Index of Content:
The adventure started at Bristol airport on the 17th of March with a £29.00 flight to Venice (excellent service again) and a pre-arranged car hire to get us to our pre-booked hotel in Trieste.
On arrival at the Impero hotel, tired but very excited, R said, “where’s the brief case?” Horrors! it dawned on us that it had been left somewhere at Venice airport containing not only our brand new laptop computer with all our plans, banking details etc but the complete portfolio of Charlie Girl’s ships papers without which we could go nowhere and to top it all, R’s favourite green jumper! We stared at each other in disbelief and hugged each other for comfort. Thinks, “ring police? But we don’t speak enough Italian”. Quiet, tired but efficient hotel receptionist to the rescue whilst we have thoughts of “unaccompanied briefcase. Bomb. Terrorists. They’ll blow it up. We could get lucky, someone could just steal it”
Amazingly the police at Venice airport immediately confirmed they had the briefcase. Immense relief as we really thought we were, at best, in for an expensive and extensive delay.
So it was back into the hired Alfa Romeo 2.0l Turbo (we only paid for a 1.0l Corsa with pedals) and back along the Autostrada to Marco Polo airport to pick it up and then back to Trieste. Don’t remember the last time R drove at 100mph for 200+ miles but that night we did and then fell into bed, exhausted at 0130 hours on the 18th. Relieved.
We awoke next morning to a beautiful day, a light Italian breakfast and a taxi to take us the 33 kms to Izola in Slovenia. What delightful journey it was in perfect weather up to 20°C and brilliant sunshine; not what we expected. Anyone want any thermal underwear (unused)? This weather continued for the next three days.
When we arrived at Izola marina, what a sight for sore eyes Charlie Girl was (our boat that is). Already in the water, lying alongside the quay in crystal clear, flat calm blue water almost ready for us to set sail. Three happy days were spent unpacking three months of packing and shipment; it’s almost worse than moving house but what fun.
Slovenia is unknown gem you must visit. It might be small but the people are giants; warm, welcoming and incredibly efficient as well as appearing to be universally happy and proud of their country: and so they should be, as whilst we have only seen a small area it is quite beautiful (and very cheap!). Only boat purchase formalities made us leave. We will happily return for a further prolonged visit some day soon.
And so to Croatia a mere 10 miles round the corner with snow forecast for tomorrow; surely not?
Well it didn’t snow but we now know the real price of the winter discount that first tempted us into our current adventures with this new boat, four years earlier than planned (Chris!!!). Whilst the sun is out most days, just three wet ones so far, the night time temperatures plummeted as low as -3°C; brrrrrrrrrrrr; with ice on deck one morning. Though necessity being the mother of invention, we found the secret to warming up quickly on such mornings, ‘Hafer Flocken’. Not what you might be thinking, it’s Croatian porridge oats.
However, our decision to not put central heating in the boat and to rely on a little portable gas heater, proved to have been alright except for the fact that on very cold mornings tucked up under the deliciously effective 13 tog duvet, we could never decide who was going to brave the cold and get out of bed to turn it on.
By the end of March the day time temperatures were reaching 22°C and, at times, we were managing the occasional, if brief, sunbathe in our suntrap cockpit in ‘bodies out’ mode; not bad for that early in the year. The nightime temperatures also improved and were latterly around 12° to 14°.
CGIV had her first serious sail on the 28th. For the sailors, 8 – 10 knots of wind in which we made 7 knots on a broad reach and later 8.2 knots close hauled up into our anchorage for the night on the southern most tip of the Istrian Peninsula.
And there we had our first ever roast dinner aboard; yummy it was too. Why is it chickens out here actually taste of something. Perhaps it is as the Italians say, “If it hasn’t got long fat legs, it will taste rubbish”. Couldn’t quite manage that in Italian but ours had long legs and was long in flavour.
We also learned a trick or two in saving on washing up and oven cleaning, as one thing we do not have of the home luxuries, is a dishwasher or endless hot water. It will also work at home and can be bought at Lakeland Plastics (Charlie’s 2nd home?), plastic ‘roast-in-bags’. Just how does plastic survive the heat of the oven?
The following day was more testing than planned. The forecast F4 NE that would have given us an easy broad reach to Mali Losinj turned into a F6+ ENE that gave us a hard sail in a very lumpy quartering sea; a good test for a new boat, passed well with an average speed well over 8 knots and a maximum in excess of 10 knots.
Perhaps March’s wildlife highlight was seeing our first Swallow of the season, at sea, on the 28th steadily making its way north against the prevailing wind to who knows where. We have since seen a Martin, several Buzzards and a Peregrine Falcon as well as just the one solitary dolphin. And it is pleasing to note that the Croatians seem as concerned about the affects of pair trawling on the dolphin population as we are; we have seen posters everywhere.
What do we think of Croatia so far? Not sure is the answer. It is proving to be a contradiction in many respects. Mooring is relatively expensive at around €45 per night whilst eating out is cheap at €25 for two eating a scampi risotto, a mixed grill, three side salads and 1 litre of white wine; that’s about £8 a head! Food generally is cheap to buy and the choice of fresh vegetables and fruit extensive.
But the island anchorages are just heavenly. To sit on deck as the sun goes down with just the odd wispy cloud to give it colour against the background of a small village nestled against the waters edge and its fishermen laying their nets for the night, their oars gently stroking the water being the only other sound to add to the birds evening chorus, is the most ecstatic of pleasures and why we do what we do.
And so to April with its promise of more warmth and exciting places to visit. Will we reach Corfu before the 30th? Who knows; we certainly don’t.
The arrival of April saw the departure of heating. The sun turned out and the pressure rose to celebrate the new month and the temperature rose with them. Of course not every day was full of sun, light breezes and calm seas. On the 5th we experienced our first Sirocco (the name for the strong southerly winds up the east Adriatic coast); wind in the SE around 30 knots and gusting 38 but with a relatively slight sea of no more than 2 metres. OK for down wind sailing but hell up wind and we were going south! QED two days in Split and we can think of far worse places to spend two days. Then there was Easter; it rained for five days and we spent three of them in Trogir.
The Gennaker we had purchased and shipped out for down-wind sailing in relatively light airs turned out to be about 2 metres too tall to raise. Ah me. The manufacturers have agreed to re-make it but we had to get it back to Poole for them to do so. Ever thought of posting 90 m² of sail albeit in a bag 500mm diameter and 800mm tall? We did and believe it or not the Croatian Post Office didn’t bat an eyelid; just 20 minutes of form filling, mainly for customs purposes, which a kindly lady did for us and it was on its way. Whether it ever arrives remains to be seen. We’ll let you know.
And now to share with you C’s shopping list of items that friends are to be asked to bring out with them when they join their own boats or us.
· Lady Grey; whoever she is?
· Toothbrush cleaners; why do we need to clean that with which we clean teeth, just buy a new brush?
· Yachting Monthly; vital, agree with that.
· Marmite; and that as it is for me!
· 8 x lock & lock boxes; uh oh, more night time shenanigans?
· Trevor Sorbie’s Moulding Mud; what the hell is that, adult play dough?
· Roasting bags; trousers for hot weather?
Ah well, time will tell. Do you have enough room in your baggage for all that P & J? And there are TWO P & J’s coming out; are you confused, I am?
Croatians are a strange but very likeable people. As the Scots would say, they appear dour at first sight. But when we succeed in engaging them in conversation using our only phrase of Croatian so far ‘dabber dan’ which presumably refers to some well dressed and well known hero from their past, they swiftly blossom into friendly and smiley extroverts. One wonders whether the serious, reserved outward appearance is as a result of 50 years + of communist rule. Who knows.
Croatia is full of stark contrasts that hit you every day in every port of call. On the one hand quality historic buildings with modern counterparts built in a similar style. On the other ghastly square, undecorated, utilitarian, concrete monstrosities, perhaps commissioned in the less capitalist eras. The two live cheek by jowl in the same streets as do the numerous quality clothes and shoe shops which equally seem at odds with the relative poverty of their economy and average earnings.
Some more serious eating-houses were found but even then good meals are less than £50.00 for two including local wine. Booze generally is very reasonable. A shot of spirits for around 65 to 80p and a 1 litre bottle of Vodka for as little £4.00; at that price Richard just might be seen buying Len a drink at last (private joke for those in the know). But just a small one Len! But to top it all we found Alka’s (no not Alco’s though we did drink more than we should) in Trogir where one dish of TWO 6oz filet steaks, both on toast, one topped with a fried egg the other with a slice of Dalmatian smoked ham, served with salad garnish, French fries and a ratatouille cost under £9.00; total boy’s fodder but great. In Trogir we also stocked up with the most wonderful Pistachios at £5.50 per kilo to eat whilst drinking the very palatable local white wine at £1.30 per litre.
And so the Brac, Korcula, Dubrovnik and maybe even Montenegro before we tackle the 200+ mile non-stop trip skirting Albania to reach our home port, Corfu.
There’s been a drama but fret not, the story has a happy ending though one wonders sometimes why with all the good cards life has dealt us it regularly deals Charlie a Joker or two.
As you will eventually read in E’s from Aboard 4, we left Korcula on the 18th with an adverse weather forecast that, as it turned out, gave us a 26 mile gentle downwind sail in brilliant sunshine and “kit-off” mode to a tiny little enclosed bay and the village of Okuklje on Mljet Island where we moored up at about 15.30. That’s weather forecasting for you.
The little Konobo owner helped us moor up and we were nicely set for the peaceful afternoon walk she suggested to the church around the other side of the bay before indulging in a little supper at their simple establishment; it could only seat 20 at most and there was to be nobody but us.
Charlie swept the floor, as she does; she even brought a little hand held Hoover! Then, “Richard I need your help. NOW!” Down below I went to discover the worst of our nightmares, Charlie had dislocated her right hip again. (For those not in the know, it came out as a result of a bad fall in December, again but for no reason in early January and was operated on to correct the damage 7 weeks before we left).
Two attempts at putting it back in by me, even with the assistance of the Konobo owner, proved fruitless and a rapid departure for Dubrovnik followed with Charlie laid out as best we could on the Saloon table. We reached Dubrovnik’s marina at 19.15 having phoned them first to arrange an “ambulantu”. Off to the local “bolnica” we went (one wonders what that does for males?) and to limit the painful part of the story, by 22.30 Charlie had been x-rayed, been to theatre and was on the ward, hip in place and out of pain.
No painkillers were available or administered; ouch understates it: but the staff were exemplary even though it was acutely evident that if you arrived in A&E (one small room) with anything less than no heartbeat (there was one mobile defibrillator available) or dehydration (there was a supply of saline and one drip) you either died or got better anyway despite the lack of equipment; the “ambulantu” had none at all.
Charlie’s recount of the trip to theatre is, “I asked about pre-med and received a smile and a pat on the head and by then I was in theatre with the same three that saw me in A&E. ‘Where’s the anaesthetist’ produced another pat on head and oxygen! Ahhhhhh.” But all was well and out she went. Recovery took place on the trip back from theatre to the ward, which coincided conveniently with the end of a film we had been watching on TV. An American western, dubbed in Spanish with Croatian sub-titles; still it was no worse than watching a UK soap.
Her tales the following morning included, “I wanted a pee so in came this theatrical production team and stripped off all my bedding and clothing in full view of the rest of the ward” (I’ll miss out a bit) “On completion I reached for my bum wipes” (courtesy of Boots and our excess baggage coming out!) “And was briskly told ‘nez’ at which point the continuity girl threw a jug of cold water over my parts; then changed the sheets; presumably this is hygiene Croatian style?”
Then there was lunch. A chicken wing and a smidge of breast from a bird that must have come from a concentration camp, even the bones were difficult to find. Pureed tat, full of flavour to be fair, sprinkled with watered down tomato soup. The whole accompanied by a cup of clear something under which a few noodles were drowning. Incidentally, we had only the day before agreed to leave chicken off our menu for a while having cooked just a bit too much of it on board in the first few weeks. Dinner was two hard-boiled eggs and some cabbage (also hard-boiled!) incorporating the odd miniature snail. No shortage of protein there then. Charlie, as you would expect, asked for the wine list and was curtly directed to the bottle of water I brought in. A swift trip by me down to the café in reception soon corrected that. Hic! (RD&E to catering to note; 0.2 litres of wine 12 Kunar, about £1.10)
The afternoon brought the inevitable, if so far avoided, conversation about “what now?” The doctor had put Charlie in traction (an archaic mix of leather ankle strap, string and a 6kg weight just hanging over the end of the bed; no pulleys etc), was saying at least 6 weeks in bed so encumbered and ‘nez’ to any thoughts of returning on board. We had put a call out for Charlie’s UK consultant, Graham Gie, to ring and our hopes of averting disaster rested there.
Spirits were very low and the afternoon passed slowly watching TV courtesy of a Andrea a sweet 15-year-old perfect English speaking Croatian girl who had paid for it. This time it was a soap; Brazilian made she told us, Brazilian actors playing Italian parts, speaking Italian (badly) and with, you guessed it, Croatian sub-titles. We were both in the pits of depression by 18.00 when Graham (bless him) rang and swiftly, succinctly and confidently put our minds at rest.
Graham rang and, in a nutshell, he was very disappointed but not entirely surprised to hear the tail. He had thought of fitting a constrained (fixed) hip in January but had hoped, with care, what has happened would not happen. But it has and as it is back in place, there is no reason for us not to continue our adventures with one strong caveat, “it could happen again if you are not very careful”.
But we are considering the further option he offered of returning for a yet another op to install a constrained hip, after which Charlie could return straight back to the yacht and the hip would not then be able to pop out again. That option we will think about but in the meantime are continuing as planned, starting with a few days rest in Dubrovnik to celebrate Charlie’s birthday on the 21st, give her a chance to recover fully and await the end of this unusually unseasonable April weather Croatia is experiencing before we set off on the 225 mile leg to Corfu.
