Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cruising Expectations 2017

Assessing your expectations are an important part of cruise preparation. They help you identify the equipment you might need or potentially useful techniques, but also help you to mentally accept that it won’t all be a bed of roses out there.

He probably wasn't expecting this...
Last week we met up with a cruising buddy with experience sailing around the Balearic Islands. Within a 20-minute span of time, he told us to expect polluted waters, obscenely over-priced marinas, ever-changing and unpredictable winds, rolly anchorages, bling-bling boats and boom-boom discotheques, and anchorages so crowded that you can’t set out the appropriate length of anchor chain.

So why do you keep going back?” we asked in amazement.

With a surprised look and wide Gallic shrug, he replied, “Because it’s MARVELOUS!”

And so we begin our 2017 cruise preparations with a new set of expectations.

To start with, let’s look back at how well we did last year with this same exercise. Last March, we began discussing cruise preparations for our trek from Brittany (France) across the Bay of Biscay, around Galicia, down the Atlantic coast of Portugal, left along the Algarve, and through the tight squeeze of the straights of Gibraltar. As part of that exercise, we made a list of expectations based on blogs, first-person accounts, and nautical guides. How well did we do? I calculated 44% failure rate. Here are the expectations that were wrong: 

Chilly temperatures and fog in Galicia. We weren’t eager to go swimming but the temperatures were pleasant and surprisingly we didn’t have any fog until we got down the Portuguese coast, and even then, we only had one day where things were dicey for a while.

Unmarked or poorly marked fishing nets and pots. Nets and pots were everywhere, and some areas were total minefields for many miles, but they WERE well marked. Of course, that didn’t prevent us from hitting one

Many Med-style moorings. We only had one in Bayona. It was okay, but with a 1.5-meter tide running at the time, the Med-mooring to a fixed (non-floating) pier was challenging. 

Med mooring in Bayona, Spain.  More difficult to tie up, but much easier to get on and off the boat.

Uncomfortable rolly anchorages. I don’t recall any that made us lose sleep, which is surely the main test of whether or not the anchorage was okay or not.

Improved fishing skills. Honesty, can’t remember why we expected this…

This year ushers in a new set of expectations, based again on others’ blogs, nautical guides, accounts of friends with experience in the area, and a slightly-improved understanding of our boat and ourselves. For 2017, we expect:

All the things our friend warned us about. However, since “forewarned is forearmed”, we hope to avoid the worst. Another cruising friend says that the Balearic Islands offer something for everyone and you can almost always find peace somewhere.

Med-style moorings. This time, we can’t get away from it. Once we leave La Linea, we’re not expected to see another finger berth for some time.

Using our 2nd anchor and chain off the back of the boat to limit swing in crowded anchorages. We’ve done this in sailing school but never on Mareda.

Expensive ports. This is in addition to the “obscenely” expensive ports our friend warned us about. There are a few marinas in the 100 euros / night range, but most are between 40-60 euros per night for Mareda, which is okay if it’s only for short-term stays. Mooring buoys can be had for 20-30 euros per night. We intend to anchor out as much as possible to keep the overall port costs reasonable.

Carefully-planned and precisely-executed commando raids in ports offering short-term tie-ups for a small fee (generally 20 euros for 1.5 hours). Water and electricity hook ups, food shopping and laundry duties will have to be rapid and efficient.

Lots of dinghy time (buy extra gasoline).

Meals from a can. Since we’ll be anchoring out a lot and trips ashore will be reduced, we’ll have to get used to canned food. We’ve never done this before, since one of our biggest pleasures of cruising is shopping at the local produce markets. Patrick has slowly accepted that he may not get fresh bread very often (but he has already claimed ALL of the freezer space for his limited bread stocks).

Capricious weather and rolly anchorages. We’ll do our best to cope with the swell (see Flopper Stopper post). We know that jumping from anchorage to anchorage to try to find the least uncomfortable will be our principle nautical pastime in the islands.

Warm crystalline waters, hot weather, living in swimsuits and sandals, gorgeous postcard-perfect surroundings (sometimes, anyway).

Rocks. To be avoided in general, and to avoid around the anchor and chain, if possible (and setting up a trip line, just in case).

Interior heat management (wind scoops, sun shades, bimini) and water rationing (washing dishes in saltwater, rinse in fresh; same for showers, etc.)

Charming old towns with labyrinths of cobblestone streets, hippy markets, ancient caves, perched mountain villages, UNESCO world heritage sites, great food and wine.

