Friday, 18 September 2009

Stormy Siracusa - Getting to Sicily ... Sept 2009

15 - 16 September 2009

***A clear sunny moment over Siracusas old town with the stunning cathedral centre stage, shame about the dreadful concrete wall left unfinished and without any purpose along the waterfront*** Mt Etna letting off some steam, one of the rare occasions we could see it from the anchorage in Siracusa*** Looks like more thunder storms on Sicily's horizon overSiracusas old town***

Do you remember the lovely photo at the end of the last blog update of Balvenie in glassy waters leaving Roccella Ionica with a stunning red sky at sunrise? The day started well enough, we followed Destiny out of the marina, and over the shallow sand bar - them at the ready to tow us off if we ran aground!!, there was no wind and only the slightest of a swell, thankfully we escaped without even a nudge.
It was time to do the overnight 100 mile jump to Sicily, destination Siracusa on the southeast coast. We had looked at options of going further north, but a combination of poor anchorages, full marinas in Catania (close by to Mt Etna), a ridiculously expensive marina in Riposte of 130Euro per night plus power and water (closest town to Mt Etna) and strong southerlies forecast in 36 hours determined the all round anchorage in Siracusa to be the best option. The weather forecasts, from 3 different sources all concurred that we would have less than 10 knots all the way to Sicily with flat seas, heaven. After the recent beatings we have had the idea of burning some diesel and motoring the whole way just didn't seem a bad option really. So off we set, a slight breeze came in, sails were raised and we jogged along happily enjoying the morning. Destiny moved off ahead as they are a trawler/cruiser with a compact sail area so are designed to motor everywhere. We made the most of the light morning breeze, it would be an overnighter anyway so if we were slower it didn't really matter.
But the breeze built and came from the southwest, I imagine straight out of the entrance toSiracusa harbour! As the day progressed the sea state worsened, the winds settled at a steady 20knots, right on the nose, making us sail further and further north so we weren't bashing right into them. There is only one other anchorage on the southern Italy coast that we may have been able to divert to , the cruising guide advises of several "aggravatedrobberies" reported by yachts stopping here - it didn't sound like a great option either. We put 2 reefs in the main and sailed as comfortably as we could, carrying on way off course, but in the hope that as we neared land the seas would flattened and we could turn and motor down the coast without falling off the crests of the waves.

At 7pm we spoke to Destiny on the radio, they were finally into flatter water and due in around 9pm, we were looking at an eta of 1.30am - and things were about to get worse. While I was still talking, Mark called down that there was large boat approaching us very quickly flashing several lights at us, we thought initially it was a Coastguard boat, then realized it was a large fishing boat. Mark tired contacting them on VHF 16 and eventually got a response, all in Italian of course, but we picked up the words fishing net and pronto, pronto, pronto with a great sense of urgency in their voice. I had taken the wheel and finally spotted a lit buoy ahead, then desperately tried to spot another to see which way it was running. Finally I saw another in the distance, so starting turning away from it. Just as Skipper came up back up from the radio we both noticed hundreds of little floats, Mark grabbed the wheel and turned us as hard as he could, the fishing net floats nudgingBalvenie's hull as we flew off downwind. That was close.

It was just on dark and we were now heading north west towards land, all the lights onshore added to the confusion of trying to pick up more fishing net buoys. All we could see were lights everywhere, we were having a very comfortable sail now but going in entirely the wrong direction. I eventually made contact with an English speaking person on the radio at Augusta Port Control who contacted the fishing boat for us, they advised the net was over 3 miles long and had surface floats the whole way, just not something you can risk going over. 3 miles doesn't sound that far but when you are doing 5 to 6 knots, that's an extra hour just to get back to where we were in the beginning! We were having a long enough trip and didn't appreciate the detour at all, eventually we felt it was safe to turn back to windward and spent the rest of the night clawing our way down the Sicily coast. The sea did flatten some but the wind never died off, we safely entered Siracusa at 4am under electronic chart, radar and following the leading lights into the harbour. We dropped anchor in the south of the large bay in flat water and collapsed. It had been a hard 22 hours.
We had just fallen asleep when I was awaken by what I thought was our anchor coming up, and then silence, can't be, I'm hallucinating. Back to sleep again and awoken again, I'm sure that's the anchor - is someone stealing the boat with us on it - well we are in Mafia country??? I wake up Skipper, that is definitely the electric anchor windlass but no one is stealing the boat, it has simply short circuited and it's coming up all by itself!!! With no sleep for 24 hours the brain does not work too well and it took a while to stop it, sort it and tuck down again. Surely that is enough entertainment for one day. But no - there was more to come.

Siracusa lies in a large bay, the town on the north east shores. We had anchored in the southern bite out of the southerly wind and chop but most of the boats were up on the northern shores so they could access town. After a few hours sleep we were feeling a little more lively and very pleased to have made it to Sicily. We decided to re-anchor as we had stayed a fair distance off shore as there are fish farms there that we could not see very well when we arrived in the dark. We motored up to the town anchorage where our friends were to see if it was a better option, there was quite a fetch across the bay and with strong southerlies forecast for another 24 hours we decided the southern bay was much more comfortable. We returned down there, tucked in as far as we could and settled in.

Of course we should have learnt by now that the weather forecast has no relevance to the weather we actually receive. Around 4pm the skies turned black, the wind starting building and within 10 minutes we had 35knots from the east. The southern part of the bay is totally exposed to the east, we were now on a lee shore in shallow water, close to the fish farms, with building seas, driving rain and a disconnected bow control for the electric anchor windlass. After sorting out hand signals so I could steer the boat, control the revs to drive towards the anchor in the strong winds and use the cockpit controls to lift the anchor (thats 3 things but I only have 2 hands) things went well for no more than a minute then guess what - it got worse!!! To add more confusion up came a crab pot with about 20 metres of line all very tightly twisted around the anchor chain. Lets just say it took us an hour to cut all the line off and retrieve our anchor, pitching all the time in the sharp seas coming in.

We finally joined the other yachts in the northern anchorage, the chop was less as the wind had backed but it was now bringing a swell in so we were all rolling. Confident that wasdefinitely the end of a bad 36 hours the bar was opened. Skipper poured a beer (the lastonboard) turned to give me my drink and we rolled, his glass flew across the bench top, hit the fiddle and catapulted across the salon. We did actually have some good luck as amazingly it didn't break, but we smelt like a brewery for a few days!!!

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to surrender to the elements and start thinking about tying up for winter!!
Cruising Info on next Siracusa update:

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