So all in all, we’re laughing about the funny bits and trying to forget the rest.
May we conclude with a little serious thought from us; if you ever feel inclined to criticise or complain about our health service, give a thought for the likes of Croatia where the staff show the same dedication to patient care we believe their UK counterparts do but do so with infinitely less financial support and with very little of what we would consider to be standard, essential, modern resources. Charlie didn’t lack painkillers because they didn’t care; they didn’t have any to spare for a simple dislocation, they just dealt with the cause as quickly as they humanly could, in two and a half hours on a Sunday evening, calling an anaesthetist in from home as well for, let’s face it, not an issue of life or death. And we are not Croatian. It was also free though, being fully insured, we had some guilt about that.
All’s well that ends well?
Some of this is recapping on what was happening before the dislocation so does not quite fit the chronology thus far.
The weather for most April was crap, raining incessantly, if only drizzle, for days at a time. It was so wet Charlie was even seen on her knees in full wet weather gear on a marina quay, attempting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of a couple of crabs that had drowned in the fresh water downpours. To crown it all, a simple manufacturing fault effectively rendered our engine charging system inoperative and flattened our batteries so for 2 days we had no fridge, light or music. This we discovered on trying to raise our 20kg anchor and 50m of 10mm chain from 15 m’s down; not too easy without power. Ah well, it keeps you fit and your weight down.
But the weather was never cold, the fault was corrected, a mains voltage battery charger bought and installed enabling us to tap into marina-based power thus avoiding a repetition. We now have so much hot water we’re hoping for cold weather so we can take yet another hot shower. On reflection, pretty posh for a couple of sailors who used to rely on a solar powered hot water bag for the occasional shower standing on deck in full view of all passing along the quay and a fridge that only worked if you stuffed it full of ice, assuming you could find any ice in the first place that is!
On Thursday the 15th, I think, the sun rose in a cloudless sky and a soft warm wind pushed us under full sail at a very gentle 2 knots from Split to Bol on Brac, whilst we sunbathed, supped local wine and put the world to rights; all else was forgotten. Bol was not to be for the night so we motored over to Vrboska where two swallows immediately settled on our upper cross-trees, busily chattering as they do about the day’s bug hunting. As the night quietly closed over us, their chatter was replaced by the haunting sound of Scops owls calling to each other across the valley under the gaze of a brightly shining, if then lonely, Venus. The only other sound to be heard was the gentle crackle of the phosphorescence on the hull. A perfect day indeed.
The following morning promised a bit more wind and a good sail so, after a quick shop and coffee at the local Café, off we went, along the north coast of Hvar, heading for Sucaraj on its eastern most point. Hopes of sailing were soon dashed as the wind rose (on the nose); and rose, and rose until it reached near gale. But the trip was fun creeping along the shoreline in the lee of the headlands, approaching each bay full of expectation and finding surprises like the mountainside terraced from just above the water line to perhaps 300metres. The extent was staggering, it must have taken many generations to sift the soil of stone and to use that stone to build the terrace walls. What a shame it is no longer in use. Unfortunately Sučuraj was full of fishing boats so we motored on to the beautiful town of Korcula and stayed there for 2 days awaiting a northerly wind to take us easily on our way. On day 3 the weather was fine so we set off in a light westerly and sailed happily down to Okuklje on Mljet.
E’s from Aboard 3½ really fits I here.
We spent two wonderfully romantic days in Dubrovnik Old Town where it seemed as if everyone knew of Charlie’s mishap in Okuklje; even our taxi driver asked if she was the “ambulatu” lady. There we also met a sweet couple, Bryn and Pam Owen. Pam insists she’s a Scot and flies the flag to prove it; Bryn insists he is English despite the evidently Welsh name. They even popped a birthday card on deck for Charlie as they stood alongside singing Happy Birthday at 0900 (what shame we weren’t on board) and later provided us with an easier but longer route to Corfu via the Italian coast. Hence we gently motored back to Okuklje where, after a delicious fresh fish supper, we spent a very peaceful night and then motored on to Ubli on Lasovo. From there it was a 60-mile jaunt across to Vieste on the Italian coast in almost perfect weather.
Whilst excited about the unexpected return to Italy, albeit to an area we have never visited let alone sailed, we were sad to leave Croatia and its people who we found to be amongst the friendliest and most helpful folk we have ever come across.
On the food front Croatia proved the Italians (or the UK’s Pizza Hut) cannot make Pizzas but the Croatians certainly can. £5.00 buys you a 1st class pizza; enough for four let alone two (you eat half and they box the rest for your take home) and they produce filet steaks to die for, also at unbelievable prices.
What else do we remember? The aromatic scent of abundant wild growing Rosemary: swallows nesting at water level under the marina pontoons: the swifts disappearing into minute cracks in the medieval stone buildings: dark sultry men (that’s Charlie!): fantastic manigold (spinach): stunning coastal mountain ranges; a wealth of medieval church towers and towns: vodka tonics @ £0.90: minced prime filet steak @ £2.00 a pound: all Croatian’s smoke, heavily: readily available Internet access, free or cheaply via café’s: Dalmatian ham: abundant local wine: stark economic contrasts. We’ll be back.
The first few days in Italy brought home other differences from Croatia; we were never ripped off in Croatia. Vieste provided an example within minutes of our arrival; a bottle of wine, supped sitting in the concrete jungle, for €9.00 we later found for €3.90 in a posh wine shop.
But it wasn’t all bad news, after 2 days in Vieste and 2 days of ghastly industrial ports along the Puglian coast, we found Trani. It is like a mini Rome or Florence but unlike Rome, you can moor your yacht right in the middle of it and sit on deck supping drinks as the sun goes down, soaking up the medieval atmosphere radiating from the very harbour walls let alone the old town beyond. And to top it all, as we motored gently into the inner harbour, we were twice waived at by grooms of separate wedding parties asking us to hold up so they could have the yacht as foreground to the medieval harbour back drop for their videos. All say “Ahhhhh!”
On the wildlife front there was one lighter note to the surprisingly heavy industrial Italian coastline. Whilst trying to moor up in the boatyard area of the unwelcoming port of Manfredonia in 1.8 metres of water (we draw 1.65!), we were accompanied by a bottle nosed dolphin who swam quite happily around and under us and our whirling propeller, quite unperturbed by our manoeuvring dilemmas in a strong cross wind and a very confined space; quite obviously at home in human company, lifting her head almost on to our stern bathing platform for a quick chat before slipping away to catch another mullet or two for tea. It was a shame we had to concentrate on not running aground. Charlie heard her twice in the night “blowing” alongside our hull almost as if she wished to speak with her. We also saw an abundance of small black-headed gulls in the area, a welcome and quite enchanting change from “Jonathon Seagull” (if you haven’t read the book, do so; it puts an interesting perspective on life)
How is the yacht? Great. A few teething problems as you would expect but nothing too drastic; you know, the odd diesel leak pervading the atmosphere for days on end until we located and cured the cause: sea water gushing into the engine compartment at the rate of ½ a litre a day (turns out it is a pressure overflow): the GPS packing up when we were miles for anywhere though that was probably George Bush just reminding the world for an hour or so who runs the satellites and Bavaria have given us a longer boom, three spreaders not two which means a larger mainsail! (For the landlubbers, that’s like ordering a Mini Cooper and being delivered a Cooper ‘S’ for the same money). Worry not Chris H, we are only joking, it is all part of the fun.
Corfu by the end of April, no but soon thereafter, wind and will permitting.
PS. Oh me of little faith, the Gennaker arrived safe and sound in the UK courtesy of Croatia Post. But the next question is, will it be Corfu when we get there?
Whilst Richard manages to avoid ‘hoovering’ whilst Charlie’s hip recovers, it still (unfortunately?) results in Charlie having to spend more time at the helm (in charge!) which reminded her she’d passed out as a Day Skipper last July. Net result, Richard’s doing the fenders, warps, sail raising, winching, anchoring, deck scrubbing and everything else a deckhand should; plus what he’s told. Under Charlie’s command our second home base, Corfu, was reached on the 1st of May in brilliant sunshine and to a sweet ‘home coming’ welcome from the Kiriacoulis base manger, Nicos and his wife Samantha (or is it, ‘Samantha and her husband’, we are not sure who is the boss).
How was Italy? The good points were; the excellent wine, the exceptional restaurant in Vieste and beautiful Trani with its black marble slab roads skirted both sides with a softer brown marble; other than that the Puglian coast was generally very unattractive being liberally splattered with heavy industrial sites. Pottering along the coast is a bit like following the M5 to Bristol; all you see is traffic moving at speed, trains on the main railway line and loads of factories. And, frankly, most of the ports, as you will read later (see Port Appendices, Appendix 2, Italy’s Southeast Coast), were disgustingly grubby and unwelcoming. Unlike Croatia the marinas, if you can call them that, generally had few facilities; no shops, laundries, bars, restaurants or decent showers, not that we actually need the latter; yet they charged even more than Croatia: so much for Italian sophistication.
But there were some lighter moments. We stopped at Brindisi, had a look at the main town quay and old marina, which were fine enough but opted for the peace and quiet of the new 500-berth marina (only 30 taken up), 5 kms outside of town. Fuel was our first priority but the station was closed with no indication of when, if ever, it would open so we moored in an aisle with three other yachts, found ourselves to be the only visiting yacht and so retired to bed early to be rudely awoken by the sound of mooring yachts at 0430; four them. 470 Berths to choose from and they chose to surround us and then put on Dire Straits, loud! After we ‘asked’ them to give us a break and they had retired to bed, we got up, started our engine and left at 0630. Revenge is sweet.
It was a beautiful morning as we set off for Otranto, a distant ferry showing as a misty grey shape on the horizon against the backdrop of the pale blue sky and hazy rising sun. No wind so we motored; 6 miles off shore to skirt an Italian firing range (why fire at just 5 miles of open sea?). All was peace, calm and the occasional dolphin for company until there was an enormous bang followed by the yacht shaking herself to bits. We’d hit something! A few minutes of gentle use of the engine back and forth dislodged a load of debris but still she vibrated badly at anything over 1000 revs. So we set the sails and very slowly made progress towards Otranto but when the wind died we had to gently use the engine and thus crawled into port some four hours later.
Now being quite short of fuel (25 lts) we headed for the fuel quay only to be told by Andrea, the young marina manager, “The fuel station, she never open; diesel by me from marina”. After mooring up Richard traipsed off with Andrea with a 60 litre plastic barrel on an ex BR luggage trolley to a yard along the quay where, amongst all the ‘no smoking’ signs, Andrea took a cigarette break; well, empty plastic barrels are heavy? After some lengthy and unintelligible exchanges in Italian, filling of the barrel commenced by siphoning from a larger drum. But it and the yard did not have 60 litres and had to weigh the drum to calculate how many litres we did have. And this was once a most important Roman port; how times change.
Then there was our prop to sort out. Was it damaged? Was the sail-drive (connecting the prop to the engine) damaged? It now being late on Friday of the Bank Holiday weekend, how long would we be trapped in Italy? But all was well, Andrea organised a diver who swiftly removed nearly a metre cube of rope, netting and other debris from around the sail-drive; it was a wonder the prop had turned at all.
We left at dawn the following totally windless morning on the last 85 mile leg to Corfu. The fairly large, 3 to 6 metres seas soon had us both wondering whether we would hang on to last night’s pizza. (Oh yes, the pizza. Richard just had to prove the Croatians were better at them. They are; it was crap: a tasteless filling you needed a microscope to find in the pores of the hard tack base). But as the day wore on, the sun came out, the sea calmed and we were joined by a school of dolphins putting on a wonderful show, leaping out of the water and then diving through our bow wave and under our bows. Then it was a House Martin, working his way up at sea level along our wake to our stern then up through the rigging, picking up bugs on the way and later taking a five minute rest on deck. After that we had Swallows doing the same; fascinating, as we were not on a migratory course and were 40 miles from any land.
Then after our arrival in Gouvia (Corfu), the darker, if humorous side of Greece; despite EU passport holders being entitled to free passage, Greece still insists on an unnecessary process, with fees, before you can cruise their waters. Fees OK; we pay so little for the pleasures of Greek waters.
The story is, arrive Gouvia marina Saturday pm to clear formalities; Port Police and marina office, shut; Sunday, both shut all day: Monday, marina office finally opens and after much research, advises us port office will not be open until mid-May.
Samantha steps in and offers to accompany us to the main port office (8kms away) adding, “I am Greek and can help overcome the bureaucratic and language difficulties”.
Tuesday morning, Samantha, having phoned to check what copy documents they require, drives us to Corfu Town to be told by officer Pepos, “Go back to the marina; I have sent an officer (Pelagia) there to do this”.
Drive back to the marina to be told by Pelagia, “I cannot do this as I do not have the paperwork; go back to Pepos”. Back to Pepos who says, “Not me; go and see Stravros first”. After waiting in Stavros’s office for some time, Stavros says, “Not me first; go and see Alexandra upstairs”. Alexandra has gone to the bank and that being the National Bank of Greece, she may never be back.
Back to the marina to address Charlie’s decaffeination (lack of morning coffee) and an hour later, to Alexandra who has survived the bank and completes three forms with our help and takes €30 from us for our trouble; back down to Stavros who spends two minutes filling out a receipt for €15, for what we know not: back to Pepos to complete the process to be told, “Go back to Pelagia at the marina, I can’t do this” (will not?). “But she is back here; we have just seen her” says we. “I know,” says Pepos, “offices closed now until tomorrow”. It is only half past one!?
