Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Well, I am cruising so almost no time for the Blog. Lots of nice boats to talk about but I will wait until October. In the meantime a short story about my (and my wife’s) cruising times aboard Alma, our Comet 41s.

On July 3rd, in the morning, we left Kapsali (lovely place) bound to Crete. About 45m earlier a brand new French Jeanneau 57 Yacht (very nice boat), with a crew of six had also bound for Crete, so we followed since we seemed to be pointing to the same nice anchorage, on the West Coast, Gramvousa. With 10K wind between 90 and 120º, doing over 7K it seemed that I was catching the 60fter. I could not believe it, neither the guys on the Jeanneau that were trying to trim better the sails but there was nothing that they could do and I just glided along the jeanneau and some pissed sailors winning about more 20 minutes till I reached Gramvousa. Yes my boat is very fast with light to medium winds and that’s one of the reasons why I have choose it.

Gramvousa is a spectacular anchorage, big, with two possible anchorage zones well apart with different wind protection, surrounded by huge mountains and with a XVII century fortress perched on the top of one of them, the one nearer where we and the French cast anchor. I dived to see if the anchor was well set and was surprised by a big wreckage of an ancient boat. Maybe the violent storms of this winter have dug it out since I could see lots of pieces of amphora, some big and lots of other remains. It was late afternoon so I decided to have a better view next day….but no luck.

In the middle of the night a violent wind came, out of nowhere, pointing the boat to some rocks not far away. Even if the anchor was well dug the bottom was not perfect (sand and rock) so I decided that an anchor watch was appropriate and went to the cockpit taking short naps and having a lookout.

The guys on the Jeanneau were doing the same and early in the morning they sailed away, against the wind on flat water to the North of the Island. They probably had internet and detailed weather information by satellite but I could not find coverage for my 3g internet. Given the sea condition and wind direction I thought that I could also go North, turning the cape and make it to Hania, a port, maybe 35/40NM away on the North coast. I turned the cape and was surprised by a change of wind and a nasty broken steep sea with 2/3 meter waves. I started to beat upwind but it would take many hours to reach Hania with a VMG of 3 or 4K. We were making about the same speed as the Jeanneau but I bet the motion on our boat was much more uncomfortable and 10 hours of that was just too much, specially for my wife. I remember to have seen two days before that it would be less wind on the South Coast of Crete and also an inshore wind, I knew that there were some decent anchorages not far from the last cape so I turned around and soon I was surfing waves between 8 and 10K. Nice and fast ride till the South Coast.

At the beginning all went well, the wind (F6) diminished, I put more sail but soon we were being caught by some of the most violent gusts I have ever seen, like going from 20K to 40K with the only warning of the flying water approaching fast. We kept only the Genoa very reefed (just a tiny piece of sail) that allowed us to go upwind between 7 and 8K but at a lousy angle, that was about enough to keep the boat on course. After two hours of wild gust sailing we reached the anchorage. Not so many gusts there since it blew already fiercely, maybe F7/8. We anchored, good bottom, the boat was holding on perfectly, we rearranged the sails (the main one had been torn away partially out of the sailing bag and was hold by some lines), connect to internet to have a look at the Greek detailed forecast, just to be sure that the wind was just the afternoon typical stronger wind and was going to diminish by night….and surprise, it was going to increase to 9 and then F10. Being on anchor with a F10 was not my idea of fun so I started looking for alternatives: No decent ports nearby (I have a big draft) besides they were all very small and my boat has really an auxiliary engine with no bowthruster, so manoeuvring on those small spaces with a F8 with this boat is something I do not want to try except if I have not any alternative. 

