Fishing while cruising in the Mediterranean

Fortunately (for Gianluca), food would not be in short supply this trip. Up until today, I would have confessed to being one of the worlds worst fishermen. All I could show for two years of effort while underway (and the loss of innumerable lures), was one very small tuna and a seagull. Not anymore!



Behold… (see photo)

I had to stop fishing or I’d catch much more than the two of us could possibly eat!

Fishing, ha, there’s nothing to it. All you need is to be where the fish are.

Or perhaps it being almost November had something to do with it, or the fact that there were no other boats to be seen in the area (since loosing sight of Sardinia), or…

Frankly, I haven’t a clue, but that didn’t stop me fetching my copy of “The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing” by Scott and Wendy Bannerot, and with great enthusiasm learning to identify and clean my catch.

After a gruesome and surprisingly bloody job in which Eileen’s push-pit started to look like something out of a B-grade horror movie, we were ready for the good bit. Cooking and eating the catch of the day. I had never eaten such fresh fish, and I must say, Dorado fried in a little olive oil and seasoned with rosemary is truly exquisite.

A sailors reading list

For several years I have been collecting all manner of nautical books to wile away the hours of my quasi-life between sailing adventures. Unfortunately, lugging my treasured library around the world in a tiny boat isn’t feasible, so I have recently set about sorting through the clutter in order to reclaim some space for provisions.

Listed here are my latest finds (from which I winnowed the occasional gem):

Sailmaker’s Apprentice: A Guide for the Self-reliant Sailor

By: Emiliano Marino

I can’t fit a sowing machine on board for sail repairs so I’m counting on this book to guide my attempts at old fashioned needlework. Who knows, once I master this arcane art, I may be qualified to move on to mending my own socks and reattaching shirt buttons.

Troubleshooting Marine Diesel Engines, 4th Ed. (International Marine Sailboat Library)

By: Peter Compton

Perhaps I’ll get some use out of this book in port. At sea however I’m more likely to sick-up over it, the engine and anyone unlucky enough to be within range.

How to Sail Around the World: Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail

By: Hal Roth

Some good ideas, but this book was not for me.

The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing

By: Scott Bannerot, Wendy Bannerot

A must, but only because I am determined to do better than the one tuna and seagull that I have managed to catch so far. All I’ll have to figure out next is whether I can eat what I catch, and for someone that couldn’t even recognize a small tuna, the signs do not bode well.

Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual: How to Maintain, Repair, and Improve Your Boat’s Essential Systems (Boatowners)

By: Nigel Calder

Use of this book will follow the “inversely proportional to income” rule. In my dollar challenged future I expect to be using it often.

Hand, Reef and Steer: Traditional Sailing Skills for Classic Boats

By: Tom Cunliffe

Only because I knew nothing about the Gaff rig before I bought Eileen of Avoca.

Storm Tactics Handbook: Modern Methods of Heaving-To for Survival in Extreme Conditions

By: Lin Pardey, Larry Pardey

I like this book and have purchased a Fiorentino parachute sea anchor as part of my heavy weather safety equipment. Unfortunately, the handbook only describes one storm tactic, so rather than risk being a one trick sea pony, I’ve also purchased a Jordan Series Drogue. Both systems allow me to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm in extreme discomfort.

The Atlantic Crossing Guide: RCC Pilotage Foundation

By: Anne Hammick, et al

A must!

Adlard Coles’ Heavy Weather Sailing

By: Peter Bruce

My hopes of finding the definitive way of dealing with heavy weather were dashed after reading this book. Hence my purchase of two entirely different systems to cope with a storm (parachute sea anchor and drogue). Nevertheless, I found the material invaluable and I’d even be so bold as to suggest it be mandatory reading for anyone intending to cross an ocean in their sailboat.

Warning: Don’t let your landlubber relatives read it or they won’t let you go.

Your First Atlantic Crossing: A Planning Guide for Passagemakers

By: Les Weatheritt

Interesting reading but of little practical value for the single handed small boat sailor. A book for those seeking inspiration perhaps?

Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Gear, and Handling

By: John Vigor

A true gem.

World Cruising Routes: 1000 Routes from the South Seas to the Arctic: Companion to World Cruising Handbook

By: Jimmy Cornell

Traditional routes galore. I use this book as a planning guide for more adventurous itineraries… After much refinement, the end result is often nothing like what I started with, but the handbook is still my first point of reference. Also heavy enough to be used as a vermin exterminator!

Atlantic Pilot Atlas

By: James Clarke

I hope the gods of winds and currents have read this atlas too and decide to honor its content. Being a cynical sort, I’ll just have to take it with me to check up on them.

Essentials of Sea Survival

By: Frank Golden, Michael Tipton

Prepare for the worse and hope for the best? I can’t say this was an enjoyable read. I think I was going through a dark phase in my literary preparations as the following titles attest.

