Summary of 2006 & Photos

As with 2005, the E-mails this year were posted straight to our website, kindly set-up and managed by our good friend and kindred sailing spirit, Rod Day.

Index of Content:

  1. Return to Crete.  Returning CGIV to the water.  Visiting the Boutari vineyards
  2. Life on Pontoon B, its characters and pastimes.  Teeth can be a pain?
  3. Year’s voyage begins with Roger & Birgitta.  Crete, Peloponnisos & Saronic
  4. Charlie’s birthday, Greek Easter celebrations.  Wildlife galore.  Delphi again
  5. Rod & Pat on board in the Ionian
  6. Ionian to Italy.  Fog!  Otranto, Brindisi & Molfetta
  7. Stormy sail to Vieste.  Crossing to Croatia. Paul & Jackie Evill on board
  8. Return to Italy.  Italian coast.  Scary Gulf of TrantoCrotone to Taormina
  9. Nick & Pat Goodall, Rod & Pat on board.  Sicily & Malta. Tony & Annie Bird
  10. Our first whale sighting.  Ionian to Cyclades.  New Norwegian friends made
  11. Teeth again!  Milos, Syfnos, Naxos, Ios, Thira & Aghios Nikolaos
  12. Health report to two old Sogs.  Autumn cruise begins with Kassos & Tilos
  13. Patrick & Shiela in Panormitis. Rhodes, Valley of Butterflies.Worst ever storm
  14. Seasons end.  More of Life on Pontoon B.  Reflections on the year

Note

Most of the places mentioned are covered in a little more detail within the Port Appendices elsewhere on the website.

E’s from Aboard 2006/1

Clear blue sky, early Spring sunlight shimmering in continuous streams of diamond sparkles off the surface of the deep cobalt sea, gently receding warmth as the sun descends over the still snow clad mountains as evening approaches; that was our order for our arrival in Crete on the afternoon of Friday the 10th of March and as our Aegean Airlines four engined whisper jet made its final approach to Iraklion that is what we saw.  A gentle (unusual for Greek taxi drivers) 40 minute taxi ride soon whisked us from the airport to the marina at Aghios Nikolaos where Roger & Birgitta where waiting in the cockpit of their yacht, Bubbly Lady II, to greet us with some previously chilled ‘bubbly’ and white wine.  Close by, Charlie Girl IV could be seen sitting up on the hard with her nose haughtily raised in our direction.

After a sip of wine, Roussos, the travel hoist operator was spotted nearby.  He is an interesting character, one of the few Greeks that have almost daily contact with foreigners but still speaks little if any English.  Nonetheless, his beaming friendly smile poking out from his semi-bearded face is welcoming, cheekily enhanced by his Sherlock Holmes u-shaped pipe hanging from the left-hand corner of his mouth, never seemingly alight and perhaps there just to give him motherly comfort whilst he controls the travel hoist and its cargo worth thousands of euros entrusted to his skill and care.  He is barely five foot six in height and with the radio control consul around his neck, protruding from his typically fat Greek belly like an old-fashioned cinema ice cream tray; he looks the epitome of the big kid with his favourite toy.

A trot over to him for a chat made provisional arrangements for CGIV to be put back in the water on Monday, hopefully after we had changed the oil in the Saildrive and whipped the prop off for a clean and anode check.  That was to be Saturday’s job together with purchasing a new engine battery to replace the one that mysteriously failed earlier in the winter.  Replacing that was vital or the engine could not be started.

As the evening chill replaced the warmth of the setting sun, we left for the 40-minute drive round the bay to R & B’s villa high up on the mountain slopes for an easygoing supper and early bed after our two-day journey and a measly three hours sleep the previous night.  The whole journey to Crete could not have been easier.  An Intercity 125 up to Reading followed by the First Great Western Link service to Gatwick Airport, provided a swift and trouble free first leg.  We had booked a room at the Hilton for the night and spent an enjoyable few hours over supper with Richard’s brother Bob & his wife Anne who had trained up from Bexhill-on-Sea to see us.  Then it was bed until 3am and after a quick shower, check-in for our 06.40am Easyjet flight to Athens.  It left on time and arrived a few minutes early in Athens giving us just enough time for a delicious salad bar lunch before boarding our flight to Heraklion.

Saturday morning saw us back at the marina aboard CGIV, precariously perched in her supporting cradle three metres up in the air and gently rocking from side to side in the now less than ideal weather.  During the night a front had rolled in bringing copious quantities of cloud and strong southerly winds, but no rain.  Before tackling any of the jobs, all the equipment that had been shipped out from the UK had to be unpacked; power washer for deck and hull washing, mains powered dehumidifier for next year’s winter storage, electric polisher to polish up the hull as CG is now two years old, oil extractor pump, solar light as a cheap anchor light and romantic moonlight suppers in the cockpit, loads of new CDs, Italian Waters Pilot for our trip to there and Malta.

In the middle of all this, Roussos’s assistant taps on the hull and when invited aboard asks us to leave as they need to move CGIV on to a mobile trailer as the travel hoist cannot reach her where she is, almost surrounded by other yachts and motor boats.

By then the wind was blowing a good force 6 and the rocking from side to side was regularly ringing our ship’s bell (a Greek goat’s bell actually).  We were not sure they should be trying a crane lift in these conditions but had to assume they knew their job.  So we went to lunch, out of sight of the yacht!

Giros (spit roast pork or chicken) and ‘miso kilo aspro krasi’ (half a litre of white wine) accompanied by a little bread, cheese and tzatziki, helped us to while away a contented hour or so.

Our fears proved groundless as she was safely moved a few metres closer to the road.  We remounted our bucking steed (the gentle rocking had become much more pronounced with her now perched on a rubber tired trailer with hydraulic rams topped with huge rubber pads) and completed the unpacking to the accompaniment to a now frantically ringing ship’s bell.  Scary.

Still feeling a bit jet-lagged we left the other jobs for Sunday and returned in the car we had hired to R & B’s villa for an early night.  It was a rough night.  The wind rose further, lighting flashed, thunder roared and the rain fell in torrents.

Sunday morning is Sunday morning wherever you are and a lie-in seemed appropriate, despite the knowledge that any delay could jeopardise CGIV’s return to the water on Monday.  For our Greek friends to have agreed to that was in itself a little remarkable.  To then attempt to put it back a day or two would most probably result in her sitting on the hard for another week or more and we were keen to get back aboard to live, not possible whilst she is on the hard; you can’t use the loos perched up in the air!  But lie-in we did and made it to the marina just in time for a lunchtime glass of wine; much needed to steady the nerves as the wind had now risen to a steady force 7, regularly gusting 8.  Her movement was disturbing to say the least, even the ship’s bell couldn’t cope; it completely lost its rhythm.

Attempts to remove the prop were a failure with the puny tools at our disposal.  All efforts to remove the oil plug were met with an equally stubborn resistance, culminating in the snapping of two of the tool heads being used to unwind it.  As per Roger’s suggestion if such difficulties arose, we decided to remove 90% of the oil by pumping (sucking actually) it out with our newly acquired extractor pump, originally intended for use on the engine not the Saildrive.  The oil was after all still spotlessly clean even after a whole season’s use; replacing 90% should be good enough, I hope?

Further attempts to remove the prop proved equally futile but as the anode was still in excellent condition and the fishing line collected in Porto Kayiou late last year was all but totally removed, we decided to leave it place and check it again when we got to the Ionian, first by diving on it and then if necessary, having her lifted briefly in Corfu’s Gouvia marina before departing for Croatia.

R & B had driven all the way across Crete to visit a garden near Khania and did not expect to return on Sunday. The weather continued to deteriorate, effectively killing off any further attempts at preparing our girl for her return to the water on Monday morning so we went to lunch at Pharos (lighthouse) Taverna in a small bay just round the corner from the marina.  The wind by now was well into 30+ knots (35+mph) with gusts much higher and with torrential driving rain that turned the local roads into ranging torrents of red and orange water that, in turn, similarly coloured the inshore sea, itself now very rough (see photo).  There we sat, just off the beach, behind the usual clear plastic screens, warmed by mushroom gas heaters, supping local Cretan wine and consuming swordfish Souvalaki, patates and xorta.  Yum Yum!  That was Sunday.

On Monday we arose with the lark at 06.30.  Not larks, sparrows actually, noisily arguing about exactly whose nesting site it was under the eaves above our bed. We left early to ensure getting to the marina before the workers, just in case they were going to lift CG back into the water.  We needn’t have worried; nobody was there though the travel hoist was poised over another yacht with the slings in place.  Still, CG couldn’t go back in until we bought a new engine battery and as we had a hire car until that evening we decided on a shopping spree.

A new battery was acquired over a cup of Greek coffee at the local Citroen dealers as was his advice on where to buy a camping gas cylinder, helpfully on our direct route to Lidl after fitting the engine battery.  There we filled the poor old (and it was old, no power steering and wind down windows indeed) Golf to the brim with bottled fizzy and plain water, small cans of Lager (29 cents each, 20p!), Chilean cabernet Sauvignon at €1.79 a bottle and enough loo paper to soak up the whole of the Aegean Sea.  The front wheels were almost off the ground and the rear wheels rubbing the wheel arch.

As we teetered back into the marina, there was CGIV suspended in the slings of the travel hoist, making her way gently along the road towards the basin.  Panic!  No fenders in place, no warps ready to restrain her in the ever-increasing wind.  In she went, sweet as a nut.  The engine started first time – good girl.  Off we went to the seaward end of the marina to put her on our newly acquired berth (ours for five years at a ridiculously cheap price) next to Bubbly Lady’s I & II but the wind was now blowing steadily at 30 knots, gusting 35, right on our beam if we tried to moor her up.  Forget it! That is a formula for disaster and damage to us and any other yacht that got in our way so we popped her on the end of the concrete quay hoping the wind would drop.  On our return from lunch at Sami’s with R & B, the wind had surprisingly dropped to nothing.  A few minutes later CGIV was snugly tucked up in her rightful berth.

The weather over the next few days continued in its unpredictable and varied pattern; one minute bright, sunny, calm, too hot for jumpers: the next windy, cloudy and wet.  But work carried on regardless, cleaning CG up after her winter ashore and putting all her bits and bobs back in place though a day-off was taken on Thursday to visit the Boutari vineyard for some wine tasting (see photo) and to buy some very nice Syrah from northern Greece and some local Cretan Skalani, an equally palatable red wine.

By Friday night, a week after our arrival, we were ready for sea once again and with the medium range forecast looking good for Monday, the first sail is hopefully nigh.

E’s from Aboard 2006/2

Live-aboard Life on the Marina

Life on pontoon ‘B’ settled down to a steady if slightly lazy routine.  Unusually for us there seemed to be no urgency to complete all the jobs to be done to enable us to go sailing.  Even the sails stayed in their bags until Monday and Tuesday of our second week and then the wind conspired to ensure we could not get the main up until Thursday.  The same weather also caused an amusing drama.  The gale force wind was on the beam of all the yachts, putting enormous stresses on the pontoon and pushing it hard against the immovable concrete quay.  Something had to give and it did.  The pontoon buckled and dived under the ramp connecting it to the shore, thereby destroying the first two power and water consuls on the pontoon and successfully cutting off our power supply.  In true Greek style, the marina crew collected a load of chain and connected the free end of the pontoon to the breakwater the other side of the entrance channel, thereby cutting off access, and worse egress, for the rest of the marina residents.

Attendance at Sunday BBQs seemed obligatory and provided another excuse not to work on the yacht, albeit they did not start until 1pm; 2pm when the clocks went forward because most people couldn’t get up. We left the first BBQ after a couple of hours though some time had been spent in food preparation and, in Charlie’s case, more in recovering from the effects of the first BBQ caused by the small glass of Raki she was given.  Raki is greatly distilled clear liquor made from grape residue and vine stalks left over after the grapes have been pressed for wine.  As is customary we took our own booze and grill food whilst providing something in addition for communal consumption.  Charlie prepared a Globe Artichoke dish and coleslaw, both of which disappeared very rapidly.  Both BBQs were good fun and allowed us to get to know our fellow pontoon residents a little better.  A greater mixed bunch of characters it would be hard to find anywhere; mainly but not entirely British.

Robin & Pauline who own a beautiful self-built 53’ ketch Flapjack are both retired.  Before building the yacht himself he built and sold children’s playgrounds and she (an accountant) helped run the business and, strangely, is missing having to work; not a problem we have.  We describe Robin as the pontoon Guru, known by us as ‘Reliant Robin’.  If you have a problem you call him in and he solves it, as he did with our Genoa furling gear, which decided it did not want to be greased as described in the manual.  Yes, for once, Richard read the instructions, but, no, it didn’t help as one of the screw bolts holding the furler together had corroded in place; a big problem for him but nothing to Robin!  It took a few hours of joint effort to dismantle it, grease it and then to get it to work again.  Robin saved much bad temper being expended.  He also seems to be the prime organiser in walks through the mountains.  He’s always busy diving on his hull to scrub it clean, as most seem to do rather than pay to have their yachts’ lifted out, and that perhaps contributes to his slim, lithe, tanned appearance.

Then there is Dave and Mandy.  Dave sold his business and split up at some time past with his wife and now lives with Mandy on his yacht.  There were plans to circumnavigate the world but they have been dashed by Mandy becoming pregnant so they are now house hunting and considering staying in Crete.  They have made an offer on a villa that needs renovation.  One of Dave’s daughters, who lives in Mevagisy, wants to settle down in Crete with her fellow who is, conveniently, a builder.  Dave is suggesting they can earn their keep whilst they get on their own feet by doing up his and Mandy’s house; a great arrangement that should benefit all concerned.

