Friday, 30 July 2010

A speedy exit from Corsica ..... July 2010

The ancient Citadel at Calvi
26 - 29 July 2010

Our snug flat anchorage at la Revelatta was such a great spot that we stayed a second night. We dinghied ashore and went for a long walk along one of the many trails out to the headland, swam in the clear waters then sat back and watched all the boats heading in and out of Calvi. The following morning we motored the short distance around, past the spectacular walled citadel and into the anchorage. There is a small, manic, overcrowded marina, outside that is a large area with laid mooring buoys, at 40€ a night we moved on further along the beach to the anchorage area. It's a very long dinghy ride ashore, probably the longest we have ever had, but ok, so it was home for a couple of nights.
We dinghied ashore for the evening, walked up to explore the citadel and were a little disappointed. Previous old towns like this are still the centre of town, with bars and cafes spilling onto the streets, small cute shops and narrow alleys. This was rather a ghost town, with just a handful of buildings occupied as residences and held little charm.

However down at sea level the place was buzzing, there were small lanes parallel to the waterfront oozing with charm and more than making up for the deserted citadel area. Maybe everyone just got tired of having to climb up the hill and relocated to sea level!!! We had an interesting local Corsican dinner ashore including wild boar stew, not exceptional but we have ticked it off the list. We stopped to listen to a solo singer at a small bar but quickly moved on when we wisely asked the price of a beer, 10€ really was just way to ridiculous for a 500ml draught beer, especially when its 60c in the supermarket for 500ml can! Still too early to go home we stopped back down on the waterfront for a nightcap, only 7€ here for a beer, what a bargain - we have paid a new high for a large tap beer.

Calvi waterfront by night
The following day we took the small and very overcrowded narrow gauge railway along the northern coast, stopping at all the beaches enroute, to the small market town of Ile Rousse. This was a cute little place with a bustling morning market, busy town square and packed busy beach. This northern coastline is a campers heaven, the entire coastline was dotted with camping grounds, crystal clear blues seas lapping on white sandy shores. The train ride back was just as busy, everyone with buckets, spades, chilli bins, umbrellas - all enjoying the summer sunshine.

The winds were forecast to fill in overnight from the southwest then build and come around more to the west. We thought most of the anchorages would start to get rolly with a westerly blowing so decided to depart the following morning and maybe head for St Florent 25 miles east which showed the best protection from the west. The morning dawned with no wind but we decided it was time to move on anyway. By the time we had lifted anchor and raised sails we had gusts to 20knots, so with two reefs in the main we bore away and set sail north east, destination undecided.
Northeast Corsica, a different landscape

We had a rather wild sail, across the top of Corsica, dead down wind, with building seas and 25knots of wind. Our planned stop at St Florent did not eventuate, there was too much wind, churning up quite a sea and we felt it wouldn't have enough protection. We had hoped to rendezvous again with Steve and Karen on Threshold who were there, but sadly passed them by. A good decision on our part as they reported the following day several boats had dragged in the anchorage, with some ending up on the beach.
We came around the pointy finger at the top of Corsica within 100 metres of Gone with the Wind, they had left from St Florent and were both surprised to see each other out in these conditions. We both rounded the top and sought shelter at Rade de Santa Maria on the leeward side of the headland, although the water was much flatter we were getting hit by 30knots bullets shooting down the hillside. We managed to anchor out of the swell in shallow water and collapsed in a heap, that had been quite some sail!!

But there was little time to rest, the winds kept building and peaked before midnight at 43 knots, then silence - it died completely giving us a chance for some rest ...... but not for long. A wicked swell rolled in, tipping us from side to side, and if that wasn't bad enough thunderstorms were building and closing in on us, closer with each crack of thunder. The wind swung to the east, only 10 knots but putting us on a leeshore, it was a sandy bottom shallowing slowly so not too much of a concern until the storms closed right in, the wind built, the rain poured down, waves came crashing over Mark on the bow as we lifted anchor - we were out of there in record time. We have never pitched and rolled so much at one time, we had items flying around inside that have never before moved, not a sea state we wish to be in again!!!
Gone with theWind with Calvi Citadel at sunset
It was 5am and dawn was just starting to break, we headed offshore to deeper waters, motoring around the thunder storms and dodging ferries standing off, they too were waiting for better weather before approaching land. We looked at the charts, it was 40 miles to the Italian Tuscan Island of Elba, and that's where we headed. We had seen and done everything we wanted to in Corsica and she just gave us a little push to speed us on our way, au revoir Corsica we have enjoyed our stay.

