Features July 1, 2001 Issue

Offshore Log:
An Introduction to Europe

With great relief, Calypso sailed northwest from Israel to Cyprus, our first stop in the more European part of the Mediterranean.

Calypso washing and drying headsails in
ûCyprus after a wet passage north from Israel.

While we enjoyed our stop in Israel, it is not a place to which we have any desire to return until some rational form of peace is established. As I have done in other countries, I tried to re-trace my father’s steps in the Holy Land. Unfortunately, politics made it impossible to visit some of the places that I remember from photographs taken by my father almost 50 years ago. This is not a part of the world where you want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By the time we departed Ashkelon Marina—a first-class facility with excellent management and staff, located just a few miles north of the Israeli border withGaza—we were angry, sad, and frustrated at the entire Middle Eastern situation. As a rule, we make ourselves aware of local political issues that may have impacton us as cruisers, but keep our mouths shut when it comes to any opinions we may have. We are, after all, guests in their country.

During almost three months in the Arab countries and Israel, however, politics was thrust upon us day and night. On Israeli television, we saw the brave IsraeliDefense Forces deal firmly with Palestinian terrorists. On Arab television, we watched Palestinian freedom fighters standing up bravely to heavily-armedIsraeli occupation forces. It was the same piece of film in both cases. Only the commentary changed, depending on your point of view.

All too often, we heard the voices of bigotry, intolerance, and religious hatred—both Israeli and Palestinian. By the time we left, the violence was escalating on a daily basis, and we were glad to go.

Ironically, Cyprus was torn apart by nationalistic and religious violence some 25 years ago, but with the United Nations enforcing the separation of Turkish andGreek Cypriots, the violence has all but vanished, even though some political rhetoric still exists.

With Middle Eastern violence approaching the level of all-out war, many cruising boats choose to bypass Israel. Our Suez Canal agent, the Prince of the Red Sea, told us that fewer than half the normal number of world cruisers passed through Suez this year. Increases in piracy in the approaches to the Red Sea, plus the fear that Middle Eastern violence might create a hostile environment for cruisers transitingthe area, combined to dramatically reduce the number of cruisers passing through.

We experienced no hostility anywhere in the Arab world. If anything, everyone we met stressed the friendship between the US and the Arab countries.

Likewise, Israelis reiterated the historical friendship between the US and Israel. They all love us. They just hate each other.

Cyprus
By the time Calypso arrived in Cyprus in mid-May, cruising boats clogged the two Cypriot marinas beyond capacity. There are no all-weather anchorages in here,so a marina is the only choice. Many European and American cruising boats winter over in Cyprus, and unusually unstable Mediterranean spring weatherdelayed the start of the Mediterranean cruising season, further adding to the jam-up.

Our goal in Cyprus was to take advantage of the superb provisioning and cheap French wines before heading northwest to Turkey and Greece. We also boughthigh-quality European bottom paint at a reasonable price, and filled some gaps in our Mediterranean chart inventory with ridiculously-priced British Admiralty charts. Even without paying local taxes, Admiralty charts cost an astounding $33 each. It's no wonder that the vast majority of cruisers in this part of the world usepirated photocopies of Admiralty charts. For the price of a single original Admiralty chart, you can photocopy 10 charts.

Normally, we use original NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency) charts, which are about half the price of Admiralty charts. In the British parts of theMed—and Cyprus was formerly British—only Admiralty charts are available. The astronomical cost of Admiralty charts only encourages illegal photocopying.

Cyprus has a large number of locally-owned cruising boats, both power and sail. Diesel fuel costs just over $1 US per gallon, so there are a lot of bigfuel-hungry Euro-styled cruising powerboats in the 40- to 50-foot range. Most of these are UK-built—Sunseeker, Princess, and Fairline—which is no surprise, given the large number of British ex-pats living here. Almost every restaurant serves fish and chips as well as moussaka, and English is widely spoken.

The larger sailboats here are primarily from the mass-production yards of Europe, including Jeanneau, Beneteau, and Bavaria. After looking at a lot of pretty scruffy long-range cruising boats for the last year, these modern cruisers, which are primarily day-sailed as far as we can tell, look clean, modern, and well-designed. We were particularly impressed by a brand-new Russian-flagged Bavaria 50, whose captain was out early every morning cleaning up the empty vodka and wine bottles from the previous night’s party. For some reason, all the Bavarias here areregistered in Russia. Perhaps the Bavaria dealer is the only Russian-speaking broker in town.