Peter and Henrie are basically retired though Henrie, being a legal advisor (Clerk) to Justices of the Peace, insists she has to return to the UK from time to time to so advise and to earn a bit more money to keep Peter in the manner to which he has become accustomed.  Lucky Peter.  He qualified as an electrical engineer, worked in the merchant navy and then ran a pub before deciding retirement sounded like much more fun.  Highlander II, their sweet bilge keel Moody 34 has much love lavished on her; they are currently scrubbing her bottom on the hard in preparation for the application of new anti-fouling.  Peter is adding chilli powder to the anti-fouling mixture believing it helps to deter marine wildlife.  We hope none of the wildlife is from the Indian Ocean, as that might make it more of an attraction, not less!

Steve and Carol, a charming couple of Londoners who, disillusioned with life in the UK and London in particular, have opted out, mid-life, to see a bit of the world.  Steve is a boat restorer by trade and Carol a highly specialised paediatric renal dialysis nurse, mainly at Great Ormond Street.  What a shame that she has felt so unwanted as to leave such a worthwhile vocation, particularly as such skills are in great demand.  They bought a twenty-year old Oyster (a seriously classy yacht for those who don’t know) in London that had been poorly maintained and have worked on restoring her to her full glory as they sailed down from there to Crete.  She is an entirely beautiful yacht and showing the benefit of their caring hands.  However, this year they intend to have a quieter year, spending their time cruising slowly round the Aegean, leaving further renovation until next winter.

Geoff and Sally are from the Exmouth and we met them briefly last year on our way up the Evia channel.  They are fairly hardened sailors, having covered many more miles and adventurous areas than have we.  They are a kindly couple and regularly seem to befriend or help other or existing friends when trouble strikes; certainly a good example to the rest of us as to how to make the most of retirement.

Mike, a retired Bristow’s helicopter pilot of some seniority in the company we guess, is a six foot four plus; a beaming smile of a man who, not unusually for such tall people, is quiet and naturally likeable.  His son John is the same height but quite skinny by comparison with the strangest of giggles when he laughs, which is quite often.  He works in helicopters as an engineer and is based in Geneva; quite why or with whom seems a bit vague but who cares really with such a beautiful place to live.  Christine, Mike’s wife but not John’s mother, is a silvered haired lady, apparently not quite so happy with her lot, not that we know why that is so or what the cause may be.  They have lived outside of the UK for the past 18 years, most of which has been spent in Turkey where they still have a house.  Currently they are living in a caravan on the hard having sold their yacht in advance of buying a property in the mountains to renovate.  We wish them luck with the local builders; perhaps Dave’s son-in-law could help?

And talking of builders, we met Roger and Birgitta’s new neighbours, Nigel and Sue who are nearing the completion of their villa just above R & B’s near Kavousi.  It turns out he was a regular customer of Midas Small Works, as it was then and a great fan of Mike Heal.  Nigel is ex-army, latterly managing the army’s property in the South West.  It’s a small world is it not?  They are entirely PLU and completely enchanting; we can’t wait to get to know them a little better.  He is a great sailor having even sailed down and around Antarctica.  Their yacht is currently somewhere in France though they intend to sail her down here once they have overseen the completion of the villa and that is going to be a frustrating and infuriating process if the problems they have had so far continue to the end.  Perhaps he should have got Midas to build it for him?

There are many others on pontoon B.  Perhaps we will include more them in a later E.

BBQ’s are very much a part of expat life both on and off board.  As the weather continued to prevent the impromptu flotilla of yachts from making the relatively short trip round to Sitea on Crete’s east coast, R & B invited a few neighbours of theirs and us to one at their villa.  We took the bus from Aghios to the nearest village, Kavousi from where Birgitta collected us.  Again the Greek bus service amazed us.  Prompt, on time, quite luxurious, modern, scrupulously clean, air-conditioned coaches and our 35kms journey cost just €2.40 (£1.80) each.

We prepared some Souvalaki, sticks of marinated chicken, mushroom, courgette, onion, sweet green and red peppers, all fresh produce from the local market as were the scrumptious locally grown gigantic strawberries.  Roger has built a ‘Forno’, an outdoor oven fired with olive wood, as well as the traditional BBQ.  The Forno produced, with some help from Birgitta, a Coq au Vin and a vegetable casserole whilst the more traditional sausages and pork belly were cooked off on the BBQ itself.  The weather even conspired to spoil that with the temperature dropping to around 17C, low misty cloud rolling down the mountainside to cover the patio in a fine drizzle at around 3 o’clock.  But by 4, the cloud dissipated and sun broke through, rapidly pushing the temperature back up into the twenties.  Jumpers fell away and an enjoyable couple of hours were spent basking in the patio warmth, consuming the prepared fare and not an inconsiderable amount of various Cretan wines and, not surprisingly, a jar or two of Raki.

Return to the pontoon on the Friday had us rushing around, again trying to organise our expected departure over the weekend.  Rushing around because we discovered that Saturday was Greek Independence day, which means few work on Friday, none on Saturday, even less if that’s possible on Sunday as the parties continue and most are too tired to contemplate work on Monday.  We needn’t of worried as the weather again deteriorated over the weekend to prove the forecasted light and favourable winds for Monday and Tuesday to be a lie.

So here we sit, soaking up the sun, sweeping up the desert dust blown over from Kadafi’s Libya free of charge, finishing all the jobs we thought might last us until the end of April and Richard rapidly working his way through the Second Times Book of Sudoku that was supposed to last him until the end of June at least. Oh, and of course, quaffing the odd bottle of wine or three.  Lidl sells the most wonderful Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon for the ridiculous price of €1.79 (about £1.20) a bottle, comparable in quality to an £8.00 to £10.00 wine in the UK; needless to say, the bilges are bulging with a few cases of that.  But tomorrow we might get up and find the forecast is wrong again, the sea calm, the wind in the east and north, the sun out and not a cloud in sight.  Then we’ll be off!

E’s from Aboard 2006/3

Let the Fun Start

Even though Tuesday March the 28th was a lovely day, we didn’t leave.  There were just too many little matters to settle.  Even the planned ten-mile trip up to Spinalonga seemed just too much effort so we had one more delightful evening meal at Portes, our favourite taverna in Aghios Nikolaos.

Roger & Birgitta were up surprisingly early on the Wednesday and slipped their mooring just after 07.30.  We were a little slower and slipped ours at just on 08.00 and drifted slowly out of the marina under a beautiful pale blue sky with the faintest dusting of wispy white clouds around the horizon.  The sea was flat with an almost imperceptible gentle swell, though enough to bounce CG’s bow up and down in affirmation of her joy at being back at sea once more.

It was 14°C and there was little wind.  What there was, was on the nose so the iron sail stayed on as did the auto-pilot as we cast a last glance back at the dark green and grey snow capped mountains rising steeply around the bay behind Aghios Nikolaos.  Our heading was due north along the western side of the ten-mile deep bay before turning west along the north coast of Crete.  Along the distant eastern side of the bay, a heat haze was already forming, a portent of a gloriously warm day to come.  By 10.00 it was so warm, the clothes were peeled off in layers and the cosies saw the first light of day for this year; a strange experience to be so clad in sight of snow.

We had planned to stop in Walkey’s bay on Dhia but the mid-morning Navtex forecast foretold a south-westerly wind and that may have made the bay uncomfortable.  So we pushed on the Bali, a delightful little fishing/tourist harbour a few miles west of Herakleon (Iraklion) where we moored up stern-to with R & B alongside and consumed the most enormous combined dinner of the BBQ ingredients we had intended to use on Dhia (BBQ’ing in harbour is too risky).

The surroundings were explored the following morning and a stay of a day or two favoured but it was not to be; Roger found his Saildrive oil had water in it, a potentially serious problem.  Further motoring ensued on a trip around to Rethimnon where oil could be purchased and advice sort as to whether a return to Aghios Nikolaos was necessary or not.  Thursday morning brought better news; the advice was to keep changing the oil and proceed with caution to the Ionian and have the problem resolved there.  Whilst the wind remained very light and westerly, Richard was now itching for a sail.  Off we all went, due west, to Ormos Metali.  Luck was with us.  The wind went north and increased to a steady 8 to 10 knots, giving us the most fantastic close-hauled sail for the 17 miles to our destination, a beautiful, silver sand bay behind a little flat islet.  It is in a prohibited area surrounding the most Southerly of NATO’s bases but they checked us out in a small dinghy and left us alone to enjoy our first swim of the year!  Yes the water was bloody cold; no more than 17°C but with the strong sunlight and an air temperature of 27°C, we were far from cold even showering on deck to complete the cycle.

That night it blew up, as it seems to do when we anchor in isolated bays with R & B.  At its peak it reached gale force but we were entirely safe and the anchors held well.   But being the first blow of the year at anchor, nobody had an entirely restful night.  It was still blowing in the morning so we decided to search for the very limited navigation channel between the strictly controlled NATO shipping areas and motor seven miles further into Ormos Soudha to Soudha itself.

The following day was calm, sunny and hot; ideal for the 23 mile journey round the NATO promontory to Khania; a distance that is just 2 miles by land.  A most enjoyable five hours was spent slowly sailing round with both our fishing rods out in the hope of an early Spring catch of Tuna or Mackerel.  No luck though, we just had to settle for the good sail and a further bit of sunbathing.

The weather kept us in Khania for three nights, not that it was stormy, just that it was northerly and our next step was to leave Crete and cross the 50 miles of unpredictable and notoriously difficult sea to the southern reaches of the Peloponnisos; not a task to tackle in northerly winds with their incumbent heavy swell.  On the 5th of April a weather window seemed to be opening that might give us a perfect sail up in southerly winds of moderate strength.  Gramvousa was our intermediate stop, an idyllic little island off the north west corner of Crete from where we set off early on the morning of the 6th in the promised south-westerly breeze. Seven hours later we had covered the 52 nautical miles at an average speed of 7.4 knots to an anchorage in side Makronisos on Kithera.  We have not had many better or exciting sails in many a year.

We subsequently hopped from there to Palaiokastro on the mainland where we were holed up for two nights whilst a low pressure developed around us and passed through, providing the most inhospitable weather we had seen for some time; no rain though, just heavy dust laden cloud producing very low visibility and very strong southerly winds to make sure the dust penetrated well into the boat and all our and CG’s crevices.  The forecast for the next day was WNW F7 (near gale) but by lunchtime it had not materialised so we set off and motored down and around Cap Malea (the most notorious cape in the Med) and then north up to Monemvasia in little or no wind whatsoever; so much for forecasting. 

Monemvasia is one of our favourite stopping places, warranting our two-night stay.  We cycled up to the Old Town (see pictures 2005) for a meal in our favourite taverna of salted cod Scordalia (a very garlicky sauce) and Stamana (a beef pot stew) all to be washed down with a carafe of local white wine.  The wine came with our starters and was soon the centre of our conversation.  “Strewth that’s strong,” says Richard.  “I like it” says Charlie “It’s really full of flavour.  Fruity too.”  After the starters and half the wine was consumed, the analysis continued.  “My heads spinning.” Says Charlie.  “It’s too strong for wine, it must be Raki.” says Richard.  Charlie responded with “It can’t be” just before she slid helplessly under the table.  Raki is reputed to be anything up to 60% proof, a little stronger than the local white wine at around 11%.  Before joining Charlie under the table, Richard managed to save himself by grabbing the waiter’s sleeve and, holding up the carafe, desperately inquiring  “Is this Raki?”  The waiter sniffed it just as we had done and strangely concluded “No, but the carafe may have had some Raki in it that has soaked in to the clay.”  Nonetheless, the carafe and glasses were replaced with what was definitely local white wine.  It is perhaps fortunate that the road back down to the harbour is quiet and such Greek drivers as were about, slow and considerate as our free-wheeling descent was perhaps less than straight albeit very slow!

Sunday was passed as Sundays are everywhere, doing a few odd jobs on the boat and taking Sunday lunch at a harbour side Taverna with a mêlée of local and visiting day-tripping Greeks and afterwards sitting on deck reading the previous weekend’s Daily Telegraph with a cup of good old fashioned English tea.

There were gale warnings for both days but neither materialised; a first for us in Monemvasia.  On Monday we parted company with R & B who were now unlikely to proceed much further than the Saronic whilst we headed on through the Saronic to the Ionian.  We had a lovely gentle sail in 5 knots of wind, on the beam, up to Yerakas, just 9 miles further north along the eastern Peloponnisos coastline.  It reminded us of what three Dutch NATO fly-boys who sail said about why they fly and why we sail.  “It’s all about freedom; that’s why we love it.”  And so it was that day.

Wildlife

Real wildlife excitement came when motoring up the coast from Yerakas.  Fifty plus Dolphins joined us and played around the yacht for quite some time.  It was a great opportunity to try out the new camera in difficult circumstances, perched on the bows trying to take shots of dolphins right under your feet that are moving at speed in all directions.  One shot of the bunch is included with this E (see Photos).

Our next stop was a pretty, tree-surrounded anchorage in a bay on the east side of the entrance to Porto Heli.  This brought Blackbirds to the fore. We have concluded their song is the best of the dawn chorus, though it is certainly not limited to dawn; we hear them at all times of the day as we did here, sitting in the cockpit with our evening glass of wine, watching the sun go down.  We also spotted the hanging nests of Penduline Tits on the outer branches of fir trees along the nearby shoreline.  Though we saw none before the sun finally set.

