I no longer believe in weather forecasts for the Mediterranean. If the report says 20 knots of wind I am going to expect 30. I have been told the science, of why it’s so hard to predict the weather in this place, therefore from now on I expect the unexpected.
Ridiculous, may be too strong a word but next time I see a weather report, I might just say “Yeah RightO”
Lately The Weather Has Been In The “Nothing” Category
Who would think you could get sick of hot and settled weather, yet now after 4 weeks of little or no wind, I have moments of wishing to be back in the Gulf of Lion where it seems to be windy most of the time. So when we saw a few days of wind forecast we thought ah! A perfect opportunity to sail the 33 nautical miles to the La Galite Islands. We had heard good things about the islands and were keen to sail there. On the morning we left there was a slight breeze, yet no sooner had we moved from the port than in true Tabarkan style the wind seemed to disappear, leaving us with the only option of motoring to the islands. The trip to was non eventful and we were both happy to be on the move.
As we drew closer to the islands we could see soaring cliffs on the multiple islands, a beautiful lighthouse, a small number of traditional white buildings with blue trims and the odd ruin. The water was crystal clear and we could see abundant fish including the jumping variety. Based on the forecast prior to departure, we knew the winds were gusting up to 20 knots from the south in the evening, so we motored to the far northern coast of the main island giving us good protection. It was around 4 pm when we anchored, we had a couple of hours to get ourselves organised. We anchored in sand close to the wall of rock and set in for the night.
We celebrated our arrival with a glass of wine, a swim, a meal and an early night.
It was heaven to be out of the marina and to be alone. We are now starting to feel like part of the community of Tabarka, yet our current home is a double edged sword. It offers security which is important here, but our new spot in the world means we are exposed to the life of the port on a constant level. Our home sits amongst traffic flow, people, fishermen, scooters and cars. The movement and noise of people is ever present. The peace and quiet was heaven out on the water.
The temperature in the evening was 31 degrees so we both slept outside. We both awoke with the strong wind change at 3 am. The wind had moved from the South to blowing WNW and were gusting up to 35 knots. Miss Catana was being pushed towards the land mass instead of away from it.
It was time to move without delay to the safety of the sea.
As I brought up the anchor, the last 10 metres of chain jammed in the windless (the motor that lifts the anchor) so we completed the final section by hand before we could move on. By the time we left the winds were 35 knots with the odd gust hitting the 40’s so we were glad to be out of there.
Dawn was due at 6 am so we agreed the best action was to seek the best shelter we could on the eastern face of the island and let the wind blow over us, as we held position with the motors ticking over gently. At this stage I thought the weather was impressive if slightly inconvenient but still a worthy experience.
The howl of the wind would come just before each gust would hit, it would then ease off as we braced for the next gust. My Captain reminded me of an eager teenager chasing the thrill, egging the wind to go higher and higher. Giving a loud whoop whoop when it went over us at 40 knots! Added to the noise of the wind, and Captain, was an alarm on board set to engage once the winds moved passed 31 knots. The high piercing beep seemed to be constant with the roar of the wind. Bear in mind this wind was being experienced in protected waters. It was a solid decision of the Captain to up anchor and move as soon as the wind changed, his prophetic words of wisdom “this wind is only going to get stronger” rang true for the next three hours.
An hour after dawn the weather started to moderate and move more northerly, we were able to move our boat around to the front, or south of the island, where there is a small harbour for fishing. Also military vessels with buildings nestled into the face of the rock. There was plenty of sand to choose from and once we were settled we had a quiet breakfast before we ventured onto the island.
In Tunisia you are not allowed to take photos of military or police, buildings and equipment associated with the forces. This side shot of the “front of the island” shows you how picturesque it was. The Tanker in the background has been in an insurance dispute of some kind, which has meant the ship has been moored at La Galite for 3 years. They have a routine where crew come 2 weeks on 2 weeks off.
An Unexpected Invitation To Lunch
In Tunisia before you leave port, you must tell the National Guard Police that you are going and who is going with you. Upon arrival at the new destination you need to notify authorities of your arrival. Permission to take guests aboard is at the discretion of the local force, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. So going to visit the local police force on the island was normal fare, we just needed to walk up the hill to get to them.