Left for Dead: The Untold Story of the Tragic 1979 Fastnet Race

By: Nick Ward, Sinead O’Brien

Another book to scare the living daylights out of all your friends and relatives. Hand a copy to anyone you don’t want volunteering to be crew.

A Voyage for Madmen

By: Peter Nichols

No comment.

The gale force winds die down

Day 29

Weather Check

Weather Check

Prior to the gale I had contacted an Albanian Freighter for an update on the weather situation, but now at anchor and within mobile phone range I could check the forecast with my laptop and its GPRS Internet connection. Apparently there would be a lull lasting approximately 10 hours so without further ado I followed the coast, heading for the shelter of Ayos Nikolaos.
Arriving at dawn I wasted no time getting some desperately needed sleep. I was a wreck, on the other hand, Eileen of Avoca had weathered the gale admirably.

She is one tough little boat.

Meeting the river folk!


Cristian (The one with less hair)

I feel that one last post on traveling the inland waterways is warranted as my previous comments appear to paint a bleaker picture than reality. As with any lengthy journey there are ups and downs and one of the ups was the time I had to make friends.

It was with great pleasure that I’d catch up with Cristian and Babette from Carpe Diem on my weekend marathons as they took their more leisurely journey to the Mediterranean.



I still miss the numerous pleasant evenings we had catching up on canal gossip over drinks and a meal in quaint riverside marina cafes.

Cristian and I would talk about boats, interrupted with frequent allusions to how many fish he had caught in my absence, while the girls….. hmm now that I think about it… I have no idea what the girls would chat about. 😉

Another truly memorable experience was meeting a local of Fontenoy le Chateau.
I’d woken up before sunrise to drop off my crew at the train station in Epinal. Upon my return I met a local fisherman and we exchanged greetings before I returned to my boat to make a cup of coffee.


Misty Morning

It was a fairytale misty morning but still rather chilly. As I poured my coffee (fortified with a dash of Amaretto) I thought to make a second and offer it to the fisherman. I made my way back to his camp and he readily accepted the cup (especially when I hinted that its content was somewhat strengthened!).

What followed was a very pleasant chat about fishing, the history of the area and his work in a cordage factory. I had very little to contribute to the conversation but he seemed happy enough to have an attentive ear. As he prepared to leave I was taken aback when he insisted I take a beautifully spliced rope he had made for towing. It now has pride of place in the pulpit and serves admirably as part of my ground tackle.

Getting my Yarmouth-23 safely through 200 locks!

Gianluca - Trusty crew

Gianluca - crew

Technique, Tips and Tricks

  • You can never have enough fenders (and I’m not taking about guitars Gianluca!) I used five a side and one bent around the bowsprit. I would have liked to have more.
  • I carried four good warps at least 15m long (one for each quarter), plus two boat hooks.
  • I always secured both bow and stern within locks and kept the engine on idle, tiller lashed.
  • For locks without floating bollards, I’d motor up to the access ladder and my crew would use a warp off the Samson-post to hold fast. Moving quickly I’d carry the stern line up the ladder with me and loop it around whatever passed for an attachment point before making a better arrangement for the bow, activating the lock, and returning to help haul on the ends.
French Lock-keeper!

French Lock-keeper!

  • Managing locks is rarely a one-man job, especially when ascending. Descending was easier, and if necessary I’m sure I could handle it alone, but for insurance purposes and relief from boredom, I always invited additional crew.
  • The real danger for descents is if a rope gets caught. This happened once but in a desperate rush I managed to work the line free without resorting to my trusty bread knife.
  • There are still numerous manually operated locks and inexperienced students often man them (woman them in many cases, much to the delight of my male crew) during the summer months. At these locks I found it was always best to follow your own routine despite offers of assistance.
  • For planning purposes, if all goes well, consider that it takes on average 15 minutes to cycle through a lock.

French Lock

French Lock


I did most of my travel through the Belgian and French canals on weekends. As the commuting distances grew I used my holidays to have three-day weekends. On a Friday night after work I would drive to my boat, sleep on board, and spend the rest of the weekend cruising. Passage times of 12 hours a day were not uncommon but I probably risked mutiny on more than one occasion. 🙂  On the last day I’d search for an appropriate location to leave the boat and train, bus, taxi, or hitchhike back to my car to drive home.

Overall, this method worked, but it wasn’t always easy. Some stops were poorly serviced by public transport and the cost of driving back and forth could easily be prohibitive.  Mind you  it was amusing, especially when sitting on a train watching all I had passed with the boat (over a period of three days) go by in reverse order in a matter of hours.

Belgian and French inland waterways

Dinant Belgium

Dinant Belgium

I had read that the canals would take me through some of the prettiest countryside in Belgium and France and this was largely true as many of my photographs will attest.

But I also saw some of the ugliest industrial zones, junkyards and nuclear power stations in central Europe.

It turns out (not surprisingly) that traveling on a canal is much like driving on a highway.

