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June 10, 2009 Portofino to Rome

July 29th, 2009 2 comments

June 10, 2009  Portofino to Rome

While anchored a second night off the coast between Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure we were awakened at 2:30 a.m. by the boat pitching and rolling violently.  Without warning and no forecast of bad weather the sea went from flat calm to 5-6 ft. waves at short intervals.  All of sudden the rocks and seawall that had seemed a safe distance away from our anchorage were very threatening. 

We spent the next several hours until daylight checking our GPS coordinates and praying that the anchor would not start dragging sending us slipping toward the rocks.  At one point we started the engine as a precaution and considered re-anchoring, but given the dangerous seas putting Kent on the deck seemed more dangerous, especially in the dark. 

With first light we made our way to Santa Margherita Ligure just a couple of miles away, where we could get some protection from the waves behind the sea wall at the entrance to the harbor.  We had read that the Med weather can be fickle, but this was a shock because it was so unlike anything that we had experienced before.  The seas built with absolutely no wind to cause it—never more than 7 knots and from a different direction than the seas.  Needless to say we no longer assume that weather forecasts can be relied on and put down more than enough chain.  
                         

Destiny in Santa Margherita Ligure

Destiny in Santa Margherita Ligure

After a couple of days in Santa Margherita Ligure (an absolutely charming town) we anchored in Sestri Levanti which is a fishing village turned tourist oasis. 

Castle at Sestri Levante

Castle at Sestri Levante

From there we worked our way down the coast of the Cinq Terre stopping in Vernazza for lunch.  Vernazza is one of the five small villages that dominate the Cinq Terre coastline.  The harbor is so small that boats our size pick up a park mooring outside the harbor and dinghy ashore.  The view up and down the coast from this spot was breath taking.                        

Vernazza, Cinq Terre

Vernazza, Cinq Terre

 
Latter the same day we were equally amazed to see the Citadel and 13th Century church that mark the entrance to Portovenere.  Portovenere, like Portofino is a perfect little village with narrow steep streets and many steps that lead to the two magnificent old churches and the Citadel.
 

San Pietro Church Portovenere

San Pietro Church Portovenere

Portovenere

Portovenere

      
We anchored off Isola Palmaria which is just opposite the channel that leads to Portovenere and the large port of La Spezia just beyond it.  As we were raising our anchor to leave this anchorage the next day Kent caught his left little finger in the windlass tearing the end and we unexpectedly made for the next harbor, La Grazie, to get him medical treatment.  After seven hours in the ER at La Spezia, an x-ray and a few stitches he was on the road to recovery, but it was a scary experience nonetheless as he could have lost his finger.  Thanks to the Italian medical system his medical treatment was free, but the cab ride to and from the hospital was about 80 Euros—lesson learned, might as well let them call an ambulance since that would have been free as well.  While accidents happen on shore too, we have to be especially careful on the boat because getting treatment is more complicated.  After two nights in La Grazie to give Kent time to recoup, we motor sailed further south to Livorno where we spent a night in the marina.
                       
Livorno was just a stopping off place on our way to the island of Elba (one of the Tuscan islands off the Italian coast), but turned out to be very interesting.  It is a large commercial port with high end megayacht manufacturing and much ferry traffic between it and the Tuscan islands.  It also boasts a canal system that snakes through the city which was quite fun to explore in the dinghy.  One night was more than enough hustle and bustle of the “big city” and we were glad to be on our way to Portoferraio on the north side of Elba the next day.
 

Livorno Canal

Livorno Canal

We arrived in Portoferraio on Sunday afternoon (Mother’s Day at home) to find that there was an annual three day street fair just winding down with vendors of all kinds.  The town was crowded with people buying everything from jeans (Kent bought two pair) to local pastries, produce and cheese.  It was a carnival like atmosphere, and many people were dressed in costumes of various countries as the festival celebrated the diversity of the region.  When we learned that the celebration would last until midnight along the quay, we were glad we had decided to anchor in a large well protected bay just opposite the harbor.  We spent a second night in Portoferraio to take in all the sites which included the house Napoleon occupied during his exile—not Versailles, but not bad.
 

Portoferraio, Elba

Portoferraio, Elba

                        
Destiny left Portoferraio for Corsica on May 11th, and arrived safely in St. Florent which is a very protected bay on the west coast of Corsica.  The trip from Elba was a wonderful sail.  We were cruising along at 7 kts. most of the way without the engine.  Kent was ecstatic. 

Kent & Jolie Dinghy to St. Florent

Kent & Jolie Dinghy to St. Florent

                                
When we reached northern Corsica the wind was 25-28 kts. but then died to nothing as we came around the west side which is the leeward side of the island.  Corsica is a very large island—one of the largest in Med—and the only one that is French.  Both Sardinia and Sicily are Italian. 
 