A zen Sardinia after the hustle and bustle of the Balearic Islands, off season and in areas with few charter boat facilities.

Honing our “roll with the punches” attitudes. This will be a hard one for me, as I tend to like the “by the book” approach, but I realize that we’ll have to be ready to squeeze into a space or pick up a buoy FIRST and ask questions LATER. (Is possession still 9/10ths of the law in the Balearics?)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Countdown to Cruising 2017 Begins

With only 6 weeks to go before we head off for 6 months, we’ve been keeping very busy with cruise preparations.  What, you ask, is there to do when your boat is far away in Gibraltar?  Here’s a sampling of what off-season sailors do:

(…and the photo theme, in keeping with the “what off-season sailors do” theme is A Day at the Beach in the Breton Winter.  Click on photos for larger versions).

Battle with phone company won by Patrick; 55 Euros per month for telephone service and 30-GB internet that can be used in the 6 months on the boat outside of France.  No more lost days running around to Portuguese/Spanish/Italian phone operators trying to understand how their pre-paid cards work.

2nd credit card ordered for our main bank account.  If we lose one or it is stolen, we just cancel that one and continue with the 2nd one … no waiting around for a new card to be mailed.

Small repairs on Mareda approved by Jeanneau guarantee and appointments made with shipyards in Spain to do the work.

House-sitting arranged.  We’ll have friends and family staying in our house this year, and have made a “how to” document to describe how to turn on / off the water and electricity.

Patrick and friend cart sailing, Presqu'il de Quiberon

Nav planning progressing.  General strategy set, every cala and port in the Balearics and northern Sardinia investigated, dozens of emails sent to marinas for availability and price quotes for wintering options.

Tourism planning begun.  Yes, yes, tourism.  It’s not all about the boat.  Very excited about Sardinia!

Transportation logistics finalized for the trip down.  Plane tickets bought, hotels reserved, bus schedules studied.

Haul-out, hull wash, and relaunch scheduled in La Linea.  We’ll have 3.5 days to scrape and repaint the hull, change the sail-drive oil, and replace the zincs while the boat is out of the water.

Patrick zips along while I try photographic panning for the first time.

Anti-fouling paint ordered
and sent to Accastillage Diffusion in La Linea.

Search for paper charts initiated.  Yes local sailing friends, I’ll be calling YOU to see if you can loan me your paper charts!  I know I don’t really need them with 3 independent systems of electronic charts (MaxSea, OpenCPN, Navionics), but I like having at least a large-scale route map with me.

Computer preparation underway.  Update computers with latest versions of grib viewer; update OpenCPN with Pierre’s brilliant Google Earthand Navionics maps embedded; backups-a-go-go; bought new battery for Sony Vaio. 

Spare solar panel charge regulator bought.  We had one of these go bad before.  It’s easy to fix but would be long and costly to have delivered to the islands.

Planning for friends and family to join us underway.  Juggling schedules and potential port stops is always a challenge.

To do list / To buy list in progress.  Items include a Parahoule System, new Breton and Spanish flags, Italian flag, 2 additional 10-liter jerrycans for fresh water, trip line for the anchor, no-suds salt-water bath gel and shampoo, and maybe an additional mosquito net.

Entertainment Gathering.  E-books, movies, and music being researched and loaded.

The clock is ticking !!

The day after Storm Zeus on the Wild Coast, Quiberon.

Sea foam piled up like snow and flying through the air.

Foam beach.

Monday, 6 March 2017


No, I’m not referring to the use of recreational pharmaceuticals that will be prevalent this summer in Ibiza, Europe’s hottest party island.  I’m talking about trip lines, a wildly popular and hotly debated topic on cruising forums.

Trip lines can help you recover your anchor if it gets blocked under a rock or some other obstruction.  After reading a few Med blogs and guides, we’ll need to be prepared for snags around the Balearic Islands.  I’d sure hate to lose my beloved Rocna.

