When you sail, a fair amount of time is spent on making passage. This means that you leave land behind and cross the ocean. This can range from several hours to even days without land in sight. Just you, your family, your boat in a vast amount of water… At first you are stunned as you realize there is about 1,5km of water underneath you, and you strain yourself to make a mental image of that endless amount of deep blue water. From prior dive experience and staring at the charts you deduct that the landscape on the mainland just continues underneath the surface. The same mountains, caves, crevices, ravines, rolling hills, and vast plains are mirrored, only with drastically different flora and fauna. Until next crossing you are staring at 2,8km… And the next at 4,6km… Unfathomable and intriguing… Especially when it sinks in that you are only floating on the surface, and there’s an entire barely known world beneath you.
Staring at the deep blue water leaves you alone with your thoughts. The knot of fast flowing circular thoughts you took from land starts to unravel as the wind blows and the deep blue stretches. Disentangling, slowing down, along on the motion of the waves. And just when you wonder if you are alone out there, a pod of dolphins, a shoal of baitfish, or some turtles alert you to the fact that this soup where all life started still produces plenty…
Staring at deep blue waters for days might sound boring. Here are a few things that kept us busy on passage in the Mediterrean:
Rescue a seabird
In Tunisia we bought a special trawling lure. This calamari look-alike proved extremely convincing. First time we put it out a seagull went straight for it, entangling its wings in our line. We reeled her in carefully, unwound the line, and set her free. As a thank you she nipped Arthur and scratched Ron. Second time we put it out another seagull started making strange flight pattern around the boat. For some reason it seemed to struggle to take off. A closer inspection taught us that the seagull had picked up our very reluctant calamari lure and could fly no further than the line allowed her. After a few hard tries she left the plastic calamari for what it was. Slightly embarrassed she went to sulk a bit further.
Third time unlucky. Last time we put out the lure, another seagull went for it. One that seemed very hungry and even though he was being flown like a kite, refused to let go. Instead of letting go, he swallowed the whole lure. We had no choice but to cut him loose and let him fly away. For the very last time…
On the crossing from Cagliari to the Baleares we came across some electrical storm weather. In the middle of the night, with lightening on two different spots on the horizon, a very scared pigeon flew in out of nowhere and looked for a safe hiding place in our sail bag. It was trying very hard to make up its mind what was most scary: Having humans that close by, the sail shaking and flapping violently or the threatening rumble of the storm. The first 30 minutes the storm won. After that the combination of human and sail was simply too terrifying to stay on.
On night watch there is always something to see. You can watch the red crescent moon rise, the milky way, and the descent of the moon. On quiet nights, you will often hear a ‘plop’ sound off the stern. This sound is caused by luminescent jelly fish that bob around in the wake of the boat. They travel in groups of about 5 to 10, forming their own impersonation of the galaxy. Probably they are attracted to the movement of the boat.
It is also quite normal when you are sailing in the Med to have luminescent plankton in the toilet. When you flush and pump in fresh sea water at night the toilet bowl changes in a happily swirling glitter show.
Listen for wind
We have a Silentwind generator on board. This powerful wind generator is at its best from a windspeed of 12 knots onwards. It starts with a soft wuuuuuuuuuuu sound. At 15 knots the wind gennie starts singing along whilst Exodus cleaves through the water. Smooth as hell since we applied the Coppercoat. Inside the boat whilst under sail you can almost feel that smoothness through the bottom. Over 20 knots you can drop the word ‘silent’. The generator is burning hell for leather, and picks up to a full blown Cessna rotor sound. But, we are not complaining, as the batteries are pumping, getting filled to the brim.
When you leave land, do not be too impatient and ask for wind repeatedly, as you might just get what you asked for: lots and lots of wind. Most of the time, the hectic stuff happens when it is least convenient. For instance, at 3 am a storm starts brewing, with some lightening in the distance. You decide not to worry too much as clearly this is far away. You cannot even hear the thunder. Before you know it wind is picking up quite a bit, and thunder is 28 paces away and coming closer rapidly. From 3 am till 20 pm we had winds between 17 and 30 knots, with 5 m swells, making us arrive 11 hours earlier than anticipated.
