Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The North and the South

It’s a miracle.  I’ve finally met a Breton sailor who says positive things about sailing in the Mediterranean.  (Name withheld for his protection.)  He spent 3 years cruising in the Med and highly recommends it.  Here in France, there is a constant stand-off between devotees of these two major sailing zones, fed regularly by articles in sailing magazines emphasizing the commonly-held prejudices about each.

A dreamy anchorage near Gozo / Malta, and dinner after diving for sea urchins in Tunisia. (They're not so bad with lots of butter and garlic...). 
In Brittany, you will hear the all-too-familiar refrain, “In the Med, there’s either too much wind or not enough.”  You will also hear that the ports are too expensive, too crowded, and that they are full of flashy motor yachts and gigantic catamarans and their obnoxious owners.  Of Brittany, Med sailors will simply point out that it’s cool and rainy, even in the summer.  There are elements of truth to both, but animosity aside, most sailors would eagerly sail both zones if given the chance. However, except for shallow-draft keels (<1.40m) that can pass in the canal system linking the Atlantic coast to the Med, travel between Brittany and the Med means a very long trip across the Biscay Bay and around Spain and Portugal, and a round-trip is usually more than a single sailing season will allow.

But it was the wife of the Breton Med fan (an excellent sailor herself) who posed the critical question for me: the choice all depends on why you sail.  If you sail as a way to explore the world, there is no place better than the Med, birthplace of western civilisation where a simple day sail can take you into a new country with a different language, culture, and cuisine.  Rod Heikell, author of many of the IMRAY guides for the Med, has this to say about the too much wind / not enough wind mantra:  There is some truth in it but more often than not it is used as an excuse for poor planning”.  He goes on to suggest that many people who complain about the sailing conditions in the Med are those who should have opted for a motor boat rather than a sail boat – those who can’t tolerate the idea of sailing at less than 3 knots or those who feel they need to heave-to when the afternoon breezes reach force 6.     

We have crewed on boats between Corsica and Sardinia, and from Tunisia to Sicily via Lampedusa and Malta, and have known both dead calm and near gale-force winds with short choppy seas.  But we have also known these conditions in Brittany.  What I have never known in Brittany, however, is a hot and sunny day with exotic port stops at World Heritage sites.  Maybe it’s the result of this dark, never-ending winter, but if you ask, that’s what I want. 

In the end, we are firm believers in Jimmy Cornell’s warning that the most dangerous thing on a sailboat is a calendar.  If you have the luxury of taking your time (and we do), you can choose your weather windows to suit your motivation levels wherever you sail.

Alas, for this summer, we need to get some more miles under our keel and get to know the boat a bit better before heading that far away from home, which will mean staying in a zone between Southern Brittany to the Basque country, with fingers crossed for warm weather and mild winds.     

Time to stop dreaming and get back to work: 

Today, we patched a slightly frayed patch on the bottom side of the genoa clew using a sail patch our sail-maker gave to us (we’re good clients already …).

Newly patched Genoa.
After several pseudo-philosophical exchanges with sailing friends, we were made to realize that the rudder angle indicator is an OPTION for the auto-pilot, and one that not everyone thinks is particularly useful.  Since we would need to have a new metal connector made to repair ours and because the assembly takes up much needed space in the cockpit locker, we simply unplugged it.  If we decide we miss it, we can always plug it back in later.  The next time we’re out at slack tide with light winds, I’ll swing the compass and do the auto-learning process again to recalibrate everything and see how it goes.  It will be a relief to have a reliable pilot with just the two of us on board.

Disconnected 4 wires from rudder angle indicator to pilot computer.