Almost Losing the Boat to Brutal Weather in Ibiza
This is by far the closest “potential-disaster-experience” I’ve had so far in my life. I have never been so scared before as I was this night when I almost got blown ashore by some brutal weather in Ibiza. The thought of my home and beloved boat getting crushed by the rocks, while sitting on the beach watching, still gives me the creeps. But this night that thought was whirling in my head as I battled against the weather.
But let’s go back and start with the beginning.
BACK IN THE BALEARIC ISLANDS FOR THE SECOND TIME
After Filip (the last crew member before leaving for Norway) left Ellidah, I decided to do the rest of the trip single-handed. We spent a few days in Port Soller on the northwestern side of Mallorca before I continued down the coast towards Santa Ponsa.
I went here last season too when coming from Ibiza, and now I was going in the opposite direction. The anchorage is protected, the water is crystal clear and there are restaurants, bars, and grocery stores close by which is convenient. I ended up spending a couple of more days than expected as I met some cool people in town and went for a party and due to a serious thunderstorm.
Read the post from last year in Cala Benirras
The sky was lit up like daylight and the rain was pouring down like crazy. Lightning struck down pretty close, I could hear the crash just a second after seeing the lightning. Typical September weather in the Mediterranean.
I spoke to a Swedish skipper from another boat, and some friends of his actually left towards Ibiza the same morning but turned around when the thunderstorm released its fury. Good call.
SWEET SAILING IN NICE CONDITIONS
The following morning, the sun was shining again and the forecast spoke of good winds to do the short crossing. I set off towards Ibiza with Cala Benirras as my destination. This is also a place I went to last season and is probably my favorite in all of the Balearic Islands. Benirras is a small protected bay on the northwestern side of the island and pretty much only exposed to north and northwesterly winds.
I’m slowly gliding into the bay just before the sun is about to set the same evening. I found a good sand patch in 8 meters depth and dropped the anchor followed by 40 meters of chain. With the chain nicely stretched out from east to west, I felt that the anchor was digging itself in as I increased the revs to about 2000 rpm in reverse. I always set my anchor and pull tension on it to make sure it is properly dug in.
Then to be extra sure, I jump in the water with my mask to have a look and see if the anchor is properly dug in. Everything looks good and I jump back onboard. The locals have just started their bongo drumming on the beach and I throw the paddleboard into the water and paddle myself to shore to enjoy the good vibe.
SUN SHINING DAY AND BONGO DRUMS AT THE BEACH
Again, I wake up to a sun shining day and do my morning ritual with coffee and breakfast while checking the weather forecast and the news. The forecast hadn’t changed much since the day before and the wind was supposed to blow 12-15 knots from the east with gusts up towards 20 knots which left Ellidah’s stern facing out of the bay.
I spent the day relaxing, swimming, and just generally a whole lot of nothing. Then I had some dinner before I packed a couple of beers in a bag and took the dinghy to the beach to watch the sunset.
That night I went to bed early. It must have been around 22:00. Water is flat calm like a mirror and the wind had died down to almost nothing. I checked the forecast again before going to bed and it was going to be quite similar throughout the night and the next day as forecasted earlier.
I noticed that the wind was supposed to change from east to a more north-north easterly and increase towards 15 knots again which I thought would be fine as the bay is protected from this direction.
The front cabin where I sleep has a hatch that opens facing forward. When the hatch is open, the wind blows straight down into my face which usually is lovely in this warm climate, and also warns me if it starts to blow a lot.
THE SCARIEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE
I’m getting ripped out of my sleep from this weird blow that comes down the hatch. Not like usual, but like someone is standing on the deck with an air pump and puffs me straight in the face. I look at the phone and the clock is around 02:00 in the night. Then I check my Navionics navigation app that I always leave running so I can keep track of the snake trail where the boat is drifting.
“Okay, so the wind is now coming from the northwest and has turned the boat around 180 degrees putting me on a lee shore, that’s weird…”
Before I could make another thought, a couple of puffs shoots into the hatch again, but much harder this time and it starts to piss down with rain. I can feel in my guts that something is about to happen and jump out of bed.
