The last delay was too incredibly stupid to go into, so let’s just cut to the action. My apologies for saying we would leave earlier than we actually did. This time blame Federal Express, whose package guaranteed to arrive in 3 days took 8. Like we couldn’t come up with enough delays on our own!
My Dad always used to say if you borrow something give it back in better shape than you borrowed it in. Sylvain is of the same approach. The bike he borrowed for three months got a new tire, new brakes, cables and tape on the handle bars. Agostino was thrilled.
9 am Thursday, the 15th of February saw us raising a scrap of genoa headsail and taking off so fast it looked as if we were afraid some Greek official was on his way with one more paper we needed to get. It was blowing out of the east at 30 knots, gusting to 40, and heading downwind as we were the further we went the more the waves were kicked up. We had little bits of both sails up soon and it really was a blast. The boat may be 45 feet long but that just gives you confidence that it’s strong enough to take it. It was bouncing around like a dinghy, totally responsive to the helm, roaring out of Patras at about 8 knots and over nine in the big gusts. What a great day. It was interesting to see Sylvain in action, and excited. Everything has to be done by winches on this boat so lines are laid on, winching done, a lock goes down on it and off that line comes to be replaced by another and the process repeated till the sails are exactly the way he wants them. The tensions were shocking to me. The stress on each line is so high it reminded me of piano wires and he later told me that area of the boat, in French, is referred to as “le piano” for that very reason. At the wheel I felt like I was driving a sports car and spent as much time as I could steering. The seas got bigger and occasionally came aboard, but our course was wide open space between beautiful Greek islands and everything was spectacular. We took turns going below and to visit the head and get food. We ate well and had a great day, until. . .
that second visit to the head went fine but as I stood in the cabin I thought, “hmm . . . didn’t feel that before. I better get back outside.” But it was too late. The dull nausea became more severe, the boat’s motion that had been such fun all day long was suddenly irritating, the food I had enjoyed, well, didn’t look so good the second time I saw it. I’m sure that’s enough detail. Sea-sickness is just awful and we’re on track for Italy 3 days away. There’s no backing out now.
Steering helped, but not much. I spent a lot of time flat on my back on the lee settee in the cockpit. It calmed right down at dark for about two hours but then up it came and blew about 25 knots all night long. Were out on the Ionian Sea then and the waves were enormous. The wind then gusted to 30 knots and higher with 4 metre waves. After much preplanning and careful thought I managed to get inside. For some reason (inner ear? psychology?) if you lie flat on your back, you don’t feel too bad. Even raise your head 45 degrees and you have 5 to 10 seconds before throwing up. I rushed into the cabin and sprawled flat on the floor. Okay, relax. Now undo life jacket. Whoa, that was a little too strenuous. Now get one arm out. And so on, until the whole wetsuit is off. It took a good 20 minutes. At one point it all seemed too much like a costume gag in some comedy club sketch and even I found it funny. Into the head where the sink is conveniently close to the toilet. Then into my bunk only to discover that it was wet. A hatch was not tightly enough closed but there seemed to be too much dampness for just that. I dozed away but at about 3 am the automatic bilge pump went. It’s noisy and, out of habit from my own leaky boat, when I heard it go a second time I started counting seconds between the pumps. Pretty soon I didn’t have to because the pump was going continuously which usually means one of two things. Either the float switch got stuck or we’re taking on serious water. I installed that float switch so I was pretty sure it wasn’t that, and unfortunately I was right. I looked out my cabin door to see Alex and Sylvain with headlights on looking down into the sump area in the darkness with grim faces. It was quite an image in the middle of a dark night. On the face of it, things didn’t look very good. We’re far from land, haven’t seen another ship for hours, it’s blowing like hell, rough, in the middle of the night, and the boat is taking on water from an undiscovered source. And then the pump stopped working. I thought I should probably get out of bed.
It was disconcerting and certainly annoying, but not scary. The boat had been recently professionally surveyed and all the through hull fittings were said to be in very good shape. We could easily check all the interior hoses and see that nothing had broken there. I thought it might be a burst water tank because one of them was leaking a little and with all the motion perhaps the leak had gotten worse. Failing that, it had to be spray and waves coming aboard which would never find a big enough opening to do any real damage. The pump breaking down left us with the manual emergency pump and a back up that came with the boat, and that wasn’t powerful enough to get the water from the bilge up to the galley sink. So Alex and I bailed with a saucepan into the sink, (something I have quite a lot of experience with!) and I began to think this boat had a lot more in common with old Trillium than I had thought. It also occurred to me that I passed up sitting in front of my fireplace with a good book, two dogs at my feet, and Jane to talk to, all so that I could be here doing a sequence that went: ‘bail, bail, bail, bail, barf. Repeat.’ I was so weak I had to take breaks from time to time. On the up side, it was good to get the low point of the whole trip over with on the first night!
