27. Another Change of Plans

I am now in Santa Ponsa now. Close to Palma de Mallorca. In Spain. Making my way towards the Strait of Gibraltar and out of the Mediterranean as fast as I can. Perhaps a little surprising to some readers following my last post where I suggested that I had come to terms with spending another winter in Gaeta. So how did this happen?

First of all, I met Calin and Ioana in Gaeta. A really nice Romanian couple that bought a boat a few weeks earlier in Malta. They had very little experience when it comes to blue water sailing and indeed the boat that they had just acquired. They were sponges for information though and viewed me as a source of experience that they could draw from. All with an aim to get themselves ready to take the giant leap across the Atlantic this winter. During our discussions it struck me that maybe I was getting overly cautious as I was delaying my departure due to a pandemic that we have no idea where it is going. When did I become the grown up in the room?

Ioana and Rufus

Secondly, I talked to a dear friend and former colleague that has even less experience with ocean crossings. When I was telling her about my decision to delay my departure another year due to the pandemic she said that she thought that both Saoirse and I were ready to go and that maybe I was using the pandemic as an excuse to just wait. I don’t think that is true but it really got me going. I did not move to Italy. I’m an adventurer. It’s time to go!

So what does this mean? Well first of all, I am late and I will need to get a little technical to explain why. The Mediterranean Sea is essentially a really large inland sea with a very small opening to the Atlantic Ocean at the Strait of Gibraltar. New water enters the Mediterranean through rivers and rainfall which roughly makes up for 50%. The rest enters through the Strait of Gibraltar. The water temperature is generally higher in the Mediterranean than in the north Atlantic so the water evaporates at a higher rate and this difference in temperature gets greater as autumn approaches. This in turn means that the easterly current in and around the strait increases at the end of the season making it important to time the exit from the Mediterranean. Winds from the west with an current moving in the same direction will mean a very slow passage through a narrow stretch of water crowded with container ships while easterly winds against a strong current will produce sharp and very uncomfortable waves. I will be looking for no wind and to push the engine to get through as quickly as possible.

Another reason for not leaving too late is that the winds from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands get less reliable later in the season and you certainly don’t want this passage against the wind. Ideally I want to be in the Canary Islands by mid-October and, if at all possible, I would like to make a stop in Madeira.

Having made my mind up on 1 September, I made a 450 Nm passage directly from Ponza outside Gaeta to Menorca. My longest passage so far but nowhere near what lies ahead. I have 500 Nm or so to Gibraltar and another 700 Nm from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands. Not to mention the 3000 Nm across the Atlantic. But one thing at a time. Now I need a favourable four day weather window to get to Gibraltar. I will make the most of the Balearics while I check the weather on a daily basis and my youngest son Daniel will join me shortly. Better than any day in the office I suppose.

Preparing Sea Urchins for dinner in Ponza

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