Report & Photos by Ken & Carmel Kavanagh Cruises Index >>

Gandia, Spain to Majorca, Minorca, Sardinia & Corsica
then up to Ville Franche, South of France
then returned to Corsica and Sardinia
18/06/2010 - 02/08/2010
Posted: 18/08/10

Map - Area cruised in Mediterranean >>
Safari experiences high Season on a low Budget in the Med.

"It will be dreadful", we were told. "The crowds! The cost! The heat! Are you mad?!" We were strongly advised to go home to Ireland for July and August and leave the Med to the French and Italian sailors. This wasn't really an option for us this year as our house in Sutton is still rented out.

Anyway, as we thrive on a good challenge, we stayed and made plans to head north to Ville Franche in the South of France with the intention of arriving by mid -July when our friends from Ireland, Martina and Berchmans Gannon, would be on holiday there. We decided to go via Majorca, Minorca, Sardinia and Corsica- just to add a bit of variety to our lives. On the return journey, we were going to head down to Seville where we had planned to spend the winter.

Gandia to Sa Dragonera, Majorca
At 1445 on June 18th, on foot of a very benign weather forecast, Safari finally unglued herself from the berth in Real Club Nautico, Gandia and headed out across the Balearic Sea to Sa Dragonera in the southwest corner of Majorca - a journey of about 120 miles. We were sorry to leave such a welcoming place but after 2 months, it was really time to say farewell to Gandia.

The forecast was for a gentle force 2-3 from the Southwest which would have been perfect. Needless to say it was blowing a more blustery 4-5 from the Northeast when we finally got properly underway.

A section of the west coast of Majorca
As we were heading northeast, our progress was slow and the sea bumpy. As daylight faded, the threat of thunderstorms increased and later in the night, as we left Ibiza to starboard, I thought the lights in the sky were planes arriving to deposit vast numbers of happy holidaymakers on that very popular island. My planes turned out to be bolts of lightening! So much for benign forecasts.

In the early hours of the following morning, we picked up a weather forecast on the VHF radio and learned that the wind was to go round to the Northwest and increase in strength to force 6-7. This would make the anchorage in Sa Dragonera untenable as it is open to the Northwest. So Plan B would have to be put into operation.

After taking a brief look at the Sa Dragonera anchorage, we headed along the south coast of Majorca towards the shelter of the Bay of Palma where we spent 2 nights in the Real Club Nautico de Palma until the nasty weather had passed.

The charge of Euro Symbol75 per night for Safari was the highest we were to encounter all summer long. However, we were glad to be in out of the very nasty weather system that passed through over that weekend with strong, gale-force winds, thunder, lightening and heavy rain. So this is cruising in the Med, we thought. We might just as well have been at home in Ireland.

As it transpired those were the last drops of rain we were to encounter until today, August 14th but most certainly not our last encounter with gale-force winds !

The magnificent cathedral in Palma, Majorca
We explored the beautiful city of Palma on the Sunday and even took the bus to Arenal where we had honeymooned 40 years previously. It was supposed to be a stroll down memory lane. What a stroll! We could remember absolutely nothing about our 2 week stay there in 1970. I am afraid that the passage of time is playing havoc with our memories or maybe we simply never left the hotel bedroom? Who will ever know?!

On Monday 21st, we headed back to Sa Dragonera and picked up a mooring ball. It's a small delightful village but we decided not to linger and after just one overnight, headed up the West Coast of Majorca to the next anchorage in Pollensa.

Sa Dragonera to Pollensa
A delightful treat lay in store for us. The West Coast of Majorca must be one of the most spectacular and beautiful coastlines in the whole world. Rounding the Head of Formentor on the northwest corner was unforgettable. The sheer beauty of the view from the sea was simply stunning.

We arrived in Pollensa at around 1600 after motor sailing the 45 miles and picked up another mooring ball which once again was free of charge. We spent 2 nights in this really pleasant town which was free of the tackiness of the some of the more better- known resorts on the island.

On Thursday June 24th, we headed out across the Minorcan Channel. There was brilliant sunshine but no wind. We motored up the west coast of the island and across the top into the really attractive bay of Fornells where we had been twice before in 2007 prior to the Atlantic Crossing. This quiet, unspoilt village is one of our favourite stopping points in the Balearics and so we spent 3 nights on yet another free mooring ball. We took a bus trip across the island to its capitol, Mahon, another very old and lovely town.

Evening in Fornells anchorage
There are designated mooring fields throughout the Balearics which are free of charge to all yachts. It is part of a well-organised campaign to discourage people from anchoring and destroying the sea-beds.

By Sunday June 27th, we felt sufficiently revived to make the 195 mile passage across to Alghero in Sardinia. It was quite a pleasant journey as there was a near full moon and sufficient wind to hoist the sails and motor-sail at least some of the way.

