It was well forecasted. The wicked mistral had finally reared its ugly head. We had been watching the forecast for nearly a week and each day praying that it would moderate or just plain go away. It was not going to be pretty. Each day we watched, and each day the forecasted winds grew along with the number of days. Before long, it went from 1-2 days to 4-5 days. Wind gusts were going to be over 50 knots. Ugh! My fun meter was rapidly approaching zero. We were fortunate that Dan found a marina spot for us….sort of. Unfortunately, this marina was not protected by a breakwater, and was on a floating pontoon which was only installed for the summer months. While perfectly safe, it did guarantee that both the pontoon and the boats would be pitching around violently….and they were! This was going to be a long and painful few days. To make matters worse, we were expecting our next set of guests, one being new to the sailing life. Emil and Carrie would be joining us, and we were really hoping this would not spook them off. Emil had sailed with us once before and had unfortunately been indoctrinated by a nasty storm at the beginning of his trip. He may start thinking this is how all sailing journeys begin!
Dan I spent the day getting Zoe prepared for what was to come. We secured spring lines to minimize our side to side movement. We went to the nautical shop and bought some steel spring line dampeners and chain. These attached to the dock with chain and then to our lines to help ease the snapping pressure on the lines. We had everything rigged and felt pretty good. That evening we headed into town for some pizza and ended up sitting at a table next to another cruising couple. We learned that they were out in the anchorage, and they gave a shudder when we told them where we were tied up. They explained to us how rough it was on these piers with the boats pitching one way and the pier pitching another. Needless to say, we were a little concerned. They tried to make us feel better by reassuring us that our catamaran probably would not pitch around as much as a monohull.
The storm arrived the following day and quickly escalated. We watched a couple of boats come in early, and it was a nightmare. One very large catamaran required 3 marineros, one who was on a high speed tender, to assist them with docking. They had 3 very failed attempts to get the boat docked, and in the end, one of the marineros jumped on board and docked it for them while the others jumped on board to quickly tie them up. The first night of the storm, we were up all night long, taking only brief catnaps. The wind howled, the boat cracked and creaked like it was ready to explode, and the dock pitched violently. Winds became sustained at 25-35 knots and gusts went from 40-50 knots. At one point, the chain on our leeward (the side away from the wind) stern line snapped, and we were no longer tethered to the dock on one corner. Luckily, we still had 8 other lines holding us in place. When we hit a brief lull in the wind, we reattached the stern line and added another. By the end, we had 10 lines to various points on our boat. Most of the wives and kids vacated their boats for the comfort of a hotel, and left their husbands to oversee the safety of the boat. Not me….I got to stay for the fun! For 2 1/2 days, we were unable to safely get off Zoe. The boat was pitching up and down, and the dock was pitching side to side. The waves inside the bay were 3-4 feet and spraying up and over our decks. So, we rode it out with Zoe. By the third day, the gusts had come down a bit, so we could get off the boat when there was a lull in the wind. Of course when we returned, so had the winds and getting on board was quite harrowing. We managed to stall our guests for another two days in order for the wind and swell to continue it’s decline. In the end, we were stuck in this “marina” for 6 days! We were definitely itching to get going.
Our guests arrived for our last night in the marina, and by early morning we were back under way. As we exited the Golfo di Aranci, we were treated to a couple of dolphins bidding us farewell. Our next two days were spent in the beautiful Maddalena Islands off the island of Sardegna. Here, we explored the crystal turquoise waters, rock reefs, and made an attempt to see one of the famous pink sand beaches. Unfortunately, you are forbidden from walking or even swimming at the beach. We were hoping to land the dinghy and hike to an overlook above the beach, but the water was very choppy and there was no nice place to put the dinghy. So we had to try and take pictures from a distance while getting beat up by the swell and wake from the many other boats coming in to see the beach. By the time we got back to Zoe, Carrie and I were soaking wet.
After two days, we had a decent weather window to cross from Sardegna to Corsica (the area between the two islands is notorious for funneling wind between the two and making things nasty). Our destination was the beautiful city of Bonafacio, far up in an amazing fjord. As we cruised toward the fjord entrance, we saw houses that were perched precariously on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Entering the fjord, you are surrounded by these amazing limestone cliffs. Before long, a stunning citadel greeted us, and the bay was lined with incredible looking restaurants and shops. This was going to be a fun stop! Our first adventure took us up the steep hill to a nature trail along the cliffs. Here, we had panoramic views of the sea and the island. There were also some scattered ruins. From there we headed to the other side of the cliffs where the fortification stood. We entered the walled city through massive doors that still housed the original equipment to raise and lower the gates. Inside the walls were quaint little streets filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. It was definitely one of the prettiest places we have visited.
