Crossing the Ionian
Day 1 (2022-04-02) - staging
We left Porto Kagio anchorage with the first light of the day, anticipating the first hours of our journey towards Zakynthos Island to be rough ones.
As we rounded the heads of the anchorage into a flat calm sea we could feel the wind accelerating down the high mountains on our backs, creating that amazing sheeting effect on the water.
The sea spray and mist surrounded us.
As we started approaching the cape we could feel and see the confused swell still left from the previous days weather, we punched through it at great cost.
Progressively the wind turned on our nose and the gusts getting into 20 knots.
Our speed over ground that had started at 6.5knots leaving the anchorage was now between 3.5 to 4.5 knots and would stay like that until we actually bent the cape and entered the Ionian Sea.
It felt that leaving the Aegean was an impressive feat.
The morning progressed and we managed to slowly peel off from the cape and surrounding shallow waters (100-200 meters deep) and get to depths 500+ and eventually 1000s.
The sea state improved considerably and we were back on to speeds of 5 to 6 knots.
We hoisted the Mainsail for stability and kept powering through with wind on the nose.
It took us most of the day to get to Methonis on the East coast of the Peloponeso, our jumping point to cross the Ionian Sea and get to Italy.
But before that we would need to wait one day in this town to get more favourable winds.
Day 2 (2022-04-04)
We started the day early with first light. We upped anchor, hoisted the full mainsail and motored towards the sandbank that protects the bay of Methonis from the Ionian Sea. We crossed the sandbank, adjusted our position and started making way Northeastward under engine, waiting for the winds to kick in and to get out of the wind shadow close to shore.
An hour or so later we were finally under sail, the winds started slowly and eventually picked up pace on a nice downwind sail.
I believe that due to the Corinth Canal closure we were getting a lot more cargo traffic than we normal because most of these small cargo ships usually would go through that nice short cut.
Oh well, the wonders of AIS do make our life much easier when dealing with them.
As the day progressed so did the wind increased, allowing us a very nice sail with great speeds.
A cold champagne sail just as I like it!
Mid afternoon we started noticing the swell increasing but not necessarily as expected to the wind strength so we decided to reef the Mainsail to help us minimise the rolling effect.
It helped considerably without affecting much of our speed. 1h later we reefed the Jib to balance the boat a bit more. After all, we did need to slow down the boat to let the worst of a weather spell burn itself, before we reached the stronger winds area of influence.
We were still making 6.5 knots of speed over ground when ideally we should be doing 5.5.
Due to the wind direction we were also tracking north quite a bit from our planned track but at this point that was actually a good thing. In theory when we reached the heavy weather zone we should be able to run with it better with this course.
As the night came closer we put a second reef both on the Mainsail and Jib to slow us down even more and allow a night of rest before facing the heavy weather in the morning. The winds kept increasing and by 10pm we added a third reef on the Jib. Past mid night we noticed we were tracking north so much that we were actually making way to Kefalonia and Corfu so it was time to Jibe.
That fixed our routing situation.
At 3am the winds suddenly died off leaving us with a very uncomfortable rolling swell so we furled Jib, turned the engine back on for 3h and kept us going just below 5.5 knots of speed over ground.
Day 3 (2022-04-05)
In the early hours of the morning the wind returned and switched quadrant from SE to NE which meant it was time to Jibe again and open the Jib on the first reef until first light came.
We were about to enter the area of influence of the forecasted stronger winds.
Just before mid day with winds of 20 knots true on 90 degrees of apparent wind we were doing 8-9 knots of speed over ground, the swell had increased significantly so we decided to put a second reef on the Jib. That improved our motion significantly but once again not doing much to reduce our speed as the winds just kept increasing.
Not long after we added a third reef and eventually we packed the Jib all together.
During the afternoon the winds would pick up well into 36 knots true, the swell become impressive and slightly concerning with waves of 5 to 5.5 meters with a short period in between, maybe 5 seconds. Some big rollers might have been bigger.