Cruising info for Calvi and Rade de Santa Maria, Corsica:-
Anchorages -
Calvi 42 33.578N 08 46.638E 7.5m sand, very hard to get closer as no anchoring zone, swimming zones and mooring buoys further in.
Rade de Santa Maria 42 59.701N 09 26.978E 5.5m sand We spent an hour finding the most comfortable spot on this part of the coast for our conditions, normally this should be a lovely spot and looked great walking ashore
Communications - no WIFI, a couple of the cafes ashore gave out 30min connection with a drink. Vodafone Roaming and GYMSIM both had signals
Ashore - Take dinghy into marina, tie up where you can at concrete end (by foothpath), Everything you need ashore, small but adequate supermarket, bakeries, butchers etc all small but good. Fuel dock in marina (comings and goings in marina very very busy)
Formalities - didn't see anyone for our entire stay in Corsica
Sightseeing - The train trip to Ile Rousse hugs the coastline, if you are going to sail along here then it would probably not be worthwhile. If you don't get there early you may have to stand. Departs Calvi 0905, 1105, 1340, 1535, 1810 the return departs Ile Rousse 1005, 1205, 1435, 1710,1910. It's about 50mins each way and 6Euro each, each way.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Corsica's Wild West Coast ..... July 2010

Gone with the Wind pulling in front of Eye Candy
21 - 26 July 2010

Unfortunately we couldn't stay anchored in the crystal clear waters at Cala d'Orzu forever, there were some stronger winds forecast offshore which would send in a unwelcome swell. We headed north in flat seas and a light seabreeze, it was race on again. When Eye Candy popped a coloured sail they started to gain on us slightly, skipper trimming constantly to stay ahead, Gone with the Wind came up from behind, overtaking Eye Candy, then us and surging forward, Australia wins again! We did however go off course a couple of times to allow the leaders of fleet of high performance race boats through, seemed the gentlemanly thing to do even if we forfeited our lead position.
Time out for cafe au lait in Ajaccio
We had decided to take shelter in the harbour at Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica. On entering the anchorage area it seemed everyone else on the west coast had seen the weather report and were in there too, it was very cosy but everyone was sensible with their anchoring and it all worked ok. Ajaccio's a busy city with some rather ugly highrise apartment blocks on the foreshore, a noisy road runs along the waterfront and hearing the constant hum of cars and seemingly endless wails of sirens made us appreciate our previous anchorages even more. It is a functional working town however, with a pleasant old town area complete with twisting alleys and crumbling buildings, excellent daily morning market and the best supermarket right at the anchorage we have seen possibly since we started cruising.

After two nights the winds had passed and we hoped the swells had eased with it, it was hard to tell as we were very protected by 2 headlands and a small group of islands. The skies were steely grey and it really didn't look like a nice day to go sailing. We were eager to keep heading north, ever consious that this is not a coastline you want to be on in unfavourable conditions as there are few all round anchorages.
Feasting on king prawns at €9 a kilo, yummy
Rounding the first headland the seas were still quite flat, we set sails and headed for the pass through the islands and out into open water, and then we hit the swell. A big long lazy ocean swell, unlike any we had experienced in the med before, comfortable enough to sail in but it did not bode well for our chosen anchorage for the night.

The swell was crashing up against the shear cliffs and bouncing back out, we were amazed at how close some yachts were inshore, we gave ourselves plenty of sea space and enjoyed the scenery, even in its gloomy state, from afar. Our first anchorage option at Cargese was basically untenable, we would have got seasick at anchor from the roll and the small marina was too shallow for us, so we backtracked into the bay of Sagone, looking at the chart we didn't have too much hope for anything better but it was a bigger bay and our only other immediate option. We passed two small headlands before entering the bay, and after each one the swell abated some, then the final turn into the bay seemed to cut out most of the roll and we had a reasonably comfortable night. We said our goodbyes to Andrew and Clare on Eye Candy, they were waiting for a guest to arrive and probably wouldn't catch up with us again this season. We had been in their company on and off since Sicily at the end of May and will miss having them around.
Cheese, cheese and more cheese

Next morning we left again in similar conditions, large swell, a sky still laden with threatening clouds but no wind. We bypassed the famous Golfes de Porto and Girolata and just imagined how grand they would look, the rich red sheer cliffs reflected into a glassy sea, brilliant blue sky above - maybe next time. We motored for 6 hours to cover the final 38 miles up Corsicas wild west coast and were relieved to turn the corner of the north east point and find flatter water. At La Revellata we found further shelter tucked behind a small island for the night. We were just a mile from ancient Calvi and much appreciated our flat anchorage, the bar was opened and we sat back and admired the vista of the setting sun shining onto the cream stone citadel at Calvi. We have cruised Corsica's west coast, enjoyed it immensely even if we couldn't stay and explore everywhere we had planned, and we have lived to tell another tale.

