This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Enjoying a summer cruise, the sun, bathing in a roadstead, having prosecco in the cockpit at sunset is, no doubt, gratifying. However, in my opinion, nothing surpasses the beauty of sailing in winter. Wintry sailing charm is difficult to describe and, above all, not replicable.

The silence, the sea, the scent of the air in the biting cold, the sharp colours of the sky and the sea on a Tramontane day in Liguria are something which, once experienced, you can hardly give up.

Hence, a totally positive scenario. But, unfortunately, not so obvious considering how many boats stay moored for months. Who is not used to sailing in winter does not know what he is missing. No bathing in sheltered bays or dinners in the cockpit, of course. However, wintry sailing makes you experience different yet really fantastic emotions!

From October to May a dead calm day is quite rare and sailing in a light breeze is the rule, to please the most enthusiastic sailors. Another aspect that should not be overlooked is that at this time of the year the sea is not crowded with boats and even to chance upon another vessel is not guaranteed! We that mainly sail in the Mediterranean are used to facing usually calm weather conditions. However, also in the Italian seas the wind speed may reach and even exceed force 8. In other words, if in summer a strong wind may be expected, in winter this is a true possibility.

In areas known to be windy such as Capo Corso, the average wind force in August is approximately 10 knots, i.e. good conditions for an enjoyable and calm sailing. In winter, in the same area, the average wind force is approximately 18-20 knots and sailing, as you may guess, becomes more challenging although also much more interesting. The difference in wind conditions make clear how off-season sailing experiences are extremely tempting.

Temperatures are falling, of course, but between October and mid November, on a lovely Autumn sunny day, you can still enjoy a wonderful sailing. However, a negative note as for Mediterranean weather is the high rainfall between October and March. So, it is no surprise that “weekend” sailors by far prefer sailing in the drier months of June, July and August.

To sum up: easy reservation in harbours, affordable fees, plenty of anchorages available and favourable weather conditions are very good reasons for planning more winter cruises. Sure, everything is a little more demanding, and yet manageable with some precautions and the proper equipment. Sailing in winter is a unique experience to discover places and landscapes at their best!

So… pros only? Maybe yes, apart from the fact that on a boat in winter it can be very cold. This is not an insuperable obstacle, especially thanks to the materials available nowadays. Let’s begin by choosing appropriate clothes.

Don’t feel cold. It sounds like a commonplace and it is not even easy as, when on a boat, you have to prevent from feeling extreme cold. This because, on a boat it is very difficult to recover body heat, especially when sailing. By the way, never forget that feeling cold can contribute to sea sickness.

As for proper clothing, there is a wide variety of high quality technical clothes available on the market. Remember, however, that, apart from a waterproof jacket, you could even wear the warm clothing you normally wear at home (even if a little felted).

Sleeping warm. The best solution is to sleep in a good sleeping bag wearing a T-shirt or, if you feel the cold more, a clean and comfortable tracksuit. Personally, when on a cruise (a race has completely different dynamics), I like having my berth made up with linen and duvet. This is very comfortable but I’m also aware that bringing from home bedlinen and everything may be awkward and cumbersome.

The best way to fight the cold below deck is a diesel-powered air heating system. It heats the boat uniformly, can be used even during navigation, usually it does not require the installation of extra battery packs and low consumption is guaranteed. To identify the proper position of air ducts and air vents will require some time and labour. The same for the installation of the heater and relative tank. Electrical heaters can be used in the harbour, provided that the system is plugged to a charging column. This won’t provide uniform heating but, if all the doors are left open, warm will spread throughout the boat.

A cunning sailor once told me the “trick of the brick”. He put a construction brick (a solid brick, I would add) on the fire of his gas stove for about ten minutes and then turned it off. This way the brick released heat for some hours. Today, of course the problem may be solved in a more modern way, but this method works – as this friend of mine assures.

In winter another enemy to fight against is humidity and especially condensation produced by the conflict between the warmth inside the boat and the cold outside of it. No doubt a good heating system helps to solve this problem, but in case the boat is not provided with such a system, some precautions must be taken.

The first thing to do is to check the presence of water infiltrations, which would inevitably cause a considerably amount of condensation.

Then, don’t forget to air the boat whenever possible, especially in the central hours of the day, when the weather tends to be mild and you enjoy a pleasant warmth on the boat.

Another important precaution is not to leave, especially at night, towels, waterproof jackets or wet clothes in the boat. If these clothes have not been dried in the sun and are still wet, it is better to put them somewhere (e.g. in the jacket compartment) and hang them in the sun again on the following day.

After talking about cold, humidity and clothing on a boat in winter, let’s focus now on an absolutely vital aspect: boat setting up for winter navigation and sails in particular. In winter having a well set-up boat, ready to face the weather conditions of the period is very important.

Many boats have been clearly designed to sail only in the peak months of July and August. They have sets of sails suitable for a range of 0 to 10 knots but totally unsuitable for winter navigation. Even in 20-25 knots of true wind the beat almost turns into a struggle for survival, with genoas smashed on the jib furler, turned into shapeless tissues, and mainsails made of extra light laminate with just one or two reef bands.

Your boat shall be properly set-up if you want to sail all year long without being forced to stay in the harbour at the first gust of wind! And always remember that strong winds can happen any time of the year and not only in winter.

In this connections here are some simple yet crucial considerations: in winter the boat shall be set-out and equipped so that sails can be taken in autonomously and safely from the cockpit. The mainsail shall be properly trimmed to let the boat sail – not just survive – in strong wind.

Generally speaking furling sails can hardly remain efficient. Therefore you should think about equipping your boat so that a sail rigged for strong winds can be hoisted on a stay, hanked and ready on the deck.

The mainsail shall be easily reefed to safely face strong winds. Modern boats are often beautiful floating house boats full of comforts but totally unfit for sailing. It is the deep knowledge of our boat that, once again, makes the difference.

Is all too complicated? Less than it seems. However, if you don’t feel like setting sail, you can stay in the harbour as if your boat were a beach house. Bring your duvet and winter clothes and once you have heated the boat to a comfortable temperature, enjoy the boat rocking, read a book, watch a movie or work in Smart Working.

Until here I have just given some practical tips, from now on it is everybody’s experience that counts, without forgetting what is essential: the SEA and its identity and essence to be discovered in situations out of the ordinary e.g. silence, calm and even cold.

As for me, I can’t describe why or tell you the particular reason, but the winter sea has a unique charm.

See for yourself.

Fair wind to everybody, see you at sea.

Renzo Crovo