Finding a Home for the Winter
We know that the weather in The Mediterranean Sea is not so good for sailing in the winter period due to the shorter days, lower temperatures, stronger winds and increased rain. (Yes, we have become soft and like comforts in our marine life). We have therefore chosen southern Europe as a base for Winter so that we could minimise the time spent in the marinas and maximise the days when we could sail. It is also a time to catch up on repairs, maintenance and visiting unsuspecting family during the festive season.
Last year in Brest, we managed to sail 3 times during the winter period from the beginning of November to the middle of April. We thought that even in a bad southern European winter we hope to be able to sail more often !
Since we arrived in Sardinia, we have consciously asked ourselves the question from every marina we visited to see if we would be happy to be in that location for several months. The criteria are actually quite simple:
- Good facilities, ie. toilets and showers
- Water and Electricity included in the price
- Safe mooring for various weathers
- Access to the sea and places to sail to
- Marine services close by
- Grocery shopping close by
- Good access to airports
- Good price
- We like the place
As we discovered, most marinas fell down at the first requirement as the sanitary facilities were generally poor. 1 x dilapidated shower and 1 x toilet in a tent for a few hundred boats may be acceptable in the warm summer, but not really on a cold and wet winter’s day. After a short while, we were starting to think that maybe we may be roughing it more than expected this winter.
After much internet research, Ingrid found some options in Sicily that had some good reviews. As our plan was to sail around Sicily in any case we thought that we could check them out and make our decision.
The first option was in Eastern Sicily, Riposto, not too far from Etna. The region and location was excellent, but the daily sprinkling of black volcanic ash from Mount Etna, was a show stopper as we felt that our additional daily cleaning chores would be impractical.
Next, around the corner on the south side of Sicily was Marina de Ragusa. This was a well-run, well organised marina with good moorings and good facilities. The shopping was not so simple, but not as difficult as Brest. We heard many differing reports about the maritime technical services, so we wanted to keep our options open.
Marina di Ragusa (MdR) was the first Marina we have stayed in where the entire marina is purpose built and run by a single company. In many of the other ports, there are several marinas side by side, each with a few moorings, poor facilities and each run by a different owner. At least Marina Di Ragusa seemed to be modern, comfortable and well organised. Over 400 boats can be moored here and many liveaboards, like ourselves, that were reputed to form a good social environment with regular events such as BBQ’s, happy hour and good exchanges of support and information. There is also a café that seem to sell some nice pastries that we need for our morning coffees.
There was one more marina for us to checkout – the marina di Licata, which is another day’s sailing up the southern Sicilian coast from Marina di Ragusa.
On arrival we were quite impressed with the size and layout of the marina, but we felt there was something missing. As we went into the town to find the marine services we saw how poor and impoverished the area was. Using this as a backdrop, one of Italy’s most famous police/Mafia TV series is based here - we can understand why this makes for a great environment !
We wanted to like it, but the area seemed to be sad and it was not somewhere we would want to spend several months of our winter. Many people use the marina to leave their boats for the whole period and return in the Spring as the prices are very competitive. As we know, there are always reasons for a low price.
So, with limited options, we returned to Marina di Ragusa as our choice of winter location.
Upon arrival, we had a great reception from the long term liveaboards and were rapidly integrated through the MdR Facebook Group. We found the price for MdR was very reasonable for the winter period and water and electricity were included as a part of the package.
In addition, with our recent exposure to the joys of surfing on the West Coast of Portugal, we have discovered that there is a surfing club on the beach of MdR.
With a combination of the necessary maintenance program, social activities, day sails to Malta and “unlimited” surfing, it looks like we are in for a healthy, productive and active winter in Marina di Ragusa.
We also need to take some time to plan our sailing activity for next year ! I hope we can find time for this.
We did also consider staying in Greece where in some locations we found excellent sanitary facilities such as in Preveza. However, the prices were almost double that of Sicily and the winter weather seemed to be more restrictive with more rain, a greater likelihood of storms (occasional hurricanes) and overall lower temperatures. We think we have made the right choice for us, and we will let you know in a few months’ time how our new daily life is working out.
Checking in and mooring up to the floating pontoon, 2 x lazy lines at the front and 2 mooring ropes at the back held us safe and secure. We were well away from our neighbours and away from the pontoon.
A BBQ was organised for the first Saturday that we were there, not just for us, but for all the old and new arrivals to MdR. I was great to meet many people from different countries - all settling in for the Sicilian winter ahead. As you can see the pontoon wear is still quite summery, even though the skies are not so blue in the late afternoon.
That same night the wind did pickup and was blowing a fresh 20 - 25 knots, so were comfortably lulled to sleep. The next morning, the wind increased to a steady 30 - 35 knots and all the boats were rocking a little more - almost like being back in Northern Europe again. After a walk on the beach to see the surf - which was quite significant - we returned to the boat and saw we had moved a little too close to the pontoon and to the boat next to us as a consequence of the strong near gale to gale force winds.
Closer examination showed that one of our lazy lines had broken and we urgently needed help from the marina before any damage was done. With the help of our leeward neighbour, we attached some ropes to the the windward boat to stop the drift. The marina team came with a new rope, diving gear and did a quick replacement job in the murky harbour waters - with no visibility due to the disturbed sediment from the current storm. Well done guys, great job. With the lazy line in place our enthusiastic neighbours helped to straighten our boat by applying tension to the different lines and we were once again safe and secure.
Just another day where all of our plans (of mice and men) got out of the window with forces that are beyond our control.