Scirocco Escape


It is so good to know people. In a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language that holds true even more than at home. However, living on a boat and being on the move you only have very limited opportunity to make connections. But if you meet someone sympatico, you jump into the new friendship very quickly and intensely. Which is something we notice the kids doing as well.

We first met Norbert in Sardinia, reconnected a week later with him in Corsica and now saw him again on Elba. Norbert is a German sailing instructor who lives in Portoferraio on the north coast of Elba, where he knows everybody. As you can imagine, he gave us most valuable tips on anchorages and places to go to. And now Norbert saved us from the Scirocco. How so? Let me tell you.

Elba is a small island northeast of Corsica. It is exposed to wind and waves as a result of the Mistral on the west coast of Corsica plus to a southerly wind coming from Africa, which is called the Scirocco. Unlike its bigger neighbors in the southeast, Elba’s bays on one coast don’t give shelter to winds from a variety of directions. Which means, to seek shelter from waves and wind out of the south, you have to go around to the north coast and vice versa. The west coast you can forget altogether since it is all high cliffs, no bays.

We were anchored at a beach on the south coast when we learned of an approaching Scirocco by the weather forecast, which we check daily, sometimes several times per day. The waves were predicted to be quite high, so the decision was to seek shelter on the North Coast, five sailing hours away from our anchorage. We called Norbert to ask him for assistance not only for a marina spot, but also to get our engine looked at. It had been drinking a rising amount of oil, which had us worried that there might be a leak or another problem.

Within a few hours we got a call back from Norbert, telling us to go to Esaom Cesa, a wharf in the bay of Portoferraio. A mechanic would be available to look at our engine there. Wonderful! How convenient is that? But first we had to get there. Thankfully Bill and I were alone on the boat. Sol and Leonie had spent the night at our friends Kitty and Oliver’s vacation apartment on land and were in no rush to get back onto the boat. Having the kids off bord turned out to be a blessing, since it got quite windy during the trip with gusts up to 30 knots. Bill and I had our hands full working the sails and adjusting to the gusts coming off the high hills along the coast. We also had great fun being able to focus without interruption and running with it.

Making our way into the marina needed our full attention, too, the bay being a zoo with ferries, sailing school boats, super yachts and speedboats. When we called Esaom Cesa on channel 9 they told us at first – no space, everything full. It took a bit of searching and talking to people on their end until they put two and two together with Norbert’s contact. Bill kept faithfully steering donuts in the crowded space while I was on the radio. I have to tell you, our nerves are getting stronger by the number of harbors we enter.

So we were admitted. And guess, where they guided us to dock: Right where the boats usually tie up to go onto the travel lift. Check it out. Climbing up on land from deck was quite the stretch.


Nevertheless we didn’t think too badly of our spot – at least it had water and electricity hook up and kept us safe – until the scirocco fully kicked in. The grime and dust and dirt that came flying off the shipyard, covering every nook and cranny of our sharki, was unbelievable. No question: the hatches had to stay closed to keep the (probably toxic) grit outside the cabin. All night long. That meant sleeping in a sauna of 30 C for Bill and I that night. Another reason why it was GREAT to know that Sol and Leonie were happy and comfortable on land with friends.

A few hours after being docked in our lovely emergency berth another boat tied up right behind us. It was the 52 feet sailing yacht “Bamboo” coming in with skipper and crew all bundled up in foul weather gear. What once must have been a beautiful vessel now looked badly amputated. The mast and all the rigging was missing. Gone. When I took a closer look I almost cried, imagining the trauma of this catastrophic failure for the people on board.

A piece of canvass covered the gaping hole where the mast once stood tall. On the starboard side the railing was smashed up and bent over where the force of the falling metal had hit and ripped everything in it’s way to pieces. The yacht looked naked and barren. As we learned from the skipper one stay broke without warning while they were approaching Elba just hours after we had passed there. And moments later all the other wires went “bing, bing, bing” and down crashed the mast with wicked force. Thankfully nobody got hurt! The crew somehow managed to cut all the wires away as quickly as possible before the mast could pull the boat under. And they made it in safely!

Compared to that our own boat problems seem insignificant. Thanks to Norbert and his network we had three mechanics looking at our 25 year old Perkins engine. One of them, Claudio, a really nice fellow and friend of his, who speaks fluent German explained the result of the inspection. The crank shaft seal is leaking. The good news is: it can be fixed. The bad news: In August they can’t do the work and the whole motor has to be lifted out for the mechanic to reach that particular spot.

Now, what to do? Claudio advised against going too far until the problem is resolved. Back to the homeport in Sardinia would be OK. But watch the oil intake closely, NEVER let the oil go too low and try not to use the motor more than necessary. Great. Sicily is far. That’s where we had planned to over winter. Skip that plan, take our time and go – when the wind is good – back South to Sardinia, which is not that far, especially if you take it slow and hop your way down along the east coast of Corsica.

So that’s what we are going to do: Enjoy some more days in Elba with our friends and then head back to where we’ve come from. In the fall there will be mechanics galore in Sardinia available to do the work, take the engine out and give it a good overhaul. With all of this we got to see more of Elba than we planned

We thanked Norbert for all his help and actually made a plan to go Salsa dancing on Saturday night with him. But again, we had to be Gone with the Wind. On Friday the Mistral came, so we had to say goodbye and head back south. This time taking the western route and serendipitously circumnavigating Elba.



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