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Lovely summer days in Italy
08/06/2011, Le Grazie

Portovenere, just over the hill from Le Grazie

We left Bonifacio on a forecast of dying winds, so we have gone from an excess of wind to absolutely nothing, mirror flat seas... well there has been the occasional light afternoon sea breeze. In the last two weeks we have motored part way up the coast of Corsica, then across to the Italian island of Elba and further north to where we are now anchored at Le Grazie. Le Grazie is a bay within the Golfo di La Spezia or as locally known Golfo dei Poeti. Bryon and Shelley and other literary greats were regular visitors here. There is a mistral blowing over the other side of Corsica at the moment and today we are getting some of it sliding gently over the hill into the bay. We are weather watching now because it is time to head southwest to the Balearic Islands south of Spain.

Apart from all the motoring we have done we have enjoyed our trip north. The SE corner of Corsica has beautiful beaches with pink sand and crystal clear water. Porto Vecchio was interesting but full of tourists and not as nice as Bonifacio. We decided there that Tuatara's hull needed a good clean, mixing amongst all the big and small Med boats we looked decidedly grubby. Not a good advertisement for NZ, the only excuse we had was we had come a long way in the last few months, not just out of the marina for the summer holiday as the locals had. When we anchored at Elba Island the next morning after a night crossing from Corsica, we could hold our heads up as we anchored a sparkling clean Tuatara amongst the many anchored boats in Golfo di Campo. Elba was a lovely island to visit, lush and green we even saw lawn something we haven't seen for a long time!! Many of the Med Islands seem to be just huge lumps of rock but at last we are starting to see more greenery and less rock.

Moving from Italy to France to Italy again I was starting to get my merci and grazie, mixed up, which country was it now??? At least the money stays the same and the prices.....after a while it doesn't pay to convert how much lunch was or the cost of a bus fare, even tho the NZ dollar has been strong lately. Some things are good value others not, the all day bus fare for Elba worked well for us all though we balked at paying 7E each to spend a short time in Napoleons' house in Portoferraio . What was excellent value was the 10 Euro each we paid for our day in the Cinque Terre National park. The ticket included unlimited train trips between La Spezia and each of the five villages, bus transport within the park, and access to all the walking tracks. The bus was handy especially at Corniglia where there are 382 steps up hill from the station to the town.

The anchorage here at Le Grazie is a great base for sightseeing in this area, a 20 min bus ride into La Spezia and 5 min walk to the train station and northern Italy is at your finger tips. We decided a day in the Cinque Terre national park was our main thing to do while here. The scenery was lovely and the little towns with the little harbours were as picturesque as the postcards stacked in the souvenir shops. The houses cling to the hillsides no room for cars, at Manarola boats sat outside houses, no room in the harbor. There the boats were launched down the steepest ramp I've ever seen or there seemed to be a winch system that lowered the boats about 20 metres down into the water. The vines and gardens grow on the steep terraced hillsides, there are modern mechanical lifts for transporting the boxes of grapes, old photos at Manarola show woman climbing the hills with baskets of grapes balanced on their heads. It must have been a hard life.

We intended to walk along the coastal paths between Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia but discovered the second path between Corniglia and Manarola was closed because of slips. After talking to a couple of Australian ladies we found we could get the bus up hill (essential as the hill is very steep) to the village of Volastra then walk along the hill and then down to Corniglia. That was a great decision, the bus wound its way up hill past the steep vine yards to Volastra. We found the path, no problems there it is well marked and well.... We followed all the others that were on the bus! The first part of the walk took us along the hill through the vineyards and some wild blackberries ( nice ripe berries). The path was essentially flat so it was a leisurely walk enjoying the views out to the villages and down into the sea below. The water was so clear we could almost count the stones in the water way below. Eventually the path turned down hill through the cool forest, when we saw others struggling up the steep path towards us we realized we had walked in the right direction. The rest of the day we travelled by train between villages for which our legs were very grateful!

