We spent four days in Obia, worrying about Rick's mother and waiting anxiously for news from home. Rick's brother Al has generously stayed behind in Halifax instead of going to Scotland with June and the boys as planned and he has been giving us daily updates. Christopher and Katherine have also kept in close contact and yesterday we were even able to speak with Rick's mom on the telephone. It was a big relief to hear that she is steadily improving and expected to make a full recovery.
Although the Lonely Planet describes Olbia as a town where there is "precious little to see", it wasn't a bad place to pass some time. There is a long concrete pier where you can tie along side for free, but we opted to anchor just south of the channel and west of the red channel marker. There is good holding here in about 15' of water and thick mud. We discovered later that the bottom is also littered with rocks that can shorten your scope and play havoc with your neighbors when the wind shifts.
I was glad that we weren't in a remote anchorage when I broke a filling in a tooth on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, we decided to go to the tourist office to inquire about a dentist. Rick also wanted to ask if there was a chandlery in the town. The agent-a German woman who spoke English fluently- was obviously not in a happy mood. She provided us with the name and phone number of a "good German dentist" but was quite skeptical about the possibility of finding marine charts anywhere in Olbia. Also, she mentioned, absolutely everything was closed on Sundays, including the bar next door where she usually buys her morning coffee. When I asked if we could bring her some coffee, she immediately whipped out a notepad, wrote down the Italian phrase for "cappuccino to go" and directed me to a coffee shop about a five minute walk away. There, I was provided with a tiny plastic cup of cappuccino covered only by a paper napkin, with three packages of sugar and a stir stick stacked on top. I had to take baby steps all the way back to the tourism office to avoid spilling it, but when I arrived she was smiling happily and had called all over town trying to locate a chandlery. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had already found it, right around the corner from the coffee shop.
As luck would have it, Olbia was hit by an intense thunder and lightening storm while I was walking to the dentist the next day. I was drenched to the skin by the time I arrived, but was relieved to find a modern, well-equipped office with a pleasant dentist who spoke very good English. It's odd that almost every time I've broken a filling I've been in a foreign country . When I mentioned this to the dentist, she said "Ah, your teeth have heard many languages!" Half an hour and 120 euros later, I had a brand new filling. If any of you ever have the misfortune to break a tooth in Olbia, I would highly recommend Dr. Isabella Hillis.
The Lonely Planet wasn't quite right about there being nothing to see in Olbia. On the way to the dentist, I had spotted a sign that said "Aquedotta Romana, 1000m" so I decided to check it out before going back to the boat. The road led through a rather bleak industrial area, with garbage strewn along the way- broken glass, water bottles, bits of shredded plastic, a single sequined sandal .Eventually, I arrived at the remains of the aqueduct, which was sitting in a field surrounded by some olive and chestnut trees, with a view of mountains in the distance. By just squinting just a little, I could ignore the ugly apartment building in the foreground. There was no one there but me - kind of a surreal experience.
The next day, we decided to go ashore for lunch. As we struggled with the menu choices, a woman seated at the next table leaned over to offer assistance. Maddie was perhaps in her early sixties, very beautiful and elegant, with thick flowing gray hair and multiple bracelets on her tanned arms. She smoked her cigarettes with the kind of flair that you sometimes see in old movies and that immediately made me want one myself. Her husband Michael (an American) was also very friendly and full of questions about the cruising lifestyle. Their permanent home is in Connecticut, but Maddie had once lived in Sardinia and they were spending the summer in a house in the hills outside Olbia. Maddie was happy to give us the benefit of her knowledge about Olbia and recommended that we try a trattoria on the outskirts of the town for dinner. She drew us a map on a paper napkin and provided a list of the items we should order. As Michael pulled her away from the restaurant, she was still calling out advice on where to buy lavender oil to keep the bugs away. We could hear Michael saying "Maddie, they sailed here all the way from Canada, I'm sure they can figure out how to deal with a few mosquitoes!". We went to the tratorria on our last night in Olbia and had an unforgettable meal- five little plates of mixed seafood as antipasti, followed by a fantastic pasta with tiny vongole clams in oil and garlic and then a fresh fish that had been baked in a crust of salt-all this and more wine than we care to admit, for 50 euros. Molto grazie, Maddie!
