A Pleasant Passage To Menorca

8/1/2009

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.

Multilingual Sharif has been the Marina Manager at Tabarka for 25 years and he’s exuberant and humorous. When we met him he said “I am Sharif, but I have no gun.”

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.

Whenever we have internet access, Tom studies passageweather.com and downloads the GRIB files for the coming week on a memory stick, and then back on board, pores over them like a mad scientist, analyzing conditions to determine wind patterns for the area, best departure times, whether or not to head out, or just what to expect wherever we might be.

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.

A kilogram (2.2 lb.) of shrimp cost 4.20 Tunisian dinar (about $3 US) in Tabarka so we couldn’t resist a few shrimpy meals while there.

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 weekly secondhand clothing markets are all over Tunisia and provide the people with inexpensive clothing, footwear, and household items.

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.
Checking in and out of every single port we visited with two or three officials became our least favorite pastime. In the case of Tabarka, Sharif insisted on accompanying us for the procedures despite the early hour at dawn, 0500. “No problem, I am at your service 24-24,” he said in his usual jovial manner. The police/Immigration officials were efficient and straightforward, however just one small problem. No point going into detail but the diligent officer had to input all the pertinent data into a computer, a slow and painful process as he pecked away with one finger. At last it was accomplished and then off to Customs. Knock, knock on the door but no answer. Knock, knock again, and again. Hmm…... Everyone finds it very odd. “They are open 24- 24” declares Sharif but the door is locked. Finally, movement is noticed in the van in front of the office. Ah ha! The two officials had been fast asleep in the comfortable van in front of the office. Everyone’s laughing now, thinking it’s hilarious, nobody appears embarrassed or apologizes for the inconvenience. Oh well, what the heck, let’s go with the flow as they say. Next, the officials must search the boat to ensure that there are no refugees on board. None found so we get the OK, they wish us a “bon voyage” and we’re off.

The ancient fortress standing watch over Tabarka was our last view of Tunisia as we head out to sea.
We had an ideal weather forecast for our sail from Tabarka to Menorca, the easternmost of the Balearic Islands of Spain.

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

Later, on a beach in Menorca, there were thousands of tiny blue velella washed up in heaps. The poor things just couldn’t beat off the lee shore.

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.

Early in the day, there wasn’t a breath of wind so our Isuzu engine was put into action. Our small tiki stood watch too.

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.
Day two provided fresh east to southeast winds, just as the forecasters had predicted, allowing us to sail at six and seven knots, even eight at times, over the ground. This was idyllic beam reach sailing, Mediterranean cruising at its best! Whoever said that in the Med, all you ever get is too much wind or not enough wind? For breakfast we feasted on fresh strawberries and croissants from Tabarka and lunch was leftover pasta from the last night’s meal- just us on a wide sea in perfect conditions, reading good books, observing the minutiae of our surroundings. Now I understand the true meaning of the color “Mediterranean blue” – it’s deep, pure, clear, and beautiful.
sailing
Day two was relaxing, allowing us to read good books and enjoy fine, flat sea sailing. It’s not true what they say, that there’s either too much or not enough wind in the Med.
Feel Free and crew made landfall in the splendid port of Mahon (Mao) on the island of Menorca of the Balearic Islands of Spain on the morning of day three, dropping the anchor in “Cala Teulera,” a small bay within the big Bay. The literature says that it the best and largest natural harbor in the Mediterranean and not surprisingly, the English Navy under Lord Nelson had its best naval base here in the eighteenth century. Tom and I are following his lead. We’re making it our base for a while too!

Feel Free lies at anchor in her first Spanish harbor, Cala Teulera in the Port of Mahon in Menorca Island of the Balearics, next to “Isla del Lazareto” where in 1900, 13,857 boats were detained and placed under quarantine. Soon after our arrival, we visited the prehistoric site of Trepuco with friends Ludo and Laetitia of the Belgian boat Ata Jata