by Gael A
Last summer I spent 3 weeks in Sardinia with my wife. We were camped near Santa Maria Navarrese, a quiet seaside resort and a strategic location from which to explore the splendid and relatively untouched Ogliastra region, located on the central eastern coast of the island. There the mountains rise to over 1000m within 20 km of the shore, hence our plan to combine a beach holiday with hiking and paddling activities. Real sportsmen would add climbing and mountain biking as Peter Harold and his Lemon House guests do. Me, I’d rather add enjoying Sardinian food and wine to the program instead.
I brought my revived Grabner H2 IK. It took us along the astounding coastline to tiny coves that can be reached only by sea. Such fabulous places are found from 20 minutes to 2 hours of relaxed paddling, stopping en route to have a refreshing swim in turquoise water or to stretch one’s legs on a short walk inland into the fragrant Mediterranean macchia.
From Santa Maria Navarrese (aka: SMN) the coast up to north is mostly rugged rock wall all the way to Cala Luna, punctuated by caves, coves and superb white sand beaches tucked under towering cliffs. No easy escape routes leave from those beaches; it would take a few hours staggering along deep codulas (gorges) and up steep and craggy paths before reaching the plateau over the coastal ridge. Although rugged and remote, it’s not real wilderness in summer, because this stretch of coast is travelled all day long by dozens of tour boats and hundreds of rental “gommoni” (Zodiac-style, hard-bottom RIBs) sailing from Arbatax, SMN or Cala Gonone (the next resort north of SMN). Should a boater get stranded he could easily hitch a lift back to port.
Two beaches; Cala Sisine and Cala Luna have tourist facilities in summer such as bar, restaurant, toilets, with employees staying overnight. Sometimes whole families, stay overnight as well. In Cala Luna the restaurant is well known to help ‘naufraghi‘ (castaways); ill-prepared or unintentional overnighters. Sea traffic starts fading from 5pm with the beaches getting covered in shade, and disappears from 6pm to 8am, as often does the sea breeze too, so late afternoon and early morning are definitely the best paddling times. A paddler or hiker traveling this area offseason would be on his own.
So one morning I left for a 2-day trip to Cala Luna and back along the Ogliastra coast. I launched my loaded Grabner in the shore break beating on the Tancau beach.
I jumped awkwardly on board, intending to shove off quickly and not to be dumped back. Unfortunately, my inelegant butt crash-landed right on the backrest. It collapsed under my weight with a sorry crack.
I paddled on to the nearby Santa-Maria Navarrese marina, barely controlling my course in the 2-foot chop raised by the F3 Grecale (NE wind), then pulled ashore on the slipway for repair.
I found no immediate solution to fix the broken backrest bar. The middle backrest was intact but it was too long to fit in the stern backrest position. However, it could be fitted between the new brackets recently added by Grabner. These circumstances forced me to test the solo paddling position which requires only one backrest. I shifted the middle backrest and removed the remnants of the stern one.
Then there was the footrest problem to solve. The footrest is a 2-part aluminum bar. One part is mostly a tube while the other is a plain bar of a smaller diameter which can slide into the tube, so the total length adjusts automatically to the width of the boat for different positions of the footrest. The bent ends of the footrest are tucked into fittings glued on each side of the cockpit. Because of the bent ends the footrest must be taken apart to connect the rudder pedals on it. The crude aluminum material gets corroded quickly in seawater. To prevent it seizing up, I used to spray WD-40 in the tube. Many years ago I once forgot to take apart the footrest and after a few days, it got seized up for good. And now it was too long to fit in the forward tapered half of the kayak. It would be a no-rudder/loose-footrest trip then.
The Grecale abated as I left SMN and headed to Pedra Longa, a conspicuous rock steeple 128m high which stands out of the shoreline. From Pedra Longa I carried on along the boulder beach of Cala Forrola, under the precipitous cliff face of Punta Giradili. In good sea conditions when there is no shore break it’s possible to land safely onto those round smooth boulders. There’s a nice resting spot nearby, with a spring and a large flat slab to lay on for a nap under an overhanging rose-bay tree providing shade from the scorching sun.
Passed Punta del Pecoraro the coast becomes a vertical wall with nowhere to pull ashore for a significant distance. The only dents in the cliff were the Grotta dei Colombi (cave of the doves) and a sea cave close to the Capo Monte Santu. An opening in the cliff vertical face loomed right under this impressive headland, the entrance of Porto Pedrosu (Grouse Cove).
Porto Pedrosu is a fairly narrow inlet, narrowing even further as it goes deeper inland. It ends on a boulder choked beach, 3 metres wide. The gommoni are too large to get there; they stay on anchor near the entrance of this mini fjord and the crews swim ashore. I filled my net anchor with large pebbles, tied it to my bungee leash and put it on the edge of the foredeck. I pushed my boat out to sea with the painter in my hand. I give it a yank when the kayak was at the right distance from shore and the anchor fell. I pulled the boat back a bit and tied the painter around a rock. The bungee holds the mooring lines tight provided the anchor is heavy enough for not tripping on the bottom. I had the place all to myself for a quick lunch and a short siesta. After leaving Porto Pedrosu I visited Porto Quau (Quail Cove), the next inlet, also like a gash in the cliff, without any landing spot as it is walled in on all sides by plumb faces or piles of tumbled large boulders.
