As we reached the end of our third winter since leaving the UK, we pondered on the different experiences and friends that we have made over wintering.
It seems almost standard practice in these latitudes (the Mediterranean) for cruising boats to go into hibernation over the winter period. Elsewhere, it may be the hurricane season or monsoon that must be avoided. It is pleasant to be able to relax knowing that the anchor is not going to drag, nor is someone going to drag into you. It is necessary to have time to make good and mend, and see to the multiple projects that come up or occur to you once you are at sea. Meeting people and having an opportunity to get to know them before moving on is refreshing. To learn more about and appreciate the different culture you need time, and its quite nice to know where the best shops are.
In the Mediterranean, the weather is sufficiently unreliable, threatening and cold to make 'overwintering' inevitable. While you can put up with a degree of discomfort occasionally or for short periods on passage, the conditions are such that spending the time cruising or at anchor would simply not be practicable or enjoyable. The security of being properly moored, and attached to an electricity and water supply during this period is virtually essential. That said, you can extend the seasons depending upon your inclinations. The choice of overwintering location therefore becomes an important one.
To avoid this problem, you need to plan your cruising around the change in the seasons, and to ensure that you are in the right place at the right time. In the northern hemisphere winter, therefore, you need to be somewhere nearer the equator. The Caribbean is a popular choice, although by the end of May you need to be out of there in order to avoid the risk of hurricanes, either by going north or back to Europe, or south to Trinidad.
In the UK, we more or less accidentally found out that Haslar marina were offering an attractive winter rate. We had kept Golondrina there, and so were familiar and happy with the set up, but had assumed that we could not afford to berth there. As it turned out we spent an enjoyable winter fitting Fuga out ready to cruise, with a handful of fellow sailors amongst whom we found some good friends.
Our first winter away was at Lagos. We had more or less selected the Algarve, and (from the pilot book) Lagos in particular, as the objective of our first year's cruise. We subsequently explored this coast as far as the border with Spain, and concluded that for us we had made a wise choice. Other people spoke highly of their experience in Portimao, but we were happy to pay the additional cost at Lagos for what we saw as a more comfortable and secure berth. In retrospect, we believe the weather along the Algarve coast to be very much more temperate than that in the Mediterranean. We knew people who were able to over winter in Alvor lagoon, in the lagoon at Faro/Olhao and up the Guadiana river, although the latter can be subject to flooding in certain years. There was an active social life amongst the liveaboards in Lagos, in addition to the access to various cultural activities. In Lagos, however, there were a considerable number of people who had taken root finding the location agreeable to them: their agenda was different perhaps to the transient yachts such as ourselves.
Our second winter was spent at Almerimar. John's heart attack on arrival at Almerimar in May dictated the choice, as we did not return to Fuga until November, after his surgery. Moving on at that time was not an option. Here was a vast marina, with a large liveaboard population distributed around it. Boats for sale or with absentee owners were in the majority. Again, there were amongst the community many people who had taken root, some of them working. Through the daily net on VHF 67 a variety of social activities were promoted, in addition to other matters of mutual interest. The geography of the marina was such that most people passing by were simply that, members of the public (and so security is an issue). Unless you were berthed on one of the quays there was little opportunity for fraternising directly with other yachts. Social life therefore tended to centre on bars, whether for pool, quizes, or simply getting together. Not only was this relatively expensive, but we made fewer good friends in this way: more simply casual acquaintances. Almerimar itself was a purpose built complex in the middle of a barren coastline, devoid of much natural beauty but ruined in any case by the plastic greenhouses. You had to venture inland to the mountains, to Almeria or Grenada, to find anything of real interest.
We chose Cagliari for our third winter on the recommendation of friends that we met in Lagos. They had enjoyed their winter here the year before. While there has been a different group of people here this year, without the same theatrical talent and therefore no pantomime, we too have enjoyed the experience. The Marina del Sole is more relaxed, more informal, and less expensive than its immediate competitors or our previous venues. It has attracted a small group of yachts, most of whom are in transit, less than a handful having taken root here. It also has an active population of local Sardinian sailors who enliven the proceedings: the friendliness and helpfulness of the Sardinian community has been exceptional. There has therefore been the opportunity to get to know most people better. The gazebo bar and barbeques have provided the venue for a number of gatherings, often involving locals as well as visitors, and these have in turn led to occasions for small groups on the boats themselves. Add to this all the facilities of a large city, and the historical and cultural experiences available in Sardinia, and you may understand why this was such an agreeable winter.
We were happy with Cagliari and returned there to the Marina del Sole from Greece. However, unlike the previous year, we laid Fuga up in the yard, and we went to New Zealand ourselves, not returning until early March.
We made our way during the season to Turkey, and laid up for the winter in Marmaris Yat Marin. This enormous yard offered excellent facilities at a relatively competitive price. There was a very active liveaboard community both at Yat Marin, and other marinas in Marmaris bay. We again left the boat and travelled to New Zealand, returning to fit out in the spring.
We made our way to Alanya Marina, in the south east side of Turkey in the bay of Antalya. The new marina was being promoted with concessionary rates, and we found there a small community of liveaboards who had arrived from Kemer marina. We spent most of the winter on board, enjoying the impromptu social life and the Turkish people. We made some good friends while we were there.
We returned to Marina del Sole in Cagliari, yet again. We found the rates being asked had increased dramatically, but managed to negotiate a discount. Once again we laid up, and went to New Zealand for the duration.
We decided to return to Lagos. Originally we had intended to return to the UK, but our fit out took so long that we felt it would be too rushed to visit the Azores as we had planned. We felt that although Lagos was more expensive, taking into account the location and inclusive power, that we would be happier there. We enjoyed our winter, and meeting new people many of whom were setting out on their particular version of 'the dream'.
We made it back to the UK, and laid the boat up in Gosport Boat Yard while we returned yet again to New Zealand.