Summer in the Med
Practical Boat Owner|October 2021
Ned Coakley enjoys affogatos, smart marinas and stunning cliff-edge villages on a Mediterranean cruise from France to Italy and back
Ned Coakley

We’d done a lot of work on the boat over the winter so we were in good shape for a six-week Mediterranean cruise in our Nauticat 33, Anna. The plan was to sail from Gruissan, in the south of France where we’d overwintered, along the French coast, round the Gulf of Genoa to Elba, across to Corsica then back to Gruissan.

Our experience from last year had taught us to set off in May, when the weather was cooler, there were fewer tourists and marina charges would be lower.

The varnish had taken a beating over the winter but having sourced 4lt of Epifanes Extra UV there was ample time to smarten the woodwork before mingling with the superyachts at the posh end of the coast.

Downsizing our house caused a small delay but by May 15 we were off. It was just myself and my wife, Theo, meaning no ‘must-do’ dates or ports in the calendar. The boat was well stocked with diesel, bottled water, a new sunshade arrangement, Italian-made prop antifouling and an electronic gizmo to automatically choose 240V when on shore power. The Brits were ready to take on the Med!

Splash

About six hours out of Gruissan the French Air Force decided to wish us well with a Flypast by the Patrouille de France, how nice of them. Otherwise, the coastline from Gruissan to Marseille is not that interesting so a couple of 12-hour days saw us moored at Frioul island with its overspill marina for crowded Marseille. A shorter leg then took us past the Calanques and onward to the island of Porquerolle… where the drama began.

I had never fallen off a boat in 50 years, but being a little tired and out of condition, mooring took its toll. Anna turns into a beast when manoeuvring in a crosswind and the best way to control her, especially when trying to pick up a pendile, is to come in bow-first so at least the bow thruster keeps that end in the right place.

Unfortunately, the combination of hurrying to get the lines on, a loop too few in the wrong place and a slippery coaming on the adjacent boat sent me overboard.

My wife moored the boat while I scrambled out of the water, miffed at a nearby boat owner from Alsace who, rather than offering a hand, gave me advice on the correct way to attach a dock line.

We left early the next morning under motor, and with marinas every 30 miles or so, we could go as far as we liked.

With no wind, and the boat on autopilot, sunbathing and varnishing became the order of the day on our way to SainteRaphael.

Cap Camarat is a busy turning point for coastal traffic heading toward the Côte d’Azur. As we approached we paid close attention to a sleek 70ft Australian yacht tacking back and forth across our track.

Our friends from Alsace passed close by a few minutes later with an impressive wake and several honks on the horn.

We were unsure whether they were turning, sinking or apologising, but a smile and a wave showed we were fellow mariners at last.

There was no room in Sainte-Raphael old port but there was space in the town marina. Theo had spent a childhood holiday here and it still had plenty to offer with its beach and restaurants. We stayed for four days while the wind blew, and met up with old friends who lived nearby.

Italian sunshine

We continued around the corner past Cannes, Ilês des Madeleines and Nice into Villefranche marina, which is built in the old arsenal used by various navies over the centuries, and latterly the US 6th Fleet.

Soon we swapped the excellent French guide ‘Bloc Notes’ for an Imray chart, and a 10-hour day took us to Imperia.

Though warned of disreputable officials further south, who took bribes or let your lines loose while you were at dinner, we encountered no problems at all.

The port workers were very helpful and we had a great time everywhere in the Golfo di Genoa.

How cultured and civilised Italy is! Where else would you find a town committee to govern ice cream standards?

We soon stopped checking the weather. The ‘full-on or nothing’ winds we’d experienced in western France were occasional puffs early and late in the day.

We motor-sailed for short periods, but 1,400rpm and 5-6 knots became standard in this non-tidal part of the world. A stop at a swanky marina in Loano found us vacant berths and Italian yachtsmen complaining of high fees, but the weather was great, as was the wine.

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