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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Gulf of Girolata/Ghjirolatu

At the southern edge of Scandola lies the Golfe de Girolata. This wide mouthed bay hides at its eastern end a splendid little harbour. The eponymous fishing village is only reachable by boat or foot and remains very isolated.
Entering the Gulf you just have to believe there is a harbour at the end. From the Pte de Scandola it just looks like a series of small coves and reefs which, even in calm weather, show white with surf. Aim just south of the tower standing proud on its rock. You will begin to see boats popping in and out. When you call, on channel 9, a reassuring voice tells you to come towards the harbour, where you will be met. (The voice speaks excellent English: almost all the staff here do!) You may have to wait a while, especially if you are just behind a tour boat, but they take new arrivals in strict rotation and they will get to you.
Girolata is no longer an anchorage but an extremely well organised operation where yachts are placed on buoys. The outer line are swinging to one buoy, but further in, there are fore and aft moorings. The efficient young men in their RiBs tell you where to put your ropes (fore and aft, port or starboard) and then lead you to your assigned spot, taking the route that suits the conditions and other boats in place, as well as your draft. He takes your bow rope, threads it through and tosses it back before heading to nudge your stern into place to repeat the operation. It really is very easy. But do not try this at night: this is a very dark harbour and there are no lights. There are some pilotage type pictures inthe album. The one above is taken from the top of the hill 150m east of the harbour: the tower is hiding behind the bush on the left. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain that day!
The moorings are not free. At just under 12m we are paying 26EU a night, which will increase to 32EU at the end of June. If you spend 6 nights, the 7th is free.
Wintering here would be extremely cheap, but demanding. In the winter there are 12 to 15 permanent inhabitants in the village. Almost all food comes in by boat, and it would be dark under the surrounding cliffs. The wifi is flakey and phone signals (for data) are poor. But it could be rewarding for those with projects which did not rely on extensive infrastructure.
Right now, though, it is a lovely spot to relax. Not least, there is no swell, a blessed relief after a few bad nights sleep. When the sun comes out, the water (5m where we are moored) is pellucid down to the sand.
Incidentally, this harbour was founded by Andrea Doria - the man who salvaged Genoa's fortunes by creating a mercenary fleet. He needed somewhere on this coast as a haven for his shallow-draft fighting galleys, and Girolata served the purpose very well. Before it was just a small fishing village, and, out of season, that's what it has become again.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Pointe Palazzo and Ile Gargalu

The headland just west of Elbu is the famous Pointe Palazzo, so called because the huge formations are said to resemble palaces. They are twisted and worn into fantastic shapes, which change their appearance as the light and shadows shift, and you also move to different perspectives. Around them wheel gulls and eagles, and, we're told, seals and dolphins play. (We didn't see dolphins, but Aquila did.)
Just beyond Palazzo is the tiny island of Gargalu. (The place marker which will take you to our location is 0.5m west of the island.) This is blessed with both a lighthouse and a tower. Soldiers and light keepers alike must have found this a remote and lonely outpost, vulnerable to forces far outside their control.
Gargalu has its tiny ilot cousin, just to the South. There is a narrow channel between these islands and the coast, and we saw a tripper boat come through it, but we wouldn't dream of taking a keel boat down there, Instead we went round the outside and south down the exposed western flank of Scandola, taking many pictures for the album referring to this post. The rocks are twisted and sharpened by water and wind, and bask in reds, bronze, greys and greens, changing continuously with the clouds and the sun.

Places and people
Coast of Scandola

South of Galeria is the start of the UNESCO listed Scandola Nature Reserve. This magnificent area is largely closed to visitors, really only visitable by boat. And even that is limited, both by the very rocky coastline and increasing prohibitions on mooring, diving or fishing. The area is home to a very wide range of unique and endangered flora and fauna, and it has never been thickly inhabited, so all the prohibitions make sense.
Rather than take a direct line across the bay, we scouted out some of the extraordinary coves and rocks. Above is Baie d'Elbu in which anchoring is now only allowed in daylight hours. The pilot shows it as a possible spot, but as you can see, the entrance is formidable.

Places and people

Our friends on Aquila had caught us up in Calvi, after an enjoyable week with family on the Cinqueterre coast. We reinstated our tradition of sightseeing combined with gastronomy and hikes with a visit to Corte.
This town is pretty much in the centre of the island. It was, and remains, a centre of Corsican nationalism. There is plenty of graffiti on the subject on its walls, particularly around the University (the only one on Corsica). We went by train from Calvi, but there are lots of works on the line and quite a lot of the trip was by bus instead. Like all travel in France, it adds up in price, as return tickets were over 20EU each. But we saw a good chunk of the island, which is spectacularly beautiful.
Corte is centred around its citadel, which sits imposingly on a jutting granite peak. It is reminiscent of Rocamodor in France but without the pretty pointy towers. We ate an excellent lunch (fish soup, wild boar and so on) but passed on the rather expensive museum which is the only way to visit the citadel itself. Instead we walked the path of the ancient mule track into the valley of the Tavignano river, the route Napoleon's mother took when fleeing French forces while pregnant with the future Emperor. It's a pretty walk, though steep in the afternoon heat (hats off to Mme Bounoparte) , and apparently you can go on for another couple of hours to find bathing pools in the rocks. It sounded lovely - Braemar with hot water and scented maquis - but was further than we had time (or energy) to walk.

