Here is the summary of our 2019 season: a run down of our route, followed by a cost review.
This season was a shorter one than previous seasons, bookended with a month long stay in Monastir whilst we took some land travel and an early arrival into our winter berth to sort out some issues back in the UK.
From Tunisia we covered a lot of ground in a short time, passing through our previous years’ routes to take us to France, where we spent the majority of our time, almost two months.
The Pie Chart of Nights Stayed
We departed Marina di Ragusa, Sicily on 1st May and ended our season on the 21st September in Cartagena, Spain on September 21st, a total of 143 nights. The chart shows where we where our nights were spent in between:
- At anchor: 96
- At sea: 10
- In a marina: 36
- On a town quay: 1
We made far more overnight passages that we have in previous seasons, these were to move ourselves quickly through the areas we’d previously visited and position ourselves in new ones. The majority were passages of just one night with one of two nights.
The two night passage was our first trip of the year, from Sicily to Monastir, which turned into quite a baptism by fire. You can read more about it here. Beyond our month in Monastir, we only spent 4 nights in a marina, which was in Barcelona.
We travelled a total of :
- of which 710nm were sailed (engine off, we don’t record motor sailed hours separately from motoring hours).
- That’s a 42% sail to motor ratio.
- We visited 4 countries – Italy, Tunisia, France and Spain.
- And added a new continent – Africa – to our list of those we’ve sailed to.
France was a revelation – the welcome to visiting sailors was the best we’ve experienced in the whole of the Med. No one shouted at us for landing a dinghy on a beach, friendly staff directed us to dedicated spots to tie up our dinghy when we went into harbours and marinas and the refuse and recycling bins weren’t locked. The rest of the Med could take a lesson from France – if we can easily get ashore, we’ll come visit and contribute to the businesses, bars and restaurants there.
Other highlights included:
- Having our home parked so close to the centre of Barcelona to allow for easy visiting.
- A month spent exploring and learning some of the culture of Tunisia.
- Climbing to the top of Penon Ifach in Calpe, after nearly a week stuck onboard due to bad weather.
- The Sentier du Littoral – coastal path – in France. A French law exists which builds upon a Napoleonic code allowing citizens free access to the shore. This has resulted in private lands being reclaimed by the state to allow the provision of walkways along large sections of the coast. In most anchorages we visited, we were able to find a path to explore ashore.
2019 was such a good season that it was difficult to come up with many bads. Two that stuck out:
- the swell – from sleepless nights to seasick passages, the swell caught us out on a couple of occasions this season.
- the first few days in the marina at Monastir. It could be that we were unlucky as we experienced a trinity of unpleasantness – an obnoxious neighbour, being caught out in a scam (very mild and inexpensive) and inadequate mooring lines leaving Emerald’s bow mere centimetres from being bashed against a concrete quay. Thankfully things got much better!
- The weather in September. In previous years, we’ve noticed a change from fine and settled summer weather around the time of the September equinox. In 2019 this break down came earlier, with the Gota Fria storm which ravaged eastern Spain in the second week of the month. Torrential rain led to vast areas of flooding on land and the need to evacuate over 1000 people. As sea, storm force winds raged and numerous boats were washed ashore. We had chosen our refuge well as the worst we suffered was a few hours of strong winds and some occasional rain as we waited it out in the sheltered lagoon at Sant Carles de la Rapita. However, even once this storm had passed, the weather patterns remained unsettled.
- Departure from Real Club Maritim Barcelona – I’m trying to erase that event from my memory!
- My first ever broken toe. Two months later came my second.
- The loss of the use of our port fuel tank whilst in Roses, Spain. This was eventually found to be due to a blockage with diesel bug residue in a fuel pipe fitting. It resulted in many sweaty, sweaty and frustrating hours for Colin whilst he tried to resolve the issue. We have a second main tank and a smaller diesel tank for our heater with a fuel transfer / cleaning system, so between the two, we were able to continue safely to Cartagena.
From Carthage to Cartagena – Following in Hannibal’s Footsteps
Our route took us on a direct passage from Sicily to Monastir, Tunisia – our first visit to the continent of Africa. As previously mentioned, it was quite the tempestuous trip. We then settled back into marina life for a month, taking time for land travel. There is an incredible amount of ancient history in Tunisia and very cheap transport available to access it. From capital city to dusty village our explorations took us from huge, empty amphitheatres, to the scant remains of the ancient city of Carthage. Then to the desert to try out alternative forms of transport.
