Thursday 20 June 2013

Cruising the Coast of Corsica

May 28 – June 6, 2013

On Tuesday morning we farewelled Steve and Trish as they headed off to explore more of Corsica for a few days before returning home to southern France. Then we prepared to get underway again. Our original intention had always been to cruise the dramatic west coast of Corsica but the spring weather was not playing the game. Not only had temperatures not really warmed up yet but the fearsome mistral winds were still blowing strongly down off the French Alps and across the Gulf of Lion all the way to Corsica. The west coast had been hammered with gales for the last few weeks and the forecast was showing no let up.


Rather than sit on our heels hoping for an unlikely break in the weather, we elected to continue up the east coast of the island instead. While this coast offers a number of spectacular anchorages in the very south and a few along Cap Corse at the island’s northern tip, there are not many options in between. As a result we would have to spend more time in marinas on the way up. Luckily, we’d moored beside a British couple, Brian and Linda, in Porto Vecchio who have been sailing this area of the Med on their yacht French Maid, for over 20 years. They were very forthcoming with advice on various places and proved a mine of valuable information.

While not as spectacular as the west coast, much of Corsica’s east still provides a pleasant backdrop to a day’s sailing.
Our first hop was 20 nautical miles from Porto Vechchio to a marina at Salenzarra. Despite high seas and strong winds on the west coast there was very little in the way of breeze in our part of the world so we had a sedate motor along this quite attractive stretch of coastline. Our new friends had recommended this as a nice marina in a small but very pleasant town and that’s exactly what we found.

Porto Vecchio to Salenzarra. 19.9 Nautical Miles - 3 Hours 33 Minutes – Ave speed 5.6 knots Max 7.0 knots
Salenzarra was an attractive spot to stop under the gaze of the high ranges still dusted in snow.
 We initially planned to stay two nights here just to give us time to have a look around and make use of the Laundromat near the marina. Needing to get two week’s worth of washing done at a time is a pain and proving to be one of the more expensive items in our cruising budget. A trip to the Laundromat can cost up to 50 Euros. ($70 Aus) We can now understand why so many cruisers are now looking to have small washing machines aboard. Although you can only use it in port unless you have an onboard generator, a machine would still quickly pay for itself if you can find somewhere to fit it.

 Otherwise however we were quite impressed with Salenzarra and thought it might be a good spot to leave the boat while we hired a car to drive over and spend a couple of days checking out the west coast we were missing. We’d had a great time meandering around in the south of the island in Steve and Trish’s car while we were in Bonifacio and had really enjoyed driving around Menorca as well.

Rob went off to see if he could hire a car in the town and discovered the good news that the local service station was a Hertz agent. Even better news was that they had a tiny Renault hatchback available for the next couple of days. Surely that would be cheap. Then the bad news. The price was 158 Euros per day ($223) After recently paying just 30 Euro per day on Menorca it was a very quick ‘Thanks but no thanks’.

The weather finally warmed up enough to break out the bbq

While we had reasonably good weather, we did watch a few awesome thunder storms blow through north of us.
We were back to the plan of moving on next day  - until Marc discovered the electric anchor windlass was not working. Bugger. A quick check of all the obvious suspects didn’t reveal the problem so off he went to the local ship chandlers to find a marine electrician. ‘Sorry too busy today. Should be OK tomorrow.’ Alright. So we wouldn’t be moving on tomorrow after all.

We then sat around most of the Thursday before receiving a phone call from the chandlery mid afternoon. ‘Too busy today too. Maybe Monday’.  Rob spat the dummy about unreliable bastards and went and sought some help from Brian of French Maid who was also in Salenzara by now. Fifteen minutes with a multi metre narrowed the likely culprit down to the solenoid relay box but two minutes stripping back some wires from the hand control also revealed some badly corroded copper. Brian offered to take the hand control back to his boat and solder some new cable on overnight which would at least fix that problem. Next morning Rob refitted it all and replaced another suspect section of wire he discovered leading to the relay box and sure enough up and down went the anchor again. All good.  Instead of a 100 to 150 Euro for the chandlery’s marine electrician we took Brian and Linda to a waterfront café and shouted the drinks. Much better value and a lot more fun.

Saturday morning we slipped the lines and motored out onto another glassy sea a little before 8.00am and set course for the city of Bastia over 50 nautical miles up the coast. Immediately on leaving the marina we headed well offshore as our pilot guide book warned of a military bombing range adjacent to the French Air Force base located just north of Salenzarra. It was also clearly marked on our electronic charts so we decided we’d rather not become a live target for the French fly boys.

