Fri 8 Jan 2010 12:44
At five this morning I arrived in Sant Antoni de Portmany. Now, after a few hours of sleep, a hot shower and lunch I am slowly beginning to recover from the events of last night.
Until 12nm to the north of Sant Antoni everything went pretty much according to plan. All of Tuesday the NE winds carried me quickly SSW across the Golfe de Valencia to the east of Mallorca. With NE Wind of force 6 and big waves coming up directly from behind it was hard work on the tiller and required my full attention and concentration. But I like going fast, and hoped to set a new personal noon-to-noon record (etmal).
It didn't quite work out (only 105 nm), because the wind dropped to nothing in the night. The following 24 hours where a little frustrating at first because Vespina was swinging left and right in the old swell. But after a few hours I settled into the "The journey is the reward" mentality and began to enjoy the solitude on the water nevertheless. I also had time to sleep and to replace the mounting of the tiller-pilot, which had broken down completely. The wood had rotted away.
The following trip to the north-west corner of Ibiza was one of the best of the whole journey, although it rained heavily. But since the tiller-pilot was doing the work in the cockpit now, I had - for the first time on my whole voyage - the luxury to comfortably stay inside, watch the world, and cook and read a little. What a difference from sitting at the tiller all day!
Upon reaching Ibiza the wind changed from NE to S, and I made my way well clear of the coastline SW to the NE corner. When night fell I was tempted to steer a more SSW course in order to get to my destination faster. But I remembered that I must have had good reasons when I planned the route as I did, and decided that being hungry, tired and impatient disqualified me from making any last-minute course adjustments.
Which proved to be one of the wisest decisions of my life.
At midnight on Thursday, after 38 hours at sea, I reached my waypoint for heading S into the bay of Sant Antoni. At this time the wind changed from a moderate S force 4 to a W force 6. My exhilaration about not having to tack south was quickly replaced with concern as the wind speed increased dramatically. Within minutes the anemometer read 45kn - Bft 10. I quickly dropped all sails and was about to set the storm-jib, when the howling increased even further. Wind speed 56kn - Bft 11! And that in the cockpit, barely showing above the waves. How much more at 10m height? Interesting.
I quickly dropped the idea of setting any sail. Even without sails, Vespina was lying 30 degrees in the water. Occasional flloodings of the cockpit from the lee, and waves coming over from windward provided further entertainment.
At that wind speed, the hull, mast and boom alone are pretty of "sail" area in the wind. So I hoped that I could set a course that would keep me clear of the coast. Unfortunately the waves were still coming big from NE, and the only directions I could go were SW to SE - the exact angle covered by the rocky north coast of Ibiza. No luck today!
But overall the situation wasn't too bad. The water drained as quickly from the cockpit as it got in, and I had at least eight hours before the wind would push me to the shore. No storm had lasted that long so far.
I talked to Palma radio for a weather forecast. The question was: will the wind speed drop below 40kn within the next six hours? The answer come fast and clear: The situation is very bad. Storm expected to last until Sunday. Start your engine and get the hell out of there, or we send a tug.
When I got back up into the cockpit, a wave greeted me in the face and flushed water down the stairs. That settled it :-). I checked that no lines were hanging over board, that the day-tank had enough fuel, and that the engine and propeller-shaft were clear of any thrown-about items. The good old trusty Mercedes Diesel started immediately and I turned SSW to cover the 12 nm to Sant Antoni.
This time I was thankful that the waves were coming from NE, pretty straight from behind. I managed to keep Vespina pretty upright most of the time, but it was a fight at the tiller. It was cold too, 5º C, and my hands locked into a permanent claw. I couldn't operate the GPS anymore to look at the map. But I had memorized the paper map of the bay and harbor entrance, and new that I'd be safe on my current heading.
When I reached the harbor at five I was pretty exhausted. It was utterly dark, and I almost ran into a boat at anchor in the harbor, unlit of course. It turned out there were plenty of boats at anchor and moorings, and I didn't want to practice my first single-handed anchoring maneuver at night, exhausted, with an incredibly strong wind.
So I made my way to the marina and docked at a pontoon. I was lucky because two security guards came along and helped me with the ropes. They weren't too happy to see me though, because I hadn't called in advance. Must have slipped my mind :-). But they let me stay provided that I check in at the office at 9am sharp.
That the storm caught me only two hours out from the safe harbor was unlucky. Furthermore, it was a lot stronger than predicted - force 11 instead of force 8. I must admint that I hadn't bargained for that.
Attentiveness, careful route planning, a strong & safe boat, and a little luck at the right time helped me to see it through. However, it was an extreme experience and it is easy to despair in such a situation, loose the head and make a wrong, possibly fatal decision.
What saved me most of all, and saw me through the whole adventure pretty unhurt (except for bruised knees and arms) was the knowledge that you, my friends, were with me and thinking of me. Thank you so much!