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Monday, July 13, 2015

MARINAS IN THE MED ARE VERY DIFFERENT TO THOSE IN NEW ZEALAND

Envoy is still in Lefkas Marina, Greece and we plan to return there in September.
Marinas in the Med are totally different to what we are used to in New Zealand, and some of them can be quite a daunting experience. Ironically the only two boating-related injuries we’ve ever sustained have been in Med marinas.
The first one occurred while sheltering from a storm in a marina in Turkey. We were enjoying a cup of coffee in a local taverna when a horrendous gust of wind imploded its large sea-facing window, showering us with shards of glass and requiring us both to have a few stitches in hospital.

My ear was half ripped off by broken glass from the window

The second one happened just last year in a Sicilian marina when I stepped on a concrete paving stone that collapsed under me, lacerating my foot.
In the Med many marinas are not well-protected from the open sea, so during strong winds, especially during winter storms, swells and surge can make them uncomfortable and in some cases untenable with large waves cascading over their protective seawalls. For example, one day in Italy’s Ostia marina there was such a large surge that we couldn’t safely disembark from Envoy and the boat next to us broke its stern lines and went adrift dragging its power cable and water hose astern.

Huge waves crashing against a seawall. One boat on hardstand to left has been knocked from its supports. Concrete blocks weighing several tonnes were moved more than 5 metres. Even if waves don't come over the wall (and they do!) they can cause a heavy surge inside the marina

Med marinas don’t have pontoons or poles between the boats, which are moored stern-to the dock protected only by their fenders, and with a lazy line or sometimes your own anchor to secure your bow.

In six years cruising this is the only time we had a berth with a pontoon on our side

If a blow with some surge is expected it’s a good idea to use two bow lines, or at least ensure the one you have is strong enough to hold. Also to use additional long spring lines secured from amidships back to the jetty, as surge can easily break short stern lines and damage cleats, or indeed pull them out of your deck. Most marinas provide staff to assist with docking and to help make boats more secure if strong winds and surge are expected.
Apart from surge, wakes from ferries and fishing boats passing nearby or through marinas can be problem too.
Access to your boat in a marina is generally by passarelle (boarding plank) from your stern to the dock, and these should be used with care as accidents are common. We generally rig a safety line to hold onto while using the passarelle, especially when we have guests who are not used to this procedure.
Most marinas provide water, but it’s rarely potable and most cruisers buy bottled water for drinking. It’s a good idea to regularly fill your water tank in case of any problems with the marina water supply. Sometimes the water supply can be a considerable distance from the boat so long hoses should be carried.
Electricity is also commonly provided, but maintenance levels are poor - many power sockets don’t work or have low voltage, and power outages are particularly common during heavy rain and thunderstorms. Often the power outages are not just on the marina but for the whole local area. Power costs are mostly included in the marina berth charge, but in other cases it’s charged extra, normally using a pre-pay card. It’s a good idea to maintain a large selection of plugs and extension leads as the power sockets vary and sometimes there are not enough for each boat. In these cases a neighbouring skipper will generally agree to share his power socket with you, or the marina staff will make that decision for him.
We have always found security in marinas good and theft is rarely an issue provided that normal sensible precautions are taken.
Many cruisers in the Med don’t anchor at all, simply travelling from marina to marina without ever removing and stowing their fenders. This is particularly the case with chartered yachts, which are often poorly equipped with ground tackle, and with crew who aren’t confident in their anchoring ability and want to enjoy the marina’s action, restaurants and atmosphere. We try to avoid marinas as much as possible because they’re expensive (typically about $70 to $130 per night). It’s also time-consuming to set up mooring lines, power cord and passarelle, and many marinas and harbours require you to go through the inconvenience of reporting to the authorities to have your ship’s documents checked. Another factor is we like to swim as much as possible, which is generally not possible in marinas (not only forbidden but potentially dangerous to swim in areas close to poorly maintained shore power terminals).
Much as we prefer not to, during a typical year we inevitably spend some weeks in various marinas – preparing our boat for cruising at the beginning of the season and for winter at season’s end, when guests arrive and depart, in locations where there are no safe anchorages, for maintenance, for shelter from adverse weather (above Force 7) and when we want to leave our boat unattended for inland travel.
All marinas allow living aboard your boat in the water, and most allow living aboard on the hardstand (even if their advertised terms and conditions say this is not allowed).
Most marinas provide clean toilets and hot showers, but few have facilities to empty holding tanks so it’s a good idea to pump them out at sea before entering a marina.
It’s rarely a problem to discharge grey water or to use a washing machine in marinas. Laundry facilities are common in larger marinas but tend to be very expensive. Cheaper options can often be found in nearby villages.
Shops and markets for most supplies are generally plentiful.

On the hardstand
When your boat needs to be slipped for anti-fouling and below water maintenance it’s a big advantage to continue living aboard and most Med marinas allow this.
Ensure your ladder is stable, securely tied top and bottom, and used very carefully as serious injury-causing accidents involving ladders are common.


It’s a good idea to check your boat’s hull supports periodically, particularly wooden ones, as we have found they can move and need adjustment.

