For much of the cold night I made good time (close to 6kts) motor sailing due South, only turning South East after passing Ajaccio at 01:00 (GMT).
As daylight broke, the wind strengthened and shifted eastward, making progress uncomfortable. Rounding Le Moines, a 26m high light marking shoals extending 3 miles from the southwestern coast I made for the lee provided by Cap de Feno seeking smoother seas.
One other sailboat was visible this morning. It surfed along at frightening speed under genoa with apparent unconcern for the unsavory conditions. (I recognised this boat tied to the quay in Bonifacio and identified it as an 8m Thomson tboat (www.tboat.com)).
By midday, 25hrs after departing Calvi, I entered the fascinating port of Bonifacio, refueled**, found a free space to tie up on the southern quay and promptly went to sleep.
**Just as a matter of interest, Eileen of Avoca has a range of approximately 100M with a full tank (45 L) but I carry an extra 20 L in plastic jerry cans to top up mid route.
Of the many yachts poised to leave Calvi’s picturesque fisherman’s harbour I was the last to leave. After two days of sitting out the bad weather I was determined to make up for lost time and resolved to make Bonifacio my next port of call.
The SW wind was not favourable but with a little help from the engine (i.e. standard Mediterranean sailing), I set a course close to the coast, making considerably better time than the yachts that had left an hour or two earlier (they had headed due West under sail alone). With just enough wind to warrant putting in a reef, I set the Autohelm and settled in to relax and watch the scenery (and oddly enough, my bow fender), go by. I’d obviously forgotten to stow all my fenders.
Rather than continue lamenting the loss I decided to attempt its retrieval in a man overboard drill. I wonder what the other yachts made of my subsequent erratic maneuvers but before long I had my prize and put it to immediate good use as a backrest.
Except that the log mysteriously indicated that I was powering along at a consistent 0.0 kts. Before long this small annoyance had grown to exasperating proportions necessitating a quick stop at Girolata to investigate (see photo for the approach).
After my swim to clean the log impeller of its calcareous sea life, I had just enough time to admire the fine bay with its ancient Genovese fort overlooking a pristine beach where locals gathered to play petanque by the waterfront restaurant. In peak season the bay hosts numerous yachts but as I motored out at sunset only a handful had settled in for the night (see: http://www.go-to-corsica.com/girolata.html).
**Snapshot of Eileen of Avoca’s route in 2007. Note that the GPS was switched off most of the time while traveling through the Belgian and French canals.
I’d ranted in my log for many paragraphs on topics ranging from impossible work deadlines, horrendous Amsterdam traffic, long airport queues, unhelpful service desk personnel, zealous airport security staff, unannounced flight destination changes due to storm-force winds and forest fires leading to hours on a bus from hell. To save the reader from too many diatribes I’ll summarize my journey to Calvi as follows: “emotionally challenging”.
For the next two days the wind blew at Force 8 and it rained proverbial cats and dogs.
Only twenty hours if I could keep an average of 5kt. The swell outside the harbour was very uncomfortable and for the first 4 hours Eileen of Avoca rolled heavily on a heading of 135°.
I gave Eva a couple of Sturgeon tablets and sent her to bed as she was not feeling well and readied myself for what was effectively if not technically a solo crossing.
After traveling 35NM I could no longer make out the city lights to the north. Left in splendid isolation on a moonless night, I motor-sailed, double reefed for hours on end. Much later that night, as I sat huddled by the companionway to keep out of the dew, the sea calmed considerably. Apart from having to dodge the occasional ship there was little to do and despite my best efforts I was beginning to feel very tired.
Just at the point where I felt I could easily doze off, a great splash wrenched me from my stupor. Wide awake I looked to port and stood amazed as three dolphins leapt from Eileen’s bow-wave with enviable agility. Wow!
The moon rose just before dawn and the remaining hours passed without event. By 16:00 I was approaching the port of Calvi. Our little holiday was over.
Well, at least until September the 22nd when I intend to take Eileen of Avoca to Sardinia.
At this point I was already wondering where we should leave the boat as our holiday was nearing its end.
Nice would be a prime candidate with its nearby airport and good transport links. I was very conscious that I still had to get back to Port St. Louis to collect my car.
I ventured into the port of Antibes to see if it would afford an alternative if Nice turned out to be overcrowded but quickly realized this was where the super yachts of super yachts slept.
Not quite what I was looking for.
Apart from the toys of the wealthy, I did come across one odd vessel, the Polarsyssel. This wasn’t the first time either. The ship had passed me four days earlier near Ile de Porquerolles. What an Artic exploration vessel was doing in these parts was beyond me, but perhaps I’ll eventually get an answer to this riddle. Upon my return to Belgium and after finding their URL
I sent a polite email enquiry to their site along with my snapshots. (No reply)
By 16:00 I’d found a berth in Nice but it sure wasn’t easy. There was plenty of discussion at the marina office over whether there was really enough space for me, but given that I could not keep the boat here for the time I required, all this was rather pointless.
After several phone calls it was also evident that the nearby ports could offer no more than a few nights stay. So at 20:00 I gave up, left the hard won mooring, and set sail south while the sun set.
Steady North Easterlies gave us a good run to Gulf de la Napoule.
I kept the mainsail double reefed but fears of a repeat of the previous days surprise were unfounded.
If you like to watch super yachts, this is the place to do it. Eileen would make a nice tender for some of the boats that overtook me.
