OUR ASA TUSCANY AND ELBA CRUISE WAS A BLAST!
Post-pandemic life is starting to become more or less normal again.
After an exciting cruise in the Gulf of Fethiye in Turkey, we came back to the USA for two weeks and were on our way back east to Italy for the ASA Tuscany cruise.
Getting up on June 29 at 04:00 to catch a 07:00 flight from Ft. Myers to Dallas, for our connection to Rome, is not exactly my idea of fun. I am not an early morning person, and the attitude of the TSA agent did not help to get me in a good mood.
What is it with TSA agents in the States that they must show off their “power” by shouting and yelling? You do not see that in other countries. We had this tattoo-covered guy standing in front of the luggage scanning machine barking “90 degrees, turn the trays 90 degrees” while not making eye contact.
What an image we must project to foreign tourists visiting our country…
After spending the entire flight from RSW to DFW asleep, we had a five-hour layover in Dallas. We took the Skytrain from Terminal A to Terminal D and had an overpriced and mediocre airport breakfast there.
Before we left our house in Punta Gorda, I could not find my noise-cancelling headphones and, as there is no way that I was going to spend thirteen hours on a plane with screaming kids without being able to cancel them out, I ended up investing in $150.00 Skull Candy Bluetooth headphones. It ended up being a great investment with that raging rug rat (RRR) two rows behind me.
The flight time between Dallas and Rome was spent sleeping and reading Tom Clancy’s “Locked On” novel while drowning out the RRR’s screams.
I am still amazed at the senseless mask regulations on airplanes. In order to be allowed to board the plane to Europe, you must show a negative COVID test which means that everyone on board is “healthy”. I would assume that many are also vaccinated. The air on the plane is cleaned and renewed every few minutes. Why the face pampers, as I call them? On top of that, the virus must be the dumbest thing alive not to take advantage of the fact that we all take our masks off for over thirty minutes during dinner and breakfast on board. Call me a rebel, if you wish…
The thump of the wheels at touchdown in Rome pulled me out of my uncomfortable sleep.
Getting through immigration and customs in Italy was a non-event. We had filed our negative COVID test results and our European COVID tracking documents electronically.
We collected our luggage and headed for the train terminal, bought our tickets to Follonica, the closest station to Scarlino, and boarded a super clean and fast train to Roma Trastevere station where, half an hour later, we got on the connecting train to Pisa. Two hours later, we arrived in the small station of Follonica and, after a short taxi ride, finally reached our hotel, La Darsena, in walking distance from the charter base. It had taken us over twenty-four hours to make the trip, door-to-door and, after a quick shower, we crashed for a good four hours of sleep.
The following morning, Thursday, we had breakfast at the hotel and went for a walk to the marina.
Except for one or two unbooked sailboats, the charter base was empty. Business must be good.
Back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the day taking care of answering emails and booking yachts for our flotillas in Croatia and the Seychelles while the Admiral was, doing bookkeeping, arranging for payments of the charter boats, and doing other administration tasks.
We took a break for lunch and found this small fish store that doubled as a takeout restaurant with a few tables outside. The food was amazing, and they had an impressive choice of the freshest fish.
It was so good that we returned the following day for more.
Across the street from the fish store, there is a trail that goes into the national preserve of the Maremma. This part of the country is a mixture of agricultural fields, forests and swamp and is home to the Butteri, the Italian version of cowboys who herd their longhorn cattle there. The only other place in Europe that I know where they have these “cowboys” is in the French Camargue.
We hiked for a few miles on a boardwalk in the swamp to a blind from where we could spy on the local birds, after which we headed back to the hotel for more work on our laptops and a short siesta.
That evening we had a delicious dinner in one of the restaurants in the marina.
Well rested on Friday morning, we had breakfast at our hotel, checked the emails and went for another walk to the marina for some shopping in one of the local stores.
Scarlino marina is a modern and luxurious place, home of several excellent eateries and pricey shops.
There are three or four charter companies here and they have a well-equipped boat maintenance and yacht storage facility. It is only a few hours sail from our first destination, Porto Azzurro on the island of Elba.
Friday night, we had dinner at our favorite local restaurant, Il Veliero, with our Boat Mates, Bob and Cathy from Lake Tahoe.
I introduced Bob and Cathy to my favorite dish, Tagliatelle al cinghiale or tagliatelle pasta with wild boar. Lots of tagliatelle but not much boar…
Many Prosecco’s and a few wine bottles later, we headed back to our hotel, a fifteen minute walk.
Saturday morning, after our breakfast buffet at the hotel, we packed our stuff, checked out and schlepped out luggage from the hotel to the marina where we had to wait until the afternoon to get checked in on our yacht, a Sun Odyssey 479. Spacious and comfortable. We did our provisioning at the well stocked supermarket in the marina and, when getting back to the boat, we were told that she was ready for us to board and get settled.
Having verified during check-in and vessel orientation that all the systems on board were working, we dropped the lines for our 18NM crossing to Porto Azzurro on the island of Elba. Wind on the nose and motorsail all the way.