Cruising info for Ajaccio and Baie de Sagone, Corisca:-
Anchorages -
Ajaccio 41 55.828N 08 44.955E 16m mud. Tight anchorage and very busy, stay clear of where gas white buoys are, boats were in the no anchorging zone and didn't have problems
Baie de Sagone 42 06.665N 08 41.683E 8m sand. Thought we would roll all night but much better protection from the swell that it looked
Golfe de Revelatta 42 34.301N 08 43.665E 8.5m weed, rock with sand patches
Communications - No unlocked WIFI signals. Vodafone Maltese roaming and GYMSIM worked on SFR signal
Ashore - Didn't go ashore in Baie de Sagone. Ajaccio has the best Carrefour, it huge and has everything right at the anchorage (check out the fresh king prawns). Also a Le Clerc next to it. Excellent market in old town in the mornings,. Banks, ATM's everything you need. Fuel station ashore but didn't need diesel
Formalities - none

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Straits have the last laugh ..... July 2010

16-21 July
Bonifacio buildings clinging to the cliffs

It was finally time to leave Port Vecchio, we had decided to head south and then around the bottom of Corsica and up the west coast if we got calm enough conditions. We had a easy day and just motored the 12miles to our first anchorage at Porto Rondinara. We had seen post cards of this picturesque horseshoe bay with a beautiful white sandy beach and crystal clear waters and it did not disappoint, it was a lovely spot for the night, we could have stayed longer. However the winds were forecast to stay light so we decided to move on the following day and try and anchor at Bonifacio in the compact free area. Both Eye Candy and Gone with the Wind were in front of us, the winds were building in the straits and we got another free salt water washdown before we entered through the narrow gap between the cliffs into Bonifacio harbour. The small designated anchorage area was reasonably empty but there have been bow lines laid which ran back to the solid cliff wall, so instead of dropping anchor you need to position the boat, hold station, one person dinghy ashore, retrieve first one then the second bow line, get back onboard, attach these to the bow, then take stern lines ashore again by dinghy and attach them to rings or rocks. If this sounds tricky, well it is! Eye Candy were in first and needed help getting the lines. We dropped our dinghy and Mark motored over to help them, while I, my first time alone on Balvenie under way and helming went backwards, forwards, round in circles in the very tight area within the harbour entrance, trying desperately to keep out of harms way!!

Eventually Eye Candy were settled but the wind had increased more and was now coming in beam on, we decided it would be too difficult to try and get Balvenie tied up without a bow thruster, even with Eye Candy's help, so we abandoned Plan A. Plan B was to anchor in either of the 2 anchorages just west of Bonifacio but Gone with the Wind had checked them out while we were helping Eye Candy and reported that neither were tenable with the building wind, Plan C was to carry on 30 miles up the northwest coast, beating into the building sea - that was quickly dismissed and Plan D was formulated, we turned around and headed back in the direction we had come from.
Ready for the gun outside Bonifacio

We rolled out the headsail and sailed downwind back through the straits, turned north into much calmer water and looked to anchor. The first anchorage was getting bullets of over 30 knots so on we went. 6 hours after leaving Porto Rondinara we anchored just 3 miles south of it at Plage de Balistra, in flat water but the wind still howled over 25 knots and there we stayed for 2 nights sitting it out. We managed shore leave the following day for a short time and walked along the lovely long white sand beach, this was a remote area with one small shacky bar ashore, a few campervans parked, some hardy experienced windsurfers and little else except for a few nudists at the end of the beach.