The next day, we rented a car and headed inland for some further exploration of the island of Corsica. Our first stop was a quaint little winery where we tasted some very nice wines from the region (which of course we bought). We continued on our winding, hilly ascent to the town of Sartene. We took in the sights, had a nice lunch in the square, and then headed off for some hiking along the coastline. While we were wandering the town, Dan got a call from the marina telling us we needed to leave. Uh, that’s not going to work….we are an hour away from the boat. We had originally booked for one night, but after seeing how beautiful Bonafacio was we asked to stay one or two more nights. The girl had told us it was perfectly fine, and we could pay the following day. We were not happy. In the end, they gave in and let us stay the 2nd night, but said there was absolutely no way for the 3rd night as they were booked full! Why were they suddenly booked full? You guessed it….heavy winds were forecasted which is also why we had wanted the third night as well. We sadly got underway early the next morning. On a positive note, we had a cracking down wind sail on only a reefed genoa. This area of the Med is definitely a lot more windy than the parts of Greece we had grown use to.
We spent the next night anchored along a big sand beach before heading to our next anchorage outside the town of Propriano. The wind had kicked up higher than expected, along with the swell in the bay. We took the dinghy and headed into town. I found myself really happy that I had showered before this excursion since Carrie and I spent most of the ride getting doused in salt water. Unfortunately, our timing was not ideal so when we arrived in town, everything was closed up for siesta. We wandered the streets for a bit and then headed to the church at the high point of the town. Once again, we had awesome views. Since nothing was open, we headed back to the boat and made the quick decision to move to a more sheltered part of the bay. This turned out to be a much better decision. Not only was the water super calm, but we were able to grab a nice mooring ball just outside a quaint little town. As I got busy making dinner, we noticed a large military looking ship coming in. It was not just coming in….it was coming straight for us! Uh oh, looks like we are getting boarded. Sure enough, the big ship launched it’s dinghy containing 4 heavily armed and uniformed men. They tied up to us and climbed on board. They were the customs enforcers of France. They spent the next 1/2 hour scouring all our paperwork, asking questions, and eventually searching our boat. Can’t say we’ve ever had THAT experience before. In the end, they said we were good and went on their way.
The next morning we made our way to the capitol of Corsica, Ajaccio. Our plan was to grab a mooring ball outside of one of the marinas. It didn’t take long before we discovered that was not going to happen. The mooring field was filled with derelict boats both on balls and anchored around them. We then cruised to the closest anchorage and that was a no go as well. We headed to the marina (which didn’t look overly appealing either) and asked for a berth. They told us the tender would be with us once they finished with someone else. No one ever came, and they stopped answering our calls. We sat circling in a narrow channel for 30 minutes before a different marina responded to our radio calls and said they would take us. Talk about a blessing in disguise. It was a beautiful marina, behind an actual breakwater, in the heart of town. We were all super excited about our new home for the next few days.
After 2 days of exploring the city of Ajaccio, we sadly bid farewell to Emil and Carrie, our last guests of the season. Dan and I decided to go for a walk around the outskirts of the city and happened upon a bunch of American jeeps, tanks, trucks, and weapons from the World War II era. We soon discovered that 80 years ago today (Sept. 9, 1943), Corsica was liberated by the Americans. There would be huge celebrations throughout the city to commemorate this historical event, and we were smack in the middle of it! Flowered wreaths were laid at the base of the monument, the Governor addressed the crowd, and all the branches of service were present. The color guard did their flag ceremony and the band rang in a most amazing parade of foot soldiers, vehicles, and weaponry from WWII. The soldiers wore uniforms of that era, and the ladies were decked out in attire for that period as well. It was quite a sight to see, and gave Dan and I the chills being here to witness it. Two fighter jets came roaring in over the crowd and it just about brought tears to your eyes as the afterburners shook you to your core. This has definitely been another destination highlight for me. Tomorrow, we will bid a sad farewell to Ajaccio as we make our way north on the island of Corsica. We will only have 2 or 3 more stopovers before we make our crossing to the mainland of southern France. Stay tuned for more adventures in France!