Mediterranean sailing: Weather tips from Gibraltar to Turkey

Weather guru Chris Tibbs takes a look at the unique conditions and challenges for those wishing to experience Mediterranean sailing

A Solaris 50 in the Mediterranean

Distances in the Mediterranean can be deceptive, with the distance from Gibraltar to Turkey being close to double that of Ushant to Gibraltar, yet we usually spend more time worrying about crossing Biscay than any of the passages in the Mediterranean.

Passages to and from the eastern Mediterranean are significant undertakings which are usually made as extended cruises taking in the Mediterranean islands.

This may change for British and other non-EU sailors, who have outstayed their welcome in the Schengen zone and have limited time to return. This turns these long passages into more of a delivery, giving long hops rather than overnighters.

Weather-wise the Mediterranean is an interesting area being a large body of water of moderate temperature, surrounded by mountains and, in the south, desert. This creates large temperature contrasts between the water and land which generates some localised winds and conditions.

A map of the Mediterranean is dotted with locally-named winds which are well recognised meteorologically. Most of us are familiar with the Mistral, the Meltemi, the Bora, and the Levanter and Vendaval through the straits of Gibraltar.

These Mediterranean winds are significant, and generated by a mixture of heat, mountains, and the synoptic situation. Sailing in the Mediterranean is sometimes described as being a mixture of calms and gales; though this is a bit too extreme as we can also enjoy fantastic sailing driven by light to moderate sea breezes.

It would take a large book to cover Mediterranean weather patterns and local winds; so we will cover some of the principles to watch for on passage from the east to Gibraltar.

Meltemi northerlies

The western part of the Mediterranean tends to be influenced by what is happening in the Atlantic and where the Azores high is, while the further east we travel the greater the influence of the land.

To the north, central European weather influences the winds – particularly the Mistral and Bora (while we think of them as local winds the Mistral can extend to Africa).

When setting the Marseille to Carthage record on the maxi cat Playstation, we carried the Mistral all the way – lunch in France and a late breakfast in Tunis!

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