The Meltemi

A tale of courage and survival

Based on a true story by Two Get Lost

Drawing of a sailboat out in the meltemi winds in Greece

They had heard tales before of a violent wind that blew from the North. A wind that was unpredictable and wild. A wind that put fear into the hearts of all at sea. A wind so strong it could keep sailors from stocking up on wine or gin for days. A wind they would avoid at all costs, until the day came that they could avoid it no more.

‘If you could just f***ing not’, Adam exclaimed as the boat lurched forward, straining to free itself from the tangle of lines that had been secured to the quayside. They had sat out 12 hours of terrifying gusts, flying down from the mountains that surrounded them and across the small bay in precisely the opposite direction to the one predicted by the many forecasts they had been following.

Emily sighed wearily and took another mouthful of stone cold porridge, a once warming treat after the sleepness night, that had turned sour in the dramas of the morning. For three days the winds would continue to blow, and they hadn’t seen the worst of it yet.

Drawing of lumpy, cold porridge

Not even a week ago they had bathed in glorious sunshine and swam in marble waters. They were content in the knowledge that they had escaped the worst of the high summer winds, and were heading to explore new pastures in relative safety. This was until Emily had checked the updated forecast, as she had done twice daily since they had moved onto their sailboat a little over six months ago.

The usual wind pattern of calm blues in the morning, building to sailable greens in the afternoon, had been replaced by slashes of crimson red. Danger, warning, stop signs. The high winds were leaving no crevice untouched. The couple were cornered. They had less than a week to find somewhere safe to hide from what they could only assume to be the fabled ‘Meltemi’.

Drawing of the weather forecast in Greece

Careful planning ensued for these inexperienced sailors. Determined to be fully prepared they set to work early, reading up on sheltered anchorages and watching the wind patterns carefully. They had a plan. They would run for a nearby island, noted by many brave and fearless Meltemi survivors before them to have excellent holding, good shelter and a possible space on the town quay (so they could leave the boat when necessary for wine and chocolate).

Within two glorious days of sailing they had reaching their safe haven, a stunning anchorage protected on all sides, with a near empty town quay for them to come alongside on. Moored up safely they spent the evening in the company of four experienced sailors, who kept their glasses permanently full and their heads spinning with tales of distant shores. They went to bed full of the tuna they had just pulled from the sea, and for a few blissful hours they forgot about the horrors of the approaching Meltemi.

Drawing of a glass of wine being drunk during the meltemi

A 6am knock on the boat caused them to jolt wide awake. It was the dreaded port police, and this guy meant business. He was there to kill them all with kindness. “Everyone off the dock please”, he asked politely. In a very reasonable and calm manner he explained to everyone that they would need to go and anchor out in the bay, because a cruise liner was coming for the day. He was met with conflict, and pleading, and he explained ever so politely that he wouldn’t ask people to move if it wasn’t safe for them to do so, and he was very sorry for all the inconvenience. An all round nice chap. Emily and Adam moved their sailboat, Hot Chocolate, right away and anchored out in the bay as instructed.

They waited patiently as the cruise liner tied up to the space they had once occupied. The watched it spill out it’s mass onto the dockside and breathed in it’s toxic fumes until, at last, it filled again and moved on.

A drawing of a cruise boat before the meltemi

A mad scramble followed.

People desperate to be out of the swell and onto the quay. Their lives surely depended on it. They had spent the whole day without easy access to the many restaurants and bars that lined the beach. It was well past wine o’clock. Adam and Emily watched the boats file in and eventually they reclaimed their space. They settled in for the night, relieved that they wouldn’t have to rely on their anchor holding for when the long awaited Meltemi passed through.

But as they have discovered, things are rarely ever that simple. With three boats alongside and four or five stern to there was very little space on the quayside come evening. The two young sailors were informed by a Greek flagged boat that they shouldn’t be alongside, it wasn’t the Greek way of doing things. Trying to explain the situation with their teeny tiny anchor was of little use, as the Greek couple knew their boat better than they themselves, and were sure their feeble anchor would hold up in 50 knots of wind.

Drawing of a teeny, tiny anchor

As sunset approached a single boat entered the harbour. It began to circle, choosing its prey carefully and refusing to give in. There was space for them to moor, but it was tight and they wanted more room. A call to the coast guard meant that none of them were safe. A poor little French flagged boat was forced to leave their mooring in the growing darkness and anchor out, to make more room for the other boat.

Emily and Adam spent the evening on edge, praying and praying that another boat wouldn’t arrive in the dark and force them to leave their little patch of safety. They had a big decision to make, and as the bird song faded and the stars appeared, they stayed up to discuss the possibilities that awaited them.

Drawing of the night sky during the meltemi winds

With only a few days left before the storm hit they would need to think fast. The reason they had arrived early was to make sure they could prepare properly, get lines secure and put fenders to work. This new turn of events had thrown them, and their inexperience was starting to show. They could stay alongside where they knew they would be safe, but risk being moved a few hours before the high winds, leaving them no time to prepare. Or they could come up with a plan and execute it without delay.

A decision was made. They would Med moor at the end of the quay, where it was too shallow for most. There would be less chance of someone dropping their anchor over Hot Chocolate’s there, giving them a fighting chance. They would then be able to take a long line over to the dock opposite, which would act almost as another anchor. And just in case they would take out a second anchor and drop it at a slight angle to take the strain of the wind.

