A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

Western Med Blog 10 (Around the northern tip of Corsica, the Tuscan islands and on “the road” to Rome)

We left Calvi with mixed impressions, it had provided shelter, which made a vicious Mistral survivable and it is a beautiful place. We were obviously thankful for the security but visited on a fine day it might have been more impressive for us. We never did get to see the horses that swim off the beach daily, that Alan and Michelle had raved about.

Despite telling the RIB jockeys that took our mooring money about the fate of our buoy (the day before, the buoy had broken free of the tackle and blown away), they did not come to fix/replace it. So when the time came, we had little choice but to leave the beheaded buoy and mooring and let it sink to the bottom. Onward to Ile Rousse where we anchored off a very pleasant beach. In the morning Veronica went for a run and I cycled up to the lighthouse, from where Corsica’s northernmost point was clearly visible. The town was pleasant and as a major ferry port, very touristy. We had a rip-off French petit-déjeuner and returned to the boat slightly disgruntled as the waiter had had an edge to him which left us wondering whether we had been taken. Corsica is a beautiful place and well worth visiting. In the main, the people are friendly and trying hard on the tourist front. What is interesting to me though is there seems to be an additional mildly sinister layer to the normal French attitude, perhaps an overhang from the not so distant Corsican past.

St Florent was delightful, we stayed 2 nights on anchor and the second day when the super-yachts (read mostly motor yachts) left we were invited in for our water top up request. We were happy to pay €15 for a 3 hour stay, during which we took on 550 litres of water and managed to get some washing done. When we were done we tottered back out to the anchorage to let the next wave of super-yachts come in.

On 14 August we motored north eventually deciding to tack out to sea to allow us to round Cap Corse on the other tack. This was the northernmost point of this year’s itinerary and from now on our general trend is southwards toward Sicily and maybe Malta. The geology had changed and the northern part of the island comprised volcanic rock. It showed in the Genoese towers that have been characteristic of Corsica at every promontory around the coast. The ones in the north were crumbling, unlike their friends on most of the rest of the island which comprised red granite. Our final night in Corsica was in Macinaggio, a very pleasant little resort under green slopes and with very nice beaches. We anchored outside the harbour and spent a very calm night there in the company of many other thrifty-minded crews. A pleasant walk up the hill and to the next bay, yielded some interesting cannons and remnants of old defences. We had breakfast in town, this time a much more reasonable and friendly affair and then cast our eyes eastwards toward Elba and the other Tuscan islands of Italy.

It was 40Nm or about 8 hours to Portoferraio, the capital and main port of Elba. The island is wooded and beautiful but it is also famous for iron mining (which stopped in 1986) and as the location and home for Napolean’s first exile, after he abdicated the French throne in 1814 as a result of his disastrous Russian campaign in 1812. We had previously been to Ajjacio (see Blog 9), his birthplace and I have been to Les Invalides in Paris, so one day we shall have to go to St Helena to follow his footsteps futher! This prompted me to look up his short history. Interesting to me was that his second wife was Austrian, when he spent half his career conquering them. Anyway for those interested in the short history ( http://www.history.com/topics/napoleon ).

The crossing was a mix of sailing, motor sailing in mostly very calm seas. We were about 2/3 rds of the way through the passage motor sailing, south of Isola Capria and National Park, when there was this shudder and sudden constant vibration. We dropped the sails and variously experimented with the engine in gear or not. The result was a big slow juddering vibration. We were lucky, the sea was calm and with a snorkel, mask and flippers it was quickly revealed that there was a fishing net of sorts around the propeller. Actually, it was a very fine mesh, which I think was from the wall of a fish farm. Amazingly and luckily, in one dive I managed to cut it free. As it was big and mat-like, I don’t think a rope cutter on the prop would have helped in this situation….we don’t have one!

Portoferraio was big and busy, plied with constant ferry traffic. We anchored amongst an armada of other boats well clear of the ferry area but a long way from town and the old harbour. We got out the Blou Bliksem Braai and had a mellow meal. The next morning we hit town, this involved running the gauntlet across the ferry lanes. They were parked in a row ready for a Le Mans start, some jet-powered and others, huge lumbering beasts, leaving us feeling like elves setting sail in a thimble by comparison. We hiked up the hill through the narrow alleys admiring the laundry and especially the lingerie shamelessly hanging from the pulley rigged washing lines out of windows and across the span of the narrow lanes. We visited Napoleon’s residence, high on the hill with magnificent gardens and commanding views. The pilots guide says two things of Napolean’s stay here: that his residence was sparsely furnished, as though he never intended to stay long on the island, and that the island is so attractive, one wonders why he ever left. It was an oppressively hot day and the sweat was running rivulets on the skin. The 3G card for our internet had run out so we had a tediously long trek to some distant corner of town to find a Vodafone shop. Just my luck I wait in there while two glamorous but techno-clueless old ladies rabbit on and on with the proprietor about their connection problems. Just as I think it is solved, like a Mr Bean skit, the lady pulls out a tatty note book and insists he checks another number that she rattles off to him, getting it wrong 3 times until he snatches the note book from her in frustration and bashes the number into the keyboard himself. All this is going on, while they are gloriously oblivious to the growing queue that is now like an intestine, about to burst backwards through the front door of the shop. I eventually get a new sim card and leave after more than an hour in the shop; thankfully it was air-conditioned. Veronica meanwhile was hauling groceries to the baking dinghy!

