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Seduced by La Maddalena

The remote Italian island currently hosting the Louis Vuitton Trophy has worked its charms on _SW'_s Angus Phillips.

June 1, 2010
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Sailing World

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A high point on Caprera, an island connected to La Maddalena by bridge, overlooks the waters where the LV boats race, and a small crowd gathers daily to watch. Paul Todd/outsideimages.co.nz/Louis Vuitton Trophy

La Maddalena is a funny little place, an island smaller than Block Island that sits off a far corner of the big island, Sardinia. It’s so hard to get to, when you finally disembark the ferry from Palau it seems like the end of the world. You think, “How can I get out?” But it grows on you.

About 7,500 people live here, mostly in a picturesque, harborside village where commercial fishing boats and visiting yachts tie up. The Louis Vuitton Regatta is a few miles down the road at the Arsenale, an abandoned military base rebuilt at great expense to host the G8 summit in July 2009. That meeting was moved at the last hour to L’Aquila, which had been devastated by an earthquake and needed the global attention. The gleaming new Arsenale sat languishing for a year.

It features a broad bank of restored, stone military buildings gussied up with glass and steel and a newly bulkheaded harbor for the raceboats and support craft. The surrounding neighborhood is austere—small stone houses, many quite old, a few apartment blocks, and one cafe, La Barraca, where workmen stop for a beer and shoot pool or play a noisy game of foosball.

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La Maddalena connects by narrow bridge to the island of Caprera, where Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification, retired in 1855. He owned the whole island. His home is now a museum, and his massive, granite tomb is there. Much of the rest of Caprera is a Parco Nazionale with beautiful, isolated beaches.

A high point on Caprera overlooks the waters where the LV boats race and a small crowd gathers daily to watch. It’s two miles from the action but you can still hear the groan as the running backstays are eased when the boats round the weather mark.

The weather is bright, but the wind comes and goes. The first two days, racing was almost impossible for lack of wind, and this second week opened with so much breeze, it blew the Brits right out of the pubs. The mistral is like a strong northwester in Annapolis or Newport, but often lasts three to six days.

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Wine? Oh, my. It’s 5 to 8 euros a bottle for decent stuff—spicy Sardinian red or a vermentino, the fresh and fruity local white. The fish and shellfish are straight from the boat, and of course the cheese, breads, and hams are splendid.

Summer, we are told, comes suddenly sometime around mid-June. For the moment, it’s still offseason and the place is blissfully empty. Beaches are yours for the taking, restaurants easy to get into, and a dry chill settles in at night, mandating sweater or jacket. After a few days, you find yourself wondering, “What’s the hurry to get out of here?”

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