Log #34h Under Way-Elba to Corsica

May 5, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 34 Rome - Corsica - Sardinia, The Logs

Passo Secca di Morto (41˚ 17.08’N, 009˚ 21.54’E)

Isola Budelli, Maddalena Islands


May 5, 2005

Hi Folks,

We are weathered in here at anchor sheltered from force 6-8 NW winds howling around. Our anchor is quite secure, and we will wait for the winds to die down before heading off maybe later today or tomorrow. We will be transitting the Strait of Bonifacio heading SW into predominantly west winds. We are in the lovely Maddalena Islands off the NNE coast of Sardinia, almost as nice as the Benjamin Islands of the North Channel in Lake Huron. Tucked in behind Isola Budelli, we are in the middle of the three northern islands, just off the ominous sounding Passo Secca di Morto (Deadman’s Reef Passage). I don’t think I’ll try to go through that shoal-ridden passage, but will go south around Isola Budelli to head into the Strait.

All is well with us. I will see if our Vodaphone card still works now we are back in Italian waters, so I can send this from here today. If not, it will have to wait a few days until we get to the NW coast of Sardinia where we will meet some friends who will sail with us for a while.

I will start on the next log shortly as I have time when we are weathered in like this. So, you may get two or three logs in short order. If for any reason you are missing some of the logs (my switching from AOL to Hotmail may have left out some addresses), Tony Cook has his www.searoom.com website up to date with my most recent logs on it. Thanks Tony.

All the best,


PS As some computers have spam blockers which may block messages without a To: address, you may find a different address in the To: block but the others including yours will be blind copied.

Log #34h Under Way-Elba to Corsica

Porto Palma, Isola Caprera, Sardinia

41˚ 11.22’N, 009˚ 31.93’E

May 2, 2005

This log has us under way from our winter marina in Ostia and is preceded by Log #34c A Hazardous Entry in which I described our departure on April 14 and the hazards of our unassisted bows to mooring in force 8 winds in Giglio Marina (42˚ 21.61’N, 010˚ 55.29’E) on Isola Giglio on April 16th. The harbourmaster did not come over after my explosion on the dock, and we were not charged for the two days we spent there, waiting out heavy weather.

We departed Giglio Marina at 0700 on the 18th in calm weather, only to find out our Simrad Wheel Pilot self steering was not working, no power to it. We went around the north of the island back to the anchorage Seno di Campese to see if we could fix it. It had blown the fuse; after cleaning the fuse holder and replacing the fuse the power was OK, but the system would still not work. The problem was not the fuse, the belt, or anything mechanical that we could tackle. It was electronic and we did not want to try opening the control unit. So we hand steered the next 45 miles (motoring all the way) over to Edilnautica Marina at Portoferraio on Elba, the Tuscan island to which Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled for a while before escaping back to France in 1815. Enroute we passed a few miles abeam to port an isolated mountainous island, Isola di Montecristo (42˚ 19.0’N, 10˚ 18.8’E). This island made famous by Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo, is uninhabited now, except by the few park wardens who do not permit anchoring unless permits have been obtained in advance.

As we approached Rada di Portoferraio (the roadstead) we saw two beautiful fire-red, sleek, 12 metre yachts match racing, their tall stately silver and gold hi-tech sails glistening in the sun as they manoeuvred for wind advantage in the light airs. We hoped that since the marinas were home to Italy’s America’s Cup challengers that they would have the expertise to tackle our electronic problems. We called Edilnautica Marina on the VHF and were helped in to a mooring with tailed lines by a co-operative yardsman. It had good facilities with water and electrical connections readily available. Next morning at the office they were most helpful, and although their electronic services were quite busy and could not help for at least a week, they phoned over to the mainland and identified a Simrad technician there who could look at it the next day.

