Sailing trip: 8 days from Sardinia to Corsica and back again | May / June 2006 | Yacht: Oceanis 411 „Alma Venus“ | Charter company: Sailitalia
Saturday, May 27.
We arrive in Olbia, Sardinia in the early morning and take the pre-ordered large taxi. After a short drive to the north we reach Cannigione at 10:00 a.m., which is the berth of our charter yacht. It is always amazing that in other parts of the world it is warm and the sun is shining.
Once again, we have arrived much too early. Our previous crew is just leaving the vessel, which still needs to be cleaned and will be inspected afterwards. We leave our luggage at the office and go downtown. Cannigione is a small village in the south of the Baia di Arzachena. At the exit of the bay, the Costa Smeralda begins with her fashionable main town Puerto Cervo: a place where the rich and beautiful spend their summertime. Now in the preseason there is not much going on here, but we can get a good cappuccino and an Italian Croissant for breakfast. After this short break we go shopping for the next few days in the nearby supermarket.
Back at the docks we still have to wait, but we are not too sad about that. We sit in the shade, watch the beautiful bay, the sun is shining, a slight warm breeze is blowing and we follow the progress on our yacht. We can board at about 01:00 p.m. We stow the baggage and the groceries, and begin to check the inventory list. Everything is on board and at about 05:00 p.m. the harbourmaster arrives for the briefing and the last formalities. He tells us that there is a gale warning for next Tuesday.
At about 07:00 p.m. we are ready to leave and sail north up to the Madalena archipelago. It is delightfully warm and the sun is still in the sky. With a light wind from the east we reach our destination of the day, the island of Caprera, after one and a half hours. We drop anchor in the bay of Porto Palma.
During sunset we have dinner and at nightfall we drink the first Sundowner of the trip in the cockpit. There are stars winking in the sky, the boat drifts gently in the breeze and small waves hit the hull. The vacation has truly begun.
Sunday, 28th May
We are awoken by the sun and there is a Mediterranean fragrance in the air. Before breakfast we take a quick dip in the nippy water and then we sit in the cockpit and have a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills and mountains. Before leaving, we do a lap with the dinghy across the bay to test the engine. But now it is time to leave. The co-skipper wants to go to Bonifacio in the south of Corsica and can push through his opinion despite the expected change of the weather. At 11:00 a.m. we raise the anchor!
We leave the bay in calm winds from the East with main sail and Genoa toward the west, but after one and a half hours we have to furl the Genoa and start the engine. We pass the bear of Parlau, (a few bear-like locking boulders on a mountain above the city), and now we sail on a north-easterly course towards Corsica. But on the way there is still the infamous strait of Bonifacio.
The strait is located between Sardinia and Corsica. The two islands are crossed by high mountain ranges. Winds from the east or the west cannot blow across these and are pushed through the strait between the islands. An increase of 2 forces of the wind is possible. With today’s weak wind we expect about 4 forces out there. Which is actually a nice wind for sailing.
To our surprise, at the entrance the wind turns from east to west. The yacht heels and the swell of the wind from west meets the old swell from the east and the capes of Sardinia and Corsica redirect the waves to the northwest and southwest. The boat dances up and down in the chaotic sea, but manages to stay on course surprisingly well. After a few minutes the face of the first crewmember turns green and he has to empty the contents of his stomach overboard. I have never been seasick until that day and continue to laugh about the misery of my mate. Even as the second gets a glazed look in his eyes and vomits shortly after that, I don’t feel sorry about him. But that’s the way it is: Pride comes before a fall. Suddenly I have this characteristic taste on my tongue, I feel dizzy, and the stomach rotates. I try to fight it, but there’s nothing to be done.
My sailing instructor used to describe seasickness this way: At the first stage you’re scared that you die, but later you are scared that you will not die. Yes, I laughed when I heard that, but now the second stage is reached quickly. Now I know why seasick crewmembers should wear a lifejacket, or should even been tied below deck. I never thought that I could lose control that way.
