Mediterranean France

The old Dirk,

… and his story.

Our Cape Town friend, Ernst Hartwig, emailed me these photos taken in the Maritime Museum of Amsterdam. Evidently a Dutch Dirk Muller (1758 – 1834) reached the rank of sailing captain (ship’s master) in the Dutch East India Company. The Australian Dirk Muller (1947 – ) isn’t a commissioned officer, but nevertheless enjoy his sailing .

The Australian Dirk Muller was shocked looking into a mirror this morning.

WTF! I have slept my hair into a Donald Trump last night.

Back to sailing: Our crossing from Calvi in Corsica to Cap Ferrat in France started well on the 1st October. At 4:30 in the morning, with no moon, we were ticking over nicely with a fully reefed main and full jib in 18 knots of wind on the beam for the first 5 hours. Then the wind started veering and gradually headed us, forcing us further east. The result was that we tied up to the transit berth in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera, 25 nm to the east of Cap Ferrat at sunset, having sailed 91 nm in 14 hours.

Western Med route from Corsica.

Before the second world war San Remo was the haunt of the rich, renowned for its fine hotels and restaurants, offering service in the “grand manner” and for its casino, where large sums could be lost or won. The vestiges of that era remain and the elegant villas and hotels confer the charm of a once-exclusive resort on the town.

San Remo – walking up to the Madonna Della Costa cathedral.

After our morning walk through town and up to the cathedral, we stopped at a harbourside cafe for coffee and croissants and were intrigued by the passing parade. A large number of rich elderly people seems to have retired here and botoxed men and women with brilliant white teeth and orangey-brown spray tans, draped with jewellery and with fashionable french bulldogs in tow, were passing by.

Nearly there.

Don Orione from the monastery at the top of the hill, will assist you for your last few steps.

Very ornate Baroque interior.

View down to San Remo.

The nearby Conad supermarket provided us with the opportunity to replenish our supplies, before we set off for Menton on the French Riviera, 12 nm to the west and just across the French border. We tied up in the Port de Garavan marina for EU 29/day to stay out of the wicked north wester that was coming down the  Golfe du Lion, hitting Marseille and St. Tropez where our friends Grant and Lesley Thompson on Cattiva were tied up.


Tina and Jonny Patrick from NZ on Paikea also tied up in Menton, so the following morning after coffees, we took the train to Monaco, where we explored the town and visited the Grimaldi Palace and the Oceanographic museum. The latter has the best aquarium we have ever visited. After a long lunch we caught the train back to Menton, footsore and for a good night’s sleep.

Annie, Jonny and Tina walking up to the Grimaldi palace.

View down to Monaco harbour.

Photos of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace in the Palace precinct.

The impressive Oceanographic Institute Museum.


Clown fish.

On the way back to the station – admiring a small electric car.

We explored Menton which has a beautiful old town, the following day.

Menton old town.

View down to Menton harbour.

On Friday, we decided to pull down the jib sail as it appeared the leech stitching was parting ways. We were shocked to see that the UV protective strip on the leech of the sail was starting to delaminate and the bolt rope on the luff was parting with the sail. After 12,000 miles, we expected that this was bound to happen. No problem, a call to Pascale Boulocher (a lady) at Amure Nautique sailmakers, got the jib and our asymmetric spinnaker re-stitched over the weekend.

On the train to Nice – a French busker.

With the wind still raging, we caught the train to Nice on the Monday. Nice is quite a large city with wide boulevards in the Paris style and a very cosmopolitan population. We covered quite a distance walking from the train station to the old town and up to the citadel and remarkable cemetery. This was followed by lunch at a sidewalk cafe before we walked through quite a big outdoor market, back to the station and then a train back to Menton.

Nice station.

Nice – beautiful park with water features.

Kid’s playground.

Nice beachfront.

This wall is painted! (faux windows, shutters, doors and balustrading)

Nice town square.

The wind abated sufficiently on the 8th October for us to leave Menton and sail to Cap Ferrat (our original destination).The following day we motor sailed past Monaco and Antibes and when rounding Cap d’Antibes sailed past Juan les Pins on our way to Cannes.

Monaco from the sea.

The Oceanographic Museum on the cliff face above the water.

Those of us old enough to remember, will think back to Peter Sarstedt’s 1969 hit “Where do you go to my Lovely” and his lyrics “When you go on your summer vacation, you go to Juan les Pins. With your carefully designed topless swimsuit, you get an even suntan on your back, and on your legs..”

I wondered then, before Google Maps, where Juan les Pins was – and here it was, between Antibes and Cannes. The list of regulars in Juan les Pins in the 1920s and 30s reads like a roll call of the greatest American creative talent of the period: Archibald MacLeish, Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, adding to the wild reputation of the place.

