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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
To Asinara

There is a small island on the north western tip of Sardinia which has been closed to visitors for many, many years. Reading about in the pilot and guide books made it sound forbidding and forbidden, not somewhere to catch our attention.
Then, in England in late May, Sarah picked up June's Yachting Monthly, and it contained an article which hymned Asinara as a virgin paradise, with luxuriant sealife, very few visitors and beautiful seas. So we went to have a look.
The biggest bay on Asinara is called Cala Della Realle, and this was the centre of officialdom when the island was a prison. Like other Italian islands, such as Capraiait was a penal colony for 100 years, including WW1 Austro-Hungarian prisoners (whose chapel still stands), the Ethiopian royal family during Mussolini's adventurism in Africa, and then senior Mafia cons. The most senior royal was Haile Selassie's daughter, Princess Romanework, who sadly died in 1941, before her country's liberation. Only in 1997 was Asinara re-opened, the convicts sent elsewhere and the whole island declared a reserve. Its marine fringe is particularly important, having seen so little activity to damage the seabed or pollute the water.

Places and people
Monsieur Lion

Roccapino is particularly known for its lion, this enormous outcrop of granite weathered into the shape of a recumbent kingly beast. Sarah was clear that from many angles, it more closely resembles a frog. Pip could see the lion all along, and maintained proper respect.

Places and people

The Golfe de Roccapina has a glorious mile-long curved beach, backed by dunes covered in sea lavender and whirly blue thistles. The water is turquoise and refreshingly cool, and the whole cove is ringed by ornate rock formations in rosey, sparkly granite. The picture is from our aft deck, where we are about about 50m off the beach anchored in 9m of water.
It is only accessible by an unsealed road, by boat or foot, so even on this beautiful June Sunday, it has a bare smattering of people dipping in and out of the sea. (In the evenings, though, it does have mosquitoes.)
We decided to try and walk up to the tower, which is at the other end of the beach. Although we left quite early, it turned into a hard slog along the sand, which is quite pebbly and rough, and mostly very soft. The soles of our feet are unused to such treatment, and our calves will feel it tomorrow. At the other end of the beach, we could not discover which of the many paths in the maquis led to the peak with the tower on. Lots od ead ends and wee temptations only got us to the very tip of the headland of Roccapino. This was lovely too: great boulders of pink stone glittering in the sun, surrounded by fantastic beasts and birds moulded in rock by wind and water. Rhino, hippogriffs and eagles abound.
The boulders lead down to a tiny cove of rocks, where the water is so clear, you only know it is there by the ripples that shudder across the bottom and the gentle rustle as it meets the shore.

Life on Roaring Girl
Round Senetosa

After a coffee ashore, we headed on south. By 1300 we had a light breeze and we optimistically started sailing. As we crawled at under 1kt we put up the cruising chute and this time had a magnificent sail. Even with the chute we rarely topped 3 knots but that was enough to keep going. We jibed south of Pte Senetosa and turned into Golfe de Mortoli. Although it's satisfyingly empty we weren't quite comfortable with the sea-state in the by-then-brisk westerly breeze. Although this generally dies down at sunset, it didn't feel right to us. So we turned onwards round the headland into the Gulf of Roccapina. This bay has a glorious stretch of sand with a spectacular backdrop. It is quite open to the southwest, and there is absolutely nothing ashore, so there are relatively few boats here. Tomorrow we aim to walk up to the tower on the headland, which promises some great views.
In the meantime, this is the small rock known as Ile d'Eccica, just north of Senetosa, with the lighthouse high on the hill behind.

Life on Roaring Girl
Changes afoot

Our elderly version of the pilot book was obviously written when you could anchor close to the beach. Today this is all heavily roped off and a lot of work is going on. Ashore there are plentiful planning type notices announcing a new mooring field, but we couldn't tell when this will be ready, whether it will cater for larger yachts, and what sort of charges will be levied. The picture is the map attached, which is oriented so west is up.
There will also apparently be a ban on anchoring at the eastern side of the bay. It's not clear when this comes into effect (the notices refer to a decision of July 2009) as we saw a couple of boats over there overnight.
There are two channels for motorised vessels (including outboarded dinghies) through the moorings. At the western end of the very fine beach there is a tiny jetty. Obviously used by the local fishing boats, to which people had tied some tenders. We used anchors to moor Bridgit off the beach, and later saw some local boats doing the same thing.
There are excellent waste and recycling facilities ashore and a number of cafes and so on. The village is covered in admonitory signs and is extremely clean. This may be necessary with so many visitors to a small place at the end of the road, but it felt very unfriendly compared to the laid-back friendliness of Porto Pollo, or the amiable stewardship of Girolata.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
To Campomoro

