Riding Out a Storm at Anchor in Cefalu
HEADING TO CEFALU
We got a new crew on board, left Mindello, and ended up riding out a storm at anchor in Cefalu after an unpleasant stay in the marina. This marina turned out to be unsafe in bad weather and we all learned some important lessons here.
In the previous post: Circumnavigating Sicily Pt.1, I told you that we arrived in Sicily and started to cruise along the northern coast from west to east starting in Trapani. Ofelie and Romina left Ellidah, then Filip and Claudi mustered onboard.
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PLANNING FOR SHITTY WEATHER
Thursday, September 24th 2020 at anchor in Mondello
I picked up Claudi Moser in the marina to the north of the anchorage in the morning.
She had been in Trapani doing some kite surfing and was keen to join us onboard Ellidah for some island jumping in the Aeolian Islands just north of Sicily.
As soon as she got herself packed out onboard, we lifted anchor and set course towards Cefalu. The weather forecast spoke about some nasty westerly winds coming in and I decided that this little coastal town would give us decent shelter.
Sailing into Cefalu is a pretty cool experience. The old buildings are clamped together by the foot of the mountain with the Cathedral in the north and a little sandy beach to the south. Cefalu is an ancient city with quite some story to it and is first mentioned in history as far back as 396 BC.
Click on the city name to read more about the story on Wikipedia. In fact, all the red text are clickable links to relevant info, maps or to other sites within this blog, go ahead and check it out.
SIGHTSEEING AND NEW CREW
After enjoying the breathtaking view over the old town, we sailed around to the eastern side and anchored up just outside of the marina breakwater. I wanted to sit out the first day at anchor and then decide if it would be worth going into the marina for a couple of days depending on how hard the weather would hit us.
The next day we woke up to a windy morning. It wasn’t too bad, and the trusted old Delta anchor was doing its job well holding Ellidah firm. We took the dinghy in to the marina and went to do some sightseeing in town.
We met up with Michael Beeman AKA Ging, or just Mike, in town. He is from Australia and just flew in from Malta after completing his previous journey as crew on another boat. The Ellidah family were now counting four in total; Claudi, Filip, Mike, and myself.
The wind was starting to pick up even more in the evening and it was time to get back to Ellidah to keep an eye on her. We spent the night with good food and drinks and got to know each other better. The vibe was excellent and we enjoyed the night despite the knowledge of the shitty weather that was about to arrive.
THE STORM ARRIVES IN CEFALU
We woke up early the next day and the wind had stopped. Well, not fully, but it was at least taking a break. This was our window to go and moor up in the marina. It was quiet before the storm, or so they say.
You see, Ellidah doesn’t have a bow thruster. And she tends to kick her stern hard to port as soon as you put her in reverse.
This can make her a handful to maneuver in tight spots. The wind tends to grab a hold of the bow and push it over making it hard to steer sometimes when going slow. In reverse with enough wind on the starboard side, she is actually going sideways! You can use this to your advantage in many situations, but it is definitely easier with less wind.
Anything above 15kts and things start to get really interesting. I remember one episode in the beginning. Right after I bought Ellidah before I really got to know her, I screwed up a bit and made a good show.
Check it out in this old post: Castles, Beer and Goodbyes in Alicante (Part 2)
SECURING ELLIDAH TO THE PONTOON
The idea of going to the marina was that instead of sitting on the watch for the next few days, we could rather go and explore the town together and not worry about dragging anchor. Since we were four onboard, the marina fees were reasonable as well.
We went in and parked with two bow lines attached to mooring blocks in the water, four stern lines on each side tied to the pontoon with a ninth and tenth line from the port mid cleat to stabilize sideways movement. It went like a breeze and I felt pretty safe.
12 sturdy lines in total tying the boat to the pontoon should do the trick, right?
It would have been fine if it weren’t for the lack of maintenance in the marina. The winds were picking up and gusting over 30 knots, which isn’t bad at all. I’ve sailed in worse many times. The problem was the swell and surge that was created in this little bay.
The swell made the pontoon swing up and down more than a meter, and the surge was pushing and pulling it in and out constantly. There were four boats in total tied to the pontoon, us on the inner west side, a motorboat, and two sailboats on the outer east side.
Not long after, the movement made all the boats pull the pontoon in and out with the surge until one of its two chains broke loose from the dock. This only escalated the swinging and the situation started to get very uncomfortable.
BROKEN PONTOON AND SNAPPED MOORING LINES
The other boat owner and I tried to call the marina staff on the VHF multiple times to have them rig up some temporary lines to secure the pontoon and prevent it from moving around. The only thing they did was raise the gangway to the dock and lift their shoulders.
I don’t think they realized that the last chain holding the pontoon to the dock was about to fail, and they told us to wait and pray. Not my cup of tea, especially not when it feels like my boat is getting ripped apart…
Then all of a sudden, we heard a big snapping sound, like someone clapping their hands. One of the thick bowlines snapped straight off.
We now only had one line preventing the stern to slam into the pontoon and I didn’t trust it at all. I started the engine and put it in tick over forward to keep us away until we could arrange a new line. I called the marina staff again, and they came over to assist in their RIB.
During this episode, some old rope had gotten itself into my folding propeller and I lost propulsion just as we managed to secure the new bowline.
