Run Away From the Wind
20th August: With a strong mistral forecast in a few days time we were running away from our furthest point north on Italy’s mainland, back to Elba. It wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing, preferably we’d be doing an overnight to north Corsica right now but I would have to be patient for a few days more – in this life the weather rules our decisions.
We were running away at quite some speed for us, with a F6 pushing Emerald along. It was great fun whilst it lasted but as darkness fell, as usual, so did the wind. We began motoring and ate the chilli I’d prepared earlier. We were passing an area busy with shipping so there were many lights to keep an eye on, although the oil support vessel FSRU Toscana out to sea was not hard to spot, being lit up like a thousand, enormous Christmas trees.
Once past Livorno the number of ships reduced and the only visible moving lights were from what looked like a sailboat motoring behind us before it peeled away off out to sea. A while later it looked like it was heading back in towards us. Suddenly, in the pale moonlight I could see it’s shape. Not a sailboat at all, but a sinister looking silhouette of a coastguard cutter. We resigned ourselves to a visit. But nothing happened, other than it shadowing us for around twenty minutes, matching our speed but never getting closer. It was unnerving me a lot, so it was with great relief when with a blast of speed it was gone, leaving us quickly behind.
The night didn’t really improve any, it was warm and humid, sticky and uncomfortable. The wind played games with us; increasing enough to sail with, then dropping a few minutes after we’d unfurled the sails. We resigned ourselves to motoring, but this made the inside super hot and sleep just wouldn’t come for me on my off watch. I gave up trying and gave Colin a longer rest then at least one of us would be with it on arrival. It was a two chocolate bar night.
Elba rose up out of the dawn sky, we survived a game of ferry chicken outside Portoferraio and dropped in a big space a little further away from everyone else and got a few hours sleep.
The weather forecast that had set us on this path had been dialled back. Gone from the weather maps were the scary looking streaks of red that denoted 50kt blasts of wind, the colours now green and orange with highest gusts around 30kts. Very frustrating, but at least we were in a good place if the forecast went back the other way.
More Walking and Elba Exploring
We made the most of our enforced wait by taking the bus out to another walk in the surrounding hills. It began with a steep uphill to a wide track along a ridge line that forms part of the cross island walking route, the GTE. It was under trees, there were lots of blackberries for picking, hundreds of butterflies and every so often the trees parted to allow the view to be admired. At the end of the track we took a left turn heading down before an unexpectedly steep up that brought us to a flat hilltop. Here a few piles of stones were all that remained of the 13th century fortified village of Montmarsale, the pirate Barbarossa having blasted it to destruction in 1544. A chapel to Santa Lucia now sits atop the ruins.
More exploring by bus, this time with an all day ticket to explore the west side of the island. The bus took us from beach resort to mountain village, zigzagged up and down hills and along a road clinging to the side of a steep cliff. For a small island, Elba packs in a lot of changing geology – the north was lined with white cliffs and pebbly beaches, tree covered hills rolling down to the sea. The west end had the highest mountains, craggy and scrubby, it’s beaches were all big rocks and large, rounded pebbles with high, steep cliffs above. Just a few miles away on the south coast the scenery softened into golden sand stretching in long swathes along the coast.
The water in the Portoferraio anchorage isn’t the nicest to swim in. We’d moved to a spot closer to the ferry berths for better shelter from north east winds and we saw streaks of oil and nasty black stuff floating about. The ferries were noisy too with four parked up overnight, generators running 24/7. We moved further back for more peace and less crowded water. But still, we didn’t fancy swimming even though it was baking hot. So instead we thought we’d do like tourists do and go to the beach.
The stretch of pebbly sand at the north of the town was crowded with brightly coloured beach umbrellas. We walked the whole length looking for a space big enough (and, being British, that means a space where my towel isn’t touching my neighbours!) for us and near the end found a spot in the shade of a wall. This meant we didn’t have to embarrass ourselves using our rain umbrella as we don’t have a sun one. We leaned back and watched the beach antics. It was crowded – as soon as one family vacated a spot, another came along. I went out for a swim, heading out from the beach to where no one else was and eyes closed, floated about enjoying a moment of solitude. I then heard voices right next to me. There was so much empty sea to choose from, but of all the places the two people could have chosen to swim out to and stop, they stop next to me. They didn’t acknowledge my presence, just chatting away to each other loudly. So not only does it happen in huge, deserted anchorages that we get boats dropping their hook too close, it now happens when I swim!
The Mistral Arrives
For the weekend, I’d mentally prepared myself for two days of boat prison due to the strong winds coming. Saturday morning and all was calm, so we took advantage and Colin went to top up our diesel cans. That done and the winds were still light. We squeezed in some grocery shopping. We made it back aboard as some 20kt gusts arrived but by late afternoon they’d died off too. We decided to risk going for ice creams. There are some excellent gelaterias in Portoferraio, we’ve tried quite a few! We took a look at the sea state outside the island; there were white horses but nothing too rough.
Early Sunday morning we were woken by some distant flashes and growls. The storm stayed out west and all we suffered was a few spots of rain. Throughout the day there were a few strong wind gusts but nothing like what was predicted. What was worse was that the wind direction had us lying side on to the ferry swell and it was going beyond the point of mildly bothersome to being very, very annoying. Before I jumped ship, the wind obligingly shifted direction again and put us bows to the roll. Much better being a nodding dog than a rolling pig. But still, I was more than ready to move on.
Off to Corsica at Last
We were up early Monday morning; if the forecast was good we would leave for Corsica. The air was cool and crisp, the sky had been washed clear by the rain and was coloured a dusky, sunrise pink. Bliss. The forecast was for light winds from the north east, maybe north west later on. Better to get gone before the north west set in. We motored off, thinking we’d have no ferry chicken to play, it being early. But ha! One of them wanted one last play, so we had to sit and wait until it had chugged by, it’s black smoke polluting the fresh air.
Out into the open we met a small swell from the west, but not enough to overly affect our speed over ground. At last we were on our way to Corsica.
20th August: overnight from Lerici to Portoferraio, Elba; 78nm travelled (22nm sailed)
Anchored in 5m in position 42 48.286’N 10 19.643’E