Wednesday morning, Pelagia has put a sign up in the marina, “Open Tuesdays & Thursdays”. An angry bike ride follows, back to the main port to apply, shall we say, a little pressure on Pepos who ignores Richard’s pleadings but appoints an officer, Petros, to ‘sort it’. Petros does sort it, after correcting the documents made out by Stavros, Alexadra and Pelegia. We leave Corfu for non-marina land, yippee!!
On the lighter side, the yacht’s well equipped galley produces food as good as home and eating our evening meal on deck started on 27 April; a mild night with a crystal clear sky, lightly lit by a very bright half-moon doubling as our romantic candle.
On 10 May Peter & Judy arrived in Gouvia to pick up their yacht for 2 weeks holiday so we spent an easy evening with them catching up on the news from home and how life was with them since we last dined together shortly before our departure in mid-March. With their arrival, dare we say, came the more traditional Spring weather. The pressure rose, the wind came in from the north and the rain clouds disappeared.
Our minor maintenance completed and the Gennaker (yet to be tried!) returned we are again heading South to Levkas, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Meganissi et al to await the arrival of Paul & Jackie for their annual week’s stay; what fun we shall have.
We have now covered more than a 1,000 miles in the first 7 weeks of our meanderings down through the Adriatic and on into the Ionian Sea. Not surprisingly one’s hair grows during that time and requires attention although Richard denies that!
Before we left Corfu this necessitated (so says Charlie) a trip to the hairdressers. But not any hairdresser will do, one recommended by Janine (Sailing Holidays local manager and an old friend from when we sailed with them) is a must. The phone number is obtained, the booking made and the bikes subsequently debagged for a ride into the Old Town (dragging Richard kicking and screaming more like) for the deed to be done.
Richard escapes after two Café Frappée and a close call with a pair of sharp scissors in the hands of well-proportioned young lady with a very determined attitude; determined to cut his hair that is. The language barrier raises its ugly head and despite his protests in pigeon Greek, she wins; Richard’s hair is cut; short. Charlie’s (colouring) takes a little longer so Richard rides to the airport to retrieve the re-made Gennaker that he gives to a taxi driver to deliver to the yacht, then returns to Charlie and the Old Town for a lazy lunch, worked off by the bike ride back to CGIV.
The bikes are proving to be a great success, not only because they add a new dimension to our travels and dramatically improve our general fitness but also because they fold away and pack into one cockpit locker with room to spare.
People watching can be a relaxing and amusing pastime. Whilst in Gouvia Marina last year we spent some time at the pool, which is beautifully laid out with a surrounding garden, open-air bar, trees and umbrellas for shade as well as comfy seats upon which to relax; bars attract drinkers, not that we drink you understand!
Amongst the other guests were a ‘live-a-board’ couple, probably in their late 60’s and we found their antics fascinating; he drank whisky by the glass as she drank wine by the carafe. By 1600 they were the centre of attention; all waiting for their incessant rows to result in one being drowned in the pool.
Last week we found them again, at the marina restaurant with daughter ‘et famille’. Daughter was a delightfully anorexic lady (questionable) who avoided the usual two-course meal by ordering a lettuce sandwich, without the bread. Mother, very drunk as usual, was wearing a white, very creased, mini-skirt; fine until she stood up and walked to the bar for yet another drink when her off-white knickers could be seen hanging down below the line of her mini-skirt like a babies full nappy. Yuck!
Our trip down was broken in Lakka with the intent of dining with Peter & Judy, which we did after some delay. Bella (a Kiriacoulis Bavaria 36) dragged her anchor whilst her owner was ashore; no excuse for that here; the depth is only 3-4 metres with a highly visible bottom so dodging the weed patches is easy. Bella drifted into a German ketch so P & J leapt aboard and despite the boat being locked up, managed to start the engine and Judy retrieved the anchor and chain by hand; some feat in a force 6. Surprisingly, on finding the owner later on shore, there were little thanks, despite them having undoubtedly saved his £75k yacht from destruction on the nearby rocks.
So we progressed to Romantiqua for some wildlife (excuse the pun Andrew) great music, jazz, rock, blues; old and new: and traditional Greek music mixed with some fairly deadly cocktails and P & J’s company made for a wild evening.
Dancing is encouraged and we jived with Charlie taking it VERY easily, which encouraged the locals to spontaneously start the traditional Greek dancing. Net result, a very late but hugely enjoyable night for us, (0130); we normally go to bed and rise, with the sun.
On the serious wildlife front before Andrew, who is kindly looking after ‘Tommy’ our Mini Cooper decides to trash it, we see dolphins almost daily, a few buzzards and, what we think, was an Eleanora’s Falcon on Atokos; looking larger than a Peregrine Falcon and with a very pinkish fawn breast (opinion please Andrew). Scops Owls are in abundance as are Swallows, Swifts, Martins and goats; watching them dislodging stones from the very cliff edge has you marvelling at their sure-footedness.
How do we summarise Greece for you? Others have written, “Don’t ask where to eat, only know where not to. Greeks live to eat and drink, discussing it in bed when others would have other subjects on their minds”.
Time is GMT, Greek Maybe Time, with punctuality almost a sin. They have a perception of life and its value we have never had; a perception and understanding we would do well to emulate? The food can be great, lobster is of course fresh and the best place to eat it is Sivota on Levkas. The family fish big time and Papa continues that tradition whilst Mama runs the “No Problem” taverna. Mikey, one of the sons runs a bistro style taverna “The Old Store”, just like a converted barn and the other son Tao, the local supermarket and Internet point. €75 buys a 750kg lobster for two with a prawn wrapped in bacon starter.
Then there is the Greek Island atmosphere; Kioni is perhaps our favourite Ionion port; a small village nestling at the end of a ½ mile steep sided, lush green tree-covered inlet on the east side of Ithaca with its four tavernas, three bars, a small supermarket, two gift shops and a small hotel, grouped around the shingle beach at the end of the inlet, surrounded by a living community in old white painted houses and bell-towered church.
It is full of character as are its people, many of which we have come to know quite well such as Costa who in his 70’s has returned to his home after a lifetimes work in South Africa and elsewhere.
When we came in last April to an empty harbour with everything still in winter mode (shut), we laid alongside the small quay and he presented us with a couple of fish he had caught that afternoon for our supper; when we returned in May, it was a jar of his homemade marmalade, both typical of their welcoming and generous attitude towards us. In return this time and to his evident mystified surprise, Charlie gave him a jar of her apricot and orange chutney
That evening at our favourite taverna fronting the beach and looking straight down the inlet to the open sea beyond, we were entertained by 24 Swedish guys on three yachts (one of which was one of ours) competing during supper with a group of Belgians in the “Kionivision Song Contest”, much to the amusement of most except one stuffy pair of Brits. You can’t buy that sort of atmosphere and entertainment; it just happens.
Or sitting at anchor on a near windless evening, in a small secluded bay surrounded by 100 metre high serrated chalky cliffs on uninhabited 333 metre high Atokos island, looking over towards the distant mainland; seen at first in colourful splendour and then as the sun goes down and night draws in, sharp dark relief against the red but darkening sky, becoming only just identifiable in the new moon’s light and from the gentle twinkle of the sparsely spaced hamlets along its shoreline.
Then as darkness finally envelops the bay, the gentle lapping of the waves on white stoned beach appear closer as do the towering chalk cliffs. Then to arise at dawn with the accompaniment of the early morning birds and watch the reverse; the dark outline of the mountainous mainland topped with a golden red sky foretelling the arrival of the rising sun and as it rises, the shaft of golden red light reflected off the sea towards you. Peace and tranquillity in excel sis.
Meanwhile, back at stuffy Brits and character assassinations. When Charlie brought CG in to Vathi and moored her up, one, of his own admission, stinkpot owner, greeted Charlie with, “Why did you moor up here? Did your skipper tell you to?” Whoops! He then made the further mistake of asking, “Who makes Bavarias then?” “Bavaria” says Charlie. “Oh and where are they from then?” says he. “Bavaria” says Charlie. “What in Germany?” asks he, digging a deeper hole. “Is there another one?” asks Charlie. He left.
What next? Paul and Jackie are joining us for a week and that is always fun, particularly if Jackie can be persuaded to sing as she is a professional opera singer; not slow in condemning some of our, as she once put it, ‘repetitive rubbish’.
After that, who knows?
The weather, whilst temperate and much warmer than the UK, has been perverse and out of character since our arrival in the Adriatic and continues to be so in the Northern Ionian.
In May and June, southerly winds (which are winter winds) are rare in the Ionian but there have been many including a full gale though, as you will read below, it is not like a gale at home.
The Greeks complain constantly about the unusual weather patterns, particularly the yachting base managers who are beleaguered by the weather from the south bringing, as it has, ‘Sahara sand’ in the rain; you can imagine what that does for a line of white-hulled yachts they have just cleaned and prepared for charterers arriving in the morning! A once in five-year occurrence has this Spring been a twice weekly event. But despite all of this we are as bronzed as ever and our adventure all we would wish it to be.
Some have asked what we do in a typical day and whilst these E’s give some indication of the highlights perhaps we could expand a little on what we do.
Days tend to fall into two categories, active and inactive. A typical inactive day was arising in Fiskardo on Cephalonia at about 0730 for tea on deck followed by a few odd jobs such as adjusting the position of the Navtex and GPS antennae. Then it was a slow walk round the fascinating Venetian, if posy, harbour where people go to be seen with people they wish to be seen with; for us it was to buy fresh bread and fruit.
Then, after the usual entertainment of a busy yacht harbour, watching yachts leaving, crossed anchors (and tempers!) in abundance, then us leaving to poodle just 4 miles across to Polis bay on Ithaca to anchor off the beach and climb 200 metres up to Stavros for a lazy lunch at Polythemus Taverna.
Polythemus was the one-eyed giant fooled by Odysseus and the taverna holds the stake that was reputedly used to poke his eye out!
That gives a clue to our location; we had anchored 50 metres from Odysseus’s ‘Cave of the Nymphs’ where archaeologists found numerous artefacts supporting Homer’s Odyssey in that Ithaca was the home of King Odysseus and of his ‘worship’ over the following centuries.
The cave was discovered on the fringe of the bay, beneath the peak where they also found the remnants of a bronze age site said to be Odysseus’s ‘Polis’ (City and/or palace); a sobering and romantic location.
As the sun dropped below the same peak, we took the dinghy across to the tiny fishing port for a carafe of wine and to watch the sun going down again and then returned to the yacht for a nightcap and bed.
The following morning was warm but unusually cloudy. Breakfast in Assos 12 miles away was decided upon with a little trawling of a spinner for Mackerel on the way. No mackerel were to be had but a very obliging 5lb Tuna was and she gave us quite a fright; we thought we had picked up the fisherman’s line net we had just passed. But after a short period of resistance, in she came providing us with four very good-sized steaks; yum yum indeed and a satisfying conclusion to a typically inactive 24 hours.
An untypical day was an unscheduled stay in Levkas when even the Ensign was not unfurled. Oh yes, flag etiquette is observed; the biggest Red Ensign legitimate for a 46’ yacht that is furled each night and unfurled each morning with all the other etiquette involved: we digress.
The reason for the prolonged stay was yet another Southerly gale, force 8 gusting 9 (close on 50 mph) that lasted for 24 hours and kept us in port. But the temperature was still in the mid-20’s, such rain as there was lasted all of two minutes. We rode around the town in shorts and sweatshirts and got a lot of those mundane house-worky jobs done that get left and left; ‘round-to-its’ David Ewing would call them or so his office mug said; so not that bad then?
As for typical active days, that means sailing! All that is involved with being inactive plus the joys of a full day spent under sail, harnessing the power of the wind rather than fossil fuels. Sailing must be in the blood as nothing creates greater excitement than squeezing that extra 0.1 of a knot from a minor adjustment of the sail plan in a strong breeze, that involves winching and that is the active part. A few goes at winching justifies Richard’s plate of chips with barbequed lamb chops in the evening.
Again our apologies to you Andrew, it has happened again. Andrew gets mildly irritated at our exceptional wildlife sightings as he makes TV programmes on wildlife; you may have seen his programme ‘Five Owl Farm’.
The highlight of the last couple of weeks was our further sighting of Monk Seals. For those unaware, they are very much an endangered species with fewer than 500 left in the Mediterranean. They are also intensely shy and easily disturbed from breeding; thought to be one of the major reasons for their decline.
We were just pottering around an uninhabited island in our dinghy and up one pops, right beside us. Half an hour passed whilst she dived, rose, viewed us, swam around, then dived for another five minutes or so, presumably fishing or returning to her underwater cave entrance to (hopefully) check on her young.
She was almost certainly the same female we saw last June as it was in exactly the same spot. Had she been in any way perturbed we would have left but she was clearly as relaxed as last time we saw her and her mate, so there we sat completely enthralled.
This was during our dear friends Paul & Jackie’s stay on board and fortunately they were able to share the experience the following morning when the pair were again, albeit briefly, distantly sighted taking the early morning air.
That evening we anchored in a secluded bay, again off an uninhabited island, with just one other, French, yacht for company. The wind was blowing a steady force 4 and as the light gently faded, up pops a Frenchman with his violin to serenade the coming night. An accomplished musician he clearly was and his range of classical style and repertoire as surprising as finding a violinist there at all.
But we were not to be outdone; Jackie is an equally accomplished and professional opera singer. Renditions of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (bits of it says Jackie), Mozart’s “Mi tradi quel’alma ingrata”, preceded by a French song, Reynaldo Hahn’s “Si mes vers” followed.
We know the French yacht appreciated the response by their applause but know not what the visiting Greek goat herdsmen on the beach thought of it all?
Charlie has just spent a couple of days in Argostoli hospital having again dislocated her hip. She describes it as a butcher’s shop.
