Elba at last
17 September 2009 | Off Portoferraio
On Thursday the relentless southerly thunderstorms finally let up. We escaped about 0830. There was a strong swell still running out of the south west, which gradually flattened over the morning allowing the sea pushed up by the quartering northerly to surf us along. It was a bright and gusty morning, and we could clearly see Elba from the moment we cleared the headland outside the harbour. The wind being so far aft, in such a rolly sea, we took the easy course and motorsailed the 24 miles.
The GPS completely failed to find a fix. We have three sets on board and for much of the way none of them could get enough satellite info. In the end one of the handhelds managed to coax enough information out of the sky, even before our antenna-assisted nav table set.
On this occasion it didn't matter very much, but it could have been more annoying. Sarah's sextant navigation is not so much rusty as a crumbling (and rarely-used) heap, and in any case not terribly practical on such a passage. On a dark night, we would have been absolutely back to the old skills of dead reckoning and eyeball pilotage. As it was, life was pretty simple, and in particular we could stay north of the shoal off Capo Enfola. We don't know if this is a general anomaly or a one-off, but be aware of the risk of losing GPS in these waters.
Entering the Rade di Portoferraio really is very simple. Once past the Scoglietto lighthouse, the entrance is clear. Your biggest challenge is staying clear of the ferries, and any other yachts that are fannying about in the changeable winds off the headland.
Inside the Rade , there are tons of anchorages. We are outside the San Giovanni harbour, which is tiny and not suitable for a boat our size. Directly opposite us, maybe half a mile away, is the entrance to the beautiful Darsena Mediciana, built by Cosimo I of Florence. The buildings are buttery, biscuit, ochre and cream, glowing in the light, beneath the grim fortress that reminds the town of its history of war.
There are endless ferries to Corsica, Piombino, Livorno and Sardinia. They do put out some wash, which we might avoid if we went a little further west, but there are other boats already there. It's not really a problem though, and does keep the water moving rather more than it otherwise might. As you can see, Portoferraio is on the cruise liner circuit.
We included this picture with the liner in to demonstrate a point. The symbol marks a spot shown as an anchorage in the pilot book, with a reference to be careful of ferries. We had been told of a boat that anchored there, went ashore and left the boat unattended, only to have it moved by the coast guard. Even without the cruise ship there, we are not surprised. It seems a very silly place to anchor, and uncomfortable too. Just where most boats are anchored, where we are, is out of the way, safe and still within easy reach of the town.