The weather had changed overnight. We awakened to sunrise at 6:36 a.m. under grey skies. The famous mistral wind had caught us. At 8:00 a.m., it was blowing at 21 knots off our port beam, and the temperature was 51° F. Earlier this morning, we had gusts of 35 knots. The name mistral comes from the southern French word for “masterly,” and it denotes the strong wind that blows from the north. It is typically caused by a high-pressure area off the Bay of Biscay and a low pressure in the Gulf of Genoa. When this occurs, the flow of air between the high and low pressure draws in a current of cold air from the north. It is typically strongest in winter and spring but can blow anytime, as it did today! Mistral winds have been clocked as high as 50 mph. The sea responds to the wind, and the swells were about four to five feet today with the occasional whitecap. Sailors use the Beaufort scale, with 1 to 11 characterizing the height of the swell. Today we had a 4 to 5, which means some whitecaps were breaking. The mistral has left its impression on architecture, as Provence’s church belltowers are traditionally open iron frameworks that permit wind to blow through.
The captain set sails at 8:00 a.m., and I watched with awe as the sailors went aloft in the wind. I tried to imagine what the gusts were like 180’ high up on the masts. By 10:00 a.m. we were making 4.8 knots under sail. Despite the glorious weather we have enjoyed, the Mediterranean can have serious stormy weather. Despite the wind, Sea Cloud rode smartly with little real movement. At 10:30 a.m., historian Tom Heffernan gave a fascinating talk about his last book, which contains the earliest memoir by a woman in the Western World. Vibia Perpetua, an aristocratic Roman woman, went to her death insisting on her religious freedom. She was executed for her belief in the year 203 CE.
The wind died down a bit by lunch, and the sun emerged from under the clouds. Sea Cloud’s boutique was open at 2:00 p.m. At 3:00 p.m., certified photographic instructor Myriam Casper gave a very interesting talk on “Storytelling aboard the Sea Cloud.”
We had a delectable afternoon tea with the most scrumptious hot chocolate – rather like drinking a delectable chocolate pudding! At 5:00 p.m., the captain ordered the sails furled, and the crew went up in the wind. It was still blowing gusts from the port beam of 16 knots, and we were making 7.5 knots under sail. This area of the Mediterranean is called the Sardinian Sea, and it can be rough and deep. We were sailing with 5,000 feet of water under our keel. This evening – in preparation of our first landfall in Italy – we enjoyed a special Italian barbecue dinner on the Lido Deck. The highlight of the evening was a presentation by the Sea Cloud Sea Shanty Singers, who sang salty songs of the seven seas.