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What we learned crossing the Med

On this last trip, we crossed the Mediterranean sea from the south coast of France to the north coast of Africa and back again. We sailed for 30 days, and encountered a variety of conditions from dead calms to 35 knots of breeze and everything in between. We were at anchor for 29 nights and in a marina for 2 nights, and since it’s just over 1 year since we took delivery of Wildling, we are still learning how she behaves in different situations. Here are a few things we learned on this trip:

We need storm sails

The current sailplan is great up to about 30 knots, but over that things get out of balance. Since I posted about the sailplan balance, I have been in contact with the Outremer factory and with Philippe Escalle at North Sails in Marseille. I’m closer to a decision about changes to our sailplan, and I’ll cover that soon in another post.

Our anchor seems a bit undersized

We have a 35 kg Spade anchor, which if you follow the sizing guidelines published by Spade is the correct size for our boat. Our Spade set and held well in most conditions, but during this trip I had two issues with the Spade.

  1. In shallow water (5-8 meters) if the scope is less than 4:1 it will not set. This is part of the design of the Spade, and it makes it very easy to retrieve, but in crowded anchorages, 4:1 is sometimes a bit difficult to achieve as there’s not enough room to swing.
  2. We had an experience where at 5:1 scope in shallow water on a sand bottom the anchor would creep backwards in gusts over 25 knots.

There’s a lot of windage on the 5X, and it is lighter than most boats of the same size, so maybe sizing the anchor based on boat length and weight alone is not sufficient. If I go through the sizing process with a Rocna anchor it tells me I need a 55 kg anchor for our boat. The Rocna and the Spade are very similar designs, so I’m not sure why there is so much difference in their sizing recommendations. Rocna says their sizing is conservative and is based on 50 knot winds and moderate holding bottoms, so perhaps that’s the difference. In any case, I feel like we need to go up to at least a 45 kg Spade for our primary anchor and I’m inclined to go to 55 kg to be safe. I need to do more research on this and also see if I can fit a larger anchor on our bow roller.

One engine is usually enough

I experimented more with engine speeds and combinations during this trip, as we had a few days of dead calms and some days of very light headwinds where we had to motor. There is not much difference between running one and two engines. Here’s what I recorded in calm conditions:

If we add the sails and use the apparent wind created when motoring, we pick up an extra 0.5 to 1 knot, so even with one engine at 1,900 we were doing 6+ knots most of the time. I found 1,900 rpm to be the best setting for our engines as they are running smoothly with no vibrations and are quiet, and they use much less fuel. We used less than 1 tank of diesel per engine for our entire trip.

Don’t arrive in “unknown” destinations at night

We crossed into Tunisian waters late at night, and spent a lot of energy and stress avoiding fishing boats before reaching land at sunrise. It would have been better to time our arrival for the afternoon, when there are few other craft around, and visibility is much better. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but I could have planned better on this trip.

Furl the gennakers by hand

Our Code-0 and Code-D gennakers are removable sails that attach to a continuous line furler on the bowsprit. The furling line is run back to the cockpit and can be driven by a winch, but I have found using the winch to furl and unfurl is not a good system. It’s too easy to put too much stress on the furler, the sail and the halyard when furling, and its more difficult to unfurl at the correct speed when unfurling. When the join in our continuous furling line was damaged by too much winch force, I started doing it by hand, and found it was very easy to operate and worked much better than using the winch. The sails also furled much more cleanly and evenly when furling by hand.

I also rigged a pulley block in the cockpit to keep constant tension on the end of the continuous furling line. This made it much easier to operate the furler by a single person. I’ll post some photos of how this works soon.

Carry more spares

I’m still organizing my spare parts inventory, and didn’t have the things I needed to fix a few of the problems we had onboard. Both of our pump issues (seawater and shower drain) could have been easily fixed if I had some spare parts. There are very few places to buy parts once you leave the mainland, so we had to go the entire voyage without some of our systems working.

We love our boat

I know I write a lot about problems we have, but the fact is, we really love our boat and we trust her more and more as we get to know her better. A 59 foot catamaran is big, and it’s pretty cool that a regular family can sail her without the need of a large or professional crew. We got a lot more practice at sail-handling maneuvers of all types on this voyage: reefing, gybing, tacking, raising, lowering, furling, helming, etc. and it was great to see how well we were working together as a team by the end of the trip as we all learned our roles for each maneuver. This was also the first trip where both Lindsay and Gavin were doing night watches (2 hours for Lindsay and 3 hours for Gavin), which gave Robin and I a lot more sleep during passages.

Although Wildling is not a difficult boat to sail, it is really important to think through each maneuver, anticipate conditions and be conservative when cruising as a family. The forces onboard this boat are massive, and you can do a lot of damage very quickly if you’re not careful!

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