Around The World Voyage : Commentary : Leg 2
Position: 35.25' North -- 026.59'East
Anchored at the north east end of Kassos Island
We have crossed the Mediterranean – most of it anyway – and it’s been the roughest leg of the voyage. We were very anxious to depart Port Said as the Yacht Club was located in a filthy part of the harbor up against a very rugged concrete seawall. We set our anchor and moored stern to, however the constant wakes coming in from the harbor required that we stay six or eight feet from the wall and the stern was raising and falling two to three feet at times. To leave the boat, we would ease the anchor chain and allow the boat to drift up to the wall and then, quickly, tension had to be drawn on the windlass to prevent the swim step from catching on the concrete wall. I would not have considered leaving the boat unattended for any length of time.
We finally left Port Said on Thursday,March 24 at about 1200. Jeff Leishman had e-mailed me and warned that we would have 20 to 25 knot northwesterly winds for the 600 mile passage and as soon as we cleared the breakwater we were bucking against a seven to ten foot head sea with a constant 25 knots of true wind speed. We knew it was going to be a slow rough trip and settled into a 1500 rpm, 5 knot crawl to weather.
Checking the e-mail again, Jeff advises that we’re likely to have up winds up to 40 knots from the Southwest. Later, after consulting weather forecaster Walt Hack, Jeff advised we would have full gale conditions and the real threat would not be from the southwest, but from the north. He suggested that we run for the lee side of Crete, later suggesting the lee of a small island of Kassos – just to the east of Crete (it would be about 30 miles closer). By Saturday morning we were experiencing sustained southwesterly winds of 38 knots and occasionally higher gusts. We had been recording barometric pressure hourly and saw a pressure drop of 13 millibars in just 24 hours – starting at 1013 and dropping to below 1000 - this is the fastest I’ve ever seen a barometer fall. The seas were on our beam so we were able to speed up and tried to follow Walt’s suggestion of finding shelter no later than Saturday at midnight. The seas were in the 15 foot range with lots of blowing foam and streaking, although we were reasonably comfortable. As we approached Kassos the winds began to subside and we approached the anchorage known as Helathros. There are no lights to mark the entrance and the chart shows three unmarked rocks at the bay's mouth. I knew we would have to see the rocks on radar and feel very comfortable with the approach or we would stand off and wait for dawn to enter. Sure enough, the entrance was small and I could not identify the location of the three rocks so we turned to seaward and slowly motored up the island and waited for dawn. With light, the entrance looked much better however we never did see the three rocks and relied on the C-Map charting. Maintaining clearance electronically, we entered the tiny cove and dropped our anchor about 0630 Sunday morning.
The Island of Kassos looks very much like our own California Channel Islands. Extremely rocky, high cliffs and covered with low shrubs, prickly pear, olive and fig trees. At the head of the cove we noticed some ruins of small buildings and as we studied the area with binoculars we noticed that the entire hillside above the cove was covered by terraced rock walls. It’s was amazing at how extensive an area was covered by these stone walls and we could not figure out if they were agricultural terraces or the foundations of buildings which must have existed many, many years ago. The entire landscape was covered by small blue and purple flowers and the more we looked the more I appreciated the beauty of this Helathros Cove. We were glad to be in and off the rough ocean. At about 1100 I decided to make up some lunch and just about the time I had the cooking utensils out and the stove going, we got a 30-knot blast of wind – straight in from the ocean from the south. Within 15 minutes we were seeing 40 knots gusts and the calm harbor had 4-foot breakers developing. It became very apparent that we could not stay another minute at Helathros Cove.
Brian pulled the bridle off the anchor chain and returned to the wheelhouse and with the windlass pulling and the boat in gear we pulled up on our anchor. I had to use pretty good blasts of power and a fully deflected rudder to maintain directional control but all went well and the anchor stowed itself in its roller. Paul watched the chart plotter and gave me direction changes to maintain clearance of the rocks, which we cleared without a problem. The amazing thing was the sea condition. The wind was blowing very hard out of the west and it wrapped around the island bringing the seas right into the cove. As we cleared the headland and turned east we felt and saw the full strength of the wind. The seas were not huge but building by the minute. Our anemometer was showing about 50 knots true and we had numerous gusts up to 60 knots. The tops of the seas were being blown off and creating a sea smoke as it blasted off to leeward. The entire ocean was white with foam and the sky was devoid of any cloud and bright sunshine. It created incredible photo conditions and we have lots of amazing digital photos and digital video of the scene.
Our boat handled the conditions beautifully – steering perfectly on autopilot – we raced down the island at 1800 RPM and made a solid eight knots. Our plan was to go around the island to another port that faced the north. We became concerned about the forecasted northerly winds and the fact that the wind might be just as bad on the other sided of the island with its east – west orientation. We considered crossing the channel over to Karpathos (about 14 miles east) but I was concerned about the building seas and how rough the ocean might get in another two hours. We decided to approach the north east side of the island and look for a lee even if it meant motoring in position and not anchoring. We got lucky as we spotted a cove with at least 1,000 foot cliffs and a small beach and area of 50 foot depth. The wind and sea calmed down as we approached and we anchored in a perfect spot. We heard the baying of sheep and looked up to see dozens of what must be domestic sheep grazing on shrubs that cling to the rocky cliffs and ravines.
It’s now Monday and we’ve been comfortable in our anchorage for over 24 hours. Yesterday afternoon a cargo ship of about 300 feet approached our cove and anchored out about a half mile. We spoke to him this morning and gave him the latest weather information that we have from Walt Hack. The ship's captain told us that he is bound for Rhodes – to the east of us - and he felt the conditions were too rough to proceed. He was running down swell and elected not to continue. We’d have to beat into it...no way.
Walt’s forecast this morning is as follows:
"Unfortunately conditions not expected to improve rapidly. Latest observations and analysis indicate a double-barrel low pressure system over the northern Black Sea and midway between Crete and Athens, that is not expected to move significantly for the next 36hrs or so. A blocking 1042mb high pressure over northern Europe with a ridge south across the western Med Sea and across northern Africa is expected to continue producing gale force winds between N. Kason and Athens through Tue/morning. The W'ly wind/seas now are expected to veer more NW, then N'ly through Mon/night with little change in wind force. At times winds are likely to reach 45-50kts over the open waters north of Crete and Athens.
Outlooks indicate the broad low pressure system beginning to move eastward across Turkey and the eastern Med Sea during Tue/night-Wed, while the high pressure ridge begins to weaken, but with cold air still moving south, N-NE winds of 25-35kts are still expected north of Crete through Tue/night-early Wed/am.
Therefore, we still suggest you remain at port (N. Kason) through Wed/morning, at least in order to allow for the veering W-NW becoming N'ly gale force conditions to improve.
So, we’re not going anywhere until this sorts itself out. I feel terrible – knowing we’re only 24 hours out of Athens – with Jeff, Pete, Justin and guest editor Tim Clark from Power and Motoryacht Magazine waiting on us but there’s not much I can do. At least we’re in a beautiful location. I’m not going to return to Port Said but the Greek Islands look fantastic and I will come be back to them.
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