Preparing for your crossing
Want to cross to Corsica by boat without taking the ferry? Though it is possible, you need to be aware that it does require a certain amount of preparation.
Whether using a sailing boat or a motorboat, you’ll need to allow around 20 hours to make the crossing from the mainland to the Île de Beauté (Isle of Beauty). The 107-mile route from Port Cors to Calvi, for example, will take you 21 hours 30 minutes at an average speed of five knots.
Though experienced sailors might consider this a relatively short crossing, your boat will nevertheless need to be in perfect working order. If your crew has little experience of sailing, a good way to get them familiar with the sea is to begin by going for a cruise along the coast first.
If it’s your first crossing, try to set off during the day if possible to make things easier for yourself. Though setting off at night might sound exhilarating, it could leave you feeling fatigued for the rest of the voyage. It’s therefore better to do it the reverse way round and save the night onboard for the final part of the crossing. Watch out for drift nets, which though banned for several years now are still often used and are not well lit at night. Ferries and cargo ships, by contrast, produce an enormous amount of light, and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish their navigation lights. Find out what their routes are beforehand to avoid any misunderstandings.
It’s important to note that if you aren’t sufficiently skilled at navigating, you may need to employ the services of a skipper. A group crossing is also a possible option: sailing as part of a fleet enables you to maintain your independence and onboard privacy whilst at the same time giving you the benefit of the company and conviviality of having other boats around you.
Where the departure is concerned, the ports most popular with sailors are the ones at Antibes (the train station is just a few minutes’ walk from the harbour), Hyères (if you want to keep the crossing distance as short as possible) and Saint-Raphaël.
Making the crossing: onboard equipment and organisation
As with any form of boat navigation, once out at sea it’s always best to be properly equipped. Ensure you have all the equipment necessary for sailing at sea, i.e. raft, distress flares, life jackets, GPS, first-aid kit, radar reflector and VHF radio.
Additionally, always carry an extra container of fuel onboard in case there isn’t enough wind. Make sure the crew are sufficiently warm and covered for the night part of the crossing.
Onboard communication is the key to successful and convivial sailing, even on short journeys. Don’t be at all reluctant to delegate a task to each person, or to help the skipper if you have one. Twenty hours sailing non-stop on a boat can be a lot for children to bear. It’s therefore a good idea to remember to provide things to keep them occupied during the day (games, books, colouring books, portable DVD player, etc.). No matter who your crew are, never compromise when it comes to safety rules.
Operate a watch system at night together with one or more of the other crew members, and ask everyone else on board to stay in the cabin. Anyone on deck at night needs to be attached to the boat by a safety line short enough to prevent them falling in the water.
Tip: it’s not unusual to spot dolphins and even whales during the crossing. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see them yourself!
The best times of year
In summer, the wind rarely gets up enough, making crossing under sail an arduous process and resulting in a much longer journey time. If crossing in a sailing boat, and to avoid disappointment in case of mechanical failure or lack of wind, make sure you have at least a 3-day weather window. The summer does offer one advantage however: the nights are shorter, which means most of the sailing takes place during the day.
In terms of sea and weather conditions, setting off at the end of the mistral season is not a good idea if making the crossing for the first time: there are big swells at this time of year. Similarly, it’s best to avoid departing under an easterly wind. If the sea is moderately rough and you have no choice, it can be a good idea to extend your route to ensure you have the waves and the wind on the right side,
Additionally, most Corsican harbours get very full during the high season and you’ll have to moor or anchor up further out.
Check the weather forecast as soon as you arrive to ensure you’ll be okay setting back: the crossing is impossible when the mistral is blowing, and such conditions can last for several days at a time. If the mistral is forecast, you’ll need to plan ahead and set off 48 hours before it arrives, or significantly extend your stay and wait patiently in the harbour.
If you’re hoping to go on a coastal cruise while on Corsica, allow two weeks for your stay. If you don’t have your own boat, you can instead rent one, use it for the crossing and hand it over to a crew once you’ve arrived before then returning by ferry. All options are possible!
There are numerous coves to explore and interestingly unusual places to moor or anchor up when sailing along the coast of Corsica, especially around Cargèse, Campomoro and Scandola Nature Reserve. If the mistral gets up, the west coast of Saint-Florent bay provides a quiet, peaceful place to shelter.