When wooden hull supports are used they can move and need regular checking

Most marina hardstand areas are very dusty and turn muddy during rain, so ensure your cockpit is well protected from dirty footwear and you have a mat at the bottom of your ladder. Keep an old hose especially for use on the hardstand as hoses generally can’t be cleaned sufficiently for normal use after being used there. The power cable also gets very dirty and needs a thorough clean after use.
Grey water cannot be discharged directly onto the hardstand so we place bowls in the galley and head sinks, and empty them periodically into marina storm water drains. In case we get caught short during the night we place a bucket in the head and empty it first thing in the morning.
Although living aboard on the hardstand is probably the least enjoyable aspect of the Med cruising life, it’s often improved by the fact that you’re probably looking up at some nearby ancient temple or castle, and after that time comes the great consistent weather, fascinating historical destinations and wonderfully interesting cultures and cuisines.
The next Blog posting will discuss boating etiquette.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

PREPARING YOUR GRAB BAG

Envoy is currently in Lefkas marina, western Greece, while we are home in New Zealand.
We plan to return to Envoy in September.
You’re cruising along the coastline enjoying idyllic conditions and keeping watch as your autopilot does its work. Your boat has a gentle motion in the slight seas and you sniff the aroma from your mug of fresh coffee, ever hopeful of hearing the screaming zing of your trolling line’s reel.
The last thing on your mind is having to suddenly abandon your vessel, but at sea the unexpected can and does occur, especially during night time, and you should always be prepared for dealing with emergencies such as collision with another vessel, hitting a heavy floating or semi-submerged object, striking a rock or reef, going aground, fire, capsize, or taking on water. It’s easy to say these situations couldn’t happen to me, but Coastguard incident records tell a different story, and whether you’re aboard a high speed trailer boat or a 20 metre cruiser a little forethought and preparation will improve your chances of success in dealing with an emergency.
Most emergency situations are either resolved or kept under control until assistance arrives using your own safety equipment:
- Correctly installed and regularly tested bilge pumps of adequate capacity
- Fire fighting equipment including an engine room extinguishing system, strategically located high capacity fire extinguishers and fire blankets
- A comprehensive tool kit including tools to quickly make and secure emergency patches
- A repair kit including a selection of soft wooden plugs to use as bungs, small sheets of plywood and aluminium to make patches, sealant, duct tape, hose repair kit and hose clamps

Abandoning ship is an action taken only after all other options are exhausted - as old salts say - you step up into a life raft not down into one. It’s safer to stay aboard your boat even half-full of water than taking to a dinghy in open waters, and you will be easier to locate and rescue; many vessels have been found floating long after being abandoned.
However situations arise, particularly serious fires and imminent sinking, where there is no option but to leave the vessel. Most vessels over about seven metres in length carry a tender, and as few coastal cruisers carry certified life rafts the tender is the primary means of escape and survival. Most tenders used today are RHIBs and will stay afloat even in very adverse conditions, but if your tender is aluminium or wooden consider installing watertight, foam-filled compartments.
If your tender is being towed or carried on a boarding platform it should be possible to deploy quickly. However towing tenders is unwise in rough or potentially rough conditions as they can overturn or become swamped. Larger tenders requiring a crane to lift them are difficult to launch quickly in the event of fire, sudden sinking, power failure or rough seas, and it’s worth having a second smaller tender available for rapid manual launching in event of an emergency.

Our larger RHIB shown below would be impossible to launch using the crane from Envoy's boat deck quickly in an emergency, so we also carry a smaller RHIB that can be launched by hand



All boats should have a Grab Bag (or Ditch Bag) in case you have to abandon ship quickly, and these are available from most chandlers. It should be immediately recognisable, and have a line attached to reduce the chance of loss while abandoning ship. Although you are most likely to be rescued within a short time, victims sometimes spend overnight or longer in their RHIB, so Grab Bags typically have the following contents (packed in individual plastic bags to keep them dry):
- Hand-held VHF radio in a waterproof case with spare batteries
- Fully-charged mobile phone in waterproof case, preferably with spare battery
- EPIRB
- Hand bearing compass
- Binoculars
- Orange safety square
- First aid kit
- Fresh water
- Snack food
- Hand held searchlight and waterproof torches with spare batteries
- Strobe light and spare batteries
- Flares kit
- Air horn
- Whistle
- Signaling mirror
- RHIB repair kit
- Sharp knife
- Length of line
- Rescue quoit with floating line
- Sun hats, sunglasses, sun block, lip screen
- Notebook and pencil
- Thermal blankets
- Toilet roll

This list assumes that the crew is already suitably dressed for the conditions, including life jackets and footwear in case of landing on a rocky shore.
Some Grab Bag items such as your mobile phone may be in regular use – so keep these conveniently located to add later if necessary.
When we do passages at night, or in heavy weather or a long distance offshore we keep our Grab Bag, lifejackets, RHIB pump and all other necessary items together in the saloon or cockpit so they’re available immediately if needed.

These comments are related to coastal, not offshore cruising - for which considerably more extensive preparation and equipping is required.
The next posting will be about living aboard your vessel in marinas.