There are certain places and moments that are so beautifully, breathtakingly incredible that they will stay with you forever. There are also those moments in life where you simply cannot believe that whatever bad thing is happening is actually happening to you. Recently, I had both of these things combine on the same day – resulting in one of the most unbelievable, unforgettable, experiences of my life…and it all happened on the stunning Golfo di Orosei.
I had been desperate to rent a boat after being told that the best way to really see the natural beauty of the area and discover the island’s best beaches was by water, but every time I went to rent one, there was always a reason it didn’t happen. The weather for the first two weeks of my trip had been so unpredictable – boiling hot one moment and torrential rain the next. The first few times I went to the port in Santa Maria Navarrese to enquire about boat hire, the boat ticket office was closed. The next two times, I was told that the wind was too strong or the weather was too unpredictable. Three weeks after arriving on the east coast, on an incredibly sunny morning and after double checking the weather, I decided to try again…and finally, they let me rent a boat!
The Italian woman at the booking office seemed friendly and helpful; she explained that usually there was a €200 deposit but because it is low season (and clearly they need all the bookings they can get) she would just need me to leave a credit card. The boat would cost €80 for the day, plus the calculated fuel at the end of my trip. Even though it was a total splurge from my budget, I just couldn’t imagine missing out on the experience, so I happily signed the booking form. She said that it was the perfect weather for taking out a boat, and to be fair, even though it as only 9.30am, it was already shaping up to be one of the hottest days since I’d arrived. She shouted on another guy to get a boat ready for me and said he would be showing me how to use it. She gave me her mobile number (thank god) and then disappeared back into the office. The guy talked me through all the basics; how to start, stop, raise and lower the engine, explained the safety pull and how to anchor, before wishing me a nice day and sending me out of the port and into the big (at this point calm) Tyrrhenian Sea.
For the first hour or so, I took it easy and went at a pretty leisurely pace. The scenery from the moment you leave the marina is so beautiful – with these huge rock faces that plunge into the unbelievably blue waters – that I wanted to take in every moment. The first beach you pass is Pedra Longa – with it’s strange rock that sticks out of the water. After that, Cala Goloritze is the second of the many that are highlighted on the map along the coast. Cala Goloritze (which I’d hiked to the previous week – you can read about it here) was already busy with a few boats and families, and because I’d already been, I decided to skip anchoring here and keep going until I found a deserted cove further up.
I stayed here for a while, anchoring the boat about a 100m out and swimming through the beautiful blue waters to the beach. It was the first time I had the chance to properly test out my Bessmate Underwater iPhone 6s Case (which, given how the day ended, turned out to be an absolute life saver!)
I spent half an hour sunbathing and another half an hour back on the boat having a picnic-style breakfast. It was such beautiful morning, the scenery was so incredible and I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe how amazing it felt to be there, seeing it all for myself, doing it all on my own…
I spent the next two hours going further up the Golfo di Orosei, stopping at Cala Marilou for another swim and a sunbathe. I had the boat until 4pm and I knew I wanted to see the last beach on the map – Cala Luna – and still be able to make it back in time.
I’d stayed pretty close to the coast to start with but I decided to go out a little further to pick up some speed. It felt amazing; the wind in my hair, the sun on my back, the incredible blue water…I felt like I was in a movie! It was all very glamorous until…I noticed a bigger boat ahead that appeared to making for my general direction. I brought my speed down and steered in towards the coast, but the bigger boat seemed to do the same. When I got close enough to see it properly, I realised it was the Guardia Finanza; the Italian Coastguard (or boat police, as I like to call them). They were gesturing for me to stop. I had a slight panic…was I too far out? Had I gone too far up the coast? The rental guys said all of this was fine…
There were four of them (the intimidating boat police) on the boat. The biggest one started shouting in Italian, which I couldn’t understand. I tried to explain that I could only speak English, which he responded to by just shouting over and over again “DOCUMENTATIONS! DOCUMENTATIONS!” When the guy had been getting the boat ready for me, he’d stuck an envelope with my booking form in the compartment under the steering wheel so I took those out a held them up. “I rented the boat from Santa Maria Navarrese” I said, as they continued to circle me. He nodded and held out his hand, as if I was to throw the envelope. “PASSPORT ALSO!” he added. At which point, I was really panicking. First off, what they hell did they need see my passport for? Secondly, and anyone who has ever watched me throw anything (or catch anything, for that matter) knows that attempting to get my passport from the boat I was on to theirs, without it landing in the depths of the Tyrrhenian sea, was a very bad idea.
I shook my head at him. “You want me to throw my passport…NO!” He looked annoyed but he shouted at one of the other men, who then brought a fishing net, which he hovered over the edge of my boat. I gingerly put my passport in, along with the envelope, and they all disappeared inside the cabin. Ten minutes later, I was starting to get really worried. I couldn’t understand what was taking so long, and I was fairly pissed off that they had offered me no explanation whatsoever. I was paying good money to rent the boat and they were, not only wasting my time, but putting a bit of a downer on the whole day. After another 10 minutes, the big one reappeared with the fishing net and my documents. I grabbed them out of the net and then stared at him, waiting for him to say everything was fine or explain why they had stopped me. But he didn’t say a word. They just hovered for another few minutes before speeding off.
