“Piano Piano”

Said slowly and with a distinct Italian accent so it sounds to my American ear as, PEE-ah-no PEE-ah-no. Like all good Italian phrases, it comes with its own hand gesture: both palms facing the listener and angled slightly forward, the hands pressing down twice, gently and in time with the words.

It’s 3:30 a.m. and it’s cold. I wake of my own accord in my warm, dry berth in Hazel and begin to come to consciousness. Hazel’s rocking very gently so I know we’re in port somewhere…Hmmmm, where? Oh, that’s right…Santa Teresa di Gallura, northeastern Sardinia. Furthermore, I remember that—assuming the Mediterranean weather forecast is holding (a 50/50 proposition at best in the fall)—were not just sailing today but we’re starting a day-and-a-half to two-day, 200 nautical mile (nm) passage due east from Sardinia to “the boot” of Italy (Interestingly enough, in the Mediterranean marine weather forecasts the meteorologists actually refer to the mainland as “the boot.”).

I think we’ve started to learn a thing or two about Mediterranean weather and sailing, and it’s summed up by, Piano piano. A week and a half ago when we were in Stintino (northwestern Sardinia). I was fixated on what would have then been a 260 nm passage to the boot. However, we just couldn’t find a long enough weather window of “that Baby Bear’s porridge” of wind. Finally it hit me, What if we’re thinking about “this” (one long passage) the wrong way? Rather than striking out into gale warnings in the Tyrrhenian Sea (east of Corsica and Sardinia, and west of the boot of Italy), we prudently did a 30 nm daysail east from Stintino to Isola Rossa and hunkered down in the marina there to wait out a 2-day mistral? The winds in the Mediterranean have names (by the way, many of the same names that Homer uses in The Odyssey) and a “mistral” describes a strong northwest blow. In the Isola Rossa Marina, as the wind howled in the rigging, and the sheets of rain pelted Hazel, we were so glad to be snug in a protected marina and not trying to sail through it.

When we landed at the Isola Rossa, some English sailors stopped by to say hello (and they gave me hearty fist bumps as I told them of my solo transatlantic sail that spring). When I told them of our newfound strategy of small hops, rather than waiting for the big weather window to miraculously open, they vigorously agreed and said, Piano piano. When I asked what that meant, they said it refers to taking things easy, gently, little by little—slow down.

With that in mind, the day after the mistral broke, we sailed another 25 nm to Santa Teresa di Gallura—another piano piano move. We were going to daysail further but thunderstorms and waterspouts to the west changed our minds. We spent a rainy day waiting for some unsettled weather to clear and are now ready to depart. Although little-by-little is good advice, we’re “running out of island” on Sardinia and need to jump at some point and make our move.

When I woke this morning, I downloaded weather and switched on Hazel’s VHF radio to hear of any warnings. The “GRIBs” (pronounced as one word and the acronym standing for Gridded Binary file, an efficient protocol to transmit weather data) look good. A bit windy this evening but nothing we shouldn’t be able to handle. Beaufort force 7 (high 20 knots, low 30s) but from the northwest so behind Hazel as we travel east. Our “apparent wind” (what we feel, the combination of the true wind and Hazel’s boat speed) should be in the low-to-mid 20 knot range. We’ll see, you can keep track of our progress on our home page. Metofrance (French national forecasting) is calling out near gale warnings on the radio which is always a bit disconcerting but there for the north of Corsica and the French Riviera and we should be OK as we’re south of Corsica.

It’s comforting to only have 200 nm of fall, open water Mediterranean sailing to make, not the 260 nm we were looking at a week or so ago. Piano piano got us there.

Fair winds and following seas!

3 thoughts on ““Piano Piano”

  1. Hey I’ve lived vicariously with you reading your blog and , Rhett, Im struggling not to be jealous. Today is World Communion Sunday and in my Sunday School class we prayed for family and friend around the world and I mentioned and now you have 4 more folks praying for your 200 mile trip. It looks like you are getting close. Enjoy Italy.
    Aunt Alice (hope to meet you in person Dan)

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