Thursday, September 29, 2011

French Riviera: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco, Nice, Antibes Sept. 22- 27

We met up with our daughter Hazel and took day-trips to visit the cities in the area. Hazel went to school near Nice so she knows the area well and was our tour guide. Monaco and Nice are less than 30 minute train rides away, and our boat was anchored right by the train station! Summary impressions:

Monaco: Beautiful, compact city/principality. Mega yachts filled the entire bay. Everything is meticulously clean and tidy. It’s like an expanded version of Disneyland. They also have rules for visitors: no bare chests are allowed, and proper shoes are required. The casino ground is impeccably done, and is quite a sight at night with the lights. We returned a second day to visit the aquarium; very impressive.

                                Villefranche-sur_Mer dawn view from 3Rivers

                                The garden at Villa Ephrussi di Rothschild


                                Dress code

                                         Cousteau Aquarium

                                          Monte Carlo (left) & Hotel de Paris (right)

Nice: A large city with a nice city center and a large old town. The citadel overlooking the city has been turned into a large park and is great for walking. The downtown is nicely laid out, with a central promenade and a large park. The water fountain at the square used to have a bronze statue, which has been replaced with an ugly non-descript cement one. Overall a nice, lively city.

Antibes: Catching the morning breeze which seems to come alive at 9:00 and dies by 11:00, we sailed the short hop of 10 miles from Villefranche to Antibes. We found good holding ground outside the marina, which with a capacity of 1,500 boats is the largest marina in the Med. Antibes is a beautiful seaside city. It doesn’t have much in the way of grand buildings or magnificent downtown, but the seaside is lined with beaches, parks, and grand mansions. The city is also small enough to be safe to walk anywhere. The city is known to be posh, like its neighboring Riviera cities, but it has an unpretentious feel.

Antibes marina - the biggest in Europe

                                        Pastries in St-Tropez

                                    The Nomade at Antibes

                                   The well-to-do at Antibes

Monday, September 26, 2011

La Scandola Nature Reserve Sept 20

La Scandola Nature Reserve   Sept 20

Reserve Naturelle de Scandola, the result of ancient volcanic eruptions, is Corsica’s only Unesco-protected marine reserve.  Here, you’ll find red granite cliffs plunge into the crystalline sea, where birds such as the cormorants, ospreys, kestrels, Audouin’s gull and the peregrine falcons seek shelter and food.  The pure water also favours underwater life and species such as groupers and sea breams are found bountiful.  Local fishermen have agreed not to work the waters off here.  Look closely, and to your delight, sponges, yellow anemones, sea urchins and corals can be seen on water’s surface.  This 9.2 sq km of land, runs between Punta Mucchilina and Punta Palazzo, is nature lovers’ paradise.  It’s definitely worth a trip to explore.

Heavy seas following a 2-day blow

Finally, weather forecasted light wind after 2 days of blow, gusting between 20 to 30 knots at times, and after a 5-day stay at Calvi, we’re anxious to get going.  It didn’t happen vey often, but the forecast was inaccurate --- instead of light wind, we’re met with gusts over 25 knots and a confused sea with occasion swells as high as 3 meters.  The hope of slowly motoring to enjoy the view of the nature reserve was blown off.  However, it was not all lost, we saw some incredible landscapes and what Corsica was famous for – les calanques.  Calanques are narrow, steep-sided valleys partially flooded by the sea, surrounded by rugged cliffs.  Appropriately, calanca is a Corsican word, meaning “inlet”.  One of these exotic Mediterranean fjords can be seen at Marina d’Elbo, where a ravine runs down into the sea to form a spectacular calanque. And less than a mile away, a narrow channel with a least depth of 3M between Punta Palazzo and Ile de Gargalu, is formed by red rock cliffs on either side and turquoise water under the keel. 

To quote the Pilot Guide: “To those who are not familiar with the western side of Corsica, the mountains provide one of the most impressive backdrops to a coast in the western Mediterranean.  In places, the mountains are the coast, where the mountains drop straight down into the sea and at times, this can cause a few problems for the yachtsman with confused swell up to a mile offshore.  Winds are channeled through mountain gaps and funneled off the high slopes causing severe gusts in places.  The weather and the sea are, like the land, savage and severe, and merit considerable respect.”

