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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Dancing – ashore and afloat
06/09/2009, Le Grazie

Saturday night showed both the ups and downs of Le Grazie, which has this pretty, understated waterfront. This week sees their festival, the Sagre del Pulpo - a celebration of octopus. There have been many events, including local art exhibitions and a special Mass. Saturday night's for dancing, and the Italians do love a dance. They flock out, many of them very expert, to cha-cha-cha, foxtrot and waltz to local bands singing all sorts of songs in Italian and English. The funniest dance of the night was a very enthusiastic YMCA, but the big crowds flocked the floor for My Way and a mix of Italian faves.
We motored ashore and enjoyed a dish of octopus and a couple of glasses of wine, in a lovely cool evening. About midnight we confessed ourselves beaten and returned to Roaring Girl.
Here the anchoring dance began: just off our stern two little motorboats (maybe 7m long) had anchored absolutely next to each other, and then tied themselves together. With the (well forecast) wind shift to the north east, they were right under our stern. We scrambled aboard and started our engine, getting ourselves away from them. We then had a complicated and noisy discussion. They argued that our 40m scope was too big (in 11m of water). We pointed out that reducing it to 33m, the minimum 3:1 with which we are comfortable, would not make any difference. We took in that 7m, and indeed we were right.
Oh well, they told us, we'd be perfectly safe with 25m of chain out. No way, we asserted, not in a 13ton boat, with the forecast F4 to F6. In fact, not ever! By now we had our engine running continuously as we manoeuvred to keep clear of them. They let out a little more chain, but would not even start their engines. Despite the fact we had been there for two days, and were well-ensconced when they showed up, these guys were not going anywhere.
In all our years of sailing we have never encountered such un-seamanlike rudeness from another boat in an anchorage.
But is was obviously unsafe to stay where we were, so we hoiked our anchor up (covered in thick mud) and moved out to the mouth of the little bay - only 15m deep but much less protected from the coming breeze. We got our anchor well dug in and sat in the cockpit (it now being about 0100) to unwind. Good thing we did.
A blue yacht had been anchored not far from us (just far enough not to be a serious problem, and certainly clear of our problematic neighbours). For no obvious reason he had upped sticks and come out here. He chose to re-drop his anchor not far away. Heigh ho: we sat and watched him for a long time, looking to see if we had similar swinging action in the increasing gusts, and whether he was going to drag. Pip went to bed. At 0300, Sarah decided this was probably ok and went below, finally turning out her light at 0330.
At 0335, she heard an engine close by and extra wave motion hitting the hull. She shot up on deck, and lo! The blue yacht had dragged and was about 2m away! Aiyai, yai, yai. Fortunately, her crew were all on deck and their engine on, but it was a high adrenaline moment!
He motored around in a small circle and then headed back into the bay, from whence he had come. Sarah, of course, was now wide awake again, and sat up another half hour, watching the large motor yacht to leeward gradually shift backwards. It's a big, crewed vessel, and eventually they woke up and moved themselves back into safety.
What a night! This is written the following morning, in a gusty F5. We're doing various jobs aboard, unwilling to leave the boat until the wind, as forecast, decreases this afternoon. Lunch-stop anchoring techniques are simply not enough in these conditions, though we are forced to note that the two tied-together motor-boats are still where they were, occupying our nice spot.

Life on Roaring Girl
Gardens, statues, museums
05/09/2009, La Spezia

On the Saturday we caught the bus into La Spezia, the sizeable harbour city at the head of the bay. It was â'¬1.20 each, each way. It took ages to find the tourist information, which is (from the point of view of the visitor) tucked away in the park, down the eastern end of the ribbon of green that extends along the harbour front.
Saturday is the main market day in the town; we weren't buying, but it would be an excellent provisioning spot. There's lots of other shops, and allegedly a chart agent round by the naval base. La Spezia is one of the bigger naval ports in Italy, although apparently it took Napoleon to realise the advantages of this superb natural harbour. It also has a big container port, so the bay does see some very large vessels moving to and fro.
The town is very proud of its waterfront park, laid out in the late nineteenth century and home to various exotic flora. In the Italian style it is very green, rather than flowery, and very formal. It is dotted with heroic statues of unidentified men.
La Spezia gave us a very good lunch (local shellfish spaghetti and nice wine), and we then visited its most notable art collection, the Museu Amadeo Lia. This huge agglomeration of art from the ancient Greeks to the late nineteenth century was brought together by the local family. It's now housed in a old church and convent, dating from the 17th century, and the collection is carefully organised in ways which reflect the building's history.
We had the place nearly to ourselves (apart from some very grumpy security staff, who seemed to resent our interruption). There are some wonderful illuminated manuscripts, including three gorgeous minatures from the Vulgate version of Lancelot du Lac, a wide range of beautiful late-Gothic paintings on gold, and many renaissance wonders. We especially liked the bronze of a horse making a corvette, and some exquisitely painted and very modern looking Roman glass. Well worth a visit and the quite steep â'¬6.50 entry fee.

