French version on Totems website: http://totem650.free.fr/qualif.htm
Arezki Boudaoud on Totem, Super Calin 389, in the Mediterranean.
First attempt - August 24-25 2004
Having left Port-Camargue in early afternoon, I chose to head first towards Italy in order to avoid beating up a strong Tramontane at cape Creus when coming back from Barcelona. I spent the afternoon and the evening tuning, hoisting and dousing sails in a dying northeasterly become southeasterly, southerly and then northerly... During the night, as a west wind built up, I set the big kite.
I went to sleep but was awakened an hour later feeling the boat behaving oddly. Indeed the kite was tightly wrapped around the forestay. I should have left the jib up. Last but not least: the wind was almost blowing 25 knots. I spent about an hour cleaning up the mess, happy to get away with the kite torn only along 2 feet. The wind got stronger and I reefed to ease on the autopilot (I haven't got a gyropilot yet). I tried to rest but I kept being awaken by accidental jibes or by the radar detector. In fact I hadn't recovered from the wedding to which I had been on the previous weekend. The wind was blowing over 30 when I passed cape Sicié. I wasn't enjoying driving as the boat was under powered so that the autopilot could work. 40-45 knots were forecasted for the following night while it was already blowing more than the morning forecast.
I started wondering about what I was doing out there. It is so difficult to start with a rough weather on such a small sailboat. I decided to give up just before getting to the island of Porquerolles. I was actually giving up single-handed offshore racing. I made a U-turn and headed towards Toulon. During the night, it was blowing over 45 in the harbor and I felt happy to be there. After a quiet trip back to Port-Camargue, I started reconsidering my decision. I become ready to start again, but I had to be careful to be mentally prepared.
The boat was almost ready from the first attempt. A lunch at the Chris-Mary and a good nap were the last pleasure at shore. Fresh food was already aboard. I was slow and careful to finish preparing Totem. Four protos had left together earlier in the afternoon but I preferred leaving later to avoid being under tension; anyway those boats are faster than mine. I sailed out of the harbor (the engine was left behind) and I found Buffalo (another Super Calin): Fabienne and Ronan sailed along with me for half an hour, easing the transition to loneliness. I had chosen the way to Italy again because of forecasted Tramontane and Mistral later that week. A north wind built up during the night and Totem sailed fast with a reefed mainsail and the genoa. I was so tired by all the work I had to do to be able to take more holidays for the qualification, so that, in contrast with my habits I slept well from the beginning. I was often awake to tune the sails and to check that I was still free from the fishing boat fleet which was offshore till Marseille.
Monday September 20
As I had expected, Big Charlie (my first autopilot, a TP30) stopped working. I set up Small Charlie (a TP10) which was a bit light for running in 25 knots, so that I didn't hoist the kite. I passed cape Sicié in early morning with the mainsail and the genoa up. In the south of the island of Levant, the French Navy stopped me and asked me to go back and sail north of the Island. I took advantage of the flat sea and the lighter wind to douse the mainsail and repair a small hole I had noticed earlier. The wind had abated to 15 knots, so I hoisted the big kite. 3 or 4 boats far ahead were looking like Minis. During the night, the wind slowly backed to a southwesterly and I kept alternating between naps of 20 minutes and spinnaker tuning.
Tuesday September 21
I was satisfied to have doused the kite at the right time. Totem was surfing at 8-9 knots although under powered with 2 reefs. In early afternoon, I caught sight of Corsica. It was blowing 35 and the short waves were happily breaking. I was quite happy not to have reached that area during the first attempt (cape Corse is known for strong winds). The wind abated but I waited to take a picture of me and the island of Giraglia before unreefing. Besides the logbook and the celestial navigation, pictures of the marks (buoys and islands) with the skipper and the boat are required for qualification. Soon after the wind was dead - this is what I enjoy about the Mediterranean - and I realized that the 4 sails far ahead were Minis. I am surprised to find the protos there as they must have been real fast surfing the waves before Corsica. During the night an east wind built up, and we started beating up along the island of Elba, while watching the numerous ships around.
