From Europe to Africa – the first ten days of the Magellano Voyage

Finally the weather is looking better and we can set off on the way to Cambrils. There is still some nasty weather ahead according to the forecast but we think that we should be able to avoid this by diverting up into the Gulf of Lyons. Usually you want to avoid this gulf, particularly when the wind is from the north but the forecast maps suggest that the wind will come from the south west and whilst it will be quite fresh away from the land there is a sliver of much better conditions inshore.
This is the type of negation that you have to do with the weather. When you are cruising you cannot wait for fine weather for the whole voyage at one time. The key is to find the fine weather where the yacht is at the time and have the promise that the weather will improve ahead. We will have to wait and see if the forecast turns out to be correct but at least we have some options available.
Now we are off the French coast passing by Frejus and the Gulf of St.Tropez with wonderful weather. There is just a light breeze from the north, bright sunshine making this the perfect cruising weather. The scenery along the coast is spectacular abut there are only one or two other boats out here. They don’t know what they are missing by staying in port. The wind from the north is making it cool but inside the saloon the temperature is very comfortable and the only real problem is the sun reflecting off the sea.
Magellano is cruising along at 16 knots, a speed that we have found very comfortable, not burning too much fuel and with the engines turning at 1800 rpm. The yacht is full of fuel and water so it is quite heavy but we are making good progress. With the stabilisers on the yacht is rock steady and just a small amount of spray is coming over the bow.

So here we go. The Magellano Voyage.




What a night at sea! The weather forecast looked good for the crossing to Cambrils on the Spanish Coast with the wind of the storm off Barcelona dying away before we reached it. However the storm left a legacy of big waves, many over 3 metres high so we ended up with light winds and a rough sea. The waves seemed to be coming from two directions, which made it difficult to find a course where the yacht was happy and this also generated transient peaks in the waves that made it difficult to find a comfortable speed for the yacht. The worst part of the rough seas was during the hours of darkness which always makes things look and feel worse. It was strange to have this combination of light winds and rough seas and I was getting quite angry thinking how unfair it was to have such conditions when the forecast said everything would be OK.
The good part of this voyage was the Magellano coped well with the difficult conditions. Whilst there was a lot of spray flying about, not a drop of solid water came on board. It was re-assuring that the yacht has enough buoyancy to weather adverse conditions like this
To cope with these waves we headed up into the Gulf of Lyon where the forecast had shown lighter winds but there was no escape. All we could do was head across the Gulf until we could get into the lee of the Spanish coast. Speed was down to 6 knots at times as we nursed Magellano through the waves. It was the first test of Magellano in rough seas and she behaved well. No boat or yacht in going to be comfortable in those conditions but in my experience, Magellano was better than most. We all managed to get some sleep although using the forward cabin was out of the question because of the pitching in the waves.

Once close to the land we could open the throttles and get going again. Now we are cruising down the Spanish coast with Cambrils just two hours away. It is a beautiful morning with light winds and bright sunshine, such a contrast to the night before but there are still some of the legacy waves out there to make the ride interesting. After a long night at sea it will be good to get to Cambrils where can tidy the yacht up and get some breakfast.

There was a lot of interest on the run down the coast passing the city ports of Barcelona and Taragona. We were tempted to stop in the quiet waters to cook up a breakfast but now we were so close that it made sense to carry on and get to Cambrils. I think they gave us the most difficult berth to get into in the harbour at Cambrils but we made it, going in backwards to moor up alongside the main road in the town. Cambrils is new territory for me, and interesting place where it is obvious that the main trade is tourists but in November it is the quiet season and the tourists all seemed to have gone home. Still the good resturants were open and we had some wonderful sea food and steaks.



What a contrast from the rough seas of the other night. Here we are heading out from Cambrils in seas where there is just a ripple from the wind and blue skies everywhere. This is perfect cruising but it is not going to last. The forecast says that the wind is going to freshen over the next few hours up to a force 4 and then for the next two days there will be gales over most of the Mediterranean. Hence the reason why we are cruising at 20 knots on this 126 mile passage to Palma. We have a narrow weather window to get to Palma and this is where the speed potential of Magellano comes in. On a slow boat I don’t think I would risk it because there is nowhere to run to on this passage if the weather does deteriorate.
The visit to Cambrils was interesting. The main reason for the visit to take clients out for a sea trial and there were quite a few waiting to go. They all seemed very interested in the unique perfo4rmance of Magellano. We were very comfortable living on board in port and there were some good restaurants close by the marina so we eat well.

