Previous to our decision to sell all our possessions, buy a 56’ sailboat and sail around the world I had no idea that there are thousands of people that winter their boat and themselves in the Mediterranean.
READ FIRST: For information about sailing in the Mediterranean rather than wintering, read this instead: Sailing in the Mediterranean.
I assumed that people either sailed around the Mediterranean all winter or left their boats there and flew home
I’ve come to realize that there are those that live on land during the winter and only use their boat in the Mediterranean for holidays or during the summer. I’ve met quite a few consultants that work during the winter and save up so they can sail during the summer months.
And there are loads of retired couples that spend the full summer island hopping and then head back to land over the cooler months. These seasonal sailors almost always have their boat pulled out of the water and stored on the hard over the winter season.
And then there are the ‘live aboards’ or ‘liveaboards’
These people live on their boat full time. Most of the live aboards that I’ve met do not have homes in their native land. They’ve taken to the sea full time and live a somewhat nomadic life moving slowly or quickly from one destination to another. Some travel far – perhaps around the world and some have spent 15 years just sailing in the same area.
In the Mediterranean, most live aboards find a ‘home’ marina to live in over the winter months. The weather becomes treacherous with high winds, torrential rainfall, cold temperatures and turbulent seas. Furthermore all the areas that cater to sailors shut up for the winter. Even if you wanted to sail around there’d be a lack of facilities and services.
Taking the boat out for a sail here and there is fine but overall, most live aboards in the Mediterranean dock up for the duration of the winter
Many marinas offer a special deal from October to April. Thus far Greece and Turkey seem to be the least expensive at around €2,500, Sicily comes in at €3,200, Spain is around the €5,000 and we were quoted €9,000 for Malta. These prices are for a 56’, include the full six months but do not include water and electricity. Smaller boats pay a lot less as the price is based on the length of the boat.
I have also met quite a few Americans that winter in Algeria or Tunisa because they EU won’t let them enjoy Europe for more than 3 – 6 months at a time
And during my recent stay in Rethymno Marina, Crete I discovered that our neighbors winter their boat and themselves in Egypt!
Every time I talk with live aboards the world seems to open up more and more. My first question is always, ‘is it safe to winter in Northern Africa?’ ‘Is it safe to winter in Egypt?’. The answers are always the same – ‘yes, it’s very safe.’
Apparently, in a marina you’re not really part of the country you’re in. Your surrounded by other Brits, Americans, Kiwi’s, etc and the host country want you there as you’re spending money to keep the local livelihoods going. It’s a win-win for everyone.
It’s s special situation when you think of it. Foreigners and locals mixing at the sea to live amongst each other for six months
We’ve only been ‘wintering’ for one week but already I can feel an amazing vibe in our location. We’re calling Marina di Ragusa, Sicily, ‘home’ this winter and I think we made the right choice! Read my review: Marina di Ragusa Sicily Marina Review Winter Season. to find out the full scoop on the actual marina.
Every day we fall more and more in love with the people and our surroundings
There’s one live aboard that invites others to do Tai chi on the beach. Not only do other live aboards join in but so do the locals!
And when I took my 4 year old daughter to see if I could get her into a pre-school I found success. Although I couldn’t speak Italian, I sputtered out ‘Barca’ (boat) and did my six fingers for months added with a ‘Auito’ (help). I was received with a welcome smile, a bit of English and an iPhone translation app where the teacher and I discussed options.
Welcoming children into local schools from the marina is a normal occurrence
As a side note, and to describe the amazing people we’re surrounded by, after hubby and I dropped off my daughter on her first day we stopped by the marina office. Everyone around the marina speaks perfect English so we asked a staff member to call the pre-school. We wanted to ensure our daughter was okay and that we understood everything correctly.
Not only did the staff member give us a great report but the marina office offered to become a point of contact if there were any issues.
Later that day the marina rang me to request my email address. A few minutes later, I received photos that the pre-school sent to the marina and then the marina forwarded to me! The photos were of my daughter, Sienna, having fun, smiling and laughing.
