Saturday 9th July 2011
Southbound to the Côte d'Azur
After being joined in wedlock for 20 fine years, me & my wife Shanshan were up for a special Summer holiday, so we dragged our daughter from Brussels through la douce France via Dijion, Lyon, Orange and Toulon, down to Le Lavandou at the edge of the deep blue Mare Nostrum. There at a café with view on the port, we met skipper Michael & his wife Lizette, who temporarily traded their Nictea in Nieuwpoort for a chartered yacht, with the ingenious plan to sail from mainland Europe across Corsica to Sardia. Of all places, I also bumped into Yves Vervloesem, an ex-colleague with whom I picked up sailing in 420 and Vaurien dinghies many years ago.
Sunday 10th July 2011
All aboard !!!
After spending a single night in a really cozy hotel "Le Rabelais", we were ready to board the "Blue Dream" - under a Greek flag - in the more Western port of Bormes-les-Mimosas. As we booked well in advance, we got a good deal from Kiriacoulis for a Bavaria 38 foot cruiser with 3 cabins. Since I was not accustomed to mediterranean sailing, I got rapidly acquainted with the "bimini", which is a foldable shelter to extend the sprayhood, thus providing relief on deck in the shadow, out of the blistering sun. During a brief excursion to the Baie de Port Man on the isle of Port-Cros - where we went swimming amids the fish in the marine national park - we also spotted a weak attachment of the mainsail to the mast at the bottom, which we were able to repair once we returned to the port. Definitely a good idea to first test a chartered boat on the first day, before setting off on a major voyage.
Monday 11th to Tuesday 12th July 2011
Crossing from Bormes-les-Mimosas to Girolata in Corsica
A light Eastern wind shifting from North to South carried us in 20 hours across the Ligurian Sea to Corsica. During the dark & misty night, we heard and sometimes saw big tunafish jumping out of the water, and in the morning we twice spotted a school of up to 5 small dolphins, which on one occasion swam right in front of our bow. Even while approaching the rocky shores, depths still reached further than 2.000 metres, so it was obvious that the sea below us was teeming with life. Without assistance of GPS guidance and digital maps, if would have been nearly impossible to locate the tiny outlet of la Girolata lost somewhere in the Reserve Naturelle de Scandola, as all the rocks look alike, with no beacons to be found. Once moored on a free buoy, I immediately went cruising the bay to admire the impressive rocky formations. At some point I even came across a group of adventurous travellers, who were touring the Corsican shores by kayak, which seem like a grand idea, though it probably requires a good pair of trained biceps for paddling. In evening, we begged the harbour master - a young girl in a wooden shed on the beach - if we could access the internet to verify my daughters exam results. Great joy erupted, when we discovered that she passed her entrance exam to study medicine, so we closed the day with an inaugural culinary feast, which involved local wild boar and plenty of wine.
Nearing the Corsican shores.
Wednesday 13th July 2011
Girolata to Ajaccio
At 8 o'clock in the morning, our crew set sail from Girolata to the major port of Ajaccio. On our way we circumnavigated Cap Rossu, Cap de Feno and Iles des Sanguinaires, only to discover that there was no spot for us in the marina of Charles Ornano, whereas the old Port of Tino Rossi next door was reserved for super yachts owned by the billionaires club, such as the magnificant clipper Puritan registered in Madeira. While waiting in the bay for a vacant place, we went for a dive, while fire extinguishing planes where scooping up water nearby to quench fires further inland. Finally after a bit of nagging, we were able to dock anyway and enjoy the aperitif.
Thursday 14th July 2011
Ajaccio to Baie de Figari
As we motored out of the bay, we looked up to the massive cruise ships, and admired a fregate from the French navy, neatly dressed up under full flag on today's occasion of "Bastille Day". En route we rounded de Pointe de Senetosa, and crossed the Gulf of Valinco and Des Moines. As the wind was stiffening, we decided not to stop in the port of Tizzano, as the wind would blow straight into the tiny inlet. Instead we sailed about 5 nautical miles more South into the baie de Figari. Once inside it became quite a stampede, since everyone was seeking shelter and the minitiature marina was full. To aggrevate the situation, our CQR anchor proved to be useless after two failed attempts. Finally we were able to secure the boat against a small pontoon next to two shipwrecks. Afterwards we used the dinghy to fasten a extra long mooring line to a buoy, to avoid being blown into a small river delta only another ten metres away, and share the fate of another wreck which was lying on its side. Not all boats were that lucky, as we witnessed how a Dufour 480 crashed his keel into the rocks below. After one hour of creative maneuvers, they crafted themselves out of their predicament, using the joined full power of their jib and the motor.
Slightly taller ships.
Fregate dressed up under full flag on "Bastille Day".
Lizette taking the helm.
Securing an extra long mooring line to a buoy.
Friday 15th July 2011
Locked inside the baie the Figari
With the weather forecast indicating a West to South-West wind of 6 to 7 beaufort through the strait of Bonifacio, we were basically stuck in the bay of Figari, as the contract with the charter company specifies that the sailors can't leave port with a wind force above 6 beaufort. So I took my foldable bicycle on shore with the dinghly, and visited the nearby towns of Caldarello and Pianotolli. The rough rocky landscape looked inviting for a backpacking trip, but it became scorching hot, notwithstanding near storm conditions at sea. While boarding again, I noticed 3 cool looking Astus 22 trimarans on their trailers. Since they were more mobile than our heavy keel yacht, they were taking cover from the merciless Mistral winds at the East of the island. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in splendid isolation whilst fishing, though I did not manage to catch anything for dinner. Luckily we were not absolutely forgotten, as the pizza delivery guy came around in a red dinghy, as opposed to the classic red scooter. Looking up to the bright full moon shining over the bay, we were happy not to be caught in the tempest outside, since even inside the bay all the boats kept shaking violently.