The absolutely beautiful anchorage at Port Girolata 

After six hours sailing with the katabatic wind, and so, with much respect, we had decided to call it a day and take up a mooring ball at Port Girolata, a sheltered cove around Cap Rossu with a Genoese tower on its summit.  We had a restful night.

Next morning, after routine boat maintenance, we went on shore to explore this scenic part of the coast.  At 10am, many tripper boats with happy holiday-makers had already set foot on shore.  Not sure how much quality time was allotted, probably enough for them to get some food and back on the boats again.  There’re two hiking trails and we went for the more scenic one as suggested by the Capitanaria staff.  

After an hour and a half, the trail ended at Plage de Tuara.  The trail was not difficult, but it would be ideal if equipped with hiking stick(s) as certain areas were steep with loose gravels and uneven rocks. There are many look-out points along the way overlooking the village, the bay and beyond.  We didn’t see too many animals, but we did see one cow!  At first, on one of the points, and eventually, made it down to the meadow by the beach.

Corsica is an interesting island and the locals are proud of their land.  We will miss Corsica, an island with diverse contrasts in scenery and landscapes, but we are also looking forward to our next destination, the French Riviera, and to meet up with our oldest daughter, where she will be our tour guide to show us the place she lived and the places she enjoyed.

Calvi Sept 15

Calvi   Sept 15

 Calvi town as seen from our anchorage

The next blow is expected to come on Sunday-Sep 18 and we should seek shelter ahead of time and Calvi is the most suitable place.  The last time it happened, we were in Cannigione, Sardinia, back in late August ….. it seemed so long ago! We dropped anchor in the clear, turquoise water at the bay just outside the harbor. The large bay is ringed by a long sandy beach, with a forest and majestic mountain ranges in the back. By late afternoon we were joined by a dozen other boats. We took the dinghy to shore and had a nice tour of the town. Calvi is a lively place, with a small old town inside the citadel, and a long waterfront promenade and plenty of tourist shops and resturants. Calvi claims to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. The 15th century Genoese citadel dominates the yacht harbor. In 1794, the citadel was bombarded by 30,000 canon shots fired by the British Fleet under Lord Nelson. In the summer mega yachts congregate here, although it’s relatively quiet now and there were plenty of visitor berths at the marina. 

Meandering streets in the Old Town

The harbor and marina seen from the citadel

Mega yachts anchoring in the harbor

The next day we took a long hike up the hills to visit the Chapelle de Nortre-Dame-de-la-Serra, which also has a magnificent view of the bay. The return route went by a quiet road that hugs the coast. A solitary lighthouse sits on a rocky finger that reaches out into the sea. A secluded bay, Baie de La Revellata, with patches of turquoise water, is a paradise for divers and snorkellers. During our hike, we saw what set Corsica apart from other Mediterranean islands.  At distance, there were the high jagged granite mountains, standing tall in solitude.  Nearby, many of these high cliffs framed bays with picturesque little coves, harbours and beaches.  The slopes were usually carpeted with maquis undergrowth, and the unusual granitic rock formations sculpted by wind and water, eventually eroded into many intriguing shapes.  Along the path, there were also many, many types of fauna; wild fennels, aloes, rockroses, prickly pears, myrtles, berries, strawberry trees that laden with fruit. We were absolutely in awe.

The wind came as forecasted. About half of the boats in the bay pulled their anchors and went into the marina instead. We trusted our anchor in the expected 25-30 knots wind, so we stayed put, and had a sleepless night. The wind howled, the halyards slapped on the masts, and the masts shook. The seas outside the bay developed into green mounts, and in the distance huge whitecaps slammed into the rocky lee shore, exploding into white sprays 50 feet high. We were glad that we were not out there!

Here's a lee shore in a blow....

