by Alex Moreton, s/v Kotare
When my wife and I started our three year Mediterranean cruise in February 2012 we knew wasn’t all going to be plain sailing and as most of us do, tried to plan for every eventuality. Neither of us are super experienced sailors, but have been around boats of all types for most of our lives and in the twelve months leading up to our departure I built up over 2000 miles of sail time on any boat that was happy to have me, this included a fairly grueling Fastnet race and numerous channel crossings. Our journey started in Palma De Mallorca and we had planned to spend the first few weeks sailing around the island of Mallorca testing the various systems we had installed on the boat, from there we were to cross to Barcelona and then head round to Italy following the coasts of Spain and France. However, 20 or so miles into our first longish passage we managed to get an illegally placed fishing net wrapped around our prop just after dark and for numerous reasons decided the safes plan was to sail back to Andratx.
This was not the start we had imagined and it meant that we had to change a lot of the plans we had made to meet up with various people in Barcelona due to terrible weather coming in. On the bright side this meant we now had time to explore the Balearics a bit more and we promptly planned at trip to the neighboring island of Menorca.
Being the most eastern of the Balearics it is more exposed to the dreaded Mistral winds that are frequent at that time of year and most of our time was spent in the protection of Mahon Harbor. The other cruisers we met had told us that the north of the island was very beautiful with some amazing anchorages in secluded bays, so when there was a gap in the weather we headed round to a very large bay called Fornells.
On arrival everything seemed perfect; the anchoring area was large enough for around 100 boats, there was protection from all wind angles due to an island in the center and the restaurants and bars looked very adequate! The forecast was for a BF5 gusting BF6 in the early evening so we had some lunch ashore and returned to the boat early afternoon as the breeze picked up. As you will read below we were then subject to the most unfathomable chain of events!
1700: We are at anchor on the east side of Fornells bay to the south of the Island Sargantana. The wind has picked up to 20Knts from the south, but our anchor is holding well despite the reports that it is a poor holding area due to a lot of weed on the seabed. We have out 55m of rhode in 7.3m of depth (30m Chain & 25m Rope).
1830: The wind increases to 25Knts still from the south. We are still holding and have not moved at all. However, the catamaran anchored to our south is now at least 20m closer to us.
2000: We sit down to dinner with the wind blowing between 20Knts to 25Knts. We have still not moved and the cat appears to be holding too.
2300: We go to bed. The wind is 20Knts from the south and both the cat and us are holding. We set our first alarm for 0100 and try to get some sleep!
0100: I am woken by the alarm, Carol has not slept at all and has been checking our position every 30 minutes. We have still not moved at all, but the cat has slipped over 100m and is now to the north of us by about 30m. Carol did not actually see it slip past us and we assumed that they upped anchored and moved into our lee so they could get better holding.
0130: We decide that a permanent anchor watch is needed as the wind is 25Knts and meant to be increasing to around 30Knts. Carol takes the first watch of 2 hours and goes up on deck.
0330: Carol wakes me and informs me that we have not moved at all and the wind is dropping off to around 15Knts. After double-checking our position and that of the cat, which is still to our north and holding, we decide that permanent anchor watch is no longer needed and we both try to get some sleep. Our alarm was set for 0530 when the wind was due to swing round to the north.
0500: The wind changes to coming from the north and increases to 20Knts. I decided to go up on deck to check our holding. On looking out of the hatch I saw the cat had dragged and was now only 4 meters from our bow. By the time I had woken Carol with instruction to get the foghorn to wake them up and put my jeans on they were along side on our starboard. I banged on their hull to wake them and scrambled for fenders to get in between our boats. When they came on deck they did the same and when we were both happy that there was enough fendered protection between the boats we set about working out how to uncross the anchor chains.
0505: After much discussion in various languages (they were French and said they did not speak English, although they seemed to understand every bit of the discussions me and Carol were having between us!) we managed to convince them that it was they that had to move off as it was their chain over ours. Even on agreeing this and making attempt to move off they were still adamant that it was us that had slipped on to them, I had even pointed out the yellow special mark that they were anchored next to was now 100m to our south to which they just looked confused at and said it was us not them!
Also at this point another couple we had met in Mahon motored past us in their 36 foot yacht Magnum as their anchor had slipped during the night and put them dangerously close to the rocks on the north side of the Island Sargantana. They observed the whole incident.
0515: They were finally clear of us and our chain with only minimal scratches to both boats and we set about packing away the fenders.
0520: After watching them try to re-lay their anchor, which they never fully recovered, in the same place, they slipped again and swung round so that their starboard stern crashed into out bow on the starboard side. This put a very large crack at the bottom of their sugar scoop on the water line. I was sure this would cause them to take on water! They were then blown back onto us again which burst their dinghy on our bow roller and bent their solar panel bracket. They were refusing to use either of their engines to power away as they were convinced they would get our rhode wrapped around their prop. I pointed out that that did not matter as they had two engines and one was clear of the rope, but they still refused at which point I cut our rhode so we could drift free and motor clear of them.
