To the editor: Spring winds are not for the faint-of-heart sailors in the Aegean Sea. Luckily we were making great time on our sail from Rhodes, Greece, to Kastelorizo, the farthest east of the Greek islands. A low-pressure system had been hanging around Rhodes, blowing 50 knots in the harbor with even crazier gusts. For three days, we studied the weather and finally our skinny weather window had arrived. We left at dawn, riding the edge of the low for 10 hours until all hell broke loose.
Big Sky, our 51.5-foot Nauticat, was slicing through the choppy sea, riding a delicious 20-knot crisp breeze for the last 10 hours. We had just two hours to go. Sitting comfy inside our pilothouse, we both eyed the wind-speed indicator as it rose from 20 to 35 knots, and then a steady 40 knots. That’s a lot of pressure against the canvas, but more concerning was how the wind was creeping around to our stern.
Con grabbed the genoa sheet and positioned himself behind the steering pedestal. The wind indicator increased to 45 as Con turned Big Sky into the wind to take pressure off the sail. He pressed the “main in” button. Nothing. He pressed “genoa in.” No motion. The safety “stop” button, again clicked into the “off” position and wouldn’t release. While Con was focused on the button, the genoa sheet unwound from the winch and tore out of his hand.
Twenty-three meters of canvas flew across the bow, putting Big Sky into a dramatic heel that buried the rail. Con turned on the engine to get us back on course and bang; the engine died. In that crazy moment, two hours from our destination, and surrounded by a beautiful archipelago of rocky outcrops, we were at the mercy of the wind.
I took the wheel while Con used his palm to hit the “stop” button a few more times. Still nothing. He tucked into the engine room to do mechanical forensics. He surfaced, scratched his head, pounded the “stop” button again and pop, it released. “Likely a rusty spring inside,” he announced. Con began furling the genoa, but it jammed half way. “I’d say that’s our problem Barbie; the sheet is wrapped around our prop.”
Kas, Turkey, where the Turkish Coast Guard towed Big Sky. It was tied up at the farthest pier and the Sprengers were told to stay aboard, since they were “illegal.”
The wind died and I had a brief sigh of relief, until I saw that the waves were setting us onto the rocks. The sea changed from large swells to confused short waves. The wind started up again, but this time from the complete opposite direction. Con took the wheel, repositioned us on a parallel course away from the archipelago — farther from our destination. I studied the pilot guidebook, seeking shelter, but there wasn’t anything that didn’t require finessing around those rocks. We discussed our options.
“I want to head out to sea and lay low until morning Barb, and then try to make our entrance again.”
That was not at all appealing — hanging out all night in a confused sea; no engine; and just our GPS, main sail and partial genoa to keep us off the rocks. “Sorry Con, but I want to call the Turkish Coast Guard for a tow.”
Con was silent. I realized that he was debating my solution privately in his head against the bruises to his ego for accepting a tow. He conceded and placed the call to the Turkish Coast Guard. He had barely returned the VHS to its station when we spotted their boat speeding toward us.
Two hours later, we were tied safely in the Kas Marina in Turkey. The coast guard insisted that we taxi with them to the hospital, “standard procedure” to ensure we were medically sound. Once they learned that we hadn’t checked out of Greece and were in Turkey illegally, they decided we looked very healthy after all. I went below to pull out our Turkish lira while Con asked them for our bill.
“Nothing Captain. There is no charge, we are happy to assist you if you are in need,” the senior Coast Guard said with a big smile and deep accent as warm as honey, added somberly, “and you will leave Turkey first thing in the morning!”
Bright and early a diver cut the line off our prop and we bid a fond farewell to Turkey.
—Barb Sprenger is a freelance writer and author of the internationally selling book, Sailing Through Life. She and her husband Con have sailed in and out of 37 countries aboard Big Sky, their 51.5-foot Nauticat sailboat. Currently in the southeastern Aegean Sea, they’re charting a course along the Turkish coast.