Saturday 16th July 2011
Crossing to Sardinia
The day after we ventured across the straight of Bonifacio to Santa Teresa Gallura in Italy. Or maybe I better to refer to "Sardegna" as an autonomous region, as many islanders do not consider themselves followers of their fellow Sardinian Victor Emanuel II, who became the first king of the united Italy in 1861. The wind along our way remained that strong, that our VHF antenna was blown out of the mast, jumped on the deck nearly missing our skipper's skull who was trimming the sails, and got swallowed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, thus rendering us incommunicado for the rest of the voyage. A huge aircraft carrier on high naval alert reminded us that war was waging against Libya less than 600 nautical miles away at the opposite side of the Mediterranean Sea. Afterwards we devoured a sumptuous meal at the restaurant "Assassino", looking over the luxurious harbour, which would forcibly become our home in the coming week.
Sunday 17th to Friday 22nd July 2011
Locked inside the the port of Santa Teresa Gallura
It is fair to say, that it is much more convenient to be stuck in a top marina in Italy, compared to a bay without facilities on shore nor supply of water and electricity. With gales up to 8 beaufort, sailing at sea would have become survival as opposed to holiday anyway. So we did not sailed as far as Olbia as originally envisioned, but we made a beautiful short trip via the East coast to Conca Verde near Porto Pozzo, with the Isolas Spargiotto, Spragi, Santo Stefano, and - the biggest one - La Maddalena within eyesight. During our holiday time in Santa Teresa, I climbed rocks on Capo Testa, were I discovered a Summer hippie community on the desolate Southside of the peninsula. Still not quite sure how they manage to carry glass bottles containing at least 15 litres of red wine over the steep cliffs to their colourful caverns. Via the sea would have been virtually impossible, as any boat coming near the cliffs would have been chopped up in tiny bits and pieces. Another day, I rented a Yamaha 150 cc scooter, and made a large tour of the Northern island. In Tempio Pausania, me and my daughter got stuck in sudden torrent rains, turning the medieval streets into rapid rivers. The way winding back through the mountains turned kind of scary, as we had to descent on slippery roads, so we returned really late on the Northern tip. Nearing the end of the week, I drove my wife and daughter in a tiny Fiat Panda to Cagliari, so they could catch their flight home. As this airport was on the opposite side of the island, it took me a whole day driving back and forth.
Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th July 2011
Hiking Coluccia peninsula & hills of Caresi
Deploying my foldable bicycle, I was able to scout more uncharted territory. On Saturday I circumnavigated the Coluccia peninsula. In the salty marshes, I was able to come close to a pink flamingo, and spotted a beautiful black & orange hoopoe. Near Porto Pozzo, I came across Centro Nautica Levante in a camping place, where you could rent Laser and RS Vision dinghies by half or a full day. On Sunday I walked through the hills of Caresi, and discovered to my detriment that the thicket is absolutely impregnable. Completely lost and scratched all over my body, I accidentally walked into a traditional agricultural festival, where farmers were worshipping a statue of the Virgin Mary cut out in a unique labyrinth of rocks. When descending 150 metres from the hilltop on my way home, there was no need to apply my bicycle breaks, as the wind was hitting me at 8 beaufort in the face.
Monday 25th to Tuesday 26th July 2011
Return to the French mainland
At the start of a new week, we exploited a short window of relatively good weather to return to the French mainland in a single trip heading 315 degrees. Organizing the watch on board turned out a bit more difficult, due to the fact that our crew was down to three. For reasons of security, we preferred minimum two people on deck during the night, i.e. one person at the helm, and another person in standby for operating the sails. On the other hand, it was good thing that my wife & daughter returned by airplane, because we hit a storm during the night. As this was my first storm on open sea, I now experienced firsthand why sailors in general are not too keen to confront the oceans in a relatively small vessel. Especially at night, you don't see a single thing, except climbing and falling off black walls of water. Meanwhile we had to look out for light of ferries and cargo ships, in order to avoid a collision, which would have been most certainly fatal for all souls aboard. Wrapped up in blankets half sleepy, sick and cold, we welcomed the sun rising. All of a sudden, the Mediterranean seas became as flat as a mirror, so we had to engage the motor until Bormes-les-Mimosas.
Wednesday 27th to Saturday 30th July 2011
Cruising the Rade d'Hyères
Definitely it was a good to have a marigin of a couple of days, so we sailed across Ile du Levant (hosting a French naval base), Ile de Port-Cros (which is a Natural Parc), Ile de Bagaud, Ile de Porquerolles, the Presqu'île de Giens and Cap Bénat. Ample time allowed us to comb the beaches, sample the gastronomy in Bormes-les-Mimosas and visit Monaco by car. Especially in the pouring rain, Monaco itself offered nothing memorable, as the roads are chockablock, public parking is impossible to find, and its marina is old and dirty, in comparison with other ports at the Côte d'Azur.
This splendid trip got me accustomed to cruising in the Mediterranean. Other than that, I retained a couple of vital lessons when organizing a sailing trip:
- Fully test the chartered yacht on the first day, returning to the same port to resolve potential issues, as opposed to rushing off into the wild.
- A major crossing of more than 100 nautical miles has to be well prepared, and can be risky depending on the weather conditions. If ever in doubt, stick to the coast line.
- Don't count on sailing long distances every day. Cut up the trip in 1/3 discovery on shore, 1/3 flat rest and only 1/3 of true sailing time.
- Take your Northern sailing garments - such as a sailing trousers, hat and boots - if you got it. The one time you need it, you will be more than happy about it.
Above all, never underestimate the Mediterranean Sea, because she can be a vicious lady at times.
Working life on board ...