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