The Winsome crew is all very happy to be ashore safe and sound. We are writing this blog from Port Molo Wojtyla on the Island of Pantalleria. We have had an unexpected visit to Pantalleria, which means Daughter of the Winds. Yesterday, amidst winds of 50+ knots, we made the decision to seek shelter instead of continuing on the next 70 miles to Lampedusa and then another 120 miles to Malta.
Let me begin the journey at about 8pm on Tuesday evening, 21 October. The wind began to increase to about 12 knots and we decided to change from the no. 1 medium to the number 2 jib. At the next watch change, the wind continued to increase to about 18 knots and we changed the jib again, to the no. 3 jib. After we left Sicily, we had to sail through the islands and over the shallower water, called Adventure Bank. We passed Levanzo and Favignana to port and Marettimo Island to starboard. This is where the real adventure for Winsome began. Thankfully we sailed over Adventure Bank and not Troublesome Bank which was also nearby!
The seas over Adventure Bank were rough and the wind continued to build. We decided to take one reef in the mainsail. Here we passed a boat who had their storm sails already up and this was a good indication of things to come! The wind again continued to build and we put a second reef in the mainsail. As we left Sicily heading for Pantalleria and Lampedusa, the waves continued to build and the wind kept increasing. We decided to drop the mainsail and just sail under the number 3 jib and no main.
The waves reached, we believe 5m high, although it felt like 15m! We recorded winds up to 50 knots and some other boats recorded 60+ knots. We were sailing an angle of approx 60 to 65 apparent wind angle, which meant we were on a reach with the wind coming over the side of the boat and the waves also coming over the side of the boat and into the cockpit. The waves continually broke over the crew in the cockpit and we had 5 lifejackets auto inflate due to the amount of water continually coming over the boat. Lifejackets are designed to inflate when you fall into the water, so this gives an indication of how wet it was and how much water was coming into the cockpit! Joost won the award for the most inflating lifejackets, as his inflated 3 different times! Steering the boat was very challenging and you had to steer with your right eye shut, due to the waves continually coming into your eye. We should have used the goggles and the snorkel!
When the wind reached 45 knots and we were between Sicily and Pantalleria, we decided to put up the storm sails. For many of us, this was the first time that we had ever properly raced with the trisail and storm jib. It was tough to take down the number 3 jib and put up the storm sails but Floris and Joost D on the bow, Joost H on the mast, Reima in the Pitt and Leen on the helm did a great job and safely put up the storm sails in 45 knots of wind and large breaking waves. With the storm sails up, we were still doing approx 8 knots. The crew was tired and most people had their turn of feeling unwell at some stage. Harry and Laura were knocked out in this stage of the race and unable to assist anymore. We made the decision to try and seek shelter and safety. We passed Scarlett Oyster who only had a storm jib up and we later discovered that they had lost their rudder and spent last night tied to a fishing boat trying to seek shelter and safety.
Initially, we were unsure if we could enter the port in Pantalleria but we were delighted when the port confirmed that it would be safe for us to enter. I think the entire crew were in full agreement that we should seek shelter. We had another adventure entering the harbour. The waves were very large at the harbour entrance and we recorded 50 knots of wind as we entered through the breakwater. We put the engine on strongly and took the storm sails down as we entered the harbour but then the engine cut out! Thankfully after a few attempts at restarting the engine, it finally started again! Then Leen had to navigate into a very tight parking spot, reverse in 50 knots of wind to get Winsome safely into her parking spot. Finally, Winsome was berthed safely and the entire Winsome crew was ashore safely. We arrived in port at about 4.30pm local time on Wednesday, 22 october. We had no injuries and no real damage to report. We all feel very lucky that Winsome and the Winsome crew are safe. Although, I’m not sure how many of us are signing up for another long offshore in 50 knots of wind again soon!
After tidying the boat, we found a nice hotel, had nice showers, ate dinner and were all very glad to have a lovely nights sleep! By coming ashore and not immediately returning to the boat, we effectively retired from the race. You are allowed to go ashore to make your boat fast, when finding shelter, but you must then immediately return to your boat and not take or seek any external assistance. Hence, we have now officials retired from the race. When we came to the hotel, Laura was glad to find some of her fellow Irish sailors here, Encore, a Beneteau 40.7 from Ireland. There are about 5 other boats here in the port with us – Encore from Ireland, Duffy from Italy, Muca Maca from Slovenia, Gordons from Slovenia and Azawakh from Belgium.
Re the joke about Reima missing his flight on Friday, Reima will now be able to make his flight! He has flown back to Malta this afternoon and will fly back to Finland tomorrow afternoon. The rest of the crew hopes to leave Pantalleria tomorrow morning at first light, if it is safe to do so! We hope to sail the 150 Miles back to Malta and arrive early on Saturday morning and prepare Winsome for her trip back to Southampton. Laura will hopefully fly back to Ireland on Saturday night at 9pm and Markus/Harry will fly the rest of the crew back to Holland on Sunday. Hopefully Sophie and Boj will be in Malta to meet us on Saturday and we can all drink Champagne to celebrate Winsome’s safe return. The crew is disappointed not to have finished the Rolex Middle Sea Race but we are all very glad to be safe and it gives us an excuse to all come back another year and hopefully win the race next time! We have now done approx 70% of the Middle Sea Race. Hopefully next time we will all do 100%, but only if the weather is better conditions. This race was a race of extremes, very light weather and storms! Somewhere in the middle would have made the race more pleasant, but that is offshore racing and we cannot control the weather!
We hope our final sail from Pantalleria back to Malta will not be as adventures as our sail from Sicily to Pantalleria! I’m not sure that any of us will come back to Pantalleria again, but we were all delighted to get here yesterday!
Best wishes from all of the Winsome crew and we all look forward to returning home to Holland, Finland and Ireland.