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BEWARE THE GULF OF LION

September 25th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

We left Bandol, France in early August heading for the Spanish mainland across the Gulf of Lion with our anticipated arrival at least 12 hours ahead of some strong wind–at least that was the forecast from the several sources we use.

We had a great first 12 hours of our overnight passage. . .

accompanied by dolphins which are supposed to bring good luck.

Anyone who has experienced the Gulf of Lion (which now includes us) knows that the weather forecast and the actual weather can be quite different. Unfortunately for us, the weather that should have been behind us arrived early.

By sunset there was a wall of black clouds approaching. . . ominous at best.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. while I was on watch, the black clouds that had been evident at sunset had enveloped us.  Although the wind had not yet picked up, I was frightened enough to wake Kent.  Thankfully, he came topside and immediately took in the  main and reduced the jib before the 40 kt. Tramontana wind hit us like a train.  We were making 7-8 kts. with a postage stamp size jib.

The seas built dramatically in what seemed like a nanosecond, and for the next ten hours Kent hand steered as each wave hit our aft starboard quarter with a jolting force.  The waves were close together and as we surfed down one wave, the next one was upon us.  For the first time since we have been in the Med, I put in the companionway slats, because I was sure a breaking wave would come over the stern and flood the cockpit.

The nearly full moon that came up after midnight was a mixed blessing.  It provided Kent with some visibility, but looking astern seeing a wall of water rising up behind us was very scary for me.  I hunkered down with Jolie on my lap, both of us in life jackets and tethered to the cockpit, and prayed. . .with my eyes closed.

Kent’s skilled helmsmanship got us through a very difficult situation, but the raging power of the sea terrified me.

Just before dawn we reached the Spanish coast and found some protection from the violence of the sea, but we had to continue down the coast to Puerto de Blanes until we had enough daylight to enter a harbor and anchor.

As we approached Puerto de Blanes, the weather was still threatening. . .but at least we were in sight of land.

We had just set our anchor, when the skies opened and we were drenched in torrential rain.  Destiny had taken salt water over the bow with nearly every wave, so the rain was a welcome fresh water wash.

The rain gave way to sunshine. . .

which was cause for dancing!!!

The aftermath of this experience is our decision (mostly mine) that Destiny will not cross the Atlantic this fall as planned.   Lessons learned:

(1) Never underestimate the power of the sea.  Had we planned for the seas that we might have encountered, our dinghy would have been lashed down on the bow, not precariously dangling from the davits where it could have been flooded and lost from an ill-timed wave.

(2) Never overestimate the accuracy of the weather forecasting.  We felt comfortable that we would be 12 hours ahead of the strong winds and approaching the coast of Spain before they arrived.   Getting out ahead of weather is not a good idea.

(3) Some bodies of water are notoriously more dangerous than others.  The Gulf of Lion has a “reputation” that deserves respect.  We could have poked along the coast and avoided crossing south of the Gulf of Lion buoy, but thought it would be “boring” and require a lot of motoring.  Sometimes “boring” is better.

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  1. John & Bernie
    September 27th, 2012 at 11:42 | #1

    Hi Kent, Carol and of course Jolie.

    I read this post on the Gulf of Lyon with interest having giving it a miss when we traveled on board Kerenne Eastwards across the Western Mediterranean in 2006. Glad to hear that you survived what was undoubtedly a very unnerving experience. We crossed from Spain to Sardinia in 2006 via the Balearics. We had experience in 2007 of how the Gulf of Lyon can affect the weather in the Western Med’. We had to shelter in La Madellena for almost a week as the Mistral/Tramontana blew out of the Gulf and across onto the coasts of Corsica and Sardinia. We registered continuous wind speeds in the region of 50kn so we can understand how being at sea at night with 40kn winds would be an experience not to be repeated.

    Best wishes for the rest of this season and we trust you will enjoy the remainder of your time aboard Destiny.

    John and Bernie.

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