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:

  • single engine at 1,900 rpm = 5 knots
  • single engine at 2,500 rpm = 5.8 knots
  • both engines at 1,900 rpm = 6 knots
  • both engines at 2,500 rpm = 7 knots

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!

20 thoughts on “What we learned crossing the Med

  1. Hi Doug,

    Follow up on your decisions on the batteries, charging systems, and appliances. Are you still happy with your decisions and any lessons learned here?


  2. Hi Gary,

    Yes, very happy with these systems. The lithium battery system has been flawless. Even at anchor for multiple days, with just solar charging, running all appliances onboard and making water for 5 people, we never needed any additional charging. I used the hydro-generator on overnight passages, no troubles and plenty of charging. The only time we needed air conditioning was at the marina, and we used shore power to run it.

    We did have a failure of the port side Mastervolt 24V alternator. We didn’t miss it for this trip, but I’m disappointed that such an important (and expensive) system failed so quickly. Not sure yet if it was the alternator or the controller, I’m waiting for Outremer to fix under warranty and will report back.


  3. Nice blogg, and boat 🙂 we sail a Lagoon 380 and our anchor was a delta 20 kg, changed it to a Rocna 20 kg, and it was doing good, but i like to be safe at anchor so now we have a Rocna 33kg (biggest i can have on my roller), and we sleep good at anchor even i hard winds. So go big. dig it in, and be safe.

    • Thanks Careka, my very first experience sailing a cat was when we chartered a Lagoon 380 in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, I will always love that boat 🙂 It’s good to hear from someone else who has gone through the anchor size journey! It makes me more confident that up-sizing is the right decision.

  4. Well-reasoned observations. The Spade is reputed not to enjoy short-scope, and I suspect is undersized for you due to windage forces. You may wish to try a big Fortress (big but not heavy as they are aluminum) for straight-line heavy air.

  5. Hi Doug, we enjoy reading your blog. We have a 25kg Spade on our Outremer 51, which is in LGM. I have decided to upgrade to a 35 kg Spade if it will fit on the roller. If you decide to sell your 35kg, please let me know. Thanks, Hal.

    • Upsizing definitely is the right decision and I am glad to read, I´m not the only one going this way.

      We are currently waiting for our new Outremer 51 getting built and delivered in spring 2017. I´d love to have a ROCNA (around 35 kg) but Stephane from Outremer meant it could make problems on the roller, so he suggested a Spade. But he did not really want to go us for 35 kg. right now we have 30kg in our spec. Just last week I asked Outremer if they would be OK to change it to 35 kg. I´m awaiting their reply. But I guess I would ask Outremer to use a different roller. It´s worth to carry these few extra kg even as a front-load because having less hassle and more safety on anchorage is worth the extra costs (in weight, not in money because it´s stupid to save a few bugs on an anchor!)
      Last week at the Cannes boat show I spoke to the Austrian owners of the exhibited 5X. They had installed 2 anchor windlass & chains and where using this one: https://www.ultramarine-anchors.com/
      I visited their exhibition stand. They had a tiny trial “sandbox” where one could try miniature sized anchors of various makes and designs. The try was impressive but I have no ideas how it works in real life. Real life is always different, and from all experiences I collected so far, ROCNA seems to be best followed by Spade

      • Hi Stefan,

        When we purchased our last boat (Catana 471) the previous owner had a 40kg Plough anchor on the boat. It was a terrible anchor and dragged frequently. I replaced it with a 45kg Rocna. We never dragged the Rocna. Stéphan at Outremer is correct about the Rocna not fitting well an the bow roller, so it is easier to go with a larger Spade, which is what I will do. I’m going up to the Spade 200 (55kg) for our boat.

        Based on the data I have read, and my experience backs this up, the Rocna will reliably set better on a short scope (3:1) whereas the Spade will not. The Spade needs 4:1 to set. Once set, both anchors are excellent. Since the recommended scope in most situations is 5:1, this shouldn’t be an issue, but in practical terms, I still think the Rocna is a more versatile anchor than the Spade.

        The Ultra anchors seem pretty good, but there aren’t a lot of 3rd party tests on them just yet. Also, they are only available in stainless steel which is much more expensive for no real added benefit (at least as far as I can tell).


    • Hi Jean,

      I think it’s important to note that in the article you refer to, they say that the weight of the anchor is not a big factor “after it has set”, but a heavier anchor sets more easily than a light anchor. If you can’t get the anchor to set, it doesn’t matter what it’s holding power is, so this seems to me to be kind of a useless piece of information. The biggest challenge we have with anchoring is to get the anchor to set easily and reliably, and to reset after a change in direction. Heavier anchors do this much better than light anchors.

