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Languedoc sailing guide : introduction

Sailing Guide




Ocean sailing

The Languedoc coast forms part of the Western Mediterranean stretching from the Rhone to the Spanish border. Cruising grounds extend to Provence, Cote d'Azur, Spain, the Balearics, Corsica and Sardinia. The more adventurous can cruise the relatively unspoilt North African coast.

The coastline from the Rhone to the Pyrenees is mainly flat with sand dunes. The mountains only reach the sea to form cliffs in Sete and Agde.

Mediterranean sea

Many believe the Mediterranean is a placid, small, blue lake in Europe.

In fact it is bounded by Europe, Asia and Africa; and covers an area of around 2.5m square kilometres. It has a maximum depth of 5000 metres and can be subject to violent storms.


There is a general system of winds that blow from the coast towards the centre of the sea. These winds have various names, depending on location : Scirroco, Ghibli, Khamsin, Meltemi, Etesian, Bora, and Mistral all blow from the land towards the sea.

There are other wind patterns in various parts of the Mediterranean.

The main winds in the Languedoc region are the Mistral and the Tramontane. Both blow from a north to north westerly direction towards the coast. The Mistral is a dry wind, strongest in the Rhone valley, bringing blue skies. It can arrive very rapidly, achieving force 7 - 8 within 1 hour. It normally lasts for a few days.

The Marin, a strong southerly wind, bringing rain and clouds also lasts for a few days.

The considerable temperature differential between land and sea produces very pronounced sea breezes. Blowing offshore at night and onshore by day, they can be strong near the coast.

The interaction of the various winds can make sailing frustrating. It is not uncommon to have a northerly wind in the morning, variable winds at mid day followed by a strong southerly in the afternoon.


The channel connecting the Mediterranean to the Atlantic is only 15kms wide. Tidal effects are limited. Wind and air pressure have more impact on sea level than tide. Tide table example.


The high temperatures cause the sea surface to evaporate more quickly than inflowing rivers can provide replenishment. Thus there is a continuous surface current from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean. This current flows along the north African coast and splits into two near Sicily. The northern branch is funnelled along the French coast and results in a north-east to south-west current in the Gulf of Lion. It flows at between 1 and 2 knots.









Photos : Satellite images on this page courtesy of NASA


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