It seemed like forever since we had been off Berkeley East. The weather conditions and our remote Corsica locales made leaving the boat very difficult. So when we saw a Mistral, and ten-foot seas in the forecast, we took BE into a marina at Ajaccio for some stability, and sushi.
Corsica is notorious for its Mistrals, a strong westerly wind that can reach speeds upwards of 50 knots. We met the Mistral seven years ago and got to know the ghastly storm intimately when she pinned us down at anchor for 10 days on the island's east coast. Not wanting to repeat that experience, we decided a dock would be a good place to hide.
The capital of Corsica, Ajaccio is the largest city on the island, home to some 70,000 people, famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. During the 1960s, Ajaccio experienced a population boom resulting in a massive number of modern buildings towering over the original town. It is an unattractive mix of old and new.
But the old port had protection from the Mistral and the city was just what we needed after many days of wind and waves in isolated coves. We spent three days provisioning, washing, eating out, walking, and entertaining ourselves with boats coming and going from the marina, crossing anchors, and trying to slip in after dark without paying. Ajaccio's ramshackle look and casual vibe grew on us.
The old cemetery of Ajaccio was a nice, albeit hot, 2.5-mile walk from Berkeley East along the coast and through the suburbs. An odd tourist attraction, but it is an interesting place to visit. Due to the area's rocky terrain, the cemetery tombs are actually above ground in little houses, each personalized with photos, flowers, candles and engravings. Like a tiny village, the cemetery has pathways and squares with statues of angels to watch over the precious residents. During World War II, the Germans bombed a large portion of the cemetery when they mistook it for a town.
When the gusts and swell abated, we headed south to Porto Pollo to meet up with our buddies the Sea Changes, they were heading north to the French Riviera and we were going south to Sardinia. We got to know the Sea Changes four years ago in Turkey and try hard every year to cross paths. The Med is a huge cruising ground; we seldom just happen upon boats that we know, so planning is key. And Porto Pollo, a very small seaside town, was the perfect place to spend a couple of days catching up with good friends.
The west coast of Corsica is rugged and beautiful, with wonderful little coves and beaches. But as we have learned, over and over, the wind and seas there can be very harsh, and protected bays are few; the risk of getting slammed by adverse conditions is high.
So with calm weather predicted for a few days, we decided not to tempt fate and proceeded to get within striking distance of the Straight of Bonifacio (another area notorious for its weather, currents, shoals, and other obstacles), and the short crossing to Sardinia.