Volos to Skiathos and Storm Medusa

The weather in Volos didn’t improve during Friday afternoon and it was impossible to leave so we waited through the evening – it did eventually calm down and the sea was flat around midnight but Ed preferred to leave very early than to sail overnight all the way.  I didn’t go to bed, as I’m not good at early mornings and am always better if I don’t get any sleep at all, than a couple of hours.  While he slept, I prepared the boat and we were ready to just start the engine and go.

I woke him at 05h00, and we were on the way at 05h10 – still dark so running on radar. There was a full moon so quite pleasant and of course the harbour is very well lit, so it was easy to get away from the mooring.  We were about 15 minutes out of the harbour, then the boat suddenly lost all power – the navigation instruments went off, along with the autopilot and the PC and we had no 12 volt in the boat at all!  Of course, we have our backup systems so I got out the iPad and launched Navionics so Ed could see where he was going, and I set about investigating.  We have no idea what happened at the moment – I reset both of the new battery management systems, switched all the 12V off and on again, and everything came back to life – very odd.

The first hour or so was flat water and no wind so we were motoring – I made coffee and breakfast so Ed was feeling human and we watched the sun come up – with is a very rare occasion for me 🙂

About a third of the way over the Gulf of Volos, the sea started to build and we had 15 knots and were heading upwind – we hoisted the sails and managed to hold a close reach, running at 6-7 knots which made us much more stable and easier to handle the waves. The wind shifted slightly as we got towards the entrance to the Gulf so luckily we managed to keep sailing on through without tacking or changing sail set.  However, once out in the channel from Evvoia, it was blowing a hooley!  The route to Skiathos was dead into the wind so no way we could take a direct route – we ummed and ah’ed whether to beat into it on engine, but decided instead to do long tacks backwards and forwards across the channel.  That’s one of the joys of sailing ….. not only do you get propulsion for free, but you also get to do twice as many miles for the same money 🙂

After a couple of tacks, we had the same problem again with the power – it cut off completely just as we completed our tack.  Ed went below this time and did the same fix – it’s Saturday and we know that we won’t be able to reach anybody today – so there was nothing more we could do, out on the sea with 18 knots breeze.

Ed noticed a small bay on the chart which was on the mainland and looked like it would give good shelter from the incoming meltemi.  The wind was pretty stable at around 8 knots as we approached and we turned downwind to go into the bay … just as we did so, we got a big gust of 20 knots and the boat heeled right over …. whoa …. !!  I struggled to get the boom under control and drop the mainsheets (REALLY drop the mainsheets – we have a twin system and I had to release both sides to ease the boom out enough to flatten the boat).  Ed struggled with the helm as the rudder was out of the water and he had no steerage – but eventually we got the boat under control and took the sails down – why does this stuff always happen when you’re running out of water ahead of you??  This isn’t good when you haven’t had any sleep – by this stage it was around 14h00 and I was exhausted!  The bay turned out to be nothing – a very beautiful spot, with lovely sand beaches and crystal water – there was another large yacht anchored in the middle, and no space for us to stay without tying up to the shore as the water was much deeper than on the chart.  It was very pretty but I was just too tired to even find my camera so I didn’t even take any pictures.

Reluctantly, we had to leave the bay and stick to the original plan of Skiathos – the forecast for the next few days is dire across the whole region – 25-30 knot winds for two solid days, with torrential rain – we really want to be in a safe place.  I can’t believe the rain forecast as it is showing around 40cm rainfall over 3 hours on Sunday night and another 10cm in 3 hours on Monday …. if it rains that much the island will sink!  This is the forecast for Monday – so we’re trying to find a place to hide out!

We stayed on the engine as I was just too exhausted to hoist the sails, so it was an interesting slamming journey.  There were big rolling waves coming down the Skiathos Channel already from the North and Ed powered over as quickly as he could as we were fighting for space with all the other yachts on the way trying to do the same thing!

Part way across we had another issue with the battery bank – the relay switch was clicking on and off like a madman!  Ed reset all the 12V system again – and it did it again.  On the second reset it was fine again.  This is getting a bit worrying.

There are three recommended anchorages on the south coast of Skiathos where shelter from the meltemi is reported to be good.  The first one, Koukounaries, was quite busy and Ed thought it was too open – so we checked out the second one, Ormos Platania.  It was really pretty here but as is often the case the depths were more than the chart and there were limited places where anchoring is possible – of course these places were full, not helped by the fact that a large proportion of the area was full of permanent moorings with buoys full of speed boats.

We kept cruising around looking for a good place – we found a beautiful bay for a lunch stop at Tsounkria Island to the south of Skiathos – there are shallow depths here with sand and lovely clear water, a great place for calm weather but not somewhere we can stay tonight.  As we left, the battery system cut out yet again!  This is very worrying now as we cant afford to not trust the power tonight and especially tomorrow in the storm.

In the end we dropped the anchor on Ormos Siferi, the official anchorage of Skiathos – there were quite a lot of boats tucked away into the corner so we decided to drop the anchor on the other side of the bay away from everyone else – and coincidentally behind a couple in “Mistral” I had been chatting with on the Women Who Sail the Med Facebook group which is a great place to meet other liveaboard sailors in the area.  Overnight on Saturday was just fine, although we were rolling around a bit with the waves, being quite exposed there.  When one of the yachts anchored at the other end of the bay left, we decided to move up there for the storm as there was much better protection.  Our neighbours in “Mistral” were picking up friends from the airport and they decided to abandon Skiathos and head back to the area we had just left which turned out to be a good move on their part.

The forecast had changed and the wind was now expected to start around 20h00 on Sunday night – and the storm now had a name …. Medusa, and it was all over the news with warnings to people to avoid basements and to stay indoors!  We decided to make preparations for the worst – we were quite happily laying at anchor for now and we seemed to be holding, but the seabed was weed – and we still don’t trust our 33kg Rocna anchor yet.

We spent the afternoon making sure we were ready – we secured all our canvas, made sure the decks were perfectly clear so I wouldn’t fall over anything going to the bow in the dark if needed, we took the plug out of the dinghy so the rain would drain away and not fill it up, we made sure the interior was secure for sea even though we were sitting at anchor and we prepared food – a pasta bolognese in the fridge that we could just microwave as needed on the assumption we would not be able to stand and cook later in the galley.  We even made bread for the following day.  All the emergency and night use equipment was made ready – interior lights set to red and navigation equipment set to the dimmed night screens, headsets fully charged and at the ready, lifejackets out, foul weather gear at the ready and plenty of towels and warm dry clothes.  We hoped that by going to the extreme preparation, it would all be for nothing!  However, this was not to be the case.

As the afternoon drew on, the anchorage began to fill up with more and more boats – many had chosen to med moor to the coastline, tying up on a rock or tree (my WORST mooring scenario and can’t imagine why anyone chooses this!) but most just lay on anchor around us.  A lot of the boats were too close and did not have enough scope of chain/rope laid out – some didn’t even check their anchors were holding.  Ed was almost constantly on the deck directing the traffic – we were not going to allow anyone to anchor in front of us or over our chain and he shouted at everyone and anyone who came close!  The boat shown on the right actually dropped his anchor in front of us and then let his chain out until he was behind us – at one point he was just 5m from our stern until Ed yelled at him and he moved!  All afternoon we sat with almost no wind and it was hard to believe that the storm was really coming but at 20h00 almost dead on the dot the clouds came up and the wind started in small gusts, building up all the time.  We stowed our cockpit cushions inside and sat in wait, watching the boats around us.

They started to come loose almost as soon as the wind came up – and at only 15-20 knots, boats started re-anchoring, especially those who were tied to the shore.  We felt sorry for a very small English yacht who had moored next to us – the elderly couple had done everything right, but they still came loose and he had no electric anchor winch and had to pull all his chain in by hand – he ended up anchoring in the buoyed off swimming area he was at least out of everyone’s way in there.

By the time it got to about 22h00 almost all of the 30 or so boats in the anchorage had come loose in the dark and were constantly trying to re-anchor – it was mayhem.  The wind was still only 15-20 knots constant but the gusts were coming in around 25 knots by then – my eyes were glued to the TimeZero screen at the nav station below, while poor Ed was outside in the rain keeping an eye on other boats.  Those equipped with AIS were easy for me to track on screen – but most boats don’t have it, so Ed had to try and watch them by eye in the dark.  All the dashed lines on the screen shot are boats on the move with AIS – but there were lots more without it!

It’s a shame I didn’t rig up our Go-Pro on the rail but I thought it would be too dark to catch any footage anyway – and was scared the storm would blow the camera off!

Just before 23h00, our anchor pulled loose at the end of yaw – we were one of the last to break out, and the weed is one of the worst anchoring grounds, but the wind was only at around 25 knots and we’ve sat through 40 knot storms before with our Jambo in weed …. not happy and not impressed.  We know what to do though …. this emergency routine comes as second nature and we don our headsets rapidly, the sprayhood is stowed away so Ed can see (even though this now means we’re being pelted with torrential rain), engine goes on, bow thruster on and I head for the bow in the torrential rain …. I had been sitting down below with my lifejacket on in preparation anyway so just a matter of clipping on the jackstay and battling up front.  This is when I severely regret having gained 30kgs in the last couple of years …. my foul weather gear doesn’t fit and I’m refusing to buy more as I need to lose weight again!  So I’m out there in bikini bottoms and a T-shirt as my thin “water proof” jacket does absolutely nothing, so may as well just keep the amount of soaked clothes to a minimum 🙂

Our bow roller is a disaster – we did say earlier that it was going to be redesigned at the end of the season, but trying to winch in 70m of chain and keep it in a straight line out the front of the boat to avoid ripping off the “wings” which hold the anchor in place, when we’re yawing backwards and forwards like a see-saw was not easy but eventually the chain was in and the anchor was secure.  The other issue with the Rocna is you can’t just winch it in and secure it – as it comes up absolutely covered in weed and mud and you have no chance of it resetting again unless it’s clean.  So in the dark, we also have to drag it through the water forwards and backwards until all the debris is off – all the time hanging on to the bow rail in 25 knot gusts.

