More ugly weather!

Another fine day in the Caribbean…

It was supposed to be a quick 10 day sail back to French Guiana but two weeks later I found myself still busy battling isolated thunderstorms and gradually being pushed toward southern Venezuela. Not my premiere choice of destinations given the number of sailors I’ve come across that have given it the thumbs down with respect to safety.

Feeling wet wet wet….

Just so that you know…. sometimes sailing isn’t that much fun!

Bouncing about like a cork for two weeks is one of those times…

Although squalls in the Caribbean had been forecast (they’re always forecast), who’d have imagined that isolated thunderstorms was a synonym for “focused entirely on Eileen of Avoca” thunderstorms?

With a steady Force 6 on the nose and a contrary current of 1 to 1.5kts I should have stayed put. Of course what I should have done… and what I did do…, are two paths that rarely bisect. In this case, I’d fallen victim to the one thing a sailor should never do…

I told someone I’d be in a certain place at a certain time. “Certain” shouldn’t be in a sailors vocabulary. In a moment of sheer stupidity (happens rather frequently I’m told), I agreed to attend a birthday party upon my return to French Guiana.

Of course I didn’t make it….

Progress at 1 knot was steady if frustratingly slow, but despite this I might have arrived with time to spare, if of course I hadn’t been swamped by a rogue wave!

Pause here for dramatic effect…

Obviously I didn’t drown because I’m still writing in the first person…

Was it a close call? No, but it was the first time I’d ever been thoroughly pooped!

How many adults dare say that nowadays?

I was dozing in my bunk (my favourite spot), when without warning Eileen was knocked sideways in a rush of noisy whitewater which, despite having one washboard in place and the hatch firmly closed, instantly drenched everything in the cabin. I can testify that having buckets of water thrown over me is an effective if unpleasant catalyst for gaining my full attention, an attention that was now directed at the cascade of water flowing down the companionway stairs. It’s source…? A new swimming pool in my pushpit. (—Deleted expletive!—)

One of these could save your life!

Outside it was immediately clear that everything that wasn’t tied down was now gone. Good thing I wasn’t outside huh? Cushions, ropes, jerry cans with my precious extra fuel, all washed overboard. Feeling strangely disconnected from reality amid apparent chaos, at least panic was the last thing on my mind. Stupefied, just about everything was far from my thoughts. It took the absurdity of a waterproof container (a practical Christmas gift) floating by, to break my stupor and set me in motion. Grabbing the improvised bucket, I did what I assure you comes naturally to all sailors in similar circumstances…

I bailed like a madman.

Why did I have to bail? Were the cockpit drains blocked? Much later I discovered that I’d only opened one of the two seacocks draining the pushpit. Luckily I’ve had a unique modification made to Eileen as a contingency against being flooded.

So glad I had this small modification made.

Check out the raised lip of my exterior lockers! The extra waterproofing kept most of the water out and the interior bilge pump installed in the heads meant I could safely deal with any seepage from the safety of “the can”.

An extra pump in the heads came in handy too!

Ten brownie points for being prepared!

Now what?

Not enough fuel to get to Saint Laurent but if I can push on a while longer I’ll just reach Guyana. Good thing I’ve got Chris Doyle’s guide aboard.

Looks like I’ll be making an unscheduled visit!

The forecasts had it all wrong.

Matt weathering the storm

Matt weathering the storm

By 11pm on day two (we still hadn’t caught a fish but I did manage to loose my newly acquired lure), the VHF started spurting gale warnings and I was getting worried.

Roccella Ionica (our destination) is not an all weather port (Crotone more than 70 miles distant was the nearest), and easterly winds breed enormous breakers at the entrance to the marina. Boats have been rolled by the surf in the past and conditions were definitely deteriorating.

With 20NM to go I pushed Eileen of Avoca to maximum speed in the hope of beating the storms. Matt took over the shift and I tried to get some sleep.

Surf outside Rocella Ionica port

Surf outside Roccella Ionica port

Three hours later I found Matt at the tiller, drenched to the bone but looking surprisingly cheerful. The gale force winds had not yet materialised but the swell was decidedly larger. With 2 miles to go I called up the coast guard at Roccella Ionica on VHF to ask whether the entrance to the marina was safe. Their answer was ambiguous and of little practical help so we were left to discover the situation for ourselves.

We were lucky, a land breeze had kept the swells at bay and at 5:30am, with considerable relief, we motored into the marina.

Several hours later, the entrance was seemingly impassable. Seemingly because despite the raging surf, one small yacht defied the odds and to the amazement of all found its way to safety at 9pm. What a feat!

The gale force winds die down

Day 29

Weather Check

Weather Check

Prior to the gale I had contacted an Albanian Freighter for an update on the weather situation, but now at anchor and within mobile phone range I could check the forecast with my laptop and its GPRS Internet connection. Apparently there would be a lull lasting approximately 10 hours so without further ado I followed the coast, heading for the shelter of Ayos Nikolaos.
Arriving at dawn I wasted no time getting some desperately needed sleep. I was a wreck, on the other hand, Eileen of Avoca had weathered the gale admirably.

She is one tough little boat.

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?



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.

Outrunning the storm

Day 6



Wetsuit on, hull scraper in hand, I leaped into the water for my morning chore, barnacle banishment! All went according to plan until I lost a fin and it sank. Not normally a problem, but in a 7mm wetsuit, no weight-belt and one fin, it’s not easy to stay submerged. I eventually managed by pulling myself down the anchor chain, lifting the anchor and carrying it to the recalcitrant fin.


Then it was off to Zakinthos via the straight between Levkas and Nisis Meganisi, East of Nisis Arkoudhion and Ithaki, the home of legendary Odysseus. Ominous clouds hung over mountainous Kefallinia at dusk. To the north the VHF announced continuing gales in the Adriatic and northern Ionian. I urged Eileen of Avoca onwards for the remaining 20 miles watching lightning brighten the northern skyline.
By 10pm I found safety in the large and lively port of Zakinthos. The city was throbbing with nightlife, but all I was concerned about was finding an appropriate berth. After attracting the unfortunate attention of some youths with a high powered green laser (This could be quite effective in making sure ships notice you!), I dropped my Danforth from the stern and let out just enough scope to allow me to step onto the quay and tie off. Not so shabby for my first attempt at mooring Greek style!