The Storms (Sunday23rd September – Thursday 4th October)

Well, this has certainly been an eventful 10 days. We did not manage to get through the bridge at Khalkis as planned on the 23rd September and we had two storms to contend with. We got through the storms unscathed but decidedly weary!
Having left Orei on the 22nd September, we anchored overnight in a bay on the west side of Evia island and then headed down towards the tiny harbour of Limni (Lat 38 deg, 07’N, Long 023 deg,19′ E). We were lucky to witness a few feeding frenzies on the way, with big Tuna leaping out of the water chasing smaller fish. Gulls, terns and shearwaters were tucking in. Unfortunately no dolphins to be seen but the show went on for about 15 mins, which is rare.
We were exceedingly lucky, as there were a couple of spaces in Limni harbour and we slotted in behind the sea wall, glad to be in the shelter for the forecast Meltemi (a strong NE/NW wind that can blow for several days at a time). Little did we know that we would be in Limni for 4 nights!

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Looking down at Limni harbour

Limni is a lovely wee place, with the usual higgledy-piggledy streets and brightly painted shutters and Bougainvillea and jasmine flowering again after the recent rain. We enjoyed exploring the wee town and walking up the tiny chapel on the hill to get a lovely view. The people on the two Dutch boats behind us in the harbour were really friendly and we spent a few evenings having drinks and laughter and good chats on each others boats. We were all sitting out the Meltemi until conditions improved.

 

 

 

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Vaila in Limni, the calm before the storm!

The wind howled, the waves smashed against the breakwater, but we were fine inside and were all eagerly watching the weather forecasts. Everyone had their own favourite forecasts but all the forecasts were already predicting a “Medicane” (not a proper meteorological term) that was building over the west of Greece and causing havoc in the Ionian islands. Very strong winds were associated with this storm which was caused by the cold air flooding south (because the jet stream had kinked south) hitting the warm waters of the Med (25-29deg C).
On Wednesday 26th Andy and I cycled down the small coastal road south from Limni. The meltemi winds were producing horrendous conditions south of Limni, with winds flying down from the high ground and spray being whipped up into vortexes. Not a day to be out.

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The meltemi with Katabatic winds coming down from the high land

It was an interesting bike ride though as there was mining here previously with mine workings and aerial runways still visible.

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Old mine workings now a swanky resort.

There was a lot of wooden terracing, trying to encourage the trees to regenerate after a fire two years ago. The rock on the coast road was mudstone and very friable, with previous rock falls visible. We got back to Vaila to find that our wind anemometer from the top of the mast had been blown off and smashed!
By Friday 28th, the Medicane prediction was that it would stay south between Crete and mainland Greece and head east to Turkey, so we decided that we could leave to try to get through the bridge at Khalkis (Lat 38 deg, 28′ N, Long 023 deg, 35′ E). The wind was still very strong first thing, so we waited a couple of hours till it eased a bit before leaving.

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The skipper at the beginning of the passage to Khalkis….still calm!

 

We motored with a tiny scrap of genoa up and could see that sea conditions up ahead were not great. We had 20 miles to go so pushed towards Khalkis. The seas got increasingly rough and confused as we got to the higher headlands. Whitecaps were being blown off by the screaming wind. Vortex of water were being formed. It was probably lucky our wind gauge was broken, as conditions looked the same as we had seen from our bike ride a couple of days previously but this time we were in it!! These were the worst conditions we have ever been out in.

Four other boats were in view all slogging though the same conditions. Vaila was great though and Andy did a magnificent job on the helm. I only managed 10 minutes of relief duty as it was very hard to control the boat in those seas. We got covered in warm sea water from the waves but the air was cold. We had our wellies and waterproofs on! Not quite what you think of as Mediterranean sailing!!
As we approached the lower lying ground near Khalkis, the wind thankfully eased and by the time we got to the quayside in the town it was very benign.

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Approaching Khalkis

The crews from the other boats (all bigger than us) came to see that we were OK and were telling us that the wind they measured was 40+knots with gusts of 50-60 knots! Phew!!! Andy went off the see the port authority and pay the €35 for the bridge transit and I tidied up a bit down below. Luckily the storm had not damaged anything and the tiny bit of genoa we had had out had survived.
The bridge was due to open at 1130 that night, so we had time to cook tea and eat. This is a small bridge which connects the mainland of Greece with Evia and the bridge deck slides to open up to let ships and yachts through, but only once in 24 hours and at night. There is a strong current/tide so bridge opening times change daily. The port authority called all the yachts on the radio about 10 minuted before opening at 11.30pm telling us to prepare the boat. Then we had to wait for a freighter to go through first before we all fell into line behind. As soon as we were through, we anchored in the large bay just south of the bridge along with about 5 other boats and we were glad to get to bed.
We had hoped to head off down to Eritrea on Evia the next day ( 29th September), but the forecast had changed and the “Medicane” had decided to curl north to come over the southern part of Evia, so we stayed put for that day and the next.

 

Winds were crazy and rain was torrential. The howling wind made us feel tense but the anchor alarm at least meant we could get some sleep. It was not comfortable though as the strong gusts made the whole boat shake. We did not go outside except for Andy who had to go out for 10 minutes to retie the dinghy cover to stop it flying away!

 
Thankfully, the wind began to ease after 2200 on the 30th Sept and we had a better night’s sleep. We awoke to calm seas and little wind so set off to the boatyard. Our plotter decided to stop working but we had detailed charts on the tablet. The first couple of miles were buoyed channel for the big boats as it’s quire shallow, then it was pretty straightforward. The water was chocolate brown and full of bits of branches and other debris washed down by the storm.
We were glad to arrive off the boatyard and tie on to the buoy. We got the message that we would be hauled out later that afternoon and the trailer came down about an hour later to haul us out. We were glad to be on dry land at last.

 

Photos above of typical haul out on a sledge pulled by land-rover . Not Vaila as we were already on the hard. 
Now we are winterising the boat and packing up, ready for flying home on Sat 6th Oct. We heard that there had been a landslide into Limni harbour the day after we left! It’s certainly been a memorable season and added to our experience, but hopefully we will not have to face another “Medicane” too soon. Oh, and Andy fixed the plotter by doing a ‘factory reset’ courtesy of the Internet!

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