Saturday, 8 June 2013

Sardinia’s Maddalena Archipelago

May 20-27, 2013

There’s nothing better than heading to sea in warm sunshine with a good weather forecast for the next few days. That’s exactly what we did with Steve and Trish onboard after breakfast on the Monday morning.

We put the mainsail up on our way down the narrow confines of Bonifacio Harbour, exited through the steep headlands and turned south east with a weak north westerly breeze directly behind us. It was predicted to strengthen so we were hopeful of getting a nice sail in later on in the day.

It was fantastic to have Steve and Trish on board Alcheringa as guests.
We have such great memories of crewing on their fabulous Oyster 56 Curious.
Photos all round to make sure no one missed out.
We motor-sailed beneath the high cliffs of old Bonifacio and, looking at the huge piles of fallen rock laying in the sea at their base, marvelled that much of the old citadel hadn’t yet followed into a watery grave. Then we set our course for Sardinia on the other side of the strait and the highly rated cruising area of the Maddalena Archipelago. Before embarking on their circumnavigation of the globe on their beautiful Oyster 56 Curious, Steve and Trish had kept their previous, smaller yacht in Sardinia and were very familiar with the many islands and anchorages that make this area such a popular sailing ground. It was great to be able to make the most of their first hand advice regarding some of the best places to visit.

The cliffs of Bonifacio are an amazing sight to sail past

We’d originally planned on a short hop to an anchorage Steve recommended called Cala Lunga at the eastern end of the Bonifacio Strait but late in the morning the wind shift came in on cue and we decided conditions were now perfect for a longer sail. We turned the engine off and had a fantastic run before the wind, gybing our way down between the islands towards our Plan B anchorage in a large bay, Porto Palma, on the southern end of Isla Caprera.

After dodging a few large car ferries plying between the islands, we anchored up in plenty of time for sundowners and entertainment provided by the resident sailing school dinghy sailors buzzing all over the place around us.


Bonifacio to Porto Palma – 22.4 nautical miles – 3 hours 51 minutes
Average speed 5.8 knots – maximum 7.9 knots and a ton of fun
gybing our way down through the islands.
Porto Palma was a nice, calm anchorage.
The wind failed to make an appearance the following morning so we elected to go for a scenic trip around the outside of the islands under motor and make our way back to our initial planned anchorage at Cala Lunga. Wednesday’s forecast predicted nice moderate westerlies for us to make our way back across the strait and up the east coast of Corsica so it made sense to be make Cala Lunga our jumping off spot.
Fortifications on the islands are evidence of the archipelago’s strategic importance over the centuries.

We would have rather been sailing but our run around the Archipelago was very relaxing over the calm seas and the islands are absolutely beautiful. However, carefully edging our way into the narrow anchorage at Cala Lunga was absolutely breathtaking. Millenniums of weathering have carved the granite island into thousands of rock sculptures that took on all sorts of identities as we glided slowly past over the crystal clear water. We dropped anchor right in close to the head of the inlet with just enough room for the boat’s stern to swing clear of mother nature’s jagged masterpieces.

We could definitely understand why Steve recommended the anchorage of Cala Lunga
Porto Palma to Cala Lunga – 16.4 nautical miles – 3 hours 20 minutes
Average speed 4.9 knots – Maximum 5.8 knots. Motored all the way but still very pleasant.

As the sun dipped low in the sky, the moving shadows cast our 360 degree gallery of rock sculptures in continually changing light. Karen and Trish were right in their element spotting rocks forming everything from a reclining Budha, through german shepherd dogs and a china man to a naked woman.  The boys entered the game with Marc confirming he could see the outline of the china man while Rob was working very hard on finding the nude. Steve suggested he could see rocks which was probably the most accurate assessment of all.

The work of mother nature sculpting the granite into amazing shapes has to be seen to be understood.
Our neighbours in Cala Lunga

We woke next morning to wind blowing from completely the opposite direction to the forecasts we had and building stronger by the minute. We’d been out of internet range since leaving Bonifacio so our forecasts were 48 hours old by now and we were a bit concerned about heading out into the straits not knowing what we’d find there. We had a large Oyster yacht anchored beside us and decided they may have access to more up to date weather than we did so we called them up on the radio to see what he could find out. Their response was that they’d downloaded the latest grib files the previous evening but were also surprised that what we were now seeing was nothing like their forecast either. They said they would try to get some updated info and get back to us.

The next morning the wind was blowing and a swell starting to run into
Cala Lunga so it was time to leave, pronto.

Meanwhile we tuned into the next Sardinian forecast broadcast by the Italians on VHF. Not good. Gale force winds heading our way initially from the north east and then swinging to the west. Shortly after our new friends on the Oyster confirmed this was the case so our plans to head across the strait were dead in the water. Tapping into Steve’s local knowledge we decided to head for shelter in the harbour on Maddalena Island itself and sit things out there.
We headed slowly and very carefully out of Cala Lunga through building swells and headed south again with reefed mainsail and genoa. We actually had a really good sail but by the time we were approaching Maddalena the wind was really starting to build. A fifty foot charter yacht coming towards us had full sails flying and was rounded up three times in quick succession. His out of control antics convinced us to give him a wide berth on the downwind side to make sure he didn’t suddenly round up into us as we passed. We then watched him disappear into the distance still getting laid flat and rounded up as he hadn’t seemed to have worked out it was definitely time to reduce sail.
When you carry too much mainsail in strong winds you’re heading where you want to go one minute…..
…and laid flat then rounded up ninety degrees the next. Time to put a reef in.
We called up Porto Mercantile on Maddelana on the radio and were pleased to get a prompt response confirming they had room for us and mariners would meet us when we entered the harbour. After spending a lot of time staying out the way of numerous big ferries we finally got a clear run and it was a relief to be tied up securely on the town wall as the wind continued to build and we watched the sea state chop up outside the breakwaters. There was nothing left to do but sit it out, for FIVE days.

