I started the training program aboard a well equipped cruising sail boat, along a route of about 1700 miles between Imperia and Cascais in January 2022. I thought that choosing the winter season would have involved an extremely technical and demanding route. A navigation along the whole Mediterranean, crossing the Gulf of Lion, the Strait of Gibraltar and then up to Portugal against the wind and the current. It was not so!
It started on January 22, 2022. I never expected the summer conditions I found, a sunny high pressure as big as the ocean, Europe and Africa, joining the Siberian anticyclone with the Atlantic anticyclone. My route in between, I think of Ukraine and the future President of the Italian Republic. I hear the radio with the SSB: France Inter, BBC, Voice of America, too bad that Italy, of which I carry the flag, has closed the broadcasters in short and medium waves. I can listen to Italy’s broadcast no later than Palma de Mallorca, and then Radio Vaticano all over the world.
The first 24 hours were challenging: I combined this training with an environmental awareness project promoted by the Yacht Club Imperia and Città di Imperia entitled SailGreen. As ambassador of the event, I set out to create the symbol of the project with the Yellow Brick satellite track of my route, and then immediately ahead of acrobatic maneuvers and roundabouts to compose the writing of SaliGreen. An exercise in “beautiful handwriting” is my original starting goal. I wanted the letters to be well rounded, the writing straight and without smudging, perhaps the revenge of a left-handed childhood repressed by the system that fought for his left even pretending to use the right, when the teacher came between the desks towards me, to then resume the left when moving away he turned his back to me.
Completed the work along the Côte d’Azur with a long writing from Imperia to Saint Tropez, I head towards Gibraltar with the largest sails I have. It feels like summer, ariette to manage.
The first thing I do after 12 miles off the coast is going to sleep. Here begins the list of mistakes: I didn’t do sleep management training before my departure. I knew that, at first, I would have suffered, and that in three days I would have adapted. I’m between the second and third day and I have to start. There is air suitable for code0 but I keep the mainsail and jib, the boat at 4 knots on a flat sea. Around me, no one at binoculars, radar, AIS, camera. I sit in my bed and I would have slept indefinitely or just before any change in sailing conditions occurred. Here it is, half an hour later! But great, I have just started the micro sleep series. There is wind, I accelerate to 7 knots, thank goodness there is only the jib, always no one on the horizon, I get back to my bed. I cannot sleep and think about my dinner.
Pressure cooker and complete galley, thanks also to zero km food from Frantoio Sant’Agata di Oneglia, from the surrounding vegetable gardens and from my Vercelli lands. Grains, rice, potatoes, pasta, fruit and vegetables that are back with maturation, a few beers and bottles of wine, not really drink them, but rather to exchange them with the fishermen that I might meet or just to get a special attention by the moorers who will welcome me on arrival. Garlic, carrots, onion and the sauté is done! And the energy snacks? Even those, three, are expensive and I don’t like them, so I make sure to always have something ready for any eventuality. I usually cook once a day, in the morning after breakfast and stow. A bucket of soup, a sauce for pasta and as energy snacks: 6 eggs, a liter of milk, honey, vanilla, lemon zest and lots of sugar for the caramel, end up in the fridge, well cooked and with the crust, for difficult moments.
Third night of quiet vigil, I keep course and, in front of me, the first obstacle, a hole in the wind, has tormented me for two days. I always stay on the edge without falling into it, with 5 knots of wind for almost the entire Gulf of Lion, until it moved and I cross it. Long edges almost to lose, just to make me apparent wind and I manage to pass under the Balearic Islands to hook the increasingly powerful flow that will take me to Albora to shoot myself out of Gibraltar like a blowpipe. I have to thank Range Global Service and the GSC organization if today, for the first time, I am sailing with a satellite connection that allows me to exchange a few emails, emergency calls and, super cool, to download weather data. I have wind and pressure updated every 12 hours and 5 days forecast. They sent me all the monthly rental equipment for a low cost, two sims and unlimited data traffic. Another world. My seafaring intuition would have led me to sail north of the Balearics, instead the gribs have guided me south. I would have been planted for two days, waiting for the new incoming Mistrale brag. I hook the south track and, with a single edge, I pass all the Balearics. I am thinking of the Posidonia prairie of Formentera, a type of marine park that in Italy exists only by name. Posidonia oxygenates the sea, here, if you anchor in the wrong place, the coast guard arrives in half an hour and bleeds you. Be careful where you throw it, they tell you! I shoot straight and start the series of jibes up to Albora. The wind increases day by day, and I got to sail with a second reef and staysail. It is still increasing and the forecasts confirm. I was almost in Algeria, I go back to Spain, some gusts start to exceed 35 knots, I point to the shelter of Malaga under the coast, I rig the third reef on the mainsail and take off again.
