07/25/2012, Ajaccio, Corsica, France
We thought Cap Corse was beautiful until we sailed onto the west coast.
Rugged cliffs and mountains dropping straight into the vivid blue sea, long inlets or calanques, national parks, marine reserves, and beautiful gulfs to anchor and swim in. And on every other headland a watch tower built by the Genoese when they ran Corsica for 500 years or so until the mid-1700s. Some towers have been restored but most are romantic ruins. And many are on top of barren rock islands or high barren headlands. We couldn't help feeling sorry for the poor Genoese soldier told by his senior officer to go and get some kindling for the alarm bonfires they had to light in the tower to signal to the next tower in the communications chain that the Barbary pirates were coming.
The little villages we moored off were as pretty as any so far. The most spectacular was Calvi, whose huge 15th century citadel rose up magnificently before us as we approached. And heaps of history relating to that citadel. The locals claim Christopher Colombus was born there, not in Genoa; Admiral Nelson, leading the 1794 British support of Pascal Paoli, the Coriscan independence leader fighting the French, lost his eye there after organising a successful land invasion, having correctly assessed a sea invasion was impossible. Now it is a working base for the French Foreign Legion.
The town is a lovely tourist mecca for the beautiful people and their dogs. When the huge Corsican ferry came in next to our moored yacht and docked under the citadel (both were the same length) 209 cars, 10 motor bikes and hundreds of passengers disembarked, with as many cars queued to go on. We are truly in the high holiday season. We also went to a great Michelin mentioned restaurant in Calvi called Aux Bons Amis. We ordered some wine from Patrimonio, as Garth and Ros had bought some beautiful wine from Domaine Lazzarini in Patrimonio while on their day trip into the hinterland as a farewell gift for the boat. We told the restauranteur how much we enjoyed Lazzarini's wine - his response was that his cousin's wine was indeed good. Perhaps everyone in Corsica is related - it reminded us of Tasmania.
An attraction of another stop, Ile Rousse, was that we were moored close enough to shore for Susan to swim ashore one morning and swim back with croissants tied up in a water proof bag on her back!
The boat continues to perform beautifully, doing 11.7 knots reaching in a stiff breeze and 8.1 knots with just the headsail out. And in picturesque Girolata Gulf, we impressed fellow yatchies moored near us (2 boats with nude crew - we haven't joined them!) with our man overboard practice. Actually the bosun's chair blew overboard, and we upped anchor, chased it down, Rick picked it up with a boat hook and we dropped anchor again (all in the space of 10 minutes). Girolata also impressed us with its stunning red stone cliffs. As the sun progressed, they changed colour and we all thought of the Kimberleys and Uluru.
We do have to report that as delicious as the mussels and lobster meal in the quaint fishing village of Centuri was, in our opinion the lobster is not as good as West Australian crayfish.
On to a marina in Ajaccio, the capital and Napoleon's birthplace!
07/21/2012, Calvi, Corsica
While swimming and overnighting in the many attractive bays in Elba was beguiling, Corsica called. And we answered with a first for Myra - a blue water international crossing - even though it was less than 30 miles!
Our arrival in Corsica did not go to plan. Our chosen marina was "complet" and our fallback anchorage had been turned into a marine protection zone and was now out of bounds for anchoring. Perhaps sailing for Corsica on Friday 13 was not such a good idea after all.
So Trilogy meandered up the coast looking for a suitable alternative, at last coming to anchor in Porticciolo. We harboured great hopes that it would provide the opportunity to restock rapidly diminishing essentials (beer, wine, chocolate - and stuff for lunch and dinner). Alas no such luck - but as we had jagged arriving back in France the day before Bastille Day, so we were treated by the little town to a spectacular fireworks display (at 11pm for some reason) by way of recompense.
