Getting “Med-ready”

We’ve just completed our first season of cruising in the Mediterranean Sea and have learned a bit about the local customs and procedures as it relates to anchoring and berthing, and in particular Mediterranean-style mooring, or simply Med-mooring. Here are a few tips and hints for anyone new to the area or who may be heading this way.

Like it or not, most marinas in the Mediterranean do not have individual slips with fingers. They are set up for yachts to Med-moor either bow or stern-to. If you have no previous experience at Med-mooring, you may want to evaluate which way will work best for your particular yacht, then develop and practice a Med-mooring procedure. This should include getting your mooring lines and ground tackle set up for easy deployment by the crew. If you don’t back up well or sail short-handed, you might consider installing a bow thruster and/or an anchor remote switch so you can control the windlass from your cockpit. We saw many boats from 40 feet upwards using bow thrusters. While we don’t have a bow thruster, we find our anchor remote to be very helpful.

We quickly discovered that when it comes to fenders, bigger is better, and more is, well, even more better. We used to carry four, and doubled that shortly after we arrived in the Med. We use all of them every time we Med-moor, as it can be very tough on the topsides. We also recommend getting a set of fabric covers for your fenders. Not only do they look nice, they protect your fenders against UV damage and help prevent your topsides from getting scratched or marked with PVC gunk. If you wish to make your own, we’ve found that heavy-weight Polar Fleece works well for this purpose, is very durable, and is easy to work with on a home sewing machine. We’ve also seen many boats that use specially shaped fenders that are molded to protect the bow and transom sections from the occasional bump against a dock or quay.

When we go into a harbor or marina, we use our longest dock lines, the ones we usually used in slips as spring-lines, for tying to the dock or quay. This allows us to pass the lines through or around the shore side fittings and then bring them back to tie off to our own stern cleats. First of all, it makes it easier to adjust our lines from on board, and secondly we can easily slip our lines off and let ourselves go without shoreside assistance when we’re ready to depart. In most cases, due to surge, wash from large ferries and shallow rock ballasting that may extend out a way from the quay, it is advisable to keep at least two or three meters off in all but the calmest and deepest harbors. We witnessed an Israeli yacht, which was moored a bit too close, smash her transom on the concrete quay in Larnaca, on the island of Cyprus, when a large motor yacht came roaring into the marina and laid up a huge wake. Stern lines of eight to ten meters (25 to 35 feet) each should be sufficient. Many of the rings and bollards we tied to were rusty and/or rough, so the application of some sort of chafe protection at the contact points will help to extend the life of your mooring lines.

An entry-level pasarelle.

While a few yachties use their dinghy to get ashore once they are Med-moored, it can be a real hassle, especially if the quay is a couple meters above sea level. To get ashore more easily you will need some sort of a gang plank or passerelle. A few we’ve seen are as simple as a wood plank spanning the gap from the transom to the quay. In reality, most yachts have something a bit more elaborate if not user friendly. An inexpensive, safe and easily handled passerelle can be fashioned from an aluminum ladder and wood planks. A couple of wheels attached to the outboard end will prevent abrasion from the quay as the stern of the boat bobs up and down. It is also handy to have some sort of rigging to lift the outboard end of the pasarelle, usually employing a halyard or topping lift, or perhaps the dinghy davits if you’ve got them. At the high end of the spectrum, we’ve seen some incredible telescoping pasarelle systems that fully retract into a cavity yacht’s transom, with hydraulic lifts and automatic pop-up hand rails, not to mention groovy little courtesy lights and wireless remote controls. We have a simple glassed and painted wood plank that attaches quickly to our double-hinged swim ladder at the transom. It works fine and is easy for us to set up and store, but we can’t leave it in place if we want to use the ladder for boarding after a swim or a ride in the dinghy.

Many of the anchorages we’ve visited, particularly in Turkey, are very crowded and the bottom falls away quickly from the shoreline, making it difficult if not impossible to swing on the anchor. Most yachts will anchor close to shore in the shallower water, and take a long stern line to a rock or a tree along the shoreline. Having a long and easily deployable stern line makes this process much easier. Some boats use a long piece of heavy nylon webbing wound on to a reel attached to the push pit. Others have a long piece of nylon braid on what looks like a giant stainless steel fishing reel attached to their stern rail. We’ve even seen a few with both. If a yacht were to be based in the Med long term, I think that one of these systems would be essential gear.