The Fun Continues

It was a warm night (19°) but by the morning the weather worsened, forecast at SSW F6-7 (up to 38mph), falling later to W F5-6.  By lunchtime it looked more like a light SW breeze (F3) as we studied the open sea through the binoculars.  It had Richard itching for a sail.  Charlie however, was content lazing back in the cockpit, soaking up the sun and reading her book.  But she relented and off we went, heading initially through the Spetse channel towards a quiet anchorage on Nisos Dhokos just 13 (nautical) miles away.  It was a largely slow sail with the wind rarely getting above 12 knots until we were within three miles of our destination when the SW’ly turned due west and rose rapidly to a full gale (F8 – up to 50 mph).  That changed our plans as the intended anchorage on Dhokos was a bit small for CG to swing cleanly in such high winds and even Hydra, our second choice, was probably untenable in the seas produced by the wind so Poros, 18 miles further on, became the target.  With the wind on our port quarter, no mainsail and about a quarter of the genoa out, our speed was still high, always over 8knts and regularly over 10knts.  Top speed reached was 11.7knts with an average of around eight.  Richard was in heaven; Charlie was not quiet so enthralled, wishing she was still lying back reading her book in the anchorage we had left.  The big seas that rushed up behind us were sometimes daunting as they broke over the stern bathing platform and tried to make into the cockpit but none did.

Next it will be the Corinth Canal, the Gulfs of Corinth and Patras, then the Ionian for the Greek Easter and Charlie’s birthday.  What fun will they produce we wonder?

E’s from Aboard 2006/4

New Celebratory Experiences

Charlie’s (and the other Queen’s) birthday fell on Greek Good Friday, the 21st April.  The Greeks celebrate Easter with more seriousness than most Europeans celebrate any festival.  Fasting is quite normal especially over the days prior to and particularly during Good Friday and Easter Saturday.  Then, after midnight on Saturday, they party big time, to celebrate the rising of Christ at midnight, then on the Sunday just because the Greeks love to party and such an important festival provides the perfect reason so to do.  Their family spirit is also brought to the fore by Easter.  It is the time when they make, in some cases, a major pilgrimage to their families and birthplace.  With all this happening around Charlie’s birthday, we were hoping for an exciting time and we were not disappointed.

We had planned for her birthday celebrations to be in Kioni but adverse wind delays meant we only reached Poros on Cephalonia by then.  We had a quiet meal in our favourite little taverna and then watched the local Easter procession depicting the carrying of Christ’s body for internment.  The procession was lead by the local band playing, amongst other appropriate pieces, the best known of funeral marches (its name and composer I cannot remember).  Sometimes they were all in tune.  Most of the time they were not.  But it was all locals aged from eight to eighty and we cannot get close to equalling that in Bovey Tracey!  During all this the church bells tolled in mourning from the hilltop and our mobile rang.  It was Jackie & Paul Evill phoning to wish Charlie a happy birthday, a bizarre mixture of mourning and celebration, reflecting well the Greek celebration of Easter.

On Easter Saturday we made our way up to Kioni where we surprisingly found a couple of the tavernas open if only for breakfast and lunch.  Charlie had bought a few simple Easter gifts for our friends and acquaintances there; chocolate bunnies and ‘homemade’ honey and almond biscuits from Galaxidi that were duly distributed on Saturday night and Sunday morning.  These little gifts brought many smiles to our friends’ faces.

Having eaten a simple meal at the local hotel’s taverna at 8 o’clock we wandered along in the pitch dark towards the Jazz bar that stands in as the local pub throughout the winter.  A local Greek who we did not recognise in the dark but who had recognised us interrupted our progress.  It was Maki (Mike) whose wife Diamonda (Diamond) runs a little café bar on the quay side that we have regularly frequented since they started it together in 1998.  Unfortunately, it has not achieved all they had hoped and Maki has had to take various jobs many miles away in Athens where he lives for most of the year.  He was so pleased to see us, he invited us to join him and his family for their post-midnight Easter supper celebrating the arising of Christ; a sweet thing for him to do and not something we could really decline despite having just finished our dinner and being quite ready for bed after a nightcap at the Jazz bar.

At the Jazz Bar we received a similar welcome from Georgiou and an invite to join him, his wife Jenny (she is an Australian born Greek) and their family for Sunday lunch the following day that would centre around a spit-roasted lamb and probably not be eaten until nearer teatime.  Whilst that was most kind of him, we declined knowing that Jenny already had her hands full with two young twin baby boys and Georgiou would not be leaving the bar until the small hours of Sunday morning.  Nonetheless, it was a lovely thought and perhaps another year we just might do so.

At half past midnight we duly turned up at Unilever House; the name Maki jokingly has given their home as it was purchased with the money he received from Unilever when they dispensed with his services back in 1997.  It is a very small single-storey, flat-roofed house with just a couple of rooms and a tiny kitchen; barely enough for themselves let alone two teenage daughters as well, though one of the daughters has since moved out as is continuing her studies in Barcelona.  And what a gorgeous and spirited young lady she is; clearly her father finds her a bit of a handful, her behaviour being slightly less than traditional, but she clearly adores her parents and will do anything to assist them other than being a potentially typical subservient Greek female.  She was also extremely welcoming of us.  The house being so small, the dinner table was laid outside in the garden under the pagoda that would in summer be covered by the grape vine.  It was pretty cold as the temperature was a mere 15°C and there was till a stiff breeze blowing straight through the garden.

It was both fun and an honour to be amongst this family (see Photos), knowing they were thrilled by our presence even if we felt embarrassed at accepting such generous hospitality from a family that is so obviously poor and struggling for survival.  Maki is in his sixties, his wife a little younger but neither with the remotest hope of retirement as we understand it.  Yet they wished to share their meagre meal with us.  There was freshly made Tatziki and local Feta cheese, the latter of a superb quality we have never previously experienced.  The centre of the meal was Mayiritsa, a lamb soup made from the offal and drawings from the killing earlier in the day of a lamb or sheep for spit roasting on Sunday morning.  Maki and his family would not be enjoying such a luxury the following day but would be having a BBQ instead.  They would probably have been given the offal as a gift from which they made their Mayiritsa; it is effectively peasant food and it is awful!  Charlie was forced to plead ‘vegetarianism’ which was fortunately well understood by the elder daughter Sophia who promptly explained its meaning to her parents in Greek and then produced a xorta (spinach) and rice dish just for Charlie.  Richard felt obliged to consume the Mayiritsa and did over a protracted period with copious quantities of wine and bread.

What followed was little more conventional from our viewpoint; a delightful fruit compote served in a wine glass and an enormous birthday cake as a surprise for Diamonda’s brother, it being his birthday that day.  Strangely, we were the only ones to eat any of it.  The whole meal lasted a little over an hour after which Sophia wished to leave to join her friends to party out the night, which seemed a perfect opportunity for us to depart and thus allow an obviously tired Diamonda to retire to bed.

Wildlife Sightings

April is wonderful month.  The weather is generally very temperate in wind, temperature, rain and storms.  With the sun out the daytime highs will be around 25°C, without it around 20°C.  The winds can be from the north or south and more often than not are quite meek.  When otherwise it is generally well foretold and of such strength going out is not an option.  So it was this April where we were trapped in Galaxidi in the Gulf of Corinth for four days before the wind abated sufficiently for us to make an uncomfortable but acceptable 20 mile hop up to Trizonia before escaping in perfect conditions the following day, Charlie’s birthday, into the Ionian.

The weather brings with it an abundance of wild Spring flowers, the ripening of oranges and lemons on the trees together with next years blossom; strange as that may seem.  And of course it brings a plethora of indigenous and migratory birds full of breeding excitement; collecting nesting materials, choosing prospective partners, building their nests and furiously feeding in anticipation of the work to come bring up their young.  Even in early April, some already have hatched if not fledged, young.

Our enforced stay in Galaxidi was by no means a chore.  The first day we took the local bus up to Delphi and were rewarded with a much warmer day than we expected at that height; it sits high up in a mountain valley and the surrounding peaks were still snow covered.  Flowers of all shapes, sizes and colours blanketed the grounds of this most historic of sites (see Photos), most of which will completely disappear in the hot and dry months of summer to reappear when the Autumn rains come.  We are far from being good enough Twitchers to identify the plethora of different Spring bird calls we heard other than our all time favourite, the common garden Blackbird, though it does seem to sing more out here.  Its song can be heard most times of the day and provides a cheery welcome on entering any port in the evening.  Several larger predatory or scavenging birds were seen high over the peaks; without our binoculars it was impossible to identify them for certain but Golden Eagles and Vultures are known to frequent the area.

Much time was spent the next day watching the Swallows and Martins zooming through our ringing and perching on our masthead 60’ above our heads chattering as they do, presumably about the quality of the bugs in the area or just how long the nest building or repair is taking this year.  With such lovely sights and sounds, we forgave them the occasional ‘bomb’ dropping from such a height, causing us to duck and dive and then clear up the resultant splodge from the deck.

Then there was the continuance of the mystery of last Autumn when we passed through here.  Flocks of up to 200 Falcons were seen flying together and apparently feeding in a similar manner to Swifts.  They were too high then to identify with certainty and our bird book descriptions inadequate to deduce from this behaviour exactly what they were.  This time the flocks were much smaller but the colonial behaviour much the same, and they were flying much closer and lower making identification more likely.  But we are still confused.  We know some were Kestrels because we tracked them down to their perches in a nearby copse of fir trees.  The balance were thought to Eleonora’s Falcons and the markings of some would tend to confirm that.  Others were definitely not as their colour and markings were those of Hobbys’.  Odd ones were definitely Peregrine Falcons.  We left without solving the mystery though perhaps one overriding clue was that, other than when a Peregrine was about, the Swallows and Martins continued to dash about the same sky apparently without fear of attack from above.  Over to you Andrew?

And we saw our first Hoopoe.  What a strange and colourful woodpecker like bird it is too with its distinctive ‘hoopooo’ call, not unlike a Collared Dove’s call.  Another first came a few days later in Kioni, as we were going to our midnight feast, a Pine Martin hopped along to within five feet of Richard’s feet, stopped for a look, decided he was no threat and continued on his (or her) way along the quay.  Richard was so taken aback all he could think to do was say “ hello little chap”.  Clearly it was one Greek that didn’t speak English as no response was received.

E’s from Aboard 2006/5

April passed with an unusual occurrence, six dull days in a row upon three of which we wondered if it would ever stop raining.  But the winds were southerly and light, giving us some of the best consistent sailing, day after day that we have seen for some time.

As May dawned we expected to see old (sailing) friends in Sivota or Porto Spilia. We didn’t.  On the 2nd we moved on to Levkas and promptly renewed our acquaintance with a couple of taverna chairs in the Square where we partook of a pre-dinner drink.  Before our wine could get warm Nigel & Alison from Exmouth appeared and joined us.  Then Peter.  Just before them, Clive & Anna.  Great excitement.  Lots of hugs and winter stories.  Then Tony & Di and Journalist on Golden Hind, not seen since Katacolon last Spring.  Scorpio Lesley & Roger.  Never seen so many sailing friends and acquaintances in such a short space of time.

Wildlife

We were surprised to see for the second time this year a school of dolphins with over fifty in it and the following day a smaller school of smaller dolphins; both in the Gulf of Corinth.  Just outside Galaxidi we sighted a Blue fin Tuna basking in the afternoon sunshine.  Disappointingly we saw no dolphins in Ionian other than an isolated pair of small ones on leaving Giaos.  Then we saw our second Sunfish in a very rough sea on our way from Lakka to Sivota Mourtos.

And in Sivota Mourtos at the Blue Coast taverna, the absolute magic of having numerous swallows flying round your head, chattering their heads off whilst you enjoy your dinner.  Their nests are inside the taverna, not something that would be allowed or tolerated in the UK even if they would nest so close to humans.

Characters Met or Seen

Characters?  Perhaps friends would better describe Pod & Rat (sorry, Rod & Pat) who joined us for a week on the 13th of May.  Their previous trips out here have been less than ideal weather wise but this trip was to be different.  The weather was absolutely perfect, always sunny, never too hot and with idyllic breezes to sate Pod’s sailing lust.  We sailed every day in perfect conditions with little or no motoring to mention other than entering and leaving harbour and still we managed to visit all the places they wished to visit.  Sivota Mourtos, Lakka, both twice, Gaios, Hippy Bay and Ay Stephanou were all seen and easy sails had between them covering a total of 120 miles, 85 under sail.  Pod was like a cat that had all the cream and a bit of caviar too boot.

E’s from Aboard 2006/6

Leaving the Ionian – More Plain Sailing – Perhaps Not?

After a month in the Ionian it was time to leave and head up for Croatia where Paul & Jackie Evill were to join us on the 7th of June.  The weather was benign and fortuitously perverse; the winds were southerly when they are normally north-westerly at this time of year.