Our immediate impression upon seeing the coast of Corsica was how different it was from the Italian coast we had just left.  While Italy has mountains that sometimes fall directly to the sea, such as the Cinq Terre with its perched villages, Corsica has a wild and uninhabited appearance.  The landscape is all rock and sheer cliffs, but with some low vegetation.  The scenery is dramatic and jaw dropping.  It seems so foreign it is like looking at a moonscape—hard to believe it is real.  The towering cliffs have sheer drops to the sea, and in the far distance you can see mountains with elevation high enough to have snowy peaks in May.  In contrast there are bays with long stretches of white sand.  The water is very deep—hundreds of feet in most places–even near the rocky shore and an azzure blue color.  Along the beaches the turquoise water is so crystal clear that we can see our anchor chain snake along the bottom in 15 ft. of water and watch fish swimming by.
 
From St. Florent we motor sailed most of the way to the small town of Ile Rousse with one of the largest town squares in Corsica.  We anchored off a lovely beach with several beach clubs dotting the shore.  Although the weather is sunny the daytime temperature is a comfortable 65-70 degrees and at night it drops to 55 to 60 leaving the boat covered with dew.  The water is about 70 degrees now, but that doesn’t stop the hearty French from swimming—summer has unofficially started here with many taking vacations before the rates increase on June 1st.  Despite that, the smaller towns like Ile Rousse are pretty empty.
 
Every town has an outdoor market and many shops to buy fresh meat, fish or vegetables.  The tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes and basil is sold in little pots.  Even the frozen foods are exceptional and we are enjoying the fresh breads and other Mediterranean delicacies such as moules et frite.  Interestingly, the cost of food is actually less than we paid in the Caribbean and the quality is much better.  On average we eat ashore a couple of times a week, often for lunch instead of dinner which tends to be less expensive.  Cooking on board is actually fun—Carol cooks and Kent cleans up.
 
                                   

Antipasto aboard Destiny

Antipasto aboard Destiny

Our next stop was Calvi, only 11 miles further down the coast.  Calvi is an amazing harbor with a wonderful marina that sits in the shadow of the Citadel that marks the harbor entrance.  It is very well protected and since some high winds and rain were forecast we decided it would be a good place to wait for the front to pass.  The ancient town is charming with narrow streets and laundry drying outside windows.  The inclement weather never did materialize, but we spent two nights in Calvi and would have spent more had there not been so many other places we wanted to see. 
 
                       

Calvi Citadel

Calvi Citadel

Destiny Docked in Calvi

Destiny Docked in Calvi

 
The afternoon of our second day in Calvi four uniformed Italian customs officers (with guns no less) approached the boat and requested to see our paperwork.  Kent had been to the customs office the day before to check us in and they had no interest in seeing our paperwork or stamping passports.  In fact, they pretty much indicated that there was no need to have come to the office.  However, that was of no interest to this group and of course we “cheerfully” complied with there request.  We had just had cocktails the night before on a Tasmanian boat (under Aussie flag) near us in the marina and they had told a horror story of being boarded by Italian customs in a nearby anchorage and having the entire boat searched.  Luckily our paperwork was in order and they never came aboard. 

In Bonifacio several days later, same situation—apparently Italian customs officers travel in fours:)  This time Kent mentioned our having been checked in Calvi and they left pretty quickly not even looking at the paperwork.  Moving from country to country in the EU has been interesting—no one seems to want to be bothered to check anything.
 
Although Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica and was a recommended stop, the pilot guide described a large town with much traffic and after being two nights in a marina we were ready for a quiet little harbor, so our next stop was Cargese where we moored bow to the quay.  The harbor was so small that we were the largest boat in the harbor and that they could accommodate.  We had dinner ashore with the crew from a Canadian boat that has spent much time in the Med. 

We have only encountered two other US boats in our travels, and one of them was French owned and avoiding the VAT tax.  It is a treat to get together with English speaking acquaintances.  We are muddling our way through the language challenges with “French for Cruisers” and Larousse in French and Italian.  Unlike the South of France or large cities in Italy where everyone speaks English, we have often found that communicating is difficult.  This is particularly true if you are entering a marina.  In general hand signs and signals get us through. 
 
Oh yes, and Jolie continues to be a big help in that regard—she after all is French.  We were walking down the quay in Bonifacio recently when a French gentlemen said “coton de tulear” several times referring to Jolie and pointing.  He had quite a lot more to say but that was all we understood.
 
After one night in Cargese we spent a night on anchor at Campomoro.  There is a tiny village, but we didn’t go ashore.  It was a stop over on the way to Bonifacio which is near the south of Corsica and our last stop before Sardinia. 
 