Trilogy decamped next morning for Macinaggio (the eastern-shore gateway to Cap Corse - a major wilderness national park covering the northern end of Corsica). Macinaggio is a nice little holiday town. It also turned out to be a good restocking centre, and a safe marina in a big blow. Shortly after we had got the mooring lines attended to a whopping big westerly set in for a couple of days. Forty knot bullets rained down on the marina from the nearby mountains, and the coastguard was pressed into action to assist some sailors in trouble offshore. We were alert but not alarmed and joined the Bastille Day festivities (dinner at good French restaurants by the water, followed by another excellent fireworks display).
As Trilogy was confined to the marina by the wild westerly the crew took the opportunity to go off exploring, with Garth, Ros and Kat showing the most adventurous spirit by hiring quad bikes to look around on. Next day the adventurous trio, joined by Susan, hired a car to rocket around the switch back roads of Corsica - visiting Bastia on the east coast and Ile Rousse on the west, with a lot of hair pin bends in between.
But then it was time for Garth, Ros and Kat to leave the boat and return to Australia (and USA in Kat's case). Leaving wasn't easy. As the Irish joke goes, if one wanted to get back to Australia, one wouldn't start from Macinaggio, Corsica. So they hired a car to drive to Bastia, jumped on a ferry for a 3 hour ride to Livorno, Italy, before taking the train to Milan where they caught their flights to Oz or the States. Easy!
As the wind had eased, Trilogy departed Macinaggio to cruise Cap Corse - along with just about every other boat in the marina. Was like the cork had been popped on a champagne bottle as everyone fizzed out to sea to grab the best anchorages at sandy beaches. The Med summer holiday period is kicking in. We are seeing a lot more boats, a lot more bodies swimming, snorkeling and sun bathing (havent they heard about suncancer) - and its getting very hard to get a berth in marinas even when calling days ahead.
Trilogy and her crew just took in the magnificent scenery - rugged coastline with ragged cardboard cutout mountains in the background. We cruised, we anchored for lunch and a swim before overnighting in Centuri - a tiny old fishing town famous for its seafood. Moulles followed by lobster ashore for dinner in a very atmospheric setting (but the problem of old villages is old drainage) capped our first real day of cruising on Cap Corse. Day 2 was almost the same as we anchored for lunch and a swim at Marine de Giottani, before overnighting at St Florent - the west coast gateway to Cap Corse. St Florent is a full-on holiday town. Good anchorge outside the marina where we witnessed the reverse of Macinaggio - the capitainerie's crew trying to get the fizz back into the bottle as at about five o'colck a huge scrum of boats trying to get a berth at the marina developed. Glad we were anchored out watching with a G&T at hand. Another good meal on the back deck looking across the bay to S Florent backdropped by Kimberley-coloured jagged mountains closed out the Cap Corse wildernes for us.
07/12/2012, Elba, Italy
Prior to exiting Golfo di La Spezia, Trilogy anchored near Portovenere for a couple of nights. Portovenere was on the western headland of the Gulf and had various inlets and bays which extend into the sea, which created 3 little islands, Plamaria, Tino and Tinetto. The landscape was both picturesque and enchanting and was a perfect location for the11th century village of Portovenere. It also happened to be to the cover picture on the, 'Italian Waters Pilot' book that we refer to on a daily basis.
It was both pleasing to the eye and very interesting. In front of the Portovenere were mussel farms and along the waters edge was a fortified village consisting of rows of tall, narrow buildings, serving a double military and housing function. Above the village dominated a 1277 Gothic-Genoese style church, and perched above church, a castle that had 1160 walls that came down the hill to join the tall fortified village along the waters edge. It was at this anchorage that Katherine Brice and her friend Genna Kulesza join Trilogy for a few weeks.
In the vicinity of this anchorage we saw a car afloat in the water, driver was at the wheel heading out to sea. Rick tells me it was a converted Land Cruiser . It may have been seaworthy but it certainly was a weird sight and gave us a few laughs. Garth made the comment, 'He should have bought a boat!',
We continued sailing along the Ligurian Coast having a night in the marina at Viareggio and a night anchored off Pisa in the light of a full moon. Along this coastline we entered Tuscany and we were able to experience many Tuscan delights when we anchored in the bay at Baratti.
