Sailing trip: 7 days around Corsica | September / October 2007 | Yacht: Gib Sea 43 “Starlight III” | Charter company: Time charter
Saturday, 29th September
We arrive absolutely exhausted at the Marina de Salivioli nearby Piombino in the late afternoon. We are a crew of 6 persons plus skipper who met on the night train to Milan yesterday where we unfortunately hardly slept. As always the boat is not ready for the delivery yet. We use the time to buy all things necessary for the next week.
Finally the yacht is ready to move into. Our skipper allocates the bunks so that everybody knows where to go and where to put the personnel belongings. All are eager to sail. But one crewmember is still missing. His plane will only land at about 07:00 p.m. The journey from the airport to the marina takes about three hours all in all and so we decide not to leave the dock tonight. We use the time to get to know each other and it turns into a boozy evening.
Sunday, 30th September
After a good night’s sleep we sit relaxed in the cockpit for breakfast. The crew is complete now and the mood is good. At about 10:00 a.m. we untie the lines. We gladly leave Piombino with its big steelworks behind us and enjoy the view on the beautiful island of Elba.
A wonderful sailing day lies before us. We glide over the blue sea with bright sunshine and ideal sailing wind. The sea is calm and the temperature is pleasant. We enjoy it even more when we look on our mobile that says that in Germany it is raining by 10 degrees Celsius.
Everybody who wants to can be the helmsman today. The others are lying lazily in the sun. We heave-to and take a dip in the sea. It is marvellous. We pass the small island of Capraia and then Corsica is in sight. The skipper does not really indicate where he wants to go to. Maybe he does not know himself yet and wants to see how far he gets. In any case we will not be going into a harbour tonight. I realise that I am nearly the only one on the boat who has a sailing license apart from the skipper. Half a year ago I passed my costal skipper certification and now it looks like as if I have to command the ship this night.
The sun gives us a beautiful farewell, setting behind the mountains of Corsica. As it gets dark I go to my bunk because – just as I feared – I have to do the infamous watch between 02:00 a.m. and 05:00 a.m. when the skipper has to sleep. The morning watch – when dawn is breaking soon and it then will be possible to see a thing – will be done by crewmember with a costal powerboat certification. Naturally I am so nervous that I cannot fall asleep. At about 01:30 a.m. I shut my eyes for a short moment but my little nap soon gets interrupted.
Monday, 1st October
I get a short briefing about our position, the wind direction and force, the course and the approximate destination. Because I remember the cold nights on the Baltic Sea in June I put on a warm pullover and foul weather gear. Of course we put on life jackets and fix ourselves with the lifeline. Especially at night nobody should fall overboard.
With me on deck I have two mates that are even less experienced than me. And I thought I was a greenhorn. They already sailed on yachts a few times and learned a lot thereby. They can take the bearings but they do not understand lights and seamarks. They just tell me when they see a light and I try to interpret it. Fortunately the exam of my coastal certification was not long ago and I still know a lot.
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The night is bright with stars and mild. We are sailing on a broad reach by calm winds. The boat is gliding on the sea and is only making 4 knots speed. I feel warm now and take off the foul weather jacket and the pullover. At some point the jib collapses. The course the skipper ordered to us is not possible to sail anymore without the danger of an accidently jibe. This way we cannot sail around the cape we are heading towards. Anyway we stagnate with 2 or 3 knots and the mainsail beats in the slight swell. So I decide to furl the jib and start the engine. This wakes the skipper who comes up to have a look if everything is all right. Then he goes back to his bunk relieved again.
Because we drive by engine we have to turn on our steaming light now. The traffic increases and we have to take care even more. The ferryboats and the carriers are illuminated so much that it is not easy to make out the navigation lights. But my assistants do a very good job. So we can wake up the morning watch at 05:00 a.m. and hand over the boat to them. I go to my bunk but I cannot fall asleep immediately.