The wind eased so we decided to give the Bonifacio Straits another try, leaving early before the seabreeze kicked in we motored through the straits in flat water, what a difference a couple of days and no wind can make. A yacht race was taking place outside Bonifacio and if I didn't know better I might have thought we were actually competing in it, once a racer - always a racer! As the wind filled in we were able to sail northwest, only tacking 10 times (no we weren't racing, this was just for fun!!), and we covered the 42 miles to Campomoro without the Bonifacio Straits beating us up again.
West coast from Campomoro's watchtower

The anchorage was busy, we were surprised as this west coast is much more open to the elements, and when the swell rolls in it has come all the way from the Spanish coast but the French sailors are a hardy bunch and there were plenty of yachts of all shapes and sizes on their annual sailing holiday. It was a great anchorage, deep in places but well sheltered, flat water, a pleasant village ashore, a great watch tower perched out on the headland and some well signposted coastal walks. We spent most of the following day there then did a short hop across the bay to Porto Pollo. The bay is full of official visitor mooring balls so we hooked onto one, no one came for payment and there was nowhere visible ashore to pay so we happily excepted it as being free. It was another laid back small town with a couple of camping grounds and a holiday feel to it. We had dinner ashore then next morning tried to organise a car/taxi/motorbike - anything really - to visit the megalithic monuments at Filitosa. They are from 4000BC and are related to the stone statues at Stonehenge and are supposed to be excellent, we will never know as it impossible to arrange any sort of transport to visit the site, oh well we haven't missed much else and we did try.
The clear blue waters of Cala d'Orzu

Weather conditions were still settled so we took the opportunity to keep heading north, and had a leisurely sail all of 8 miles to paradise. We had spotted a bay on the chart and read it in the guide book, it sounded ok but nothing special but when we pulled into Cala d'Orzu and could see our anchor buried in the white sand 8 metres below we felt like we had returned to the Pacific. There were even a couple of shacky bars ashore with driftwood decking, fishing nets hung for decoration, all very cool. It was totally open to the west but we had ideal conditions and relaxed there for 2 nights, it truly was one of the most beautiful, unspoilt, quiet spots we have had in the med.

Cruising info for Porto Rondinara, Plage de Balistra, Campomoro, Porto Pollo and Cala d'Orzu:-
Anchorages -

Porto Rondinara 41 28.167N 09 16.266E 7.5m sand some weed. Watch out for the charted but unmarked rock in the middle of the bay, one yacht went right on it, not a good look or sound! (Eye Candy got it all on video)
Plage de Balistra 41 26.023N 09 13.645E 6.5m sand and weed. Good to sit out a blow from the west
Campomoro 41 38.255N 08 48.788E 13m sand and weed. Quite deep look for shallow pockets
Porto Pollo 41 42.541N 08 48.053E 16m but on new blue mooring buoy, about 40 buoys, free it seemed (20 July so peak season), no lines on buoy so either find a friend to help, back up or jump overboard
Cala d'Orzu 41 44.146N 08 42.215E 8.5m sand, we were inside the yellow buoys as was everyone else. The white floating thing that looks like a big cup and saucer is a rubbish bin!
Communications - No unlocked WIFI signals anywhere. Maltese Vodafone roaming and SFR signal on our GYMSIM both ok
Ashore - Campomoro had small grocery shop, mobile butcher and bakery. Porto Pollo a good supermarket that you could land dinghy on beach in front of. Don't remember seeing ATM anywhere. The others just had small beach bars
Formalities - Gone with the Wind were boarded by French Customs in Plage de Balistra who asked to see ships papers and passports. They went through there cruising guide and showed them the best places to stop! We were anchored about 50metres away and did not get a visit

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Celebrating Bastille Day ..... July 2010

14 July 2010
On Threshold with the Windies, White Rose, Eye Candy 
It was Bastille Day and we were in a french territory so it seemed polite to join in the festivities. After a day of attending to neglected boat chores we joined all our friends onboard Threshold for happy hour. Sadly Ian and Helen on Sundancer II had left on an unplanned detour back to Sardinia so we raised a glass or two to our absent friends.

Free concert in the square at Port Vecchio
Hundreds of people waiting for the fireworks ,
This is a road, and it wasn't closed!
There was a free concert in the town square up in the old town so as the sun set we headed ashore to partake in the festivities. The waterfront area was packed, everyone already claiming their viewing spot for the fireworks display planned for 11.00pm. We did the climb back up the hill and managed to find an empty table in a cafe with a great view of the concert, ordered drinks and enjoyed all that was going on around us.

The concert ended at 10.50pm with the performers instructing the crowds to now find a spot to watch the fireworks display in the harbour. Everywhere was very busy, even the road down from the citadel had been turned into an unofficial seating area, cars trying to enter were having to back up to get out!! We felt the best place to view would be onboard Balvenie so headed back to the marina, got in the dinghy and headed home, expecting to see the start of the display enroute. But nothing happened - we got back, lifted the dinghy, got ourselves drinks, settled on our comfty chairs on the foredeck - and still nothing happened. 11.30pm came and passed, then so did midnight, Bastille Day was over without a bang.
At last the fireworks spark to life
It was a pleasant evening, we sat out a while longer and thought of the thousands of people ashore that had probably started to go home, 12.30am passed, I guess it's all computer driven these days and there had been a technical failure shame it wasn't the good ole days when someone could just throw a match at the lot!!! At 1.00am we decided it was time to give up so went below but before we had got into bed the first skyrocket erupted, a somewhat late but excellent display of fireworks that went for around 20 minutes. We suspect us yachties just may have been the only ones left to see though.

