Olbia, the primary port of Sardinia, features one of the greatest concentrations of large overnight ferries in Europe – alongside other Mediterranean megaports such as Piraeus, Genoa and, during rush hour, Igoumenitsa. Although Tirrenia continue to operate to both Civitavecchia (for Rome) and the longer overnight route to Genoa, it is the independent operators who are now the serious players: Moby use a fleet of (in the Summer) six passenger and two freight ships with schedules based on the port, offering departures to Civitavecchia, Livorno, Piombino and Genoa. Grandia Navi Veloci operate to Genoa and SNAV to Civitaecchia. Moby’s big rivals, Tourship, (Corsica-Sardinia Ferries) use the nearby port of Golfo Aranci for their own services to Civitavecchia and Livorno.
I spent an evening in Olbia on 2 September before a departure on GNV’s La Suprema to Genoa. The excellent restaurant in the terminal provides a great vantage point of the comings and goings but it is down on the quayside where the real buzz is. Whereas elsewhere in Italy little Mussolinis jump up and down ferociously citing spurious security concerns at the merest sight of a camera (the tragedy of the once-great port of Genoa being the worst example), in Olbia, where all traffic is domestic and mostly holidaymakers, things are much more relaxed and passenger-friendly. Pedestrians, with ticket or not, are permitted to come and go through an efficient security barrier which where bags are quickly scanned. Thus the principle of public access is retained and friends and family members can come onto the quayside to wave travellers off or welcome them home. And almost everyone is happily taking pictures, enjoying a uniquely nautical travel experience in a friendly atmosphere.
The veteran Costa Marina leaving Olbia - cruise ships berth at the main port amongst the ferries.
Moby Otta (ex-Tor Scandinavia) nears the port on her day sailing from Livorno.
At the freight berths are the Strada Corsa (ex-Stena Transporter/Pride of Flanders) and the Massimo M (originally Fred. Olsen's Balduin and later Tor Neringa).
The lighthouse guarding the entrance to the port.
In port is the little Domiziana, still in Adriatica colours but now back operating for the parent company Tirrenia and offering a somewhat slow crossing to Genoa.
The Domiziana's funnel, still complete with the Venetian winged lion of Adriatica.
Strada Corsa - the ship now has Sardinia Ferries funnel colours after the acquisition of her operators by Tourship.
Massimo M - since being purchased by Moby in late 2009 she has been reuinted with her two sister ships which were already in the fleet.
The Moby Otta turning in port.
Three North Sea veterans - on the left is the SNAV Lazio, originally the Olau Britannia and newly arrived in port from Civitavecchia.
Seen arriving after a speedy day crossing from Genoa is La Suprema, one of Europe's largest and most impressive cruise ferries.
We shall not linger too long with images of the Nuraghes, Tirrenia's Civitavecchia ship - suffice to say this modern (2004) ship was in predictably poor external condition.
La Suprema turning off the berth.
There follow a series of remarkably unobstructed up-close images of La Suprema coming astern onto her berth. The number of Health & Safety violations the British authorities could come up with from these pictures doesn't bear thinking about.
SNAV Lazio (left) and La Suprema (right). Arriving in the background are the Moby pair Moby Aki (from Piombino) and the freighter Luigi Pa.
The Moby Fantasy, loading for her overnight sailing to Civitavecchia - where she continues to fight above her weight despite being the smallest of all the competing passenger ferries operating to the port.
Not an entirely full car deck for the market leader on this end of peak season crossing - her Civitavecchia rivals must have been even more empty.
The Moby Wonder, arriving from Civitavecchia, will later form the 2200 to Genoa. Along with her sister, the Moby Freedom, this ship has one of the most hectic schedules in Europe covering nightly Genoa-Olbia (or vice-versa) sailings with day time returns Genoa-Bastia-Genoa or Olbia-Civitavecchia-Olbia in between.
SNAV Lazio, Domiziana and Moby Wonder.
The departure of the Domiziana - although the Strada Romana class have a certain appeal for the enthusiast, the ship's speed disadvantage compared to her rivals makes her operation on the Olbia-Genoa route difficult. Despite leaving an hour earlier than La Suprema and an hour and a half before the Moby Wonder she will not arrive in Genoa until 1000 (compared to the GNV ship's 0630 and Moby's 0730). Despite this, she was not entirely deserted - perhaps because her rivals were full.
Cars lining up to board La Suprema with the Nuraghes and the Moby Aki (waiting to leave for Livorno) in the background.
Next – a voyage report on board La Suprema.