A Year in the Med
It sounds a little like Peter Mayels "A year in Provence"; though our stories are different and we hope that you find then just as entertaining.
As we come towards the end of our first Year in the Med we have sailed from Gibraltar to Gibraltar via Italy, Greece and Spain, we have a moment to reflect on our adventures and experiences with over 7,600 nautical miles sailed.
At the very beginning of our journey in the Netherlands, we decided our first objective was to head south for warmer weather, which I am sure you will agree, was a good idea.
Speeding off to France in August 2020, we did not get much further than Brest due to Covid and bad weather in the Bay of Biscay at the beginning of October.
Our first winter was spent in a rainy, stormy swept Brittany as we waited for a suitable weather window to take us further south. The weather window final came in April of last year and we set off early on the morning of the 16th April with a layer of frost on the boat. Who cares, we were heading south for warmer weather.
After a stop in Gibraltar at the end of April we finally entered the Mediterranean Sea in mid-May – it was warm and the sun was shining. First objective was fulfilled.
We sailed into the Med with one additional crew member (Guilherme), with the plan to let him go in Sardinia. This was our preparation for learning to sail just the two of us day and night, to get to be comfortable with the boat and all of the new equipment that we had installed. The grand plan was to sail to Venice (why not ?), visit my son Jonathan in Croatia, see my sister and family in Greece and find a warm sunny location for a winter berth, where we could do day sails and enjoy our boat. Basically, we wanted to build up our sailing experience and confirm to ourselves that a circumnavigation of the globe was possible for us.
When the sun goes down it can be pitch black where the Milky Way and shooting stars are seen in abundance, or we can have a bright full moon that lights up our path. Either way we need to be vigilant all night to avoid any ship, fishing boats or other sailboats. The navigation lights and adherence to the rules of the road help to make the journey safe and if there is any doubt, a quick call on VHF Channel 16 to "Verify the Intention" of an oncoming vessel can be a great relief. Sail has priority over steam, but we sometimes like to remind the 300m long container vessels that we are there and in their path - and they have to get out of our way.
From the year in the Med, our expectations and hopes were not fulfilled in the way we wanted, though we have had an amazing time and learnt so much about the boat, sailing together, sailing in the Med and meeting some fantastic people on the way.
I think the Med is a fabulous place to be as the food (lots of cakes), culture, history, infrastructure and nature is so diverse that it is not possible to experience all of it in a lifetime.
So, why are we in Gibraltar and ready to leave the Med?
So, what were our problems and what could we have done better ?
1) The Med is vast and going there is a little like going to Africa, the USA or any other large and diverse region. We could not do all that we wanted in a year and probably not even in 10 years. By the time we had reached Sardinia, we were tired and realised that Venice and probably Croatia were already unattainable before the summer/sailing season would end.
Although we do not have any regrets for what we did, maybe we should have picked a smaller geographic part of the Med and concentrated our time in that area. Many more intelligent folks pass a season or more in only Greece, Croatia, Italy or the Baleares. Getting to know a smaller region with it’s bays where we can anchor for longer period of time, becoming familiar with towns and cities where marinas are located and learning where we can shop helps to make life much simpler and less stressful. Otherwise it is a new learning experience for each new location.
2) The Weather and weather prediction.
The Med is fondly known as an acronym for “Motor Every Day”. No matter how much time we spent looking at the weather, a full day’s sailing was not a common occurrence.
They also say that there are 3 types of wind in the Med; too much, too little or on the nose – none of which are good for sailing. We enjoyed or suffered all of them in abundance.
Most weather models are at best poor and maybe only valuable for some general trends, but even this can be deceptive.
Did you know, that there are actually 11 seas in the Mediterranean and a mixture of about 3,000 islands and land masses that all have an effect on the weather patterns ? Hence, the winds are rarely as predicted.
We have learned the hard way that planning a long route between different land masses and sea areas is not advisable, unless you have a large fuel tank (which we do have: 650 litres of diesel – guess how much it cost to fill the tank !) or just need to be somewhere. I would suggest that smaller distances to sail are more practical and there is a better chance of a good weather forecast.
We never had a fixed plan as such, but getting spares and organising works to be done does make a self-imposed time frame where it is easy to be late or being forced into taking unnecessary risks, rather than waiting for those ideal conditions. Picking up and dropping off family and friends can have its difficulties too, so it is necessary to have that time and flexibility.
We found that a light wind sail like a spinnaker, FFR, (code 0) etc. are essential for this environment. It enables great sailing in times of low wind, when the wind is not on the nose!
We had many great sails in light winds where previously we would have had to use our engine. Unfortunately, our lack of expertise and knowledge resulted in significant damage to our FFR – which is currently still under repair.
3) The season is quite short.
The sailing season starts in May and ends by the end of September/mid October. Clearly there are exceptions, but there are many storms (not to mention the occasional Medicane) that rage around the Med during the winter time. You need to be careful.
In the summer season, July and August, there are many, many charter boats that descend on marinas and bays for anchorage – so it is a good idea to have marinas booked in advance (even for a month or 2 in the Summer) or arrive early at anchorages and defend your turf.
Many times we were not very comfortable with the boats anchored so close to each other, especially when the wind picked up and boats began to move – which inevitably will happen in the dead of night.
