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: ,

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Stintino and Castelsardo

We left Porto Conte with a headwind and motorsailed as best we could to get up and around the Capo Falconne and the Asinara pass to Stintino before a series of strong westerlies set in.  An hour away from the pass, the wind turned enough so that we could stop the motor and sail on a close reach, meaning that the pass would be on a beam then broad reach.  We decided to try to do it all under sail even though the pass is narrow with only 3 meters of water at one point, but the conditions were reasonable and we were sick of the sound of the motor. We were doing 6 - 7 knots in the entry of the pass but as we reached the point where we needed to turn southeasterly, the wind calmed and we sailed wing-on-wing smoothly down the rest of the pass.  I was a bit too preoccupied at the time to take photos but we returned to the pass during the strong westerlies on the following days and wondered how we'd made it through at all !

The Asinara pass is just on the other side of the tower.

Stintino marina and the town were charming and, being now comfortably ahead of schedule, we stayed a few days.  The 20-mile sail across to Castelsardo was supposed to be a very light downwind affair and we sailed using only the genoa to avoid jibing back and forth.  We used the genakker sheets and barber hauler to let the genoa out as far as possible and it worked beautifully.  Unexepctedly, the wind began to pick up from the 10-12 knots forecasted to 18-20 knots, and the swell as we neared Castelsardo was a bit worrisome.  We were very glad not to need to turn into the wind to take down the main as the entrance to Castelsardo was quite chaotic.  We surfed the swell as we tucked in behind the first breakwater and then gunned the motor to push us through before the next wave hit.  Once we were in the channel, all was calm and we tied up nose-to-quay into the wind.

Genoa using Genakker sheet and barber hauler.
We have never been in a marina with such a large supermarket just at the entrance of the dock.  We can see Corsica from here and should make the hop over in the next week or so.  Tomorrow we will begin a slow meander up the coast to Saint Theresa and decide from there our strategy for crossing the Bonifacio straits.  It looks like we will have northerly winds early next week so we will have to enjoy la dolce vita a bit longer while we wait !


Posted on Saturday, September 23, 2017 | Categories:

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Crossing: Menorca to Sardinia

The weather forecast was right on target and we had an enjoyable crossing from Mahon to Porto Conte. The evening before the crossing, we left the port to anchor in Cala Teulera at the entrance of the bay. When we anchored, we found ourselves between two french boats who were both from Brittany, one from our home port of Arzal. They were headed back to the french coast and were planning to leave that evening. An hour before sunset they pulled out and we wished them well. One hour later, one of them came back and anchored where they had left. The swell from the previous gale that had ended that morning was still too much for them and they decided to try again in the coming days.

Hail storm the day before we left...

We planned our approximately 40-hour passage to leave as the swell from the gale died down and to arrive in Sardinia as the next gale was striking the Balearic islands. It was a narrow window but the predictions were correct and we had a great crossing. We left before sunrise with a bright half-moon and motored for the first 6 hours, which we had expected. By noon, we had the genakker flying on a broad reach with 10-13 knots of wind. 

At night, we rolled up the genakker, rolled out the genoa and put a reef in the main. Even if it’s calm and the predictions seem trustworthy, we always reef for the night. Our speed slowed a bit, but we were able to keep sailing through the night. We crossed a few cargoes during the night but none too close for discomfort. As I was keeping an eye on one cargo passing behind us, I scanned the horizon in front of us and panicked when I saw a huge yellow triangular light coming straight at us. I’d never seen anything like it and it seemed to be very close. I checked the AIS system to see if I could identify a boat but there was nothing there. I looked back at the thing in horror, only to realize as I stared at it a bit longer that I was witnessing a moon-rise over the horizon, beginning with the triangular tip of the half-moon. My shock rapidly turned to wonder and marvel, and I almost woke Patrick up to see it (he later said he was glad I didn’t but I think he was wrong.)

Moonrise on the sea.  The red port-side nav light lights-up the genoa.

We put the genakker back up as soon as it was daylight. We had a calm period later that morning and had to help the sails with the motor to keep our speed up, but we reached the Sardinian coast just as the sun was setting. Flat seas, 8-14 knots winds, 60% pure sailing / 40% motor-sailing, average speed 4.9 knots over about 185 miles.

Sardinia under the Genakker.

We knew we would arrive in the dark so we aimed for the bay of Porto Conte. The bay is large and beautiful and well-protected from almost all winds but has been made a nature reserve, and we had conflicting information about whether we could anchor here or not. We aimed for Cala del Bollo for the first night since it was one of the closest to the entrance and had a large sand and weed area for mooring.

Just as we furled the sails and began motoring into the bay, a patrol boat came speeding towards us, turned their floodlights on us and came up very close behind us. We know the drill...seems to the be same in all countries. It was the Italian customs authorities intercepting foreign vessels arriving in discreet mooring areas at night. They took our papers in a big net and after about 15 minutes gave them back and wished us a pleasant stay. Those 15 minutes meant that it was now very dark for anchoring so we were left to rely on our gps to guide us in the rest of the way. As we neared the beach, a line of unlit swim buoys surprised us and we backed away quickly, scanning the area with our powerful flashlight. We went into the 6 meter zone further off the beach and the crystal-clear water allowed us to see that we had good sandy bottom. We dropped the hook, had a celebratory drink, made a quick dinner, contacted family to let everyone know we had made it, and crashed for a very calm night. I hope all our crossings can be as pleasant !

