2 italian islands

Two Italian Islands


Circumnavigating Sicily & Sardinia
travels by land and sea

ebook published April 2017
PART ONE – SICILY: 12 Chapters 1 Map
PART TWO – SARDINIA: 9 Chapters 1 Map
Overall 317 Pages


There are many ways to visit Italy. A country with large islands like Sicily and Sardinia has the advantage of allowing a geographic and cultural boundary to be drawn around some parts of it more easily than others. Sicily and Sardinia have sharper edges than – say – Tuscany or Basilicata. Both are still quintessentially Italian, of course, but in ways that are as distinct one from another as each is different from the mainland. Being isolated by water adds to distinction rather than detracts from it.

Rounding any island in a yacht offers additional insights. A circumnavigation by sea is not the same as a journey made on land. There is the maritime dimension, of course: shoals, capes, ports and passage-making but there is also the less obvious aspect of Past and Present forever hovering over the seafarer. The Mediterranean – for millennia – has been the highroad along which History has travelled. And, poignantly, its islands are places that History is still travelling at the moment. Yesterday may have seen Sardinia holding significant political importance for the Roman Republic as a ‘bread basket’; today sees Sicily bravely coping with one of Europe’s great migratory challenges.

To this unique view from the water rather than from the land, add in the final ingredient of solitude. Navigating the coastlines of Sicily and Sardinia as a lone yachtsman necessarily allows time for reflection. Life is simplified; there is the horizon or the coast, there is the wind and weather, there is safety and there is the boat. Long hours elapse when nothing much happens at all.

And, with islands, there is the ‘getting there’. When alone offshore, what might seem easy – like avoiding collision - is not always so; what looks hard – like keeping awake - is often easy.

Two Italian Islands is not a sailing book. However reflective an offshore narrative might be, one that solely focusses on thoughts, ports, passage-making or potential hazards has a limited audience. Yachtspersons intending to cruise Sicily or Sardinia might be interested but the others glaze over when port and starboard, genoa and draught are mentioned once too often. What about the places, the people and the personages (real or fictional, ancient and modern) that land travel offers? Everyone knows Sicily and Sardinia are locations full of interest whereas the offshore Mediterranean can be a surprisingly empty environment.

So Two Italian Islands is a composite of sea and land travels. There is some offshore passage-making and some port stories but there is a lot of road travel and much bummelling about in the back country. The Sea circum Sicily of Part One is the story of an offshore/onshore journey undertaken in the early autumn of 2015; the Sea circum Sardinia of Part Two regales sea/land travel a year later but a month earlier – the late summer of 2016. The difference is significant; for the seafarer, September can be ‘Summer’s End’ but October can be ‘Winter’s Beginning’. In fact, October sometimes edges towards November. And November in the Mediterranean is the month when, for the small-boat sailors of Antiquity, the sea was Mare clausum – ‘closed’.

PENGUIN II is of similar size to the vessels of those ‘sailors of Antiquity’: a 1994 Moody 38 centre-cockpit sloop. At its wheel, I originally steered south from Torbay, crossed the English Channel and Biscay in the summer of 2001 to end up in Gibraltar. The sturdy and comfortable seven-berth yacht subsequently accumulated 18,000 sea miles cruising with Elaine (my wife), family and friends ever eastwards through the Mediterranean in the decade or so that followed: Spain; France; Italy; Malta; Greece; Turkey; Egypt; Syria and Cyprus. We sailed in the summer and left the boat to over-winter wherever we stopped. These years were the times of ‘Nine Summers to the Nile’ and ‘What’s a Greek Urn?’ The ‘Two Italian Islands’ of 2015 and 2016 is a slow return westwards. Who knows where that will end up.

So, what of the two Italian islands - Sicily and Sardinia?
First Sicily: Sicily sits on dangerous ground…(the rest is in the book)