The vast majority of my time travelling with the boat is day sails. Hopping from one anchorage to the next, one port to another, or from town to town. As I’ve progressed through the Mediterranean I’ve had to make a number of longer passages. It seems these are the times when anything that was waiting to break finally does.

This article chronicles the challenges I’ve faced on passages to date. What can go wrong will go wrong.

Ibiza to Mallorca

As passages go, Ibiza to Mallorca is a relatively short one. Roughly 12 hours, but it was only my second ever solo night passage. Oddly my first solo passage from the Spanish mainland to Ibiza had gone without a hitch. Unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky heading to Mallorca.

Everything was plain sailing (excuse the pun) until about 15nm from Santa Ponca. I was resting my head when the boat started veering to port and the cross track error alarm on my chartplotter decided to sing its heart out. The cause was a failed Global/Cetrek autopilot. At nearly half the age of the boat, it was sure to go at some point or another. I first thought it was the autopilot remote, but at the time it didn’t matter, I was hand steering a tedious three hours before landing in a comfortable anchorage.

Cetrek autopilot

Menorca to Sardinia

Fast forward a couple of months and I’d completely forgotten about my sail Mallorca. I was now in Menorca and headed to Sardinia, a good month or so later than planned. Checking the weather it looked like I was in for 20knts of wind on the beam. “Perfect” I though to myself, as Jade is known to fly along in those conditions.

I planned for just under two days to cover the 200 odd nautical miles. No sooner had I weighed anchor and all hell broke out. Driving rain, howling wind, and apocalyptic thunder.

My first multi-day solo crossing, and first time sailing in a thunderstorm too. What could possibly go wrong? Once at sea it soon became obvious that the winds were gusting well above the forecast. I battled with the genoa, and eventually managed to get it reefed, sailing along at around 6 knts.

It wasn’t just the gusts that the weather report had gotten wrong though. It was also the swell and wave direction. Instead of being just aft of the beam as I was expecting, the waves for forward of the beam, making for an uncomfortable journey.

The wind gusted up to 30 knts and despite the waves averaging just 2m, they still managed to break over the side the boat from time to time, resulting a thoroughly wet cockpit.

None of that is why I’m including this trip though. Roughly 100 miles in, the autopilot (a new one), started demandding my attention. BEEP BEEP BEEP! The drive had stopped. On inspection, I found that I was low on hydraulic fluid, so I topped it up. A couple of hours later, the same thing happened again. I topped it up, and begin to search for a leak.

Sure enough the the starboard side steering ram had sprung a leak. Jade has two rudders linked together with a fluid tie bar. There is no mechanical attachment between the rudders. There is however, a bypass valve that allows the starboard side rudder/steering ram to be isolated. So after isolating the rudder I refilled with my last remaining drops of fluid.

This worked well for about four hours, when two things became apparent. Firstly, the bypass valve did isolate the rudder, but still allowed fluid to pass through it and thus leak. Secondly, with strong winds and short frequency waves, the autopilot, now down to operating a single rudder, couldn’t cope with the pressure on the sails.

Out of hydraulic fluid I was down to using whatever I had at hand. Gear oil, 15/40 engine oil, and two-stoke motor oil. Two stroke being the lightest went in first. By the end of the trip I had a combination of all three in the system.

As for the pressure on the sails, the simple solution was take them down and motor. yes, all 20 plus hours left on the trip. To add insult to injury, diesel in Carloforte is a minimum of €1.79 per litre.

By the time I got to Carlofote I had no steering at all and no more oil of any kind either. To make matters worse, the free town quay I planned to use was busy, and anchoring wasn’t permitted in the harbour. Circumstances as they were I was forced take refuge in Marine Sifredi. It was my first time in a marina since I’d left Cartagena, for that I was a little disappointed, but also relieved that I’d have a nice stable mooring to wait out the weather and set about repairs.

If you’re wondering how I docked successfully without any rudder control in now 25 knt winds. The answers is, I didn’t. Instead with full fenders out I opted for a controlled crash into dock at a sedate half a knot speed. Still, at least I arrived.

Sardinia – Sicily

200nm and another two day trip. Initially there was little wind, which was fine, until three hours after leaving port the engine cut out.

I was roughly a mile from land in between two islands, but without wind or an engine the boat haplessly drifting along at two thirds of a knot. Not long then before I became this guy:

Inspection hatches open and tools at the ready I set to work.

The problem turned out to be air in the fuel system. Yanmar manual out, I was able to bleed the fuel system and get back underway. The wind picked up shortly after and I was able to sail under whites for a portion of the trip.


Halfway to Sicily I found this little guy hitching a ride up at the bow.

There was no land in sight so I have no idea how long he’d flew to get here. I still had the best part of 100nm to go, there was no way he was going to be able to fly that far over sea, so I put out some fresh water and some breadcrumbs. I was rewarded, as I later found out, by him climbing onto the open hatch in the main cabin, shitting all over my bed and discarding a bunch of feathers.

Next time one lands on the boat it will be used as bait for fishing.