Before we moved upward we had a chat with the local fisherman on shore and they asked us where we were from and if we had any cigarettes or whiskey. Standard daily questions for life in Tabarka. Then as luck was with us, one of the local chaps was taking his tractor up the hill, I asked if we could hitch a lift. Occupational health and safety at home would have had kittens. The Captain told me he had an escape plan if the tractor should roll, my approach was just hang on tight and enjoy the view straight down.
Half way up the hill was the National Guard’s house and just before we got there we heard a loud whistle and OOOOY called out. This loud OOOOY was echoed from the tractor and a warm greeting was given as we met a young man from the National Guard. In only a moment of exchanging our details he had insisted we stay for lunch with him colleagues. A delightful lunch of spicy macaroni was followed up by a guided tour of the local caves, and the best track to reach the summit of the island. Before we left he made us promise that we would return in the evening for coffee and dinner. We were at first hesitant but he insisted and said we would be able to get the weather report from the television so we must return.
Our walk was sensational! It included encounters with ancient caves, roman ruins, turtles, birds, rabbits, and monster spiders, that’s if you were to ask The Captain, his opinion of their size. It was his job to walk in front and snare any spiders and webs before the Miss came through. Apparently a large sheep contingent live on the main island but we were unable to spot any evidence besides sheep poo. The view was spectacular and well worth the effort required to reach the top. It was one of those winding hill walks where you thought you must be on your last leg of the journey, only to round the corner and be confronted by another steep rise. There were 35 turns before we reached the summit. It was worth every step. The Captain was counting, I was too busy breathing.
Ride ‘Em Cow Girl
I have always wondered what it would be like to ride one of those mechanical bulls in pubs around Queensland. I now have a good idea. Our motion was up, down, side on, then the next side, face up, face down. The waves got shorter, sharper and steeper. We were literally surfing waves as they came in. While you watched it was ok but I wondered how this would feel in the dark. We discussed options. Do we stay, do we go. We had an excellent anchorage and the prediction was very different to what we were experiencing so maybe we ride it out like any good cowboy and just hang in there. The waves were not getting less, if anything they were getter larger.
By this stage I am spending all my time upstairs at the helm, as this was the most comfortable position to be in. I was now starting to feel seasick.
It was unpleasant.
It was always the Captains call to stay or move.
It was when the three fishing boats moved on out, he said if they go so do we. The sun was starting to set so we would be anchoring in the dark. No problem, we would go back to the same spot as night one with some prior local knowledge.
It Was Dark
This Island is imposing as it rises straight up out of the ocean in biblical proportions on the SE face. Yet as we motored around we could barely make out land mass to sky it was so dark. Never in my life have I experienced dark like it. We were a long way from the bright lights of civilization. Obstacles included, avoiding a parked container ship, one submerged wreck, 4 dangerous rocks, shallow water and islands on both sides and in several different configurations. The Captain kept his eyes straight ahead and managed the wheel allowing for best night vision, whilst I focused on the screen and gave verbal directions either port or starboard. I thought as a team we did pretty well, at no stage did either of us get flustered or upset. Yes it was intense, but we both did ok. I just wanted somewhere protected to rest for the evening.
We anchored without drama and stood in wonder as we listened to the wind on the other side of the island from where we had come. I thought of lions roaring in the distance. Lunch had been a long time prior, yet neither of us felt the need to eat. We sat in silence in wonder at how the weather could change so quickly and in the opposite direction to the forecast. This place is crazy when it comes to weather.
We agreed anchor watch was called for, any chance of a wind change we would need to move as once again the lie of the land and ocean depths meant we were quite close to shore if the wind should change direction. We had discussed sailing back to Tabarka, SE winds weren’t favourable, plus the wind gust was high 40’s did we really want to be sailing in that? Should I add at this point motoring was not an option as we had limited fuel, as the fuel tanker was not due for another week. This trip is all about sailing, plus we had motored all the way here.
