Sailing in Sardinia has to be some of the most magical cruising grounds Jason and I have ever sailed. The turquoise waters we were use to in the Caribbean turn to rich shades of blue so clear that 100 ft depths look like 5 ft. The just off season September weather was wonderful – warm days with cool nights and was perfect for nights spent out at anchor and days exploring each stop.
This journey was a little different from our typical cruising excursions, as the main point of the trip was for work. We were there to see, do and photograph as much as possible in a short amount of time for an assignment with Condé Nast Traveler. Rough life, I know. This meant no lazy mornings lounging on deck with a book or days spent searching for the perfect snorkel spot. This meant that we had to do a lot of night sailing so that we could maximize our time for exploring the ports we stopped at. As the main reason Jason and I were there was to operate the boat, that meant Jason and I were very tired for the majority of the trip. It is amazing how much pep a little fresh air and beautiful scenery can put in your step.
We started our journey by picking up our boat from Dream Yacht Charter in Sari-Solenzara in Corsica. The company is moving its charter base to the town of Olbia in Sardinia next season to make the exact trip we did even easier. Come Summer 2017, guests won’t have to cross the Straight of Bonifacio to access secluded destinations. Jason and I arrived a day early so that we could get the boat ready and provision before the rest of the six person crew arrived. And, by provision I mean buy wine. We were in France after all! Don’t worry, I also bought other thing, like cheese and charcuterie.
One of the things that is really different about the waters around Sardinia from the Caribbean is that they are overfished. The waters are so overfished that you very rarely see anything snorkeling and just forget about catching anything edible. Or so we were told. As we were getting ready to pull into Castelsardo just after sunrise, we decided to let out the hand line so our cameraman, Alex, could get a picture of us pretending to fish. Anything for the perfect photo. Not 5 minutes after he let out the line, did we have something hooked! I couldn’t believe it – we had caught a huge tuna! If it wasn’t already a done deal after our big Mahi catch, this hand line is coming with us everywhere!
Castelsardo is a historic town situated on top of a hill and guarded by a castle. Navigating these winding streets is a challenge, primarily because they seem to go completely vertical. With the town’s main attraction being the castle situated at the top of the town, Jason and I completely earned our wine that night by slowing huffing and puffing our way to the top! The castle was interesting, but overall the town was kind of a bust. The food was fine, and we really didn’t see anything that interesting to make us recommend this part of town. We really got a kick out of it when they started playing the Game of Thrones theme song in the castle museum, though. There was a huge grocery store directly across the parking lot of the marina, so if you need to stock up, this is a great option!
From Castelsardo we sailed our way over to the Maddelenas – the crème de la crème of Sardinia sailing. La Maddelenas is an archipelago made up of 7 main islands and 55 isolotti aka islets, keys, or rocks you have to watch out for when sailing between the islands. The islands are very close to each other and can easily be reached within an hour or so sail. The area has long been known by local yachtsmen, but has recently seen a huge influx of tourists. This is great for the 10,000 inhabitants who live there and want to make their living from tourism, but those day boats really ruin a peaceful anchorage. The good news is that those day boats do in fact leave, which means you likely will have an anchorage to yourself or shared with only another boat or two. Pretty heavenly.
In La Maddalenas, you don’t pay a mooring fee, but you do pay a €2/meter daily access fee per vessel for boats up to 16 meters. This covers you for anchoring or mooring throughout the islands.
The trouble with these tiny anchorages, is that they leave zero room for swing. So by 3am we had done a complete 180 and were drifting dangerously close to one of the area’s isolotti. Unable to really get the anchor to hold (rocky bottom with small patches of sand we couldn’t see in the dark), we motored over to the mooring field on the east side of the island. The mooring field had about 20 balls. Of course, we had to take a ball without any lines which made mooring in the pitch black even more fun. Add in the fact that our catamaran had about 5 feet of freeboard and it was a real blast. Just picture me dangling over the edge of the boat with someone holding my feet to make sure I didn’t accidentally fall in. Quite an ordeal for the middle of the night.
The next morning we attempted to check out Budelli’s infamous pink sand beaches. The park had cordoned off the beach from dinghy landings of any kind in an effort to protect what little pink sand was left, so we were going to have to swim in. Upon closer look, it sadly didn’t look like the sand was pink at all, not even a tint. Looks like the protection efforts were too late and all those pictures I googled were clearly photoshopped.
Up next we sailed over to Caprera in search of an actual beach- Tahiti Beach to be exact. By some miracle we arrived and we’re able to grab the only mooring ball in the area. Typically, Jason and I are not fans of mooring balls, but after the ordeal the night before, we decided we’d trust the gigantic block of cement that was holding our boat in place. I’m talking our own isolotto sized block! Jason dove down and inspected the hardware to make sure everything looked ok. Man the water is deceivingly deep!
Tahiti Beach is actually made up of two different beaches each tucked into their own little cove. A short hiking trail connects the two. While stunning, the beaches are MUCH smaller than those you find in the Caribbean. You could have fit maybe 30 towels side by side on each one. Like nearly every other beach in the archipelago you can’t land a dinghy on the sand, or even come close to it. Each beach is cordoned off with rope and buoys you can’t cross with a motor. SUPs and other floats are fine, swimming in is even more encouraged. We spent the day swimming, paddling, hiking, avoiding mountain goats and getting bit by the small fish at the shoreline. They didn’t have any teeth, but it certainly was shocking! They really have no fear of humans since fishing is banned in the park.
Once we were done with our fun in the sun we headed over to explore the town of La Maddalena. This is really the only developed island, full of shops, restaurants and a bustling street scene. It was such an adorable little town! The marina is right in the middle of it all. You can easily walk off your boat and be sitting in a cafe within 5 minutes. The town was beautiful. So many rich colors, details and artwork all over town. There was even a really cool shop where a man was making clothing, bags and accessories out of sail cloth. There are so many people doing this now, but his designs were refreshing and very different from what I’ve seen before.
The food in La Maddalena was spectacular. We drowned ourselves in delicious wine as we filled up on pastries, pastas and other local dishes. Jason and Alex even found this amazing cheese shop where they each picked up huge blocks of smoked parmesan cheese that they each described as the most delicious parmesan either has ever had.
Overall we really loved sailing through La Maddalenas and only wished we had more time to explore. The week we spent sailing around only gave us a taste of the region (and it’s wines), and certainly whet our appetite to spend more time cruising around. Maybe next time it will be on our own boat 😉.