Having left Elba, Project Zeno made a brief 48 hour stop at Bastia,
near Corsica. The stop was required because it was on this nearby island
that 7 Roses saw her dream of great oceans reborn. Several years ago,
in fact, 7 Roses was almost a wreck as it approached the little port
of Campoloro (30 kilometers to the south of Bastia). After undergoing
exhausting slices into her sheet metal and soldering, 7 Roses finally
regained the pride of her commander. But that is not ancient history,
whereas the period of time more relevant to our Project Zeno is the
birth of this Corsican city, founded in 1380 on a bastion whose name it
inherited. Like a large part of Corsica, Bastia remained under Genoese
domain for centuries. In the intricate maze of alleys and narrow streets
that converge at the old port, the imprint of Genoa is still very much
present today. At the foot of the port's property, chasms that connect
to the sea can still be found. It is said that they were used as a
rapid escape route, sometimes to discretely avoid inopportune guests
or intrusive friends. Because of its geographic location, Corsica
maintained strategic importance in Mediterranean maritime history.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, the Tuscans and Genoese occupied
most of the island. The passage of Venetian ships was rare since they
maintained a more eastern route toward the French coast.
Capo Corso and the lighthouse of Giraglia disappear into the night and
aboard 7 Roses we find once again the rhythm of sailing, regulated by
turns on watch. The trysail and jib are toward the shore, pulled taut
by a siroccan wind. This crossing is one of the fastest for 7 Roses,
under the starry sky we race across the waves at almost 6 knots for
the whole night. Dawn presents itself with soft colors and a change
in wind direction: unlike the pleasant crossing we now find ourselves
sailing close-hauled, a task more suited to Luna Rossa than 7 Roses.
During the day the wind continues to blow toward the west and in order
to stay on course we must tack. A visit from a lively group of dolphins
cheers things up on board. As always it is Stella and Sultan who spot
them first. They can often hear the dolphins even in the cabin and make
us aware of their presence by dashing up to the prow to see the show.
Within 2 hours, another delightful guest from the depths pays homage to
7 Roses, emerging just meters from the deck. It is a common rorqual
whale (Balenopthera Phisalus), easily recognized by the position of
the concave dorsal fin, located near the posterior of the body. It is
immense and marvelous; even though they are not rare cetaceans, I have
only had occasion for such sightings a few times in these seas and it
is very moving. Contact with marine life is always a source of enormous
pleasure, without which sailing itself would lose that harmonious fusion
with nature and the constantly renewed feeling of being a part of it.
The joy of this new meeting makes up for the impending bad weather which
is, in a way, also part of the harmony of the elements. The last 50
miles that separate us from Marseilles pass slowly; the wind picks up,
the waves are getting taller and steeper, slowing our speed to just
over three knots. In present times we complain about making such slow
progress, but how did sailors of the past manage to go against the wind?
Certainly with square sails it wasn't possible to sail close-hauled and
the ships were forced to stop or even retreat for days on end, awaiting
A great change was brought about by ships with lateen
sails whose shape permitted sailing against the wind with greater ease.
Another great help to sailing, brought from the north by the mediterranean
people, was the single (axial) rudder installed on the transom. This type
of control, besides allowing greater agility in maneuvering, also had the
drawback of limiting the leeward drift. Surely the exchange of technology
and the evolution of seafaring was not unidirectional from the south to
the north, but a great deal of the navigation instruments, cartography,
portolanos and other more refined techniques of naval construction were
for centuries the privileged material of the mediterranean population.
Mile by mile 7 Roses reached Marseilles and is now exploring the coast
of Provence and the Languedoc, cradle of maritime and river commerce.
Venetians, Genoese, Pisans and Catalans divided the areas of these
interesting coasts, of which we will have more detailed information at
the next stop.