To reach Dubrovnik directly is an arduous 180-mile trek up the Albanian coast staying well off shore, a little less to stop off in Montenegro first.  Crossing over to Italy in relatively short hops was our choice, first just 13 miles round to Kassiopi on the north east coast of Corfu, then 32 miles to the nearest Greek island to Italy, Othoni after a fleeting visit to the island of Ericoussa, where we stopped just long enough to decide the harbour is a dump not worth a visit and pretty untenable in a strong southerly.   Othoni however, was a delight.  Ormos Fiki on its north coast is an ideal hidey-hole in a southerly wind albeit close in it is full of reefs and rocks just below the surface to entrap unwary sailors.  Its climate must be wet as the island is very lush and green, its verdant slopes rising steeply to 300 metres above the mile long sand and stone beach.  Lush with pine, cypress and olive trees of those we could identify interspersed with the lime yellow blooms of what we believe is Spanish Broome, with no sign of tracks or roads other than just one small track at its western most end leading we know not where.  A beautiful night was spent there after feasting on Charlie’s Prawn Risotto, on deck, watching the sun going down over the distant though not visible Italian coast and a Finish registered yacht that had joined us (see photo).

We were lucky; to the east and west of us where massive fog banks (see photo), perhaps a sailor’s greatest enemy and fear.  We were at a loss to explain why with such a consistent warm breeze and an equally warm sea, fog appeared at all though it must have been advection fog created by relatively warm and moist air passing over a relatively cold sea.  It was beautiful nonetheless, seen to be billowing across the sea some five miles or so from our anchorage, at times obscuring a prominent rock off the northeast corner of Othoni less than a mile and a half to our east and billowing down the valley just beside us (see photo).  Meanwhile we sat in perfect sunshine under an almost cloudless blue sky.

The following morning we got up at 0500 and set sail for Brindisi on the Italian east coast at 0600 as the first light of the day showed over the Albanian mountains to our east.  Within in minutes the F4 breeze that had kept us cool all night and Casper (the wind generator) happily charging the batteries, died.  The iron sail was started and we motored for three hours until the breeze finally returned.  At 8 to 10 knots due south it was never going to get us to Brindisi during that day so we altered course 30° to port and headed for Otranto, 40 miles south of Brindisi and 30 miles north-west of our then position..

We had a fine sail with the wind on our port quarter at speeds up to 7 kts until we were eight miles from Otranto and crossing one of the busiest seaways in the Adriatic.  All of a sudden we were surrounded by thick fog.  We could see little more than two boat lengths around us but could hear the engine noise of at least one large container ship that we had briefly seen before entering the fog bank.  Scary is putting it mildly.  We were still making 6 kts though a little closer hauled than we had been for several hours and approaching a coastline used not only by large cargo and passenger ships but numerous fishing vessels.  Acutely tuned eyes and ears constantly swept 360° around us but saw nothing and heard little more other than the occasional drone of a large vessels engines and her fog horn in this distance, we hoped!  It was like driving blind along a motorway at 70 miles an hour, being unsure if you were on the right carriageway or in what lane.

It is a weird experience.  Almost clear sky above with the sun pouring down on you at the same time as the fog condenses on the sails, boom and rigging dripping droplets of ice-cold water on you.  Thankful for the silence of sailing rather than motoring , we attuned our ears to every sound other than the waves that might just be an approaching vessel.  We were a bit stressed nonetheless.

Then the radio piped up, “Sailing boat, this is motor vessel ****** on your starboard side, come in please”.  No position was given by the calling vessel; neither his nor the boat he was calling but it scared the life out of us as we could hear and see nothing but the strength of the signal suggested the ship was close by.  We responded with “Motor vessel calling ‘sailing boat’ please give your position, course and speed, we are sailing boat Charlie Girl in position 40° 07.5’ North, 018° 39.4’ East, sailing on course 280° and making 6.4 knots in thick fog, visibility less than 50 metres”.

An agonising wait followed whilst we pondered on our fate.  Was he a cargo vessel making his way down the Italian coast?  If so his course would be roughly 190°, 90° to ours and if he was on our starboard side, a collision was a real possibility.  If he had us on radar, why did he not just alter course to avoid us?  If he could see us above the fog, probable in advection fog, why did he not just alter course to avoid us?  If he did not understand we were sailing and thought we were motoring, was he calling because he would thus think it was his right of way, which it would have been, and he should stand-on and we should give way?  What ever he thinks, we are sailing and are thus most likely to be the stand-on vessel and should stand-on until he tells us something that makes him the stand-on vessel; what could that be?  All those thoughts went through my mind whilst we waited for what seemed like hours but was perhaps a minute before the strong east European accented voice somewhat sheepishly answered with his position, which was quickly assessed as being 10 miles behind us and about 2 miles north.  Our relief was palpable.  He did not, however, give his course and speed but did apologise and confirm he was not calling us.  We thanked him and closed the call, “Charlie Girl standing by on 16”.

Before I could return on deck to support Charlie on watch the radio went again, “Charlie Girl this is Charisma, over”.  I responded and changed from channel 16 to 06 at his request.  It was a yacht that remembered meeting us in Greek waters in 2005 and was on passage from Italy to Greece.  We briefly exchanged pleasantries and I apologised but explained quickly why I needed to get back on deck!  Perhaps we will meet them on our way back through the Ionian later in the year.

A few minutes later we sailed out of the fog bank into crystal clear and dry air.  What a relief.  Thanks to modern technology (the chart plotter and its GPS) we were exactly where we expected to be and aiming straight for the entrance to Otranto harbour some two miles distant.

Otranto is a busy little commercial harbour with a few visitor pontoons and a yacht club that discourages visitors to their pontoons.  But it is set in a lovely sandy-bottomed bay that gives the water the familiar attractive pale cobalt colour.  We chose to anchor off amongst half a dozen other visiting yachts and were soon swimming to cool off and relax after our little drama.  In all a successful crossing to Italy.

Brindisi was the next target some 45 miles further north but the following morning was flat calm, no wind whatsoever.  We waited expectantly until lunchtime, ready to leave to no avail.  So the dinghy was pumped up and later, supper taken ashore in a Pizzeria; two enormous great pizzas were supplied after which we realised most other people where ordering one and sharing it!  Whilst we feasted on the pizzas, a swarm of mosquitoes were feeding on us. Ah well, you live and learn.

Next morning there as wind, surprisingly again from the south, and great sail was had most of the way to Brindisi with the sails goose-winged.  Fifteen miles from the harbour entrance, the wind died and then came in very lightly from due north; too light to sail and arrive in Brindisi in the same week, let alone day, so the rest was motored.

We stopped in Brindisi on our way down to Greece in 2004 and used the new marina some 2 miles away from the old town harbour.  This time we moored right in the town on the old quay and were pleasantly surprised at how quite and enchanting Brindisi can be, which is just as well.  The weather worsened until by nightfall a full gale was blowing that blew that night, all through the next day and only abated slightly on the second night.  The second day it blew less but still too much to even contemplate moving further north towards Vieste, our final Italian port before popping across the Adriatic again to Croatian waters.

Charlie was in heaven though, having found the most fantastic vegetable market that necessitated a daily if not twice daily visit to restock our larder.  The fridge is now bursting at the seems and we shall not need to shop for fresh food for a week or more!

So here we are, after three nights, on our third day in BrindisiCharlie Girl is absolutely filthy having been covered in dust blown by the strong winds and that sticks like glue to a salty hull and deck.  We are moving across to the yacht club marina to access power and water to wash her down and refill our water tanks.

From Sunday 28 May, the wind was forecast to return to southerlies for the next three days, ideal to reach Vieste, 125 miles to the north, by Tuesday night from where we would leave Italy for Croatia.  Sunday’s sail to Monopoli and Monday’s to Molfetta were excellent starts, 80 miles of goose-winged downwind sailing in winds varying from 6 to 20 knots, most of which was made using the Gennaker, its first real long term trial since its saga started in March 2004.  And it was very successful trial indeed both in sailing and furling.

Tomorrow Vieste and the day after Croatia, if our luck with the wind holds.  We’ll see.

E’s from Aboard 2006/7

Reach Trogir by 08 June.  No problem or is it?

Molfetta was left early on a favourable forecast wind of SE 12 to 16 knots, ideal for the northerly 40-mile trot to Vieste.  South-easterly turned out to be south-westerly, at first just 4 knots.  By the time we had thought about putting out the Gennaker in lieu of the Genoa, it was gusting 25 knots so we thought better of it and charged off under full Main and Genoa.  For the next couple of hours we had a spanking sail under a clear blue sky though what appeared to be a weak cold front seemed to be approaching from the north-west.  As it got closer the wind veered until it was from the north-west, giving us a stiff close-hauled sail with both sails well reefed down.  Having held her to a northerly course in anticipation of such a change we bore away to a north-easterly course, battened down the hatches and donned lifejackets and harnesses.  We were in for a serious blow.  And blow it did reaching a maximum seen on our wind indicator when we had time to glance at it, of 42 knots, well into a full gale.  The seas were enormous but as we approached Promontorio del Gargano the wind came round behind us and gave us a somewhat frightening downwind sail under just a reefed genoa at over 9 knots, regularly over 10 knots, into the shallows off Vieste.  We had averaged over eight knots for the journey and, whilst we would not volunteer for such a sail, were pleased with our and CG’s performance under very difficult conditions.

Once moored up to the pontoon in Vieste harbour, itself no mean feat in those winds, we were treated to a few hours of winds over 50 knots that created massive dust clouds over the shore line and the town.  It was to be the beginning of a five night stay awaiting weather sufficiently clement to allow us to tackle the sixty odd miles across the open Adriatic to the island of Lastovo, the nearest Croatian port of entry.  It was also the beginning of a period of weather that was the worst and coldest we have ever experienced in the Mediterranean, regardless of which month!

For four days it rained and blew strongly from the north making the crossing impossible.  On the fifth day, June the 4th and just four days before Paul & Jackie were due to arrive in Trogir, we set off at 6am in the company of Rob and Alan on their Jeanneau 49, Nor-nor-east in a stiff westerly breeze and a pretty uncomfortable sea.  It was a perfect wind nonetheless but after three hours it backed and we were forced to bear way from our prescribed course.  Charlie was already feeling seasick and with the abandonment of the sails for the motor, the ghastly motion the big swell produced, soon had Richard feeling worse than he had ever been before though, thankfully, neither of us was actually sick.  Our arrival in Lastovo after the ten-hour trek was a blessed relief as Rob and Alan agreed having suffered similar discomfort.

We still had sixty miles to go, Nor-nor-west, to reach Trogir and three days to do it with P & J arriving on the evening of the third day.  If the strong northerly winds continued that was going to prove impossible.  We awoke from a restful night at anchor in an idyllic tranquil bay on Lastovo to find the wind gods had been at work overnight and turned the wind southerly for us.  What a relief.  With stops on the western end of Korcula and then Hvar town we reached Trogir, soaking wet from the drizzly rain, at 5pm on the Wednesday, four hours before P & J were due.  The wet, windy, cold and unpredictable weather was now in its second week and set to continue for a further week.  Paul & Jackie were lent warm clothing as they had quite naturally brought none with them.

Despite the initial poor weather the winds moderated, as did the seas, allowing us to make further progress north with Paul & Jackie to visit Krk falls (see photos).  An enchanting morning was spent there soaking up the magnificence of nature the falls eminently example.  And the frogs with an identity crisis were there in abundance; they think they are ducks and croak accordingly (see photo).  It is a beautifully laid out and maintained Croatian National Park.  Timber walkways have been constructed throughout the falls allowing visitors to walk across the falls at water level.  The old buildings originally housing millers and the like who used the ample free water supply to power mill stones and other relatively heavy engineering equipment, have either been put to a more touristy use such as restaurants, shops and bars or beautifully renovated for viewing as working museums.  Within one the millstones were grinding flour and another cloth was being pounded in the running water.

Paul & Jackie were enchanted by the falls and the frogs as well as the trip up the river and through an enormous lake to reach them.  On the way back we anchored in an inlet within the lake and enjoyed some fresh-water wildlife for a change including a group of ten majestic swans that flew in and out of the inlet at regular intervals.  Their circling prior to landing was reminiscent of early seaplanes checking out the wind direction and water state for gliding in to skim the surface with full flaps down and an appropriate amount of wash created on landing.  That afternoon was the change point in the weather; clear blue sky, gentle breeze within the inlet, flat water warm enough to swim in and the air temperature just perfect, neither to hot nor chilly.

By Paul and Jackie’s departure day, 21st June, it was so hot and humid it was too uncomfortable to be in port but in port we had to be.  And there was no wind at all which made it feel worse than it really was.  We all staggered into the beautiful open-roofed stone built Konobo (restaurant) that we had eaten in on their arrival. A slow and leisurely lunch was had under the extended awnings and a pair of huge, slowly rotating, cooling fans.

After they departed at teatime, we settled down to our usual early evening drinks to discuss ‘what comes next?’  Reflecting on our journey up from Greece to Croatia and recalculating just how long it had taken us, particularly with the ten days lost to bad weather on the way up, we went quite cold when we realised that the distance we had to cover in the same time to pick up Nick & Pat Goodall in Sicily was even greater and, if they had not delayed their arrival date, what would have been in less time than we had allowed ourselves to get to Croatia.  Gulp!  It was a total of 500 miles and was likely to be against the prevailing winds for most of the way.  We had potentially boo booed big time!

Is Croatia for us?

