If you have a weather window, you’d be wise to use it. That was our overarching motto as we took up our dock lines and headed out of the marina in Gaeta to begin our 2019 summer adventure. We had a moderate wind that would help us on our southbound route, and we jumped at the chance to get off the dock. We also had the advantage for the next few days to sail in familiar waters. Familiarity. It’s a catch 22 of sorts to return to where you have previously been. On the one hand, you know where to go, where to anchor, where to find groceries and what sights to see ashore. You can drop the hook with aplomb knowing you were here before and the holding is good. You don’t waste time wandering like a gypsy ashore with your bags of garbage trying to find a rubbish bin while trying to look cool and nonchalant around your high-fashion Italian peers. But then again, you’re not seeing anything new, which limits how much ‘adventure’ you’re truly having. However to start off the season, Karen and I needed the comfort of a little familiarity.
With an early start and favorable winds, we considered the many options that were a day’s sail from Gaeta. The Pontine Islands, with their huge multicolored cliffs, were tempting but would put us a little too far west. There was the small fishing hamlet at Ventotene which we had sailed by last summer but did not stop at, however the entrance seemed tricky and shallow. We opted for the longest option – 35 miles – to Ischia. We were quite familiar with Ischia from last summer, having visited all but the west side of the island, which is where there were rumored to be thermal baths. Soaking in warm water seemed like the perfect gift to ourselves for getting Sea Rose launched.
For most boaters, springtime does not come quick enough. Like a skier waiting for the first flakes to appear in the Fall, the warm sunny days of Spring herald a new beginning of the boating season. And whether you are in New England or Italy, the feeling is palpable. In years past, stewards as we were of a 20 year old boat, Spring also meant a rush of boat projects, many of which were critical path for launching. Thankfully, with Sea Rose at the young age of 12 months, and having broken her in for 6 of those months on the water last summer, our critical-to-launch list was modest. Our biggest project was the installation of a water maker. These miracles of modern technology take saltwater, even the saltiest of saltwater that settles in the Med, and turns it into beautifully clear, clean drinking water (and showering water, and leave-the-tap-on-while-doing-dishes water, gasp!). We had fitted out Sea Rose quite sufficiently, both from the options we picked through Jeanneau, and our own work efforts last summer. Recently, though, having a water maker was feeling like more of a necessity. If we stayed at marinas every week or so, we could most often fill up our two water tanks and have enough to last for the next week. However, some marinas had questionable water quality, others charged for water; and let’s face it, boaters are an independent lot and don’t like to rely on much from the outside world. So, over the winter I set about researching water makers. For a data scientist guy, this task needed to start with a robust spreadsheet of the many specs and costs. With all the research in hand, we settled on a modest sized unit from Spectra that produces 8 gallons an hour and was light on its energy needs, at just 10 amps. The problem with most water makers, or de-salinators if you want to be exact, is that they take a lot of power. They work by forcing seawater at very high pressure through a fine membrane, which separates the dissolved solids and leaves you with fresh water. It’s more brute force than rocket science. Traditionally, you had to install a generator to get enough power to run the water maker. But we had no interest in another internal combustion energy producer onboard, and opted for the small Spectra model that could run off of our solar array. The Spectra dealer in Florida was more than happy to ship the unit to us in New Hampshire, but happy is not what I would describe Karen’s face when they lowered the unit from the truck bed, shrink-wrapped to a big pallet. “How the he** (could be ‘heck’, mind you!) are we going to get that on the plane”, my newly christened sea captain wife inquired! The optimist and the realist in our household had to huddle and agree on a plan. It just so happened that if you unpacked the pallet and its pieces, you could fit the contents into three large duffle bags that are ever so slightly over the 20kg weight limit for Norwegian Airlines. Phew! There was even room for some of Karen’s clothes, so she wouldn’t have to be forced to skinny dip like those crazy Europeans on summer holiday!
If you are sailing along the west coast of Italy, you’d be hard-pressed not to run into Elba. It sticks out like a big ink blob in this popular Tuscan region of Italy. Students of European history will ask ‘Hey, isn’t that where Napoleon was exiled?’ Indeed it is! But for a couple of non-history majors, all Karen and I were looking for was a rest stop on the great water super-highway to Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre. If I had a dollar for every time someone had suggested to us – when they learned that we were going to sail around Italy – that we should visit Cinque Terre, I’d be a mighty rich man. But getting all the way north to Cinque Terre requires a bit of time and a comfortable weather window. Elba was the perfect halfway point from our start at the southern end of Corsica. With two 75 mile hops, separated by a little R&R at Elba, we’d be in the Five Lands in no time!
