Following in the Footsteps of the Corsican Customs Men


It was a gentle motorsail from Elba to Cap Corse, on a deep blue sea studded with sparkling diamonds, under a cerulean sky. There was the lightest of breezes so we set the main and staysail and gained a whole 0.3kt. It’s a good job we like to live in the slow lane.

Bye bye Elba
Hello Corsica

The light air blew in two hitchhikers: a strange T shaped stick insect and a butterfly that clung onto a colourful cushion right next to where I was sitting for most of the crossing. They were allowed to stay on the strict condition that no caterpillars were left behind on my plants.

We were returning to the anchorage at Iles Finnochiarola and by the time we arrived late afternoon, the day boats were packing up and leaving. We had a large area of sand in which to anchor, making sure we stayed outside of the yellow buoys which mark the small marine reserve.

The wind scoop catching the breeze

The heatwave was really ramping up now as a plume of hot air streamed up from Africa over Spain and France, creating wildfire havoc and breaking all time temperature records. That night was the first of the year where the duvet was replaced by a thin blanket. The night before I’d slept outside in the cockpit (incredibly, the first time I’d done that in 15 years of living on Emerald) whilst anchored off Marina Di Campo, but there were too many bugs around to do that in Corsica. The temperature in the aft cabin was 32C – a combination of heat from the engine and solar heat transferred through the deck. All the hatches were open, with our Caframo 747 fans working hard to blow out the hot air. We hung blankets from the arch to provide some shade over the back deck, and for overnight we rigged up the wind scoop over the aft cabin hatch with a mossie net balanced on the hatch surround. It worked well to start with, but when there was a bit more breeze during the night, the net collapsed in on us. Next to the bed we have a fixed fan and during the winter we’d bought another which would be a roaming fan. Equipped with a big clip, we can position it anywhere within cable reach of the 12v socket that powers it, so that we could both now have air flow blowing straight at us. Before that, I’d had to sleep in the middle of the bed to catch some breeze from the fixed fan, but that meant there was a risk of touching each other during the night, a banned activity when the temperature was so high!

We had a plan to get out and walk a little more of the Sentieres des Douanieres – the customs officers’ path – that closely follows the coast around Cap Corse. I’d had a brief walk along it last year, now I was determined to go a little further, but we only had the one day and a heatwave to contend with.

Iles Finnochiarola

So, we woke early to get a head start on the temperature, but the wind had other ideas. The winds around Cap Corse can do unexpected things – on that day the forecast was for southerly winds blowing up the Corsican coast with stronger westerly winds around the top of the cape. The westerlys were predicted to win out where we were but in fact it was the southerly wind that was triumphant, putting us on a lee shore with 20kt gusts. The walk would be delayed to see how things progressed.

A couple of hours later, the winds eased and switched west. We could now get ashore. But where we’d found easy access on to the beach last year, there were now big berms of dead sea grass over which we had to drag the dinghy. We were sweating before we’d even set off walking.

Looking back on Emerald in the distance
Our destination

We passed a ruined Genoese watchtower, a remote chapel and walked along the side of pastoral fields and across more dead sea grass strewn beaches. The rotting mulch was spongy to walk across and a little stinky in places. As we progressed north, the terrain became rougher. We could see a green tinge to the rocks lining the jagged coastline, which we later learned is green serpentine.

Splashes of colour amongst the dried up grasses
The start of the up, our aim to get to the pimple on the right

The track is mostly level, with just an occasional short up and down. But if we wanted to look over the headland (not we, but me) there was a longer climb to tackle. The views from the top made it all worthwhile though.

The view looking along the northern edge of Cap Corse
What’s going on with our hats?
Looking back on where we’d come; in the distance, Iles Finnochiarola
Green serpentine in the rock behind us

Time to turn around, however it was now midday and there is little shade to be found on the hike. Sweaty and just a little heat weary, we were mighty relieved to descend the last hummock of land to see our dinghy Crazy Horse, where we’d left it.

After a refreshing swim, what was left of the afternoon was spent planning our crossing to the free transit berth in the marina at San Remo. At 90nm and an average speed of 5kts, it should take us 18 hours, so a mid afternoon departure would see us in mid morning. But the best wind was due to be tomorrow morning; if we left then it would leave us with a lot of time to kill as we didn’t want to enter an unknown marina in the dark.

What did we do? You’ll have to wait until next time to find out!

Sailing Info

27th June: Marina di Campo, Elba to Iles Finocchiarola, Corsica – 40nm
Anchored in sand in 6m 42 58.994’N 9 27.379’E

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