If you ever find yourself sailing north towards Croatia, a few miles off the coast of Albania, trying to bash into a 30 knot wind (that was forecast for 20) and is quickly growing towards a steady 35 knots, we have some advice for you. You probably will have left Corfu (the northernmost island in Greece) about 10 hours earlier and will have noticed you are unable to make even one knot progress north towards your destination with such heavy winds and seas coming straight on your nose. You will be tempted to turn around to Corfu, but it is 10 hours away, meaning the round trip will cost 20 lost hours. You also will be tempted to head east towards Albania which is sitting there a few miles off your starboard (right) side which you think might offer a shelter until the wind dies down a bit. The problem here is that Albania is pretty much still a communist isolationist state that is closed to tourists for all intents and purposes, and didn’t even permit their citizens to have passports until a few years ago. Their territorial boundary is marked in the water with intimidating black flags telling you not to enter their waters. (a shame because you could at least get some shelter if you could get close to the land). Their one short experience with democracy ended when the entire economy collapsed after thousands of pyramid schemes failed – an experience in which the majority of Albanians lost their entire life savings. Then there is their massive mine field area pushing you further and further offshore into the heavier weather, which still contains active ordinances from WWII, and which they have not yet cleared. And why would they, considering how effective it is in keeping people away. With the wind forecast for 20 knots and declining in the early evening you will be tempted to stay out there fumbling around until the wind declines, but with actual conditions now at 35 knots and climbing, you are now clearly in a predicament. Do you continue bouncing around in 35 knot winds hoping for some relief to come, or do you turn around to Corfu and try your passage another day?
Our advice to you in this situation is to immediately turn around and go back to Corfu. What we actually did when faced with this situation on Wednesday, however, was to continue bashing north ambitiously another two hours until we heard an outrageously loud “bang” which sent shockwaves down the mast and through the hull. The hole in the mainsail which holds our reef line (which we use to reduce the size of the sail in heavy winds), ripped completely out of the mainsail, sending the entire sail into the air. At this point the boat is crippled and not safe to sail into the wind, so the choice was made for us. We are now back in Corfu, which is exactly where we would have been if we had followed our own advice.
Sail repairs will take another day or so, then we will make a new attempt to head north into the Adriatic. We no longer trust the marine forecasts at all because they’ve been so horrendously inaccurate and have put us into dangerous situations several times (35+ knot winds on forecasts of 20). Fortunately the conditions should be near-windless for the next couple of days, but we are still going in ready for a battle.
We continue to test the limits of the boat under fairly extreme conditions and we think we are much better prepared for the big ocean crossings each time we go through an experience like this. Nobody ever said sailing around the world was easy, and if anybody ever does say that, they probably haven’t actually done it.