Sail South East Corsica 3

Off to Corsica

We left the Maddalena islands on a sunny morning for the short trip across to Corsica. Our plan was to sail south east Corsica aiming for Porto Vecchio. The often feisty winds of the Bonafaccio Straits were having a rest day and the most we saw was 6 kts. It was one of those ‘nothing to see here days’ with barely a ripple to disturb the sea. However the winds were forecast to return with gusto the next day. This impacted our decision of whether to go to Bonafaccio by boat. We didn’t want to risk getting stuck there if the strong westerly winds came early.

Raising the French and Corsican courtesy flags

Ile Cavallo

The day had a chilled vibe to it, so we stopped off for lunch and a swim in the beautiful Ile Cavallo. We had to squeeze in to the narrow cala with other boats far closer than we’d usually be happy with. But with no wind there was minimal dragging risk. Plus the water was so clear we could easily see each boat’s anchor. The water was lovely and crystal clear. The fish life was the most abundant of what we’d seen in a long time. The fish were having a good munch on Emerald’s bottom slime, so there was no rush to leave.

Eat the weed fishies!
Curvy house, Ile Cavallo
Curvy house, Ile Cavallo

From there we headed to Rondinara Beach for the night. It was busy but we found a spot by the entrance. Not long after we’d arrived, many boats started heading off elsewhere for the night.

Porto Vecchio

The next morning we continued on to Porto Vecchio. Once there, the west winds arrived right on their advertised time an hour after dropping the hook. There are two areas for anchoring. The first is on the north side of the ferry berth, in front of the marina. The second lies on the south side, off a small beach. We choose the south side amongst some small yachts on moorings. It meant a slightly longer dinghy ride ashore, but was worth it for the peace and calmer waters. The north anchorage suffered from much more chop from the stream of boat traffic in and out of the marina. However, given the number of yacht wrecks dotted around the shore, it looked like it’s not always so calm and quiet here!

Just two of the six yachts wrecked around the bay. Emerald is at anchor in the background feeling a little nervous

The next day we were confined to ship as we sat out winds of up to 40kt. After the winds had passed through we were able to get ashore and explore. We walked up to the walled old town where we realised we wouldn’t be having a lunch time beer. The €4.50 for a 33cl drink made us wince and we realised we were most certainly in tourist land now. The old town was pretty for a wander though and had good views down over the anchorage too. The tourist information office was very helpful and I stocked up on leaflets to help plan some inland fun.

Enjoying French Hypermarkets

With memories of cross-channel trips to French hypermarkets flashing through our mind, we eagerly headed off to the nearest supermarket. We found a Casino, ten minutes walk away. It wasn’t just the air conditioning that tempted me to want to wander the aisles all day, it was the wonderfully extensive selection of French food. There was SO much choice with several aisles solely dedicated to le fromage. Meanwhile, Colin pondered how many saucisson he could physically carry back to the boat. Once we had the car we would be back for more.

Looking over the salt flats, ferry port and southern anchorage
Looking over the salt flats, ferry port and southern anchorage
Old town Porto Vecchio – where you can nip over for a kebab after buying some Gucci

Exploring Inland

We were happy with the holding in strong winds so Porto Vecchio became our base. We did some inland touring with a hire car to explore some of the many hiking trails in the hills. I also had an adventurous half day canyoning in the Bavella massif. Those tales will follow in the next blog. 

The Town’s History

Porto Vecchio sits in a very scenic spot, with several sandy beaches nearby and ringed by hills. Along the northern side of the bay rise steep, tree covered mountains which create a spiky horizon. It was lovely to see as the sun set behind it.

The town didn’t have an easy start to life. The Genoese arrived in the 1500s and built the fortress on the hill, within which sits today’s old town. However, the malaria infested swamps of the flat land and pirate attacks saw off the early settlers. After sporadic use as a stronghold in various battles, it became a sleepy town. Mountain shepherds and small traders came to live there during the winters.

Its fortunes began to improve from 1795 when the swamps were utilised for salt production. However, it wasn’t until World War II that the swamps were finally cleared of malaria. The salt industry has now shut down and the old pans have become the home of wading birds, pleasant for an easy walk. A few cork trees dot the landscape, and their bark is still harvested for use in making tourist souvenirs.