We anchored in the deep sheltered bay of Rade d’Agay on the Cote d’Azur, where a 25 knot northwesterly still tested our anchor holding during the night. The following morning, it seemed like the wind had abated, so we set off for St-Tropez. Big mistake – the northwesterly came up again, gusting 35 knots in a big sea. Sails furled, harnesses clipped in, after an hour we turned around and ran with the wind, back to Rade d’Agay. A hearty bacon and egg omelette with coffees soothed our battered ego’s.

Sailing past St-Tropez to Port Grimaud.

Not content to err on the side of caution, Ms Schady decided to set sail again three hours later, as the three weather apps she consulted, indicated that the wind had now abated. The wind was still blowing 20 knots, but at least the swell had decreased. so after a brisk sail we anchored off Port Grimaud at the top of the gulf of St-Tropez at 5pm. A quiet night with very little wind followed.

Classic yachts tied up in St-Tropez.

The following morning at 9am we anchored off St-Tropez harbour and went ashore to explore this quite attractive town, made famous by Brigitte Bardot, who settled here. Today, the rich and famous frequent the town which has a surfeit of art galleries and premium brand shops. We enjoyed the most expensive coffees and croissants we have come across to date – just to say we did!

The old town.

Someone will have the money to buy this exclusive Emilio Pucci creation.

How considerate – free 30 minute only parking at selected bays!

The coffee and croissants were good.

After St-Tropez, we anchored off Cap de Bregancon near a little island with old stone buildings, when Jonny and Tina on Paikea turned up, to anchor next to us for drinks. The following morning we headed off for Toulon and Marseille, while they carried on west to cross the Gulf of Lion.

Cap de Bregancon.

Jonny and Tina steaming past on Paikea under spinnaker.

After 35 nm, we anchored in the lee of La Madrague, between Toulon and Marseille, to leave the Cote d’Azur behind and enter the Provence region. I must say that we were most impressed with the Riviera and Cote d’Azur scenery, the food and their wines – thank goodness the summer high season was coming to an end and life for the locals and visitors was more relaxed.

Leaving La Madrague.

Our next stop was Marseille, where we had to pick up two parcels that were forwarded to us at a local marina. We tucked into a sheltered cove outside the marina as there was no staff working on a Sunday! We collected it on the Monday morning, as well as pick up some provisions at a nearby Carrefour before setting off to cross the Gulf of Lion to the border of Spain. This leg of 110 nm will be an overnight sail – let’s hope the Mistral blowing down the Gulf won’t be too strong.

Sailing into Marseille.

Fortifications on the island opposite the town.

No less than four passenger liners in the harbour.

Next up – Spain!

Corsica and Sardinia.

Corsica and Sardinia route.

Saturday the 7th September 2019 arrived bright and sunny, so we left Capraia island off the Tuscan coast of Italy, after a hearty breakfast to sail in a light breeze and flat seas, across to Corsica. As we approached the east coast of Corsica, we were welcomed by quite beautiful scenery of green mountains, white sandy beaches and blue seas. The distance from Capraia island to Port de Taverna in Corsica is 45 nm and we anchored offshore at 6:30pm for a quiet night.

Approaching Corsica.

The east coast of Corsica unfortunately doesn’t have many sheltered anchorages or natural harbours. The next morning after topping up the diesel tank with 60 litres of spare diesel from our jerry cans, we set sail for Porto Vecchio, 51 nm to the south in a lovely 15 knot breeze off the land. We would soon learn that the strong westerly wind buffeting the west coast of Corsica, was now accelerating across the island, creating even stronger katabatic gusts on the east coast.

Gusts of up to 30 knots hit us, twice broaching Esprit and turning all our gear inside, upside down. Down to a fully reefed mainsail and a jib furled to the size of a bath towel, we were flying along at 9 to 10 knots SOG and getting thoroughly drenched by the sea spray. We spotted a small sheltered bay on the GPS and decided to cut the trip short and anchor in the small bay of Solenzara Corse after 33 nm. The small marina was overflowing with yachts seeking shelter, so we were one of four boats anchored in the lee of the harbour breakwater. Getting the sails down was not funny!

Entering Porto Vecchio.

Porto Vecchio, 18 nm further south is a big sheltered bay, but with a 20 knot wind on the nose, we had to motor for 3.5 hours to get there the next day. The following day was spent searching for the Customs and Immigration office, only to find the government had closed this office. The plan was to apply for an extended three month visa for my Aussie passport, in terms of EU family rights rules – under the umbrella of Annie’s UK passport, which is unrestricted until Brexit is resolved.

