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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Of Darsenas and dinghies
18/09/2009, Portoferraio

Despite its beauty, the port has some drawbacks, particularly in terms of trying to park a dinghy. On Friday we went ashore for some shopping and a look around. A kindly Italian cruiser, also dinghying in, suggested we leave our dinghy next to his on the hammerhead in the centre. No problem, except that when we returned we were shouted at by an ormeggiatore, one of the men in charge of mooring, who said tenders should be 'over there'.
The next day (Saturday), we went 'over there' to find no tenders. Sarah went to the capitainerie, who were very smart in white uniforms, but politely bewildered, and then referred us to the people in charge of berthing. Huh?
We hid Bridget in amongst a load of small fishing boats, tucked into an unused corner, and went to look around. On the way, we finally found the centre for moorings, which is in a first floor office on the western side of the dock, almost exactly opposite the capitainerie. A very helpful English speaking woman explained the rules for dinghies. These seem to be that you should call in on channel 9 before coming in (just as for a big yacht), and you will be allocated a space. If you are there before 0800 or after 2000 you will be expected to pay. (So no long drunken evenings in town, then!), although she implied that as it is now off season, they would probably turn a blind eye. If you come in for a couple of hours during the day, they will allocate a space but not charge you.
The smallest official boat charge applies to anything up to 6m long (bridgit is just over 3m); this month it's 18 euros a day, and 30 in season. But if one anchored here for a while, it might be worth negotiating a monthly dinghy berth (135 euros in April), to ensure access, refill jerry cans, collect one's friends and so on.
For a casual visitor, it's all a bit of a pain, and makes the usual relaxed business of coming ashore and doing your shopping or sightseeing rather more complicated than usual - if only because you have to lug a VHF around with you. The call sign is Portoferraio; they don't seem to answer anything else.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Elba at last
17/09/2009, Off Portoferraio

On Thursday the relentless southerly thunderstorms finally let up. We escaped about 0830. There was a strong swell still running out of the south west, which gradually flattened over the morning allowing the sea pushed up by the quartering northerly to surf us along. It was a bright and gusty morning, and we could clearly see Elba from the moment we cleared the headland outside the harbour. The wind being so far aft, in such a rolly sea, we took the easy course and motorsailed the 24 miles.
The GPS completely failed to find a fix. We have three sets on board and for much of the way none of them could get enough satellite info. In the end one of the handhelds managed to coax enough information out of the sky, even before our antenna-assisted nav table set.
On this occasion it didn't matter very much, but it could have been more annoying. Sarah's sextant navigation is not so much rusty as a crumbling (and rarely-used) heap, and in any case not terribly practical on such a passage. On a dark night, we would have been absolutely back to the old skills of dead reckoning and eyeball pilotage. As it was, life was pretty simple, and in particular we could stay north of the shoal off Capo Enfola. We don't know if this is a general anomaly or a one-off, but be aware of the risk of losing GPS in these waters.
Entering the Rade di Portoferraio really is very simple. Once past the Scoglietto lighthouse, the entrance is clear. Your biggest challenge is staying clear of the ferries, and any other yachts that are fannying about in the changeable winds off the headland.
Inside the Rade , there are tons of anchorages. We are outside the San Giovanni harbour, which is tiny and not suitable for a boat our size. Directly opposite us, maybe half a mile away, is the entrance to the beautiful Darsena Mediciana, built by Cosimo I of Florence. The buildings are buttery, biscuit, ochre and cream, glowing in the light, beneath the grim fortress that reminds the town of its history of war.
There are endless ferries to Corsica, Piombino, Livorno and Sardinia. They do put out some wash, which we might avoid if we went a little further west, but there are other boats already there. It's not really a problem though, and does keep the water moving rather more than it otherwise might. As you can see, Portoferraio is on the cruise liner circuit.
We included this picture with the liner in to demonstrate a point. The symbol marks a spot shown as an anchorage in the pilot book, with a reference to be careful of ferries. We had been told of a boat that anchored there, went ashore and left the boat unattended, only to have it moved by the coast guard. Even without the cruise ship there, we are not surprised. It seems a very silly place to anchor, and uncomfortable too. Just where most boats are anchored, where we are, is out of the way, safe and still within easy reach of the town.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Very pretty – but very dear
12/09/2009, Isola and Porto Capraia

The next island is Capraia. Most of it is a national park, and it has one port and one small settlement. This is the entrance to it. You can see that there are two apparent entrances, and you want the one on the right. (This is very obvious when you are actually there). Inside swing to the right, and you see the town quay, plus a couple of pontoons.
We had rung ahead, and were glad of it, as the harbour filled up completely overnight. This is the last weekend of the season, and there were what seemed to be several cruises in company. They put us behind one of the pontoons, requiring deft turning small spaces. Pip did some excellent boat handling and we came in very neatly.
Italian marinas seem to think we are all in modern boats with bow thrusters and easy management in reverse. Hah! Not us. But we managed anyway, and then watching the rather less dextrous performances by lighter boats with big crews on board was very entertaining.
It is well protected, though a strong north easterly blew in the night. We are not sure whether this often happens here in a northerly (when it would blow across the bay like the top of a bottle) or was a genuine, un-forecast, easterly belter. Either way, it was undoubtedly rolly for anyone anchored outside the harbour.
The pilot book says it is rolly out there. We found a reference to mooring buoys, but there aren't any now, as they are all being scrubbed off in the port!
There's lots of help coming in, with marina staff taking lines and even coming aboard to pick up the tails if you want them to. At least one spoke good English. Water and electricity on all the berths.
But - it's the most expensive place we've ever stopped, at ‚'¨60 for the night for 11.95m. Wow! Double wow, as you then also pay ‚'¨1 for the loo and a whopping ‚'¨4 for a shower! We're using our on-board facilities, and making sure everything is getting fully charged up.
Even so, the birthday girl (Pip) exercised her rights to choose, and we are staying two nights, leaving for Elba on Monday.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Berthing in the river
08/09/2009, Arnovecchio

