Ashore…Or Just Off It!
Whereas in Guernsey the marinas have gates, and floating pontoons on pylons are the norm, elsewhere because the tidal range is so much less, there is no need for gates. Towards and inside the Med where the range is less than 1 metre, many marinas use fixed concrete pontoons, and harbours can be quite shallow. The major drawback of concrete pontoons is that in heavy winds and a surging sea, boats can get badly damaged by crashing into, or getting caught under, these pontoons. Consequently most boats are tied several feet away from the pontoon, and a flexibly-mounted passerelle or gangplank used to get to the shore.
We have stayed in marinas as little as possible, over four months we have spent 22 nights in marinas. Whereas it provides a level of comfort, good access for everyone to the shore, and a better way to meet fellow sailors, it is very expensive in most marinas in summer and is mostly outside our budget.
We anchor as much as possible, and we have found some lovely places along the way. All the anchorages we stayed at until the south coast of Portugal were quiet and well protected, although Portugal doesn’t have many such places. We are self-sufficient on power and use the dinghy to get to shore. Either we all go together in the dinghy, or one of us remains on the boat to do jobs etc, this has worked out pretty well on the whole.
One of the most interesting places we stayed was the very Spanish town of Adra , details of which are given in the diary in blue. We tied alongside another boat against the inside of the harbour wall, very cheaply, with electricity and water available.
In Gibraltar our anchorage gave superb views of the runway, great for Dan who loves planes!
In general food has been very cheap in the supermarkets we have been to in Spain and Portugal , and very good quality. We have got used to drinking UHT milk all the time the way many of the locals do. We buy lots of fruit and veg at each visit, eat healthily for a few days, then slowly run low again before the next visit. We have a fridge but no freezer, and we keep fruit and veg in nets hanging by the sink, except on passage when the motion would bruise them. The most delicate items we eat before a voyage. We have had a lot of fruit flies on a few occasions, they usually disappear when the fruit and vegetables are finished up.
We have tried various methods of shopping. In the Rias in NW Spain, where the villages and shops are small, we do frequent smaller trips to buy food, usually all together. In the larger towns sometimes we all go together with the pushchair, he jumps in the trolley and we put the shopping around him. But you have to be quick or he runs out of being good.
Later I took Dan on my own a couple of times with the bike, then I have to carry the shopping so I can’t go too far or buy very much. We have tried with me going on my own with the pushchair, which allows me to get quite a lot of food and wheel it back, this is my favourite way. The worst way was when I took the pushchair, Daniel (he insisted and I gave in against my better judgement), and the bike, to a supermarket an unknown distance away. It was quite a long walk and also turned out to be uphill, and being late in the day Daniel decided that he wanted to sleep in the supermarket, and I had very great difficulty getting him to ride back to the boat.
We do eat out sometimes, usually at lunchtime when we are visiting a town. We can’t carry a picnic as we have no way to keep it cool. We also have drinks at bars, which adds up. And of course ice creams for Dan! Now we tend to carry more drinks with us to avoid some of the cost, and we buy plenty of beers for the boat cheaply at the supermarket.
We have had some good and interesting food by eating out that we would never have made ourselves, for example fried baby squid (chipirones in Spanish). We have had some very good value meals and it is a good way to feel more part of the places we visit. We also try if possible to find small backstreet places to eat, they are local and cheap. The ones that spill out onto the pavement are usually far more expensive.
We rarely eat out in the evening because we have Daniel, and he is not the best kid to have in a restaurant.
We have also had some lovely fish meals and snacks on the boat, caught by Nigel. Sometimes he catches fish in anchorages using the fishing rod, or sometimes trailing mackerel feathers, or with the speargun. We have had mullet (not harbour mullet), mackerel, jurel mediano (like sardines), and bream from anchorages. A couple of times Nigel got a load of mussels from rocks in smaller anchorages.