This is the first time that we have run t 20 knots for any distance and it is interesting to see that the performance of the yacht increased by about 1 knot when the interceptors were fully down. This meant that we could reduce the rpm to achieve 20 knots with a consequent saving in fuel.

So here we are cruising in perfect conditions with opera coming through on the sound system and lunch cooking on the stove. Let’s hope the conditions continue for the whole voyage but I am not optimistic.


Well here we are well into the voyage and the conditions are still good. We had a cooked lunch thanks to Alex Pino and now it is virtually a flat calm with the residual swell coming in from the south west. The visibility is brilliant and picked up the high land of Majorca nearly 50 miles away. These are perfect cruising conditions but I can’t help feeling that this is the calm before the storm and that the calm we are experiencing now is the herald of a fres.


We are tied up in the marina in Palma, Majorca and this is not the best place for a yacht of the size of Magellano. Our berth is right alongside the main highway around the port so there is a lot of traffic noise and the area is a popular place for the youth of Palma and visitors right up until 0500 as they party after visiting the discos. To make it worse there is a swell coming in from seaward that makes the yacht roll at its berth so life on board means constantly being aware of the movement of the yacht, which is not relaxing.

To make things worse the weather is looking very bad. It is not just the bad weather along the route we want to take on our way to Tunis but it seems from the forecast that the whole of the Mediterranean is in turmoil. There are gales and even storms forecast over most of the Mediterranean for at least the next three days and longer term there does not appear to be much improvement. If we can find a gap in the weather we may head up to Mahon in Minorca for a change of scenery and some peace and quiet. Meanwhile we are having a day off to explore thw wonders of Palma and to catch up after a fairly hectic week of tiruing the Mediterranean.


Sunday was a miserable day in Palma with high winds and rain. I could have stayed back in England to get those conditions but Monday morning has dawned bright and clear. We have the Caterpillar engine man coming down to give the new engines a check over and then we will be in all respects ready for. All we need is for the weather to turn in our favour.

Every morning I spend an hour studying the weather forecasts. There is a great website that gives access to a wide variety of weather maps and one of the best for the Mediterranean is WW3-Lamma, which give forecasts of wind and wave heights for areas of the Mediterranean in full graphic colour.

Behind us on the Spanish Coast and up into the Gulf of Lyon the forecast is showing winds up to 40 knots whilst around the Balearic islands the wind is less, around 30 knots so it is still too high to think about sailing. I know that Magellano is a good sea boat but once we leave Majorca there is nowhere to run and hide if the wind and sea becomes too much so here we stay for at least another day.

The forecast suggest that it will be Wednesday before the conditions are settled enough for us to sail to Tunis. It is 420 miles so if we sail on Wednesday morning we will be there on Thursday afternoon running at a reasonably economical speed. The wind and sea will be behind us and it will be interesting to see how Magellano performs when running before the seas. We have tried her on most other headings so this could be the final link in the performance data about Magellano.

Meanwhile we must continue to experience the uncomfortable conditions in the marina here where all the yachts are rolling because of the swell coming into the harbour from the rough seas outside.

It was an early start this morning, starting out at 0730 for the refuelling berth in Palma. On the way across the harbour there was a wonderful surprise, sitting on the quayside in the STP shipyard was Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, the boat that we set a new Atlantic record in 23 years ago. I quite frightens me how small she looks and I think back at our audacity in thinking that we could cross the Atlantic at high speed in a 75 footer. The boat is about the same size as Magellano but running at over 40 knots in big Atlantic seas she was one of the most uncomfortable boats I know. Speed and comfort do not mix and that is one of the reasons why I am falling in love with Magellano, or is it just old age?

Finally we have escaped the clutches of Palma harbour and are heading to Tunis. For three days Palma was besieged by gales first from the southwest and then from the northwest but now the forecasts are showing a small window of opportunity to make the voyage to Tunis. Everybody in Palma was saying that they have not seen such a run of consistent strong winds and the forecast suggest that there is more to come over the coming weekend.

In these situations you really have to negotiate with the weather. The forecast suggested that we would have at least 36 hours of lighter winds from the west or northwest and out here at present we are running with a wind of just force 2 but with a heavy legacy swell from west south west. This gap in the weather should be enough to see us through to Tunis provided that we keep up a good speed which is why we are running at 15 knots. I have to balance this running at a higher speed and the higher fuel consumption involved against having enough fuel to reach Tunis. According to my calculations we have but I am keeping a running check on the situation.

