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) !

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Cruising 2018 Postponed

How many times have I said that cruising plans are written in the sand at low tide? This winter, we’ve had a larger-than-normal tide that has eroded short-term plans and possibly longer-term ones as well.

Patrick and I have had a series of health problems. Mine are minor-ish: a slightly-pinched disk in the lower back with a touch of arthritis. No more running. No more heavy lifting. Between the arthritis in the hands and now the back, my body has become a living barometer that, once calibrated, may actually be useful at sea.

Winter erosion.
Patrick’s issues are more serious. He has scoliosis, 2 pinched disks, and a very large herniated disk causing “sciatic nerve paralysis.” Strangely, he has no pain in the back, but shooting pain in one leg with loss of reflexes, some nerve damage, and loss of strength. We met with the neurosurgeon yesterday, who wants to avoid operating if possible. The first step is a cortisone injection to see if reducing the swelling may help the herniated disk to back off or even (rare but possible) to slip back into place by itself. If that doesn’t work, he’ll need surgery.

Instead of getting back to the boat on the 6th of May, it looks like the earliest we’ll be able to leave is late may / early June. If he has to have surgery, it will be at least 6 weeks longer. Since we already have air tickets and an apartment lined up (all non-refundable, optimists that we are...), we may go down on the 6th anyway to make some headway on the work (cleaning deck and hull, waxing hull, polishing the stainless, etc.) so that when we are ready to go, we’ll just have the bottom paint to slap on.

Washed up.
In any case, we’re going to have to modify our way of doing things on the boat, and possibly our cruising ambitions as well. We don’t want to find ourselves in some idyllic anchorage in the middle of nowhere when his disk decides to slip further and cause a real paralysis and extreme pain. It’s easy to say “take it easy on the boat, reduce sail, don’t misuse your back,” etc., but there are always emergencies on a boat that require your immediate attention and you don’t always have the luxury of being able to rig some gentler way of handling things. My problems weren’t caused by any single catastrophic event, but rather slow constant wear and tear. Sailing 6 months of the year every year for many years takes its toll.

I’m juggling cruising options and it’s still too early to see clearly. We want to avoid being around Corsica from mid-July to mid-August, but I’m a bit leery about hanging out further down on the Sardinian coast with few towns large enough to offer assistance in an emergency. The plan was to continue down to Sicily and winter-over at Marina di Ragusa, but that plan only makes sense if a) Patrick’s back is stable, and b) we plan to continue on to Greece and Turkey the following year. Another option is to start heading back to the French coast to prepare for a passage through the canals the following year, saying goodbye to the Med.

We’re both taking all of this with a big dose of philosophy. There’s no debate - health comes first. We’ve had a wonderful 10 years of sailing and maybe it’s time to reign in our ambitions by limiting ourselves to sailing locally around France, or chucking it all and moving on to some new life project. We live with an uneasy oil-and-water mixture of disappointment and excitement at the moment. The world is big and there’s so much to do and see…

Washed out.

Monday, 18 December 2017

For richer, for poorer

No, we aren't reconsidering our marriage vows after reaching the half-way point toward paying off our boat.  This is the phrase that came into my head as I reviewed some photos from this year's cruise, which saw us rubbing elbows (er, um... rub rails?) with the rich and possibly famous, as well as wandering through run-down, abandoned (often charming) backstreets.  The juxtaposition of derelict cities and obscene wealth left a lasting impression on us.  Here are some shots that didn't make it into other blog posts to show you what I mean.

We spent a couple of nights with super yacht Nero.  For $45k per week, you and 12 friends can rent her.
The shabby-chic back alleys of Bastia.

I was eager to take photos of rich neighbors anytime I saw a boat that was NOT a cigarette go-fast pecker-stretcher, or as the french say, a big "suppositoire".

In case you like suppository boats...

I love the pigeon in the small hole top left trying to figure out what the hell I'm shooting.

This Russian mega-yacht (one of the largest sailing yachts in the world) dwarfs the Mareda-sized sail boat approaching from the left. 

We saw quite a few of these renovated tug boats, as well as the near-ubiquitous inflatable pink flamingo on the bow.

When one of these boats arrives in the anchorage, it is only a matter of minutes before all the toys come out.  Here, an inflatable slide spills into a netted pool (to keep out beasties).  There are also jet-skis, scuba jets, and water jet packs, all with certified instructors, and one of the crew always has a drone buzzing overhead for the souvenir video.

The best of both worlds: richly-renovated recently-shabby architecture.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Season Wrap-up 2017: What worked, what didn't

We have declared our first year of sailing the Med a success : despite some rather unpleasant glitches, we had a wonderful time and are eager to return.

