The dawn arrived on time to illuminate the Peloponnese coast. A sustained Meltemi circled Cape Matapan, turned east and then southeast, allowing for a comfortable and fast reach. We sailed from the Turkish coast, headed to Tuscany, with Mistero Blu, a Hallberg Rassy 46, a historic icon of the Swedish shipyard’s ocean navigation.
The wind had never abandoned us, and the weather forecast gave meltemi 9 beaufort for that morning, so we arrived at the Peloponnese early, to take advantage of the currents that would be in favor. In the last 48 hours we had covered 338 miles, and planned to continue on to Sicily, trying to keep that favorable pressure on the sails as much as possible. The Greek bulletin foretold some storm north of the Peloponnese.
In reality I did not give weight to the words because he was equipped with two weather gribs and a comforting interview with the meteorologist of the service to which I am a subscriber with whom we compare ourselves to better plan the longer crossings. The jump to the west to reach Sicily can sometimes reserve bad sea due to the long fetch which the Ionian is subjected to, with prevailing winds from the north or south. In the forecasts of the following two days, a stable high pressure in the central Tyrrhenian Sea allowed the Meltemi to be established in the western Cyclades, while a decidedly strong bora had been blowing in the Adriatic for a few hours. For us en route from Pylos to Messina, with NW bow, a flow from the south east was expected for about 80 miles, then bending and yielding to the mistral;the following day it would rotate at WSW and for the whole crossing we would encounter very formed sea, in progressive, albeit slow decline.
The decision was unanimous.
We were waiting for about ten hours on the reach, then we would go upwind towards Malta, then changing tack, we would have recovered latitude for Catania or Messina. This is the project in the morning.
Observation of the sky did not suggest anything worrying; although we would have expected a greater clarity, given the strong wind to starboard. Some thickening was outlining far on the horizon, to the northwest, which the radar confirmed to be within 30 miles. If the wind and the sea did not worry us, otherwise lightning did, which has always been an unknown factor which can reserve unpleasant surprises due to irreversible damage to the on-board systems.
Time passed quickly, with a pleasant navigation, supported by 25 real knots from the southeast, but the sky, although always partially clear, in the distance became darker and darker. Another lump materialized on the prow, towards the north-west, leaving an ever smaller space to pass without incurring possible strong phenomena that accompany the sudden thickening. Low pressures, even as localized phenomena, present violent turbulence with anticyclonic air circulation, so they should be left on the left, to have at least favorable winds in the garden and not on the bow. Unfortunately, in this case we had rapidly changing storms, both on the left and on the starboard, with the impossibility of further modifying the route. To the east the coast, with increasingly violent electrical phenomena,to the west other groups followed each other, gradually darkening the sunset, and to the north a worrying leaden sky.
We proceeded with the reduction of the sail by lowering the genoa and the mainsail, leaving a meter of fabric, to simulate a main sail. We started the engine and prepared for the fight; rely on the powerful propulsion of the short wheelbase Gori propeller, powered by the 110 horsepower of our Yanmar. The crew was getting ready with oil jackets and life jackets, with the absolute prohibition to leave the safe central cockpit, for those who would have liked to witness live the spectacle that nature was reserving for us. Personally I prefer to manage the boat in total tranquility from the correspondence, leaving the tools to guide me, avoiding unnecessary physical stress, moreover with less decision-making efficiency given the darkness and very rough sea conditions.Instrumental navigation, on the other hand, confers safety and is also fascinating once the rules are learned. Borrowed from air navigation, always totally instrumental, today it is brought back to pleasure boats, but in reality still little known.
But in the meantime in that vigorous storm the sea responded to the increasingly violent and inconstant wind in the direction due to the succession of very intense lumps, which from very rough became increasingly agitated, with breaking waves exceeding 3 meters, so much so that on one occasion a powerful breakthrough raised the stern as if it were a surfboard to then see the bow and the whole deckhouse overtaken by another breakwater that unloaded on the breakwater windshield, passing it. The scene seen illuminated by constant lightning (one every 2/3 seconds) was from a horror film. Walls of water in a completely white sea of foam, with winds up to 50 knots and torrential rain.
