I often ask myself "what am I doing here". Sailing is the Agony, the Ecstasy and boredom all thrown in together. The agony is when the boat is getting tossed around like a cork for hour after hour and doing anything is a real effort. The boredom is those long periods when nothing happens and it's just the same monotonous scenery for hour after hour and the same monotonous routine of meals and watches throughout the day. The Ecstasy is arriving in port and some of those special moments when your spirits or anticipations are high. My escape is my books, I have read more in these last 3 months than in years. I keep thinking of the ancient mariners, people have sailed the Mediterranean. They must have spent months at sea waiting for the right winds with a fraction of the equipment and accessories we have, charts, GPS plotter, Radio, Radar, weatherfax, refrigerator, watermaker, autopilot, motor and so on. With a good wind in the right direction sailing is great but if we cant make 4 knots we turn on the motor. cross the Mediterranean we have run the motor near to two thirds of the time. Without it we would have not moving for days and days, the trip would have taken months. What motivated these people? They must have been just like me in wanting to get out of the rut. I think of my parents and grandparents, their trips to Europe were in the grand old passenger ships, travel on a plane is quick and easy but has none of the romance or sense of adventure. I am staggered at the number of ships around with huge cargoes nearly all travelling at 15 knots, twice our speed.
I joined the boat in Crete after a 3-week break from it in Egypt and Greece. Gunnar had a perfect broad reach most of the way from Egypt as he predicted. Heraclion in Crete is a beautiful spot, on a clear day from the port you can see the snow covered mountains in the background. I found a hotel right by the marina. It was elections time, attended a political rally cheering on Crete's favorite candidate "Petra", the most passionate political rally I have ever attended. On our first attempt to leave when we predicted easterly winds a strong westerly with an uncomfortable chop sprung up after we left port so we turned back and waited another day. The same when we left next day, this time we were well on the way so persisted for fifty miles to the next port east Rythemon. When we left there another one sprung up after calm flat seas. "These westerlies have got to be sea breezes," said Gunnar. We persisted and sure enough they abated as we cleared the landmass of Crete.
On the first leg to Malta about 500 miles we had one exciting days sail, our first big run of the whole trip. Late one evening, the breeze changes to the southeast. Light at first but getting heavier all the time. With just the little bit of main we had out for motoring and half a headsail we are soon doing up to 10 knots surfing down the waves, the wind is perfect for our course, south east and we are heading dead west. Even with that little bit of sail we are a little uncomfortable, the main keeps backwinding the headsail and Gunnar is afraid of tearing it. So after lunch we reduce the main even further to the last reef, it's just a pocket-handkerchief now but far more comfortable and we are only losing half a knot. If we keep this up we can have maybe a two hundred miles plus day. This is the low pressure we have been observing in the weather faxes. The barometer fell from 1024 to 1007 millibars.
The winds of the Mediterranean never last all that long, soon after reefing the wind starts to die and by 8 PM we are motoring again, still a very confused sea from the winds of the day but no breeze. So it looks like e a calm night. Not to be, at 9.30 in comes a northwester, I am on watch and having great difficulty trimming the autopilot. When Gunnar comes up he trims the rudder to the Starboard side to balance the main on the starboard tack. This too blew itself out and we were motoring on calm seas to Malta arriving early in the morning for a few days break. Malta really is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, it's history too goes back thousands of years, people have been sailing here and invading each other for thousands of years, that's why there are forts on all the strategic headlands. The original town of Valetta is enclosed by a huge fort on a headland.
One morning I was napping in the cockpit when I thought I saw a sparrow fly out of the foreword cabin. It came back and sat for a long while on the Instrument cover. Showed him to Ingemar who is as surprised as me. "These sparrows fly from Africa to Europe at this time of the year" said Gunnar. Incredible we are 350 miles from Africa, how can a sparrow fly that far? We had several more visit us, one sat for a long while on top of the compass. He disappeared somewhere in the night, Liz found and nursed him in is morning, Ingemar caught him a fly and he drank some water but dies later as did a couple of others. These birds must have flown too low and been in trouble. Liz is saddened when a pair of sparrows fly by, one fly's into the boat but the other won't. "Isn't it sad" she says, "They are split up now forever".
Just after leaving Malta Liz says "let's go to Pantalleria, we can go for dinner tomorrow night then sail on later". "If we stop for dinner we will get lazy and stay the night and probably half the following day," said Gunnar. But oops Ingemar sees a frayed backstay with several strands of broken wire. Gunnar shakes his head "We can't sail the whole Med. on that, we must have it fixed". "Let's go to Pantalleria tomorrow and fix it" says Liz. So we have a new plan and motor all night in the light south easter. It is a classic volcanic island between Sicily and Tunisia only 30 miles from north Africa. It has a pretty man made harbor like so many in the Mediterranean and village with a fort. We moored up by the coastguard boats and worked our butts off all afternoon to replace the backstay with a double piece of wire, all we could buy in town. We also dislodged a piece of plastic from the salt-water intake that has been troubling the motor and fridge cooling and watermaker. Feeling pretty proud of ourselve we have a beautiful dinner and party with a group of Italians we met in a bar after dinner finding the one and only nightclub in town.
I am learning heaps about meteorology on this trip. In Europe we get weather faxes from Bracknell in UK and weather emails from Rota in Spain several times a day on which we base our strategy. Right now the wind is as predicted little or none and we are heading from Tabarka in Tunisia on the north coast of Africa to Malaga in Spain. We are following the shipping route just off the coast of Algeria and its almost as busy as Pitt St. The maps show high pressures over most of the eastern Mediterranean. But it was not that way the day after we left the Italian island of Pantalleria near Malta. The weather maps and predictions showed east to southeasterly winds for 5 to 6 days so we were expecting a super ride directly to Spain. This was the case the first day out and then the weather men are wrong, Gunnar is very upset, he really wants to get to Spain for his break and is shaking his head all day. The wind is blowing the wrong way this morning, from the west. It does so all day getting stronger and stronger. S we are all tense and uncomfortable, heading almost north all day when we wanted to go west. Late in the afternoon we go about and head southwest but boy is it rough. Looks like being a miserable night.
