Riding the Mistral to Tunisia

With our sails all finished and adjusted we were ready to leave France and head south for the winter. We visited Tunisia last year and really liked it, so we thought it would be a good place to make our home base this winter. It’s too hot in Tunisia to do a lot in the summer time, but winter there is very nice, and gives us a base to do some overland trips into the Sahara desert!

We left Marseille at 2pm during the tail end of a north west Mistral wind blowing a steady 25-28 knots with a double reefed main and staysail. The winds continued to build during the afternoon to 38 knots with brief periods of up to 43 knots. When we started seeing 40 knots we went to the third reef in the mainsail and switched down to the storm jib. Wildling was flying along at 13 to 15 knots with a max speed during the night of 23 knots. The waves were around 5 meters and very close together and steep, which produced a lot of motion and some impressive surfing! Here’s some video that gives a bit of an idea of what it was like.

Fortunately, I have not done too much sailing in winds over 40 knots, but it’s quite an impressive situation. There was whitewater everywhere and waves breaking all around us. At times we were tipped sideways at such an angle that everything on our galley counter was thrown into the air and onto the floor. We had waves breaking over the transom steps, turning the cockpit into a swimming pool. When standing in the cockpit some of the waves bearing down on us were higher than the level of the boom, which puts them over 5 meters. It felt like we were sailing inside a surf break. Having a balanced sailplan that gaves us penty of drive and speed made this all feel very stable and easy. The boat just tracked really well and even when we got hit by some really big waves, Wildling just shook them off and kept charging ahead without a problem. This is a boat that continues to give us more and more confidence in what she (and we) can handle!

We kept the wind angle at 150-155 degrees true, which also gave us a direct course to our first waypoint at the south west tip of Sardinia. 155 is about as deep as we can sail while keeping good speed and also preventing the mainsail from blocking the headsail. Although we had strong wind and big seas, we felt very steady, and the autopilot had no problem steering us the entire night. By morning, the wind had calmed down to 30 knots (it’s amazing how calm 30 knots feels after a night of sailing in 40 knot winds) but we kept our triple reef + storm jib sail configuration until we were sure the wind was not going to increase again. We traveled 235 nautical miles in the first 24 hours!

By mid morning of day 2 the wind was holding steady at 25-30 knots, still from the NW, so we switched back to double reefed mainsail and staysail. Once we had rounded the bottom of Sardinia, the winds dropped to 15 knots and we furled the staysail and switched over to the Genoa. We kept our two reefs in the main, because there were still a lot of waves, and the reefs helped to keep the boom and mainsail from flogging back and forth as we rolled sideways.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been experimenting with a boom preventer arrangement that reduces the slamming and shock loads on the preventer line and the boom in conditions where the winds are light but there is a lot of wave action. Here’s a video of the shock absorber setup that I have been using, which works really well!

By the afternoon of the 2nd day the wind died off completely so we had to turn on the engines, and we ended up motoring the rest of the way to Port Yasmine in Hammamet. All up we covered the 550 nm distance in just less than 3 days, which wasn’t too bad given that we had to motor for 26 hours.

Enjoying the calm, final leg to Port Yasmine

Two dolphins came to escort us the final 2 miles into the marina

Organizing the mooring lines and enjoying solid ground again after some sporty days at sea!

Happy to be in Tunisia!

26 thoughts on “Riding the Mistral to Tunisia

  1. We are presently about to return from Geneva by air to our Outremer 51 ( Crazy Flavour ) currently located in El Kantaoui, close to Sousse.

    We brought our cat there after a three weeks trip around Sicily, starting from Marina di Ragusa to Marsala, anticlock wise.

    We had also some strong winds from Toulon to the tip of south Saridinia, and subsequently less so from Sardinia to Sicily. In fact it took us less than six days from Port Camargue to Marina di Ragusa, with two nights ashore.

    And we plan to visit Hammamet on Sunday or Monday, before moving to Kelibia. We neded to be back in Port Camargue in less than two weeks as of Sunday, which seems to be pretty reasonnable.

    Any advice regarding the Hammamet approach and harbour ?

    I hope We will be able to meet in Hammamet.

    Best regards.

    Vincent Jeanneret, Skipper of Crazy Flavour.

    • Hi Vincent,

      I hope you have a good trip over to Hammamet. You can call the marina on VHF channel 9 when you get about 2 miles away and they will send a Zodiac to meet you at the marina entrance and escort you to a berth, and also help you tie up. You should have no troubles, it’s a very easy marina to navigate and the people are very friendly. Prevailing wind is on your beam when docking, so having some daggerboard down helps.

      Good luck!