We visited Croatia in 2000 and 2004.  Our memory was of a beautiful coastline peppered with attractive and historically interesting towns and villages, of enchanting people and perhaps above all else, it being relatively cheap.  Perhaps our needs have changed.  This time we found most of the towns attractive, yes, but far too busy, noisy and touristy for our taste.  And as for cheap, well perhaps the food still is but the edge is taken off that by the cost of sailing here.  €250 just for the Permit required to sail their waters, granted it is valid for one year but as you are only allowed to stay for 90 days in any six months, its annularity is pretty valueless.  On top of that, if you touch a quay you pay and that is certainly not cheap.  Harbour fees varied from €25 to €50 per night with marina fees ranging from €40 to €100; we did not visit any of the latter.  We were even charged €25 for picking up a laid mooring. In Greece laid moorings and many private quays are provided free by taverna owners on the understanding you eat at least one meal with them; we heard of similar arrangements in Croatia but found none.

However, the people remain charming and friendly and the restaurant food was excellent and on the whole, market produce remains economical to buy.  We also hunted down a few delightful and isolated bays that were, surprisingly, either empty of other yachts, or sufficiently large they remained quite and peaceful.  The harbours were otherwise and made worse by a mêlée of football supporters hell bent on watching every world cup match, getting drunk in the process and completely ruining the tranquillity of the harbour with their rowdy singing.

Our current thinking is that we are unlikely to return to Croatia, mainly because of the harbour, marina and mooring charges.  We found plenty of beautiful anchorages but none that surpassed those that are available in abundance, free, in Greek waters.

Characters Met or Seen

Rob & Alan from Edinburgh on Sabbatical, a Jenneau 49.  Rob is a medical consultant and Alan an accountant; both seem to work only when they have to replenish their bank accounts for the next sailing extravaganza. We spent several days in their company with us cooking for them on board and they reciprocating in lavish style.  Their yacht has air-conditioning, a 240v generator, a freezer and a dishwasher!

They are staying in Croatia for a while but we hope to see them again in Greek waters before too long.

Howard & Polly from Oxford on Cariad (yes Howard is Welsh), a Moody 425 and past share owners in Seaflower who sold their share to Tony & Di who we know.

Tom & Jill from near Chichester on Karma; Tom has had a serious internal heart infection for many years and was awaiting the removal of a tooth in Brindisi before they could proceed to the Ionian.  We hope to catch them up later in the summer.

Last but certainly not least, our dear friends Paul & Jackie Evill who spent two weeks with us in Croatia this time.  We are concerned for Paul however.  In the heat of a Mediterranean summer we all take water to bed with us for those middle of the night tipples, most of us in glasses.  Paul however has his in a spout topped ‘sucky bottle’, you know, similar to a baby’s bottle so you don’t spill any water.  Thus far, OK but one morning he was complaining of a headache and we discovered he was filling his ‘sucky-bottle’ with white wine, not water; no wonder he had a headache!  Paul insists it was all a mistake caused by Charlie keeping white wine in plastic water bottles in the fridge.  We didn’t believe him; would you?

E’s from Aboard 2006/8

Catania on Sicily by 12 July.  No Problem, or is it?

It was a fine morning.  The sun was yet to awaken from its nightly slumber and peek its warming nose above the now rapidly lightening horizon.  Aeolus’s (the Greek god of the winds) angry breath was no longer whipping up an equally angry sea, rushing the subservient sea south to escape his wrath.  He had done that all the previous day giving us a spirited if short sail downwind from Otranto to Porto Castro.

“Let’s move on” says Richard, trying to persuade Charlie it was worth rising at 4.45am to try for an 85 mile sail south to Capo S. Maria di Leuca and then south west to Crotone.  “But there is no wind, we’ll never get the 8 knots we need to do that, even using the Gennaker” said Charlie wistfully before hopefully turning over to complete her night’s sleep.  It had been disturbed for the second night running, this time by raucous celebrations after a further Italian win in the World Cup.  We were going to rue her words for Aeolus had other ideas.  Richard, who had already been up on deck, optimistically replied, “Yes there is, a nice 12 knot breeze and the Jenneau anchored near us has already left, heading south”. 

Charlie was persuaded, the anchor swiftly lifted, the Gennaker and mainsail set.  CG leapt away like an excited puppy, responding to the lively breeze and quickly reaching the 8 knots required for the intended trip.  But Aeolus is an untrustworthy god.  He had been hiding inland behind the verdant hills forming the steep shoreline and soon added some violent katabatic gusts down the slopes and out across the rippling water to catch our full sails unaware, laying CG over, forcing her to swing up to windward to right herself once more.  The Gennaker was taken in and the Genoa put out, reefed down.  Aeolus was not pleased with this response and in a huff, stopped blowing all together, then relented and blew steadily with further occasional huffy puffs just to keep us on our toes.  The 14 miles to Capo S. Maria di Leuca were covered in a mere 90 minutes.  It looked good for an 85-mile trip in the day.

But Aeolus’s fickle mood continued and he stopped blowing as we rounded the cape, reducing our speed to little more than four knots but as we headed out south west from Italy’s heel there were high hopes of an easy, if longer, sail the remaining 71 miles across the Golfo di Taranto to Crotone on the ball of Italy’s foot.  It was not to be, for he had other ideas and was clearly in an evil mood.  Five miles out and we were forced by his incessant blowing to reef right down but were still making over nine knots despite the 5 metre seas his efforts were producing.  In those sea conditions, nine knots is hair-raising stuff.  We turned back and anchored off Capo S. Maria di Leuca in calm waters and spent the rest of the day relaxing and swimming.

The following morning Aeolus appeared to have awoken in a better mood and we set off again making a steady 8.5 knots motor sailing in a 12-knot breeze.  That soon changed for the worse and twenty miles out we were thinking of turning back yet again.  He had fooled us once more and was now blowing hard on the sea, making it very angry and in its turn, looking for someone to vent its anger on.  With the wind at 22-26 knots, the previous day’s 5 metre seas seemed mild compared with what we were now riding.  As the Pilot warns, the seas here are disproportionately large for the wind that blows; the seas were breaking and those that hit CG, pushed her dramatically off course if they hit the bow or stern and threatened to turn her over when they struck amidships.  For the first time in his sailing life, Richard was seriously frightened, thinking “If the wind increased beyond its current F6, the seas will become even worse and if we don’t turn south and run with the wind and sea to heaven knows where, North Africa (?) we may suffer our first knock down”.

Two hours of anxious concentrated wave watching followed with both Richard and Charlie harnessed on.  He seemed to be doing his level best to produce the most difficult sea for CG to manage; right on the beam, short, very steep therefore and occasionally cresting to produce large rollers charging down their own slopes into the back of the wave in front.  It was these waves we were watching for in the hope we could adjust our course to miss them or avoid them hitting us amidships.  Some did, most didn’t and only once were we seriously rolled.  Despite the fear it was nonetheless amazing to see the power of nature so graphically demonstrated, exemplifying why the sea can never been taken for granted for a moment; one lapse and it may take you.

After a couple of hours he seemed to tire in his efforts to disrupt us; the wind abated a bit; it also moved from our starboard beam round to our starboard quarter.  As obedient servants of Aeolus, the waves did likewise and were then lifting CG’s stern and pushing her forward, down their faces at considerable speed.  Had he tired of trying to scare us witless?  Had he decided to move the wind round and make sailing easier and definitely more exciting?  Or had he just become bored of playing with this little boat in his great big bath?  What ever it was, the rest of the trip was a great and speedy sail.  At least it was until we were two miles from Crotone where he moved from a position behind us, to one in front, blowing his hot Siroccon breath straight on to our bows.  So ended our sailing for that day and a few days to come as he continued to huff and puff too strongly and from the wrong direction for us to move on.

Thus we arrived in Crotone, totally exhausted and wishing we had stayed in Greek waters.  Our exhaustion amplified through not only having got up at dawn three days running but by not having slept well through noisy shore based discos and football supporters celebrating until the early hours of the morning.  But it was not all bad as in Crotone we found a lively bunch of fellow Brits and some great Piscerias from where we purchased fresh gamborini (shell on prawns) and cooked our favourite risotto.  Flash fry the prawns for a couple of minutes (see photo), add white wine and take off the heat.  Shell the prawns, put the shells in the stock and simmer to make a better stock, use the stock to cook the rice; fry onions, ginger and courgettes to taste, add the rice and the prawns at the last minute and eat it!  That was after drinks on board one of the other Brit yachts.

Despite various and conflicting forecasts we set sail from Crotone after three enjoyable nights there.  We intended just a short trip round to Castello and sailed the whole way there thinking Aeolus must have dozed off or not noticed our departure.  But the bay outside Castello was too small for us to safely anchor CG and the harbour and marina were full so we decided to continue to Roccello Ionica some 45 miles further on; in the 16 to 20 knot breeze on our port quarter that would be a doddle.  But he must have overslept and on awakening from his slumber thought he would again disrupt our progress.  First he turned the wind round until it blew on the nose, then turned it off completely so we had to motor.

Rocello Ionica is yet another unfinished marina but as a result, is free of charge.  Again, the weather reports were adverse and to continue on our voyage to Sicily would have been unwise as the remaining sector was over 65 miles with no intermediate ports of refuge should we need them.  Thus it was three very pleasant nights spent moored to a finger pontoon that was far too short for CG but being tucked behind what was to become the refuelling quay, relatively safe.

We whiled away the time, riding our bikes into the two-mile distant Victorian era town, set under a promontory topped by an old monastic castle and with the coastal hugging single track railway passing through its midriff.  A few beers were consumed in the town square, watching the local, older gents also sitting under the wide spreading green leaf trees that have served that very purpose for centuries no doubt.

Fate was to deal us another blow.  Charlie’s tooth that required fixing in Crete before we left and had played up briefly in Croatia was again throbbing.  We decided Sicily would provide better options for treatment than this sleepy old town on the Calabrian coast, miles from any larger, well equipped, conurbation.  Also it was Sunday and Nick and Pat were due to join us in Catania on Sicily on the Wednesday.

The weather was still thundery and thus potentially dangerous for a further longish haul with no alternative refuge ports but instinct suggested we would be fine and so it was.  A boring motoring session with but nine miles of sailing and a thorough soaking to boot; it poured for an hour or so with torrential rain but no thunder and no sudden increase in winds that so often accompany a thunderstorm.

It was a boring day lightened by the stunning beauty of the Sicilian coastline slowly sharpening in detail as we approached through the summer heat haze that has over the ages hidden it from the gaze of intrepid travellers of which Odysseus was but one.  And they all feared it was inhabited by monsters, itself perhaps a portent of what the twentieth century was to finally bring to it in the form of the Mafioso.

We approached the coast at Taormina, a world-renowned tourist trap and rightly so.  Its location high on the cliffs with their little coves tucked safely beneath them exemplifies the Greek love of art and culture for it is here they built what is widely accepted as the most dramatic Greek theatre in the world, perched as it is between sea and sky with majestic views of the surrounding sea and of Mount Etna, quietly smouldering as its backdrop, constantly reminding all residents of Sicily throughout the ages of mans’ vulnerability and frailty in the face of such awesome natural and unpredictable power.

And so we sit, quietly at anchor, unavoidably 25 miles short of our intended destination to pick up Nick and Pat but under this most majestic of scenes.  Taormina to our right (see photo) and Etna to our left (see photo), which, as this is written, is masked by thunderclouds; sonorous thunder rumbling down her slopes and across the bay to us, foretold by the violent lightening flashes, their forks stabbing at her craters as if to prompt her awakening and eruptive anger.

We hope it is just a storm and not the portent of an overdue further major eruption brought on by the violent exchanges between the ancient Greek gods that thunderstorms are supposed to be?  Last year we experienced an earthquake, is it to be a volcanic eruption this year?  Who knows?

E’s from Aboard 2006/9

Two Weeks in Sicilian & Maltese Waters

Hot, arid, unattractive coastlines, short on good ports and anchorages with very poor facilities for yachtsmen summarises our negative feelings on Sicily.  Excellent food markets selling brilliant and cheap produce, including wine, summarises our positive feelings.  In fact, excepting mooring fees, it was marginally cheaper to live and eat out in Sicily than in the Ionian and that was a real surprise.  The cold meats and fish smoked or otherwise are exceptionally good as are the numerous varieties of tomatoes, sweet peppers and pastas to be found in Sicily and southern Italy in general.  We absolutely pigged out on tomato and sweet pepper sauce with fresh pasta, cooked on board.  Malta, though just as arid and even hotter was more attractive; staying in the marina during the day was absolutely unbearable.

Our time in Malta for our 30th Wedding Anniversary was made very special by the kind and unlimited hospitality of Tony and Annie Bird.  We had not seen them for almost thirteen years yet the conversations and atmosphere was as if it had been yesterday.  Not only did they share their beautiful apartment with us and Rod and Pat but transported us around the island on a sightseeing tour as well as seeking out the very house that Rod lived in as a boy.  As if that wasn’t enough, they organised visits to four different and differing styled restaurants during our three days there, all of which served us brilliantly with food that was almost all above the norm and at quite reasonable prices.

Before that and back on Sicily, Nick and Pat kindly trained the last 25 miles to board CG in Naxos as we were stuck there trying, unsuccessfully, to get treatment for Charlie’s tooth.  A trip home was the only solution and so when Rod & Pat replaced Nick & Pat as our guests, Charlie flew home with Pat Day whilst Rod & Richard took CGIV back to Greek waters.

