The last few days in Monastir had been a frenzy of preparation for departure; stocking up the cupboards, fridge and freezer with fresh, Tunisian food, stowing the many objects that had found their way out from their secure homes, planning, washing and laundry and a myriad other jobs made easier by our connection to land. Now we were itching to get to sea.
Once clear of the marina, the main and genny were hoisted, the course was set and Emerald romped along at 6kts, even with a reef in each. After an initial flurry of activity life after departure slowed right down. There’s nowhere to walk, there’s nothing to buy. The sails might need a tweak if the wind changes direction or strength, but mostly there’s a lot of sitting; looking out to check the sea state or watching for other boats. The instruments need an occasional scan and we aim to update the paper log regularly which helps mark the passing of time. There is a lot of time for contemplation, during which worry worms burrow their way into our heads, largely about our route and the weather. Our plan was for an overnight hop to Sicily as winds were forecast to die off the next afternoon, but should we be going straight to Sardinia? Or would the hint of more southerlies next week give us a better chance?
I usually need a few sails at the start of the season to find my sea legs, but I dislike the feeling that seasickness pills give me. Therefore I had used the forecast of light, southerly winds to persuade myself that I wouldn’t need the drugs. It was a folly, as once we were out of the marina, the winds settled to a F5 on the aft quarter. Great for sailing, not so great for a flat sea state. My queasiness set in just after leaving and at first I tried mind over matter and eating a sticky pain au chocolat to dispel the feeling, which surprisingly, did help to quell my tummy for at least a while. I then tried reading as a further distraction, but it just made me feel worse.
So with little to distract me, I had time to think. And despite my churning stomach, I was thinking a lot about food; what or when I could eat next. Even severe seasickness doesn’t deter my mind-food train of thought; back in the 90s I was on a week long diving holiday on a converted fishing trawler out of Plymouth and visiting sites along the Cornish coast. We made a passage across to the Scilly Isles through rough seas with half of those on board slumped around the curved back rail, performing a synchronised sea sickness show. One would go, setting off each of the rest of us in turn, a kind of Mexican Wave but with vomit. We arrived at the Scillys and all my green faced mates went to bed whilst I ravenously downed two portions of lasagne. It was very nice lasagne. So, yes, even whilst green around the gills, once I’m on passage, I’m thinking a lot about food.
To distract from my stomach I watched the shearwaters that accompanied us, swooping and swirling, skimming close to the waves. Seagulls also patrolled the waters, but they flapped constantly, unlike the effortlessly elegant shearwaters. My ears tuned in to the swish of Emerald slicing through the water, an occasional splash as a wave top broke against the hull. From above came the sigh of the wind as its headlong rush was broken by the sails, giving us our forward power as it hustled to find a way around the canvas before rushing onwards unimpeded again. If my eyes and ears could become at one with the sights and sounds then hopefully my stomach would accept the rise and fall of our motion.
But despite the calming sounds and views, I had to give in to the drugs and fell into a drowsy nap for a while.
Woken, refreshed and no longer feeling ill, we were still sailing well. We had pre-prepared curry for tea before sunset whilst a tiny crescent moon hovered just above the horizon, the signal for the end of Ramadan and the start of the Eid celebrations back in Tunisia.
With sunset, as so often on our passages, the wind died. We got the engine going as the remains of the choppy sea were causing the sails to flap and flog. Better some diesel burnt that damage to the sails.
By midnight we were close to the island of Pantelleria, the lights around the shore clearly visible. We picked up updated weather forecasts which showed us that despite increasing in the morning, the wind didn’t hang around long enough to get us to Sardinia, so a stop it would be.
The wind duly returned as the sunrise picked out the hills of western Sicily. Around us, our feathered entourage still swooped and glided – was it the same few birds that had followed us all the way across? We surfed up the channel between Sicily and Isola Favignana, and was surprised to see so many boats anchored in Cala Rossa. Perhaps it was the gloriously sunny day that had brought them out.
Favignana and Trapani
Most of the anchored boats left by late afternoon and we celebrated a great first anchor of the season; enjoying the space around us, the sun shining above and brilliant blue water below. So it was a surprise when we woke the next day to find the skies had turned grey.
The day after an overnight passage is when our tiredness hits, but we gave ourselves a talking to and motored the 10nm across to Trapani, where the prospect of restocking the very depleted wine and beers stores lay. Two runs ashore had us topped up again, with a quick wander around the town and the pleasure of a Sicilian gelato for our troubles.
