Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Maddalena Archipelago

We left Elbe at 4 a.m. to take advantage of good winds for a 16-hour sail down to the San Ciprianu anchorage in Corsica.  It's not like us to get up so early, but we knew that after 8 hours of good winds we would have 8 hours of weak winds and motor sailing so we could catch up on sleep along the way.

We aimed for San Ciprianu because we know the area well and knew we could drop the anchor safely even in the dark if we had to.  At this time of year the sun doesn't set until 9 p.m. so we did manage to get in before dark.

After a couple of days enjoying the area, we made our way to the Maddalena Archipelago in north east Sardinia.  This is one of the more chic areas of the Med, where the rich and famous buzz about in large glossy suppository-shaped boats and where getting a nice spot to drop anchor can be a challenge.

We went to Santa Maria first, attracted by the large sandy bay, but quickly grew tired of the masses there.  Our highlight while here was watching Italian actor Roberto Bennini (It's a beautiful life) pass just in back of our boat in a small motorboat that deposited him on the beach at the gate of his home.  He was easy to spot - he was wearing a dark suit while all around are in skimpy swim clothes.

Santa Maria Panorama (click for larger version)

We moved on down to Budelli and found a super anchorage just north of the (forbidden) Pink Beach.  We waited till late in the day and took our dinghy over to walk around the area (also forbidden but apparently tolerated).  Gorgeous.

About the Maddalena park and its restrictions:  you do have to register and pay for a park permit before you enter into the archipelago.  You can do this on-line.  The downside is that you have to give precise dates.  The permit allows you to navigate in the area and to use the park mooring buoys for free.  Note: not all the buoys in the bays are park buoys; many are private (like those in Santa Maria).  The regulations say that you can only stay overnight in the area if you are on a mooring buoy, but in practice, we saw many people anchored over night.  We were visited by the park authorities on the morning of our departure.  You are supposed to leave the area by 9 a.m. on the morning after your permit expires.  For Mareda, the cost was 18.80 euros per day.  The mooring buoys go fast - get there early !

Motivated by 1) the desire to visit Maddalena and Caprera islands on scooter, 2) a near gale approaching, and 3) the french team playing in the World Cup semi-finals, we took a place in port in Cala Galvetta on Maddalena island.  It was suprisingly reasonable at 62 euros per night (reasonable being relative to the 120 and 85 euros we were quoted for other ports).  We thorougly enjoyed our day around Caprera.

Now we are hanging out on the Costa Smerelda just across from Caprera, and have taken a mooring buoy for a few days owing to 1) a new near gale approaching and 2) the french team playing in the World Cup Finals later today !!  We will use the "gale time" to take a bus to Porto Cervo, one of the most exclusive ports in the Med, to gawk at the rich people, and may rent another scooter to visit the archeological sites around the area.  We are finally "cruising" instead of fixing our boat in exotic locations.  Nice.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

A New Lesson in Anchoring

Is there anything more frustrating than doing a thing "by the book" and still running into trouble ?

We thought we knew everything we needed to know about anchoring : Minimum chain-to-depth ratio of 5:1, put the motor in reverse to dig in the anchor, and use a snubber on the chain to take the strain off the windlass. Our trusty Rocna anchor has held us through 30-knot gusts in all types of holding.

So imagine our idignant surprise last week when, despite having a 10:1 chain-depth ratio in sandy mud noted in the guide as excellent holding, we managed to drag our anchor and ended up stuck on a shallow mud bank.

We had been anchored out for 3 days in light to moderate winds that turned slowly in all directions. We even joked as we dined in the cockpit that we had a 360-degree panoramic restaurant.

On the 3rd day an afternoon storm kicked up with gusts up to 25 knots. We were on board and not at all worried. We had out 10:1. We had a Rocna.