Early the next morning, we pulled in to the yacht club's fuel dock to fill up with diesel and water. The only person on the dock was an elderly woman in full face makeup, with dyed hair in a French twist, wearing a pair of platform jeweled mules and a colourful button-up cotton dress that looked suspiciously like the bathrobe Mom wears in summer. As I jumped onto the dock with the spring line, I wondered what on earth she was doing on a fuel dock at that hour of the day. Much to my surprise, she picked up a permanent line from the dock, held it between the tips of two fingers as though it was a live snake, then leaned over and dropped it on our deck. "How sweet", I thought. It wasn't until she started barking orders to Rick about where to tie the lines that I suddenly realized she was the fuel dock attendant!! She had some bad news for us, too- they didn't accept credit cards and the water was non-potable. I sprinted to the town, withdrew the money we needed to pay the fuel bill- 384 euros for less than one tank- and then we were on our way south, dead into the wind and a rough sea, for a 12 hour slog to Arbatax.
We chose to continue down the east coast of Sardinia in the hopes of shortening the distance to Tunisia- the best place for us to leave the boat if we need to go home for a while. We probably should have opted for the west coast, where there are more places to put in, but it's too late to turn back now. It was already dark when arrived in Arbatax on Wednesday night and dropped the anchor in 15' of water on hard packed sand just north of the mole. There is good holding here and it is well protected from all but the NE although there was little bit of a roll at times. We were pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful the anchorage was when we came on deck on Thursday morning. We also saw whitecaps and more on-the-nose wind outside the harbour, so we opted to sit it out for the day. After a break, we'll continue south and decide which way to turn the bow when we get to the bottom of Sardinia.
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07/20/2008, Olbia, Sardinia (Italy!)
The past few days have been full of ups and downs. Literally. On Tuesday, having briefly forgotten the "one hand for the boat" rule, I had a dramatic fall down the companionway steps. As a result, a foot-long section of my back is the colour of those ugly red and purple jellyfish that float around the wharf at Kelly's Cove. Apparently, scrubbing the steps had made them a bit slippery. (Don't worry Mom, I'm perfectly fine now.) The mishap and the strong winds threw us a bit off schedule, so it was Thursday before we rented a car to do some inland touring. The drive through the mountains confirmed what was already obvious from the water- Corsica is a spectacularly beautiful island.
Our first stop was Sartene, where the old town of granite buildings looks out on magnificent mountain peaks. If we had visited Sartene on Good Friday, we might have seen the "Catenacciu" procession, in which a red-hooded penitent citizen re-enacts Christ's walk to Calvary carrying a heavy cross, with feet wrapped in chains. But in early July the streets were quiet, so we had a slow meander through the old town and shared a plate of Corsican meats and cheeses and a delicious "daube" in a small sidewalk restaurant. Next, we drove northwest to Levie and Zonza, climbing along narrow roads bordered by pine forests or by open air and vertiginous drops. Most sections had no guardrails. It was a slow trip. I don't even want to think about what it would be like to drive that route in winter. The switchbacks in this part of the world have such tight angles that "Tom Tom", our portable car GPS, became hopelessly confused and repeatedly told us to "turn around when possible". In Corsica, distance is apparently measured in time rather than kilometers, as there are so many twists and turns.
In Levie, we made a brief stop at the Poste to mail our postcards. The lone postmistress carefully looked up the cost of mailing the cards to Canada, removed the appropriate stamps from a large cabinet at the back of the room, then hand-stamped every postcard with a flourish. What a satisfying job! In Zonza, we stopped for coffee, something we haven't done much lately, because the "cremes" served in French cafés are not nearly as addictive as the Spanish café con lechés. The coffee in Zonza was wonderful- and suddenly we realized we were getting close to Italy, the land of cappuccino!
In Zonza's tourist bureau, the agent's body language as she described the "Col de Bavella" (with a Gallic rolling of the eyes and puffing of the lips that seems to translate to "unbelievable") left no doubt that we should continue a little further north. The Col is a spectacular viewpoint surrounded by dramatic spiky mountain peaks, looked over by a statue of "Notre Dame des Neiges". This obviously beloved Madonna was surrounded by candles and plaques of thanks, with pools and rivulets of dark candle wax staining the surrounding rocks. We drive back to Bonifacio via Porto Vecchio, by which time we were too tired to cook and walked along the waterfront to the "Kissing Pigs" wine bar for dinner.