Winter, down end strong wind, the 2 retainers of the boom sent back to the cockpit: it is not the southern ocean, but the idea is that, even if the waves are smaller. I am comfortable. With the third reef on the mainsail and staysail the boat is balanced and the autopilot works well. I could still reduce the sail by reefing the staysail and turn it into a storm jib. This would be my configuration for navigating the storm. Beyond this limit, the survival options begin. The simplest solution is to lower the headsail and stay with only the mainsail: I put the boat with the wind in the stern, foiling the bow, pooling the sheet of the staysail to the maximum and freeing the halyard. The sail practically falls on the deck and I go to tie it such as a “salami” on the gunwale, leaving it curled up ready to go back up. The next step is to lower the mainsail and stay out of sails or, if necessary, escape the breaking waves, I will rearm the storm.
I use sturdy sails, built by Doyle Italia in HydraNet fabric with radial cut. The mainsail has a small first reefs, the second abundant and with a through hole for the borose that goes down to the boom so that, when tensioned, it holds the portion of the lowered sail folded like an accordion, a stratagem copied by Skip Novak. The third reef reduces the surface to 25%.
On long stretches and in rough seas, I happen to use smaller sails than needed, not so much for comfort but rather to lighten the work of the Raymarine hydraulic autopilot. I have installed two that act on a special oval connecting rod. One pulls and the other pushes, I can decide with an electric switch whether to use one, the other or both in pairs. A great relief for the struggling pilot. The actuators are connected to the connecting rod with a quick release that allows me to operate without tools. I usually use one and a couple of times a year, alternating them so that they can age together. In regattas, I disconnect them both to give the helmsman the lightness and sensitivity he deserves.
It is winter and in the evening I turn on the heating, a Webasto diesel boiler installed in a very simple way with a single rectilinear distribution backbone for maximum efficiency and just two vents in midship guarantee the warmth of the whole boat. Then, there are still two vents in the bathroom and in the anteroom that create a well-heated volume where you can hang the waterproof jackets to dry.
The energy sources on board are multiple: 230w of solar panels, 400w of wind power, nominal values far from reality. A 2kw emergency generator and two alternators installed on the main engine. There are some elements that I will need to install – it is a hydrogenerator – I would say essential to be able to maintain the charge of the batteries without resorting to the contribution of the generator and battery charger.
I arrive at the Strait of Gibraltar, the only demanding step of the journey. Gusts over 40 knots, moonless night, many ships around me. I start with the butterfly sails and take the rudder in hand. The binoculars around the neck, the GPS in one pocket and the VHF with which I alert the ships around: “Do you see me? My intentions are to keep course and speed, under sails, maneuvering, eventually, will take time. Please keep me on eye.” I say peremptory on the radio. My kind way of asking for right of way, usually followed by reassuring answers.
I leave the Strait like a blowpipe, after about 4 hours at the helm surfing at 16 knots and I decide to go and shelter behind the cape of Tangier, I ove to and sleep for a few hours until dawn.
I leave without touching the maneuver to cross the Gulf of Cadiz and then up north towards Cascais. Slowly, I unfasten the sails, the wind has dropped and, remaining close to the coast, the sea flattens out. Arrival with all sails and code 0 the following day. 1670 miles sailed in 10 days.
It was a good training, both the boat and I had no problems and I think I’ll repeat the experience next winter, on a new route though!
In May I will bring the boat back to Imperia in stages and with a crew sharing the expenses.
In the summer, Sailng Camps for the children of the YCIM sailing school and some cruise rentals for financing this great passion, and then, off again, ready to leave for a new adventure.