Daddy long legs bird foraging for food (real name is Black Winged Stilt)
A White Egret takes flight
Remains of the salt industry
Remains of the salt industry
A grove of cork trees
A grove of cork trees

Bastille Day

We returned the car on the morning of Bastille Day. Everyone was in a jolly mood and the airport was very busy compared to earlier in the week. Was this the start of the French holidays? Most of the car hire cabins had big queues outside, but luckily for us, the Budget office only had one person in the queue. As a result the return was done quickly and we caught the next bus back to Porto Vecchio. We were back in time to watch the military parade at the war memorial before heading back to the boat for lunch.

The parade of flags included an American one
When I saw the veterans I said a thank you for all they gave for our freedom


That evening we went back ashore for the main Bastille Day celebrations with a band playing live. The marina area was humming with queues at some of the restaurants. We watched the band for an hour or so then headed back with a plan to watch the fireworks from deck on Emerald with a glass of something to hand. But! We hadn’t factored in health and safety or the punctuality of the Corsicans!

We’d passed the fireworks raft on the way in anchored just outside the marina. Now it was dark with and only 15 minutes to blast off, we were told we could not leave the marina as it was too dangerous. Oh la la! It turned out they did us a favour as we watched the fantastic fireworks from shore. This gave us a much closer view. Then, as soon as they’d finished the band started up again, so we headed back for another session of live music.

The evening entertainment

Pink Floyd Cover Band

The next day there was another round of fireworks and live music on the nearby beach of San Ciprianu. This time the band was a Pink Floyd cover. We had to go. It was also the Football World Cup final which perhaps kept many away from their boats and left us with an un-busy anchorage. We popped ashore to watch the second half where the French were well on their way to victory and it was fun to see their celebrations. That evening we settled down with a rug on the sand and a bottle of wine, right in front of the middle of the stage for an awesome cover experience. The lead singer even had a look of Roger Waters about him.

Corsican Floyd
The lead singer even looks a bit like Roger Waters
They had a fantastic light show
Fireworks! Ahhhhhhhhhhh

Another late night, and another early morning. We had to get back to Porto Vecchio for my horse riding trip the next day. However, westerly winds were forecast which would be right on the nose. So we got up early, got ourselves back to our previous anchor spot and guess what – no wind!

Swimming With Horses

When I was a little girl I couldn’t get enough of horses and as an adult I still like to have an occasional equine fix. Last year I took a ride through Capadoccia, this year there was a chance to go swimming with a horse at the nearby A Staffa stables. It was an early start as the ride went to a popular tourist beach and they wanted to be there before it became too busy. I’d hoped to go when we had the car but unfortunately they were fully booked on those days. So I had a 5am wake up and a 40 minutes walk to the stables. The things we do for fun.

Once there the staff handed out brushes, saddles and bridles and directed us to our horse. Mine was Jason, a piebald who looked like he’d been enjoying some good rolls in a dusty field. After a good brush he looked a little smarter. My limited French meant there were moments when I was left not knowing what was going on. However, the ride leader did her best to explain in English when I asked. With horses ready we mounted up and were off for the ride to the beach. We passed through pretty meadows and groves of trees with chances for a regular trot. I was pleased my rhythm hadn’t completely deserted me and my still bruised coccyx was especially pleased. Jason was a bit of a plodder. He needed a regular chivvy on but otherwise he was a good and patient horse.

Into the Sea With my Four Legged Steed

At the beach we took off saddles, stripped down to our swim wear and mounted up again, now bareback. A gentle nudge and Jason was walking into the sea and soon we were deep enough for my feet to brush the cool water. The leader then took each horse in turn into deeper water. There we had the chance to stand on their back and then dive into the sea. Mounted again, we then went off for a swim. I think Jason preferred just watching to swimming. But it was a really special moment for me even just standing in the clear water, feet swishing, me and horse.

With everyone having had a turn, we returned to dry land, saddled up again and returned by the same route to the stables. The horses and tack then got a hose down and feed. All in all a fantastic experience.

Swimming with Jason the horse

Time to Move On

With tourist fun complete, we did a final stock up on French products (our fridge now smells very strongly of cheese) and headed out for some beach life at Pinarello. This anchorage is huge, sandy and is wrapped by beaches.