The second dislocation happened 50 miles away in Kioni on Ithaka at the jazz bar after dinner whilst sitting on a bar stool (un-pissed honest); both Richard and Charlie had forgotten that bar stools are a “no, no”, so it was yet another late evening ambulance trip to a very well organised and caring, if basic health centre in Vathi and the following morning by ambulance to Argostoli General Hospital via the car ferry.
Perhaps that brings chapter two of the adventure to a close; one having been picking up CGIV and leaving pretty Slovenia, working down through the delightful Croatian waters, across to the disappointing Puglian coast of Italy, finally reaching Corfu in early May: two being the time spent in our favourite haunts in the North Ionian.
Now it is time to return home and get Charlie’s hip fixed once and for all. It means another and hopefully the last operation, this time to put in a “fixed hip” as it would appear the accident and subsequent dislocations have created a cavity in the tissue that will not repair itself thus making further dislocations more likely than not. So we will return home at the end of June for an op on 02 July and be back out here early in August to continue with our adventures albeit starting again from Corfu.
So in few days time we will spend 2/3 weeks working our way back up through our favourite haunts to Corfu to leave our girl in Nicos & Samantha’s safe hands whilst we take a short sabbatical in the UK. If anything exciting happens between now and then, there will be a further “E”; if not, E’s will be suspended until August.
(In the original E’s From Aboard we made light of this so as not to worry family and friends too much. In fact we were both deeply distressed and shocked, not just at the further dislocation and having to return home but at the horror of Charlie suffering nearly two days of unnecessary, intense and excruciating pain before the hip was re-located)
Charlie having escaped from Argostoli hospital and two days having been passed sitting on deck soaking up the local atmosphere, interspersed with slow walks around the town to exercise the leg with a bit of shopping, a return to Kioni was deemed appropriate to say thanks to all those who helped us and to apologise to Georgios (George) the bar owner whose evening trade was ruined by Charlie’s prostrate figure in the middle of his floor whilst awaiting first a doctor and then the ambulance.
It was a lazy day’s motoring in flat calm conditions, the sea like a cobalt blue coloured mirror reflecting every passing seagull and shearwater as well as the occasional fluffy white ball of cloud that formed in the warm air rising over Cephalonia’s mountainous peaks; it was disturbed only by our own creamy white wake gently spreading like an arrows head from each side of the bow.
On arrival in Kioni we parked alongside the quay under Hamilton House, the delightful period residence of our friend Costa (swaps of chutney, jam and fish you may recall) to thank him for his kindness in phoning Charlie whilst she was in hospital to extend his best wishes and to tell her he had lit a candle in the church for her; yet another example of why we love this country and its people so much; we are nothing to him but he felt he must show how he feels about this lady he sees but two or three days a year: one wonders if he knew just how much it lifted Charlie’s spirits.
Having thanked all who we could find, we left the following morning taking advantage of a light south-easterly breeze to beam-reach north-easterly towards Kastos; not that we wished to go there but it was such a lovely sunny and peaceful morning, a gentle sail at a leisurely 3-4 knots was just what two rather tired souls required.
The actual plan was to go to Sivota on Levkas and that was due north from Kioni so after an hour in a progressively dying wind, a new north-north-westerly course was set putting the wind on the tail and drastically reducing the speed to such an extent the log read zero for almost two hours. But the GPS Chart Plotter said the speed over the ground was 1.2 knots so a few glasses of wine were consumed whilst the afternoon breeze was awaited. Sure enough at 15.00 a westerly breeze arose putting us close hauled, needing two tacks to avoid Arkoudhi, after which it was an ever broadening reach straight into Sivota at an average speed of 6.5 knots; a pretty impressive performance in just 8 knots of wind; CGIV is a very slippery girl indeed.
During the becalmed phase of the sail a bat visited us, in broad daylight, catching bugs as he passed backwards and forwards across our decks. The nature of the wine in our glasses was checked and found to be fine; still the bat was with us so we concluded it was not a mirage but yet another unusual occurrence for Andrew to explain?
We have since asked him and there is no logical explanation for the occurrence.
Whilst in Argostoli, a turtle regularly swam past the yacht, apparently on a regular route to food though what could be found in the harbour that they eat, we know not, though they do eat jellyfish so that is a possibility.
Another unusual sighting was whilst at anchor for the night in a secluded bay just 1 mile from Euphemia; two peregrine falcons, one apparently a youngster, attacking the same feathered prey in mid-air and, having hit their prey, flying locked together at sea level to the rocks 20 metres from our beam where they both shielded the prey with their wings whilst continuing to fight over who was to get to eat it. After a few minutes the youngster relented and flew off screaming as he went whilst the adult completed the task of consuming his (or her) tea; an impressive example of nature in the raw.
After a quiet night in that secluded bay we picked up Derek and Jill Shrubb (friends from Bovey Tracey) from Euphemia at around midday and motored in flat calm the 10 miles to Pera Pighadi for lunch and to swim in the crystal clear water over the silver sand bottom of the beach.
As the afternoon breeze came in we sailed back giving them a taste of what the Ionian waters can do; no wind one minute and 25 knots and 25º of heel the next: they loved it!
All moorings were taken on the quay when we got back to Euphemia leaving no option other than anchoring off in the bay, which was achieved after four abortive attempts at getting the anchor to hold. With Derrick’s help the dinghy was pumped up and launched to take us all ashore for a steak supper at “Finikas”. The Greeks are renowned for their massacring of steaks whilst Finikas seem able to produce a half decent one, cooked as you ask.
The day after we met up with Derek and Jane Summers in Kalamos (Midas guys & gals may remember Derek is with the NHBC and lives in Chudleigh Knighton. They have joined the Bavaria Boat Bores with a Bavaria 36AC based in Corfu). A most convivial evening and morning was spent with them and their two guests from Ilsington, just down the road from our home in Lower Brimley. It’s a small world.
The weather continues to be perverse and abnormal for these seasons and areas. Southerly winds are very rare and rain even more so; occasional evening thunderstorms excepted. Day after day of southerly winds has been experienced and more rain in the first half of June than is normally seen in a whole summer season.
But the temperatures are about average though the humidity has been unusually high even on sunny days. As the temperatures rise and the sun is out almost constantly the amount of clothing use reduces accordingly. By 07.30 swimwear is on and stays on until shower time in the evening, which itself gets later with the longer hotter days, often not occurring until well past 19.00. Eveningwear is down to a pair of shorts and a short-sleeved shirt for Richard and Charlie the same or a light floaty dress.
But the absence of the usual wind pattern has been a plus as it has meant wind has been available for sailing throughout the day rather than just the usual light breeze for an hour or two in the morning followed by a few hours of flat calm and then 3 to 4 hours of the afternoon north-westerly; the net result, considerably more sailing than usual and some absolute crackers at that. CGIV has been sailing consistently at over 6.5 knots and almost daily at beyond 8.5 knots, despite the care been taken to ensure no chances are taken with the hip; who knows what speed could be made if full tweaking was allowed?
During one of our sails when CGIV was really moving, another similar sized yacht was noticed on a converging if closer-hauled course for the same bay. Being on a beam reach we were a little quicker and were moored up in the bay by the time she arrived. As she approached we saw she was a Bavaria 42 in fact our B42, Charlie Girl; the emotions raised were surprising and just a little disturbing, after all, she is only another tuperware box with some rags hung on a stick but she was our first yacht and the attachment we felt for her had been underestimated; guilt even at having abandoned her for a later model.
The same occurred when she appeared in Lakka. We stood on deck watching her roaming round the bay looking for a suitable anchoring spot and not finding one, as there were already 40 yachts at anchor, with strange feelings of wanting to find her a spot as you would a child; never mind the 3 couples sailing her, they can sleep on the beach but our girl must have a mooring!
Whilst the planned itinerary has been disturbed, remaining in the northern Ionian that we know so well together with perverse weather generating increased windy periods suitable for sailing, has given us a greater amount of actual sailing; in fact most days we have sailed for 3 or 4 hours at least which, it might surprise some, is more than is normally achieved.
As this is written we have just finished supper on deck after an easy sail from Andi- Paxoi across to Parga on the mainland where we are now at anchor under the shelter of the Venetian fort that guards the two bays as it has for centuries. That and the towering mountains backing the bays is the main attraction of this otherwise rather touristy spot.
On the subject of food, the last trip into Gouvia from Mourtos was totally windless so a spot of fishing was the order of the day. A couple of hours of trailing a small spinner at 4 knots produced a very nice plump Tuna; not quite the 5lbs the last one weighed but a healthy 2lbs or thereabouts.
It produced 6 very nice steaks that were then marinated in freshly grated root ginger, Soy and Teriyaki sauce with a little salt and pepper for the rest of the day, then for supper, quickly fried in olive oil for 6 minutes (afterwards adding the marinade) and served with mashed potato and leeks and mushrooms in yoghurt. Eh life can be tough at times.
It is the 28th of June and we are returning home for Charlie to have her present hip replaced with a new constrained hip, which the consultant is sure will end the difficulties experienced since last December.
1,800 nautical miles have been covered (just over 2,000 statute miles) and traumas excepted, all have been great fun. CGIV is now safely berthed in Gouvia Marina in Corfu under the guardinage of Nicos and Samantha who have a few jobs to do on her before our return; the rigging needs re-tensioning and a few minor faults corrected.
Charlie is already researching return flights and trying to guess her recovery time so a return to CGIV can be booked; nothing changes, she fights on as ever.
Returning to Charlie Girl IV on 16 July after just eighteen days away, found her and Corfu basking in 30ºC (86ºF) of perfect sunshine, a little different from the wet and chilly July weather left behind in Cardiff from where we flew. Charlie’s recovery continued apace and within two days of return the crutch (or ‘clutch’ as Grandson Daniel described it) was banished to the long-term store, hopefully never to be seen again; bike riding re-commenced after seven days, albeit very gingerly.
Rod & Pat Day (also proud owners of a brand new Bavaria 44) joined us on CGIV for a most enjoyable week sailing around Paxos and the Corfu channel area. The weather was perfect with little or no wind in the mornings and a good but easy breeze for sailing most afternoons, though it was very hot even for July and stayed so until broken by a night of thunder storms a few days after Rod & Pat returned home. The temperature then dropped to an idyllic 27ºC for the next two weeks with a surprisingly consistent NNW wind blowing day and night; good for day time sailing and a cool night’s sleep.
After Rod & Pat had returned home, a course was set for the Inland Sea and a 28th Wedding Anniversary celebration dinner at the Old Store in Sivota. Charlie was in lobster mood so Maquis (the taverna owner) brought a slipper and common lobster to the bar for her to choose from. Charlie duly pointed to the slipper, which Maquis promptly picked up and put to his ear as if it were a mobile phone; we thought this was some local way of telling which lobster was the freshest. “No, it is not the lobster begging for its life; where is your mobile?” He said. Sure enough it was our new mobile phone somewhere in Charlie’s bag and Chris Hawes ringing us on a Sunday evening (you don’t work on Sundays Chris!). All who witnessed the exchange had a good laugh including Maquis and us.
The last port of call in the Inland Sea had to be Kioni where our dear friend Costa complained bitterly about the state of his knees and the late arrival of Charlie’s postcard telling him all had gone well with her operation. Why was he complaining about his knees? Because he had been kneeling daily in church for five weeks to pray for Charlie’s speedy recovery. Her recovery has been speedier than ever before which gives some cause to pause for thought does it not?
The sailing has been great and the run from Zakinthos to Katacolon the most exciting thus far; more or less downwind, sometimes a broad reach in up to 25 knots of wind enabling the covering of the 25 miles in a fraction over 3 hours: half the usual planned time. At one time a coastal freighter was being overhauled as we planed consistently at over 10 knots!
But the following day from Katacolon to Pilos was even better; a 50 mile run, down wind in generally a F4 but at times a F5/6, gusting 7 at an average speed of 7.3 knots and an unbelievable maximum of 12 knots recorded on the GPS.
The following two days were more gentle; the first just 8 miles round to Methoni and the second seventeen round to Koroni on a run using the Gennaker which is going to have to go back again as it will not set properly no matter how it is rigged. A great shame as it does perform reasonably well, albeit inefficiently.
Cruising becomes a compromise between the desire to sail all the time, go where you want when you want and the need to charge the batteries to run the niceties of cruising life such as the fridge, toothbrush and of course Charlie’s vacuum cleaner!
Going where you want when you want is often frustrated by the wind coming from that direction meaning you beat to windward (and it said gentlemen don’t do that) so you motor or sit tight where you are for another day. On the other hand you sometimes get the right wind to sail for several days in a row and thus run out of battery power.
All this entire trip has had a fair balance between the two and our average daily fuel cost has averaged out at €5.00; about 6.25 litres. Our tank holds 210 litres so we could theoretically last a month between re-fuelling stops but we tend to top up the tank each time we find a fuel quay.
Romantic evenings have been in abundance. Sipping a glass of local wine on deck and watching the full moon rise over Mount Taiyetos after dinner ashore at “Mimis” (see Ormos Kitries in Port Appendices, Appendix 3, Greece & Its Islands) is tranquillity in extremis; typical of why we do what we do. In fact the whole of the 50 mile coastline from Kalamata down to Ak Tainaro is stunning and mostly beautiful with mountains up to 2,400 metres backing the largely fertile if narrow coastal planes that give way to steep waterside cliffs as high as 250 metres at Capo Grosso with more barren plateaus atop as you approach the Cape.
It is here that you find the Maniote villages of the southern Peloponnisos, the Mani peninsular. The architecture is very different to the rest of Greece; square, stone built, often with three floors, very small and with few windows. Originally the ground floor was for animals, the second for humans, the third fortified from where they hurled rocks and hot oil at their unwanted visitors. Now the ground floor is often a taverna where strangers are welcomed and served food cooked in the oil previously used to boil such visitors and Granny lives on the top floor just hurling insults at her offsprings!
