Travel notebook

HORS SÉRIE – Tempête en Méditerranée

Not everything has always been peaceful

It is now two weeks and two days since we started the crossing of the Pacific between Costa Rica and the Marquesas Islands and for those who follow the weeklies, you will have realized that this ocean carries its name rather well. Plus largement, et pour les plus fidèles d’entre vous, vous aurez remarqué la similitude avec l’Atlantique et même les Caraïbes. But this was not always the case. In this special edition, we tell you about our beginnings, which were chaotic.

We left on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 from La Ciotat, two days after having said goodbye to our families. I will remember for a long time all those faces and smiles. I will also remember the words of our relatives, so proud of us. They were there, dancing, singing and celebrating the beginning of such a beautiful adventure. On Sunday, we kissed our families, our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our friends and girlfriends and then they left us on the pontoon. The weather was not so good, that's why we only left two days after.

We were awake at 3:00 am, on this famous Tuesday, October 05, 2021. Emilien had identified a weather window to cross the Gulf of Lion between two blows of Tramontane. Despite that, the time to prepare everything, we did not leave before 7:00 am from La Ciotat. We hoisted the sails off the city, in front of the MB92 shipyard (where Emilien worked), while watching the sunrise. Not a cloud in the sky, a little fresh breeze and we were alone on the water.

The sails were new and we were a little apprehensive about whether the dimensions were right. In spite of a too thick slider that had to be filed down, everything was perfect. The genoa was inflated as well as the mainsail then the mizzen and we left.

The beginning of the navigation was upwind. We were heading 280° with about fifteen knots of wind. I quickly got seasick and went to sleep as soon as I could. Fortunately for me, little by little, the wind calmed down until I had a calm in the early afternoon.

In the early evening, the wind came back. We were upwind again and it was not easy to make food; we were not comfortable with this exercise at all. The weather forecast had predicted that the wind would increase during the night to 30 knots. The famous Tramontane blow that we had to narrowly avoid.

I took the first watch, from 8pm to midnight. The conditions were as announced: wind upwind which was increasing. The waves were also building up to a 1 meter swell, up to 1.5 meters: conditions that were starting to become well agitated for a first day at sea.
I left the bar to Émilien at 1:00 am, he had indeed asked me to continue, then I went to bed.

A few hours later (around 3am), he woke me up to lower the mizzen and readjust the sails. The boat was listing a lot: 30°. The conditions had deteriorated! We started with a minimum sail configuration (i.e. mizzen with reef, mainsail with the third reef and the staysail which is a smaller sail replacing the genoa) but we were still over-canvas. The boat was running at full speed on the water.

So I lowered the mizzen and the boat behaved better. But we were not out of the woods yet! Later on, the weather grew again and Emilien woke me up again to lower the mainsail. Outside, everything was wild! The wind was blowing like an ox and the boat was being abused in the waves. Equipped with all our gear (jackets and overalls, boots, life jackets, life line) we went out with Lucas and performed the maneuver with difficulty.

We had to be seen. It was like being asked to fold a tarp in a storm on a moving floor; hell! We were falling to the ground and holding on to the mast as best we could, we were slipping, the wind was whistling in our ears... Despite this, we made it and Lucas went back to bed. As for me, I stayed with Emilien in these crazy conditions! There was troughs of 5 - 6 meters every 6 seconds and very violent gusts. Later we will learn that gusts of more than 58 knots (110 km/h) were recorded in the area where we were sailing.

I noticed that a solar panel was dragging in the water along the hull because the end (the rope) that held it had broken. Here we go again! I woke up Lucas and we went to fix this little problem. That's when the halyard pulley (which is used to hold the sail that allows us to move forward) has broken! I remembered Emilien telling us that there was one chance out of 100 that it would happen... (and explaining beforehand what to do in that case). So, in a hurry, Lucas and I went to the bow to lower the sail that was slapping in the wind. At this rate, we knew that she had only a few minutes left before being torn apart.

In the rush, Lucas's lifeline got stuck and I jumped over him to rush to the bow. I grabbed onto the sail and boat as hard as I could to bring it down and hold it down. The sea was raging!

Generally, the bow of the boat is the place that moves the most in the waves and this is even more true upwind. The boat rears up on the swell, the bow overtakes the wave, keeps going up to the sky, until the ship tilts forward, falling with all its mass on the next wave and sending hundreds of liters of water over the deck. I was in the middle of it, with Lucas, and we try not to fall. We were flying in all directions and we fell to the ground. We were facing walls of water of more than 5 meters that were crashing into us! At that moment, the feeling of danger and humility in front of the force of the oceans seized me: we were only small beings in the middle of the storm.

