Bonifacio – Straits – Porto Vec chio

Thu 24 Jul 2014 07:01

Thursday 17th July a relaxed start to the day, we decide to breakfast at an eatery on the harbour front, Rob and I stopping to admire the 174ft Perini Navi ketch moored a few boats down from us, heard a chuckle from our wives just ahead so turning to walk down the quay towards them we found our path impeded by a large seagull. Now I’m no expert on the facial expressions of seagulls but even to my inexpert eye this one looked guilty. When we were no more than an outstretched arm away he/she reluctantly heaved himself into the air out of our path, whereupon we asked our still chuckling wives what was the cause of their mirth. They explained that they had been admiring the breakfast dining table at the stern of a vast motor yacht. The gleaming mahogany table laid with silver ware, decorated with floral displays and an abundance of breads and croissants had in the absence of crew or diners been too much for the seagull to resist and as they watched he flew down grabbed a large croissant in his beak, flew back to the quayside and to avoid any competition from others of his species for his prize had inclined his head and swallowed the pastry whole. Whether his guilty expression was due to the theft or his appalling table manners we will never know. Unlike the seagull we paid for our breakfast although our croissants where not half as good as his looked.
We explored the rest of the waterfront, then the girls took off together to ‘go to the shops’. After all these years of being married I still don’t get it, if you want or need something you go and buy it. If you don’t need or want anything why go to the shops? For my part it was off to the chandlers to purchase some shackles to improvise a rig that would enable us to hoist the little dinghy (Sac de Sel) on the davits. It was back to the old town for dinner, I needed exercise so I elected to run up the three hundred or so steps to the citadel. Rob, Liliane and Lynn took the ‘train’, you’ve probably seen these things; a motor vehicle of some sort clad in a fibre glass cloak imitating a cartoon steam engine and dragging half a dozen open sided carriages. I chose an al fresco table at the restaurant and was sipping my second beer like ‘Johnny no mates’ when they finally arrived ashen faced explaining that the ‘train’ ran every twenty minutes, the road up had more hairpins than Alpe d’Huez and that the driver was a suicidal maniac and I should take the train down to see how bad it was! Now there’s women’s logic for you. The evening’s food as good as the previous night, the old town and views both seaward and down into the harbour unforgettable, the return ‘train’ journey had me suggesting that a little brandy would go down rather well with our Belgian chocolates.
Friday we leave Bonifacio to head around to the south east of the Corsica and into the Tyrrhenian sea, requiring us to pass through the notorious Bonifacio Straits between Corsica and Sardinia, which can be a bit like the Menai Straits on steroids, strewn with islets and rocks a place where the Mistral’s heinous breathe is funnelled creating a ferocious maelstrom of wind against current. We were fortunate our forecasters correct and we enjoyed a day of champagne sailing in force fours and fives covering just about every point of sail and much of the time in double figures, my how this boat of ours can sail when she picks her skirts up. Once around the ‘corner’ and heading northwards we sailed into Golfe de Sant’ Amanza dropping our hook in ten metres off a pleasant, little populated beach. No high rise in fact no buildings at all in this large verdant lined bay. We swam and enjoyed the sun, my guitar coming out in the evening and we had fun with some golden oldies from the sixties after dining on a simple repast of grilled spicy sausage, green beans and mustard mash. Oyster yacht Solitaire joined us not two hundred metres away but no contact was made, we assume that she was on charter and had only crew and charter guests aboard. The sun slipped behind the hills like a red penny going into a slot machine, the light faded over silky smooth waters in this bay and four happy, tired sailors fell into a peaceful sleep.
We found it hard to leave this little bit of heaven next morning but after a swim, leisurely for the crew but donning my snorkel gear and a 3M pad I scrubbed the water line all one hundred and twenty odd foot of it! We upped anchor and continued northwards in a pleasant force four, stopping around 15.15 in Porto Nova, yet another idyllic bay for a cooling swim and spot of lunch. Whilst here I rang Porto Vecchio marina, as our forecasters were predicting severe gales on Monday, to see if we could have a berth but they could only offer the waiting list, seems we weren’t the only ones expecting heavy weather. Porto Vecchio bay is vast but rather like Poole Harbour, almost all of it except the commercial channel is very shallow between three and five metres with a good deal of it a lot less than that. We anchored in four metres and ate on board, Lynn and Liliane bringing up some excellent soupe de poisson with garlic croutons, rouille and fresh baked baguettes which we all smothered with unsalted butter, simple but oh so very good.
