In April 2009, Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw kayaked 900km around the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. We drove from Wales to Italy with our kayaks and kit and started from Fertilia in the North West. We kayaked anti-clockwise in order to have the wind behind us more than against us! At least that’s the theory.

We kayaked 828km – 517 miles – around Sardinia in 29 days from 3rd April – 1st May 2009. We had 3 days off due to strong winds and quite a few very short paddling days due to winds. One of the nicest things about paddling in Sardinia was the clear sea, which is every shade of blue and green imaginable. It’s so clear and you can usually see the sand, rocks or weed on the bottom as you paddle along. Where you have shallow white sand, the sea is an amazing turquoise colour.


Sardinia is the second largest Mediterranean island, after Sicily. It’s a mountainous island famed for it’s beautiful beaches and warm (but windy) climate. Sardinia has been part of Italy since 1861, but before that the island survived countless invasions by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs & Byzantines, and the impact of all those cultures still remains. The centuries of maritime raids resulted in most Sardinians settling on hilltops 2-5km from the coast so much of the coastline is quite unpopulated and undeveloped. As we kayak along, we will see many “Spanish Towers”, which are watch towers built in the 1500s during the Spanish reign in Sardinia. Numerous prehistoric castles, villages, temples and tombs dot the countryside.

Most Sards live inland and the coast is largely undeveloped, except for clusters of identical tourist villas and the occasional gigantic hotel. The tourist season doesn’t start gearing up until the start of May so these complexes were often deserted and the restaurants shut, which felt a bit weird. The coastline is really rugged and beautiful – in places pockets of white sand nestle between craggy granite headlands, in others imposing limestone cliffs rise over 500 metres from the sea, towering above us & providing a nest site for circling elanoras falcons. Elsewhere long beaches stretch for several kilometres. In April they were mostly deserted but I’m sure they will be crammed with sun loungers and parasols in a months time.sardinia-map

Most days the weather was warm and we kayaked in shorts and a thermal or rash vest – sometimes with a cag over the top. If it was particularly windy and overcast we’d wear warm trousers to kayak in ( Barry wore Reed Chillcheater sallopettes and I wore Kokatat sealskin trousers). To start with the nights were cold and our thin sleeping bags were a bit inadequate but by the start of May we were warm enough. Sardinia had much more rain than usual for April and we must have had over 2 inches fall in a day on the south coast. So much rain that a stream broke it’s banks and flowed under our tent!

Lunch after a showerWINDS
Before we left we studied the fantastic website, which has 9-year statistics of the average wind direction and strength in 8 places around Sardinia. Most places have an average wind speed of around 10knots in April, but Capo Carbnara is particularly windy with an average wind speed of 16knots and a 70% chance that the wind will be above Force 4! The wind also funnels through the Bonifacio strait between Sardinia and Corsica – in April there seems to be about a 50/50 chance of this being behind us. The wind can pick up short steep waves, and we could have to deal with choppy conditions and surf landings, especially on the west coast.

I was expecting a lot of onshore winds in the afternoons or late mornings as in theory the land warms up quicker than the sea and the warm air over the land rises. The colder air from the sea rushes in to take its place forming an onshore breeze. In reality, there wasn’t an obvious pattern to the winds and we had quite a few days with very little wind, or F3/4 winds that could be onshore or offshore. We also had lots of days where low pressure systems dominated the winds, blowing strongly from 1 direction all day. The strongest winds (that caused us to have days off) were from the north or west ( or NW) although we had 2 days of Force6/7 NE winds, which we took advantage of and surfed along the top of the island.

The channel between the north coast of Sardinia and the south coast of Corsica is renowned as a wind corridor and we certainly experienced that. Strong ENE winds gave us a push on the first day, then a day and a half of calm was followed by 4 days of really strong westerly winds which slowed us to a crawl and then held us poised at the NW tip of Sardinia waiting for a break. Finally we snuck around the corner at 6.30am on a glassy calm morning and kayaked a 50km cliffy section with few places to land.

Porto Flavia

 The swell was surprisingly large at times, considering there isn’t a huge fetch, and we experienced up to a metre and half of clean surf swell on the west coast. When it was stormy the wind  waves also got up to a metre and a half. The swell on the east coast was up to about a metre at times, although both coasts were also flat calm on some days. Even when there was a large swell,  we could usually find a protected bay to land in.