Yet, like so many other times this summer, the particular ports-of-call that guide books and online forums had played down turned out to be unexpectedly extraordinary. Dare I say, enchanting?!
Hi! Tom here – just a quick note to let you know we have posted recent videos to our YouTube channel ‘LifeFourPointZero‘ of our sailing adventures around Italy, plus an episode of us in a completely different setting… cross-country skiing through the beautiful northern woods of Maine! Check them out here!
And if you are really bold, and want to hear about our tips for anchoring your boat, check out the latest in our of series of how-to videos titled ‘Boat Anchoring 101’!
Finally if you are not already getting notified when we release videos on our YouTube channel, be sure to click on the subscribe button on our YouTube channel, and then the ‘bell’ icon below any one of our videos. If you don’t have one already, you’ll need to create an account on YouTube in order to subscribe. Then, YouTube will email you whenever we post a new video!
Our friends in and out of the sailing community are often surprised to find that we typically don’t stay in one place more than one night. “Why the rush?!” they ask. It’s a question we debate regularly, and I’ll admit our fast pace can make the cruising life a bit stressful at times. I’m sure this fast pace leads our European neighbors to box us right into the American stereotype of working one’s self to the bone., but there is so much to see. They don’t call the Great Lakes “great” for no reason. And the Mediterranean, well, let’s just say that it’s a massive body of water, steeped in history that puts our American history timeline to shame. Our original plan was to cruise the Med for two seasons – the first would be in the western portion, and the second in the eastern. With half of our first summer already in the bag, there was plenty more to see before we checked the box in the West.
But whoa … hold on American cowboy! Are we done with the island adventures of Sardinia and Corsica? Not yet! It was time for a second helping of island exploring.
I came into this sailing adventure knowing very little about Corsica, and even less about Sardinia. There are a few things that a Southern California upbringing lack, and an appreciation of history is one of them, especially when it involves land masses halfway around the globe. So, you’ll need to excuse me if I gloat over these substantial Mediterranean islands. Even as adults, we didn’t know what to expect when we sailed across from the French mainland. It wasn’t for lack of intel. We had so many cruising and travel guides of this area, I was afraid Sea Rose might list over and capsize. Though my appetite for history has grown leaps and bounds since grade school, travel books don’t always do a place justice, or captivate you enough in the evening after a long day on the water. You have to get right up close for an immersive, sensual experience to really get drawn in. This certainly describes our experience when we made our Corsica landfall at Galeria. And that was quickly followed by the sights, sounds and scents that are Sardinia. We just needed to rescue a few travel mates from the airport first!
Before we left the U.S. to start our summer adventure onboard Sea Rose, we had several friends express an interest in joining us. Karen and I were of course thrilled about the strong interest, but we had to chuckle a bit. Just a year prior, while we were cruising through the Great Lakes of the U.S., we got very few takers. Apparently, a transatlantic flight, foreign language, and jet lag was not enough to dissuade people from an opportunity to sail in the Mediterranean. That said, if you have the chance to navigate the Erie Canal or sail the Great Lakes, you should really accept the offer. It is a fabulous and under-appreciated sailing destination. Check out our YouTube series “Sailing into the American Heartland” for more details.
Our longtime friend Emmy was quick to sign on as a guest, booking her ticket to France months ahead, showing us she was not leaving anything to chance! We had mapped out a rough itinerary for the summer and there were various legs that were either coastal hopping or offshore crossings. To our surprise, Emmy was intrigued by the idea of an offshore crossing, especially if it involved an overnight experience. As we settled into our new boat and finished cruising the Balearics, it became clear that we would be doing a longer passage from the French mainland over to the northwest coast of Corsica. This is roughly a 100 nm trip. We had done several similar length crossings – namely to cross over from Spain to Mallorca and return back from Menorca – and for both of those trips we left before sunrise and arrived before dusk to try to avoid a complete overnight trip.
We left off the previous post having just gotten to the ‘Costa Brava’ region along the southeast coast of Spain from Menorca Island. We had enjoyed our short time along this area on our way to the Balearic Islands so we were excited to see more.
We originally planned to cross directly from the Balearics to Corsica, the very large French island south of France and west of Northern Italy. However, we also needed to have a couple boat warranty items worked on and since we liked the work SAS had done originally, we decided to return to them. It was back to Canet-en-Roussillion for us! This would also work out well as a place we could leave the boat while we would be off it for a little over a week.
In the morning after we arrived in Tossa de Mar, Spain, we went ashore and walked all over this darling town. There is a large fortification that has been nicely maintained to include beautiful walking paths and easy connections between the high fortress and the curvy old narrow streets of the town.
