Kayaking North Sardinia

The adventure begins here. At the sandy north-Sardinian seaboard, well-known as Platamona beach among the locals. Starting point is located more precisely by the Rotonda, a circle right in front of the open sea. Why are we leaving from a place not exactly the most beautiful one imaginable for a kayak trip?

Platamona, Rotonda

We simply had to leave from there. Symbolic reasons forced us to do so.

Sure, we could have put Aerius – my Klepper folding kayak – on a car and reached a more jagged seaboard to leave from, one more enjoyable, offering more variety. But our very first trip expected us to leave from the house door – from a sailor’s point of view. We had to challenge ourselves by the very first step without the help of means of any kind, which could have launched us toward and beyond level one.

Stowage

Here we are, surrounded by summery bathers, busy in the operation of assembling Aerius and stowing it.

Stowage: this is an essential duty which – as Edgar Allan Poe reminds us in short but everlasting lines of his Gordon Pym – “…cannot be accomplished in a careless manner, and many most disastrous accidents have arisen from neglect or ignorance in this particular. Coasting vessels, in the frequent hurry and bustle attendant upon taking in or discharging cargo, are the most liable to mishap from the want of a proper attention to stowage. The great point is to allow no possibility of the cargo or ballast shifting position even in the most violent rollings of the vessel. […] Only those who have encountered a violent gale of wind, or rather who have experienced the rolling of a vessel in a sudden calm after the gale, can form an idea of the tremendous force of the plunges, and of the consequent terrible impetus given to all loose articles in the vessel. It is then that the necessity of a cautious stowage, when there is a partial cargo, becomes obvious. When lying-to (especially with a small bead sail), a vessel which is not properly modelled in the bows is frequently thrown upon her beam-ends; this occurring even every fifteen or twenty minutes upon an average, yet without any serious consequences resulting, provided there be a proper stowage. If this, however, has not been strictly attended to, in the first of these heavy lurches the whole of the cargo tumbles over to the side of the vessel which lies upon the water, and, being thus prevented from regaining her equilibrium, as she would otherwise necessarily do, she is certain to fill in a few seconds and go down. It is not too much to say that at least one-half of the instances in which vessels have foundered in heavy gales at sea may be attributed to a shifting of cargo or of ballast.”

Well, enough to allow myself to be paranoid about stowage, even if not regarding a vessel, a brig or frigate, but a kayak!

Aware of the importance of the duty, but without alarming the crew for no reason just before the launch, I go on stowing plenty of different useful things: tent, spray deck, anchor, diving and fishing equipment, clothes, communication technologies, food (cans, chocolate, dried fruit, energy sticks, vitamins and minerals, but also trivial onions and potatoes), and – last but foremost – abundant fresh and drinkable water.

Launch

Sun is high and baking, beach is crowded, wind is still calm. We are ready to leave.

Aerius is far too heavy to be pulled by us alone to the water. So another set of people now enter the scene, who were carefully following every assembling phase as something strange and unusual They were preparing for another hard day of itinerant trade. A small group of African boys, perhaps from Senegal and very friendly, mutter for a second and then two of them – without asking or saying a word – one grabs the bow beside me, the other one pushes the stern near the wheel. With the help of such a fresh energy, within moments Aerius is dragged toward the tidal and finally dips its beak into Sardinian waters for the very first time.

This little interracial contribution while leaving port was of utmost importance, because coming from someone who surely has some traveling expertise. An African baptism, a tribal inception giving strength to the captain and his crew like nothing else could do. I consider it a blessing, the best one I could wish us.

How can it not come to mind, the fateful encounter between Ismael and Queequeg in Moby Dick? The Polynesian son of kings who will be his guardian angel during all tragic happenings to come? With his nobleness, his grace, his boldness, Queequeg glitters like a pearl in a dark full of pitiable, drunk, quarrelsome and miserable scum.