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We have to tack upwind, but I ignore the skippers command. I do not care anymore. I know that I have to pull the sheet, but I simply can’t. If the boat capsizes or sinks, I would be happy. If only this horrible feeling would go away. Bonifacio is already in sight, enthroning on the cliffs above the raging sea, but I don’t care.
But as soon as we arrive after three hours of hell in the bay with calm water, I suddenly feel well again. I take the mop to destroy all evidence of our shame. We are joking and suddenly I feel hungry. We find a nice berth close to the harbour promenade. The first docking manoeuvre of this trip is a little bit uncoordinated, but without any major problems. Finally we are able to see the incredible view of this magnificent place. In front of us we see the colourful life, above us the mighty city walls and around us all the other yachts.
The first walk is to the harbourmaster. His office and the sanitary facilities are located at the very end of the bay in a container. In front of the bathrooms there are long queues, because they unfortunately have to be shared with the countless day visitors from the excursion boats. Everything is dirty, the showers are cramped and stuffy so that I immediately start to sweat again as soon as I turn off the water. But that’s forgotten as soon as we leave the building and notice where we are.
Suitably dressed we climb up the path to the city. We reach the first level and from there we have a wonderful view onto the strait of Bonifacio. It seems peaceful and harmless in the evening light, because the waves look quite small from up here. Then the road winds up to the upper town.
We explore the streets and are captured by their Mediterranean flair. We take our deserved dinner in a good restaurant above the sea and spend a long time sitting with a drink in the cockpit afterwards.
Monday, 29th May
In the morning we wake up early because the wind is making a lot of noise by rattling the rigging. Actually the port is protected very well. The weather forecast talks of 6 up to 7 wind forces with squalls and even higher waves than yesterday. Although the excursion boats that explore the surrounding caves are still leaving the dock, we decide to stay in the harbour today. A good idea, judging by the white faces of the passengers returning from their trips. Bonifacio is certainly not the worst place to weather a storm.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to rent a car and so we decide to do a 3 miles walk to the lighthouse at Capo Pertusato on the southern tip of Corsica. The view from the cliffs is fantastic and reveals that it was the right decision to stay in the harbour. The sky is blue and the sun is shining. Now, in May, the vegetation is still lush, surrounding us are blossoming flowers and an indescribable scent is in the air.
The path winds along the edge of the cliffs towards the lighthouse. Again and again we turn around and enjoy the view of the city that seems to be glued on to the overarching rocks. Below us the sea and the immense waves crash against the cliffs. Upon return, we take a detour through a gorge down to the coastline. An unforgettable experience.
After the walk our legs are a bit tired so we do not go up to the city again tonight. We take our dinner in a good seafood restaurant in the lower part of the town. Then we enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in one of the many bars by the harbour promenade.
Tuesday, 30th May
The night was quite rough and to even think about leaving the dock today is impossible. Even the pleasure boats remain fixed at the pier. The passengers of the arriving tourist busses are told that there is: “Trop de vent”, and that means it must be really bad. The captains normally do not miss a chance to make an Euro, but not today. Our crew gets impatient, but a glance out on the sea suffices to convince us of another day in the harbour.
The strait of Bonifacio is white with the breaking tops of the waves on the open sea. It looks great, but nobody would voluntarily go out there with a sailboat now.
So we stroll back through the city, enjoying the sun (Germany announces nine degrees Celsius and rain) having one or the other French milk coffee, doing window shopping, admire the Corsican stilettos that are used for the vendetta, and observe the hustle and bustle in the streets and the harbour.
Back on board, the skipper checks the weather report. There should be a short period of lower winds early in the morning tomorrow, which could allow a ride across the strait of Bonifacio. We decide to take the chance and as a result hit the bunks early.
Wednesday, 31st May
We wake up at 06:00 a.m. and prepare the yacht for leaving. The wind is blowing with 3 forces from the west and suggest that the weather forecast kept its promise. At 07:00 a.m. we untie the lines and already hoist the sails in the safety of the harbour. At the exit the wind increases up to 5 forces, the swell is still very high, but not as chaotic as when we arrived because the wind direction stayed the same the last few days. Our ship heels immediately and runs up to 8 knots on a beam reach and seems to cut through the waves. This time none of the crewmembers gets seasick.
