A return to Greek waters and getting hit by two boats
On the VHF radio, a Search and Rescue operation was carried on, filling channel 16. A shallow waters diver had gone missing in the area close to Brindisi and as we passed by, the Coast Guard requested our assistance identifying any floating volume we spotted on the water. Our slow pace meant we would take longtime crossing one of the search areas so with binoculars in hand we kept a lookout, with no success.
The passage from Brindisi to Greece started out at a very slow pace.
On the VHF radio, a Search and Rescue operation was carryig on, filling channel 16. A shallow waters diver had gone missing in the area close to Brindisi and as we passed by, the Coast Guard requested our assistance identifying any floating volume we spotted on the water. Our slow pace meant we would take longtime crossing one of the search areas so with binoculars in hand we kept a lookout, with no success.
By lunchtime we were well past the search area, it was time to cast the fishing lines out the back and with a very light breeze from the stern our speed over ground was around 4.5 knots.
We all settled into our horizon gazing positions.
Not long after, the adrenaline would run high when we realised we were closely being followed underwater.
At first we thought a baby shark was following our stern, at less than a meter distance, but the moment we understood it wasn’t a baby shark but a huge tuna of maybe 1.5 meters in length the adrenaline kicked in and we tried to be fast reeling in one of the lines we were trawling to see if the tuna would take the lure. Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of the day and we were going far too slow to spark its interest.
Once the tuna’s curiosity was satisfied we saw it dive into the deep leaving us mouth-watering with the thoughts of all the amazing things we could have prepared with such an impressive fish!
As the day progressed the winds started to increase and in no time we were making the nice boat speeds we like, the fishing opportunity, however, would not present itself again.
By the end of the day we were planning to slow down our speed a bit to try and arrive at the early hours of the morning but the Greek Gods clearly had other plans for us and the moment we entered their waters we started being affected by very sloppy seas, caused by the passing big cargo ships and ferries in all directions and by the shallowing waters of the coast. Our idea of slowing down to arrive early in the morning would quickly be replaced by an urge to get behind the first two Greek islands faster to seek protection from the sea and wind.
As time passed the conditions roughened up quite a bit forcing us to turn the engine on to keep the speed. Every time The Dream was getting caught in the crossed swell the sails would slap and lose all the wind, slowing us down considerably.
After a few hours, we would be dropping anchor on the furthest north Ionian Greek island only to find the following morning that we had to drop our precious Mantus anchor in the middle of a rock field and that only by pure luck it hadn’t got jammed in the crevices.
The following days we would slowly, slowly make way to our port of entry Corfu and then to Preveza where we would finally proceed with our new solar panels installation.
We had been back in Preveza for 15 days, working on our new solar panels array. Meeting quite a few Aussies and Kiwis as they came and went preparing to return their yachts to their winter storage.
It felt like the anchorage had its cycles, first it was the “Down Under” gang, then the French, followed by the Germans and then the Brits. Funny how it seemed to be organised in groups by nationality but at the same time not. Their routines identical regardless, dropping sails, cleaning decks and broadsides, etc.
Of course, not all boats were there getting ready to haul out, there were a few others just passing by or just splashing in.
Slowly, slowly the Town Quay started to be less crowded, the charter boats less and less regular, it was the end of the season for most.
But that didn’t mean that less crowded equalled fewer incidents while at anchor and in a space of one week we got hit by two different boats in the same anchorage in similar weather conditions.
Every day around 2pm in Preveza the westerlies come in starting to push at around 10 knots, slowly increasing to around 15 and sometimes 20 knots. Just like clockwork, you can count with it pretty much every day.
One thing you never expect is to get hit by two different boats in moderate winds in the middle of the day on an anchorage with plenty of space to put in practice all good anchoring techniques.
In fact we had seen at least one of the boats reversing on their anchor to set it, we would have reversed a bit more and with more power but in theory their anchors should have been set enough for the conditions forecasted, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is perfectly identified on the charts that the holding on this anchorage is questionable.
Both boats started dragging when the wind changed direction from the morning easterlies to the afternoon westerlies as these start to gently blow. The people on both boats had left on their dinghies shortly after anchoring if not immediately.
The first boat arrived while we were doing our new solar panel installation, as they passed by us they shouted they were going to drop anchor way behind us. That was a nice gesture, we thought, their version of way behind us was clearly not the same as ours and when the other boat is a cabin cruiser with completely different windage and tonnage we rather have them further than closer, but we were not worried about their final position, after all, they had given an acceptable space between the two boats.
We kept working.
As the wind started its afternoon clockwork we finished working on the installation for the day and started thinking about lunch.
A quick glance around the anchorage and we noticed the cabin cruiser looked closer than it was before, the winds were now around 10 knots but blowing from the opposite direction than during the morning when they had arrived.