Line reel.

When anchoring in some of the deeper spots, the chain disappears very quickly. It is important that you have your chain marked so you know how much has gone out, or more importantly, how much you have left. Our anchor remote has a digital chain counter, and we have also marked the chain with a couple of red wire ties near the end so we don’t end up completely emptying out the chain locker. I’m sure I don’t need to mention that it’s not a bad idea to fasten the end of your anchor rode to the boat.

When we do a shore tie up we drop and set the anchor, then Merima backs the boat to within 5 to 15 meters of the shore depending on depth. I either swim or take the dinghy ashore with one end of the line and tie it to a rock or a tree. A short piece of chain is good if you want to avoid chafe when tying to rocks, but is not so easy to swim with, or carry when you are clamoring up sharp or slippery rocks (wearing a pair of Crocs is good for this) with the dingy painter in your other hand. We’ve kept it simple and have two old spinnaker sheets that we use for stern tying ashore. One is kept faked in a crate stowed in the lazarette so I can easily pull an end out and take it ashore. While I’m fastening one end to something shore side, Merima takes the other end to one of the electric primary winches. With both ends fastened, we can snug it up with the push of a button. If the anchorage is very crowded and other boats are close, the use of two lines splayed outward from each of the stern cleats will help keep you more or less in one place.

Marinas in the Med tend to be very compact and crowded, with long boats sticking out into narrow fairways, making maneuvering and mooring a challenge, particularly when the breeze is up. The good news is that all of the marinas we’ve visited so far have had “pilot boats” to guide us to our berth, act as a bow thruster if we needed to maneuver in tight quarters, hand us the bow mooring line (where there were laid moorings), and catch our stern lines. If you go into one of the many lovely and less expensive public harbors, you’re generally on your own.

At first we were a bit shy about just grabbing a space in the public harbors. Some of them have attendants who will get your attention with a whistle and indicate where you should moor. At others, it is first come, first serve and you can just tie up where ever you can find space to squeeze in. In this case, it’s good to have a look around so you can avoid areas where local fishing and charter boats tie up, favoring spots where you might see other cruisers or bareboats. It may be handy to have your pasarelle in place so that one of the crew can step off and tie the stern lines, but so far we’ve always found there was a helpful yachtie on the quay who was willing to catch our lines. One comment about tossing lines – nobody wants to be hit in the face with a dirty, salt-water-soaked dock line, so the polite thing to do is to hand off the end of the line if you are close enough, or toss your coiled line to either side of them if they are out of reach.

Fortunately there is little tide and generally no current in the Med, but we always consider the wind before going into a spot as we have lots of windage up forward and no bow thruster. In a couple cases where the crosswind component was more than we felt comfortable with, we decided to spend some time on the hook until the breeze was a bit more manageable, usually late in the day or early in the morning. It is important to know your own and your boat’s limitations and have a plan B if the situation appears to push the envelope or there is no space available for you.

When we Med-moor we get all the fenders and lines set up, and lower the anchor over the bow roller before we get into tight quarters in the marina or harbor. I try to get us lined up to our slot as far out as possible, giving us more time to compensate for prop walk and crosswind drift. We then back up with just enough sternway to steer in the conditions, adding a bit more speed if there is a crosswind. Merima lets the anchor go when we are two to four boat lengths out, depending on depth, and then comes aft in case we need to fend off. I prefer to stop the boat with a touch of forward power as opposed to locking off the windlass, as it prevents us from yawing in our space. Once the stern lines are tied off, we can then snug up with the windlass, insuring that the anchor is set. We usually look to tension the anchor chain till it is at about a 45-degree angle to the surface of the water.

Once you are tied up, if there are boats to either side, you may need to readjust your fenders to best protect the potential contact points. Wash from ferries and other large boats that regularly move in and out of busy harbors or marinas must be considered as they may cause short periods of extreme rolliness. Make sure your mast is not lined up with the masts of adjacent boats. If you roll out of synch with them it is possible that your rigs could make contact, resulting in damage, a lockup or even a “gravity storm”. Check to be sure your fenders are high enough to prevent strakes and toe rails from overriding each other or damaging topsides. Barbeques, solar panels, life rings and other gear that may be mounted or projecting outside your rails/lifelines potentially could get clipped should be turned inwards or removed. Anticipate that as winds shift your boat may sit differently in relation to the boats next to you.