The time it takes me to walk from the front cabin to the cockpit is just seconds. In these seconds, the wind goes from making these puffs, to making some seriously hard gusts and the rain is also picking up.
Out in the cockpit, all hell had broken loose in these few seconds. I can barely see anything and jump back down to get my head torch, turn on the power to all my sailing instruments and then pop back up again. The wind is now blowing so hard that I’m getting jet-washed by the rain and the visibility is only a few meters. I quickly jump to the helm and start the engine, the plotter, and the wind instruments.
For some reason, I can’t seem to get any readings on the wind speed from my instruments.
“Aah, okay, I have other things to worry about,” I said out loud to myself, but in the hard weather I can hardly hear myself.
MY 25KG ROCNA IS DRAGGING
I’m making an overview of the situation and noting that the dinghy has been flipped upside down by the wind. My anchor is definitely dragging and I’m on my way toward the beach. The immediate problem though is the mooring field with motorboats between me and the beach, and that’s where I’m heading.
I should really get out more chain and hope that the anchor will dig in again, but there isn’t any more space between me and the mooring field with empty small boats.
I’m yelling out loud my most colorful swearing words, but I can barely hear myself.
The adrenaline is pumping, I’m soaking wet and completely naked and scared to death.
The first thing that goes through my head is that if this goes properly south, I need to get myself off Ellidah and back to the beach. But the swells coming in from the open ocean is big, and the bay is completely black in the darkness. I could seriously hurt myself on the rocks if I had to try and swim in. It only takes a quarter of a second for these thoughts to run through my head.
I put the engine in forward to release some tension off the anchor chain and buy myself some time before I gather all the strength in my body to pull the dinghy towards Ellidah. To my own surprise, I manage to flip it back up after a few attempts.
– “Okay, that’s my escape if all else fails.”
Talking out loud keeps me focused so I continue to do just that.
The next moment, I hear a LOUD wooosh. A massive gust comes in, pushes the bow over 90 degrees, and heels the boat over hard. At the same moment, the Genoa gets blown out and is now flopping like crazy up on the front deck and the wind has a lot of areas to grab a hold of.
I’m loudly yelling out.
At the same time, my mainsail started to flop out of the bag and the spinnaker pole came loose from its latch and started to dangle around. We were taking a serious beating!
Now I’m cursing the wind, cursing the sail, cursing everything weather-related while I winch in the sail-like my life depends on it. I manage to secure everything on deck as well, and then swear to myself for forgetting to close the furler clutch and lazy bag the previous day. A silly, but yet, super important detail to forget. How the pole came loose is still a mystery to me.
The wind gusts had taken a short break while I was winching and working on deck luckily, but it was now starting to gust hard again and the wind seemed to be more consistent. All of a sudden, I see a motorboat between some mooring buoys closing in on me FAST on my port side and I realize that I am now inside the mooring field.
You need to know that I didn’t have any visibility of my surroundings. I could see a couple of meters with the head torch, but the rain made it almost impossible to see anything outside Ellidah. The other thing is that this bay is completely dark during the night. Pitch black. My only reference to my own location was my chart plotter.
CRASHING INTO ANOTHER BOAT
I put the engine in full speed forward and roll the rudder full on to starboard to try and get away from the motorboat. The engine is roaring, but it is like the wind is playing rag doll with me and just a second later, the bow spirit on the motorboat plows through Ellidah’s port side, bends two of the side railing stanchions, and rams straight through the galley window with a loud crack and I give up trying to drive away.
On top of this, one of its mooring lines gets tangled around my mid-ship cleat. I pick up the knife that I always have ready in the cockpit and crawl up on the front deck between the bent stanchions and a spaghetti of railing wire to cut loose the motor boat’s mooring line.
With the line cut, the little boat disappears into the darkness.
I crawl back to the helm and throw a look at the chart plotter. Ellidah is almost on the ground, only a few meters from the rocks next to the beach and the depth sensor says 2.4 meters.