We continued NE up the coast of Spain and stopped at another wonderful, if very busy, harbor – Aiguablava! I created a short video several weeks ago highlighting the snorkeling and the wonderful caves, cliffs and tiny bays scattered nearby so I’ll share that here as a highlight of our time in Aiguablava, Spain.
Our next anchorage was Cala Tabellera, just north of the Golf of Roses but still on the Spanish coastline. This place is amazing – between here and the boarder with France are a million places to tuck in and explore. We quickly came to appreciate that one could spend many days exploring the coves and bays in this part of Spain. Unfortunately, we only had the one day left since we would soon be on a flight back to the US for a quick visit and we had to get Sea Rose safely tucked in first!
Notice the very different landscape and vegetation in this part of the Spanish coast. While it was barren and somewhat stark, it was lovely in its ruggedness!
In the morning, we made the 25 mile trip back to Canet-en-Roussillion! We had been in Spanish waters for about five weeks and we were missing France and what we had begun to appreciate about the French people. Putting our French courtesy flag back up as we crossed the boarder brought smiles to both of our faces!
From Canet, we flew home to see our sons and to attend a ceremony for our older son’s beginning of medical school. We have been living on board for almost six weeks. As I contemplate that, I have to ask myself ‘What is home, after all?’ Were we flying ‘home’ or were we leaving our ‘home’ here in France? The boat had certainly become comfortable and familiar to us. We had done several projects over the weeks to have it fit our needs and we were liking the life we could live from aboard her. So, was this boat now our ‘home’? I would have to say, ‘no … it is very lovely and a lot of fun but for me it is not “home” ’. Home is closer to where my sons are. Home is a place from which I can easily communicate with my aging parents. Home is having good friends nearby who are eager to go for frequent walks and have meaningful talks. Home has a yard that my sweet dog runs around in – probably wondering where the heck his parents are. (Thank you, Caleb, for taking good care of Journey this summer!!) Tom would have to answer this question from his own perspective and definition of what “home” is for him, but there you have my deep thoughts for this week!
When we got back on Sea Rose, we both realized we had missed her and we were excited for the explorations ahead of us! We brought three HUGE checked bags back with us, each pushing the 50 lb weight limit. Over the previous weeks, we had had a bunch of boat parts and other stuff we needed shipped to our home in New Hampshire, knowing we would be there to retrieve it all and bring it back! While home, I also made an awning to keep the afternoon sun off the deck, and thus prevent our downstairs living space from being overheated. Finding a storage place for all this new s#*$ took some work but it was stuff we needed so it had to find a home! For those interested in my handiwork, here’s some pix of the awning!
We quickly provisioned and checked on the work that had been done. Our new batteries seem to be doing the job, but time will be the judge here. We were thrilled to have a second water tank added to bring our on-board fresh water capacity up to 140 gallons (530 liters). The warranty repair work had also been completed.
We had a friend (Emmy) we were to meet in Toulon, France in 4 days time so we tossed off the dock lines to cross the Golf of Lyon with a hopeful destination southeast of Marseille — the Parc National des Calanques. This is essentially a national park highlighting the stunning limestone fjords (which the French call ‘Calanques’) that the area is famous for. We know there is so much to explore along the French coastline and with more time we would have gone at a slower pace. It seems we are looking at this summer as a tasting or sampling of sorts to know the places we would love to spend more time in! Here’s a map of our journey covered in the rest of this blog post:
Once we arrived in the Calanques, we were happy with our choice to jump here from Canet! We anchored in a calanque called Sormiou and took in the surrounding tall ridgelines as we relaxed for the first time since we left Boston on our way back to the boat four-and-a-half days ago! We took our dinghy into their tiny harbor the next morning and it seemed the whole town was here … in the water for their morning swim! What a cute place. We walked up onto the ridge and flew the drone to get a perspective of this great spot. Here is a collection of shots we took while in Sormiou.
We moved to the next calanque east — Calanque de Morgiou — for a lunch and snorkel stop. This place was also terrific and could be enjoyed for several days. There were crowds of people swimming and cliff jumping so clearly we found a popular spot!
We then found our night’s stop as we tied up to a steep cliff in Port Miou! What a terrific spot! As the pilot book warned, we had cliff jumpers making the terrifying leap from far above into the waters just off our stern!
The town of Cassis was supposed to be very nice, so in the evening we set off for the 30 minute walk into town. They like their hills around here! By the time we arrived, we were both sweaty and thirsty! We sat down at a Paris-style café to people watch and quench our thirst!