Cala Lunga to Maddalena – 8.3 nautical miles – 2 hours 41 minutes
Average speed 3.2 knots – Maximum 7.8 knots
Porto Mercantile at Maddelena is a very attractive little harbour.
The wind blew like crazy and despite being well sheltered in the marina we still saw over 40 knots on our gauge accompanied by some sporadic showers. It wasn’t quite the week of sailing we’d planned to spend with Steve and Trish but we still really enjoyed their company as we explored the town, hung about onboard and made the most of the excellent WiFi at a very nice café about 50 metres from the boat. Their wine and coffee was pretty damn good too.

Karen believes the wind is NEVER too strong to prevent wandering around the shops
 We were definitely saying ‘Better them than us’ as we watched the crews of about half a dozen chartered yachts that had been sheltering beside us make their preparations to leave harbour on Friday. Their boats had to be back at the various charter headquarters that day so they had no choice but to take on the 35-45 knots blowing outside. Fortunately most had reasonably short runs down the east coast and with the wind blowing offshore at least there was only a reasonably mild sea state to worry about however we certainly didn’t envy their trips back to base in the cold, blasting wind. You could see some of the teenage girls rugging up in wet weather gear and lifejackets, staring accusingly at their Fathers with that ‘You said this holiday would be fun’ look in their eyes.

We were quite pleased it wasn’t us who had to head out into 35-45 knots
blowing between the islands. That’s NOT fun.
 We also took the opportunity to get on top of a couple of boat jobs while we were staying still. The spray dodger and bimini top came off and went to a sail maker to have some restitching done. For a very reasonable Fifty Euro each both came back looking much better and ready for duty again.

Then we tackled the bane of our lives. The water heater tank came back out again and on the dock we hooked up our hose to it and were able to look for leaks while the tank was under pressure. As we suspected, we’d finally licked the leak from the heating element fitting but now a soldered seam in the copper tank started weeping once the pressure built. We emptied the tank and carried it to a chandlery store right next to the boat and using a mixture of charades, bad Italian and pidgin English were able to convey what we needed. The staff member there was incredibly helpful and called a friend with a welding business and explained what was required. On hanging up he said ‘No problem, no problem. Here five minutes.’ True to his word a small van pulled up five minutes later and our recalcitrant water tank disappeared into the back and was whisked away with a wave and one word, ‘Tomorrow.

This time our expectations were exceeded because the same van actually pulled up at our boat that afternoon and out came our tank, all soldered up and pressure tested. Again the price had us smiling. You guessed it, Fifty Euro. Despite our need for a quick turn around it seemed everything on this island cost Fifty Euro. We’re happy to report the tank was refitted and, touch wood, has remained perfectly dry ever since.

Nice and calm in the sheltered bay at Palau
 By Saturday the forecasts indicated that things should finally settle down over night on Sunday so we planned a Monday run back up to Corsica. By Sunday we decided we’d probably discovered all there was to discover in Maddalena and decided to catch the ferry over to the town of Palau on the Sardinian mainland for something to do. The guide book described Palau as ‘a pleasant but unremarkable town’ and it lived up to its review.  It was pleasant and we enjoyed a fantastic lunch with Steve and Trish at one of the many restaurants in there. It was entertaining watching the big ferries crabbing very sideways in the blustering winds as they plied their trade across the channel to and from Maddalena.

Still pretty wild out in the channel though
 The weather guru’s got it right for a change and we finally got out of the marina on Monday morning and headed for Corsica. We had a moderate westerly blowing through the strait which provided us with a nice sail up towards Porto Vecchio on the east coast. As forecast, a big change did come through about lunchtime which saw a much milder wind coming from the north-east which left us to motor-sail the last ninety minutes or so up the coast.

Approaching the marina at Porto Vecchio overlooked by yet another old walled town
 We went into the marina at Porto Vecchio where Steve and Trish were able to get a bus back to Bonifacio to pick up their car and return for a last night on board. They then treated the Alcheringa crew to a slap up dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants that evening and we all had a great time. Thanks guys. It wasn’t necessary but was certainly very much appreciated. We loved having you on board and hope we can do it again sometime.


MARINA REVIEW: Porto Mercantile - Maddalena  ****


Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 30.00 Euro (including VAT, water and power. WiFi was not provided but available free in many of the restaurants near the waterfront.

The harbour office responded promptly to our VHF radio call and we were met at the harbour entrance by two mariners in a rib and guided to our berth. Most of the marina pontoon berths appear to be permanent bookings or privately owned. Visitors are generally moored bow or stern to against the town wall on the southern side. The mariners provided friendly and very competent assistance. They will happily use their rib to push a bow into place if you have no thruster and need a shove. The small harbour provides excellent protection in virtually all weather. We experienced 40+knots in the marina with no problems at all.

Shower facilities are privately run in conjunction with a laundry service. A shower costs Two Euro while it also costs you a Euro to spend a penny. However the facilities are excellent and spotlessly clean.

Two small chandleries are located on the waterfront and the staff are extremely helpful. There is also a sail maker in the town who did some canvas repairs for us on short turn around and was extremely well priced.

At 30 Euros per night it was the cheapest marina we have experienced since leaving the western areas of Spain yet was better than many more expensive ones that we have visited. We gave it four stars. If it had WiFi and free showers it would have qualified for the five star maximum value rating.


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