I was working in the cockpit when I looked around and noticed that the stone dike around the beach looked much bigger than before. Much much bigger. I called down to Patrick to turn on the navigation instruments and come up fast. The depth sounder showed 1.1 meters, the exact depth of our keel with the centerboard up. We noticed we were perpendicular to all the other boats in the bay and to the wind. We were clearly beached.

We tried to use the motor to push ourselves out but all that nice excellent-holding mud held fast to our rudders and keel. At least this is an advantage of having a boat that can beach – we were simply stuck, but stuck upright, whereas a keel boat would topple over sideways.

We tried pulling and pushing the nose with the dinghy and the boat motor, but 2.5 horsepower vs 20+ knots on 10 tonnes is just not good odds. We knew we had to call for help before the winds pushed us even further up onto the mud bank.

We called the port closest to us where we had spent 4 nights. They were only 200 meters away. They informed us that they were not allowed to intervene and we had to call the mooring assistance service in the major port of the bay. A tragic-comic mélé of vhf and telephone calls ensued in french, italian, and broken english, where we finally had to take time out from our crisis to look up how to say "stuck in the mud". Three cheers for google translate.

A small coast guard vessel showed up for what we can only interpret as moral support. They informed us that the mooring assistance service had to help us but that they were currently out helping another boat. When the MAS arrived, they realized that their boat was too big to safely approach us in shallow water and went back to headquarters to get a shallow-draft vessel.

Once everyone was in place, the actual rescue only took 3 minutes. They tugged and we pushed, a boiling cauldron of mud exploded around the boat, and we were free. (Note : very important to clean the water filter and flush the engine with clean seawater for awhile.) We re-anchored in deeper water, the storm having passed, and then had to take our dinghy to the main port to fill out paperwork and pay the 85 Euro fee.

Lessons ? We suppose that the constant slow piroettes of the boat over 3 days must have "unscrewed" the anchor in the mud. When we pulled it up, there was a large hard ball of clay filling the spade, which would have made it very difficult to dig in again. I guess we’ll have to either dive to verify the holding or pull up and reset the anchor periodically when the boat turns 360s.

Fortunately, we were on board and no other boats were in our path, we have a lifting keel boat that settles instead of topples, and we were pushed onto mud and not rock.

But the best lesson, something we already knew but saw confirmed once again, is that there is a solidarity among the sailing community that warms the heart. As soon as it was clear that we were in trouble, two other dinghies showed up to offer help. Even with 3 small motors pushing, we didn’t solve the problem, but their presence cheered us as we waited and their stories of their own similar misadventures made us feel less stupid. That’s worth 85 Euros any day.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Cleaning a Jabsco Par-Max Water Pump Filter

If you’ve got black slime clogging up your filter (or if the water pressure decreases abruptly) you might need to consider cleaning the system. We clean the filter regularly but we managed to get some bad water in the tanks at the beginning of the season and we had a rather spectacular algae bloom in the pipes. We thought we would have to open up the tanks and manually clean them, but after a call to our Jeanneau dealer to ask how to do this (requires a special tool), he strongly urged NOT opening the tank (those plastic-on-plastic fittings are fragile) and trying chemcial cleaners instead. Very good advice. The problem was (more or less) resolved with just a cup of bleach. We don’t drink the water from the tanks directly anyway. It’s used for washing dishes, etc., and we filter it through a Brita filter before boiling for cooking or tea / coffee.

Disclaimer: this is what works for us, not an official manual. That should be clear as you read the text since we don’t even know the correct terms for most of the parts we’ll be discussing…

The filter is located between the check valve and the pump.

If you just want to clean the filter:

Step 1. Fill a bowl full of water and find an old toothbrush, ready for cleaning the filter.

Step 2. Shut off the pump electricity (so that it doesn’t try to top up the pressure while its guts are open)

Step 3. Unclip the filter from its housing and lift out. You simply pinch the two sides and lift out the transparent filter assembly.

Step 4. Clean. Put some silicone grease on the o-ring. (Note: our o-ring was distended and not fitting tightly enough, making it very difficult to get the assembly back in its housing. Have a stock of replacement o-rings ready. We found ours at an Auto Emporium.)

