Mediterranean Weather – Medicane Ianos

Mediterranean Weather – Medicane Ianos

At the same time as hurricane Sally was approaching the American coast, a similar storm was brewing in the Mediterranean – medicane Ianos. We woke up in a quiet anchorage in Paxos on Tuesday, the 15th of September, with the intention of sailing to Preveza. We had the wind straight on the nose, and after hours of tacking back and forth we decided to anchor at Two Rock Bay instead, and continue to Preveza the following morning.

The mobile reception had been sketchy for the past few days, so we had only checked the local weather once a day. Back on the mainland, we had a proper look at the wind forecast, and what do you think we saw? Off the coast of Libya, Africa, there was a whirlwind on the weather chart, slowly moving northeast. It looked just like the hurricanes on their way across the Atlantic, only slightly smaller, and this one was clearly moving towards Greece, towards us.

Medicane Ianos on the weather chart. The white dot shows our position. ©Windy

Early the next morning boats were already leaving the anchorage. We skipped making coffee and fired up the engine instead, but which way should we go? The different forecast models were still disagreeing on the storm’s path, so where would it hit the coast of Greece? The Ionian islands of Zakythos, Kefalonia and Lefkas seemed to be in the worst danger zone, as well as the Peloponnese. Boats from Two Rock Bay were turning both north and south. So, where to go?

By now the storm had gotten a name, it was called Ianos. It was also classified as medicane, a Mediterranean hurricane. The previous medicane, Zorbas, hit Greece in September 2018. We couldn’t know for sure where the storm was headed, but it was expected to arrive in the evening of the next day, Thursday, 17th of September. What would the safest place be around here? We weren’t really sure. We had just arrived from northern Ionian, from Corfu and Paxos, and we’d seen anchorages there that were fine for settled weather, but by no means safe hiding holes to dodge a hurricane. There were also too crowded to have enough scope for the anchor. There were safe harbours on the mainland further north, such as Syvota and Igoumenitsa, but we had never visited them. Would there be enough room? Was the holding good? Preveza was the only place nearby that we knew. It has a large anchorage, which is fairly protected from most winds. And it’s inside the Ambracian gulf, so there’s no big swell from the open sea.

Calm before the storm. It was ominously quiet in the anchorage during the afternoon while we waited for the medicane to arrive.

We decided to head for Preveza. We stopped at the marina in front of the town to fill our water tanks and some diesel. There was a constant influx of boats, and by the evening the marina was full. We anchored north of the marina, in Hospital Bay. We made sure our anchor would hold by reversing and pulling the chain with high rpm’s. The bottom is mud and our Rocna seemed to be stuck well and deep. We let out 10:1 of anchor chain, that means ten times the depth of water, when in normal cirqumstances we usually get by with 5:1 ratio.

Next, we launched the dinghy and outboard, to visit the supermarket close by. We knew we might not be able to leave the boat for days, once the storm began. We wanted to have something simple to cook and eat, in case the going got rough. Frozen pizza and lasagna would be easy to heat, and chocolate, candy and fruit would make the anchor watch at night a bit more tolerable. Then we winched the outboard back up, tied the dinghy well, cleared everything from the deck that might be blown away, and made sure the furled sails would not come undone.

At this point it seemed that Preveza would be spared from the worst part of the storm. The centre of Ianos was forecast to pass over Zakynthos or Kefalonia, or somewhere in between. If we hadn’t stayed in Corfu and Paxos for so long, we might have been in Kefalonia or Ithaca now. That had been our original plan.

Storms are often preceded by beautiful sunsets. Ianos was approaching from southwest.

On Thursday afternoon there were around twenty boats in the anchorage. A coast guard rib came and told everyone that strong winds were expected, and that we should seek shelter. We asked them if they could recommend somewhere, but they just shrugged, and said that if we decided to stay, then we shouldn’t leave the boat. Well, that had never crossed our minds! A little later some sort of southerly breeze started, and many boats left and headed further into the Ambracian gulf. Seven brave boats stayed in the Preveza anchorage, us included. It began to rain, and it rained for the next 36 hours.

The wind in Preveza was at its strongest during the early morning hours on Friday, September 18th. The southerly wind blew 20-30 knots, sometimes gusting to 35 or 40, but there were no waves. Our boat was lying steadily with her bow pointed into the wind, not swinging or swaying at all, and despite the noisy wind and the torrential rain it was all quiet and peaceful indoors. We even slept quite well, although regularly waking up to check the anchor watch apps, our position, and the weather forecast. By morning the storm’s center had already passed, about 100 km south of us.

View from our saloon window. All the boats are nicely pointing in the same direction. The wind is strong, but the waves quite tolerable.

The worst destruction was on the islands of Kefalonia, Ithaca and Zakynthos. We followed the news and Facebook groups, saw pictures and videos from the villages, where seas were crashing over the breakwaters and boats had sunk. We had friends and acquaintances in anchorages and marinas all over the Ionian, some in the very vortex of the medicane. Some told they hadn’t slept in two days, trying to keep their boat from pounding against the dock, while many boats were destroyed around them. The heavy rains caused floods on the islands and the Peloponnese, where horrible mud floods took bridges and cars with them. Three people lost their lives.

During the Friday morning, the wind gradually turned north. All through Saturday it was still blowing quite strongly. But the rain had stopped, and the sun was shining. We had made it through medicane Ianos with nothing but a slight scare!

Lastly, a little update of our current situation. Greece has entered another lock-down today, Saturday November 7th. It will last until the end of the month, and let’s all hope that will be enough!

Lock-down means that people can leave home during the day, wearing a mask, and go to work, supermarket, pharmacy and other necessary places. Outdoor recreation is also allowed, luckily (read about our spring lock-down in Messolonghi in this post). We got as far as Galaxidi on our autumn tour of the Corinth Bay, and we’ve decided to stay here until it’s ok to move around again. Galaxidi is a very small town, but it has everything we need. The town quay is quite sheltered. There are lots of places to walk and cycle (we visited Galaxidi for the first time a year ago, more in this blog post).

This new lock-down reminds us again, what strange times we’re living in. You can’t plan your life more than one day ahead. That’s what the vagabond life is anyway, but sometimes it takes an unusual situation like this to fully realize it. The cruising sailor’s life is ruled by many other unpredictable things, mainly the weather – the medicane Ianos being a very good example.

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