One of the changes in routine for the July/August heat is the time of eating; it becomes routine to have pre-dinner drinks at eight rather then six and to eat at ten or even later rather then seven as in the Spring and Autumn: thus bed at past midnight becomes the norm.
Now we are heading for Crete and a rendezvous with Roger & Birgitta Walkey, fellow Bavaria owners and ‘live-a-boards’.
We rarely spend more than one or two days in any place; perhaps that is something to do with our roving spirits and the anticipation and excitement that flows from what the next day may hold, where we might end up and what that has in store for us.
Our stopover in Kapsali was to have been for two days but we awoke early at 0630 after the first night and just felt like moving on the 56 miles to Crete. Thirty miles down track in flat calm we spotted a school of dolphins half a mile off our starboard beam. After five minutes watching them through binoculars they spotted us and raced over to spend 30 minutes ducking and diving in and around our bows and stern whilst we hung over the side of the yacht screaming with pleasure like a couple of over excited school kids.
Some of the best video shots we have ever taken where captured; a good fifteen minutes worth of their antics including regular poos, a few bits of aggression presumably between males fighting for the prime position in our 7 knot bow wave and many sideways glances at us above them.
It is an experience difficult to describe but it stays vividly in the memory and never fails to excite even when it has been seen many times, and that is what we do with the videos during the winter; watch them to remind ourselves of our adventures, good and bad, and to plan for next year.
As if that were not enough for one day, on reaching Crete we spotted two Monk Seals. As we may have mentioned before, they are an endangered species with only about 500 left in the Mediterranean, making that a real and unexpected extra treat.
A day or so later we saw eagles and vultures circling over one of the mountainous headlands further down the Cretan coast unfortunately too far away to film or photograph.
Crete (Kriti) is the largest and the southernmost of the Greek Islands, being around 165 miles long and 10-30 miles wide. Tourism is clearly a staple diet and we were a bit taken aback at the extent of it.
Hania, our first port, is known as a historic Venetian port that must be visited; our feeling is that they told far too many people. It was so commercial and overcrowded the original Venetian atmosphere was entirely lost in the hubbub created by thousands of bikini clad and bare chested foreign tourists crammed into a relatively small area.
Rethymnon, our next port of call, was similar but refreshingly less so. It has the same tourists but they seemed to be centred around the beach areas rather than the picturesque (and better preserved) Venetian harbour, which, whilst being full of bars and tavernas, had an atmosphere that allowed some calm reflection of the port’s history whilst sipping a couple of vodkas sitting on the ancient quay. Its small size awakens the realisation of just how small, frail and vulnerable the sailing ships of that era must have been.
After that reflection we cycled through the narrow stone paved streets for a romantic dinner at Avli’s. The food is international but includes most of the Cretan traditional dishes and they have a young sommelier that helped identify some Cretan and Greek wines to match our expectations from varieties more familiar to us.
But on returning to the boat at 0100 the noise of youngsters racing mopeds around the marina hard, totally crushed our romantic mood. Why did we come to Crete we wondered?
Had we arrived at either of our next two stops (Panormos and Agios Nikolaos) our view would be (and is) different; both are delightful. Agios Nikolaos nestles on the western side of Kolpos Mirambellou, a bay 25 by 15 miles, itself an idyllic all year round sailing base even in the strong prevailing northerly winds. It is not historic in character but naturally Cretan with a warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere that encourages a longer stay.
And so it was to be in Agios Nikolaos, Roger & Birgitta’s “home”, where we found ourselves for seven days, partly to see their new house being built in its stunning mountain slope location with a view to die for, partly to have a break and carry out a 2,500 mile service on CGIV but mainly for safety reasons as the weather broke after three days; still sunny and very hot but far too windy to safely tackle the trip up to Santorini.
Roger & Birgitta’s hospitality was exuberant and most welcoming; one of the evenings that they cooked dinner for us, it was a superb Thai curry with all the trimmings followed by a freshly made fruit salad; the latter was not consumed until 10.00 the following morning: some dinner party!
They will say we all went to bed in between but that part is not remembered; perhaps that was the wine we consumed?
Safety is always a concern when sailing as the dangers are there and should never be ignored. Take the sea for granted for one minute and it will have you and rarely gives fair quarter. But not all the dangers are directly connected with the sea, some are to do with the yacht and human behaviour as Richard found out.
When at sea all hatches are securely fastened shut as are all sea cocks but in port they are opened, the former to give ventilation and air the boat.
Richard knows this all to well but whilst adjusting the courtesy flags at the mast allowed his concentration to lapse for one moment and stepped backwards into an open hatch. Fortunately only one leg went down and he ended up sitting, a little painfully, on deck with one leg still dangling down the hatch pretending to anyone who might have been watching that is what he intended to do all along, whilst Charlie attended to his wounded leg hanging into the cabin beneath: mopping up the dripping blood and applying copious quantities of tlc and Savlon.
No real harm was done to anything but a little pride but another serious lesson was learnt and a good laugh had at the after incident behaviour.
Talking of good laughs, it is a requirement of most countries that you have your VHF radio switched on at all times monitoring channel 16, the international channel for safety and initial contact; naturally, we comply.
This is now not so since new regulations were implemented in February 2005.
In this age of terrorism it is perhaps not surprising that the main calls you hear are from NATO warships checking on the source, destination, cargo and nationality of all and any ships, including yachts, that happen to cross their path. Tapping in to these exchanges is a source of interest and even amusement on longer passages.
The warships are of various nationalities and as is required by international convention, they always communicate in English. How convenient. Most of the exchanges are very polite if slightly threatening.
“Vessel in position 35º 12.4’ north, 025º 44.1’ east on course 005º, speed 8.5 knots, this is NATO warship off your starboard beam. Please respond, over.”
Part of one typical exchange heard from a nationality of warship that shall remain anonymous included: “What was your last port of call, your destination, flag of registration and cargo?”
The answer came back: “Athens, I am drifting (meaning, hanging around waiting for a new cargo from wherever their agent tells them), British registered under the UK flag, in ballast (ie. no cargo) and am awaiting my next destination”. All standard radio parlance.
The warship then asked, “What is your flag of registration, cargo and next port?”
To the frustration of the questioned vessel the exchange continued in the same vein for more than 15 minutes. Amusing? Yes, but our safety is allegedly in the hands of these guys!
Meanwhile back in Crete. If we had doubts about Crete then the day’s drive into the lush green and fertile mountain valleys to visit the remains of the Minoan palace at Knossos and the Boutari vineyards at Skalini erased them.
Whilst Knossos was worth the visit it lacked the ‘wow’ factor; however the fertile high mountain plateaus and the Boutari vineyard in particular had it in spades.
Driving through the plateaus you could easily have thought yourself in France. Copious fields of vines and interspersed with fields of vegetables; only the equal number of fields similarly planted with olive tress told you it was not France.
The wines at the vineyard were superb and the tour and accompanying service exemplary. Of course we drank too much, purchased too much and struggled to find sufficient space to store it on board.
If anything at home is missed whilst being on the yacht it is the garden and its hanging fuchsia baskets, pond, fish and water features. Charlie has tried to replicate some of these effects on the yacht without very much success (window boxes tend to fall off the rail whilst sailing and hanging baskets on the boom brains anyone in the cockpit when you tack) but on the way across from Crete to Santorini a water feature appeared in the cockpit.
The NW F6 made it a bit rough with 2 to 3 metre seas and with a 60-mile hike to do close on the wind, a reefed mainsail was flown to add some stability and a bit more speed. As this gives her heel, any water that breaks over the deck comes straight back along the deck and cascades into the cockpit; Charlie was delighted with the water feature rushing between her feet, even though it lacked fish.
As many know our second love after sailing is cooking and that is not diminished or lost as a result of the first. Most of the Greek mainland and islands have fresh produce in abundance. Perhaps not the extensive overall variety found in a UK supermarket, but certainly sufficient to create meals on board equal to that we would achieve at home; chicken stir-fry with spring onions, red peppers, ginger, garlic, courgettes, carrots and white cabbage (in lieu of been sprouts) with olive oil which is naturally in abundance as is fresh root ginger, Teriyaki and local white wine used.
Meanwhile our travels took us on to Thira, or Santorini as most Brits’ know it, an island of strange contradictions. On the one hand a barren, uninteresting volcanic island; on the other, what must be one of the most breathtaking sights in the world, as we know it today and it is a major wine producer to boot.
It is barren; it is volcanic, very volcanic with its daily if almost imperceptible tremors but the enormity of the caldera left by the 1400 BC eruption leaves one in awe, as does the thought of the eruption that created it.
Its rugged natural beauty brings many thousands of visitors each year just to marvel at its 200 metre sheer cliff crater sides topped by the white and blue houses and churches of those defiant humans that have populated it through time under the daily threat of violent extermination. The conical island in the centre of the sea filled caldera has remained active and erupted every few years as if to remind them of their vulnerability.
We sat in wonderment on the rim of this 6-mile diameter crater watching the ant like ships passing through on their daily diet of day trips. The following day we sailed through the caldera and were equally amazed at its size when viewed from sea level.
It is hard to imagine the massive force required to lift the estimated at 43 cubic kilometres of material into the sky, leaving the sea to rush through the gaps left in the crater walls and fill it to the 400 metre depth it is today. How insignificant are we humans when measured against the raw power of nature.
But even amongst the barren volcanic ash countryside, colour was to be found to warm the cockles of any wine lovers heart. Vines in such abundance it could put Bordeaux to shame.
They are grown very differently though, not on trellis supports but directly on the dusty volcanic soil in spirals to protect the grapes from the burning summer winds and to enable them to collect the moisture from the always present nightime dew. Most are never fertilised; all are never watered even though summer rain is almost unheard of. Indeed a truly organic product.
In our visit to the Boutari vineyard on Crete we were just a day too early for the beginning of this year’s harvest but on Santorini we saw the first picking of the white wine bunches and their loading into baskets on donkeys for transportation to the first processing plant where the stalks are removed before the first pressing. All that is in the open air for all to see; the pressing, fermentation and barrelling is done in small wineries on the island as in Crete but with most of the bottling subsequently done on mainland Greece
Then it was on to Manganari, a bay on the south coast of Ios, and a beautifully easy sail it was in an unseasonal south-westerly wind but the Mediterranean weather is fickle and changes very rapidly and so it did that night at 04.00, from this gentlest of south-westerly breezes to a violent northerly gale; all in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately our anchor held and we sat there, a bit bored, fishing, swimming and quite safe in the continuing sunshine until the gale blew itself out some 40 hours later; no fish were caught despite a tuna being spotted by Roger just off our bows and a huge turtle rising practically on our bathing platform, giving Charlie quite a start.
We then made our way up just 8 miles to Ormos, the main port on Ios, where we spent a further two and a half days waiting for the still strong northerlies to ease off so we could make our way easily north to Naxos, then on to the Saronic, the Corinth Canal and beyond.
Ios Chora (the village) was enchanting to visit, perched as it is 300 metres above the port with its narrow stone paved streets flanked by white and blue houses and shops built into the hillside; their interiors being part hillside rock and part white plastered walls. No wonder it is a major tourist attraction though not this year; it was almost dead and empty.
A search for a busy taverna was unsuccessful; we ate on our own with a local lady prepared to talk to us about her island, its 1,500 inhabitants and how this has been the worst season in her life. “Is it the Olympics?” we asked. “Maybe that, increased Greek prices and airfares” was her reply but really she did not know.
Then it was Chora on Naxos with its historic Greek area, the Bourous, topped on the hill behind by the Venetian Kastro. What a pleasure it was to walk the winding, narrow, stone stepped Venetian streets of this fully occupied white washed quarter with its tree lined and vine hung urban gardens, just as it was when originally built albeit with the later added, discreetly positioned, street lights, piped water and electricity supplies required by modern day living. To visit it in the peace of the afternoon siesta conveys perfectly its original tranquil residential atmosphere.
But not everything goes according to plan when cruising; quote “We rarely spend more than one or two days in any place; ……”. Since we reached the eastern end of Crete and made our way up to Naxos there have been forced stays in most places when we would have preferred to push on.
Similarly, whilst occasional stops in larger harbours or marinas is both a pleasant change and essential for re-stocking “the store”, stopovers around isolated islands, bays and smaller village harbours better reflects our style of cruising. As to the sailing itself, the preference is for winds less than 15 knots and even then, not ever having to beat to windward but if we do, in no more than about 10 knots of wind.
None of these criteria have been met in the past few weeks accepting we have been lucky twice in getting unheard of summer southerlies to help us make way to the north: generally the winds have been from the north and too strong to comfortably sail in them.
Some might think this lazy sailing; perhaps it is, though we would rarely turn down the opportunity to sail downwind in 25 knots of wind given we were sure that was the limit and safe refuge could be readily found if it turned out otherwise. Few of these options are found in the Cyclades in fact the opposite seems nearer the truth; there are far fewer safe harbours and those there are, being relatively far apart making one more cautious of pressing on in other than certain fair weather.
The yacht moored alongside as we write has been in Naxos for six days, waiting for a light enough northerly wind to sail south. An experienced Norwegian skipper in a 47’ yacht, his frustration is evident despite it being the second year he has passed through the Cyclades. But sailors are optimists and tomorrow will always brings a fair wind.
Do you remember the saga of the Gennaker? It continues! We took some photos of it flying with its flapping leach (back edge) and e-mailed them to the sail maker who has confirmed what we thought; it is cut incorrectly! So it has to return to the UK again to either be re-cut or re-made.
On the wildlife front there has been very little that is new, just the occasional turtle and the odd dolphin. But we did see our first honey buzzard on Dhias and a real new spot on Ios, several pairs of crested larks and what charming little birds they are too.