Step 5. This is a good time to also clean the filters on the faucets. Unscrew, remove the aerator / filter assembly, clean, replace.

Step 6. Put the filter back into its housing assembly. You should hear a good “click” as it fits into the housing. If not, check the o-ring.

Step 7. Open the faucets, turn on the pump electricity and chase out the air bubbles.

Cleaned filter and greased o-ring.

If you need to clean the whole assembly from the tank valves to the filter:

See our earlier post from last year, where a very intelligent, professional and honest technician from Polenca, Spain showed us how to check for obstructions in this part of the filter.

Steps 1 and 2 from above.

Step 3. Turn the check valve knob counter clockwise. You should hear gurgling as this part of the sysetm depressurizes.

Step 4. Push down the blue clip on the pump side after the filter assembly.

Step 5. Gently pull down from the check valve on the blue tube and away from the pump. Be very careful not to let the blue clip on the pump side fall into the abyss below.

Step 6. Flush with water, clean as necessary. (see earlier post for more details)

Step 7. Put back in place, sliding the check valve over the blue tube and securing the blue clips connecting the filter to the pump.

Step 8. You will now (probably) need to repressurize the system. Ours is marked “30 psi” on the pump body. Locate your air pressure tank, and use a bicycle tire pump to bring it back up to pressure. Ours is a standard size fitting.

Step 9. Open faucets, turn on pump electricity and chase out the air bubbles.

Might need cleaning?

Taking off the assembly.  Sorry for the blurries...was not in the mood for fine photography.

Don't lose this falls off easily once the assembly is removed.

We are shopping around for a activated carbon filter system that attaches to the water hose to filter the water in port BEFORE it goes into the tanks. In the meantime, it’s “better living through chemistry.”

Posted on Saturday, June 23, 2018 | Categories:

Marciana, Elba Island

From Bastia we sailed 35 miles to the island of Elba, Italy where Napoleon was briefly exiled and where we hoped to find a good shipyard for a growing list of repairs.

Our first glimpse of the island was Marciana.  This is no place for repairs but a charming stop on the way to Portoferraio.

Marciana Fish Market

And finally at anchor in Portoferraio bay, considered one of the most protected bays in the world.  Last night, 35 knots blowing outside the bay and only a few gusts of 15 inside.  Excellent holding, beautiful surroundings, and (so far) enough room for everyone. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

First stop: Bastia

We finally cast off from our winter haven of Taverna, Corsica after more than a week of preparations: wash, wax, polish, gelcoat touch-ups, bottom paint, water tanks cleaned (or so we thought), motor maintenance, life raft revision, and sails on.

We enjoyed Taverna as a winter spot and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a cheap, safe, friendly, and professional place to leave a boat. Their reputation has been spreading rapidly, though, and you need to book early if you want to leave your boat on the hard over winter. As of May, they were already fully booked for this coming winter.

We had a lovely 25-mile sail up the coast to Bastia in preparation for a jump to the Italian island of Elba, where, we were told, we would find one of the best shipyards in the Med for a growing list of repairs. We could have gone directly to Elba but we wanted a small first sail and we really love shabby chic Bastia.

We are currently in Elba and I finally have time to write a first blog post because of all the maintenance jobs we have to do (which often involve long periods of waiting, but not long enough that you can go do some tourism). I’ve been posting frequent updates on the fix-it jobs on our facebook page (sailingmareda). For those of you just tuning in, we have battles on several fronts:

Black slime in the water tanks developed after 1 week, but a good dose of chlorox seems to have done the trick. I think the slime booger was probably from growth in one of the lines rather than the tank itself. We learned that you have to be very careful about water quality in the Med. On most docks, the water faucets are labeled potable or non-potable. We didn’t know we had to verify this each time. We do now.

