Mykonos Meltemi

It was late July in the Aegean and Shenandoah was two weeks into her summer cruise.

Gently meandering down the Islands with the prevailing breeze we made an overnight stop in Oinousses, a small island to the northeast of Chios. The next morning we arose with the anticipation of a fresh downwind sail to Mykonos.

We weighed anchor just after 1000 and set sail in the lee of the island. The forecast was 20kts from the North, increasing to 25 throughout the afternoon. With a following sea to match it was ideal conditions to go for a blast in a 200 tonne classic.

Passing through the lee of Chios we started to gain speed as the wind stabilised and increased. It was around 2 hours sailing between the islands and by the time we had squared away and grabbed a bite we were bearing down between the gap of Mykonos and Tragonisi. It’s a small passage of less than a mile and quite a picturesque transit. With the sea conditions now up to 3m Shenandoah was almost surfing. To our port beam the waves were pounding the windward side of Tragonisi, producing vertical columns of white water. All crew and guests were on deck to watch the transit and prepare for the local wind phenomenon.

In the summer months, the combination of Mykonos’s rocky landscape and the intense heat accelerates the wind over the island (similar to the effects of anabatic wind). This usually brings around 5-10kts more breeze on the southern side. With the added benefit of sailing in the shelter of the island. It’s flat water and big breeze – perfect windsurfing conditions and equally as fun on a 55m schooner.

Clearing the gap we headed up around 30 degrees and as we did this we could see the now flat water turn white. It was blowing; so much so that the wind was lifting the surface of the sea and whipping it up into the air. Everyone was ready for the gusts and Shenandoah was perfectly balanced.

The gusts leaning Shenandoah on to her edge like she was lifting her skirt to go for a run.

It was an amazing feeling as the breeze came on. The helm became light and responsive as we climbed up to 15kts. The gusts leaning Shenandoah on to her edge like she was lifting her skirt to go for a run. The leeward side Caprail was skimming across the surface of the water with the occasional wave spilling inboard, the sea full of energy being transferred to Shenandoah’s her gracious motion. In fairness it was a little too much wind for the sail area but as the gusts came on we bore away to try and keep the apparent wind down. The sense of power was commanding, a perfectly balanced and equally ferocious muscle. Like a champion race horse we galloped to the finish line, our anchorage in the SW of the island.

What was probably only 20 minutes felt like 5 and it was tempting to tack around and do it again but it was time to get the sails down. Not an easy task for a gaff rigged boat, especially when you have to round up in 40kts! First we bore away and dumped the headsails which came down without too much fuss. Then it was time to round-up! The noise was intense with 700 square meters of canvas flapping in the breeze. Working their way from forward to aft the crew quickly handed sail without damage or concern. A sigh of relief for me at the back and happy smiles all round for those involved.

The sigh was not long lived. As we approached the anchorage it was clear that some boats were having trouble holding. On top of that I had just previously received information from the chief engineer that the hydraulics were out of action and it was not going to be a quick fix. Now was to come another challenge. We had to weave our way between yachts sailing at anchor through 150 degrees to find a spot as close to the shore as possible.

It was like navigating through schizophrenic yoyos!

The closer we could get to the shoreline the more the wind dropped but it was like navigating through schizophrenic yoyos to get there. On top of that, we only had one shot to drop the anchor, no problem if we get it right but if we get it wrong with no hydraulics it would be virtually impossible to heave it. We always had the other anchor but dropping two could mean a spaghetti heap on the sea bed! With that in the back of my mind, we carefully weaved our way into a gap on the radar and gradually manoeuvred so that our anchor dropped exactly where we needed it. While this is all happening 30 knot gusts are blasting through the anchorage just to spice things up.

3 shackles, Let go! And with the clattering of the chain running through the hawls pipe it was done. No turning back now, just the waiting game to see if the anchor holds. The ships head sheared off with a gust and as the chain grew to long stay my heart raced and my fingers crossed. She bit hard and we bounced back head to wind to sit proud and comfortable in the head of the bay. It was an unforgettable day on the water and a sign of relief to be safely tucked in.