MIstral Days & Sleepless Nights

Sun 17 Aug 2014 12:41

My week alone had been going so well, Pamarzi washed down from stem to stern. All her bright work gleamed; her twenty plus sea cocks had all been exercised. Both strainers had been cleaned and new filter baskets fitted and many other maintenance tasks had been completed. I’d read a lot and could now play a tolerably decent version of Cavatina. I had found time, in fact the day after Lynn left, to visit Casadelmar an exclusive and hideously expensive, rooms being €1500 to €3000 per night excluding breakfast. Donning smart shirt and shorts I had sallied forth in Sac de Sel for the half mile or so up the coast beyond Islot Ziglione, south of which we are moored, parking alongside Casadelmar’s smart pontoon where my painter was taken by a uniformed attendant. Climbing the limestone steps up to the main terrace I joined the other breakfasters sitting in this tree shaded haven, with views over the bay whilst discreet black uniformed waiters gilded to and fro with juices and coffee. The food though disappointingly unexceptional, the price as I expected ridiculous. I had forgone the delights of bacon or eggs both of which carried a €10 supplement but was still charged €40 for my continental breakfast.  Why go there? You ask. Well, they have the best wifi connection in the whole of this part of the coast and a casual request whilst I was breakfasting brought a minion hurrying to the terrace with a small desk of just the right height for me to work on my laptop whilst eating and a card with the passwords for the month of August. The neat system aboard Pamarzi allows me to scan for wifi connections giving me signal strengths and stability for a range of two or three miles and armed with the appropriate passwords I can log the boats wifi on.

But then midst this industry and enjoyment of technical delights came the Mistral. Swooping and howling around the French Alps, tearing through the Golfe de Lyons and with teeth bared, forcing its way through the funnel that is the Bonifacio Straits. Even in this five mile deep bay it wreaked its vengeful breath, turning the once calm shallow waters into a violent, foaming froth. Boats yanking and tugging at their snubbing lines, pitching and rolling and viciously swinging through forty five degrees or more like carriages on some monstrous fairground ride as gusts of forty, fifty and at one point 62 knots hit them. Salt laden spindrift coated every surface including the red eyed, sleep deprived sailors keeping an anxious watch on their anchors and those of the boats upwind from them. And this went on for four days and nights.

One afternoon the tiresome wind tearing at every boat and the nerves of every sea jostled sailor, Laurel and Hardy arrived. Well if not them it must have been a reincarnation for through the spume a very small, 28 foot, very old, 40 years at least, cruising yacht with brown rags as sails and a hull once white turned the colour of a smokers index finger started to turn to anchor between us and Islot Ziglione. One tubby fellow in a vest at the helm and a thinner one who seemed constantly to be staggeringly commuting along the tiny side deck betwixt helmsman and the diminutive foredeck. An anchor the size of a modest lump hammer hung discouragingly from the bow and with the boat violently pitching Hardy once more tottered along the side deck this time clutching a bright orange anchor buoy the size of a modest meteorological balloon. It took up most of the little foredeck but he managed to dump it and the little anchor overboard and started paying out rope anchor rode. I leapt to my feet shouting “no, no you are too close”. I might have saved my breath for Laurel looked up with a face full of surprise as the wind and waves swept them past me dragging the ‘lump hammer and the orange balloon after them. I heard a shout of sorry as they were swept towards the rocky shore, Hardy still staggering up and down the side deck. I was concerned for their safety but they continued to provide amusement for the next thirty minutes as they tried to anchor again and again. At one point there were ropes hanging off the bow and the stern as Hardy continued to anxiously totter along the side deck presumably taking orders from his seated captain. Though by now they were many metres away I’m sure I heard the words “Look at the fine mess you’ve got us in!”  After what must have been the tenth attempt they gave up and with their little engine making put-put sounds as it gamely tried to find enough horse power to overcome the wind and waves they very slowly disappeared from sight across the bay.

On Wednesday the day before Lynn was due back aboard, the Mistral still doing its damndest to make life uncomfortable, I was below at the navigation desk telephone in one hand (I was in fact talking to Lynn) tapping at a keyboard with the other I glanced up through the saloon coach roof windows to see a catamaran bearing down on us at a rate of knots. Leaping up the companion way I ran forward yelling to attract the attention of the catamarans crew for they were dragging their anchor and would very soon be upon us. To no avail, there was no one aboard and still she bore down on us dragging her ground tackle. I grabbed fenders hung and held them between the boats as she leant onto our anchor chain and slid towards our bow. There followed a terrifying half hour or more as I tried to hold this forty foot boat off Pamarzi as it heaved and rasped against my fenders. I kept looking around for a boat near enough to hail for assistance but there were none and my mind raced as I considered the options should this extra weight or the catamarans hook break my anchor free. A big rib appeared a couple of hundred yards away, I yelled and waved with my free hand and at last attracted their attention. When they reached me I instructed them to tie on to the other side of the catamaran amidships and pull her off me. This they did and with a couple of bumps along the side of Pamarzi Meridiene V for that was what she was called slid past. I grabbed the VHF and put out a securite call which was picked up by the coastguard who said they would put out a tow boat and asked me to stand by on channel 15. Meanwhile Meridien V dragged towards the rock strewn shore of Islot Ziglione. The guys in the rib came back saying they were not sailors they did not know what to do and they could not hold it off the rocks much longer. I made another call on the VHF but no tow boat appeared. So I got into the rib across to Meridien V and climbed aboard. The boat was locked but after breaking in through an unlocked hatch I switched on all the electrics I could find and got the engine started. Now she could be held off the rocks whilst I found the windless controls, untangled the mooring bridle and brought up the hook whilst the boat pitched and rolled. At last two gendarmes appeared in a rib one of them came aboard he was not a sailor but he was another pair of hands. We motored the boat across the bay and after a couple of attempts got the hook firmly in, 50 metres of chain out and set the bridle. I was writing my contact details in Meridien’s saloon when Andre and his wife appeared, very wet, very white and very shaken. They were full of apologies and thanks. We exchanged insurance details and talked through the events and the gendarmes got me back to Pamarzi. I think the damage to our gel coat is pretty superficial and can be attended to when we reach our winter berth in Sicily. I didn’t see them for a couple of days the sea being too rough but as conditions eased on Saturday the very kindly came over bearing a bottle of malt whiskey.

Lynn did arrive back in Porto Vecchio on Thursday after a very hairy landing, ladies screaming, children crying as the aircraft to tussled with the Mistral, but it was too rough to get her aboard so she spent the night at the Mariosa watching Pamarzi being buffeted by the wind and waves. At 07.00 the following morning there was a brief respite in the weather so I raced ashore and brought her back to the boat as the weather closed in again. Unfortunately it was to another sleepless night (for me anyway) on anchor watch as the wind resumed its roaring.

Saturday night the Mistral, as forecast started to ease and we awoke after a refreshing sleep to a blissfully calm and sunny morning on Sunday. All being well after a day of preparation and provisioning we will set sail for Sardinia on Monday.


Roger & Lynn

The crew of Pamarzi