We finally figured out, after my boast in the last blog that we had checked over everything, that there were two vents on the foredeck that we had paid no attention to. I think they are missing a part because there is no way to close them. The result is that in weather as rough as we have had, where the bow is constantly buried into a wave and spray is churning across the deck, a lot of water comes down in those vents. Alex’s cabin, which was on the lee side, was soaked, and that accounted for the wet in mine as well. Add to that, the anchor chain locker is not watertight but has drains over the side. It turns out the drains were clogged so that locker filled to the brim and there was a pipe (which seems to serve no purpose) through to the next locker which drains into the bilge. That was the real problem. We were shoveling the bow into waves that were finding their way inside. On the up side it turned out the pump was a true believer and resurrected itself as soon as it was no longer really needed. Then the auto helm quit, but later it resurrected itself as well, again, when it wasn’t really needed.
We carried on all day through the biggest waves I have ever seen – 4 meters according to Sylvain – on a broad reach, with two reefed sails. We were taking the waves broadside but held as we were by the sails they just passed under us most of the time. They were so disturbed and unpredictable that occasionally the spray went over us and I finally had to agree that the spray dodger was an exceptionally good idea. I ate nothing but drank a little, and Alex, a fellow sufferer, was back to eating a little. I steered for a while, and the wind dropped away. The engine was started when I went to bed around 10 pm, and then I steered from 2 am to 6 under power with very little wave action. Healed.
I’m sorry there are no pictures in this bit. I was using my pocket camera and got quite a few but it must have got wet and has quit working. I wasn’t going to risk my better camera in this weather, and they’re all on a chip so maybe later I’ll be able to extract them.
Day 3 was my birthday! The greatest gift ever was feeling well, and it didn’t hurt that it was a beautiful, calm, sunny day as we motored along the coast of Italy. A few months ago a friend asked why I wanted to do this trip and I said I’d been tracing the route on Google Earth and I thought it would be fantastic to see all these places – to cruise along off the coast of Italy and see it in the flesh. Well, on my birthday that’s exactly what we did, rounded the toe of the boot, with Sicily in sight and incredible Mount Etna off to port, smoking quietly and just awaiting its time. It was amazing.
Yeah, well this trimaran came along and spoiled the picture. It’s enough he passed us. When he didn’t take a picture of us I was really insulted.
Calm as it was we decided to come to an unscheduled stop at a marina to deal with the vents, the anchor locker, and the unpredictable auto helm. Also salt water got into one of our water tanks, so it had to be flushed out and refilled and the filler pipe connection resealed. And the pump. It may be a believer but we’ve become skeptical.
Add to this litany of breakdowns that we discovered the brand new converter which charges the onboard computers and various devices had quit. It also showed some vital signs later, but without it we can’t get the accurate wind forecasts we need. In this area that is not a good idea so now we had to wait till Monday to find an open store in Calabria, on Italy’s tippy toe, for a new converter and a new bilge pump to replace the spare that got called into action. And we know how we’ll get there. As we were having breakfast the next morning we heard a thump in the cockpit so stuck our heads out. A man on the dock had tossed a bag of croissants aboard. Alex was able to speak to him in Italian, but along with the croissants was his business card. He’s a taxi driver and makes a habit of offering his services, and a little extra something for breakfast, to visiting boats. Creative!
So Sunday was another day of work. The auto helm was dismantled and reassembled in working order. I made a shield to protect the anchor locker from incoming seawater. We blocked the unnecessary pipe from there into the next locker and those vents will let neither water nor air through them ever again. Then Alex, always looking for trouble and usually finding it, discovered a weird design problem. The fresh water tanks are under the forward bunks and their filler pipes come out on the fore deck where they are well sealed. The breathers, however, pass through a forward deck locker and come out in the chain locker. When the chain locker filled with water it then poured into the breathers and therefore into our fresh water tanks. Now the breathers come to an abrupt end inside the deck locker which cannot fill with water.
And we washed clothes and hung everything out to dry. Rather than a Jeanneau 45 we looked like a Laundry Scow 45.