Log #34i Some History and Calvi to Ajaccio

May 7, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 34 Rome - Corsica - Sardinia, The Logs

Santa Teresa di Gallura, Sardinia

May 7, 2005

Hi Folks,

We are secure in this inlet marina at Santa Teresa here on the northern tip of Sardinia waiting out strong westerly winds that have been blowing force 7 and 8 through the Strait of Bonifacio for the past four days. We had a very heavy motor across from the northern Maddalena Island of Isola Budelli against force 7 winds, but are happy here in this good but economical marina (5 Euros a night with tailed mooring lines, and including water and electricity). Rather than sail around to Alghero on the NW coast, we will stay here and rent a car to drive over to pick our friends up on Monday (when I will probably have a chance to send this from an internet café). Then we hope the winds will have died or changed direction so we can sail up to the St. Tropez area of southern France on Tuesday (May 10).

Happiness is a secure marina in winds howling at force 8.

All the best,



Log #34i Some History and Calvi to Ajaccio

Santa Teresa di Gallura, Sardinia

41˚ 14.17’N, 009˚ 11.68’E

May 7, 2005

A Fractured History of Corsica and Calvi

Civilization on Corsica dates back to the Neolithic Period, with archeological remains of Bonifacio Woman dating back to 6570 BC. The first inhabitants probably came from Tuscany, later (around 1100 BC) being routed and replaced by eastern Mediterranean tribes known as Torreens for the towers (torre) they constructed over the stone slab statues of the earlier megalithic population. Then in the 6th century BC the Phocaen Greeks (Phoenicians and Greeks?) brought the island into the trading world, to be taken over by the Romans until their downfall by 476 AD, then attacked by the Goths until Byzantium’s equally bloody conquest of the island in the 6th century AD. From the 8th to the 18th century Corsica was constantly subject to attack from the Moors (Saracens or Muslims) from North Africa, raiding villages on the coast and even inland, as well as taking slaves. (Thus the beheaded Moor as the symbol on the Corsican flag.) In the 10th century, important noble families from Tuscany and Liguria on the Italian mainland created fiefdoms resulting in the fierce clans of Corsica. The Pope assigned the Bishop of Pisa to “care for the flock”, but the bishop was also interested in commerce; then the Genoese took an economic interest in the island. Pope Innocent II in 1133 divided the island between the two Italian city states, soon after which Genoa became dominant until the 18th century. To keep watch on the coasts for raiders, the Genoese built over 72 towers on headlands around the island, 40 of which can be seen on various high points and headlands today. They also built fortifications around many of the cities they controlled.

The Citadel of Calvi was initially built by the Pisans in 1268, but ten years later the citizens rebelled and asked for protection from Genoa, who then took over and rebuilt the citadel at the end of the 15th century. Calvi, like most of Corsica, was under Genoese control from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Calvi was very loyal to Genoa, to the extent it was seen as the oppressor by other Corsican towns and clans. The French with assistance from Dragut, a Turkish fleet commander (some say he was a glorified pirate), twice unsuccessfully besieged the town in the 16th century, but the citizens held out, and remained loyal to Genoa until Calvi was ceded to the French in 1764.

In 1794 the citadel fell to the English thanks to one of her most illustrious sons, Admiral Horatio Nelson. Rather than making an all-out naval assault, after securing the heights of the adjacent Revellata headland, he landed artillery, and after four weeks of bombardment Calvi surrendered. It was at this siege that Nelson was blinded in the right eye by fragments of stone blasted up by an enemy shell. Calvi was returned to French control in 1796 (under Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born in Corsica), and has been French since, in spite of several insurrections and efforts for independence by Pascal Paoli in the late 18th century, and others. Independence sentiments continue, with unrest supported by Corsican separatists of the FLNC (Front de Liberation Nationale de la Corse) in the late 20th century, including a vote for separation in 2003 which was lost by close to a 50/50 split, as close as the Quebec referendum result at 49% to 51% in Canada a few years ago. As mentioned in my previous log, there was a recent rally held in Ajaccio for “liberation”.

(Incidentally, there are claims by Calvi that Christopher Columbus was born there, but such are not verified and highly suspect.)

