The 5-day cruise in the gulf of Naples and Amalfi Coast in October was my first chartering experience abroad. Now, after two weeks of trying to get back to the routines at home, I think that it is a good time to write down some thoughts about the trip.
1. The Boat
I had heard and read about some bad experiences regarding the conditions of the Mediterranean charter boats. However, we did not encounter any problems with the boat during the week. Naturally, there were scratches and signs of heavy usage here and there, but technically speaking, everything was working fine. Perhaps the sails had seen their best days and given the light wind conditions, a downwind sail would have been a nice addition to the boat’s sail wardrobe.
The boat Beneteau 37 was actually too large for the two of us, but it was the smallest that was available at that time. In general, most charter boats tend to be quite large, so this might be a problem if sailing with a small crew. However, we got the boat at fairly good price since it was off-season.
Did we fell in love with the roomy French lady?
I guess that the answer to this question is yes and no. The boat was named Femme Fatale, and indeed, she definitely had some nice qualities for the relaxed sailing under the sunny skies and warm winds of the Med. All in all, that is what this boat is designed for. The large bathing platform, a huge cockpit protected by a large bimini, large foldable cockpit table, a simple rig and large galley all made the life very comfortable onboard. Stepping on to the boat was very easy from the open stern and the cockpit shower was great after a swim in the salty Mediterranean.
However, for me who is used to sail more traditional boats, the large open cockpit felt a bit unsafe in a swell. I am sure that this is something that one gets used to, but still, if one happens to miss a handhold, you can fall from quite high. In Dolphin Dance, the cockpit is much more narrow and feels safer as the high cockpit coamings give better protection for the helmsman and the crew.
What I did not like in the boat, was the design of certain details like the teak handholds on the cabin top. They look nice, but you cannot put your fingers around the rail, so the grip is not as firm. Furthermore, one cannot use the handrail to lash things like dinghy or boathook on the rail.
Also, the cabin roof did not have handrails in the saloon, which is a minus, as there is so much open space down below.
2. Cruising grounds
The Amalfi Coast is said to be one of the most beautiful coastlines in Europe if not in the world. I don’t think that this is an overstatement. The scenery is outstanding with the high mountains rising to over 1000 meters almost straight from the sea. Also, there are many lovely small villages along the coastline. There are also some world-famous tourist destinations like Capri and Positano, but with sailboat one can also visit villages and areas, which are not destroyed by mass-tourism.
The food is cheap almost everywhere, but not in the most tourist-crowded places. For example a three-course menu in Marina di Cassano cost 10 euros and 1/2 litres of wine about 3–4 euros. That is about one third of the price that one would pay in Northern Europe. On the other hand, the harbour fees are much more expensive compared to the Baltic Sea. We were expecting to pay more for a night in a marina than in the Baltics, but 2 to 5 times more was beyond our expectations. The mooring buoy outside Positano cost 50 euros (bargain price) per night – and this was during off-season! Think about high-season when one can expect to pay more than 200 euros per night for a berth during a weekend in Capri for example.
If spending more time in the Med, the high marina prices become a greater issue. Another problem compared to cruising in the Baltics is the lack of good anchorages. The coastline is totally open, so it is difficult to find sheltered anchorages. At least during our stay, there was so much swell, that when on an anchorage, the boat was constantly rolling from side to side.
3. The Climate
This was our second visit to the area in mid-October, and both times the weather has been perfect. The temperature was around 24-27 degrees, and even during the nighttime it did not drop below 20 degrees. The sea water was still around 25 degrees.
We did not have any rain during the week, but the weather was mostly a bit hazy. The wind conditions were not perfect, even though we got at least some wind everyday for sailing. However, mostly the wind was unstable and around 10 kts (5 m/s). However, during one afternoon the wind shoot up to 30 kts (15 m/s), so the old saying about the Mediterranean that there is either no wind or too much wind seemed to be truthful.
In general, chartering is a nice way to get to see new cruising grounds and to have experience on sailing different kind of boats. Of course this way of sailing cannot be compared to sailing with your own boat, which you know inside out.