Allora…Il mare, una volta che ha lanciato il suo incantesimo, ci tiene per sempre nella sua rete di meraviglia~Yves Jacques Cousteau
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever~Yves Jacques Cousteau
Don’t worry this blog won’t all be in Italian (perhaps only a few newly learned words) however this quote shared with me from a new Italian friend, Alessandra, seemed appropriate to kick off this blog about a perfetto trip to Italy!
Long on the bucket list of swim challenges has been the Bocche di Bonifacio/Strait of Bonifacio. Who wouldn’t want to swim in the bellissimo blu mare between the Italian and French islands of Sardinia and Corsica in the Mar Mediterraneo?
My figo amico, Jeff an aspiring long distance open water swimmer (wicked fast pool swimmer) and I had been talking about this for a while and after a couple year delay due to covid we were finally able to get this grand adventure on the books.
What I didn’t realize is how memorable and fun this trip would be! Our trip was organized by Swimtrekking an Italian company focused on aquatic adventures. The trip was set in beautiful La Maddelena part of an archelpeligo of islands off the north coast of Sardinia. The program was set for a week of swimming with the ultimate goal of swimming 14km/9miles between Corsica and Sardinia. The strait is known for its temperamental currents and in particular wind so waiting and hoping for the right conditions was key. And wait we did…
There were six aquatic soulmates on this adventure; Jeff, Barry (Americans), Tanja (German), Vittorio, Alessandro (Italians-duh guess the names gave it away). We were led by our intrepid leaders Alessandra and Francesco.
At our first team meeting on Sunday afternoon it sounded like due to sea conditions we would do the big crossing first thing Monday morning. Not totally ideal as we were just settling in with our new environs and each other but we would be ready! By the time dinner rolled around Alessandra had worked with the French and Italian Coast Guard and conditions had changed unfavorably and the swim was off for Monday. There was a collective groan as we were all ready to roll. Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, had decided that we would have to wait to do the crossing. What were we to do? The only thing you can do…get to know each other, swim and have fun!
What ensued for the next four days was basically a swim camp for adults. We would all have breakfast together and meander to the dock by 9:00. We hopped a boat for 20-30 minutes to a beautiful idyllic cove where after a short briefing we would jump in the water for a morning swim of around 3k. We would have a short break and then motor off to another spot for a leisurely lunch followed by the afternoon swim of 2-3k. There was time for a nap, happy hour and then dinner where we could recount the highlights of the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The highlights of the first two days were swims off the islands of Spargi, Santo Stefan’s and the beautiful beach homes of the rich and famous in Porto Rafael. We scaled up some rocky steps to a lighthouse in our speedos and a leisurely lunched in a beautiful cove. We also frolicked on the private beach of a Russian oligarch, Roman Ambramovich. His yacht wasn’t there. I think somebody took it away 😉. The definite low light of the first couple days and frankly the trip was that Barry got the covid. We all felt so bummed out as we were all just hitting our groove with each other.
The next couple of days aside from checking on the sea conditions for our crossing were spent swimming off of Caprera. Memories again center on swimming in and along side beautiful azure blue waters and beaches and learning Italian swear words from Luca our boat captain when the boat and its anchor got stuck in a beautiful cove.
The strongest memory in Caprera was the day we swam to shore and Alessandro launched into a history in English and Italian of Italy’s reunification in the late 1800’s led by General Giuseppe Garibalidi who died on Caprera. This oratory was done with goggles still on and I think with one single breath. It was quite remarkable and a piece of Italian history I wont forget.
By Thursday afternoon it became apparent that it was a “go” to swim the Strait on Friday morning.
What transpired in those four days leading up to the “big swim” was a group of enthusiastic swimmers becoming one team. There was Jeff, who is outgoing, supportive to all, takes a keen interest in engaging with everyone personally and our strongest swimmer.
The hubsch, witzig (a simple nod to my German) and fun Tanja, who put a much needed balance into this mix of ragazzis. She was also videographer of our underwater antics.
Vitorrio exuded quiet confidence and sincerity that made it an absolute joy to talk and learn from him.
Words are difficult to describe Alessandro aka Animale. While he wasn’t the most natural swimmer in the group I have met only a few athletes so determined and persistent. He would eat a quick lunch and then get back in the water and swim, when we would go back to the hotel at the end of the day he would go and swim. He loves to swim.
Our guides, Alessandra’s passion for the mare and her belli’s and Francesco the ultimate kind hearted host united this group.
And of course covid Barry, our spiritual leader for whom we would swim.
This was the team that was going to cross the Strait of Bonifacio together.
