Chapter 1: Route Planning

So the crossing is behind you, where to now? Route planning is part of the big thrills of travelling, the anticipation being half the fun already. Apart from prosaic decisions, such as leaving the EU every 6 months for tax reasons, or visiting European relatives, finding a good place to spend the winter or watching the weather, the reasons for deciding where to go will depend largely on interests. Just as many Caribbean visitors follow the tracks of Columbus, it is nice to have a thread linking the harbors on your visit. There is no discoverer to follow through the Mediterranean though, it was all well known even in Stone Age days, when the Stone Age culture spread via Malta, Sardinia and the Balearics to France and the British Isles. If you choose to follow the wanderings of Homerís Odysseus, however, be prepared to spend many years before reaching Ithaca! In the eastern Med. you will often cross St. Paulís route - but do not follow it too closely as he was shipwrecked on Malta!

Whatever the initial incentive, one of the nice things about travelling to new places is the way things come to life that previously were only hearsay. Itís one thing to have seen a picture of a Flamenco dancer and quite another to be present at a performance and hear the music and watch the stamping feet. While travelling past Cape Trafalgar, the Battle of Trafalgar immediately springs to mind. Subsequently you can see the little harbor in Gibraltar where the "Victory" lay when she sailed in after the battle with the wounded and with Nelsonís corpse (that was preserved in a cask of rum for the trip to England). Some may already be interested in history, but some may discover that it is actually interesting and not just a dry school subject. History is not just a thing of the past. Some reactions in present day politics can only be understood in the light of events that took place many years, even centuries, previously. A large percentage of the citizens of North America descend from Europeans and certainly the impact made by the Europeans on the North American way of life today has been larger than by any other ethnic group. The Mediterranean is, so to speak, the cradle of the culture of the entire Western hemisphere.

However, history is only one aspect of many. Each country is interesting for its present day culture and economics, its landscape and its flora and fauna. The country chapters will try to reflect every aspect of interest for the visitor, from festivities to food and from excursions to everyday life.

Plan of the Med., showing approximate distances

1. Gibraltar to Majorca 440 6. Elba to Cagliari 280 11. St. of Messina to Malta 160 16 Heraklion to Cyprus 400
2. Gibraltar to Cagliari 680 7. Elba to St. of Messina 360 12. St. of Messina to Corfu 280 17. Heraklion to Suez 450
3. Majorca to the Rhone 230 8. Cagliari to St. of Messina 320 13. Corfu to Venice 400
4. Majorca to Cagliari 280 9. Cagliari to Tunis 150 14. Corfu to Heraklion 400
5. The Rhone to Elba 260 10. Tunis to Malta 230 15. Malta to Heraklion 520

The route through the Mediterranean will also depend on your starting point. Most cruisers will come through the Strait of Gibraltar and for this reason the country chapters are organized from West to East. If you are leaving the Med. again by the same way, then you must decide on your priorities early on and consider how far you can go in the time available - or extend the time to cover all your wishes! The round trip has the advantage that you can see different places on the way back. If you visit Corsica and Sardinia and northern Sicily on the way east, then you can come back via eastern Sicily, Malta and Tunisia. Or the Ionian islands, the Corinth Canal and the smaller islands of the Aegean on the way east and Crete and the Peleppones on the way back. If you include the Adriatic in the plan, then you will probably travel the eastern (Croatian) shore in both directions, but there is such an abundance of islands, bays and harbors that no repetition is necessary.

An alternative starting point is available to those who first visit the British Isles and then go south via the French canals, emerging in the Rhône delta. The French canals are a delightful trip but should not be underestimated. The draught of your boat should not exceed 1.80m and even then the keel sole will touch soft mud regularly. The masts have to be unstepped as there are countless bridges and this can be done in Le Havre or Honfleur at the entrance to the Seine (or wherever necessary if you enter the canal system in Belgium or Holland). The trip starting in the Seine takes you through the heart of Paris, through Champagne country and famous wine areas. There are several possible routes linking the rivers that flow into the English channel with the rivers that flow to the Mediterranean: you may go through a 5 km unlit tunnel, or in an aqueduct over a river. Whichever way you choose both the countryside and the local restaurants offer plenty of variety as you go along. The use of the canals was free of charge at the time of writing*, but except for the large automatic commercial locks, you are expected to operate one side of the lock yourself. At a total of approx. 180 locks this can be quite strenuous. France has had a series of very dry summers recently and the canals have had to be closed temporarily in the autumn because of the drought. In the winter they may close because of ice, and even if open think twice about exposing your hull to chunks of ice or putting up with the condensation in the interior that is inevitable in the cold fresh water of the canals in winter. The best time for the trip is the Spring and Summer.

The final starting point (unless you buy your boat in the Med.!) is the Suez canal. This is sure to be a one-way trip as part of a circumnavigation. As most cruisers find that they spend longer than initially planned at all sorts of places along the way, it is often the Med. that has to be shortened to make up for time elsewhere. And yet this is one of the most versatile areas, the largest accumulation of different ways of life in a relatively small area and deserves more attention.

As a very approximate absolute minimum time plan, I would suggest spending the first summer in the Western Med., wintering over in Tunisia, Malta or South Italy. The second summer would take you through S. Italy and Greece to Turkey for a second winter in Turkey or Cyprus. The third summer could see a trip into the Adriatic followed by a run for Gibraltar, seeing new places on the way but arriving in Madeira by late September in time to prepare for the Atlantic crossing back. Every additional year could be spent seeing the countries in a more leisurely fashion, or adding the Black Sea to the itinerary - an interesting area now waiting to be explored.

*current fees for the French canals follow.