PMY has had a different company boat every year since 1988—most christened Office Ours—and every year they get a little bigger and a little more luxurious. In 2005 we added a twist. Instead of having the boat delivered to us, we went to her—St. Augustine, Florida, where our Luhrs 41 was built. Taking that Office Ours to New York was not only a great cruising experience, it also helped us get to know her.
This year saw two more milestones. Our Cranchi 50 Atlantique is our largest company boat ever and the first that we went to Europe to take delivery of. And not just Europe—Italy's Tyrrhenian Sea, a trip that most U.S. boaters only dream of. Credit for the idea rightfully goes to James Clayton, director of Cranchi U.S.A., who handled the logistics, from provisioning to finding a captain to refitting the European-spec 50 for American use afterwards. And he helped devise our itinerary.
Ah, the itinerary. The basics were these: pick up the boat in Genoa and drop her off in Livorno to rendezvous with the freighter that would take her to the States. There's a surprising number of islands just off Italy's western coast, and since we'd be making our trip in May, before prime season, none were likely to be crowded. But because we could afford only six days out of the office, we opted for a relatively direct route from Genoa to Naples that would put the islands of Elba, Ischia, and Capri in our path. We added a stop in Portofino because—well, does anyone really need a reason to stop in Portofino?
The crew consisted of publisher Dennis O'Neill, group creative director (and for this trip, photographer) Aime Coln, European sales manager (and Italian) Elena Patriarca, and me. This was my third company boat delivery, and having previously been the first skipper on the other boats, I knew to expect the unexpected; these are essentially shakedown cruises and that means things don't always work the way they're supposed to. The Cranchi's glitches were thankfully minor, and when they did rear their pesky heads, Clayton was only a text message or e-mail away, day or night.
The first order of business in Genoa was meeting our captain, an American named Joseph Darby who bears a striking resemblance to the Italian male model Fabio and is experienced with both Cranchis and Italian ports. After pleasantries and provisioning, I helmed us out of the marina and into a wine-dark Tyrrhenian Sea, then turned southeast for the short run to Portofino. I admit to being nearly apoplectic, heading to one of the world's most famous ports—so much so, I almost missed it. I shouldn't have, for I recognized the lovely port of Santa Fruitano just north of it, to which I'd hiked from Portofino many times. (You can only reach it by boat or on foot.) But as I rounded the point, I at first didn't see Portofino's narrow opening. Fortunately, Darby and our Raymarine E-120 came to the rescue.
Every boater knows the phenomenon of entering a familiar place for the first time from the sea: It always looks completely different. So it was with Portofino, which from the 50's flying bridge revealed itself as unbearably picturesque. But my awe dissolved when I realized that I'd have to Med-moor. Theoretically the operation is straightforward: You either drop an anchor or pick up a mooring from the bow, back down on it (usually between two yachts) until your stern is near enough to the quay to toss lines to waiting dockhands, and snub everything tight.
On my approach I noticed two things: there was very little space between the two very expensive yachts and a bunch of moorings to choose from. From the bow, Darby pointed to our target, but he had no boat hook. When I asked how he intended to grab the buoy, he disregarded me and, as our bow passed over the float, instantly stripped down to rather small shorts and executed a perfect swan dive, somehow surfacing with every hair in place and the mooring lanyard in his hand. We all stood dumbstruck, until O'Neill realized that we still needed the boathook to reach the lanyard from the foredeck. Nevertheless, an impressive display, all agreed, until we saw him gesturing and shouting at the port captain. Alas, his local knowledge did not include a fluency in Italian.
Portofino was as lovely as I remembered, but Sunday was a dream composed of a mid-morning run over a flat sea with a cloudless sky and lunch in Portovenere, after passing the famous stone church on the promontory leading into the port of La Spezia. The octopus at Trattoria da Iseo was perfect, and just three hours later we were in Elba—time enough for another great meal.
Known best as the place where Napoleon was exiled to, Elba is the third-largest Italian island after Sicily and Sardinia. It's beautiful and far less touristy than most, and it has three main ports, We chose Porto Azzuro on the eastern end. All of Monday we spent on mopeds seeing sights and circumnavigating the island, much to the detriment of our derrieres. Had we another day, we'd have taken in the art at the Villa San Martino and Museo Demidoff and visited Napoleon's less-than-spartan digs at Palazzina dei Mulini and his country escape, Villa San Martin. (Deposed dictators rarely rough it.) But we had a schedule.
Most of Tuesday was devoted to the 185-mile run to Ischia, smallest and least developed of our three islands and most volcanic, which explains all the spas there. Its white stucco buildings reminded me of the Greek islands, although many house tony boutiques that are within walking distance of Sant' Angelo d'Ischia, our harbor. A famous castle, Ischia Ponte, overlooking a lovely day anchorage, is a must-see, but transportation from the harbor is scant, so we explored everything within walking distance and then headed out around midday on Wednesday for our third, final, and most famous island, Capri.
To approach Capri from the sea is to have your breath taken away; hundred-food vertical cliffs seem to have exploded from the deep. We were so enthralled, we circumnavigated it before tying up, which gave us a chance to view the numerous caves (including the famous Blue Grotto) and natural arch up close. There's a lot to see on land, but beware: Capri is overrun with tourists, disembarking almost by the minute from an endless stream of ferries. The lower elevations are mostly tourist shops and restaurants; the upper, accessed by taxi, bus, moped, and funicolare (cable car)—well, think Rodeo Drive or Palm Beach. We escaped by mopeds to the decidedly less frenetic town of Anacapri, along the way being treated to spectacular views and hair-raising switchbacks and ending up at Villa di Damecuta, northwest of Anacapri, where ancient Romans—notably the emperor Tiberius—had villas. The foundation of his huge villa remains, facing Naples. Tiberius lived here until the eruption of Vesuvius (which you can see across the bay of Naples on a clear day) in 49 AD when its flaming cloud rained down on the villa and destroyed it. Legend has it that from here he would cast his paramours into the Blue Grotto below when he was finished with them.
Capri is as full of history as it is tour buses and taxis, but our time was up. The next morning we headed to Naples, where we left the Cranchi with Darby while we headed home. The 50 had performed flawlessly and provided the perfect base from which to explore the west coast of Italy, and we were sorry to leave her. But we were also happy knowing that soon we'd be aboard her again, exploring another island, Manhattan.
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This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.