Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Little Bit of Everything

In this blog - rough seas and beautiful (but prohibited anchorages)

[Kyle]After a commute that left me feeling like the unlucky loser of one of those Japanese game shows that punishes a lack of coordination with a painful fall off of something high, hitting several intermediate obstacles along the way before face-planting on thinly padded ground, I stepped off of the 1113 train into Anzio, where Maryanne was waiting for me.

I was pleased to find that it was nowhere near as stinking hot as when I left, although I did still make a point of making the now obligatory stop along the way for lemon gelato.

We boarded the dinghy and rowed to our new new spot. Since being run off by the, ahem, friendly gentlemen in the harbormaster boat the week before, a group in a small powerboat moored to our anchor trip-line float. Maryanne came out, gesticulating wildly and shouting, but they didn’t seem to get her point. When they eventually left, they found themselves snagged on our line and solved the problem by powering out, thus pulling up our well-set anchor, which they then left just lying on the bottom, leaving Footprint dragging helplessly towards the breakwater.

Maryanne got to spend the next couple of hours anchoring and re-anchoring by herself until she was happy that Footprint was holding fast. Since then, she’s been a bit reluctant to leave the boat unattended. We were lucky she was aboard when it happened. We had heard from other cruisers that the best solution they found to the same problem was to write “$50/day” on their ball. Perhaps it’s time to get out the ol’ Sharpie…

Our next stop was planned to be just a little longer than would be possible during daylight. My solution to this was to make it an overnight sail in order to assure that we arrived in daylight the next day. This also had the benefit of allowing me time for a brief nap before leaving.

About an hour or so before sunset, we pulled up anchor and left under sail alone. The wind was being very fickle ahead of an approaching cold front and our track out of the harbor looked like I was deliberately trying to write my name on the chart. At least it wasn’t Maryanne’s.

I had managed to surprise myself by not getting the least bit wound up about this. When the front arrived, we would have as much wind as we wanted and in the right direction. In the meantime, while Maryanne slept, I got a bit of everything in terms of wind strength and direction. As an exclamation mark before the arrival of the reliable winds, it blew like hell, stopped and then rained as if the clouds were trying to get an entire summer’s rain out of the way in an hour. When I unreefed the mainsail, I must have dumped 50 gallons of water on the deck that had been trapped in the bunt. (Bunt: the bunched up bottom of a reefed sail)

Once I was good and soaked, the wind started in earnest, ensuring that I was good and shivery for the rest of the night. I pointed Footprint at a space in the receding rain shower that the GPS assured me would be just off Capo Circeo. The clouds cleared and the bright moon shone behind the conical volcano at the point In silhouette with a scrap of cloud left on top, it looked dark and ominous, like it was still active.

The building waves were bent and reflected by the coast until they were completely out of proportion to the accompanying wind. Giant, purposeless waves came from every direction, making the downwind ride much more uncomfortable than it should have been. Occasionally, a bucket of warm seawater would get tossed over the rail into the cockpit from seemingly nowhere.

The wave state stabilized on the other side of Capo Circeo. I was able to hold onto my alertness until just before sunrise, when I got Maryanne up to relieve me. As she sailed, the winds built and built during the day until the waves were pretty reliably in the 10-12 foot range and we were surfing fast downwind with only the reefed mainsail up.

I slept several more hours than I thought I would. When I awoke, we were a dozen miles or so from the gap between the Italian mainland and the volcanic isle of Procida, which extended further out to sea along an underwater ridge to the island of Ischia.

When we left Anzio, my plan had been to round Ischia to the west and anchor on the south side. Some last minute research indicated this would not be an option. The anchorage in question was a marine protected area and anchoring was not permitted between June and September. Our default plan was to anchor in the bay by Capo Mesino on the mainland side. In order to get there, we would have to sail through a shallow gap between the mainland and the island of Procida.

As we approached the shallow coastal shelf from the deep waters of the open sea, the big waves began to gradually pile up as they crowded into the limited depth. At about the 100m mark, I looked behind us and was horrified to see a wave that was 2 ½ times the height of the others looming up behind us, it’s crest just starting to break. It was like stepping into a road and seeing a cement truck coming at us, wheels locked and smoking. I screamed, ”Hold on!” and spun the wheel until it hit the stop. I only had a second or so to get Footprint headed dead down wave before the breaker hit. My vision narrowed until all I could see was the wind gauge. My entire existence became dedicated to keeping the wind needle as far aft as possible without causing a jibe. I didn’t even see the wave as it overtook us.

Maryanne, reacting to my call, arrived in the cockpit to find us enveloped in the foam of the crest. From the top, she could see into the deep trough left by the wave. Behind it was an even steeper wave, breaking over the hole left by the first. She must have seen me relax after the first wave passed and yelled to me that there was another one. “Keep it straight”, I thought, “Keep it straight”. Then there was a third. It wasn’t quite as bad as the first two, but we were still in real danger. Afterward, I’ve never been so relieved to see 12-foot waves in my life.

For a while after that, I thought about where we were going. The sea was getting shallower and shallower. All of the waves bigger than two feet were going to have to lose their energy before the gap. They would do this by breaking. I wasn’t happy, but I was okay with being in a sea of 12-foot breakers as they smash themselves into something smaller, but a steep 25-footer would flip the boat if we weren’t as lucky as the last time. How many of those were on the way?

I decided not to risk it and instead elected to make the crosswind run for the deeper water in the gap between Ischia and Procida. This put us in a dangerous position beam to the waves. Three times along the way, we got another series of three giant waves that required us to completely abandon our goal to try to keep the boat upright while racing down the face of the waves. At least the water’s warm, I thought. We won’t freeze to death

When we finally got into the lee of Ischia, things started to calm down. We joined several ferries taking the more sensible, protected route along the southeast side of the little island of Procida. What a marvelous little island Procida is. If the anchorage off of the town had not been another prohibited navigation area, we surely would have dropped anchor for the night and rowed ashore to explore it’s picturesque pastel streets until finding a little cafĂ© with aperitivo from which to watch the world go by. If you go to Italy and don’t see Procida, your vacation is ruined. We couldn’t anchor there. Our vacation is ruined. We were lucky, though, that the dreadful sea conditions on the north side drove us the long way around the island so we could at least see it.

Beautiful fortified islands of Ischia and Prosida - no anchoring allowed in summer, and only with special permission the rest of the year!

We crossed the channel between Procida and the mainland. It was full of broken waves with all of their bite taken out of them. We turned into the cove tucked behind Capo Miseno. In the anchorage, we found all of the best spots taken. There were only two other boats that were not on moorings, but there was no way to anchor in the remaining space without being either too close to the rocks in shallow water, or swinging the full width of the harbor in deep. Eventually, we did what has worked for us before and found a tiny spot in waist deep water amongst the local runabouts. Giant Footprint looked like a full grown milking cow at a dinner party, but at least she was secure. The anchorage was one side industrial wharf and the other rocky sea caves topped with trees. My only regret was that a naughty intervening cliff interrupted the view of Mt Vesuvius. I was hoping to enjoy an evening glass of wine over that.

Views Anchored at Miseno


kate said...

are you guys going to visit pompei?? can't believe that group in the powerboat did that to you - have you found that any gaps in your italian can be bridged by "gesticulating wildly"? :) as for the crazy big waves you experienced, i'm really glad you're okay. (will we need to wear life vests in greece? i don't mind.)

Trotty said...

Oh dear. Monster waves are not our thing either but we have been there and done that so we know what you have been through. Generally, the experience leaves you with a lot of confidence in the boat, which is good.
All the best from Cirrus Cat.