Despite our reservations about Sicilian and Italian waters, we had a fabulous fortnight with the four of them and definitely fell in love with Siracusa, particularly its daily open market where we bought the veg and meats mentioned above as well as fresh prawns (big ones!) at €10.00 per kilo (about £3.10 per pound).  They were quickly flash fried in the wok in with garlic and parsley, dosed in white wine and then peeled.  The prawns were set aside and the shells cooked off in a bit more white wine to make a most wonderful fish stock for Charlie’ prawn risotto, a variation on a recipe of Birgitta’s.  Then there is the old town of Siracusa, off which we anchored in the late afternoon to swim where Nelson anchored his fleet on the way to his Egyptian campaign (the Battle of the Nile) and where he watered the fleet from the fresh water springs that rise just on shore.  The discharge from the spring pool provides refreshing cooler patches of water in the otherwise quite warm sea, around 32°C.  And there was Mr Pastry, the tout for the restaurant that Nick & Pat chose for their last night (and Rod & Pat’s first night) meal.  What a laugh that was.  The booked table that was not available when we got there; all was moved to it once it was.  A complete mix up on the meals but they all came right eventually including the most fantastic smoked fish we have ever eaten, Tuna, Swordfish and Salmon.  Succulent, moist and full of the three different flavours they each possess.

Regrettably it was time for Charlie to fly home and get her tooth fixed.  We are a very close couple, as most who know us well will appreciate.  Our relationship is almost childlike; we cannot bare to be parted, particularly by such a distance and with such a certain, if short, in most peoples eyes, time.  It was a long ten days and a time for reflection for both of us.  We had just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and were acutely aware of how our time together could so easily have been prematurely ended back in 1993 by Charlie’s breast cancer and by no coincidence, the last time we visited Tony and Annie in Malta.  The initial prognosis was dire, “you’ve got two years max”.  But our medical services are superb and with their help in that and all the other failings Charlie has had to suffer means we are still together so what’s an odd ten days? …………A bloody long time!

Rod stayed on to accompany Richard partly to satisfy Charlie’s worries about Richard sailing single-handed in an area where we had experienced some difficult conditions, but with a strong element of Rod having an opportunity to do what he clearly loves, to be on a boat and sail her.  It was an excellent trip including one 200 mile, 38 hour non-stop stint in almost perfect and continuous wind conditions; and more than that, in the early morning of the second day we were surrounded by Tuna, large ones, hunting in an absolute frenzy.  Rod wanted to fish but Richard said nothing would be caught as we were making 7.5kts plus.  But out the rods went and within minutes one was caught on a small spinning rod that was really not up to the task, but in it came at a weight of around 7kg; certainly the biggest fish yet caught on CG (see picture).

Returning ‘Home’ to Another Baptism?

We were ‘home’; again in Greek waters and in perhaps our favourite area, the Ionian.  It was now early August and the area was overrun with Italians; so many we concluded there cannot be any left in Italy.  Mooring to a quay in and around Corfu, Paxos and the adjacent mainland coast was impossible.  Anchoring off rapidly became the norm with the attendant difficulty in obtaining essential supplies such as beer and milk, water for the tanks and re-charging the yacht’s batteries other than by running the engine and we avoid that like a plague.

August is generally a calm month for weather in the Ionian.  In fact one of the major complaints of holidaying yachtsmen is “there’s no wind in the Ionian”.  Not so this year.  The unusual and unstable air patterns that first developed as we headed north for Croatia in late May, early June, continued, producing some very unpredictable conditions.  Weather forecasts could not be relied upon at all.

Whilst Rod was still with Richard and whilst they were at anchor in Lakka’s beautiful and well-protected bay, a thunderstorm developed at 5am.  Its associated wind was strong enough and persistent enough to drag out the anchor and in the pitch dark and driving torrential rain of the storm, it was an unpleasant little episode to deal with.

When Charlie returned from the UK the first couple of very calm nights were spent at anchor in Ay Stephanou after which the sails were set for a southerly sail in a light northerly breeze to Sivota Mourtos.  Six miles out, just a mile off the Albanian coast and close to the main shipping lane up through the channel between Corfu and the mainland, a violent squall put an end to the sailing.  The wind whipped round to come in from the south and the rain was so torrential, absolutely nothing could be seen.  It blew at around F7 for around half and hour and the dinghy on deck (not deflated) collected 120mm of water in that short time.  As soon as the rain abated and visibility returned a quick hand-brake-turn was executed for a four-mile roller-coaster ride to the little island off Corfu Old Town to take shelter.  By the time shelter was reached, the sun was back out, the wind had died to a gentle waft so the 25 mile trip to Sivota Mourtos continued, sailing most of the way in a light northerly breeze.  Bizarre!

The following day another lovely sail was had across to Lakka on Paxos where we anchored off in the bay with its silver sand bottom.  It produces the most beautifully pale blue, slightly milky, water.  35 metres of chain was put out in 4 metres of water, enough scope to deal with most situations and arguably too much in such a busy anchorage.  At 0930 next morning another storm was seen developing over Corfu to our north, a very unusual time for a thunderstorm as they tend to occur in the evening.

We sat on deck, in swimming costumes, with our wet weather gear at the ready, all instruments on, anchor windlass activated, waiting to see if it would come our way.  It was dead clam, no wind at all.  A light off-shore (southerly) breeze developed in conjunction with some more heavy black cloud to our south, over Paxos.  Thunder and lightening quickly followed, the sky above filling with black clouds so rapidly it was hard to believe.  Gentle cooling rain began to fall; suddenly it was a torrential downpour.  The wind shot up to around 35 knots, swinging CG round violently and rushing her back through the water until the chain straightened out and the anchor snatched her back sharply, again head to wind.  The anchor held.  Others didn’t and were nervously watched as inexperienced people tried to cope with their drifting yachts dragging various lengths of chain and their anchors around the bay on what we call “fishing expeditions”.  The danger being they may catch another anchor chain and that can be very dangerous for all concerned.

As the developing mêlée was watched, the wind turned again to come in from the north through the entrance to the bay at around 50 knots, and thus it was quickly followed by a big swell.  CG was off again, broadside on to the wind until again her anchor took up and swung her bows to the wind.  This time the anchor did not hold, the swell producing just that little bit too much pressure so she was soon drifting slowly but relentlessly towards the shore and the yachts between it and her.  The engine was started and Charlie made her way up the pitching deck in the horizontal and stinging rain to lift the anchor while Richard motored CG slowly into the wind.  The anchor was soon up and we headed up to windward where by now most yachts had dragged and left, to relay the anchor.  We did, with 50 metres of chain and it held!  Half an hour later, all was calm again and we were having a nice refreshing swim.

The next trip was short, just six miles down the coast of Paxos to Mongonisi where we managed to squeeze in to a small space on the left hand quay in amongst a Sailing Holidays Flotilla.  In light of a thunderstorm warning in the weather forecast, not for the Ionian but the southern Adriatic, 150 miles to our north, we laid out two anchors this time.  Just as well as it turned out.  As supper ashore was taken and the evening light was gradually fading into night, Charlie spotted another of the threatening cloud formations developing to the north.  Almost before Richard could walk the 100 metres back to CG the storm broke bringing a violent north wind sweeping into the over-crowded bay.  By the time he reached CG two of the three yachts to windward had dragged their anchors and were effectively leaning on CG and thus relying on her anchors.  One managed to escape during a brief lull leaving just the one who kept thinking about moving but realised such a manoeuvre would be bound to put him across our and our neighbour’s anchor chains.  Thankfully he sat tight.

All of the ten yachts and Gin Palaces across the other side of the bay with lines ashore, dragged their anchors and swiftly ended up broadside on to the shoreline.  Five were lucky enough to slip their shorelines and get away; five were not and were rapidly swept further into the bay and firmly aground in the shallows.  All of the yachts at anchor in the bay dragged and as there were so many of them, their only safe option was to motor out into the open sea and ride out the storm there.  A large yacht on the other quay dragged its anchor and in swinging to its left pushed three yachts round against the quay and the furthest one, a Sailing Holiday’s yacht, completely off the quay firmly aground in the shallows.

Port police, local police, the coastguard and local fishermen were soon on the scene and all working away clearing up the mess; pulling yachts off the rocks, out of the shallows and off the sandy beach.  The good news is that despite the ferocity of the storm nobody was seriously hurt and no yachts seriously damaged.  One was disabled through a prop wrap but that was soon cleared the following morning.  But there were quite a few flotilla folk vowing they would never have another sailing holiday.

By now it was pitch dark, still raining off and on and the wind still blowing an absolute hooley.  Screaming and shouting was heard in the entrance as two motor boats came in doing a good 6 knots, the second apparently pushing the first which had no lights on or any engine running.  They were not under control and went across the front of our line of yachts missing our anchor chains by inches but eventually hitting one further down the line bringing them both to a very abrupt halt.  Somehow the mobile boat tied the other to it and dropped an anchor in the shallows off the beach.  Their problems were over for the night.  Then a Greek in a 40-foot yacht came in, completely out of control in the huge running sea and in blind panic instructs his wife perched precariously on the pitching bow to let go their anchor.  Their yacht went broadside down our line of yachts so close that picking up one of our anchors was inevitable.  And so it was.  He got CG’s main anchor and that stopped him dead.  Fortunately by some miracle he managed to lift his anchor without actually retrieving ours but try as Richard might, CG’s anchor would not reset.  She was now relying on her secondary anchor to hold herself and the two yachts to windward.  She did and as the weather calmed a bit at 0130am we went to bed exhausted but unscathed.

Why do so many sailors in the UK think sailing in the Med is easy and derogatorily describe it as “fair weather sailing”?  That is a potentially very dangerous assumption!

On a lighter note, whilst filling up with fuel in Levkas, there were a couple of super (power boat) yachts also filling up.  In conversation with the fuel man, he tells Richard one of them burns 1,100 litres of diesel an HOUR at full speed and 750 litres at cruising speed.  Even when cruising, that is around £750 per hour.  And we try to keep our consumption down to 3 litres (£2) an hour.  The mind boggles.

E’s from Aboard 2006/10

Wildlife

Whilst sailing or motoring a constant watch is kept for fishing net markers and their attendant loose lines, floating trees or any other such storm debris, particularly plastic bags or clumps of discarded fishermen’s nets as these inevitably wrap themselves round the propeller, are a devils own job to remove and can incapacitate the yacht, a dangerous possibility.  The first time we picked up a clump of net and rope was just outside a prohibited firing range with insufficient wind for us to sail ourselves clear.  When we finally reached port a diver took half-an-hour to remove it at a cost of €50.00.  This year we were a little luckier, Richard was able to dive and remove a small amount of fishermen’s net and rope that had wrapped itself around the prop.

In late August whilst sailing gently south about five miles off the mainland coast between Katacolon and Pilos, a mile ahead was seen what appeared to be a large amount of floating grey plastic, perhaps a sack or even a bloated dead sheep; not an uncommon sight.  It was midday, the sun was high, the breeze still light though there was a large swell running, the portent of the forecast blow to come so it came into view only briefly as it crested a wave.  It was of little concern as it was not dead ahead of us and we should pass it by safely as long as the wind did not veer.  But as we got within a few hundred metres, this plastic bag ‘blew’ and Richard, being quick thinking, concluded it was not rubbish or a dead sheep but a whale and it was; our first ever sighting of one in thirty years of sailing.

It was basking in the mid-day sun, lazily rolling around, not really making any effort to move forward or dive until that is, we were within 50 metres, when it sensed our presence, had a quick panic, took a big breath, put its head down, tail up, and dived; but not before we got a video shot of it so Andrew could identify the species.  Our uneducated guess from its relatively small size is that it was a Pilot whale; we shall see.

There have been lots of dolphin sightings since we left the Ionian, which makes you wonder whether it is over-fishing there or the number of people around that causes them to move elsewhere; over-fishing seems most likely.  Whatever the reason it has been pleasing to see so many in the past week or so.

Monemvasia is a favourite stopping place though one wonders why.  The only time it was wind-free was this Spring whilst with Roger & Birgitta; otherwise it always seems to blow a hooley, this time F6 gusting F7.  But this time we were in our favourite spot, tied alongside the quay in front of the SAR Coastguard vessel.  Where else could be safer?  Why are we mentioning this under this heading?  Because there have been two very large turtles in the bay that we have sighted regularly, all day, on each of the three days we have been here.  Try as we might though, we have been unable to catch them on camera even when they were within a few metres of the boat.

Leaving Home?

The northern Ionian in August is just too crowded for it to be fully appreciated or to display itself at its best.  It is overrun with Italians and you could be forgiven for thinking you were still in Sicily.  Italian is the first language you hear, English second and Greek a lowly third.  Every bay and harbour is so overcrowded it is difficult to relax for a minute even if you do manage to find a mooring place as so many of the visitors are part-time, inexperienced sailors who all to often cause hassle through dropping anchors inappropriately and/or picking up others’ anchors then or when leaving.  And one of them is bound to be a ‘party yacht’ whose occupants will return from ashore at midnight and continue to drink, shout and play loud music into the small hours.  It may be a grand holiday for them but it is not our scene at all.

Nonetheless we did manage to safely visit most of our favourite haunts (see photos of Captain Corelli’s pontoon and Pera Pigadhi) and say our farewells for this year to our Greek friends and acquaintances in the first two weeks after Charlie’s return from the UK.  But on the 21st we left our absolute Ionian favourite, Kioni and the adorable Costas (see photo in 2005) and set course direct for Katacolon 60 miles to the south, missing out our usual stopping places of Poros (Cephalonia) and Zakinthos.  The forecast F5/F6 north-westerly that would have given us a spanking sail did not materialise though its swell did, giving us a slow and rolly trip albeit almost half was still managed under sail.

