For several reasons, we wanted to try a passage longer than 2 days/1 night:

  • we never did it before 🙂
  • the end of August was right around the corner, and we want to get out of the Med quickly
  • we really wanted to spend some time in Spain and the Balearic Islands

We checked the route and we saw that Malta to Mallorca was about 600 nm, which corresponds to the same distance from Cadiz (Spain) to Lanzarote (in the Canarias) – if we could do this one, we could do this other one. On the way to Mallorca, we passed close to Gozo Island (Malta), Pantelleria Island (Italy), Tunis, Cagliari (Italy) ; every time we have been able to connect our router to the 3G/4G network and we got the latest weather forecasts. Also, in case something went wrong (weather, crew or boat), we could have stopped in any of those places.

What were the challenges?

  • We carefully chose the weather window. We were lucky: such large window with good winds from Malta to Mallorca are not that common – usually the wind blows from the N-E on Malta.
  • How would the children handle that many days out in the sea?
  • How would we (the adults) survive to several nights with shifts in a row?
  • The weather forecasts being accurate on the first few days, getting updates along the way was paramount for our security.
  • Would we have enough energy in our batteries to power the electronics all the way?
  • Would we have to make some fresh water along the way? We have tons of bottles for drinking (filled with the water produced by our mighty portable watermaker) – but in normal conditions our 400 litre tank is just enough for a week.

How did we prepare?

  • The day before, we topped the water tank with the water maker and we renew the water from our collection of bottles (30+, about 45+ liters) we use for drinking.
  • Our diesel tank had been topped in Valletta. It’s a 270 litre tank, the engine runs on 1.7 litres per hour at 5 knots – which gives us a 600+ nm range (we could have gone from Malta to Mallorca just motoring!) – plus we have a 10 liter jerrycan just in case.
  • The bilges were full with cans and the nets full of fresh vegetables and fruits – we’re 5 on board… we eat a lot.
  • We prepared the meals for the first 2 days meals in advance to make the first 48 hours easier (no need to cook while sailing).
  • We left in the morning from the south of Malta before the wind started to blow, so we motored a few hours to get the batteries fully charged (the fridge was running full time during those very hot nights).
  • We told every one we knew in Malta that we were sailing strait to Mallorca, so now we were committed to doing it. It worked when I ran a marathon, it had to work this time again 🙂

What happened?

We sailed during over 5 days (and 5 nights). On this passage, we have been motoring for 23 hours in total (when no wind) and we have been sailing the rest of the time. It has been a complete success on several plans: kids are keeping a good memory of it, they’ve been sleeping well (much better than in Malta, where we suffered from the heat) and playing together A LOT. After the third or forth night, I lost the count and I could not tell how long we had been sailing – which I think is a good sign. Every day, the radio operators on the VHF were talking a different language. We crossed the cargo-ships line (between Suez and Gibraltar) – we felt like a rabbit crossing the PĂ©riph’.

We learnt to not be surprised/frightened at what we heared on the VHF on channel 16 around 3am: music, singers, animal sounds (dogs, cats, ducks, etc…), zombie voices (“Youuuuuu and your family…. are going to diiiiiiiiiie…“), insults and verbal fights in broken english, Tunisian authorities calling the same vessel (in french, arabic, and english) for hours without any answer, Chinese cargo-ships talking to each other for ages, a radio operator calling all Italian port controls around the med to make sure his radio set is working properly, and of course the usual weather forecasts and the usual notices to mariners. You cannot really fall asleep during your shift 🙂

For the first time we have also SEEN dolphins and whales during the night. We had HEARD them in the past (the loud sound when they empty their lungs), but this time we have been able to enjoy this fantastic view, in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the night, of dolphins jumping out of the water, just below the stern nav light (just a few meters from where we sit during our night shifts).

The sailing has been rather easy most of the time, and we had the opportunity to hoist all sails (jib, main un-reefed and with 2 and 3 reefs in, spinnaker, Code 0, Code 0 at night, etc). We had only a bit of a messy sea and strong winds (Tramontane) when we arrived in Mallorca, on the last afternoon. We knew it was going to happen, so not really an unexpected issue. We were a bit tired after the 5 nights, so we took it easy and reefed the main to the maximum (3rd) and let the full jib so the autopilot could deal with the short swell coming from behind.

For the night shifts, we installed a mattress in the cockpit so both of us stayed on deck. In case we had to change the sails or make a decision, the other adult was just a few meters away. Also, we never get out of the cockpit alone, even if we were a life jacket + harness and are clipped to the boat. We also took time to have good naps during the day time. I read 2 books (especially during the night shifts) – Isaac Asimov‘s classics (thank you CĂ©cile!) The first 48 hours were the most difficult but after 2 days we got used to the night shift rhythm and it is not all that tiring. When sailing for long passage, there is not much to do during the day with regards to the navigation/sails, so we could give extra attention to the kids. Kids have been very independent and we also had a lot of time for us. Every morning Maria congratulated the kids for we made it into another day and they were very proud.

For the landing, we had planned to round Las Salinas cape and drop the anchor in Es Trenc beach, but we would have got there in the middle of the night. Instead, we saw on the AIS a boat going to Porto Cristo ; so we called that marina and they had a free berth for us. This marina belongs to the PortsIB network (run by the AutonomĂ­a of the Balearic Islands) and was really cheap and welcoming. For those marinas, people reserve sometime a month in advance to get a berth… but because of the weather, many reserved berth were free that day and the following day.

Also, on our last day at sea off Mallorca coast, I spent nearly an hour checking all the connections of our AIS system, restarting the instruments, etc. There was only 3 or 4 other boats visible on the AIS. How strange… usually on the AIS we see 3 or 4 HUNDREDS of boats. I really thought that our AIS was broken!

MarĂ­a was also delighted to hear people speaking in Castilian over the radio for the first time in her sailing life – she also discovered that she is completely missing the boating vocabulary; fortunately, in Porto Cristo, we met Julian, Amparo and Julia: this gap was filled in no time 🙂

Conclusion

Everything worked out fine. Although salty sea dogs out there might find that this passage was a joke, it was meaningful for the 5 of us: it has been a nice step in our ‘little by little‘ approach to sailing. We now know that we are ready to do it again and that Soledad is fine for that kind of sailing: batteries hold fine (thanks to the hours of motoring – sailing westward, the solar panels are covered by the sails most of the afternoon…), we had enough water (we only used half of the tank), we’ve been able to get 4G connection (i.e. updated weather forecasts) along the way.

Does this mean that we would be ready for an transat? Not quite. 5 days at sea is not like 3 weeks, especially for the crew.

 

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