September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye

September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation

September 1, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing

August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez

August 1, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind

July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap

July 1, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec

June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico

June 1, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua

May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising

May 1, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica

April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There

April 1, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama

March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money

March 1, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal

February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal

February 1, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific

January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week

January 1, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef

December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2

December 1, 2011

November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise

November 1, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question

October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers

October 3, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World

September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come

September 1, 2011
Sailing for Humanity

August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work

August 1, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish

July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books

July 1, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas

June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala

June 1, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise

May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now

May 1, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala

April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas

April 1, 2011
At Last in the San Blas

March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon

March 1, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!

February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2

February 1, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1

January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude

December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane

December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba

December 1, 2010
Stuck in Curacao

November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing

November 1, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks

October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe

October 4, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal

September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing

September 1, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea

August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao

August 1, 2010
Bonaire Diving

July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire

July 1, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles

June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent

June 1, 2010
Right Place, Right Time

May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle

May 1, 2010
To the Grenadines

April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon

April 1, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II

March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1

March 1, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing

February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations

February 1, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands

January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa

January 1, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............

December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing

December 1, 2009
Moving On To Morocco

November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med

November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone

October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol

October 1, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise

September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles

September 1, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well

August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca

August 1, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca

July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast

July 1, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia

June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa

June 1, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails

May 15, 2009
Into Africa

May 1, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia

April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy

April 1, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles

March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling

March 1, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports

February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta

February 1, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2

January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1

January 2, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time

December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear

December 1, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend

November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise

November 1, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz

October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman

October 1, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins

September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta

September 1, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story

August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

August 1, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians

July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca

July 1, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe

June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece

June 1, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey

May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey

April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living

April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip

April 1, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget

March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi

March 1, 2008
Home Sweet Home

February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising

February 1, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World

January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free

January 1, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni

January 1, 2008
About Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Voyage Itinerary

May 15, 2009
Into Africa

By Tom Morkin

This time one year ago, Liz and I were sailing from Turkey through Greece, Sicily, and on to Malta. The spring sailing conditions in the Med were terrible, depression after depression tracked from west to east bringing gale after gale. “Never again will we sail in the Med until May” was the mantra. And there we were in late March in Malta, provisioning, paying the marina bill, clearing with Customs, checking weather websites, saying goodbye to friends we’d made over our five months in Malta. Spring was in the air and we were off to Monastir, Tunisia, 190 miles west. Some never learn.
Departures after long stays in a country are for me one of the worst things about cruising. All the goodbyes are tough enough, but some cases, such as this departure, when weather windows open and close with shocking rapidity, you don’t have the luxury to say your goodbyes over planned farewell gatherings. In this case, the GRIB files (our weather forecasting website) promised a 72-hour period of southerly (favorable) winds, something of a rarity at this time of year. Opportunity was knocking, but not for long.

We use GRIB files for our weather forecasting whenever we have access to the internet.

Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar, leaving a place where you have friends, to go to a place where you must make friends again, wondering how the boat and engine will perform after a long hiatus… and of course, those often fork-tongued weather forecasters; can they really be trusted?  After all, 12 hours before our departure it was still blowing at 20-25 knots out of the west, the direction we wanted to go.
Will we be visited by mal de mer (seasickness) because we haven’t been to sea for such a long time? Will Customs or Immigration have any nasty surprises for us when we check out? (In fact, they nearly did.) In addition to these anxiety-raising issues, there are always way too many things to check off the departure checklist:

  • Stowing dinghy and outboard
  • Lashing deck items
  • Readying staysail
  • Bringing bicycles inside
  • Returning DVDs and marina bathroom keys
  • Checking weather again
  • Buying fresh produce
  • Preparing meals for at sea
  • Setting up safety jack lines on deck (lines that run the full length of the deck to which safety harnesses are clipped)

In the midst of the departure chaos, you must say your goodbyes, knowing that these are real goodbyes. Even though we say we hope we’ll cross paths again, we know that almost all our Malta friends are committed to cruising the Med and we’re committed to crossing the Atlantic for the Caribbean. We’ll probably never see any of them again. These are just some of the hallmarks of departure. Departures are hard to enjoy, few if any of the aforementioned tasks are enjoyable. They’re simply the price cruisers pay to cruise. 

Monastir, Tunisia, lies 190 nautical miles west of Malta. The Italian islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria are in between, popular stopovers, and are good places to stock up on Italian wine.

On the other side of the equation, though, is the arrival euphoria. Arriving in a new country or port has always been one of the best parts of the cruising lifestyle for Liz and me. What a great cluster of feelings presents itself upon arrival at a new destination. The feeling of accomplishment, that you did what you set out to do; the feeling of relief that the level of vigilance demanded by the voyage can be dramatically reduced. You’ve arrived, you can relax, forget the weather forecast, watch system, looking out for other traffic, and possible gear failures. You’ve made it and you’re going to get a full night’s sleep again.
And finally, there’s the anticipation: of exploring a new culture, landscapes, sights, sounds, tastes, and possibly making new friends among the local population or perhaps fellow cruisers. Liz and I always feel like a couple of kids at the door of a candy store about to open. You can think of it as the yin and yang of cruising. You can’t have one without the other. There is no arrival gain without departure pain.
We finished our departure chores, checked out, said our goodbyes, and miraculously the 25-knot westerly dropped to a five-knot westerly and by 0700 the next morning we were off. As expected, the first part of the trip was spent motoring into leftovers, that is, moderately sized waves left over from four days of strong westerlies. Eventually the weather people made good on their promise for southerlies, light in the beginning then increasing to 15 knots.

