I am the fire that burns your skin
I am the water that kills your thirst.
The castle, its tower I am,
The sword that guards the treasure
You, the air that I breathe,
And the light of the moon on the sea
The throat that I long to wet
Which I fear drowning in love.
And which desires will you give me?
You say, “Just look at my treasure,
it will be yours, it will be yours.
“Tuyo” Rodrigo Amarante: Theme Tune to Narcos
Arriving for the first time on Corsica was a bit strange as still felt like Italy. We anchored in a picturesque bay on Ille Cavallo, a private island owned by a consortium of wealthy Italians who had built an exclusive development of villas on it and welcomed us with a sign basically saying “Private Keep Out!” Well there was no one about other than the workmen doing the winter maintenance on the houses and gardeners tidying up the gardens, this included some JCB’s trundling back and forth with huge palms trees, a strange sight of tree tops bobbing along the skyline! We stepped over the private sign and wandered around this luxury housing scheme. It was very tasteful and some of the houses looked like little Hobbit homes with curved roofs and rounded windows. That evening we were woken by the strangest noises I’ve ever heard, sounded like elves! Still no idea what it was but it went on for ages so I concluded it may be some sort of sea bird or toad courtship call. Well it is spring!
The sail round the coast the next day was brisk and the entrance to Bonifacio is stunning and very unexpectant. It is a line of high cliffs like an impenetrable barrier until you see the small lighthouse on a promontory which marks the gap in the cliffs then you basically make a sharp turn and head straight for the cliffs as the narrow entrance reveals itself. It is quite a spectacle sailing in through the channel with high cliffs on both sides, the fort staring down at you and the pretty port all huddled at the end of the channel. There was a side channel where we could have taken mooring lines and hung off the rock cliff but it would mean us being out of the town and I quite fancied seeing the port and being amongst the bustle. It was a bit of a stressful arrival at the marina, so much so I shut myself in the toilet and gave a Van Gogh’s silent scream but once it had all calmed down we went ashore and wandered round the small port and up to the Haute Ville with spectacular views down to the seas we had just sailed over. It’s then it hits you how hard we have been working, these seas are big, the waves huge, the winds strong and it is no wonder it takes a lot out of us, more than we realise. We have been on the go for months, constant calculations whether it is routes to take, water usage, meals to make, energy to burn, diesel to use, anchorage to head for, money to budget for never mind keeping a check on things at home which are not always smooth. We try to take an unsaid check in on each other now and then as we both feel stresses rising and strains on our relationship but we diffuse the rising tensions and make that effort to soothe and relax. Coming to this French island has been a desire for a very long time, since we were teenagers. I am not sure what its draw was for us but probably the fact it was French and we were big fans at the time as Brittany was the first place we travelled to together, the first time I had been aboard in fact, other than my summer in the US as a nanny the summer before we met, the fact it had mountains and I guess a bit of the rebel Corse appealed to us with similar separatist alliances. However it had never happened for various reasons so to be finally standing on Corsican soil, drinking a Café au Lait and eating the best baguette bread, we were a bit overawed. A bit emotional.
We treated ourselves to Soup de Poisson our firm favourite and something we had forgotten all about until we saw it on the menu blackboard of the restaurant beside our pontoon and agreed the next treat for tomorrow would be Moules et Frites! It was good to refresh the batteries and stay still for a couple of nights, I even managed a nice shower and hair wash, dressing up in some decent clothes other than sailing gear and enjoyed the pavement café culture for a short while. It didn’t last too long though as we needed to do some repairs and J had to climb the mast to replace bulbs in the anchor and steaming lights. This involves me belaying him which I quite like doing and gives me a sneaky chance to wonder how it would be if I tied the rope off and left him dangling there for a while! Anyhow, I behaved myself and we got the jobs done, safely then made ready for heading off, the usual water and fresh food topped up.
