So That’s What Hurricane Force Winds Feel Like

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One hell of a windy day! The most we have ever experienced!

Well we had an interesting Friday morning! We are in the North of Spain (Puerto de Roses). This is a jumping off point for crossing the very windy Gulf of Lyon which is notorious for its gale force winds and steep seas. Under certain condition lows and highs will line up in such a way that they create the Mistral winds. Mistrals are a violet wind that funnels through the Rhone Valley blowing Beaufort force 8/9 (34 – 47 kts) with stronger gusts. These Mistrals are nasty buggers. Puerto de Roses will also really blow when the Mistrals fan out, but unlike the Gulf of Lyon, since there is limited fetch here the seas are not dangerous.

So we strolled into our anchorage Thursday afternoon under very calm conditions. Not a ripple on the water. Excellent – a non-rolly night of sleep. First in three nights, since leaving Badalona (near Barcelona). We tucked in behind the Roses Harbor breakwater for a little further protection because a southerly breeze was supposed to blow that evening. Nice anchorage to wait for our weather window and if it gets nasty we can tuck into the harbor. The winds were forecasted to only be 20 to 25 kts the next day, but we put out a 7:1 scope just for an extra buffer. We backed down and had a well set anchor in sandy mud. Keep in mind that we have an all chain setup with a triple strand bridle belayed to both bow cleats, and 5:1 has been plenty of scope even in sustained 35 kts. We had a great night’s sleep. And boy would it turn out that we would need it!

Early next morning the wind was picking up out of the north, as forecasted, and was blowing 20 gusting to 30. We notice the barometer has dropped 12 mb during the night, oh boy! Winds building … blowing 30, gusting 35. I’m now noticing all the fishing boats coming in and making for a nearby anchorage. That can’t be good I’m thinking. We don’t have enough room to let out more scope lest we give up the buffer between us and the harbor wall (if we drift we would only need to move 2 boat lengths West to clear the wall). Things are now moving in very quick succession. Engine started to see if we can ease the strain in these winds. We can. Now blowing 35 gusting to 40. Anchor holding, minimal fetch, very little porpoising of the bow, but we are now getting our foulies on. Then we have a gust to 47 on the beam; the bow rapidly swings off before pulling back into the wind. Looks like we are holding, so I go back down below to get my shoes. Then suddenly something feels wrong and simultaneously Jen noticed that we are a lot closer to the harbor wall. I scramble on deck with one shoe on and one in my hand, and have Jen throttle up to hold our position, keeping our bow into the wind. I go running to the bow to get the bridle off. Bridle clear … and we start pulling up the chain. We’re now directly over the anchor, which I can just barely see. Then I hear the one sound you don’t want to hear in this moment …. the windlass bogs down. Shit, anchor is stuck. But Jen is having no problem holding our positon, and the wind is easing a little. I have a moment to get my other shoe on and think about how to get the anchor up. I know we can release all the chain at any time, but not ready to do that yet. Wind is now down to 25 with some lulls to 15. I have some time to work the problem and Jen continues to woman the helm. Just in case the wind rapidly whips up again, we deploy fenders around the boat, and bow, stern, and spring lines. The outside of the harbor wall is low and meant to be tied up to with very solid cleats. Not my first choice, but in an emergency it will do. I spend the next 30 minutes trying to get the anchor up to no avail. I can see the anchor, but not clearly. Maybe the anchor is stuck on a cable and I could use our grappling hook to hold the cable up and running a trip line down to the anchor, but now the winds is picking up quickly. Not worth taking the risk and decide to abort. I secure a float to the chain, get a waypoint and jettison 300’ of chain. The end of the chain has a 30-foot length of polypropylene float line attached which rises to the surface. The water is only 15 feet, easy to dive later if necessary. Life jackets on, clipped in and Jen rapidly securing bow and stern lines and removing the spring line to prevent from fouling our prop.