At about 07:00 a.m. I am already awake again and have a look out of the hatch of the bow cabin. The dawn is breaking but the sun has not risen yet. We head to the coast and take course to L’Île-Rousse. As we get closer we ask ourselves why we should go into this ugly harbour. After a short briefing we decide to sail on and now the plan of the skipper gets clear: he wants to sail around Corsica. In only one week.
I go back to my bunk again but actually it would be a shame to sleep on board all the time. A glorious sailing day beckons. The sun shines and a calm wind is blowing. The rough coast of Corsica passes by on port side. All tasks are evenly shared. The watch does their job and the others relax. The mood is and stays good and so we can enjoy our trip.
The target of today is the Golfo di Girolata. There is a small fortress high up on a rocky cape and behind it a wonderful sheltered bay is hiding. It takes us some time till the entrance appears. We are received by a man in a small powerboat. He tells us that we have to wait for a short while. At the moment it is the turn of another yacht. Then he escorts us into the bay where we have to moor the yacht at a buoy at the bow and stern. This way the boat does not swing and a lot more yachts can be moored in a confined space. We try to imagine how narrow this place might be in high season.
After dinner we go ashore with the dinghy and can step on land for the first time after two days. We walk through the small village and up to the fortress. The view along the coast in the evening light is breath taking. Back on our yacht we enjoy our well-earned sundowner.
Tuesday, 2nd October
The night on the mooring ball was calm and relaxing. The crew takes a bath in the bay before breakfast. Shortly after 10:00 a.m. we want to leave the place. While untying the bow line my sunglasses slip off my nose although I secured it with a thin line around my neck. It sinks down in zigzag movements. The water is about 12 feet deep and the ground is overgrown with seaweed. I see my glasses disappear in it forever but it lands on a sandy spot in between. I cleat the bowline again and ask the skipper if I am allowed to dive. He agrees. I get my sunglasses back with the first try.
We follow the coast to the south. Again a wonderful sailing day with blue sky lies in front of us. We use short doldrums to clear the deck. But then it goes on again. The coast is passing by. Everybody dwells on thoughts and enjoys the time on board. The next destination of our journey is Ajaccio. But we only want to dock there shortly to go shopping and refill with water. Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica and has a big harbour. Huge cruising ships and ferries are moored with their bow to the pier and deliver their cargo to the city. I need a rest for the next night shift and stay on board. Meanwhile the others take care of the purchases.
It already starts to dawn when we leave the harbour. One of the big cruise ships sends three short sound signals just when we want to pass her stern. She displays that she wants to go backwards and a pilot boat is waiting to escort her. We drive circles. Nothing happens. We go on driving circles. Still nothing happens. So the skipper gives the command to go through behind the vessel. Not a good idea. Immediately the pilot boat shoots up to us and crosses our way. His wake gets over our bow but we manage to pass it. Now we can go straight out to the huge bay. The cruising ship that finally left the dock has to go south of us because it has more draught. As they recognise us as the idiots that crossed their way a moment ago the vessel sends out a very loud short sound signal for safety reasons. That shows us that she has to change course to starboard to leave the bay.
So we drive into the night once again and finally outside on the open water we can hoist the sails. I go to my bunk soon because once again the watch between 02:00 a.m. and 05:00 a.m. is mine.
Wednesday, 3rd Ocotber
Punctually as expected I get a short briefing and start my watch. The night is mild again. A calm wind is blowing and there is nearly no swell. The more we get south the more the traffic on the sea increases. And we have to care for the vessels that follow us from Ajaccio. Lighthouses, hazard buoys and navigations lights have to be identified and distinguished – I learned more in these three hours than I ever did in all my sailing courses. It was a big responsibility but a great experience too.
Shortly after 05:00 a.m. I fall into my bunk but I wake up at 07:00 a.m. again. Allegedly we already heading into Bonifacio at the southern tip of Corsica. But we can only see a small elevation on the top of the rocks in front of us. A huge ferry seems to be running straight into the cliffs. Somewhere there the entrance to the harbour has to be. But even when the vessel seemingly is swallowed we cannot see the bay.