Let me get back to the world of live aboards
Generally, live aboards keep their boat in the water for the majority of the winter only to have it hauled out for necessary out-of-water work. On a yearly basis the haul needs new antifouling painted on, anodes need to be changed and a good check of the shaft, rudder and prop areas needs to be actioned. During out-of-water work a boater might fly off to see relatives, find a hotel or remain on the boat using a ladder to get aboard.
Within the first couple weeks of arriving in their designated marina, live aboards prepare their boat for the winter
Instead of winterizing, or shutting down the boat, they shut down bits of it and do a variety of tasks to ensure the winter is as comfortable as possible. For example, most boats remove their sails, halyards and sheets (all the ropes). By removing your sails, you reduce the amount of resistance to wind that you get so the boat won’t blow around as much. You also protect the sails from the damaging UV rays.
Furthermore, the ropes all need a very good wash with fresh water and to be stowed away for next season. Small ropes, called mousing lines, are used to replace the ropes that go up the mast and through all the fittings. When the next season starts, you simple tie the halyard or sheet (ropes) onto the mousing lines and pull them back into place.
As far as winterizing goes, we ‘wintered’ our water maker as we’ll have no use for it for the six months. With a nice supply of water from the jetty we’ll fill up our tanks with a hose whenever we need it.
We have also tackled our biggest issues – repairing leaks, changing faulty pumps/switches and starting to plan the long list of to-do’s that we have
Fortunately for us, we were introduced to an amazing boating services company called Willett Marine, soon to be renamed Stella Maris – latin for ‘Star of the Sea.’ Back when our boiler broke outside the Corinth Canal, the owner Andy talked us through re-plumbing our water supply, sourced a new boiler and found someone reputable to install it for us – all from England. Because of our great experience (and testimonials from other yacht owners), we decided to winter in the marina where Stella Maris service their Mediterranean clients. Both my husband and I cannot recommend the Stella Maris team enough. I’ll write more about them later and include some of the amazing new skills that they’ve taught us.
If you’ve read my blog for a while you’ll know that hubby and I have been through hell with BAD marine industry service people
When you find a company as professional, dedicated, kind, knowledgeable, efficient and fair on prices us boaties need to spread the word and therefore that’s what I’m doing now. I definitely know bad service when I get it and now I know the opposite. Stella Maris is top-notch.
Moving on…after all the preparation tasks are taken care of, it’s then time to create a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly routine to ensure that the boat stays in good condition. For example, every pump needs to run on a weekly basis. That means that it’s important to run your air conditioning and freezer even if you’re not using it. Pumps cease up if they’re not used regularly.
Furthermore, it’s absolutely imperative to run the engine. You need to do this in neutral. Also have the engine tick over in forward to make sure the shaft moves. This moves the salt water through the engine and gets the oil to splash around a bit. It also moves the grease along the shaft and propulsion unit. The generator also needs to be turned on and loaded up (turn lots of things on) for a few minutes.
So…we’re paying around €533/month to live in paradise
That’s how I feel thus far about ‘wintering’ in the Mediterranean. We have our home with us, access to excellent facilities and much more. There’s a beach to the east that stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s October and still in the 90’s F/High 30’s C. We’re spoiled for choice with a range of excellent restaurants. We have three grocery stores, a butcher, a few bakeries and quite a few little shops.
My daughter has a pre-school to go to and there’s even a child drop-off indoor play gym! We’re surrounded by a group of about 50 other boaties that are likeminded and spending the winter here too. Furthermore, the locals are amazingly kind and eager to get to know us.
There are boats with other children too!
As we walk to and from the boat, we’re always met with smiles and something to discuss. This morning I had a lovely conversation with a Dutch couple about the best brand of slow cooker. They even invited me over to their berth to enjoy a demonstration!
Additionally, in this particular marina, every morning at 9am there are announcements about excursions. Additionally, they talk about goods for sale or wanted items, any medical issues, lost and found and upcoming social events. Every Tuesday and Friday the boaties meet at one of two bar/restaurants for a drink and nibbles. And today I received an email from a boatie working on a once a month dinner event.
I almost feel like I did when I went to summer camp!
There’s loads to do, many great new people to meet. I honestly couldn’t imagine ever going back to the way I use to live my life. I’m truly a nomad and loving it.
If you want the full scoop about what it was like to live in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily for the winter, read my review next.