Some basic statistics 
Days on boat : 174
Distance covered : 1175 nautical miles
Countries / Islands visited : Gibraltar (UK), Spain, Balearic islands (Spain), Sardinia (Italy), Corsica (France)
Nights at anchor vs. nights in port : 43 % anchor : 57 % port
Average cost : 18 Euros / night (total of all nights including free nights at anchor)
Motor hours : 182
Sailing : approximately 45 % of time

How did we keep costs so low ? Lots of free anchorages or cheap(er) mooring buoys (29 Euros, with trash pick-up and water-taxi service to shore), and liberal use of the municipal port system in the Balearic islands : 43 euros / night if you reserve in advance using their on-line system.

How did we manage to sail 45 % of the time in the Med in the summer ? We had no schedule and could choose when to sail. We also don’t mind coasting along at 3 knots if we have the time. The Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 is a light, slippery boat designed for light-wind sailing and, with our genakker for longer passages, we managed to maintain a respectable sailing-to-motor ratio. We often motor-sailed, with the motor at 1200 rpms, just to keep the speed up and make it into port before sundown, but most of the propulsion was by sail. Our diesel consumption on average was about 1.3 L / hour thanks to the sails.

The weather, the warm turquoise waters, the cobalt blue of offshore waters, pin-scented mountains that plunge into the sea, perched villages, labyrinths of old stone streets, ancient short, the Mediterranean !
Meeting up with old friends and making new ones
Certain areas of the Balearics (tainted by over-crowding)
Sardinia and Corsica...SOOO looking forward to exploring these two Mediterranean jewels next year.

The diesel tank leak caused by the Jeanneau technician “repairing” our gas gauge 
The spaghetti of chains and anchors that ensued when a 51-foot yacht dragged its anchor onto us
The over-crowding in the Balearic islands in July and August (that was just stupid… but mostly unavoidable with our schedule)
A few nights of extremely hot weather: 35° C / 95° F at 3 a.m. !
Plastic pollution around the Balearics, even in marine reserves
Patrick’s too-close encounter with a jellyfish. Nearly 6 months later, he still has a scar.

What worked
Lifting keel. People often say that a lifting keel boat is useless in the Mediterranean because the tides are so small. But we found our lifting keel to be extremely useful on several occasions and even allowed us to sit out a blow at anchor when everyone else had to leave. Several ports around the Med have silting problems and all have space limitations. If you tell the port agents that your draft is only 1.3 meters / 4.3 feet (1.1 limit but we don’t like to tell them that), you have more possibilities to squeeze in for the night. A lifting keel allows you to anchor closer to the beach or, more importantly, further into narrow calas and behind protective headlands in more sheltered areas.

Anchoring. This season we anchored more than ever and in many different circumstances, including 30+ knot gusts. Early in the season, our anchor dragged a couple of big deal but it taught us that a 4:1 scope is not enough. An excellent technical description of anchoring is available (in french) from our friend Pierre’s site, and points out that your anchor is not fully effective with less than a 5:1 scope. Now we believe.  

Heat management. This is critical in the Med in the summer. A few necessities: 1) a bimini. In the Med, a bimini is a basic life-support system. We learned to sail with it this year, even taking in and letting out reefs with it in place. We need side panels, however, and I’m going to have something made this winter that will be a little bit classier than a series of towels I hung out this year. 2) A wind scoop. These things are little miracles that catch even the slightest breeze and make it seem like a fan has been turned on high in the boat. I hope to get a second one for next year. 3) Good planning, as in planning to be at anchor where you can swim when it’s hottest rather than being stuck in an airless port.

Tying up stern-to-quay. Patrick perfected his stern-to maneuvers this year while I perfected my acrobatics of jumping to the quay and handling the lines. We were even able to back in and tie up with the dinghy hanging from the back davits (hoisted up as high as possible). Our dual rudders cause some nervous moments as we have to be perfectly lined up with the berth to avoid snagging our neighbor’s tailed line in the water. If the conditions were too dicey with cross winds, we just pulled in bows-to and used a plank to get ashore. Our plank techniques changed over the season and we finally have a set up that is safe(ish) and easy to install.

Internet communication. In the early part of the season, we used a Spanish service called Wifi Away that gave us 20 GB of high-speed internet for about $30 and was easily renewable via internet. In mid June, Europe eliminated roaming charges so we could go back to using our french telephone and internet service. We have never been so well connected.

Weather prediction. Although the weather in the Med can be capricious, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the weather services predicted sometimes crazy wind patterns. We used:
Laser rangefinder. This is one of the best gadgets we’ve ever bought. The range finder helps you to choose a good mooring spot (those rocks are actually further away than you think) and to verify that you aren’t dragging; it helps to keep an eye on neighboring boats to see if they are dragging; and we suspect we will be using it in the next year or two to know when we are 3 boat-lengths away from the dock, indicating where to drop our own anchor for stern-to mooring when no tailing lines are available.

What didn’t work
FlopperStopper. We tested out a new system to prevent excessive rolling at anchor developed by a friend of ours, which I’ve described before. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get the system to work on our boat. The hull shape made the poles stick out at angles rather than hanging vertically, and because the blades are not perfectly flat, the upward motion caused a torque that twisted the poles and makes the attachment weak. After one rather rolly night, we found the blades lying at the bottom of the cove. We retrieved them but packed up the system to send back for further modifications and testing.

