Chapter 2: Anchoring, Harbors and Navigational Aids

One of the first big changes on arrival in Europe is that you must forget the mnemonic "Red Right Return". Europe uses the IALA Maritime Buoyage system A, which unlike the system in the Americas has red for the port hand on entering a harbor or other waterway from seaward. It also uses the Cardinal marks in yellow and black to indicate individual dangers. Consult Reedís Nautical Almanac (or Macmillan's or any local pilot book) for the details of the buoyage system. If you are on a circumnavigation it pays to learn this buoyage system well, as it is applied in most of the world.

The next big difference is the type of harbor you will be going into. Many of the charming little ports that are so typical for the Mediterranean, have no special facilities for yachts. Here you will tie up with the local fishing vessels at the old stone piers that maybe already existed in Roman times and that have been maintained and succeeding generations. In order to ensure that a maximum of boats find a place at the pier, it is usual to drop an anchor and go stern to the pier, closing up to the next boat to leave room for the next to arrive. Of course it is possible to go bows-to, and in some little harbors it may be necessary if the pier slopes underwater, but as the main anchor gear with the anchor winch is usually forward, it has become customary to reverse in. In order to get on and off the boat with ease, a gangway is a useful piece of equipment.

These little harbors with their street cafés around them are often the center of the town. Many an hour can be spent over a coffee or a glass of red wine watching the coming and going in the port and in the town. This is the ambience that makes the typical Mediterranean flair, and as a visitor you are immediately involved in the happenings around you.

There are also plenty of marinas in the Med., that are similar to those in the USA. Some have the finger pier system. Some have posts on the two corners of the slip away from the pier. More common however are mooring chains that are secured between the piers and parallel to them and have branch chain moorings to each boat. These mooring chains are connected to the pier by a rope, so that it can be picked up with a boat hook and taken forward as soon as you have reversed into the space. The accompanying diagram should elucidate the explanation. It is important to work fast if there is wind blowing you onto the pier, as there is a danger of picking up the line to the mooring chain with the propeller if you try to hold the boat on position with the engine. The easiest way to avoid this problem is to pick up the mooring rope and pass it to a member of the crew who uses it as a temporary aft line, thereby holding it out of the water, while you go forward quickly, picking up the rope hand over hand and then hauling the heavy mooring line attached to the chain and belaying it forward. As these mooring lines lay on the seabed when they are not in use, they become home to thousands of mussel seedlings and other growth within a relatively short time. It is therefore important to wear gloves when picking up the mooring line, so that you can grasp it, no matter whether it is brand new or covered in marine flora and fauna! It goes without saying, that if you have a choice you pick up the mooring line to windward. Once the mooring line is belayed, there is time to bring out the aft lines. Here again, the gangway is useful.

Diagram of the mooring line principle

An empty harbor pier showing mooring lines. Never drop an anchor here unless you want to support the local divers!

Marinas are generally more reasonable than in the USA. They offer excellent protection behind massive breakwaters. There will not always be unlimited hot water however, as electricity and fuel are expensive in Europe and there may only be a large boiler for the water or, for instance in some of the remote Croatian islands, even only solar collectors. If the first users stand for ages under the hot shower, then there is none left for the next to come until it has had time to reheat. Some marinas overcome this problem by installing coin-operated water heaters. In some areas even the cold water should not be squandered as it is precious. This applies particularly to the Croatian and Aegean islands in the summer.

Some coastlines are full of anchoring bays, others only have harbors for protection. In the bays it is usual to anchor, as mooring buoys are not so common. As there is virtually no tidal range in the Med., and therefore no tidal currents to consider at the anchorage, a single anchor is usually adequate. To prevent blocking a small popular anchorage with only a few swinging boats however, in fair weather a scope of 3 times the water depth and 5 times in windy weather should not be exceeded. These values apply of course to anchor chain not rode. Most European yachts are equipped with chain, or at least a substantial length of chain and rode. By a substantial length I mean at least 10 meters or the boatís length. The anchor should be set well by reversing hard as there is nothing more embarrassing than waking your neighbor in the middle of the night by dragging your anchor over his! To set the anchor, it may be advisable to let out more chain, to guarantee that the shaft of the anchor is not lifted from the seabed. The excess can be taken up when the anchor is well in.

In some areas of the Med. topless bathing on the beaches is very common and in Croatia there are some nudist campsites. Especially among sailors, no-one would think twice about taking a shower on deck at the anchorage (except in Moslem countries), and thereís no need to creep bashfully behind a shower curtain. Europeans have a more pragmatic attitude in this respect.