Thursday, October 2, 2014


I spent several days in Zakynthos Island waiting for some screws that should be sent from Italy, to be mounted on the furler. I had lost all screws that tied the first part of the aluminium piece where the sail goes in. I could substitute one but I had no more spares and I could not find that type of screws neither in Zakynthos. Finally, contrary to what I thought, I learned that they had not been sent so I decided to sail on the first favourable weather window, that happened to be the next day, early hours in the morning. We didn’t get much sleep because there was heavy rain and thunders all night long.

We sailed from Zakynthos at 4 in the morning hoping to make it to cape Spartivento, on the least favourable of scenarios, at about 5 p.m. , almost two days later. It is an almost 500km passage but one that in 44 hours of sailing would make us gain several days, if compared with the shorter passage between Corfu and Santa Maria de Leuca.

The winds were not strong but there would be rain and thunderstorms on the way. I hoped to evade the thunderstorms and a bit of rain is not a problem if well equipped (with a Musto offshore outfit).

Everything went well (passing several small squalls) till I saw, far away, what seemed to be the shimmering sails of a sailboat. When it approached I saw it was a tornado and the sails was the water being pulled up and illuminated by the sun. A strange one too, I had never seen a tornado like that. There were not big stormy clouds above and the sky was almost clean over it, it was a very thin Tornado, like a huge twisted pencil out in the sky and it moved at astounding speed pulling a huge amount of water up, much more than its own diameter (that’s why far away it looked like a big sail).

I was sailing at 60º of the wind and changed course closing to the wind as much as I could. I thought that tornados didn’t move upwind. Well this one was just doing that and we were in a collision course. I changed course and turned the boat around, sailing on the same tack at 120/150º downwind….and the thing changed course and continued on a collision course. By this time my wife, that had already seen it, was very frightened. I changed course again, gibing and going on the other side of the wind at 120º (a 360º degree changing in course regarding the original course) and this time the tornado did not follow and passed on our starboard side, much faster than what we were sailing and we were doing over 7K. It never become bigger or smaller, it just went away, a small diameter (not so small now that we were closer) a big twisted column raising a huge amount of water up and changing direction all the time.

Isabel, my wife, resumed the situation saying: Tornados are too much adventure for me!!!! And she looked pissed, as if it was my fault we had been chased by one. Women!!! But she was right on one point, this one looked scary. I have seen several times tornados at sea but this one was a crazy one and I hope not to see anymore of this kind again: A mad racing tornado!

But our problems were just beginning! Not much time later we took the first and only really downpour, not long but heavy rain in big drops. Not a problem and I would say a good thing to take the salt away from the boat except that some time later, when I wanted to adjust slightly the course on the autopilot, nothing happened and I could not take the rudder from the autopilot. I asked Isabel to turn it off and it was with relief that I saw that the wheel was free and I could steer the boat. But when I tried to connect the autopilot again nothing happened. We had no autopilot… 250km from the coast, at the beginning of the night. 

For the ones who sail the problem is evident, for the others I will explain that when we sail a long passage, specially at night, the boat is almost all the time in autopilot. I use to sleep for 15 minutes on the cockpit then look around to see if everything is okay and there are no visible boats and sleep for another 15 minutes and so on. I did not even ask my wife to participate on the night watches. She usually takes the boat at the sunrise and gives me one or two hours sleep and that’s enough. Without autopilot it is a complete different game, one has to be all the time at the wheel, no sleep and the need for Isabel to cover for me, from time to time. A very tiresome situation, specially at night with only two aboard.

Not many hours later, already dark night, Isabel that was inside the boat taking a nap says: “ Paulo, there is a very strong diesel smell. “ I confess that I thought she was exaggerating but anyway I asked her to steer the boat while I had a look at the engine….and the moment I opened the engine compartment, I shouted: “Turn off the engine! “ Jesus, she was right and probably she detected the problem the moment it happened. All the engine compartment was full of a diesel mist, diesel everywhere and being sprayed strongly in the air. That could be a very dangerous situation. Diesel does not burn like gasoline…except if it is sprayed thin.

We had been motorsailing on very light winds (4 to 5K) making about 5.5/6K with about 1500rpm. We went on sailing and the speed fall between 3.0 and 4.5K. At that speed It will take a long time to reach Cape Spartivento. After a while I went inside, opened the engine compartment and asked my wife to start the engine again and there it was, a tiny hole on a high pressure diesel tube. I asked Isabel to stop the engine and started thinking of ways to make a provisory repair, one that at least would hold on at very low rpm, giving the boat some handling inside a port or marina. I decided to have a good look at it when the sun went up. In the meantime I altered the course from Cape Spartivento to Crotone, a port and marina of some dimension, one that would allow me to manoeuvre the boat easily even under sail (if needed too). It was some 70km closer than cape Spartivento but it was kind of going backwards, making our voyage several days longer. Anyway it seemed to be the safest option: Not only the better and more protected port as well as the place where it would be easier to repair the boat.

I hoped the morning would bring us more wind then the very light one that was moving us slowly to the coast: 100NM at 3.5K speed average speed would make for 28 hours of sailing. That means that we would be arriving at Crotone at night time. I was not going to enter an unknown port at night without engine…if needed I would stay out, keeping the boat moving slowly, waiting for the sun to rise.

(to be continued.)

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