I carried on around the sheer 250-m high Punta Iltiera keeping some distance from the shore to stay away from the uncomfortable rebounding chop. About 3 kilometers later the arch of Cala Goloritze came in sight. I went through the arch, which I had not expected as it usually swarms with swimmers.
The otherwise lovely beach was still crowded with sun worshippers. Unlike other beaches further north, this place can be accessed after a relatively short (1h35) and easy (530m descent) walk from the Golgo plateau above. Italian families get there carrying large umbrellas, beach chairs, beach toys, ice chests and picnic supplies to spend the day swimming, tanning, playing, eating and making an incredible din. The return trudge up the slope with the panting and grunting hoards is quite an experience, like being part of a commedia all’italiana movie. Besides the arch, Goloritzé is also famed for its 127-metre long needle rock, the Aguglia, ‘a sought-after destination for free-climbers’ say the guidebooks. From the sea it looks smaller because all the place is dwarfed by the towering mass of 466-m Punta Salinas.
The next renowned and highly advertised place is Cala Mariolu, a postcard-like white sand crystal water beach. It’s not exactly sand but tiny rounded gravel. By 6pm most boats were gone. I had noticed earlier that this time was the rush hour for tourist boats and rental boats as well. I had seen them almost everyday return at full speed to SMN or Arbatax to get there by the 6pm cut-off.
I passed Cala Biriola while the last batch of people was being evacuated. Groups of visitors are landed on different beaches and for a limited time in order to avoid too many people cramming the same beach at the same time. I was alone on the sea and Capo Monte Santu looked far behind by then. I reached Cala Luna by 7pm. It wasn’t dark but the sun had disappeared behind the mountains. I pulled ashore in front of the large caves located on the north end of the beach.
The beach edge was very steep with the typical dumping wave breaking right on it. I looked for the smoothest landing place and stood by for a while before paddling in, timing waves sets. I caught the back of a wave but it did not carry me high enough to reach the flatter ground and I landed on the steep slope. The next wave crashed in, half filling the cockpit, as I jumped out of the boat and grabbed the bow handle – easily done with an open IK. I hauled the boat turned bathtub up the slope and carried the gear near the entrance of a cave. Setting camp was quite simple: laying an old space blanket as a groundsheet on the sand. In the very unlikely case of rain coming, I could go inside one of the caves or retreat into the codula and rig my tarp between shrubs.
Dinner was instant polenta, pecorino cheese, fruit, all washed down with some Ichnusa beer. The issue with polenta – a bit like couscous – is that it has no taste. Simply adding a generous spoonful of butter, bits of cheese and some spices make it delicious (there might be more sophisticated ways to enhance polenta though).
I was a bit tired and I fell asleep shortly after dark under an extraordinary starry sky, sliced now and then by the seasonal shooting stars. Next morning I woke up at dawn and watched the sunrise on the placid waters. The temperature was relatively cool and I stayed in my sleeping bag until 6.30. The obvious upside of outdoors living in warm and dry weather is how little equipment you need. My heaviest pieces of gear were my 10-liter water bag, and a pack of beer. In no time after breakfast I packed up and brought gear and boat to water.
Again I launched my kayak at the wrong time. I thought there was a lull between two bigger wave sets, but I was hit by one before I could jump on board and push-off, right in the dumping zone, at the bottom of the beach steep slope. The boat got instantaneously swamped and severely tossed back toward the beach, pinned down by the waves in the impact zone. Most pieces of gear floated in or around, each held close by its respective tether. The H2 was now a heavy piece of jetsam that I struggled to haul on higher ground.
I bailed the water, secured the gear under tighter bungees and shortened tethers and timed the wave sets more accurately. I put to water again, at the right moment this time. ‘Nothing was lost, only a bit of pride’ as said Audrey Sutherland in Paddling North.
By 8am I was still alone on the water, save for one or two gommoni heading south. I passed Cala Sisine and Cala Biriola, still empty of visitors. The sea was much calmer than the day before, and I could hug the coast and visit many caves and crags along my way southward. At 10.30 the boat traffic was picking up and I stopped at Cala Mudarolu with a deep cave at the end of this lovely cove.
The entrance is barred by a gravel beach. There is water inside, brought by the gales when the sea reaches over the tombolo. Unfortunately, the surface of the pond inside the cave is littered with plastic bottles, soda cans and all sorts of trash. It was 11 and the boat traffic was now in full swing. Fortunately, most boaters hop from one beach to the next, overlooking the rocky shore in between.
I passed the beach area of Cala Mariolu where a large fleet of motorboats was moored beyond the line of buoys marking the 300 meters limit from the shore. At noon the traffic stopped: pranzo time is sacred in this heavenly country. over the next 2 hours all I could hear were the gulls and the water lapping the cliffs, instead of roaring gomo engines.
I gave up stopping at Cala Goloritze, scared off by the crowd on the beach and in the water. Instead, I paddled on to Porto Pedrosu for a quiet lunch stop in the shadow of some Holm oak.
Now it was time to fight the regular SE afternoon breeze around Capo Monte Santu, but the lumpy chop of the day before had turned to a gentle ripple. From half a mile offshore I stared at the stupendous ruggedness of the Supramonte, while paddling my way back to SMN. No polenta tonight, but a hearty 7-course seafood dinner at the Pescheria, a nice restaurant on the shore of the Tortoli lagoon where they even offer to carry you home.