|August 1, 2012|
With much planning and thought about the worst case scenarios, Vito, Eddie, and Dino acquired supplies and information. TheAdriaticin February can show no mercy to its travelers. The Bura is a changeable northern to north-eastern wind that can be felt all over this region in gusts sometimes lasting for several days. It is most common during the winter and blows the hardest when a polar high-pressure area sits over the snow-covered mountains of the interior plateau behind the Dinaric coastal mountain range and a calm low-pressure area lies further south over the warmer Adriatic. As the air grows even colder, then denser at night, the Bura increases. Its initial temperature is so low that even with the warming occasioned by its descent; it reaches the lowlands as a cold wind.
Some of the strongest Bura winds occur in the Velebit mountain range inCroatia. This seaside mountain chain, spanning 88 miles (145 km), represents a huge weather and climatic divide. Sailing can be extremely dangerous for an inexperienced navigator in the Velebit channel because the wind can start suddenly on a clear and calm day and result in major problems. The Bura can reach speeds of 133 miles per hour (220 km/h).
In February 2012, during the Eastern European Cold Wave, the shoreline in Senj froze and snow piled up after a 91 miles per hour (150 km/h) Bura plummeted the temperatures to 6 degrees F (-14C), with waves of 23ft. (7m).
On Sunday, February 4, 1956 Vito casually asked Marko, an old neighbor and experienced seaman, when he thought the Bura would subside. “In three to four hours”, he replied. On Monday, Vito and Eddie were on a fishing fleet. The wind was coming from the north and they asked Fortunato, the owner of the fleet, what kind of weather was in the forecast for the next day. His thoughts were that it was going to be okay. Vito had worked for Fortunato’s fleet since he was 17 years old. Within the previous month Vito “borrowed” a 300ft. rope and some spark plugs for his journey. Exiting the ship one evening, Vito had the coiled rope tucked up under his heavy coat, strapped to his back. The Chief of Police decided to strike up a conversation with him and he stood with his back against the wall, for two hours, trying not to act suspiciously.
On Tuesday, they went fishing again and the wind was calmer. They returned to the island early in the afternoon and Vito, Eddie, and Dino, met and collectively decided “tonight is the night to stop planning and finally act”. Eddie was working at the power house, and before supper they met there. Decisions were made as to the hour of escape.
Eddie had spoken to their mutual friend, Bepi, and convinced him to start the engine on his boat since it hadn’t been used in a couple of weeks. The engine was started and left running to charge. They were to procure this vessel with its new engine. Eddie then went to work and started the island’s generator to power the island from 5:00-10:00pm.
After supper, Vito and Dino met at Mate’s Gastario Bar and talked quietly. They waited until 10:00pm when the generator turned off and the island was in the dark; even darker than usual as the night before they brokethree Main Streetlights for their cause. Exiting the bar, they gave their salutation to the Chief of Police. Not to arouse suspicion earlier, Vito now went to see Eddie and told him to take the boat after work. With the engine silenced, Eddie rowed toward the rendezvous point, a small chapel in Priko, by Kapelica. The others brought essential belongings, clothes, bread, brandy, the 300ft. rope, spark plugs, and two five gallon cans of gasoline into a small row boat. Vito’s father, Stefano, had his son bring several gallons of olive oil, which later proved valuable, and a knife that he was told to keep on him at all times. They rowed to another vessel equipped with a sail. A transfer occurred and they rowed across to Priko, where they anxiously awaiting Eddie’s arrival and packaged up the newly acquired sailcloth. Fifteen minutes passed and out of the darkness, Dino arrived. Tuesday, February, 6, 1956 at about 11:00pm, Vito, Dino, and Eddie rowed quietly out of the port into the abyss of theAdriatic.
The first mile led them north and out the channel between Priko and Ilovik; then they headed west, across theAdricaticSea, towardsItaly. Feeling they were safe from patrolling sea officials, the motor was gassed up and the engine started. The next uneventful hour was piloted towardsItaly, running parallel with theislandofSansigo.