While many long-range cruisers look down their nosesat this type of boat, the modern productionEuro-cruisers have a lot of features that make themparticularly attractive for Mediterranean cruising,particularly when it comes to the configuration of theback end of the boat. Many of these boats have a heavyrubber bumper covering the entire transom-to-hulljoint, and scooped, stepped sterns. Both of these features facilitate Med-mooring, where you drop a bow anchor and tie the stern to a stone quay, often in choppy conditions. The rubber bumper reduces damage in case of an overly-close encounterwith a quay, and the open stern is often combined withboth a folding swim ladder and a mounting point for a passerelle, or boarding plank.

Most American cruising boats are hopelesslyconfigured for Mediterranean-style mooring. Our sternsare cluttered with various types of equipment, makingit difficult to impossible to rig a passerelle.

Calypso has it worst of all. Our Monitor windvane ismounted aft of the outboard rudder, and a double-enderhas little room for boarding by the stern in any case.

Our bow is so high that it's an acrobatic exercise toboard by the bow from a low dock, but at least wedon’t have a bowsprit to contend with. Onetraditionally-styled American cruiser docked here hasa long bowsprit with a precarious rope ladder danglingfrom its outboard end to the dock.

Because the tidal range in the Med is generally onlyabout a foot, floating docks are unknown, and fixeddocks are usually quite low. Likewise, the alongsidedocking that Americans take for granted is simplynon-existent in this part of the world. With a history of over 3000 years of waterfront development in the Mediterranean, almost any well-protected cove that would form a natural anchorage has a town on its foreshore, and the type of anchoring out that we take for granted in much of the US is not always an option.

If we were to stay in the Med for several years, wewould definitely design a deck-level stern platformthat would make Med-mooring and stern boarding less ofan exercise, particularly given the fact that neitherof us seems to be getting more agile as we age.

By comparison, the arrangements for boarding by thestern seen on even relatively small powerboats aremodels of efficiency. These are often beautifully-madehydraulically-powered telescoping stainless steelramps which can be raised and lowered to almost anyangle. In some cases, they also function as cranes tolift the dinghy onto a stern platform.

On the bigger, fancier boats, these passerelles vanishinto the transom. On most boats, they are simplycarried cocked up at an angle when under way. This maynot be the most attractive solution, but it sure is functional.

Not surprisingly, the more elegant of these contraptions are Italian in design and construction, and are pieces of sculpture in themselves, sometimes incorporating lighting and automatically-adjusting handrails. It’s almost—but not quite—enough to make us want to trade our rugged little sailboat for a fou-fou powerboat with 1200 horsepower under the cabin sole, just so we could have the fanciest passerelle in town. Given the wind patterns in the Med —feast or famine, with the “feast” usually coming from the wrong direction— a powerboat is probably the best way to cruise this part of the world. Friends of ours whowent through the Med last year put 600 hours on theirengine in five months. As they said to us, there aretwo types of boats cruising the Mediterranean: powerboats, and powerboats with masts.

Time for Haulout
Facilities for hauling your boat are burgeoning in the eastern Mediterranean. Ashkelon Marina has a 100-ton travel hoist, and both marinas in Cyprus have 50-toncapabilities. Yards are blossoming all along the Turkish coast as well. Just as in the US, prices vary dramatically in the Med. Haul, pressure wash, block, and launch for our 40-footer would have cost about $550 in Israel. The same job goes for about half that in one of the better Turkish yards, thanks to low introductory prices tostir up business.

The Interlux Micron CSC that we applied to our bottom in New Zealand over a year ago has pretty much run its course. Like the US, New Zealand has strictenvironmental regulations that complicate the formulation of effective bottom paints. In an attempt to make the paint last, we have only thoroughlycleaned the bottom once: in Thailand, before heading across the Indian Ocean. We have put up with a heavy layer of slime the rest of the time, as eachscrubbing, no matter how gentle, removes clouds of paint. Sailboats never seem to move fast enough or often enough for an ablative paint to work properly.   