Passage Two – the Hokey Cokey One
After a too brief stop we were off again, taking the next set of south easterly winds to south Sardinia. We motored for a few hours waiting for the wind to fill in, which it did as we left the outer Egadi Island, Marettimo, behind. It was a lively crossing with a messy sea and varying winds. That’s why it became the hokey cokey passage: we put one reef in, one reef out, two in, one out, shake the sails about. Physically exhausting, although the wind did conveniently change around the time of our watch changes so we did get some sleep.
We had only one shearwater for company, but a dolphin pod filled the gap, playing in our bow wake at sunset and performing amazing twisting leaps in the waves. Another pod came to say hello to Colin on his night watch, surfing side by side as a wave picked Emerald up and surged her forwards.
On the majority of night passages we’ve done, the wind dies away overnight, this time it kept on blowing. Every so often, a large wave in the washing machine sea, would pick Emerald up by the stern and twist her around. The autopilot alarm screeched it’s disapproval as it lost control. So our night watches were spent sat close to the autopilot control, and at the first shriek, be ready to grab the helm, whilst simultaneously pressing the standby button on the auto pilot. Then fight against the waves and wind to get us back on course, before setting the auto pilot back on. In the darkness it was impossible to see the bigger waves coming, so it was a waiting game.
So, with the combination of physical work from so many sail changes and disturbed sleep from the cannot-be-ignored auto pilot alarm, we were glad when the wind switched off at 7am the next morning.
We each grabbed a few more hours sleep as we motor sailed in the final few miles, during which we passed our 15,000th nautical mile travelled in Emerald. As we rounded a rock and got a good view of the anchorage off Villasimius marina, we were pleased to see many friend’s boats from several of the years we’d spent in Marina di Ragusa.
But before we could relax, there was work to be done. The furler on our staysail had jammed during the passage and we’d been unable to use it. So Colin made a trip up the mast. There was a slight swell, not so noticeable at sea level but very much so 15m up in the air. Thankfully there was no serious damage, just a piece of cord jammed in the top swivel which was easily fixed.
Passage Three – the Rubbish One
As Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad, but I was ready to disagree as the passage up the east coast of Sardinia was a real slog.
We wanted to make a single passage north, without needing to stop off at Arbatax which meant a 130nm passage. Having caught up with our MdR friends, we were doubting our plans more than usual, having had the worms of alternatives wiggle into our brain. Whilst we ummed and ahhed, the wind blew from the north, which was definitely no good. So we sat and ummed into the afternoon, when the winds switched off. Still in two minds, we decided to go, expecting winds to fill in from the south into the evening. We even motored out from the coast for a couple of hours, in the hope of finding better winds and to keep us away from any coastal fishing.
There was wind somewhere as the sea was unsettled, but it didn’t reach as far as us, resulting in a poor Speed Over Ground (SOG). The night was cold and damp, but inside was hot and clammy from the heat of the engine. Not much sleep was had. On my 4am to 7am watch the rising sun highlighted some dark clouds, ominously lurking ahead of us. A short while later there were flashes along with rumbles of thunder and heavy rain. I huddled in the sheltered corner of the cockpit and felt properly fed up. Then we had fog. The sky was grey, the sea was grey, my mood was grey. On the “would I rather be stuck in a traffic jam on the M25” scale, I was leaning towards the M25 and I began to think about campervans. The sun briefly broke through the murk, but then we returned to gloom. The forecast wind didn’t arrive until mid afternoon, after a whole 24 hours of motoring. And when it arrived, it was a full on arrival, with a large following sea.
Even the majestic sight of Isola Tavolara did nothing to cheer me up, shrouded as it was in a thick veil of cloud. We dropped anchor in the top of Golfo de Aranci, brooding about how much diesel we’d burnt.
The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow
And then, the next day, rested and with sunshine warming my face, this sailing life didn’t seem so bad after all. We planned to spend at least a few days here; time to recharge ourselves after three 24 hour passages in a week and to work on a few jobs on Emerald.
4th June: Monastir to Cala Rossa, Isola Favignana – 151nm (of which 98nm sailed)
Anchored in 4m in position 37 55.412’N 12 21.857’E
6th June: Cala Rossa to Trapani anchorage – 9nm
Anchored in 8m in position 38 00.654’N 12 29.896’E
Call Trapani VTS on entry to the harbour for permission to proceed.
Dinghy tie up amongst the fishing boats in the small harbour along the quay. See here for details.
7th June: Trapani to Cabo Carbonara, Sardinia – 159nm (of which 102 sailed)
Anchored in 7m in position 39 07.443’N 9 30.269’E
Ashore there is a marina in which a tender can be securely left.
9th June: Cabo Carbonara to Golfo di Aranci – 132nm (of which 19nm sailed)
Anchored in 6.5m in position 40 59.998’N 9 37.169’E
Ashore there are bars, restaurants, grocery stores and a launderette.