Tripline. This winter I discussed how I intended to use a sunken trip line to allow us to recover the anchor if it became stuck. I can’t say that this didn’t work, but I never actually used it. In water shallower than 6-7 meters, I can free dive if needed. In almost all of the areas where we dropped anchor this summer, the water was so clear you could see if there were any obstacles, and we always dove around just after arriving to make sure there was nothing in our swing radius that might cause problems. Once, we did get the chain snagged under a flat rock, but the water was clear enough that we could see which way to maneuver the boat to pull the chain free. And in general, we had so many choices for anchoring that we never chose to anchor in areas where the nautical guide suggested using a trip line.

The Balearics in July and August. The over-crowding and stupidity made for some very disagreeable anchorages. Even if you found a cala with good room to anchor, you could be sure that you would be surrounded by morons anchoring too close or attempting to put their anchor on top of yours before the afternoon was out. In general, the crowds thinned out at sunset but the days could be very stressful. Many of the boats are day rentals with “no permit needed” and clearly with no instructions on how to anchor provided. For 4 meters of water, these credit card skippers would put out 6 meters of chain and wonder why you were staring nervously at them all afternoon. The good news was that most of the renters never left the boat, so at least you could yell at them when their anchors dragged. We had anticipated that this would be a problem and had even thought of putting Mareda in a port from 15 July to 15 August and just visiting the island by land, but the costs of that were prohibitive. Instead, we used the municipal port system (PortsIB) and reserved one week stays at 3 different marinas, with several days in between for getting to the next port and anchoring out to remind ourselves of why we wanted to be in port. Like magic, around the 15th of August, the crowds evaporated and we could begin enjoying anchoring again.


Neither of us has ever been so eager to resume cruising. Last year there was a bit of trepidation about starting our first year in the Med: the capricious weather, the Balearics in the summer and over-crowding in general, learning new “Med techniques” of anchoring and port maneuvers. With those initial “getting-to-know-you” jitters behind us and having already had a preview of things to come next year for a tour of Corsica and Sardinia, we’re counting the days until our return !

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Last Legs in Corsica

From the Lavezzi and Cavallo islands south of Corsica, we made our way ever-so slowly up the coast to Rondianra, Porto Vecchio, San Ciprianu, Pinarellu, Solenzara and, for the last leg of the season, a 30-mile sail mostly under genakker to our winter port of Taverna.


San Ciprianu
The ports were crowded because everyone was already hunkered down for the winter and the ports had rented out their usual visitor’s berths. That, and the increasing condensation at night with raindrops in our cabin, told us it was time to wind down the season. In many of the anchorages we were completely alone with miles of beach and turquoise waters to ourselves.

We were impressed with the Port of Taverna and feel comfortable leaving Mareda there for the winter. The port is in the middle of nowhere, but well-protected from winds. The week we were there packing up, a gale moved through and we prepared ourselves for high winds (got the sails down just in time!). Bastia, just 20 miles north of us, saw 47 knots. We only got 15 in gusts. The surrounding mountains protect Taverna from the predominant W to NW winds in the winter. The hard-standing area seemed well-sheltered, with good materials, security, and professional staff.

Taverna :  the calm blue patch...

The perched village of Cervione overlooking Taverna

Taverna in the well-protected middle of nowhere...
We took the bus to Bastia and the plane from Bastia to our home in Brittany. We had not expected to enjoy Bastia so much … what a gorgeous town ! We took the time to visit the port area and check out prices for next season. The daily price for the port in town is high (50 euros) but the harbor master said he could give us a berth for the week at 200 euros, making it reasonable for the Med.

Port of Bastia

Visitor's berths, Bastia

Charming Bastia
From Taverna we could see the island of Montecristo and as we moved up the coast to Bastia, the other Tuscan islands came into view. We hadn’t thought much about cruising the Tuscan islands but after seeing them so close and talking to other sailors in the area, they will definitely be on our schedule for next year. It’s a wonderful thing to close down a season and to be so enthusiastic to start up again next year.

One of the Tuscan islands peeking out behind Bastia's old town.
And now, back to land life and cool, grey, rainy months of hibernation (...and cruise planning!)  

Happy Halloween !

Friday, 6 October 2017

Lavezzi and Cavallo

After 2 years we are finally back on French soil, sort of.  After a lovely few days in Sainta Theresa, Sardinia, we headed for Lavezzi island and Cavallo island, two jumbles of boulders sitting off the Corsican coast.  The rocky scenery reminded us of northern Brittany (but with warmer waters).  We are ahead of schedule and in a delightfully calm period so we decided to spend several days on each island.

Lavezzi with La Semillante shipwreck memorial upper left.


Panorama of Cavallo (click on photo for larger version).  Cliffs of Bonifacio upper left.


Trying to hide my frog green crocs...

Had to hoist the telephone up the mast to get reception.

Posted on Friday, October 06, 2017 | Categories: ,