By 18:00 I’d changed plans and decided to anchor in the shelter of Ile Sainte Marguerite rather than enter Cannes. I found a fabulous sheltered spot in 3m of water, set both the plow and the Danforth, rummaged for my dive mask and plunged into the clear water to ensure both were well set.
As the wind died all that was left to do was to watch the lights of Cannes (drinks in hand) while pondering the plight of the “Man in the Iron Mask” which history states was imprisoned in the very fort overlooking our anchorage.
It all started out so nicely, the wind from the NW was slight and gradually increasing so that by 14:00 Eileen of Avoca was making way at between 3 to 5kt.
I took photos of our
traveling companions boat “Hepta” while they took photos of Eileen of Avoca. In the lighter winds I needed to use the engine to keep pace but as the wind picked up number 9 was in her element and took to the lead.
Rounding Cap Taillat, just two hours from our destination we were hit by near gale conditions.
The wind was completely unexpected and I had to reduce sail fast as Eileen ran with the wind at 6.4kts. To make matters worse Hepta had moved to within a few meters of Eileen’s starboard bow and there was the very real risk of collision.
I called for Eva to start the engine while turning hard to port, (into the wind). This put an abrupt end to the lively acceleration, but it certainly wasn’t elegant, and with the bow now crashing into the oncoming swells, I was taking quite a shower. Within minutes everything was back under control and I set the jib to steady the boat as we motored with the wind in an attempt to catch Hepta.
Our friends had not faired too badly given that they’d been swamped by waves as their boat made valiant attempts to pitch-pole in the sudden gusts. When I caught up with them their mainsail was lowered and manually held out over the companionway in an attempt to keep out the water but Hepta was making good progress nonetheless with her small outboard at full revs. The only worry was whether they had enough fuel to reach port.
All the other pleasure yachts in the area were also heading for the nearest port, with the exception of one crew whose yacht seemed completely out of control as it took a course in the opposite direction closely followed by a concerned coastal patrol vessel.
Before long we were entering the port of St. Tropez, site of one of the largest collections of floating “Gin Palaces” I have ever seen. At 20 Euro a night this was the most expensive marina fee paid so far but I would have been willing to dispense considerably more just to witness the extravagance on display.
The Mistral winds howled through the rigging all night but by morning the tempest had subsided. Despite the improved conditions Eva and I decided stay at port and play tourist for a day and Port du Lavandou did not disappoint (see http://www.lelavandou.eu/port2001/index.htm).
There’s good access to chandlers and sail makers in the port so I took the opportunity to do some basic maintenance, i.e. replace my jack stays, and fix a bad connection on the tri-light which involved climbing the mast, (as I don’t have a bosun’s chair I use my life jacket’s harness to attach a safety line). I felt that taking the mast down in this case was over-kill. Eva found the whole exercise very amusing and instead of keeping the line taught was busying herself taking unflattering photos of me.
Believe it or not, we met another couple in the marina whose sailboat was smaller than Eileen! No small feat in the Cote d’Azur, and before long we had made some new friends, dental students of German heritage but living and studying in France. Over a few drinks that evening it was decided to leave on Wednesday and sail together for a few hours before heading our separate ways. The weather forecast promised nothing more violent than occasional gusts of Force 5 so we expected a leisurely sail.
(06:00) An early start as the weather was set to turn this evening and I wanted to be as far as possible to the east so that the force of the Mistral would be somewhat moderated. My girlfriend Eva was not too pleased about leaving while it was still cold and dark. Mind you even water temperatures of 24 degrees seem frigid to her. She lasted approximately 15 seconds in the water yesterday; I put it down to her Mexican heritage. With Cap de L’Aigle silhouetted by the rising sun and a brisk wind in just the right direction, I couldn’t be happier.
All was going according to plan but it was obvious by 14:30 that the Mistral had arrived ahead of schedule. I’d set too much sail including a whisker pole out on the staysail. Oops! When the wind gusts arrived they were a good force 7 and while I was quick to furl the jib, the staysail was a tangle. After battling with the mainsail I worked my way to the pulpit to sort out the mess. Eva is a lithe 45kg but was having considerable trouble keeping the bow to windward while I battled the recalcitrant sail. In the end I had to remove the pole end fittings before I could beat the staysail into submission. The following hour was spent motoring under bare poles to Port du Lavavdou (which was given a good review by the pilot book) and on route it was decided to stay put while the Mistral blew.
(10:45) The beautiful weather and lack of wind saw the sea fill with a plethora of pleasure boats exploring the calanques (Mediterranean fjords) and islands to the south of Marseille, each vying for the best swimming spot. The calm weather allowed me to take the pass between the mainland and Ile Maire, and not to be outdone by the locals, I headed for Sormiou to claim my spot in the shallow protected waters of the calanque. A lazy day enjoying the good company, warm sun and crystal clear sea, perfect!
Well almost perfect, I did have a few embarrassing minutes of excitement as I climbed aboard rather promptly to reset the plow anchor before drifting against our neighbours yacht. I guess I should have used the Danforth!
By 15:00 it was time to weigh anchor and find a spot for the night. About 4 miles away was Port Miou. I was met by the friendly marina staff zipping about on their tender and quickly found a spot on the east side of the calanque. After paying for the night (12 Euros, water but no electricity) they provided me with the latest weather fax from Meteo France, a couple of waterproof pouches as souvenirs and directions to the nearby tennis club and restaurants. I’m glad I arrived fairly early as this is a popular spot during the day, but completely deserted at night (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calanque_de_Port-Miou).