We’ve had a few flag changes in the last two weeks.
We sail under the British Red Ensign that hangs off the davits at the back of the boat – well gets tangled up between the flag pole and one stainless steel bar of the new davit system. When we had the stainless steel support installed for the dinghy and the solar panel arch, we didn’t take into consideration that the flag that shows everyone which country our boat is registered in would be so restricted in its ability to fly in the wind. It’s on the list to change the flag pole position, but we have a very long list (already) of things that we want to do to A B Sea since we’ve been on our passage from Spain to Greece, so I’m not entirely sure when we’ll get round to that particular job.
But back to our flags. While your country’s flag flies proudly (or tangled) at the back of your yacht, you also have to fly the flag of the country in whose waters you’re sailing. This particular flag has to fly on the starboard side of the mast. Our mast has two thin lines hoisted on either side and while the starboard side is for the host country, the port side can support flags representing the crew’s nationalities. We are all travelling on British passports, so there are no extra flags flying on the port side.
However, on our 14 day journey to our destination in Kefalonia we hoisted several country’s flags.
Leaving home port on the Bandera de España
We left A B Sea’s home marina at Mar Menor in Murcia, so the Spanish standard was our first flag. After we hopped over to Mallorca (which took 18 hours on an overnight passage), then to Menorca (which took us 10 hours overnight), we made our way to Sardinia which is an Italian island just south of Corsica, which is French territory.
A brief moment for the French Tricolore
It took us 42 hours after leaving Menorca to arrive at Porto Rotundo in Sardinia and for that trip we flew three flags. The first was Spanish, the second as we approached Corsica where we intended to anchor, was the French standard. But as we arrived after sunset in the Straits of Bonifacio, we realised that it would be too dark to attempt entering the narrow anchorage there, so made a decision to pass through this renowned waterway and instead, anchor in a bay in Sardinia that was a lot easier to navigate than our original choice.
Night sailing through the renowned Straits of Bonifacio
The Straits of Bonifacio (or Bouches de Bonifacio if you read the French chart) are challenging and known by sailors to be notorious for several navigational difficulties including currents, bad weather, reefs and tiny islands. But as we wanted to get from the Sea of Sardinia in the west to the Tyrrhenian Sea in the east in order to get to the anchorage, we had to go through these straits. We also had to navigate the relatively narrow Traffic Separation Scheme which organises vessels along a one-mile wide stretch in the narrowest part of the Straits.
I’m pretty sure making this crossing during daylight would be daunting enough; we had to do it in the dark with only the light of a crescent moon. We had to trust our navigation instruments, be on the lookout for approaching vessels and pick out various navigation lights from a bewildering array of flashing and stationery navigation lights and background land lights.
To say we were all nervous would be an understatement. But we gritted our teeth, primed our eyesight, listened very carefully to Mike’s instructions and kept a heightened lookout while Baz carefully steered A B Sea through. The journey across this relatively short distance took around two and a half hours. Making our way into the Porto Rotundo after that seemed relatively simple, although sailing anywhere at night time does keep you on high alert.
Italy's il Tricolore flies proud
Once we’d decided to travel to Sardinia, we had to change our French flag for the Italian one. This standard stayed flying while we sailed (well generally motored due to the wind speed and direction) to Porto di Ponza where we stayed overnight, then on to Lipari (which was a 23 hour passage that took us past Stromboli, the smoking Gran Cratere of Vulcano island and Mt Etna in the distance).
After staying overnight at Lipari which is the largest of the islands off the north coast of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea, we headed for the Messina Straits. These straits took us to the west coast of Italy and we travelled north up to the heel of Italy, to the Capo Santa Maria di Leuca where we intended to stay overnight before crossing the Ionian Sea to Corfu. As we headed north to Leuca however, we made the decision to change course and headed straight across the Ionian Sea to Corfu. Mike knew the anchorage at Gouvia, so even though we would arrive in darkness, we were confident that it would be relatively simple. And hey, it would be another opportunity to do some night sailing/navigating while we had Mike on board with us.
Greek blue-white flag takes over
Approaching Corfu, we took down the Italian flag and hoisted the Greek standard and this is the flag we are still flying as I type this blog in Argostoli on the Greek island of Kefalonia. I’ll let you know about our little diesel incident on approach to Gouvia, our experience in Corfu and our journey to Kefalonia in my next blog.
Oh yes, and we’ve had a slight change of plans for this winter, so remember to put us in your calendar to read next Friday’s blog!