Up before dawn on Wednesday 20th April, we motored out around the northern tip of Cephalonia heading just south of west towards the Straits of Messina. The weather forecasts were not brilliant and there was a doubt about the north coast of Sicily as the forecast westerlies up to gale force would make progress slow or impossible. A progression of lows forced into the Med by the high sitting over Northern Europe meant whilst the UK was bathed in sunshine, we could expect high winds and rain with chilly temperatures. The main question Kevin and Owen pondered over each time they downloaded a GRIB file (the weather model forecasters use), was which side of Sicily the lows would track. In turn this would determine the wind directions and strengths we’d encounter. For the first day, it seemed a chilly headwind would be our lot followed by a calm from around midnight, as it turned out the wind didn’t abate until 03:00. By dawn we needed the engine.
During the evening before we’d been running the engine to charge the batteries when it overheated. It was too rough to sort out so the engine was turned off and left til daylight. We sailed onwards, the rough seas improving slowly. During Wednesday’s roughest seas as water washed across the decks, one of the stoppers in the deck air vents had washed out, salt water poured into the cabin, probably only a few litres but it rapidly soaked through the master cabin bedding into the mattress. It then dripped across the sloping cabin ceiling towards the starboard shelving. Calamity, but one we could recover from. Towels mopped up the worst and were draped over shelves & seats to protect things from a further soaking.
Thursday morning in an almost flat calm, Kevin and Martin (who has plenty of boat nine experience from years of narrow boat ownership), started from the cooling water intake and cleared things. Nothing much in the strainer, the almost new impeller was perfect, the heat exchanger clear, the outlet was a little choked but nothing major. The engine started and ran sweetly. Later a small jelly fish was found on the jib track so we guess we had motor sailed through a bunch of them and sucked up a victim into the intake.
Through Thursday afternoon the barometer plummeted and the wind built, this time from aft the beam. We began to hear the hourly coastguard broadcast of gale warnings. It took us a few bulletins to work out what the mechanical recording was saying and which bit applied to us, but it was never good news. Italy in the form of Cabo Spartivento didn’t appear until we were only a couple of miles off, a combination of cold air induced fog and dust. As the cape, the southern most part of the toe of Italy drew near, the wind switched from south to north and increased dramatically, F8 from just on the port quarter. Reefs, then more genie furls, then eventually dropping the main completely. Crew on deck in oilies and life jackets, the boat screaming along surfing at well over 8 knots. The boy racers had to be reminded we were cruising, comfort over speed records please.
The wind followed us round into the first section of the Straits of Messina. For a few hours we had been debating stopping or carrying on. Lots of factors, the current wind, the forecast and the flow of water north through the narrow part of the strait, only three kilometres at the end of the funnel which takes a dog leg east. This is the home of mythical monsters Scylla and Charybdis, in reality treacherous rocks on the Italian shore and a giant whirlpool on the Sicilian side. Eventually the skipper and first mate decided that Reggio Calabria looked an attractive place to hole up to let the weather sort itself out. By 19:50 (Italian summer time, UT+2) we were safely secured stern to the quay alongside another boat from Greece that arrived minutes before us. The marineros were efficient and friendly then disappeared. The crew tidied up then settled down to another of Sue’s incredible feasts with a choice Greek mezza, followed by spagbol sauce with broccoli and rice! Time for a well earned rest.
Ships Log: Cephalonia, Greece to Calabria, Italy – 239nm
Total – 288nm