Cruising the Costa Smeralda  

One of the best sailing areas of the western Mediterranean is the Costa Smeralda and the archipelago of La Maddalena, on the nort-east coats of Sardinia. Porto Cervo is the undisputed capital of this splendid resort founded by the Aga Khan and should be visited by the cruising sailor, to be pampered by a first class service and see an astonishing array of luxury motor yachts in the harbour. In August their presence is at its maximum, whereas in September you will see the maxi and the veteran yachts on display during the regattas.

In the high season you will find the berthing costs in Porto Cervo almost prohibitive, but a night or two will mark a memorable part of your cruise and should be therefore budgeted. However, it is always possible to anchor at no cost in the harbour and to do some window shopping in the evening. There are other berthing possibilities in the area, at Poltu Quatu, Portisco and Portorotondo, which are also on the expensive side and then there is the more reasonable Cannigione in the gulf of Arzachena, or Palau further north. A safe free anchorage 5 miles south and within taxi range of Porto Cervo, is the Cala di Volpe bay, with excellent swimming off the beautiful beaches. The Pevero bay may also be used overnight, but only if the breeze is stable, whereas Liscia di Vacca is at risk because it is open to the Mistral wind.

Always keep in mind that the NE Mistral wind can become very strong in a very short time, so be sure to lay sufficient chain when you swim or go ashore for dinner. The southern Scirocco wind, warm and humid, rarely poses a hazard here. Towards the end of August each year, the good weather usually breaks for a couple of days, with a violent downpour and strong winds. However the multitude of islands and secluded coves, will always provide shelter and a place for a quiet swim.

Since the islands have been put under protection of National Parks, you should be aware of the restrictions. Basically a few small islands are completely off limits: Spargiotto, the pink beach of Budelli (Spiaggia rosa), the islands of Li Nibani just south of Porto Cervo and Molarotto, south of Tavolara island. Speed is restricted to 6 knots (motor yachts take note) and keep 300 metres from the beach. To visit the Maddalena islands you have to pay a fee, usually collected on the spot by a tax collector's inflateable. You may pay beforehand if you wish, that is if you find the appropriate office, but there is no charge for all beaches of the mainland coastline.

Mortorio island has a most beautiful beach, very popular in the high season, but you can anchor on the rocky coast on the left of the beach, but use a tripping line on the anchor, as there is a rocky bottom, that also provides magnificent snorkelling. The east coast of the island is out of bounds.

provides several excellent swimming spots, accessible only from a boat: Cala Coticcio (or Tahiti), Cala Napoletana, Barca Bruciata etc.

The town of La Maddalena has only a small harbour, but if you find space, it makes a very pleasant stop-over, with its lively township, shops and restaurants. Little Porto Massimo, rather stark and modern, provides a safe harbour in a strong Mistral.

There are countless inlets amongst the islands of Spargi, Budelli, Santa Maria and the minor islands for you to explore at leasure. Furthermore, along the mainland coast there are numerous anchoring possibilities, such as the pretty Porto Raphael, Porto Pollo, the windsurfer's paradise, Porto Pozzo, a sleepy hollow, once visited by Ulisses, so they say; and of course Santa Teresa, the queen of the north. It has a deep narrow and well-protected harbour and a lively township, a 15 minute walk from the harbour. The spectacular wind-sculptured rocky promontory of Capo Testa is an inetersting feature of the coastline, to be visited in mild sea conditions, anchoring in the eastern side of the isthmus, if the wind is a light NE.

From Santa Teresa France lies only 7 miles away across the water: fascinating Bonifacio in Corsica. But watch that water, the straits of Bonifacio are the funnel through which are squeezed all the winds of the whole gulf of Lion! So keep a close track of the weather reports before attempting the crossing. The NE Mistral is king here - I have seen him blow at 60 knots in the straits. The strongest winds and the highest waves ever recorded in the Mediterranean were right here. But don't be put off, just be careful and you will cross at ease.

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