We put the watermaker back into service but we were disappointed to find it’s still being cantankerous. It managed an hour or so of running before it switched itself off. We tried to narrow down the cause, whether it’s overheating or a poor power supply but our tests aren’t proving that any one cause is the issue; we will rewire the system during the winter. At 12 litres per hour we can just about keep up with our daily use but doing laundry will prove to be a problem.

We also set about making where next plans. We’d have liked to spend another day or so having some R&R but with north winds due our best chance for a sail was going to be the next day. Late afternoon we headed off with a light southerly that built into a rollicking arrival to Elba.

There is a huge sandy area to anchor in
A pipefish swims by
A pipefish swims by
A sea daffodil growing in the dunes that backed the beach

Thoughts on Corsica

The scenery and nature of southern Corsica is awesome. I became obsessed with looking at the jaggedy ridge line especially at sunset with a pink sky behind. The people we met were friendly and helpful. 

The only disappointment of Corsica was the price of both groceries and dining and drinking out. Fresh vegetables and fruit were significantly more expensive than Italy and the price of a beer in a bar was off putting. Cheese was cheap though and there was so much choice. 

The weather was mostly good to us whilst we were there and the threat of a thunderstorm never materialised. We only sat out two days of strong winds during the two weeks we were there. Generally the winds would be light and variable during the morning, picking up in the afternoons; for us the strong winds were always from the west or north west.

Sailing Info

4th July: Sardinia to Rondinara Beach, Corsica via Ile Cavallo – 14nm travelled
At Ile Cavallo we anchored in sand in 6m in position 41 22.226’N 9 16.151’E The water is crystal clear and great for swimming, however it was very busy with boats coming and going.
Rondinara is a horse shoe shaped bay, which was busy when we visited, although it emptied out a little at early evening. We anchored in 7m in sand in position 41 28.143’N 9 16.231’E

Porto Vecchio

5th July: Rondinara to Porto Vecchio – 14nm
Anchored in 4m, thick mud, in position 41 35.242’N 9 17.773’E
We snuggled ourselves into a space amongst the small boat moorings and sat out a couple of days of strong winds during our time there. We found that this south side of the ferry port was less busy than the north and with less wash from the many power boats going into and out of the marina. The marina has a fuel berth but prepare to need lots of patience as we saw many long queues, especially in the evenings. We bought diesel from a roadside station for €1.58 a litre.

We tied up the dinghy in the marina, keep to the right hand fork after the entrance and down at the end is a very short pontoon where several small tenders were tied up long term.

The old town is up, up and up. Steep but mercifully short. There is a free bus that circles the town if you don’t fancy the walk. The old town has bars, cafes and restaurants but prices are set at high. Boutique shops and quirky tourist shops line the warren of streets behind the old fortress walls. The modern town sits below the walls – there is a Casino supermarket ten minutes walk from the marina and two larger hypermarkets to the north side.

Also pleasing to see was the town doing something right about rubbish collection. In the car park next to the marina are a couple of large general refuse bins and some recycling bins too.

Car Hire

Car hire was arranged online and we went with Budget with pick up from the airport at Figaro, a 30 minute journey by bus (€4 per person). There are car hire places in Porto Vecchio, but for more than a couple of days hire, we found it better value to hire from the airport. There are large car parks around the marina; luckily for us the pay machines weren’t working for most of the time we were there, only having to pay for a couple of hours on our last night (8pm to 9am is free).

San Ciprianu

15th July: Porto Vecchio to San Ciprianu beach – 5nm
Anchored in 6m in position 41 37.855’N 9 21.022’E

A horseshoe shaped bay, we anchored on the west side where the bottom was sandy with weed patches. There is a blue, plastic pontoon for tying dinghys to, but watch out for the swimmers who swim around it despite a sign telling them not to. Several beach bars and a watersport centre line the beach.


19th July: Porto Vecchio to Pinarello Beach – 8nm
Anchored in 5.5m in position 41 40.436’N 9 22.633’E

Another curving bay, just north of San Ciprianu, this one is bigger with clear water and a flat, huge expanse of sand. We attempted to land on one of the floating pontoons but was asked to move as it was privately owned by the watersport company.Small dunes back the western side. There is a small town with hotels and restaurants and several beach bars.

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