Saturday, June 06, 2009

Messina to Milazzo in a gale

I awoke to strong southerly winds blowing through the marina and stirring up a confused sea in the strait. At last a favourable wind, though I wanted to ensure I timed my departure to avoid potentially nasty wind against tide conditions. I'd failed to predict the tidal direction the day before - I'd experienced 1.5 knots against me, though I'd anticipated that the tide would be with me. My Italian neighbours helpfully described the tidal regime - north until 2pm then south with a hour of slack water. I'd be going through 11.30-1 so all seemed good.

As the morning progressed, the wind increased. I can see why the marina insisted I berthed stern-to. Reversing out in the strong cross-wind would have been a challenge to the most experienced Mediterranean sailor, for me it would have been a disaster.
When I left the wind was a steady 25 knots with gusts to 30 knots. I arranged the the marina dinghy to keep my bow from falling off too soon and press-ganged a couple of other sailors to cast-off my lines. Thanks to the help my departure from the marina was without incident, almost professional.

I set off in search of the fuel pontoon I'd been assured I'd find along the shore a mile to the north. Sure enough I found it, but going alongside would be have been a disaster for the top-sides. I watched a pilot boat riding against the quay and decided that with the wind as it was, I'd manage without a refill. Instead I altered course for the northern entrance to the straits with nothing but a small genoa. I was making 7-8 knots over the water but only 4-5 knots over the ground, no wonder the sea was so confused. Not sure if I'd misunderstood my Italian neighbours, the tide certainly wasn't what I'd been led to expect, anyway I made it through though the tides in Messina Straits remain a mystery.

Once out of the strait I changed course to the NW expecting the wind to start easing the further I went from the funnel of the strait. How wrong can I be, with a tiny genoa on a reach Kika was heeling over as though we were fighting into the wind under full sail. The noise was incredible. Even though I was close to shore the fetch was enough to launch numerous waves over the side. It wouldn't have been pleasant further off shore. This wind wasn't predicted, though through-out the day, the radio broadcast updated forecasts each time increasing the strength.

I briefly considered heading downwind to one of the Aeolian islands rather than face a fine reach to Milazzo in the conditions. However I decided I'd press on and divert if I couldn't make my course. Fortunately the Kika took it in her stride and we made good time under a tiny genoa.

The Mediterranean weather is full of surprises, changing from a force 8+ to almost disappearing to a force 4 within 5 minutes. Then for the last hour it became highly temperamental, unpredictable and moody; dying and then returning with renewed vigor. Though it was hard work and at times deafening for me there's no contest between a tough sail and a long day's motoring.

I dropped anchor north of the main harbour in Milazzo, dried off and let my ears adjust to the evening sounds of the town.

6/6/09, Anchorage off Milazzo: N38deg 13.3' E15deg 14.7'

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