But an alternative seemed possible: we found out that accordingly to the detailed Greek sailing weather report (that normally is very accurate) the wind was less offshore and there was a zone almost without no wind, around the Southern Greek Island of Gavdhos, the European Southernmost point. So we sailed away planning to pass the night at sea or at one of the tiny anchorages of Gavdhos or maybe on its small port.
We sailed away at about 17.30 and all went well, the wind shifted, we had a nice upwind sail with a F3/4 and near Gavdhos the wind died away. We took the sails and motored away to Gavdhos, already at night. But then I started to be hit on the beam by some nasty steep waves. The waves kept on increasing in size and near Gavdos we had 4m waves running like a freight train to the Island plus a F5/6 wind coming from the wrong direction. No shelter on that Island.

I decided to go away from Gavdhos, that was now a lee Island and just keep the boat as comfortable as possible for the night, trying not to scare my wife that at this point was more than seasick. So I hung on close to the wind, kept the motion to a minimum and that is a way of saying it because those 4 m waves have among them 5m steep waves, breaking waves that sometimes just pass over the boat. Sometimes, passing slightly sideways those big steep waves, the boat was so tilted that all the transom was submerged on the water and I had water to my ankles. Of course, the wind was only a F6 when I was lucky, we had zones of F8/9 and maybe 10. 

I passed all night lashed at the wheel, trying to make it as smoother as I could till daylight. Thanks to my offshore Musto equipment I was reasonably dry but I was being hit badly by waves. Sometimes it looked as if somebody were throwing at me big heavy bags full of something heavy and disagreeably soft, like a corpse. Sometimes the weight was so much that through me out of the boat rail, to the other side of the cockpit (I was lashed to the wheel by a short theather). On most of the night to keep motion at a minimum I was just making between 0 and 1k of boat speed. 

Only on the hours near dawn conditions allowed me more speed, changing slightly the angle of attack, tacking the waves (that were smaller and less steep) more on the beam. I was then managing to make about 3.5/4.5K and asked my wife to find me a suitable shelter for the wind that had been changing all night. When I approached Gavdhos I had wind coming from E, then it changed to NE. Isabel gave me a perfect anchorage protected from NE, Ag Gallini, and I pointed the boat on that direction without difficulty but at sunrise the wind had not only increased again to F8/9 as the wind was now a steady W and the sea looked like a huge river flowing very fast and with an incredible power, a bit like the Colorado river, but with 4 to 5 meter steep breaking waves, just to give an image. I had never seen anything like that, I have been on much bigger Atlantic seas, but nothing like the nastiness of this broken steep fast surge.

I was going along and for the first time I could take following seas and even on this broken sea the motion was not dangerous, just crazy. I asked Isabel for another safe anchorage, some place protected from this madness and she gave me Kali Limenes, at just only 15NM but cutting at 90º that monstrous flow of sea. I said it was not safe and didn’t know if it was even possible. She asked me if I could take more 24 hours at the wheel? I had been helming on the last 12 hours and obviously I could not take that. I must explain that I have a stupid problem on the autopilot that only works in settled conditions. I had my rudder removed and inspected and when all was mounted again the autopilot refused to acknowledge the rudder information, working in what it calls a simulated way. Without rudder information the autopilot can be very dangerous in any complicated situation, like riding a freight train of 4/5 meter waves at 10k. No way I was doing that with a defective autopilot, so I tried to see if it was possible to cut sideways that huge nasty river and the big steep waves.

Believe it or not, the boat handled it in not a very different way than the open kayak I used to Surf waves with when I was younger and that knowledge proved fundamental to the success of the operation. Basically it was like that: If the wave had only 4m I proceeded at 90º and the boat, with a sweet touch of wheel had no trouble in taking at beam, going up without almost without heeling, on the big 5 or 6? really steep ones (really a vertical wall, some already breaking), I had done what I used to do with the kayak, I turned the boat and surfed them, taking the boat out as soon as possible. Really the only problem were some half a dozen bad calls, when I thought it was possible to go up over them on the beam and ended up thrown sideways to the base of the wave. Here I should say my skin has been saved by my boat that being a powerful one with a big stability to carry large amounts of sail, went down those big waves sideways never exceeding 60º of heel and most of the time not exceeding 45º. I would say that was what gave me confidence to go on, because if I would have a bad knock out, a single one, with the mast on the water, I would have turned the boat around and saw if I was really able to stand on for 24 hours.