It probably makes more sense for a cruising boat to use a modified-epoxy bottom paint such as Interlux Ultra or Pettit Trinidad SR. In the warm watersfavored by cruisers, we have seen little difference between the anti-fouling capabilities of high-load modified epoxies and ablatives. The harder epoxieswill tolerate more scrubbing than ablatives.

The downside is that modified epoxies build up on thebottom, and require thorough sanding before recoating.The only surface prep required with an ablative paintis a good pressure washing, although we like to scrubthe bottom with a Scotchbrite pad before applying newpaint just to keep the surface as smooth as possible.

Ablative paints are great when it comes to minimizingpaint build-up, but they leave a lot to be desiredwhen it comes to staying clean. The newest generationof copper-based ablatives available in the US, such asMicron Extra with Biolux and ACP Ultima, have slime-blockers added, but they have not been around long enough to have a real track record.

In many parts of the world, including the Caribbean,Southeast Asia and the eastern Med, TBT-based paintsare still readily available. These paints are illegalfor small boats in North America and much of Europe,but have a proven record against both hard and softgrowth that is hard to beat. Ships and large metalyachts continue to use tin-based paints throughout theworld.

You will not necessarily find familiar brands andtypes of bottom paints once you leave the US. TheInternational (Interlux) Micron series of paints arejust about the only paints we have found almosteverywhere, but their formulation seems to change invarious parts of the world.

While some sailors apply bottom paint to theirpropeller, we leave the prop bare. I clean the propbefore every passage, and at least every two weekswhen we're on the move. The usual practice is towet-sand the blades of the MaxProp with 220 grit and320 grit, rubbing the prop hub as clean as possiblewith a coarse Scotchbrite pad. Wet-sanding gives amuch smoother surface than any paint—essential forgood performance under power.

Having a look at the bottom every couple of weeks alsogives me the chance to clean the speed impeller, depthtransducer, and big grounding plate, as well ascheck the condition of the prop zinc and the largezinc which is tied to the ground plate.

The work list for our anticipated haulout next monthis relatively short: sand and paint the bottom,service the prop and re-pitch it slightly, grindand patch-prime the areas on the side and bottom ofthe ballast casting that were scraped to bare metal byour encounter with a reef in the Red Sea.

If there is time, we will acid-wash and wax thetopsides, even though they still look very good sixmonths after we did them in Southeast Asia. WhenCalypso’s hull was laid up, we applied a very thick coatof isophthalic gelcoat—white on the topsides, clear onthe bottom. This thick layer has allowed us to buffout the topsides every year without risking polishingaway too much gelcoat. This annual buffing and waxinghas kept the hull looking like new for five years.

For acid washing we're now using Davis FSR gel-typefiberglass stain remover, which works extremelywell at removing rust stains and gelcoat discoloration.Almost every cruising boat suffers from a certainamount of rust staining on the topsides from variousbits of hardware bolted to the hull and deck. In NewZealand, we removed our stainless steel rubbing strakeon the outside of the caprail and replaced it with brass half-oval, just to eliminate rust streaking.

Weighty Matters
No matter how hard you try to keep things light, a cruising boat seems to get heavier and heavier. We float about four inches deeper than designed, whichtranslates into about two and a half tons of extra weight. We actually managed to lighten the boat by about 250 pounds in Thailand by getting rid of ourspare dinghy and an extra 100-foot piece of chain that I have been carrying around from boat to boat for over 20 years. In all that time, that chain had never beenin the water, so I guess we really didn’t need it.

In Cyprus, we provisioned for about three months of cruising, so that we only need to top up fresh vegetables along the way. Our freezer easily holdsmeat for four months or more, and we have learned that you buy good meat where you find it. Long-life non-refrigerated milk and orange juice are staples in many parts of the world, where reliable refrigeration is not necessarily taken for granted.

The downside is that all these great provisions are heavy. We loaded about 500 pounds of food and wine in Cyprus, enough to sink the boat almost half an inch.When you add this to our full load of 145 gallons of fuel and 180 gallons of fresh water, we have about a ton and a half of consumables on board when we leaveport. Even microwave popcorn and Pringles are heavy if you buy enough of them.

Although we might technically still be in Asia Minor, Cyprus is for all practical purposes a part of Greece, and feels very much like part of Europe.

It's hard to believe that it has only been a year since we left New Zealand. Our 40-foot time machine is a wonderful thing.

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