She sticks 2 meters deep.
– “Now let’s out of here!”, I yell out loud again.
There is no way I can see myself battling on like this any longer.
I lean out to try and see what direction my anchor chain is going, then put the engine in gear forward. Then I crawl onto the front deck with the windlass remote controller and manage to pick up a few meters and release my snubber.
(A snubber is a rope clipped onto the anchor chain and tied to a strong point on deck to remove the tension from the anchor winch/windlass)
ESCAPING THE NIGHTMARE
The heavy wind keeps blowing the bow off and I realize that there is no time or chance of me getting the chain and anchor up, there is too much tension. I start to spool off the chain instead, but now I’m getting close to the moored boats again and have to crawl back to the helm and set the boat full speed in reverse.
Away from the mooring field again for a moment, I crawl back up on deck, tie a fender to the chain under the bow roller and untie the safety line from the end of my 75m chain. Then I lift it off the gypsy and let it all run out while I crawl back to the cockpit.
The wind is increasing even more and the rain doesn’t seem to have any end to it. I’m exhausted, wet, and cold. But I am free and I manage to point the bow up into the wind after a couple of attempts and go full speed forward.
My depth indicator is showing that I’m moving into deeper water. I now have speed in the boat which is good because then I can steer.
The only thing I can think about now is to get into the open sea and safety. I didn’t know what the weather would be like out there, because the terror that went down in the bay was definitely NOT in the weather forecast!
FINALLY SAFE OUT AT SEA
The night is pitch black and I realize that I haven’t had the time to turn my navigation lights on and that I am actually freezing. As soon as I am clear from the massive rock that sits in the entrance of the bay and has my course set southwest, keeping the waves and wind in my back, I put on the autopilot and crawl down below deck to turn on the navigation lights.
It felt good getting on some clothes and I made myself something to eat and a warm cup of coffee.
You may wonder why I motored instead of sailing which I usually would have. The port sheet for the Genoa hade blown out with the wind and was tangled into the sail and I didn’t have the energy to battle it out as the wind was still pretty strong. I didn’t have the energy to set the main sail either. My fuel tank was full and I didn’t plan on going far anyways.
Back out in the cockpit, I’m sitting there thinking about what had just happened. The clock is now around 03:30 and I realize that I had been battling for about an hour and a half before getting out of there. The wind direction inside the bay was north westerlies, but as soon as I came out in the open ocean, the wind was actually blowing from the northeast, like the forecast predicted.
This tells me that the geography of the Cala Benirras must have made the wind bend around the mountain and accelerate into the bay. It also seemed like some of it came over the mountain pushing down, making the weather turbulent and brutal.
I am on my way towards San Antonio. The city lies in a big bay and it looked like there should be at least a bit more protection in there and I am in desperate need of some rest. I also need to find out how much damage Ellidah has taken and then get my spare anchor and chain up on deck, as my main is now at the bottom of the sea in Benirras.
The cracked window in the galley was easy enough to temporarily seal with one of my cushions. It is above deck and the only water that came in was from the rain.
I try to pull in my paddleboard that is still hanging from the stern next to the dinghy, but as soon as I got it on board, the wind just grabbed it and blew it away again. After a few attempts, I gave it up, and not long after, the line snapped and it was gone in the darkness.
“Oh, well… It could be worse” I said to myself.
TURNING AROUND IN SAN ANTONIO
When I got into the bay of San Antonio at around 05:30 it was still dark. I motored around in big circles, just waiting for daylight, and managed to get some rest, food, and more coffee. At this point, I was probably running on caffeine. As soon as daylight hit, I got my spare chain and anchor rigged up and got the Genoa and Genoa sheet sorted.
Then I started to look for a spot to anchor. There weren’t really any good spots and I decided to slowly make my way back up to Cala Benirras again instead. The wind and swell had started to wear off, and the updated forecast predicted that it was only going to get better.
I got some more rest on my way back, and the conditions were pretty good when I entered Cala Benirras again around 11:00. With the sun back up shining, it was strange to be back again after the nightmare we went through just hours earlier.