By lunchtime the day was becoming quite hot and we looked with envy at all the swimmers, we should have taken our togs. We wouldn't have joined the young kids jumping off the high rocks but a cool float would have been nice. It is august and the Italians are out sunbathing, swimming, sailing, boating, eating gelato, in fact we feel quite at home here, just like an NZ summer. Where ever we have been in Italy so far there has always been a little group of kids sailing optimists either learning or perfecting their skills under the watchful eye of a coach. At Cannigione the coach had a system where he whistled and the kids tacked. He had them going around in circles along in long lines and zigzagging across the bay. They didn't even seem to mind when it poured with rain although he did let them go in when the lightening started.

Here at Le Grazie there are several classic yachts and motor boats moored on the quay. We gaze admiringly at them as we go past hoping maybe someone might ask us aboard for a look! There are also lots of little old motor boats puttering around, all beautifully kept. Last night a little old square rigger came into the bay, flags flying and lights twinkling, they motored past all the classic yachts firing off what sounded like a cannon. After a while he motored out past us and as I took a photo the man behind the "canon" fired it off giving me a huge fright and with a big grin on his face he waved back as they disappeared around the corner. Not sure what it was all about but they looked like they were enjoying themselves! With the boats, the church bells ringing throughout the day and the terracotta houses on the hill it is a charming place to be. Tomorrow another day trip, this time south to a place called Lucca. Tuesday the weather looks right to leave sunny Italy and head to the Balearics. 360 miles closer to our half way point.

Jean, Editor Alan
08/06/2011, Le Grazie

Bonifacio from our anchorage
See the gallery for more photos of Bonifacio

Bonifacio harbour on the SW corner of Corsica is an amazing place, scary and exhilarating to enter in the windy conditions we had. I still managed to take some photos as we motor sailed in towards a rock face, no opening visable. The pilot says it is " literally a slit in the chalk cliffs that is difficult to see until close up" (have a look on google earth). The westerly wind bending around the cliffs pushed us in quicker than we wished and we hoped there was no boat coming out. Suddenly we were at the turning point for the anchorage, no ropes ready, still looking at awe at our surroundings and the wind still finding its way up the harbor. The harbor is only .8 of a mile long , it is amazing watching large vessels come in turn around and wriggle into marina berths. We were still getting ourselves sorted, Alan in the dinghy trying to get a rope to the mooring rings ashore, me maneuvering Tuatara trying to back into the wall and the wind wanting us to do something completely different, when the marina boys arrived in their boat and helped tie us to the mooring lines. Mind you if the notice about calling the Marina on VHF channel 9 was where you could see it coming in... not going out, we could have had help a lot sooner. 20 euro a night, we could have three nights on the mooring backed into the chalk cliff for less than the price of one night on the marina. We were happy to be settled, the wind could blow for a few more days while we did some sightseeing in this historic amazing place.

Earlier in the morning we had decided to leave our anchorage at Cannigione. The forecast showed the winds dying to a respectable 20 knots then decreasing further so we decided it was time to cross the Bouches de Bonifacio to a new anchorage at Bonifacio. We motor sailed out past the Maddalena national park islands and decided to carry on motor sailing across the strait as the 20 knot wind was a bit more on the nose than we had expected. Just as we dipped our bow into the windy straight .... Oops the wheel spun around in my steering! After a few heart stopping moments we realized this was not the return of the hydraulic springs problem .... Different symptoms which meant....aaah yes the autopilot still worked, so we turned it on and tacked around to go back to a nice bay five miles away. Alan checked out the steering wheel shaft but it looked ok ...then he found a thingy on the floor of the engine room. That thingy had fallen out of the whosit so the wheel was freewheeling on the shaft. About the same time we realized our inside steering should still work, we haven't really had the need to use it, but it certainly came in handy that day. We anchored, had lunch, Alan returned the thingy back to its proper place and we headed for Bonifacio again.

The steering drama was on our mind as we careered through the chalk cliffs of the Bonifacio harbor entrance. What if .... Well it didn't bear thinking about , those people on the cliffs above would have had quite a holiday story to tell when they got home.