We left about 1000 to go over to the town docks (42˚ 48.84’N, 010˚ 18.93’E) in this historic capital of Elba, beneath the ramparts and bastions of the medieval fortress, just outside the Sea Gate, the main entrance into the walled old town. We were not charged any fee for the marina last night, but at the town docks the fee for our 10 metre boat was 20.00 Euros a night, a moderate amount that included tailed moorings, with water and electricity available, right in the central old port area. We were quite pleased with the facilities, even though we had to pay an additional 2.00 Euros for a shower, located inside the town walls. Along the town docks we met a few people from a couple of British boats from the Isle of Man, flying the Manx flag (a Red Ensign with the Manx symbol of three armoured legs in constant motion). We hoisted the Elba flag, white with a red diagonal band containing three bees, a design from the Napoleonic era, below our Italian flag on the starboard spreader.

Rod Heikell described the town effectively in his Italian Waters Pilot when he said, “Few people fail to fall in love with Portoferraio. Behind the harbour the 18th century buildings in cream and ochre are tucked under the craggy 16th century citadel, built originally by Cosmino I, Duke of Florence. The warrens of alleys and staircases are lined with dwellings, shops and restaurants and occasionally lead to unexpected views of the sea behind.” He also recommends, “You should climb to the citadel walls at least once to watch the sunset and the sea below turning liquid red and sepia as it washes over the rocks and reefs.”  Rod ended his accolade for Portoferraio by saying, “I can’t imagine why Napoleon ever left.”

We toured the enormous ramparts integrated into and above the dominating cliffs, and the wide effectively situated bastions controlling the roadstead and sea access. The Villa dei Mulini within the fortress walls was Napoleon’s home while in exile here for 9 months in 1814-1815, a most comfortable mini palace with a fantastic view over the coast, from which he escaped to France to resume his campaign. Next day Judy caught the 0630 ferry across to Piombino, an hour’s crossing to the mainland, to drop off the Simrad for repairs. Upon her return at 1000 we bought a day bus pass and had a delightful ride around the western two thirds of Elba, through the mountains and along the coast roads. From the western side we could see the snow capped mountains of Corsica, over 30 miles away, our next destination. Elba is a beautiful mountainous island, with a wide variety of vegetation and geological structures. Mining was an important part of the economy, as well as their vineyards and olive groves. However, the military importance decreased after Napoleon’s departure and the economy went into decline. Tourism and the yachting industry in the past twenty years or so have improved its situation. We enjoyed Portoferraio and Elba very much and would recommend the town docks to other boaters going there. Although in low season the charges for our 10 metre boat was only 20.00 Euros, in high season the cost would be 36.00 Euros per night, not cheap, but a good location and good facilities on the town quay.

The third day we went out to anchor on the west side of the roadstead (42˚ 48.39’N, 010˚ 19.29’E) where there were several boats at long term anchors and others at mooring buoys. The holding was good, and it was only a few minutes’ dinghy ride to the town docks or the ferry terminal where Judy went to go back to Piombino to pick up the repaired Simrad (for another 150.00 Euros).

We left next day, motoring the 42 miles across the northern coast of Elba (at least the Simrad self steering worked now), over to anchor off the marina at Macinaggio (42˚ 57.85’N, 009˚ 27.17’E) on the northeast peninsula of Corsica. We didn’t bother going ashore that evening.

Next day we motored around Cap Corse, the northern peninsula, a digit sticking up from the fist of Corsica. Our Lonely Planet Guide in commenting on the attempts for Corsica to break into the tourist market of southern France described this 40 kilometre long and 10 kilometre wide northern peninsula as, “giving a giant geographical finger to the French Riviera.” Again we motored all the 47 miles around to anchor off the marina breakwater at Calvi (42˚ 33.77’N, 008˚ 45.54’E), the fortified walled town looming over the area.

On our starboard spreader we flew the French tricolour above the Corsican flag, a white flag with a black silhouette of a Moor’s head, a white head cloth around the forehead and tied at the back. This represents victory over the marauding Moors or Saracens who were beheaded when captured. The knights of the Crusades would be entitled to put the bandanna clad Moor’s head on their coat of arms if they had defeated a Moorish enemy. Now however, the Corsicans appear to identify with the Moors as rebels and fighters, as there is a strong independence sentiment still in Corsica. One of the local breweries has as its symbol on its label the Moor’s head together with the head of Che Guevara. We saw many colourful political posters in Calvi and Ajjacio for a rally on April 30th, sponsored by an organization calling itself Populu Corsu Campera, showing the Moor’s head being hammered with a mallet held in the hand of an arm with the French tricolour showing on the cuff and the slogan, “Basta! A Repressione!” and the word “Liberta”. We didn’t go to the rally.