  6. Read in your blog that you could not attach the rode to your bridle, try using the butterfly knot, in the rode, jusr search it in the browser. I have used it and it is quick and simple and easy to undo. I was mainly intrigued by your site as by the name Wildling as I miss read it to be Wilding which is my surname. We may have been close to crossing paths at some time as we may have been in or around the south China sea the same time as you. We left for the Phiippines from Kudat at the same time the German couple got taken hostage. Unbeknown to us we even travelled the same route towards Zamboanga. We also had a lucky escape as we left on an Indonesian Rally 3 weeks before our friends were taken hostage by Abu Sayef thugs.from the marina that we were based at for over a year. Our friend Kjartan was recently released but sadly the other 2 western hostages were murdered after ransom deadlines expired. Our boat is now for sale..http://sailingmindthegap.myfreesites.net/ as that last incident was not good for us, now other priorities. Enjoyed your postings. do not let anything out there dampen your enthusiasm for an amazing lifestyle.

    • Hi James, thanks for the tip on the butterfly knot, I’ll definitely try it! The situation in the Philippines is very scary. We sold our last boat in Singapore rather than risk cruising the southern islands of Philippines. In hindsight, it was a good decision. The good news is there are still plenty of safe places to visit! Good luck with the sale of your boat!

  7. Hi Doug. i was interested in your engine speed numbers. was this with the Volvo props? I am surprised how low your boat speed is at these RPM numbers? I ask because i am getting ready to switch out my fixed props on my Privilege 39 to folding or feathering. I know from years of racing how much i should gain but this looks like a huge drop in performance. We also normally run one motor but we see much higher numbers and that is dragging a fixed prop on the other engine? yet we are alot shorter? twenty feet shorter! this does not make sense to me unless the props a not efficient at all? Ok so at 1800 on one engine we do 5.5kn at 2400 we do 6.5kn and at 3200 we do 7kn. and on two engines at 2400 we do 7.5kn and at 3200 we push 8 kn?
    now like i said we currently have fixed props. but next haul out in Greece we want to put on a pair of folding props. this is what brought me to your web page and video. The Volvo prop was high on the list. obviously your not happy with it as you want to go back to your other prop but what is the performance of the Volvo? and how is it manoeuvring in tight spaces (reversing) and any thing else you can share.
    And sorry you found frontier guards that wanted Backshish in Tunisia. we kept our boat in Hamamett for 1.5 years and although i was asked on the odd occasion i did not pay. they said they would come inspect the boat thoroughly and i said be my guest. They settled for a hand shake and a quick look at the boat. great country but as you said. dont expect to buy boat parts there.
    thanks and nice boat and nice Blog.

    • Hi Don,

      I agree, the performance of the 4 blade Volvo props that Outremer has selected as standard on our 5X is surprisingly poor. That’s what motivated me to try and find an alternative. As you can see from my posts on the blog, the EWOL props we purchased and installed did not work for us because there isn’t enough clearance between the prop blade edge and the hull. The EWOLs did give us about 20% more speed across the RPM range though. The video I took was when we removed the EWOL props to return to the original Volvo props. I’m not sure if the Volvo props are inherently poor performance, or whether it’s that they are not matched well to our boat. I have found that speed at a given RPM is pretty constant even when pushing against strong headwinds, so I have a theory that the Volvos are underpropped at lower RPMs, and are really only efficient at high RPMs. A different design should correct this, and EWOL seems to have done a nice job with the design of their feathering propellers.

      That said, there are a few things worth noting:

      – The Volvo props are very good at maneuvering in port. The EWOLs seemed too powerful and were either no thrust or too much thrust. It was harder to finesse the boat in tight places.
      – The EWOL props would not block and feather at times. Depending on what position they were in, there were cases where I could not get them to feather when we turned off the engines, which as you can imagine, felt like driving with the handbrake on. The Volvos always fold, every time.
      – The EWOL props are much lighter and less robust than the Volvos, so would not handle an impact like the Volvo props will.

      We are going to stay with the Volvo props for now, and since we can sail in breezes over 6 knots, we don’t spend much time motoring anyway, so while it is a disappointment with the 5X for us, it’s not a huge issue.


      • Thank you.
        This is great info and exactly what I was looking for.
        Cheers and see you on the water.

        SV ICE BEAR

  8. Happy New Year to all your crew and thanks for the blog. I have silently followed it for a while. We are having a 51 built and to be delivered in May. Both of us will be retired by May and then we will set out for a 10 year cruise with the first 12 to 24 months in the Med.

    I am curious about the 29 days at anchor comment. Reading the various publications (Imray Pilots), I note that finding places to anchor seems to be a problem in high season (July , August). Is it true and what was your experience given your boat size?


    • Hi Richard, congratulations on your Outremer 51 and your retirement plans! It’s true, anchoring can be difficult in the Med in July and August. Along the coast of mainland France was not too bad, but the islands of Porquerolles, Corsica and Sardinia were all very crowded. There’s always more space in deeper water further from shore, because most boats are trying to anchor in under 8 meters, so if you have enough rode and a good anchor, you can set in 10-12m depth which is always less crowded. The other issue is that people arriving late in the afternoon will often anchor very close or even on top of your anchor, so although you may have found a good spot earlier in the day, you might have to move in order to have enough room to swing without other boats hitting you.
      Best regards,

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