The first thought and hope was that probably the cabin cruiser was still stretching its chain but better keep an eye as we didn’t notice how much scope/chain they put out and the reality is we were in 3 meter deep waters so chances were that for comfort and safety, just like us, they were generous with the chain and had deployed a scope of 5:1 (five times the depth).
I start preparing lunch in the galley while John finished tidying up the cockpit.
A few minutes later the doubt persisted, it seemed that they were slowly, slowly getting closer. I stopped cooking lunch and came to check also, at the same time the winds were now closer to 15 knots and either they had way too much chain out or they were dragging, it was clear now that the boat was moving in our direction.
We brought the dinghy to the mid cleat to act as a buffer, started pulling out fenders and shouted the boat name to see if there was anyone inside that we may have not seen. No luck, the boat was empty although completely open.
We prepared for the worst, with just the two of us on board and a boat with such windage and weight we didn’t want to risk one of us getting in the dinghy to try and move the other boat. We could only hope that the wind turned a bit in our favour and the other boat instead of giving us a direct blow would pass side on to us.
Fenders in hand we waited.
After a few minutes, we finally saw a dinghy slowly making way towards the dragging boat coming from town. The occupants were clearly from the dragging boat but they showed no signs of concern or hurry, not even when we scream to them to hurry up, their boat was dragging towards us.
As they approach the girl shouted, “oh I’m sorry” in a very wrong tone showing no signs of preoccupation while the guy says “we set the anchor” as they keep motoring in at a very slow speed.
With such blasé reaction to the current situation I lost my patience and shouted back “clearly not, you started dragging in 10 knots”
Finally, they arrived at their boat, got in and tied the dinghy all at a pace and attitude that didn’t match the urgency of the matter. With another shout from our side to move fast and the eyes of the neighbouring boats on them, the embarrassment set in and they quickly lift anchor avoiding the hit by just a couple of meters.
Instead of just repositioning themselves and anchor properly they decided to leave to the opposite anchorage totally exposed to the westerlies.
Dragging anchor can happen to anyone the difference is in the attitude during and afterwards.
The second boat dragging on us just a few days later was a little catamaran.
We hadn’t really noticed him anchoring but noticed he was really far from us, anchored in the shallows as all good catamaran people should do.
We’re not sure what happened because later another boat told us they had seen him anchoring and that it looked like he had taken great care, reversing the catamaran for a long period and at reasonably high RPMs.
This anchorage has quite a few boulder rocks scattered and if the anchor catches one while reversing to set it, the feeling is that the anchor is well set but once the wind changes direction and the anchor adjusts accordingly it will become free of the boulder rock that was holding it and so it will drag.
And that must have been what happened to the catamaran people.
All we know is all of a sudden we were in the cockpit tidying up after putting the dinghy on deck for the day when from the corner of the eye we spotted a boat way too close to us. We turned to shout at the people that they couldn’t anchor like that, literally on top of us when we realised there was actually no one on the boat, it wasn’t anchoring, it was dragging fast!
We ran to the bow to grab some fenders and in panic watched the catamaran align itself perfectly with our bow, less than a meter between their sugar scoops stern and our bow roller.
We were about to make little trimaran babies!!
In a wind gust of luck, the catamaran swung from that alignment without getting caught on our anchor chain (who knows how) and we had just time to put a fender between their stern sugar scoop and our bow avoiding the direct hit. Very fast we proceeded to push/drag him onto our side, protected by fenders to get him away from us. Fearing his anchor had caught our chain or anchor and dragged us out into the bay with him.
At the same time, we shout to the neighbouring boats for help but no one moved, they all just stayed there watching.
We managed to push/drag him towards our stern and then from the swimming platform we gave him a final push that released us from any danger caused by him. Immediately we grabbed the foghorn to warn the two boats behind us of the danger that was coming their way, all the boats that were not in the “line of fire” were watching but no one moved to help.
The crew of the two other boats that could easily be hit were below deck oblivious of what’s happening up on deck. As I used the fog horn finally someone from a boat in front of us decides to get on a dinghy and come by, it was a French old guy that when I shouted for help before shrugged his shoulders. I ask him now (in French still) to go quickly call the people on the other two boats so they can defend themselves, he, of course, reveals of no help simply motoring the dinghy around silly.
Eventually with the noise of our fog horn the people on the two other boats came to the cockpit to see what’s going on and got surprised with what was coming their way just in time to pull their dinghies to fend their boats, but luck was in our favour that day and a wind gust dragged the catamaran right between the two other monohulls without hitting them.