In the cockpit a strange atmosphere reigned, without agitation, but with controversial “human” expressions; Dario, taken by the beauty of raging nature, actually cursed only with the Nikon that disappointed in the shooting, Marco who showed that he did not really appreciate the salad at lunch, Giuseppe who looking at me found himself sharing a moment with apparent serenity, in spite of himself. who had all the credentials to be really serious and Corrado who, terrified by lightning, realized that perhaps boats are very rarely hit.
But from the correspondence from the radar screen the show was certainly less disturbing and with the commands reported it was easy to steer the boat guided by the instruments .; the impression was, however, that of being in the washing machine during the spin cycle.
On one occasion, in a single blow, like a crash, a powerful wave crashed on the starboard side, bending us in an unusual way for a boat that usually has 15% of heel, so much so as to overturn all the books in the library.
They are strange moments, where everything happens in a moment, and you can only understand things done. Calm is always the best virtue, and with great dignity she shook off the tons of water and resumed her journey. The use of radar in the midst of rapidly changing low pressures is imperative. The lumps are read as obstacles and the windows between them, where the water density is reduced to zero or almost, allow you to maintain the most favorable route, to get out of the “dense” area. In this case, the depression measured 9 miles in a north-south direction and 14 in an east-west direction on the radar and left a weak window between two cells, in the shape of an “s”, which made it possible to plan the escape and gain the exit towards less turbulent areas. To cover the entire route we took 5 hours, at a speed of 4.5 / 5 knots,with violent winds never below 35/40 knots and peaks up to 50.
The crew responded in a mature and conscious way, preferring to rest after the emotion, each looking for a suitable accommodation, as do socks in the washing machine; the fact that in such a violent situation they asked me to rest gave me further great tranquility, together with a sign of great confidence in the boat and in the management of the uncommon situation. Even if time seemed to stand still, and the minutes were much longer than the usual 60 seconds, the impression from the boat’s movements was of a reduction in the wave motion, but the knots marked were fixed at 35 even if a glance at the sky confirmed that it was progressively changing the condition of brightness, revealing a veil of the particularly bright silver moonlight. At 4 in the morning the miracle,the star appeared at the stern, finally breaking through the thick cloudy layer that was progressively moving south, finally allowing a visual perception of the sea, with the lightning now far away. When the wind quickly ceases in intensity, the sea responds by offering a less angry breath, but made up of long and uncomfortable waves, a sign of a gradual return to calm. During the last hours before dawn the navigation became calm bringing everyone back to the cockpit to study the landing in Zakynthos, to reach at the very first light the mooring in the lake waters of the port of Zakynthos to earn the coveted rest in the berth, while the first rays of the sun foretold that it would be a new hot day in late summer. Thanks to the precious travel companions, Corrado,my second and Marco, Giuseppe and Dario at the first high ground experiences of a certain level.
For hours we exchanged impressions on the hard experience that taught us above all that meteorology is a science that is only apparently exact, and that it must always be interpreted not as an absolute value of such a weather element, but relative to a much broader plan, which must consider the local orography very precisely, as well as the extension of the phenomena even over a long distance.
In this particular case, in fact, the presence of a strong bura in the Adriatic, which later became mestral in the channel of Otranto, together with the Meltemi in the western part of the Aegean, had strongly contributed to “press” against each other, large wetlands, unleashing the phenomena that we have experienced and described, but this only after events have taken place. The other lesson that the sea teaches is rhetoric, but always valid, prepare in time, put the boat in the best conditions to resist, she takes care of the rest to bring us home, and let’s not forget that you don’t need to be heroes, a boat serious knows how. Only 24 hours later we would have returned to the sea with a mistral first generous and then falling, giving us many miles of splendid sailing. When is the next adventure?