Wednesday September 22
The wind got lighter in the morning so I hoisted the genoa. On starboard the island of Monte Cristo gave me the feeling that we were not moving: it looks the same from any direction with its conical shape often crowned with a cloud. I made my first celestial reckoning. In the afternoon the wind died again, then the kite was up in a light northerly. I passed across the 4 protos and we had a meteorological discussion: the Mistral was blowing hard in the 45 knots. They were seriously considering stopping at Bastia (east Corsica). I sailed around the island of Giannutri in the late evening then kept working in a shifty wind.
Thursday September 23
After beating up in a northwesterly, the wind came back from the south. I was too lazy to set the kite but soon enough it was blowing too strong for it. My morale wasn't good and I kept thinking all day about whether stopping in harbor or beating up in a strong Mistral (which is less than fun in a 21 footer if ever it possible to have any VMG). In the afternoon, a signal station and then Manuel (my contact person aground) confirmed the forecast: the Mistral was blowing only south of the course between Corsica and mainland. I examined again stopping in Corsica, but I would have had to stay there for three days at least because of a forecasted northeasterly severe gale (a low moving from the Riviera to Corsica). I made up my mind and decided to stay at sea and to sail on port tack towards mainland. The wind died a few miles before cape Corse; fortunately a current was slowly pushing us north. The landscape was looking gloomy. I tidied up everything inside as we were going to be shaken. The high speed ship which had crossed us was already out of sight when I started feeling the southwesterly swell.
Friday September 24
The wind died in the morning. I realized that we were in the eye of the low and decided to work on moving north to find easterly winds. The sea was mirror like but Totem was suffering from the 6 feet swell. We spend 3 hours motionless. Waiting for the gale was hard on the nerves. I started a celestial reckoning but was unable to finish because of a growing headache (I recalled an old motto : no brain, no headache). Fortunately in the afternoon a northerly built up and action began. I reefed the mainsail and then the jib replaced the genoa. I reported my position to the French Safety Centre so that nobody would worry. I jibed with the shift to northeast, relieved to see the thunderstorms remaining above land. The speed was still in the 8 knots with a two reefed mainsail. Dolphins came and started playing and jumping over the breaking waves. I had just fell asleep when Totem broached: a thunderstorm was above us. I doused the mainsail and came back inside hiding from the heavy rain. While I was trying to get some rest, Totem started a freaking surf, caught up and knocked in the previous wave, and broached. I doused the jib but was to lazy to set the storm sail and went to sleep.
Saturday September 25
We were drifting at about 4 knots in almost the right direction. When I started falling asleep, the radar detector rang: a ship was nearing. I put back my gear on, thinking about the best way to act. Eventually the ship passed quite far and I was able to get some sleep at last. When I woke up, it was blowing only 30 knots and I hoisted the jib. When it came to the mainsail, I realized that the port runner had wrapped around the shrouds, but I wasn't able to undo them before daylight. The wind slowly backed to north and the northwest as we approached the islands of Hyères. We took the northern channel to be protected from the swell generated by the Mistral. I spent the afternoon reefing, unreefing and tacking to follow the shifts. At day fall, I got to free water again. The swell was only about 9 feet and I tacked along the shore to remain in a light 25 knots Mistral.
Sunday September 26
I reached Marseille in the early morning. The wind slowly built up to a 40 knots northwesterly and the sea was white. A few hours later, the boat was overpowered with the storm sail and a 3 reefed main; so I tacked to get nearer to the shore in "more protected waters". I was slightly worried and thought about a stop: Marseille was too dangerous and I had to turn back to la Ciotat. I phoned Manuel who reassured me by confirming the weather forecast: the wind was going to abate. I decided to sail along the shore instead of aiming directly at the next mark. Near to Fos sur Mer, we dodged a ship which was heading right on us: they were not on watch as they certainly imagined no small boat could be at sea. The wind abated and I unreefed but soon enough the it came back almost as strong. I passed the Golfe du Lion buoy, with the jib and no mainsail. I am slightly disappointed as the wind was almost a westerly, so that the course to Spain was a beam reach and would be slower than what I expected.
