The End is Near

October 1, 2019

As I write this, I am about 40nm away from arrival in Barcelona, but you won’t see the post until I am close enough to see my ‘home’ for the next month.   

It has been an interesting run and I won’t share all of the details, but I have enjoyed some of the worst weather I have experienced and some of the best.   I am tired and Home Free, if she could be given feelings, would feel pretty used.   It was all well and good as I enter my last hurrah before shipping my home away from home to Florida.

I think the last post had me arriving in Palermo.   I enjoyed that city for the two days that I was there, and I could see going back for a visit, but my overall recollection will always be that it is a filthy place.   On my second bike ride, I was just as taken by the scenery.  It was one of the most spectacular riding locales I have enjoyed, but it was well marked by the garbage and general disrepair of nearly everything.   (Because I look at everything through the lens of economics, it is worth noting that this is the central Mafia stronghold, where government has limited sway.)

I pulled away from Palermo early on Wednesday to begin my journey to Cagliari.  The weather looked good with winds from nil to 20 knots depending where along the path (again, PredictWind Offshore is amazing for this stuff).   Turns out that sea state based on weather can matter a great deal depending on where you are and where you are going.   

———————————— Technical boating insights in this section.  Feel free to ignore

For those that are interested in the technical aspects, these next few paragraphs are for you.   First off this boat is amazing.  It is stabilized, which keeps the boat flat in almost any conditions.   Well, any conditions that result in side to side motion.   Waves coming head on are not ‘flattened’ by the stabilizers, so when pounding directly into the waves, the boat moves up and down with the movement of the wave.    Now this is okay in a typical sea state.  I have never been on open ocean, but you might expect waves with periods of five seconds to perhaps sixty seconds outside of really serious weather conditions.   So let’s say that every 20 seconds, your ship crests a wave and rolls down it.   You might get sea sick (ahem) but the boat will feel pretty stable.    

But what if those waves are coming every two or three seconds?   On Lake Ontario, 3-5 second waves would be expected in rough weather.  Beating into that feels like crap after about 10 minutes.    For a long time I was bashing into waves of about six feet, hitting me dead on.   It was like a giant teeter-totter for far longer than I expected. 

To mitigate the effect of these winds, the ‘best’ course of action in a stabilized boat would be to hit the waves at an angle.  The stabilizers then manage the roll, and the boat doesn’t pitch up and down as violently.   (This would NOT be true in a boat without stabilizers, it would encourage roll which is the enemy of most motor yachts.)

So at night, partly because it is a pitch black sky, I turned the boat 20 degrees away from the wind (in this case North toward ‘better’ weather) and was able to increase my comfort dramatically.    This has a downside in that you are no longer heading directly to your destination.    I believe I added about three to five hours to my overall time by adding this distance and, as luck would have it, the winds turned in such a way that when I headed ‘South’ again toward the base of Sardinia, I was again heading directly into the waves.   Yay!    But the winds did diminish somewhat as I neared Sardinia, and disappeared a few miles off shore, so despite adding distance and time, it made the ride much more comfortable.

After passing the SE corner of Sardinia, the winds roared again making that wave period 1.5-2 seconds which is unbelievably short and super uncomfortable.    Given my time constraints, I wasn’t able to turn away from the waves and decided to simply bash into them for a few hours to get to Cagliari.    My speed before I hit the waves was about 7 knots.  When bashing I was running between 4.5 knots and 5.5 knots.   Water can really slow you down!!

As expected, the boat handled things beautifully and as I got closer to my destination (and shallower water, not sure if that was related), the same and stronger winds were not able to create the froth and my speed rose again to the 6.5-7 knot range.   Another side note, I have considered the fetch was reduced as well, but I was still 7-10 miles off shore, and so the big change was depth going from two thousand feet to a few hundred feet.)

————————————— Okay, back to the human interest parts

After many hours of pleasant cruising, Home Free began slamming into waves that were progressively worse, but I had a minor reprieve coming around the Southeast corner of Sardinia.  Then I turned Northwest to get to Cagliari and it got worse from there.  The wave periods dropped to 1.5 seconds, the winds averaged around 22 knots and peaked at 34 knots.  At one point I actually buried the bow (which is about 10’ above the water when flat) under an oncoming wave while teetering down the prior wave.   But with the marina closing soon after my arrival, I pushed through and arrived in time to get help tying up.

I stayed in Cagliari for two nights so I could rest and ride the bike.  Cagliari is a nice place, remember I was there for a month in March, but I won’t miss it much I don’t think.  Moving on, with a very early departure, I headed for the Spanish island of Menorca, which is the next closest point West in Europe to Sardinia and just a ‘short’ hop to Barcelona. 

Sardinia Salt ‘Factory’

The driving factor in many of these decisions has been weather, and the weather forecast for the trip from Palermo to Cagliari was less than ideal, but acceptable.   Meanwhile the forecasted weather from Cagliari to Menorca, the longest run, was important, and forecasted to be very good.    Further out, the forecast from Menorca to Barcelona was projected to be very good as well . . . until Wednesday.  Then I might be stuck for three to five days, and I couldn’t see the weather beyond that.   

