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Elba Paddle with Sea Kayak Italy 2014

By
Alan Hale

We started 23 June 2014, at about 1330. From Marciana Marina with Gaudenzio Colltelli (Gau), Christiano from Switzerland, Teresa & Ivana from the eastern side of Italy, and Paul from Palma.


Marciana Marina before the paddle

The paddle was to take seven days, (6 nights). Due to expected weather conditions we did the trip in a clockwise direction, Elba has a 147km long coastline with many small and large bays. The total area of Elba is 224 sq km and is about 80% National Parks.


My kayak fully loaded

Paul works at Palma Uni as interpreter. Before we started the paddle he told us all about his mountain climbing & cycling exploits & how he intended to circum nav (CN) UK in 2015, by kayak, (Born in Scotland). We assumed Paolo would be good @ kayaking. He pulled out of paddle at first break on the morning of second day, in what had been very soft conditions up till then. Leaving the kayak, he had been paddling for Gau to tow for the remainder of the CN. A good example of not blowing your trumpet too early. Gau spent about half hour trying to talk him into continuing, but Paul doggedly stuck to his decision to quit. I for one, secretly am very glad, with Paul, the trip could have taken weeks to complete. I tried a couple of times, during day one & on the second morning to show him a more efficient stroke, but he, apparently was more expert.


Gau towing Paolo’s boat

Gau, the owner and operator of Sea Kayak Italy, always paddles with a carbon Greenland paddle. He has the GPs manufactured by a cycle factory in Italy, to his specs, 2.4 m long. He would be as good a paddler as I have seen and a good instructor. In his younger days, Gau circumnavigated Elba in 9 hours, & paddled from Elba to Corsica in 10 hours, then returned some days later in a little over 9hrs.  He features in “This Is The Sea 5”, as the leader of a trip around the volcanic islands off Sicily, taken a few years ago.


Looking back towards Marciana Marina

All of our camps, during our CN were on remote beaches, except for the fourth night, where we were expecting rain and a friend of Gau’s has a beachside bar at a little spot called Norsi, on the south coast, so they invited us to sleep on the verandah of his bar, after closing. I chose to continue on the beach, setting my tent up there, in front of the bar, so my snoring didn’t generate too many complaints. My tent fly was a bit wet in the morning, but no probs.


Day 1 paddling

Our first day was a 5nm paddle around the Gulf of Procchio, with our camp at a remote beach, Porticciolo. Most of the beaches were volcanic/granitic soil and very polished stones. Gau had distributed 1.5 litre water bottles between us and a good share of Toscana Vino Rosso, in bottles. How would an Italian without hands or vino survive???

Between the remaining five of us two bottles per night were being emptied. 66 year old Ivana had the lion share. She was not a strong paddler but very determined. Teresa is a 55 year old and very fit. Both her and Ivana do a lot of mountain trekking. Ivana & Teresa shared a tent and were always last out of the sack each morning. We started paddling by 0800 each morning because Gau gave the two ladies a bit of ribbing about how slow they were to start. He told me that most Italians don’t get going until after 0900 & espresso.


First night camp

Day Two.  We followed the coastline northward then turned eastward toward the largest city of Portoferraio, within a bay on the north coast. This is a busy ferry terminal and the main place where most people enter & leave Isola d’Elba.


Paolo and Chris

Before getting to Portoferraio, and after about 6 or 7 nm of paddling, at quite a slow rate (waiting for expert Paolo to get some skills), Gau decided on a break at a beach, just over a hill from Portoferraio. This is where Paolo sprung his surprise. Life went on without Paolo and we paddled on, beneath one of the Napoleon homes, toward Portoferraio, stopping for lunch at another very stoney little beach outside the port area.


Teresa
Ivana, Chris and Teresa, with Mt Capanne behind
One of many caves


Following Gau through a hole in the wall

After lunch Gau did not want to risk tangling with the many fast and large ferries, entering and leaving the port so he had us paddle to a position where we had a good view in both directions of the shipping lanes. When the shipping lane was clear enough we headed toward Schiopparello, at the bottom of gulf of Portoferraio. This path was into a 10kn plus wind, a decision I found a little strange considering the skill level or paddle strength of one of the group. We did it and no bad result occurred.


Outside Portoferraio. Napoleon house up top
Paddling into campsite, night 2

That night was spent at a deep, narrow little bay called Mangani. About 17nm of paddling today. There was one yacht moored in the bay, we never saw the occupants. On the beach a German couple with their two small children, sunbaking when we arrived. They hiked up the very high, steep hill just before sunset, toward the road up the top, where their hire car was parked. Those Germans don’t mind a challenging walk, and getting their clothes off, even with small kids in tow.

Day Three. After typical Italian breaky, pani and strong black coffee, we headed north toward Capo Vita.


Beautiful cliffs behind Chris and Teresa

Chris and Gau

The run, SE down the east side had much larger swells than we had previously encountered. The other four stayed well out but I followed the coast, just avoiding the breakers, enjoying the big rebound. Practice for Albany paddles. Most of the east coast had many signs of a long past iron ore mining industry. Rusted jetties and facilities. Beautiful coastline all the same but not really touristy.