The restaurant deserved its Routard recommendation, but the best part of the night was our conversation with the owner. A look-alike for Roberto Benigni ("A Beautiful Life") he was friendly, talkative and happy to give us his viewpoint on many things, including the relationship between France and Corsica, the FLNC (still active, and still occasionally violent) and the Corsican language (closer to the ancient Roman language than to modern day Italian). His daughter's dog wandered freely from table to table looking for handouts, but the food was too good to share.
The next day, we had intended to sail to the Lavezi islands near Bonifacio, but the wind came up a little sooner than expected and there seemed to be a lot of masts in the anchorage. After some debate, we decided to head to Porto Cervo, Sardinia. We'd been told that the cost of a night in the marina for a boat our size was roughly 180 euros, but the Imray pilot said we could anchor. We arrived around noon and anchored just outside the mooring field, but our stay was short-lived. In late afternoon, the padron of the mooring field dropped by to tell us that anchoring is no longer allowed anywhere in the harbour. He offered us a special rate on a mooring buoy- 100 euros PLUS a 50 euro one-time registration fee! This is the land of movie stars and mega-yachts. Obviously, they do not want our kind. We weren't fully sure whether to believe him when he told us that the navy could give us a 500 euro fine for anchoring, but decided we'd better not risk it. So, at 5 p.m., we had to pull up the anchor and head back into the channel, dead into 25 knots of wind, to get to the anchorage at Golfo Delle Saline about six miles to the west. The combination of the wind and the big waves, very close together, were almost too much even for our new 75 hp engine. At times we were only making three knots and we wondered if we were dragging a fishnet, but things flattened out nicely when we turned the corner into the Golfe. We were happy that the anchor had dug in well when we got a weather forecast calling for Force 8 winds in the strait the next day. This was our third gale or near gale in two weeks, twice at anchor and once in the marina at Bonafacio.
Friday was a windy but uneventful day in a pleasant anchorage, until we got a phone call from Christopher telling us that Rick's mother, contrary to being on the road to recovery as we had thought, had taken a turn for the worse and would probably be having surgery. We managed to reach her by phone just minutes before she was taken to the operating room. As always, she sounded cheerful and optimistic, but it was obviously very bad news. Late that night, Rick's brother Al called to say that the surgery had been successful, but we were still very worried. In the morning we set sail for Olbia (the closet place with both a marina and an airport) while we waited for more news from home.
This coast is called the Costa Smeralda and we have never seen so many large power boats in one area. They zip to and fro, creating massive waves to the point where the rolling makes it impossible to keep the sails full. The 110 footers are starting to look small- we even saw a RIB go by that must have been 60 feet long! The coast line is rugged with steep cliffs and large bays. The water is a beautiful deep blue in colour, similar to what you see when you cross the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic. Over the sand, the water is a brilliant turquoise.
We anchored in the harbour at Olbia, launched the dinghy and went ashore to try to negotiate a berth at the marina. Instant culture shock! We suddenly realized how easy our lives had been while we were in France. I've spent hours listening to Italian lessons on my new ipod shuffle during the past month, but my vocabulary certainly wasn't up to the challenge of negotiating the price of a berth. (Unlike Spain and France, where the price is the price, we've been told that in Italy we should negotiate). Fortunately, the marina manager spoke a little French, so we coped. We found an internet café, checked on possibilities for flights home and then stopped in a piazza downtown for a birra (beer). The place was a bustle of activity and a great place to people-watch and listen to the melodious Italian conversations around us.
The dramatic cultural differences between areas that are geographically so close continue to astonish us. In Canada, you can travel two thousand miles from the Maritimes to the prairies and arrive in a town that feels exactly like home. The multi-cultural populations of the major Canadian cities allow us to taste food from Greece, India, Pakistan or Lebanon but it is still Canada. You can cross the border, drive for a hundred miles into the United States and not realize you are in a different country until you ask someone his opinion on gun control. You can drive to Quebec and . OK, maybe Quebec is a little different. But here, although France is only eleven miles away, the language, architecture, food, wine and culture are completely different. You need only to observe the young men in the piazza to understand this absolutely.
We are still at anchor, but the Club Nautica will allow us to stay there for a couple of weeks (50 euros a night) if we need to go home. Based on the latest update from Rick's sister, Lyn, things are going well, so we will wait to see what tomorrow brings. If all is well, we will make our way down the west coast of Sardinia to avoid the August vacationers, then onward to Sicily and the Aeolian islands.