Where to now? Probably Paros followed by Serifos; then Kithnos, Kea, Sounion and then the Saronic. If the wind is uncooperative it might be Sifnos, Milos and a long hop to Monemvasia in the eastern Peloponnisos, a particular love of ours that we would classify as one of the seven wonders of the world; perhaps more of that later.
Yacht owners tend give their yachts lives of their own and even think she is talking to them. When moored up and the rigging hums in the wind, this is said to be her saying she wants to go for a sail. Of course we are not like that, much!
One morning whilst coffee was being made Charlie smelt spices as you would from mulled wine. Was she telling us something? Was it too much wine drunk last night? Or had we a ghost on board? The coffee was served and the options discussed. Then we realised the coffee was a bit sweet; it had been made not with water but the remnants of the last 5 litre container of wine Richard had put in an emptied water bottle in the fridge. Ah well.
Then there was the moving tonic can. We were sitting in the cockpit at sundown, sipping the V & T’s when the tonic can slowly moved across the table. Was it the ghost or her expressing a wish to move on? Of course not; just a cold can from the fridge in a relatively humid atmosphere condensing that moisture on its side and base creating a water mat allowing the light breeze across the deck to move it. Or was it?
Wildlife in the Cyclades (pronounced Kicklahdees) was as sparse as the islands were barren, though a high isolated rock off the coast or Serifos did provide the splendid sighting of a small colony (6 or 8) Eleonora’s Falcons, seen soaring above the rock and carrying out the most spectacular practice dives down towards the rock before again soaring skywards. As this was passed and we were still glowing with excitement, a flock of 20 Grey Herons (we think) flew over quite high above us, heading slightly south of west meaning they had at least 90 miles to fly before seeing land again. Whilst we don’t think they are indigenous to the Cyclades, they are migratory.
Another surprise was the relatively high level of residential development seen even on sparsely populated and totally barren islands such as Kithnos. Dirt roads appear over the top of the steep-sided coastline and cut their way in zigzags down to within 50m of sea level where they end in what appears at first glance to a be a quarry but is in fact the site of a partly built villa or two. No sign of water or electricity provision makes you wonder about such an act of faith by some small local landowner.
Whilst in Cycladic (Kick Lad Dick?) harbours and bays we have met far more different nationalities of fellow yachties than in the Ionian; in fact we have met very few Brits at all. A further enjoyable aspect of cruising is the awareness of being ambassadors for your country and nationality. Perhaps this fosters the penchant most ‘yacht persons’ (political correctness?) have to be helpful and friendly towards each other far more so than they would toward fellow motorists in the local town car park. It is the accepted norm to leap ashore and help any yacht moor up; Richard in Naxos even swam out to attach his and their Norwegian neighbour’s additional bow lines to a fixed mooring buoy when a blow was advised by the harbour Marine Guard.
Marine Guards apart, weather forecasts are a vital constituent of cruising and obtaining reliable forecasts has an obvious safety element to it. Charlie Girl IV is fitted with Navtex as are many yachts these days and this provides such forecasts as are transmitted covering the area within which you are sailing. But Greece is not that well covered in that only Limnos, Iraklion and Kerkyra issue forecasts and their range is limited to 280 unobstructed, miles; Greek Islands are mountainous and a natural obstruction.
Other, perhaps more detailed forecasts are to be found on the Internet, poseidon.kcmr.gr for Greek waters generally and wetteronline.de for specific areas or even wider scope; there are many others. Not surprisingly as it is Greek and covering just Greek waters, Poseidon has been found to be the most reliable so far this year.
We expected to be roasted alive through July and August but despite the day time temperatures having been as high as 35ºC and the night time around 22-25ºC it has not seemed so hot; with the usual nightime breeze found in the Cyclades and our acclimatising to the heat anyway, it has even brought the light duvet back into use. However, when the humidity is above 60% it can feel dreadfully oppressive; fortunately this only occurred on two or three days during that six-week period.
Previously the purchase of ice blocks for the fridge and then cleaning the resultant water out every other day was part of the daily routine as the fridges lacked insulation and battery power and could only be run when the engine was run. With this in mind we had three large service batteries fitted on CGIV in addition to the isolated engine battery but we still expected to have to hunt down ice at every port of call. Not so. It has performed so well we have abandoned ice purchase for the fridge and run it all day, turning it off only when we go to bed. All this might be a bit boring to our landlubber readers but believe me it is a matter of life and death to a yachtsman; never mind keeping the food fresh, it’s keeping the beer and wine cold that really matters.
The escape from Crete has already been chronicled; now the escape from the Cyclades has been achieved with far less trauma than was expected. A cracking 40 mile close reach sail from Paros to Serifos making a course slightly north of west at an average speed of 7.5 knots in winds varying from the starting F5 gusting F6 that fell steadily through the morning to F2-F3, assisted matters greatly.
The next move was 25 miles due north with the fear that this would mean the same wind and sea but a long days punching straight into it under motor. Motor we did but in almost flat calm and a very light NNW breeze making it an easy run and allowing a bit of, non-productive, fishing.
Then we were in the Saronic once again. It was here we began our yachting with the first flotilla holiday back in about 1982 on a Maxi 90. The area is lush and green, with plenty of wind but not too much. Our night in Ormos Zoyioryia on Spetsai was as romantic as it gets with the sun going down and the ¾ moon rising an hour or so later with its light shimmering across the calm water of the bay.
We had planned a chicken curry or stir fry but that seemed to interfere with the soaking up of the atmosphere on deck (and a vodka or three!) so we settled for a fish (caught that afternoon) as a starter (yummy it was too) and good old bangers and mash; the bangers were delightful locally made ‘village’ sausages, full of spices and herbs and touch of orange. They were lightly fried for a while, sliced onions, mushrooms and a stock cube added and all left to simmer, producing a very nice rich gravy from juices. How we suffer.
Sailing with the wind when it is in your favour is a must and having decided, perhaps rashly, we would not go back to Ionian via the Corinth canal but back round the southern end of the Peloponnisos, when a strong northerly wind came in we were off out of the Saronic and down the eastern Peloponnisos having a fantastic 40 mile sail in 2 to 3 metre seas to Monemvasia. Was this to be a decision we would live to regret? We shall have to see.
The last E ended with our arrival in Monemvasia; unfortunately we were pinned down there by a gale: what a gale it was lasting for 5 days with the wind averaging F7, peaking at F9 and never dropping below F5 in the lulls that fortunately, if occasionally, lasted long enough to allow us ashore to get supplies and finally to escape.
Our first mooring was in the so-called marina but not alongside the hard quay as we had been last September, tucked up under the bows of the Coastguard SAR vessel; it was bow anchor to the wind, albeit with the protection of the island and sandbar, with our stern moored to a rickety pontoon with no cleats and each section of the pontoon tied to the next with rope where the couplings had broken in past storms. Two long stern lines kept CG relatively steady and two widely set springs run to the midship cleats reduced the yaw and resultant sideways pressure on the anchor; all lines were looped through the structure of the pontoon. So we sat for 48 hours with her swinging violently in the really heavy gusts and occasionally her fendered stern nudging the pontoon.
Then came the forecast of the wind increasing and changing from F7-8 NNE to F8-9 ENE; that increase and the fact that it put the wind on our starboard beam was a ‘no no’ for a safe and peaceful night. We had to move.
At 1800 we upped sticks and tried to run to Ireaka, a very safe harbour 8 miles up the coast before the full force of the gale hit. Just a mile out at the head of the island we met the full force of the severe gale; the seas were enormous, 6 to 10m and whilst CG climbed them quite effectively the risk of being knocked down by a breaker was greater than returning and anchoring in the lee of the sand bar.
Anchor we did in 9m’s of water and spent the night sleeping in the cockpit on anchor watch even though we had set the chart plotter to do that for us (GPS checks your position every few seconds and sets off an alarm if the yacht moves more than your pre-set limit of, say, 35m). After the worst had passed at 0500 we took ourselves off to bed for a few more hours of roly-poly sleep.
Safely leaving the pontoon, managing the sea and then anchoring in such conditions, is no mean feat for two people on a 14m, 14 tonne yacht; good teamwork and preparation are absolutely vital: we have both in Spades. All the manoeuvres had been well rehearsed, were completed without stress or argument and with the only raising of voices being that required to make oneself heard over the roar of the wind. The feeling of achievement when all is satisfactorily completed adds to the pleasures of cruising rather than otherwise. Not just a husband and wife partnership; best mates enjoying a passion they have in common.
Nature and its weather is something to marvel at, even more so when in an area so unaffected by mans’ involvement. Being unable to leave Monemvasia we were able to witness the raw strength of the wind. As it was diverted round and over the rock itself, mini tornados developed in the lee that rushed silently across the water, through the yachts at anchor, on into the marina and then onward over the land beyond. If you got in their way you got drenched as they pulled vast quantities of water from the sea and the speed of the wind roaring round the vortex easily pulled you off balance. Their speed exceeded 50 mph and their course wavered so dodging them was difficult. Thankfully none reached a magnitude that really threatened life or limb.
The next day was spent on board but in the early evening we made it ashore in the dinghy for a quick meal before returning to find it was blowing hard yet again. Fortunately that died down to a F6 or less before dawn the next day and as Roger & Birgitta had kindly texted us a forecast that looked a bit promising, at 0645 we upped anchor and sailed off (reefed) across the wind in what were still pretty large seas.
Approaching Cape Maleas in those conditions was like sitting in the dentist chair wondering what was coming and how much it would hurt. But whilst we took the sails in and motored as we approached the cape, the rounding actually turned out to be quite benign. It was celebrated with a piece of bread and butter, topped with Allan Down Marmalade made in limited quantities by Jackie Evill by special appointment to and for Charlie Girl and used by us like champagne, only on very special occasions; this was certainly such an occasion.
The next five miles that are normally a threat were seen off in flat calm seas, albeit with the wind throwing the odd 40-knot katabatic gust down off the peaks. As we left the cape behind we were soon surfing quite happily at more than 8 knots in a following sea and wind and this quickly decided us to carry on and round the next cape rather than stop in Porto Kayio as originally planned.
And so we covered 100 (nautical) miles in the day to arrive in a very peaceful and welcoming Methoni where we anchored just as it got dark for a good sleep in a totally windless night; peace at last.
Apart from the potential danger if at sea, gales and strong winds day after day are very wearing on body and spirit; the effect on the yacht is worse. The constant spray rapidly crystallises in the heat and sun caking the decks and rigging in crystalline salt; touching a rail or piece of rigging is like putting a hand in a bag of finely ground sea salt. Clothing, which is worn occasionally, suffers a similar fate. Being moored up adds sand to the mixture, which is then brought below decks on feet and hands.
The next two days we covered a further 100 miles to reach Poros (Cephalonia) and a supply of fresh water, the first since Poros (Saronic) some eight days previously. A major clean up was immediately instigated and a good proportion of the salt and sand removed. Much to our surprise the pressure rose to 1025mb, unusually high for these areas and likely to result in thunderstorms. That night did produce some fairly heavy rain, certainly not normal but very welcome as it most effectively completed the washing down of the decks and removed some of the inaccessible salt on the rigging.
Apart from that touch of reality, cruising generally does result in a rapid loss of touch. The days happily merge one into another and even with the keeping of logs (engine use, money, port notes etc) you eventually lose track of which day it is. Weekends no longer have any meaningful significance and are generally missed except for the odd occasion when a shop is found shut that would otherwise be open. It must be Sunday!
So there we were back in our second home, the Ionian. The pressure stayed fairly high for the next week or so, reintroducing the predictable daily routine of clear blue skies, warming sunshine, morning light off shore breezes (wheezy puffs might a more apt description); lazy mornings spent reading, shopping, walking or cycling: poddling off late morning to find a bay to drop the hook for lunch, a swim and a few zzzz’s: at around 1400 leaving as the afternoon north-westerly breeze comes in to give you a nice sail until just before sundown when it dies away to nothing: then it’s anchor or moor, eat aboard or ashore and retire to bed, contented and well satisfied cruisers.
Sometimes there is a little entertainment and adventure to spice up a day. One silver sanded, emerald water bay with white chalk cliffs we call at regularly, attracts many less experienced holiday sailors; their anchoring antics are an amusing if unkind source of amusement. As long that is, it’s not your yacht or anchor they hit as they reverse at 4 knots with theirs just on the bottom thinking it will dig in eventually; it does of course when it finds a convenient anchor chain to pick up; chaos then ensues!
On a recent visit we were anchored in the middle of 30 other yachts watching just that when in comes the north-westerly breeze to add interest; all had anchored in a light south-easterly: thus all yachts turn through 180º and are now lying to seawards. One yacht, fortunately on the outside of the pack, had not set their anchor at all well but had taken their dinghy to the beach for a little traditional British beach bumming.
Richard noticed their yacht was not stationary and as time passed that it was gaining speed to seaward. The charterers spotted the problem when she was a good ½ mile out to sea, far too far to swim or row a dinghy. We picked them up on CGIV and motored them out to their yacht, which, by then was a good mile off shore. Yes they were embarrassed and yes we and 29 other yachts were amused and entertained. They did not return; CGIV did to a little round of applause on our return to anchor. Good Boy Scout stuff.
Then there was the Southern Ionian Regatta! Richard, as we have said before, doesn’t race anymore. That is, unless there is another yacht in sight. It was decided to enter the Regatta albeit with little hope of any real success as CGIV had never been raced, her rig needed ‘tweaking’, Richard was very much out of practice not having raced formally for many years and Charlie’s ability had to be limited by her recent difficulties. Also 50% of the 190 entrants were professional racers used to racing the set course in every sort of weather, some in racing yachts not cruisers but race we did.
The sight of 190 yachts all trying to stay behind a start line that was only 600m long was like traffic queuing both ways in Knightsbridge in the rush hour; all nose to tail and cheek by jowl, each trying to force their way through without hitting the adjacent vehicle.
