Yachting Life
Pulling into Cala di Volpe

The days roll by, like the boat over the waves. You forget where you were, when you were. Monday morning, our fourth day out, we cruised down the coast of Corsica, across to Sardinia toward Cala di Volpe.

Two yachts en route to Cala di Volpe

Cala di Volpe is the name of the harbor and the hotel that is the center of the Sardinia that was developed forty years ago by Karim Aga Khan as a destination for the world’s rich and their retinue. The hotel itself looks a little like a sun-drenched rambling adobe palace painted a salmon pink with accents of pale yellow. We were here in 2001 and for this writer it was memorable because the harbor was chock-full of enormous yachts including Dr. al-Rashid’s Lady Moura with its crew of 100 as well as one of the Craig McCaw family’s boats which looks like a tanker built for leisure complete with its own sailing boat and helicopter and god-knows-what-all. Also in the pack was the super sleek navy hulled yacht of Valentino and the eclectic and humongous yacht of Johnny Pigozzi, the Renault heir.

This year we were told that Valentino was in the area although we didn’t see him. Mr. al-Rashid, Mr. McCaw and Mr. Pigozzi were nowhere to be found by these eyes. Although on our way down the coast, not far from the harbor, in the channel, several hundred yards from land, is a large white yacht that is said to put down anchor every June and remain right there until September without ever moving, creating, as it were, a mystery for all the regular travelers on this route.

The harbor of the Cala di Volpe was well populated with very large yachts such as Kisses and Bellissima
Nevertheless despite the abovementioned missing men, the harbor of the Cala di Volpe on our arrival this year was well populated with large and inviting looking pleasure crafts with names like Kisses and Bellissima, Sariya and Santa Maria, not to mention Big Eagle, as well as numerous other white-hulled yachts and sailing boats ranging in size from 120 to 200 feet in length. Each craft of these sizes represent an investment of millions of dollars to build and to maintain. Charter fees, which can run into the hundreds of thousands on a weekly basis; docking fees which can run into the tens of thousands, not to mention fuel and crew, all leaving one astounded and dazzled to the point of make believe. Someone was telling me, for example, that to dock a yacht of this size in Monte Carlo during a four-day event runs about $19,000 for the fee and another ten grand for the dockmaster (my word for him) and some other ducats thrown in for a little-a-thissa and a little-a-thatta.

In the harbor of Cala di Volpe
The thrill of being aboard one of these plush and highly polished vessels is immeasurable. Although I am often told by those who’ve done it, that it can be grueling being with the same crowd for more than a few hours, let alone a few days. That is not so with the guests on this fancy ocean-going bucket or ours, most of whom have cruised together on this ship several times thanks to our hosts. And thanks to our hosts, the atmosphere is very relaxed. The days begin with breakfast at whatever time one arises, followed (by some) with exercising on the exercycle or the treadmill, followed by swimming, or touring the nearby coves in the tender, or kayaking or wave running on the jet skis; all of which is followed by the sunbathing, reading, passing conversation.

This goes on until lunchtime which comes around two. That is when everyone is required to be present. Lunch is served buffet style on the “party deck.” Everyday it is a variety of salads, cheeses, a soup accompanied by a varying menu of meats, fish, grains and rices, followed by desserts of freshly made sorbets, gelatos (coconut is the favorite) and freshly baked cookies – chocolate chip one day, oatmeal raisin and walnuts the next, etc. I just feel like eating and eating and eating. Oh, and the wines, if you want them. All finished off by espresso or cappuccino, if you like.

After that the crew (guests) are often ready for a nap or something comparable (a snooze). Today I went up to the third deck where there is a Jacuzzi where you can relax in the sun and watch the nautical world pass by the ancient terra firma. This is often done with the assistance of binocs since it’s fun to look at whomever is passing by, noticing the flag, the name and wondering if it’s an Arab sheik or a Russian or American billionaire or hell, even a movie star or Ivana Trump who keeps her yacht tied up in Monte Carlo when she’s not cruising this route on the Mediterranean.

DPC before dinner
After a day of this, on Tuesday last, we went ashore for cocktails at the home of the beautiful, Brazilian-born Denise Thyssen, who had a few friends over for drinks. Valentino and his crew were supposed to show but never did, although his public relations adviser Jean-Piero was there. Except for us Americans the rest of the guests were European from Switzerland, Paris and London. There were several people who are active in the Salzburg Festival which takes place in a few weeks including Eva O’Neill who plays a big role in the organization, as well as Herbert von Karajan’s widow Aliette, and the American Donald Kahn.

Baroness Thyssen’s sprawling, ample and stylish yet simple property overlooks the sea. Someone told me that in the days before the Aga Khan developed this part of the world for the rich and the famous, the land was plentiful and thus given to the local citizens. The men got the “best” land, which was the hilltops which were good for grazing the animals. And the women, being only women, were given the land close to the water, I guess so they could go down to the shore to wash their garments, haha. Of course, Karim Aga Khan’s plans turned the not-so-good land into the premium land since the yachting types and their pals wanted property with quick access to the water. Haha again.
Dinner hour on the Big Eagle
The summer people come in June and leave by September after which, I am told, the weather cools noticeably and that’s that until next year. After our cocktails, we returned to the Big Eagle, with some more guests for dinner under the crescent moon, surrounded by the darkness and the glittering yellow lights of neighboring yachts, the hotel and the villas dotting the darkened hills. By midnight everyone, sun-drenched, and (at least those among us) still very excited to be on this short but brilliant voyage, needed a good night’s rest.


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July 22, 2004, Volume IV, Number 115
Photographs by DPC/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com