L’Île Rousse Sept 14

L’Île Rousse   Sept 14

There’s wind and off we go. Along the northern coast, there’re many small, but secluded beautiful white sandy beaches enclosed by clear turquoise water; Cala di Grotella, Cala di Fecciajo, Punta Negra, Plage de Saleccia, just to name a few. 

Well, the wind didn’t last very long, but since we weren’t on a schedule, we could sail at 2 knots.  And instead of going to Calvi, we stopped 10NM short, and decided to go into L’Île Rousse.

 View of L'lle Rousse from the citidel

The sun setting on the Genoese watch tower

Beautiful sunsets on the west coast of Corsica

L’Île Rousse was not one of Pilot Guide author Rod Heikell’s favorite places to see, but we found it acceptable in its unpretentious way.  The town was found by Pascal Paoli and the town square, La Place Paoli, was obviously named after him.  Next to the square is a covered market boasting 21 columns, built towards 1850.  Like any other towns, there are churches and (ruins of) fortress built on the island.  The one place that worth a visit was the walk to the lighthouse, dated back to 1857.  There’s a breathtaking view (especially at sunset) of the red granite islands, the sea, port, town and the high perched villages of the Balagna.  Along the path, there’s a Genovese tower built in the 15th century and next to the tower, the ruins of an ancient barrack block and of the “Saint Agathe” chapel were dated back to the year one thousand.  An old stone jetty was built to protect the little roadstead and now, the commercial port, where ferries to Genoa, Savona, Marseille and Nice could be boarded.  Along the waterfront, again, there are the usual cafes and shops, but there are also the pétanque players, rolling their steel balls in the shade of palm and plane trees.  A little train, skirted along the bay, takes you to Calvi, 3 times a day.

The ski-boats and water bikes that annoyed Heikell so much were no longer in sight. The water at the anchorage was crystal-clear, one of the best we’ve seen so far.  All in all, we enjoyed our stay fairly well.

Saint-Florent Sept. 13

Saint-Florent      Sept. 13

The majestic mountain ranges of Corsica behind Saint Florent 

Saint Florent's neat, tidy streets 

View of the harbor

We’ve been here for 3 days now.  Since there is no schedule (yet) to push 3Rivers onward, we are waiting patiently for the wind goddess to get us at least to Calvi.  Tucked away at the back of a magnificent gulf, and bordering on beautiful, unsoiled beaches, the antique Roman city-Saint Florent, has become a popular summer resort.  

The port was built at the beginning of the XVth century around the Genoese fort, and is counted among one of the most beautiful sites of the Mediterranean.   It’s a lively area of the city, catering to both yachts and visitors out for a stroll. 

We visited the Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta which was built in the Xlleme century with pale limestone. The majestic columns sheltered in its centre the mysterious relic of Saint Flor.  In the glass case are the remains of a Roman soldier mummified in the 3rd century AD.  Story has that it was Monsignor Guasco, bishop of Nebbio (from 1770 to 1773), who wanted to bestow his diocese with a holy relic and he asked Pope Clement XIV to give him the remains of a Roman soldier.  Adorned with his tunic, embroidered with fine pearls and his war apparel, the reliquary was carefully transported by sea to the beach of Marana, it was then transported via mule trails to the Cathedral.  Ever since, the spirit of this Soldier of Christ has watched over Saint-Florent, and multitudes of parishioners from the region gather for the triennial celebration and contemplation of Saint Flor.

With sleepy waves gently lapping 3Rivers, today was a perfect sunny, light breeze day to just lie around, or enjoy some water sport activities run by Altore, a professional adventure guide set up on the beach.  For 80 to 150 euros, one could have the thrill of a silent flight and experience the baptemes parapente (paragliding), or for 120 to 200 euros, one could ride the baptemes bateau Volant (flying zodiac); the souvenir film is only 30 euros.   Or, you can anchor like us, for free.

Northern Corsica Sept. 10

Northern Corsica       Sept. 10

We left Elba on an early Saturday morning and set sail to French Corsica. This was likely going to be our last cruising stop at Italy, and we left with many fond memories. We spent most of the summer in Italy: the bottom of the ‘boot’, Sicily, Sardinia, and finally Elba. It was truly a memorable experience.