To allow for the best wind and current conditions it was an early wake up call at 4:30am. We were on the dock and ready to go when Luca (boat captain)n got there at 5:00am. It would take us about an hour to get to Cap Pertusato in Corsica, France. We watched a beautiful sunrise over the Mediterraneo and mentally prepared ourself for the crossing.
We got to the Cap and said, bon matin to France! The Cap juts out from the coast of Corsica in a really figo geological rock formation. With the final preparations of slathering on sunscreen and vaseline (for chaffing) complete we took a team pic and swam about 100m to shore. I found the requisite souvenir rock from the starting point to put in my speedo, the whistle blew and we were off.
As my regular readers know there isn’t whole lot to share in a long swim crossing as its pretty much stroke after stroke, a feed every 30 minutes and repeat. There are few things that did jump out at me as very memorable during this crossing. First, the water was a deep beautiful blue color and perfetto temp the whole way across. As opposed to many of my other swims where the water can be murky and cool (never say cold) it was bellisimo. Second, a funny comment during a feed when Jeff said to the doctor on the rib “so, are you a medical doctor or a PhD doctor?” What? We were in the middle of the strait-not the time to challenge the person overseeing our safety. Ha Ha. And lastly, it was really, really fun to swim with other people versus solo during a long swim. We swam side by side or in a straight line and chatted, supported each other and laughed during breaks. Together we enjoyed watching a big ferry and cruise ship pass by us somewhere mid-way across our rallying cry changed from allons y to andiamo-we had made it to Italian waters.
Alessandra skillfully guided the four of us through the tides and currents towards Porto Quadro. Per usual, at least for me, towards the end it always seems to take longer than expected to reach the beach. The water began to change to a lighter shade of blue and you could see the bottom get closer with each passing stroke. Eventually, we stumbled on to a beach, filled with loads of Italian beachgoers and gave each other big hugs. 4 hours and 59 minutes. Bravo!
We got in the rib and circled back to the main boat where Francesco and Luca were expertly guiding the determined Alessandro the Animale. Due to the currents he was swimming in place for a bit and being pushed to a rock outcropping and cove closer to Santa Teresa Gallura. Jeff, Tanja, Vitorrio and I cheered him on…nothing was going to stop him from a successful crossing. Ale touched the rock, slapped the water, blew kisses and yelled something in Italian, I don’t know what. Honestly, it was quite emotional for all of us…we had all completed the crossing together as a team.
Bottles of procesco were opened, the music was turned on, lunch was brought out, and we celebrated! We had started our morning in France with bon matin 🇫🇷 and our afternoon in Italy with buon pommerigio 🇮🇹!!!
It was a fabulous week capped off with an impressive milestone of successfully swimming the Strait of Bonifacio. While it is hard to put a bow on such an incredible week there are two emotions that I will take away from this week in Sardinia. First, how inspiring it is to take a group of people from different countries, that didn’t really know each other, of different abilities and to see the group become friends and come together as one to accomplish a common goal. Secondly, the pure happiness of being around like minded people, that like people, that are adventuresome, like the water and like to swim…la dolce vita!
ITALIA PART DUE
While I was in Sardinia swimming my ever patient wife spent the week in Barcelona sampling tapas y rioja. Es bueno!
Rendezvousing in Pisa we started an Italian holiday of our own. Yes, we were near bodies of water so the swim and water theme stays intact. I will keep my commentary brief as this blog is getting long so as not to tire my readers.
In Pisa, we did our best to try and hold up the leaning tower. We weren’t very good at the photographic sleight of hand to make it look real, interesting or cool.
We then headed to the walled city of Lucca in Tuscany. Justin Bieber was in town for a concert. Sadly we weren’t able to get tickets 😂. After 20 years of abstaining from coffee I decided it was time to start drinking it again. Why not and why not start again in Italy…I started hard with the good stuff-espresso!
The beautiful hillside towns of Cinque Terre were next. It’s amazing what they were able to build into the hillside. Staying in Manarola for a few days we were able to get a really good hike in and a couple of good easy swims.
Visiting my friend Carmen in Sportono led to a fully immersive Italian experience with their friends from Milano. Being a swim friend from MIT it only made sense for us to swim together around Bergeggi.
It was fun to fly out of Milano and to be in an urban environment again.
It was hot in that way that way big cities can be so we took a spontaneous overnight trip to stay at the Regina Palace in Stresa on Lake Magiorrie. A quick 1k swim was a perfetto way to cool off before going back to the city and eventually to fly home.
Our trip together was grande! Italy is fab~the people, the food, the wine the beaches and lakes—can’t wait to go back!