Eeeuuuuuwwwww !
Our B and G chartplotter’s touchscreen is dead. The computer works fine and most of the functions can be accessed with buttons, but we can no longer place a waypoint or get cap and bearing. The electrician came yesterday and informed us that the Zeus 2 system doesn’t exist anymore and we would have to buy a Zeus 3 for 1500 Euros. Since we have so many other backup systems (MaxSea on 2 computers and an Ipad, OpenCPN on 2 computers) we’ve decided to just live with it. The Navionics on the B and G gives excellent detail on ports and anchorages that we still can access once we arrive in the area (the system screen still follows the boat, so at least we can “see” what’s around us).

Outboard motor maintenance done. (We pay someone else to do this because changing the water turbine can be a nightmare).

Change spinlock cam – big big nightmare. We are having to drill out the screws that seem to be glued into the backing plate. Patrick just finished digging out the head of the last one (took 2 days and 3 trips to the hardware store for Cobalt drill bits), and now the fun begins: we have to try to get the spinlock double-block up and out of its position, but it is, of course, glued into the gelcoat. Once it’s removed, I can change the cam while he digs around to try to figure out where the rest of the screws went and if we have to re-thread the backing plate for the new screws. We may need some professional help with that one, but it is the busy season and we may have to wait our turn.

But wait !! While I was busy leaving him alone, Patrick managed to get the spinlock block off ! The glue wasn’t as thick as we imagined. Woo Hoo ! Now to change the ailing cam and figure out if we need to rethread the screw holes.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos of Bastia.

Polyphonic Corsican Singing

A visit to the hardware store.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Cruising Expectations 2018

As we do every year, we’ve made a list of expectations for the coming cruising season and reviewed those from 2017 to see how accurate we were. It’s hard to believe, but our expectation failure rate for 2017 is almost exactly the same as for 2016, 43% and 44%, respectively. I’m not sure what that says about us except that we’re apparently not getting any wiser about what’s waiting for us.

We hope there will be more of this in the coming season...
...and this, too.

Here is the list of our expectations from last year that were NOT true: 

Insanely expensive marinas. Sure, they do exist, but we avoided them. How simple was that? In the Balearics, we used the municipal ports and buoys, which kept costs reasonable.

Carefully-timed commando-style raids in ports for water and food in the limited free time in ports. Never had to do this. We anchored out enough that our overall costs were down, so we didn’t avoid taking our time in the marinas when we needed or wanted to.

Using the 2nd anchor. We never used it and never saw many people using theirs either. To keep from swinging, most people take a line ashore. We didn’t have to do that either, although Patrick was very keen to try one time (when it wasn’t necessary and I poo-poo’d the idea.)

Meals from a can. Despite lots of anchoring time, we almost always had fresh food. We often bought frozen food and we always asked for meats to be vacuum-sealed, which most butcher shops are willing and able to do.

Rigging up a trip-line for the anchor. Great idea, but we never did it. Our nautical guide pointed out the anchorages where a trip line would be useful, and we avoided those areas since they weren’t very appealing anyway.

Rolly anchorages. I can only remember a couple of rolly anchorages but the rolls never lasted very long and we never really thought about hauling up the anchor to find a new spot.

Grocery deliveries !  Hope Sardinian grocery stores does this, too.

Without further ado, here is our list of expectations for 2018:

Language frustrations. Patrick speaks enough Spanish to see us through most situations, but neither of us speaks Italian. We’re cramming this week, but we’re not very optimistic that this will avoid frustrating situations.

Crowded and expensive ports in southern Corsica and northern Sardinia in early July. We hope to be south of Olbia by 15 July to avoid the worse.

Using a line ashore to keep from swinging in narrow anchorages. I just thought I’d recycle this one, even though we shouldn’t have as many narrow anchorages as we did in the Balearics.

Anchorages in paradise and charming villages. This may also be more of a given than an expectation, but we’re eager to see for ourselves. We have a friend who had the intention of sailing around the Med like us, but who has been stuck in Sardinia now for 3 years because he has become completely smitten with the place and can’t imagine finding a better spot anywhere else.