In the morning we had a light breeze behind us and we made good progress to Corsica, only about 40 miles away. By early afternoon the wind died completely, and we had to resort to the iron sail. Our destination was Bastia, the old capital of Corsica until Napoleon moved the capital to Ajaccio. But when we arrived we found that the small outer harbor was not suitable for anchoring. There are two marinas in the area, but calling them on the radio met with no response. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to come here on a Saturday afternoon. So we fell back to plan B, which was to sail north by another 15 miles to Macinaggio, a fishing village with a marina habour.  According to the plagues on the quay, Napoleon landed here, and so did the empress Eugenie on her return trip from the Suez Canal inauguration in 1869. 

Bastia Harbor

We made it to Macinaggio as the sun was setting, and an evening onshore breeze was building. It wasn’t dangerous, but with waves rolling into the anchorage, the boat was pitching up and down and it was uncomfortable. Compared to Sardinia and Elba, the east coast of Corsica has relatively few protected anchorages. Now we understand why some cruisers simply go and stay at a marina and do sightseeing by land!

Rounding Cape Corse

The next day we left the rolly anchorage and continued north-west around the northern tip of Corsica. Cape Corse is known to be challenging if there’s a strong west wind, but this morning we had a favorable breeze from the south behind us, and we sailed around the cape in good time. Here tall mountains drop steep into the sea, imposing and rugged. The land is green and covered with trees. Hill-side villages dot the landscape, but mostly this part of the island is uninhibited. And then, with the south wind blocked by the mountains, the wind completely died once we rounded the cape. One minute the blue sea was covered with white caps, and the next minute the sea was flat and smooth as glass. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sailing at Elba Sept. 8-10

Departing Portoferraio 

Hugging the Elba coastline in light wind

We are slowly sailing around Elba and enjoying its peaceful, jagged coastline. Elba is a small island, about one-fifth the size of Sardinia. The coastline has many coves and anchorages, although most of them are not well sheltered, the weather here is relatively calm and in settled weather these anchorages are fine to stay overnight. Just yesterday, around the west coast of Corsica and Sardinia it was blowing at near-gale, but at Elba here the winds were light. The short distances between anchorages, and the moderate winds, make it very relaxing to sail around here. One can set sail in late morning, when the light sea breeze picks up, sail for a few hours to cover 10-15 miles at the pace of a slow walk, and arrive at the next anchorage in time for the afternoon snack. The beaches here may not have sand as fine as Sardinia, or water as clear, but it is also less crowded, with fewer boats. So it’s equally enjoyable.

Marciana Marina

We stopped at Marciana Marina, a small seaside village that grew into a quiet resort. We anchored in the harbor, just outside the crowded marina, half expecting someone to kick us out any moment. But people just go by minding their own business. The waterfront is lined with colorful houses. Lush green mountains in the back. We took our dinghy to shore to walk around, and then took a bus for the 15 minute ride to Marciana, a village by the same name up the hill. One can take a gondola ride (it is actually a cage) from here up the mountain top where one can get a good vista of Corsica and the Italian and French coasts. This is now the final week of summer vacation for most Europeans, and the crowds are already thinning out. At an elevation of 400 meters, this village has a wonderful view of the sea, and the temperature is noticeably cooler and is very pleasant. This would be a perfect place for a summer home!

Marciana on the hill 

A great view of the Elba coastline. Italy mainland is just right across.

We are at latitude 42 degree, almost as north as Ontario. The air temperature is getting cooler now, about 25C during the day, and under 20C at night. The blistering swimming weather is over. Under the Mediterranean sun it feels much hotter, but overcast skies are more frequent now, and soon we may start to see some rain!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guest Blog by Teresa Hofmanova

I was invited to spend a couple of days with Vanessa, Elisa and Ben on their sail-boat on Sardinia.
I was very happy about that not only because I was very eager to see them again but also because
I have never been sailing before. I wasn´t sure what should I bring with me but I didn´t need any
special equippment in the end, only bringing a pill against sea-sickeness (usual pill against car-
sickness works as well) was a very helpful advice.

