Corsica and Sardinia are separated by the Strait of Bonifacio. It is 30 miles long. At the narrowest point only 7 miles wide.
On both sides there are high mountains. Yet, the strait is only 50 meters deep.
Towards the western Mediterranean, the depth rises steeply to 2.000 meters. Towards the Tyrrhenian Sea in the east as abruptly to 1.000 meters.
One pilot book warned that the area is one of the most windy areas in the Mediterranean and that a friendly beaufort 4 usually turns into a less friendly beaufort 6 at the other end of the strait. Another that seas are uncomfortable and confusing in the east wind and long, high and scary when it blows from the west.
We left Bonifacio around noon. Once again, we felt small as we sailed on the narrow entrance with the 70 meters high vertical limestone walls. It was blowing from the east. A friendly beaufort 3 with an equally friendly gusting beaufort 5 . At this wind speed, the seas were neither confusing nor unpleasant. We set both sails. When we headed for the course, we got a wind angle of 90 degrees and felt almost flying towards Santa Teresa in Sardinia.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean. It is three times larger than Zealand (the main island in Denmark) and has 1,7 million inhabitants. Santa Teresa is the northernmost city of the island. It is founded in 1808. The population is only 5.000, but in the high season it increases with thousands of tourists.
We were in the last half of September. High season had ended almost 3 weeks ago. There were plenty of vacant berths in the harbor. The grotesque high harbor fees were now at a reasonable level.
A couple of hours after we had moored, a thunderstorm with strong winds passed over us. When the storm was over, a German couple in a charter boat arrived. They docked their boat into the berth next to us.
«We were anchoring in a magnificent bay on Spargi» told the woman. «The weather was nice but suddenly it became 'ein furchtbares gewitter' The sky and sea melted together. We pulled the anchor in a hurry and sailed to here. It was a terrible trip. My husband has promised we'll stay here until the weather has settled» she concluded, looking confidently at her husband who confirmed his promise with a nod.
The next day, it blew more. Again from the east. Either the German husband had forgotten his promise or the wife had recovered from yesterday's scary event. Around noon they made ready for departure. The goal was Bonifacio, which they just had to experience before they were to deliver the boat back.
We stayed in Santa Teresa for a few days. Drove with the small train to the town, located on the top of the cliffs high above us. Went to the cafe at Piazza Vittoria Emanuele. Enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and impressive views of the high mountains of Corsica, which we had just left.
In the harbor, a couple of boats had already been winterized.
«But we stay on the boat until the end of October. Then we'll go home to Germany and come back in early May» Barbara explained. Along with her husband Bernd, she had sailed for the last 10 years in most of the Mediterranean. This year they sailed from Sicily to Sardinia and decided to winter in Santa Teresa.
The next day the wind calmed down. We left Santa Teresa. After half an hour of sailing we passed the northernmost point of the Sardine.
On a cliff we saw one of the over 7.000 towers scattered across the island. The towers are built by the Nuragh people. They are thought to have come to the island year - 2.000. The Nuragheres did not have a written language. This is why, we know little about their history and culture today. No one knows for sure what the many towers were used for. It is also uncertain when the culture ended. Some archeologists claim to have evidence for the year - 238. It was the year when Rome first defeated Carthage and took Sardinia as one of their prizes. Others believe to have evidence that the Nuragh culture existed nearly 800 years longer on the Sardinian impassable highlands.
When we had passed the tower, we entered the La Maddalena archipelago. It consists of 7 larger islands and 50 islets. At the beginning of the 1700 century, only a few Corsican shepherds lived on the islands. No one else had any interest in them and they were forgotten in the treaty that in 1720 made Sardinia a part of the house of Savoyen. It then became the kingdom of Sardinia, which also included Piedmont.
73 years later, a mere 24-year-old Napoleon tried to conquer the islands. Now there were 867 residents. They were engaged in smuggling, which the island's unclear affiliation provided fine conditions for. In the first attempt, Napoleon had to return to Bonifacio due to unsettled weather conditions in the Strait of Bonifacio. In the second attempt a couple of days later, he managed to cross the strait and sail over to the islands.
A several days bombing was initiated. The Kingdoms defense, however, was so strong that Napoleon had to retreat. This was Napoleon's first defeat. But it was also the start of a process that, a few years later ended with Napoleon conquering Corsica after having expelled its leader Pascal Paoli.
A couple of years later, the English navy under the leadership of Lord Nelson anchored in the archipelago. The purpose was to protect Sardinia against a French invasion. To avoid diplomatic complications, Nelson did not go ashore during any of his three stays, where the longest lasted for 18 months.