Improved heat management techniques. This is more of a given rather than an expectation, since we’ve had side panels made for the bimini this year, but you never know.

Transportation headaches. The further we get away from mainland Europe, the more difficult it is to arrange transportation from our little Breton village to increasingly remote islands in the Med. Our current planning to get back to Mareda next week looks something like this: carpool to the airport, spend the night in a hotel, early flight to Bastia, taxi to bus stop, bus to Taverna. And we hope to get to the boatyard early enough to slap on the anti-fouling paint before the boat goes in the water later that afternoon !

Good phone and internet service. Since Europe eliminated roaming charges last summer, we can now use our existing French telephone and internet on the boat from anywhere in Europe. The only question remaining is signal strength in those anchorages in paradise.

Less blogging. Going with a less-is-more approach, my plan is to send photos and updates via Mareda’s Facebook page (sailingmareda) but won’t write a blog post until there is sufficient material to make it worth the effort (a real pain in the ass from my tragically slow laptop on the boat).

Making new friends, catching up with old ones. One of our favorite things about cruising is meeting other cruisers and buddy boating for awhile. Last year it was difficult around the islands because people scatter in many different directions. This year, we’ll be going down the coast, and many others will be doing the same. We may meet up with two other friends sailing in the area this year if the winds and tides of destiny will it.

A more relaxed cruising couple. Not that we’ve become old hands at Med sailing, but the initial learning curve is over and I figure nothing can be worse than our baptism by fire of the Balearics in July and August.

Can't wait for cockpit life.

We leave in 5 days !! Our last days before abandoning the house for 5 months look something like this: yard work, coordinate with neighbors for mail pick up, watch a little French Open tennis while going over lists and lists of lists for things to take, call up the local shipyard for parts we want to take with us, order new cockpit cushions and have them delivered to Corsica, make an appointment with the electricians in Elba for repair or replacement of our B&G chartplotter, put pressure on the life raft revision people to have it ready before we want to head out, defrost the fridge, watch World Cup Soccer preparatory matches (cheering for France over Italy while we can…), quick dash to the store for Brita water filters, last loads of laundry, call our supplemental health insurance company to find out why we still don’t have cards, print out boat insurance forms in French, Spanish, English, and Italian, update laptop software and test OpenCPN and MaxSea, google airline carry-on regulations to see if we can take a tube of Sikaflex in the cabin, say goodbye to local friends, provide emergency contact info to family, and finally, update the doomsday book.

I keep telling Patrick that all of this would be so much easier if we just lived full time on the boat...

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Prep Week

We had an exhausting but productive 8 days getting Mareda ready for cruising.  Mareda survived the winter in Port Taverna, Corsica, despite heavy storms and a major forest fire that left ashes in the companion way.

Despite our best efforts, we didn't manage to resolve all our issues:
  • we couldn't get the propeller off to thoroughly clean away the remaining fibers of the fishing net we encountered last season... tried WD-40, tried heating, tried banging.
  • we couldn't unscrew the spinlock blockers to take for repairs... must be sealed into the gelcoat?
  • the B&G Zeus 2 nav station has a dead touch screen and it looks like it may be difficult to find an authorised B&G dealer in our area of the world.
Homework for the next 3 weeks will be trying to find the best place to cope with these issues when we get back to the boat.

In the meantime, here is the week in photos in and around Port Taverna and the charming village of Cervione.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Back-friendly Boat Manoeuvres?

We’re still not sure what the future holds for our 2018 cruising, but we have made a few decisions. We will head down to Corsica as originally planned in early May to get Mareda ready for cruising, but will head back to Brittany for a few more doctor’s visits afterwards. Between ourselves, we’ve ruled out surgery (see how easy that was?) so we think we can head back to Mareda in early June to start our 2018 season.

In any case, we will have to modify some manoeuvres on the boat to make them more back-friendly. He will wear his “girdle” when we know that lifting or force will be involved, like hauling or dousing sails. The other big back-breaker is handling the mooring line in ports. 