Well anchored up again (I tied on to a mooring ball as well, just to be safe…), I got myself a few hours sleep before I started working on getting the dinghy outboard to start. Luckily, I only had a bit of water in the fuel and it started and ran well without too much hassle.
The reason I couldn’t get any wind readings turned out to be that the wind anemometer on top of the mast had blown off in the storm! That thing has seen some bad weather before, and those sensors from Raymarine are pretty sturdy. My estimate is that I must have had well above 50 knots.
RECOVERING MY GROUND TACKLE
The water was still grumpy from the storm, but the next day I managed to dive down on the anchor and chain that I dropped. It was easy enough to find since I tied a fender to the chain before dropping it.
My anchor had dragged and re-set itself quite a bit further in towards the beach to where I set it, so it was hard work getting it back up again and the chain was tangled up in the mooring buoys in the mooring field.
This type of anchor is known for holding extremely well, even in heavy conditions. My conclusion is that the reason I was dragging must have been that the boat got blown around 180 degrees so quickly and the chain must have stretched up too fast in the opposite direction for the anchor to be able to pivot and re-set at the same place.
As a result, the anchor got ripped up and probably bounced along the seabed, upside down or sideways for quite a bit, until it finally got a hold of the sand further in and dug itself down. When I recovered it, it was completely buried and If it weren’t for the mooring field I would probably have been fine, even in the shallow water.
With that said, the original spot the anchor was set should still have given me plenty of space to drift around 360 degrees with a stretched chain.
I guess this was just another one of my many unlucky episodes this season.
Lost wind anemometer, lost paddleboard, two broken stanchions, broken stanchion base, stretched railing wire, a broken window, and a Genoa that was already going towards the end of its life now definitely singing on its last chorus. Some shoes, cushions, and probably more small stuff also got blown away, but all in all, it could have been so much worse.
I was afraid of the damage on the port side of Ellidah since I just recently had the entire boat re-painted, but she got away with just a small scratch in the paint!
The owner of the motorboat I hit came to check on his boat and I went over to him and explained what had happened. His boat had a few scratches and a loose pulpit, but no major damage and was luckily moored with an extra line.
He got my insurance information and was extremely grateful that I contacted him. A friend of his got his boat wrecked last season, but the person responsible fled the scene and they never found him…
I know what it feels like, read the story from when I had a charter boat crashing into me last season.
There are some lessons to be learned here and it isn’t uncommon to hear similar stories from other sailors around. But now I’ve experienced it, managed it and I still have all intentions of continuing to live onboard Ellidah and sail her around the world.
ENDING THE SEASON
The next day, I sailed down to Ibiza Town and stayed there for a couple of days. Then I made a short trip down to Formentera before I made a two-day straight passage to Almerimar down on the Spanish mainland.
Ellidah will get new sails and a lot of other equipment and upgrades before we get ourselves ready to sail to the Canary Islands and then cross the Atlantic Ocean through Cape Verde.
At the moment, I am in Norway to visit family and friends, and to work a bit so that I can afford all the upgrades for the coming season. It does also feel good with a bit of a break.
The cruising lifestyle is for the most part pretty awesome, but it isn’t just sunshine and roses all the time. It can be challenging and taking a step back to have a break gives me time to put things in perspective which then makes me appreciate this way of life even more.
This post marks the end of the season and I am posting it now even though I haven’t written about the rest of the season yet.
Don’t worry, I will tell the full story from the beginning in the category “The Journey”, so stay tuned!”
I apologize to everyone who doesn’t understand Norwegian, but I made this short video clip not long after I escaped the bay.
Dødsbra jobba og virkelig bra skrevet (på engelsk!) Hilsen styrmann med 30 års erfaring.
Hei Tore! Takk for det, jeg måtte lese gjennom artikkelen på nytt når jeg så kommentaren din. Jeg får enda gåsehud av å tenke tilbake på den natta. Det er fortsatt den skumleste episoden jeg har hatt ombord.