I was a bit weirded out by the whole thing (I was feeling decidedly less like my life was a movie by that point) but I thought I would try and salvage what was left of the afternoon. I reckoned I could still make it to Cala Luna and be back in time for the rental company so I set off again and picked up speed. The further I went up the coast, the choppier I realised the sea was becoming. I hadn’t really noticed it clouding over either. I spotted a small cove beach with only one other boat, which looked on the map as if it was the beach before Cala Luna, and it seemed like with the weather changing and time getting on, it might be a better idea to stop here than continue any further.
As I steered the boat into the cove, I could see the family on the beach. Their boat was anchored about 100m out so I came in just behind and to the right hand side of them. As I did, I saw a man on the beach waving, but in the split second it took me to realise that he was warning me, it was already too late. A huge swell wave launched the boat forward, then another…and another. In the space of a minute, the boat went from being a 100m out to being beached…and completely stuck. The guy had been trying to warn me not to try and anchor in the cove. It seemed that the weather had changed and now they were having some trouble getting back out to the boat. He said he would help me try to get mine back in the water but every time we managed to get it off the sand, another huge wave would push it back in. To make it worse, each time this happened, the boat was filling up with water and everything inside was taking an absolute beating from the strength of the waves. I’d managed to grab my backpack (this is why it was so handy that my waterproof phone case worked!) before it got completely soaked. After ten minutes, I looked at the guy and said “This just isn’t going to work” and phoned the rental company…who, once they managed to understand who I was, had a very odd reaction.
Woman: “It’s on the beach?”
Woman: “Okay, you can get it off the beach. Start the engine.”
Me: “I don’t think you understand. I can’t start the engine; the boat is ON the beach.”
Woman “Turn the boat so the engine is just in a little water and then start the engine”
Me: “I don’t think you understand how bad the weather is. The waves are huge. It’s very rough.”
Woman: “Well I don’t know how to help you then. I’ll have to send someone and you’ll have to wait. It’ll be at least an hour.”
I said that yes, I guess that would have to be fine, explained to the nice German family what the rental woman said and then sat down on my drenched towel. An hour and 20 minutes later, there was still no sign of the so-called rescue. When he eventually did turn up, he didn’t seem to be in much of a rush. In fact, he struggled to do much at all. If it hadn’t been for the German guy, I don’t think any of us – rescue man included – would have been getting off that beach.
After a lot of ridiculous mucking about with tow ropes, we managed to get my boat back in the water, a mere four hours after I had initially called. The German family went on their way and we made a start back towards Santa Maria Navarrese. I’d gone to pull out my hoody from my rucksack and realised that, after standing pushing the boat against the huge waves, everything was now completely soaking…including my passport (and I’d been so worried about it throwing it to the boat police!) I also hadn’t noticed, until the rental guy asked if I was hurt, that my legs were bleeding and absolutely covered in scratches and bruises from where the boat had pushed back into me with the force of the waves. I nodded to him…by that point I just didn’t care. The sun was setting, it was starting to get cold and all I wanted to do was get back to my little apartment, shower and have a very, very, large glass of wine.
As we passed Pedra Longa on the way back, we caught the most beautiful sunset – which is still my favourite from my time on the east coast (despite how it came about that I actually got to see it!) Back at the harbour, the rental woman was not looking pleased. I had been worried that there might be damage to the boat but after they checked it and said it was fine, I figured I might need to pay a bit extra in petrol but that would be it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. She said I needed to pay the boat hire, like I had agreed, a full tank of petrol for me and a full tank of petrol for the rescue boat. I was pissed off and gutted that my perfect day had ended in a far from perfect way but I agreed to pay just to get home, warm and dry. When I did finally make it back to the apartment (awkward moment trying to pay for the bus when you realise all your money is soaking too!) I had a shower, put my pyjamas on and went to straight to bed. I slept for a full 12 hours, and when I woke up the next day, my legs were so sore I could barely stretch them out.
It took me two days to fully recover from my boating adventures, and another week before the bruises had gone down enough that I could wear a dress again without looking like someone had attacked me with a baseball bat…but despite the money and the less than relaxing end to the day, I’m still glad I got to see the coast by boat…and catch that incredible sunset.
Boat Rental – Golfo di Orosei – Details
I rented from Nautica in Santa Maria Navarrese. Boat hire was €80, fuel was €50 for a full tank (and here’s hoping you won’t need to pay for a rescue!) I’m sure on normal days, when there they don’t actually have to move from the office to help people, they are very friendly…however, neither of the ones I dealt with were friendly or seemed competent so I’d think about hiring from someone else in the port (there are other companies!) You can also rent boats from Arbatax and Cala Gonone.
Have you ever had an experience like this when you’ve been travelling? I’d love to hear your tales of adventure and misadventure too so feel free to leave a comment below!