The wind increased to around 40 knots and the surge only got worse and gave us more trouble. My two 16mm lines going to the mid cleat snapped straight off as well. A few of the stern lines were squeaking alarmingly and I managed to swap some of them just before they failed too.
So much for not having to keep anchor watch…
A few hours later the weather slowed down for a short break and Mike volunteered to dive down to cut off the rope in the propeller. With that done, we hunkered ourselves below deck with some good food, beer, and a game of Risk before hitting the bed.
Some games we enjoy onboard
STORMY DAY NUMBER TWO
None of us got any good sleep. The rapid movement jerked towards and off the pontoon so hard that I would bite my tongue and knock my head into the wall behind my pillow every 10 seconds. My gut was hurting from seeing the abuse Ellidah’ s chainplates were taking.
That in combination with completely useless marina staff who did nothing to secure their badly maintained pontoon was enough for me. If that pontoon failed, Ellidah, the pontoon, and three other boats would come crashing into the end of the bay helplessly.
I went to the Marina office, let them know in quite a colorful language exactly what I felt about the situation and that we were going to leave. Luckily they agreed to only charge 50% of the original price due to our trouble so that was at least good of them.
It is a bit windy…
RIDING OFF THE STORM AT ANCHOR WHILE PLAYING GAMES
We cast off what was left of my poor mooring lines, went out of the marina, and anchored up behind the breakwater. After making sure the anchor was properly set and had the anchor alarm activated, we all sat back and relaxed.
Such a relief! No jerking pontoon, no snagging lines, and the comfort level onboard raised significantly.
It was raining horizontally; the wind was blowing above 40 knots making the small breaking waves lift off the water and spray into the cockpit like a pressure jet washer. Needless to say, that the cockpit wasn’t a pleasant place to stay and we closed ourselves down below deck again.
Looking at the weather outside the breakwater, I could only imagine the terrors going on out there. Huge waves were breaking over the tall wall of concrete and since we had shelter from the big hill, the wind out there was significantly stronger.
The best thing to do was to settle down below deck for some dinner, wine, and a rematch of Risk. It ended up being one of those competitive games where we barely came from it as friends, but it was a great night with lots of fun!
After that, we all got a proper good night’s sleep.
FINALLY SUNSHINE AGAIN
Monday, September 28th
The storm had calmed down quite a bit during the night and we finally got some sunshine again in the morning. After we left the marina, we didn’t have any more trouble. We saw a catamaran that started to drag and had to re-anchor. Another boat had its dinghy lift off the water and bounced around until it deflated.
I spoke to the guy on the catamaran and he told me that the boat with the dinghy also had to re-anchor in the middle of the night and had put out two anchors.
The Italian mainland got hit a lot worse than Sicily. They had tornadoes and flash floods which sadly took the life of one person.
SOME LESSONS FROM THE STORM
We were a bit tired of shitty weather and the last few days had been stressful, especially for me. It was the first storm I rode off and I learned a few lessons. I’ll break down a few quick ones:
- A marina isn’t always the safest place for a boat in a storm. At anchor, you can move freely as long as you put out a lot of chain and make sure the anchor is in a spot where it properly gets a good hold of the seabed.
- Keep your head cold and don’t stress. Try to stay calm and make rational decisions.
- ALWAYS have a backup plan. I can’t really address this too much. In any situation, you need to have at least a plan B, if not a C and D as well.
- My plan A was to ride off the storm in the marina. This failed.
- Plan B was to escape the marina and anchor up.
- Plan C, if my anchor wouldn’t hold me in place, I would go and re-anchor and consider to put out a second. Onboard Ellidah I always have 2 anchors + 1 for the dinghy.
- Think about this: What if the anchor is dragging, your windlass breaks down or you for another reason are unable to recover it? Tie a fender to the end of the chain, mark it on the plotter and drop it over board.
- Plan D is last resort, but if your anchor can’t hold, or you have to abandon the ground tackle, then you are better off going away from shore and to sea. Very few boats get lost in open ocean, it is when you are close to shore you are in danger. We could have gone to sea. It would have been uncomfortable, but we would been fine. Attempting to go into a marina in a situation like this is dangerous.
A SIDE NOTE OF COINCIDENCE
That was definitely enough action for a while, but I was proud of my little 20kg Delta holding us in place without moving at all. People talk a lot of shit about this particular anchor, but in my experience, once properly set, it holds.
It can sometimes be difficult to set properly though, which is why it serves as a spare anchor in one of my lockers today and there is now a 25 kg Rocna on my bow which is far superior.
A side note: I actually wrote this post and made the list of lessons about last season’s storm just about a week before I encountered another serious storm in Ibiza this year. However, the one in Ibiza was a completely different beast and I actually ended up tying a fender to my chain and dropped it overboard before heading out to safety in open sea.
You can read about this horrifying experience here:
Almost Losing the Boat to Brutal Weather in Ibiza
Next up, we leave Cefalu and sail northeast to the Aeolian Islands, probably this season’s highlight.
Fresh seafood, awesome hiking on one of the world’s oldest volcanoes, and watching the furious Stromboli spit lava during the night.
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Hold my beeer!!!
Haha! That happends in the next post ?
Yep, in the next post from the previous season. I am working on it and will probably post as soon as the Atlantic series is published. Bad internet connection is a challenge, but it will come out soon 🙂