Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ambushed by the storm gods in Santa Ponsa – Around Mallorca beach by beach

August 28  - September 2 -  20012

We left San Telmo mid morning and had a very nice upwind sail to Santa Ponsa on the west coast of Mallorca. The wind started out at 18 to 20 knots so we had the firstt reef in main and reefed genoa reducing the amount of sail up and keeping the boat balanced. We did a long tack out to sea then turned towards the anchorage. The wind progressively eased through the day so we unfurled full headsail and later shook the reef out of the mainsail.

As we approached land the wind kicked back up a little and we flew in at over 7 knots. The boat was sailing so nicely we were sorry to have to pull the sails down as we reached the entry to the bay at Santa Ponsa. This was our third visit to this very well protected anchorage. We again anchored well into the inlet in good sand less than 4 metres deep. It was the perfect spot to sit out some expected strong winds from SSE which would make San Telmo very uncomfortable had we stayed there.

We went ashore and returned to a bar we’d nick named The Office as it was where we went when we wanted to do some admin work. Using the bar’s wfi Marc caught up with a emails, Karen downloaded more books onto her IPad and Rob finally posted the Gibraltar to Ipswich UK – A Curious Adventure chapter of our blog.  It’s simple to cut and paste the text in to the blog program but each photo has to be individually uploaded, placed and captioned so the mammoth chapter with over 70 photos took over four hours to get fully posted. It was definitely the longest Rob had worked in The Office in a couple of years
Magnificent sunset at Santa Ponsa - Mallorca

We then had a great dinner at one of the waterfront cafes. At $6 for Pepper Steak which included an accompanying glass of wine we certainly couldn’t complain about the value. Prices in Santa Ponsa are noticeably cheaper than Palma. As we were planning on wintering in Tunisia where alcohol is a hard to source we stocked up our supplies while the prices were so low. 5.95 per litre for Gin, beer at 55c per half litre can and a good selection of Spanish wines all under 3euro. No wonder the Irish and Britt tourists like it here.
Another fine dinner on Alcheringa.

As we weren’t going anywhere we had a huge sleep in the next morning (Wednesday Aug 28). A phone call to Walter our electrician revealed that, surprise, surprise, our VHF radio was still not back so we would need to delay our return to Palma till next week. We were running a little bit short on water but eight litre bottles of drinking water were available at the supermarket for one euro so it would be a lot cheaper to load up a few of those than go back to a marina just because the tanks were getting low. So off we went ashore again for another ridiculously cheap lunch, a wfi session and picked up forty litres of water.

On Thursday we bundled up ALL the boat’s washing and took it in to a laundry service. There were no Laundromats anywhere and, like everything here, the laundry service was so cheap it cost less than when Karen spent hours doing it herself in Palma. We hung out at The Office using their wfi again for a while until it was makeover time. Karen had decided we were all looking the part of grotty yachties way too well and booked all three of us in for long overdue haircuts. Having had a trim and the luxury of having her hair blow dried she was happily feeling very girlie as we tried out a new establishment for late lunch/early dinner. The menu of the day again consisted of three huge courses with breads and a bottle of wine for 9 euro each.

We headed back to the boat well before sunset at about 5.15pm as the wind was predicted to get up to 20 knots during the night. It was to come from the east off the land so we weren’t expecting any big seas with it at all but, after our fun and games in Port de Soller, wanted to make sure all was secure well ahead of time anyway.  A few other boats seemed to be taking some precautions but most were simply sitting as they had been and a number were unattended.  We noticed a steal ketch nearby had put a second anchor out but commented that both were only on rope with no chain visible at all so we actually questioned whether they would hold in 20 knots. We let out extra anchor chain, about 25 metres in 4 metres of water which is more than ample in all but the worst conditions.  As usual Rob had snorkelled down and checked the set of the anchor so we knew we were well dug in. We also literally battened down the hatches, put an extra line on the dingy as a backup and thinking we had everything as prepared as possible, got ready to watch and wait.
The before shot. Thunder head bearing down on us in Santa Ponsa

What we saw wasn’t what we expected. Very quickly dark storm clouds appeared over the ridge to the north and thunder started to echo across the water. Initially it all looked as if it was going to slide past us out to sea but a second cell suddenly came over the hill and instantly heavy rain and hail pelted down and the wind went nuts. It was extremely strong and swirling from all directions causing boats throughout the anchorage to dodge and weave all over the place on their chains.

