A ferocious and scary storm of thunderously epic proportions has challenged our day. Featuring flashing strikes of lightning, we just witnessed a performance of nature conducted in the skies around and above us. Booming exclamations underscore that we are insignificantly human and that the heavens can open with such percussive banging that the sounds can restart your heart.
As a sailboat, we like the weather. We like it in a Goldilocks kind of way – when the wind is just right, blowing steady zephyrs from the right direction between 5 and 20 knots is our preference. But no matter how big, fast and sexy your boat, storms are often occasions when you can’t outrun what’s coming, and you simply must find the best option to deal with it, huddle down and have a plan to respond to any onslaught. Everyone on board must know their role if or when the going gets tough.
Every weather app and website has been telling us that today – Thursday – would be a rough weather day. There is a thunder and lightning storm covering the entire Adriatic. We found a lot of lightning and thunder occurs in this part of the world. I guess nights that don’t cool below 20 degrees and mountainous terrain exacerbate that, so we’ve been using our new favourite lightning app to show us in real-time where the strikes are happening. The difference between the weather forecasts on PredictWind, DHMZ and others varies like night and day.
So, it was no surprise. We knew the weather was going to be a challenge today. The Captain and I planned, agreeing yesterday when we arrived at Dubrovnik, that anchoring in Dubrovnik harbour didn’t feel safe or protected enough for the forecast weather which was due to come in at 5.00 am this morning. Based on the outlook we agreed to high tail it to a little safe harbour on an island a mere three nautical miles away.
Finding a Safe Harbour
The little island of Koločep is one of the three inhabited Elaphiti Islands with a population of just 163 at the last census. It is tranquil and tiny – less than two and a half square kilometres in area, and just three nautical miles from Dubrovnik. There is a regular ferry with multiple crossings every day between here and Dubrovnik. And this is where we chose as our safe harbour.
When we arrived on Koločep island yesterday there were just a couple of other yachts anchored here and it was so calm our neighbour had someone up the mast! It was pretty and calm and peaceful. And we knew the storms were due in the early hours of this morning. Based on the size of this little bay and the terrain around us there is little chance of fetch, meaning we shouldn’t get high waves. The outlook for Thursday – well, your guess is as good as mine, but it meant an early night in case we needed to share an anchor watch in the early hours.
The rain started a little earlier than predicted, around 3.00 am. The Captain arose and undertook a visual check of our situation. Our anchor was holding but he did pull the bung out of our dinghy, Waiata Iti, as she was filling up fast with rainwater. Otherwise, fine.
Dawn broke and we had our morning coffee under bruising grey and black skies watching, a large cruising vessel come in to join us in our bay for safety. A monohull that had spent the night bravely exited the bay making a run for who knows where? Just as they turned starboard out of the bay, all kinds of weather hell let loose.
It’s electric weather, in a way that makes the hairs stand up on your body. You’re on hyper-alert; poised to pounce; ready to lift the anchor if the Captain deems it necessary. We start the engines to enable some power against the winds that swirl and blast at the edge of the front. The squalls whip and whizz about turning our boat in pirouettes around her anchor that any prima ballerina would be proud of. En pointe.
By 8.30 am the storm really started to make her presence known. We could see the worst of it had been skirting our chosen little bay of Koločep. But then the dreaded ‘anchor drag alert’ alarm started going off – but at least it was daylight. Challenging situations are always somehow easier to deal with in daylight. If you want to know how I feel about Anchor Drag Alerts, you can read about it here We’re thankful for the safety of our anchor drag alert system and our 40 kg Rocna does a great job, but no one really wants to be out in lightning and thunderstorm trying to deal with a bridle and dragging anchor … it has an element of dicey scariness I’d prefer not to have to experience. And the reset means an anxious wait while the tracking hopefully draws a nice half circle to show the anchor is again holding. Anchoring is an everyday normal situation, but scary and stressful in a volatile storm.
Our app shows thousands of strikes in the last half hour. We have had two direct lightning strikes here in this little bay and there will be more – you can hear one at the end of this video.
Just so you know, our yacht mast is earthed. We lost our wind instruments and waited to turn off our navigation system for a few seconds before switching it back on – the universal fix for everything before needing a technician. Thankfully, we now have all of our instrumentation back to normal.
And our anchor has dragged but reset herself. She’s probably moved around 5 metres as the wind has moved us from one side to the other. As I write, the anchor has reset back to where she was dropped yesterday.
This is a thunder and lightning challenging type of Thursday. Even the local ferries aren’t running at the moment. It’s meant to last until around 2 or 3 pm today, and then tomorrow it is forecast to return.
The Outlook for Friday
VHF Channel 16 has been broadcasting gale warnings since yesterday, and they have moments ago advised winds up to 70 knots in the northern Adriatic for Istria (north). In the southern Adriatic, where we are, we are forecast to get around 40 knots. Only! Ha! As already stated, the forecasts often have a degree of accuracy, but this weather system is currently running through to at least Friday night. The bad weather is due to come from the north tomorrow meaning our current haven bay might no longer offer the protection we need, so we may have to move in the morning. We’ll wait until then to decide.
We still have friends in Montenegro. Today’s challenging weather is moving its way, heading south. We hope you have found a safe harbour too.
In line with our ‘Outlook for Thursday’ here’s some classic DD Smash. All Kiwi’s know this track and it made the top 40 for the top New Zealand songs of the twentieth century. The video featured Dobbyn as the frazzled weatherman, making a great fit for the feel of today.
“You got really rotten weather
It’s so hard, I know it’s so
Tell me where
A weatherman should start
When he’s miles from his sunshine
Promise you the warmest winter fire
When outside its freezing cold
Promise you the bluest summer sky
It’ll shine just for you (you)
And it’ll be the outlook for Thursday
Your guess is good as mine”