Just 5 miles west of Barbate I found myself sailing around the many shoals off Cape Trafalgar. Yes, this is the site of the famous, or infamous, (presumably depending on your nationality), 1805 naval battle between Villeneuve and Nelson.
I’d checked my almanac and Imray pilot to time the departure for a complementary tidal stream, but after an hour of speeding west at 7.5kts I realized my northerly stream was not altogether northerly! If only the disclaimer printed beneath the tidal stream extract was given more prominence, I might not have taken it as gospel. Lesson learnt.
The wind was now gusting to twice that predicted in the “windguru.com” and “windfinder.com” web site forecasts and the direction was anything but favourable. I was obviously in for another rough trip. A brief glance at the brevity of my ships log (one entry 6hrs after departure) is testament to this.
So why was I stubbornly heading North toward the bay of Cadiz instead of just heading out to sea on a direct route to Portugal?
For several reasons:
Firstly, I found it was difficult to trust the weather forecasts for one day, let alone the two to three that I’d need for a longer leg;
I also wanted to take advantage of the promise of smoother seas further north (clearly shown in my weather forecasts an example of which is posted above).
A degree of wanting to play tourist also had to be taken into consideration.
Ugly but functional
By sunset I was bouncing my way into the bay of Cadiz. No torn mainsail this time, but the bronze rail at the end of my boom (tensioning the mainsail), was dramatically ripped from its fastenings. For now, I have decided to do without it, and have come up with this (see photo) elegant solution. OK, I’ll admit it isn’t pretty, but it does work!
Of Rota, I saw nothing but the refueling pontoon by night. Fascinating. So much for the argument of heading north to play tourist. 🙂
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.