Sunny afternoons and stormy nights

Welcome to June! Already three months has passed since we adopted a new member into the family. How time flies when you’re having fun. Our last post came whilst berthed in ACI Marina Split, with an important list of trade work to be completed by the wealth of riggers, sail makers, electricians and chandleries surrounding the marina. What followed was primarily a maintenance week, hopping over to nearby Solta Island to kill a few days anchored in an uninhabited cove. There the men could hammer and drill afloat without bothering neighbours.

It’s popular here for yachts to tuck stern-in to narrow bays and collect a mooring buoy or drop the anchor. Next attaching lines ashore to limit any movement or swinging with the wind. On Solta Island we found what seemed like the perfect bay and weather conditions to test this out. So we were soon tucked in close and tethered to the shore by long webbing straps. That first night was a restless one for me as I’ve become overly cautious when overnighting in a new or potentially troublesome scenario. Though the boat stayed put and we didn’t ‘end up on the rocks’ as Mike teased the next morning.

The following day was beautiful in our crystal clear bay. We finally had the time to pull out the dive gear, fill the tanks via our onboard compressor and plunge below the surface. An afternoon drink at a tavern perched high above the neighbouring bay provided an entertaining view. We watched as yacht after yacht enters, then be haggled over via dinghy-bound representatives of the two resident restaurants (who manage the moorings). Yachts were guided to their respective buoys in tight proximity to the next yacht and stern lines tethered ashore. Can you spot the tip of our mast in the top left of picture below?

As dark clouds rolled in and with scattered storms expected through the night, we were jolly and high spirited returning to our neighbouring bay – an anchorage that was forecast to be protected from the evening weather. We prepared dinner onboard and chatted enthusiastically about possible itineraries for the weeks ahead. 

As mentioned, I’d been stirring from my semi-sleep regularly when uneasy about an anchorage or mooring. Forgive me, I’m still adapting to this life strung to the weather! So I was up again just before midnight watching attentively as a gale blew ahead of another storm front. Unfortunately the storm was approaching from the exact direction in which the bay offered us no protection. Gusty winds were hitting almost directly onto the starboard beam. The boat strained under the load. And due to being tethered to the shore by stern lines, it couldn’t swing downwind on the anchor.

My heart was in my throat when I realised we’d dragged anchor for the first time. And in the tightest location to date, that offered little room to respond. The boat was pushed sideways and far back into the bay and our portside bow was only metres from the high rocky shore. I was close to losing it.

But thankfully – always calm in a sticky situation – dad quickly had Mike out of bed and in the dinghy. With a rope attached to the bow, Mike and the dinghy beat against wind and choppy seas in an effort to pull the nose away from the rocks. Dad could only idle the engines until we’d untethered and dumped the extremely long shorelines that we’d need to recover the next morning. With depth alarms sounding, he couldn’t risk running the propellers until we could be dragged clear of hazards.

We were forced to re-anchor in the darkness and driving rain, further out in the larger bay. There we would endure a rolly remainder of the night due wind swell entering. Only a few hours later, I had everyone up again just as another strong weather front hit us from a different direction. Filled with hailstones, slush and wind, the stern was again swung far too close to the rocks for comfort. Dad pulled in some anchor chain reducing our swinging circle and I spent the rest of the early morning curled up on the saloon couch with a half-open eye on the horizon.

I counted no less than five different lightening storms pass that night, from three different directions. And that was just the hours I was awake. Hard to portray feelings into words, but being that close to the rocks was a very tense scenario for us all… though the boat survived unscathed and we’ve learnt more valuable lessons through the experience.

 The next day we moved onto a different bay further south on Solta Island. Shortly afterwards another Lagoon catamaran followed by a smaller monohull dropped anchor either side within barely a boat’s length of us when an entire bay was available to them. After a difficult night previously, we decided to up anchor and move away from both of them. As dad suggested their often limited experience, scant awareness of their swinging circle and length of anchor chain to water depth/boat length ratio can be unnerving. In addition the crew often tends to be cracking beers before the wave ring from their anchor has dissipated.

Though we’re quickly realising this is the norm and as the busy charter season nears, we must accustom to neighourbouring boats sharing the bay and snuggling – sometimes uncomfortably – close for the night. As shown in the photo below, thankfully the winds were calm as last night we shared this smallish bay on Vis Island with ELEVEN other boats.

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In yet another night of unsettled weather – we were anchored among the Palenki Islands off famous Hvar Town. After a stunning afternoon lounging in the sun, the evening brought thick dark clouds. Lightening filled the sky illuminating everything around us like nature’s strobe light and discharged deafening thunderclaps overhead that reverberated through the boat.  When the storm front hit with sheets of rain and wind, we kept a close eye on our position as boats swung around about us, pulling hard on their anchors and mooring buoys.

With the strongest gusts, a motorboat carrying a young family that had anchored out in the channel followed by a small charter monohull, both lost their hold and came drifting past us out of control. The motorboat had brushed by far too close for comfort. Still thunder storming on daybreak, we had woken to find that both we and the other catamaran on anchor had also wandered through the night. Awesome…

This past week brought an interesting few nights of constant storm fronts, un-forecast wind directions and somewhat poor holding ground. Unfortunately the wind often swings all over the place – sometimes 270 degrees through the night. So when selecting a bay that you expected should provide a protected anchorage based on the wind forecast, it is often not the case.  For those of you interested, the weather websites we frequent (sadly they are often contradictory of each other) are www.windfinder.com, www.accuweather.com and www.passageweather.com.  If any sailing readers have found a more reliable source, we’d love to hear from you!

July 2013 update: my current forecast of choice is delivered by the Italian website Consorzio LaMMA.

During a recent four-night stay at Split’s central ACI Marina, we were tipped off that at the brand new, neighbouring quayside redevelopment, the pending management contract was back out to tender. So when we returned to Split we tied up in a prime freebie quayside berth, a stone’s throw from the A$150 per night Split Marina.

Apart from boat maintenance and improvements – i.e. “a boat is just a hole in the water to throw your money into” – marina and berthing fees have been our next biggest expenditure (even greater than diesel and food). Therefore a few free nights when you need to be alongside somewhere, is very welcome! This was our fourth (and second to last) visit to Split, a stunning historic yet cosmopolitan city that we would never grow tired of visiting.

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Below is another collection of pictures including Mike kindly cleaning my fresh bought squid (which was actually octopus – I won’t live that one down), a magic anchorage in the Palenki Islands off Hvar Island (where again the weather turned sour a few hours later), quayside at trendy Hvar Town and elevated views over Hvar’s harbour from the old town 16th century fortress.

We have since jumped across to the incredible island of Vis – once the military hideout for Yugoslavia dictator Marshal Tito and only reopened to the public in 1989. But will leave that for another day. Until next time!

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