The nightmarish arrival in the Mediterranean of Laurent and Bérangère, along with their two small children, aboard their sailboat, Zanzibar…


We had waited several days for favourable weather:  10 to 12 knots downwind from the west/north-west with very little swell.


Thursday, the 27th of June

5:00 AM

The spinnaker was ready at the bow.  The lines were rigged.  We would be able to surf to Cartagena, Spain, located at about 230 nautical miles away.

We left the Bay of Gibraltar to enter the Mediterranean, taking advantage of the currents.

Laurent was alone at the helm while the children and I slept peacefully...


9:30 AM

We would wake up rocked gently by the swell.  Outside, the weather was grey but warm.  We ran downwind under mainsail and genoa up to 6-7 knots, along the Andalusian coast, carried by about 15 knots of wind.


2:00 PM

The wind began to gain strength, requiring us to take a reef and roll up the genoa.  The sea grew rougher, little by little.


3:30 PM

We were shaken in all directions!  It was out of the question, for me, to endure that for 30 hours. Laurent then offered to stop in the nearest port, but unfortunately, it was still 35 nautical miles away!  The GPS predicted our arrival at between 8:30 and 9:00 PM…


4:00 – 4:30 PM

The sea was very rough (with swells between 4 and 5 m) and the wind was blowing at a sustained 35 knots. The autopilot would not hold, so we then had to steer by hand to successfully maintain our course.  I jumped at the chance to occupy myself, to avoid seasickness.

The children, however, were well.  They were above deck with us, also to avoid seasickness.  They all had their automatic life vests, and we attached them each with an extension to the lifeline.

Blanche was plopped on a deck cushion, sucking her thumb and holding her stuffed toy, while watching with amusement as the big waves assaulted our sailboat.


5:00 PM

The situation worsened.  We recorded a gust of wind at 41.3 knots.  The sea continued to churn (with swells of 5 to 6 m).  There was lots of foam on the crests of the waves that would unfurl with impressive power.

I had but one thought:  not to panic, not to show the children that I am afraid, not to succumb to the desire to just let loose and have a good cry in the back of my bunk.


5:45 PM

A breaking wave flooded the cockpit and caused us to round up.  Gabin, who was seated aft, was entirely soaked, as well as Laurent, who was at the helm.  I immediately grab Gabin to reassure him, but he seems more upset by his wet clothes than scared.  I take over for Laurent at the helm while he changes and fetches dry clothes for Gabin.


6:04 PM

A second breaking wave knocked us down.

Blanche, who was still lying on her pillow, found herself entirely submerged:  her life vest was immediately inflated on impact and the pillow she was lying on was carried away by the wave. Instinctively, we simultaneously jumped up and covered her out of fear that she, too, would be carried overboard.

Gabin, was still in the arms of Laurent, who had not finished changing his clothes.

I pulled hard at the helm with all my strength, but I could not right the boat.

Laurent took over the helm, as he is stronger than I am.  He immediately regained our course. During this time, I grabbed Blanche, then Gabin, to carry them below.  It was now out of the question that the children remain on deck; it was too dangerous.

During the two hours that still separated us from the point, the tension on board was palpable.  Laurent, at the helm, was concentrated on anticipating the large breaking waves.


8:00 PM

We finally rounded the point, safe and sound, and nothing was broken on the boat.  The tension and anxiety that were rising until that moment finally broke.  I had to redouble my efforts not to fall apart in tears.

We were barely into port when we saw our two little ones come up the companionway, as if to say: “That’s it?  It’s over?”

For them, all had already been forgotten, and they went on playing peacefully as if nothing ever happened.

Welcome to the Mediterranean!