With the weather constantly against us we decided to pick the best window we could and go for it. Based on the weather we knew this crossing would be quite taxing compared to our normal ‘fair weather sailor’ style we try and wait for, but the experience would be good with the different conditions, plus we’d be able to sail most of it which is a bonus as it was quite a long passage.
We had a good start to the trip. We were visited by loads of Dragonflies as we left Carloforte. They were all over the boat in varying colours all sunning themselves on the life-lines.
We also had a bit of drama about 10 miles off shore as I was down below getting a glass of water. I suddenly heard a weird sound in the front berth so investigated only to find water on the floor sloshing around. Water INSIDE a boat is not a good thing.
I called Helen who came down and kept her head as I was flapping about trying to find the leak. ‘Does it taste of salt?’ she said. I tasted. Nope, it was fresh.
Panic stations over!
Quite rightly she made me test to see if it was water from outside the hull (bad) or fresh water from our tanks (still not amazing but at least we’re not sinking). I calmed down and found that a pipe under pressure had come loose from the water tank. We quickly turned power off the pump which stopped the leak. Ten minutes later I’d fixed the pipe and mopped up all the water. Phew! We now left the pump turned OFF whenever not in use- a lesson learn’t the hard way!
As we continued the seas and winds started to build. We left knowing that we’d have 20-25 knots downwind in 2.0m – 2.5m seas. Now this seemed to us like a doable set of numbers as we’d had similar before but numbers mean nothing when you’re 75 miles offshore looking at a wave coming straight over the the boat above the bimini.
It’s extremely hard to describe 2.5 – 3.0m seas off-shore, if that’s indeed what they where. They seemed a lot more than that to us. The size and power can’t really be put into words but I’ll try. For the most part they were fine. Big certainly, but after a while we got used to them. It was the larger waves that came in sets that blew us away. At times these would lift the back of the boat high into the air, water coming level with the cockpit seats, gurgling all around us as it tried to make a path under us. The bow was then pushed violently downwards into the trough below as we surfed and picked up speed before hitting the bottom, recovering only to see the next wave ready to throw us around again. The forces placed on the boat were incredible but she coped well, not so sure about us! It’s definitely true what they say, the boat will always hold up better than the people sailing her.
It’s an amazing feeling surfing down waves this large. We hit 12.8 knots down one of them. Helen noted I had a strange look of 50% exhilaration, 50% pure fear. That’s not far off.
Again though we started getting used to these as the day pressed on, all great experience to get. As we entered darkness though they took on a whole new level of scary.
The skies darkened so you couldn’t see what was coming, that’s bad enough but throw into the mix at this time a huge lighting storm that showed up in front of us and you can imagine us waiting for invisible waves to smack the boat with only snapshot visions from lighting flashes showing the mad seas for the briefest of moments before we were plunged back into darkness.
You can hear the waves coming which I didn’t imagine beforehand. You get this kind of low level wusssshhhhhh sound approaching signalling another large wave is drawing close. Most of those (somehow) pass under the boat as she rides over them but with some the sound carries on, getting louder, and then SLAM. Some smashed into the side of the hull like scud missiles spinning us around before the autopilot regained course. Others came over the side into the cockpit along with a refreshing amount of water down our backs to wake us up a bit.
We felt a little out of control wondering if we’d done the right thing as the waves kept increasing as the night continued. We were being pushed ever closer to the lighting storm as well which was unlike anything we’d seen. The light show was amazing, scary, and quite beautiful with the normal flashes and arcs you see on land but also huge balls of light that glowed afterwards for a few seconds.
Up until this point we’d been heading to Minorca, which was the shortest crossing point, but we decided to head to port 20 degrees to try and stay below the storm ahead. Because of this ended up heading straight to Mallorca. This worked as we kept our distance and safely watched the show rather than sail right into it. It did however mean another night at sea as Mallorca was another 65 miles. We’d take that rather than enter into the heart of such a powerful electrical storm.
It was a long night and neither of us got much sleep. As dawn broke the seas calmed, the skies cleared, and I remember us looking at each other to kind of say.. ‘thank God that’s over!’
The following day was easy in comparison. Calm waves and sunny. We were even visited by a huge sea turtle.
The wind however dropped off in the afternoon meaning we needed the engine on for a while. This wasn’t such a bad thing as our batteries took a hammering over night – due to how hard the autopilot worked. I have to say though I wouldn’t have liked to try and hand steer through that so well done autopilot!
The miles ticked down but it was frustrating still being closer to Minorca than Mallorca as we passed under it. The issue was that by the time we’d now get to Minorca it would be dark whereas if we did another night we’d be in Mallorca bright and early the following morning, further towards Gibraltar and getting out of the Med before we REALLY get hit with bad weather.
The second night was no picnic either but after the first one everything seemed more controlled. We put in a double reef and furled the head sail just before a front hit – reading the signs perfectly. We sailed with this setup overnight in 18-22 knots of wind and the boat seemed very balanced so we could both sleep a little more on our off-watches.
Morning broke and we could see land before us. Luckily the winds and seas calmed as we drew closer to land and we picked up a mooring buoy in a sheltered bay and promptly fell to sleep.
I’m extremely proud of us both for handling this crossing. It was by far our toughest yet. We worked together well, sail changes are getting much faster and smoother. Looking back it was great to experience everything we did on the 220 miles or so over from Sardinia.
That’s the thing about sailing isn’t it? You always look back the next day at the positives, forgetting the madness of you being in a tiny bit of fibreglass in the middle of nowhere at the mercy of the sea.