It took me some time to find the inspiration to talk about the passages we made from Canary islands to Greece. I started three articles but I was unable to finish them. Finally, I decided to talk about what worked well during the passages from Canary Islands to Ionian Islands.
While it is easy to hear/read about sailing from the Med sea to the Canary islands, we could hardly find any information about sailing back from the Canary Islands to the Med. Sailing back to the Med from Canary Islands is going against the trade winds (that are fairly established until April), which is more difficult than going with the trade winds, but it is not impossible. The good thing is that we found that crossing Gibraltar strait to the East is easier (depending on wind conditions) than to the West. There is a constant current filling the Med from the Atlantic that pushed us and we gained some speed.
At Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, we were happy to know that not all boats were going to the Caribean, some boats were planning to go back in the Med. All of them were waiting to the spring when the weather windows (when the trade winds pause) are larger. We knew also that we would need to sail up winds for several days in a row… and I was stressed, I do not like going up wind, it is not the most comfortable sailing.
It took us almost 3 months to get from Las Palmas to Greece. We divided the crossing in several legs in the Atlantic:
- Las Palmas -> Lanzarote (NE)
- Lanzarote -> Funchal (NW)
- Funchal -> Porto Santo (N)
- Porto Santo -> Cadiz (NE)
And also in the Med:
- Cadiz -> Ceuta -> (SE)
- Ceuta -> Cartagena (NE)
- Cartagena -> Sardinia (Porto Pino) (E)
- Sardinia (Villasimius) -> Sicily (Favignana) (E)
- Sicily (Favignana) -> Sicily (Siracusa) (E)
- Sicily (Siracusa) -> Meganisi (E)
Waiting for the good weather window
For each of the legs, we waited until we had a good weather window. I would say that a good weather window is something between 10 and 20 knots apparent wind. We always monitored the weather in advance using grib files, windy (when we have 4G connection) and asking some friends. We planned conscientiously our course taking into consideration the waves and the winds: we have been able to sail the rumbline in almost each of the legs!
Our longest passage was 4 days, it was not very long so we do not need to have a lot of food on board but we had. I am always afraid of not having enough to feed my crew, so we left the Canary Islands with the bilge full of ready to eat meal cans, pasta, rice, flour, easy breakfasts, food and cheese. In addition of that we always have bread, anything that we need for sandwiches and some fresh veggies and fruits.
Boat works and replacements
We spent 3 months in Las Palmas checking the boat from keel to mast head, from steering to halyards (check-out the technical posts). After one of the passages, we had to make a some small repair on the main sail, but nothing serious. From my point of view, if you are going to do passages, it is always better to spend some time and money preparing the boat and having a good pile of spare parts than being stuck in some location because something failed – which is much more annoying and expensive in the end.
It took me several passages and conversations with other liveaboard mothers to realise that homeschooling, night shift, cooking and being calm were not compatible. It’s just too much things to manage during very long days and short nights. So I took it easy and made some adjustments.
Little by little we replaced traditional homeschooling by a mix between movies party and ‘life schooling’. We started with removing homeschooling and letting them watch the movies that they wanted. I found that this deal was not great – even though they were still taking care of their chores – as they were fighting all time about the next movie. So we offered them to take care of the passage meals.
The firsts passages from Las Palmas to Cadiz were mainly up winds and we had some swell. As soon as I suspected that we could suffer seasickness I was giving to the kids a seasickness pill. It made their days and mine easier, when I am seasick I do not take pills as I am always afraid off falling sleep and not being able to help Pierre. It was a good idea as they were able to prepare their own meal inside of the boat meanwhile I was dealing with seasickness outside ;). After a couple of days sailing, we were all back to normal and no longer taking pills.
Sailing breaks between passages
Between passages, we took some breaks to enjoy time with the kids and we had the opportunity to spend time with my family and some friends in Sevilla.
When we arrived to Sardinia, kids were fed up with sailing. When we were telling them that in a couple of days we were going to have other short passage (to Sicily) and they were complaining… we understood that they needed a passage break, so we spent more time that we anticipated in Sardinia. Luckily, we were in one of the best anchorages we have ever been into (Villasimius) and we met other friendly family.