Just with the Mainsail on two reefs and slightly trimmed off wind we were still ticking well above 8 knots easily, progressively we put ourselves more downwind establishing as our limit of safety 140 degrees of apparent wind angle.
We managed to put ourselves on the waves groove where we seemed to cope with the huge swell better, despite some serious big rollers trying to round the boat up.
Our top recorded speed during this trip was 11.7 knots!
Think it’s safe to say that at this point we both felt this was more than we had bargain for, the winds were way stronger than forecasted (maximum forecasted was 25 knots and we were getting mostly 35 knots). It was the "error factor 10" at play again.
The Dream felt fine, the new rigging didn’t feel under stress, the Hydranet sail felt like this was exactly what it was designed for (and it was, it is a heavy weather sailcloth weight combination). The crew on the other hand was feeling quite uneasy, after all it had been 1 year and half since we had been in such big seas offshore, when we got caught on the edge of the 2020 Medicane precisely in this same Ionian.
A lot was playing on our minds, including “f…. did we get this completely wrong?”, and "are we getting in trouble?”. But this is one of those moments where you can’t go back, the only option is to toughen up, buckle up and power through. Stay lucid and do not let our emotions rule the moment and action. As John often says: "feel the fear and do it anyway!”
With the boat set up fine, the only thing to do was to curl up on the cockpit area by the companionway as comfortable as possible trying to hide from the cold wind and sea spray, keeping Ella pinned down as much as possible for safety reasons but also to prevent her from seeing the huge waves and avoid her entering that spin of excitement and fear mixed (she’s obsessed with waves and the bigger the better) when she cries non-stop trying to get to the edge of the cockpit to be closer to the action. If she can’t see the waves she is much calmer, although still trying to find out what she’s missing out of the action.
Close to 6pm we noticed a warship quite close to us, so we decided it was the perfect opportunity to request an update on the forecast. I quickly hailed them on the VHF radio and after a few attempts they answered my call.
I requested if they could kindly update us on at what time did their forecast showed a change of the wind strength and after a few minutes the officer on duty came back to us with the information that the winds were supposed to drop intensity and change direction to "more West at 1900 hours".
A peculiar way to give the weather, which left us a bit confused for a bit because usually you tell where the wind comes from not where the wind is going. After going through our recording of the forecast (now a couple of days outdated) we understood what he meant, westerly heading winds. Go figure.
That was good news, firstly it meant the sea state would calm a bit very soon and the worst had already passed but secondly it meant the weather was running a few hours ahead of our forecast (as we suspected) which meant we could relax during the night.
We had been on edge since lunch time and not eaten or drank that much since breakfast. And we were definitely not looking for the idea of being in such sea state during the dark ours of a moonless night.
By midnight we had already been sailing in 20 knots of wind for a few hours, with 2 reefs on the Mainsail and Jib, with an apparent wind angle of 100 degrees on starboard side.
At 1 am the winds dropped all the way to 8 knots forcing us to turn the engine back on because the swell was still too big and making the sails stall when we rolled. At this point we didn’t had enough sail area out to cope with the lighter winds and big waves, we were quite tired and to be frank not in a mood of turning the boat into the bashing waves and wind to be able to shake the reefs.
Day 4 (2022-04-06)
With day light, came the time to shake off the reefs on the Mainsail and do a quick check of standing rigging, running rigging and sail condition.
The winds were completely downwind and just gusting 10 occasionally, a pain given that the swell from the previous day was still settling down.
A slug of a day to get to Siracusa on time before the next weather spell started, this time it would be westerlies.
We trailed two fishing lines the entire day without success as we were finally approaching Siracusa and John decided to pack the rods we saw a pod of dolphins having a feed and just before entering the heads of Siracusa harbour we saw two schools of big tunas having a feeding frenzy. Quite an amazing sight to see, the fish putting up a huge fight on the surface trying to escape the tunas, the seagulls attacking from the skies, diving in the sea to snatch whatever they could get their beaks on.
Fair enough Ionian, we can’t always win and bring the prize of the big tuna.
This time we will have cereal instead of the freshest sushi.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.