 We used an MSR dragonfly stove and when our white gas ran out we bought unleaded petrol from a garage. In Italy you can buy gas canisters for stoves in a lot of supermarkets but we couldn’t  find any other type of fuel so had to use petrol when we ran out ( we knew this in advance). Although most of the coastal development was (often deserted) tourist villas, we did manage to find  small supermarkets in a lot of coastal villages/ resorts so we could restock our food. We were able to stop & camp near larger towns when we felt the urge to walk into civilization for a pizza and  a beer ( which was increasingly often towards the end of the trip)! There aren’t many streams for drinking water and most Italians only drink bottled water but we found the tap water to be fine!  We started going to marinas when we needed drinking water and asking one of the boats to fill up our bags for us. Camping outside of campsites is not allowed in Sardinia and paddlers have  been fined by the police when they’ve been caught camping so we mostly stopped for the night on deserted beaches away from towns, and finding these wasn’t usually a problem. Neither of us  liked ‘sneaking around’ and hiding our tent, especially when we were storm bound at the NW tip. We were camped near a busy tourist beach and had to get up at 7am to take the tent down so we wouldn’t get caught.

Neither Barry or I spoke any Italian before we went to Sardinia. Armed with an English/ Italiano dictionary and a few words of French and Spanish we mostly managed to communicate a bit with locals but I missed the easy conversations that I’ve had with people I’ve met on other trips. Italians – or certainly Sardinians – largely don’t speak much English & we tried… but certainly weren’t fluent!! We have a few favourite encounters with people…. We spent a great day with a local family on the south coast and enjoyed lunch and a traditional Sardinian dinner with them. We also spent a day in a B& B in Lozarai, which admitedly was run by a couple who are originally from the U.K. but it was great to chat to them and the other people staying there. We met up with a local kayak guide, Francesco, that evening which was also fun. When Anne dropped us off at our kayaks the next morning, a local man (who had allowed us to leave the kayaks under his yacht in the marina) thrust a bottle of Sardinian red wine in our hands as we left. Much later on in the trip, on the north coast we asked 3 people walking along the beach how far it was to the nearest pizzeria. The answer was that there might be one open about 2km away! We set off walking down the road, and after about 20 minutes, a car beeped and it was the people from the beach. They’d driven in the wrong direction to pick us up and take us to their local pizzeria! Finally, when we finished our trip, it was on May 1st, which is a public holiday in Italy, and no-one was at the campsite where we had left our van locked up. We phoned them up but there was no answer. After about 2 hours, we asked Mirko, the man who ran the small beachside hut/ shop if he know how to get hold of the owners. He made a few phonecalls, then produced a key for the side door to the campsite and helped us carry the kayaks in to the van. He left his key with us overnight so we could get in and out, before waving us good night and leaving!

70% of Italian military bases are located in Sardinia. Several islands are no-go areas and there are some firing ranges that we can’t paddle past when they are firing ( not that we’d want to!). We had advice about this before we left but we found that some of the areas we’d been told we’d have problems passing, we kayaked past without seeing anyone. In 2 areas, we were stopped by military speed boats and asked what we were doing. Once on the east coast, we were made to turn around and wait on the nearest beach for 2 hours while the military carried out an exercise which involved a helicopter bombing some targets at sea. When we finally paddled on, we could see the helicopter leaving the area and the smoke still rising from the sea. I was glad that they’d stopped us!

Kayaking in the Mediterranean was a bit more relaxing than circumnavigating the South island of New Zealand in 2008, however the strong winds certainly weren’t a push over and we had to work hard at times, and rest safely on shore on other occasions. Sardinia is a beautiful island with potential for warm water, warm weather, protected paddling, but it can also be very windy with swell and surf….. It would be a great place for a multi-day trip, or some day trips.


This link is to Rene Seindal’s web blog about his kayak around Sardinia, and some of his photos.

One of the exciting things about this trip is that I’ll be able to upload our position live onto the internet, using some software and equipment from Sanoodi ( Sanoodi have provided us with a blackberry with an inbuilt GPS. Using their free software, SMap, we can send our position back to a website every 30seconds and this will automatically be uploaded onto a map on the Sanoodi website. At the end of the day, there will be a summary of our total distance covered and the average speed. If we are low on battery power, then we’ll switch off the ‘live’ updates which use more power, but we can still upload the route afterwards – hopefully at the end of the day. We need a phone signal for this to work, which we can expect to have most days, although probably not on the west coast. Whenever we set off for the day, we’ll automatically send out an alert on ‘twitter’ saying we have started kayaking, which will link to the webpage of the route. If you are a member of twitter and you ‘follow’ CackleTV then you’ll get this update on your twitter page. If you have no idea what ‘twitter’ is, and you don’t want anything to do with it, then you don’t have to join to follow along! You can check the cackletv blog for twitter updates and follow the link to the map from there. We’ll also write blog posts when we get the chance.