The sail up to Propriano was tough, a lot of beating in which is demanding and tiring , there was a big swell too so we decided to stop earlier than we originally planned and stay at this smaller port rather than Ajaccio as it seemed cheaper at the marina and we could hire a car from there to go explore the interior. It was a wise decision as it was a lovely wee town with a good marina and plenty facilities and the car hire was very cheap. We booked the berth ahead for four nights at E150 plus the car hire for three days at £75 and arrived at the marina, contacted them to ask where we should berth but they spoke po English so luckily our French kicked just as the engine conked out! I rapidly got on the radio to them to tell them this and ask for marinara help as we were now in the marina basin with a short turning circle and full of other yachts tied up while J tired to restart it. No help was available so I got ready to fend us off any boats we drifted near while J repeatedly tried to restart, this involved a lot of blue language both Scots and French abut seemed to do the trick as she coughed into action just enough to reverse us into our spot and tie on the mooring lines. Phewff, it’s never easy.
The engine had been faltering a little over the last couple of days, a thing it had never done since we bought the boat three years ago., so this was worrying. We had to go and collect the hired car before the place shut so we scurried over to the marina office to check in and it soon became very evident we were not in Italy anymore, two females who had no clue or interest in boats that talked to each other as they processed our documents with barely looking at us and blowing cigarette smoke in our faces, scruffy hair, dishevelled clothes, quite the opposite of the stylish and charming Italians. It was pouring with rain so we kept our sailing wet gear on and walked round the bay to find the car hire place, it turned out to be in a car showroom and the staff there were quite the opposite, really friendly and helpful and then the lady walked us out to the car park to show us the car. Hello!!! A black and white sporty job, fully automatic, shiny alloys and all the dashboard tech. The skipper was delighted and so was I, as we drove it back to the marina to carry out a rapid pack up for the next three days in the mountains. As I packed and prepared dinner, J tackled the engine problem. It seemed there was no diesel getting to the engine so he replaced the fuel filter, this had been done in MDR but he concluded it may be blocked. It started ok and we ran it for a while with no falters so hoped that was the end of it. It had taken three hours, a lot of mess and a lot of diesel fumes but the job was done and we sat down to a nice meal followed by my lemon ricotta cheesecake which was a triumph. A good team we concluded.
The next morning after a nice chat with our neighbour, a French gentleman in blue and white striped top, moustache and a tiny bulldog that he transported in the back pannier of his motor bike to his boat, we tidied up the boat and made it ready to be left for three days. It was a big job after all the engine workings but finally left the pontoon with bags packed, rucsacs with walking boots, bags of rubbish, bags of food and bottles of wine so we could save on eating out, dive air tank to be refilled and smiles on faces as we headed off for a mini adventure in the high hills. The drive was amazing, through thick Corsican pine forests then along narrow roads with death defying drops on the side up to Corte almost in the middle of the island. It seemed a little like a high Aviemore, full of campsites, outdoor shops and activity providers. The start of our chosen walk was only a few miles from here however the road to it was without doubt the scariest though most beautiful road I have ever been on. It was single track and resembled the road up to Steall Falls in Glen Nevis but it went on for an hour up and along the side of steep river gorge with rock cliffs and natural sculptures that were stunning. The road wound past a series of blind bends and under overhanging rock boulders, sneaked round the edge of towering pine roots and over bridges with no barriers and gushing snow melt water surging underneath. I was so glad when it reached the end at a remote dirt carpark at a refugio. We donned our boots, cagoules, rucsacs and hats and set off up the mountain track. It was a spectacular walk, tiny winding track that lead up though pine forest then out onto scrub and scree and over patchy snow fields before a steep ascent over rocky outcrops and slabs, some bolted with metal chains and ladders for access and finally topping out over a bealach to an iced over lochan. It was all white all around, the cloud so low and passing over it shrouded you in a total white out for a few minutes til the mountain winds blow if from your face and revealed a peaky landscape that was very reminiscent of Patagonia and Torres del Paine. And not a soul there, all to ourselves as we sat on a boulder and ate the bread and cheese we had brought. Blimey was it only this morning I had awoken in the cabin, diesel fumes making me nauseous, frantic packing, Damon Hill driving and now here I was sitting on a high mountain ridge, mist dampening my face, black crows soaring overhead no doubt waiting for the crumbs.