We motored away from Malta and viewed the inter-island ferry for the last time.

We knew whatever fuel we used on our 190-mile passage could be replaced in Tunisia at $3 a gallon (a bargain by European standards) and that the Med in spring is fickle at best, and potentially treacherous at worst, so we instituted a “six-knot rule,” that is, the engine is turned on whenever boat speed drops below six knots. That purist instinct to use the motor only when departing and entering port is not part of our Mediterranean policy. Completely different weather conditions exist short distances apart.

Only 100 miles from Malta as Feel Free was dancing along with 15 knots of southeast breeze, Malta was experiencing gale-force southeast winds. Far more shocking was to hear that off the coast of Libya, some 180 from us, between 300 and 500 refugees lost their lives as two boats capsized in storm-tossed seas. These boats were part of a regular procession of boats that depart Libya for the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa some 180 miles from Libya and 130 miles from Sicily.  Once on Lampedusa these North African refugees claim refugee status throughout Europe. (See the sidebar below.)

As it turned out, our trip was uneventful. We made our six knots most of the time with the aid of our 70-horse Isuzu diesel engine, a third of the time we had 15 knots off the port beam, flat seas, clear skies, minimal freighter and fishing traffic. All boat systems behaved themselves and we arrived without breaking anything and even enjoyed a 20-dolphin escort as we approached Monastir, Tunisia.

A pod of dolphins escorted us into Monastir, our first Tunisian port. Liz raises the Tunisian courtesy flag and the Q flag as we prepare to enter port.

During check-in we were asked for baksheesh by the Immigration and Customs officers. We were not surprised by the requests, in fact we were amused by their delivery, which was pleasantly low key, almost cute. From the Immigration officer, “Maybe you have a gift for my colleagues? Maybe some chocolate from Canada?” The Customs officer, not having the sweet tooth of his Immigration counterpart was more interested in cash. “You can give me two dinar (US $1.50) now.” When we explained we had no dinar yet he said we could bring it to him tomorrow, “But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.” Not exactly high-pressure tactics. The Customs man did get his two dinar but the Immigration officer is still waiting for his chocolates.

The hammock, a truly essential piece of boat gear, is a favorite spot to take in my new surroundings

We’re now safely Med moored in Monastir, a town of some 75,000 on the east coast of Tunisia, North Africa. The town was named after the monastery/fort that lies a quarter of a mile off our port bow. Tunisia was a French colony until 1956 when it received independence and almost everyone speaks French, which explains why the 400-berth marina is a popular wintering over base for French cruisers in the Med. We just heard from an English cruiser who wintered here that he was one of only four English speakers in the marina for the winter. “Honey, get the French dictionary out.”

Over 95 percent of Tunisians are of the Muslim faith and evidence of Islam is everywhere. We hear the call to prayer from the boat five times daily and mosques are located throughout Monastir. Many women wear headscarves, but few are veiled and many girls dress like they live in any American town. It is considered one of the most liberal Islamic countries in the world and few restrictions are placed on tourists. 

We have an entire month set aside to explore Tunisia. Roman ruins, subterranean towns, Saharan desert landscapes, verdant mountains, miles of white sandy beaches, and the clear waters of the southern Mediterranean all await us.

Merchandising Tunisian style The 1,200-year-old fort/monastery looks like it won’t have any problem lasting another 1,200 years
Francesco, Stephanie, Maceo, and Ysalis, our neighbors and friends in Monastir. After only a few days beside us, they sailed back to the south of France to work for the summer Our short-term friend and flower child


The Refugee Trade

Last year more than 33,000 African refugees arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. At present, the locals on the island number approximately 4,000 while the refugees number approximately 1,200, and the military around 1,200. Lampedusa has the dubious distinction of being the closest piece of the European Union from Libya, and as such receives a highly disproportionate number of African refugees. Strangely, 80 percent of the refugees coming from Libya are Tunisians, not Libyans. This phenomenon is partially explained by the fact that Italy donates patrol boats to the Tunisian government, which cooperates with the EU to stem the flow of would-be Tunisian refugees. Apparently, no such cooperation exists with the Libyans.
Cruisers sailing from Europe to Africa are advised not to approach any vessel suspected of carrying refugees, but to contact authorities on channel 16 to report the position of the vessel. EU Coast Guard boats will respond by intercepting the vessel, taking the refugees on board and delivering them to detention camps on Lampedusa, Malta, or Sicily.
In a bizarre and perverse manner, the situation has evolved to the point that the operators of boats smuggling the refugees now don’t even deliver their human cargo to EC shores. They need only put out a Mayday while at sea and the Coast Guard will come and finish the delivery of the refugees, saving them the trouble and expense of doing the whole trip. Of course, they are paid up front.

- Tom Morkin
After they’ve rescued the refugees, police discard the boats in macabre boat graveyards such as this.