!

Italy!

After an easy passage from Menorca, we arrived at the northwest corner of Sardinia - the large island to the west of Italy and south of Corsica. After studying Italian for several months, Suzanne was especially anxious to try a few words out on the locals. We first went ashore in the small fishing village of Stintino. Not only was it charming and picturesque, but they really do say things like “buon giorno,” “grazie,” and “arrivederci!” (Well, of course they do, but it took a while to sink in that we had actually sailed to Italy!).

Ty found the pronunciation a little difficult. Suzanne told him to say the words with the most exaggerated Italian accent he could think of. You know, “Mamma mia! That’sa some-a spicy meatball!” And you know what? That’s exaclty how they speak here! It is so much fun to walk down the street and watch Luigi shouting to Paolo while he waves his hands, sounding just like in the movies!

We decided to make our travels through Italy a gastronomical tour. It’s a tough job, but we’re out to find out just how different REAL Italian food is from the kind you get in Italian restaurants back in the US. So far, Italy is ahead, folks. We were struck by how many pizzerias there are. We jogged through two campgrounds, and both had their own pizzeria on the premises! We asked some locals how often Italians eat pizza, and they said, “Three times a week.” Sounds good to us!

Ty and basket weaver

Ty and Rudy watch a local Sardinian man weave a fish trap

Let us tell you, these people take their food seriously. When Suzanne asked the man in the photo below for some red peppers (which, by the way, are “peperoni” in Italian, so watch what you ask for on your pizza!), he asked her if she was going to cook them or eat them raw. This makes a difference? Obviously, it does! The local women were more than happy to teach her all the names of the fruits and veggies.

Suzanne buys fruit

Suzanne buys veggies straight off the truck

For our first restaurant experience, we decided to celebrate with a bottle of wine. When in Italy, drink... chianti! RIght? Wrong! We asked for a bottle of chianti and the waiter LAUGHED AT US! Ok, what did we do wrong? Well, duh... Chianti is from another region! We were in Sardinia... “you drink Sardinian wine in Sardinia -- not chianti, Stupido!” (The waiter didn’t exactly call us “stupido” - as that would have affected his tip. But the laughing thing kind of got the message across pretty well). So, as you can see, this gastronomical tour is turning out to be quite educational.

While at that restaurant, some Italians at the next table came over to pet Rudy, who was hiding out under our table, hoping for something to fall on his head. Thus ensued a wonderful friendship and a great cultural experience.

The other diners were vacationing in Sardinia from Bologna. When they showed some interest in our sailing adventure, we invited them to come aboard for cocktails the next night. We welcomed aboard the Lombardi

family: Mama Giovanna, Papa Carlo, son Davide, his wife, Lani, their two bambini Bryan and Ellyson, and Davide’s cousin Alberto. After serving them typical American hors d’oevres, they offered to reciprocate the next night with a typical Italian dinner at their vacation bungalow. As you can imagine, it was awesome! Davide spoke very good English, as did Lani. The rest of us learned a lot of words in the others’ language!

The next day, Davide invited us to go for a ride in his speed boat, complete with 250 hp engine. Needless to say, we went a little faster than aboard Liberty! Suzanne got to try her legs at water skiing for the first time since she was a teenager. After an initial graceful splat, she managed to stay up. The ride was just a LITTLE faster than when her dad used to tow her with his 50 hp outboard!

Ty and Davide

Ty and Davide study the chart for the La Maddalena archipelago

Lombardis

Alberto, Lani, Giovanna, Davide, Suzanne, e Carlo

After the water skiing, we had a great tour of the La Maddalena archipelago, a gorgeous marine park of rocky islands at the northeast corner of Sardinia. The terrain was much like that found in the American southwest, but the clear turquoise waters made the area unique.

We bid farewell to our new friends, then moved on to Porto Cervo, vacation place of the rich and famous. Mick Jagger must not have heard we were coming, because he didn’t stick around for our arrival. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the pristine grounds, swanky shops, and fun people- watching. A slip in Porto Cervo ran $1100 a night. Our spot in the anchorage was free!

From Sardinia we made an overnight passage to the island of Elba, just off the central west coast of Italy. Our track took us past an uninhabited island called Monte Cristo. With nobody living there since the Count left, the island was

invisible in the dark, showing up as only a large blob on our radar. After the sun came up, however, we turned around and gaped at the island... that small blob was a huge mountain rising straight up from the sea. Let’s hear it for radar! Our cruising guide stated that the only inhabitants of Monte Cristo are adders, Italy’s very own species of poisonous snakes!

Once at Elba, we anchored in a lovely cove off the town of Porto Azurro. Its winding streets led us to a great pizzeria, where we continued working towards our goal of fitting in with the locals. As you can see in the photo on the right, the mayor sent a greeting party to welcome us to Elba. Napoleon moved out a while ago, but he left a few reminders of his visit, including the palindrome, “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” (A palindrome reads the same backwards as forwards).

When the winds kicked up and turned our nice calm anchorage into a surf zone, we moved around the northeast point to the largest city on Elba, Portoferraio, and anchored in the shadow of two castles.

Greeters

From Elba we sailed northeast for our first landfall on the mainland of Italy. We’d planned to stay in Livorno, but when we arrived, there wasn’t a single slip available! We had no choice but to continue on another three hours north, to the city of Viareggio, to find a sheltered harbor. While enroute, an Italian police boat pulled alongside with its blue light flashing. No, we hadn’t been speeding -- it seems we were about to sail into a temporary no-go zone, thanks to an airshow which started minutes later. We were treated to 10 jets in formation screaming over Liberty at little more than mast height. It was the Italian Air Force’s “Tre-Colore” precision flying team, streaming green, white, and red smoke as they did all kinds of fantastic maneuvers.

Viareggio turned out to be a great place to visit, thanks to the well protected sea wall where boats could tie up indefinitely for free! While there was no electricity or water along the wall, we’re used to being self-sufficient.

aqueduct

The next morning we rented a car and took off for a tour of the local Tuscan countryside. It was pretty incredible to pass under the two thousand year old Roman aqueduct you see in the photo on the left.

Even more amazing was driving down a country road, looking to the left, and seeing the leaning tower of Pisa across a field from us! Ty had been there before, but Suzanne had no idea that Pisa is little more than a town, and the tower, well, it kind of “towered” over everything! If that didn’t prove we’d actually made it to Italy, nothing ever would! See the photo of the month for a great shot of this famous landmark.

Suzanne’s sister and brother-in-law will be spending 8 days enjoying Italy with us, so come back next month for more photos and stories of the Italian Riviera and the route to Rome!

Arrivederci!