We made the 150-mile crossing from Menorca to Sardinia in calm conditions, under the guidance of a full moon. Rather than barreling into darkness (as is often the case with moving at night) Berkeley East bobbed along steadily, the only sounds being the hum of BE's engine, and the squawk from the VHF radio. An American warship announced live fire practice and urged all ships to maintain a safe distance, good advice, we wondered what a safe distance might be. A British chap hailed a 300-foot tanker and calmly asked the captain if he could see their boat, as their AIS showed a CPA (closest point of approach) of zero feet in 10 minutes. A French woman decided that channel 16 (the VHF emergency channel) was the perfect vehicle for showing off her singing skills, or possibly her imitation of a cat being strangled, it was hard to tell. There were burps and giggles, people get bored. As always with night passages, we appreciated the first glimmer of dawn.
We approached Sardinia on the northwest corner and wove Berkeley East through the Asinara National Park to a mooring off the island of Asinara, named for its large population of wild Albino donkeys.
In 1885 a quarantine health facility and prison were established on the island, and all residents were forced to move. While it was used as a prison camp during several wars, post-war periods saw the arrival of the greatest supporters of Italian terrorism, mafia, and organized crime. It is often called the Italian Alcatraz, as escaping from the island was quite impossible.
Until 1997, when the prison closed, Asinara's only human inhabitants were the prisoners and their keepers. For more than a century, nothing was built on the island, the beaches and ponds remained untouched, the animals lived free. Today, Asinara is uninhabited but for the donkeys, horses, mouflon, wild boar and some 50 different species of birds. One can visit via boat and explore the island by electric car, or bicycle. There is only one paved road, two bars/restaurants, and one shop selling local products like Donkey Soap, perfect for Christmas gifts.
We traveled from one end of the island to the other and learned what a challenge it is to keep an electric vehicle charged, the batteries fill very slowly. The island is riddled with remnants of the prison and homes from Roman times, the rest is rock, limestone and rustic foliage framed by crystal clear water.
We stayed on the mooring in Asinara for a few days, enjoying the quiet atmosphere, and the fresh bread brought to our boat each morning by our mooring guardian. The weather was disturbed from the south, and the sky literally rained mud. We renamed Berkeley East "Pig Pen" and moved on to the La Maddelena Archipelogo.
Lying at the southern end of the Straight of Bonifacio, the La Maddalena Archipelago is a cluster of seven islands, known as the seven sisters, accented by more than 50 tiny bits of rock and land. An Italian geomarine national park, La Maddalena encompasses more than 20,000 hectares of land and sea, along 112 miles of stunning granite coastline chiseled by severe winds and currents.
We had been to the archipelago twice before, and there were fond memories of Cala Garibaldi, a beautiful, unique inlet of artistic rock formations that create natural swimming pools. It was not as crowded as most of the coves in La Maddelana, perfect for relaxing and swimming. While there were some day boats, most would leave at night, creating a space for a magical evening, at least that is what we recalled.
If not for pictures and previous blog posts, we would seriously question our memories, as Garibaldi was none of what we remembered. The rock outcroppings were still amazing, but the boats had tripled in size, and numbers, the traffic through the anchorage was ridiculous, swimming was risky. Still, we sat on Berkeley East in Girabaldi, constantly astounded by the ginormous boats, the excessive speed, the recklessness, while keeping the chaos at a safe distance.
One of the newer trends in the world of yachting is the support, or shadow, vessel. This is a second ship to carry all the toys: speed boats, helicopters, sailboats, SUVs, submarines, jet skis, to name a few. Vessels Casa and Playa have taken this trend down from the mega-yacht realm to superyachts. Each boat is under 90' long, so this pair of superyachts are much easier to fit into small harbors. Casa is the primary vessel with three luxury cabins, while Playa follows along with the entertainment including a basketball court, wake-surfing boat, SUV and a 10' outside television (we watched the Olympics from across the harbor on Berkeley East).
Even with the increased crowds, La Maddalena was spectacular, but the archipelago lies just south of Corsica, where The Mistral reigns terror on small boats like Berkeley East. We have encountered The Mistral (which blows from southern France to the Northern Mediterranean) before, pinned down for days in winds that often exceed 50 knots. As the wind swirled, we moved from anchorage to anchorage down the east coast of Sardinia to find refuge. A freshly washed BE (scrubbed by the crew at anchor) quickly became coated in salt, as boats sped by sending waves crashing over Berkeley East's decks, dodger and bimini.
The bays were crowded with Italians on holiday. It appeared that the shortest distance between two points was always across Berkeley East's bow, or stern, so BE was in a nearly constant roll. While night clubs remained closed in Italy due to COVID, dancing prohibited, restaurants on shore buzzed into the wee hours of the morning. There was no doubt that we were back in Sardinia, in August, everything was fast and loud.
With a break in the wind, we made way for Olbia to check Berkeley East, and crew, into the country, and end our status as illegal aliens in Italia. While they welcomed the beautiful American yacht, the police insisted they could not stamp our passports. It is typical in Italy, that every port, every official, has their own set of rules and regulations which they apply as they wish. At our next landfall, the harbor master informed us that we should have been stamped in at our first check-in locale, Olbia, and we must wait for the next port. So, BE's motley crew is to remain merchant marines, in the country legally, but confined to the boat for the immediate future.