We had heard that Bonifacio was magnificent but nothing prepares you for this harbor.  From a distance it appears that the harbor entrance is no more than a fissure in the high striated cliff upon which the Citadel and town sit.  As you get closer, you see many caves along both sides of the opening and as you enter (taking care not to be run over by one of the many tour boats that make the harbor their home) you realize that the harbor is actually parallel with the shoreline and you make a left turn as you enter.  On both sides of the harbor there is cliff rising 300-500 ft. on both sides with barely enough space along each side for a single building its back set against the limestone.  We spent two days exploring the grottos by dinghy, lunching by a little beach inside the harbor, and touring the citadel.  Bonifacio is a magical place and one of our favorites so far.  By day the sun washes all of the peach colored buildings with their terracotta roofs and at night the Citadel glows with light from large spot lights.
 
             

Bonifacio Entrance from Inner Harbor

Bonifacio Entrance from Inner Harbor

Bonifacio Grotto

Bonifacio Grotto

              
 
After a brief lunch stop at the island of Lavezzi just off Corsica where we went snorkeling for the first time since arriving in the Med, we arrived in Liscia, Sardinia and anchored off a lovely stretch of beach with huge sand dunes.  Sardinia appears as different from Corsica as it was from the Italian coast.
 
         

Sardinian Sunset

Sardinian Sunset

   
Destiny returned to Elba on 5/30 after spending a week in northern Sardinia including the La Maddalena Islands, Costa Smeralda, and Porto Cervo.  We then traveled up the east coast of Corsica.
 
       

Twilight in Sardinia

Twilight in Sardinia

In Sardinia, we spent two nights anchored off the marina in Porto Cervo where there was one yacht that had to be 250 ft. long.  The proverbial “multi-million dollar view” of surrounding houses was ours for free.
           
We spent another night anchored in a small little cove off Isola Caprera, part of the nature preserve in La Maddalena between a beautiful beach and dramatic rock formations.  As night fell we were the only boat in the anchorage.
 
                   

Isola Caprera Anchorage

Isola Caprera Anchorage

Isola Caprera, Sardinia

Isola Caprera, Sardinia

Our circuit of Corsica has been the most interesting part of our trip so far.  The east coast of the island boasts miles and miles of beach with sloping hills as opposed to the sheer cliffs of the west coast.  It has lush green fields.  Bastia, the largest town on the east coast, is made up of ancient Italianate building surrounding a tiny harbor—with a citadel at the harbor entrance.  The town bustles with activity being a destination served by many ferries that bring tourists by the thousands to the island.
 
           

Bastia Port

Bastia Port

 

Destiny in Bastia

Destiny in Bastia

Kent has had his second and hopefully final encounter with the international medical system.  While in Bastia he accidentally stepped into the bilge cutting his toe.  After being taken to the local hospital by ambulance, he was back on board with five stitches and is recovering.  He rates the Italian hospital a little better than the French—but the cost is about the same—FREE.  If Obama doesn’t get universal health care passed in the US we may just stay in Europe.
 
We delayed our departure from Bastia by a day to let Kent get back on his feet—literally and figuratively.  From Bastia we returned to Portoferraio where we met up with the other two Caribbean 1500 boats that shipped with us to Genoa—Excalibur and Glass Slipper.  They had spent the past several weeks in the south of France and were heading back to Italy.
 

Weather kept us in Portoferraio for three days, after which we sailed (motored mostly) to Porto Azzurro on the east end of the island of Elba where spent two days in a marina waiting for some weather with forecast high winds to blow through.  We rented a car for the day and toured the island much of which is quite mountainous with spectacular views.  A windy road took us to Poggio, a perched village with fabulous view of the seaside town below.
 
                     

Carol in Poggio, Elba

Carol in Poggio, Elba

  After stopping two nights in Santo Stefano on the mainland we visited the smallest of the Tuscan islands, Giannutri, where we anchored in a cove so small that it would only hold one boat. 
 
                      

San Stefano Anchorage

San Stefano Anchorage

 
We are now enroute to Fuimicino near Rome where we plan to spend a couple of days and take the train into the city.  From there we go to Anzio and Gaeta, where we hope to finally pick up a transformer that will allow us to convert 220 volt power into the 110 volt the boat uses, and get Jolie (our dish prewash) a much needed haircut. 

Prewash
                       
 
People have asked how we spend our days.  Although it varies by location, it’s fair to say that we keep moving.  There are always boat projects to occupy Kent’s time.  A good day is when nothing major breaks.  Day to day activities like food shopping and doing laundry take more time than on land—just locating them is a challenge.  We have fallen into the European custom of eating lunch very late—1-2 p.m., and dinner not until 8 or so.  We have decided that in part it is because we tend to sleep 9-10 hours every night, getting up later than back in the USA.  Also, it stays light until nearly 9 p.m. so eating dinner when the sun is so high in the sky seems strange.  All in all, we are enjoying the boat life, and while we miss family, can’t wait to see what the next day brings.
 
Until our next post,
Arrivederci,
Carol, Kent & Jolie
aboard S/V Destiny in Fuimicino, Italy

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