Report from Offshore Crossing
Almost always we write about places or arriving somewhere. But there are also the long days in between and today we want to report about them. From Menorca to Sardinia we had a little “crossing” ahead of us. 200 nm (360 km), two days and one night. Something between 32-36 hours nonstop offshore.
Our sailing style is quite different from that of Jörg Riechers or Boris Hermann. At sea we prefer it not so wild, so preferably shallower seas and winds far from stormy. And all this preferably warm. These wishes literally take the wind out of the sails of spontaneity and good preparation is needed to make it an unspectacular crossing.
Already in the middle of August, when we were still sailing in Mallorca, we had chosen a window for the crossing from Menorca to Sardinia. It should still be in August, preferably Aug 27-29 departure, with arrival one day later. 10 days in advance, the forecast is more of a serving suggestion, with few calories. 5 days in advance, the forecast becomes more serious. We use PredictWind with 6 weather models and Windy, which offers 10 models. One of them is always right in hindsight. Only you never know in advance which one. Perfect for the monday morning quarterback.
As so often, France gave the direction. From the Rhone valley strong wind was announced for Aug 28 and 2-3 following days, which is then accelerated to the Golfe de Lion into the Mediterranean. For our desired date we had a forecast of 55 kn wind and 5 m wave. Pretty much exactly what we wanted to avoid. For Aug 24. and 25 it looked like to be more friendly. Wave up to 50 cm, but no wind, 5-10 kn. Both you can see on the charts.
Prediction for Aug25, prediction Aug28
A short eye contact was enough for us, our days in Menorca were numbered and we preferred to leave earlier. The weather would also hit the Balearics and there we were not well protected. (In fact, it hit the Balearics hard as a rock). Having never sailed in Sardinia and not knowing any well protected anchorages, we booked ourselves a spot in a marina on Sardinia’s southwest coast. Molto bene this decision, as it turned out later.
Now weather tends to stick to the forecast and therefore it happens that it comes up a day earlier or later. Therefore, we wanted to buffer a day and arrive on Aug 26 already in Sardinia. This resulted in a departure Aug 25 at first daylight.
After we had set the departure day, we prepared ourselves. Ka took care of the provisions, which she manages to make much tastier than I do. Offshore and overnight we like to just grab food and not prepare anything. This time it turned out to be a sensational chicken salad and a delicious pasta. Plus a few bites we had picked up at a bakery. My job is to get the vessel ready and to check everything that could cause unpleasant problems: Engines, rigging and sails, bilges, tanks and the whole list.
The night before we stowed everything that could fly or fall off in the swell. The comfortable day-bed in the salon was prepared for the offwatch. One of us is always at the helm (watch), the other has time off (offwatch) and can sleep or do whatever. Offwatch can relax, but is on call should it be necessary.
In the morning, right after the alarm clock, we checked one last time if the weather forecast still fit. Half an hour before sunrise it slowly dawned and we untied our 6 mooring lines. Slowly we drifted away from the neighboring boat and the jetty and we slowly gave thrust through the smooth seas. Passing the Corsica ferry, which just entered through the channel of Maó, we reached the open sea. Just in time for sunrise.
Sunrise and calm seas on the crossing
The weather was exactly as predicted, unbelievable. 30 cm wave, 1-5 kn (no) wind, right on the bow. We set course Sardinia and started our watch rhythm. 2 hours during the day, 3 hours at night alternating. Ka had the first shift and I cast both our fishing rods. (We haven’t caught a single fish in the Mediterranean for 650 nm and it stayed that way).
Menorca slowly disappeared in the haze and we kept an eye out for set nets and old lines that might get caught in our propellers. Rivercafe was running 6-6.5 knots on a direct course 103 degrees. After 25 miles Menorca disappeared and we saw only water in all directions. Pleasantly flat water.
Nothing beats a visit from Dolphins
The best crossing is an uneventful one, because then nature and the vessel do not cause any problems. So there is a lot of time to stare at the sea and to think. This is contemplative, restful for the soul and promotes creativity. Every few minutes a look from the helm all around, it was relaxing.
Out at sea, the radio on channel 16 is always switched on. Normally a VHF radio has a range of 60 nm. Not so on this day. We had the “pleasure” of hearing radio traffic over 200 nm from the French coast, plus Spain and Italy. What a chatter this was. As night fell, some radio operators on the cargo vessel must have had clown for dinner and started making spooky sounds and confused radio calls.
You surely know the “blue hour”. On the sea, this is the time when the sun goes down, it gets cold, the haze rises and you are far and wide all alone. Then this melancholic mood comes up and it feels as if you are alone in the world. Then the “sundowner” is missing, because we don’t drink alcohol while sailing. After an hour it’s all over and night takes over the water world.
We turned on the navigation lights of the night and after a dinner our ways separated in the 3 hours shift change. One is asleep, the other is awake.
The night at sea is very rarely really dark. We had half moon and it was a night with silvery light. A world without colors, where shadows are all you see. The stars showed their full splendor because there was no disturbing light and no clouds far and wide. In the National Geografic I once read that one can see about 5,000 stars in the night sky. In this night all of them were there.
When you sail into the darkness, you can’t see anything ahead. The only things left to watch are the monitors with charts, wind indicator, AIS and radar. Otherwise, you are blind. That takes some time getting used to. You can only hope not to drive into a drifting net or collide with anything else.
But it is still not boring. For example, a cargo vessel overtook us, stopped completely just before the Italian border, and we passed again. A good thought for a thriller, inspired by the night.
Again and again commercial vessels passed us and from time to time we radio each other to coordinate the courses. It’s all friendly and relaxed. It is also a nice distraction for the night watch on the big vessels. Around 3.30 am I saw lights coming towards us in a short distance. A small boat without AIS (Automatic Identification System). It was just hardly to see on the radar. Within casting distance, we passed each other without further exchange, each going his way. Plenty of room for imagination.
By sunrise we were both awake again, enjoying a shared tea in the warming rising sun. The sea remained flat, but was now sunlit again. 25 nm before Italy we saw land for the first time.
In time before the announced storm we ran into the small harbor of Calasetta and waited for the things that were announced. / Holger Binz