Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ever Try Docking in High Winds?


We have been in Rethymno for almost two weeks now and we are still settling in. By the way, it is pronounced RITHmeno.

We chose this port because in winter, the south winds pound the Aegean. This port is on the north. The guide book reads:

"In the winter the mountains are covered in snow down to the lower slopes, but the coastal plains have a mild winter climate and the coastal towns are agreeable places to winter afloat."

Rethymno is a tiny marina as sailing marinas go. There are probably only two dozen sailboats here and it is full.

Here is where we docked upon our arrival. The last two floating sections of a the dock had broken off at some point, but now were tied with heavy lines. A friendly chap who has been in this harbor for several years now said we should be fine.

Phoenix docked in the port of Rethymno, Crete.
To the photo above, the view is from a concrete jetty looking south at the floating dock and over the mountains of Crete. If I swing the camera to the left (or east) you can see the only other dock of sailboats.

Rethymno harbor at dawn.
 And if I swing the camera to the right (or west) you can see the view from Phoenix of the old Venetian harbor. Only shallow draft boats fit in that romantic, snug harbor. Behind it is the old fort and lining the harbor are restaurants. In this shot, I was lucky to capture the full moon setting over the old town.

Moonset over the old Venetian harbor at Rethymno, Crete. 
All was good. All was so romantic. Until the southwinds started kicking up.

Wait. South winds? I thought we were protected from them. 

"Oh no," told me a local. "Because we are in a microclimate just here in Rethymno, the winds are very strong. Tomorrow will be Force 8."

Force 8? To us Americans, that means 35 to 40 knots!

"But here in Rethymno, the forecast sometimes wrong. Sometimes wind is stronger. Maybe Force 9 or 10."

Nine or ten? Really? Up to 55 knots of wind?

I told him I had checked my usual sources: Windfinder and Passageweather and they predicted no more than 25 knots. 

"Oh maybe you want to check Meteo.gr. That is good for here."

The next morning the wind steadily gained until it was blowing a steady 20 knots. I didn't go to the hotel lobby to write that day so I could stay and see if indeed things would get that windy and whether the docklines and fenders were well set for the weather. And by mid-day I felt that maybe Meteo was not all as accurate as locals would like to believe.

As if in direct laughing response to my assumption, the winds began to race. First a steady 25. It howled through the rigging and jerked Phoenix up against the floating dock.

27 knots of  south wind in the harbor of Rethymno.
Now, 25 is not too terribly much for sailors, but it is when you are being pounded up against a floating dock. Nevertheless, so far, so good. The fenders and docklines were looking good. Then it increased to 30. Now things were getting to the point where you couldn't focus on anything but the wind. Here's a scene of what it looked like outside: 

Jiggled and jerked by 30 knots of wind at the dock. 
I whispered my apologies to Poseiden (I don't know the god of the south wind) for doubting his special relationship with this harbor, but apparently his game was just beginning. The ruckus rose to 35 knots.

35 knots of southwind.
The problem now for us (but Poseidon's pleasure) was that our heavy, 23,000 pound Phoenix was being pressed so strongly against the broken dock section that it began to pull away.

The dock is now being held just as much by its orginal rope as it is by the docklines of Phoenix.
Jennifer went to find help. The marina manager was not available. She talked to the security guard who came and looked. Then he went away. He came back, though, with several guys from the Port Authority. They looked and talked and went away. By now, it was blowing 40.

40 knots of wind.
The Port Authority guys came back and brought their bosses. So now we had a whole conference on the dock.

The guy who's talking to us all is the big boss man. I'm the guy in the white tee shirt.
By now, it was verging on dusk. It was finally decided that we would cross the harbor to the southern side and come alongside the concrete pier. The trick was we had to come into a slip-type of area between pier and neighboring boat. To make it even more challenging, there was a sailboat on the pier and we had to motor in ahead of it. Oh, and the winds were increasing.

Now we were up to 45 knots, the full Force 8 predicted by Meteo.gr
To my great relief, I had the help and advice of our neighboring sailor. He owned the blue boat next to us you can see in the above photos. Martin was a Slovakian who had motored the rivers of Europe from Slovakia to arrive in the Med. This was his tenth year of voyaging. It was he who advised me that I might not be able to hold my nose into the winds and that I should motor across the harbor backwards.

By now, the winds were blowing 50 knots. Sorry I didn't get a photo, I was busy at the helm with the motor engaged to relieve tension off the docklines so they could be cast off. My Slovakian friend, Martin, was organizing the docklines when, to his frustration, one guy cast off the bowline early. Phoenix's bow fell away from the dock and the springline was under so much tension, it couldn't be cast off.

With motor under full throttle, I still couldn't steer back to the dock. 

"Jennifer, get a knife! Cut the line!" I shouted above the howling winds, roaring engine and pounding waves. And just like an old salt, she whisked the knife from the companionway and cut the one-inch dockline.

Now we were falling away from the dock rapidly. 

"Martin, jump! JUMP!" I screamed against all my warnings to crew to never jump from ship to dock or vice versa. But I desparately needed him to complete the maneuver on the far side. By some miracle, his legs suddenly elongated and he skipped the widening gap.

Just as Martin had predicted, I was unable to keep the bow into the wind and so we motored stern-to into the wind. Close to the peer, I put Phoenix in forward, made a circle and aimed for the slot. I had just one shot to make it without the bow slamming into neigbhoring boats. By the grace of Poseidon, we made it. There was still plenty of frantic line tossing and yelling, but soon we were secured.

I laughed with the local men once we were all tied up. 

"Well, at least we will be comfortable here," I said.

"Yes, but in four days, it blows hard from the north," one said.

At first I thought he was joking. But Meteo proved he was not. It did blow from the NW a few days later. Hard. But what's Force 6 against a concrete pier with good fenders when you have weathered maneuvers in Force 9?

So it seems we might have a moody harbor at times this winter. I've tied chafe guards around our docking lines and I'll be checking them every now and then.

1 comment:

Steve Garlick said...

I hear you, brother. We clocked 40 knots in Orhaniye.