Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Spring Cruising Preps

An anticyclone has been squatting over France for the last week, bringing sunshine and warm(ish) temperatures, and now the calendar tells me it’s spring.  In the span of a few days, we’ve gone from that dreamy fresh-out-of-hibernation state to near panic as we realize how much we have to do to prepare Mareda and ourselves for our Mediterranean adventure. 

A boat we chartered and sailed from Tunisia to Lampedusa, Malta, and Sicily.  This was our favorite anchorage in Gozo, Malta.

Preparing the Boat for the Med

In the summer, it’s going to be hot in the Med (yippee!):  bimini, window shades, wind scoops, small fan, mosquito nets, swim platform, water supply (All taken care of except for the wind scoops and repairing a latch on the swim platform.)

Sailing in shorts and tee-shirts !!  Unbelievable !
In the Med, winds can roll down the mountains and build up to gale force without much warning.  Anchor and chain need to be heavy enough and long enough to keep you securely fastened.  A secondary anchor needs to be ready to go, too.  (Need to splice the rode directly to the anchor chain to increase strength; Need to find a good way to have the 2nd anchor and chain easily accessible from the cockpit.)

We also plan to anchor out often.  I’ve already mentioned the necessity for a strong anchor / chain system and a secondary system.  A flopper-stopper system to reduce rock-n-roll at anchor is also a necessity for a good night’s sleep in anchorages that get a lot of swell (which seems to be just about all of them along the Algarve and Costa del Sol sections of our voyage.) 

A sunny lunchtime anchorage in Tunisia.
In the Med, you often dock stern-to-quay.  We’ll need some more fenders, some longer sheets, and a gang-plank.  The drop-down swim platform is fabulous for stern-to moorings but the height difference or distance from the quay may not always be optimal.  A simple plank with holes in the corners for ropes is an easy(-ish) thing to pull together and is also useful for protecting your fenders if you have to lay alongside a rough cement quay.

I’ve rechecked the off-shore security material regulations and carried out an inventory of our existing material.  Need to buy 3 new hand flares.

Last but not least is getting the navigation taxes and insurance in order and getting Spanish translations of everything. 

Preparing the Navigation Plan

Basically, we'll head south until the butter melts and then turn left.  How hard could it be?

Gozo (I think) over my right shoulder.
But seriously, now...

I still like having paper charts aboard and a friend has graciously agreed to loan us his Med charts.  I suspect we’ll never look at them but their presence comforts me.  We now have 4 (!) nav systems aboard:  The B&G Zeus GPS / Chart Plotter running Navionics in the cockpit; a PC with GPS running MaxSea and OpenCPN, a backup PC with MaxSea and OpenCPN, and an IPAD Air II running MaxSea. 

I have the Mediterranean Cruising guide (Heikell 2012), the IMRAY Guide for Spain and Portugal (2013), and the IMRAY Guide for the Costas del Sol and Blanca (2014).  I still need to get the Bloc Marine Med Almanac for 2015/2016 to have the Colregs up to date.

Using these guides, advice from friends who sail in the area, and recent reports from other sailors on Noonsite, we’ve made a rough plan of our dates and ports and/or anchorages from Arzal to Alicante.  We believe FIRMLY that the most dangerous thing on a boat is a calendar, so we won’t be trying to keep to any set schedule.  We’re just going to follow our noses and look at the weather to decide when and where we go.  If we don’t get to Alicante by the time the bad weather sets in, we’ll just put down somewhere else.  In general, we plan to spend June sailing around Galicia, July sailing down the Portuguese coast, spend August along the Algarve to Gibraltar, and in September and October we’ll sail along the Costas del Sol and Blanca with initial plans to winter over in Torrevieja near Alicante.

Tunisia to Lampedusa, Beaufort 5 with choppy seas, and one HUGE helm.  Me in the background with grimace because of 2 freshly cracked ribs (remember "one hand for you, one hand for the boat?")

Preparing Ourselves

I just completed an inventory of our on-board pharmacy and compared it to the checklist in our French offshore sailing regulations.  I have a few items that need to be replaced and will got to the doctor next week for those items requiring a prescription.  We’ve both got dentist and dermatologist appointments in the next few weeks, too.

We have to prepare the house to be abandoned for 6-7 months.  This mostly involves weed control and buttering up our neighbours.  (We are VERY lucky to have neighbours who have become dear friends.) 

Mentally, I think we’re both in great shape and ready to go.  We will have a 1.5-month shakedown period with Mareda before we head across the Bay of Biscay to Spain.  All the reading and talking with more experienced Med sailors has given us a good idea of what to expect (I hope !).  It’s always reassuring to reduce the unknown to manageable proportions.  Here’s what we expect:
  • A wee bit of stress (but the good kind, right?!) 
  • Some charming villages, towns and cities (Galicia region, Porto, Lisbon, the Algarve, Cadix, Gibraltar, etc.).
  • Some not-so-charming areas (large industrial ports, over-built coastlines).
  • Chilly temps and fog around northern Spain; warm weather south of Lisbon
  • Many fishing boats and their unmarked / poorly marked nets and pots
  • Many fish / shellfish farms to dodge
  • Poor internet reception; lots of time spent in caf├ęs and bars trying to get a weather report
  • Getting proficient at Med-style moorings (stern-to-quay) (see “stress” above)
  • Learning to cope with rolly, lumpy anchorages exposed to swell
  • Early starts and lots of motor-sailing to reach the next port before the stiff afternoon breezes set in (or more hopefully, maximizing the use of our Gennaker that allows us to sail in as little as 7 knots of wind)
  • Covering shorter distances than planned to avoid long hours of motoring, followed by longer distances than planned when the weather becomes favorable
  • Some beautiful anchorages with water warm enough to swim in without a wet suit
  • Improving our fishing skills (e.g., anything other than mackerel…).
  • Meeting other cruisers along the way (always one of the highlights of any cruise)
  • Hot weather in July and August; learning to maximize interior comfort and minimize interior mosquitoes and no-seeums
  • A mix of very expensive ports, some reasonably-priced ports, and lots of anchorages to keep overall prices down.

Like most things, urchins are okay with lots of butter and garlic.
And now, it’s off to the ship chandlers and then to the boat yard to see about that new battery…and flares, and anchor rode splice, and…


Astrolabe Sailing said...

Yay excited to hear about your upcoming adventures!
What are navigation taxes?

Sailing Mareda said...

Navigation taxes are a way for the government to stick it to boat owners. No no... bad citizen reflex... It probably helps to think the money might go toward supporting the coast guard and upkeep of navigational buoys, lighthouses, etc. We pay our tax here in France (about 240 Euros / year for Mareda) but that should make us exempt from paying a nav tax in any other EU country, provided we can show proof of payment. The Spanish always want the proof in spanish so the insurance companies will provide this translation for free. We also get one copy in English and I believe you can also get it in Greek (but we're not there yet !).