We particularly wanted to visit Carthage in order to follow in the footsteps of the great Punic General Hannibal, he who led his war elephants across the Alps and almost defeated the mighty Roman army. Hannibal was born in Carthage, but following the city’s defeat in the First Punic War, his family set out for better fortunes and ended up in Spain, founding the city of Qart Hadasht (New City) which was later renamed by the Romans as Carthago Nova which eventually became Cartagena, our intended winter berth.
If you’re interested in reading more of our time in Tunisia, you can find the blogs here.
As the end of our month approached, we regularly scoured the weather forecasts, looking for an escape window. For the majority of the previous few weeks, the wind had been blowing from the west, not ideal for a passage to south west Sicily. However, a glimmer of a window opened allowing us just enough time to make a two hop crossing to Sardinia, taking a rest on the Egadi Islands and restocking the alcohol supplies in Trapani – it had been in Ramadan whilst we were in Tunisia with all alcohol sales banned.
After a very brief stop over and catch up with cruising friends in Villasimius, Sardinia, we were off again, hoping to make the most of southerly winds that failed to materialise until far too late in our journey. The passage north was one of our most tedious yet; motoring through a lumpy sea, grey skies and a short thunderstorm.
We caught our breath in the anchorage of Golfo Aranci, near Olbia on Sardinia’s north east coast. This was one of our favourite spots of last year with good holding, easy access ashore and supplies and walks close by. We met up again with cruising friends and added some new anchorages to our travels around the area of Tavolara Island. Relaxing days of coastal walks and beach parties were interspersed with restocking our supplies and cleaning the substantial winter’s growth from Emerald’s hull.
An overnight passage took us north east to another new spot for us, this one being the island of Giglio Campese off the Italian mainland. The weather didn’t allow us to linger however, and after a climb to the castle, the next day we were blown north to another of last year’s favourites – the island of Elba. This time we concentrated on the southern side with several days spent anchored in the bay at Marina di Campo.
A heatwave was brewing in the Mediterranean by the end of June. Despite the miles walked across Elba last year, there were a few new trails to visit, but wow, were they sweaty ones.
On a flat, sparkling sea, we moved back west to position ourselves on north Corsica, ready for an overnight crossing to San Remo in Italy. At sea the heatwave’s bite was slightly reduced and we arrived at the free transit quay in San Remo to find only one other boat alongside. However, disappointment followed when we were told we were over the designated size limit of 12m for the quay. We managed to beg a one night stay and rushed around stocking up on cheap Italian food and wine and squeezing in the main sights slightly dazed from the lack of sleep.
And so, the next day, the 1st July, we arrived in our main destination for this season – the Cote d’Azur, France. We didn’t know what we would find – would it be over crowded? Full of noisy jet skies terrorising the anchorages? Would we be looking for somewhere else after just a few days? To our surprise, all of these fears were proved to be unfounded. Yes, anchorages were busy, but we didn’t encounter the overcrowding or poor anchoring practises of the Greek Ionian. Yes, there were mega-yachts with their annoying boat toys, but designated speed limit zones kept them well away from us. We spent almost two months travelling slowly along the coast from east to west and enjoyed pretty much every moment.
Cities, nature, history, culture and art; the Cote d’Azur had it all. Along much of the coast runs a hiking trail – the Sentier du Littoral, which easily sated my hiking needs. The French demonstrated that they know how to enjoy the summer and we were able to enjoy many of the free activities on offer in the places we passed through from live music and outdoor discos to amazing fireworks displays.
As the end of August neared, pressures from home had us making plans to head in to our planned winter berth sooner than expected. We pointed the bows south, to cross to Spain and the Costa Brava. We liked what we found and it would have been a bonus to have spent longer exploring the rugged coastline but the weather was turning unsettled and we pushed on south.
An opportunity to visit Barcelona presented itself and we treated ourselves to four nights in the extremely central Real Club Maritim de Barcelona. It was wonderful to explore then come back to our home. Despite a broken toe, obtained on our arrival, we covered miles of Barcelona’s historic streets and soaked up architecture, live music and dancing fountains.
From here to our winter home, however, things took a downward turn. An intense low pressure storm brought almost a week of strong winds, torrential rain and restless seas. We missed the worst of it by hiding out in Sant Carles de la Rapita, but it robbed us of our plans to visit the Balearics. As compensation, I did get to climb the Penal d’Ifach, an amazing rock formation at Calp.