Other than the obvious problem of too many boats in any single location, there are 2 other difficulties with anchoring:
There is a variety of different sea beds and the very best modern anchor is a must for being safe and secure. We swapped our 30 kg Bruce for a 35 kg Ultramarine. It was a little pricey, but you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep, not to mention the safety of your boat.
Though we are not yet very experienced with anchoring, the Ultramarine has worked very well for us and I have managed to sleep a few nights without the anchor alarm waking me up in the dead of night (in comparison to no nights).
We also added an anchor buoy to the mix. This gadget is a buoy on a self-adjusting line that floats above the anchor (suitable up to 20 meters depth). Most boats are wary of buoys and lines that may tangle in their propellers, so they tend to position themselves at a better distance from our boat – which is more comforting and they avoid positioning their boat above our anchor.
The black and yellow traces show the boat position swinging in arcs about the anchor point. The Old anchor (black line) with many resets and movement compared to the new anchor with only a single setting (yellow line).
The other problem is the effect of the swell. It can make the boat roll worse than if you are at sea, so some nights were very uncomfortable. In the end, protection from swell in a bay is more important than protection from the wind.
We have friends who recently have sold their monohull and are searching for a catamaran, simply to avoid the problem of swell.
A great anchoring -App is Navily. This App gives hour by hour predictions of swell, wind and protection for almost all anchoring locations in the Med. It is a must for anyone as it also gives you the opportunity to comment and share experiences about the different locations.
Simply said, we have not done enough sailing and done too much motoring in the Med and as we now look back on our log books from the North Sea Sailing, it is clear that the sailing was far better for us, but the warm Med waters still have got its positives.
We continue our search for the best combination of warm waters, sunny days and a more predictable and steady wind, so that we can have the best of everything.
It is not too much to ask for - is it ?
therefore takes us out of the Med to Portugal for August, September is reserved for Madeira, and the Canary Islands as of October. For the crossing to the Caribbean in January 2023 we have signed up to join a small group called the Viking Explorers.
Meanwhile we have never stopped thinking about our power requirements and power consumption while sailing. As you are aware, we added a large solar panel while we were in France last year. We thought this would be sufficient, but after our first year we were not so sure after all. The panel puts out, up to 15 amps to our batteries on a normal sunny day.
Although we wanted to install more solar panels, we could not find a suitable location to put them in without ruining the appearance and stylish lines of our boat.
Our wet lead acid batteries would just manage to keep us in power through the night, but if we needed additional power, then we would reduce our battery capacity to 60%. This was something we were not keen on doing as we didn’t want to take the battery bank below 63%.
After talking for almost two years, I finally managed to convince Ingrid that the only way forward was to go for Lithium batteries. We decided to exchange our 400 amp hour lead acid battery pack for 2 x 200 amp hour Lithium battery pack. This immediately brings a 140 kg weight saving and many other benefits. Now that they are installed we are very impressed with the way the solar panel can charge the new Lithium Batteries to 100% capacity on a sunny day, keep us going through the night and allow us to use heavy loads, such as the water maker without losing too much battery capacity. Another big plus with the Lithium batteries is that they can go down to a capacity of 10% only!
The down side of any boat work is the internal re-arranging where everything from one location needs to be moved to another, and back again at a later date. This tends to create big messes in small places and disrupts our harmony.
Our only remaining “problem” is what to do whilst sailing at night and to have an alternate source of power generation - other than solar – should the sun not be shining. We decided to opt for a Watt & Sea Pod 600 that is permanently attached to the hull of our boat. We expect/hope for an additional 2-300 watts of power to come into our batteries while sailing. The Pod is just fitted, so we will need a little additional time to see its overall contribution, but we are very hopeful of the additional power that this will give.
Our Last leg of the journey to exit the Med, from Elba and back to Gibraltar was about 900 nm.
The journey was split into 3 sections for what we thought was optimum comfort and entry in the right weather windows.
- From Elba, over the north of Corsica and down to Menorca.
- Menorca to Alicante/Cartagena, on the Spanish Mainland.
- Alicante/Cartagena to Gibraltar where additional works on the boat were booked.
In each step we were very unsuccessful with our weather prediction. Yes, you guessed it right: the wind was either too much, too little or on the nose !
However, we had some great highlights on this part of our journey as we met with boats who we had met at previous ports who were going in the same direction, as well as making new friends at the anchorages and marinas where we stayed and as ever a sporting function is a great opportunity for a get together.
We met with Yvette & Peter from SY Kaoz, who we found at the beginning of our journey in Brest and had a lovely evening sharing stories and experiences. They also have had their share of damages and problems caused by the weather. Basically, it has been a great learning experience for us all.
We have followed SY Avalon as we sail in similar directions towards Portugal, meeting first in Marina di Ragusa followed by Menorca, Cartagena and Gibraltar. They call us their "stalkers".
In Cartagena we met with a business colleague of mine. Marcelo and his family came to join us for lunch and the afternoon. While the boys talked some business the girls compared the Tiffany earrings.
In Gibraltar we met with Ingrid’s friends Marion and Dick who live in Miraflores (close to Mijas Costa), followed by Phillipa who we first met in Gibraltar while working for Pritchards and Hannah and Marvin from SY Pullundria who we met in Lipari on the Aeolian Islands together with Judith & Geert from SY Avalon!
Not quite non-stop partying, but great to hear their stories and their very similar experiences of sailing in the Med.
Before leaving Gibraltar we do expect some more friends, but they will have to wait until our next update.