Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Island of Capraia – A hidden Italian Gem

June 7-8, 2013

 It was unusual to be able to have a sleep in on a sailing day but on Friday June 7 we were leaving Corsica and making our way eighteen nautical miles to the Island of Capraia, handily located a third of the way to Italy’s Tuscan coast. The forecast predicted no wind before around 11am so we didn’t lift the anchor until 10.30. This gave us enough time to motor clear of the huge wind break of Corsica’s Cap Corse and be in clear air to take advantage of the expected eight to ten knot breeze, if and when it arrived. Yes we’re still sceptics when it comes to weather forecasts in the Med.

This time the weather gurus were pleasantly spot on the money. Within twenty minutes we turned into the slowly building wind to raise the mainsail, eased back onto our course, turned the motor off and enjoyed a glorious broad reach in warm sunshine almost on a direct line all the way to our landfall on the southern tip of Isola Capraia.

Marc trying to get a phone pic of our Italian landfall to post on his facebook
Isola Capraia is a great stop when crossing from Corsica to Italy
And what a land fall it was. Punta Zenobito is a spectacular geological formation. The western cliffs feature well weathered granite, contrasting red rock infusions with a sporadic coverage of dense, low green foliage and bright yellow wild flowers. Rounding the point we were completely sheltered from the breeze and sailed into dead calm waters. We discovered a fellow cruising yachtsman anchored in a tiny indentation in the cliffs where the aged granite met a sheer cliff face of red rock. It was certainly a picturesque spot to say ‘Hello Italy’ for although the island is closer to French territory in the form of Corscia than the Italian mainland, Capraia is very Italian.

Karen enjoying the sunshine and sailing as we approach Isola Capraia
The contrasting rock colours, vegetation and wild flowers were dramatic
What an anchorage under the cliffs of Punta Zenobito
No Karen. There is not room in there for us too.
It’s known to have been settled in Roman times and the ruins of a Roman villa can still be seen near the village at Porto Capraia. It was later settled by monks who over the course of time apparently slipped into what Pope Gregory the Great referred to as ‘unorthodoxy and loose behaviour.’ It must have been very loose because the said Pope dispatched an armed force to show them the error of their ways and ‘encourage’ them back into line. Like much of the Mediterranean, the island was also ravaged by pirates for centuries. Lord Nelson captured it, which no doubt looked good in Admiralty dispatches at the time, but in the end there was no point in keeping it so he sailed away and onto the next conquest we guess. These days the small population of islanders earn a modest income from a little tourism.

Capraia is part of the Tuscan Archipelago Nationals Park with the island and its waters a marine reserve. No access is permitted at all to a large area off the west coast while in the waters around most of the remainder no fishing of any sort is permitted with all diving and anchoring regulated.  The harbour at Porto Capraia itself is the only landfall permitted on the island but we chose to make the most of the incredible looking water and anchored in Ansa Ceppo, a bay surrounded by sheer cliffs on the south eastern side.

In the clear waters of Isola Capraia Karen had her first swim of the summer. 
It was glorious. Marc and Rob had no sooner got the anchor on the bottom then there was a loud splash at the stern. Karen wasted no time getting in for her first swim of the summer and was in even before the engine was turned off. Rob followed soon after in snorkelling gear. Checking the set of the anchor in the sand was a simple matter as the bottom could be seen clear as day over eight metres below the surface. He also took the opportunity to give the boat’s  waterline a quick scrub to remove a bit of the marina grime that had built up since she went back into the water in Ceuta back in March.

A guy's work is never done. Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the serenity, with a few sundowners of course and a great BBQ dinner in the cockpit. It’s so nice to not be living below all the time now the weather has warmed up. We love summer.

OK. So it's not all hard work.
Macinaggio to Isola Capraia - 18.2 Nautical Miles - 3 Hours 55 Minutes
Average speed 4.6 knots Max 6.6 knots
Next morning we raised the anchor and headed offshore a little to try and pick up some phone service. Back home in Australia our Daughter, Yasmin, was expecting our fifth grandchild anytime now so we hated being out of reach. Unfortunately our French sim card couldn’t quite connect across the 33 kilometres of water back to Corsica so we gave up and turned for Porto Capraia.

Wow! Approaching Porto Capraia we rounded a point as found this.
What a gem of a place. With the weather predicted to stay very settled, we were able to safely anchor in a corner of the harbour beside some cliffs topped by a medieval watch tower. We soon had the dingy down and made our way the short distance past an unusual sculpture of a sea nymph on the end of the  breakwater and into the inner harbour and marina area to the waterfront village.

That's what you call anchoring under protection.
Looked like this little sea nymph at Porto Capraia was deep in thought.
Anse Ceppo to Porto Capraia - 
It was a very attractive spot with just a few dockside cafes and a small general store. Our priority was to find some WiFi to get an update on the state of play with not only the impending birth of our soon to be youngest grandson, but also to catch up with how our elder two were faring with their racing in the Junior Dragster Class at Australia’s biggest event, the Winternationals.

We adjourned to one of the cafes and ordered a nice bottle of Tuscan wine as we made our connection with the outside world. First things first, Yasmin was able to inform us that she was still regrettably in one piece rather than two. However she had been experiencing some labour pains so said she was expecting to evict Junior sooner rather than later. Like all mums to be in the final stages of pregnancy she was clearly over it all and looking forward to the idea of sooner much more than the possibility of later.

Things are pretty relaxed on Isola Capraia. This how you change a tyre.
On the racing front, Ethan had driven exceptionally well but unfortunately his car didn’t match his performance on this occasion and he’d been beaten very narrowly in the first round. Caleb on the other hand was going gang busters and was moving through the elimination rounds quite nicely. He had one more race to win to reach the quarter finals and get to be part of the huge main finals day of the event.

Our fingers were crossed that things went smoothly for both Yasmin and Caleb but as we were sailing for the Italian mainland the next day we were going to have an anxious wait until we reached port and could connect again to get the next instalment of news from home.

While we handled all of our communications with family, Marc went off in search of a teller machine to get some cash. A friendly local provided the info that there wasn’t one in the village and said he’d have to go ‘to the city’ pointing to the walled fortress and it’s surrounds on top of the hill. An hour or so later Marc reported back that the city was in fact a very nice, but sleepy and very small town atop the hill overlooking the harbour entrance.

We found Capraia an absolutely delightful, unspoiled place, with extremely open and friendly people. It would have been nice to spend another day there and explore the old fort and long closed prison along with some of the national park area but the weather gurus were predicting a very good sailing wind to push us the rest of the way to the Italian coast the next day . You have to make the most of the wind when it’s in your favour, and besides, Pisa, Florence and the hills of Tuscany were calling us.

For more about our travels and lots more photos check out and 'like' our Dreamtime Sail facebook page at Dreamtime Sail on Facebook

If you only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway. We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.


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