Wednesday 8 August 2012

Tuscan Islands

The sun is still bright and hot although it is seven o'clock in the evening. We are with Sarah and Steven Rose in the cockpit and Juno is docked in the harbour in Portoferraio on the island of Elba. An hour ago the inner harbour was empty; the town quay had a smattering of boats gently straining against their mooring lines as the wash from the ferries rolled in. All around this horseshoe shaped natural harbour high buildings in shades of pastel create an elegant amphitheatre where the action is about to begin.
First a single yacht tentatively enters the harbour and a marinero in a white rib appears and waves them in, helping with their lines so they can moor stern-to against the low harbour wall. By now three more yachts and a large motor cruiser are hovering by the entrance waiting their turn to be ushered to their berth and the marinero darts around the harbour, beckoning here, waving there, orchestrating the arrival of fifty yachts all ready for an evening's entertainment in the old port of Portoferraio. Every boat is crawling with bikinis and speedos and shorts, all shouting happily at each other and gesticulating in the way that only Italians can, to convey a complex message that would lose so much of its meaning if conveyed merely in words. Once attached to the wall there is the ritual of gangways, hose pipes and electric cables which flake out from lockers and attach to pedestals on the dock. The professional skippers look serious and execute their manoeuvres deftly while the charters boats are a in a state of happy chaos, bumping into neighbouring yachts and grinning self-consciously while the hapless helmsman reassures everyone with a shrug of his shoulders and upturned hands that he is not to blame for the bungled arrival. 

We left Ostia, the port of Rome in the estuary of the Tiber, a few days ago with Saz and Steven, working our way north west to the Tuscan islands of Giannutri, Giglio and Elba. Giannutri is small, wild and barren and we find a tiny bay on the sheltered north western coast where we anchor sheltered from the swell created by the Scirocco. As the evening wears on, more yachts anchor behind us and we feel smug that we have poll position in the rocky bay. The next day we sail to Giglio, and en route Steven and I rehearse the downwind rig for the ARC, with spinnaker pole, guys, sheets, uphauls, foreguys and all the paraphernalia for downwind ocean sailing. As Giglio comes into view the immediate vista is of the cruise ship Costa Concordia which sank after its reckless Italian skipper sailed too close to the rocks, reputedly to impress his girlfriend on board and his friends on the shore. It is a sad sight, lying on its side, a huge ragged hole where a rock must have torn into the hull, causing a proud ocean liner to founder and the death of thirty innocent passengers. After joining the ghoulish throng of boats snapping photographs we sail around the point and into the huge wide bay of Seno di Campese where we anchor off the sandy beach, close enough to enjoy the view but far enough away from the lines of umbrellas and sunbeds and the sound of a hundred children shrieking as their parents look on, exhausted but vigilant as the waves wash against the shore.


We leave Giglio under a heavy cloudy sky, heading north towards Elba, and as the Scirocco dies away and is replaced by the prevailing northerly wind the sky clears and the sun resumes its habitual position, burning away the clouds, sharpening the shadows and electrifying the sea from a Solent grey to a sparkling Mediterranean blue. We avoid the rapacious mooring fees in the marina and anchor off a shingle beach near the town of Porto Azzurro on the east coast of Elba. When dawn breaks there is a heavy silence all around us, broken only by the sound of waves lapping against the rocks and children on a neighbouring yacht, rowing a small dinghy to the beach. As the sun rises in the sky and the northerly wind starts to blow we weigh anchor and enjoy a glorious beat up the coast in 18 knots of apparent wind, with genoa and mainsail fully powered up, making eight knots on our way to Portoferraio.

The Roses left this morning for the journey back to the UK. Steven has taken to sailing like a duck to water and I am confident that he will be a great crew member on our transatlantic - if only he can avoid concussing himself on the spray-hood. Saz has been stoic despite feeling unwell and has matched fatty, glass for glass as we work our way through the wine lists of Elba.

1 comment:

  1. The photos of Concordia are pretty shocking! The rest looks very idyllic though, enjoy! x