Places and people
Calvi town

Calvi itself is a sweet town but extremely touristy and expensive. Not much else seems to happen here. Of course it has an exciting history of military scraps - this is where Nelson lost his eye - and it is the HQ of a crack para regiment in the Foreign Legion. But today it is extremely peaceful.
It does have good provisioning at the supermarkets along with numerous shops selling Corsican specialities (also in the SuperU and cheaper there) and an expensive covered market selling allegedly local produce.
A highlight of our stay was to hear a band called Alba play in the cathedral in the citadel. They are part of a tradition of polyphonic singing in Corsica, which we had known nothing about. Groups, usually but not always all male, will sing in a variety of forms, unaccompanied or with violins, zithers, guitars. Alba also have a clarinet, a sax and very clever table-top organ, as well as a (female) percussionist.
Haunting, soaring music, sung in the dusky cathedral light, after which we walked out into the night air, astonished at the strength and muscle of the singing and the enduring Corsican pride.
The other find in Calvi was the Bibliotheque pout Tous, (in the picture) which is in a little sidestreet behind the eglise in the lower town. This little library also has a shelf-full of English books for sale at 2EU a time - a boon to any cruisers. The main staff member is a lovely woman who, with her husband, completed a seven year circumnavigation on their 16m yacht. We had a jolly time comparing notes on book swaps from Vanuatu, the Caribbean, the UK and the US.

Places and people
Calvi anchorage

The bay off Calvi, within the hook of the rock on which the famous citadel sits, is enormous, fringed by a stunning white beach. Until 1 June you can anchor pretty much anywhere, and be close to the town. After that, till mid-September, a very large mooring field is laid out, and you cannot anchor within it. The buoys cost half the rate it would be for your vessel within the marina.
Alternatively you can anchor on the eastern end of the bay. This is a long way to town (about two miles), but free. We found a wicked swell got in there one night, a wave coming in deflected off Ravatella to the north west. But otherwise it was very pleasant.
Around Calvi, there is snow still on the mountain tops as you can see from the picture. We gather that winter here (as in the UK) was uncharacteristically wet and cold, and the snow has lingered at least a month longer than usual. The water is certainly still very cold, fed by the run-off from the white peaks.
For business reasons, Sarah had to go back to the UK for a few days. We moored Roaring Girl in the marina, and Pip stayed aboard while Sarah flew north. It wasn't a holiday for Pip either as she fixed our errant water tank, resealed the surfaces in the galley and a range of other jobs.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Passage to Calvi and the Danger

We were up very early in the morning given a forecast of stronger winds later in the day. After rounding the big red rock which gives Ile Rousse its name, we headed west. It's only about six miles from the rock to Punta de Spagna, where you turn into the Gulf of Calvi, but in between lies the Danger de Algajola. (There's a picture of it in the album about Ile Rousse). This terrifyingly named reef is only 0.8m below the surface and about a mile off shore. It kicks up a wicked froth so can be hard to see. It is unpleasant enough that the charts call it a Danger, rather than the much more common 'rock' or even 'roches'. We were very keen to get past it before the wind increased.
In the event, as we passed the lonely cardinal mark that indicates the offshore edge of the Danger, the sea was calm. But half an hour later, as we reached Spagna, the promised south westerly had arrived and indeed there were white caps everywhere and Roaring Girl pitching hard. It was a relief to round the finger of rocks pointing at the next headland and turn south into the protected waters off Calvi. Once deep in the bay, protected by the encircling mountains, the water was calm. We dropped anchor at 0800 with the whole day left to explore.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
A long march

