Caught in a gale!

Day 28

My last minute checks via the Internet (The Yacht Club boasted Wi-Fi) of the expected weather using several sites including

were very accurate for at least 48hrs.

The forecast for day 3 is included here:

Mediterranean weather forecast

Mediterranean weather forecast

Even the most pessimistic weather models did not prepare me for what I was to encounter on the 28th of November just 60NM SE of Crete.
The wind was consistently from the NW and considerably stronger than the anticipated 15 to 20kts but Eileen of Avoca was making steady progress on the auxiliary under control of the Autohelm. I had already dropped the mainsail and hoisted my new trysail so that the gaff would stop swinging from side to side.
I rested during the night and as I had only recently topped up the fuel tank assumed there was little to do until morning. I was right; all was well until daybreak (30NM from Crete) when the motor stopped. I sprang into action, heaving-to and adding another jerry can from my fuel reserve in decidedly heavier seas. The engine refused to start as it had probably sucked air into the fuel line!

Could I sail the rest of the way?

Could I bleed the fuel line in these conditions?

Trysail

Trysail

The first question was immediately answered after a quick 360-degree turn. With the wind from the NW I could choose to return to Egypt or head for either Libya or Cyprus. None of the options appealed given the worsening conditions, especially when I was so close to Crete. I would have to get the engine started regardless of the nausea overwhelming me while examining the fuel line. I gave the ignition another try and miraculously the Beta spluttered to life. Joy! Setting a course of 320° at 3kts, I put in two of the companionway boards and huddled in what shelter I could find to count down the remaining miles.
Progress was slow, and the waves grew gradually larger. I would conservatively estimate that the largest (coming from the North 40° or so from the general NW swell) were no more than 4 metres, and the wind speed at the low end of F7, but it certainly felt worse.
The VHF issued a constant stream of severe gale warnings, but I was relatively sure as I approached the lee of Crete to be sheltered from the worse of the gale. Nevertheless I had never been in such rough conditions with my Yarmouth 23.
The sideswiping breakers from the north were my main concern. While infrequent, they would slam heavily against Eileen and push her some distance laterally. The resulting propeller cavitation ceased all forward motion. Despite this Eileen did not seem too troubled by the turbulent seas. I was obviously the weakest link, especially after being thrown against the tiller (while adding the last of my fuel), breaking the Autohelm mount in the process. I would be hand steering for the rest of the journey, unable to shelter from the incessant cascades of water flowing over Eileen’s deck. I unwittingly refrained from any movement deemed less than critical so regretfully I have no photos to share, but perhaps I can be forgiven given that even getting a drink of water was a Herculean task.
Five miles from the coast and ten hours after dawn I was still battling a wild sea. The expected lee from Crete was evasive but as I turned north conditions did gradually improve. With immense relief I anchored off a small beach near Erimoupoleos for an hour to recover.

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