Batten down the hatches

San Vito lo Capo and the storm

24th February 2014
Favignana harbour
Kite flying on the streets of Castellammare
San Vito lo Capo


The Storm in San Vito lo Capo, Sicily.


Sailing around Sicily to San Vito lo Capo

We got up early to sail from the tranquil Cala Rossa bay across to the mainland of Sicily. Despite the conservationists worst intentions we had a good night’s sleep and the morning brought sunshine but very little wind. We had decided to sail north, around Trapani airport and to San Vito lo Capo, a town sheltered by the mountains along the north coast of Sicily.


The winds were light but it was hot and we didn’t mind a slow sail.

Cala Rossa boats

Leaving Cala Rossa

We set off and hoisted the sail but were only moving at between two and four knots, but then again it was a beautiful day. Tinkerbelle and Zazen had decided to motor the six hours to San Vito lo Capo Sicily but we were happy taking a lot longer to sail it. Besides that, there were two other boats not too far away going in the same direction with their sail up which meant it was a race.

Sailing past Trapani, a major city on the North West coast of Sicily, was difficult because there was shallow water, little wind and we were gybing quite a lot to keep the course we wanted. Just keeping the sail filled was a real problem.  I have to say we were tempted to put the engine on but a race is a race and we were certainly catching the other two boats.

We had to keep outside the Buoys of Trapani airport which is right next to the sea just under all the towering mountains of Sicily’s coast. By now we were sailing neck and neck with the other boats but they were further out to sea.

I was slightly concerned by the black clouds gathering over the mountains but the sun was still shining, what little wind there was blew behind us and the sea was flat. We were sailing at about 3 knots and it was an ideal time to have lunch on deck.


From bright sunshine to sailing in a storm within minutes.

The sail to San Vito lo Capo

The sail to San Vito lo Capo

As we ate, the clouds ahead became blacker and blacker and I became very, very uneasy. We cleared dinner away very quickly. Angelina and Jordan knew I was worried when I asked them to put life jackets on in the sunshine. Although we always have them handy it is very rare I actually ask them to put them on, especially on a sunny day with little wind.

As the skipper I made one of my better decisions and we took all the sail down apart from a handkerchief of headsail. The race was off as far as I was concerned.

In the next 5 minutes all hell let loose. Lightning began forking all around us. The wind changed instantly from nothing behind us to 30 knots from straight ahead and the sea began to kick up. Everything ahead of us had gone black apart from when the lighting forked down. We still had not reached the worst of it yet so I made a decision to head out to the open sea away from the storm hoping it would pass in front of us. We had little sail out but were still flying along at 8 to 9 knots and the seas were growing.


Dancing lightening and big winds all around.

I saw that the other two boats were doing the same, reducing sail and heading out to sea. We even considered turning around completely to go back from where we had come.  We went a long way out to sea that day with the wind increasing up to 40 knots and howling through the rigging.  Lightning seemed to dance everywhere but strangely enough I cannot remember hearing any thunder. Dancing lightning sounds poetic but when you are in the middle of it that is the last way you would describe it. We even heard a Mayday from one boat but it was too far from us and we were struggling ourselves. We hoped Tinkerbell and Zarzen were OK but it was pointless calling them on the radio as there was nothing we could do. At one point the conditions were so bad I even ran through the Mayday procedure with Angelina and Jordan just in case. I was certainly glad we had boat insurance.


The dentist’s chair would have been better than where we were.

It is at times like this when I would rather have been in dentist’s chair having root canal work done by a blind Irish road builder than sailing to San Vito lo Capo in a storm like that.

I think we spent an hour sailing in those conditions still going out to open water. Although it was bad Cygnus III loved it. With next to no sail she was flying along, healed over slightly but she didn’t put a foot or keel wrong. I might have wished I was somewhere else but it wasn’t going to happen so there was no boat I would rather be on.


Cygnus III coped better than we did.

After an hour or so we turned and crept around the edge of the storm which we could see quiet clearly near the shore. We began sailing parallel with the coast albeit a long way off. The winds and sea were still up but we had become used to it and felt that Cygnus III was coping far better than us.

Jordan and Angelina were quiet happy down below laid on the bed so I gave Tinkerbell a call on the radio. They were in San Vito lo Capo in beautiful sunny weather. They had motored well ahead of the storm but said they saw the lightning and it looked quiet spectacular. It certainly wasn’t how I would have described it!


San Vito lo Capo

Approaching San Vito lo Capo

Approaching San Vito lo Capo

We eventually cleared the blackness of the storm and again hit sunshine. The wind and seas calmed down and we had a pleasant sail back to the coast and anchorage at San Vito lo Capo. I don’t think I have ever been as relieved to get the anchor down anywhere. We also realised we had sailed the whole way and never put the engine on. Even in a storm it can be far safer to use the sail rather than an engine that probably couldn’t cope.

Speaking to Tinkerbell and Zarzen they said they had a pretty boring passage under engine in beautiful sunshine and couldn’t work out why we took so long!

They were all going into San Vito lo Capo for a look round but all I wanted to do was stay on the boat, relax, stroke and chat to Cygnus. We knew what we had been through if no one else did.


We learn’t a lot about ourselves and Cygnus III

We did learn a lot on that sail. We learnt the Cygnus III was an amazing boat, I could sometimes make a right decision at the right time and that Angelina and Jordan felt happy and safe in most conditions. They never really seemed concerned at all, so much so I wondered if it had really happened. It amazed me how instantaneously conditions changed and if we had not taken the sail in early we might well have real problems.

Sailing is without doubt is my passion but going to San Vito lo Capo in conditions like that I would only wish on sea grass conservationists.



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  1. We call those Willie Whompers in the Bahamas and surrounding waters Sun to Sin in 5 minutes or less. If 40 is as hard as it blew you’re fortunate . By the way they come at night too good reason to anchor away from the crowd and use lots of rode.Just something put in your memory once you arrive there as I am sure you will. I greatly enjoy your post. David

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