Across the Med

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Originally, our plan for cruising the Med was, upon arrival in the waters, go East as far as Turkey as quickly as possible and then head slowly back to Gibraltar, through Greece, Italy, France and Spain along the way. Alas, a sailor’s plans are made in the sand at low tide.

Upon arriving in Lisbon, we had already sailed 13,000 miles in one year and the prospect of sailing another 1,000 nautical miles in a short period of time (and with winter weather approaching) was something we couldn’t muster.  So instead, we decided to cruise slowly east, following the coast.  As a result, we cruised all winter long.  We were the only cruising boat we saw all winter long. All. Winter. Long.  In fact, the custom is to “winter” somewhere in a marina, and then begin cruising again when the weather warms up and the gales become less frequent.

As spring turned to summer, the weather becomes more stable and services to cruisers are more prevalent.  When people asked us where we wintered we’d say, “On the boat!”  The upside of this was that we often had prime anchorages to ourselves. Places that in high season would be crowded with boats, were blissfully vacant.  Marina prices were low when we stayed in one, and we got to see a lot more of the Med than we would have (in our limited amount of time) had we stayed put.  The downside was that it was cold living on a boat in the winter, even in the Mediterranean.

Deploying this plan, our quandary would be how to get the boat back to Gibraltar.  My two year sabbatical was coming to an end and Dante and I would have to fly home mid-September.  Darold has to be in Gibraltar by mid-October in order to prep for the Atlantic crossing back, which meant he would have one month to sail from Greece.  There is no way to make this distance without overnight passages, something Darold didn’t want to do solo (which I wholeheartedly agreed with.)

So after all of our mechanical adventures in Greece, we began the trek back by heading to Siracusa, Sicily.  We knew the town having been there already, and knew we could access a great chandlery, provision up, rest in a protected anchorage and be ready to make it across the med.  Our goal: Palma de Mallorca by the end of August so we could meet up with our friends from Safari, who we had met in the San Blas Islands.

We set off from Lefkada Island in the Ionian chain for Siracusa – a 3-day passage – at times raucous and at times calm, but usually with bumpy seas slowing our progress.  It was a wild ride across the south end of the Messina Straits, where opposing currents put us in the “washing machine” with 30+ knot winds.  “At least,” Darold said, “the weather is with us!” when he saw the look on my face.  We arrived at the anchorage before midnight and spent 10 days ordering parts (then waiting for them), provisioning (oh how I love outdoor Italian markets!), exploring Siracusa, making repairs and treasuring what would be some of our last days in Italy.

After leaving Siracusa, our plan was to make it to Palma, though we weren’t sure whether we would do it in 5 days straight (unlikely) or break it up.  The weather on the south coast of Sicily can be tough and we didn’t feel like beating to weather.  And although our first passage wasn’t dangerous, it was pretty uncomfortable so we decided to seek out an anchorage.  As we were several miles offshore, we heard a reverberating sound and initially we thought something was going on with the boat.  Then we thought maybe it was thunder, but we discovered that since the sound was too repetitive and methodical, it must be something else.

As we got closer, we realized that it was music onshore. Approaching the anchorage, we saw hundreds of umbrellas set up on the beach, clearly the makings of an epic Italian beach party.  As dusk turned to evening, we enjoyed the various kinds of music they played, ranging from reggae to 80s hits to house.  Several DJs were competing who could blast the loudest music, and happily for us, reggae was winning.  We enjoyed the music until about 10pm, and prepared to hit the sack.  We expected the music to stop sometime in the wee hours of the morning, after all, it was summertime in Italy.  But apparently those Italians can go all night long (Darold said I should have expected this).  The music didn’t stop until 8am, just as we were getting ready to leave.  All night long we had dreams in which the location was a night club, shouting to be heard, “WHAT DID YOU SAY?!?”

We sailed the entire day but again found ourselves in less than favorable conditions and anchored off the main town on Favagnana Isalnd in the Egade chain, off Sicily’s west coast.  It was there that we saw another cruising boat with a Canadian flag, and what looked like a kid on board.  Dante was beside himself – a kid boat!!  We hailed them on the radio, and it turns out they were headed in our direction – to Mallorca via Sardinia and Menorca.  Sweet!  We left the next day and made plans to meet at an anchorage in Southern Sardinia.  After a day and a half sail, we made it and spent two days with our new friends aboard End Game.  We went to the beach, enjoyed our last days in Italy, and then “buddy boated” on a 2-day passage to Mahon, Menorca.

The anchorage at Mahon is well protected but really small, and was bursting to full.  (I bet it was empty in winter!)  The boats were anchored so close together, you could practically jump from one to another.  The one advantage to this close proximity was that it allowed Dante and his new buddy, Quinn, a lot of customers in close range to sell the chocolate chip cookies they had made.  We hung out in Mahon for two days, enjoying its beauty (reminiscent of Laguna Beach, California in my opinion).  We rested up (it was so calm we thought we were on the hard).  Alas, we had to make tracks to see our friends on Safari in Palma.