Or the “if only we had a Cruising Chute” passage.
As we waited in Porto Istana, we began to make plans for continuing on to the south of France based on the resources we had available. What goes into a passage plan?
Our starting point is the weather. We’re not going to head out when there are strong winds forecast or if the wind would be blowing into our faces. It was Tuesday and we were seeing a forecast of southerly winds starting Thursday, lasting two days before returning to northerly for as long as the forecast window provided. The winds started off as a Beaufort F4, but would go light overnight, returning stronger Friday morning. We could wait for better weather of course, as we have no deadlines to meet, however we were in the mood to get on so decided to take a chance.
Where to go? Our goal for the summer was the south of France. The shortest route would be to head up the east coast of Corsica, however once past Porto Vecchio we would have limited anchoring options, and the north winds were going to blow strong around Cap Corse. Elba presented an alternative – it is a favourite place of ours with many anchorages to give shelter from every wind direction.
Destination chosen, we applied the winds to the route. Southerly winds would put us on a run if we were to head straight to Elba. Not our best sailing angle and if the winds were light we probably wouldn’t be able to sail, as the apparent wind (the result of the boats forward motion and the wind) would be even less.
As we scanned the charts we noticed the island of Giglio, off the west coast of Italy. A new place to visit and the direct route there would give us a good wind angle of between a broad and beam reach. Even better: the southerly winds were predicted to be stronger there, particularly on Saturday morning when we could use them to blow us across to Elba before the northerlies arrived. At 106nm it would still need to be another overnight sail, but with the opportunity to see the sunrise on the longest day.
It seemed like our plan was taking shape. An anchorage on the north of the island called Giglio Campese would be our goal. And from that point on, an earworm of the song ‘Just a Gigolo’, planted itself firmly in my head.
By Thursday midday, southerly winds had set in and our departure from Sardinia was fast with all sails set, the wind hooking around the end of Isola Tavolara putting us on a beam reach. Alas, it didn’t last. Now was the ideal sailing conditions for a cruising chute! But for various reasons, we don’t have one, so when our speed dropped below 2kts and the sails began to flog as we gently rolled in the low swell, we had to fire up the engine and motor sail.
It was a frustrating night, trying several times to sail when it seemed like the wind was increasing, but as soon as we turned the engine off, our speed would drop below 2kt. Now as long as the sails weren’t flogging and at risk of damage we could have sailed at that speed. But they were and we also had only the one afternoon to see Giglio which justified burning the diesel to us to be in at a reasonable time. We freely admit we aren’t pure sailors, but travellers on the sea with a goal of seeing places too. But with the engine on, the off watch rest was not very restful in the hot, clammy and noisy cabin. We made good speed though, motor sailing as our engine enhanced forward motion created enough apparent wind to keep the main sail and genny full.
The cooler cockpit was welcoming as I started my second watch at 3am. After an hour of darkness, the sky began to grow pink from the east and I experienced my first summer solstice sunrise. It was a beautiful sight as the glowing red ball of the sun rose over the distant mountains of Italy. Not long after, the sails began to fill and we were able to let nature take over from the engine. Sleep came much easier during my second off watch.
We sailed right up until under the shadow of Giglio’s peaks, got sails away and motored into the anchorage at Campese. It was mid morning and boats were starting to leave giving us plenty of choice of where to anchor. Unfortunately though, the swim buoys are some way out from the beach leaving us to make do with depths of 10m in which to drop. The holding seemed good though.
We were both a little weary but with north winds due tomorrow afternoon and a new place to explore, we gave ourselves a talking to and launched the dinghy to go explore.
Ashore we found an old watch tower guarding over a tiny harbour. There was no quay wall as such; small boats were tied off on lines that criss-crossed the water, running to anchors and heavy lumps of stuff in the water. At one point I had to get out to paddle and push the dinghy across a shallow patch of sand. But we found an empty spot and joined our lines to the other lines.
From the anchorage we had surveyed our destination – Giglio Castello, the fortified town and castle that overlooks the bay. It had looked a long way up. The steepness of the slope drove us to search out alternatives to walking up and our sleep starved bodies rejoiced at the news there was a bus. The journey was spectacular as we wound our way up the switchback road, where random sculptures and topiary decorated the sides of each tight curve.
Leaving the bus where it turns around beside the castle walls, we ducked through a gateway into a land of narrow, twisty lanes. We strolled the passages and alleys, with no direction in mind, eventually finding ourselves outside the high ramparts of the castle itself. It was exceptionally scenic, the only disappointment being that the castle was closed for renovation work.
Fortified with ice cream, we began the walk down. There are several marked paths, we chose track number 17, a former miner’s path, longer than others but with the temptation of shade along the way. With sweat beading our foreheads, shade would be very welcome. We gently descended alongside stone walls, wildflowers putting on a last show of colour before the heat of summer frazzled them to shades of brown. We crossed a valley cut by water with the remains of watermills dotting the sides and into the promised shade of a small wood. Through the other side there was a short, steep, rocky section, the most difficult part of the route. At this point we noticed the air had cooled and the sky had the look, as Colin terms it, of mank. We checked lightningmaps but there were no strikes anywhere nearby, however we still felt an urge to hurry on back.
Back safely onboard, I went for a shower. Eyes closed, enjoying a brief moment under the water, I suddenly fell sideways against the wall as the boat moved under me. I called out if we were ok, the answer came back yes, but still I hurried on to finish and get dry.
Outside the sky was very dramatic as mammatus clouds and curtains of rain circled us. Emerald was dancing around the anchor as gusts of wind raced down the hill we’d just walked down, the sea whipped into a frothy white. Colin let out more chain and we prepared for escape as boats started to drag around us. Another check on the lightning showed a storm had briefly flickered to the south of us. It had since fizzled out, but the energy that remained was enough to create a 4mb drop in pressure and send 40kt gusts to batter us.
The tempest lasted less than an hour, but in those conditions, one minute seems like hours. Thankfully, we didn’t drag, the only boat of the 5 anchored not to do so. Not for the first time, we praised our 33kg Rocna anchor for passing the test with flying colours. As the bay calmed down, the boats that had dragged returned from their circling out in clearer waters along with others from out at sea, the crews of some looking quite bedraggled. We began to relax, but with half an eye out in case the winds returned.
2oth June: Porto Istana to Giglio Caprese – 106nm (34nm sailed)
Anchored in 11m behind the buoys which mark out the swimming area. Position 42 22.046’N 10 52.617’E
The seabed slopes steeply out.
Bakery ashore. We tied the dinghy in the small boat harbour under the watch tower. We also others leave theirs on the western end of the beach, keeping outside the swimming buoys.