The Longest Day

Written by Pieter Jan on Oct 15, 2019 — 4 min read

From: Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy
To: Crotone, Italy

We left Santa Maria di Leuca to cross the gulf of Taranto, between the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot and the sole of whatever the front part of a boot is called. 70 miles. Our longest crossing until now. The wind prediction made it seem not impossible.

We left early in the morning with no wind. I knew the wind would increase and turn as the day progressed, so I wasn’t too worried. I set the course straight into the big blue nothing, fired up a computer game and let the autopilot handle the rest.

Spending a few hours on another planet
Spending a few hours on another planet

After a while, the wind did pick up. It came from the south and was just enough for the gennaker(a large light sail that is used when the wind comes _from the side_ of your boat). For a while, it was really smooth sailing, albeit a bit slow maybe. Nothing to do but watch the sails now and then and check for small fishing boats along the way.

Around noon, a front approached. It seemed friendly enough, no thunder, no lightning. The wind first fell away, then increased again to 15 knots, now from the north-west. For a while, this too was smooth sailing.

What smooth sailing looks like
What smooth sailing looks like

But as the evening fell, the wind increased and turned against us. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, but enough to have to alter the course a bit by a few degrees every half hour or so. We were deviating further and further from our destination course.

After 50 miles and almost 11 hours of sailing, we had to tack(turn so the wind comes from the other direction). The sun was setting, the waves were increasing and though we didn’t know it yet, we were only halfway.

After sunset, the waves became more uncomfortable. Or did it just seem that way because of the darkness? I looked out to check for big ships and saw a huge red light to port. I almost had a heart attack on the spot. Then I realized it was the rising moon, partly obscured by clouds. “Look kids,” I said with a slight tremor, “what a beautiful moonrise!”

We played a few cardgames until bedtime. The kids went to bed and slept almost right away. Barbara and I looked at each other. “How much longer?” she asked. It was 10 PM, and the boat was really banging upwind. “A few hours. Let’s tack again and see where we end up.” I was hoping to make it to Le Castella, just at the end of the boot sole. Idle hope.

We tacked(turned so the wind comes from the other direction). There was nothing else to do than to wait it out. Every once in a while, a huge wave would lift Vite & Rêves up, make us weightless, and then we’d crash down into the next one. I tried resting in the forward berth, but the sight of the sea and the foam rushing by under the navigation lights was just too mesmerizing. Plus the crashes were really loud.

I went to check up on the kids. Mira was floating halfway between her mattress and the ceiling when I came in. Then she fell back into the pillows. Sleeping like a rose. The boys, sleeping like logs. Good kids.

Barbara also tried to get some sleep, after trying to stay awake. Both didn’t really work out.

I slipped into watch schedule: Set your timer for 20 minutes, wake up, check outside for wind direction and other boats’ lights, check the AIS(automatic identification system) for big ships, check Navionics for progress, fall asleep again. Rinse & repeat. While it is annoying to be woken up every 20 minutes for hours on end, it does make for very vivid dreams.

Around 2AM we entered the bay behind Cape Rizzuto. The waves slowly subsided, the wind fell away. The engines woke up Barbara. We didn’t make it to Le Castella, but Crotone was a good substitute, especially because there was no wind, no waves and a sandy bottom.

To get to Crotone, we had to pass through the gas field ‘Luna’, of which the charts warn:

There are substantial differences between the chart and the real positions of the platforms, pipelines, buoys and connections between platforms.

I became absolutely paranoid about hitting a gas platform or a pipeline. It is one way to make the headlines, but not my preferred way. Picture this: a whole coastline lined with city lights, the hills lined with blinking windmill lights, and somewhere in between are the gas platform lights, the ones you don’t want to hit. The only light I was certain of was the lighthouse. I love lighthouses. As Barbara said the next day: “It’s a miracle we didn’t hit all these platforms.” I answered with a look of careless indifference: “No problem, they had lights.”

After more than 100 miles and 20 hours of sailing, around 5 AM, we could finally go to bed. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.