Without sails or motor to the rocks. Chronicle of a quiet Sunday of fear


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SundayIt seemed like just another Sunday of sailing: two leisurely edges along the Genoese coast, then dropping anchor in front of Sori or Pieve Ligure, taking a swim and, why not, catching some nice bream. Instead, as we were leaving the harbor in my father’s boat (a First 34.7: along with us my mother and my partner), within seconds we found ourselves in a nightmare.

The engine was still running, at low speed (we had just come out of the breakwater channel, I had just rested to start upwind). The sirocco was blowing with an intensity of about 20 knots, and the sea was beginning to rise. On the first tack, a few hundred meters offshore from the mouth of the Bisagno stream, the sheet of the jib (the only sail we had decided to keep up) came off, and it began to flail violently, breaking away from the pen point as well. It seems that in those moments, time passes very quickly. And before you know it we find the jib sheet twisted in the inboard propeller. The rocks are 100 meters at best. This is followed by a few seconds (but to me it seemed like hours) of screaming. I only think about my girlfriend, it’s the first time I’m taking her on board. “Nice baptism of m…!” I say to myself (and curse myself). My mother all in all is quiet. The “it was better to return to port, why did you want to pull the sail up?” pistol would be thrown at us later.

I am at the helm but the boat is unsteerable. To hoist the jib again is out of the question, as for the mainsail we probably don’t have time and anyway I can’t stay perfectly in the wind, the wave moves me sideways. Unfortunately, we did not have a mask on hand to jump under (both my father and I are freediving fishermen) to free the sheet from the propeller, plus we were in a rough sea situation at the mouth of a lousy creek. We decide to give it more (even though we are not in Solent, but in Liguria, belin!) in fact it turns out to be a winning solution and the boat seems to stabilize as we pray it holds. Then we call the Coast Guard, first launching a Securité (to indicate our location) on channel 16. Intervention is timely. Both an inflatable boat from the Genoa Harbor Master’s Office and a fire patrol boat arrive. They throw us the lines and there we are safely in port (by the way, great job! I didn’t compliment them right away because, downcast-eyed and moping, I felt like a “chocolatier”). Ashore inspection of all safety equipment followed: no problem, we had everything (fire extinguisher, donut, life jackets) except the engine insurance, which we had forgotten at home. One hundred euro fine, paid with a smile because it is really a pittance considering the professionalism and speed shown by the Port Authority. I steal the words from Alberto Pagliano, the owner who, aboard the COmet 45 Ireal, lost his helm at the Giraglia: “
Going to sea now, knowing that there are people like them at our support, makes me more relaxed.”

After this bad adventure with a happy ending, as a sailing instructor and sailor for 23 years, I can make three points.

1) In small crew (as we were: only Dad and I had experience on board) it is essential, before going out, to check every maneuver perfectly. Needless to beat around the bush. We had not done it with the shackle at the head of the bow and with one of the two gasses of the bow. A piece of crap, paid very very dearly. But if you really want to be safe, with sea and wind, stay in the harbor. Guys, I can assure you that it’s one thing to hear someone else’s account of a mishap, it’s another to experience it for yourself. Fortunately, lucidity got the upper hand….

2) Always try to remain calm. Panic, shouting, and cursing only serve to waste your time. When you make a distress call on Channel 16, never launch Mayday unless you have injured people on board or the boat failed. When help arrives, shut up and mute, let those coming to your rescue do their job.

3) Once ashore, take your girlfriend to the trattoria du Ruscin(www.trattoriaduruscin.com): between the legendary lasagna with pesto potatoes and green beans, panissette and fritto misto alla ligure she will find her smile again.

Eugene Ruocco



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