On board cooking
We are proud to announce that “Yamalu” team has been able to cook excellent paincakes, eggs with bacon, pasta and “fabadas” – which are basically our crossing meals. Before leaving, I use to prepare some lettuce to be ready to be used in the following days too. Potatoes, tuna and boiled eggs salad is also a good meal to prepare in advance. We always have fruits and cheese ready to eat. Pita bread that we learnt making in Las Palmas with SV Sara (with Amir and Nati from Israel) is also easy to prepare and fantastic with the cheese.
I love night shifts, the silence, the sea, the sunset, the sunrise, the stars and the wind. During the night shift I am alone, in most of the cases, I have time to listen podcast or read calmly without having anyone asking me questions… but night shift are exhausting.
Safety gear and rules
We set up some safety rules that we are respecting during our night shifts, so that the one who is at rest can sleep in peace:
- We have the lifejacket on and we are clipped at night
- Each of us has a AIS beacon device and knows how to use it
- We do not go on deck without clipping and if it is windy without telling to the other to help
- If weather is uncertain, we reef the main sail at dusk. Sometimes it is not possible and we have to do it during the night, but we always prefer not to do any deck job at night
- We do not drink any alcohol during passage, day or night our passages are without alcohol
I can sleep during Pierre shifts because I can trust him and I know he will follow the rules. Times to times I check, which drives him mad but makes me happy.
Adapting night shifts to the weather conditions
We use to have a 2 hour shift and then a 4 hour shift schedule, they are long enough to have some rest and short enough to make sails changes or adjustments during night and if necessary additional sail trimming we can make the shift shorter. When the conditions are good (constant and medium / low winds) I take a longer first night shift (around 6 hours) and give Pierre the chance to sleep longer during that time. In return, he finishes the night and welcomes the kids as they wake up.
We used to do the shift outside on the cockpit, but from Madeira to Cadiz the cockpit was cold and wet, and as we did not have any boat at the AIS and the winds were constant we decided to stay inside and monitor outside every 15/20 mins.
In the good weather nights, during the summer, we sleep in the cockpit or down inside, all dressed up with the life jacket on to be ready to help if needed. On the nicest passages, we sleep with one of the kids in an aft cabin. There is no point in having a bad sleep not necessary.
Sailing with friends
We really enjoyed sailing with buddy boats. We check course/position/anything every 2 hours and it is nice to see and talk to someone in the middle of the sea – most of the time, we do not have much to say, but it makes time go faster and the small talks are something you look forward to. We are not good (i.e. really bad) at fishing and most of the time our friends are good at it, so we have good fresh fish when we arrive 😉
It happens to me to be scared while on the sea. I am normally pretty fast and helpful while sailing, but when I get scared I tend to slow down. When I start noticing the fear, the first step is to accept it and understand why it’s coming. Also I tell to myself “It is going to be OK, tomorrow the sun will be shining, the wind is going to change and we will have a wonderful day.” Little by little, I relax and enjoy the sea, birds and dolphins.
Why do I get scared? Well, it is easy: we’re next to nothing on our tiny sailboat compared to the sea and winds. We do not have control on the wind and waves. Even though we try to sail only in the best weather conditions, we know that weather forecasting is not an exact science and things can turn bad any time. Then, you can have unexpected guests like electrical storms and tornadoes. What can we do for that? We stay humble and have the stay sail ready and the 3rd reef in the main ready. We don’t use the 1st reef on a passage, “Two reefs or not to reef.” as old sailors say. We make sure the boat is in good sailing order all the time and that way we buy some peace of mind, it’s our home and our family is in it, these are two big reasons to stay on the safe side 🙂
Sailing passages are exhausting, so we take it very easy and we try to stay focus on sailing. Even if the days look quite relaxed, at the end of the passages I feel very tired, so what works the best for me is to “stay calm and enjoy the days“, without imposing more things on myself.
Do you have other things that are helping you and your family during passages? Please share them!