Cala del Bollo anchorage on the left...nice wide target for night arrival.

The cliffs marking the entrance to Porto Conte.

Cliffs in Porto Conte.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Fiesta Time in Mahon

We have been in Mahon for a week, dropping off friends at the airport, waiting for a weather window for the 40-hour sail to Sardinia, and enjoying the Fiesta de Gracia in the old town of Mahon. The guide books rave over Ciutadella and downplay Mahon, but we have enjoyed it more than Ciutadella, too touristy for our tastes.

We are in the Marina Mahon, one of the first and largest marinas in the bay and close to town. The first night here (September rates) is 51 Euros because they charge a flat fee for water and electricity, but every night after that is only 25 Euros. We are berthed along side (not stern-to) on the hammer head and the pontoon is very large, giving us space enough to leave our bikes out on the pontoon. It’s very quiet although there are many restaurants and a small convenient store nearby. We managed to get our bikes into the elevator that takes you up the cliff to the level of the town, and from there it is an easy 5 minute ride into the charming old town.

And if you arrive during the first week of September, you will discover the Fiesta de Gracia, which probably has lots of meaningful history behind it but on the surface appears to be a festival of horses. We head out tomorrow to anchor in the bay and then plan to head over to Sardinia on Wednesday. The weather will be very calm...possibly too calm… but it was the best opportunity in between tramontana events we could find. The genakker is up and ready to roll out since we expect 10 knot winds on a beam reach for most of the trip (prediction: 6 hours of motoring in the early morning, then 24 hours of 8-12 knot winds, then 4-5 hours of motoring again, then some light winds to take us into the coastal area near Alghero, where we will probably lose the wind in the final approach. Stay tuned !)

Posted on Monday, September 11, 2017 | Categories:

Friday, 1 September 2017

Menorca Notes

We made landfall in Menorca at Cala Degollador, squeezing into the very crowded cala in the late afternoon. The narrow part of the cala is now completely roped off for swimming.  The cala clears out during the day but by nightfall you wonder how another boat could possibly squeeze in.  We first anchored off the south side of Galera which has some good sand patches but limited swing room. The next visit here, we anchored off the north side of Galera, which has very patchy holding. One time the anchor dug in right away and the next time we tried 3 times before giving up. On the northeast side of the cala is an old metal sewage (?) pipe that extends from the shore down into the water. It looks to be about 2 meters below the surface but it would be nasty to get your anchor or chain anywhere near this. On another occassion, we ended up having to anchor near the outside edge in over 10 meters of water but the holding seemed better. The outside of the cala is also marked with lit buoys to keep boats from anchoring too far out where the large ferries need to turn. On the north side there is a good little cove to leave dinghies and it is only a 15 minute walk into Ciudadella.

Ciudadella is a beautiful old town, probably the most interesting thing to visit in Menorca. The entrance to the port is narrow but beautiful and the municiple port now has 3 pontoons with REAL FINGERBERTHS ! These are the first fingerberths we’ve seen since leaving the Spanish coast. We had scoped the port out before arriving but many boats pulled up expecting to have a lazy line and their fenders were too high and they didn’t have lines ready on bow and stern. If you can manage it, get a spot on the 2nd pontoon since the outside of the 1st pontoon is shared with tourist boats that embarque hundreds of passengers each day. At one point the water depth was 1.9 meters in between the two pontoons.

Ports IB moorings on upper right side.
Algayerens has been one of our favorite anchorages on the north coast, with lots of sand for good anchoring. We aren’t the only ones who appreciate the area and it is always crowded. We tucked into Cala Fontanellas just west of Algayerens, which was gorgeous but small, with room for only 2 or 3 boats. You can’t penetrate very far into the cala because of uneven depths and patches of posidonia weed that are protected (?) by submerged floating buoys just waiting to wrap themselves around your keel. Of course we didn’t realize that until we dove down to look around. We were luckily out of the way but had no way of knowing that when we put down the anchor. Better to stay in the larger sand patches just outside the cala.

Fornells has become a second home for us here in Menorca because we have sat out 2 3-day tramontana events here, alternating between anchorages, mooring buoys, and the port. The municiple port only has space for 5 or 6 visitors and you must tie up bow to quay because of rock outcrops extending from the quay. The lazy lines are placed very close together and we got one of our rudders snagged around our neighbors as we came in. He loosened it enough for us to push it around the outside of the rudder but space was very tight. When it came time to leave we had lots of help to keep the boat’s nose straight as we carefully backed out around the lazy lines. The mooring buoys are great and there are lots of places to leave the dinghy to go into town.

Tramontana storm building to the north of Fornells

For the first time in 4 months, we had rain, torrential downpours that lasted about 2 hours.  Patrick decided to take a bracing rain bath.  

As soon as the winds and waves die down we plan to make our way down to Mahon to drop off friends at the airport. After this, we will be studying the weather closely to look for a good weather window for the 40-hour crossing to Sardinia.  
Posted on Friday, September 01, 2017 | Categories: