<b>PHOTOS</b>: A WARM SEA
THE TRAVELOGUE OF CHINESE-CANADIAN SAILOR/WRITER BEN HO takes readers along on his exploration throughout the Mediterranean and Europe with his wife on a sailboat. Here is an excerpt from the book, which is available in English and traditional Chinese editions:
Sailing from Croatia to Italy.
In the fading light of dusk we headed out to the open Adriatic Sea for the three-day trip to Italy. The long range forecast was favorable – light wind to be followed by stronger wind from the north, on our back. However, in the northern horizon, a thunderstorm seemed to be gathering strength, with dark clouds quickly growing into huge cumulus. Distant lightning flashes briefly illuminated the darkening pale-red sky. It was like watching a technicolor lightning show. We debated whether we should stay or we should go - staying would be the safe thing to do, but it would mean missing the forecasted good wind for the following days. Windy days are usually followed by days of calm. We would rather not sit around in a costly marina, just to motor for days later.
We went. We turned the corner off the coast of Vis, Croatia, rounding a solitary lighthouse whose beams can be seen from miles, and then we were blanketed in total darkness under an overcast sky except for dim lights from passing ferries and freighters. The menacing thunderstorm loomed in the horizon as we left the island of Vis, but luckily we outran it, and soon we left behind the stale and humid air of the approaching storm and sailed on a smooth sea. We decided to keep sailing as long as there was a trace of favourable wind, and forget about the planned arrival time. This was the first time we sailed for days without using the engine. The wind was forecasted to be consistently from astern for the next two days, so we rigged the boat for downwind sailing. With the genoa poled out on one side and the staysail pulled on the other side, we had a reasonably balanced rig that was also easy to reef if the wind picked up. We had built up confidence and were more at ease in doing work on the foredeck with the boat pitching and rolling, such as setting up the spinnaker pole (which we use as the whisker pole for the genoa). The spinnaker pole is a long aluminium pole of around three meters. Setting it up is a two-person job. When deployed, one end of it is latched on the main mast and the other end is looped under the free corner of the large genoa sail. That end is further held taut by three lines. This way, the genoa is secured on all three corners, and does not flail about as the boat charges up and down through varying waves and wind, making sailing downwind much more comfortable and stable. Once set up we sometimes drifted along at 2-3 knots in light wind, slower than a person walking. Other times we moved at a pleasant 5-6 knots, with 10-15 knots wind behind us. On the second day the seas built to a lumpy state, 2-3 meters, but Three Rivers ran in front of the wind comfortably. One afternoon the Croatian and Italian weather services seemed to be on a competition of issuing gale warnings on the marine radio and announced them almost every hour, but we had learned by now that those were local gales driven by coastal thunderstorms. In the open sea it is actually safer.
One day the depth sounder alarm suddenly came on, warning us of depth of only 8 feet (2.5 meters). We were in the middle of the Adriatic, with a charted depth of over 650 feet (200 meters). We reset the alarm but in a few minutes it happened again. I hurried below to double check the chart. Just as we concluded that the depth sounder had gone haywire, the culprits presented themselves: several dolphins were swimming around our boat, diving under and jumping out, and in the process triggering a false reading on our depth sounder! The dolphins were rather small, probably juveniles. They lingered awhile, swam around the boat, went under to the other side, and then leaped ahead and jumped out of the water in front of the bow, their big grins clearly visible. We were glad that they were having fun.
Our next port was Brindisi, a major Italian port of entry near the heel of the Italian boot, about 300 nautical miles from Komiza, Croatia. We timed our arrival for just after dawn, on the second day of sailing. The wind had been strong all night, over 30 knots, whitecaps leaping all around, flashing under the moonlight. Larger waves came in sequences of two or three, the boat riding over them in defiance, the motion only barely perceptible, but one could hear the sound of the waves moving under the boat: a loud sigh, a strong gurgle, and sometimes a splash of wind-driven spindrift hitting the side of the boat. We stayed in the warmth and comfort of the pilothouse cockpit on night watch, periodically peeking out the cockpit bimini enclosure to check for boats coming from behind; there were none. Daybreak came just as we needed to change course to head to the harbour, the grey light of dawn illuminating the wind-streaked sea. Several large freighters were also heading that way, their huge hulls undulating on the rough sea. Then we needed to turn starboard (right). The boat now took the full force of the wind on the beam, accelerating and heeling over, and galloped the remaining two nautical miles into the enormous commercial harbour of Brindisi. We did not have the option to slow down – right behind us lining up to enter the harbour was a monster-size freighter, several football fields long, and it was not about to slow down for anyone.
www.amazon.com/Warm-Sea-Dreaming-cruising-Mediterranean-ebook/ dp/B00J9RF0XC .