As we head out the wind rapidly goes from 30 to 45, then 50. Can’t moor to harbor wall. We run-off past the harbor with 55 kts. Too windy to enter the harbor (in hindsight we probably could have entered). We start to run for the lee of a nearby point, for partial protection, we hope. Wind is now sustained 45 to 55 kts gusting 65 (highest gust was 67). Thank God we had very little fetch. With only 1.5 miles of fetch we had about 6 to 8 foot waves, but very close together. Tops blowing off, but not dangerous, but with 65 kts of wind it still scary. We are trying to minimize our distance from the harbor as we head for protection which didn’t really offer much. We have two choices, minimize drift or run around to the other side of a major point 3 miles away and deploy our backup anchor. We are able to hold our positon in 55 kts (because the waves are not big), and anything less we are able to move forward. We decide to hold our position believing that the winds will have to ease soon since they came up so fast (we hope). For the gusts of 55 and above we throttle back to save fuel and let the wind blow our bow down. We try to hold our position the best we can. Our situation is cold, wet, and uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Our main concern was to minimize drift and make sure we stayed well clear of land so we could sail off should we lose our engine. After about 1 hour we have drifted approximately 2 miles from the harbor, but the winds have eased enough that we can make progress back. Never would I have ever thought I would utter to my wife, “thank God it is easing to a reasonable 45 kts.” We start heading back doing 0.5 to 2.0 kts. The entrance into the harbor, and to the fuel dock, is directly into the wind. We hope the wind dies down to 30 or less, but even at 40 we find that we still have plenty of control over the boat. Plus the waves will get smaller as we approach. Over the next hour the wind continued to ease and our progress was anywhere from 1.5 to 4.5 kts. Jen radios the harbor, in Spanish, to request assistance with our arrival. By the time we got to the harbor the wind was down to 20 with gusts to 30. The harbor has a very wide entrance and straight shot to the fuel dock – I suspect they designed the harbor with these winds in mind. Very easy to land our boat with an army of marineros (line handlers) waiting for us. When they saw we were a crew of three, with child, they had a bemused, yet impressed expression, and were eager to help. “Muchas gracias, necesitamos una cerveza,” we tell the marineros. “Si!” they say.

I have to give credit where credit is due. Jen and Dante were cool as cucumbers. They stayed incredibly calm during this ordeal. Dante stayed down below and dutifully took care of things down there. Jen was at the helm with me, occasionally taking the helm as I tended to the boat. She also did some deck work in those conditions too (clipped in of course). And as dependable as always, Benevento handled like a champ. She was very responsive and sea kindly, even in those conditions.

The next morning it was blowing 10 to 15 kts. We got the dingy, scuba gear, etc. and head over to the anchorage. The previous afternoon while talking with the marineros they mentioned that the anchorage we were in is no longer any good because a number of commercial fishing boats dumped a bunch of cable and chain in that area. That would have been useful information the other day! In any event, we made the short run to the “anchorage” to retrieve 650 pound of ground tackle. Needless to say, I burned some carbs that morning hauling it up. Anyway, I dove down and found our anchor caught under two very large chains. In calm conditions we would have been able to see this from our boat and could have easily got the chain unstuck with a grappling hook and a tripline. In less than an hour we had all the gear in the dingy and where back aboard Benevento having breakfast. An interesting experience we are not interested in having again.

The main lesson learned is I should have listened to my little inside voice that said not to anchor with the harbor wall behind us. Had I anchored about 2,000 feet further West I would have had plenty of room to drag and the option to let out more chain. I could have increased our scope to 30:1 if need be. Plus that area has no abandon chains so our anchor would not have snagged.

We are now securely tucked away in Puerto Roses Harbor. We since then have had windy days, gusting to 40, but nothing like we had on Friday. It looks like a weather window is opening this coming weekend for us to cross the Gulf of Lyon. Wish us luck. We’ll send out an update before we shove off and when we safely make it to the other side and are eating cheese and baguettes.

One Response to So That’s What Hurricane Force Winds Feel Like

  1. Jorge

    Hey Crew,
    Hope you are doing well and having the experience of a lifetime! Dante is going to be leagues ahead of his peers when he gets back to “regular” school, especially in American & European History!!
    Looking forward to your next update once a weather breaks and allows you to move forward. We are eagerly following your progress and thoroughly enjoy your post (more through Facebook than ETM) so keep them coming. Now that you have attained celebrity status with the Latitude 38 publication, you’ll likely have paparazzi waiting for you at every port.
    Cheers and good sailing!
    Jorge

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