The start was traditional (to windward) until the 5-minute gun went when the wind veered 180º making it a downwind start.
Chaos! But not for CGIV who was gently cruising along the line from the port to starboard and was thus on a starboard tack with full right of way over most other yachts. As the start gun went the wind died to just 4 knots and so it stayed for an hour or so before it again came in from the opposite direction and steadily built up to 25 knots; no light breeze anymore. At the end of the downwind breeze and as it changed CGIV found herself running 7th overall.
By the time we tacked to round Arkudi (the windward mark) she was in 6th place and as we again rounded the next headland of Arkudi and started the long reach into Sivota bay she was 3rd with just 5 miles to go. Speed increased steadily until she was creaming along at 9.5 knots and steadily gaining on the two yachts ahead and rapidly increasing her lead over those following; until just 1 mile from the finish that is: the wind died as effectively as someone turning off a fan. Within a few hundred metres all were stationary in the water.
After 40 minutes of absolutely no wind a light breeze came in from the right of and behind the fleet meaning those closest to it were soon going to be with us and even passed us. CGIV’s 2-mile lead over a 60-yacht pack (on the 15 mile course, enough to beat the handicap) was quickly reduced to a few metres.
Fortunately only one made it through before CG was again making a couple of knots and was able to cross the line 4th overall; a very pleasing, if surprising, result. The fickle wind at the end having taken her lead away, the handicap adjustment put CGIV 29th out 190, still a very respectable performance, perhaps to be bettered in the North Ionian Regatta held off Corfu at the end of October?
The first of October arrived whilst at anchor in Ormos Valtou bringing with it a slight feeling of disappointment, there being just one month left before returning home and negative anticipation that the weather would now deteriorate further. But the weather that day and for the following week, was more like an early summers day; the sun rising quietly in to a clear blue sky with a gentle south-easterly land breeze wafting across the water to where we were anchored.
The morning was spent drifting 6 miles up the coast to Hippy Bay where we spent the afternoon swimming and dozing in a very comfortable 28ºC. And just like an early summers day the wind eventually came in from the northwest but never got above F2 so the remaining 6 miles to Sivota Mourtos were motored where supper was taken ashore after an invitation to drinks on the yacht next door. Ah me.
All this was in contrast to the decline in the weather as the end of September approached; the weather cooled down a bit, strong southerly winds arose and it rained nearly every day for a week, mainly as a result of the hot days’ ending as the sun goes down in the accumulation of thunder clouds over the islands or land mass, generating the most dramatic lightning displays and sometimes the rain to go with them. Great for giving CGIV a nightime wash down that can be then be mopped up in the morning.
Charlie’s hip has not been mentioned for some time mainly as it is just fine. Her physical fitness is returning apace albeit that is going to take a fair length of time to complete after six general anaesthetics and major surgery in six months. But the tasks of sailing CGIV are again more evenly distributed with Charlie taking her turn on the helm, at anchoring, mooring (and deck mopping!) in average conditions.
Charlie’s sister Alex came out for what turned out to be one of the best sailing weeks enjoyed for some time. Every day saw the sails out and CGIV creaming along to the next port of call often in the company of a school of dolphins.
But Alex enjoyed more than just the sailing; one night saw her and Charlie downing Alex Brandianas (worked it out?) after the dinner wine as if they were water and then, being a London Girl, she tried ordering a Skinny Decaf Dry, which evidently is Cappuccino with no milk, sugar or ordinary coffee. After explaining this to the Greek waiter he understandably said “A glass of hot water?” Her last day was rounded off with a southerly near gale; not as bad as it sounds as it gave a nice morning down wind sail to Levkas, her port of departure and an easy going lunch in a local taverna in the town.
Fishing during that week and September as a whole was very successful, limited more by the desire to eat fresh fish than the ability to catch it. The fish now being caught is thought to be Dorado, a Greek delicacy and rightly so. A powerful and beautiful predator, coloured blue and green tinged with a hue of gold; the flesh is white and very delicate with few bones other than the main spine from which the meat easily parts. Cooked in butter, salt and pepper it has become a firm favourite aboard.
Cooking on board does require some changes in approach to allow for the relatively confined space and just a small two-ring and oven gas cooker. Pans are downsized to suit the cooker and picked for multi-purpose usage to limit the required storage space.
As stir-fried vegetables are an excellent way of producing a tasty meal in itself or as a compliment for other meals, an exception was made in purchasing a good quality medium sized wok. Two 20cm lidded pans, one 20cm frying/omelette pan, one 20cm pressure cooker and one 25cm lidded sauté pan complete the compliment; all are non-stick as there is no dishwasher on board other than the crew! Toast is made on the larger gas ring using a camping toaster purchased for a fiver in Millets.
The topic of food leads nicely to the Greek language. It is fairly phonetic; using the Greek alphabet, as you hear it is as you write it or vice versa. Thus their use of foreign languages follows that theme; ‘please’ may be seen as ‘plese’.
This and the mystery of what one might get to eat anyway, adds to the fun of eating out, particularly in the more remote areas. In one such idyllic if remote bay on Paros, the taverna advertised ‘Griled Crap in Wine Sause’; that was given a miss. There was also ‘Crap salad’ on offer but we didn’t quite have the nerve to ask if it was a poor vegetarian dish or something else?
Talking of vegetarian dishes and eating ashore, Charlie prefers something vegetarian and light at lunchtime so spotting “Gyros Vegetarian Special” at €2.00 she was persuaded by the waiter to have two “they very small” he said. When two folds of pitta bread bulging with CHIPS and mayonnaise were served, a major sense of humour failure followed. “THAT is NOT vegetarian!”
After dropping Alex off in Levkas we stocked up the following morning with fresh fruit and vegetables (Levkas town is excellent for that and cheap) then set off north some 35 miles to Gaios on Paxoi taking advantage of the forecast F5 SSW wind.
There we stayed for two nights, the first eating out at the Olive Tree, an Anglo-Greek restaurant run by a young English couple Debbie and James, the second night eating a stir fry of some of the fresh vegetables and chicken bought in Levkas after which we went into the village square for a crêpe and metaxa. The atmosphere was enchanting, an eclectic mix of unchanged Greek café culture and more modern tourism.
The square is small and has a tiny church as its centrepiece complete with the village clock that is timeless as it is stuck on 8.45. One side of the square fronts the harbour, itself formed by a canal between Paxoi and a much smaller island that follows its contours for about a mile forming a right-angled canal. The other three sides of the square are mainly filled with tavernas and bars, each with their seating taking up some of the stone clad paving of the square itself. One of the tavernas has an unchanged appearance that has you wondering whether it is 2004, 1904 or even earlier.
We sat having our crêpe overlooking that taverna and listening to a group of old island men singing traditional Greek songs to the accompaniment of an accordion, in fact battling with the contradictory sounds of a football match being watched on a large wall screen in the bar next door. But nobody minds or complains; it’s all part of life there.
It is hard to believe that over 3,500 miles have now been covered since CGIV was commissioned back at the end of March. All in all there have been very few teething problems and even fewer defects; perhaps the fault in the diesel tank was potentially the most threatening, as the tank cannot be removed without cutting it (or the yacht) into pieces; a purpose made replacement would have been the only practical solution. Fortunately repair was possible and executed and so far looks good enough to be permanent. Other than that, one poorly cast hatch handle broke which required the whole hatch to be changed and two s/s grabrails were damaged and are to be replaced when they arrive. As you might expect from a mass-produced boat there were a few gel coat failures; all easily filled and polished and thus will be invisible.
Most important of all CGIV is a dry boat. She had just two leaks; one fresh water through a screwed fitting on deck easily fixed in 5 minutes and one from the Volvo diesel engine seawater cooling system that is a design fault in a pressure release valve (it sticks open after a while) allowing seawater to drain into the bilges. That was fixed by placing an empty 5 litre wine container (there are plenty of those on board!) under the drainpipe that requires emptying every couple of weeks.
On the wildlife front, the end of September saw the first sightings of shoals of flying fish; they must be around all the time but they had not been seen in quantity. Swifts, Swallows and House Martins had finished their nesting cycles and congregated for their flight south to warmer climes. But there were still plenty to be seen, presumably those starting their migration from more northerly climes and stopping off in the Ionian for a little Greek food before continuing.
We have often wondered why the Swallows and Martins in Greece nest within the confines of human habitation such as tavernas, well within the reach of the human hand but without any sign of fear, unlike the UK where they take great care to stay out of reach of man or any other predator. A local Greek taverna owner who actively encourages nests within her taverna as did her parents before her, told us her father said they do this to avoid the sparrows that would otherwise drill holes in their nests and steal the soft inner lining material, as sparrows are more wary of human contact and inveterate thieves. Is that so? Who knows but it makes a good story.
What next one wonders? What potential excitements will the last month hold?
Just thought you would like to know even though it’s warm (no less than 20ºC), Autumn is not always dry and sunny. The weather for the first eleven days of October was like early summer but on the twelfth day that changed with a vengeance.
The morning was warm but overcast and then it rained just a little; not enough to spoil our sail from Spartahori to Fiskardo in a SSE breeze: that was terrific. But as the sun went down, the clouds thickened and the heavens opened with a spectacular thunderstorm that lasted for an hour or two. The following morning was sunny and warm with a few fluffy white clouds about; quite promising it was too until we got the weather forecast; gale F7, later F8 with thunderstorms, so we stayed in Fiskardo and the promised weather duly arrived late that afternoon.
The following day the weather forecast was the same but we left anyway in a sunny period for a very fast (1.5 hrs) 11mile sail to Sivota so we could have dinner at The Old Store; no sooner had we moored up than the heavens opened and did so off and on for the rest of the night.
During the early stages of the gale a Bavaria 36 charter boat came in to Fiskardo with a British couple on board. Their initial attempt at mooring in the ever rising wind failed and they were soon lifting their anchor to have another try, dragging their anchor across our anchor chain in the process. Some polite words of encouragement soon had them backing away and retrieving their anchor without ours or anybody else’s. But in the process we noticed their windlass had failed and then watched them lay alongside the pontoon, broadside on to the full force of the rising gale; not a good move and almost certain to cause damage to the yacht and if not, great discomfort to them as it lurched up and down in the swell and wind. The Port Police were soon there politely suggesting they leave despite their failed windlass!
This was the poor chap’s wife’s first time on a yacht and she was left in tears whilst he walked round the whole of Fiskardo’s quays (it has west, south and east quays or pontoons) looking for any space into which he could squeeze his yacht out of the wind but the harbour, apart from where he had first tried to moor-up, was full to capacity.
Richard asked if he could help which confirmed the windlass had failed. Richard suggested they go back to where they had previously tried unsuccessfully to moor up and said he would be happy to assist if that helped. The offer was promptly snapped up.
Getting his yacht off the pontoon was achieved surprisingly easily in a gusting F8 and with a bit of advice, guidance and help their yacht was soon moored-up safely for the night despite the fact the windlass was not working. It felt pretty good to able to help someone in such circumstances and made an otherwise disappointing day acceptable.
Not a surprising incident but despite all the time spent in Greek waters we can still be surprised. Another strange sign was seen on a Greek tripper boat. On one side it had “Boat Trips”. Understandable advertising. On the other it had “Boots Fart”; we didn’t know they did but even if they do, who would want to know that whilst on holiday?
And talking of sounds which we were; in mid-October we awoke to yet another sunny day at anchor and alone in Tony’s Bay and whilst taking early morning tea on deck, heard a gentle and regular ‘splosh, splosh, splosh – splosh, splosh, splosh’ approaching from further along the bay.
To our surprise it was an old 1950’s Pedlo-boat, fitted with three white plastic beach chairs cut down to fit and upon which were three old local men out fishing. Not just trolling a spinner behind the Pedlo but also picking up and checking long lines they had presumably laid the previous morning; to our surprise they had caught a Dorado!
The necessity of relative poverty being the mother of invention, providing food for their families or just having fun: who knows?
Fires occur regularly in the summer on the forested mountain and island slopes. Most are a long way from any substantial water supply and, being fanned by the hot winds in the continuous dry conditions, quickly get out of control. Greece has several two-engined seaplanes capable of picking up sea water that are used to ‘bomb’ these fires; a very hazardous task but the pilots would no doubt say, “ This is real flying”.
Whilst sailing south 2 miles off the mainland coast near Parga and making a good 8 knots on a starboard tack close reach with the wind roughly 80º off our starboard bow, we saw one of these fires in its early stages high up on the mountainside. Two seaplanes were in attendance; the first plane dropped its load of water and then entered a steep dive down the land slope and out across the sea towards us but to port of our position and ahead of our course.
We watched in awe as the pilot slowly dropped it onto the sea and then under full power, its large radial engines easily being heard across the mile or so then separating us, filled its tanks, throwing up a great wave of spray on each side and astern of it. Our awe turned to concern as it kept coming towards us and seemed unable to unglue itself and again take to the air.
There is a simple way of assessing whether you are on a collision course with another vessel at sea by watching its apparent movement, or otherwise, up or down your rail. This is normally applied to a ship doing maybe 20 knots, not an aircraft approaching your course at 100 knots but apply it we did and concluded it was going to be a close call as to whether he passed across our bows or hit us amidships. By then he was less than a quarter of a mile away and still on the water.
Had he seen us at all?
Technically it was our right of way; did he know that and could he alter course if he did?
Was he having trouble taking off?
If he took off now would he clear our 18.64m masthead?
Should we luff up or hold our course?
If we luff up and stop and our crude collision assessment was wrong, was a collision more likely?
If we did and he altered course at the same time, as he should, we would then be in the wrong.