Defeated, we sat down for iced coffees and croissants, discussing what to do next. I would soon be running out of my 90 days in the Schengen area, before having to leave for 90 days. You may recall I had a run in with the Greek authorities last year for the same reason. The option we have, is to sail to Tunisia and leave Esprit there and travel for three months out of the Schengen area, to say Morocco, Kenya or elsewhere in Africa. But first, Annie’s sister Penny, husband Frank and daughter Julia will join us in a few days for sailing in the Maddalena islands in northern Sardinia.

By way of an introduction to Corsica, it should be noted that Napoleon was born here and therefore many streets, restaurants and bars sport the names Napoleon or Bonaparte.

Ahead of the game – electric buses in Porto Vecchio.

After that, we may well be fed up with this Schengen caper and head west along the French and Spanish coasts and the Balearic islands to Gibraltar. Then a December sail down the west coast of Morocco to the Canary islands and a January crossing of the Atlantic to the Caribbean. We will update you as we sail along up to Christmas. Meanwhile, we hit the French supermarket for excellent but cheap wines, cheeses and pate’s, before sailing down to Lavezzi island, in the Bonifacio Strait between Corsica and Sardinia.

Lavezzi island.

Lavezzi is an interesting little island. It is a maze of rocks, reefs and shoal water in Corsican territory – the rocks looking like they have been stacked by a giant. It is also the island off which the French frigate “La Semillante” floundered during a storm in 1855, and all 773 crew and soldiers on board perished. They were buried on the island in two cemeteries and today there is a memorial at the entrance to Cala Lazarina, where we anchored with about six other yachts.

Full moon rising over Lavezzi.

We crossed the strait between Corsica and Sardinia and sailed between the coast and the lovely Maddalena islands on the north east coast of Sardinia, passing Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda, to anchor in the quiet bay of Cala di Volpe. The following day we motored the last 17 nm to Olbia on the east coast and tied up on the old harbour wall, which amazingly, was for free.

A gin palace coming out of Porto Cervo as we sail past.

There were eight other yachts tied up with sailors from Australia, New Zealand the UK and South Africa, coming around to say g’day. We hosted drinks and nibbles for a bunch of those planning to cross the Atlantic at the end of the year, or do a passage through the Suez canal and down the Red Sea to the Seychelles. We were able to exchange useful information for both these passages.

Cartoon images on a ferry in Olbia.

…hopefully keeping graffiti “artists” off the streets.

Saturday was a spare day in Olbia before the Tonetti’s from Auckland arrived, so we visited a laundromat to do our washing, Vodafone to extend our data plans and to clean the boat inside. With no water on the quay, the outside remained covered in a crust of salt. On the Sunday, Frank, Penny and Julia arrived and after tea, we stocked up at a supermarket with provisions for the next 10 days.

Frank getting down to scrubbing the deck.

Our objective was to explore the Maddalena archipelago, a group of islands on the south side of the Bonifacio Strait. There are seven principal islands and several smaller ones in the La Maddalena National Park and Marine Reserve. We bought a seven day permit online for EU57.60, to visit all the coves and anchorages in the marine reserve. The islands are all composed of red granite and are quite stunning, with white sandy beaches. The crystal clear water gives this region the name of Costa Smeralda, which means the Emerald coast.

The Maddalena islands.

On Monday the 16th September we sailed out of Olbia and anchored for lunch and a swim in the Gulf of Marinella before anchoring in the beautiful bay Cala di Volpe for the night. The following morning while the rest of the crew motored up the bay in the dinghy to a nearby luxury hotel for coffee and croissants, I fired up the water maker to fill the forward water tank.

Frank, Dirk, Annie & Julia.

We visited Porto Cervo, the very expensive and exclusive marina, enroute to Caprera island. With no wind available, the Yanmar engine took us to Cala Portese on the island of Caprera and then on to the main island of Maddalena before we anchored in a sheltered bay on the south side of the island for a predicted northerly. The crew landed the dinghy and walked the 3km to Maddalena town. Laden with wine and beer, they decided to take a bus back to the jetty where they were tied up.

Porto Cervo.

Maddalena town.

The rest of the week, with perfect weather, we cruised amongst the islands and anchored off the islands of Caprera, San Stefano, Maddalena, Spargi, Budelli, Santa Maria and Razzoli, to swim, paddle board and do walks on land. On Saturday the 21st, we dropped Julia off in Palau to catch a bus to the airport for her flight back to London and to also top up our provisions.

Villamarina bay in the south of San Stefano island.

Walking up to a Napoleonic fort.

