Sailing into the storm, a passage to Greece
One week after arriving Siracusa and feeling totally recovered of the very patchy sail from Tunisia to Sicily we decided it was time to cross to Greece and leave our Italian tour on hold for now.
Our expected travel distance for this next leg was around 290 nautical miles and again approximately 2 days at sea, the winds should be between 15 to 20 knots and blowing from South-southeast, so anything between 60 degrees and 120, maybe shifting to a more downwind sail.
We left early in the morning at 8.30 am, the latest forecast had brought some doubts regarding the strength of the winds during the morning so we decided to leave the harbour with a reef on the mainsail. The moment we were out of the harbour we unfurled the Genoa and with 16 knots aft of the beam we set on a nice sail. Half an hour later we decided to switch to the Code 0C and shortly after we shook the reef on the main off, the doubts the morning forecast update had brought didn’t materialise so we were comfortable with full sails. We quickly peeled away from Sicily.
We put the fishing rods out early hoping to snag a Tuna or Mahi-mahi, and around 12pm we hooked a big fish! The reel went zinging, we quickly tried to slow down the boat, a very difficult task with the big front sail up, John began to fight the fish rod and reel in hand more and more line was being peeled off the reel. Ana went about trying to slow the boat, first trying to point the boat more into the wind but it wasn’t working, when we tried to bear away the boat just went even faster, Ana then tried to furl the sail single handed and it did furl, not perfectly but in time to slow down The Dream from around 8 knots speed over ground to 4 knots. The 4 knots was still too fast for this fish but with the Code0C furled de-powering the mainsail was much easier.
John was able to reel the fish in over a ten minute period with the fish now at the back of the boat, we could see it was a 1 meter long tuna probably about 10-15kg!
How the heck were we going to get this beast aboard?
Ana lowered the swimming platform to allow us to board the fish, then we could deal with it onboard. With the platform lowered I (John) tried to lift the fish without gloves the line started to cut my hands, I asked Ana to get gloves but it was all so quick, on my second attempt we managed to get the fish almost on board but this time the lure and the head of the fish got caught on the platform edge, Ana went to the edge to clear the line and lure but the fish gave a shake and it got free.
We had lost this huge Tuna. He swam for about 10 seconds behind the boat before disappearing into the deep.
We were so disappointed, after all the work we both had gone through the prize was lost.
To add insult to injury the Code 0C headsail decided to hourglass just as we were unfurling it again. It took all our strength to slowly pull out the hourglass from the sail, we are still learning how to deal with these incidents, practice practice.
Because Ana had to do all the work of slowly releasing and de-powering the sail while at the same time furling it, the sail had not furled with a constant tension on the top and bottom with caused the hourglass shape when we tried to unfurl it next.
Later that day the winds turned further downwind and no more fish to be seen or heard. Storm clouds started appearing on the horizon, it was time to replace the Code 0C with the Genoa and take precautions. We kept the full mainsail but the Genoa was with 3 reefs, by now the sea state had already risen to a 2-meter rolling swell.
Around midnight we furled the Genoa and started the engine to keep our progress around 6 knots, we could see lightning storms on the horizon port side and with the help of the radar, we could see they were roughly 24 nautical miles north of us.
By 4 am we decided to put 1 reef on the mainsail, we could see a cloud front coming our way, previously learnt lessons told us we should prepare for the possibility of big winds shift. In the morning we managed to go exclusively under sail without engine, initially still with reefs both on the mainsail and Genoa but later in the morning we shook the mainsail reef and got our Code 0C back to work for a couple of hours but the storms would return to the horizon sucking all the wind and changing the wind direction from the aft quarters to upwind angles of 30 degrees and less forcing us to once again resort to motor, fearing a bad weather change we kept on with the motor.
From lunchtime of the second day until we arrived Greece the storms would threaten us heavily, the second night was particularly intense with strong winds and storms always approximately 20 miles away from us in all directions.
As the night grew on the lightning got closer the weather turned decisively cold with light rain and the wind persistently on the bow. In the early morning it struck, the thunderstorm from hell with lightening all around us striking within just a mile or so away, the rain turned to large hail (10mm size) and strong winds blowing yep again on the bow. We looked for a light patch in the dark sky’s and we saw in the east some light, we changed our course and motored towards it hoping the storm would blow away, for a time we considered changing our destination to Kephalonia but sure enough an hour or so later the storm was gone into the distance, now we had just light rain and wind shifting from 30 degrees port to 30 degrees starboard making it extremely hard to sail, we motored on into the day back on our course towards Preveza.
Considering the wind was supposed to be in our favour for most of the trip this was very unfortunate for us, these sudden storms meant we motored a lot more than we had thought we would.
The sight of the green and red markers of Preveza entrance channel although puzzling because we hadn’t sailed on a channel this long since our formal training in the winter of 2017 were quite comforting, our anchorage was close.
The sighting of a big turtle while navigating the channel and then two dolphins in the anchorage become an unexpected welcome to Greece vision.