Once the staysail was down, Émilien started the engine. Without sails, the objective was clear: to reach the coast to take shelter. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that it would be difficult. At the stroke of 8:00, we lost one of the last things we thought we would lose: the helm. Unable to steer properly, we could only turn to starboard. With no helm, no sails, and still rough seas filling the boat, and with a broken bilge pump, reason drove us to action: Lucas made a "pan-pan" rescue call to request a tow. We were 80 kilometers from the Spanish coast and the situation was critical.

After Lucas exchanged several times with the CROSS Med, the Spanish rescue team started; we were off Palamós. They put about 2 hours to arrive. 2 hours during which Emilien and I took turns at the helm because Lucas was sick. When they arrived, the rescuers threw us mooring lines which we attached to the bow cleats of the boat. In such a rough sea, their maneuver was impressive!

We then got pulled during 6 hours to the port. We all slept so exhausted. Inside, everything was upside down: fruits and vegetables were broken on the floor, water and oil had spilled out of the bilges, not to mention the dubious smell of macerated diesel. But we didn't mind. We slept on the floor and personally I even experienced the head in the gas stove.

On our arrival, Lucas was really bad. He couldn't keep hydrated and kept throwing up. He ended up falling asleep on the dock. Emilien and I continued to tidy up the boat and assess the damage.

The rest of the evening was just as eventful. We took a rental for Lucas who was in strong hyperglycemia (Lucas is a type 1 diabetic). While we were still at the boat with Emilien, on the verge of a coma, he called for help. When we heard about this, we were running around town, to the boat and to the pharmacy to get supplies. The French emergency room also gave us what to do and we watched over him in the night.

The next day, Lucas was not much better. During this time, we went to the machines with Emilien and when we came back, seeing our friend's condition deteriorate, we decided to call the emergency services. This time, they took him to the hospital. I followed suit and Emilien went to pay the maritime rescue: 2 700€, It hurts...

When I arrived in the waiting room, I waited and after 45 minutes I managed to reach him. We tried to explain the situation to the nurse and the doctor but they did not seem to understand the seriousness of Lucas' condition: he had ketoacidosis and needed urgent care!

He had several blood tests, blood sugar tests, urine tests and a lung x-ray but most importantly: we waited. 12 hours in totalWe had to sit in a room, then in the corridor, next to a cubbyhole. With some snacks made of rusks and glasses of water, the time seemed infinite! We finally went out around 3 am, Lucas still in his hospital gown in the street, then, we joined Emilien at the hotel.

The next day, we moved the boat to the nautical port and then we spent the week to clean it and to repair it to leave. Honestly, cleaning the bilges was by far the most important job I had ever done. the most unpleasant and tedious. We had taken on board about 500L of sea water mixed with diesel and engine oil. In the end, there was not so much breakage but we were very scared.

When we left, we sailed quietly and Emilien taught Lucas and me a lot. This experience showed us our shortcomings in the preparation of the vessel but has also made us much more humble. We could have waited an extra day at the beginning, but the desire to leave was stronger than us!

Finally, a round-the-world trip is a bit like an endurance race: there is no need to hurry, you just have to arrive. Still today, we think about it and we know that the weather is not always reliable, that breakages happen, that we should not neglect our health, but also that of others. Far from being a bad experience, this catastrophic departure will have conditioned us for the rest of the trip.

Finally, J. de la Fontaine was right: "Nothing is worth running, everything comes to him who knows how to wait"; a particularly true moral in this kind of journey.

Return of the captain on the improvement of Noddi after the storm:

  • Removal of the textile shackle holding the genoa halyard block and replacement by a stainless steel shackle. Although very strong at the traction, the textile shackle was not sufficiently resistant to the ragging against the mast, which led to its rupture.
  • Replaced the steering shaft nuts with braked ones. The first ones loosened with the vibrations of the helm induced by our high speed in the storm leading to the impossibility to steer the boat correctly.
  • Replacement of the bilge pump with a more powerful one and purchase of an additional spare. Overhaul of the manual pump and modification of the interior pump to be able to suck with a hose any part of the hold.
  • Plugging of the hole allowing the engine hold to communicate with the inner hold in order to avoid the rise of soiled water in the cabin.
  • Reinforcement of the holding system of the solar panels.
  • Better storage of heavy items, especially in the exterior trunks.

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