"I don't know what we can do, maybe we can hove too" says Gunnar, "I was just thinking the same thing Gunnar," I said. Wow what a relief with just the mizzen up Regina Maris is remarkably stable and comfortable so it's hove too tonight. Next morning Gunnar says, "Were off to Tabarka in Tunisia, It's 64 miles in the correct direction". Off we went, sailing are first with the mizzen and Yankee only but we could not keep our course and motored all day and into the night. The wind and sea got even harder and stronger so we finished up hand steering most of the day. Tied up at 3 AM and had a coffee and whisky. To get your feet on dry land again, a port never looked so good after 48 hours in very rough seas, we finished up making only another 40 miles on Spain for the whole days motoring. So three days relaxing here as the wind blew and blew from the west. I was so happy to be there instead of bobbing around in the rough seas making at best only 40 or so miles each 24 hours.
The weather this time took a couple of days to abate. All the weather maps and predictions showed perfect conditions. Little breeze and from the east or south if there is any at all. Gunnar's strategy is to run along the Algerian coast to catch the South breeze if it comes without any waves. He is leery of Algeria, the pilot book we have tells a little about their ports but he says "Hardly any yachts go there we had a run in with their navy a couple of years ago".
"This is what I imagined sailing on the Mediterranean would be like" said Liz as we were lounging on the foredeck with a cold beer as Regina Maris purred on at 7 knots plus in the almost dead flat sea past the last of the Tunisian coastline and onto the Algerian coastline.
Not to last, "The Algerian coastal patrol is after us", says Gunnar. I look up and see a large Zodiac inflatable with 3 service personnel, two navies and one Army waving at us. "They want us to stop" I call to Gunnar who is down by the VHF radio calling "Coast Patrol, this is Swedish sailing Yacht Regina Maris, what do you want?" No answer from the patrol, another ship further out to sea answers "Regina Maris, are you having any problems". As the patrol keeps signaling we signal, let's talk on the radio channel sixteen but they obviously don't want to. We raise the Swedish Flag and signal and hail as best we can, "we are outside the 12 mile zone in International waters headed from Tabarka Tunisia to Malaga Spain". They want us to stop, after a while out comes the automatic rifle, they load a bullet and proceed past our bow. The normal practice to stop you is to fire a shot across your bow. Gunnar is aware of this and throws the boat out of gear. So as we drift another signaling conversation goes on. "W want to board you," says the patrol. "No we are a Swedish yacht in international waters," says Gunnar.
"You are in Algerian waters, follow us back to port," says the patrol after numerous radio conversations with their shore base. So Gunnar gives in, "Ok one of you can come aboard" So they tie up alongside and on comes one Navy man. "Show me your ships papers and crew list," says the captain. After Gunnar gave him a photocopy of them the navy man on board proceeded to check out below. "Put your ships stamp on the crew list," the captain said handing the paper back to me. "Do you speak French" he asked. The navy man on board asked, "do you have any drugs or Firearms" and spotted most of the alcohol on board. "Can I have some of your wine" he asked. "No said Liz, but have some beer". So he left with 3 cans of beer and some cheese. After that we pleasantly motored on into the evening, Liz served Thai chicken with wine on the foredeck as we watched a magnificent Mediterranean Sunset.
Just when we think we are fine again, Bang a westerly front we expected to be weak and pass quickly hits and passes very slowly. Next morning the wind is so strong we are heave too again. It is also very overcast all day. At three PM the sky starts to clear and we start motoring off westward again, all the time the wind and sea is abating. But trouble with the autopilot, it will steer to port but not to starboard, and then something gets caught in the propeller. We clear the propeller but cannot fix the autopilot so it's hand steering, hard work at first in the bumpy seas on the last four hundred miles to Malaga Spain. Ah the joy of a Fred the autopilot, when you don't have him do you appreciate him. Still it's not that bad, we are mostly working in half-hour shifts so the time doesn't drag like it does in very long shifts.
Gunnar tried many things to get it going but comes to the conclusion we have to find a serviceman in Spain or send the control box back to England to be tested. On the last few hundred miles of the Med. approaching Spain conditions are perfect. Then one evening after a beautiful dinner with Santorini red wines Gunnar tries it again and voila it works. When Gunnar wakes me for the early morning watch he is very excited. We are booming along at 7 to 8 knots. "We are slightly off course but I am not game to change the autopilot, we can alter course closer to the coast" he says. The coast is still 15 hours away so that sounds good to me. I came very close to a small ship at 2 am, I thought I may have to alter course but fortunately not, missed him by about 300 meters.
Just when we were on the last 100 miles to Malaga in Spain we get hit by another front and strong westerly winds again. On a late night watch I am surrounded by fishing boats that are very hard to see, have to spend lots of time in the doghouse watching then have to alter course to miss one and that's the end of the Autopilot. Hand Steering in shifts the rest of the way in very bumpy head on seas. I wish we had had more time to do this trip, we have to get to Spain by Easter but even now we are late. Most cruising yachties won't attempt passages as long as we have, they amble from port to port seldom doing more than an overnighter and never putting out in anything but perfect conditions.
In many places I have seen tourists, busloads of Americans, Germans, English, Japanese on their package tours a real comfort zone. I like being out of the comfort Zone, the ups and downs make me feel stronger.