Log #23j Storm Damage in Milos

January 26, 2002 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 23 Greece, The Logs

Toronto, Canada
Jan. 26/02

Hi Folks,
I started to preface this log two weeks ago while in Panama City, but got distracted and then forgot that I hadn’t sent it out. I had a couple of my readers let me know they were missing it. So here is Log #23j, which is the one which explains how our dinghy was damaged. In my last letter I believe I talked about getting a new dinghy at the Toronto Boat show. This log explains why. It was one of the three or four most frightening times of our trip so far.

After experiencing several gales while crossing the Aegean in October/November, we will not be too eager for an early spring departure from our comfortable berth in the marina at Kemer in Turkey. We’ll probably not leave until mid April. Originally we were considering mid March, but after the fall storms we can appreciate the Med is not very friendly in the winter (fall and spring too).

We survived it and hopefully will have a new Zodiac when we depart in April. I’ll let you know how our transporting of a 75 pound inflatable dinghy on an aircraft going from Toronto to Chicago and Istanbul goes. Nothing is ever simple.

All the best,
Aubrey

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Log #23j Storm Damage in Milos

Kemer, Turkey
Dec. 6, 2001
Covers the period Nov. 1 to 8, 2001

After the 70 mile, 27 hour passage from Monemvasia across the southwest Aegean, we arrived in Adhamas, the main town in the Bay of Milos, alongside the outer wall of the L-shaped town pier. It was a sunny day with light NE winds and a barometric high of 1019, down a bit from the high the previous day of 1021. This is a pleasant town with adequate stores, chandlery, restaurants, car rental and tour agents along the waterfront. There is an internet café, but E-mail transmission and downloading was erratic and frustrating.

We enjoyed the Mineral and Mining Museum on Milos, as mining is the economic mainstay, ahead of tourism. The island is a source of a wide range of minerals due to its volcanic history. Milos is riddled with mine shafts and open pit mines. Next day we took a local bus up into the mountain town of Plaka, and walked through the heavy rain to the Archeological Museum of Milos, an excellent display of antiquities, from Neolithic times to the recent past. In the Early Bronze Age (3200 – 2300 BC), Milos was fairly densely populated. It was depopulated after the Mycenaean period (1400 – 1100 BC), but recovered from 1000 BC after Doric settlement. Its economic flowering was due to an abundance of obsidian, a black volcanic glass used throughout the ancient world for blades and points for a wide variety of tools and weapons. The island continued to develop throughout the Greek classical period, producing great works of art, pottery, vases, votives, and grave reliefs. This artistic development culminated in the unrivalled grace and charm of its statuary, the most famous being a statue of Aphrodite, now known as the Venus de Milo, a copy of which is a focal point in this museum; the original is one of the most important exhibits in the Louvre.

We enjoyed the wander through this quaint whitewashed mountain town with its painted and cobble stoned alleys. From the water these towns look like snow capped mountain tops. The Folk Museum was also an interesting look at domestic life over the past two hundred years. We didn’t have the energy to walk up to the castrum, the fortification above the town, but enjoyed watching the small three wheeled vegetable truck which came into the town square, and later a similar fish truck, to which the inhabitants came to do their daily marketing.

The weather was turning nasty. The third day the barometer dropped to 1016 with force 8 – 9 gales from the NE and heavy rain. Next day, Nov. 4, the  barometer was down to 1002, and the rain and force 9 winds kept up until early afternoon, dropping to a lighter force 4, and swinging ominously to the southeast.

We were OK in the NE gales as we were in the lee of the mountains and the town and on the outer, sheltered side of the pier. However, this afternoon the wind came from the SE, causing a swell to come along the length of the outer wall of the pier. As the wind increased from the SE, we shifted to what should have been the lee side of the L-shaped pier, on its NW face, astern of Kajsa, the Swedish boat that had been accompanying us the past week or so. A couple of other boats left to go over to a cove the other side of the bay sheltered from the south, but exposed to the north. As the Navtex (our dedicated weather radio receiver) continued to forecast NE gale force winds, we decided to stay put, fearing being trapped at anchor across the bay on a lee shore when the wind shifted NE. This subsequently turned out to be a dangerously wrong decision. However, shortly after our relocating, the winds shifted SSE and were up to force 8, again creating a dangerous sea pounding us against the pier. We had to get out.