The strait of Bonifacio is crossed after only three hours and just as we turn into the bay of Porto Liscia in Sardinia, the wind noticeably blows stronger again. As soon as the anchor is dropped in the sands close to shore, the wind goes up to 7 forces. So we are already fixed at 10:00 a.m. and are not able to go any further today.
Porto Liscia is a hot spot for windsurfers. They have the wind of the strait of Bonifacio but there is no swell in the sheltered bay. The surfboards are riding around with an incredible speed and offer us a fantastic show. We enjoy the sun, still hoping that the wind calms down, but it does not. And so we stay at this safe anchorage overnight.
Thursday, 1st June
We leave the bay at about 09:30 a.m. Our supplies have to be replenished and so our first destination of today is “La Maddalena”, the capital of the archipelago at the north-eastern tip of Sardinia. The friendly marineros at the dock take over our lines and let us stay here for two hours to do some shopping.
The small town is really nice. Now in the preseason almost only locals are in the streets and the atmosphere is relaxed. The butcher offers us a piglet for seventy Euros, which ought to be grilled in the restaurant next door.
But we still want to keep on sailing today. With bags full of groceries we return to the harbour, have a break at a bar, enjoy the delicious cappuccino, and then we go back to the yacht. When we untie the lines at about 03:00 p.m. we are asked by the marineros if we really want to leave today and if we did not listen to the weather report. They use the Italian term: “Temporale”. Thunderstorm.
After half an hour of sailing we can already hear the thunder and see lightning in the sky. We secure the sails and for the second time at this trip we drop anchor in the bay of Porto Palma. We pass the time by having a snack and the squall is over after about an hour. We want to continue, but we are not able to get the anchor back on board. It is stuck. The skipper jumps into the cool water with diving mask and snorkel and reports that our anchor is wedged under an old block of concrete that may have been used for a mooring in past times. To break it out by engine in headway will not be possible.
So he dives down about 15 feet, and after a second attempt the anchor is ready to be raised. At 06:00 p.m. we finally reach our today’s destination. The romantic Cala Coticcio on the east side of the island of Caprera.
The wind has now turned from east to west and we are all alone and fairly well protected in the middle of the bay that is about 100 yards wide. We go for a swim, have dinner and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere in the cockpit. Before we crawl into our bunks, we drop some more of the anchor chain, because more thunderstorms are predicted for the night. A crewmember agrees to sleep on deck to intervene as quickly as possible in case of an emergency. The anchor alarm on the GPS is activated.
Friday, 2nd June
At about 01:30 a.m. I am awoken by a terrible noise. The yacht heels as it normally would under full sail. Shortly afterwards, a second and even more violent gust hits the boat and just in that moment the anchor alarm whimpers. I am still sleepy when I reach the cockpit but there is already hectic turmoil. It is completely dark and we cannot make out our position in the bay. But we are afraid that we do not have much space to drift. The rocks must be quite close.
The skipper tries to steer up head to wind to make it easier for the crew to raise the anchor. But the direction of the wind and the chain do not correspond anymore and make it impossible to get the anchor back on deck. Engine and wind are making a tremendous noise, so that communication is not easy. It takes quite a while until the man at the helm has understood the problem and steers towards the anchor. The mood is tense but finally the iron is lifted and is placed on the bow. But in which direction should we go now? Meanwhile we completely lost our orientation in the dark.
The skipper shines into the darkness surrounding us with the big flashlight. We see rocks in the water not even 15 feet away on port side where we drifting towards. This is obviously the wrong direction. We drive carefully to where we suspect the middle of the bay actually is, then we have time to determine our position with the GPS and finally we find the way out to the open water.