Shortly after our early-morning departure, we had a call on the VHF radio from a Scottish yacht "Ceile na Mara" that had spotted us in Fornells. They remembered meeting us in Ile de Groix on the Brittany coast in 2005! What memories they must have! By the time they had woken that morning, we had already departed for Alghero. They radioed us before we went out of range and we swopped stories of our sailing adventures over the past 5 years...
Crossing over from Minorca to Sardinia was like being at the centre of a major European junction. We picked up radio transmission in Spanish, French, Italian, English and a few unknown African languages - it was amazing.

Anything for a cheap berth in Alghero!
Anyway, by 1530 hours the following day, we were docked at the Ser-Mar pontoons in the Bay of Alghero. A Dublin man, Tom Cooke, from the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire took our lines. We were delighted to meet a fellow Dubliner and it was a great help to get first-hand information about life in Alghero and indeed in Sardinia from Tom.

The Town Quay in Alghero
We really liked the ambience of the place. The marina staff were most helpful and friendly. Alghero itself is a citadel town and so a tremendous sense of history pervades. The cost of staying in the marina, at Euro Symbol35 per night, was not excessive and there was even a Volvo-Penta man on hand to repair our raw-water pump when we found a leak.

Enjoying a stroll in the old town of Alghero
We met a number of people who were planning on leaving their yachts here for the winter. We began to rethink Seville. We talked to the manager of the marina and discovered that they would have a berth for Safari at a cost of Euro Symbol13 per day from September 1 to April 30.

The price was right, (a lot cheaper than Seville) the location as a jumping-off spot for further cruising of the Med was perfect, a Volvo-Penta agent was near the marina, and most important of all there is a twice-weekly Ryanair service to Dublin all year round. What more could a cruising man or woman ask for? And so we changed our wintering plans and booked a berth with Ser-Mar in Alghero.

Once that major decision was out of the way, we returned our attention to our current cruise. With the invaluable help of Sean McCormack's log of his cruise through Sardinia and Corsica in 2007, we were able to plan a really nice itinerary. (Sean is class captain of the Cruising Group in Howth Yacht Club and a very experienced sailor).

On Thursday July 1, we headed further north, went through the Fornelli Passage and spent a few nights on anchor in the lee of Isla Piana. Then there was a gale-warning for that area, so we headed for the town of Castelsardo, a picture- postcard beautiful old town perched on the slope of a hill on the north coast of Sardinia and booked into a marina until the gale had passed.

Hilltop fortress overlooking the town of Castelsardo
Again, we considered Euro Symbol44 per night during the high season not an unreasonable price to pay.

There is a really good supermarket right in the marina - great for provisioning!

We took a bus trip to the ancient University town of Sassari during our stay in Castelsardo.

We even got to see the tail-end of a graduation ceremony where all the new graduates, both male and female, were carrying magnificent bouquets of flowers instead of wearing gowns and mortarboards - a very colourful ceremony indeed.

A proud new graduate in Sassari
Our final night in Sardinia was spent on a mooring at the Nature Reserve of Isola Asinara. The guide-book advised that you are only allowed to sail on to the moorings to prevent pollution. But when there is no wind as there wasn't when we were approaching, what is one expected to do? We turned on the engine at low revs and inched our way forward onto the mooring ball. It was well worth the hassle as the island, which was formerly used as a prison for the most dangerous of the Mafia criminals, has now been handed over to nature and is truly a sanctuary from the from the hustle, bustle and pollution of the modern world.

The following morning we crossed over to Corsica and headed for Porto Pollo in the Bay of Valinco on the west coast. We picked up a mooring ball for the night and discovered that it would only cost Euro Symbol18 which we thought was wonderful given Corsica's very well-deserved reputation for being the most expensive of the Mediterranean islands.

Ville-Franche, South of France
By now, we had reached July 8 and Martina and Berchmans would be arriving in Ville Franche on July 10. We had been advised that it would be utter madness to attempt to cruise the south of France after Bastille Day on July 14th as this date marks the beginning of the summer holidays for the French.

So we decided to leave further exploration of Corsica for the return journey and head north to Ville Franche from Porto Pollo while the weather was settled and before the anchorages and marinas were invaded by throngs of holiday makers. The distance was 140 miles. There was little wind but we had a very busy night at sea dodging the many targets that crossed our path. It was as busy as rush hour in O'Connel Street at times so neither of us had too much rest.

Just before nightfall, Ken was scanning the horizon and spotted what we thought was a large dark- hulled cargo ship which we hadn't previously noticed. When it disappeared and re-appeared a number of times, we became suspicious! The binoculars were called for and when a dorsal fin was clearly visible, we realised our "cargo ship" was an enormous whale! We subsequently checked it out and discovered it was a type of whale, Balaenoptera Physalus, which at 65 ft long and weighing 40 tons, is the 2nd largest creature on earth. I was not a happy camper but thankfully it took no further interest in Safari!

We arrived in the Bay of Ville Franche at 0900 on July 9 fully prepared to go on anchor. We were pretty sure that we would be unable to afford the price of a marina berth in such a snazzy location during the summer months. However, as we were tired after the crossing, we decided to enquire.