Back on the boat, we snuggled in for a good night’s sleep after our exercise and libations! We were awoken at 3 am by a thunder and lightening storm that was fascinating to watch. We could see flashes and bolts in the distance and the speed at which the storm approached was awesome. Of all places to be anchored, we were pretty safe where we were since the rock walls surrounding us were taller than our mast and we were with a bunch of other sailboats – comfort in numbers! This storm was a preview to a period of high winds that we would have to work with for the next couple days. With this knowledge in hand, we set off as soon as we could to get closer to where we would meet Emmy. We picked the island of Porquerolles since it was just off shore from Toulon and Hyeres-Plage, where the airport is located. This island had the added benefit of a couple anchorages that are oriented such that we will have good protection from the building winds.
As we dropped the lines and pulled away from the calanque, the winds picked up right away; we spent most of the day in 20-plus knots of wind. Luckily, both the wind and the seas were coming from behind us so, although it was quite rough, we were not really slamming into the waves as much as surfing along the tops of them. However, since the waves were big, we decided to jibe back and forth with the wind always about 30 degrees off our stern from first the port then the starboard side. Sailing at even this small angle off of a straight down-wind course makes more efficient use of the wind (since both sails can be filled versus one sail blanketing the other) and it is safer because you have less of a chance of an accidental jibe. A jibe is when the wind switches from coming from one side of your boat (say, the starboard side) to the other (port side) and occurs because the wind angle has gone past your stern (versus the wind crossing your bow which would be a ‘tack’). When this happens, your sails respond to the new wind direction and on a jibe your boom swings across your boat and people or things in the way can get injured/damaged if the jibe is not expected and properly managed. It is best to help the boom over more gently by bringing the mainsheet in so the boom doesn’t have as far to travel. When you are going directly downwind, just a tiny wind angle change can cause your boom to go crashing from one side of your boat to the other, often catching the skipper by surprise. And, when you are surfing down huge waves every few seconds and your boat is tossed about in the process, it is incredibly easy to accidentally jibe. I realize that was a long explanation but I know some of you may want to understand the reason we often sail just off from a straight down-wind course … especially when we have big seas.
We arrived at Porquerolles in the late afternoon and found the anchorage highly utilized – its seems lots of other people had the same goal of finding a protected anchorage! Once we settled in, Tom swam around the anchorage with the GoPro as he looked at our neighbor’s anchors and whether or not they were properly set. The winds were supposed to be very strong all night and it is much easier and safer to work these things out during daylight than to stumble about on deck in the middle of the night! Luckily, everyone near us had their anchors set and they had plenty of scope (length of chain as determined by a ratio to the depth of water you are anchored in).
The winds were predicted to be high for a second day so we stayed put off of Porquerolles. It was actually nice to relax prior to having a guest on board. In the evening, we opened some letters that our friends had sent with us to raise our spirits if they dipped during our summer adventure. Our dear friend Michelle has a history of organizing ‘Theme Nights’ when our crazy group of friends get together so she sent some stuff along to encourage fun in her absence!
In the morning, we raised anchor and headed over toward Hyeres-Plage (near Toulon) where we would do laundry, provision for food/beverages and clean our boat! Emmy was to land around 3 pm so we had to scramble to get our chores done and arrive at the airport to greet her on time. It is worth the effort to be able to welcome a friend on board a clean boat that is ready for entertaining guests!
Hope you enjoyed hearing about our time along the Spanish and French coastlines. Our next blog post will cover our final night along the French coast before we jump over to Corsica – or ‘Corse’ as the French call it. It IS their island after-all so I’m happy to call it Corse!
We are continuing our time in the Balearic Islands – the westernmost archipelago in the Mediterranean. At its closest point, this island group is 82 km (51 miles) from the southeast coast of Spain. After having spent three weeks in Mallorca – the largest island of the archipelago – we are eager to move along to Menorca, the second largest island and new waters to us! Menorca is the farthest of the Balearics from the mainland and it is rumored to be quieter than both Mallorca and Ibiza – an island we have not yet been able to visit that has a reputation of being a party spot! Continue reading “Sea Rose Visits The Island of Menorca! Ep. 99”
Unlike the isolation and jagged cliff landscape of Mallorca’s north coast, the eastern side of the island is peppered with small calas and a sprinkling of little villages providing beautiful beach access to island visitors. There are steep cliffs here – Mother Nature’s forceful hand toiled on this island as it did on so many others in the area – but these cliffs are in the 100 foot high range, not thousands of feet like the north coast. We were needing a little village scene, after being the only boat anchored out in the northerly harbors. With this goal, we headed around Mallorca’s northern tip, Cabo de Formentor, and found a vigorous breeze on our beam, sending us down the eastern side with determination.