Thursday, 31 March 2016

Med Weather and Sailing Instructions Choices

Preparing for a cruise requires lots of information about ports (do they have space for visiting yachts?), anchorages (does this bay offer good protection?), and sailing instructions (e.g., keep 1 Mile offshore of this headland to avoid steep waves).  You also need radio channels and broadcast times for weather information and local security services.  It’s easy to go overboard (so to speak…) buying every nautical guide out there, but when you’re on a budget, choices must be made.  

Trying not to go overboard buying ALL the guides out there...
I’ve limited myself to the 2015 Bloc Marine Almanac (England to French / Spanish border), the IMRAY Guide for 2013 for Spain and Portugal, the 2014 IMRAY Guide for the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca, and the 2016 Bloc Marine for the Mediterranean.  We've also added the Mediterranean Cruising Handbook and "Spanish for Cruisers" but those are more general (but VERY useful.)

It’s also easy to go overboard with weather information, sources, and equipment.  The VHF radio is mandatory and provides regional weather reports several times per day. But reports over large zones don’t always give you a very realistic picture of the weather where you are, especially in tricky areas around mountains or headlands.  NAVTEX and SSB radio seem to be on the way out, and most people tell me the equipment is finicky and that actually receiving the weather reports is hit-and-miss.  Satellite phones are all the rage, but they’re still too expensive for us (although coming down…love that sat-sleeve idea for cell phones).  We’re left with getting internet via wireless internet in ports and cell phone networks along the coast.  For Spain and Portugal, we haven’t quite decided whether we’ll sign up for a European-wide phone / internet contract before leaving France or if we’ll just buy a SIM card in Spain and Portugal and get a local phone / internet contract.  The cheapest international contract we’ve found is about 40 Euros / month for 5 GB of data outside of France, which seems a bit pricey.

Having internet aboard is critical for weather information when you’re at anchor and not in a port (or more likely, a nearby cafĂ© or bar) where you can get wireless internet.  We have a number of favorite internet weather sites for coastal spots along the way, and for larger scale weather information, we use ZyGrib files.  For the Med, our Med-savvy friends have introduced us to a fabulous, free, and trustworthy high-rez grib service called Open Skiron, which provides grib files starting in Gibraltar and covers the entire Med.  (Note: these come zipped and are on the heavy side.)  I’ve been playing with these and I can import them into OpenCPN and MaxSea (although still haven’t tried this on the IPAD version…). 

And now, a treat for any of you who can read French: Last week, one of our local sailing gurus, Antoine Maury, introduced us to his friends Pierre and Martine Lavergne, who have spent the last 14 years sailing around the Med on their Sun Legend 41, Logos.  They have a blog that is an absolute GOLD MINE of information.  Enjoy ! 

And on a final and completely unrelated note, I think I have convinced Patrick that we should invest the $16 needed to buy an anchor ball and motoring cone.  These are plastic visual signals that you hoist up to let other boats know when you are at anchor or when you are motoring.  I have always thought that the anchor ball idea was dumb unless you’ve had to anchor in an emergency someplace you shouldn’t be.  The motor cone, though, is useful.  Often, we keep the mainsail up even when we’re motoring (motor sailing).  But once your motor is turned on, you become a motor boat, not a sailboat, and lose the right-of-way.  Other boats, seeing your sail, may think you are under sail and treat you as a sailboat.  Both boats giving way at the same time can lead to problems. You can always pull out a pair of binoculars to see if the sailboat’s motor is pumping out water, but that’s not always possible in a tight spot or crowded area.  Of course, none of these arguments hold any sway with Patrick.  He was simply impressed by the tales of frequent controls by the Portuguese Coast Guard and the $400 fine for not having these $16 pieces of plastic aboard. Whatever works, right?


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Thanks for the link to the French blog - might be good practice for me to check it out and try to read it.

We don't have an anchor ball or motoring cone, but it sounds like a good investment.

Anonymous said...

shame with your suggested website being in French, but maybe I'll give one of those auto-translate tools a try.
The anchor ball / motoring cone is also one of the favourite reasons for a "fine" here in Germany. If enjoying the sidearms of the Elbe and anchoring, you will see water police around every night checking if all is in order (i.e. as per official rules and guidelines). It is indeed a small investment and can save you quite a few Euros. So: go for it! ;-)
Have a great weekend,

Sailing Mareda said...

Hi Hubert and Ellen
Friends have told me that northern europe is very stringent for mooring balls and cones, so we may as well invest !

popsi kopper said...

About the anchor ball, Fatty Goodlander tells a nice anecdote in his latest book about anchoring. Seems at one occasion, after a ship running through anchored yachts and creating havoc, the insurance adjuster later tried to presume all the yachts without anchor ball were manoeuvring and thus should have gone out of the way of the rogue ship. Only the few with the ball set were immediately payed off.

No matter how true the story is, it's a good enough reason to spend the 2 minutes to set it.

popsi kopper said...

I found Frank Singleton's site useful for weather information in the Mediterranean:

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks for the anecdotes (scary !) and information, Popsi. I've visited Singleton's site before but haven't gone back to look for Med info. Our friends Pierre and Martine on Logos pointed us to the Open Skiron site as the best / most accurate they've found. The grid scale is 0.1 degrees ! The problem is that the files are very heavy, even zipped. For this year's cruise just around Spain and Portugal, I'm hoping we won't run into too many surprises.

Astrolabe Sailing said...

I don't have an anchor ball or cone either. Another thing to add to the list!


Sailing Mareda said...

Maybe you can get your kids to make a ball and cone for you ! I heard of one guy who was the only one in the anchorage without one and made a mooring ball out of cardboard "in extremis" !