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Holiday time: sailing Elba and Corsica

  • Flavio 

August was approaching fast, we knew we still had to sum quite some miles under the keel if we wanted to be at Elba on time and meet with our old friends Miso and Jay: with them we would have spent a couple of weeks together, sailing and discovering new places around Elba and Corsica.

Leaving Civitavecchia: the port was fully on huge cruise ships “grounded” and waiting for the pandemic situation to ease

On July 30th, we left Civitavecchia and head to Giannutri: the southernmost island of the Tuscan Archipelago, right off the coast of Tuscany.

As we approached Giannutri, we wanted to have a quick swim before heading north to Giglio. Unfortunately, Giannutri’s main bay (Golfo degli Spalmatoi) is not really big and its bottom is mostly deep and full of rocks.

Discovering the Tuscan Archipelago

The Tuscan Archipelago – Image courtesy of NordNordWest/Wikipedia

We normally try to avoid dropping the anchor on rocks when it’s deeper than 10-15 meters, which is the maximum depth I can safely dive and set free the anchor in case it gets stuck. Long story short, we skipped the swim, took some pictures and set course to Giglio, which was a quick 10 nm sail.

The island of Giannutri, largely privately owned. It’s a small paradise with no major tourism structures. We didn’t have the chance to properly visit it as we wanted to get to Giglio before sunset

When we are not familiar with new places (which happens most of the time), we try to arrive at our destination well on time and with as much vertical sunlight as possible. You really want to take your time to find a good spot where to spend the night at the anchor and make sure you have a good visibility to spot any potential underwater hazard.

Giglio, is unfortunately famous for the Costa Concordia disaster: the capsizing of a big cruise ship on January 2012, after the ship struck rocks off the coast of Giglio. More than 4,200 people were rescued, though 32 people died.

Costa Concordia after the wreckage in 2021: the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, was sentenced to sixteen years in prison

We passed by the area where the Concordia hit the rocks and were shocked as we realized how close to coast those visible rocks are. We still can’t believe how a well experienced captain and crew can misjudge such proximity to the coast.

Isole le Scole – the rocks that were hit by the Costa Concordia are well visible in this picture we took: they are less than 150 meters off the coast

We spent the night alone at Cala dell’Arenella: a beautiful open cove with crystal-clear water. The only evidence of tourism was the fact that every 10 minutes we were approached by small boats offering freshly made cocktails, which we kindly refused as we were already enjoying our cold beers…

Cala dell’Arenella: we spent the night there and enjoyed the view of the blue water and starry sky. After so many days spent on land, we appreciated even more being back in intimate contact with nature.

The next morning, we picked up the anchor and sailed straight to Elba. It was one of the most “it’s gonna be legen… wait for it… dary!!!” sailing day we have had this summer. We hoisted the gennaker for more than 7 hours, and were pushed by a constant wind and a flat sea…just perfect conditions to enjoy a very comfortable, relaxing and pretty fast sailing to our destination.

Gennaker sailing from Giglio to Elba

We gybed three times before approaching Elba. Towards the afternoon, as we were getting closer to our final destination, we crossed Capo Vita, on the northerly tip of the island. It was time to take the gennaker down. After a few minutes, the wind pick up quite a bit and we had a lot of fun sailing in gusting wind up to 30kt, with Amaia at the helm, steering Bolero into the well protected bay at Portoferraio.

Isola d’Elba

Elba, is also part of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, and the third largest island in Italy, after Sicily and Sardinia. It is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea about 50 kilometres (30 mi) east of the French island of Corsica.

We stayed a few days anchored in the bay of Portoferraio, working and exploring the old town, with its beautiful forts and the massive line of walls. The city (as well as the island) is famous for having been Napoleon Bonaparte seat of his first exile.

With Jay and Miso, our friends from Tuscany who spent a couple of weeks with us on Bolero

At the beginning of August, we finally managed to meet with our friends Miso and Jay, and we spent the next two weeks exploring first the north of Elba.

From Portoferraio we spent some days on the north side of the island and dropped the anchor in some of the most famous spots (Viticcio, Biodola, Marciana Marina and Sant’Andrea). It was August, so there were plenty of boat arounds.

One of the reasons why we decided to spend the August busy weeks in Elba was because of its countless wide sandy bays, that can fit a large number of boats. Finding a good spot was never a big issue. Apart from that, we didn’t really have a well defined plan: our priority was to find the best anchorages where to get proper shelter from the southerly winds, reason why we first went north.

A week in Corsica: from Macinaggio to Saint-Florent

From Sant’Andrea, on the NW tip of Elba, after a 6-hour sailing trip, we landed in Macinaggio, on the so called Cap Corse peninsula, located at the northern tip part of Corsica.

In Corsica there were way fewer boats than in Elba, and we could get a cheap berth in Macinaggio: a very small and undeveloped village, with just a few restaurants and bars. We enjoyed getting to know the local culture: most of the people in this area speak Italian although their main language is Corsican (apart from French).

From Macinaggio we doubled Cap Corse, sailing around the emblematic rock of Giraglia: a tiny island known for its lighthouse (first constructed in 1573) and for the Torra di Giraglia, a Genoese tower.

The Giraglia Rolex Cup, was named after the island. The race starts in St. Tropez, France, passes around Giraglia, and finishes off in Genoa.

Overall, Corsica is known for being a rugged and unspoilt region, with a very distinctive character, molded by centuries of invasion and occupation. The island is largely mountainous; with high cliffs and rocky inlets that characterize much of its coast.

Saint-Florent: picture taken from the citadel

Slowly we reached the ancient town of Saint-Florent, on the southside of Cap Corse. St-Florent is a popular summer vacation spot mainly thanks to its proximity to some of the most beautiful beaches of the whole island, such as Saleccia and Lotu.

Back to Elba: Golfo Stella and Porto Azzurro

It was time to start heading back to Elba, but first we were forced to wait for a couple of days in Macinaggio to take cover from some severe winds. The forecast was accurate and we witnessed up to 45kt of wind as we were safely moored in Macinaggio.

As soon as weather conditions improved, we sailed back to Elba. This time we spent some days in the southern part of the island, hopping from Lacona, to Golfo Stella and finally to the characteristic village of Porto Azzurro.

Anna and Marta joined the crew for a day as we were anchored at Lacona beach

We were all looking forward to seeing the charming village of Porto Azzurro, which together with Portoferraio and Marciana Marina, is a must-see location for those visiting Elba.

Porto Longone, the historic name for Porto Azzurro, was linked to the name of the prison housed inside the Fortress of Longone. The name was changed in 1947 opting for a new, more pleasant name that reflected the landscape.

In the bay in front of Porto Azzurro there were at least one hundred boats at the anchor. Finding a spot was not immediate but the atmosphere was simply fantastic.

Before saying goodbye to Miso and Jay, we had a very nice meal at Polpo Briao, where we could try some of the typical Tuscan plates.

The next day, after stopping at the local grocery to buy some food, we got Bolero ready as we planned to leave Isola d’Elba the next morning: destination South of Corsica!

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