The area west of the gulf of St Florent is called the Desert des Agriates. The name means bread basket, and this region was so rich in wheat that the Genoese imposed a punitive fiscal regime to make sure extra cash wasn't financing insurrection. But too much farming and soil erosion, and many fires, have laid waste, and now this is a huge area of scrub maquis. Beautiful for walking, swimming and wildlife, and a loss of productive land.
We decided to explore by walking along the coast path. Not planning on a huge hike, we rowed ashore and left Bridget neatly anchored. Or we were arranging this when we saw a RIB full of blokes investigating Roaring Girl. Pip did some womanful rowing back for us to be greeted by the douanes (customs) wanting to inspect our papers. Usual drill: we're politely separated and asked the same questions (as far as language allows) and one man looks casually into all cabins. They check papers and then go. It's all polite but it's still men with guns tromping around our decks!.
So off we go again, and use a washed up buoy with 3m of chain as our base and a dual anchor onto the beach, leaving the dinghy comfortably afloat but out of easy temptation's reach.
After a while, we decided to keep going to Plage de la Lotu, which we had seen a ferry for from St Florent (and felt its wake) many times. There'll be a water source there, we thought, maybe even a café shack. Hundreds of folk go there every day.
We had a beautiful walk. The unique smell of Corsican maquis enveloped us, with giant fennel, the rich wild rosemary, creeping thyme all playing their part. There are several small streams to ford, many leading from small salt etangs, along the shores of which cattle graze, the long horned heads nodding for siesta. Astonishing white beaches, from big half-moons to tiny scraps of space, some deserted. Steep climbs with the shrubs above head-height, offering brief patches of shade. Glittering turquoise water in the beach shallows, ringed by deeper, darker sea where the weed and rocks flourish on the seabed.
In the photo album there are pictures of this hike, including the tiny Fornali Creek. This is shown as an anchorage but the boat permanently moored beneath the private residence on the headland severely diminishes the space
There is an old Genoese tower on this route (of course) at Baie de la Mortella. The Genoese successfully held it against Lord Hood when the British weighed in to support the independence struggle of Pasquale Paoli. Hood was so impressed that he ordered towers of similar design all over British territory, giving rise to the familiar round Martello towers of which so many were built on the British coast to defend against ... the Corsican Napoleon!
This one has very thick walls and a useful, flat stopping place. What it lacks is clear signage. If you ever do this walk, you go up from the tower - not down! We went down and had an exciting 40 minute scramble across the rocks. Neither of us are used to pushing our fingers into crannies and not breathing in case it spoils your balance. 40 minutes was enough, and then we gratefully rejoined the path.
It's still a little further to the plage, which is completely devoid of anything resembling fresh water or kiosks. By then we'd been walking for about 4.5 hours with a litre of water between us and were gasping. We took the first swim of the season off the beach: the cold snow run-off was just what we needed.
Fortunately, the ferry took us back to St Florent (despite our ticketless state: we did have money!). There we got a much needed bottle, and then hiked the last hour back to patient Bridget.
All in all we probably walked over 10 miles. Despite the water (and food) shortage we had an excellent time. We'd recommend the walk if you're in the area. There are also many good anchorages along here, though all more exposed than where we based ourselves. Lots of pictures in a new album about this hike.

Places and people
St Florent

This is another touristy town. The Nebbio region is well known for wine and charcuterie, and the gulf is famous for its fish. But to eat ashore is scandalously expensive, or very poor quality - or both. We have managed to find a laundry, and enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with French boulangeries. Pip has put her baking away until we return to Italy.
Dinghy parking isn't simple in the marina. We went up the river Aliso a little distance, to find it packed with small power boats, and a new basin for them is being built. However, every spot is spoken for. We finally parked Bridgit under the bows of an elderly, pretty gaff rigged boat sporting a huge pirates flag and alobster pot hanging off the port bow. Nobody seemed to care.
The town has always made itself a bit flash. The name derives from the Bishop Florent who served as Bishop of Nebium following his exile to Corsica from North Africa by King Huneric of the Vandals in the 5th century. Florent's remains were taken to Treviso, and in 1770 the Bishop of the Nebbio asked the pope for a skeleton. He took what he was given, and on it he built up some features in wax and dressed the body, which now lies in a glass casket, as a Roman soldier.
Today the town has two poles (about 200m apart). One is the glitzy seafront with its cafes and strollers. The other is the 15th century Genoese citadel which you can visit and where they put on various events during the year.
At the time of writing, we are still at anchor across the Golfe: the picture shows the wee beach which is part of the coastal path. The weather forecast was a libecchio - the western Mediterranean south-westerly - driven both by a diminishing depression traveling north of us to the Ligurian Sea, and another depression south of the Balearics. Despite the forecast and pressure charts, the reality has given us a nifty north easterly, gusting up to about 20knots and blowing straight into the bay. We are perfectly comfortable, and it's very hot in the cockpit. We're generating enough energy to keep the laptop powered and get this blog up to date. But it's very strange, given the data, and so we're staying on board till the wind dies

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Arriving at the Golfe de St Florent