Departure is proud, happy, perhaps even a little bit overly confident. This was nonetheless fully understandable in our position.

We paddleed vigorously about 150 m far from shore and kept us parallel to the long tongue of sand while floating to East toward Capo Tramontana, the promontory dividing the large sandy gulf of Platamona from the beginning of rocky coast.

Paddling is fluid, Aerius floats gently on the surface, as its glorious history lets well hope.

Mistral starts rising

After about two hours, mistral starts rising, and with it waves too. We resist, paddling for as long as possible. But waves hit us from left and our direction prevents us from facing them correctly, unless we’d point directly to the open sea. Waves are higher and higher and the wind speed increases. The risk of keeling over is real, a case that – if not dangerous for us – would make us lose part of the load. We are equipped for a long-lasting nautical trekking, so we are full loaded.

Captain decides for a temporary surrender. After about four miles from start we turn to starboard and paddle to the shore, where we land right in front of La Risacca, a well-known restaurant of the coast. The seven-kilometre itch.

We can’t do anything but endure the imperious diktat of the sea. The whole day we wait for the wind speed to decrease and sea becoming less rough, but it doesn’t happen. Waves are even higher and break at a distance from shore that makes it impossible for us to leave again.

Fortunately we have landed at a point where we can enjoy the tender pleasures of a well equipped coast: oysters, seafood spaghetti and cold Sardinian white wine are the comforting balance for the slap in the face our wishes got from sea.

The day flows placidly as it can do at a beach supplied with cots and umbrellas, where we are forced to bed down. Here begins the reading of the only book allowed aboard the Aerius: Moby Dick.

This micro adventure is fed of symbols: the incident of the Pequod leaving from Nantucked for the deranged and desperate hunting of the white sperm whale has no rivals in becoming the official flag of this opening trip.

First night of delusion

As the evening becomes night, it’s clear that we’ll be forced to sleep at a discouragingly short distance from starting blocks. The power of the sea puts us in a tight corner and lets us face the very first challenge of this trip: the challenge of ridiculous. We are not heroically stopped on a rock in the middle of the sea with waves pitilessly hitting us from all directions… we are rather forced on cots for sunbathing, while in the restaurant a celebration of marriage hums with no mercy. Soundtrack is the horrifying sound of the the worst ever fake latino-salsa-cuban music ever heard in decades of queasy business.

Following the monkey-like screaming of a deejay that Fidel Castro would have hygienically put in jail as a dissident of good taste, a drunken rabble sings, burps, dances, screams and pisses all night, keeping us awake together with mosquitoes, moist cold, uncomfortable beds, halogen lights and skin irritated by the morning sunbathing.

Nonetheless, as Eduardo De Filippo – the great Italian actor and writer of theatre – assures in his comedy, “the night will pass, eventually…” – and this hope still keeps heart light while hours flow. Even the guzzlers reach their limit, night swallows them and silence embraces us again almost at dawn.

Apart of the long waves, which will be nasty during the launch, sea seems to be more docile than yesterday, wind almost absent. A breakfast as the very first customers at the cabin-bar and here we are, ready to paddle toward Capo Tramontana.

Launch 2

As I was afraid of, launch is made complicated by the breaking waves. Aerius is suddenly filled up with water by a particularly nasty wave, so we are forced – not having a bilge pump aboard – to remove mechanically the accumulated water invading the hold’s intimacy.

Much wetter than before, we finally paddle vigorously to the Capo Tramontana we yearned for. But fate doesn’t smile at us. A couple of miles later, growing sea forces us again to seek shelter on shore, in a place ironically called Eden Beach, the very last part of the long sandy tongue of Platamona. Here sand is much darker than before, because its basalt content. The beach is littered with swamp canes torn off and left in piles by the power of the waves, like beaver shelters.

Eden Beach

It becomes clear that Capo Tramontana is our Pillars of Hercules, the very border of the Known World. Beyond that only mystery, magical landscapes, fantastic demonic creatures. It shows itself from distance peeping out, joking us and our frustrated wishes.

