Storm in a Tea Cup!

I should have known that this would be a bad one, we’d had a warning the previous day when a mini tornado hit Licata.

We’d been below decks when Gianti lurched sideways, pitching as she did, throwing us both off balance as we desperately clutched at the various items moving away at an alarming rate.

The sound of the wind was deafening and as I looked out of the cockpit, I saw a rigid solar panel fly off the catamaran behind us. At the same time our hefty boarding plank was propelled vertically into the air, jolting to a halt before disappearing into the water.

The storm rapidly moved away trailing damage and debris in its wake. The sky had turned an angry dark yellow looking more like an oil painting by the old masters than the sky. It was a taste of things to come.

Immediately after the mini tornado passed over

The next day started blustery and grey, deepening as we moved into the afternoon. It started raining soon afterwards. Plastics and polystyrene gathered in increasing amounts, filling the space between the Catamarans moored in front of the marina buildings and the shore. Waste materials were being washed onto, then off our pontoon as the chop began to break over it.

The inner harbour wall was overwhelmed. It was being enveloped by the water and gaps started to appear as boulders were dislodged. I saw the first cleat pop as boats began to lurch violently back and forth. By now the whole pontoon was snaking and an air of concern had set in. All boats moored on the inner eastern side of the pontoon were being hurled violently away before halting and slamming back against the pontoon. There was no uniformity to the sequence with each boat acting independently of the next. The result was a sustained and violent wrenching against pontoon and boat that was getting worse.

Inner sea wall starts to be overwhelmed

More cleats started to fail, mooring lines snapped and boats started to bear the scars of the pounding. By now the inner harbour wall was doing nothing to lessen the surge, it was simply a case of managing our boat and those around us as best we could.

The boats either side of us started to break their moorings. I managed to re-attach both our neighbours using what lines we had available. The marina staff were desperately trying to manage the situation but by now boats were breaking free, only to be held by the lazy lines anchored to the sea bed.

The wind, rain and swell peaked around 10 pm and 7 boats had now broken free. Adjacent out- buildings were being used as giant moorings and lines criss-crossed pontoons and attached to the displaced vessels in an attempt to check any further drifting.  It was a long uncomfortable night.

The next morning, we discovered that a structural section of the pontoon had failed catastrophically leading to an evacuation. A section of steelwork had completely sheared and there had been genuine concern that the hole pontoon might be lost. Although we’d been missed, I was relieved that we’d been onboard and able to manage the situation as best we could.

There was extensive damage to many of the boats either side of us including smashed sugar scoop sterns, twisted and deformed swim ladders, missing cleats and fairleads, gel coats gouged, boat trim demolished and a missing outboard.

One of the damaged cleats that remained

Gianti had got away lightly with a smashed mushroom GPS antenna, light damage to the gelcoat and a small section gouged out of the plastic protecting the stern.

Old climbing ropes had been used to supplement mooring lines fitted with compensators, which significantly reduced shock loads and help mitigate damage.

Many were unaware of the full extent of the mayhem of the previous day and it was clear that our little section was worst hit. The following days were a hive of activity with cleaning and repairs. We bolstered our existing mooring tackle with larger compensators, shock absorbers and fenders as further storms were forecast and we weren’t taking any chances.

Three weeks on and there have been repairs to the framework of the pontoon and larger cleats are being installed. The inner harbour wall remains damaged so there’s little to take the sting out of any southerly swell, though we believe repairs are imminent.

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Sailing Éalú

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

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S/Y Maggie

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