[Kensblog#7] Anchor watch and the lumpy ride


Greetings all!

I mentioned in a prior blog entry that our trip is split into two phases. During Phase 1 our goal was to run the thousand miles from Turkey to Montenegro (the southern portion of the former Yugoslavia, bordering Albania.) I am VERY pleased to say that we have successfully completed that portion of our journey. We are now looking ahead to Phase 2, which spans only 350 miles, that we’ll explore slowly over the next two months.

Map of the Adriatic Sea
Anchored in a busy bay on Lefkada

We will be cruising primarily the coast of Croatia, which, depending on definition, has over one thousand islands! We have also spoken about venturing across the upper Adriatic to Venice, Italy. There are also rumblings of a land-trip to Transylvania! (A couple of us are rumored to be fascinated by the tale of vampires!) To be honest, we don’t really know what Phase 2 consists of. We have no plans, and want no plans. Our cruising schedule can be summarized as: Go someplace and see if we like it. Stay there until we are ready to leave. Then, leave and go somewhere new, and see if we like it.

Before I talk about recent events, there’s a bit of a story I meant for my last blog, but then left out, because the blog was already getting overly long.

As you may recall, on the island of Lefkada we anchored in a bay that was very crowded.

During our first night the anchorage was particularly busy. Listening to the radio I discovered why. It was a charter base, meaning there is a company which charters out sailboats for local cruising. Sometimes these boats are rented to experienced sailors, and sometimes they are rented to rookies.

Listening to the radio, I’d guess that some percentage of those anchored around me were rookies. I heard many conversations back and forth between the sailors and the charter base asking how to operate things on the boat; the windlasses, for lowering the anchor, or most often, the boat’s electrical system. Most of the chartered sailboats I’ve seen never put their sails up. In Europe, a license is required to operate a power boat, thus persons interested in cruising have to rent sailboats, and then motor them around, as if they were gutless (low-powered) power boats. My favorite conversation, and I really wish I had been recording, was between a very frustrated charter operator, and a boat which was sending out single word meaningless messages. The charter company employee was trying to explain that you press the button on the microphone before speaking, and keep it pressed until AFTER you finish speaking. The renter seemed baffled by this concept.

We were anchored in a bay which was very shallow; only 20 feet deep. Because the water was so shallow, we didn’t need much anchor chain (rode) to feel secure in any wind. The only real limiter was that in a crowded anchorage, putting out too much anchor chain increases the chance that another boat will tangle their anchor chain with ours, and also to swing into another boat in a wind. In this case we put out 150 feet of chain, giving us a 7:1 ratio of chain to depth.

Although conditions were dead calm during the day, we were blindsided one night by a fairly strong wind. I’ve now forgotten how strong it was, but it wasn’t particularly brutal, perhaps 25-30 knots. I was very happy that I had put out plenty of chain, despite the clear skies. I had also been very careful to check that the anchor was set well. The cruising guide had mentioned that the bottom was weed and mud, and even suggested diving under the water to check that the anchor was dug in, and had penetrated the weeds.

When the wind started, at around 2am, it woke me up and I went up to the pilothouse to check on what was happening. A crowded anchorage, at night, offers nothing to see, except a series of anchor lights bobbing high in the air. Each boat at anchor has one white light perched at the highest point on the boat. On arrival in the pilothouse I immediately looked at the wind gauge, then looked out the window. Amidst the normal array of white lights I saw several green and red lights moving around. Those lights represent “running lights,” the lights that boats turn on when they are running at night. I knew immediately that behind each of those running lights was someone who was having a rough evening. They had probably been awakened by the sound of their anchor dragging, and were now seeking, in the dark, a new place to re-anchor.

I’ve witnessed a few boats breaking anchor, and it happens fairly quickly. One minute the boat is anchored happily, and then when the wind hits some threshold, the anchor comes unseated and the boat starts drifting downwind, fairly quickly. If the occupant doesn’t wake up, and the anchor fails to dig back in, then the boat will continue drifting and may hit something. There is typically some warning inside the boat, or at least on my boat. Chain carries noise very well, and inside the boat it is easy to hear the sound of a dragging anchor.

When I didn’t immediately return to our stateroom, Roberta came up to the pilothouse to ask what was happening. I pointed out the red and green lights moving around us.

Roberta: “How’s our anchor?”

Ken: “Fine.”

Roberta: “Come back to bed.”