The Sardinian flag has four Moor’s heads, separated into quadrants by the red Cross of St. George, but more about it when we get to Sardinia.

The holding was good as we talked with Tramp, a German ketch who had been at anchor there for six days, and our anchor didn’t move the three days we were there. We had a good view of the fortified old town on the cliffs overlooking Calvi. I wandered up there at one point to admire the old buildings converted into lovely condominiums with some spectacular views over both sides of the promontory. We got a French chip for our mobile phone, and so now have both a French phone number when in France, and the Italian phone number when in Sardinia, Italian territory. There is a very good Supermercado well stocked with fine French foods. Mmmmm!

I was concerned about getting in my tax return by the deadline, the end of April. We have a program whereby it can be calculated and filed electronically. Our Vodaphone internet connection will not work in French territory as France requires an annual contract with a French address before a data connection can be made. We were considering going to Sardinia before the 30th in order to activate our Vodaphone internet connection with our laptop. However a co-operative internet café owner showed us how to hook up our laptop LAN connection to his internet line directly, thus giving us access to the internet with our computer. We filed on time. The down side was that I owed a considerable amount to the government. Sob, Sob!

Calvi, in addition to being the site for the Calvi Race week, a prestigious ocean yacht race analogous to the Admiral’s Cup and the Fastnet Race held later in the year, is also a base for a parachute regiment of the French Foreign Legion (2ieme Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes [REP] of the Legion Etrangére) at their Camp Raffali, which was having an open house the Sunday we were there. Before going to the base we caught the local Tramways De Balangne, for a picturesque round trip up to Ile Rousse, on a single motorized car trundling on its old rails, much in need of refurbishment (both the rails and the car) along the coast past scenic sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings. It reminded me of the old “bud car” which used to run from Sudbury to Nairn and Massey when I lived up in Espanola in Northern Ontario.

On our return we got off at the base and wandered around for a few hours. There was no parade, or any “spit and polish” ceremonies, but the different companies of the regiment had activities or barbecues to entertain and feed the locals and families of the servicemen. (We did see a couple of women in the regimental uniform as well.) There was also a civilian equestrian jumping competition being held on the base at the same time. Some of the activities were for children, such as face painting in camouflage colours, mini obstacle courses, and photo opportunities in parachute gear suspended from adjacent trees. Judy had fun at the parachute tower where they had a controlled “zip line” rope slide from about 150 feet up diagonally to the ground.

The unit had a couple of displays of its gear and maps of Europe and Africa indicating where recent actions took place, especially in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. The secretive Foreign Legion still offers recruits two important incentives. One is complete anonymity (one of the officers requested I not take his picture), and, after five years of service, French citizenship. We missed the ceremonial parade the day before which commemorated the Battle of Camerone, of which the Lonely Planet Guide disparagingly said, “Bizarrely, the parade celebrates one of the worst defeats in the history of the French Military.” However I do not agree with this assessment; the regiment’s account of that battle indicates that a company of Legionnaires was escorting a convoy of civilians and military through Mexican territory in the 1860’s when ambushed. The 60 legionnaires fought off over 1000 Mexicans, allowing the convoy to escape, and when down to the last dozen men, they made a final charge at the enemy, distracting them further from the convoy, allowing their charges to escape, but dying to the last man. Such a sacrifice is not a defeat!

Rather than wait for the next car of the Tramways De Balangne, we walked from the base 2 kilometres around the long sandy beach of the Bay of Calvi back to Sprite, which we had left at the marina. It is a lovely stretch of fine sand, dotted with the occasional restaurant or campground. We tried to leave next day, but on rounding the point we were heading into force 7 gusting to 8 SW winds, and so returned for another day at anchor. It gave me a chance to send off another log, before heading out a day later for a most scenic trip, the 36 miles to Girolata, past the gigantic granite columns, cliffs and crevices of Les Calanques.