Still blocked in spite of our best will, this time we erect the tent for getting a better sleep and being ready the next early morning.

Third day

The third day – as we know – He rose again.

The third day is for us too the deciding one. The true launch postponed. Finally, sea lets us try, wind doesn’t slow down completely – in Sardinia calm sea is uncommon like snow during fall – but it leaves us enough space to paddle toward our own Cape of Good Hope.

We can hardly believe it. We are finally paddling over Capo Tramontana, and we do it silently, as if fearing of breaking through words a fragile and unstable balance.

We get over the sandy coastline of Lu Bagnu and at a short distance from a rocky cape the marvelous village of Castelsardo shows itself in all its beauty. Sheltered on top of a promontory, guarded by the 9-century-old Doria Castle, built on dark but fascinating volcanic rocks.

Castelsardo

We circumnavigate the whole village and decide to have a rest on one of the small beaches down the rocky hill. Energies get burned very quickly, muscles are tonic but need a break, skin is struck mercilessly by baking sun, buttocks aching because of the prolonged paddling position.

To this time dates back the very first shot of this trip: during the first 2 days the mood wasn’t really the best for shooting our being stuck at a so short distance from the launch point, and during paddling, we were longing to leave behind as many miles as possible.

But now here it is, Aerius – and Castelsardo glancing down at us from the background.

Castelsardo

Badesi

We don’t stay behind lounging for too long, we have already lost too much time because of the grim sea. So, we leave even without having digested our tuna fish & beans cans. An almost disgusting food in normal conditions, today it is gasoline for our epic (for us) enterprise. Therefore it becomes a gourmet delicacy.

We paddle beyond Castelsardo, where the coastline becomes smoother in another very long sandy strip from Valledoria to Badesi. In the middle of it, the mouth of the river Coghinas, one of the longest in the whole Sardinia. The river is often paddled down by kayakers starting from the lake having the same name. During the summer the estuary is artificially blocked with sand from the beach in order to prevent the cloudy water from mixing with that crystal clear of the sea, spoiling the tourists’ postcard-like impressions and main attraction. Therefore, a lagoon takes shape every year just behind the beach, where the water becomes a prisoner and accumulates, making the scenery more similar to a much bigger river, which does not exist at all in Sardinia, generally a dry island.

Badesi

The day is approaching to sunset and the colors of the sky and sand begin to flare up. We paddle regularly and efficiently close to the beach. When we decide to land, we do so because the muscles really stop responding, hands are sketched with blisters, the bottom sends a stinging pain for having sustained us the whole day while sitting inside the kayak.

We have paddled almost 25 miles, a good result considering what happened during the two previous days.

Even Aerius seems to be exhausted, motionlessly lying on the sand and enjoying the soon-exploding sunset.

Badesi

Suppa Cuata

The sandy coast of Badesi is very long. Some parts are crowded with tourists, some others are completely lonely as if we were on a solitary island. And in one of these, we set camp.

The furious storms hitting this coastline very often, leave driftwood of every kind and dimension on the beach. Some of them are actually entire trees, whitened by the sun, salt, and passing seasons. Smooth because of the countless collisions against the rocks.

We set up tent right aside one of the greatest, as to let it protect us with its reassuring presence. We also use it as a drying rack for all our clothes and stuff made wet by the day on the water. 

The branches stranded this way are truly astounding, an amazing resource for kayak-trekkers. They are thousands, dried out perfectly, so smooth that it’s a pleasure to touch and transport them, super easy to burn. And they warm up us all night long. You could grill whole goats or tunas with such fires.

But tonight we are not going to need it. A group of friends from the town makes us one of those presents that after 25 sea miles looks like a true miracle.