The plan went through without a hitch. Or a bowline, or a sheet bend. They were secure at last.

Drawing of a knot

Emily dove the anchor, thanking God when she found it to be buried completely under the sand. The couple shone with pride for their little anchor, as several sailors congratulated them on how well dug in it was.

They narrowly avoided the dramas that unfolded over the next few days. A German boat dropped anchor over the Greek boat’s, which was met with a huge amount of screaming and shouting and whistle blowing. The German’s tried to re-anchor about four times, each time crossing someone else’s anchor. Emily and Adam could only watch in wonder. What was the meaning of this awful form of torture, named Med mooring. What had sailors of the Mediterranean done that was so terrible for someone to feel the need to invent such a method.

With the wind starting to pick up earlier than forecast predicted it was time for some last minute preparations. All carefully watched over by the two French skippers on the boats either side. Emily took down the bimini while Adam made sure the solar panels were well lashed down. They worked like a finely tuned machine, tweeking lines and cleating off any loose sheets. The French men were there every step of the way, to offer them some extra advice or to point out they were doing it differently to how the French men preferred, or to tell them they were doing too much, or too little, or to recommend they do it standing on their heads. They found that by hiding below for half an hour before continuing, they could buy themselves about fifteen minutes of time to do their own thing before they were bombarded with help again.

Drawing of a fender in the meltemi

The help was better than the scorn. They were met with ridicule from their fellow Greek vessel. “Look how many lines they have, this is so funny.” They cried. But Emily and Adam stood strong. They would not be bullied for a second time.

The first night of the Meltemi came upon them like an axe. A sharp blow to the bow and Emily was jolted awake. It was an interrupted sleep, filled with the sound of howls and whistles, and the undeniable feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. As Adam slept soundly, Emily watched.

Drawing of an axe in the meltemi

Day break arrived all too slowly, and finally the damage could be seen. During the night the two boats either side of Hot Chocolate had snapped their lines. The force of the wind was too strong for man made fibres. Relieved now for the numerous lines that held the boat safe, Emily and Adam double checked them for chafing. Emily made a saucepan of porridge, which they started to eat with honey, to sooth the memories of a sleepless night.

“Emily, Emily”

The cry from outside grew louder, and Emily was left with no choice but to leave her porridge and rush into the cockpit. The French boat to the starboard side was moving, his boat and it’s crew had taken enough of a beating and the sea looked bluer on the other side.

A crowd of eager and power thirsty sailors appeared to assist. Requests from the skipper were, of course, completely ignored, because everyone else knew better. Five helping hands became ten, and Adam bought Emily her now luke warm porridge to gulp down while the skipper got his boat ready to move.

A sailor without a line to hold noticed Emily trying desperately trying to get some food in her stomach, and energy back into her limbs. His opinions being ignored elsewhere, he struggled to find someone to give orders to. Emily was the perfect target.

“Don’t just sit there eating porridge”, he yelled. “Get a fender ready”. Emily held up her other hand, which was clutching a fender ready for action. But she did not wish to start a row in such a tense atmosphere, and so put down her small piece of comfort and watched dutifully instead, along with the other ten shouting sailors.

Adam passed the skipper a line. If he was getting blown onto the rocks opposite Adam could attempt to lever him off.

“He won’t be blown that way, he will be blown into your boat.” Was the response of the ten sailors. By this point, Adam had had enough of being told what to do. He would much rather the French man’s boat was blown into Hot Chocolate, than watch it ruin on the rocks. He held that line tight and as the wind hit the Frenchman’s port side he hauled the line and, as he had predicted, prevented a sharp and unwelcome collision with one of the skippers biggest fears.

With the boat now secured on the other dock, Emily picked up her bowl of porridge and winced as the stone cold, lumpy mixture stuck in her mouth. Adam ordered her to bed, while he watched the boat.

Moments later there was a sharp bang from above. Emily bolted out of bed to find Adam staring in amazement at the fair lead. It had snapped clean in half. A huge lump of metal had given up completely under the strain of the lines holding the boat to the shore. Adam sprung into action, grabbing another line to take the strain before the life line stanchion was ripped clean off. As Emily fixed the line to the cleat a big gust of wind hit the boat. The gel coat holding the cleat in place began to flex, threatening to rip clean off, and with it drag the boat into the quay. They needed to think fast.

Drawing of a broken fairlead in the meltemi

They secured a line to the backstay, and another to the biggest winch they had. The two lines were now taking the strain and they were free to think. They realised that out of no where, a nasty swell had crept in. It had tucked it’s way into the tiny bay, just after the wind died down, when they were off guard and had relaxed a little. This swell was silent and dangerous, dragging the boat out of reach of the snubbers and causing the lines to snatch and strain. Adam consulted his best friend google to make sure their theory was correct, and by adjusting the lines they finally felt in control once more.

As the Meltemi raged outside, the couple hid in the comfort of the cabin. The boat held strong, and for a few hours, the exhausted couple could rest and gather strength. Who knew what would be in store for them over the coming days. Who knew if they would survive to tell the tale of….THE MELTEMI.