The Straits of Messina was, according to our calculations, the forth place along our journey, where we had to carefully time our passage with the tides. The others were Alderney Race and Chenal du Four in France, and the Straits of Gibraltar. Messina is the only place in the Mediterranean that has significant tidal currents. The height difference is less than a foot, and it’s really surprising how it can cause such strong currents. In Brittany the tidal range was as much as 12 metres in places, so the currents were understandable. But perhaps the Mediterranean has a logic of its own, when it comes to tides, much as it seems to have its own logic with the winds and weather.
August in the Mediterranean is hot. It makes you understand immediately, why a thing called siesta was invented here. On the northern coast of Sicily there was no wind in August, which made the days even hotter, while we motored from one anchorage to another. But the good thing about no wind was, that we slept our nights in peace – the anchorages in Sicily are not protected. There was always some swell even on a calm night, but at least we didn’t have to worry about our anchor not holding in strong winds. The water is clean and clear, even in front of big cities, so you can always go for a swim to cool down.
We sat under the scorching sun in the Almerimar Marina, waiting for the strong winds to calm down, so we could continue our journey east. In Almerimar there was no sign of any winds, so it felt funny to think there could be 30 knot winds blowing on the other side of the cape. When the forecast showed only 15 knots, gusting to 25, we left.
After leaving Porto, we had two alternatives in mind when trying to decide the next chapter of our journey – to continue south, and spend the winter in the Canary Islands, or to turn left at the corner of Portugal, and sail through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. We had to consider things like finding good anchorages and safe harbours, marina prices, living expenses, places of interest and variety, weather and weather forecasts, and so on. We very nearly had to toss a coin – both have plenty to offer, but both have their own limitations. Now that we’ve made the decision, we can rejoice or regret it every other day, so maybe it’s all in balance. And we can always change our minds later, as the winds surely blow both ways in their turn.
There are certain things in life that you anticipate with such fear and anxiety, you feel quite surprised afterwards to have survived them. Things like the first day of school, driving test, first date, wedding day – and crossing the Bay of Biscay!
By now we were supposed to be in Galicia, Spain. But apparently the Bay of Biscay has decided not to even let us there. The spring winds have been very changeable, and in the notorious bay it means it doesn’t seem to stay in one direction for very long. It will be a 300-360 nautical mile crossing. We are hoping to point our bow towards A Coruña, but are open to other options according to what the weather decides for us. That means we will be out at sea for three, maybe three and a half days, and the weather window should be at least a couple of days longer than that, so we won’t be caught out in something terribly unexpected. So far such a window has not presented itself.
The spring in Brittany turned out to be long. Because of the blooming flowers and warm days we had experienced in February we had expected to be on our way much earlier, but it seems the phenomenon called the “second winter” is not entirely unknown beyond Scandinavia. April came and went before we felt ready to leave.
Our journey began in June this year. That means we have now sailed slowly, and not particularly surely, towards southerly latitudes for more than six months. Having reached such a milestone, many sailors like to draw a summary of the highlights, measure how well their expectations were met, publish statistics about their journey and so on. It’s a good idea, so why not give it a try.
The pretty fortress town of Willemstad was now behind us, as we were nearing our last opening bridge in the inland waters of Holland. We had gotten pretty good at this – once again our timing was perfect, the bridge opened and we just motored through without stopping. A few hours later we reached the last locks at Stellendam, and just like that, we were out in the North Sea again. The sun went down, and we could see the bright lights of Hoek van Holland’s large port behind us, to the north.
Hardships and setbacks will not discourage a Finnish sailor. Our first attempt to travel south along the canals from Amsterdam had bounced off a closed bridge south of Haarlem, and although our first reaction may have been ”let’s forget about the canals and go out to the sea!” we were pretty soon back on track with the original plan. Heavy winds predicted for the next few days may have played a small part in the decision.