0522: We motored in to the center of the bay to decide what the best course of action would be. The facts of our situation were now that we had lost our main anchor (25Kg Plastimo Cobra, the best anchor in the world bar none if you ask me!), we had our dinghy in tow with our outboard still on it, the wind was around 20Knts, the waves in the entrance of the bay were at least 3m, our backup anchor (16kg Plastimo Cobra) did not have enough rhode to guarantee a good hold in the depth of water we could safely anchor in, there were three small marinas in the bay that we were both to long and deep to get into.
0540: We decided that the best course of action was to try and pick up a mooring buoy at the very south of the bay next to the Club Nautico. The risks were that we would not have enough depth or swing room as it was a very small mooring field that was uncharted (and also unregulated, we found out later that all of the buoys were illegal!), however we were out of options mainly due to having our dinghy with out board still attached and in tow which meant that we could not leave the bay in such big swells.
0555: We approached the mooring field passing Magnum to our port side and informed them what had happened and what our plan was, they too had picked up a buoy on the edge of the mooring field.
0600: After identifying a white numbered buoy that was unoccupied (I had read that white mooring buoys were for visitors and at this point we didn't know it was not an official mooring field!) we circled it to make sure we had enough depth, came round into wind and Carol hooked it. I got a line through the chain loop at which point we realized that the buoy was not holding us and we had drifted back into the mooring field and were about to collide with a small dinghy. I tried to motor forward and thrust our nose back into wind, but our bow thruster did not have enough power to counter the 20Knts of wind that was now pushing on our port side. I accelerated harder to try and clear the small dinghy at which point it got sucked underneath our hull on the starboard side and our engine cut out. We had wrapped the dinghy’s mooring lines around our prop.
0610: Mark from Magnum came across to us in his dinghy to lend a much needed hand! The good news was that the mooring lines we had wrapped were holding us and out of the three that were attached to the chain securing it to the seabed, one was not tangled up in the mess under the boat. We managed to get this on to our port stern cleat and pull it in enough to see how it was connected to the chain. We surmised that if the two wrapped around the prop were cut the third would still hold. Mark returned to Magnum to get his wetsuit!
0630: Mark and I jumped in! I went under the boat with the scuba gear with Mark watching from the side to ensure I did not get tangled up and stuck under it. The ropes cut easily and the dinghy popped out from under us, miraculously it was still floating and had not sustained any damage, all be it full of water and missing it oars! We swam it over to another buoy and bailed out most of the water. After a final check under the boat and at the water line of the bow to see if there was any serious damage we got out and headed for a much needed hot shower!
0700: We managed to get one of the cut ropes tied on to the stern in place of the one undamaged one which we then tied to the bow and slowly swung her round. Crisis over; the buoy was holding, we had enough depth and swing room!
1000: I took our dinghy over to the Club Nautico and asked them what the score was with the damage to the dingy and cut ropes. He informed me that the mooring field was not owned or regulated by anyone and that the buoys were technically illegal! I asked his opinion on the holding power of the one we were on and he said that for a boat of our size and depth it would be very risky to stay there due to the age and size of what ever we were attached to and the fact that if we slipped 50m to the south we would be aground for sure! There were 30Knt winds predicted for that evening with worse coming the following day so we decided to head back to Mahon, which was the closest port with shelter and a berth big enough for us.
1103: After packing up our dinghy and securing everything inside the boat we set of back to Mahon, following Magnum out. On leaving the bay we were confronted with 4m waves just out side the entrance which we had no choice but to motor into, if we had turned side onto them I am sure we would have been un-rectifiably swamped. We motored for an hour in a roughly northerly direction until they became small enough for us to turn east and head for Mahon. It took us 4 hours, the wind was constantly on our nose at about 10-15 knots and we did not have energy to beat all the way there, so did it all on the motor keeping a close eye out for the numerous lobster pots we passed on the way there!
1500: We make it back to the Ocibar floating island in the Port De Mahon. There was 20Knts of wind hitting us on our port side bow as we backed up into the same spot we were in last time (because we knew that the bow lines were good there) and as we got the port side stern and bow lines on the wind shifted to blowing at 25Knts on our starboard bow and blew us back onto the dock and across the leader for the port bow line, which promptly wrapped it's self round the prop and stalled the engine!
1520: With the boat now tied up securely and having 4 springs and both available bow lines a lot of Jack Daniels was consumed.
After reflecting on all of the events I am not sure there is a lot I would or could have done differently. The only thing that would have eased the pain slightly would have been being able to recover our anchor and chain! We managed to find a diver who was prepared to look for it for €50 and we went out with him the next day but to no avail, in hind sight we should have attached something to the rhode before cutting it, but the speed at which everything happened prevented me form doing so. In future I will be attaching a small buoy to the chain before we go to bed!