A quick breakfast on Sunday morning before carefully motoring around the extensive bay seeking a good spot in which to ride out the coming gales. We tucked into the southern corner about three hundred and fifty metres off the shore finding good holding ground. With three point five metres under our keel our big Rocna bit well and we laid out close to forty metres of chain and set up our double snubbing line. Rob and Liliane decided to leave today in case conditions became too rough for them to be ferried ashore in Sac de Sel on Monday, how we miss our sturdy tender and long for the arrival of its replacement. There being a charming boutique hotel on the shore (La Mariosa) we decided to get them and their luggage across and have a final meal together there. I noticed a 70ft motor yacht had moored quite close to us but not having seen how much chain they had but down assumed that they (being professional crew) had at least matched ours giving us both plenty of swinging room f0r the wind was still blowing easterly (although rising) and the big blow was forecast to be coming from the west, northwest for twenty four/ thirty six hours from the early hours of the morning. We said our fair wells and motored back to Pamarzi with wet bums in the rising sea, secured Sac de Sel and battened down for the night as the wind howled through the rigging and Pamarzi bucked and tugged at her anchor. At 00.30 we leapt from our bed after hearing the hull reverberating to a scraping sound! What has hit us! Our minds desperately trying to interpret the sound as we ran up the companionway into pitch darkness, a foaming sea, forty five knots of westerly gale and a bloody great motor yacht almost on our stern. “You have dragged!” he yelled, a quick check of my instruments showed we had not. “No we haven’t, how much chain did you put out?” I shouted back as I turned on the engine and motored to put some space between the boats. It turned out that he had only laid out twenty metres or so of chain and when the wind went through one hundred and eighty degrees our forty metres brought the boats dangerously close together with his anchor under us his chain in these shallow waters (the sound we heard) lifting to hit our keel. It was too dangerous, as the wind rose to fifty knots in this now well populated bay for us to re anchor and his chain lay under us! For three and a half hours in that furious, pitch black night I motored to and fro, helm hard a port then hard a starboard as I laboured to keep the boats apart. By 04.00 the wind eased to no more than thirty five knots and I urged Lynn to try to get some sleep whilst I stayed at the wheel. At 06.00 there was a lull, I fixed the wheel and ran below to wake my non sleeping wife. “I want to re anchor now and get away from this Italian idiot.” Lynn hurried to the foredeck; forty metres of chain seemed to take an age to get in as the wind started back up into the high thirties. Scanning the instruments for depth and wiping the salt spray from our eyes we got the hook back down and (again!!) laid out forty metres of chain. All day it blew but despite our tiredness neither of us could sleep. At last around 19.00 hours the wind started to ease and the seas in the bay lost their white caps. The Italians raised their anchor the crew of four not looking in our direction at any point as they slunk away.
Oh how we slept on Tuesday night, so deep, so long gently rocking on an easing sea and lightening winds. Back to boat jobs and flight arrangements on Wednesday for we have two very excited grandchildren coming out on 31st and Lynn is flying home to collect them. Say what you like about Ryanair but I found that they fly from Figari to Brussels and Brussels to Manchester at darn sight less cost that the £680 (and two stops, 15 hour travelling time) per person quoted by the major airlines. We are hoping to secure a berth in the marina here for a week or so when the children return home, in order that I can fly back with them and have a few days at home before returning to continue our cruising to Sardinia, Italy and our winter berth in Sicily.
Our nerves calmed, flights all booked, more boat jobs and a relaxed late afternoon reading in the cockpit. Me starting book six in the twenty three book Patrick O’Brian series, loving every word of his writing and descriptions of the life and intrigues aboard early nineteenth century sailing vessels captained by Jack Aubrey and accompanied by his friend and ships surgeon/spy Stephen Maturin. A one hundred and twenty foot motor vessel disturbs my concentration as she looks to moor near us. No response to my call on VHF and when she puts her hook down, too close for my liking I jump into Sac de Sel and diplomatically ask the professional crew to either ‘sling their hook’ or lay out more chain to ensure we all have plenty of swinging room. Yes I know conditions are set fair but once bitten twice shy!