We made our way back down eventually, slowly, reluctantly, there seemed so much more to explore and enjoy but we were exhausted and the day was wearing on.
We found our Airbnb on the outskirts of Corte, after a series of detective like clues that Sherlock Ormiston deduced and succeeded in finding the key under a pine cone in the cupboard to the right of the third door of the second floor of the building! However it was a pleasant if quirky flat (the Christmas tree was still up!) all to ourselves and I revelled in having a kitchen to cook in, a stationary bed to sleep in, a washing machine to clean all the diesely clothes and then.., OMG .., a bath! As soon as dinner was dispatched, it was run to the brim and filled with half a bottle of the shower gel I had brought and I sank into it with a bliss ,that was, well bliss.
I made dinner while J attempted to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew but with much muttering about “How could it be a French apartment with no corkscrew!” He did eventually manage, determination winning out, but not after involving many old Scout’s tricks with door hinges, knives, hot water, string, heels of shoes but oh the joy in his face when it finally succumbed! Adding to the delightful evening was a Facetime call from our youngest at Granny’s house and she was in raptures that she could see us while talking to us. Things we take for granted but to her it seemed like magic and it was a tonic to see her face light up, we promised to do more of this as it is easy if any of the young ones are around at her house.
The next day after cleaning up, leaving it better than we found it, we got the feeling this young couple had received our last minute booking and literally cleared out to a friend’s for the night as all their stuff was lying around including wet laundry, we headed east to do another of the Top 10 Hikes in Corsica I had researched. It was only a few miles away as the crow flies but it took 2 hours as we had to drive through the centre of the spectacular mountain range, tops and gullies still etched out in snow. We parked up at Col de Bavella, a high point on a ridge that the wind shrieked through. The walk took us through more beautiful mature pine woods and over pretty mountain streams and finally led to rocky outcrops on the ridge line that involved some minor scrambling. To reach the famous feature Tombe de Coeur you had to climb down a small but steep rock step and I got bit freaked. I am used to do these things but my nerve went and I left the captain to go higher and peer through the imposing hole ion the rock that he said literally led to a sheer drop in a cliff face so I was glad I didn’t go! Bit of a frosty return walk as I felt bit humiliated and pressured, understandably ‘s patience is running thin as I know he is tired but I felt clumsy, old and stupid. However once back at the sporty car and a nice coffee at a wee village café we were friends again as we arrived at Casabianca this night’s Airbnb, again only booked the day before. We were hesitant as it was £18 for the night but as always decided it is only a bed for the night. Well, Quelle Surprise, without doubt the best Airbnb we have stayed in ever, period. Jules, a delightful fellow who lived two doors along, showed us in to his newly refurbished pied a terre, small with just a bedroom, shower room and kitchen diner but it was exquisite with so much attention to detail even J wandered round saying Wow regularly. The views over the Corsican hills and rolling fields were enchanting as we hung over the metal railing on the bedroom window. It was in the middle of nowhere, not even a café or bar but we had brought all our food so knocked up a nice meal and then had a big treat of watching TV in bed, accessorised by the warm mood and colour changing lighting!
The next day we reluctantly left as could easily have stayed a week at this treasure of a place but I knew J was concerned about the engine problems so we needed to get back and investigate everything was ok. Not after a morning visit to nearby thermal baths though which were pleasant but nothing like the Icelandic ones. We arrived back in Propriano and used the car to do a big supermarket shop then we set to with the diesel issue. J reckoned it was dirty diesel and decided to do a full change and clean. This involved him going to a nearby chandler/DIY store and buying fuel tanks, submersive pumps, tubing etc. I was sent out to buy tights. Now I thought this would be a easy task. I giggled to myself as I remembered our first trip to Paris as teenagers and J wanted to buy me pretty French underwear, we found a suitable shop and I tired to explain what I wanted in my poor French at the time. The shop assistant finally got it and stated “Ah Oui, le long socks!!” well yes I guess they were and I felt quite the sophisticated lady in my “long socks” parading the Champs Elyse’s with a very happy fiancé! Anyway , the “long sock” fuel filter mission was impossible and I came back failed. We had to return the car so scooted back to the supermarket where I finally found some cheap tights and then we walked back to the boat to begin the huge smelly and dirty task of emptying 120l of diesel, filtering through the tights, treating it with biocide and replacing it. J had taken off the filling pipe too, cleaned the overflow valve and checked the fuel level instrument as well as pipes that lead to the engine. The fuel was indeed dirty and the intake pipe blocked with what looked like felt. It took hours and so much leaks, so much mopping up and degreasing, I felt sick and headachy. Poor J was worse as he had to suck out some diesel and was literally lying in puddles of it a times. Finally, it was done and after showers I headed out to get a pizza as I couldn’t face cooking.