We shouldn’t have bothered as no sooner had we got a couple of miles out to sea than we saw a stream of yachts, including French Maid, begin sailing right through the middle. Oh well at least our seaward position saw us get the first of the wind that did come in complete with a better sailing angle than the short cutters so we actually rounded the point for the run to Bastia a little ahead of them anyway.
Alcheringa under sail approaching Bastia. Thanks to Brian on French Maid for getting the shot.

We had planned to anchor in a small bay on the southern side of Bastia but the south easterly wind was generating a moderate swell which would have seen us rolling badly at anchor. Rather than put up with an uncomfortable stay, we reluctantly headed for Port Toga marina on the northern side of the city on Brian’s recommendation. It was good advice again as we were welcomed warmly by the mariner who helped us berth and then returned to the boat twenty minutes later with a key for the pontoon gate, code for amenities block and the comment ‘Bring boat papers to office later sometime. Non hurry. Pay when leave. Enjoy!’ Now that’s friendly service.
Salenzarra to Bastia – 55.8 Nautical Miles – 9 Hours 38 Minutes – Ave Speed 5.8 Knots Max 7.4 knots
The scenery through the interior ranges of Corsica is spectacular

Bastia actually proved to be a very enjoyable stop. The next day Marc wandered off to explore the old town while we joined Brian and Linda for a train trip up into the mountains. We wound our way through spectacular ranges before finally reaching the town of Corte. Here we hiked up through the steep streets to a restaurant our knowledgeable friends had discovered on a previous trip. The house specialty was Wild Boar. We have to say riding on the coat tails of other people’s trail blazing was working pretty well for us. Like all the little bits of advice Steve and Trish had provided while with us the previous week, Brian and Linda’s experience in this area of the Med was invaluable. The lunch was spectacularly good of course, as was the local Corsican wine. The views of the ranges, valleys and castle from the very top of the town were worth every bit of the high altitude huffing and puffing it took to get up there. Awesome!
Lunch of Wild Boar with Brian and Linda of French Maid. Now 77 Brian has been sailing
the Med for over 20 summers with Linda since retiring as a British Airways 747 pilot.

The walk to the top of Corte was worth every single step.

That night we swapped stories of what we’d all seen with Marc and then followed in many of his footsteps next day wandering around the Castillo and old walled town areas of Bastia. At one point we were making our way up a steep, residential laneway when an elderly chap standing by a high gate spied Rob’s camera and very enthusiastically insisted in very patchy English that we follow him inside for ‘magnifique photo’. Dressed all in black Karen though he looked like a Mafia boss. We warily stepped through the gateway and found a courtyard leading to not one, but two, spectacular villas with high elevated views. From our broken conversation we gathered he was the fifth or sixth generation to live in the family property.  The view from the courtyard’s terrace not only looked over the Castillo but stretched to the islands of Capraia, Elba and Montecristo made famous by the fictional Count. Our unexpected tour guide assured us that, on a clear day, Italy was visible. When our host learned we were not English but rather Australian he was very impressed saying ‘So far. Another planet’. He was so open and friendly our unexpected experience will remain with us as one of the many highlights of our time on Corsica.
We had no idea a walk up this steep lane would lead to such an unexpected encounter.
Karen with our impromptu tour guide on the terrace of his villas
Rob took so many photos of the old town area it was really hard to choose just a few.

Napolean was born on Corsica and is revered but this statue depicting the rotund little
megalomaniac  as a Roman Emperor may be taking things a little far.
While we really enjoyed Bastia, by the time we headed back to sea on Tuesday June 4, we were ready for two things, some warm summer weather and a few nights not in a marina. Fortunately we only had to go eight nautical miles up the coast to a delightful bay at Pietracorbara to find both. The sun shone warm and bright and the anchorage was very calm and the water even clearer. While we considered the water still to cool, after putting a toe in, Marc decided the time had come for his first swim of the summer and, after berating us as sooks, struck out for the beach. After a walk along the sand and a short stop for an overpriced beer at waterfront bar he swam back to the boat and admitted the water temperature was still a bit chilly once you broke through the top few inches. Never the less we had a great day reading and lazing around in the sun and fired up the boat’s barbecue for a great dinner and sundowner drinks.
At last the weather was starting to match the date and with the first true hints of summer
Once again the Corsican coast was an awesome backdrop
 The bay at Pietracorbara was just the sought of anchorage we’d been hanging out for
That’s the bottom, five metres down
The fruits of the BBQ. We do it tough on Alcheringa.
 Bastia to Pietracorbara – 8.2 Nautical Miles – I Hour 21 Minutes – Ave Speed 6.0 knots  Max 8.1 knots
In fact, we enjoyed it so much we moved all of 2.2 nautical miles further north into another great bay at Porticcilio and did it all again next day. Without the Marc’s swim part though. In this bay we discovered the most incredible, iridescent coloured jellyfish floating around in their scores. Pinks, purples and even some orange examples drifted past in the crystal clear water. They may have been beautiful but they also had very long tentacles which we imagine may have had an unpleasant effect on human skin.