Our arrival was after dark on a moonless but very starry night.  The anchor was dropped in the bay off Katacolon in absolute peace with seven other yachts all nicely spaced out and quiet, except for a little late night swimming from a French yacht a quarter of mile off our starboard beam; her crew were partying but acceptably so.

The past week had been a heat wave even by Mediterranean standards with the daytime shade temperatures reaching 42°C and rarely dropping below 32°C even at night.  The humidity was so high, up to 90%, leaving the shade in the day for a minute would have you dripping as if you had been in a shower.  Respite was readily available for us just by jumping off the yacht into the sea but not so for those left ashore.  The Greek government even issued a notice asking all hotels, tavernas and public buildings with air-conditioning to give refuge to anyone in need, particularly the elderly.  That night we again slept on deck in the cockpit for most of the night (in Richard’s case, all night).  It is a romantic experience, looking up at a clear sky, little affected by light or any other pollution, seeing the enormity of the Milky Way and such density of stars as we are unable to see from the UK.

Overnight the temperatures eased somewhat and our sail down to Pilos was in cooler conditions and, for the most part in a better breeze, though again, the forecast F6/F7 never did materialise.  The evening was spent in the town, first a drink under the most beautiful, enormous spreading maple trees just watching the quiet Greek life passing us by; much of it being Greeks on holiday with just a smattering of other nationalities.  Then a quick ride on the bikes up to a garden taverna set few streets back from the harbour for supper.  They do have a menu but we don’t know why as what they have on offer is in the kitchen and bares little resemblance to the menu’s contents.  For a mere €19.00 three starters, two mains (it is customary to share your meals in Greece), a carafe of wine and a bottle of water were selected after which we chose our table and awaited its arrival.  Bliss.

After Pilos we sailed the 9 miles round to Methoni in a very lumpy sea but a perfect following wind in the company of a beautiful Norwegian registered, 1980’s build, classic style sloop with wooden spars.  Methoni is another of our favourites; its Turkish tower perched precariously on the extremity of the reef, fronting the Venetian fortified headland behind, the enormity of which leaves you wondering just how it was ever constructed.  According to The Pilot, with Koroni 18 miles to its east, it guarded the shipping route around the Peloponnisos and was called ‘the eye of the Republic’.  Certainly modern Greece treats it well.  It is all beautifully floodlit at night and in such a way you could be fooled when at anchor in its lee in to thinking it was still alive and active in its centuries old purpose with its battlements patrolled by Venetian soldiers keeping a watchful eye on all at anchor or passing by at sea; a safe anchorage indeed.

Two photos of the view from CG at anchor are attached; unfortunately those taken of the fort at night did not work.

The kindly if strong westerly winds continued, helping our run south then seeing us safely east round the two most difficult capes of Tainaro and Malea with a stop in between at Ormos Levki on Elafonisos (see photo), then up north again to Monemvasia from where this E From Aboard will be sent.

The next day the Norwegian yacht turned up and will be joining us on our 65-mile hike due east to Milos in the Cyclades and if the forecast winds hold for another day, it will be a beautiful sail.  Will Aeolus oblige us both?

The itinerary for September is to slowly work our way across the Aegean visiting, Poliagos, Sifnos, Dhespotiko and Skhinousa in the Cyclades before moving further east into the Dodecanese via Dhenousa, stopping first in Lipsi then Marathos and perhaps Gaidharos before dropping south passed Leros to Kalimnos, Nisiros and finally Khalki on the south-western end of Rhodes.  Roger & Birgitta are hoping to leave Crete in Bubbly Lady II sometime around the fourth week in September heading for Rhodes where we hope to meet up and sail together for the last few weeks of the season before heading south and west back down to Aghios Nikolaos to put CG to bed for the winter.

E’s from Aboard 2006/11

The Cyclades

White, wild, windy, largely unspoilt, peaceful, welcoming and mystical, aptly covers our view of the Cyclades.  White, flat roofed houses, particularly the Choras perched atop the hills and mountains, visible from many miles offshore.  Majestic mountainous islands, with a wild look about them as you approach, sparsely covered in vegetation and trees but many with surprisingly fertile valleys and plains.  Sparsely farmed they may be, but islands like Santorini produce excellent white wines from vines grown in spirals on the barren dry ground to make the most of the nightime dews: a strange sight indeed.  Windy they are with the summer wind, the Meltemi blowing strongly from the north most days and many nights, giving the islands a coolness that belies the real 30°C+ daytime temperatures and otherwise baking sunlight.  Unspoilt in that much of modern day development has passed the islands by or where not so, has been tastefully done with buildings built in the classic Cycladic styles and sizes.  Some modern hotel complexes are so cleverly done, such as that in Vathi on Sifnos, it is not until you walk into the complex you realise they are not local houses but hotel apartments; the outdoor swimming pool is completely invisible.  Peaceful as loud music is rare though there are centres on some islands such as Ios for those who seek such audible enjoyment though even they seem to impinge little on the otherwise quiet surrounding atmosphere.  The people are quiet, smiley, proud of their respective islands and only too pleased to share their delights with foreign visitors such as us.  Mystical buildings, some in good repair, some derelict, both speaking volumes of ancient civilisations no longer apparent; huge chunks of rock, some isolated mountains in their own right, vividly reminding one of the Greek myths, their gods and their use of the rocks to throw at each other or even turning their enemies into one.  It is a wonderful area where we feel welcome, at peace, at home even but rightly transient in our affect upon it.

Aeolus was good to us, providing un-forecasted wind that drove us directly the 70 miles from Monemvasia to Milos (the first Cycladic island on our itinerary) at great speed with a swell to match picking up CG’s stern and rushing her down the face of the waves at speeds up to 10.5 knots.  Our average was 6.5 knots and our arrival in Ormos Milou, dramatic.  The wind veered overnight from southwest to northwest with the portent of the returning Meltemi suggesting a stay there might be unwise.  Another spirited sail to Vathi on Sifnos provided us with the safest of anchorages for the coming blow.  And blow it did for eight days and nights with us, at first, safely tucked up on the small quay near the lovely little double arched white painted chapel and the tavernas and mini-market on the beach (see photos).  On the fourth day the wind temporarily abated and we slipped up to Kamares but found it an untenable and uncertain anchorage so returned to anchor off in Vathi for another night.  By now we were less certain of Aeolus’s intentions as this was the fifth day in a row of F5/6 winds making any plans to move on a little daunting but we move we did, round to Faros on the eastern side of Sifnos both to sample the joys of a fish taverna there and because it is a good stepping stone for moving further east across the Cyclades.  We did both, having an excellent fish supper in the company of Stein and Helga our new Norwegian friends (see photo) that turned out to be a ‘farewell for now’ supper and leaving the following morning for Ormos Angaria off Aliki on Paros.

It has been said before, why are medical issues always and constantly thrown at Charlie?  Her tooth has again been giving her trouble despite all the best efforts of our dentist back home and we have run out of antibiotics to treat it further, two courses having been taken in the past fortnight.  A telephone consultation with him on arrival off Aliki effectively gave the option of an even longer trip home for further treatment with no guarantee of success or extraction somewhere in Greece.  Charlie has provisionally chosen the latter.

A review of our position prioritised the finding of antibiotics followed by a return to Aghios Nikolaos on Crete, CG’s home base, for a dentist of known quantity; that required the purchasing of supplies for the two or three day trip from where we were.  Twenty-two miles down to Ios for a pharmacy and supplies, then twenty-seven to the little marina on the south of Thira (Santorini) with the exciting prospect of sailing through the awe inspiring caldera, from there seventy-five miles straight to Aghios Nikolaos, all being south with a five-day forecast of F5/6 NNW.  Challenging.

And so we set off for Ios under sail only to turn round after a couple of miles when we were hit by a northerly F8 and its accompanying aggressive 5 metre seas breaking over our stern.  No thanks Aeolus we’ll go back to Aliki and think again.  Think again we did as the short spell in an F8 had seriously damaged our genoa.  It had ripped across one seam for about 200mm.  Not a lot but enough to stop us using our sails at all the following day when we did make it to Ios and there the genoa was dropped and Richard settled down to repair the tear (see photo) so we could sail to Aghios Nikolaos via Santorini.  Having never attempted to repair a sail before it was a very satisfying exercise and added further to our independence.

The sail through the caldera was absolutely fantastic.  The wind there was light and we took three hours just ghosting through, absorbing the wonder of the place.  The sheer sides created when this island volcano exploded some 3,000 years ago, reputed to be responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation on Crete 60 miles to its south, are awesome.  The sides are multi-coloured and to this day still reflect the catastrophic explosion that lifted several cubic miles of material into the air in a few seconds leaving the six mile wide 300 metre deep crater that then filled with water and through which we were now sailing.  The tops of the cliffs show a layer of white sand several metres thick probably formed by the dust settling back down after the explosion.  Below that are strata of red, green and grey rock, reflecting the minerals they contain (see photos).  Whilst no record remains of the civilisation that existed there before and was thus wiped out, man was not deterred and re-occupied the remnants of the island more or less as it is today.  Despite constant and continuing eruptions down through the ages, the most defiant and beautiful villages have been built around the rim of the crater (see photos).  It is no wonder so many people come here each year to marvel at mans’ defiance and the island’s history.

Aeolus was pretty kindly in moderating the forecast NNW F5/6 to a WNW F3/4 for our sail down to Aghios Nikolaos, enabling us to sail the majority of way in a calm sea.  However on reaching Crete, passing Ay. Iaonnis lived up to its reputation with the katabatic winds giving us a bit of a shock by reaching over 30 knots and increasing our speed from a steady 6 knots to well over 10 for a couple of miles.  The sails were rather belatedly and temporarily reefed which in no way reduced our speed.  Charlie Girl’s berth was awaiting our arrival, as were Peter and Henrie to greet us and take our lines ashore.  Ag Nik. is a warm, welcoming multi-faceted place having both an all-year-round life with a fairly large ex-pat community, and in addition a thriving summer tourist business.  We were ‘home’ and it felt like it.

Characters Met

It is rare but sometimes you meet people that bring a warm feeling to your heart and such a meeting warmed our hearts in Vathi on Sifnos.  A strangely shaped old Dufour yacht asked if we would move our dinghy from our port side so they could moor to the quay we were on.  Not in itself a strange request except we were on the end of the quay and failed to see how, even is he managed to moor up on the corner alongside us, how they would get ashore. But of course we moved the dinghy and assisted him in mooring up and in so doing noted she was equipped for disabled passengers or crew.  Even in this day and age that is an unusual sight in Mediterranean waters.  Soon we were in conversation with her Greek skipper and what transpired to be his two clients on board, a young French Canadian lady and similarly aged chap who was confined to a wheelchair. In the afternoon the lady was seen assisting him on the beach and subsequently into the sea where he was happily swimming with the minimal help of a couple of kids armband flotation aids.  How nice to see such an unfortunate fellow enjoying so much, something us more fortunate folk take for granted.  Imagine our amazement and delight to discover over dinner that evening at the same taverna on the sandy beach near our mooring, that they were on their honeymoon.  Their evident joy in imparting that information in answer to our perhaps slightly probing question as to what their relationship to each other was, was so warming to the heart it is hard to describe.  Triumph in the face of adversity.

Stein and Helga, a couple from Norway, were first seen on leaving Pilos.  We exchanged friendly waves, as you do on passing any vessel close to, as we overtook them on our lumpy downwind sail to Methoni, also their destination as it turned out.  Their yacht Bifall is a beautiful little long-keeler built in 1980 (see photo) and very well equipped for ocean cruising.  We next came across them in Monemvasia in helping them to moor up alongside. A friendship soon developed over a few beers and glasses of wine culminating in them keeping us company on the trip across to Milos and then on to Sifnos.  They are a charming couple, retired early from the Norwegian air force and now spending each summer cruising in Bifall and each winter topping up the bank balance running a hotel business in Spitzbergen.  They are keen climbers and walkers having both climbed the Matahorn and are clearly very fit and capable.  They told us a wonderful story about their weekly shopping trips in a snowmobile to the nearest settlement in temperatures of -30°C and winds up to 85 knots.  They have fitted the mobile out with an old freezer that no longer works, not to keep their purchases frozen but to stop the fresh produce they buy from freezing on the way back.  How bizarre is that?  We hope to see them again around the area of Rhodes later this month.

Revised Plans

Both Charlie Girls’ need some TLC; Charlie for her tooth and CG for her genoa and a few other bits and bobs.  The sacrificial UV strip is in tatters and with one seam in the sail having parted, all the seams and stitching must be checked.  Her safety rails need adjusting and perhaps replacing.  The engine certainly should be serviced though is performing perfectly.  The mainsail outhaul needs to be reversed or replaced, as it no longer holds well in gale force conditions and all other lines thus need checking to make sure we have that no wear has been missed that might give us a problem during the rest of the season.  Two weeks here will see all that dealt with after which we hope to sail up to Rhodes, Symi, Kalimnos, Nysiros et al with Roger and Birgitta for company on Bubbly Lady II.