Suddenly it is in front of us and Bonifacio enthrones above. With a solemn feeling we enter the port. The berthing manoeuvre works perfectly! From our stern we have a wonderful view to the city. After a short breakfast we have a rest before we finally take the first shower after a few days. After my experiences with the sanitary areas last year I prefer to use the shower on board. So by washing myself I just clean the bathroom too that was used by seven people over the last days. Today is our day off.
I had to stay at this place for three days in stormy weather last year. Because of that I know the town quite well and so I remain on board for a while. I hope the same thing will not happen to us again. The day after tomorrow the boat has to be delivered back to the charter company in Piombino. But mercifully the strait of Bonifacio stays calm this time.
In the evening we dine like kings in one of the restaurants built into old caves at the pier and let the day fade away in a boozy manner in the bars with a view to the historic city.
Thursday, 4th October
Because it turned out to be late by the time we got to bed yesterday evening the crew needs some time to start this morning. One after the other they come out of their bunks and join us for breakfast. Now it pays off that our stern lies in direction to the city. The sun shines and the coffee slowly wakes up the crew. People on the boardwalk of the harbour are already very busy and we enjoy the spectacle that is offered to us. Late in the morning we untie the lines. We leave this beautiful harbour behind and go into the strait of Bonifacio. It shows itself from a gentle side today. A wonderful sailing wind is blowing. In front of the city the large cruising ship we already know from Ajaccio lies in the roads. We wave but we do not get a visible reaction back. Our boat glides, heeling slightly, through the calm sea while the sun is shining bright. The watch does their job and the others enjoy this wonderful sailing day. The further we get out of the strait between Corsica and Sardinia the less other yachts follow us.
Suddenly a pod of dolphins appears on our port side and accompany us for a part of our journey. I sit on the bow and watch them while they glide under us in a very elegant way. It seems as if following us is completely effortless. The bow that pushes down into the water and the noise of the breathing of the dolphins creates an unforgettable rhythm. One of them just lies on its side and looks up to me while it swims with us. I wave. Maybe it is someone I know from a former life. They disappear with a short and powerful fin kick.
Slowly it gets cloudy. Around the sun a circle of haze builds up. The weather forecast reports bad weather conditions for Mallorca that should move over to this place soon. But for the moment we can sail away in front of it. When it gets dark the wind calms down. By the time we have dinner we already have to turn on the engine. Under sails we are just too slow to reach Piombino by tomorrow afternoon. I go to my bunk early again to be physically fit for my watch this night.
Friday, 5th October
The three of us sit again in the cockpit in the dark night. The engine below us rattles and we head to the Island of Elba that is still far away. In between there are islands such as Montecristo and Pianosa. But we only see their lighthouses. We are in a very busy sea area. The ferries from and to Porto Vecchio, Bastia, Olbia and even Barcelona are crossing our way – as well a vast number of cargo ships. In the horizon lights appear that I consider to be cities on shore first. But then they quickly come closer and turn out to be brightly lit ferries. The navigation lights are only identifiable – if at all possible – just in the moment they cross our course. It is exciting but I get more and more tired. During the change of watch at about 05:00 a.m. I am hardly able to make a sane briefing. Off to my bunk now!
When I awake it is already bright daylight and the sky is clear again. By now we can hoist the sails and we glide calmly in the direction of the island of Elba. There we go into Porto Azzurro for a short stop over. We sit down at the Piazza to have some ice cream and stroll through the alleys for a short while afterwards. But then we have to leave the dock again and the last part of our journey begins. In the early evening we are again moored in the Marina Salivoli close to Piombino.
It was a wonderful trip but if you want to do it too you should take some more time for the journey around Corsica. There is so much to see. And in any case you should allow for some days of leeway as you can easily be stuck for several days during bad weather in the strait of Bonifacio. I learned a lot – especially during the night trips that were very exciting and thrilling.
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