A very-American Sea Ray 380 Sundancer finds itself very much at home on the Italian and French Rivieras.

Of all the picturesque ports of call along the Ligurian Coast, the Italian and French Rivieras, none can match the exquisite charm of Portofino. I have been fortunate enough to confirm this opinion many times over the years. So, it was for that very selfish reason that I suggested to the folks at Sea Ray that we begin our cruise here. Definitely one of my better ideas. And Jyrki Jaamaa (YIR-kee YAH-mah), who runs the Sea Ray Yachting Centre at La Napoule, near Cannes, readily agreed. He'd never been here before and was anxious to see it. He would run the boat over, he said, and pick me up.

And so it came to pass that I was sitting in the café attached to the Splendido Mare hotel having lunch with Giulio Gentile, the hotel's marketing director, when Jyrki and the 380 Sundancer made their splendid entrance. If ever a Sundancer belonged in a place, it was here, amidst the colorful fishing boats and swellegant yachts. In movie terms, this was the beautiful young American heiress making monocles drop in the salons of Europe.

Giulio, I have to tell you quickly, was our savior. Neither Jyrki nor I anticipated any problem with a mooring or a slip - until we asked at the last moment and discovered that the port, in effect, was closed for that particular time due to a large sailboat regatta. In near panic, I called Giulio. This tall, elegant man with his leonine mane of graying hair and deep voice, did not hesitate: "I'll call you right back," he had said. Within the hour he had contacted the captain of the port and been given permission for us to use one of the megayacht slips.

I was, therefore, able to digest my stuffed mussels in tomato sauce, the risotto with scampi and asparagus (and the Pinot Grigio Santa Margherita).

Portofino
 

If you've never been to Portofino (and if you haven't, put it at the top of your must-visit list), the tiny harbor owes its charm to the fact that it is still a working fishing village, despite the proliferation of boutiques and cafés. It sits at the end of a corniche called the Strada Panoramica, which gets two stars in the Guide Michelin (the Grande, Moyenne and Inférieure Corniches between Menton and Nice are likewise so honored). It is a tight, U-shaped harbor surrounded by pastel buildings and surmounted by the Castel san Georgio on the headland. The village is embraced by a large nature reserve, further ensuring no encroachment from development. You could spend hours trying to describe how lovely it is. You have to experience it. Carleton Mitchell, the famous cruising yachtsman and author (Isles of the Caribees, et al) kept an apartment here for decades and swung a Bertram 25 on a mooring. .

After a leisurely get-to-know-you dinner, Jyrki and I agreed on an equally leisurely departure the next morning. Jyrki elected to sleep on the boat, but I was not yet ready to surrender my room in the Splendido Mare with its window overlooking the cobbled square and the harbor.

I awoke to the symphonious and reassuring sounds of the village coming to light: a lorry rumbling down the quay, tables being set up, chairs scraping, the pleasant syllables of murmured Italian. Jyrki and I had our breakfast and planned our trip. No plan, really. Set sail for La Napoule - and see you when we get there!

Unfortunately, it was overcast and cool, unusually so for early summer, when we left, but as we entered the Gulf of Rapallo (the regatta in full swing) and turned under the clastic cliffs and the white lighthouse on the point, our spirits were higher than the seabirds soaring above us. Over coming days, Jyrki, who is Finnish, was to prove an affable companion.

Coastal Cruising

The inner harbor at Portofino
 

For a while, we stuck close to the coast, cruising past the almost inaccessible village of San Fruttuoso until we came to Genoa where Jyrki laid a rhumb line for San Remo: 233-degrees. There were patches of sun and my hopes rose again, but by the time we approached the Italian/French border near San Remo, something truly nasty was boiling down out of the Maritime Alps. We decided to try our luck further west. My first trick at the wheel gave a good indication of the Sea Ray's capabilities. We were doing about 25 knots in moderate seas, but the wind and a beam sea kept trying to knock the bow over.

When Jyrki was driving, I snooped around. The 380 Sundancer is a classic example of that genre. If you've spent time aboard virtually any new Sundancer, you'd recognize the layout and styling. The helm fronts a two-tiered instrument console with gauges on the top level, switches and electronics on the bottom. A double companion seat is next to the helm seat with its flip-up bolster.

