August 14, 2016
Although some of our readers are cruising sailors, most probably don’t know much about living at anchor on a boat. If you’re interested, here are some of the details:
Anchoring: Finding a comfortable place to anchor the boat is sometimes a challenge, and it’s one of the reasons we are enjoying Greece so much. First of all, you need to be protected from the prevailing winds. That can be tricky because afternoon and morning winds often come from opposite directions, a result of the change from hot land during the day (and thus relatively low pressure) and cooler land during the night (higher pressure than the air over the more thermally stable sea). That’s what’s behind “sea breezes” and “land breezes.”
It’s not really the wind, so much, that’s the issue, but rather the waves that build up when it blows fairly hard for a few hours, and also the ocean swell that generally keeps coming from the direction of the strongest prevailing winds. So you want a bay with some kind of peninsula between you and the open ocean. Preferably with the water not too deep, since you need to put out four or five times the depth of the water in anchor chain to keep the pull on the anchor fairly horizontal. The opening that lets you in the bay shouldn’t be lined up with the strongest (usually afternoon) prevailing winds.
So you sail or motor into the selected bay, the anchor ready to drop, and watch the depth sounder until you’re in a comfortable depth – say 20 feet or less, ideally – but not so close to land that there’s a risk of being blown ashore if it gets nasty. We have a 45 pound CQR brand anchor, attached to 300 feet of 3/8 inch chain, with coded painted markings every 30 feet. The anchor is basically like an old-style horse-drawn plow, and over time digs itself in to sand or mud. Rocks are more of a problem. The 3/8 inch (9.5mm) designation refers to the diameter of the steel rod bent into racetrack shapes and welded to make the chain. It’s pretty heavy stuff and works well to keep the anchor pulling at a good angle. Boats with lighter chain (or rope) have to put out more of it to get the same effect.
With the anchor down and the right amount of chain let out, it’s time to back the boat down, gently, to stretch out the chain. Depending on the weather, it can take some time for pressure from the wind to set the anchor, and trying to hurry the process usually doesn’t help. For that reason it’s good to have some room around your boat – to avoid dragging into other boats or snagging their anchors.
In a crowded bay, keeping distance from other boats is often a problem, as inexperienced “charter” (rented boat) sailors will drop their anchors too close to you and end up being able to criticize your lunch at close range. Polite suggestion often works, but not always.
Something else that’s nice in an anchorage is a small town nearby, accessible by dinghy, where you can drop off garbage, maybe find a good meal in a taverna, or buy groceries (including beer, red wine, etc. – but more on that under provisions).
Nice anchorages are much more common in Greece, than in Sicily, Italy and Spain, and in the Peloponnese, much less crowded. The water is warm and clean, and swimming is a daily (or twice daily, or three times daily) pleasure. Oh, and it’s all free of charge! The only downside is waking up on a windy night wondering if the anchor is dragging. So far, knock on wood, our anchor has inspired a lot of confidence.
Provisions and daily life: On our current trip from Messolonghi to Kalamata, Serafina we will not touch a dock for three weeks or more. Fuel for the engine isn’t a problem – it’s a sailboat, after all – but even motoring, the 50 gallons of fuel we had on board leaving Messolonghi gives us about 500 miles of range, way more than enough if we never have a minute of favorable breeze…
Water is more of an issue. We had about 100 gallons of water on the boat when we started this trip, and we use something like 2 or 3 gallons a day, for coffee, drinking, rinsing dishes, brushing teeth and stuff like that. We try to economize by doing heavy dish washing with salt water, then just rinsing off the salt with fresh. It helps a lot. But we have two 20-liter jerry cans for drinking water, and if we find a town that has a faucet available, we’ll fill them and dinghy them back to the boat for margin, maybe more than once.
Food and beverages are pretty easy. We stuff the refrigerator with eggs, milk, veggies, cheese, and sausages, and we have several lockers on the boat devoted to pasta, dried beans, rice, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, pesto, anchovies, olives, etc. There’s not a lot of incentive to cook when there are good, inexpensive tavernas nearby, especially because the stove heats up the boat. But still, we eat at least half our meals on the boat, sometimes just salads (with great tomatoes, feta, and sweet red onions), other times pasta, or scrambled eggs with sausage and peppers, and one in a while oven roasted chicken.
We have two containers of “camping gaz,” as butane is known in Europe, about the size of a smallish household bucket, and one of them is good for about a month of cooking. As ultimate backup we have one of our old, larger US propane containers also full of butane.
Electricity for the small refrigerator, lights, computers, phones and so on is provided by five large sealed “AGM” (sealed) lead-acid batteries. Charged up, they provide plenty of power for three days, but we have to be careful not to run them down too far – which can damage the batteries, and in the very worst case would leave us without the power to start the engine. They’re charged by the alternator on the engine. When we’re sitting at anchor for an extended time, we end up running the engine for an hour every couple days, just to make sure they don’t get too low. Since diesel engines only pull in enough fuel to maintain their RPM, the light load of running the alternator uses way less fuel than the .45 gallons per hour it burns when pushing the boat.
Life on anchor is a lot like camping, except with less dirt, bugs crawling in your sleeping bag, and hard ground. There are not a lot of pressures, for sure, and time to read is one of the great rewards. The lack of light pollution gives us great night skies, if we can stay awake for them…
There will be more to post soon on the bay of Navarniou – site of yet another historic sea battle – where we are anchored now.