A Pleasant Passage To Menorca
By Liz Tosoni
“Bon voyage! Come back next year!” shouted Sharif, the ebullient Marina Manager as he tossed us Feel Free’s dock lines at Tabarka, our last Tunisian port of call. Tabarka is an appealing place with probably the friendl
iest, most helpful people we’d encountered in all of Tunisia, with a genuine sense of hospitality, but we’d spent six days there and about six weeks in the country. It was time to move on. “Merci beaucoup, chaucran !” – Arabic for thank you – we called back as we chugged off on a compass course of 310.
I am really grateful for Tom’s addiction to weather. Time and again it proves to be so useful. I marvel at the keen weather eye he has developed over the years, a sixth sense, a talent that is most beneficial for life on board. While in Tabarka we experienced a few days of nasty, cold weather with slate grey skies and Force 7 and 8 winds (30- 35 knots). Nights were restless as winds shrieked in the rigging, fenders squeaked against the neighboring boat we were rafted against, and rain pounded the decks above our heads. We were expecting those conditions, though, as they were right there in the forecast days before and we’d planned to spend that period in Tabarka where there is good protection from the west, the direction from which the gale-force winds came.
In preparation for the departure from Tunisia, days were spent taking stock and stocking up, doing the usual pre-trip chores, chatting with locals who wander the docks, and enjoying the bounty of the fish and produce markets. We knew that once we left Tunisia we’d be in Europe again and prices of things would skyrocket, so we wanted to take advantage while we could, making sure that the larder was full of things that last a long time.
All over Tunisia there are phenomenal weekly souks (markets) that in addition to the usual produce, also supply secondhand clothing, shoes, bags, hardware, kitchenware, anything and everything you might need, a giant flea market Tunisian style. Dozens of truckloads filled with bales of clothing from Europe, Canada and the U.S. are pulled out and piled high for people to sort through –dresses, blouses, bedding, towels, T-shirts, jeans, shorts, jackets, suits, all clean and in excellent condition at one or two dollars. Good quality, name-brand items sell for five or six dollars, ten dollars at the most. I scored a beautiful red, next to new, foul weather jacket from France for 5 TD or about $3.50 U.S. and Tom and I both got outfitted with several pairs of good shorts.
The question of the day was: Should we head to Sardinia, or the Balearic Islands of Spain? As the days progressed, it started looking more and more like a perfect weather picture for sailing to Menorca, the easternmost and closest of the Balearics. Following the gales, a nice stretch of light to moderate east to southeast winds was being promised – ideal for the 270-nautical-mile passage to Menorca, so our question was answered. Skies cleared, winds died, sun shone and we were all set. We bid adieu to Sharif after a rather painstaking check out of the country with officials. “That is one aspect of Tunisia we will definitely not miss,” we said to each other when we finally got the clearance.
At sea at last and with barely a whiff of wind, our faithful Isuzu engine, “Yosh” gets to take a long watch on a windless day under a pale blue, benevolent sky. At 1030 we see a lone dolphin, then a field of what appear to be “velella,” hundreds of them, legions of tiny dots on the water and upon closer examination, they’re indeed live diminutive sailboats with delicate, diaphanous sails as clear as glass, parading peacefully on the sea of silence. Velella, meaning “by the wind sailor” is a genus of free floating Hydrozoans that live on the surface of the open ocean world wide. Their small sail catches the wind and propels them over the surface of the sea. We’ve come across the lovely little creatures before but never in such number
A zephyr dimples the water, then drops and smoothes the wide expanse to an oily sheen of ink-blue vastness. Sightings that day included two sunfish, poking their pointed fins up, like periscopes to get a better look at us, three dolphins, a number of fish floats attached to long lines, a few fish boats, very little shipping traffic.
We motored or motorsailed all day and throughout that night but at 0530 on day two, the wind picked up from the east and the engine was given a rest. I was off watch down below, snoozing quietly at 0700 when I was suddenly awoken by the sound of Tom, checking in on the SSB “Med Net” (frequency 8122) we hadn’t heard since last year when we were sailing to Malta from Greece and Turkey. It was a welcome surprise to be able to pick up this Net; not only is there an “emergency or priority traffic” section, someone always provides weather information for the different regions of the Mediterranean, and also, you can keep up with other cruisers sailing in Med waters.