We checked it in the morning and was still a leak so more repairs and fumes and mess until finally it seemed solved. I stood on the deck for a while clearing my head and getting fresh air as I glanced down to the water and couldn’t believe my eyes as a school of around 150 barracuda about a meter each in length glided by, occasionally flashing on their sides and showing a silver side with back chevrons and long slick jaws! We finally left Propriano with a slick of diesel after us and motored smoothly along the coast for a few hours to a calm anchorage where I prepared a lovely meal of Corscian lamb and all the trimmings but couldn’t eat it. I broke down and took to bed feeling awful. The immersion in diesel fumes, lack of sleep, blocked sinuses, emotional instability all collided and I had to opt out for a night. Unfortunately my malaise lasted a couple of days, think it was a virus as I had no energy and felt worn out. We headed up to the Bay of Calvi with beautiful coastline, it looks like a chunk of the Alps has been carved out and dropped in the sea with these towering peaks covered in snow and hillsides that plunge down to the sea. My eldest called for a chat and it was such a tonic, we talked for ages about his work up in Speyside, he told me funny incidences with his work mates and plans for the future. He is a great lad, honest, loyal, strong and a real individual. I laughed as he told me a recent incident on his contract when a large boulder had become dislodged somehow and had rolled down the hill and landed on the A9, luckily to no harm. However as site manager and senior geologist he was sent to investigate. It seemed unlikely it was the site work going on that had dislodged it but he told me he spent hours trailing up and down the Slochd summit looking for likely holes from whence the boulder had come. Now it was Easter weekend so the fact that a boulder had mysteriously rolled down a hill, leaving a hole or cave, I said he should look for a bearded man in his early 30’s wearing a long robe and palms outstretched! We have the same silly sense of humour.
The spring weather is improving but still such cold wind and the water is cold, phone calls back home told us the weather there was great and folks were sitting out in their gardens and hitting the beaches! It is also still a bit unpredictable and the sail round the coastline to Centuri kicked off a bit and I was glad to finally reach the anchorage. We dingied ashore for a wander but on the way a tiny songbird flew frantically around the dinghy until I noticed a mob of seagulls after it. Poor thing it didn’t stand a chance as more joined the chase and it disappeared as the gang dispersed. Ah well I suppose the gulls have chicks to feed too. We sat on the rocks and watched three young spearfishermen don their clobber and set off flopping around the rocky coves, I was concerned they might spear each other as seemed so close. It was lovely being able to pull off a few sprigs of fresh wild rosemary, as I am never very successful at growing it at home and I decided to do roast potatoes with them for tea.
After a restless night when I got up and wrote a “To Do” list as there seemed to be so much on my mind we sailed on to Isola Caprai where we dropped the anchor in a really cliffy cove with the sea slopping all around us. There were a few other boats there too but as the day wore on they left as alone. We took the plunge but the water is still so cold it really was a plunge and were quickly back onboard for a hot water rinse. That night we talked a few things through, we were tired and seemed to be on the go the whole time. It was intense and I felt a lot of family things building up that I wanted to deal with. I wondered if that is why not many adults do mature gap years as there are so many people depending on you as you have built up a network over the years and become part of something. As a young person you dont have those responsibilities and it easier to do things more for yourself and go off travelling for a year to fulfil your own desires. So we decided to head to Elba and spend a few days down time there.