Places and people
The other face of the passage
04/09/2009, Portovénere

The day we walked across, it was blowing a strong south-westerly on the Ligurian Sea; the forecast was a F9, and we reckoned that at lunchtime it was blowing at least a F7 off the point.
It turned the narrow passage into a nasty surfing cauldron. If you run for here, seeking shelter in such weather, go round all the islands and come in that way.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Pretty but rolly and expensive
04/09/2009, Portovénere

The quintessential hillside harbour town. Very pretty with stunning views, two nice churches, and an old castle. Home of poets (Byron, Shelley and many others spent time here). Busy but not too crowded.
But the mooring pontoons are exposed and we could see there was a lot of movement from swell. It is an expensive marina too.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Morning caller
04/09/2009, Walking to Portovénere

It's not far on tracks over the hill to Portovénere. On the way we passed this donkey, who brays loudly morning and evening. He shares the field with several goats, on the sere grass and steep slopes that could not sustain a horse or a cow.

Places and people
Round to Le Grazie
02/09/2009

We went on after lunch of foccaccio and fresh tomatoes, passing the beautiful villages that give the area its name. This is Corniglia, which hangs in the hammock of its valley, but is apparently home to the best beaches on this bit of coast.
The passage between the end of the isthmus, at Portovénere and Isola Palmária opens up quite suddenly in the cliff wall. You can see the further gap between Palmária and Isla del Tino from miles away, so it's a surprise to find the shorter way. We motored through with least depth of 5.4m. Heikell says that he found least depth 2.4m in (we think) 2005, and we've seen another blog which records seeing 2.2m. We stayed on the more mainland side and had no problems at all.


Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Lovely swim
02/09/2009, Vernazza

After the rowing we swam off the back of the boat, underneath this glorious cliff. The train runs through it and you can hear its echoes as it passes.

Places and people
An excellent anchorage
02/09/2009, Le Grazie

For two years people have been telling us to come to this area for a great sailing ground and excellent anchoring. This is all true.
You come through the channel from Portovénere, or up the inside of the islands. There is a great breakwater at the mouth of the Golfo. Come through the western entrance. The first bay is a military area, and cordoned off. The second is Le Grazie.
Here is a very well sheltered spot, with excellent holding. This is written after three nights here, seeing katabatic gusts off the hills of about 25 knots, driven by a south westerly at least F7 going on just the other side. We have swung about a bit, but not shifted at all. (Roaring Girl is the small blue dot, with lots of empty space around her. This was Friday afternoon: on Saturday, the bay was much fuller!)
There is a small chandlery ashore, which sells charts (not that common in Italy), a supermarket, lovely walking in the hills and buses to La Spazia. All you need really.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Serendipitous moorings
02/09/2009, Vernazza

We had thought of going to Monteresso al Mare for lunch, but read that Vernazza is even prettier, has no in-shore reef of rocks and appeared to allow anchoring. It is about another nautical mile further beyond Montresso. When we got there we had a very pleasant surprise. In a little cove just off the town, a series of mooring buoys have been laid.
We don't know their strength or what weight they're set up for; the lines on them are strong, but they may only be rated to 10 tonnes or so. However, for a lunch stop in a dead calm and only very slight swell, they were more than strong enough for us. We were not charged for using them either (though you might be overnight). What a treat, in a spot of great beauty.
The little town of Vernazza itself is charming but absolutely overrun with tourists. We rowed into the harbour, and pulled Bridget up on the beach. (The kayak guys cheerfully nodded agreement to keeping a languid eye on her.) Heikell acknowledges it's a small and crowded harbour: and it is. If anyone would take a large (9m+) cruising yacht in there and drop an anchor to keep off the quay, we take our hats off to them. We're not sure it would be permitted; the entrance was policed for both speed and size. We wouldn't dream of trying it in Roaring Girl.

Lovely swim
2/9/09
Vernazza

After the rowing we swam off the back of the boat, underneath this glorious cliff. The train runs through it and you can hear it's echoes as it passes.

Round to Le Grazie
2/9/09


We went on after lunch of foccaccio and fresh tomatoes, passing the beautiful villages that give the area its name. This is Corniglia, which hangs in the hammock of its valley, but is apparently home to the best beaches on this bit of coast.
The passage between the end of the isthmus, at Portovénere and Isola Palmária opens up quite suddenly in the cliff wall. You can see the further gap between Palmária and Isla del Tino from miles away, so it's a surprise to find the shorter way. We motored through with least depth of 5.4m. Heikell says that he found least depth 2.4m in (we think) 2005, and we've seen another blog which records seeing 2.2m. We stayed on the more mainland side and had no problems at all.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
The Cinque Terre
02/09/2009, Punta Manara


After that excitement, we motored south, in no wind at all. So difficult to know what will happen on this coast!
The Cinque Terre are (another) World Heritage site and a nationally important marine park. And stunningly beautiful. Our first particular marker was Punta Manara, which you have to round before getting to Portovénere. This is conspicuous for its saw teeth, which are a useful marker on an otherwise beautiful but similar set of headlands.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Shades of grey
02/09/2009, Elba

Ever-steepening hills fold together. Sailing west into the setting sun, slopes overlap and caress each other, subtly changing colour and line.
It is easy to believe that the island is uninhabited, and project romances onto the slopes and forest. Romans, pirates, Napoleon, dinosaurs: anything could be waiting up there.

Places and people
Here's the proof!
02/09/2009, Elba

Liz had declined various colder, British offers of swimming, but had promised she would brave the Med. And here's the evidence: she swam nearly every day she stayed, as well as a little sail on Bridget, lots of helming on Roaring Girl, and kayaking.

Life on Roaring Girl

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