We have a standard buoyed trip line on board Mareda that, I’m convinced, is entirely inappropriate for use in the Med.  This consists of a small floating buoy attached to the crown of the anchor with a floating line.  When you anchor, the buoy floating at the surface indicates where your anchor is and gives you a line to tug on vertically (or backwards) to disengage the nose of the anchor from the obstruction, rather than pulling on the shaft of the anchor with the chain, which just drives the anchor further under the obstruction.

buoyed trip line, illustration from PBO (link below)
In theory, this type of trip line has several advantages: 
  • It clearly indicates to other boaters where your anchor is to keep them from deploying their anchor on top of yours;
  • It forces other boats to maintain a respectful distance when anchoring;
  • It is an easy to rig / easy to use way of having a line connected to the rollbar of the anchor.
In reality, this type of trip line has several disadvantages:
  • Many credit-card captains think the buoy is a free mooring buoy and they will try to tie up to it, causing your anchor to drag and/or your trip line to part (and threats and warnings written on the ball only dissuade the most timid of idiots);
  • Your buoy will bang against others’ hulls.  Boats will anchor as close together as possible (or closer) and each boat will inevitably swing over the anchors of the others.  There’s no harm in this.  But if you’ve got a trip line buoy set, other boats will swing onto your buoy, which will bang against their hull (until they’ve had enough and pull it up). 
  • Your trip line may get snagged around propellers of passing dinghies or motor boats, or worse, around your own keel, rudder, or propeller.
There are so many horror stories about these little buoyed beasts that many sailing gurus say you simply shouldn’t use them unless you’re alone in an anchorage.  Ron Heikell in his Mediterranean Cruising Guide is against their use in the Med, where anchoring space is always tight.

But what choice do you have when you think there is a possibility of obstructions?

Look where you drop the anchor.  If visibility permits, you can avoid dropping anchor in dubious spots.

Free Dive.  This depends on your level of diving fitness and the water temperature, but if you’re anchoring in less than 5 meters of water, you can probably free-dive long enough to pass a line around the rollbar of the anchor.  If you have to leave at night, diving is ill-advised.

Dive with a tank.  This is another hot topic on the cruising forums.  Emergency diving kits for sailors include bottles with about 5 minutes of autonomy, but they are only safe to use above 10 meters.  If your anchor is stuck and 15 meters, this shouldn’t be used.  (I know one sailor who did use his emergency tank at depths greater than 10 meters but I wouldn’t want to take the risk.)  These tanks are useful for inspecting the hull or cutting away lines caught in your propeller (been there / done that) but that doesn’t help us with our anchor problem.  An additional kerfuffle is that it is illegal to have tanks on board if you do any spearfishing or underwater hunting.  I’m sure the risk of being caught is slim (and perhaps they make exceptions for emergency kits?), but I would hate to have to let those juicy crabs or lobsters go because I’ve got a tank on board.  Did I mention that those emergency dive kits cost 600 euros?

Use a modified trip-line with no buoy.  We will only use this in areas deeper than 5 meters, when we can’t see the bottom, and/or if the area is reputed to be rocky or have obstructions.  But admitting that this is the right way to go is only half the battle.  There are so many opinions out there about how to rig up trip lines that you’ll quickly get snarled in the melee. Without detailing all the options out there, here is my favorite, developed from several sources but best explained and illustrated by the excellent articles posted at Coastal Boating and Practical Boat Owner by Alex and Daria Blackwell, authors of “Happy Hooking – The Art of Anchoring”.   

Floating trip line, illustration from Coastal Boating (link above)

With an appropriate length (15-20 meters) of line (opinions differ on floating or non-floating…and I haven’t decided yet), tie one end to the anchor crown using a knot that won’t chafe.  As you deploy the anchor and chain, feed out the line at the same time; when you reach the last few meters of the line, tie it into one of the anchor chain links. Note: it is very important that the line be slack when the chain is under tension, so tie off the end of the line into the chain several meters before you reach the end of the line so that it lies loose along the chain.  You want the line to be as strong as possible and still pass through your chain link.  Continue deploying the length of chain needed and gently put the boat in reverse to dig in the anchor (although a friend with experience in the Balearics says you’ll never have space to tension the chain correctly).  When you are ready to leave the anchorage, slowly advance the boat with the motor in the direction of the chain to reduce tension and haul in the chain until you see the line tied into the link.  Untie it, fix it to a cleat, and continue hauling in the chain.  If your anchor is stuck, you have a trip line already fixed to the anchor and you can use it to pull up vertically or backwards from a dinghy when the nose of the boat is directly over the anchor.  This is relatively easy to install and uninstall, robust, simple, has no moving parts, and is dirt cheap.  I may add a slight modification by threading a small loop or kink of line into a chain link at 10 meters to keep the line lying close to the chain a bit closer.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  I hope we won’t need to use this often but several of the “calas” in the Balearic Islands that I’d like to visit are marked as rocky with possible / reported obstructions, so I’d like to be prepared.  

Posted on Monday, March 06, 2017 | Categories: