Having left Messalongi early on the 14th September, we made our way towards ‘Big’ Vathi on the island of Ithaka. Ithaka lies off the northeast coast of Kefalonia and is 96 sq kilometres, the second smallest of the seven main Ionian Islands after Paxos. Vathi is the capital and main harbour of the Island and is built around a deep sheltered bay with a narrow entrance. We had both ‘sat’ out a number of storms in this bay during our times on ‘charter boats’ in the Ionian, and having seen the weather forecast for the next few days, had felt that this would be a ‘fair bet’ as far as shelter. We had also been in contact with the ‘crew’ of Dulcinea who were making their way towards us. We were hoping to meet up again before saying goodbye until next year.
As we have mentioned before, the yachting community is small, and Judith had been in touch with Paul and Anthea who live in Tenby and keep their boat in the Ionian on a permanent basis. We had been hoping to catch them some time this season and sure enough they were also heading for Vathi over the next day or so. Two of our ‘pontoon buddies’ from MDR Sicily (Di & John off Miss Chips & Catherine & Peter – Rocko) who we had last seen in Kefalonia, were at anchor off Vathi so hopefully we would be able to catch up with them too.
We were planning to spend two nights in Vathi and then head further north on the coast of Ithika to Kioni where a childhood family friend of Alistair’s, Tim & his wife Sue, now lived.
After arriving and anchoring close to Dulcinea in the bay off Vathi town, we contacted our friends from MDR, Sicily and arranged to meet at a small bar for cocktails early evening. Dave from Dulcinea appeared in his tender on route to the supermarket and invited us for supper. We were happy to meet up again as we had thoroughly enjoyed their company earlier on in the season. Judith joined him on the trip to the supermarket and already we had a busy evening ahead. Whilst returning from the shops Judith noticed Annastasia was secured to the Quay she went over to welcome them. Alex & Kuni were spending the night here and leaving early in the morning to make their way North to try and avoid the storm.
During cocktails and supper the subject was the approaching storm. Dave & Carolyn had also decided that they were going to make a ‘run’ North to their home mooring at Corfu Marina. This would be a 12 hour sail and they would leave early the following morning. They tried their best to get us to join them but we HAD PLANS!!! With hindsight we wish we had taken their advice but we had arranged to meet Tim & Sue and were looking forward to catching up with Anthea & Paul and also Jonnie & Amanda who were now only a few miles away in Cephalonia. We were not ready to head North yet! after all, the storm was somewhat unpredictable and was supposed to head slightly further North than us and then head East. We would be safe sheltering here in Vathi!
The morning after our arrival in Vathi we moved Money Penny to the Quay and began to make her ‘storm ready’. We secured extra lines to the dock and took down our solar panels, bimini and sprayhood. Anthea and Paul had arrived and were moored on the same quay. As our bimini had been removed and Anthea had a sewing machine onboard, Judith took advantage and borrowed the sewing machine that afternoon to replace two of the zips. This was a job that had been waiting since Sicily.
During the course of the evening a total of eight boats joined us on the quayside stern to, pointing northwards. The first element of the storm was predicted to come from the south which would in effect hold us off the quayside. We took a walk across to the other Quay (facing east) and spoke to the skipper of a Sunsail flotilla as he attempted to secure all 16 of his boats. He had sent all flotilla crew members to guest houses and only the skippers of each individual boat remained! There was also an English couple close by who had chosen to secure to this quayside, they were in the process of adding a number of extra lines. The young Sunsail skipper informed us of the VHF channel that he would be monitoring that night and kindly said that if we needed assistance we should call him.
As the wind gained in strength and the rain started we headed ‘down below’. We sat in the saloon monitoring the building wind and the safety of Money Penny until a mayday call was heard on our radio from within the bay of Vathi. We hoped that the Coastguard would assist. We also heard a French boat asking for assistance after loosing both anchors and being unable to dock due to the wind strength. At this point we were unable to leave the boat as the gap between Money Penny and the quayside was too large to risk jumping. On venturing outside the Coastguard were dealing with a tripper boat that had broken it’s moorings and was lying side on across three other boats. The noise of the wind and lashing rain meant we were unable to draw the attention of anyone on the quay, however, Paul had also heard the call from the French boat and luckily had the phone number of someone with a car that could drive to the other side of the bay to give assistance to the yacht as it attempted to berth at the far side quay.
It is extremely difficult to express how helpless we all felt but it was just a case of keeping calm and trying to minimise damage to Money Penny and others around us. The wind reached Storm Force 11 – 60-70 kts. We were awake all night, at times trying to fend off the adjacent yachts and wondering how long the wind and rain would go on for! At daylight it became apparent that we had come off lightly! The wind was still fairly strong but as we looked across to the other quay we could see the yacht belonging to the English couple with her bow down in the water. As we continued to watch helplessly over the next hour, the yacht sank further into the water! We found out the following day that the stern of the yacht had been pushed up onto the quay allowing her to ‘nose dive’ into the water and slowly fill with water. There was also a life raft floating around in front of us which was eventually picked up by the Coastguard and put in front of their office.
As the second element of the storm began with the wind veering around to the East, it was now hitting us on the broadside so we decided to move. The yacht to our portside had already left and in doing so had ended up broadside on to our bow missing a collision by inches and taking out the anchor of the yacht on her other side. The charter yacht to our starboard was no longer being held by her anchor and the crew, who had spent most of the night sleeping or arguing, unaware of us fending them off, were looking like they were thinking of moving. We decided to make a run for it as we had no faith in their seamanship and worried that they would not be able to avoid a collision if the wind caught them!
We anchored on the lee shore and settled down for another sleepless night. Alistair went down below to catch up on some sleep and asked me to remain on watch until 9pm when he would take over for a few hours . We would take shifts throughout the night. By 8.30 pm it was obvious to me that the wind was decreasing. I was now only seeing gusts of 30-35 kts and it felt positively ‘calm’ !! I decided not to wake him and went to bed myself. confident that the anchor was secure and the yachts around us were at a safe distance. We both woke the following morning at 9 am!!! The sun shone and the bay was calm but as we looked over to where our friends John & Di on Miss Chips had been anchored we could no longer see them. Miss Chips had been anchored near to the French boat that had lost both anchors and she had also pulled her anchor and had ended up on the rocks on the opposite shore to where we were anchored. We spoke to them on the ‘phone and learned that they had left Miss Chips and had been told by the Coastguard that they could not return until they had spoken to the ‘office’. We arranged to return to the quay and meet them to organise any help that they may need. Luckily there was superficial cosmetic damage to the hull and we were able to help re-float and re-anchor her later that day.
Judith baked a treat as the wind calmed down!
Once moored back on the quay we were able to take a walk to survey the damage around the town quay area. The Sunsail boats had faired well with only one yacht having a prop wrap. The young skipper had certainly done his job. We subsequently emailed Sunsail to express our gratitude for his offer of help and also admiration for the excellent job he had provided in keeping their clients & yachts safe.
There was no electricity throughout the village and a number of small boats had sunk on their moorings. People walked around in shock. The local villagers had never experienced anything like it before. We never want to experience anything like it again!!
That afternoon we cycled to a nearby beach for a swim and looked out at the calm seas before leaving Vathi the following morning…………… it was as if nothing had happened.