They joined us and brought suppa cuata in abundant quantity. Suppa cuata is a typical recipe of Gallura, a sub region beginning right here in Badesi, prepared using stale bread, sheep meat broth, cow’s fresh and sheep’s aged cheese, and finally baked. The apotheosis of traditional pastoral food. They have bought it at a near rustic celebration. This meal is priceless, a warmth drying all the humidity accumulated in flesh and bones.

Night passes this way, apart from time, around the eternal fire, with a food thousands of years old. And sleep seizing bodies and taking them somewhere else.                                               

After a while even the fire gets swallowed, friends leave back to town, and we use some more hours of sleep, before the fourth travel day which will begin as soon the sun rises.

Costa Paradiso

The next morning, wake up at dawn.

We began to understand that to take advantage of the beginning of the day, it is imperative to get up far before the sun.

In the summer, in the coastal areas, at 9:00 am / 10 am the sea breeze begins to blow, due to the pressure difference between the mainland and the sea surface. On so hot days, the ground warms up much more than the water, and this causes on the mainland a rise of hot air and hence a pressure drop, while on the sea pressure does not change and becomes higher than over the sea. This barometric difference pushes the colder and more humid air from the sea toward the coast. The breeze reaches its maximum intensity in the afternoon with a speed of 6-12 knots, but late in the morning it can easily prevent kayaking along sandy and shallow coastlines, where the waves shorten and rise, as we have experienced during the first two days of paddling.

Those who want to navigate significant distances in kayak must get up in the morning when it is still dark and raise anchor as soon as the timid sunlight begins to make the contours of the coast visible.

After the first stretch of the sandy coast of Badesi, we reached the Isola Rossa with its beautiful marina: this is the true junction point between the sub-regions Anglona and Gallura, where the dark and sandy trachytoid coast leaves the camp to the reddish granite, jagged by a thousand coves and recesses. Costa Paradiso is a fantastic place, anyone visiting Sardinia should come to [us] at least once.

Paddling is fluid and fast but we burn lots of energy and decided to rest in Porto La Cruzitta, a kind of deep, well-sheltered and cozy S-shaped fjord.

Porto La Cruzitta

We relax for some time. When it comes to leaving the port that has welcomed us, we realize that the mood of the sea has changed completely. Mistral has risen, the master of all winds, the most influential among all wind deities of the Mediterranean pantheon. It is no longer a breeze at noon, the Mistral imposes a law that cannot be overcome.

Sea swells swiftly. Outside the sheltered harbor the waves are already high and threatening. After a brief paddling, we quickly understand that it is not safe at all to challenge the elements, we make a quick turnabout and returned to where we left.

Luckily Porto La Cruzitta is a place of moving beauty. The water is shallow for many meters, a lagoon of an atoll alike. The fresh water of a tiny stream mixes with the salty one. It still flows despite being late August, a sign that the source that feeds it is rich and deep-seated. The bush around is wild, the rocks steep. We are far enough away from civilization for not having a visit of our kind during our entire stay here.

Porto La Cruzitta

We remain at Porto La Cruzitta several days. While waiting for the master wind to decrease we have plenty of time for fishing, exploring, reading, relaxing. But this is the classic maestralata, as people here call it: tense, sprawling, insistent Mistral days and days long. It never dwindles and keeps constant. The sea has time to swell and the waves lurking on the coast are more than 3 meters high.

Our fjord is truly a paradise sheltered by the active waves, but the water still can slowly enter and reach ever higher spots, as an oceanic tide.

Porto La Cruzitta

Surroundings of Porto La Cruzitta

Isolated as we are, we devote ourselves to exploring the inland, which will show itself to be very interesting and lively.

In a few hours walk along a mule track, Cala Sarraina can be reached, a marvelous beach and wonderfully equipped with a restaurant, which is an oasis in the desert for our bodies tested by sad camping food. But to reach it the road is impervious and it is expected to climb a heavy and demanding granite cluster. The gorgeous view along the way allows us to fully appreciate the strength with which the sea knocks against the gentle rocky slopes.

toward Cala Sarraina

Climbing up back along the stream, landscape changes.