It is only about four miles across the bay. After returning from Filitosa we slipped our lines. We'd hoped to sail away, but Roaring Girl paid off in the wrong direction and we used about two minutes of engine power to get us safely out of the mooring field.
We then bowled across the bay. Our chatty taxi driver had told us to look out for dolphins, but none came to play with us. The lunchtime westerlies filled our sails and it only took us 45 minutes.
The bay at Campomoro is beautifully sheltered under a headland with an inevitable tower on it. There is a reef of rocks running east-nor-east from the headland. The rocks do show above the water line.
It is, though, quite deep, at least in the area of best shelter at the western edge of the bay, outside the mooring buoys. We anchored in nearly 18m of water, and have seen several boats come in and move elsewhere, disappointed. The water nearer the reef is obviously shallower, but is slightly more exposed to the prevailing westerlies.
You can see in the photo that this area is very crowded, and that's after some boats had left first thing in the morning.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
The natural sounds of Corsica

As anywhere in the Mediterranean the sounds of cicadas are everywhere. Inland, the wealth of Corsica's birdlife is evident. But the most distinct sound right now is made by the frogs. Their croaking and quacking is astonishingly loud, like a flock of ghost ducks on any patch of swampy land. They shut up if you come close, but glare up at you without bothering to hide, resuming their noisy conversation as soon as you walk away.

Places and people
8000 years

The main reason for stopping at Porto Pollo was access to the extraordinary site at Filitosa. You can take a taxi there and back (30EU) easily, as (surprise!) there is no transport. Porto Pollo itself is quite sweet, though almost 100% a tourist resort. It has a spectacular beach. The village is thought to be named after the Corsican Porto Priddu, or 'ruined town' as it has been destroyed so many times in the centuries of war that have overcome the island.
Filitosa is a site that was first inhabited about 6500 years ago, by Neolithic villagers who lived in caves and rock shelters, and ate what they could pick, fish or hunt. Their remains, in pottery, spear heads and the foundations of some of their shelters are still there. It is the megalithic era about 3500 years before Christ, and the Bronze age around 1800 BC, however, that have made Filitosa famous.
In the late Neolithic, the inhabitants of the village, which stands on a granite outcrop above a well-stocked river which irrigates good farmland, began making menhirs. These started as simple upright slabs of stone, with little adornment, hewn from the abundant surrounding rocks. But in the Bronze Age, Corsica, almost uniquely, started turning its menhirs into anthropomorphic carvings. The statues gained faces, helmets, shapes and arms. They bear swords and daggers, drape cloaks from their shoulders, have definable and distinct expressions. These things are big: see the picture of one with Pip in the album. Made by chipping granite with stone.
After some 500 or 600 years, the statue-menhirs were torn down, and used in the building of torri, or towers. These round structures, which give the Toreen people their name, were probably used for some religious cult, but it's not known what. There are three of them at Filitosa, and it was in their walls that the wealth of statue menhirs were discovered - in the 1950's. They had lain undisturbed for over 3000 years.
The statue-menhirs are as inexplicable as the great stone carvings of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Here is a poor culture: despite the local wealth of resources, Corsica has always been made poorer by its insularity. It has primitive technology, but has learnt about stone. The people trade, certainly as far as Sardinia, as obsidian (unavailable on Corsica) has been used on this site for 1000 years. Accustomed to weave and spin, effective farmers, but with no metals, they start to make these sophisticated and demanding items. Nobody really knows why.
One of the theories is that they were representations of the invading Toreens, distinguished by their helmets and metal weapons. By making these statues and placing them around the village, they appropriate their strength. Then, when the invasion was complete, the Toreens took them down and de-powered them by using them for building material. One of the problems with this story is that so little is known about the Toreens anyway. Where did they come from? And why? One story is that they were driven west by Ramses III of Egypt. But no-one is sure.
It seems a lot of work, to make images of people you've killed, though we recalled the theory of cannibals that eating your enemy gives you their strength. Perhaps they worshipped these helmeted newcomers. Or intermarried with the. We just don't know.
We are left with these mysterious faces, staring from the rocks after thousands of years first of glorification, then ritual destruction followed by oblivion and neglect. They scowl out at us, urgent in their unknown story, still potent and moving, witnessing the passing of time.

Places and people
Onwards at last

On Thursday morning we brought the anchor up again, and all went smoothly. We headed off to Porto Pollo. It was a pleasant passage, and we sailed most of it. We stopped short of sailing onto the mooring buoy (though we want to practice), but only just.
The whole anchorage within the 20m contour is now covered in mooring buoys. We completely failed to find anyone to pay, or indeed to check the holding weight of the buoys. However, there were bigger boats than us tied up. In the end we left without paying at all, but we would not like to say they were in principle free moorings. Aquila used them last year and advised they were 'cheap', but we do not know the 2010 prices.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Public transport in Corsica

