The town of Villefranche
Heading west from the Riviera of Italy, we had intended to stop in Monaco for a few days to see how the other tenth of 1% live. A wicked swell was rolling in from the south to which both of the anchorages near town were exposed. Monaco is reported to have the cheapest marina berths on the coast, but at €157 per night, it wasn’t really a bargain for us. We carried on a few miles further westward into the large and protected bay of Villefranche where we swung on the hook with hundreds of other yachties enjoying the free anchorage.
As touted, Villefranche offered the best all around protection on the south coast of France, even if a bit of swell managed to refract and creep into the anchorage. The old town of Villefrance is absolutely delightful and the locals were most friendly. We chilled out there for a few days, enjoying ambience and of course fresh baguettes, French wine and a lovely meal out ashore. We even managed to snag a free WiFi signal near the small marina on the edge of town. If the rich and famous enjoy the views from their spectacular villas dotting the steep hillsides surrounding the bay, we enjoyed the views the other way from down in the “cheap seats.”
The bay at Villefranche is crowded but large
Wanting to do the right thing with respect to French officialdom, the day after our arrival, we headed around the corner to Nice, a port of entry for France, and attempted to check in with Customs and Immigration. The port of Nice is very cramped and busy and we could not find the Customs Quay. We rang Customs on the phone and they said that they had no place for us to tie us up for check-in and that they would get back to us later by phone to make arrangements. The port is so busy with ferries to Corsica and Sardinia that there are traffic lights at either end of the ferry basin that control other boating traffic when a ferry is docking or embarking. Two hours later we were back on the hook in Villefranche with nothing to show for our diesel and efforts. We never did hear back from the French authorities. No good deed goes unpunished.
Colorful fishing boats moored in the port of Nice
Beautiful detailing on an apartment building, Nice
After a few days we decided to move west a few more miles to Antibes. Along the way we passed the Nice Airport which is situated along the shore. I counted a row 34 assorted private jets sitting on the tarmac to the east of the terminal, awaiting owners who were on holiday.
On our way to the anchorage we stopped to pick up some diesel in Port Vauban. The attendant was most friendly and courteous and when we asked if he sold water, in a thick French accent, he replied: “No, I don’t sell you water, I give you water.” We topped up the tanks, filled the washer and flushed out the watermaker.
Port Vauban, Antibes
We anchored at Anse De La Salis, an open bay just to the south of town. A southwesterly blow came up in the afternoon hitting peaks in the mid to high 20 knot range. We were protected from the swell, but since we were out on a spit of land that ends at Cap d’Antibes, we were fully exposed to the breeze. A lot of kids were out sailing Optimists and Hobie Cats when the wind piped up, causing total mayhem on the bay. Cruising yachts were piling in to take refuge. Two yachts already in the bay dragged anchor. The kids in the small sailing dinghies were overpowered and some capsized. They were unable to make any windward progress back toward the beach and a few panicked. We heard a small boy close to us crying so we popped up to find him flailing. I jumped in the dink, grabbed his painter, and towed him to his coach’s chase boat so he could get safely ashore. Three small boys on a capsized Hobie Cat were unable right the boat, even with the advice of their coach in a nearby chase boat. They drifted a half mile out to sea before finally getting it sorted. One Optimist under tow capsized, righted itself then capsized again. Most of the kids were pretty intrepid and handled it all pretty well.
The beach at Antibes, chokker with sun worshippers
The SW’ly died out around sunset and we enjoyed sundowners a quiet dinner aboard. Right around nightfall, a fresh NE’ly developed very quickly and within a half hour the anchorage was untenable with 1-2 meter swells crashing in. We knew there was not going to be any chance of sleep in those conditions so immediately weighed anchor and headed 5 miles north to a better anchorage near the Port de St. Laurent Marina. Protection was good but it got a bit rolly early in the morning with some refracted swell. We returned to Anse De La Salis after breakfast where all was calm again, but found the anchorage was devoid of all but a few mega yachts that were not affected by the conditions.
Antibes is a yachting center for France and in the town one can find almost anything and everything for a boat, not to mention boutiques, specialty food and wine shops and way too many real estate agencies. There are five marinas in and around Antibes and in my wanderings around town I found three well-stocked chandleries on the perimeter of Port Vauban, the largest and closest marina to town. I was able to tick a half a dozen items off the “to get” list. We also found numerous good supermarkets in town where we could pick up some provisions.
In Antibes there are even bollards along the road so that one can tie up their car
We began preparing to head slowly south to Africa via Corsica and Sardinia. I split the task of cleaning Moonshadow’s bottom into two morning’s work and when I finished she was clean, smooth and fast again. We spent the afternoon in town doing some last minute provisioning and returned that evening for a lovely French meal at an excellent little bistro in the old quarter.
A beautiful carousel, Antibes
The following morning we headed around Cap d’Antibes into Golfe Juan and anchored off Port Mallet. This put us in a good jump-off position for the trip to Corsica.