Mother Nature has a way of forcing your hand, and if tonight had been a poker hand we had a few crap cards. Even this anchorage was not safe. As we watched and felt the wind it was wild and erratic, changing from one direction to the other and it was now constantly in the 40 to 45 knot range. It was not safe to be here, yet we could not find anywhere safe in these conditions to anchor. Our only option was to sail out to sea and head home.
The big ace up our sleeve was our boat, there was no doubt she could handle the conditions. By this stage I was feeling less than pretty and I was experiencing my first case of motion sickness. The Captain told me toughen up as this was only heavy weather. Even after a growl I wasn’t much use to him. I did stay awake the night long, I did keep an eye on our course and I did listen to the weather forecasts. Yet I was not prepared to go downstairs past the desk and this was for only short bursts, nor was I prepared to assist with the sailing.
I did grace him with my presence. It was enough for me.
Early into this uncomfortable journey I heard across the radio “Security, Security special weather report for the Albanian coast including Tabarka. Winds forecast for 28 to 33 knots. I was looking at the dial it was reading 47 knots as we left the islands of La Galite. Either the weather forecast was bullshit or our dials were wrong, but the` wind and sea of white caps told me what we were getting was different to 30 nautical miles away. The only good thing, I presumed the weather would get better closer to home. It did but it seemed to take a bloody long time coming.
Heading into strong winds is no fun and I was keen for this night to end.
I didn’t do much except stay awake and keep an eye on the navigation progress, listen to the weather forecast and manage my sea sicknesses. At no point did I engage in the sailing, Captain bore the responsibility for our safe passage. I was no more than a fringe dweller holding on to my empty stomach contents. He did a good job and he learnt a great deal of how our boat handled and how best to sail her in the conditions presented.
At one point of the journey we passed too close for my comfort, to the border beacon showing the line for the Algerian coast to Tunisian Sovereignty, I knew it meant we were getting close to home. We arrived into port at around 6.30 am with quite nice sailing conditions to end the journey. By this stage I was feeling human again my only aliment, I was cold and weary.
Another Learning Experience
We still need a better system to access weather – a live up to date system. Grib files, two or three days in advance have thus far proved unreliable.
We needed to be more prepared.
We needed to have the mainsail hooked up, our lazy jack bag open ready in case. Once the bad weather began, there was no way in hell I was going to let My Captain on the roof to unzip the bag and organise. He tried to convince me in all that crap weather that he would be fine going upstairs. I didn’t entertain the idea of turning the boat into this wind, not to even get a small section of the sail up, it would have been horrendous. Truly horrible. WE SAILED ON THE GENOA ALONE!!!
Going slow and not having the most stable motion, was not good enough reason to make me change my mind. A man overboard in these conditions would have ended in tears.
We learnt a heap about our boat. How best to sail her with just the genoa pointing in the wind as high as possible. It worked best when the sail was released a little from a completely sheeted in sail, the dagger boards needed to be half way down to stop the boat sliding sideways. A small mainsail would have been helpful for balance but hindsight is wonderful thing. The Captain’s main concern was not speed but to monitor sideways slip of the boat, but to keep on the staightest course back to Tabarka. First hour we were 1.7 km away from GPS course and after making modifications to sails and dagger board, plus changing from course to wind hold on the autopilot, we got back on track.
We need to get our gear ready much sooner for heavy weather. Have all the gear out ready to go on the spare bed so it’s easy to grab if needed. We also need a small bag upstairs, quick to grab, with essentials, including hats, gloves, sea sickness tablets and maybe some energy bars.
We need a better check list before departure. Not having full fuel tanks was not a problem but in the end it limited our options and thus added to the stress. We needed to be prepared for all contingencies.
Happy With Anchoring
We were really happy with our anchoring. After the issue jamming the anchor we tested this later in the day and worked out what went wrong. I am starting to trust this process much more, even though we had to move twice throughout the trip, this was to stay extra safe and not because our anchor had moved.
This Was Not A Storm
I was a little sad when I was telling my dad we had been through our first stormy weather and the Captain corrected me and said it was only HEAVY weather- Bugger.
PS Some more photos including the local turtles of which we saw many, as they moved slowly to get out of our way.