The sun had set, and we didn’t want to risk crossing in the dark the two mile stretch of bay to an unlit anchorage on the other side. With the assistance of Rune and Joan (who had just returned from the US) on Kajsa, we cast off to relocate to the inner side at the end of the pier in the lee of, and alongside, a 50 foot steel fishing trawler. Sprite was in the water, and we were not going to try to hook it up to the dinghy tow in these conditions, but it was made fast to our stern cleat. After we were secured in the lee of the trawler, we helped Kajsa come alongside outboard of us. By this time the wind was a howling full force 9/10 gale (45 to 50 knots gusting to 60) with heavy rain, and 2 metre waves washing over the pier, bashing around the stern of the fishing boat, and pitching our boats up and down as if we were out at sea.

We had three bow lines, a couple of springs, and a stern line to the trawler. Kajsa had two bow lines and a couple of spring lines to us and a bow and stern line across us to the trawler. As we watched our lines we laughed with Joan, a relatively novice sailor, and said, “Welcome back to Greece.” I went back on board the trawler to try to adjust the bow line from Kajsa as it was chafing on our anchor and bow pulpit. Our bows were facing the trawler’s stern which in turn overhung the end of the pier.

Then an apparition came screaming out of the wind and spray onto the trawler’s stern deck where I was securing the lines, howling, “Get off my boat!” It was the owner screaming at me to leave, in Greek of course. His boat was in no risk from our small boats alongside and he wasn’t going out fishing in this weather, but he kept screaming at me. I tried to indicate we would be in great danger to try to leave in these conditions to go out in the pitch black into a shoal-strewn volcanic bay with minimal shore lights to indicate the shoreline. He was putting on foul weather gear and I was afraid he would be violent enough to cut our lines! He kept screaming to leave leave leave!

I gave up trying to plead with him that we couldn’t in these dangerous conditions, and went ashore to get the port police to speak to him. The pier was awash in a maelstrom of spray and rain lashed by winds gusting up to over 60 knots, the waves bashing over the 100 metres of the outer section. Ten minutes later when I returned with a port police officer, I could not find the fisherman. I went outboard to Veleda, to find Kajsa had cast off, and Judy screaming that we had to cut Sprite loose and leave too! No way! Back on the pier the policeman had left!

Then the boat’s captain came out at me again, and I was prepared to really yell at him, or get physical if he tried to cut our lines, as my wife by herself on Veleda was terrified in these conditions, and feared for her life and the safety of our boat, our home. I wanted him to talk to the now disappeared policeman. It took me a few seconds to realize he was no longer yelling at me to leave, but was giving me a heavier hawser to secure Veleda’s bow to his stern. He was now helping us!

I secured the hawser to one of his stern cleats, then took a few seconds to balance myself for the lunge between his boat and Veleda. When I landed on Veleda Judy was still yelling we had to cut Sprite free and leave. I secured the hawser, and noted that we had only two bow lines left, one had already snapped. The fisherman directed me to pay out more line so we wouldn’t risk bashing into the trawler. With this done I tried to comfort and reassure Judy that we were OK now that we could stay alongside, but why was she yelling to cut Sprite free?

Sprite had sunk! No way! Capsize maybe, but how could an inflatable sink?

Sure enough, when I looked over the stern, Sprite was sunk with only part of her starboard bow tank bobbing at the surface held by the painter. The motor was underwater, the life jackets afloat, still tied on, but the fuel tank was in the cockpit. The air tanks must have been torn with all the bashing about at our stern and between the fishing boat on one side and Kajsa on the other. I shortened the painter, pulling the bow up to the water level and secured it there.

Then I noticed the next major crisis!

A black line was attached to the bow of the fishing boat and snaked down into the water astern of us and was now wrapped around our rudder! We had no steerage! If I started the engine we would then have the line wrapped in our propeller! We were helpless! If for some reason we now had to cast off from the trawler or our lines chafed through or snapped, we would be blown onto the town docks and offlying rocks only 200 metres downwind. There was no way I could go in the water to free it in these horrendous conditions.

Kajsa left because a couple of his lines had snapped; his bow line to the trawler, and a bow line to Veleda. He would rather take his chances at sea. (At least he had radar.) He cast off some of his lines from us, and cut other lines to Veleda. He also cut his stern line to the trawler which was the one that became wrapped around our rudder.

The captain of the trawler wanted us to cast off our stern line to him, but I was reluctant. However I slacked it off so that we were basically streaming downwind from his stern, three metres off, by his heavy hawser and our bow line, with our stern line slack, but still attached, just in case… By this time it was about 2300, and Judy, exhausted and cold, lay down below to try to get some sleep while I stayed in the cockpit to monitor things.