In the Med, we typically back in to a berth. To tie up, you pass two lines from the back of the boat to the dock, but to keep the boat from banging into the dock, you need something that pulls the nose forward. Mooring lines (or slime lines, as they are affectionately known), are thick ropes with one end attached to a heavy weight on the channel floor and the other end tied to the dock. When they are not in use, they lie along the slimy muddy bottom of the port and host an ecosystem of their own, including algae, worms, and sharp barnacles and shells. (Wear nasty gloves).  Curiously, I don't seem to have any photos of the slime line. 

When you arrive in the berth, you pick up the slime line attached to the dock using your boat hook (usually, there’s a friendly port assistant to hand it to you) and you walk the line forward, lifting it out of the water until you get to the front of the boat, where you then pull the line forward towards the sunken weight with all your might to get the line tight.

Note to self: try not to look so worried as Pat backs in...
I walk the line forward and then hand it to Patrick for the heavy pulling. He usually does this sitting down with his feet braced against the foot railings and using a rowing motion, “putting his whole back into it” as they say. Our Mediterranean sailing guru Leo tells us that this is a good way to ruin your back (yes, well, um...) and that there is a better way.

Once the boat is settled (stopped and lightly tied up), you release the aft lines to the dock, and pull the slime line forward with no tension from behind. Once you’ve pulled the boat forward a good distance and tied off the mooring line to the cleat, you use the motor in reverse to back up to the dock to tie off the aft lines. You shouldn’t have to jump to get onto the dock but you don’t want the fenders on the transom rubbing against the dock either. The last job is to rinse off the slime that the slime line has slathered all over the side of the boat (and crew) as it was walked forward and tied off.

Staying well off concrete docks.
It’s very important to get that mooring line tight. Last autumn in Porto Vecchio, we had a near gale that blew in with 25-30 knot winds full in the face for 24 hours, pushing all of the boats back towards the dock. We lifted up the fold-down transom in the back and put out additional fenders. All was well. Our neighbours, however, had not tightened their slime line enough, and their boat was getting pounded against the cement dock. Against strong head winds and even using the motor, they weren’t able to reset the mooring line far enough forward, so they had to stay up all night with the motor in gear to hold them off the dock. (And guess who were trying to sleep in the aft cabin with their ears right next to his motor?)

There will still be lots of work that will require strong backs, but we hope that if we take our time, it will be manageable. Welcome to slow living...

Here’s a list of the work we will do in early May (or rather, the work I will do as Patrick attempts to supervise using his now well-worn phrase, “I would help but I have a herniated disk”):

Wash deck and hull (with special spot treatments on bird poo areas)
Repairs to gel coat (2 or 3 dings to cover up)
Clean and polish stainless
Change sail drive zinc (and clean out the rest of the fishing line wrapped around the propeller)
Wax the hull
Paint the anchor chain depth markings
Make a new / better mosquito screen for the aft cabin (thanks Britican crew ! 
Service out-board motor
Have life raft serviced and re-certified for another 3 years
Check batteries, electronics, solar panels, radio. Is the girouette still there after the winter’s storms?
Put up the bimini and lazy bag.
Remove the spin-lock blocker for the mainsail halyard for repair or replacement (crapped out just at the end of last season).
Clean winches
Replace fold bike pedal assemblies (plastic chain guards both cracked)
Wash all clothes and linens on board
Fill up pantries with dry stores (bottled water, rice, pasta, canned food, etc.)

When we get back to the boat in June, the anti-fouling paint still has to be done, but we may break down and have the shipyard do that job for us so that we don’t lose time. (hey ! This slow living thing could grow on me!).  We will still have to put the sails on; fingers crossed for light / no winds for that job.  After a few more trips to the markets, we’ll be ready to head off. 

First leg: the east coast of Cap Corse and the Tuscany Islands (Capraia and Elba) !