To port is a long counter topped by a good grabrail. This works well as a service center with the sink and icemaker. Fuel service valves are under this to the left, stowage to the right. The cockpit has a very large U settee with table and a fiberglass gate to the swim platform and its concealed ladder. There is line stowage in the transom and the shore cord retracts into its own port.

Below, there is about as much accommodation - and luxury - as you could pack into 38 feet. An angled galley is to port with fridge/freezer and a TV. The sink is set in a Corian counter and there is an Electrolux (this boat is set up for France, after all) microwave. A semi-U settee is to starboard and to the right of that you step down into a lounge area (passion pit, as we used to say in college?), which converts to a large double berth.

The entrance to the head is just forward of the galley. Toilet and telephone shower (with teak grate) in the same unit. It works fine. In fact, the arrangement makes it easy to spritz the inside of the MSD if it gets messy. There is a molded sink and medicine cabinet and the TP is hidden inside the door under it. I don't know what you'd do if you didn't have long arms.

The master berth is a large, unusual shape, but very comfortable. Two nights snoring away on it was proof. However, there was no place to put down my book, much less my glass of water. Advice to Sea Ray: Ditch the padded sides and put in a shelf, if only a narrow one.

We reached Monaco late in the afternoon. It was raining lightly, which added to my dismal view of this place. There are old, lovely parts of this municipality, but by and large it looks like the place where ugly modern apartment buildings go to die. The yacht club, however, was a parking lot for just about every important megayacht in the Med - and then some. This was, you see, the week of the Monaco Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival. I was grateful for the boat because you probably couldn't have gotten a hotel room anywhere between Genoa and Marseilles.

Flying Finn

We tied up to the transient dock and awaited a friend of Jyrki's, a fellow Finn named Miko Salo, who just happens to be one of the top drivers on the Grand Prix circuit. When he came aboard - along with a Finnish TV crew-I thought he was some teenaged hanger-on. Turns out he's thirty-something and one of the nicest people you could ever meet.

By 6:30, we were under way again and passed Cap d'Antibes a few minutes later. To my huge relief, the sun burst through just as we approached Port de la Rague at La Napoule, right at 7 p.m. This is Sea Ray's home port in the Med and it is a very nice marina right under the jagged edge of porphyry cliffs that mark the beginning of the Esterel Massif, which stretches west of here around to St. Raphaël and Frejus.

NICE IS NICE: And so is the strand at Cannes 

The following morning, a brilliant Saturday, the whole of the South of France came to life. It is why you come here: rocky headlands intersticed with enticing beaches, elegant villas perched above, crystalline waters below. We drove the boat back over to Cannes and pooped around a little here and there. Ultimately, we went to St. Tropez, which I always have rated as one truly swell place to sit in a sidewalk café and watch as sleek yachts disgorge jiggly starlets and potbellied moguls. We (my wife Robyn, her brother, Huntley, and friends) rented a house in nearby Ste. Maxime once upon a yesteryear - and have plans to spend the Millennium Eve here. But, even Jyrki, who lives nearby, readily admitted that for all of its considerable charms, it doesn't compare to Portofino.

However, I'm willing to consider new places. My only problem with all of this was that I'd been away from home for nearly 10 days and needed to reassure my beautiful bride that I was not being seduced by La Bardot or any of her heirs. The Sundancer does, after all, attract attention - if you get my drift. (Non, non, mademoiselle! Je suis marié!) Otherwise, Jyrki and Sea Ray willing, we could have continued on to the Spanish border.

Sea Ray 380 Sundancer
380 Sundancer Floorplan
Specifications:
LOA38'
Beam13'
Draft2'8"
Weight18,300 lbs
Water70 gals.
Fuel275 gals.
Power(2) 310-hp VD-T-7.4L MPI MerCruiser/V-Drives
Price ('99 model)$285,786
Builder:
Sea Ray Boats, 2600 Sea Ray Blvd. Knoxville, TN 37914 (800) SR-BOATS Fax: (423) 971-6444