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Sailing Sardinia and Corsica- An enticing mix of French and Italian

by Trevor Joyce on 22 Jun 2013
Another tough day on the Med Trevor Joyce http://marinerboating.com.au
An enticing mix of French and Italian culture and cuisine but with a mysterious third dimension that sets them apart from each other and from their mother countries.

My first day-time vision of Sardinia was when I opened the shutters of my hotel room in Portisco, having arrived the previous evening. At anchor in front of my room was a 35 metre motor yacht with two fully rigged Farr 40’s on davits on either side and a helicopter pad on the stern. One of the Farrs was being lowered into the custody of a sizeable RIB before setting off for nearby Porto Cervo and the Yacht Club Costa Smerelda to compete in the World Farr 40 championships. It soon became evident that such vessels are the norm rather than the exception along this the Emerald Coast.

I was in Portisco to participate in the somewhat less prestigious Bonifacio Yacht Rally, but I hasten to add, somewhat less expensive as well. The rally yachts, all less than 16 meters long, had been chartered for a modest fee while the numbers for the Farr 40 exercise did not bear thinking about; mother ship, helicopter, chase boat, racing yachts, crews etc.

The north coast of Sardinia between Tavolara and Santa Teresa Gallura is stark, rocky and the sea a distinctive emerald green but commanding of respect by navigators. It is also important to sail this coast at the right time of the year because when the Mistral is on during high summer 50 knots of wind is not uncommon. We were there in early September when the prevailing westerly winds were in a comfortable 10 – 15 knot range. Day temperatures were in the high 20’s and the sun shone for an average 8.5 hours a day.

Coincident with the Farr regatta was the world maxi championship and on one of our lay days we took the rally RIB and became spectators on the race course; fourteen super maxis all approaching the start at better than 12 knots close hauled! This was breathtaking stuff but more especially so when one of them had to bail out at the last second or clean up the committee boat.

The islands of the Maddalena Archipelago in the straits between Sardinia and nearby Corsica are all included in a national park and the efforts to protect them from the vagaries of mass tourism are impeccable. Anchoring is forbidden but mooring buoys are provided while barbeques are not allowed in case a fire breaks loose and damages the delicately balanced environment. There is only one town so population pressure is fortunately minimal.

At the western end of our meander along this coast is Porto Longonsardo, which huddles beneath the protective bastion of Santa Teresa Gallura, whose lookouts gazed across the straits to Bonifacio to warn of impending Corsican invasions.

Interestingly the origins of both Sardinia and Corsica have the Moors from North Africa and Spain in common, manifested in the Sardo/Corso language and in the flags of the two countries. Sardinia has four Moorish heads and Corsica only one but the symbol is the same. The Sardinians will tell you that the four Moors on their flag represent the fact that it took four Moorish invasions to conquer Sardinia but only one to conquer Corsica. Needless to say this assertion is hotly disputed.

Sardinian cuisine has Italian influences but it is distinctive because it uses lamb, goat and suckling pig to a greater extent than on the mainland. You need to go to Pilu at Freshwater to really experience Sardinian food here in Sydney.

After Porto Longonsardo our rally set off across the nine mile strait to the port city of Bonifacio, perched high above the sea and dripping precariously over the edges of its bleached limestone cliffs. The entrance to the harbour really takes some finding until you are right on top of it. The harbour as a spectacle has no equal in the world in my opinion and it was an easy place for us to spend two days as set out in our rally program. The waterfront and the town above were truly vibrant and the precipitous cobbled road between the two physically demanding for even the fittest of we senior sailors.

The Lavezzi island group, south and east of Bonifacio is the Corsican equivalent of the Maddalenas and while there is a marina we chose to hide behind the granite boulders on the headland of the curiously named Greko Bay. Ashore the landscape has been artistically sculpted over millions of years by the wind so there was plenty to contemplate as we supped on sun downers.

The highly indulgent cruising on this rally was interspersed with the occasional race to keep the adrenalin going and the compliant westerly breezes made the passage races in company with the other nine boats in the fleet the subject of energetic debate about what might have been at the post race dinners. In reality though there was nothing more serious than a twilight race and nothing longer than a couple of hours. On the rare occasions when the wind did not oblige the racing was called off and we would make the passage using the iron genoa.

On the east coast of Corsica is Port Vecchio, with its full service marina; the town above the port offered a challenge similar to Bonifacio and with similar rewards at the top. More interesting though was the excursion the following day into the mountains to Zonza, better than 2,000 meters above sea level and only 20 kilometres from the coast. Here even the conifers defer to the prevailing Mistral by pointing down-wind in exposed locations. The nearby peaks, even higher, are jagged and inviting to rock climbers who dotted the face above the pass on our way back to the coast. No thanks, there’s plenty of room down here for me.

All through the two weeks we had with us the excitable Sergio from the charter company who apart from driving his RIB around as if in a formula one grand prix, helped us with his local knowledge and got us into marinas and harbours where there were no berths available! He also kept an eye on the workings of our yachts, which meant we didn’t have to do it.

This rally is on again in September, 2014. For more information or go to the website.

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