Then the Bura arrived! North winds started to blow, bringing big waves and strong gusts. Their 15ft. boat was being controlled by the wind. A massive wave descended upon the boat’s engine and rendered it useless instantly. There was no other choice but to use the sail they had the foresight to take.
Growing up on an island, the three had knowledge of sailing taught to them by their fathers. Dino instructed Vito and Eddie to cut the sail as short as possible because the boat was too small to handle a big sail in strong winds. Anxiously, they secured the rigging, Eddie took the helm, Vito and Dino put the sail to their left and sailed. The engine needed fuel but because of the rough seas, it couldn’t be done directly. Dino poisoned himself by siphoning the gasoline from the five gallon tank into the engine. It had to be done, but as a result he was out of commission and lay beneath the small wooden deck sick. Vito and Eddie were on their own. Now nearing midnight, a sudden wind shift was brought on with stronger, and stronger gusts of wind. In the black of the night it was impossible to calculate the height of the waves that tossed the sailing vessel across theAdriatic. The lifting and plunging of the boat and the surge forward was unlike anything the men had experienced before, or since. TheAdriaticis like a bay, and at 65 nautical miles out, it is still considered narrow. Between two colliding winds, the sailed flipped to the right. If it wasn’t for that change, they would have all perished. Vito considers this the first miracle. Instead of the wind pushing the boat against the waves, the boat drifted out with the waves. This resulted in them traveling south with the coast ofItalyeven further away. Solemnly, there was silence as each chose to keep their deepest fear to themselves.
Sixteen hours passed as the sun began to rise, revealing silhouettes of massive waves. Resembling huge, black walls the forceful water towered over the modest size boat. Eddie, still grasping the steering mechanism that he took over from Dino, fought to keep the vessel from capsizing. Vito knelt behind him, tightly holding to the back of the seat, frantically assessing the waves, and commanded Eddie to “Bear left or bear right!” all by tapping Eddie’s left, or right shoulder. They had no strength to talk; they were near death from exhaustion and severe hypothermia. The Bura was relentless, waves seemed to attack from all sides, and the boat began to take on water.
Eddie caught sight of shore but the boat remained submitted to the wind, navigating towards land, and then back out to sea again. Wednesday, February 3, 1956, daybreak came the wind grew stronger; starting at 11:00am Vito headed the advice of his father “When the bow is hit with ripples on every side, broadcast the oil into the sea. It will dissipate the head-on ripple and keep the boat from flipping”, so he unpacked the olive oil. Calculating the waves, the relay alternated with bailing water and continued in to the evening. At 2:00pm it began to snow. The region of San Elpidio al Mare had not seen snow in over 40 years, yet here it was adding insult to injury. By 4:00pm, the poison from the gasoline was finally processed through Dino’s system.
A sign of hope appeared as a seagull flew overhead. The men knew land was nearby. The boat rose and dipped with the waves. Land could be seen in the distance, and then it would disappear again. Against all hope, conversations began. At one point, all three saw a town sign, unable to be read from the distance, then they never saw it again. 5:00pm brought another view of the shore. Tragically, the closer to the land they got, the worse the weather and more intense the waves. Waves still towered over them, water continued to fill the boat. At 6:00pm, Vito, Eddie, and Dino were 200ft. from the beach fighting for their lives and racing against time. Then, one enormous wave came up behind them. It pushed them toward the beach to the nearest sandbar, capsizing the craft and pressing them into the ocean floor. The boat was shattered into pieces and the men submerged into the frigid water.
It was every man for himself as wet woolen clothes weighed each down and shipwrecked pieces blocked any view of the others. Feelings of impending doom and the raw instinct of survival were subject to the numbness of the men. The waves were pounding down and the pain of the icy water shocked their systems. Vito managed to clutch his knife and cut away his outer garments and shoes as each surge propelled them towards the shore, then back again. They drifted apart as land was in and out of view. Eddie grabbed hold of the engine hatch cover and held on with frozen limbs. He got a glimpse of Dino, grabbed some floorboards, and the two met. Trying to kick and paddle with the little strength left within them, each crest of a wave brought an undertow that pulled them below the waters surface. Eddie and Dino kept sight of each other between surges, but they never saw Vito again.