We had a great sail the next day to Porto Azzuro on the east coast of Elbe. We past the iron mines, which were open cast but because they were closed in 1986, and the island is generally very wooded, they had not left too much of a blight. In fact all the beaches below the old mines were jam-pack full.

The Azzuro anchorage was a crowded, sunken river valley. We threaded out way through many anchored boats in the hope of taking up the keel and going shallow but of course that part was occupied by day motor boats, which you know like wasps and flies, go home at night. We did find a spot and somehow managed to avoid swinging onto other boats. It was not just us but everybody in close quarters. I went ashore, Veronica did not as she was hot and bothered but later I fetched her for a meal in town. Azzuro was charming and traditional, with narrow streets with plentiful bars and restaurants.

It was a 36Nm sail the next day to Giglio, the ‘island of the lily’. There is an old Aragonese walled village at the circa 400m a.s.l. pinnacle of the islands. It has crenelated walls and narrow alleys and was well worth a visit, even if done by bicycle in over 34 deg C heat, which is what I did. It was a mother of a climb, so I recommended Veronica take the bus. The island is however most famous more recently for the Costa Concordia disaster. On the first night after taking a look in at the harbour (it was not visiting yacht friendly), we anchored on Isola del Giglio within 300m of the Le Scole rocks, which tore a 36m gash into the Costa Concordia on a fateful evening in January 2012. The wreck was re-floated and removed in July 2014, so it is remarkable to me that there are still salvage barges and operations going on, 3 years later. The ship cost $612m build and the total cost of the disaster is estimated at over $2billion. The link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Concordia_disaster makes for interesting and grisly reading. Thirty-three people lost their lives in the incident including one salvage member. We spent 2 nights there. On the second day we circumnavigated the island clockwise and anchored in Seno Campese where a ridiculously large area was given to swimmers and/or protected from anchors, even though there was no sea grass to protect as it was all sand, making no sense. The swimming buoys were on the 10m bathymetric contour and immediately beyond it was a very steep underwater slope, making anchoring challenging. Our anchor held fine but two others around us dragged. Consequently Veronica and I took turns going ashore and up to the Castello, me by bike and Veronica on the local bus. It was a very nice beach and bay with an eye-catching sea-stack at its western extremity. If going to Gigilo and the wind and weather is right, I would say go straight there, you can get everywhere else on the local bus cheaply.

It had been 17 days since we last stayed in a Marina and a Traumontana was predicted to be coming down from the main land. We needed to seek proper shelter. In the end though, a combination of a very protected marina and the head of steam not quite getting up as predicted in the forecast, it turned into a non-event for us. In Corsica there had been water restrictions so even when you could get water from the quay, you could not wash your boat. We sailed the 12Nm over to Cala Galera, our first Italian mainland visit and stayed 2 days in the marina. It was €100 at night but we had waited a long time for the luxury. Boat washing was done and we took a cycle into Porto Ecole and then to the quaint and ancient town of Orbitello, which was on a spit that ran through the attractive salt lakes.

We left, rejuvenated with a clean boat and set off on the “road to Rome” with an overnight anchorage in Santa Marinella, just past Citavettchia. The latter is the cruise liner jumping off point for Rome, so we avoided it. We had a pleasant night just off a beach lined with grandiose villas, one of which was crumbling into the sea. These volcanic pyroclastic deposits must keep a lot of engineering geologists busy.

The next day we entered the River Tiber which with a least depth of 2.5m in the entrance, meant that care needed to be taken. The view from a boat on entry presents not a very salubrious gateway to Rome as it is lined with grubby buildings all with large drop nets on long booms swung out over the river. Once the river widened the marina came into view. We had chosen the marina, Port Romano, which was in total contrast to the grubby surroundings I have just described. It was really an upmarket yacht club that took visiting yachts. It had a really nice supersized swimming pool surrounded by a lush green lawn and a rather swish upmarket restaurant and bar. This is what attracted Veronica! What we had not quite figured into the equation was that the marina was on the wrong side of the river for the railway station to Rome and as described by our Norwegian neighbour, there was the bridge of death to cross. It was a little bit of an exaggeration but since we did it on our bicycles, I can relate to what he said.

We rode about 4km to the nearest railway station, folded up the bikes and boarded the Metro. It was surreal to emerge from the Metro in the shadow of the Colloseum. It was swamped with tourists and touts. We did not go inside but wandered around and then took a slow walk around before going around Palatine Hill and stopping for a beer next to Circus Maximus. From there we intersected the Tiber River and made our way upstream. Veronica was getting a bit psyched by the traffic and it was super hot. Rome cannot be seen in a day so we had taken the advice of choosing two or 3 things and spending time chilling in the cafes and emulating modern day Romans in between. We crossed the river and admired Castel St Angelo from the outside and from the beer garden in the park inside the moat. From there we entered the traffic again on our bikes and passed the snake of people several blocks long queuing for the Vatican Museum. For some reason we had difficulty finding the entrance to The Vatican City but did eventually. We stared across the square, which is actually surrounded by a circular ring of colonnades, looking at the famous balcony where the Pope addresses his millions from.

We took a different train home and decided to get off at a different station as we had deemed it closer. It was a mistake. We ended up on a very busy main road that was pretty dangerous on a bicycle. Veronica bailed, we got separated, she was not a happy bunny and the heat was not helping. In my wanderings I stumbled upon Ostia Antica, which was literally 2 km from the boat. It is a whole Roman settlement dating from 4BC. Excavations, started in the early 1900s have revealed a cosmopolitan town that once was home to around 100 000 people. We may have been better off just going to see that but one has to go to Rome once, even if it is just for a day.