Our neighbours in Porticcilio. Our view was better.
These guys were unbelievable.
All photographed from the deck. No underwater shots at all.

This one had managed to ingest a blade of sea grass somehow which was visible all the way into its body.
Pietracorbara to Porticcilio – 2.2 Nautical Miles  - 0 Hours 28 Minutes
 Ave Speed 4.5 Max 5.3 (Our shortest one day passage yet.)

Our last stop on Corsica was planned to be the marina at Macinagio on June 6 but when we arrived we discovered an excellent anchorage just outside the harbour entrance and elected to spend the night out there rather than be rubbing shoulders with the neighbours again and have the added expense of mooring fees. Macinagio itself is a nice little town with very attractive cafes and stores along the harbour front. We were able to top up our fresh food supplies and enjoy a nice afternoon ashore. The only thing we weren’t able to achieve was the one reason we came to Macinagio. Our pilot book said there was a customs office here and after not being able to check out of Spain on Menorca, nor able to check into France at Bonifacio, we wanted to clear customs out of France before arriving in Italy. However the marina office informed us there was no longer a customs office in the town. ‘only in Bastia. Go there.’
We had a relaxing downwind sail using the genoa only to Macinagio
Porticcilio to Macinagio – 5.8 Nautical Miles – 1 Hour 52 Minutes – Ave Speed 3.1 knots Max 5.9 knots

Macinagio’s waterfront is thick with lovely old buildings.
It was now obvious that modern Europe doesn’t seem to give a hoot about border controls. We figured what the hell. Let’s just keep going.

MARINA REVIEW: Porto Vecchio - Corsica  **1/2


Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 44.05 Euro (including VAT, water, power and WiFi. Separate charge for shower tokens)

On arrival we went straight to the fuel dock and topped up our tank. We then had to wait there until 4.00pm for berthing instructions as the marina office was closed for siesta. We were eventually advised by radio to go stern to anywhere available on the first pontoon finger. No mariner assistance was provided.

The marina is very well protected and a huge natural harbour. Shower and toilet could only be described as disgusting. They were so dirty and unhygienic we chose not to use them all. We showered on the boat and made use of the toilet facilities in a nearby café/bar we patronised. We believe they are about to be renovated but we certainly hope they also learn to clean them.

There is no security on the pontoons and we were advised by other cruises that there had been cases of serious theft from a couple of boats including an Australian couple who lost laptops, Ipads, cash, passports and other valuables while ashore having a meal.

Despite being quite a good marina structure wise, Two and a half stars was the most we could give on the value rating due to the state of the facilities and the all round unhelpful nature of the staff.

MARINA REVIEW: Salenzara - Corsica  ***1/2

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 45.60 Euro (including VAT, water and power and WiFi. Separate charge for shower tokens)

The entrance to the marina is a little shallow but not a problem with care. There were not a lot of vacant berths and we can imagine boats being turned away in the peak summer season. No doubt the price climbs too.

On arrival we were directed via a radio to a stern to spot on the outer wall between two large motor boats. No mariner assistance was provided. However the reception staff were extremely welcoming and helpful with information about the town.

The showers were operated by a two euro token for ten minutes. The facilities were extremely clean but were locked up at 7.00pm which is a bit early when the sun doesn’t go down until after nine. Laundry, supermarket, chandlers and a range of reasonably expensive restaurants are all nearby. Slightly cheaper food options are available away from the waterfront.

MARINA REVIEW: Porto Toga – Bastia - Corsica  ***1/2

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 51.60 Euro (including VAT, water and power. WiFi was not provided but many very close dockside café/bars offered free WiFi. We could actually access one from on deck without the benefit of a mast head WiFi aerial like many cruisers use.

(We had also sort a price from the alternative ‘Vieux Port’ marina on the southern side of Bastia which was 70 Euro per night.)

The entrance to the marina is both narrow and shallow but not a problem in reasonable weather with care. It would get ugly with a north easterly swell running.

On arrival we were met by the mariner in a rib who led us to our alongside berth and provided assistance with mooring He was extremely welcoming and helpful . Most berths are bow or stern to.

The shower facilities were accessed by a code and  clean although a little dated. A very large supermarket is located straight over the road from the marina. A large, well stocked chandlery is onsite.  

We enjoyed our stay in Port Toga but with marina prices rising as we head east we would expect at least the inclusion of WiFi for our 50 Euros and up before we give more than three and a half stars for value.

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