Our group disbanded the following day, amazingly we had had 6 yachts and we all ended up in 6 different anchorages on the 15th, I suspect we were all partied out! We stayed another day in Porto Vecchio before moving on.

Cruising info for Porto Vecchio:-
Anchorage - 41 35.331N 09 17.867E 4.3m in mud, some weed. Boats after us in strong winds had trouble holding but we found it very good. Long dinghy ride ashore, dinghy dock by Marina office, straight ahead past fuel dock, keep following around. Don't anchor too close to single commercial dock as big ferries come in and turn around
Communications - Free French wifi site picked up with external aerial. Chamber of Commerce site (CCFN I think), 3 days free, it gives you a log in code online. Our GYMSIM phone worked with an SFR signal, as did our Maltese Vodafone which is on European roaming
Ashore - Everything you need, Closest Supermarket - follow road inland at end of waterfront (away from citadel) about 10 mins walk, bakery enroute. ATM's around town
Fuel Dock in the marina, didn't get any but remember it being cheaper than Sardinia

Formalities - none

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bonny Bonifacio ..... July 2010

Bonifacio harbour and Citadel
13 July 2010
When we had collected our hire car in Porto Vecchio in the morning we were warned that if we were going to Bonifacio we should get there before 6pm, as there was a festival on in the evening combined with fireworks for Bastille Day. What we underestimated was the capacity for carparking in this rather small community jammed between clifftops and comprising mostly of water! After several circuits of the one way road system we finally found a pay carpark with just enough room for our little Panda.

We set off exploring this strategically placed historical port, the waterfront area was jammed packed with boats of all shapes and sizes, the marina staff looking totally overwhelmed by the endless stream of boats heading into the harbour. The area was pleasant enough, with wall to wall restaurants displaying menus looking somewhat outside our regular eating out budget.
Looking down into Bonifacio's busy harbour
It was time for another uphill workout and we started the climb up to the citadel, stopping along the way for several photo opportunities, the views down into the harbour and also out across the Bonifacio Straits were just superb. We entered through the arched city wall, passing the extremely old wooden gates into a maze of tiny alleyways, running this way and that, another step back in time. Of course there were more tourist shops and outdoor cafes than would have been originally planned for but there were just so many small alleys to explore you could lose the crowds every now and then.
It's always a hike to the top
We walked right through the walled citadel and out the other side past the now derelict Army barracks that presented a real opportunity for someone with a spare billion euros to redevelop this area into something rather spectacular. Out on the edge of the peninsular was the town cemetery. It was like no other we have seen before, there were little rows of above ground tombs, they looked like mini terraced houses, a front door to each with compartments inside for the coffins and a plaque on the outside end of each. They were extended family tombs it seemed, and neighbourhoods of relatives all in a village style setting, a main square, side streets, but of course empty of people. It was a very interesting place.

Dinner time was fast approaching but the vast selection of eateries we had already seen were already now full, unbelievable. Exhausting all options in the old town we made our way back down to water level. Tired after a long day touring, hungry and getting irritable we pushed on through the ever increasing crowds and finally accepted an indoor spot at a harbourside restaurant - we wanted to be outside with all the action, but in hindsight we should have thought of that earlier!!
This cemetery was like no other we have seen
The rugby mad owner was thrilled to have some Aussies and Kiwis in for dinner and didn't think we should be inside either, so simply instructed his staff to pick up of table and put it out on the street, no - not footpath, street!! There was just enough room for the infrequent bold car to get by, then the gendarmes came by and wanted to give him a ticket for "parking a table illegally" (that was his translation) but it seems that they let him off, we were from good rugby playing nations, there were celebrations on for Bastille Day, why he said, should they spoil our time in Bonifacio?? Why indeed!!! We had an excellent french meal with a very good carafe of table wine and left with fond memories and didn't spend a fortune. We slipped out of the carpark before the 11.30pm blast off time for the fireworks display, we figured it was now or never, Bonifacio was jammed packed full, the roads getting blocked, and we were having the display in Porto Vecchio the following evening.