Thousands of yachtsmen head to marinas in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Italy and Turkey every year. Some, to enjoy a peaceful sailing holiday, others, to experience the power of the sea and a good dose of adrenaline. The great advantage of the Mediterranean is that there are several predictable winds that blow regularly. By knowing them, you can predict the weather quite well and adjust your sailing plan accordingly. So, what can you prepare for in the Mediterranean?
Overview of winds blowing in the Mediterranean
Marin — warm wind from the southeast
The Marin, along with the Jugo and the Sirocco, is a typical Mediterranean wind, blowing from the southeast. The Marin specifically, is a warm wind that tends to turn southwards. It blows in from the sea, so high humidity and haze are common, which can impair visibility. It then causes intense precipitation and fog as it moves towards land. Since it blows from the sea, it is stronger in open water and less intense near the shore.
The nature of the Marin is also largely determined by the time of year, as it blows all year round. From late spring to early autumn it tends to be moderate to weak with no significant gusts or changes. Between October and April it can be encountered very often, is strong and can bring large gusts and high, breaking waves crashing violently on land in rugged terrain.
Another factor that will help you spot the Marin, even without weather apps, is your location in the Mediterranean. It is influenced by the low pressure in the west and by the high pressure towards the Alps and central Europe. Because of this, it is most often found on the coast of southern France and the Adriatic. You can feel the arrival of the Marin as the temperature rises, pressure drops and the humidity of the air increases, causing it to smell strongly of salt. Similarly to the dry northerly wind known as the Tramontane, it influences the weather in coastal areas.
YACHTING TIP.COM: For tips on sailing when it's blowing offshore, where to anchor in such conditions and other specifics of this southeasterly wind, read the article The Marin: a gentle wind that can hinder your sailing plans.
Sirocco — the air link between Africa and Europe
Since the Sirocco blows all over the Mediterranean, this relatively strong type of wind from the south has acquired a variety of local names. The Croatians use the term Jugo, the Slovenes use Široko, the Italians use Scirocco and there are other local names such as chili, Khamsin or Simoon. As with the Marin, the strength of the Sirocco depends on the season. During the summer you can expect a pleasant sail with light winds, but it can also be a real handful to deal with for captains and crew.
If you want to identify the approaching Sirocco even without the us of a weather forecast, all you need is to have basic knowledge of meteorology, whilst regularly checking air pressure, humidity and cloud cover. Sirocco forms over the Sahara, where it is embodied by dry air, often with particles of dust. It then moves across the Mediterranean to Europe, absorbing moisture as it goes. As it progresses, rain clouds can form and cause a drop in pressure.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Almost every time we lift our eyes to the sky, we see some clouds. They have fascinated mankind since the dawn of time. It has been a source of inspiration for artists and an opportunity for others to gauge the weather. You don't have to be a professional to know what a cloudy sky signifies! For a yachtsman, this knowledge is almost essential. Learn how to read the clouds to see what the weather will be like.
This is also what it can look like on board when you stumble upon the Sirocco.
Its journey from the Sahara is very long, so it can be predicted well in advance and save you the trouble of sailing through it. While it approaches, you can look forward to some pleasant sailing, but once it starts to blow, you should look for a marina or safe anchorage. This gives sailors plenty of time to make decisions and preparations. Unlike, for example, the Bora, which usually comes without warning.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Want to learn more about how the Sirocco forms, how to sail in it and what ports to hide from it in? Read our in-depth article, The Sirocco: connecting the desert and the sea.
Mistral — an adrenaline ride for experienced sailors
Mistral is a strong cold wind from the northwest, suitable for experienced sailors, though beginners should wait it out. It is most common in winter and early spring. The Mistral originates in the Bay of Biscay on the west coast of France, in an area of higher pressure, and along the Italian coast, in an area of lower pressure. The moment these two air currents come together, they create very strong winds. The good news is that during the summer the Mistral is fresh and pleasant. And it is only in winter, from November to April, that the Mistral becomes stronger.
Especially in winter, when the air current is cold, it becomes heavy and falls down from above. More-so when the cold and heavy air from the mountain ranges adds to its weight. The speed of the Mistral is increased by the valleys and passes through which the wind travels as they act like a nozzle. It is not unusual for the Mistral to easily reach speeds of 65 km/h (8 degrees Beaufort) to 180 km/h (12 degrees Beaufort) in some areas. This is what makes it so dangerous. Not only does it ravage plants and trees on land, at sea it plays with ships like little toys.
The Mangiabarche lighthouse on the west coast of Sardinia, battered by waves and winds of the masters.
If you are an inexperienced sailor or sailing with an inexperienced crew, it is wiser to cancel your trip and wait for the wind to let up. Even well-versed sailors can struggle with the Mistral or suffer from seasickness, as this wind produces short-lived but tall waves (easily around 5 to 7 metres). Sailing and motoring thus requires some skill and wisdom. In addition, it is difficult to predict the Mistral far in advance. A sure clue is the lenticular clouds, (they look like a lens or flying saucer) if they appear at sunset. The darker they are, the stronger the wind will blow. In the event of a storm, it is worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast, where a warning will be posted before the Mistral arrives.
