30 knot Meltemi winds

Finikas, Syros, Greece

The Meltemi taught us a lesson the hard way yesterday which we won’t soon forget, and gave Benji some real excitement on his first day of sailing. We left Ermoipolis on the east side Syros in the morning and headed west towards Kythnos. We had prepared for high Meltemi winds (30 knots) meaning our storm jib (sail) was flying while our full size jib stayed rolled up on the furler. We were surprised to find no wind going around the south of Syros so we unrolled the big jib for some extra power (running both jibs at once). When the Meltemi winds re-appeared after we left the shelter of the island we made a critical mistake. We rolled the big jib back up onto the furler but failed to jam off (secure) the jib sheets (the ropes that are used to adjust the sail). The sheets were thus free to flap about. The reason was simple – we had removed the main jib sheets from the jammers so we could use the jammers for the storm sail’s sheets – there is no extra set of jammers for a second jib. With no jammers available we didn’t think to secure the lines for the rolled up jib by tying them off to something else, and that was the serious errata we are determined not to repeat in the future.

In normal wind conditions an oversight like this is meaningless. But as the Meltemi winds cranked up to 30-35 knots, and as we plowed into it at 8 knots (making the “apparent wind” speed over 40 knots) the forces on the rolled up jib became huge, and because the jib sheets weren’t tight it was able to unwrap backwards just a tiny bit, which exposed a
small piece of the sail surface to the wind. That small surface caused it to unwind further, until after a few seconds nearly half the jib came streaming out into the wind. When the sheets then bound up because of the flapping our jib was stuck with a dreaded hourglass shape (see pic) that was impossible to fix in the heavy winds and seas – we could’t roll the sail back up. In an attempt to save the sail from being shredded to pieces by the Meltemi, we turned around away from the wind to reduce the apparent wind speed and sailed back towards the shelter of Syros. Over the next two hours we watched in horror as our jib slowly ripped apart in the wind.

As we spend the next day or two getting the sail repaired we’ll ponder our mistake many times. We have been humbled by the power of the Meltemi and have been given a new fear of 35 knot winds. I’m starting to sense that a humble and fearful sailor is probably also a better sailor, and that silver lining is exactly what we’ll be thinking about when the sailmaker hands us the repair bill tomorrow morning.

Here is a video of how things unfolded.. literally..

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