In recent times, the United States and NATO also had a naval base in the archipelago. It was, much to the residents' regret, abandoned as late as in 2008. Today, only the Italian navy command is based on the islands.
The archipelago is the only protected waters in the western Mediterranean and has some of Sardinia's finest beaches. It is a popular destination for tourists and pleasure boats. In 1994, it was designated as a national park. This means, among other things, that anchoring in a pleasure boat requires a permit. It is easy to get and can be purchased online, but not for more than 6 days at a time.
We approached the port of La Maddalena. It is located on the main island with the same name. The town has a rich selection of cafes, restaurants, specialty shops and a good supermarket. The harbor is almost in the middle of the city. From the cockpit we could keep up with the lively café life, while scooters and fiat's drove past on the city's main street a few meters from us. Almost like being spectators in a live version of Felini's "Roma Roma".
In the next few days an unfriendly beaufort 8 blew from the west. But we lay safely in the well protected harbor and saw more of La Maddalena and the neighboring island of Caprea. This was where the young Garibaldi came on his way to exile. Later he returned and spent his otium at Caprea after having been one of the driving forces behind the creation of Italy. The kingdom of Sardinia also had a significant role in thid and its king Vittoria Emanuele became Italy's first king.
When the wind had calmed down, we made ready for departure. Started the engine and threw the moorings. We came just a few meters from the quay when the engine stopped.
We turned the ignition key and pressed the start button. The motor started immediately, but when Pia pushed the throttle forward, it stopped- again.
Missing diesel? Air in the system? Before several possibilities flew through the head, we looked down into the water. Here was the reason. The tail line had been wound into the screw. None of us had the courage to jump in the water, dive and wrap the line off the screw. We prayed for an ormeggiatori, who immediately sailed to us.
«How could that happen? » He asked amazed. But before we could answer, he cut the mooring line on both sides of the propeller, replaced the landline and tied the lines together. Now the mooring line could be used again. Then he tried to unwrap the line from the propeller - in vain. We started the engine and put it in reverse. It stopped - again.
... hmmm - again
«We need a diver » said our ormeggiatori resolute.
«It will be expensive» he continued as he held an arm in the air and swiftly rubbed the thumb against his index finger to avoid any doubt about who was to pay.
«But it's Sunday and I'm not sure I can get hold of one,» he continued while dialing a number on his mobile phone. After a short conversation he looked up at us
«Twenty minutes and it costs 200 €. OK ? »
Much and annoying money. But our bargaining power left us no other option than to say yes please while trying to look relieved
Twenty minutes later, the entrepreneurial ormeggiatori returned with a man in diving suit. The man took put on diving equipment, slipped into the water, dived and sent bubbles of air to the surface. Two minutes later he reappeared. Triumphantly, he raised his hand with the line in the air. We and the many spectators who had gathered at the quayside to follow the drama applauded cheerfully. As an extra service, our man once again dived under Heron and tightened a screw securing an anode.
And then we were ready to sail on.
In the end of the 50s, a consortium led by the Saudi Arabian Prince Aga Khan began to buy land on the coastline towards the archipelago. There was no infrastructure and the area was plagued by malaria, which was not finally eradicated until the Americans sprayed with the newly developed wonder spray DDT.
Roads, waterworks, telephone systems, electricity and renovation facilities were constructed . Villas and hotels were built according to strict architectural restrictions on colors, height, materials and visibility. A golf course and several tennis courts were landscaped. Finally, a marina - Porto Cervo - was built with an adjacent 'village' with shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants.
Inspired by the emerald green color of the crystal clear water in the area's many coves, one of the consortium's famous architects suggested naming the area Costa Smeralda.
«Costa Smeralda is a place for people with above average material possessions, » said Aga Khan. Later, he moderated to «We are not stupid. We know that there are not enough billionaires to make a 55 kilometer long leisure area profitable. There will be something for every wallet. »
Glamorous characters like Peter Sellers, Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot and notabilities like Princess Margaret and King Juan Carlos were invited to the Costa Smeralda. Others came. Even today, the small coastal area is one of the most luxurious holiday resorts in Europe. Later holiday resorts were built all over the island. Today tourism is Sardinia's largest and most important source of income.
When we got out of the harbor we sailed south along the Costa Smeralda. On our starboard side were high rocks. At the top, several were shaped into imaginative figures of the Mistral. It emerges on the French Atlantic coast, builds up through the Rhône valley and blows across the western Mediterranean. When forced through the Strait of Bonifacio it becomes even stronger on the northeastern side of Sardinia. Here it blows so heavily and so often that it has over time changed the shape of the hard rock peaks.