      • If you look on your left we are 50 meters away from you. We will most likely leave on Wednesday. Hope we find a way to cross the “channel”. Best regards. Vincent

        Vincent Jeanneret

    • This is the process I use when reefing downwind:
      1. Furl the headsail
      2. Put some tension on the topping lift
      3. Release tension on the lazy jack lines
      4. Steer a course as far downwind as you can safely hold in the given conditions. Usually 160-170 TWA
      5. Center the mainsail traveler
      6. Tension the mainsheet to pull the boom over towards the centerline. This will depower the main, and will prevent the mainsail battens from running up against the side stays when you reef
      7. Ease the main halyard about 20 cm at a time and take in the leech reefline bit by bit to slowly pull the mainsail down until you reach the luff reef point
      8. Attach the luff reef pennant
      9. Tension the main halyard
      10. Adjust the topping lift to take tension off the boom and sail
      11. Ease the mainsheet
      12. Lower the traveler
      13. Unfurl the headsail
      14. Go back on course

      • Thanks Doug, couple of follow on questions if I may ask. 1. What track/car system are you using on the main? 2. Do you notice any difference in the reefing criteria and approach with the 3Di sail? Thanks in advance for the responses.

      • Our mainsail track car system is Antal HS 30.90. There is no difference in reefing from what I can tell. The only thing is that the 3Di membrane is more susceptible to damage from chafing than the Hydranet, so we have to take more care to keep the lazy jack lines and the topping lift out of the way of the sail fabric.

    • Hi, sorry I don’t know of anything for Tunisia. I have heard that the coast is quite straight and not many coves and bays for anchoring. So it’s more a matter of stopping in marinas. The main advantages of Tunisia are that it is safe for leaving your boat over the winter, it’s not expensive, and it’s close to central med cruising grounds.

  2. Sounds great Doug, what a great opportunity to test out the new sail plan. What a machine! I see Outremer have a bigger boat in the works. Have a great time in NA.

  3. That is an awesome read. Thrown in the deep end is freaky on a fast cat too. I never slept when sailing new boats in those conditions…. nana napped yes…. well done and wtitten thank you Doug.

    • Thanks for your kind comments Ed! On this trip I had another experienced sailor with me, and the two of us took 2hrs on 2hrs off watches, which worked pretty well in these conditions. Neither of us slept much on the first night though.

  4. Great ! We are a Canadian family of 5 living in Tunis for the last two years and a half. We’ve traveled all over Tunisia and never felt insecure. Tunisia and its people are wonderful, welcoming. Fabulous landscapes and rich blends of culture and history. And guess what ? We’re sailors too ! We intend on leaving on a cat from here on some day. Owning an Outre-mer like yours is our fantasy. Let us know if you run into a seller. You’re heading to Kelibia ? Gorgeous place, we completed our open water scuba diving certificate there. The water and beaches are gorgeous. Sailing by Tunis ? You’re more than welcome to stay over at our place for a bit of hard ground duties and discoveries. We live in Gammarth. Cheers !

  5. Hi Doug,

    Your blog is extraordinarily informative and has served as a wonderful resource in refining our decision making process as to which cat to buy. We have chartered for years in the Caribbean and have experience aboard Fountaine Pajots and Lagoons.

    Chartering for a couple of weeks at a time is, of course quite different from owning and living aboard and as we have never owned a boat I love speaking with owners about all that is entailed. Mindful that maintenance and upkeep living aboard is probably a full time job we’ve given quite a bit of thought to boats that feature systems that are relatively simple. An early list of contenders included the Antares 44i but after digging deeper, visiting more boat shows and speaking to more owners it became clear that the hub of state-of-the art design is France.

    Right now we are basically focused on Catana, Outremer, Nautitech and Fountaine Pajot. I know that your previous boat was a Catana and I would appreciate knowing a little about your decision to go with Outremer over say, the Catana 59 or 62. Also, I am particularly interested in your experience with the saildrives on Wildling, how often you’re having to change the anodes and whether the Volvo Pentas require taking apart the propellers to replace the zincs.

    We really look forward to reading about your upcoming Atlantic crossing (planning on enrolling in a race division in the ARC?)

    I’d like to thank you for sharing in such detail the build, maintenance, upgrading and sailing experience. I suspect that you have a devoted following of folks looking for more substance than is found among the popular Youtube sailing channels.


    • Hi JC,

      Thanks for your kind feedback, I’m really glad you find the website helpful!

      Regarding our choice of Outremer vs Catana, we did look at the Catana 59, but it’s a very big boat and much heavier than the Outremer 5X. It’s a full meter (3 feet) wider than the 5X, which is already a beast to maneuver in tight marinas! We also don’t like the salon and cockpit layout of the Catana, and we didn’t like the exposed helm stations on our 471, which unfortunately is still a feature of the Catanas. Also, the sail handling systems are much better on the Outremer. It was a pretty easy choice to go with the 5X for us. We felt that the 5X would be a safe, relatively fast boat, with plenty of room and easy enough to sail for just Robin and I as we get older. So far that has turned out to be the case.

