A Tempestuous Trip to Tunisia 1


Our arrival in Marina di Ragusa last October unfortunately coincided with our favourite pizza maker being closed for a family event. We’d been dreaming of our first Amala pizza all the way along the Sicilian coast and on the evening of our arrival eagerly waited for the opening hour only to find it chiusa…. argh! So I guess we could call it symmetry that on our last evening in MdR we’d decided we should have one last Amala pizza, only to find it closed again. This time we had the filming of an episode of Inspector Montalbano to blame.

During the day we got a chance to say farewell to the Marina di Ragusa ducks

The day of departure saw several boats leave during the day, we wanted to hang on until later. At 190nm, an average moving speed of 5kts would take us 38 hours – one full day and 14 hours. To arrive in Monastir in daylight would mean leaving Sicily in the evening, making it a two night passage.

The wind during the day was blowing much more than forecast and we fretted about getting out of our berth. After final jobs were completed and a round of goodbyes we were left sitting waiting for a couple of hours torturing ourselves watching the wind speed instrument. In the end as the mooring lines were untied and a marinero boat pushed our bow around, the wind obligingly dropped and we were safely past the other moored boats. All melancholic thoughts about leaving MdR for our last time were pushed aside by the concentration of following the marineros boat closely as we left through the marina entrance that has suffered some silting over the winter. All was fine and we were soon cast free into the Sicilian Straits.

We’re off to Tunisia! Looking a bit windswept though

There was a swell to greet us and wind from the WNW. Too much west for us to sail to our desired course so with a reef in the main and a full staysail and genny we pointed as close as we could and set sail for Africa although our actual course had us heading for Gozo.

It was slow going. In three hours we only achieved 10nm and those were at 30 degrees off course. But it was still only the first few hours of a long passage. The fore sails went away as the wind died and we plugged on under engine power through the lumpy sea. I was glad I’d had some Stugeron sea sickness pills. The few hours of feeling spacey and a dry mouth were worth it for the lack of queasiness.

Under engine power it was still slow going. A speed over ground that maxed out at 4.5kt was not reassuring for our diesel supplies. We pondered the causes; a dirty bottom or prop or just the sea state? It was an uncomfortable night as we bounced our way onwards. The night watches seemed overly long and were cold enough to require hats, boots and blankets. There was a lot of shipping about and leaving the warmth of the blanket for a regular full look around was mentally challenging.

Even when off watch it wasn’t easy to sleep with the engine running and being tossed about like I imagine it would feel to be in a washing machine. But at least it was rest.

Three cheers for Soreen Malt Loaf. It kept us going through the bouncy night and day

By daybreak we had a decision to make; divert to Malta for more diesel or keep going? A decent wind had arrived with more north in it, giving us a much better sailing angle and speed. The sun’s warmth gave us a mental lift and we decided to keep going for another few hours and see how the sailing went.

Well, the wind built, the seas with it. Emerald stormed along at over 6kts with staysail and one reef in the main. The going became too uncomfortable for us so we slowed things down to nearer 5kts. Emerald was chomping at the bit, bashing her way through the troughs and peaks with water slooshing down the decks but mountaineering our way from one side of the cockpit to the other was exhausting. The person off watch was resigned to being cocooned in the lee cloth rather than laying on the bunk cushion. Going to the toilet was a Krypton Factor-esque physical challenge to work out how to wedge yourself into a secure position whilst also trying to remove clothing and hold on at the same time.

And as well as the weather, Emerald herself threw us a few problems to keep us on our toes. The carburettor in our Refleks heater (Rupert) didn’t like the angle we were at and decided to spew out diesel across the floor, resulting in Colin making an unplanned skate down the saloon that I’m sure Torville and Dean would approve of. The toilet too was a source of woe. Being so hard over on the port tack, the tilt of the water in the bowl resulted in the loo syphoning water in from the flush inlet which then overflowed the rim and trickled into the bilge. We were never in danger as we could have closed the inlet seacock but it kept us busy mopping up the seawater and making sure the bilge didn’t get too full.

I felt so meh that I didn’t take any photos until after life became more level.

Life became a lot more comfortable as the seas eased as the sun set

So although we’d eaten up the miles, we were glad when in the afternoon, life became a little less tilted as the wind eased and the sea state with it. This continued until sunset when the wind died away and we returned to motor-sailing. As the night wore on, the sea became flatter until with the arrival of dawn it was almost flat calm. We both managed to get a good sleep whilst off watch. Unlike the first night there were a handful of distant ship lights, but no nearby traffic. Oh, except for an oil platform that wasn’t on the charts.

Venus and a sliver of moon rises just before the sun
Venus and a sliver of moon rising just before the sun

Sunrise was beautiful; a molten metal sea with hues of pink above, the moon and Venus rising first. The peaks of Pantelleria were visible in the distance.

The sunrise rejuvenated my spirits that morning

About 7nm offshore we were approached by a Tunisian customs boat who asked us a few questions then gave us permission to proceed. The shoreline ahead was fairly flat and featureless. We weaved our way around the tuna nets outside Monastir and arrived an hour later at the marina.

But, where should we go? The welcome pontoon in front of the marina office was occupied by a huge trip boat leaving no space. We slowed to a stop and saw the marineros waving us into a berth. Bows to we were soon tied up with only one huge floating rope to avoid on the way in.

We had made it to Africa!

Monastir Bay a few hours after we'd arrived. We felt glad to have got in when we did
Monastir Bay a few hours after we’d arrived. We felt glad to have got in when we did

Sailing Info

30th April 2019: Marina di Ragusa, Sicily to Marina Monastir, Tunisia
Distance travelled: 194nm (81nm sailed)
Position: 35 46.776’N 10 49.981’E


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

One thought on “A Tempestuous Trip to Tunisia