Funny how our past experiences can help on different situations: who would say that the knowledge of how a Kayak behaves in big breaking waves would matter to helming a cruising boat? Or that my past experience as a motorcycle rally rider, with sometimes 9 hours racing non stop, would be important in what regards managing the physical effort? On long range racing you learn that the way to do it is maintaining all body muscles lose and only to dispense the minimum energy necessary for the job. The normal tendency in a stress situation is to remain tense and if you stay that way your energy is not going to last for long.

Anyway after 4 long hours I managed to reach the big cape that protects Kali Limenes and I have done so with a good margin, case things turned out worse but when I was passing the cable, at 1K or so, with the boat without any sail, I had my doubts if that effort was of any use: Suddenly I saw the base of the big cliff to be full of what seemed like a malignant fog and then saw that fog racing at blinding speed to the boat. It was a wall of wind so strong that turned the surface of the water in a big boiling surface with spray several meters above surface. It hit the boat so strongly that it heeled it steady at over 30º, not momentarily but for as long as I took to stay away from that place (several minutes). I looked at the wind speed meter but instead of reading the speed of that monstrosity I just saw it dying way, as well as the depth meter: both could not stay impermeable to that violent mist, took water inside and just short circuited.

With several doubts I pointed the boat to Kali Limenes, but Isabel has saved the boat: It was not only a very nice place (a bit spoiled by some big fuel tanks on an Island in front ) but it provided good shelter. I dived to see if the anchor was well set and I could not believe my eyes. I was in the middle of a submerged city with gigantic Minoic tombs and several artefacts carefully marked on the bottom with submerged buoys. The place had not any mark, neither on the pilot book, nor on the map. Carefully I moved the boat out of the stone submerged city to a perfect sandy bottom, some hundreds of meters way.

We stayed for two lovely days, the first one to take a rest, the second to enjoy: There is a kind of non official but very organized camping park and an incredible Taverna, just like the one that used to be on my favourite beach 30 years ago, where two Souvlakis, a big Greek salad, two big Ice-creams, half a litter of wine, an ouzo and a coffee cost less than 25 Euros. Nice food. I am already regretting having sailed away, stuck on the shelter of a bay about 50NM West, waiting with another sailboat the Mistral to die away. It will take another full day listening to the wind howling outside. Isabel hates it and I cannot say I like it, but I am sure that a nice sunny beach with a nice Taverna is waiting for us somewhere on the East coast of Crete. If all was nice, living would be boring. 

One thing is for sure: The South Coast of Crete is beautiful with its big mountains but it is not and easy place to cruise in July. Believe it or not, the Amel Maramu that came to take shelter on the same bay we are now is the first cruising boat that I see on the South Coast and if I exclude the Jeanneau 57, the only one I saw till now in Crete and I have been sailing here for 5 days. The positive point is that you can have it all for yourself: Not a problem to find a place in crowded anchorages….you will be the only boat there.



  1. Meu Deus, Isabel!!!
    É sempre assim?


    1. Tão mau foi a única vez em 12 anos mas aqui por Creta e nas Ciclades a coisa às vezes fica preta.


      É uma exagerada ;-) Há sempre vento, as vezes de mais mas até é divertido e cria um efeito de exclusividade: Não há mais ninguém por aqui, quer dizer barcos à vela, as ancoragens são todas para nós.... também dá para perceber porque é que o primeiro Império maritímo foi o Minoico. Para navegar aqui é necessário ser um marinheiro razoável, 3500 anos atrás, sem motor e com barcos primitivos, os tipos tinham de ser mesmo bons.


    2. Diário de bordo, por favor, com entradas diárias.
      E depois publique-se, com umas aguarelas de ilustração.

    3. E com umas histórias paralelas, com minóicos e cretenses e Ilíadas e Odisséias.

  2. Gripping story! Your English is excellent. Enjoy Greece.