Notes From A Small Island

A Bill Brysonesque title, I would agree. Smaller island, fewer notes so no real comparison.

Carloforte is a beautiful town of narrow cobbled streets of quaint Ligurian architecture. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. As soon as we moored up, scrubbed the decks and hosed down Pantelisa, Thomas took us to a local Cafe for the best cappuccino I had ever tasted. I’m not normally a coffee drinker but no-one seems to do coffee like the Italians. It was a warming interlude in ongoing marine maintenance.

The day was becoming bright and warm as we returned to the boat and we set about decamping the forward berths and drying out the mattresses on the quayside in the ascending sun. Julien was, once again, hoisted up the mast. This time to replace the cable from the newly fitted deck light down the mast to the connector below the deck but above the leaky panel. The screws holding the conduit for the cables from the mast were loose. Replacing the screws with nuts and bolts and tightening the flange cured that leak. Next were the hatches.

The O rings had perished on the hatch ventilators which was letting in the water in through the screws drip by drip. Not a lot but over the course of hours and days, enough to give anything below a good soaking. We had a collection of O rings but none the right thickness to replace the old ones. Thomas had the idea of putting an O ring inside between the hatch and the screw head instead. That worked as long as the screw wasn’t so tight as to deform the O ring. My job was to go round all the hatches adding O rings to screws, testing with the hose as I went and the O rings seemed to do the trick.

Sunday

Thomas suggested a bike ride. I wanted to catch up on my blog but said yes anyway for a feeling of team spirit and camaraderie, besides, if I don’t do anything, I have nothing to write about. Julien said ‘non’ and stayed behind, he appears to be more antisocial than me, he does what he wants without apparent concern for what others might think – which is a skill I’d like to cultivate to the point of second nature without having to work at it. The urge to Fit in’ has been a terrible curse in the past.

The cycle hire shop was closed but the owner responded to a quick phone call. I produced my last €20 note but it wasn’t required until we returned the bikes and so it went back into my pocket.

“Documenti?” the shop owner asked. We had none but instead accepted €100 deposit. The day wasn’t particularly warm but a few minutes pedal and heart pumping up the Sardinian hills past lemon and olive trees soon warmed me up. The cool northerly wind whipped up the white horses along the blue straits between Carloforte and Sardinia, simultaneously trying to push me back down the hills I was panting against. We cycled up to the north point to experience the full force of the mistral. Foaming waves were crashing on the rocks while the spindly shrubs turned their backs and bowed their heads to the south.

“Il Fungo” Thomas said, pointing at the map. An almost legendary giant fungus was close by and we set off in search around the narrow and undulating gravel tracks. After a while of navigating the back lanes, we gave up and resorted to Google revealed that the colossal mushroom had collapsed in 2010 and left no remains. Thomas asked if I’d like to go on but after the hour or so of standing up on pedals and getting off to push the bike up the steepest slopes, I said I wanted enough energy to get back to town and we headed back. The return journey turned out to be a fast downhill descent into the town and we were back within 15 minutes. If I’d have known, I could have carried on for another hour or so… we were back early.

Monday

A grey, damp and windy day. It felt more like Wales than the Med. This was why we were here in Carloforte, to shelter from the mistral out of the north… I caught up on my blogs, well almost anyway. A slight interruption of returning the bikes back spoilt the flow. Checking my pockets for my €20… gone. It must have worked its way out while I was pedalling my way up the hills. Gutted. It reminded me when Deb lost £50 in Bath Abbey, which seemed like a big deal at the time. Deb died a year and a half ago… and I had a thought: I get to live the years that she no longer has. Being ‘not dead’ puts things in perspective.

I noticed the guy in the boat next door leaves his folding bikes unlocked on the quay. There seems to be a surprising lack of crime here, something that endears me more to this island, even on this cold and blustery day. We leave the boat open without worry the whole time we are here.

The best strategy for today was to stay on the boat and sit under the blankets to keep warm: writing, remembering, editing, rewriting and re-editing. None of this writing comes easy but what else to do on a day like this?

Tuesday

I went for a wander around Carloforte. It was still cold but dry and bright. At the top of the hill, there are the remains of the town’s fortifications, a stately looking school, and a museum. The museum was closed and didn’t advertise its opening hours. The heavy blank doors gave the impression it wasn’t even interested in visitors. A sign outside portrayed an old fleet and mentioned Napoleon within its Italian text. I took a few photos of the view across the straits to Sardinia and turned my back on the chill wind and made my way down the narrow streets back to Pantelisa.

Thomas asked if I had been shopping. I had inherited this god-awful task by volunteering to look after the kitty. I said “No, I’ll do it tomorrow morning.” until it was pointed out we had nothing to eat except pasta and parmesan. Thomas offered to come along and invited Julien too. Julien said ‘Non.’ So Thomas and I went to the local supermarket to stock up on €155 worth of groceries for the forthcoming leg to Gibraltar. Dinner turned out to be pasta and parmesan, garnished with some newly bought pesto.

Wednesday

I awoke at 7 to noticeably less condensation around my hatch and a brighter sky above. There would be no rain today, but the mistral, although less powerful, still nursed a northerly chill.

The mission today was to find some eggs, which were sorely lacking at the supermarket last night. At noon, I took a walk through the streets of Carloforte toward something marked Mercato del Mercoledi on Google maps and happened upon an open air market just before its 1pm closing. Fruit, veg and eggs were there aplenty. The sun was perfectly aligned with the longitudinal streets which were sheltered from the breeze as I took this solar heated detour back to the marina.

The town was unusually busy and children were thronging the streets. It was a pleasant communal atmosphere that reminded me of my childhood back in rural Northamptonshire but had long since disappeared. I found a cafe in the corner of the Piazza Repubblica and ordered a cappuccino at a corner table of the corner cafe in the sun. Ten minutes later, the town was deserted. Apparently, 15th November is the celebration of Madonna dello Schiavo. I don’t know where everyone went but I ordered another cappuccino anyway to savour the contrasting solitude.

Returning to Pantelisa, the weather looked OK for tomorrow so we prepared the boat for sail before it got dark. We discovered that one of our valued crew was absent for the voyage: the autopilot… which was now not working. We had a brief meeting where we agreed to continue to Gibraltar steering by hand – old style. It would be hard but we were all agreed: we would go and have it fixed in Gibraltar.

Relieved about the spirit and solidarity of the crew, Thomas took us for a beer. By the time we had finished, Rolf forwarded some instructions via WhatsApp for what and where to check for the autopilot. Julien located a faulty fuse that when touched with a fingertip brought the autopilot to life. He switched that fuse with one of the same rating on the inverter and both devices seemed happy with the exchange, and we were happy that Ray, the Raymarine autopilot, was back with us and hoped we would still be there tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “Notes From A Small Island”

    1. That’s boats. Pantelisa is 4 years old and been out for charter in Turkey in that time. In boat terms, youth doesn’t insure you against repairs. The sea is hard on boats.

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