EGRET TALES OF THE SEA - THE MEDITERRANEAN, WHY, AND HOW - Part 1

 Barcelona's Marina Port Vell is a popular location to spend the winter months. Image by Böhringer Friedrich.

Barcelona's Marina Port Vell is a popular location to spend the winter months. Image by Böhringer Friedrich.

As far as cruising regions we’ll write about over time, the Mediterranean is the second easiest. The easiest is the U.S. East Coast and Bahamas, but that’s another story for down the road. Almost any reasonable boat can cruise the Med safely; the problem is getting there. We’ll address that in the last post of this three-part series.

We’ll begin with a series of bullet points.

The Med’s cruising season begins April 1st and ends September 30th.  You may stretch the seasons on either end, keeping a weather eye, but we’ll discuss the mainstream season.

If you have the speed there are no overnighters, but if you have a full displacement boat, there are a few.

Weather systems typically come from the north, however there is localized weather that can be unpredictable at times. I will say everything is so much easier than Egret’s first years in the Med. I won’t bore you with the thrashing we spent trying to receive weather reports early on, we’ll just say that today, internet weather is the way to go. We typically use www.passageweather.com, based on NOAA reports, plus there are others.  The internet will give you accurate big system weather and for localized weather, just look out the window. Typically, the distances are short so if it’s good early in the morning you’re almost always good to go.

The most popular cruising guides for the Med are the Imray/RCC Heikell guides. For navigational guides, they are all you need. For land based guides, we found DK Guides better than Lonely Planet. The exception is the guide for the Aegean Greek Islands. For those islands, the 777 Guide is the best. Navigation is very easy in the Med. We used C-Map CM-93 charts with MaxSea software running on a laptop, but any navigation software and charts will be just fine.

You will not need paper charts, we bought $1,800 worth and never unrolled them. We gave them to a friend and he’s never unrolled them either.  You get the picture.

Necessary electronics are simple to simpler. All you need is a chartplotter and a small back-up plotter, such as the Garmin unit we bought for the lobster boat for $250.  Radar is important as is AIS.  VHF with DSC is necessary and probably a backup VHF in a box or mounted. SSB for Europe is a waste of money in my opinion.

Assuming you have a multi-function plotter as your main navigation device, it is important to have a real depth finder that shows bottom trends rather than a digital depth finder. Once you learn to read the bottom it won’t take long before you can tell the difference between sand, grass & mud, and rock. Egret went around the world with $11,000 worth of electronics and $5,500 of that was for a silly SSB. Today we could do it safely with less. Remember in the last posting what we said about stuff. There is a difference between want and need.

 A digital depth sounder provides way more useful information than a simple depth reading.

A digital depth sounder provides way more useful information than a simple depth reading.

Nearly all of the anchorages shown in the Heikell guides are bombproof from the traditional wind direction. Ninety percent of the anchorages have a white sand bottom in clear water. The exceptions are within harbors with large populations, such as Syracuse, Sicily or Algero, Sardinia.

Marinas are expensive in the Med during the summer season. We only used marinas when we had to, such as when a group of us got together for July 4th in Ostia Marina, the port for Rome. From the marina, it was a combination bus and train ride into the city. We also took advantage of shore power and visited Venice by train for three days. If you visit Malta, it is best to use a marina, as the anchoring areas are super limited. We stayed at marinas just twice more during Egret’s Med travels, except for wintering.

Egret wintered in Marina Port Vell, Barcelona and Marmaris, Turkey the following year. These days, we would winter in Marina de Ragusa in southern Sicily rather than in Turkey. Getting a winter berth in Port Vell is difficult unless you know the trick. Write to the marina and request a winter berth. You will be told to reapply April 1st. Write once or twice more prior to April 1st, to keep your name front and center, and then write early in the morning on April 1st. Marina Port Vell is located in downtown old city Barcelona. Mary and I wandered the Gotic section nearly every day during the months we spent there. 

Marina de Ragusa is a relatively new marina that has become probably the most popular winter spot for the international crowd. The prices are inexpensive, relative to the rest of the Med, and there are so many berths a guaranteed social life will keep you as busy as you want to be. Ragusa is a summer tourist town but because of the wintering live-aboard cruisers, many of the shops are now open year around.

 The newer facilities of the Marina de Ragusa in Sicily make it a popular place for the international crowd. Image by Gianfranco Guggione.

The newer facilities of the Marina de Ragusa in Sicily make it a popular place for the international crowd. Image by Gianfranco Guggione.

Obviously there are many other places to winter, whether you choose to live aboard or store the boat on the hard until the following season. The best single source for destination information is www.noonsite.com.  Type in any country, area, city, etc and you will have all the real information cruisers need. Noonsite is hosted by cruisers, for cruisers.

Paper products are expensive and poor quality in Europe. Egret left the U.S. with 10 cases of Viva paper towels and enough toilet paper to last for years.

Prices for marine goods are crazy expensive in Europe. Marine stores as we know them are nearly non-existent except for Ostia Marina, the port for Rome, and a few places in Turkey. Buy what you think you may need. We found it was small parts like pipe fittings, electrical terminals, a little wire, and Whale-type fittings for the water system were our most used parts, besides consumable products such as oil and filters. Buy your oil and fuel filters ahead of time in the U.S. Most of the small parts we used were to help other cruisers. The only "large" parts we used were water system pumps. We kept two new pumps as spares as well as a rebuild kit.

Dinghies are simple as well. Egret carried two dinghies, a 9-foot inflatable with a 8hp Yamaha 2-stroke and a larger 12-foot Livingston fiberglass dinghy with a 30hp Yamaha 2 stroke. The only time we used the larger dinghy was in Menorca Harbor, in the Balearic Islands off the Med coast of Spain, because it was more than a mile from the town and there is an afternoon sea breeze that creates a chop.  Every other time we used the smaller dinghy because it was just easier and we only went from the anchorage into town, which was never far.

If you spend the season as we did on Egret, living 95-percent of the time on anchor, a watermaker is a worthwhile investment. If you are a marina queen, it’s not necessary.

For smaller boats that mainly anchor and there is enough real estate to support a large solar array, you don’t need a generator. For the boat we designed as our perfect cruising boat, there was no generator and it had two 265-watt 20V panels on the cabin top. It is sunny most days in the Med during the cruising season, and even on cloudy days there is enough energy for the solar panels to work. 

As far as food costs, food to prepare aboard is on par with prices in the U.S., or slightly higher, but less than what we found in Canada. Eating out is expensive, particularly the evening meal. We tempered our food costs by cooking most meals aboard and if we did eat out, it was usually a light lunch.  Our weakness, as is everyone’s, is coffee and pastry during our morning walks. To us, it was more entertaining to sit and watch people than the coffee itself.

In our next post, we will discuss the costs of cruising the Med. It is one of the most-often asked questions we get from people thinking of doing this trip.

Scott and Mary