Wednesday 16 May 2012

Porto Cervo

The Costa Smerelda is our first landfall in Italy and lives up to its reputation of being expensive (an overnight berth in the marina in high season is 700 Euros!), stylish and like a scene from a Hollywood film set. We celebrate our arrival with a bottle of champagne then go in search of dinner. Steps from the marina lead up to a deck with large cushions draped over low level seating under canopies made of sail cloth. Buddha bar music is playing and under-floor lights complete the chic setting. We are greeted by an Italian girl who speaks no English, can't mix cocktails and isn't sure where we should sit or eat; but she compensates for all this with charm and beauty and we order Mohitos which have to be concocted by her more functional but rather less attractive colleague who hovers in the wings. We are treated by Paul and Consuelo to a rather liquid dinner in these glamorous surroundings and retire to the boat in a noisy and happy mood.

The next day we leave Porto Cervo with a weather forecast that makes chilling reading. The Mistral is due later today and is forecasted to blow up to 40 knots by the evening through to Wednesday evening with wave heights in the Bonifacio straights predicted to reach 5 metres. This all seems highly unlikely as we leave the marina in perfect sunshine with barely a ripple on the water. We ghost south along the coast in a light breeze marvelling at the scenery of stylish white villas with terracotta roofs in grounds of emerald green lawns that run down to private jetties. Small white beaches fringe this rocky coast and we read in the pilot that Cala Volpe houses one of the most expensive hotels in the world. We admire it from the water, Paul dives off the back of the boat and once back on board we continue our short sail down to Marina di Portisco where we plan to leave Juno for a week while we return to the UK.

We wash down the boat which is encrusted in salt from the last few days at sea and prepare Juno for the impending gales. Heavy lines attached to the sea floor are stretched hard to the bow to hold Juno off the dock and we set mooring lines to multiple bollards on the quay acting as springs to dampen the effect of the winds. We motor hard against the lines to test our rope work and our spiders web seems to hold us in position even under 1000 revs on the engine. By now the weather has started to turn and as we head for bed the wind is rising and we do one final check of our lines before retiring below.

At 4 am Fatty and I are awoken by the howling of the wind. I have left the anemometer on overnight and the instruments on the cockpit table show the wind is blowing 30 knots, then 34 knots and gusting at over 45 knots - that's a Force 9 severe gale. Up on deck Juno is surging from side to side straining at her mooring lines as the gusts blast across the marina, first from the north then from the North West by the Mistral which screams around the mountains behind us. As the bow is blown off, the starboard spring line jerks tight and water droplets fly off as the load comes on. I put my hand out to test the pressure and the rope is like a steel bar stretched taught to the point where I fear it will snap. Then the wind shifts and these lines falls slack while on the opposite side the spring jerks tight and the cleats on the deck creak under the strain. It is an alarming sight as we stand under the shelter of the coach roof and watch the storm battering the marina. I worry that the pasarelle which connects us to the shore will be blown into the air and I suspend two five litre plastic containers of water from the outer end to weigh it down but still it bounces around as the wind rips at the lines which suspend it from the top of the mast. There is nothing further that we can do so we reluctantly return to bed and hope that our lines will hold.

By morning the wind is still at gale force and on the VHF radio the Sardinian weather forecast, renowned for its accuracy, is predicting Gale force 9 in the Bonifacio straights, just 5 miles north of our position. I check the lines again and am relieved to see that nothing has moved during the night so we are more confident that this modern marina and its new facilities will give us the protection to weather the storm. We pack up the boat and leave for the airport with the wind still ringing in our ears, but reassured by the Marina staff who seem nonplussed by the wild weather which is a common occurrence in the winter months on this wild and beautiful stretch of coastline. We say our goodbyes to Juno and head to the UK.

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