I heard more yelling from the captain, but this time not to us. He was trying to direct another fishing boat astern of us to secure with only a bow line and to stream downwind rather than secure bow and stern lines parallel to the wind. That strategy seemed to work. Then later, more shouting, this time to people trying to rescue a 40 foot fishing boat that was blown onto the beach. The trawler captain tried to throw a line downwind to it, unsuccessfully. Then I saw someone from the grounded boat in the water swimming to shore. He got a dinghy and rowed over to the trawler to carry the line down to his stranded boat. Once the line was passed, a heavier line was played out to it. The trawler then tried to winch the boat upwind off the beach. No luck, it was too firmly on bottom and the wind too strong. Next a farm tractor negotiated carefully its way out the wave lashed pier, and with a combination of blocks and tackles tried to get the boat off the beach. No luck. It stayed there even after the storm finally subsided about 0100.

However, now (0100) we were told to cast off as the trawler was going to make another try: motor out, drop anchor and try to winch the stranded boat from a different angle now that the wind had eased. So, we had to move!

I put on mask and snorkel and went in the cool but quieter water, and with surface lights was able to see sufficiently to unwrap the line from the rudder. I also attempted to hook Sprite’s transom to our dinghytow arms, but was unable to get the port tank up to the water line as it was completely flooded and thus weighed too much. By this time, the trawler had passed our lines to the pier and slipped from its mooring to try to help the still stranded boat. There were several people on the pier helping pull Sprite out of the water, with great difficulty, as at least one air tank and possibly two were full of water. I was ready to go in the water again to unlock the engine and remove it from Sprite, but Judy was able to reach down while five men held the dinghy part way out of the water so she could unlock and loosen the engine clamps so it could be hauled out separately. Once the engine was off, the men were able to lift Sprite free of the water.

We put the engine in Veleda’s cockpit, and motored inside the pier to go bows to on the inner town dock now that the wind had almost completely died. Finally secured, we were able to go to bed at about 0300 in very quiet waters. I was cold and exhausted, still “wired ” from the experience, but finally got to sleep.

In the morning I was able to arrange for the engine to be picked up and taken to a Mariner dealer in another community on Milos, Apollonia. We relocated to the outer pier again to deal with Sprite. Two tanks were deflated, one with a five inch gash. We deflated the other tanks and, washed Sprite out, folded her up, and lashed her on Veleda for the first time since crossing the Atlantic in June 1999. Had we had Sprite on the dinghytow she would have ridden out the storm with no problems. It has served us well.

Kajsa came back to the town dock and reported all was well with them other than exhaustion. They spent the entire period of the storm and several hours afterwards motoring out of Milos Bay for about five to eight miles then heading back into the wind to come in, then out and in for over 10 hours. They did not want to try to find the sheltered anchorage in the dark. Rune made good use of his radar that night.

The wind never did turn northeast as predicted. In hindsight, we would have been far better off going over to the sheltered anchorage in the late afternoon before dark. However, we made the decision, which turned out to be the wrong one, to stay on the north side at the town pier, anticipating the forecast swing to the northeast. We are learning that “What you sees is what you gets”, and to go with local conditions and advice rather than relying on undependable weather forecasts.

Incidentally the boat that was blown ashore did not get off until 1100 that morning, with the towing assistance of the trawler. The captain was very helpful to us over the next two days as we awaited the return of our outboard. He treated us like backward children, advising us a couple of times to relocate our mooring on the pier because of continued wind shifts.

He was a grumpy but friendly old salt. I took him a six-pack of beer and, with a few locals, helped him to do some maintenance work on his trawl gear. He came over and admired some rope work that Judy was doing. Two days later, Nov. 7, he told us to go, NOW! (in Greek of course). Another strong southerly wind was developing, and this time we wasted no time in leaving. Helping us off and waving a friendly goodbye, he was happy to hear that we were going with Veleda up to Apollonia to pick up our engine. Apollonia, we knew from a visit there the day before, had a small jetty with only a small northern exposure, well sheltered from the strong southerly winds.

We were happy to be on the water again, and not unhappy to leave that widely exposed hazardous pier in Adhamus on Milos. We concur with the observation in the Greek Waters Pilot that, “With strong S winds Adhamus is dangerous from the long fetch across the bay.” Now to see if the motor is ready and how much.