Porto La Cruzitta is a bay that does not see people so often, except those coming from the sea. Yet the worst traces of civilization are abundant. Plastic wastes of all kinds are scattered everywhere on the sand and rocks. Ropes, bins, decapitated dolls, polystyrene, bottles, toys, toothbrushes, slippers… And countless fragments of all colors that are no longer attributable to anything, disseminated on the ground like a broken mosaic. It looks like a show, a large open ancient market with a huge sample of the past.

plastic debris

The sea, especially in the winter, swelling to the full and reaching spots now completely dry, brings with it all these indiscreet fragments of stories always the same.

You might spend hours browsing these tracks, surprisingly seesawing from disgust to surges of almost archaeological interest.

inner inlet of Porto La Cruzitta

The stream that near the sea was a not very reassuring marsh, rejuvenates upstream and forms cascades and tanks of very cold water. It’s wonderful to rest in them, melting all the salt that had accumulated on the skin and hair after days of uninterrupted sea living.

fresh water behind Porto La Cruzitta

Plants and animals spending all their lives around these ponds are dramatically different from those of all other nearby areas. Fresh water makes miracles and allows me to socialize with an anisoptera – a beautiful red dragonfly – and a natrix natrix – a water snake born few days ago, I guess, given its bonsai size. I bother it just a few seconds, the time to violate her privacy forever, exposing her to the whole digital human world.

Natrix Natrix

Right next to the little stream there is a peculiar stones structure. At first our hypothesis were the most imaginative: an old sheepfold for the laying of sheep or goats away? But the surroundings are not really suitable for pasture. A coastal nuraghe now wrapped in vegetation? It might sound plausible, but the structure did not look exactly like a nuraghe, though the shape resembles it.

ancient calcination furnace

Following research has opened up a gap on the now almost forgotten lime kilns, more technically known as “calcination furnaces”. Today, they are just traces of industrial archeology, but about a century ago and before they were very active, because lime was a highly sought-after product in the building industry.

The place chosen for this lime kiln was strategic. Abundant presence of Mediterranean bush, to burn in order to reach the high and constant temperature needed to produce lime through the limestone baking. The stream water was perfect for drinking and washing during the long days of cooking, hard-working days for workmen constantly feeding the fire, not to lower the calcination temperature. Finally, Porto La Cruzitta is perfect to embark the produced lime and to deliver it to the nearest ports, better connected to the cities, where it could be sold and brought everywhere in the island.

ancient calcination furnace

This place where we today spend hours of exploration, pleasure and beauty, a century ago was a burst of fatigue, to build the oven and then to put it into operation, besides high temperatures almost a blast furnace alike. So much mastery, so much sweat, sleepless hours spent outdoor. All this for the lime used to build half of Sardinia.

Last pictures from the high rocks of Porto La Cruzitta before raising anchor, because the Mistral seems to weaken a little and the desire to set sail again is strong.

gate of Porto La Cruzitta

Cala Faa

The sea allows us to try and challenge it, but the further we paddle toward Capo Testa, the harder to treat the waves are. They are still well swollen by the maestralata of the past few days, and the wind seems still undecided, but it never falls and indeed seems to reinforce, because it added the breeze of the noon hours. And the already swollen waves become dangerous in a bit, especially because they hit the kayak sideways.

We paddle over Cala Sarraina and at the right side Cala Faa shows itself, a delightful inlet protected at the mouth by some guard rocks.

Cala Faa

We decide not to risk and to make Cala Faa our landing and end of this inaugural journey. The place is wonderful, also reachable from the ground, with a well-placed off-road vehicle.

But getting here from the sea has and will always have a different flavor.

Because “Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse – Sailing is necessary, living is not necessary.” [1]

Cala Faa

[1] Plutarch, Parallel Lives, about Pompeus

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