That weather report held and the trip from Cagliari to Menorca was probably the best day I have ever spent on the water … ever (at least without Jinhee on board.  😉)  The wind peaked at around five knots, and much of the night it was three knots or less, the water was almost completely flat.   Through the day I must have picked up a current (and I was driving the boat really, really hard to take advantage of the weather window) so I was flying at around 7.2-7.9 knots.   Being so far from civilization, there was no light in the sky and the moon was nowhere to be found.   The stars were magnificent and the Milky Way was stunning painting its streak of light across the sky.   I could pick out satellites flying through space everywhere, there were a few shooting stars while I was looking and, well it was just a stunning experience on a warm, cloudless, windless night.

Thousands of birds . . . just sitting in the middle of the sea

Being flat seas and essentially a perfect night meant that I could sit on the bow to see these stars (I generally won’t go out in bad weather unless absolutely necessary).    When I did so, I finally saw the green phosphorus glow that occurs while running in the water.   I have read about it, until this night I had never seen it.   It took a while but I finally realized what was causing this explosion of light in the water . . . little jellyfish as they were disturbed in my bow wake would light up and turn the water into a mini carnival scene.   I believe in other places the light is caused by plankton, but here it was clearly small round critters and I could sometimes see their tentacles, so now I have to find out what type of jellyfish this is.   There were a LOT of jellyfish in some parts.  It was just another beautiful image from a great night at sea.

I anchored in Menorca on my arrival and caught some sleep.   I probably should have stayed longer, but the last run to Barcelona was being met by a closing weather window and managing my needs for rest convinced me to split my run into two parts.   I headed for Alcudia on Majorca.

One of many fortifications on the coast of Menorca

From Mahon, Menorca to Alcudia, Majorca was a relatively short run (by comparison) at about ten hours and I didn’t drive the boat hard.   The weather was good, and an early arrival meant time for groceries and a walk on land (but no bike rides since Cagliari unfortunately) and importantly a consecutive good night’s rest.   Good recovery from the long runs.

While underway, David (the prior owner of the boat) let me know that Home Free has spent a winter in Alcudia, and I can see why.  It is a nice port with excellent docks (although not really a ‘secure’ spot) and it has an amazing beach, a lively ‘tourist port’ with lots of restaurants, shops (oh, the trinkets you can collect) and clearly good weather.   It looks like a wonderful place to be a tourist, and there are dozens of resorts there to make that possible.   I will spend more time on Majorca before Home Free is loaded on a ship, later this month.  Majorca is also a cycling haven and many professional cyclists use the island for winter training, so spending a few days on the island with my bike, waiting for a loading time, will be very nice.

In prior posts, I have mentioned how futile it is to have a plan while navigating a boat and so I have been holding off on planning for a short trip back to Canada.   By the time I reached Menorca, I could say with confidence that I would  arrive in Barcelona before my weather window closed and therefore, before the end of the week.   With Canadian thanksgiving in two weeks, I purchased a plane ticket home so that I could spend the holiday with Jinhee.

This last leg, from Alcudia to Barcelona began early this morning.  The weather is expected to be less generous than it has been over the past few days and so this will be a relatively long run and I wanted to get going early.   I woke up at around 3:45, looked at my phone.   I was sure it said 5:45 and so decided to get up and get started.  Either my brain or my glasses need to be replaced, but I was filling in my log book before I caught my error on the time, and by that time, the engine was warming up and I was ready to slip my lines.    I slipped my lines and headed out into the black.

The seas were almost flat, the wind was quite modest, and while there is a lot more traffic, it is easy to navigate in this wide open space and now, I have under 40 miles to go and a relaxed pace.  I don’t want to tempt the gods of the sea or weather by pushing hard on this modest run.   I will arrive when I arrive and spend a few days cleaning and seeing sights before I head home.

As I write this, I was visited by the cutest bird.   It came into the pilothouse.   A rest was probably in order, but it looked more scared than tired and so it flew off after I helped it out of the pilothouse.   Having read about little experiences like this for so long, it is really nice to be out here enjoying them no matter how brief they are.

Bird in the pilothouse

Next up . . . Barcelona.

Sunset about 10 nm offshore from Barcelona

[The featured photo was the ‘rock’ at the SW corner of the island of Sardinia]


It is hard to be sick of sunsets, perhaps readers are . . . this is somewhere between Sardinia and Menorca.

2 thoughts on “The End is Near

  1. Hi Don,
    I followed you for most of this post, I felt like I was sharing it with you. Have a safe trip back home tomorrow and I look forward to your return to Europe. David

  2. Your writing is a clear indication that your economic filters have not blinded your perceptions of reality. I could feel the motion of Home Free as I read your story. It will be good to see you again when you are spending more time on this side of the world. M

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