We had sent an email to the local port authority asking for a berth for the night but, when we arrived there, all dock spaces were taken, and we ended up at anchor at the entrance of Cala di Mora. There were already lots of boats on the hook and we had to do quite some maneuvering to make sure that we would be safe for the night. Secure at anchor now, this called for a celebratory drink of wine after which we got in the dinghy and went to shore to have dinner at our favorite place, our friend Umberto’s Pegaso restaurant on the waterfront.
We were received with open arms after the long 2020 absence. My favorite food that night was the marinated anchovies followed by a Pizza Mediterranea with mussels and more anchovies. A half-liter of beer helped wash down my meal. I wish I had some poetry talent in me so I could write an ode to the humble anchovy, one of the greatest gifts from Poseidon, God of the seas. Umberto came to sit at our table for a chat and shared his best grappa with us. This after dinner drink went down very smoothly and, if I had consumed a few more, maybe I would have made an attempt at poetry.
Back to the boat in the dark for a well-deserved night of sleep. And end of day one.
Sunday and our destination of the day is Portoferraio, a lovely city where Napoleon lived in exile for a short period of time before having the bad idea to return to France, raise an army again and then finally be clobbered into submission at Waterloo.
The locals still keep him in their hearts because he helped make – albeit unknowingly – Elba into a major tourist attraction. During his stay he even gifted the island with its flag, which they still use today. A white background with a diagonal red stripe in which there are three bees, Napoleon’s animal symbol.
Again, there was almost no wind and we had to motor most of the way to Portoferraio. We decided to stop for a lunch and a swim in the bay of Calvo. A colorfully painted Moby ferry was docked unloading and loading cars and passengers.
Before our trip to Italy, I had bought a drone and I had spent quite some time, prior to the trip, practicing flying and maneuvering it. So, now was the moment to put that practice to work. I put the drone on the swim platform and off it went towards the Moby ferry when I realized that it was not taking pictures.
I turned the drone around and tried to make it land again on the swim platform. Easier said than done and I had no other choice than to try to grab it by hand. HUGE mistake… Those little props are deadly weapons and they cut deep in my fingers. Blood splattered everywhere on deck… It was a painful mess.
Fortunately, Damien the possessed demonic drone finally stopped, and we almost threw it overboard.
Mila had to dig up the first aid kit and started bandaging my fingers. It would take a good week for them to heal completely. After having turned my fingers in mummy-like bandages, she now had to clean the blood from the crime scene. Needless to say, I was of no bleeping use for the rest of the day and would not be handling any lines for most of the rest of the trip.
Damien was returned to his bag. We may give him another chance in Sardinia. Maybe taking off from and landing on a catamaran will be an easier job.
We weighed anchor in Calvo and headed for Portoferraio.
Its waterfront is very colorful and picturesque and, once you get through the main gate by the port, you enter the old city. Right there, on the left-hand corner is my favorite gelato place. Just great ice creams… So many flavors and so little time. I needed a big one for medicinal purposes after my drone disaster.
Later that evening, we had dinner in a trattoria next to the main gate. You just cannot get bad food in Italy.
We wandered back, along the waterfront to our yacht. During the day this is a busy street with a lot of traffic but, after six o’clock or so, it is for pedestrians only. Plenty of ice cream-licking people watching the diners sitting at the terraces of the restaurants and vice-versa.
We pulled in the gangplank of the boat and went to sleep but not before a last drink, again for medicinal purposes only, of course.
Monday morning, after some provisioning and after withdrawing money from the local ATM, we paid our docking fee and pointed our boat to our next port of call, the island of Capraia, 26NM away on a 303 heading.
The island is a national park and only has one small fishing port that is increasingly becoming popular with cruisers. You have the fishing port, and you have the village with the fortress overlooking it from the other side of the small bay.
There are a few restaurants in the fishing village of which two are really good. Surprisingly, there is only one restaurant in the hilltop village. Mila and I had taken a small bus to the upper village (Euro 0.80 R/T) and wanted to have dinner there but there was no table available without reservation.
Back to the waterfront… Same story. We only found one place where were given a table inside and the food was good but not that great. Beggars cannot be choosers.
Meanwhile Bob and Cathy who wanted to have a romantic dinner, just the two of them, had a delicious meal at a place where they had made a reservation. Oh well…
We awoke a bit late on Tuesday and Bob and Cathy had decided to walk from the lower village to the upper and back. A good way to shake off some of the sea leg stiffness. When they came back, we sailed to our favorite swimming anchorage on the island, Cala del Moreto, on the southside of the island just behind Punta del Zenobito. On the eastside of the point there is this strange geological phenomenon where two different type of rock meet. One is dark red from the iron ore and the other looks greyish like your average granite. Imagine the forces of nature at work here millions of years ago when these islands were trusted up from the bottom of the sea.
Refreshed after our swim, our next destination was Marciana Marina, 20NM away.
A bit of wind to start, then motorsailing again… We will have to sacrifice one of the crew members to Aeolus, God of the Winds…
When we arrived at Marciana Marina, and notwithstanding our previous emails requesting a reservation, there was no space at the docks. Fortunately, they have a very nice anchorage near the entrance of the marina. We dropped the hook, opened a bottle of white wine and watched the show of all the boats coming in for docking and anchoring. Quite a show… This was amateur hour. It is amazing how many sailors have no clue about anchoring.