While anchoring at Baratti, we were surprise at how untouched and rural the landscape appeared and were mystified by circular mounds on the landscape. After a trip ashore to find a local restaurant we discovered the remains of an Etruscan necropolis (burial ground) than dated back to the 7th - 4th centuries BC and extended over 80 hectares. The archaeological park was presented as an open-air museum that glittered with the remains of slag from a very impressive industrial Etruscan village (silver, copper and lead ore). Needless to say, the following morning we spent most of the day walking around the various Etruscan tombs. Some were carved into a limestone cliff face, other burial sites were in tunnels approached by steep steps into a hilland another type were circular in shape with a dome roof that was covered with earth.
The Tuscan Archipelago was within site of Barratti and it was with some regret we pulled up anchor and sailed towards Portoferraio, on Elba Island, the largest island in the Tuscan Archipelago. It was was a harbour that was densely packed with 18th century buildings in shades of cream and ochre tucked under the craggy 16th century citadel.
Around sunset we took the dinghy ashore to find a very buzzing Saturday night in Portoferraio with many yachts having sit down dinner parties on board. Our return trip to the yacht around midnight, was a touch scary as we encountered numerous water craft (plus their wake) in the dark. The following day we found a sweet beach restaurant (Le Viste) for the traditional Sunday Trilogy lunch. This restaurant was at the base of a cliff and perched above was the home of Napoleon, were he lived in exile for 2 years around 1814.
Our ability to find many anchorages in protected coves with lovely beaches on Elba, caused us to return to the island of Elba after a brief visit to Piombino. In Piombino we said farewell to Genna and welcome John and Myra back on board.
07/06/2012, Vernazza, Cinqueterre, Italy
Regardless of how good a harbour or marina might be it is always refreshing to sail out to sea heading towards new experiences. Leaving Genoa on 28 June was no exception as we motored south-east towards Portofino. The sea was smooth and we were treated to the sight of two pods of dolphins casually circling around schools of bait fish and feeding. Portofino dates back to Roman times and allegedly derives its name from Portus Delphini (port of dolphins).
As we motor sailed towards the Cinque Terre we were able to moor at the delightful cove of San Fruttuoso where the water was crystal clear and swimming off the stern of Trilogy was essential. We took the dinghy ashore to explore the tiny cove, the Abbey of Abbazia and to enjoy a cold beer watching the last of the day trippers heading home by small water taxis and ferries.
We learned that there is a 5m statue named the Christ of the Abyss, sculptured by Guido Galletti in 1954, which stands with arms towards the surface in 17m of water to protect boats and fishermen; so we swam and dived to get a glimpse the following morning.
Then on to Portofino, playground of the rich and infamous since the beginning of the 19th century, this small but breathtaking harbour is almost too picturesque to be real. We motored in to see it from the water and then anchored off the adjacent Seno Di Peruggi before taking the dinghy ashore for a beer and pizza meal on the waterfront.
After returning to Trilogy the scene we were treated to after dark was incredible as several thousand candles in paper cups were set adrift on the shores of this tiny bay and the sea was sparkling with so many tiny lights that it seemed quite surreal. We have no idea what the occasion was but the image was truly memorable.
Departing from Portofino on 30 June we headed into the Cinque Terre to anchor near to Monterosso at Vernazza. These five charming villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) are set in steep valleys that fall to the edge of the Ligurian Sea and were connected by a delightful cliff edge walkway that ran between La Spezia and Monterosso. That is until October 2011 when a serious storm flooded several towns and caused massive landslides at Vernazza and Monterosso cutting the walkway and seriously damaging those towns. Eight months later the towns are still cleaning up and restoring the damaged infrastructure. The water in the tiny fishing boat harbour in Vernazza was still very murky from the silt that was washed down from the valley.
