Kelly and I have found that there is room for superstition in traveling and sailing these past 6 years. Not so much that our actions are dictated by them but more so a feeling that witch-doctory “can’t hurt and may very well help”. I wear a piece of coral Gherty gave me in key west as a little girl around my neck as my talisman. We have been remarkably lucky since she gave it to me so there it will stay. Kelly warned me that her Irish avoid putting a hat on a bed early on in our relationship. I haven’t since then and we have been safe and fortunate so that is a hard and fast rule at home and onboard.
We always joke and remind each other that the ocean will always keep you aware of your insignificance right when things look to be getting easy. Years ago we had been banging upwind in darkness rounding Cape Canaveral, Florida just waiting to pass its outermost bouy so we could finally crack off and begin reaching south without the spray, pounding and rolling. We rounded the red maker and smugly headed off, easing the sails and shooting down the coast when a rogue wave, well over head high, with a seemingly vertical face slapped us fully broadside knocking us down and sent water over the cockpit halfway up the rig. Right. Just need to round the outer marker, huh? Then it’ll be easy, yes? Cape Lookout, North Carolina, Dashais, Guadeloupe, Nonsuch Bay, Antigua, Buzzards Bay, Rhode Island, Vieques, Spanish Virgin Islands, Andratax, Mallorca, Mahon, Menorca the list goes on. Each a long night. Each it’s own challenge. Each finding us hanging on, usually doing the right things to stay as safe and comfortable as possible, each just waiting….waiting for the early glow on the horizon letting us know that although it may not be over it will get a bit easier with the sun up.
We have written about the Mediterranean winds. The Bora, the Mistral, the Sirocco all blow hard. Some predictable, others less so. We have also written about motoring through the azure glass. Either way we have been fortunate, made the right calls, usually a bit of both. No drama this year to speak of for Madame and her crew. Short trips with no border crossings or passages virtually assured that. I guess the pandemic made our sailing better due to empty anchorages, empty cities and no cruise ships. As easy as this was I’d trade it all for health and normalcy for everyone. “Make a plan then do what happens”. Same as it ever was.
Omiš (OH-meesh) was our last stop before heading back to Trogir (Tro-gur) to break down the Madame and put her back on the hard. 20 miles down the coast with dramatic mountains flanking a river mouth. A walled medieval city peppered with soviet bloc apartments sits nestled in the valley. Ancient lookout towers with World War II pillboxes added hang above on the cliffs. It is stunning.
We were the only boat to anchor in 60 feet on pure white sand on an uphill slope. With 10 knots of sea breeze digging us in further we swam and launched our dinghy “Clover” for the last time, her leaks and quirks getting the best of her after 10,000 miles. The afternoon found 5 tired Americans (the only Americans as always this year) picking through Omiš buying souvenirs we hadn’t bought yet for friends back home and grabbing lunch. We were wistful about ending another leg of our journey but also very tired, physically and mentally. Schooling this year wasn’t our typical home school aboard routine. The kids had zoom meetings at all hours since we were 6 ahead and with occasionally spotty internet and conflicting travel schedules and class schedules it got hard. We were ready to head home to regroup. Plus Kelly had promised the children we’d get a puppy and a swimming pool when we returned so that didn’t help either.
We were running on fumes trying to empty our fuel, water and fresh food so we cobbled together a dinner and enjoyed a last peaceful night at anchor.
I was shaken awake by Kelly at precisely midnight. She told me the wind was building and the boat was spinning on her anchor. I washed my face, put on a jacket (yep!) and popped into the cockpit to access the situation. A steady 30 knots was blowing down the mountains occasionally with dead lulls of glassy water then hard 30’s again as if the wind was pouring out of a glass bottle. Blast, blast, deep breath, blast. It was a typical katabatic wind. Cold air tumbling down a mountainside at night. Not something that is often forecast and very localized. It surely wouldn’t be a Bora wind as the only forecast for this was 75 miles up the coast in the notorious Velebit Channel. No worries. Just a sporty night. I told Kelly I’d stay up top and keep an eye open and she should go to sleep.
Around 2AM I called my friends Sam and Lisa back home since it was 8PM there and I was feeling chatty. The wind had begun to hit 40 by then. Concerning but not time for worry. Besides, we were anchored ideally and the lee shore was a 10′ deep sand bank several hundred yards behind us. (You can see it on the right in the photo above).
Around 3 AM I called Mom and Dad. The wind was now a sustained 40 knots still with the briefest moments of glassy water in between hard solid avalanches of cold wind. It’s funny talking to your parents and hearing Dad telling you what a great thing you’re doing for your children at the exact moment the boat is being hammered by increasingly dangerous winds at night in a foreign country. I believed him about the kids upbringing and I believed we were safe but it was getting heavier incrementally and it was still several hours until the dawn.
Kelly joined me in the cockpit saying the violent swinging was not helping her sleep in the bow. We stayed up under a blanket in the cockpit and simply observed. 40 knots hit 50 and the gusts increased in frequency and ferocity. Looking at my 3 reference points I had picked out we seemed good. Then the wind abruptly stopped. Madame Geneva, fully tight on her anchor in the blow, shot forward in the lull and spun 90 degrees only to be met broadside with the full fury of 50 knots dead on the beam. She sailed bare poled off at 45 degrees and jerked violently. My reference points had shifted. Checking the depth we now had 20 feet under the keel where 60 had been constant. The anchor had dragged sideways across the underwater hill and was no longer set. Time to go. It was 5:30. The sun would not be up for quite some time with tall mountains blocking and delaying the sunrise.
Kelly started bringing up the anchor while I struggled to keep the boat head to wind knowing that our 20 feet would drop to under ten in short order if we got sideways and dragged further. The dinghy was trailing behind since we went to bed in a calm. Now I was trying to keep it out from under the transom. When the anchor chain was nearly vertical Kelly signaled for me to reverse because the anchor was not coming up. I reversed, spun a wide arc backwards with half of the dinghy under the boat and the anchor let go. Kelly brought it up the rest of the way while I finished our circle in reverse throttle wide open trying to keep us from sliding onto the bank. Che popped up right at this moment and said that mom was amazing on the bow. I’m proud he recognized that.
We motored offshore and the 50 knots quickly turned to 30, then glass. It was our first night with a Bora at anchor. It was fascinating and exhausting. Quinn and Gherty got up and said we looked tired. We motored to a bay near Split, anchored and passed out. When we woke up we moseyed to Trogir and tied her up. All that was left was 3 days of derigging, washing, scrubbing, packing, homeschooling, renting a car and moving the kids to an apartment in Split to attend school virtually. We donated our dinghy “Clover” to the marineros as she needed so much love and repair only a local with a long cold winter ahead could help her. We donated our trusty basil plant who had traveled with and fed us to a Kiwi couple headed to Greece. They looked at me a bit funny when I said his name is Lorenzo but it’s true. The plant’s name is Lorenzo and has been for some time. We donated the children’s books to the locals, hauled Madame Geneva out of the water and headed home.
Three flights, one overnight layover at JFK, and 5 negative COVID tests later I am writing this from home. I have a cold beer, I am rested, clean, and getting ready to fall back into what we call “re-entry”. Oh, and we have a new puppy as promised. Ferris.
It’ll be another long winter but spring will find us aboard again. Hopefully crossing borders and making it to Venice, Athens and Istanbul as we planned before 2020 fell to pieces.
Please be well. Much love from all of us. Leg 10, year 7 coming up next. Stay tuned!