Easter Sunday dawned after a noisy night with the chain rattling over the rocks beneath us and with no chocolate eggs I decided to make a mix of Scottish and Italian fry up which was a feast, including fried bread. We needed the energy though as the sail to Elba was a good six hours and unfortunately we had to motor quite a bit which is noisy and expensive though got us to Portoferraria in better time. There were moorings available so we hooked one up along with a few other boats , mostly German, in the wide bay just round from the town itself.
Some much needed days were spent dealing with personal admin, my hair roots needed attention, J got a hair cut though is trialing growing a beard to complete the salty sea dog look! Emails, downloading, writing, family matters etc were all ticked off and I felt much better. Elba was a delight, back to Italian culture so the coffee was amazing, cheaper meals and groceries and so stylish. We found a fabulous wee taverna off the tourist port side and enjoyed a nice meal of tuna, swordfish, anchovies and octopus for a reasonable price including Elba wine which was delicious. I had dressed up a bit, put on some make up and jewellery and hauled out some nice clothes from the locker so with my clean hair felt quite civilized wandering round the town. However all that changed as we dingied back as the wind had picked up and the waves were against as I powered through them back to the boat as a big wave broke ahead of the bow just as the wind picked it up and hurled it straight over me just like the “Chewing the Fat – Lighthouse Keeper” sketch. I was drenched!
We sat out the stormy weather in the bay for three days, constant rain squalls, low cloud and strong winds that made the boat so noisy at night we slept in the lounge but managed to get a lot of personal things done and my stress levels lowered. Finally the weather broke and we were able to leave after calling in to the port to get water. While J filled the tanks I was sent to the marina office to pay the five euros and on the way back I decided to get a couple of takeaway Café Macchiatos, our last decent coffee before we hit Sardinia again. I popped into a delightful little tearoom carved into the fortified walls of the town and ordered two to go while I used the loos. When I returned the deliciously flamboyant barista, with a mop of curly hair like Marc Bolan tied in a silk bandana at this forehead, had made the cutest tray of coffee I think I’ve ever seen. There were two tiny, floral china cups on saucers with gold rims, a miniature silver teaspoon on each, two crystal sherry glasses with chilled water, a fresh flower held on the rim with a minature silver clothes peg and two linen napkins! I felt awful when I asked if he had no takeaway cups explaining my husband was on a boat and was going to take them to him.
“Oh no worries, just take” he said his eyes twinkling and smiling like a coy teenager. I tried to explain I couldn’t really carry the tray down the quayside so I drank one and took the other cup at his insistence saying I’d come back with it. He sang away to himself as he refilled the coffee machine’s water reservoir, and sighed to me that his machine is always thirsty for water as he is for love! I loved him! I took the captain his coffee and returned the china cup to the gentle man and he winked at me as he took it, saying something about looking after my man and the passion that would ensue!
Elba was lovely, the huge fort standing over the town where Napoleon was exiled but now was a museum and full of galleries and shops. I had been watching the series Narcos in the evenings and I mused at how the main character in it had built himself a castle or fort as a self-elected prison and furnished it with luxuries, I wondered if Bonaparte had similar comforts in his castle.
It was a blustery sail round to Fetovaia where we anchored for the night ready for a dawn departure back to Corsica, deciding it was better to do a long run down the east coast as there were little if any anchorages, so we left at 12 and I was on watch by 2am. It was not a comfortable passage, there were a lot of other ships initially and I got panicky about the huge cargo vessels that were on track to come a bit close but things eventually settled down and we arrived at San Cipriano late in the afternoon. It was our last night in French waters and we heard on the news that Notre Damme in Paris had been badly damaged in a fire. This was sad news but the reaction that followed was interesting. The French government immediately pledged millions to restore it a which caused an outcry amongst environmentalist who questioned why immediate funds and action were not funneled to prevent the destruction of nature’s cathedrals. It was very thought provoking. We see the damage to the environment daily, especially marine, as we live on it. The plastics that float by on the surface, the beaches with plastic washed up and the land with rubbish tips overflowing. It did seem that priorities were wrong. It was awful of course the church had been damaged but it can be rebuilt, unlike the rain forests and coral reefs, the glaciers and wild places that we all worship and that feed our souls.