A nice little beach bach on the tip of Cap d’Antibes.
We were up at Oh-dark-hundred and set motor and sail for Corsica. Winds were light, as forecast, for the first few hours. Just after sunrise we were visited by a pod of dolphins that had a play in our bow wave-a good omen for the start of our mini passage. By late morning, an un-forecast nor-easterly breeze of 8-18 knots filled in and we had a fabulous day sailing with the wind just forward of the beam. We were able to sail the rest of the way to Calvi on the north end of the island of Corsica, covering the 95 nautical miles between mainland France and Corsica in about 13 hours flat and arriving in time to celebrate a safe and swift passage with sundowners. The bay at Calvi was exposed to the nor-easterly wind and swell so we took refuge for the night about three miles northeast of Calvi behind Punta Spano.
Dolphins playing in the bow wake, a good omen
Merima has a trick on the helm on the passage to Corsica
We moved over and anchored off the city of Calvi and went into town to look around. The waterfront of the new town is dominated by the marina and is crowded with tourists and fancy French shops. It is overlooked by the quaint old walled city where Columbus was born. We found a small supermarket (open on a Sunday) where we picked up a few provisions before heading back to the boat.
The old walled town of Calvi on the island of Corsica
The marina and waterfront, Calvi
The anchorage at Calvi was noisy and rolly, so we headed south down the rugged and rocky west coast of Corsica into the Golfe de Girolata and anchored near the town with the same name. The bay is surrounded by beautiful red rock cliffs and is quite dramatic. It was very busy in the late afternoon and early evening with recreational boaters but quieted down in the evening. We stayed put the following day and made some repairs to the dinghy, doing some cleaning and relaxing in the afternoon heat while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
The ruggedly beautiful west coast of Corsica
Bushes formed by the strong south winds, Girolata, Corsica
Heading south in rolly seas, we headed to the town of Ajaccio. On the approach to town we saw what from seaward looked like a gated community on a large block of waterfront property. As we drew closer, we discovered that it was just that-a gated community-of the deceased. There, in the dead center of town, was a graveyard full of large mausoleum buildings, surrounded and overlooked by apartment buildings and other homes.
We anchored just outside the marina in a calm area near the commercial port. Ajaccio appears to be a rather uninspiring industrial or military town, so we did not bother going ashore to explore. With not many protected anchorages on the west coast of Corsica, this one became a bit too cozy with other yachts for our liking so we headed out the following morning.
We motor-sailed forty miles down the coast to Baie du Figari, a long narrow inlet bordered by low land interspersed with bush and large granite boulders. It looks more like a scene from the Arizona desert than a French island. Anchoring was difficult on the weed bottom but after a few attempts we finally got safely hooked and the protection from the sea swell was good. More boats came in and anchored too close in spite of the fact there was plenty of room in the anchorage further away from us. It is as if the French yachties are moths attracted to the light of another boat! We, personally, don’t want to be so close that we can hear another boat’s stereo/head pumping/burps and farts/arguments, etc. I had to get up at 0400, start the engine and reverse a bit to move out of the way of a yacht that had anchored after us on a short rode when the wind shifted 180? during the night as it usually does here. Arrrgh!
The next day we headed the short way south to the spectacular old town of Bonifacio, situated on an elevated spit of solid rock with white cliffs plunging down to the a long and narrow natural harbor on one side and the Strait of Bonifacio on the other. Entering the harbour felt like navigating in the Grand Canyon with barley enough breadth for a good sized yacht to make a U-turn. With boats going in and out in a rough queue, it felt like rush hour pandemonium on the water.
Rush hour in the narrow harbor of Bonifacio
The berths along the quay were full but there were a couple of side tributaries where numerous yachts were anchored with stern lines taken to rocks, bollards or bushes ashore. There was some space and we briefly considered tying up for the night so we could explore the old city above. As we motored in at well below the posted 5 knot speed limit due to the traffic, a large French day tripper boat came roaring in at 8-10 knots, throwing up a monstrous wake that was crashing off the steep sides of the channel and moored boats. It was as if the skipper was insane, agro, or both, but he had a “get the hell out of my way or I’ll run you over” look on his face. We thought the better of trying to tie up in Bonafacio so we hung a U-turn and headed back out to sea.
A tripper boat blasting through the harbor, Bonifacio
The stunning old town of Bonaficio perched on top of white cliffs
The Strait of Bonafacio separating Corsica and Sardinia is infamous to sailors for it’s funneling of the winds into gale force and churning up some wicked seas. On that day we had a pleasant breeze from the east and enjoyed a nice sail ten miles across the Strait to Santa Teresa di Gallura at the northern tip of the Italian island of Sardinia. The anchorage there was a bit lumpy, so we headed dead down wind a few miles to the beautiful and rocky Capo Testa where we found an excellent protected anchorage in its lee.