We had already discussed our “escape plan” earlier in the evening – if we came loose we would go back to the other side of the bay where we came from.  There was plenty of space there, we knew the depths and the sea state was not as bad as we thought it would be.  By this time, another of our neighbours, a small catamaran, had already moved there.

The anchor was launched again about 15 minutes later, and it seemed to hold – by some miracle there was an almost complete lull in the storm and although we had torrential rain, we only had about 10 knots of wind at the most.  The Rocna is supposed to be set slowly and gradually, with the boat moving backwards at less than 1 knot of speed – with the lull in the wind this was possible, so we breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon after this respite, the next front came in and the wind was rapidly up to a constant 25-30 knots – the boat was yawing back and forth from one side to the other, we were heeling over at each turn as much as we would be doing under sail!  This is not good for the anchor holding – but there was nothing we could do to stop it – a design issue of our type of boat!  It held for about an hour in the steady wind – and then at the end of a “yaw” we got a gust of 30 knots and loose it came again.  We weren’t in a panic – we had so much space behind us we could wait and see if it reset itself – but we watched the screen as we zig-zagged backwards out of the bay for 500m or so.  By this time, we were in 30m of water so there’s no chance we were going to reset – so out I went on the bow again, soaked to the skin and now in a hailstorm and we took the anchor in again.

We drove forwards back to the shallow water – the engine could only just about make 1 knot of speed on full power into the wind and at some points it could only stay still.  We managed to get back to where we wanted to be, and dropped the anchor again.  This time the wind was blasting and Ed tried to continually motor TOWARDS the anchor to keep the backwards boat speed under 1 knot to try and set …. we tried this twice but no luck.  All we got was pretty zig-zag patterns on our navigation track all the way back out into the bay again.  In came the anchor again.

It was 04h30 by this time – and we were both freezing cold, soaked to the skin – we weren’t hungry though as we’d eaten our pasta …. so glad Ed suggested we made food, as I can’t imagine trying to put together a meal.  I’d kept the coffee going all night – coffee machine strapped in place.  Ed turned the boat downwind and we just let it do it’s own thing for a bit and motored up and down to keep us safe.  There were many other boats doing the same thing as there really was nothing else to be done if the anchor won’t hold – and as it started to get light we decided to head in towards Skiathos Harbour, with the intention of just finding some flatter water for a while to try to get the anchor clean and work out where we could go.

For those who know Skiathos Harbour, you will know that it is busy and very limited in anchoring space due to the fact that most of it is a restricted area being the landing path for the airport – the runway literally starts at the water edge in the harbour, so it’s their final approach and no boats higher than 5m are allowed as there is risk masts will be hit by planes!  It is also a busy ferry port with some pretty big ships in and out all day – so their turning circle is also kept clear.  The quayside is always full – and boats were even rafted up, not something I would like in a storm.  We decided to drop the anchor temporarily just outside the ferry port – and here it is mud …. yippee!!  The Rocna is perfect in mud – and although we had 35 knots winds when we anchored with gusts of around 40 knots, the anchor went down easily and nearly shot me off the bow when it stopped the boat dead, holding solid in the mud.  The only issue was trying to get the bridle on – as this means literally hanging over the bow to hook a rope onto the chain – of course I had my lifejacket on and was clipped on to the boat, but it still would not have been fun to go over the rail into the water 🙂  We don’t dare not to put the bridle on for fear of ripping the bow roller off.

It only took a couple of hours before the port police came along in their dinghy and moved us on as there was a ferry on the way in – but despite the 35-40 knots it had been constantly blowing, we had at least managed to regroup, get dried and warmed up and have something to eat – I had also managed to get an hour sleep or so, as having been awake all night a day earlier as well, I was keeling over!

The pile of wet clothes and towels on the floor had been steadily growing – and the floor was wet and slippery too.  There had been too much in and out of the boat all night and of all the things we have on board as a “luxury” we are so happy we have our bluetooth headsets now – it was brilliant and made a huge difference to be able to talk to each other normally, despite me standing on the bow in gale force winds and us both being in torrential rain – we could just have a normal conversation every time we had to re-anchor so we both knew what was going on all the time.  I will never be without them again!

When the port police came along, they were very friendly and just explained that the ferry was on it’s way in and would need more space than usual to turn due to the wind – they directed us to go further into the bay and told us where we could anchor – where they sent us was actually in the restricted zone, so I’m a bit nervous about being under the flight path but I’m assuming there won’t be any planes coming in for a while.  The nice policeman assured me we would be fine with the planes …. so here we are now, finally safely anchored in the solid mud.

We can get some sleep!

Leave a Reply