As you might have gathered, we've been a bit exasperated by the difficulty of independent travel in Corsica for people without a car. Given the number of people moving about, hiking and so on, it's very hard work.
It has been made much worse by the partial closure of the railway system. This futuristic machine, lolling in a siding in Ajaccio, is the reason. According to our chatty informant, in the queue for this morning's ride, the Chemin de Fer de Corse (CFC) bought this machine last year. It doesn't really fit the rails. Worse still, in using it they seriously damaged the track. We didn't really get how, but it seemed to have to do with the clearance of the carriage underneath.
So they are doing all this work on the track, with the consequent service upheavals, in order to make it possible to run the old rolling stock. The new one apparently will require two years work, and cost a mint, so nobody knows if it will happen!
The interim timetable expires next week, on 3 July, but we haven't seen the new one. Here's hoping it's a significant improvement on the current arrangements. Then the transport planners of Corsica could focus on integrating buses and trains and providing information (any info would be an improvement) on the bus network around the island!
In the meantime, the services are patchy and complicated, and correspondingly underused. And this lovely train sits there. We're slightly surprised that the relevant officials' heads aren't spiked on the front as trophies for the travelling public to admire.

Places and people
Turtles galore

On Tuesday we had a quiet day looking around Ajaccio, buying nice charcuterie in the daily market and enjoying the sunshine. We didn't do any of the historical sites in the town: after Rome, plus all the museum visiting of last summer, we're enjoying the hikes and natural sights of the islands this year!
We did, though, want to see the turtle sanctuary some 17km inland from Ajaccio, known as A Cupulatta. We enquired at all the relevant places to be told that you can't get there by public transport. But the Rough Guide says take the train and walk, we said. Well, yes, people said, but it's quite a walk. 20 minutes, says the Rough Guide. We can do that. So we got the train (actually the replacement bus) to Carbuccia. The bus actually drops you on the main N193, so it's only about 5 minutes further to the sanctuary; from the station, it would be another 15 minutes. Let's be clear though: you can get to the sanctuary pretty easily by public transport. Getting back is quite another matter. The timetable may improve once the train is running again, but there are no stopping buses along this busy road (except on Tuesdays), so we had to wait four hours for the bus coming back from Corte to pick us up.
But we enjoyed the visit nonetheless. A Cupulatta has definite elements of the zoo, but is heavily committed to protecting and breeding endangered species. It is the biggest enterprise of its kind in Europe, and has a huge number of animals. We have made a photo albumof some of our many pictures, including one of the super-cute kittens, which are part of the campaign to keep mice under control.
Part of the time, we just wandered around going hey dude. If you don't know the reason, enjoy Finding Nemoall over again. But of course that's not the only story here.
There is something very sad about the giant turtles, their heads, some 1.5m above the ground, watching patiently from their small enclosures. It is not only the pathos of big animals denied their natural roaming space. These are an order of reptiles a quarter of a billion years old, pre-dating the dinosaurs, of enormous complexity and variety. Did you ever hear of the (extremely ugly) alligator tortoise, which uses a special pink tool in its mouth to lure fish to their death?
But the humanoid upstarts, just a few thousand years old, and most dangerous in the last 500, has brought whole species to extinction. With the smaller tortoises and terrapins (many of which are in fact endangered), there are many to be seen, and they take little notice of the spectators, even the spectacular leopard tortoises or the starry-shelled turtles with their startling displays. The giants from Aldebra (in the Seychelles) and the Galapagos look back into your eyes, know that they are watched, and exude an imposing, elephantine air of wisdom.

Places and people
Staying put

On Monday we upped our anchor. Or tried to. Attached was this ghastly tangle of wire wrapped through and around the chain. In the end with bolt cutters, two pieces of rope, a boathook (now interestingly kinky) and a lot of swearing, we got it off. It took 30 minutes.
After a long wait we then filled up with fuel (EU1.28 a litre), and went to the laughingly named welcome pontoon in the port of Charles Onanosp. It's a joke, because it's actually very difficult to use. In any swell, which there was, there's a rocking surge onto the dock, which sits high enough that Aquila's sugar scoop could slide beneath it! To hold yourself off there are buoys, to which you hitch a line as you pass (or fail to in our case, necessitating several goes). We were very glad Mike and Linda were still there, also filling up with water, so that Mike could take our lines to help us in.
But we filled up with water, for free, and that can't be bad.
Both Roaring Girl and Aquila then headed south-west across the Golfe d'Ajaccio towards Porto Pollo. After an hour or so, once out of the lee of the Iles Sanguinaire, we found a 2m swell and bitingly cold southwesterly, making for an unpleasant trip. Aquila has a schedule, but after half an hour or so we decided that Porto Pollo would probably be uncomfortable, and we do not have any deadlines - so we returned to the comfort of the Ajaccio anchorage.
Over the next couple of days we talked to several boats coming north from Porto Pollo, Bonifacio and elsewhere. All had tales of howling winds (115km per hourreported in Bonifacio) and rough nights. We were grateful for the shelter of Ajaccio, despite the fouled anchor chain.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
Port: Ipswich
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