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Windsurfing with Lord Nelson

The Bocche di Bonifacio were called by the Romans Fossa Fretum, and by the Greeks Tappros, a trench, from their dividing the islands of Corsica and Sardinia like a ditch or dyke. These straits are considered dangerous by navigators, from the violence of the squalls gushing suddenly from the mountains and causing strong currents, especially during the prevalence of winds from the north-west during nine months of the year. Lord Nelson describes them during one of these squalls as “looking tremendous, from the number of rocks and the heavy seas breaking over them.” In another letter he says, “We worked the ‘Victory’ every foot of the way from Asinara to this anchorage, [off La Madelena] [sic] blowing hard from Longo Sardo, under double-reefed topsails.” The difficulties of the Bonifacio passage can hardly be understood by a landsman who has not visited the straits, but they are stated to have been so great, “and the ships to have passed in so extraordinary a manner, that their captains could only consider it as a providential interposition in favour of the great officer who commanded them.”

—from Rambles in the Islands of Corsica and Sardinia with Notices of their History, Antiquities, and Present Condition by Thomas Forester, pub. Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts. London. 1858.

This comes to me from a friend, John Booth.

I was on a sports vacation with Gaby and friends about 29 years ago. I remember the time, as Esther was just about a year old then, and we stayed at a resort at the northern tip of the island. I got my first taste of wind surfing there.

I was doing pretty good (at least, that was my impression of things), and learned to stay on the board, and get the sail to stay in the wind most of the time. One day, I decided to do things on my own. I had just finished about 4 days of instruction, so I was feeling pretty confident, and I tacked the wind back and forth, back and forth. I didn't pick up on it right away, but Sardinia was getting gradually smaller and smaller. Seems I missed the lesson on putting your sail perpendicular to the wind and letting your board get pushed back to the island instead of tacking back and forth, back and forth and away from land.

Well, after a while, I was pooped, and just sat on the board for a while. People would wave now and then, and I would wave back. (Nobody told me you had to wave using both arms, by crossing your arms in an x-form to let them know you needed assistance).

Anyway, all of a sudden, there comes this unbelievably athletic-looking guy in a neoprene  suit with purple and yellow stripes—which matched his purple and yellow-striped sail and P&Y striped board like that silver Greek god what's his name on silver in-line skates. I mean "Zooop!" there he was. "Hi there! Saw you might be having some problem. Lemme see." And with that having been said, he found the problem. Seems my sail was too slack (actually, that was the condition of my body and brain; my nerves were gone by this point too.) With simple hand movements he tightened up my sail "Wonnnnnng!" the lines went, like taut violin strings when you just looked at the sail; he was happy, and then saying "Cheers!" he zipped back into the watery netherworld of wherever he came from. Well, that just did the trick. Really. Now, when I raised my board's sail, just the slightest whiff of wind crashed me back into the water. Some help.

After about another half an hour of sitting on my board (ever wonder if sharks nibble on toes?) this guy comes by again and lets me know he's sent for help. Then he zips away again. (Don't embarrass me by asking where he went; I don't even know where he came from).

Help came in the form of my friends sailing to me on a catamaran. The Man Wonder was riding with them, pulled me up with one arm onto the catamaran, and took my board, tightened up its rigging again ("Wonnnnnng! Winnnnnng!) and sailed away in one direction, while we sailed in another.

Now, you might think I felt relieved; after all, my toes had been saved. But, lying flat on the net that functioned as a form of platform between the cat's two pontoons, I noticed how fast the water was rushing by. Then the cat started tilting a bit more on one side and picked up speed. Yes, jumping into the fire from the frying pan is a remarkable experience.

Anyway, that evening Mr Hero was in the same restaurant, and I bought a round for the group and shook his hand. I was very grateful, and the redness of my face was not entirely due the weather conditions. Seems the guy was the European sales rep for some wind-surfing equipment company.

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