Ken: “Soon.”

I kept watch for about an hour, as several more boats suddenly turned on their running lights and start moving to re-anchor.

At breakfast the next morning, Roberta asked why I had sat “anchor watch” if we weren’t in danger of dragging. I had to think about the response. I hadn’t been worried that we would drag, but I had definitely worried that another boat would drag anchor and either strike us, or drop their anchor over ours while re-setting their anchor. Roberta’s next comment was interesting, “So, let’s say that did happen. What were you going to do about it up in the pilothouse, that you couldn’t do lying in bed? And, besides, if one of those little sailboats drags into our boat, he’s going to have a much worse day than we are, so why worry about it?”

I had no response…

Departure from Corfu

I’ve mentioned in the past that our departures always go smoothly. Unfortunately, our Corfu departure turned out to be an exception to the rule. It was to be our only long passage of the season; 210 nautical miles, spanning 24 hours. We weren’t looking forward to it, mostly because we’d be running directly into the wind, along an Albanian coast known for sudden strong winds.

Departure had been planned for 9am, but as we were preparing Seabird radioed to say they’d be delayed due to a minor mechanical issue. At 10:00 we departed, but then almost immediately I noticed that my stabilizers, the giant fins on the side of the boat that keep the boat level in rolling seas, were acting strange. They were over-reacting and causing the boat to roll back and forth in perfectly calm conditions. I started investigating and noticed something strange. The stabilizers are intelligent and adjust the fins according to my speed. Looking at the stabilizer control screen, I could see that it thought my starboard (right) engine was moving twice as fast as my port engine.

We stopped the boat and I went into the engine room while Roberta kept an eye out in the pilot house. Looking at the shafts I could see little reflective strips, affixed to each shaft, that are used by the stabilizers to determine engine rpm. The starboard engine had two of these, and the port engine only had one. Somehow, one of the reflective strips had fallen off. Looking under the shaft I couldn’t find the missing reflective strip.

Steven and I discussed what to do, and came up with the idea of covering one of the two reflective strips on the starboard shaft. This would cure the confusion being caused by the stabilizers thinking my engines were out of sync. I taped over one of the reflective strips on the starboard shaft.

When we started moving again the stabilizers still felt wrong, so I found a place in the menu where I can override the auto-detected speed settings. That seemed to have us going, although the stabilizers still feel slightly different.

So…after a shaky start, we were underway!

We were only in Corfu briefly and had no time to explore the island. As we worked our way north along the east coast we noticed much on land that looked worth exploring. Maybe next year when we head back south to go to Italy, to France, we’ll revisit Corfu

We saw several large mega-yachts anchored along Corfu. This one, called Garcon was unlike anything we’ve seen before. At first, we thought it was a private yacht, but then when we looked it up on the internet we realized how large it is (223 feet!) and that it is not, technically, a yacht, but built simply to carry toys for the much-larger megayacht, Ace, that was anchored nearby. It carries five large tenders, a helicopter, extra crew members — AND a four-man sub. Wow!
We came close enough to Albania to take this picture of Sarande. We had originally planned to stop in Albania, but the hassles associated with clearing in, and then out, of Albania, along with a general lack of excitement about going there, caused us to bypass it.

For the first few hours we had calm weather, but then we noticed a huge squall appear on the radar. When there is a squall, it shows as a white blob on the radar, obscuring the dots which indicate other boats around us. Normally squalls are fairly short, violent storms, containing rain, high-winds and sometimes lightning.

The squall suddenly came upon us, and the winds which had been in the 5 to 10 knot range started climbing quickly. At first, there was high wind, but the seas stayed essentially flat. After half an hour the winds were consistently in the 30 knot range, and the seas were starting to be in the four to eight foot range. Minutes later the wind started climbing over 40 knots and the highest we saw was 47 knots.

Seabird, enduring the ride, in 47 knots of wind!

The squall lasted about an hour, and only briefly did it reach a level where I was starting to worry. Our boats are meant to handle weather much rougher, but the day felt jinxed, and I was also lacking faith in my stabilizers. Luckily the squall disappeared as quickly as it had come, and was followed by only one other much shorter squall during the rest of our trip. Also luckily, it had occurred during the day. At night, the squall would have been exactly the same, but a lot less fun. Being hit by waves that you can see is one thing, and being punched by an invisible opponent is something else entirely.

