Sardinia to the Pontine Islands

After Bonifcaio we headed back to Sardinia and the Maddalena Islands to meet up with another yacht, Calyxa, that we had bumped into in Menorca. Calyxa is a cruising family like us – they are a Danish-Cuban family with three kids Milla, Emma and Hannibal – all about the same age as our two and we spent our days swimming and playing on the beach.

After the Maddalena Islands we were headed for Naples and Pompeii.

Sardinia to Naples is a reasonably big crossing. 230 Nautical Miles as the seagull flies and at an average speed of 6 knots it would take us around 40 hours. We decided to break it up a bit by going via the Pontine Islands making our first landfall 165NM from Sardinia, still a good 24-28 hours. After a night mauled by mozzies on the north east tip of Sardinia, Heather and I got up at 5:00am, weighed anchor and headed of. With the longest day approaching it was already getting light and as we hoisted the spinnaker the sun appeared on the horizon in the north east. There was a light southerly pushing us along at 5 knots, coffee was brewing and life was good. Our friends on Calyxa were about 10NM behind us with a VHF that wasn’t working.

All day we sailied with visit after visit by dolphins. Even a whale put in an appearance way off our stern about 70 nm off the Sardinian Coast.

As the sun set, we settled into our night watch routine with ominous lightning shows taking place behind us. Big, silent flashes high up in the cloud. It looked spectacular to watch, but it was a long way off and we didn’t think we were in its path….how very wrong we were to be!

At about midnight the wind died and I furled the sails as Heather came on watch and I went for a sleep. We changed watches again at 5:00am. The sea was calm, the sun was rising on our second day at sea. Not wanting to miss out on any wind, I got the main and headsail out and as the wind built to 15 knots off the beam we were flying along. But a storm was brewing, and brewing quickly. The storm clouds of the previous night were now dark and ominous.

Within an hour the storm clouds were upon us and the wind was at 25 knots, so I furled the main and shortened some head sail. Before we knew it the storm was all around us. Grey and black clouds boiling. The sea turned from blue to purple. The sun disappeared. Then the first gust hit us at 38 knots. I had made the right call furling the main. Then another gust and another.

With just the heavily reefed head sail up and the wind gusting in the high 30’s and low 40’s we were hurtling along at 9 to 10 knots. Too fast for me to feel comfortable in a building sea. This was new territory for me, I had no experience of dealing with this intensity of storm at sea and the adrenalin was pumping.

We needed to shorten sail further and quickly. Heath was down below with the storm boards in as the rain and spume was going down below. I reluctantly called her on deck to help reef the headsail further. With no more than a napkin sized sail we were achieving 6knots and Vega felt solid. Even if the Skipper was shacking.

The biggest gust we recorded was 47 knots the waves hitting our port quarter were being blown right over Vega. We had sustained winds of over 35 knots for an hour, before things eased a little. It’s quite amazing how storms adjust your personal calibration levels, as the wind subsided to 25 knots, it felt almost relaxing. With the wind easing, the rain and lightning really came on.

The lighting was ferocious and was coming right down to sea level very close to us, we could see it strike the water and after each burst there was a burning smell in the air. I can’t recall ever having been so close to lightening before, never mind on a yacht miles from land.

Still, someone was smiling on us, we got through it, humbled, once again by the immense power of the natural elements and better, stronger sailors for the experience.

Looking back, three things amazed me. Firstly, The speed in which the sea built, and recede after the storm. The energy it must take to whip up a large body of water into a foaming, spume laden mess in an hour is awe inspiring. Secondly, how terrifying lightning is when it is very close to you in a small boat. Thirdly, how kids can be so oblivious to situations, when I asked them how they felt about sailing through the storm, the both replied “What storm?”. A testament to Vega’s sea keeping abilities.

When we arrived at Ponza in the Pontine Islands the locals told us storms of that intensity are rare as hens teeth and we were unlucky. Apparently there has been some particularly warm water currents which had helped in fuelling this system. Happily, our friends on Calyxa arrived four hours later equally wet and tired, but in one piece!

Pontine Islands

This small chain of islands is stunning and has been a real highlight of the trip. They are lost in time, rugged,beautiful and peaceful places full of fishing boats, old roman ports and crystal clear waters. Stunnning places.

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