I found a reasonably priced flight from Bratislava with Ryanair. I arrived in Alghero – Fertilia airport
on Sunday afternoon and was welcomed by very pleasant Sardinian weather – sunshine and 25
degrees (Celsius). I took a bus to Alghero city for 1 EUR and I arrived on the town´s main square
in about 30 minutes. Vanessa and her family were already waiting for me, so we didn´t have any
problem to find each other which I was very greatful for. After a warm welcome, they took me to
the marina that was 15 minutes away and introduced me their boat called Three Rivers (after their
three daughters). I was surprised how many rules one have to obey when they are on the boat, but
soon I found out it is worth it. People who are sailing like to keep their boat clean and neat, so the
shoes need to remain either outside of the boat on the dock or on the edge of the deck right after
you climb the ladder to the boat. Then you need to watch your step while walking along the boat as
there is always a little invisible trap waiting for you to send you overboard.

The boat was bigger than I expected it to be – 13 meter long beauty. It contained a little
dining room, tiny kitchen, two bathrooms and 3 cabins and it could sleep maximum 8 people, but
comfortably 4-6. The interior had a very cosy wooden design and there was an unbelievable number
of hidden store-rooms for vegetables, drinks and grocceries you need to store while you are outside

The boat has two water tanks, one for potable water and one for service water, but obviously one
has to save as much water as possible as it is a scarce commodity on the sea and a tank can only be filled
with water in a marina. Therefore, a shower needs to take as little time as possible and washing
dishes also needs to be an efficient activity.

After exploring the boat, we headed to the town. Elisa, who likes dining in nice restaurants and
always has some good ideas about where to go right at hand, found a great italian pizzeria iín one of
the narrow cobbled lanes of Alghero. We shared cheese and salami assortment, delicious pizzas and
pasta and me and Ben had a nice coffee as a sweet full stop after our dinner. Then we walked around
the town, had „the best gelato in town“ (according to New York Times) and found an irresistible
sweet-shop where we had to buy some jelly of course.

I was quite tired so I went asleep before midnight. I was surprised how well I slept on the boat and
I didn´t feel sea-sick at all. On the next morning we went to the town again, this time our main goal
was shopping. We found a vegetable and sea-food market where we spend almost an hour choosing
the best vegetables, fruits, mussels, fish and cheese for our dinner and also for the next days when
we will be outside the marina. Then we separated and me and Vanessa went for a stroll through
shaded lanes of Alghero, while Ho´s continued shopping. We were surprised how Sardinians are
obssessed with making jewellery out of buttons but we liked this idea. We had a warm yummy
croissant as a snack and then we headed back to the marina for lunch. After lunch me and Vanessa
went to the city beach to get some tan. The beach had nice white sand and the sea was crystal blue.
The drawback of this ideal setting were the crowds of Italiand who were enjoying their vacation on
this island in August and the suplhur-lik smelling sea-weed hills. Anyways we enjoyed our afternoon.

After a delicious dinner on the boat we went to the town again and me and Vanessa had a ride in a
crazy blow-off attraction in a fun park.

The next morning we were ready to sail up the western coast. Unfortunatelly, when leaving the
dock, one of the ropes, which are used to tie the boat to the dock, tangled around our propeller.
Fortunatelly, a man on the dock noticed it and stopped us before the propeller could have been
destroyed. We had to wait for a diver to unbind the rope and rescue us. Then nothing was hindering
us from leaving the marina. Unfortunatelly, the wind was quite week and we had to use our engine
half the time. I was enjoying lying on the deck, catching sun rays and listening to the breeze and
sound of the engine...

After two or three hours of sailing we came to a bay where we anchored, had lunch and then me and
Vanessa were trying to swim to the beach. Unfortunately, the beach was further than we expected
it to be at first, so we only swam halfway and then came back. Instead we were snorchelling around
the boat and watching enormous clams and sea-cucumbers.

