Storm Ciara

Buried in Gmail’s “updates” folder, among the Amazon orders (milk-frother, earbuds) and the daily inspirational quotes which never get read, was a message from Samsara’s insurance company: “All signs are pointing to storms on the North Sea and Baltic coasts. Meteorologists predict that hurricane-like gusts of up to 160 kilometres per hour are expected from Sunday at the latest.”

Apparently the reason for this was Storm Depression Sabine which was expected to become the most severe storm of the season and cause tidal surges and destruction willy-nilly. According to media reports clear parallels could be drawn with hurricane Xavier in 2013.

Boats and yachts in the water should, said the company, be laid in box berths  with additional lines and fenders available. On yachts with standing rigging, sails should be removed.

Then they wished me a pleasant weekend.

I was going to the pictures at the weekend. Really: For the past couple of weeks, every time I looked at Facebook or turned on the radio, people were raving about Sam Mendes’ masterpiece 1917 and I happen to have a fascination with the First World War. I called my 17-year-old, Hugo, the only one still at home. Yes, he would meet me at Ipswich station. We could have lunch and see the film in the afternoon – but it would have to be on Sunday. He had a paintball birthday party on Saturday.

By Thursday I was thinking that if it was very windy, I would have to deflate the dinghy to stop it blowing away, instead of just leaving it tied to the pontoon. And should I take the bike? I might get blown off it – or, worse, into oncoming traffic…

By Friday, it wasn’t just the insurance company talking about the weather. Now the radio weather forecasts were calling it Storm Ciara – and it was arriving on Sunday. The whole cinema expedition was out of the question. What if the dinghy flipped while I was in it? This was a good way to get drowned. I called Hugo and cancelled.

Next, how best to survive the storm? The insurance company would like the mast down – well, that wasn’t going to happen. They would like me in a “box berth” – secured by all four corners. I disagreed. Back in the great “hurricane” of 1987, Largo suffered quite a bit of damage from being in a marina. If it’s not crashing up against the pontoon, there’s the possibility of the pontoon itself coming adrift or another boat breaking free and causing mayhem.

No, give me a sheltered anchorage, preferably without any other boats and – best of all, surrounded by nice, soft mud. Oddly enough, that is a perfect description of Kirby Creek – and my anchor had been digging itself steady deeper into the mud for ten whole days.

I spent the Saturday making everything ready – putting a lashing round the mainsail (I didn’t need to take it off because I wasn’t going to have to worry about wind from the side. Samsara would be weathercocking around her anchor – which got another six metres of chain, increasing the scope from 3:1 to 4:1. Then I beefed up the chafe protection and added a hook on the chain for a mooring warp led to the sheet winch.

Really, the solar panel should come off but in doing so, there was a good chance I would drop some of the bits over the side. Instead, I lashed it down in all directions. After that, there wasn’t much to do but go to bed and wait.

Ciara was supposed to hit at 3.00 a.m. – the wind rising from 20knots to 40 in the space of an hour. The height of the storm with gusts of 63 knots (just under hurricane-force) were not due for another 12 hours. I woke on schedule to find the boat vibrating in the gusts but still in the same place. The creek under a full moon was a mass of tiny breaking crests.

Dawn showed them even smaller with the tide out – in fact it might have been pushed even further by the wind. The oddest sight was hundreds of small birds hunkered down head to wind on the mudflats. I went back to bed.

By ten O’clock people on Facebook were reporting the damage to their boats in the Solent. Somebody’s glass windscreen had been blown right off. I made an excursion on deck – mainly to check the chafe protection – one reinforced plastic hose inside another, both able to move independently. It was a pretty wild scene. I took out my phone and made a video for Facebook, clocking the windspeed indicator as it climbed down from 34knots.

As with everything else on Facebook, this revealed two separate (and entrenched) camps: “What does he think he’s doing out in this weather. As usual, it will be the RNLI who have to pick up the pieces…” and, from the other side: “If you can’t be on a boat at anchor in 32 knots of wind, then you need to acquire the skills…”

Oddly, nobody castigated me for failing to remove the headsail. I couldn’t see how it could unfurl and flog itself to pieces – not if I was there to keep an eye on things.

And so I spent the day looking out of the windows, listening to the news reports of floods and power cuts and disrupted travel (trampoline on the line). Once it seemed that everything was going to be all right in my small universe, I quite enjoyed the experience. The boat heeled to 15° in the gusts but since she wasn’t bucking to any waves, the gimballed cooker kept the coffee pot on an even keel.

It wasn’t until the late afternoon that it seemed to be all over. The tide went out again – even further than before so that it seemed we were surrounded on all sides by melted chocolate. Still, I could see what all the fuss was about – the barometer had dropped from 2018 to 988 in less than 24 hours.

2 Responses to Storm Ciara

  • I would have done just the same. A long anchor chain is wonderfully elastic and forgiving, even more so in sticky mud. Not so easy in the Aegean where most anchorages are poor and gusts can whistle round headlands touching force 9 for short bursts, so Walton backwaters definitely has my vote!

  • Glad you’re okay John!

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