At sea Nigel trails lines too, and has caught mackerel and small (12″-15″) tuna this way. Fresh tuna is just out of this world. I had never cooked a fish in my life before but now I can! However I leave all the gutting to Nigel.
Mostly I have been doing all our washing by hand, it takes the best part of a day every week or two, this is my department. I donâ€™t mind it each time I embark on it, but later I wish we had gone to a launderette! I have learned that rather than try to use too little water and lots of rinses and wringing, it is far easier to wait until we have a hose to fill up the boat’s water tank with water, and at the same time fill up our large bucket, as well as three or four washing-up bowls. Then I do the washing, separated into colour types, in the washing up bowls, using my favourite colour washing liquid. Sometimes I soak items overnight, but mostly I wash them at one time. I then wring and rinse everything, starting with underwear, in the big bucket. I wring it all again, shake it out and hang everything in the cockpit. The rinse water gets a bit dirty by the end and then Daniel uses the big bucket of water to play in.
I don’t hang items on the rail because they could get stained, they could blow off, and at night they could get very wet again with dew, depending on the weather. In the cockpit they are a bit in the way, but they are sheltered and soon dry in the summer Mediterranean weather.
I have at the same time moved the washing area from the kitchen sink where I was a couple of times, to outside in the cockpit. I can shade the area I am in if I need to, it is nice and warm, I can watch what is going on in the anchorage, and the added bonus is that because my buckets are all dark-coloured, the water in them quickly heats up to a very good washing temperature in the sun!
I have only so far used a launderette in Gibraltar . Although it was not cheap, I had a lot of bedding to wash, including sleeping bags which I can’t do by hand. We had four loads done and it was a lot to hang out all at once back at the boat! But it was very satisfying for once not to have to wash by hand.
We had much less trouble with language further south in Portugal and Spain , in tourist country. I am very glad we went through NW Spain and northern Portugal , it made us work to learn some of the languages, further south it is possible to be quite lazy.
In Gibraltar it was very welcome to speak English, although there were many native Spanish speakers too. Many people spoke a mixture of English and Spanish.
September : it is a great relief to both of us to be in France , we feel relatively at home with the language even though we don’t know the area, compared to Spanish and Portuguese where we were both complete beginners!
For Dan, see ‘Cruising with a young child’
We will stay put in the winter months as the Mediterranean weather becomes very unpredictable in many parts. We have heard quite a bit about the best places to over-winter.
For the best weather SE Spain is recommended, which is also quite cheap. However you have to pick and choose carefully as in some places there are not many English or you are some distance away from the town.
The Balearics have less reliable weather and are likely to be more expensive, but there are more English and English speakers there so it is possibly better for families with school-age children.
I have heard mixed reports about Tunisia , it is the cheapest option, Monastir is recommended, but one report I heard said lots of boats over-winter there and it is good for families, and another report said that very few did, so I don’t know what to believe and am looking for more information. Some say the cities are quite modern-thinking in terms of women and dress, someone else said that it is still very difficult for a western woman to live there in the way they are used to. French is spoken there which would have been ok for us.
Malta is good but fairly expensive I think, however it is English-speaking and if we were desperate there are some very sheltered anchorages suitable for winter weather, however with having Dan on board a marina or hard-standing very near a town would be vastly preferable. I want Dan to go to pre-school where we over-winter.
Finally we have decided on the south of France to overwinter, not because of the weather, which is less than ideal with the mistral coming close to Toulon, but because of easy access back home by rail to St Malo, which Elaine and Daniel did in September, and which we can do again in March, before we start cruising again. Also I am much happier living in France than anywhere else as French is by far my best foreign language. Nigel is the same although his French is limited.
We are still not sure of a place, although we were quoted a good rate by Toulon town marina, they forgot to tell us that there was already a waiting list of 40 boats! So Nigel is now looking at St-Mandrier-sur-Mer, just across the bay from Toulon, where there is a closed part of a marina, we will know on 20 th September whether it can be opened and whether we can get a place.