Monday September 27
I ended up setting up the storm sail again to spare the jib. In this beam reach, Totem sailed on her own with the helm fixed slightly to leeward, which saves some electrical power. At day light, I tried to take pictures of the 12 feet waves but the result was disappointing. In the late morning, I had already reached the Spanish coast. I passed by cape San Sebastian in the late morning, running with full main and jib. I was happy thinking that I would be back to Port-Camargue in a couple of days. I stayed at the helm as the conditions were odd and exhilarating: we would sail at 7-8 knots, then the sea would whiten with caps and we would surf at 13 knots, and so on... Off Palamos, I crossed a Catalan fisherman aboard a tiny boat. I felt far more secure on my Mini. I waved at the first human being I had seen close in a week. The transition to the wind regime of the Balearic area was tiring as usual. I had all the sail up and down in a couple of hours. We ended beating up in a smooth southwest breeze. Meanwhile, I cleaned and dried the inside of Totem; it was the first time that waves were not climbing up the deck in 4 days. I also cleaned 3 winches stuck up by salt.
Tuesday September 28
We were getting nearer to Barcelona. The radar detector rang another time, but I was happily surprise to watch the ship changing its course. I got to the Barcelona buoy at 5:30am much later than what I had expected due to the dying wind in front of the city. The sea was so flat that I even thought about tying the boat to it in order to take a picture. We made a U-turn, close reaching with the main and the genoa. In the late morning, the southwest wind built up and I set the big kite. We were running at 8 knots. I had to be cautious about all the fishing boats as I would have needed some time to douse the kite or to jibe. A line of clouds was showing the transition to the wind regime of the Lion Gulf. After some effort, we were beating up in a light northeasterly. The wind died with the day fall and we spent 3 hours still off Palamos. I was awaken by the wind coming back but we kept moving only for an hour or so.
Wednesday September 29
I awoke right before the wind. We spent most of the day beating up to cape Creus in a light wind oscillating between northeast and north-north-west. The wind died again. I was then completely at ease at sea. I would sleep at once and be awaken by the boat or the wind. I would eat well and read a little. Oscar Wilde's book of aphorisms which I had taken lent itself well to reading for short whiles. In the night, a very light northwesterly pushed us slowly. We were in good conditions for a record of the lengthier trip between Barcelona and Port-Camargue, but I was patient and kept tuning. A whole fleet of fishing boats passed by.
Thursday September 30
The radar detector would often ring as I was again surrounded by fishing vessels. In the middle of a nap the ring went higher... shit... I had to wake up. When I looked, a fishing boat was heading right on me. I jumped outside and took the helm to change course. A couple of seconds later the fishing boat also altered its course. I believe that falling at sea and collisions are the greatest dangers when you're single handed (and even when you're not). A radar detector is also a must. At midday, the wind died for a couple of hours before building up from south. The kite was up. In mid-afternoon, as Little Charlie was not coping anymore with the helm, I decided to keep driving until Port-Camargue and prepared clothes and food for the evening. We passed the buoy in late afternoon. We went often over ten knots and the helm was fun. At 8:15 pm, we were madly surfing when I noticed a number of lights and an orange gyrophare. Thanks to the experience of the Mini Med, I knew at once that it was a fisherman with a drifting net which could be a couple of miles long. In very tense minutes, I doused the kite while simultaneously driving (Little Charlie was of no help in these conditions) and I stopped a hundred yards before the net. Last lesson: always be ready. I didn't dare to imagine how it would have ended if we got caught in the net at full speed. I called the fisherman on the radio and he guided me to go around the net. The wind shifted to a light northwesterly. When resuming the course to Port-Camargue, I got aware that the fisherman didn't give me his name because he was not allowed to fish there. Again: be always ready.
Friday October 1st
I sailed in the harbor smoothly at 1 am. I was back after 11 days, 6 hours and 40 minutes at sea. I was full of joy as I finished the qualification with no stop despite the complex weather configuration.
It was not too difficult to come back on shore. The only sequels were that I would notice women more than usual and that I wouldn't feel well surrounded by a crowd. I sent my logbook, the celestial calculations and the pictures to the Classe Mini. One week later, I was happy to learn that the qualification was approved.
Manuel, Bénédicte, Philippe, Fabienne, Ronan, and Emmanuel.
(And I thank you for sending this to the site so we can all learn from you :) You did the translation, made the map, great work. So any one who learned something, give him a beer when you see him, Arezki Boudaoud on Totem, Super Calin 389, website of Totem, LeoV)