Old iron ore mine on east coast

We stopped at Rio Marina, about a third down the coast, for lunch and to replenish water and tucker supplies at a local super market.


Lunch stop and re-supply at Rio Marina

We paddled on toward our next night camp at Istia. This was our best camp with a pine forest about ten metres off the waters edge. Here I slept on pine needles instead of pebbles, good.

I go back in timeline here to mention the most challenging episode of the trip. When we got to Punta Cannelle, to commence the 2.5nm paddle across Gulf Di Portoazzurro, we grouped and recognised the point we aiming for on the opposite side of the Gulf, then started. About halfway across, black clouds appeared over the Mountains west of us and seemed to be travelling in the same direction as us. Lightning started way to our west and northwest and we could see heavy rain behind us. At this time we still had full view of Istia. The wind changed to a westerly direction and suddenly increased to 20kn plus, with heavy rain. Ivana was not able to control her boat and was being blown downwind, sideways. The visibility became 10 to 20 metres, so impossible to pick our destination, which was probably only 1.5nm ahead.

I could no longer see Gau, Christiano or Teresa who, only moments before were only 20 to 30 metres to my right rear. I could now only just see Ivana, to my left and travelling away sideways, quickly, toward the open ocean. I managed to turn toward her and over took her to stay on her left side, got Ivana to put her paddle under her foredeck safety lines and hold onto my deck lines while I continued to do lots of extended, left sweep strokes to keep us going forward instead of sideways.

Next hail stones started, small at first and getting bigger. I was wearing a thermal top and and a Reed top over it with a bucket hat so except for the biggest stones my neck was a bit exposed. Poor Ivana had a ball cap, (thin one), and only a thin short sleeved rashy, also she was on the windward side of me and was copping the worst of the hail stones. Good planning by me, eh???? I guess at that time it would not have been appropriate to make any “hale damage” jokes. Ivana was yelling and screaming each time one of the bigger hail/Hale stones hit her. The worst of the storm passed over us in less than 10 mins but during, it seemed an eternity. Within another 10 mins after the storm passed, we had blue sky and light wind from left rear.


Just before the big storm hit

The other three paddlers were about 200 m to our left rear. We headed quickly to Istia, dragged our boats ashore and headed up and over the hill to a bar for drinkies. Tents could be taken care of later. Then came the stories, some bigger than Ben Hur. Teresa had large bruises on her right shoulder and upper arm, Gau, who was also only wearing a light, short sleeve rashy and no hat. He had bruises on his melon.

I WONT LET THE  “FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY” .
Gau told us later that he saw Hail Stones, some as large as golf balls on his spray deck. Believe it not?????
I never thought of pulling my camera out during the storm, I wish I had.

Day Four. Istia to Norsi. Lunch at Morcone. About 10nm of paddling in nice conditions. Once we got to the area of Cape Calvo we again started to see more evidence of the former iron ore mining. It looks pretty small scale compared to the Pilbara.


Christiano doing yoga at sunrise

Morning after the big storm
Going down the SE coast

Old stone and concrete structures, rusting steel work, all part of the mines were very prominent. At one place I could see something moving on one of the structures, when I moved closer, it was dozens of goats.


Heading for Morcone

Ivana and Gau with old iron ore infrastructure behind
Lunch at Morcone Beach

When we eventually arrived at Norsi, Gau was told by his bar owner mate that more bad weather was expected on the coming Sunday, our last day of paddling. Gau checked all this on his phone and made a decision that we compress three days paddling into two, finishing on Saturday.


Bar owner and our crew at Norsi

Day Five. Friday. Norsi to Giardino with lunch at Marina di Campo, MdC.

I told Rose by txt on Thursday night that we would arrive at MdC about 1100. Rose had been using the public transport system to see most of the island from the landside. We met for lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants on the MdC sea front. Germans everywhere here, all of restaurant menus are in Italian & German.


Passing Capo Stella on the south coast

This day’s paddle was a display of large colourful geological structures, lots of caves, with nice weather and water.


Another cavo – lucky we don’t get bored

Teresa and Rosemary at Marina di Campo, for lunch
Three resting in Cavo

Our night camp was on the SW coast, straight below the very scenic road that hugs the cliff tops for 10 or 11nm from La Conca to Colle Palombaia. EAT YOUR HEART OUT GREAT OCEAN ROAD.


Ladies about to get roll practice with Gau at Giardino camp

Two of Gau’s lady friends parked at top section of road closest to Giardino that evening, climbing down to have dinner with us during a beautiful sunset.


Last camp at Giardino

Day Six, Grande Finale. Giardino to Marciana Marina with lunch stop at beautiful little Patresi, with 1litre glasses of birra.  Still about 5nm from MM. We would have done more than that because we spent that last leg hugging every twist and turn of the spectacular coast, rock gardens and caves, swimming from our kayaks and lots of rolls. Avoiding scuba and snorklers, lots of nudes on the granite boulders. Again, more good, easy paddling conditions, caves and other geological scenery.
We finally arrived at MM around 1700.

I can highly recommend this trip as a kayak paddle. I already have it on my list of trips to do again, in a year or two.  This trip could easily be done in four days, with experienced paddlers. I saw every little nook and cranny while waiting for a couple of the other paddlers.

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