We already had the engine running and instruments on as precaution. Rob was on helm, in gear with the engine at tick over to take strain off the anchor as Marc and Karen fended boats off left and right. Yachts and motor boats were dragging everywhere with others trying to up anchor and run out to sea for safety. We saw the wind strength hit 55 knots (103kph) on the gauge and were sure some gusts were a lot higher than that. The stinging rain and hail blew horizontally over us making visibility very limited.

As feared the ketch beside us began to drag. We expected it to simply move further away from us but it turned out he’d dropped his second anchor over ours. As he dragged it pulled across our chain and dislodged our anchor from its nice set deep in the sand. Now we were in trouble. Not only were we dragging towards other boats and the rocks on the shore but we were also tangled up with him and couldn’t simply motor away. We were able to use the motor to keep the boats apart most of the time and got fenders in between when we did close but then things got worse.  

While we were trying to extricate ourselves from the ketch, a large catamaran suddenly appeared out of the gloom bearing straight down on us. Rob went full astern but we copped a pretty big hit on the bow and it then scraped along the hull before t-boning a Brit yacht next to us which bore the brunt of it being hit right along the side smashing stanchions, GPS and Naxtex equipment and who knows what else. Our dingy was capsized as we emergency reversed away from the catamaran but fortunately the outboard stayed firmly attached to its transom. The second line we’d attached ensured at least we still had a dingy. We saw four fly past that had broken free during the storm but there were probably more.

Rob was using max revs on the engine this way and that trying to avoid other boats and get free of the Spanish guy who could do nothing but scream abuse at us. Accordingly Rob replied in like Aussie style. ‘You’re not helping things. Go and expletive deleted you expletive deleted

Eventually his rope broke at the bow roller and as he blew clear we got free of his boat but not his anchor and rope which was still around ours. This had caused our anchor chain to become wrapped around our keel. With the wind and rain persisting at over 40 knots we had many anxious moments avoiding other boats with our limited manoeuvrability. After about 30 minutes the wind gradually eased until we were eventually able get more control of the boat. Karen released the rest of the chain in the locker which provided just enough slack momentarily for it to drop off the keel. We then began hauling it all back in. Marc and Karen still had to untangle the expletive deleted Spaniard’s line and anchor from ours but we finally got it done before moving to a clear area of the bay to re-anchor with plenty of space around us.

Only then could we finally survey the scene. Boats had dragged everywhere and were in the process of checking damage and re-anchoring. Over a dozen that had cleared out during the storm were now heading back in and very carefully choosing where to put their anchors down. One small sail boat on a mooring was capsized and a forty foot charter yacht was hard aground up on the rocks.
The after shot. This charter boat was wedged solidly up on the rocks.
Note how calm the water is only 20 minutes or so after the storm's passing.
Sorry. We were a bit too busy to get any during shots

We surveyed our damage and found a pretty good ding in the bow that had fractured the fibreglass just under the anchor roller which was also badly bent along with the pulpit. The toe rail was damaged and there were scuffs in the gel coat down the hull courtesy of the cat.  All things considered we had got off pretty lightly.

However Karen was having a particularly bad day. For a start her first salon blow dry in six months was totally wasted as she now looked like a drowned spaniel, and, like all of us, her clothes were drenched. She quickly changed into dry clothes but as we were recovering the outboard off the dingy, she promptly slipped off the swim platform with a huge splash into what was now filthy water  covered in rubbish that had raced out of the town's drains into the bay. The good news was she managed to not lose her glasses which were luckily tangled in her hair when she surfaced. The bad news was that not only was her blow dry wasted, but now so to was the pampering shampoo and conditioning she'd had. Could it get worse? Yep. She was wearing her absolute last dry change of clothes when she fell in. Everything else she owned was in at the laundry service. She looked very elegant having dinner that evening wearing one of Rob's t-shirts as a dress.

We had expected 20 knots of wind, not 55 plus, rain and hail and had not been as prepared as we thought. Not only had we not taken the outboard off and secured it on its mount on the back of the yacht but we’d also left the oars and our thongs in the dingy. They were all now long gone. The outboard had spent most of the storm upside down and underwater. Not surprisingly despite copious amounts of magic WD40 sprayed all over, it didn’t want to run now. Lesson learned. Our other mistake was being anchored anywhere near a yacht that was sitting in 4 metres of water with no anchor chain showing above the water, only scope. It might be Ok if things stay calm but it’s chain that keeps anchors dug in and plenty of it when the wind gets up.

