This is an edited version of our article recently published in Pacific PowerBoat magazine
Travel not to escape life but so life doesn’t escape you
You don't have to cruise far in the Med to come across a yacht flying the Silver Fern or Boxing Kangaroo flag from its yardarm. I say “yacht” deliberately because the vast majority of Australasian Med cruisers are found aboard sailing yachts (including many catamarans) and rarely aboard motor vessels. Most of the cruisers we meet are retired couples aged in their 50s on who've bought their new or pre-owned boats in Europe.
Here there are many more boats for sale and consequently more choice and cheaper prices.
Some cruisers plan to ship or sail their boats home, although if you are planning this you need to consider the total cost of getting your boat back to Australasia including GST and duty.
There's also a far smaller number of cruisers who've sailed their boats to the Med either as their destination or as part of a circumnavigation. There used to be many more circumnavigators but the piracy issues on Africa's north-east coast have considerably reduced their numbers.
In the Med you come across many other nationalities – in no special order mainly Americans, Canadians, British, French, Germans, Italians, Greeks, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, but over the years we've found Australians the friendliest.
New Zealand has some fantastic accessible cruising areas, particularly the North Island's north-east coast and the South Island's Marlborough Sounds (Blog posting coming soon on the Sounds). However the total area of these destinations is quite limited and while it's great to cruise back to favourite haunts you soon run out of new and varied cruising destinations.
Australia undoubtably has a very strong boating community, but quality cruising (as opposed to day or weekend boating) seems to be pretty much restricted to the east coast, particularly Queensland.
In this tropical area the sea is nicely tepid, but unlike the Med swimming opportunities can be limited by the dangers of sharks, crocodiles and poisonous jelly fish.
Adventure and diversity
So the first thing the Med offers is adventure, the ability to explore a huge cruising area about 2,500 miles from west to east and 500 miles north to south, with an area of 970,000 square miles containing about 3,300 islands and a coastline of 29,000 miles.
The Med's large enough that it's divided into seven smaller seas: from west to east the Alboran, Balearic, Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, Ionian, Adriatic and Aegean and each one offers months of cruising possibilities.
Twenty one European, African and Middle-Eastern countries border the Med and this fascinating diversity of cultures offers more cruising variety and historical interest than anywhere else on our planet. Here you can anchor in the same bay where at different times Persians, Phoenecians, Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Crusaders and Ottomans have anchored and many areas famous battles have been fought from ancient times right up to WW 2.
If natural scenery is your thing you can anchor near Santorini's Caldina and ponder on one of the world's largest volcanic eruptions that caused a massive tsunami, ending Crete's Minoan civilisation.
To put the Med's cruising possibilities in perspective during nine seasons we've spent 1,442 days aboard Envoy, cruised 16,300 miles through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia, visited about 100 islands and still only covered about 20 per cent of the Med.
The Med's subtropical weather is the next appeal, particularly as its summer coincides with Australasian winter. Although some cruisers live aboard all-year-round spending the relatively mild Med winter in a marina most choose to cruise from about May to September when you can expect stable sunny weather without clouds or rain. Although it can be hot with temperatures often reaching the mid 30s or more, there's little humidity and the sun doesn't have the searing ultra-violet levels we encounter. Predominantly northerly winds can be strong often reaching mid-20 knots during afternoons, but then mostly dying away overnight. In some areas like Croatia there are notorious katabatic winds that cruisers need to be aware of as well as thunderstorms throughout the Med, mostly from September on that cause squalls and wind direction changes.
The Med largely has stunning coastal scenery and many spectacular beaches with mostly clean and clear waters with that famous turquoise colour and nothing in the warm water that's going to hurt you. Yes many beaches are quite crowded (as many are here) in the July to August high season, but you can generally find your own quiet hideaway. With some notable exceptions when cruising in Australia or New Zealand there's not much of huge interest to see ashore whereas scattered along the Med coast are countless interesting villages and towns each contributing their own piece of history and unique points of interest. Additionally you will find rustic beach-side tavernas, often thrown up just for the summer in a way that would have our health and safety inspectors pulling their hair out, but never lacking frosty glasses full of ice-cold local beer.
Cruising in the Med can be surprisingly economical as putting boat-related costs aside (you would have those at home anyway) the costs of most foods as well as eating out are significantly cheaper than found at home. You also have the bonus of visiting interesting markets to buy many of your fresh provisions. The ladies will soon discover that shopping isn't restricted to the necessities of life with plenty of retail therapy opportunities to explore.
Marinas for wintering over are a similar cost to Australasia although summer casual marina prices can be very expensive, typically NZ$80-180 per night. To keep costs down it's best to anchor wherever possible or moor stern-to to a town quayside being far cheaper and more atmospheric than marinas. The eastern Med is generally cheaper than the western.
There's no piracy in the Med and ashore is generally safe except in some of the countries on the African and Middle-Eastern coast. Only in the larger Italian and Spanish cities do visitors need to be aware of pickpockets and theft from vehicles.
You could cruise the Med for a lifetime and not see it all, but it's certainly fun trying.