There were several pleasure boats on the water. Some came against us. Most of them were charter boats. They had just begun their one or maybe two weeks holiday. If the weather allowed it, they would probably reach Bonifacio. From there they would sail back to the port from which they started out. In front of Porto Cervo there was a racing match for sailboats and in the bay just south of the harbor a megayacht was anchored.
After we had rounded the outer of a few small rocky islands, we changed course, set the sails, were again protected by a small island and slowly approached Porto Rotondo in the flat waters.
Winter in the water again?
Porto Rontondo is mentioned as part of the Costa Smeralda. Strictly speaking it is not. It was built almost 10 years after by the Venetian Donà dalle Rose. Today it is owned by a Sardinian family business, which has the production of cork as its core business. Aga Khan's consortium has long ago sold its possessions on the Costa Smeralda (rumour says with a nice profit). Today, the oil company Qatar's investment company owns the consortium's previous possessions .
«Come back after six o'clock. Then I'll find a good berth for you, »the officer smiled when we went to the port office to discuss having another berth than the one we were directed to with a "no capisco" by a very young ormeggiatoria
When we got back to the port office, the officer grabbed a map of the harbor, pointed at a berth and said
« I suggest you berth there »
«It looks fine »
"How long will you be? »
« A couple of days »
«OK. Follow my ormeggiatori to the berth. See if you like it. You can pay when you leave »
The next 4 days it was blowing hard. First from the northeast. Then from the west, when a Mistral suddenly reached us.
All the boats in the marina lay well in the strong winds. Next to us was a boat similar to Heron. It was from Gothenburg and was, like most of the other boats here, prepared for the winter. There was no swell in the harbor. «There never is» explained an ormeggiatori who looked after the boats several times during the day. The winter rent was the lowest we had seen in the Mediterranean. The entire area was video monitored. There were Carabinieri's driving several times a day. The archipelago was beautiful to sail in and there was barely 15 kilometers to the airport in Olbia.
Maybe not so crazy to winter here. Even though we due to the winter accident in Menton, were planning to let Heron spend the winter 'on the hard' as the americans say.
We walked over to the Port office and asked a lady if we could stay in the berth until spring.
«Let me see» she smiled. Ten minutes later we had a rental agreement (Well enough easier than when we were looking for a winter space in southern France last year)
The Mistral disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
The seven Germans on the boat opposite us now only had two days left of their sailing holliday.
«Porto Rotondo is nice. It has been nice to be here. Now we can sail to La Maddalena before delivering the boat. But that's how it's on a boat holiday. Last year we had a boat in Greece. We did not go out sailing for one single day» said one of the men while preparing for the first and second-last sailing of their holiday week.
We had to agree that the German was right.
Porto Rotondo is nice. Cafes, restaurants, shops and pastel-colored terraced houses with lawns lie down to the circular harbor basin. From here there is access to the small town with a piazza, a church and an amphitheater. From two smaller basins there is access to the large basin through a narrow entrance with arched wooden bridges.
It is as if the founder Donà dalle Rose was inspired by his hometown Venice when planning and building the little town.
Next to the bay is a hotel and two smaller beaches. Three residential areas surround the little town. Four beaches with white sand and turquoise green crystal clear water are within walking distance.
In the afternoon we sailed on a trip to explore Costa Smeralda
When we got out of the harbor we set both sails. Tightened the sheets as much as we could and sailed to the bay of Cala di Volpe with headwind and close hauled sails. It was in this bay Dodi al Fayed's yacht lay for anchor when paparazzi photographers started chasing him and princess Diana. From there they fled to Paris where they died in a car crash.
"Stay away if your boat is shorter than 100 foot. The bay is only for megayachts "warned a review on Navily (Navily is an app where you can review and read reviews of ports and anchor bays).
But the season for megayachts was over. All anchor buoys had been removed and there were no megayachts in the bay. Hotel Cala di Volpe, whose presidential suite is Mick Jagger's favorite, was closed. We sailed a tour in the bay, felt a bit like 'Nils all alone' and sailed on to Porto Cervo.
An hour later, we arrived at Porto Cervo's outer basin. This was where Sarah and Thijs had anchored in their 28 foot sailboat in August. Price for a single night 150 € (onehundredandfifty, just in case you thought it was a typo). Here too the anchor buoys were now removed and the basin completely empty.
We were received by a slightly irritated ormeggiatori who directed us into a berth in the more than half empty port.
The next day we went up to the church Stella Maris, whose simplicity creates a special contrast to the discreet but luxurious surroundings. From there we went over to la 'village', where most famous luxury clothing, cosmetics and jewelry brands were represented with their own shops.