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07/15/2008, Bonafacio, Corsica
Too much or not enough is true, the wind that is. We are in the marina in Bonafacio. It is Fete National and the marina is jammed full, with boats from 250' in length on down. The Capitainerie has put us in berth that is designed for a 10 meter boat. We are 12.4 meters long. It should be OK, except we are med moored bow to the dock and the anchor line is almost vertical to the bottom off the stern. This means in a blow it is very hard to keep ourselves from being blown onto the dock. The wind has been strong for the last 24 hours and is forecast to remain Force 7-8 this afternoon with gusts to Force 9. Force 9, for those of you who are not familiar with the Beaufort scale, is 41-47 knots. This is similar to what we experienced in Calvi while we were at anchor, but here at the marina, of course, it is a whole new ball game.
There are now white caps in the protected Bonafacio calanque and all the boat owners are anxiously pacing and watching. Alan on Ocean Lady, the Bowman 41(?) on my port side, has ripped up two large sections of the dock with his anchor as his boat surges towards the dock and back. As mine surges, my bow pulpit is coming perilously close to taking out the electrical box on the dock. Abel, in a Jeanneau 39 on my starboard side, is swaying back and forth and creating chafe and concern with the Belgium skipper beside him. We eventually get the Capitainerie's permission to run lines to the dock aft of us across the channel. This is the answer, until a boat decides to come in and take the last remaining empty spot in the marina. We remove the lines for his entry. Fortunately he is only 30' long and just misses hitting the Monitor gear at my stern by about 2 inches!! If his boat had been longer my Monitor would have been toast. Yesterday, as Abel entered the channel, he hit my boat and twisted the Monitor steering blade around 90 degrees, but I was able to straighten it without a problem. I have decided to remove the monitor blade and perhaps the whole unit, as we don't use it. It was really just an ocean passage backup for us. Here, it seems to create more problems with docking than it is worth.
Another interesting note, before the big wind started we had tidal surges here in the harbour of about 4'. The "tide" came in and then went out about 4 times over the space of about 4 hours. I think this is a bit unusual because the main street here at the harbour flooded each time and had up to 1' of water over it at peak. It flooded out most of the restaurants as well. The real tide here is no more than 1 foot but this is something special and according to the French skipper at my bow, this is a precursor of winds to come. The winds did come a few hours later.
The people here are quite interesting. Alan on Ocean Lady has put 70,000 miles on his boat in the last 10 years traveling to the Caribbean, Halifax for the Tall ships in 2002, 4-5 trips to the Azores, as well as cruising the Med extensively. He says his favorite cruising ground is the Azores. Abel on the other side of me tells me, in broken English, that he is ashamed for having hit my Monitor gear and invites Bonnie and me over for a drink and munchies. He and his wife Betty speak some English and we speak some French and we have an interesting visit. It turns out he is an International ISAF (?) sailing judge. He has judged sailing in two Olympics (Seoul and Barcelona) and has been involved in two America's cup campaigns as a judge and as an advisor. His Jeanneau is brand new and although he has been sailing all his life he is still getting used to some of the boat handling issues. He had lots of stories. It's amazing who you "bump" into or who "bumps into" you!
Well, that's it for now; I'm going back up top to pace a little more and keep a watch. It's all quite entertaining and nerve racking at the same time.
There's an old cliché that defines the cruising lifestyle as "working on your boat in exotic locations". Things are worse when you're working on the boat in locations that are exotic AND expensive. Still, once in a while we really have to catch up on the housekeeping chores. Consequently, I've spent the past two days washing down all the woodwork inside the boat, scrubbing the teak decks, polishing the stainless steel, cleaning the windows, washing curtains and doing laundry. I thought we could "polish" this all off in a day, but I've been having some trouble keeping Rick on task because of all the excitement at the dock. The truth is, he secretly enjoys the big wind days, so yesterday was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Lots of serious consultation with Al and Abel about where to rig lines, racing back and forth in the dinghy to deploy said lines, tut-tutting over the docking techniques of the various helmsmen- and in between stopping to explain to the multitude of strangers that drop by the boat that yes, we are a long way from home, yes, we sailed the boat across from Halifax, no, the weather on the passage wasn't terribly cold or terribly windy and yes, we did go back to Canada for the winter. Yes, it's cold in Canada winter, but we like it there anyway. And so on. He is in his element and I might have a hard time dragging him back out to sea. Which is fine with me, I really like it here.
