Plan Ahead for the Med

When an untried cruising ground beckons, make sure that you're ready to meet its challenges. "Voyaging" from our November 2007 issue

October 17, 2007


Necessity being the mother of invention, Europe’s crowded harbors gave birth to the use of the often-challenging Med mooring, in which boats lay out an anchor, then lie either bow to or stern to the quay. Joe Minick

In addition to food, history, and charm in abundance, the Mediterranean-bound cruiser can expect to encounter weather that varies with the time of year, often-challenging anchoring options, incompatible electrical and water systems, and, of course, conflicting bureaucracies. The best way to enjoy the big picture is to take time before you leave to think through the many little details that await you once you’ve put Gibraltar astern.

In the Mediterranean, it’s hot just about everywhere in the summer. A dodger and a bimini are the absolute minimum of what you’ll need for shade. Before we left the States, my wife, Lee, and I took it a step further: We made a lightweight awning, and it really helps. As in most hot regions, air-conditioning can be a lifesaver in marinas, but when we’re anchored, we find it hard to support from a power standpoint. Instead, we rely heavily on shade, fans, and ventilation.

Diesel prices are high in most Mediterranean countries. In Turkey, the going rate per gallon is more than the equivalent of US$6, and charging batteries with a diesel engine is expensive. Winds in many regions tend to be too light on many days for a wind charger, but there’s plenty of sunshine, and an array of solar panels will serve you well.


While the tidal range in this part of Europe is minimal, some current flows through many areas, although usually not much more than a knot or so. Mediterranean winds can best be described as way too much or never enough, with the latter dominating a lot of the summer cruising season, except in the Aegean, where a strong wind from the north, known as the meltemi, can rage from June through August.

If you’re planning to do a lot of motoring, you can calculate fuel consumption, given today’s fuel prices, at almost a dollar per mile. Tomorrow doesn’t hold much promise for improvement, so optimizing your light-air performance can really pay off. Asymmetric chutes and light-air jibs are a good start, but the application of a goodly dose of patience helps about as much as anything.

In summer, you’ll certainly want to be aware of prevailing conditions in each region; come the five-month winter season, you can expect boisterous conditions nearly everywhere, and open anchorages where you might safely spend a winter are difficult to find.


Staying Put
Med mooring is very much alive and well in most parts of this area. As you travel east, marinas with alongside-mooring arrangements, which are never plentiful, become quite scarce, and with a minimal tidal range, floating pontoons are even harder to find. In fact, should you tie up side to in some harbors, you may find yourself looking at fines issued by the port police. Instead, boats lie bow to or stern to a concrete quay with an anchor laid out to hold the vessel off. In some marinas, laid moorings replace your anchor, but they rarely employ a float for easy pickup, so have your boat hook handy. Look for the wording “laid moorings tailed to the quay” in your cruising guide. This is your clue that the mooring line has been brought ashore and tied to the quay. When mooring, plan to retrieve it from the shore and secure it to the opposite end of the boat.

Many skippers often prefer to back the boat into the quay, laying a bow anchor as they go if a laid mooring isn’t available. Because it’s difficult to use a passerelle–a gangplank off the stern–when there’s a windvane in the way, long-distance cruisers frequently moor bow to instead. This presents a new set of problems for getting ashore; a bow pulpit that’s open in the front comes in handy. If it’s a long drop from the bow to the pier, a small ladder, usually custom-made, can be hung from the bow pulpit, or a crate can be set on the dock.

It’s also commonplace-and frequently expected-that you’ll anchor with a stern line (or better yet, two) ashore. This allows a small anchorage to accommodate more boats but also restricts the amount of room, if any, that’s left over for swinging free on a single hook. Some extra preparation may be required on a boat traveling to this region to handle mooring lines led astern, either at the quay or when anchored. Aft-facing roller chocks to minimize friction are a big plus, especially during winter storms, when stern lines are the only thing holding the bow-on moored boat off an unforgiving concrete quay. Planning should also include the addition of a stern anchor of adequate size for the vessel. It should be mounted well aft and be reasonably easy to deploy and recover. It requires at least 200 feet of rode-250 would better-and chain stored aft, along with a suitable hawse-pipe arrangement; if necessary, a cockpit winch can usually be used to break out the anchor. Mounting a reel of Ankarolina flat rode ( and a Danforth or similar anchor on the side of the stern pulpit is a popular setup that neatly fills the need for a flexible stern-anchor arrangement.


The Little Things
Often, it’s the little things that cause the biggest headaches–or bring the biggest relief. Because of Med moorings and raft-ups, local boats employ lots of fenders-five or six large ones on each side of a 40-foot hull. Visitors should, too. Round fenders can be deflated and stacked for long passages, but they spend the rest of the time hanging from the stern and mast rails.

Eight heavy dock lines-four long enough to serve as springs-and chafing gear are a must. Mooring-line shock absorbers may be needed in areas with tidal surge, but these can usually be purchased locally as needed.
Marina water-hose connections are frequently found in one of three sizes. A U.S. water hose can be used on the more common size, but two or three washers will be needed because the threads aren’t totally compatible. Inexpensive plastic adapters are available to convert all types of faucet threads to a quick-disconnect or snap-on fitting. It may be easier to convert to locally purchased snap-on fittings even if it means acquiring a new length of hose and matching attachments.

Spare parts often pose a problem. Replacement parts for the more-common marine diesels can be purchased from dealers around the world, but the average chandlery may not have your particular oil and fuel filters in stock. Line, rigging, and sail-loft services are available in most of the larger ports, but parts for a specific autopilot or winch may be in short supply unless it’s manufactured locally. In some countries, shipping parts in from abroad is a major hassle. You may be required to make arrangements for an agent, warehousing, and local delivery, all at a significant cost.


Even when parts can be easily sent, a visitor will be required to pay value-added tax on the declared value, and this is often in the 17-percent to 18-percent range. My best advice? Carefully go over all of your onboard equipment before leaving with an eye toward eliminating as many potential failures as possible, then carry spares for vital systems-don’t forget your outboard-that may not be readily available along the way.

The Bureaucracies
Traveling through European countries is relatively straightforward, but be aware of the terms of the Schengen Agreement, to which many European Union and non-E.U. countries are signatories. It basically limits visitors to a maximum stay of 90 days-exactly; not three months-and fines for exceeding the limits are immediate and sizable. Often, a trip out of the country will reset the clock and allow another 90-day stay, but verify this with local officials. Note that the 90-day limit applies only to people. Boats can usually remain longer, although E.U. nations and territorial areas limit the maximum time a foreign vessel can remain in E.U. waters to 18 months before the VAT must be paid on the assessed value. And remember, the Azores are part of the E.U., so a stopover here starts the 18-month clock. Resetting it is a matter of debate, and it’s often decided locally by individual countries because it doesn’t seem to be specified by the E.U. itself. Some countries may require that you show evidence that the boat has been out of E.U. waters for six months, while others may allow you to return after a shorter stay elsewhere. This is a confusing situation for all and deserves some careful research to avoid possible fines.

Even inside the E.U., residents of foreign countries still need to clear in and out of each country visited. Some of these countries require a visa, which can be issued during entry formalities, but others may require you to obtain a visa before arrival. Information about entry procedures and requirements for specific countries and much more is available at (

Cruising aboard Southern Cross, a Mason 43, Joe and Lee Minick crossed the Atlantic in 2002, and they arrived in the Mediterranean in 2004 at the end of a summer passage from Ipswich, England. In the last two years, they’ve cruised in the western Black Sea and visited most of the eastern Med. After several years of continuous cruising, they’re devoting this season to a much-needed mini-refit in Turkey.


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