Calvi to Ajaccio

After the abortive attempt to leave Calvi on the 26th we were able to get off next morning, motoring around the Pointe de la Revellata (where Nelson had situated his artillery in 1794) into light SW winds, coasting off the magnificent northwest and west coasts of Corsica. This rocky indented coastline has several anchorages before Ile de Gargalu, with dramatic cliffs overlooking sandy beaches. Many of these are OK in settled weather, and are frequented by tripper boats because of the beautiful scenery and sandy beaches. A line from Marina D’Elbo through the headland demarcates La Scandola Nature Reserve, home to over 127 species of bird life, including the last bald buzzards in Europe, 20 pairs of osprey, and other rare species. We motored around the dramatic red rock sculpted headland of Punta Palazzo through the Gargalu Passage inside of Ile de Gargalu, a narrow channel with at least 3 metres depth, to be navigated only in calm conditions to be able to see and avoid the other underlying rocks. This approach from the north, the channel and the far side were enclosed and dominated by the monumental ochre-red, ferrous, granite rock formations of Les Calanques, towering hundreds of feet above on either side, as we cautiously approached and wended our way through to emerge on the south side. The awe of looking up at these 1000 foot cliffs and their upthrust pinnacles brushing the heavens was tempered by the necessity of watching out for similar shoals that didn’t quite make it above sea level. The waters were calm and clear, allowing us to see rock formations ten to thirty feet below the translucent azure blue and emerald green depths.

Going through the passage, Ile de Gargalu on our starboard was capped by yet another Genoese tower, an ideal location for coast watching a few hundred years ago, sitting forlornly on the maquis-tufted summit. To port was the sunset-red headland, hundreds of feet higher, the reddish pinnacles, crevices, and weather worn strata giving mute testimony to the granite defiant permanence of this mountainous isle of Corsica. I felt a hush as we were going through as if in a cathedral, just a whisper of breeze and the occasional call of a seagull circling in the updrafts of this awesome passage and canyon. As I think back on it, I can see the similarity to the Gaudi cathedral of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, its towers leading the eyes skyward. However, without a doubt, Nature is the better architect and sculptor!

Had we time, I would have anchored in Marina D’Elbo (42˚ 23’N, 008˚ 34’E) for lunch and taken Sprite through the passage to just drift in awe at the waterline, beneath the cliffs hundreds of feet high, and into the passage to explore, in minute detail, the base and crevices of this grandiose headland and the isle of red granite towering cliffs. As it was, we continued on to anchor in Girolata (42˚ 20.93’N, 008˚ 36.85’E), a sheltered bay with turquoise clear water overlooked by a small Genoese fort. Unfortunately the fort was private, possibly being converted to a museum, so we were not supposed to climb up to it. The small bay was lined with a few primitive restaurants and stores, a newer restaurant and vacation villas up the hill, with a poster board on the beach indicating some of the walks in this area just outside of the La Scandola Park boundaries. There were only two other boats anchored there when we arrived, but by dusk five other boats, possibly from a flotilla charter sailing group, had anchored as well. No problem, they gave us adequate swinging room. I took Sprite for a run to examine the rock structures of the nearby crevices and small bays as well as to watch the russet sunset. It cast a warm glow from the flaming red and orange horizon to illuminate in deeper hues the ruddy ferrous oxide of the rocky coastline, the rounded and the stratified, glowing above the wine darkening sea, the shadows casting longer silhouettes across the landforms until all the shoreline was in shadow, the horizon still radiating deep orange hues washed from the sun now below the sphere of the open sea. Beautiful!

By 0830 next morning we weighed anchor and motored and motor sailed into light SW winds the 36 miles down to Ajaccio. Enroute we went through the inner passage between the Isles Sanguinaires (41˚ 52.7’N, 008˚ 35.70’E), an insular and rocky extension of Pte de la Parata, without problem. The seas were calm and we could identify all the hazards above and below the surface. They are called the Isles Sanguinaires (blood-thirsty) being needle-like and jagged rocks threatening unwary sailors, especially in heavy waves that beat against them, glistening blood red from the ochre hued granite shoals. Safely into the Golfe d’Ajaccio, Judy called the marina on channel 09 VHF only to be brusquely told there was no room in the Vieux Port. We were reluctant to consider the newer Port de L’Amiraute as it would be further away from the town centre. I suggested we go into Vieux Port to the fuel dock and after refueling ask if there was any space for one night. There was, and we had a convenient mooring adjacent to the fuel dock for 19 Euros. Next morning we wandered through the old part of town, and after a breakfast of croissants and café au lait, to the Musee a Bandera, a Corsican history museum; quite interesting. Ajaccio is also the birthplace of Napoleon, who subsequently in 1811 made it the capital of Corsica, making the island a single department within the structure of France.

In addition to refueling, we were able to replace a Camping Gaz bottle, relieved to confirm that such was possible in France rather than changing over our system once again.

We left next day for Propriano from which we were planning to visit the archeological ruins of a Neolithic settlement at Filitosa.