On 1 July we headed off to La Spezia and were welcomed into the very new marina at Porto Venere These mega marinas seem to have been built when money was cheap and plentiful but are suffering severely from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and the consequential downturn in demand for luxury apartments with marina berths. Nevertheless the facilities were quite impressive and the Officio di Porto was especially helpful. Unsurprisingly the marina charges were the highest we have experienced so far at EUR 150 per night.
06/30/2012, Vernazza, Cinqueterre, Italy
Genova is the pivotal centre of the Ligurian Sea (and by far the largest city in the Italian riviera). It is an ancient town and a very large commercial port, but we entered it without a lot of confidence that Trilogy would be there for long. Continuing our lucky streak we were allocated a berth in Porto Antico right in the heart of the old town - any closer and we would have been berthed on the road which separated the port from the town.
The city was part of the Roman empire (when its was sacked during the Carthaginain wars) but really started to hit its straps from about 1000AD. By the 1500s the Republic of Genova reached its peak with rich traders, bankers who financed the Spanish empire and navigators and explorers such as Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus who extended Genovese influence beyond the the Med.
Genova was at the forefront of the Renaissance and the result can still be seen today in the art works, palazzos, churches and piazzas in the city. Genova turned out to be a suprising gem. Big, grimy in parts like all commercial ports, but fabulous in others.
While we didn't have all that much time to explore the whole city a concerted effort (in the heat) saw us collectively visit the maritime museum and walk through the old town (now inhabited largely by north Africans), and the next day individually visit different parts of the city. The maritime museum gave a wonderful account especially through artwork of the huge ship building heritage of the ancient port and the mighty battles that were staged in the Genova waters using canons.
Individual highlights were the Rolli palaces (a whole street of palazzos which Rubens drew and mapped and took back to Antwerp as an example of the best town planning in Europe in the 16 and 17 century); Piazza de Ferrari; the oriental markets; the redevelopment of the old harbour by Renzo Piano; the Cathedral San Annuziata del Vastatao (with its Rennaissance paintings, including a Rubens altar decoratation) , Christopher Columbus' family home and the Palazzo Spinoli (with its extraordinary living quarters and art works including Rubens and Van Dyke).
We also managed to find some excellent restaurants at fair prices serving Genovese dishes, including a restauranter who had served the Popes. A pleasant change from the tourist oriented menus (and prices) we had started to encounter on the Italian Riviera.
Genova isn't usually on the Med cruisers list of "must do's" but were surprised at the rich exploration possibilities. We left Genova with only a little of it explored, and lots left for another time.
06/27/2012, Varazze, Italy
At the end of a wonderful night of Italian hospitality at the Beneteau regatta party, our host Alessio made a special parting gift to us Aussie imports. Alessio spoke good English and advised us that he had spent some 9 months in Brisbane. We immediately felt understood!
Alessio said earlier in the evening that we were not to leave without a special gift. At this stage we thought the presentations were to be made that night and had imagined that we might be in the running for a prize. The trophies, glassware and ceramic plates were all on display to admire. We noticed basil adorning the walls of the venue, donated by one of the sponsors, and couldn't help but notice the high quality of the basil and with some envy, we reflected on the difficulties we have in Canberra to produce such lush green fragrant sweet basil.
True to his word, Alessio approached us as we were departing and presented not one, but two, pots of basil for Trilogy. Alessio was absolutely passionate about the regional quality of the basil, and that it was THE best basil in the world, due to the particular climatic conditions in Varazze. He advised the plants would love salt water spray and so long as there was sufficient light, the plants would flourish.
So... Trilogy had two new companions, nicknamed Basil and Sybil. Having got them home safely, there was deep discussion about where these new companions were to sleep, after all the cabins were all occupied, except for a spare berth while Myra is absent. Ultimately it was agreed that Basil and Sybil were to stay in the cockpit under the dodger while in port and travel in the shower recess when at sea. I have to report Basil and Sybil have found sneaky ways of getting below at other times, away from the heat.
The upshot is that we have flourishing basil in many of our home prepared meals. It is truly delicious, aromatic and comforting to eat. I am inclined to believe Alessio's claim.