We were all pretty shaken up and it took a long time to clear the adrenaline from our system. It didn’t help Rob’s blood pressure when the expletive deleted Spaniard motored slowly by and said he’d lost his anchor, dingy oars and damaged his dingy so wanted our insurance details so he could claim against us. Rob not so politely suggested he remove himself from our presence and go buy some anchor chain. We’d see him in court if he wanted to pursue it.
That evening we were visited by the owner of the yacht which was badly damaged by the cat who asked if we would provide a witness statement regarding the collision. We agreed to do so and asked him to provide the same for us.
We all finally turned in after 11pm but bolted upright in our bunks to the sound of a loud clap of thunder at 3.00am. We were all quickly on deck watching the lightening over the hills and trying to gauge which way it was moving .After a while Karen and Marc returned to bed and Rob sat up till 5.00 watching it slide harmlessly by without troubling us.
When we rose in the morning we were visited by people who identified themselves as being from the charter catamaran we tangled with. They acknowledged that they had hit us and the other yacht but amongst other things stated that they had notified the charter company that there would be a number of insurance claims so we wondered how many others they'd hit after us. They also said that during the storm they had not known what to do. Something that was already obvious to us.
We also faced a different issue. As we now had a dead outboard and no oars it presented us with a bit of a problem getting to shore and back. Rob was hopeful we may be able to find one or both of our oars on the sea bottom as they were aluminium and didn’t float but despite two hours snorkelling around the bay he saw no sign of them. He did however find someone else’s paddle five metres down laying on the sand so at least we had something to try to propel the dingy ashore.

Marc and Karen paddled in to pick up the washing from the laundry and see if they could buy any paddles for the dingy. Rob stayed on board just in case as the sky looked a little dark in places and we were still a bit gun shy after the big storm. Watching Marc in the bow battling against the breeze with our newly acquired paddle and Karen, the passenger sitting in serenely stern, was almost comical. Watching them return in the inflatable loaded to the max with washing and propelling it with dinky paddles they bought in a toy store was hilarious. 4.50 Euro each. Oh well!
Washing delivery complete with new paddles from the toy shop.

We had a very quiet Saturday as well with just a visit to The Office and where Rob posted some more blog, Marc read his newspapers and Karen fed her virtual animals on the IPad’s Dreamzoo.
On Sunday morning we paddled into shore (with Rob breaking one of our yellow jobbies on the way) and went back to The Office and skyped the family. All had assembled at our son, Rod’s and daughter in law Kathy’s for our grandson Ethan’s birthday. It was also Father’s Day in Australia so it was great to see and chat to everyone. We really do miss them very much and being able to see and chat with them via skype is priceless.

We noticed this mob lining the beach ready to race and figured we better
 paddle ashore before they got going. Thankfully we didn't end up in
the middle of them. It's easy to imagine the mayhem

While we were on shore it came over very dark and poured with rain but fortunately there was no wind with it as we were off the boat with one dinky paddle and couldn’t get back in a blow even if we tried. After another visit to the toy store for another paddle and then we went out to boat after lunch but came back in for a nice farewell Santa Ponsa dinner that evening.

The forecast was predicting a couple of days strongish north westerly winds which would blow straight into the bay so we were going to be up early on Monday morning and move around the south west corner of the island to our happy spot at beautiful Cala Portals (Porto Veile).

For more about our travels check out and 'like' our Dreamtimesail facebook page at

1 comment:

  1. Very much loved the read, chaps. You put us right in the action. Made an otherwise very dull long drive most entertaining. Not that we enjoyed the thought of damage to Alcheringa... but then, it could most certainly have been worse. That kind of damage is irritating, but the whole makes a rather good story, and after all, when you think about it, it is worth that kind of cost, in the longer run. Sounds like you had a pretty severe squall pass over, and suffered the consequences of prudent sailors caught in a mess of sailors who are too used to clement circumstances. Very nice analyses of the situation, and great and good-humoured description! Loved the episode! (And bon courage!) S+Cx


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