These are difficult seas for a yacht the size of Magellano to cope with. The heavy swell is rolling in on the starboard quarter and you can feel how she wants to rolls and swing under its influence. The autopilot is holding a good steady course under these conditions and the stabilisers are doing a great job of keeping Magellano upright. Both of these factors help to improve the fuel consumption by keeping Magellano pointing in the right direction.

So we are comfortable on board with regular meals and sleep, almost the perfect cruising conditions apart from that swell. It was a surreal feeling this morning when I did a radio interview with my local radio station, Radio Bristol about the fate of the 5 missing British yachtsmen in the Arabian Gulf. It was a timely reminder that you do need the right papers and the right planning when you go cruising to out of the way places. Hopefully everything is organised for our arrival in Tunis tomorrow.

Now a few hours later on we are clear of the shelter of the land and there is a huge swell out here. In fact it is two swells, one coming from the north and one from the south west. This is generating difficult sea conditions, particularly when two of the opposing crests meet. Magellano is handling the conditions well and whilst there in some movement we can still move about the yacht comfortably, have hot food and drink with the stabilisers doing a great job of keeping the yacht upright. There are a few ships about but mainly it is a lonely sea and sky but we are making steady progress towards North Africa.


One of the joys of cruising is that you see sights of nature that you never see on land. Last night there was an amazing sunset, with the sun going down in the west (as it always does) and at the same time there was a full moon rising in exactly the opposite direction. Its not often you see the full moon right down on the horizon and it was glowing bright red.

Then in the morning the sunset was just as beautiful with the sun rising over the Galite Islands as we made our approach to Tunis. It was exceptionally clear with land sited at 30 miles and we could sea ships over the horizon with just their masts and bridge structure showing. Here can you see such sights but cruising overnight

We eased back the speed to 12 knots overnight to conserve fuel. Magellano gave a comfortable ride and at this speed and we lifted the interceptors to put the stern down a shade as this gave better directional stability in the heavy following swell. The yacht rode comfortably and we all got a good sleep during the night and morning saw us with coffee mugs and breakfast. Still the heavy swell persists and we shall be glad to turn the corner and get a bit of shelter. Now we can do a new fuel calculation we can open the taps and run at 15 knots to give an ETA at the Sidi Ben Suad Marina of 1400.



Since daylight the conditions have steadily improved, not because the fresh southerly wind has dropped but be3cause we are coming under the lee of the land. It has been the most glorious day with wall to wall sunshine and excellent visibility. After passing Bizerta we passed inside the Isle Cani heading for the turning corner inside Isle Pane.

It is not going to last. When we got within mobile phone range I was able to access the Internet to look at the 3 day weather maps. By tomorrow most of the Western Mediterranean with turn purple, the colour on the maps that indicates winds of 33 to 40 knots. A low pressure is developing over southern Italy that will bring these strong north westerly winds sweeping down from the north. They look as though they are going to stay for 2 or 3 days so I don’t think we will be going very far once we tie up in the marina in Sidi Bou Said

I can’t believe how lucky we have been to find the gap in the weather that has allowed us to get this far. I have to say it was perfect timing sailing yesterday morning and I have been looking over my shoulder all the way, praying that the forecast was right and that the forecast storm would not arrive early. Even now the wind is freshening but it is from the south so it is not developing big seas. However it could make berthing in the tight marina an interesting experience. Let’s see that it is like when we get around the corner.

Part 2

Safe and sound in the marina. The weather just got better and better as we came south into Tunis Bay and the fresh wind from the south died away so everything went well. It took some time to go through all the entry formalities, first the immigration, then the customs then the police and finally the Capitainerie, the harbour authority. I had to polish up my schoolboy French but everybody was helpful and friendly. As soon as the Formalities were finished we went back to sea to do a photo shoot and then tied up for the night.

This is a very crowded marina and Magellano is a tight fit but she handles like a dream and parking is very easy. There was a restaurant just outside the marina gates so after a meal it was early to bed after the long sea passage. I think we were all pretty tired.

Friday morning dawned bright and clear but the clouds were building and the wind freshening as the herald of the storm to come. We are moving about alongside and this may get worse as the wind builds so we may have an uncomfortable night tonight. There is not much we can do about it but wait and see. The forecast shows the storm clearing the area by Sunday afternoon so we may get out on a run along the coast then. Things will get clearer as the forecast moves along.


Posted: dicembre 4th, venerdì, 2009 @ 6:50 PM
Categories: From Europe to Africa.
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