After the squall, the personality of the water changed. The wind dropped back to the 10-15 knot range (which isn’t much), but the water had been unsettled, and stayed that way for the remaining 18 hours of our passage. 

When waves are spoken of, different attributes are used to describe them, each of which is important in determining their effect on the boat: height, direction and period. Even these attributes only tell a small piece of the story. Wind also plays a role. When the waves are moving one direction, and the wind is moving the other, life can be miserable with even small waves.

Often when I hear boaters talk about waves they’ll say something like, “We were out in 20 foot seas!” Without knowing the period of the waves, the boat’s direction, the wind speed and direction, this snippet says little about the comfort of the ride. I’ve been in 30 foot seas where we calmly ate dinner watching the waves around us as the boat gently rose and fell.

The term “period” refers to the amount of time from one wave crest to the next. If the waves are 30 seconds apart, then the boat tends to ride up and down the waves. However, when you put the waves closer together, it can start to get interesting. In this case, we had small four to eight foot seas, with a four second period. The waves weren’t big, but they were close enough to each other that it gave a very jerky ride. The waves weren’t a safety issue, but they were certainly annoying.

The only other noteworthy event from the passage was that about halfway through the night, we were approached by a boat of unknown origin. It was probably just a fishing boat, but when running 12 miles offshore, in a country with a dicey past, like Albania’s, it is best to be wary of all approaching boats. It was moving slow, only 5.5 knots, but was able to intercept our course, and then run close, side by side very close to Sans Souci for a brief period.

Because of the dark, I couldn’t see the ship, except its lights. Fishing? Military? Recreational? I could tell it was a powerboat, and seemed in the 50 to 80 foot range, but that’s all I knew. I also didn’t know if it was capable of faster speeds. It did seem to be keeping up when it was alongside me, so I made the decision to turn out to sea, and see if it followed. The good news is: it didn’t. It turned and headed back towards shore. Perhaps, had Seabird not been close behind, we’d have had a different experience.

Seabird, taking their turn at the customs dock


Finally, 24 hours after we began our voyage, we entered the Bay of Kotor. We were tired and really just wanted to go to sleep, but knew we needed to clear into the country. We had arranged with an agent to meet us at the customs dock at noon. We timed our arrival precisely, and at noon phoned the agent who had said he’d be standing on the dock.

“You aren’t supposed to arrive for an hour!,” said the agent. Oops. We had not realized there was a time change. He said he would rush to the dock and be there in 15 minutes, and that we should just hover nearby. 15 minutes later, he was standing on the dock.

Clearing was very fast and efficient. When I asked what we owed, the agent said, “I didn’t have time to prepare your invoice. Catch me on the way out of the country.”

Our plan is to only be in Montenegro a week, then clear out of Montenegro, and into Croatia. So, we’ll be seeing him again soon.

As we were cruising through the bay we noticed these old war ships. Along the shore are many destroyed buildings. It isn’t apparent if these are old buildings just showing the effects of time, or if they were bombed in some prior war. Montenegro has had an unsettled past, and became an independent country when Yugoslavia broke up in the early 90s.
I’ve been calling it the “Bay of Kotor” because Kotor is the best known city, however the bay stretches for many miles, and has several towns within it: Perast, Risan, Kotor, Tivat, and others. Here you see our anchorage in front of the town of Risan.

To celebrate our arrival in Montenegro Roberta and I went out for a fancy dinner. It felt strange being shaved, wearing pants (instead of shorts) and a nice shirt! Our dinner was at a five-star hotel (Forza Mare) which seemed to specialize in truffle dishes. Roberta had truffle cream soup, a salad with truffles and parmesan, and seabass, layered with truffles. My dinner was almost as sinful. Excellent!

While I’m thinking about customs, I thought I’d relay this excerpt from an email from a friend now cruising in the South Pacific:

“… when I got to the Customs office I was told a US Navy ship had just arrived and they had to be cleared first and it might be a couple days before they could get to us. Disappointed I got into the taxi I had hired and told the driver my problem. He drove me around a short time and said he has an idea. He drove me to a little covered area next to the main pier in the harbor and sure enough all 5 of the Customs, Immigration, Health, Agriculture and Bio Security were all there with a Navy Captain waiting for a shore boat to deliver them to the ship. I got talking to the head Customs guy and he asked how one might get a [boat name withheld for privacy] tee shirt like the one I was wearing. I shot right back that it could be possible, but I needed to know how long it would take to clear customs into the country now. All of them wanted tee shirts, so I got on the hand-held radio, called Sandy on the boat at anchor and told her we needed 9 shirts and the sizes. Of course they were all listening and laughing. I told them I would have to get into our little tender, go out to the boat, get the shirts and return. Now for the best part. The Head Customs guy looked at the Navy Captain and explained there might be a delay in clearing the ship as they had an unexpected delay. By the time I got back with the shirts, they had all filled out all our paperwork and were ready for their shirts. The total time to clear customs was just over an hour and we paid less than half the normal fees. The best part was the Navy Captain was still there waiting to go out to the ship when I left to go back to our boat and leave.

Approaching Porto Montenegro.

After a couple days at anchor we decided to enter a marina. There are a couple reasons why Sans Souci rarely enters marinas: 1) Why would we want to? It’s not where the fun happens. And, 2) It isn’t easy for us! Sans Souci is a big boat (120 tons.) Bringing it into port is a major project for the two of us. In an ordinary season my goal is to leave port once, and return to port once.

In this case, we decided to go into port because we want to visit more of Montenegro than can be reached from the water. As much as I like boats, cars do move faster, and there is much to see in this country. I’m never comfortable leaving the boat at anchor for long periods of time, so…a marina was our only option.

Entering the marina was a nightmare. All of the slips are stern-tie, which means the boat has to be tied to the dock on the back, plus tied to two mooring lines, which are attached to the basin of the marina, at the bow.

Most powerboats in Europe, even those smaller than our own, have professional crew. There are many reasons for this, including rigid licensing requirements. It is not uncommon for a boat our size to have three or four crew on board.

Before agreeing to come into port I spoke with the marina office and explained that Roberta is recovering from shoulder surgery, and that we wanted an extra couple of people on hand for arrival. I’m effectively single-handing a 120 ton boat. The marina agreed, and as we approached the marina a tender came out to offload the helpers. Roberta greeted them at the stern, and was caught off guard when they said, “Hi. We’ve never done this before, we’re inexperienced. What do we do?” Roberta knows the drill, and directed the action while I drove us into the moorage. It wasn’t pretty, and there is still some cleanup I need to do, but overall, we got through it.

Meanwhile, Seabird had also requested assistance, but was left to fend for themselves. Roberta and I have Med-moored a few times through the years, but Seabird is new to Europe. They were left backing into the slip with no one around, and weren’t sure what to do. They figured it out, but when, an hour after arrival, Steven said, “I’m going to go find a massage. I need to relax,” I wasn’t surprised.

Porto Montenegro is a huge, modern, incredible marina.

There are an incredible number of large boats at the port. My guess would be approximately 100 boats that are in the 100-foot plus category. Here you see Sans Souci dwarfed by the surrounding boats. The other boats probably wonder whose tender we are.


Montenegro is experiencing explosive growth, and the marina is going through a doubling in size. On the docks there are 100s of condos being built, and a crane is integrated into the dock. One thing driving the explosion at Montenegro are tax policies in Italy. The Italian tax auditors have been looking closely at owners who can afford large yachts, but seem to report little income. I just read an article saying that over 30,000 boats had fled Italy, and that marine fuel sales are down 40%! Conversely, Montenegro is courting the yacht community, including offering tax free fuel. I suspect we’ll have no trouble finding moorage when we get to Italy.
Condos under construction at Porto Montenegro
Beach at the marina.
Floating pool at the marina.

Over the next few days we plan to drive around in our rental car, and we are also trying to work out the logistics of our departure and arrival in Croatia. I also need some spare parts, mostly for the hot tub, and we’re going through crazy times trying to ship them to us. Croatia joined the European Union just a few days ago. The procedures for importing goods (or, in my case spare parts) into Croatia are all in a somewhat haphazard state while the transition occurs. There’s a chance I’ll never get my parts.

That’s it for today. Thank you everyone!

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci


And, daily updates at: http://www.facebook.com/kensblogdotcom

5 Responses

  1. Love the updates Ken and the honesty. I have you in the morning cruising the med and Pendana’s blog in the evening cruising the Pacific. Just Perfect! You Nordhavn owners are very generous to share as much as you do, so thank you.