A quick check showed little change in wind or speed other than we were now doing 9 knots. He was still on the water and had ‘moved up the rail’ a bit so might just pass ahead of us. Pass he did, just before we were about to bang off both main and genoa sheets and swing up to windward to rapidly take our way off and hopefully avoid the probable collision. His starboard wingtip cleared our bows by less than our boat’s length and as it did so, he started to unglue but by no more than a few feet. For ages he just hung at sea level before beginning a slow laborious climb back up to the fire.
On reflection the whole incident took no longer than 45 seconds from the time he touched down to when he passed our bows; less than half of that before we realised we had a potential problem. Would we have done anything differently? Perhaps we would but that would have been with the benefit of 20 – 20 hindsight. Charlie’s main point is that we didn’t have the video camera ready to film it, yet again!
Yet another surprise arose from our regular calls to Porto Spilia and Panos & Babis’s taverna. We have come to know them and their family quite well over the years but were still both very surprised and honoured to be invited to attend Babis’s daughter’s christening.
The event started with the arrival of the ferry from Nidri bringing about 30 guests and boxes of cakes. They, Babi’s mother Mama and we piled onto the local bus for the ride up to Babi’s house in picturesque Spartahori that is perched on the cliff top directly above the port. Perhaps port gives the wrong impression; it is just a short quay and concrete ferry ramp within the bay.
Anyway, the ride through house bound streets no wider than the minibus cost us 30 cents each and dropped us at Babi’s palatial house where we joined the other guests and then made our way through the village on foot to the little white rendered church overlooking the bay.
The ceremony was much as one would expect except it was mainly in Greek with a few smatterings of recognisable Latin. Greek churches are very ornate and beautifully maintained even in very small villages such as Spartahori (see picture with the E’s).
When the service was nearing completion, little servings of chocolate mousse and glass beaded crosses mounted on white silk bows were distributed. It seemed quite odd to be watching the priest finishing off the christening whilst the congregation tucked into chocolate mouse and as if that was not enough, wooden toy presents were then offered to the whole congregation, adults and children alike. Babi’s daughter didn’t seem at all amused, particularly about being smothered in three different oils and then dunked in cold water by some black-bearded bloke.
After the ceremony was over, all walked back down the steep tree-lined road to the harbour and the family taverna where all sat down and were treated to a sumptuous Greek lunch. Bread, Tzatziki, Kalamari, Feta cheese, Kasseri cheese, meatballs, Greek salad, cabbage and lettuce salad, village offal (awful) sausage, Pastitsio, roast lamb together with water, beer or wine, all followed by christening cake.
Babi is renowned for the way he presents your bill. He pulls out a chair at your table, sits down, throws his pad and pen on the table and expects you to tell him what you have eaten and drunk. Quite scary from an ex-Olympic shot-putter and most people thus remember precisely what they have eaten and drunk.
That is scribbled down, priced and, with a deduction commensurate with your popularity and nationality varying from nothing to 10%, an amount requested in settlement thereof.
This is so well known that Richard could not resist the temptation near the end of the christening lunch to pick up one of Babi’s pads and pen, march up between the two legs of tables to the top table, noisily drag a chair across, sit down opposite Babi, throw down the pad and pen and ask him what had been eaten. Fortunately for Richard this was well received by all including Babi who tried to tell him the bill was not his but the chap sitting next to him, the local butcher!
Even on a good sized yacht storage and hanging space is limited so clothes, even for christenings, do not have the same importance as they do at home; thus we run on washed and creased. But all have to be washed at some time or other (even Richard accepts that!) but ironing is a rarity though as some time is spent in marinas with shore power.
Then an iron just might appear and so it did whilst in Crete; not Charlie’s but Roger’s bless him; he happily volunteered to iron Richard’s shirts and Charlie’s trousers. Why is this being reported? Because a previous meal at Babi’s included barbequed giant prawns as a starter and they had been coated in an olive oil based sauce perhaps with tomato in it. As usual Richard so enjoyed the prawns he opened up the heads to pick out the tiny morsels of meat that can be found there (too much information says Charlie). Unfortunately one of the heads literally exploded as it was opened, spraying his lovely, Roger ironed, white shirt with the olive oil and tomato sauce. Three (un-ironed) washes later the stains were still there.
We have been putting in a bit of racing practice just in case we enter the North Ionian Regatta; with Charlie in her present helming form we could stand a good chance. So at the end of the month it will be back up to Corfu for the Regatta and to start the process of laying up CGIV and CGI for the winter. We are taking CGI out of charter and selling her on this winter.
As mid-October passed the fast approaching season’s end was deeply felt around the Inland Sea, almost an air of depression, an air of sadness at the very least. Most of the live-aboards had laid their boats up and gone home as had many companies running flotillas; most of the remaining flotillas being those set up to see the yachts back to their home base by the end of October.
Thus most flotilla base harbours were already full of empty yachts, their sails, sprayhoods and biminis removed giving them a bare, dejected and unwanted look.
Many tavernas had already closed and those that were still open, presumably hoping for a last minute rush, had tired looking staff wishing no customers would come in so the boss would then shut up for the season.
Thus we decided to use the current southerly winds to leave our beloved Inland Sea in its last dying seasonal throws and head north, first to Levkas then onward the following day to Paxoi.
As we sailed away from Spartahori, dark black thunderclouds loomed large over Meganisi, the adjacent mainland and Levkas island’s towering mountain peaks, appropriately reflecting our rather gloomy mood.
Charlie mused. “A shame we did not make it back to Kioni to say goodbye to Costa for this year”.
Richard’s response was. “The weather was just not right for a return to Kioni. We didn’t get to Kastos or Astokos either”.
Those misses were like a magnet pulling us back, bringing tears to our eyes and very nearly turning us round to have one more try at a return to Kioni but the wind was against us and a 20 mile beat back to windward at four in the afternoon in strong winds was just not a realistic option.
But not all was doom and gloom; we had made six new friends in the past three days.
Making new and lasting friendships is somehow easier amongst the Mediterranean sailing fraternity. This year we have been overwhelmed by the number of new friends we have made who we then kept bumping into at regular intervals.
Peter, a retired policeman, who owns a beautiful little 25 year old Sadler yacht. He introduced us to several new tavernas that not only serve better than average food but also play very good music.
Nigel and his wife Alison from Exmouth and who own a Trader motor yacht (we just about forgive him that) but seem to prefer playing golf to boating so we are not quite sure why they are out here at all. There are many others who we will no doubt see regularly next year as we pass through the Ionian and the seas beyond.
However, there is one way of keeping the season alive a little longer; follow the flotillas back to their base in Corfu. One company we know well had as many as five flotillas making their way north from the Inland Sea to Corfu and most of the ports on the way know this so their tavernas re-open or stay open for them. We even rode our bikes from Giaos round to Mongonisi on Paxoi to find an empty taverna that served us a yummy full English breakfast as they were deferring their closure until after the last flotilla, due two days from then, had been through. So follow them we did.
We haven’t mentioned people watching recently. Whilst in Lakka on Paxio, having just had five giant prawns each and lamb roasted on the spit with a half litre of wine and water for €44.50; expensive by Greek standards but cheap nonetheless, we ‘observed’ an English couple.
She was unfortunately drab, unattractive and talked for England throughout both courses of their meal. He looked liked a university professor that had recently retired and was thinking perhaps he should not have retired nor taken this late holiday with his wife.
He said, “yes” no more than twice and nodded perhaps three times whilst they ate. She then fell asleep at the table.
He sat there staring at her, his body language saying “How on earth have I been married to you for 40 years? Is this my life from now on? Could I sneak off and leave you to pay the bill?”
Another character previously mentioned with rather droopy draws has been seen again, this time with a bottle of Makedonikos, a cheap white wine that we call Make Your Donkey Cough as that is what the Greek letters appear to spell out. She was wandering around the marina swimming pool, where it is strictly forbidden to bring drinks purchased elsewhere, and drinking it, not from a glass but with a straw! Ah well.
As if that wasn’t enough, we unfortunately picked the taverna they were drinking in and were put on the table next to them. The English owner told us they were there twice a day, just drinking as they considered it too expensive to eat in her taverna. We are talking main courses at £5.00 maximum: it doesn’t get much cheaper than that anywhere!
He, who shall remain nameless, took a fancy to Charlie and asked Richard who she was and what her name was.
Richard replied, “I have no idea. I saw her sitting on this lovely yacht and asked her if she would like to take me to dinner. She said yes; so I let her”.
It was almost enough to put him off but not quite. The conversation continued along the same lines for a few more minutes before he finally gave up and returned to boring the pants of two other Brits who had unwittingly joined them at their table. Poor suffering souls, that was there supper ruined.
Wildlife and continuing good weather took us back to Ay Stephanou, the lovely quiet bay on Corfu’s northeast coast overlooking the Albanian coastline.
Well there were Blackbirds singing to celebrate the continuing good weather.
Brightly coloured Kingfishers with their disproportionately long beaks ‘peeping’ as they do just before they take off to fly at speed at water level to their next fishing perch.
Ducks doing what ducks do or to be more precise, drakes doing what they do with or without invitation. The sight of an excited drake in the water with something in its beak that occasionally breaks the surface, has you thinking it must be food. Until that is, he gets off when you realise it was a poor female’s head he had hold of to keep her totally submersed whilst he had his evil way.
Basic it is but she seemed quite happy once back on the surface despite having been so attacked three times in quick succession.
This time we ate on board before taking the dinghy ashore to Damiano’s bar to ‘do the Internet’ and have a “few” glasses of wine. What did we eat? Sliced leeks, Porcini and Spanish mushrooms cooked gently in olive oil and a little butter to which the Porcini juice is then added with white wine, reduced and topped up with cream (low fat of course) and served on a bed of tagliatelli; a favourite of ours regularly cooked at home and easy to prepare there or on board.
The penultimate day of October brought the Corfu North Ionian Regatta. We entered and this time Charlie skippered CGIV, taking the helm whilst Richard sail-trimmed, helped by Mal and Lydia, the skipper and hostess of a £3 million gin palace owned by a German couple. We had met them in Croatia back in April and they were now in Corfu laying up their boat for the winter before they left for Slovenia, Lydia’s home country.
What a great day’s sun and sailing we had. Two bottles of champagne were consumed in the two hours practice before the start, courtesy of the German owner who happily pays all such expenses of his crew; lucky them and us on this occasion.
Part of the preparation depends on the weather and the Navtex forecast was South, South-East F5 gusting F6. Strong winds. At the briefing Charlie was advised it would be South, South-East F2 (too little for CG), could be F3 (still a bit light for CGIV), could even be F4 (“now you are talking” says CGIV), but might be F5 or F6 (we need more weight on board!).
So we opted for a wrong forecast and dumped weight; off went the dinghy, the boarding plank, a tank of water and even the bikes; the crew were considered but as they couldn’t swim and were needed, they were reprieved.
Then the race was on. We held back at the start allowing fifty of the ninety-nine yachts participating to cross the line before we did but then CGIV steamed through the windward side of the fleet to get to third place.
But the wind died, as it does all too often here, and we crept along to Vidho, the windward island, the rounding of which cost us at least twenty places.
But then CG came into her own on the reach and even in the continuing light airs was able to make her way back up through the fleet to finish the nine mile race in sixth place in a little over one hour and forty-five minutes. Her handicap pushed her down to twentieth but third amongst the larger yachts, not bad for a first attempt. Mal was thrilled but we shall do better for CGIV next year!
The first day of November thus arrived with the weather holding good but with the last of the charter flights having left, the end of the season was upon us; the last tavernas, even on the marina, shut.
With this came thoughts of home, log fires, socialising with friends, family and, of course, Christmas. But we know that as soon as we are home, those plusses aside, we shall be longing to return to our second home, CGIV and the Med.
We shall desperately miss the sailing, the harnessing of nature’s freely provided power, the rush of the warming wind across the deck, the cobalt blue seas seen rushing past on a gentle heel, the tree lined mountain sides. Our Greek friends, our newfound sailing friends, the wildlife, especially the dolphins, not to mention the freshly caught fish, cooked and eaten on board. The Kingfisher that sat on our rail awaiting his breakfast this morning and the Swifts, still here, feeding on the early evening pestilent mosquitoes frequenting the surrounding coastline. The calm, laid back, easygoing lifestyle that seems so alien now to life in the UK.
Of course we love being home amongst family and friends but we love sailing just as much. It is a matter of choice and in the winter that is easy, it has to be home. In the summer it is easy, it has to be sailing. Both have their downsides, particularly the summer as we are so far away from friends and family but the feelings we have are more of guilt than loss.
As we lay CGIV up for the winter it is looking forward to home. But we are going to find it difficult being tied to one place day in day out without the excitement of not knowing where we will be tomorrow and what adventures there may be ahead.
We will spend part of the time at home excited by the apprehensive thoughts of exploring new areas mixed with the comfortable thoughts of returning to areas we know so well; that we call ‘the coming home factor’, particularly when returning to our favourite area as we now have. When charts were being drafted by exploring vessels, areas fringing those properly surveyed were often marked with Here be Dragons. We wonder if that was a simple way of expressing the emotion we feel today when moving into, for us, uncharted waters; a mixture of excitement tempered by twinges of concern and uncertainty.
It will now be next season before we do that but already we are looking at Sicily as a stop over on the way to Malta; the Evia channel we have never explored on our way to the Sporades, which we know quite well: the northern Sporades and the Turkish mainland coast that we have yet to visit at all and perhaps even Cyprus or Albania and Montenegro on the way back to Croatia where we certainly want to spend more time.
Who knows where we will go but it is sure that, There will be Dragons, or in our parlance, new adventures to be experienced and hopefully enjoyed, new stories to be told. We hope you have all enjoyed our E’s; some have been kind enough to tell us they have. We shall be writing them again next year but this is the last one for now.
Have a great Christmas and New Year if we don’t meet up with you before.