Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Port in a Storm

August 15th, 2009
Fiumicino, Italy
coordinates 41 46.220N,012 13.521E

We departed the Pontine Islands to head for safer anchorages because our weather faxes indicated that some severe winds were coming. We decided to head towards Rome and kill two birds with one stone. We had a full day sail of a beautiful wing on wing, down wind run. By the middle of the afternoon the winds began to pick up and come around out of the north. It appeared as though the forecasted gale was coming a day early. We headed for our first choice, a marina in Anzio. The guide books stated
in calm weather one could anchor just outside but that clearly wasn't going to be an option this day. The seas at this point were already stacking up and as we neared the entrance something felt all wrong.

In the states the saying is "red right returning", which simply means that the red buoy markers should be kept to your right or starboard side as you enter a marina. In much of the rest of the world it is the opposite, green markers are kept to your right as you enter marinas but clearly the waters were looking much too shallow on that side to enter. Desperate to get out of the increasing winds and seas we slowly made our way but quickly figured out the markers here were wrong. A large series
of waves began to carry us toward the entrance and we watched the depth meter drop, 10 feet, 9, 8, 7, we draw 6.8 feet. The large waves then proceeded to pick us up and pile drive us into the sand bottom like a new WWF wrestling move. We saw 5.5 feet. Three times we hit harder than ever before. Driving the engine as strong as she could go we utilized the next series of breaking waves to wiggle off and get out of there. Checked the bilge, not taking on water, we began our motor up the coast for
another 3 hours in search of an alternative.

The next marina we came across had 6-10 foot breaking waves running perpendicular to the channel, the wind speeds now 30-35 knots. We called the manager to ask the safety of the entrance and before looking out his window said it should be no trouble. Upon looking out his window he called back and said it was our call, i.e. he is taking no responsibility when we crash upon his rocks. We witnessed a large luxury power yacht try to negotiate the channel. With all it's power, bow thrusters and extra
engines it got tossed around within the channel like a rubber duck in a whirlpool. We watched it get turned 90 degrees when hit by waves not once but twice inside a channel no wider than itself, and breaking waves splash OVER it's 18-20 foot profile. It made it in but we got our answer, we weren't.

Last chance, another hour up the road was the Fiumicino Channel. The winds were now up to 45 knots and blowing out of the due west, the seas steep and confused. The depths around the shores were only 45 feet adding to the ability of these waves to stack up at the entrance of this channel, which of course also runs due west to east. It was going to be our only opportunity for a safe haven for the night or we would have to try to hove to and wait the storm out in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Even with the advantage the longer day, it was now nearing 9 pm and the sun was beginning to set. We tried repeatedly to contact the marina within to no avail. It was going to be all or nothing now.

We lined up with the entrance, setting ourselves between the very steep and very close set waves, 10-12 foot waves every 6-10 seconds apart. The channel entrance, though large enough and clearly marked, was now nearly impossible to distinguish. When we were in between the waves, from the bottom of the trough you couldn't see it any more and no longer knew if we were lined up appropriately. Due to the steep degree of the waves, steering the boat down the face is incredible difficult and once you
begin to turn out of it there is no controlling the ability to go straight again. If you aren't lined up properly, you may end up on the concrete breakers.

We placed all four of us, with our life jackets on, either sitting in the cockpit or near the entrance so if we needed to get out of the boat quickly we would all have a clear access. We let a set of waves pass by and then made our attempt. Lined up and ready to, no longer able to see the entrance, a wave picked us up and we started in. Afraid we were too far to the left and going to hit the breaker the boat was hit by a wave and began to turn left so we finished tried to steer our way out and
waited for a smaller set. We cleared the breaker and lined up for a second run. There were no smaller sets so we lined up for our second attempt. There are no words to describe the feeling when you look behind you and see a sheer wall of water, picking you up and sending you down a path you aren't sure where it will end. Looking in front of you seeing only the back side of it's sister wave. We were reaching speeds of 14 knots down the face but this time we felt we had a good line up and continued
to ride each succeeding wave right down into the channel. No more discussions, no more instructions, just quiet prayers that nothing would happen to our family or our home. Just a safe landing, please.

We made our way down the channel and the waves began to give way to what was more like confused seas inside a channel, but with the boat in neutral we were still speeding along at 5 knots down the 500 yard long stretch. A large fishing boat was sitting perpendicular at the end of the channel. What we also hadn't realized, until this point, was that we had amassed quite an audience who by this point were yelling and cheering us on. Arms waving and clapping, thumbs up all around! Afraid we weren't
going to be able to slow down in time, Bruce began to negotiate the boat to spin it around and at least face into the wind so we could have more control. The rest of the crew sprung into action to get fenders and dock lines ready. Then we realized a few of the people on the docks were the Coast Guard and had then begun to wave us into an opening on the side of the channel that emptied into a small marina and the Coast Guard Station. We maneuvered our way in and they proceeded to tie us right up
to their Coast Guard ship. No less than 8 of these marvelous men took over tying us off, made sure were all ok. They let us know they all thought we were crazy and then, bless their hearts, took us in and gave us a wonderful dinner, warm showers and lots of fun story swapping. Many thanks Cmdr. Julio Cavalo, Cmdr. Joseph Bufalini and their whole crew of the Fiumicino Coast Guard. We spent a wonderful night, yet still tumultuous due to the storm, tied up to the safest place in the marina.

Our "crazy" escapade won us a bit of fame for the following week, people would still give us thumbs up if they happened to recognize us or our boat. Even when you are prepared sometimes there is no avoiding the weather. Next time, we'll talk about what to do "when in Rome".

1 comment:

T said...

I was clapping for you too! Thinking of you!
The Hoffsommers
Port Orchard