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 !


Astrolabe Sailing said...

Fantastic post. Loved following your adventures. Have a good winter. said...

Wow, what a great year you've had! Your description of the labyrinths of old stone streets, perched villages, etc. does make me wish we were going o sail there. Perhaps we will! But at the rate we are going we may never even get to Mexico. Ah, well. Have to agree about the laser rangefinder. That is one of our more loved gadgets aboard. We use it almost ever time we anchor and it has relieved a lot of stress. I hope next year is here before you know it and you can continue on.

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Viki and Melissa. I'm living vicariously through you guys now, so keep blogging !