YACHTING.COM TIP: See how to sail in a Mistral, how to avoid it and how to survive it on the open sea in the article: The Mistral: a turbocharger for experienced sailors.
Bora — an unpredictable surprise without warning
Strong and cold winds with strong gusts, blowing from the north or northeast, are typical mainly of the eastern Adriatic coast. They usually pass through without warning or accompanying meteorological phenomena. Without any change in pressure, cloud formation or bad weather, strong gusts of wind simply start to fall from the sky, and this presents very dangerous conditions for sailors and material.
The Bora can hit hardest throughout autumn and winter, but you can also encounter it during the high season when the winds are not as intense. The Bora produces shallow, short waves that are not as likely to cause seasickness as some other winds, but make steering the boat very difficult. Also hold off on rounding islands by their windward side to avoid ending up aground or on rocks in gusts of wind.
A Bora or Bura is born on the tops of mountains where a large mass of cold air is created. It then begins to fall into the valleys and onto the coast, due to its weight. On its way "downhill", it gathers great speed and, when gravity forces it through the warmer and lighter air at lower altitudes, it dramatically churns up the sea. This causes the formation of water chips and foam that carry strong gusts not only across the sea but also across land. The speed of the boom can also be enhanced by atmospheric pressure, which pushes cold air from the land out to sea. The strongest Bora winds in Croatia are in the area of the Velebit Channel (Pag), the Gulf of Kvaner (Krk, Cres, Rab, Goli Otok) and the Makarska Riviera. The further south, the weaker the Bora is overall. See what it looks like on a boat when the Croatian Bora is blowing.
TIP YACHTING.COM: Read about how to sail and anchor in the Bora and how to avoid it, in the article: The Bora: the scourge of the Adriatic.
Tramontana — icy wind from the mountains
The Tramontana is a cold and strong wind flowing from the mountains that occurs throughout the Mediterranean. While other Mediterranean winds tend to be more specific to a particular region — like the Bora in Croatia, the Mistral in France or the Meltemi in Greece, the Tramontana blows everywhere and is often confused with other types of winds. It forms where high pressure meets low pressure and creates a strong jet of air. Its velocity can be affected, as in the case of the Bora, by the rugged and mountainous terrain, where it gains its mass. Its speed is also increased by valleys and passes that act as a jet.
The Tramontana is not as strong as the Bora or the Jugo, but just like these two winds, it is stronger in the open sea, where it can also raise waves of up to five metres. At the same time, it brings with it a supply of very cold air and the dropping temperatures require proper sailing clothes. Beginners should avoid sailing through the Tramontana, but experienced sea dogs will enjoy the brisk ride in a wind that is relatively steady and free of unexpected gusts.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Wondering how to forecast or anchor in the Tramontana? Check out the detailed article: The Tramontane: a northern wind ideal for experienced sailors and windsurfers.
Lebić/Libeccio — a good servant but a bad master
Lebić is a northwesterly to westerly wind that blows throughout the Mediterranean. Hence its wide variety of names, such as Libeccio, Levech, Llebeig, Lbić, Labech or Livas. It is most commonly found in northern Corsica, France and Italy, but the Adriatic is not exempt from it. It is not a very popular wind among yachtsmen, as it brings violent storms and chaotic, intersecting waves (cross sea). The good news is that it never lasts too long.
The Lebić is a humid and very hot wind that is hard to predict. It usually coincides with the departure of the southerly wind and precedes a cold front. You can tell the Lebić is coming by the wall of clouds in the west, which does not foretell anything pleasant. At that point, you can expect violent storms and high waves. Even so, the Lebić usually appears without warning and can be a danger, especially for smaller vessels. If you see a Lebić approaching or in the forecast, it pays to seek a safe haven immediately.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Libeccio is an unpredictable wind, but you can still prepare for it. If you've been wondering how, read the article: Lebić/Libeccio: a stubborn, unpredictable wind.
Meltemi — the rough and unpredictable northerner
Meltemi is primarily a Greek term for a dry, northerly wind that can trouble sailors, especially in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. It blows most often in the course of the summer months and is at its strongest between July and August. It normally blows at around 6 Beauforts, but it is not unusual for it to reach over 10 Beauforts. It is very easy to spot, the sand swirls unpleasantly on the beaches, it is almost impossible to swim in the sea and, above all, steering the boat in the waves can trouble even experienced sailors. So when approaching the Meltemi, it is almost necessary to seek shelter.
The pier of a port under the onslaught of the Meltemi on the west coast of the Greek island of Ios in the Cyclades archipelago.
Sailing through the Meltemi is not recommended, even for experienced sailors and when this kind of wind increases, sometimes boat traffic is even stopped. Then the skipper has no choice but to find a sheltered marina as quickly as possible or at least anchor on the leeward side of the island. The biggest problem is the high waves, which can reach up to four metres.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Wondering what tricky situations await sailors when the Meltemi starts blowing? Check out the detailed guide in the article: The Greek Meltemi: friend or foe?.