Industrial Liege Belgium

Industrial Liege Belgium

The banks are usually raised (limiting visibility) and even when they are low, the vegetation often restricts views of the surrounding countryside. Following these waterways often frustrated me, (mind you I’m easily miffed), but I’m now claiming that no sailing vessel should suffer the indignity of canal travel for too long. Being chained to the tiller hour after didn’t help to endear them to me and when it rained (which it does quite often in the Lorraine district) I felt and looked miserable.

Enough complaining…. on the plus side, I’ve come to know towns I’d never have thought to visit and found many to be truly splendid. The slow pace gave me time to appreciate what I saw and to unwind (between torrential downpours!). Once the dreaded locks were mastered (lets say… managed without too much anxiety) they served more as a welcome distraction rather than the hurdle they had seemed at the start of my journey. The best bit was being able to invite my landlubber friends for a great weekend without worrying that they would be bored or seasick.

The routine in France went something like this:

  • Motor along until you see a sign indicating “remote control receiver is here…”1

  • Take out the mysterious yellow control box and…. “Push the button Max…”2 A yellow light flashes above the sign indicating receipt of your command (if you are lucky).

  • Wait… wait some more…..sometimes quite a long time… usually because someone on the other side has pushed the button first!

  • Eventually an alarm bell rings and the lock gates open.

  • Dodge the oncoming traffic.

  • If you are feeling antisocial or just want to take part in what must now be a local tradition, race for the lock to ensure no one else gets a chance to squeeze in.

  • Desperately seek the elusive bollards, and failing that… do the unthinkable and attach your lines to the ladder (be prepared to be told off for doing so).

  • Risk life and limb climbing up the slippery access ladder and back to adjust your warps.

  • Lift the blue rod to cycle the lock

  • Do battle with the turbulence to protect your brightwork (probability of success 80%)

  • Relax as you motor on to the next lock

  • Grit teeth when inevitably asked, “Are we there yet?”

  • If answering No….Go to step 1

  • If Yes…. You are in the Med.

The routine for Belgium is similar, just replace the sections about the remote control with… “Gesticulate frantically with the lock-keeper” and “suffer disdaining looks from the commercial traffic operators” where appropriate.

Automatic Lock

Automatic Lock

Note: Locks beyond the Meuse were largely activated by turning a pole hung on a wire stung across the canal. Locks closer to the Mediterranean were enormous and these obviously had operators. Near Epinal, students on their summer vacation operated the manual locks for a bit of pocket money. Cute!3.

Each lock is unique. Just when you think you have a routine sorted out you undoubtedly find yourself in one with an unusual configuration and nowhere to make fast. A Yarmouth 23 is tossed about quite thoroughly by the turbulence in these locks (especially if you are near the front gates of a rising lock). On occasion it required all my strength to prevent Eileen of Avoca from thrashing about. In hindsight it would have been much easier if I had stayed to the back and always insisted on being the last boat in.

1 At Givet (my first French lock) I paid my waterway fee and was issued with a remote control for activating automatic locks.

2 Quote from the movie The Great Race

3 More on this later

A farraginous collection of thoughts while traveling through the Belgian and French canals

canal crew

canal crew

Having had very little experience with traveling though canals and locks, it was with considerable trepidation that I first entered the Belgian canal system at Nieuwpoort.

Reading several guidebooks did little to instill a sense of confidence. In fact it had just the opposite effect. I am now convinced that good “lockmanship”  is not something that can be attained through theoretical study.

Judging by the number of bruised pleasure craft making their way through the inland waterways (and I confess to having had my share of bumps), passing “applied locks 101” is no trivial matter.

Belgium provides a forgiving environment for the inexperienced because relatively few locks partition a days cruise. Moreover, help is always close at hand if things go “pear-shaped” because every lock has an operator.

This proved to be an ideal training ground. The experience fortified me for what was to come in the French waterways, where I traversed as many as 32 locks (near Epinal) in a single day.



My route took me through Bruge, Gent, and the outskirts of Antwerp, Turnhout (my registered home port), Hasselt, Liege, Namur and Dinant before reaching France.

There are no official entries in my journal because my original detailed log now resides on a deceased hard drive that despite heroic efforts, has resisted all attempts at resuscitation.

I could still use a professional recovery service but at this point I just can’t justify the expense.

Entering the Belgian canal system



Tuesday the 10th of April

At 7am I made my way through two locks to get to the VVW Westhoek marina (far right of the photo). Entry to the first lock is dependent on the tide (+ or – 3hrs HW) but it was a simple matter to call the lock operators on the phone to arrange everything (in English).

Until the end of April the locks are not attended on Sundays so for a while my travels will be restricted to Saturdays. My Belgian itinerary will be something like Nieuwpoot, Brugge, Gent, Antwerp, Turnhout, Hasselt, Liege, Namur and Dinant. Then it will be on to France and the Med.

GPS Track

GPS Track