For a couple of days we wandered the old town, looked out over the windy cliffs, looked at the houses hanging out over the sea, perched on chalk cliffs eroded by the wind and sea. Toured the cemetery with the quietest town square we've ever been in, the inhabitants tucked away in their rooms with a view. Strolled the marina, watched crews polish and clean Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Bad Girl, and Soulmate. I guess when you can afford boats like those you can call them anything you like. Used the self service laundry then had to baby sit the washing as it dried so it wouldn't fly away down the anchorage. The wind was still whistling around the cliffs when the marina man came to get our payment for another night. We asked him about the weather...local knowledge and all that. We worked out from the hand waving, his little English and our little French that 2 more days then the wind would be little but the sea would still be big.

"Ah zen allez" and with a wave he was off with our 40 Euro for another two nights. Sure enough on Monday morning we motored out into a nearly windless but lumpy Bouches de Bonifacio one last look back at the narrow little harbor that has been visited by mariners throughout the centuries. Odysseus, Greeks, Romans , the Genoese,, Napoleon ....well everyone... but the question we asked as we left was how did they all get their engineless ships in and out? The galley slaves must have worked hard lining up the entrance in windy conditions.

Fast boats
07/20/2011, Sardinia

one of the many amazing vessels we have seen and envyed

Our crossing to Sardinia from Volcano Is took 53 hours, two nights at sea. This trip was a bit more comfortable than our Greece to Malta trip. We had some good sailing and some motoring. As we closed on the Sardinian coast the westerly wind arrived early, or were we late? So we motor sailed the last 20 miles or so. As we motored into Brandinghi Bay I looked back and saw a small ketch.

"Look maybe that's Morning Cloud"

We weren't sure where they were heading to after their stop at Ustica Is. I swept around with the binoculars.

" no that's not them because there they are anchored over there."

What a nice surprise , so we shared a couple more days together. The next day we went into the town of Olbia. Selwyn and Joanne weren't sure if they wanted to make the detour, but the lure of a good supermarket was too much so they came too. We anchored in the bay at the head of the harbor, the free wall was already full of boats. The supermarket is very close to the anchorage, in fact we tied the dinghy up just across the road. No lugging heavy bags this time.

The weather forecast predicted high winds later in the week so we headed off north, hoping to enjoy a few bays before having to hide from the Mistral. The Morning Clouds decided to stay and do some travel while there was a secure place to leave the boat. So another goodbye, not sure where but we will catch up again could be sooner or later.

As it was the weekend the bays and coast between Olbia and Cannigione, (where we are now) was full of large luxurious motor yachts and smaller luxurious fast launches. Our first anchorage at Marinella was a little rolly to start with. At about 6 oclock the last of the jetskiers went home to swop the roar of the jet for the thump of loud Saturday night music ,the launches left for their marina berths and about 4 yachts were left, with a peaceful smooth bay, to enjoy the sunset. As with many places we have been the sun goes down and the music goes up, still a very pleasant anchorage.

Sunday, we called into Porto Cervo for a look, couldn't stay as the 150 Euro for one night on a mooring buoy was a bit out of our price range. This is where the Aga Khan and his rich mates developed a marina and town for the rich and famous, the Costa Smeralda. We carried on up here to the Golfo di Arzachena dodging the speed boats and their macho Italian skippers who only knew about speed, not the safety rules of the sea. We saw some amazing boats, the best was the sleek black speed boat with the anchor well on the bow shaped like a jaw, quite sinister looking. He was too quick for me to get a photo.

We are now anchored at Cannigione in the Golfo di Arzachena, the mistral has caught us, it has blown 30 to 40 knts most of today. We picked our possie on Monday and put two anchors out ready for the winds arrival last night, it was a few hours late but when it arrived in the early hours of this morning we felt confident hanging on our two anchors. I hope it doesn't last too long, I've been reading about Corsica and especially Bonifacio we hope to get across there as soon as the wind dies. The wind funnels between Sardinia and Corsica through the Bonifacio Strait. The Bouches de Bonifacio is only a few miles wide but you still have to pick your weather as it is probably the windiest part of the Med when the mistral is in full flight.

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Sailing in the Pacific
Who: Alan and Jean Ward
Port: Opua NZ
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