      I agree with you on the Antares 44. They have a lot of nice features, but they are heavy and slow and the design is getting quite dated now. Nautitech and FP boats are nice, but more suited to coastal sailing than world cruising (IMO). You might want to take a look at the Balance 526, which has a good design and isn’t too heavy. I haven’t sailed one, and I would want to add a staysail to the rig, but it looks like a nice boat.

      Our saildrives have not given us any problems. I did consider installing shaft drives and moving the engines further inboard, but in the end, the hassle of accessing the engines under the beds in the cabins made me stick with the aft mounted engines and saildrives. The new Volvo S150 drives are easy to operate. The gearbox oil can be changed from inside the engine room without having to lift the boat out (unlike the previous model), and the zincs can be changed in the water very easily. I just did this a few weeks ago. It took me about 30 minutes to change the anodes on both propeller shafts.

      Best of luck in your search, you are definitely focused on the important criteria! Keeping everything as simple as possible is really key for ocean sailing cats, and so is understanding that features that look great at a boat show, might not work so well when you’re in 40 knot winds and 20 foot seas!


  6. Having a similar situation as JC but to add to above I´m also very much interested to get some info on the reason you decided for 5x and not OC 51 which would have been a similar size as your previous boat.

    • Hi Magnus,

      Outremer was not making the 51 when we ordered our 5X, and I wanted to get up over 55 feet if possible, as there are so many benefits as you get longer: speed, motion, safety, etc. The 5X is a big boat though, and certainly not for everyone. If the 51 has enough room for your needs, it would be an excellent choice.


  7. Hi to all the “wilding family”It was such a great sailing,my best ever! Waiting for the next one…Hope you enjoy Tunisia Navicalement

  8. Hi Doug I had been following your Blog since the begging, and had the lucky to visit your boat in the Cannes boat Show 2015, when we where looking different options to buy our Cat. Finally I diced for a Catana 62, we are happy whit it and we were sailing in the Med since July 2016.
    Now my boat is in Cagliari Cerdeña and we are planing to sail to Tunez, in march to take our boat out of Europe.
    Could you tell me if it is necessary to process this with the Custom Office?
    Did you need a Visa for Tunez?
    You will leave your boat along in this Marina for the Winter?
    Thanks for your advice.

    • Hi Manuel,

      It’s a pretty simple process to enter and leave Tunisia with your boat. We did not need visas to do this. Basically when you arrive, the marina folks will direct you to a place to dock, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make sure they have room. After you tie up, they will take you over to the border police office where you fill out a bunch of paperwork and then you will go next door to visit customs and fill out more paperwork, then customs will come and inspect the boat. The whole process takes a couple of hours.

      We are keeping WILDLING in Tunisia for the winter, so we had to fill out some additional paperwork that places the boat in a temporary immobilized state with customs. This stops the clock on the 6 month maximum continuous stay regulation for Tunisia.

      I’ve had quite a few people ask about our experience entering and staying in Tunisia, so I’m going to do a blog post in the next week with a lot more details, including how to deal with bribes and security.

      I would love to chat with you at some point on how you are liking your Catana! I’ve not had the opportunity to talk to a recent Catana owner, and would love to hear about your experience.


      • Hi Doug, we are leaving Malta in two weeks & heading to Tunisia so very interested in your knowledge re security, bribes etc. Did you write the intended blog? Cheers jac

      • Hi Janet,

        We have been to Tunisia multiple times, and the bribe process is really stressful and annoying. This last time we used a yacht services agent, and they handled all of the entry process for us. It was so much better, and I definitely recommend it. They can also find you the best place to keep your boat and take care of it for you if you need to travel away. The other big problem we have found in Tunisia are the taxis. They are pretty corrupt and almost every ride ends in some kind of extortion attempt and a lot of arguing. YS Tunisia provides airport transfers, and can hire honest drivers so you can avoid this hassle as well. The company is run by a UK couple with a lot of experience cruising and sailing and have lived in Tunisia for many years. You can contact them via their website: http://www.ys-tunisia.com


  9. Thanks very much Doug, I will be very happy to chat with you about my boat whenever you want.
    We are very happy with it and it is a very confortable, secure and fast boat.

  10. Many thanks Doug for this blog I recently discovered, full of highly interesting information. I noticed in your post relating the Marseille Tunisia rough passage that the wawes were breaking over the transom steps, “turning the cockpit into a swimming pool” . Did some water enter into the salon , or were the doors perfectly watertight ? how do you manage this risk on such rough conditions ?

    • There are a lot of drains in the cockpit so water is evacuated quickly. The doors are not completely water tight, so a little bit of water gets in, but not enough to ever cause us any concern.

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