Then we sailed further along the coast and at 5 pm we anchored on a different spot of the same big
bay. Vanessa´s dad wasn´t too sure if it was a safe anchorage, so they decided to stay on the boat,
while me and Vanessa went for a stroll around the coast. There were amazing views of the bays,
sailboats and old Roman watchtowers on our way. Finally, we came to a small parking lot from where
long stairs headed down to the Grotto di Neptuno (Neptun´s Cave). After taking 550 steps down, we
were told the cave was already closed, however, we had such nice views on the way down that our
walk was worth it anyways!! This walk was definitelly one of the top things to see on Sardinia.

We anchored further along the coast in a place Ben assessed to be safe for the night. I was woken
up by rocking of the boat at 6 am. The rocking was so intense that I couldn´t fell asleep anymore. My
muscles were trying to balance the rocking and therefore I couldn´t relax my muscles in order to fell
asleep. When I got up, I started feeling sick and had to run up to the deck where I felt slightly better.
After eating my breakfast consisting of a bread, cheese and a pill against the sea-sickness we started
sailing around the rocky cliffs of the Grotto di Neptuno. We also had to go through a narrow place
between the rocks. The sky was steely grey, the waves were crushing against the rocks and the boat
was rocking, so the cliffs and the whole scene looked so tremendously dramatic.

After a couple hours we came to another narrow, this time much more dangerous one. Ben and
Elisa had to follow the instruction of a special sailing map of the coast and we had to look for two
black spots on the land. When the two black spots were seen in one row (one behind another),
we had the right direction. If we deflected from the correct direction we woul end up in a shallow
spot which could destroy our propeller. We did just right and we anchored right after this narrow in
the crystal blue waters. It was drizzling a little bit so me and Vanessa started playing cards with an
interesting challenge for the looser: the looser had to jump into the water (which we thought was a
punishment). Of course it was me, who lost, so I got into my bathing suit. However, Vanessa started
being jealous about me going into this beautiful crystal blue water, so both of us ended up in the
water and it was a great idea.

Our neighbour’s yacht meassured about 30 meters and he had at least 4 members of the crew.
Me and Vanessa took a dinghie and tried to spot the owner (both of us thinking of marrying him),
however he wasn’t on board:) So at least, we had really nice time on the dinghie when going around.

We went asleep soon as we had to wake up early in the next morning. We woke up at 4 am and
had to sail to the town of Porto Torres on the northern shore of Sardinia. It was only 10 miles away,
but sailing in the dark is very dangerous and difficult because you are never sure what is in front of
you. Fortunately, we go to the port safe and on time. Ben and Elisa steered the boat to the dock and
me and Vanessa hopped of the boat quickly as they had to leave the marina immediately (the boat
hadn’t the permit).

This morning was full of interesting challenges. After sailing in the dark and looking for a spot to
embark in the full port, we had to find a railway station. We found it quite easily but we weren’t sure
if it was working as it looked like a crime scene from the horror people, lots of graffiti,
grass growing between the rails, no schedule... but apparently it was just too early in the morning:)
The train came on time, we bought the tickets from a nice lady-conductor and we went to Sassari,
where I got off. The train was staying in the station for another ten minutes, so we even had time to
buy and eat warm croissants which we had been dreaming of since the scary railway station in Porto
Torres!:) Then, we had to say a sad goodbye to each other as Vanessa continued to the Olbia and I
had to catch my plane from Alghero.

I had plenty of time so I decided to explore Sassari a bit. To make the story short – the best thing
about Sassari was the warm croissant and the great Cappuccino I had in a tiny local bistro. After two
hours in Sassari I decided I had seen it all and it was time to leave for Alghero. I came to Alghero still
quite soon – at 11 am so I had plenty of time to go to the sandy beach closer to the airport. I had a
really nice time, though it’s always nicer to have someone with you (or at least a book) when you are
on the beach. However, that day was so hot (32 Celsius) that any further sight-seeing was impossible
and I was grateful for the cold sea washing my toes. My flight was not taking off until 6 pm, so I had
plenty of time and made most of my last day in Sardinia.

I would like to thank Vanessa and her parents for having me and enabling me to have all these
fantastic experiences and for introducing me to the sailing. Ben and Elisa, I wish you a lot of wind in
your sails and a safe trip!!!