Western Med Blog 7 (Pottering around northern Sardinia and a visit to Bonifacio before returning to Pommieland for a graduation)
24 July 2017 | Maddalena archipelago
Martyn, Veronica editing. Weather....Blue skies windy as hell.
From Castelsarda we made our way north, stopping in Isola Rossa for a night. Nice beaches and a tight anchorage just outside the entrance of the harbour. We did not go ashore and left early-ish the next day bound for Corsica. After motoring for 2 hours, someone turned the wind on. I thought we were going to have to beat across the Straits to Bonifacio but magically the wind kept coming around and with the autopilot set to sail to the highest angle we could point, by serendipity we almost sailed straight into the spectacular harbour entrance. Unbeknown to us we had arrived on the eve of the annual laser and light festival. On the sound and sage advice of Alan, the retired London Met Police sailor, we hung a left at the second branch off the main natural harbour leg. This was the poorman’s parking. There were rings set into the cliff and a lazy line to the centre of the Crique/Cala. Veronica swam the stern line ashore and after some tricky manoeuvring in a crosswind we managed to pick up the lazy line and get ourselves stable.
In the mix within the confined space of the creek was another British flagged boat. The boat was wooden with traditional wooden spars, beautifully restored and cared for. The crew comprised a Cornish partner with Viking blonde rope for hair, of indeterminable age, overflowing from a bikini and making utterances in the accent of a pirate. The skipper was a charming elderly gentleman with a surprisingly calm demeanour in the face of the barrage of coarse scatterbrain mooring ideas and deck stomping that emanated from the white bikini-clad pirate.
I had apologised to them saying that, as we were only two aboard, they may have to be a little patient (and keep out of the way) while we got our lines on. To my surprise they said they were happy to watch, as they had never done a stern-to mooring before. This was all the more surprising when we learnt they had overwintered in the middle of the Canal di Midi after sailing down there from England the previous season. Since being in the Med they had only been on anchorages. More impressive still, was when I engaged them on their Hydrovane self-steering gear and the skipper said that they had bought it after he and 3 other crew had sailed this 36ft classic boat across the Atlantic and back, hand steering it all the way! At this point we also paid attention to the fact that their boat had half the freeboard ours did and had a tiny cockpit and ancient wooden sliding hatches. So we henceforth had serious respect for these guys, who were operating on a very different budget but having fun. “Avast ye, aargh!”
As the hot afternoon wore on, outside of poorman’s creek in the main harbour, Super Yacht silliness was intensifying. There was literally a traffic jam of opulence. They were all here for the light show in the old city and waiting to be moored one at a time. We decided to go into town and it was a bizarrely smug feeling overtaking three towering hulks in our 4hp tender.
Bonifacio is spectacular. It is, after Valetta, the second largest natural harbour in the Mediterranean and arguably the most beautiful. We explored the overflowing quayside and then climbed the hill to the intriguing old city with its narrow streets and houses that are literally cliff hanging. The light show was throughout the old city with projections onto old churches and other buildings of significance. We mingled in the hustle and bustle, peered into shops that were like caverns leading of the street. The air was hot, close and electric with festival mood. As we descended there was an aerial view of the Super Yacht ‘car park’ with boats lit like Christmas trees.
We stayed the next day, early in the morning taking our 4hp inflatable out into the tripper boat bedlam that was plying through the harbour entrance. We ventured around dolomite cliffs to a massive sea cave. Very spectacular, as you can go deep into the narrow cave entrance and emerge in the bottom of a sinkhole, looking upwards at the narrow shaft of light and overhanging trees above. Later we climbed to the old city again in the searing heat… it was worth it. It was during this outing that we stumbled upon the most unassuming of places, a take away from the outside which only took cash which we didn’t have. I ate on the street and when Veronica came back from the autobank she went deeper into Aladdin’s cave to pay and discovered that in the back there was this ultra-basic restaurant but the window was on the cliff face 150m above sea level. The view of the cruise liner anchored in the bay and across to Sardinia was epic. It was absolutely not what was expected, it felt a bit like an Alice in Wonderland experience.
The next morning the white bikini-clad pirate and her respected partner slipped their mooring silently at first light, a calculated budget saving move to miss the harbour authorities RIB that came at 08h30 to collect the €25 charge. I would not have expected less of someone who had hand steered a 36ft museum piece across the Atlantic and back. More wry respect!
Veronica is not deft at getting out of her pit, so we paid our €25 and departed a half hour after the habour man had been, feeling honest at least. We were headed for Isola Razzoli on the Sardinian side and within the La Maddalena archipelago, when it suddenly dawned on me that we would pass close to the island of Lavezzi on the Corsican side. It is described as a delightful island with a very tricky approach. The story of a French ship with 500 souls aboard on their way to the Crimean war, piqued my interest. It floundered in a storm and remarkably no one survived, no one managed to cling to any barrels, spars or other pieces of floating debris and make it to shore despite the fact that most of the bodies and the debris of the ship were found on the island. This is quite remarkable as it went aground within a nautical mile of the island. At the time of the tragedy there was only one inhabitant of the island, a leper who witnessed the whole event but struggled to relate it to those that came to investigate because his speech was seriously impeded by the degeneration of his face.
Well we never did get to see the memorial to the lost souls, we found the anchoring space limited and after two attempts decided to abandon the idea of a lunch stop and a walk ashore and head over to a place that (on that day and you know how important that right day is, if you are a sailor) could not have been so mis-described. Dead Man’s Passage was a jewel that required the centreboard pulled up to the max. We found a little corner over sugar white sand in aqua-marine water and spent some time chilling, snorkelling and stand-up paddle boarding. Like wasps and flies, the crowds disappeared for the night leaving us and a few other distant boats alone in the tranquillity of a full moon.
Veronica had been determined to do the Green Train, a scenic run on a narrow gauge railway (0.9m gauge) up to Tempio inland in the central north of Sardinia. We took a mooring buoy in the chaotic port of Palau, jumping off point for the tourist tripper boats and Ferries to the Maddalena archipelago. The trip was fantastic, albeit seriously hot. The scenery was dramatic granite plutons, cork forests, vineyards and an impressively large dam. It was an insight into the inland of Sardinia; the livelihoods of the population and a railway that took you back in time to when it was probably the only transportation link. The carriage that we travelled in was built in 1930. We have heard that the same railway system further south in Sardinia is even more stunning with more dramatic mountain cuts, viaducts and scenery. Ours was impressive enough.
From Palau we returned to Santa Teresa di Gallura, spending a night in the bay at Liscia on the way. In Santa Teresa, we prepared the boat to be left in the Marina for a week. We flew out of Olbia and were back in London for Dylan’s graduation. Thank you Dylan, from two proud parents. The next blog will be after our return with Tayo and for some more exploration in the Maddalena archipelago, Tayo’s friend Louise is joining us and then the plan is to move onto the West coast of Corsica, if all goes well.