Bob and Cathy went ashore with the dinghy looking for a Wi-Fi connection to reschedule their travel plans to Corsica. Mila and I stayed on board and watched the clown show.
That evening we had dinner in our favorite restaurant in Marciana Marina, Affrichella, located on a cute little square behind the main church, then back to the boat for a well-deserved rest.
Wednesday morning, 06:15; a loud bang against the boat made me jump out of my berth and go topside where I saw a 46’ Jeanneau clanging its anchor against our starboard aft pulpit. I had noticed this boat come in last night and anchor out on the forward port quarter of our boat. I had my doubts about their decision to anchor so close to us and here they were after their anchor had slipped.
I tried to push their boat away with my bandaged fingers and put a fender between us.
Mila came up first followed by Bob. The neighbor’s chain was now under our hull. I told the skipper of the other boat to release more chain to free our hull and moved our forwards, until we were free, then told them to raise their anchor and get out of there.
They finally motored away and dropped their anchor about 200m from our boat. I saw that our pulpit had been damaged and jumped in the dinghy to get their insurance information because they had damaged the pulpit.
They may have screwed up their anchoring, but they were friendly folks and gave me all the info I needed to pass on to my charter company. They will solve it…
Of course, no more sleep after this. We had planned to stay another day and go to the top of Monte Capanne, the highest point of the island but clouds were rolling in and Bob and Cathy said that they preferred to go back to Porto Azzurro as they had so much enjoyed Umberto’s hospitality and cuisine.
So, Thursday morning, we sailed back to Porto Azzurro. We had some really good winds and truly enjoyed the ride. I had made sure that we had a place at the wall this time.
On the way, we passed Calvo again where Damian the Possessed almost amputated my fingers.
The colorful Moby ferry was at its jetty again, but we easily resisted any temptation whatsoever to stop and take the drone out. Onwards to Porto Azzurro…
We arrived in the port basin and called the harbormaster for our dock assignment.
He could not find our reservation and we had to bob around for about fifteen minutes before we finally got our yacht at the wall.
As soon as we had settled in, we walked to downtown and made reservations at Pegaso.
Millie and I walked around a bit, then sat down for an Aperol Spritz at a café on the main square.
Life is good.
At 19:30, we showed up at Pegaso’s for a delicious meal and, yes, we ate basically the same thing as last Saturday. Umberto was running all over the place. This guy is amazing, a real human dynamo, supercharged, but he found the time to sit down with us to chat and have us enjoy two grappa’s each for the guys and limoncello for the ladies. We then went back to our boat for our last night before returning to the base.
Early on Friday, Bob and Cathy went for a last walk and we then dropped the lines to return to Scarlino but, first, we had to go to the marina of Punta Ala because the fuel pump in Scarlino was broken and we had to return the yacht with a full tank. .
We had a great sail all the way, clocking over seven knots. What a way to end this cruise!
After having refueled in Punta Ala, we went under jib only for the last five miles to Scarlino. Even with the headsail only we still reached over five knots.
We parked our boat for the last time and made arrangements for Bob and Cathy to get a taxi to the train station. They needed to go to Livorno to catch the ferry to Corsica. We will see them again next week in Sardinia.
Mila and I stayed on board for the night and got checked out the following morning.
Dragging our heavy luggage for half a mile under the blazing sun to the hotel was no fun and, after check-in, Mila immediately started taking care of the laundry while I checked all the unanswered emails.
Around 13:30, we went for lunch to our favorite little fish store. Back from lunch, Mila started working on accounting and administration while I took a two-hour nap.
A few more hours of working on the computer and then dinner at a small deli around the corner from the hotel. A bottle of delicious local red wine, a wild boar mousse, a selection of tasty local cheeses made for the perfect finale of our stay in Tuscany.
Next stop Sardinia.
Join us in September of 2022 for our next Tuscany flotilla.
Capt. Jean De Keyser
July 10, 2021.
On July 11, we took the Moby ferry from Piombino to Olbia in Sardinia.
Many of the Moby ferries are highly decorated, inside and out with Loony Tunes and other popular characters like Batman, etc.
We were on the Moby Aki where a large fiberglass rendition of Sylvester the Cat welcomed us at the reception desk.
The ferry carried cars, commercial trucks, campers and motorbikes as well as regular pedestrian passengers. Most of the passengers hung out on deck or in the restaurant and bar areas where there were even playgrounds and arcades to keep the kids busy.
We had decided on renting sleeper seats in a special quiet area of the ship and, from the portholes, we could see, during the passage, our sailing grounds off Elba.
The ship got even close enough to Montecristo so we could get some decent pictures. No Count of Montecristo to be seen. The island looked pretty desolate and rocky but, if you want to learn a bit more about its very interesting history, you should check out the Montecristo Wikipedia page.
After a five and a half hours, we finally arrived in Olbia and took a taxi to the apartment we rented for a few days. More information on our stay to follow.
Capt. Jean De Keyser