We discussed during May that a return trip to Greece from Algarve was something that was possible and could be done just for the fun of it. We have done the tour before and had some knowledge what was laying ahead of us. Downside for us was the fact that we where leaving around Midsummer (late June) which put us close to high season and the period of less wind in the Med.
The shakedown cruise was to Gibraltar where we stayed a couple of days as both of us are enjoying Gibraltar but also to choose a weather window for or next leg destined to Sicily and Licata on the south side. Its roughly a week’s sailing and we thought the weather window for the week to come was reasonably good with aft winds and speed. Leaving Gibraltar and sailing into the Med. is magic, the feeling of all the cruising ground laying ahead of you together with crystal clear water and good anchoring was shearing us up.
But the first sign that the weather was turning things upside down for us started a day out from Gibraltar when our westerly wind increased with 10 to 15 Kn (giving 30+ wind in average) more than the forecast predicted but was still manageable but the wave situation increased to 4.5 to 5.5 m high waves coming pretty close to each other and breaking – they were looking pretty mean! Well, to quote Ann-Sofie, do we have a convenient stop around so we could get rid of this very uncomfortable sailing but as we all know no bus stops at sea.
These conditions kept on for two days and we broke our speed record without realising it, new record is 16.9 kn through water.
Almost as worse is when the wind all of a sudden quits but you still experience the state of the sea, this took less than an hour and putting on the engine to make life more comfortable was an easy decision. We started but I shut it down almost direct because there was a strange sound that did not belong there. Opening the hatch to the engine room showed the hunch was right, we were met by a cloud of black smoke that smelled like burnt rubber. After a quick look the diagnose was clear, the belt to our sea water pump on the main engine was broken and the I was unable to move the wheels at the sea water pump. Well, that is no problem we have a newly renovated pump and a big storage of belts in the boat. To change the pump showed that the crack of the belt origins from the pump being stuck. To change the sea water pump on our Volvo Penta is an easy task so after the old one was removed the new one was put in place the search for the correct belt started. We have a lot of spare belts but by some reason that particular belt was not present on board, most likely in one of the many boxes in our apartment.
Finding our self in a pretty rolling environment the motivation to get the sea water pump working was high. Ann-Sofie brought up the idea that we could use thin rope to replace the belt. After a fast check in the Nigel Calder Diesel Engines book we decided to test the idea. We took 4 mm Dynema line, cut it in the right length and put three ropes to replace the belt, tightened the solution and started the engine. It worked!! For the first 24 hours we checked it every 10-15 minutes but after a while confidence grow and at the end the solution was used for over 120 engine hours before we got a new belt. See http://www.sailinglife.se for Ann-Sofies story and pictures.
For safety we changed our plans and decided to go to south Sardinia to anchor and then decide if we should go to Cagliari or not for a new belt. After 24 hours rest we decided to go to Sicily and Licata. Wind where very light and engine was used more or less all the way. We tried to get a new belt in Licata, but sadly we failed. After a short but lovely stop in Licata we went directly to Argostoli, Kefalonia, Greece.
Light winds and clear sky felt like descent conditions however close to the south east corner of Sicily we were stopped (totally black and +1 m waves) and two guys from Guardia Finaza come on board to check that we did not have any immigrants on board which we did’nt. After we showed our intended course for the Finzaza guys, to Greece they warned us that there were a lot of immigrant boats around and we should be very alert and if seen not stop to help for our own safety but communicated with the Italian authorities. During the nigh another two of the high speed boats checked us out which felt good and the trip to Argostoly went without any problems.
Coming back to Greece felt more than good, we missed the Greek cruising grounds a lot. For this cruise we limited our sailing area to the Ionian Sea. Being there in July and August is being exposed to more than one charter boat and a lot of other boats, crowded it was. But, it is a lovely cruising ground with short distances between anchorages and a lot to choose from.
Sailing in the Ionian Sea is using the wind that usually blows a few hours every afternoon so to some extent we sailed a little but motoring a lot. As we all know the north east part of the Med. countries had very warm weather for a month in a row which opened for the weather to actually play havoc with everyone.
For us it meant starting to plan our cruising after the Cape index instead of wind direction and speed. Lightning is not uncommon in the Ionian but this year the intensity was impressive.
Due to this and the reports we heard from Sicily, Sardinia and the Baleares of weather that had been tougher with lightning, higher wind speeds etc we decided to go back west earlier than planned. The basic plan for the return sail was to visit new places we had not been to and not to stress. Well, with history in place we sailed in two day passages between lightning storms and strange weather totally planning our sail to go where the Cape index was as low as possible. Except from our passage from Sicily to South of Sardinia we managed to avoid the lightning storms with margin. Going to Sardinia we were followed by a huge lightning front originated from the north of Africa and we missed it by less than 10 Nm. It kept us on our toes for 5 hours sailing and motoring keeping up a boat speed over 9 kn. We do not like lightning at sea!!
The rest of the trip to Gibraltar was in two day legs to avoid upcoming bad weather that will put us in a standby situation for a week or so. Sailing during this period was not very present but motor sailing was to keep the speed to at least 5 kn. After Gibraltar the Cape index all of a sudden decided to not be a problem and we sailed for half the distance to Rio Formosa in Algarve.
Conclusions regarding the weather was that we used the engine for approximately 500 hours and sailed in less than 120 hours during our 3500 Nm for this cruise. The warm water in the north part of the Med. supported the strange weather situation and we have got many reports of serious lightning storms both in Sardinia, Sicily and on the Baleares during this period of the summer.
The weather was stabilising the further west we come and once passed Gibraltar it was more normal. This profile has kept until now with in-stability in the eastern and central part of the Med. and more stable weather in the west. One reason to the more stable weather in the western part might be that the water temperature has been lower this year than earlier.
Sailing in the Med. is still a wonderful cruising environment. The clear water, usually not to long legs between marinas and anchorages, stable weather and availability to supermarkets in various forms makes life enjoyable. We do miss that we did not sail in the Agean sea this time.
Did we have more failures on this cruise, yes the clutch on our autopilot linear drive broke and had to be changed, and one stainless steel shackle broke but was easily changed.
Good things to have as spare parts are among other things a sea water pump for your engine, spare linear drive or at least spare clutch, an assortment of stainless steel shackles and the right belts.