All of these headlands and buildings are useful landmarks on the way to St Florent. The gulf, about half a mile wide, is fronted to the east by the little resort town, and to the west by the hills that begin the Desert des Agriates. The pilot book makes it clear that you must leave the red beacon Tignosa to port, but it can be difficult to pick out. Keep your heading well westerly until you have it firmly in your sights.
You can anchor pretty much anywhere in the bay, as it is less than 10m from a long way out. From the 5m contour, it shallows sharply though, so make sure that you have enough depth for any swinging room.
We have anchored on the western side, off the tiny beaches that run towards the headland on which perches the green beacon of Cap Fornali. Good holding in mud and weed and reasonable shelter from south and west. Easterlies are okay, although you might want to move across the bay, and the whole area is open to the north.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Rounding Cap Corse – the ruminations

A striking feature of the Cap is the fortifications. The island, of course, sits strategically across the seaways of the northern half of the western Mediterranean. It has been inhabited for at least 3000 years; in the first 2000 it changed hands a few times - Toreens, Greeks, Romans and so on. But after the fall of the Western Empire, life got very warlike. Vandals, Byzantines, Lombards, Saracens, Pisans all took a turn, until the Genoese finally established control in 1284.
Their sovereignty was heavily contested - by Pisa, Aragon, France, Florence, and most of all by the Corsicans themselves. The Genoese hung on (although at times only by the tips of their fingers within a few coastal towns) until the mid-eighteenth century. At that point, the Corsicans achieved a short-lived self-rule under their hero, Pasquale Paoli, but he was beaten by the French. After the Revolution, he regained control, until he fell out with the National Assembly. The British backed him, creating a short-lived independent kingdom which fell apart when the British abandoned the island to its fate after just two years. The French retook Corsica, but did not allow Corsicans citizenship till 1815 - and of course even today there is significant independent sentiment across the island.
All these battles leave their mark on the landscape, most of all the towers that parade along the coast. At the same time, high on the hills above, wind towers march, producing power from the free abundance of moving air. In today's Europe, energy security is at the heart of safety and prosperity, and here, again, Corsica is in a vital position.
The Cap also carries several lighthouses and the radar station. The danger of the sea hasn't changed, although our ability to mitigate and avoid the risks has improved a lot. Coming into Corsica we had had to alter course to avoid a fast moving cargo vessel. Diminishing fuel suggests that before long maybe such a vessel will use a parasail (see this article) to reduce costs.
It's not a long stretch of water, but it contains a lot to ponder, even on a calm and beautiful day.

Rounding Cap Corse – the pilotage

After all that, the actual cape is stunningly beautiful and, in settled weather, could offer several days delightful cruising along its five mile breadth. It is very reminiscent of Scotland with one key difference: at 0800 it was 23 centigrade in the cockpit. Not imaginable in the Western Isles on 23rd May! We took over 70 photos - you'll be glad to know they're not all in the album in the gallery.
From Macinaggio, you go northeast past the pretty Baie de Tamarone. This is a popular lunchtime anchorage, but no-one seemed to have spent the night there. The first milestone is rounding Ile Finocchiarola, which has a distinctive Genoese ruined tower on it. There is plenty of room between it and the Sante Marie Beacon which marks a dangerous reef some 400m eastwards.
From here your turn just west of north and cruise past some beautiful bays, where the grass slopes across the hills to rocks that are smoothed and folded till they resemble an elephant's skin. The pilot warns of rocks and reefs across the entrances, so you would not want to enter at night. There was an intrepid yacht anchored in there though, and the shelter looked excellent.
After about three miles, you must decide whether to go between Pta d'Agnello and Isle de la Garaglia, or outside; the pass between the two is the photo above. The island has a very distinctive white tower on it. The headland on the south side of the channel is also crowned with a Genoese ruin. Heikell suggests least depths of 10m, and the chart showed 11m. Mid-channel, we never saw less than 17.8m. Looking back through that channel, we could just see Isola Capraia underneath the rising sun.
Directly beneath the pointed rocks west of Pta d'Agnello, we saw a boat nose into the tiny cove beneath the tower - so it's obviously deep enough and would be a fantastic spot in settled weather; definitely one for local knowledge or a reconnaissance in the dinghy! Further along there are several excellent bays and anchorages, plus two tiny fishing villages.
At the western end of the Cap is Capo Grosso, which has a very prominent white radar tower on it. It's not mentioned in any of the pilotage notes, but is a great landmark. Just as we were coming past it (but had stopped taking photos) a coast guard vessel roared up and took a good look at us. Without saying a word they then buzzed off again: we obviously don't look like drug-runners, and we even had our motoring cone hoisted!
The eastern side of the Cape is dramatic. Ile de Centuri sticks out clearly, sheltering the tiny port and anchorage. The steep ravine of Marine de Giottani sits behind the Roche de Magliarese, and the bays at Albo and Nonza are also possible stopping points. On this side of the Cape, the cliffs are steep and often bare rock: a completely different landscape from the softer east. The quarry and factory at Albo show that, in addition to the fertile farmlands of the Nebbio sub-region, there have been other sources of prosperity in this remote area.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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