Cross a shipping lane
At night it is highly entertaining to find yourself at a quiet & peaceful sea the one minute, not a ship in sight. And the next minute, inside a shipping lane. During your landlocked life, you heard of shipping lanes before. You know them as those dotted lines on maps. But you have no concept of what that means in real life. It is a bit of a shock to find yourself with your smallish boat in the middle of the ocean and notice that your course runs straight across this busy highway on which all commercial shipping passes. And there are about 6 boats approaching from port and 8 from starboard. Neatly on their designated lanes for to and fro. Here the AIS (Automatic Identification System) comes in handy. All commercial ships must conform to SOLAS standards and have AIS transponders transmitting while sailing. Ships that have AIS can be picked up as blips on the screen. You can zoom in and determine their course, size, speed over ground, and so on, which is a great help in deciding how to adjust your course. Crossing one of these lanes is quite exciting, quickly running over to the middle, holding your breath and speeding over the next stretch. It feels a bit like being back on the N2 in Cape Town where the locals don’t want to walk several kilometers extra to the pedestrian bridge but quickly hop over the highway. Grannies, children, shopping bags and crippleds inclusive.
An absolute topper is when you approach Gibraltar, where several shipping lanes are merged into one big funnel. It is great entertainment to switch on the AIS, which enables you to see all the ships that surround you. It gives the impression of the Royal Navy or the entire Armada heading towards you!
Arriving early and go back
Estimating your time of arrival based on the weather predictions and working back to your start off time, is not an easy feat. Especially if you come across some strong winds and bolt forward. Very often it is not a good idea to arrive in a new spot before daylight on account of several unattended fishing nets or unmarked fish farms. Our solution so far has been to heave too for a while, and if necessary go up and down a few times.
This works best when your IPad from which you navigate is not charging. In this case, follow the next steps: Make sure this happens in the middle of the night to make sure all crew is fighting off Morpheus. Switch on the depth meter and notice it is not working. Grab a tablet to at least know where you are heading and slowly drift to the middle of the bay. Have the crew on the lookout for big and small boats, the merging shipping lanes, fishing buoys or any other hazards. Read the entire manual of the depth meter to realize the thing is not working because we are in 600m + water and it is only effective from 200 meters and shallower. Who says passages are dull?
Catch a fish
A good way to spend time is to throw out your line and wait for the fish to bite. While you have your line out, you are free to do other things such as test your watermaker, revise the water system in the boat, or sponge up the leaks from the geyser. When the reel goes off, you hurry upstairs, and try to get the nice fat tuna on board. Be sure your wife and daughter are around, as surely they will jump into the mast as soon as the tuna has been pulled on board and is flapping with all his might to get back in the sea. Skillfully kill and fillet the tuna before it has had time to realize he is the missing ingredient in Arthur’s special dish. Then spend the following hours wiping fish blood off the deck, the helm, and the sides.
Make some water
As soon as we set sail out of Menorca, we decided to initiate our watermaker. The manual on our watermaker is written in Italian English, and therefore not very clear. But we tried a few times and got the thing going. In the interim we caught a tuna. Once the tuna slaughterhouse had been tidied we put on a kettle for a well-deserved cup of coffee. Arthur took the first gulp and spat it out immediately. It was salty! That’s when we realized that the waterpipes are Italian spaghetti. There is basically no way to disentangle them. You either keep them as they are: dripping and utterly nonsensical. Or you chuck them in the bin. The breather pipe was connected to a salt water inlet, the two tanks were connected, the water outlet was at the highest point instead of slightly removed from the bottom, the breather pipe was at the same height as the water outlet, so sucking in air when taking water… The Italian waterworks guaranteed a few weeks of entertainment, replacing all the plumbing bit by bit and mopping up leaks.
Watch the dolphin show
Dolphins like playing with sail boats and therefore form a great way of entertainment. On almost all our crossings we saw dolphins.
- We had a private show by 5 spinner dolphins that topped any of the human choreographed circus shows.
- We met a pod of bottle nose dolphins in a great hurry, probably on their way to dinner.
- Sailing from Menorca to Mallorca we came across a type of dolphins we had never seen before. They were flatfaced and unlike other dolphins rather shy and not interested in us at all. We looked up the species and discovered they were called Risso’s dolphins. http://www.dolphins-world.com/rissos-dolphin/
- On the way to Madeira we saw some baby and juvenile bottle noses, who wanted to play around Exodus.
And if there are no dolphins to watch, you can always scout for sea turtles. No to be mistaken for sea turdles!
Admire the sea’s attire
The sea dresses itself in many different garments, one for each occasion. It is best to show your appreciation.
- A murky green soup dress adorned with pieces of sea weed, sponges and grasses after several days of heavy wind and storms
- Cristal clear gauze near the Greek coastline
- Deep blue with rays of sun illuminating the depths on crossings
- Black night robe, made of impenetrable, thick fabric, with the glitter of the moon and stars, and luminescent plankton or jellyfish
On the 30th of June we calculated we did 1288 nautical miles (2200km) since we left Malta. We had spent about 6 weeks on the boat by then, averaging about 200 NM per week. Not too bad!