    Hans Strauss

  2. SUBJECT: Med-mooring

    Ken, In Med -mooring, don’t you feel that you are losing privacy with all of the other boats next to you? We are planning to charter in Croatia where Med-mooring is mandatory. Arnaldo Dallera

    ——-Response by Ken – July 4, 2013 ———


    By Med Mooring, are you referring to marinas? There is no privacy in marinas, and I’m not fans of them (other than for off-season storage of the boat).

    If you are referring to stern tying in a bay (tying a line to shore), I agree with you. It is a major loss of privacy to have boats tied on each side of you. We generally try to avoid it, but sometimes, it’s the only option.

    There is a difference though in being at anchor and having another boat anchored near by (even if stern tied) and life in a marina. At anchor everyone is there to have fun, swim, enjoy life, etc. In a marina, most boats seem to be empty, or occupied by crew, who spend their days cleaning. There’s a big difference in the ambiance.

    I’ll take a bay all too myself whenever I can get it, but a crowded anchorage isn’t that bad an option.

    -Ken W

  3. Hey Ken, I was in contact with you a few weeks back about cruising in Turkey.

    Just wanted to say this post was amusing to me as back when you crossed the Berring Sea I was new to the trawler concept and found it fascinating.

    Now you’re in Montenegro and seem to find the whole superyacht industry there quite interesting, which is my area as a marine journalist. Its great to see it from the outside so to speak.

    By the way, you mentioned earlier in the post that Sans Souci is dwarfed by some of the larger yachts – but she’s probably much better engineered and still the ‘better’ yacht 😀

    ——-Response by Ken – July 4, 2013 —-

    Greetings Sean! I probably over-focus on the mega-yachts, perhaps through some unknown Freudian jealousy or something.

    It’s not just the mega-yachts that I pay attention to, but all the boats in the over-30 meter category. Each one I see I tend to think about what it must have cost, and what it must cost to run, and am continually amazed that there are that many rich people around.

    As an aside, I’ve toured the large-boat factories a few times, and thought about whether I really would want to own one of the large boats someday. Personally, the answer is “no.” It would feel too weird having crew staring at us all day. I’ve always said that if I ever buy another boat, it would be a lot larger, or a lot smaller. The reason I’d go for something a lot larger, is that I believe our boat either is, or is very close to, the largest size that a couple can run alone. Anything bigger, and we would need crew. If we were going to share a boat with crew we’d want it large enough that we’d never see them. My thinking on a smaller boat is just that it would be easier to maintain, and easier to get into a marina. Amazingly, one of our favorite cruising experiences ever was running through the Bahamas, nearly 2,000 miles, on a little 27 foot power cat.

    Of course, if ever actually confronted with the decision of selecting a new boat, the odds are we’d go with the same size boat we have now. As soon as we started thinking about all we would need to give up on a small boat, we would be unhappy. How could I give up my vsat? Or the hot tub? And, with respect to a big boat, as we would think about life with crew, and the ongoing operating cost, we’d say, “No way!” Which leaves us where we are.

    Sorry for the overly-long answer,
    -Ken W

  4. Ken your plan for stage two sounds absolutely perfect. Word for the wise for cruising Croatia be careful where you look in the mornings (or don’t be). It is a favourite for naturists so relaxation can be interrupted by visions of beauty and others that aren’t so great.

    ———Response by Ken – July 4, 2013 —-

    We cruised northern Croatia a few years back on a chartered powerboat and are familiar with the scenery.

    Interestingly, I was expecting Montenegro to be the same, but thus far it has seemed very conservative. I’ve seen a couple of topless young ladies on the beaches, and that’s it.

    -Ken W

  5. SUBJECT: Albania

    Hi Ken & Roberta
    I was hoping to cross paths up here but you were in Meganisi when we were in Sarande then you went to Corfu and we went to Meganisi. Never mind. Somewhere else on the planet.

    Albania is easy at Sarande – lots of room at the dock and check in is via Mr Agim Zhole or his assistant Lara – 50 and all the paperwork is done. About 10 per day on the dock, water and power thrown in.

    Good restaurants, a few sights to see like The Blue Eye and Butrint.

    The boat that shadowed you was probably Police. They go out every night checking on comings and goings. We found it a nice place to visit, though there are some officials living in the past. They are in a minority.

    Terry Hogan
    S/v Common Sense

    ——Response by Ken – July 4, 2013 ———


    I wish we had connected! Hopefully our paths will cross sooner or later.

    Thank you, and enjoy Meganisi!
    Ken W

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