Medicane ‘IANOS’ – 18 September 2020 – Lefkada and Cephalonia, west coast of Greece.
The Storm track prediction plot of 16 Sept. 2020 shows the weather system forming east of Malta and was predicted to make fast progress towards Lefkada and Cephalonia and the rest of the west coast of Greece over the next two days.
In the week prior to this sailing from anchorage to anchorage around Cephalonia, Ithaca and Meganisi, conditions were normal, it was very hot with breeze picking up in the afternoons and calms in the mornings. Late on the 15th Sept. when looking at Windy.com to see what was going on further afield and what might be on the way showed unusual activity. The intense swirl of wind east of Malta was not the normal bit of local weather. The forecasted track showed it was likely coming our way, and presumed it would grow in strength.
So where best to find a safe haven? Option A, and the nearest, was to dive into Nidri lagoon which is sheltered from all sides by hills and is shallow water over mud and weed, so assuring flat water in a big blow. Unfortunately intense storms in previous years turned this long lagoon into bomb alley and scattered boats about the shoreline (this is what occurred again a few days later). So better go for Plan B – bug out and get north and back into my berth in Preveza marina. On arrival it was almost empty (typical of a Sunday in the hot summer – charter boats are out and bays are full) and I wondered if I was over reacting. Next day (17th Sept.) quickly became a different story. The breeze began to pick up and the boats flooded in. Every space was taken and the VHF was full of voices pleading with the marina to find space for them. Preparations - lines doubled and checked, every fender out, decks cleared, sails wrapped up tight, bimini wrapped up, water tanks full, food and wine all topped up.
The wind seemed to take a long time to build. Then it arrived quickly and howled. The rain was a deluge, with lightning and thunder to impress. We probably only saw 50 – 55 kts in the marina but hard to say for sure, and those in the marina were pleased not to be at anchor outside. We were lucky as ‘Ianos’ hooked slightly more to the right (south) and we only caught the edge of the intense zone.
No so for the islands of Cephalonia, Ithaca and Lefkada to the south, and those sheltering there. They received the full force of the storm (100 kts +) and more problematic, and possibly unexpected by those who perhaps just saw strong wind predictions, was that this was a rotating weather system not the usual uni-directional blast. So the storm thundering in from the west over the island with 100+ kts winds, then followed up with 100+ kts wind from the east once it had passed over the island of Cephalonia, causing carnage in the normally safe port of Effimia. Boats crushed, sunk and thrown up against the harbour wall.
Assuming this sort of event will occur every few years in this new age of uncertainty, the lesson for us all has to be that we have to keep a weather eye out for the unusual, understand what it might mean and the likely impact and be prepared to move out of the way, or know what we need to do to stay where we are and keep our boats and crew safe.
John Quigley, Co-founder and CEO YachtDataBank