While we had lunch at a cafe, we watched buses loading and unloading tourists to this strange town. On our way back to Heron we provisioned the most bare necessiities in a small supermarket with several empty shelves and high prices.
«Everything dies when we reach October. It's almost like pulling the plug »said the talkative girl at the harbor office, where we had gone up to settle.
« We own 20 berths. The rest is owned by Qatar. We get 30% of the fee when we rent out a berth. In two years we get more berths. Then we will adjust the fee and have more boats out of season» she explained when we asked why there were so few boats in the harbor.
We sailed further along the Costa Smeralda. After a few hours we reached the small town of Cannigione. It is at the bottom of a covet surrounded by mountains. The city was a pleasant contrast to Porto Cervo, which in its discreet and elegant luxury seemed a bit boring. Without 'hygge' as we say in Danish. In Cannigione the plug had not yet been pulled. There was life in the main street. In a shop we bought local wine tapped directly from the barrel. In another shop we got an oil filter, which had been so difficult to get in Menton in the spring. Cafes and restaurants were still open and at the end of the main street there was a well-stocked supermarket. We provisioned what we could not get or did not want to pay for in the supermarket in Porto Cervo.
Windy and Meteo (our two preferred weather models) had unanimously postponed a powerful Mistral in the area for a few days. But now it seemed that it would reach us within the next 24 hours. We left Cannigione and sailed back to Porto Rotondo.
Shortly before we passed Porto Cervo we got the news of Kim Larsen's death. An era in Danish music and self-understanding, which we really knew was over, was definitely over. Sad. We sailed into Cala di Volpe. We anchored at 3 meters of water with fine white sand bottom, had lunch and swam while we heard the long memorial broadcast on Danmarks Radio. As the sun went down, we pulled the anchor and sailed back to our berth in Porto Rotondo.
At night, the Mistral came. It lasted like last time for 4 days.
« We have spent the winter here during the last ten years. Everything will be shut down in a couple of weeks, » said the Austrian who had invited us aboard his boat. «But it is cheap to rent a car here and there is a good shopping center 15 minutes drive away»
The Austrian was right. Porto Rotondo was also closing down. Supplies in the small supermarket had become scarce. In the town the windows in cafes, restaurants and shops were now shed for the whole day. Yet most of the cafes, restaurants and shops in harbor were open. Two cafes proclaimed on a sign that they were open all year long. It felt somewhere comforting to know that not everything would close down.
We rented a car and drove to the shopping center the Austrian had recommended.
When the Mistral disappeared, we sailed to Olbia, which with 60.000 inhabitants is the fourth largest city in Sardinia. From here there are ferries to Genoa, Livorno and Rome, and a train to Cagliari, the main city of Sardinia. Several European cities can be reached from the airport. The airport also hosts a department of a university that researches and teaches tourism. The city has many cafes, restaurants, shops and a few historical monuments. It is visited by many tourists, but seems more like a busy metro for northeastern Sardinia than a tourist city.
There are several harbors in Olbia. Two of them are in the center a few minutes walk from the city's lively main street. One is owned by the municipality. Berthing is free, but there is no access to water, electricity and toilets. This is available in the other harbour where a harbor fee is charged. An eye-witness report about rats that rushed out in the municipal port after the fall of darkness prompted the male part of the Heron crew to insist on choosing the latter. But the report was over 30 years old. Now it was nice and clean all over the place and the whole crew enjoyed to be in a city with a living pulse.
One more expedition
On the third day, Lars, whom we had shared a boat with, before we bought Heron almost 10 years ago signed on. He had flown from Copenhagen at seven o'clock and boarded Heron less than 3 hours later. We made ready for departure and said goodbye to our English neighbor. They had sailed around the Mediterranean for 2 years and had gone 'all in ' after selling their house in England. Now they were playing with the idea of starting circumnavigating next year.
There was no wind and we motored out of the long entry to Olbia. During the afternoon the sun had warmed up the land and sent a seabreeze from the southeast to us. We set the sails and got a whip cream cruise (this is what we call sailing in no swell in fair winds) through the archipelago of La Maddalena.
The next week we visited Caprea and Cannigione again, anchored in one of the many bays and returned after a week to Porto Rotondo.
The next few days it blew again well.
«Fantastic trip. We logged 12 knots with close hauled sails on our way back from Maddalena, » said the skipper on a 70 foot sailboat, which he had just docked at a berth opposite ours.
«We got the boat from the yard in the spring. We sail to Genoa on Saturday, have a couple of repairs under the warranty and then come back and stay here during the winter » he answered to the question where they were going.