The wind has now turned to the southwest and the skipper chooses the Golfo delle Saline as the next destination, which can provide us with adequate protection. The crew sits shivering and bleary-eyed in the cockpit while we rattle through the night. We are still not aware what just happened to us and how close we were to disaster. We wonder where these violent gusts may have come from. Although there is some lightning on the horizon, we did not notice a thunderstorm right in our surroundings. And the Mount Teialone on Caprera with its 160 meters height is actually too low for such strong squalls to come down from it. But who knows?
Suddenly seagulls appear in the taillight of our yacht. They probably think that our yacht is a fishing boat. Who else should be sailing between the islands at night-time? They follow us and are waiting for fish waste to go overboard. The way they are illuminated from below by our stern light looks very spooky.
Finally we reach our new destination at about 03:30 a.m. It is still absolutely dark and we have to sail deep into the bay to find a protected anchorage. After we nearly hit an unlit moored yacht we turn on the radar and a crewmember goes to the bow to keep watch. The streetlights on the banks irritate and the anchor lights of the surrounding boats are so small and are so high up on the mast that they could be easily mistaken for stars. The manoeuvre succeeds anyway, but we are not able to sleep now. We fear that the anchor might slip again. At 04:00 a.m. we measure six wind forces already. We lie in our bunks, listening to every noise, every half an hour someone is worried and gets up to look outside, but nothing happens anymore.
Because of that everybody looks sleepy at breakfast the next morning. It rains, and the mood is not really at its peak. The wind turns from southwest to north and wanes, so we decide at about 02:00 p.m. to raise the anchor and to return to La Madallena where we want to recover in the safety of the port. Unfortunately we have to use the engine to go upwind and we are hit by a heavy squall with lots of rain just on the narrowest point of the journey. Here two car ferries meet, which run between the islands. Because of the heavy rain the trip becomes a blind flight.
The helmsman does a brave job, but when we arrive at the marina he first has to empty the rain out of his shoes. There simply was no time to put on proper wellies. When we are finally fixed the thunderstorm returns once again. I wear a T-Shirt while sitting in front of the companionway below deck. Suddenly there is a big bang and the hair on my arm stand up straight, charged by electricity. Luckily the flash did not hit our mast. And, fortunately, we are now safe here in the marina.
Later, we have a very good meal at a Trattoria right by the harbour. The landlord serves huge plates of delicious seafood as an appetizer, after which we are already full. But the big fish cooked in the oven that comes afterwards surpasses everything. With a satisfied feeling we fall into our bunks later.
Saturday, 3rd June
Today we sleep very long and leave La Maddalena after a good breakfast at about 11:30 a.m. An hour later we have to secure the sails again and start up the engine because the wind calms down. The beautiful Costa Smeralda passes by. In a few weeks there will be no berth anymore and the anchorages will be overcrowded. Now we have it all for ourselves and the prices are still moderate.
03:00 p.m. we drop the anchor in the Cala di Volpe, cruise by dinghy to the long beach, take a wonderful walk and settle down for a drink at the beach bar. Later we go swimming from the boat, we cook, enjoy the view of the bay and spend a quiet night at the anchorage.
Sunday, 4th June
Today, unfortunately, is already our last day of sailing in this beautiful area. After a relaxed breakfast in the sunny cockpit we raise the anchor at about 11:00 a.m. The wind goes up to five forces and we can enjoy sailing. The coast passes by and the yacht is able to show its true skills. We arrive at the Cala Portese on Caprera in the early afternoon, where we have a stopover for a snack and a bath. That is just as sailing holidays in the Mediterranean should be.
From Caprera we sail back into the Golfo di Arzachena to the home of our yacht. On a beam reach and with 6 wind forces the boat charges through the water. It is so fast, that we miss the entrance our marina. At the dock a nice Italian girl is waiting for us and we have an uncomplicated delivery. Except of a leaking deck hatch we have nothing to report.
We cook on board, tell each other what we have gone through together during the last week, go out for a drink and fall in our bunks late at night.
Monday, 5th June
Today it is hard to say goodbye to Sardinia. The sun is shining, the sky is clear and a wonderful sailing wind is blowing, but we have to go back to cold old Germany. The taxi is waiting and drives us to the airport of Olbia. I am sure that one day I will come back again.
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