A strong easterly was predicted, so we decided to head to the deep gulf of Cannigione for shelter, but the anchor winch surprised us by refusing to lift the anchor! Frank and I pulled the anchor up by hand and three hours later we anchored in Cannigione next to Jonny and Tina Patrick from Auckland in NZ. We had invited them over for a BBQ the day before and over dinner Jonny offered to help us find the problem with the anchor winch the next morning. I remembered that the new anchor winch which we installed a month ago, came with a solenoid switch which I didn’t install as the old one looked and tested OK.

So, with Jonny’s help we installed the new solenoid in the bow locker, but found that the anchor winch would lower, but not lift the chain. Jonny has an analytical mind and he suggested that the coiled cable of the hand held winch control was  probably damaged. On testing the 3 conductors with my multimeter, it turned out that one of them was damaged. We replaced the entire cable with a new 3-core cable, soldered up the connections and after further fiddling with the spade connectors on the solenoid, the winch worked. Quite a relief, as I didn’t relish the idea of lifting the anchor by hand from here onwards. We celebrated with drinks at the harbour bar in Cannigione.

Cannigione town.

The wind now turned to a blustery westerly, so we headed to Porto Palma to pick up mooring buoy for shelter from the west. There are two sailing schools in this bay and the dinghies were flying past our mooring at breakneck speeds, with thrills and spills, as the wind picked up to 24 knots. The wind continued through the night and the following morning, on the day our permit expired, we were visited by the charming Parks Authority inspectors to check our permit and wish us safe sailing back to Palau.

From Palau, Penny and Frank would be departing to Auckland the next morning. At 4pm the marina staff allocated us a berth and helped us dock in a 30 knot wind accompanied by lots of shouting! By 5pm we managed to wash the boat inside and out with fresh water and fill the water tanks, which had run empty by midday. We sat down to well deserved sundowners. The Tonetti’s insisted on shouting us a farewell dinner in Palau, which we enjoyed with lots of wine.

Palau street art.

The marina charged us a reasonable EU30 per night, so with the wind building to 30 knots and not abating, we ended up staying for a further two nights, waiting for a better weather window to sail to Corsica. I used the time productively by unpacking the cockpit lockers to crawl into the diabolically small spaces to lubricate the steering chains and sprockets, cables and sheaves with lanolin spray and re-tension the cables around the steering quadrant. I also installed two new shower hoses in the showers and pickled the water maker, while Annie did the shopping for groceries, fruit and veg.

More Palau street art.

On Friday morning the 27th September the wind dropped, allowing us to scrub the sides of the hull and filling a few dings in the gelcoat, before leaving at 11:30 for Corsica, only 17 nm to the north. We had a pleasant sail and anchored in Bonifacio at 2pm to explore this lovely town and have dinner at a restaurant. 

Approaching Bonifacio.

Bonifacio harbour side.

The church in town….

… using the surrounding buildings to support its flying buttresses.

Bonifacio street scene.

The town walls illuminated at night.

Diesel and petrol prices were reasonable in Bonifacio, so we filled our tank and jerry cans the next morning before setting sail for Propriano, 36 nm to the north west. A strong westerly took us there in record time, but it was also blowing straight into the anchorage in Propriano, so we found shelter at Porto Pollo on the north side of the gulf on a buoy. Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica was next up and has a huge harbour – we decided to give it a miss, because big harbours can be messy. Our next stop was in Cargese, 33 nm to the north, where I traced the salt water leak into the bilges, to the anchor chain wash pump. After three hours of stripping the pump, reassembly (twice) and cursing, the leak was fixed. Keep fingers crossed, it will stay that way.

Port Pollo.

West coast mountains.

Our final leg up the mountainous and beautiful west coast of Corsica was the 37 nm to Calvi. What started as a pleasant 15-18 knot downwind sail under mainsail only, deteriorated rapidly about 10 nm from Calvi, as the wind picked up to 35 knots and with the main fully reefed, we were bowling along at over 10 knots SOG, sometimes, out of control. We granny gybed into the lee of Calvi, where we anchored at 2pm, exhausted but happy to take off our life jackets and harnesses to enjoy a beer.

Sailing into Calvi bay.

Mountains opposite Calvi.

Calvi citadel.

Calvi is quite a likeable town with the citadel that sits above the town and magnificent mountains across the bay. I would have liked to spend another day exploring the town, but when the weather update at 9 pm came through on the day of our arrival, we realised our only weather window for sailing would be the following day, as the day after that would be too windy and from the wrong direction. So we went to bed with the alarm set for 4 am on the 1st October 2019 for the 95 nm crossing to Cap Ferrat. Our next post will be from the French mainland coast. Cheers for now!