The meteorological situation in the Mediterranean and other seas has been changing significantly in recent years. The warm water, particularly the Adriatic, is no longer a vast pond where nothing can happen to you. In recent years, tropical storms with completely unexpected courses have been battering these formerly much calmer locations during the summer months. Overnight, a safe mooring in the bay can turn into a dangerous situation in a matter of hours. Protect your boat and crew by following these guidelines.
Imagine you are on a summer vacation on a sailing boat anchored at a bay in Croatia. The holiday spirit is all around. You are taking a ride on a paddeboard, relaxing with a good book on the deck or sitting in a seaside tavern with the local travarica and a small macchiato. As the crew sometimes go snorkelling along nearby coastal reefs, the dinghy is tied up behind the boat. The bimini and spray hood are pulled out to provide much needed shade and a large inflatable pink flamingo sits at the bow. Laundry and towels are drying on the railings and the lines. There’s a light breeze of 5 knots (2 on the Beaufort scale), the sea is calm and the semi-transparent altocumulus clouds slowly drift across the sky.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Clouds are not only beautiful, they can also be used to forecast the weather. You don't have to be an experienced meteorologist to know what to prepare for by reading the clouds in the sky. For sailors, this knowledge is almost essential. Learn how to predict the weather by reading the clouds.
The sun is setting, cicadas can be heard from the shore, seagulls are flying among the vessels moored nearby. It is early evening and you are looking forward to the next day when you can some proper rest again away from your work back home. After a few hours and a glass of good port, you go calmly to your stern cabin for a peaceful night’s sleep …
… Suddenly you're awakened by a violent jolt to the boat. You rub your eyes, trying to comprehend what's going on. Did you really feel something? The boat jolts again and lurches sharply from one side to the other. You run sleepily above deck. Heavy clouds chase each other across the moonlit sky, the sea sending foam overboard.
The boats in the vicinity are flailing on their anchors or buoy lines and rocking violently. Through the rain, your towels are flying everywhere and even your pink inflatable flamingo has flown off the bow, disappearing into the stormy sea.
The dinghy and its motor are upside down, and it looks like it's about to take off. The paddleboard is travelling down along the railings. The bimini top over the cockpit is being ripped apart in gusts of wind. Lights from other boats flash everywhere in the bay. Their crews scurry around the decks in confusion. Some boats sail off, others are trying to get away. There are beer cans lying around in the cockpit and shards of a forgotten plate that you cut your foot on. The clouds burst open. Boats are turning sharply stern to shore. The deck is slippery. Visibility drops. You turn on the radio.
On channel 16, somebody is calling for help, confused. Your crew is watching you from below deck with pupils dilated. Can the lines hold out? Isn't it getting shallower? Why don't I have the depth gauge turned on? Where is my lifejacket? Damn, I didn't change the batteries in my headlamp. Is the genoa out? Contentment has turned into drama and it's a fight for life.
A memorable storm on the Adriatic
That this is not just a matter of fiction. Something similar played out in the second week of July 2019. During one week (6–13/07/2019), more than 150 cases of damage to vessels and nearly 50 Mayday calls for help were reported (according to meteo.hr data). On the night of July 8 to 9, over 36,000 lightning strikes hit the central and southern Adriatic within three hours. That's about 3 lightning flashes per second. The storm was accompanied by torrential rains, a downburst, and localized hail. In some areas (e.g., Dugi otok) during that time there was up to 300 mm of precipitation (in 3 hours). A large number of ships broke anchor and buoy, and many of them ended up on shoals or rocks. Several vessels sank completely. And that's not to mention material damage on the shore. Several minor and serious injuries were documented but, fortunately, no one in the Adriatic sea died during this storm.