If you tow your dinghy, as we often do, make sure it won’t hamper or get damaged in your approach to a mooring spot. We tie it to the amidships cleat with the painter just long enough for the stern of the dingy to be even with the bow of Moonshadow when we’re backing up. Too short a painter and the dinghy could get squashed between yours and the next boat. Too long and it could get caught up in your ground tackle. Some people we met recently told us that they dropped the anchor, backed in to a spot, tied up the boat and didn’t realize that their ground tackle had landed in their dinghy until they tried to snug up the anchor. If you leave your dinghy in the water, tying it close with painters bow and stern will ensure that it stays where you want it and that the shaft and prop won’t damage yours or your neighbor’s topsides.

It’s quite common for yachties to enjoy a sundowner or two at the end of the day and watch other boats come in to Med-moor or anchor. It is a form of cheap entertainment and many yachties take a sort of perverse pleasure in rating other’s skills, or lack of, while playing deck-chair quarterback. On the other hand we’ve learned what to do, or not to do as a result of others’ skillful performances or embarrassing botch-ups. The most common errors we’ve witnessed or made ourselves at one time or another are: 1) Not having fenders and dock lines in place and ready before starting to Med-moor. 2) Not having clear communications or instructions between captain and crew. 3) Approaching the dock or quay at a speed faster than they would wish to hit it. 4) Locking off the anchor rode or mooring line too soon before the boat is all the way into her berth. 5) Not understanding or anticipating the effects of cross winds and/or prop walk on one’s boat.

In some small harbors there may be many yachts Med-moored using their own anchors and it is not uncommon for anchors to get fouled. In the small, narrow and crowded harbor on the Greek island of Symi, it was rare that a day went by that we didn’t witness at least one anchor fouling incident.

If you bring up another chain or anchor, the most important thing is to remain calm. You probably won’t be going too far until you get it freed. Freeing your anchor is really quite simple. Tie a short piece of line to a stanchion/cleat/rail up forward. Put a small bight in the other end and then pass it under the fouled rode, using your boat hook to catch the bight and lift it back up. Bring the line up snug under the other rode and cleat it off. With the other rode supported by the line, you can then lower your anchor enough to free it. Once your anchor is out of the way, slip off one end of the support line and let the other rode go. We keep a short piece of manky old line handy just for this occasion. We also saw a clever device that is basically a crescent shaped piece of steel with one line tied to an eye in the top, and another line tied to a second eye located down close to the bottom to be used as a trip line. It looks like it would be very easy to get it quickly under and support a fouled rode, and then trip after one’s anchor has been freed. We saw one in a Turkish chandlery but at €42 (US $56) won’t be test driving one any time soon.

If your own anchor rode has been fouled and lifted by another yacht, it’s a good idea to check it to be sure it is still properly set after the offending boat is clear. If you have inadvertently lifted another boat’s anchor off the bottom, the considerate thing to do is take it back out and drop it where it was so that it can be reset.

Pig tails for shore power.

Shore power can be a bit of a bugaboo. While most all marinas and many harbors have some sort of shore power connection available, there is no standard plug receptacle in use, and we’ve occasionally even seen different plug patterns in use within the same marina. Murphy’s Law says that one will never go into a marina and be able to use the same plug as they used in the previous marina, but the next marina down the track will likely have the same plug as the one you were in two marinas before. I now have a large box with quite an eclectic assortment of shore power plugs that I’ve acquired for use in various marinas all over the world, and my collection grows with each passing year. Traveling around the Med, I got tired of swapping plug ends each time we went to plug in, so I made up a set of “pigtails” using three of the most popular plugs we’ve come across. I put a standard male plug end on our shore power cord which mates to a standard female plug on the end on each of the pigtails. This saves me twenty minutes of screwdriver time each time we arrive at a new port or marina.

At first, Med-mooring may seem a bit like learning to land an airplane – a bit daunting, if not terrifying. But with a bit of planning, preparation and practice it is likely to become a routine procedure. The few mishaps and embarrassing moments we’ve witnessed or experienced all seemed to be avoidable. Med-moored in close quarters, catching lines or fending off for other arriving boats has afforded us the opportunity to meet and make friends with many interesting people from all over the world, and of course, has been very entertaining.

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