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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!