An unpleasant overnight and some coastal hops had us into our winter home at Yacht Port Cartagena by the third week of September where we set about preparing Emerald for a prolonged stay before an extended visit to the UK. There was a huge advantage however, of being in early – we experienced the amazing Romans vs Carthaginians festival.
To recap, over the last two years, we have published a rough breakdown of our spend – perhaps it will help any of you thinking of following this lifestyle. However, everyone has different requirements for how they spend their money, so these figures should not be taken as a definitive guide. For those that don’t know us here’s a bit of background: we’re both British so costs have been converted to £ as this is what ultimately comes out of our bank accounts. We’re early 50s/late 40s age group and live aboard Emerald full time. We keep our boat costs down by doing as many of the maintenance and repairs jobs as we are capable of doing.
This was our 6th season in the Med; we’ve recorded our spend across each of them, allowing us to establish realistic budgets for ourselves.
Our grocery spend stays fairly constant over the years. Tunisia was incredibly cheap for groceries. Fresh fruit and veg in the markets was little more than 1 euro per kilo. We stocked up on dried goods and filled the freezer with fresh tuna.
The low prices of Tunisia were offset by the higher prices in France, particularly around the tourist areas such as Nice and Antibes, even with Italy just a few miles away. For example, a kilo of onions had risen from approx 1 euro in Italy to 3 euros in France. As we moved west along the coast, prices reduced and we found the outdoor markets to be an economical place to shop, as well as being hugely social.
Spain was similar to Italy in terms of grocery, beer and wine costs.
These are our everyday costs – gas, electric fees when in marinas, toiletries, household products and general consumables. I’ve also bundled clothes and shoes into this group.
Our gas costs remained low, helped largely by using an electric hotplate over the winter as we had an all inclusive fee in the winter marina. Using solar and a travel kettle keeps gas usage down too as well as some tentative steps towards using our pressure cooker more.
Boat costs decreased this year with fewer breakages and the delaying of any major jobs until our planned refit in 2020.
The largest expense (£600) was the replacement of our hot water tank, which decided to become an ornamental fountain in April.
We boosted our renewable energy supplies with two second hand solar panels and a second MPPT controller and monitor. We now have 835W of solar split between the bimini and arch and Colin has spent many happy hours reviewing the quantity of solar we have generated, via Bluetooth from the MPPT.
Our staysail needed minor repairs making to the stitching and the other boat costs were consumed by maintenance consumables such as engine oil, paint and spares replenishment. Once again, Tunisia was an economical place to stock up on engine oils.
Marina fees account for the bulk of this category at £2400, most of this being accounted for by our winter marina fees. We decided to treat ourselves this winter to a more expensive marina than previously, the plan to stay only for 6 months rather than the usual 7 months.
We also had a month in Monastir, and 4 nights in Barcelona:
- Monastir Marina – £270 for one month
- Barcelona Marina – £70 a night
- Cartagena Yacht Port – £2100 for 6 months
Diesel was £650. We filled the tanks, and our cans in Tunisia where the price per litre was less than 50p. We didn’t need to fill up again until Spain, where conveniently in Roses, there was an accessible road station for us to take our cans. Road fuel stations are generally cheaper than marina ones.
Our travel costs include journeys back to the UK, car hire and excursions away from the boat.
We did a lot of fun travel through the year with a winter trip to Venice and northern Italy as well as all the explorations in Tunisia, which like much else there, was incredibly cheap. We used only public transport whilst there, which while subject to some Ramadan restrictions, still easily suited our needs for exploration.
Car hire during low season in Sicily and even more so in Spain, was budget friendly. Hiring from an airport means a lot of competition amongst rental companies and we bagged a two week hire for only £3.75 from Alicante airport during November.
Whilst trying not to sound like a stuck record, Tunisia was crazy cheap, including for eating out. Ramadan limited this experience, however we were able to find an occasional restaurant open. At the opposite end of the spectrum was France with higher dining and drinking out costs, which limited how much we did of that activity. But it made hunting out a happy hour bargain that much more worthwhile.
We took out a short term travel health insurance policy for our month in Tunisia.
The removal of roaming fees from our UK Vodafone phone contracts continues to have a positive effect on our communication costs. In addition, we used the following country specific data providers:
- a TIM and Italian WIND data SIM for the winter in Sicily and again when we travelled through Sardinia and Elba.
- An Ooredoo SIM in Tunisia, available from outlets in Monastir.
- A FREE MOBILE data package in France.
- SIMYO was our choice in Spain – €18 for 32Gb for one month.
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