«The rig is the same as on the Volvo Ocean racers. It is very strong and weighs almost nothing. The motor is spinning like a cat and I had lithium batteries with a capacity of 750 amps installed. » he proudly answered the question of whether he was pleased with his new boat.
«Lithium batteries? Then you do not need the solar panels »
«No. But the owner insisted on installing them, » the skipper answered in a less enthusiastic tone, perhaps due to realising that the boat was not his. Or perhaps due to the annoyance that the owner had not recognised the advantage of the expensive lithium batteries.
«Do you know if I'm doing this right? » asked Lars, who was preparing the squids that he had bought when we provisioned in the shopping center.
«No idea, but I know someone who does » answered the skipper and shouted « Madeleine, these people need your help »
Soon Madeleine sat in the cockpit and confirmed with a glass of red wine in her hand that Lars was on the right track.
She and the skipper constituted the crew on the boat. They both lived in Sardinia not far from Porto Rotondo. She had been hired by the skipper, whom she knew well. «Only the big yachts are hiring through an agent »she explained.
She loved to sail and when she had finished her job in November she would go tracking in India,
«I've tracked a lot in the area here in Sardinia» she said, willingly telling about places she thought we should see.
The next morning we drove Lars to the airport.
Two days later we went to see the hinterland of the coast. On advice from Madeleine we limited our trip to the northern half of Sardinia.
Here were ruins of Nuragh people's temples, graves and villages. Highland with mountains and rivers. Forests where older people collected huge mushrooms. A cafe where loud speaking hunters sat with long knives in the belt.
A coastal town that still reflects having been under Spanish rule 300 years ago. A road cut into a 45 kilometer long mountain wall, falling from hundreds of meters vertically down to the Mediterranean.
Roman baths with hot springs. A hotel in the midst of the deserted maki.
Picturesque mountain villages with wide views and imaginative paintings on the building facades. A seaside resort with many Danes and spectacular beaches that could only be reached by boat.
After almost a week we were back in Porto Rotondo.
Several more boats had arrived; while we had been away. Most were left for the winter. A few were worked on during the day, but at night no one was on board. Two left the port and one that was on its way to Malaga after been in the Black Sea stayed for a couple of days more because the couple on board liked the harbor.
The 'live aboard` community was not big, but the better we looked the more 'live-aboards' we discovered. Like South African Marc, who had to live all winter on his father's boat and desperately searched for a job. Or the Dutchman who smoked strong tobacco and some evenings played long guitar solos with full distortion on the amplifier, but otherwise did not talk to anyone.
«This is normal. The bad weather yesterday is abnormal,» said our French neighbor, when the sun was shining again from a cloudless sky.
«That is a good way to look at it. Where are you going? »
«I live in Ajaccio in Corsica and always stay here in the winter. It is cheaper and the port is better protected. May I invite you over for a glass of wine? »
The Frenchman, named Richard, was born in Algiers and was co-expelled with 1 million other Frenchmen when Algiers won its independency from France in 1962. He had worked throughout most of the world, had sailed most of his life, gave us a good hint of how to moor for the winter and told about his voyages to Tunis, Algiers and Morocco.
The days went fast.
In the morning we prepared Heron for the winter. In the middle of the afternoon we went to one of the four beaches and swam in the water. It was still was above 20 degrees warm. When we came back we got a capucino at 'our' cafe while the sun went down.
Two days before we went home, a Norwegian boat was breathing. The skipper Christian, who also owned the boat, told them they had sailed from Oslo in June. They were sailed 'beyond' to the Mediterranean. That is, through the English Channel, across the Biscay and down along Spain and Portugal to Gibraltar. Also they were to overwinter in Porto Rotondo.
On the day of departure we got up while it was still dark. Went through the checklist for the last time. Drove out the airport. Here we said goodbye to Christian. He was planning to go home a week later and drove with us to pick up a rental car at the airport.
It seemed to be another great summer day. We got into a completely Norwegian airlplane. This summer's last direct flight to Copenhagen.
A few hours later we landed in an 20 degree colder Kastrup. Here we were welcomed by our children, their girlfriends and little Augusta, who somewhat puzzled participated in the warm welcome.
The next couple of months will be busy.
The house in Humlebæk has been sold - again. But this time the buyer has not regretted and takes over the house in a few months. Before that, it must be emptied - completely. We will also spend some time decorating the apartment in Hellerup. And then we are to be grandparents - again. To another girl, who has already been named Luva, even though she has not yet seen this world.
In late April we will go to Sardinia and continue sailing in the Mediterranean.
Where we will be going ? We are not quite sure