We didn't see any larger boats anchored in the river, but we were assured that you can. Mudskipper had reported good holding. Lots of small boats were fishing, If you were going to be here for long, and leave your boat, a fore and aft mooring would probably be a sensible precaution. The river can run very fast here, especially in the winter.
Air draft has been seen as a big blocker to the Arno, because there were cables suspended across the river with more nets. These have been removed, and there is no air draft problem for at least 2.5nM into the river, making it much more accessible for cruising yachts.
The south bank is lined with small yards and private marinas. The pontoons are often pretty rickety, and some obviously wouldn't take a boat the size of Roaring Girl. We had rung Lega Navale, who had turned us away. Another yard waved us away too.
We had prebooked a space with Arnovecchio, and Sgr Orsini, who speaks good English put us in his travel hoist bay for four nights. We were alongside, for the first time since Port St Louis! Arnovecchio is primarily a yard, and the facilities are fairly basic but functional. Not very cheap at ‚'¨40 a night for us. The bus-stop for Pisa is directly outside the gates, and the small town of Marina di Pisa is 20 minutes walk the other way.
We also came across another yard which would have been able to give us a space for wintering afloat, at ‚'¨35 per metre per month. This is run by a German, Robert, who speaks excellent English and details can be found at or (Italy) 327150 9609. They were very helpful in finding somewhere to get a small steel plate made (part of our ongoing arrangements for a stern anchor). We could not have wintered afloat at Arnovecchio, but Sgr Orsini quoted for storage ashore at ‚'¨1560 for a 12m boat, plus liftout costs and tax. Arnovecchio can be reached on +39 -44 6260 0489 (you leave the 0 in for Italy) or via [email protected]
If you were spending much time here, it would be worth finding out where to get the work done; clearly there are lots of small yards doing all sorts of boat work, but it's a fairly opaque network to non-Italian speakers from the outside. But if you could get in, this would not be a bad place to choose, given the enormity of Italian prices everywhere you go. If you were going to be aboard very much, you would need some form of transport. For short visits, the buses are good, and there are supermarkets in Pisa and little ones (and a laundry) in Marina di Pisa.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Entering the Arno
08/09/2009, Arno River

The Arno is the river which runs up to Pisa and Florence. We've always been curious to go there as a base to visit those cities, but were nervous given reports that it can be very shallow. The only boat we found that had been there was Mudskipper, but even they had advised caution. Mudskipper anchored in the river, but we had phoned ahead for a berth, concerned about possible overnight stays away and whether we would find enough depth for anchoring.
As it turns out, changes here have made this an excellent destination, which deserves more cruiser attention.
The entrance, shown here is between two breakwaters; the northern one has several breaks in it which small boats do use. These would appear high risk for a keel boat, so don't just follow any local RIB you see. The north breakwater in particular has a lot of gantries with fishing nets that fish shallow water, presumably for whitebait type fish. Further up-river, there are many more such nets, highly reminiscent of the fishing nets of Cochin, but operated by machinery rather than muscle.
On the south side, the pilot book shows a factory building. This has been razed, and huge development is going on here. Right now it's flat, but obviously won't be for long. The next cruisers who pass this way should post updated pix. From a distance, the campanile in Marina di Pisa is the most obvious conspicuous marker.
More important is the depth. The pilot book suggests 3 to 4m on the north side at the best. We saw least depth 6.1m going in, and 5.4m coming out. We stuck well to the north side; the outer edge of the gantry nets are marked with small buoys.
We may have benefited from the long periods of north easterlies which have cleared the silt away, but we did wonder if they have started dredging here as we saw a dredger moored in the river.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
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)
Round to Le Grazie

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)
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

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

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)
Anchoring at the eastern end of Rade di Portoferraio
02/09/2009, Elba

The next couple of days we played in the sizeable Rade di Portferraio. At the eastern end are a couple of bays where you can anchor, notably Ottone, which has the little strip of beach and a hotel bar where you can buy a drink and admire your boat gracing the scene. Dense vegetation circles the bay: pines, bamboos, cane and palms.
Just north of this is Cala di B. This is marked in the pilot book as an anchorage, but is no longer accessible. The Port Authority guidance clearly excludes it, and there are no boats anchored there. Close in there are some small mooring buoys, and there are lots of dinghies, but anchoring is now off limits. This is understandable as it is small and would get incredibly crowded in summer, but a shame as a lifeguard told us that it is always calm in there.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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