The catamaran was now dragging fast in 15 knots winds. The guys from these two last boats quickly jumped on their dinghies and started chasing the catamaran. One realised he had no fuel and started rowing back to his boat to refill before another attempt on the chase but it was an old guy with an old dinghy and other problems delayed him.
We assessed if the catamaran pulled our anchor or not and once we confirmed we were safe, I (Ana) jumped on the paddleboard to chase the catamaran (our dinghy was already on deck fully covered and tied up), helped by the winds that were now gusting almost 20 knots I got there reasonably fast.
The South African guy (from one of the monohulls that were behind us) that managed to reach the catamaran by dinghy is trying to figure out what he can do. He managed to release the windlass gipsy holding the anchor chain with a winch handle and drop some more chain but the catamaran showed no signs of slowing down. As he saw me arriving he thought I was the owner, with the clarification that I’m not he told me he couldn’t start the engine and that he had dropped some more chain but the boat was still dragging fast.
I went to the bow to find the chain locker, confirm that the chain also had rode and that was tied to the boat so we dropped all the chain. That slowed the catamaran down but not to a full halt, we were now in deeper waters and I suspected the catamaran didn’t carry much chain.
I went to check if I could start the engines.
At the helm station, I noticed two ignition keyholes without a key but gave a try anyway, no luck.
I decided to enter the catamaran, all doors were open wide, laptops, iPads and cameras in full display and my mind just tells me: “I shouldn’t be here, and this is not a good idea, I can get into real trouble”, but at the same time in the back of my mind there’s a little stronger voice that says: “ what if it was our boat, I would like people to do all possible to save it”..., so I tried and see if there was any set of keys in sight, no luck. I opened the drawer on the navigation table and there it was a huge set of keys!
I ran to the helm again and tried them, I found the right keys but no luck again. Seemed like there was no battery power.
I went back inside, eyes wide open, there should be a fuse or circuit breaker like we have on our boat, and in the middle of the control panel there they were two shiny big red circuit breakers. I turned them on, went back to the helm station and tried again, this time it seemed like it wanted to start, there was ignition but no fuel?!
I started looking for a fuel valve. I could see that the catamaran was powered by two outboard engines like a dinghy so I looked for the usual fuel valves, the South African guy from the other boat helped me but we couldn’t find any valves that needed to be turned on.
I went inside again and notice there was an inside helm station next to the navigation table, so I decided to try our luck there. No success.
I checked the windlass circuit breaker etc, all was on but without the engine, just like us, there’s no power to lift the anchor.
The catamaran was still dragging, slower but dragging.
Our final decision, we needed to cut the snubber (sheet/rope used to hold the weight of the chain on the two bow cleats to avoid overloading the windlass), the excess chain was now hanging from the snubber together with the chain and anchor set by the owner. The total weight was slowing the dragging process but clearly the anchor was not on the bottom of the bay so the only option was to cut the nicely spliced snubber, there was only a very small winch on the stern of the boat and its position didn’t allow us to use it to lift the chain we dropped in the first attempt to stop the catamaran from dragging to remove the snubber correctly. The only option was to cut the rope and hope there were more than 30 meters of chain, enough to allow the anchor to set on a scope of 1:1 and then hope that as the wind kept pushing the catamaran to shallow waters it would set itself and prevent the catamaran from running aground.
After cutting the snubber, the catamaran seemed to finally stop or at least drag at an extremely slow pace.
We were now maybe 2 nautical miles from the anchorage.
I left a short note explaining the events on the salon table.
We returned to the anchorage on the South African guy's dinghy, it was blowing 20 knots, we were in a small dinghy and we were towing my paddleboard.
We all had a well-deserved drink onboard our boat and kept an eye from the distance on the dragging catamaran.
If the owners didn’t show up soon they wouldn’t be able to see where the heck their boat was, and it was getting darker already.
Eventually we saw a dinghy racing towards the catamaran, clearly a worried owner, we saw them lifting all the chain and anchor, and slowly move back to the anchorage to set anchor again.
After a long check if the anchor was set or not the owner got on his dinghy and came to our boat to thank us heaps for our gesture and wish that if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation that we would be graced with people like us that will do all they can to save the boat.
A few days later a huge thunderstorm was forecasted, and in light of the recent events and given how crowded the anchorage now was we decided it was time to go into the marina for a couple of nights and be safe.
There had been a thunderstorm just a week earlier when the anchorage was at half capacity that packed 43 knots gusts, thankfully no one dragged but it was clear now that with the poor holding an excessive number of boats the risk was too high.
On the other hand, we were about to receive our first friends visiting us. And arriving in the middle of a storm, having to do the dinghy shenanigans with people that are a bit older and inexperienced on yacht matters it didn’t feel like a good idea.
So there we were at the beginning of October returning for the first time to the safety and comfort of a marina since the end of March!
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.