We have been taking a break once in a while. Last night we walked up to the Haute Ville (the town on the cliff inside the citadel) and had dinner at "La Scala" beside one of the oldest, steepest staircases I have ever seen (still being used to access an apartment at the top). This morning we took the dinghy out to the mouth of the harbour and went inside one of the caves-an amazing little adventure.
This afternoon, it was back to cleaning, with the occasional distraction from the numerous collisions that seem to be happening at a rate of about three an hour. The charters have arrived. But, as our newest neighbour said yesterday "We all cock it up sometimes, don't we? "
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07/13/2008, Bonifacio, Corsica
Apparently, the old saying about how time flies when you're having fun isn't always true. It's odd how time seems to slow down when we're travelling on Aisling. At home, where our lives tend to be too busy, the weeks pass by at warp speed. Here, we have difficulty keeping track of the dates or even the days of the week. Yesterday, Rick looked at me with a puzzled expression and said "Is it really only three weeks since we left Halifax?"
Our dinner at Antoine's restaurant in Hotel Golfe was outstanding and the local Corsican white wine was a definite "buy again". We highly recommend a stop at Porto Pollo if you have the opportunity. The four Americans we met at dinner were enjoying themselves just as much as we were- but why wouldn't they be? They had come to Corsica as crew on a private jet, and were having a six day all-expenses-paid layover while they waited to fly their passengers back to the US. I should have asked for a job application!
We left Porto Pollo yesterday at around noon and had a leisurely sail to Cala di Tizzano. The anchorage was very pleasant, with a Genoese fort on the point and a few villas and cafes scattered among the granite rocks on the shore. From some vantage points, we could almost imagine ourselves to be at anchor in Rogues Roost (which is still the prettiest anchorage on the planet as far as we are concerned). For entertainment, we threw little bits of bread overboard to watch the fish gather. The water was so clear that it felt like we were floating in a giant aquarium.
We pulled up the anchor at around 0900 this morning, hoping that a noontime arrival in Bonifacio would give us a better chance of getting a berth. Monday is F�te Nationale and the most popular holiday period in France is just beginning, so we can expect our lives to get a bit more complicated for the next six weeks.
As the dramatic cliffs of Bonifacio came into view, we scrambled to rig the fenders on the lines. After our peaceful existence of the past few weeks, I wasn't quite prepared for the excitement of sailing into a narrow calanque, with the citadel towering above us and a huge ferry bearing down on our stern. The ferry captain gave us the full benefit of a VERY loud blast on the horn, but we weren't quite sure which way to turn- not much wiggle room, to put it mildly. When we got the dreaded five "You are standing into danger!" blasts, I was beginning to wish I was back in New Waterford! Eventually we realized that he wanted us on the north side of the calanque and managed to get out of his way without slamming into any of the boats that were exiting.
The harbour is a hubbub of activity. The dozens of restaurants and shops lining the waterfront give the place a sort of festival air. There must be twenty tripper (tourist) boats based here and they come and go at full throttle. Add in the hundreds of sailboats and power boats up to mega size, in a channel that is about 300' wide and you start to get the idea. It was quite an adrenalin rush trying to find a spot in the marina (daily rate for a boat Aisling's size, 54 euros) with the capitainerie not responding to our VHF calls and our cellphone out of minutes. We eventually flagged down one of the capitainerie boats and were waved toward a spot where, fortunately, the skipper of the neighboring boat gave us a hand with the dock lines and lazy line. Now we are bow-to, with a boat on the quay aft of us not much more than 30' away. Getting away will be lots of fun, I'm sure.
In this area it is mostly French and Italian boats, although there is a boat from the UK next to us. The French boats tend to be either Beneteaus, Jeanneaus or rugged aluminum go-anywhere types. The Italians can be cruising around in anything from 60' RIBS to huge sailing yachts to sleek 50-100'cigarette boats with beautiful babes sunbathing on pillows at the stern or on the bow, even when they are making 50 knots. I digress a bit, but when we were anchored in St Tropez, one of the sleek Italian boats, about 80' long, pulled in and anchored beside us. The owner and his girlfriend, who looked to be in their early thirties, were served rose on the afterdeck by a steward dressed in the requisite penguin suit and tie, then roared off into the sunset-probably in search of an anchorage that was a little less rolly.
We plan to spend a few days here and perhaps take the opportunity to rent a car and do some inland exploring. There's even a wifi cafe at the end of the dock, so it might be hard to drag ourselves away!
|Corsica and Sardinia||