Imagine our delight and surprise that a berth was available at a cost of Euro Symbol37 per night for Safari right in the centre of Ville Franche. So we booked ourselves in immediately. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the municipal marinas in Nice, Cannes, Ville Franche and St Juan form a group with the specific aim of keeping the prices within the reach of ordinary sailors.

Entrance to the walled town of Entrevaux
There ensued a truly wonderful 10 day visit to the French Riviera enjoying the company of Martina and Berchmans. We visited many exotic locations like Nice, Cap d'Antibes, St Juan-Cap Ferrat and Monte-Carlo. We also took a memorable train trip to Entrevaux in the mountains behind Nice. This medieval, walled town is accessed via the narrow - gauge railway which runs between Nice and Digne- a trip well worth taking to admire the stunning scenery along the way.

Back to Corsica
On July 20, it was time to depart France and return to Corsica. This time, we crossed to the magnificent citadel town of Calvi in the north of the island. The trip back was just a short overnight -90 miles and was without incident, a mercifully whale-free crossing!

We picked up a mooring ball in Calvi (Euro Symbol30 per night) and ended up sitting out a fairly hectic gale before we could be on our way again on July 25th.

We have since discovered that there is at least one gale or near gale per week on the north western coast of Corsica between Calvi and Cap Corse and down south in the Strait of Bonifacio which separates Corsica from Sardinia. It can make moving around the island quite fraught and difficult.

Yours truly with a Foreign Legionnaire in Calvi
As we explored Calvi, we discovered that there is Foreign Legion regiment stationed in a barracks in the citadel. The Legionnaires add a lovely touch of glamour to the town !

After our 5 night stay in Calvi, we travelled down to the truly beautiful anchorage of Girolata where we spent a very pleasant evening.

Downtown Girolata
This was followed by a week in Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica and the birthplace of Napoleon. We visited the house where he was born which has been turned into a most interesting museum. We stayed in marinas when gales were blowing and went on anchor as soon as they passed through. We thought the charge of Euro Symbol56 per night for a berth was expensive but not prohibitively so when seeking shelter.

It is worth noting that the two marinas in Ajaccio turf out all visiting yachts on Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate the return of charter boats- it doesn't matter what the weather is doing! We were amazed and indeed alarmed by this practice but thankfully the latest storm had just passed through when we had to leave the Marina Charles Ornano by 12 noon on Friday July 30th.

Ajaccio is an interesting city - a great mixture of old and new. It certainly exploits to great advantage its connection with Napoleon. He only returned once after he left at the age of 9 but Ajaccio has not forgotten it's most famous son and all his immediate family. Around every corner there are tributes to him and the family, all of whom ended up in influential positions in society. Contrary to popular belief, Irish TDs didn't invent nepotism!

We left Ajaccio and arrived back in Porto Pollo on August 2nd with the intention of spending the remainder of the high season in this inexpensive but well-sheltered mooring field in the bay. There are also favourable rates for long-stay customers.

We sometimes leave our mooring and head across the bay to Campomoro or up to Propriano for day trips. Our mooring ball awaits us on our return! We have also done some hill-walking (Yes, Ken Kavanagh has actually taken to the hills!) and gone by local bus to Propriano and nearby Filitosa, a pre-historic settlement of great archaeological significance with its statue-menhirs and stone buildings.

Porto Pollo itself is a simple holiday resort with mainly French and Italian families who arrive by car-ferry and stay in one of the many campsites in the area. There are great facilities for all watersports here - diving, sailing, windsurfing, parasailing and water-skiing.

There are a number of small 2 star hotels which close for the winter. In fact, the whole place closes down at the end of September. We love the simplicity of life here and have become integrated into the local community -my fluency in French helps. The bus-driver of the small minibus stops for a chat when he spots us on the roadside. (We are amongst his best customers!) The lady in the bakery sets aside some "pain au raisin" for Ken each day and the Harbourmaster, Pierre, treats us like old friends and makes sure no visiting yachts takes our mooring ball when we are not here.

In between the gales and near gales the weather is glorious, the sea is very blue and the mountains in the background are stunning. Corsica truly deserves its reputation as "L'Ile de Beaute". In common with most islands, though, the cost of living is high but eating out in one of the little restaurants in Porto Pollo is surprisingly inexpensive.

Next week we will head back to Sardinia to await the arrival of our son, John and his girlfriend who are joining us for a 10 day cruise in the area. They will be closely followed by other friends from Scotland, Kate and Ruth. So it will be all go on board Safari before we return home on September 19th.

The high season will soon be over in the Med and we are still solvent! Yes, it is more expensive than in the low season Yes, there are more boats in the anchorages and marinas but don't be put off by that. There is always space for one more boat! It was never too hot as the breeze out on the islands prevents the heat from getting too intense. This summer we discovered that it is still very possible to have an affordable and thoroughly enjoyable cruise in the Med at this busy time of the year.

Carmel & Ken
Safari of Howth