E’s from Aboard 2006/12

Health Report on the Two Old SOGS

Charlie’s tooth went but not without a fight, the poor little dentist was struggling for nearly an hour to remove it as it had attached itself to her jawbone.  Evidently he moaned, tutted and “whoop’s”(ed) constantly as he struggled to pull the tooth whilst his resultant sweat dripped all over Charlie and he broke one of his instruments in the process; that and the follow up visits all for a measly £30.  Not a pleasant experience for Charlie either; even that early in the day, a very large Metaxa was required after it was over.  Constant telephone consultations with our UK dentist supported the prescribed treatment of packing the wound full of a clove mixture and the prescribing of further antibiotics and strong painkillers for another week or so and then a decreasing number of painkillers thereafter.  Four weeks later all seemed to be over though a check-up back home in November will follow to make sure.

Charlie’s arthritis continues to irritate on a daily basis; her shoulders and neck regularly ache and stiffen up and one knee occasionally flares up and swells to twice its normal size.  When taken, the prescribed drugs do keep it at bay and there is little doubt that the sun and constant warm weather not only keeps her spirits up but also seems to substantially reduce the discomfort.  The constant movement on the yacht and regular swimming also play their part.  Add to that the non-prescribed medicine taken twice daily in copious quantities (wine) and all remains under control. 

We forgot to mention that whilst in Ios provisioning up, buying drugs (antibiotics) and fixing the genoa, Richard broke a toe in his right foot; it went with quite a loud crack but was not particularly painful at the time.  His own stupid fault, walking around town in bare feet, as we do, he kicked a kerb within a paved area. He had already tripped over the same kerb twice before but with shoes on.  Other than risking a local hospital and perhaps an enormous cumbersome plaster cast, there is not a lot you can do for a broken toe other than strap it to its neighbour and wait for it to heal.  That was done and it was probably just as well the decision had been made to rest up in Ag. Nik. for a couple of weeks for the sake of Charlie’s tooth as the toe refused to settle down and was still giving trouble well in to the Autumnal cruise (see below).

As if that was not enough, on preparing to leave with Roger & Birgitta, Roger discovered his power plug could not be removed from the shore side consul socket.  Richard, offering some assistance, sat down on the pontoon to protect his toe and they proceeded to dismantle the consul.  Pontoons are slatted and anything dropped inevitably slips neatly through the gaps into the sea below.  The small screwdriver being used was dropped and Richard grabbed for it as it went down, reaching its pointed end just as the handle hit the pontoon; net result, the screwdriver passes neatly through Richard’s third finger at the joint with his hand.  Ouch!  Extracting the screwdriver from his hand proved easier than extracting Roger’s power plug from the consul; that had to be left in place and the cable cut.  Thus Bubbly Lady II and Charlie Girl IV left Aghios Nikolaos behind for their four or five week Autumnal cruise.

Autumnal Cruise

The plan was to stay loose, head up towards the Dodecanese when the winds allowed and then go where the winds dictated from then on.  Favourite spots were in mind as well as new.  We had never sailed northeast out of Crete so the first three possible stopping places, Sitea on Crete and the islands of Kassos and Karpathos held the prospect of new excitements.  We were not to be disappointed.

The first day’s forecast did let us down.  Little sailing was achieved on the way to Sitea, itself a little disappointing but a safe port for the night.  The following morning we set off north and then east towards Kassos and Karpathos, most of which was sailed in a stiff and steadily increasing breeze and steepening sea.  The Pilot aptly describes the area around the two islands: “These two sea-swept islands are the two most southerly of the Dodecanese.  Lying in a stretch of angry sea, (boy is it!) ……large and disturbed seas will be encountered (they certainly were) ……the bottom comes up quickly ……causing a wicked cross-sea. ……there are fierce gusts in the approaches. (not half there were)”  And we volunteered to visit this area; are we mad?  Not entirely as the Pilot also describes the little port on Kassos as: “The village of Fri sits excluded in this windy corner of the Aegean, a bit of a wallflower in its dowdy old fashioned way.  That is its charm. ……It is an enchanting place ……stay for a while, although the odds are the weather may keep you bottled up here anyway.” All found to be true; the place is absolutely enchanting, all seems to move slowly except the wind and sea as if to say ‘Blow if you like, we don’t care’

And a bonus (see photo); a free café!  What more can one askFri (pronounced nearly as ‘free’) is the name of the village around the port (see photos) and is absolutely charming.  Surprisingly this tiny windswept almost forgotten island has a daily air service from Athens via Rhodes and is regularly visited by what must be the longest ferry route in Greece; Rhodes, Karpathos, Kassos, Agios Nikolaos, Santorini, Milos, Athens and back, though that can mean picking up the one that comes in at 3am on a Monday morning.  We were sufficiently entrapped by its charm to stay three nights; the next three were enforced, as the Pilot predicted, by the strong southeasterly winds of between F5-8.  It was not thought appropriate to tackle the seas such winds can produce around the islands.

The extra time in Kassos was no burden.  A moped was hired one morning and the island explored.  It is barren but in its way quite beautiful (see photo).  Most of the mountainsides are terraced if long unused for agricultural purposes.  The population is now around a thousand whereas in past centuries it was twenty times that, and was then unsupported by the regular ferry service it now enjoys.  Self-sufficiency through agriculture was thus essential to survival.  Perhaps the greatest reduction in the then 11,000 population was the massacre in 1824 of 7,000 by an Egyptian expedition led by their then Turkish Governor, Mohammed Ali; an event that is still commemorated every year and which draws ex-Kassiots back from all over the world.  Simply bliss.

On the quay, housed in what appears to be the original harbour/ferry office, is a café bar, To Movragio, run by two ex fisherman who took an EU backed grant to give up fishing and seek an alternative existence.  A more incongruous pair of restaurateurs it would be hard to find but the atmosphere they have created is irresistible.  They are a real pair of characters, big, tall, muscular and smiley, as a result of their size and background, always appearing a bit ham-fisted in the way they handle their business; we are told that last year they couldn’t even carry a serving tray without dropping it but they are so friendly, helpful and welcoming we found ourselves returning there most lunchtimes for yet another panini stuffed full of local sausage, tomato and cheese washed down with copious quantities of aspro krasi (white wine).

Eventually a one-day window in the strong winds was forecast and off we went, the seventy or so miles to Tilos.  Most was sailed in a quite large and confused swell created by the stormy southerlies of the past week being crossed by the swell raised by the north-westerly breeze of the day.  Whilst sailing the average speed was 7.2 knots and the average overall 6.7, not bad for such long a hike in a difficult sea.

As expected, three nights were spent in Livadhia, a charming little harbour with a pace of life that seems slow even by Greek standards, whilst the Meltemi reasserted itself from the north-west making the choice of further progress less than ideal.

Wildlife?

Chattering Chaffinches, chirping Green Finches, resplendent Hollyhocks, patios full of Geraniums, giant Chestnut trees heavy with nuts, and a squashed hedgehog on the road; we could have been in England it was so green and lush but we weren’t, we were on the Lasithi Plateau, which is nearly three thousand feet above sea level, snuggling cosily amidst a Cretan mountain range.  Its sides are so steep and the plateau so flat it looks like a volcanic crater, perhaps contributing to the fact that for centuries the communities living here developed separately from the rest of Crete.

The climb up from the north coast through a twisty and at times, steep sided gorge, was hard work for the little car and incredibly dramatic.  Near the top we slipped off the main road to pass through the most enchanting little village called Krasi, (Greek for wine) and sweet it was to.  On a future trip we shall stop there for lunch as it proved to be the most attractive of the villages we would pass through that day.  We also the stopped at a tiny monastery (see photo of its chapel) where we partook of the custom in such places, free orange juice or water and sweet ginger flavoured biscuits (Dakos) or bread.  The chapel and surrounding buildings are close to a thousand years old and are beautifully maintained; well worth the €2.00 entrance fee.

On its southern side Mount Dikti, dominant amongst the surrounding peaks, majestically towers above the plain, secreting as it does the cave within which, according to Greek mythology, Zeus was born and kept safe from his father who had eaten a previous offspring to avoid losing his throne to him as prophesied by some oracle of the time.  We visited the cave after a steep and tortuous climb up a broken stone pathway followed by a frighteningly steep, poorly lit, staircase decent into the bowls of the earth; not an ideal expedition with Richard’s broken toe.  Unfortunately it turned out to be the most disappointing cave we have ever visited; the stalactites and stalagmites were few, poor, dirty and largely broken and the complex quite small and again poorly lit: not quite what you would expect the most powerful of mythological gods to have lived in.  Getting supplies to him must have been hell!

The plateau itself is a patchwork quilt of fields, pretty dry looking at the end of the summer but still producing a plethora of vegetables and fruit in abundance.  The ‘dry season’ actually ended whilst we were there.  It rained!  Not so much on the plain but the first rain on Crete after the usual long summer drought.  But back in Aghios Nikolaos it was torrential and we had left all the hatches on CG open.  Whoops.  Still it got the throws, curtains and cushion covers laundered a bit earlier than planned. 

And that nicely leads in to our next topic ……

Life on Board

As for anybody at home, there is a routine and there are jobs to be done keeping the home clean, tidy and in working order; awakening in a different harbour, bay or port most days does not change that.  Before bed each night the tea things are laid out and the kettle filled to enable the making of morning tea a fairly automatic process requiring little thought before the few remaining brain cells are activated by its caffeine just as it used to be before leaving for work.  Tea, at least two mug fulls each, is taken in the cockpit absorbing our surroundings in the early morning sunlight whilst we cogitate on where to go to today, read last week’s Daily Telegraph or, in Richard’s case, do some Sudoku.

If it has been humid overnight the decks will be wet enough for Charlie to become Captain Moppity Bucket and mop them down to remove any salt, sand or dust accumulated from the previous day.  Richard may check the engine oil, water and filters or, horror of horrors of jobs, dismantle the loo assemblies to clean them out and re-grease the working parts.  The loos are flushed by pumping seawater through them on each occasion; one into a holding tank for disposal when well at sea, the other discharging straight in to the sea.  Every so often the dual task of hull cleaning is undertaken and that takes a good few hours, particularly cleaning below the water line.  CG’s coppered bottom does not stop the accumulation of growth on the impeller for her log (speedometer).  Periodically Richard will either dive under CG and clean off the offending encrustations or withdraw the whole assembly from inside to give it a really good clean.  It is always a bit scary pulling it out as the sea, of course, rushes in the hole until you put in the temporary plug; a never racking moment.  Then there are always ropes and lines to be spliced or their ends whipped, a much more acceptable and rewarding task.  Thank heavens we don’t have to clean underneath houses.

Cooking is much the same as at home but without our beloved Aga; they don’t make them with gimbals and the weight would probably sink us.  The galley (kitchen) is fairly confined, storage is much more limited hence there is less of the sophisticated equipment we have there plus the cooker is just two small gas rings and an oven.  But some good food is produced when it is not too hot to be below adding more heat to the saloon through use of the cooker!

Laundry!  Washing machines, tumble driers, ironing boards and irons are taken for granted in a land based home; these days, we all have them.  On a yacht there is no room for such trappings of modern day life.  Even if there were, 240v mains power is needed to run them, not a luxury available on a yacht other than when you are in a marina and few ports so equipped.  Thus the selection of bedding in particular can be critical and we were lucky in choosing, without thinking of such problems, Dorma products from our local department store, Austins.  What a buy they turned out to be.  Find a laundry, self-service or otherwise, get them washed only, hang them out on the yacht for about 30 minutes, if that, and they are dry, fold them and store them; they don’t need ironing, drying in the Aegean wind deals with that.  But some things do need ironing even though most of the clothing bought and used does not need it.  Charlie found a small, light ironing board of such size that Richard could make a permanent hanging arrangement on the inside of the saloon loo door (CG has two shower/loos).  A small, uncomplicated steam iron was found in Levkas for €18.00 (£12.00) that can be used whenever we have mains power.

Sometimes laundry does become a desperate issue as it did in August this year.  For over five weeks, no laundry could be found and for seven weeks we had had no mains power anyway.  All that came right on arrival in Aghios Nikolaos by which time we had no clean sheets left, those in use had been on for well over a week and Richard’s underpants had been turned inside out at least three times.  The marina has a washing machine and mains power (and water) is provided as part of our berth contract, free for five years.  Charlie was in heaven.

Health matters are an issue and only the foolhardy set forth on a yacht without a well-equipped first aide cabinet.  We are no exception and perhaps carry a lot more than most, even a sealed package of drugs and equipment for fairly serious events that we may only open after radio contact with a doctor specially qualified to deal with such situations.  Hopefully it will never need to be opened.  Otherwise we deal with most eventualities without recourse to professional medical assistance though the acquisition of drugs in Greece and elsewhere is much easier and cheaper that at home; if you know what you require it can be bought over the counter at a Pharmacy without a prescription and generally for a couple of Euros.

E’s from Aboard 2006/13

Autumnal Cruise

After a few delightful days in Tilos the wind abated and we sailed the 25 nms due east to Panormittis on Symi; an almost completely enclosed bay within which the monastery of St. Michael was built (see photo).  As previously mentioned (2005 and Places Visited notes), sailors from all over the world, principally Greek, visit here to pray to the archangel for some favour or wish and in return leave something they had made; carved wooden ships, ships made from ivory or bone and many other somewhat simpler objects.  The monastery has kept them all and displays the best in a small museum.  The peace and tranquillity of the bay reflects its religious purpose; one wonders which came first, the peace, beauty and tranquillity caused the monks to set up the monastery there or the monastery has ensured the bay remains peaceful and tranquil: we will never know.

Then it was on to Rhodos (Rhodes), 25 nms further east and the eastern most point of our sailing.  Yes it is a very touristy island, not to everyone’s taste and we would generally say, certainly not to ours.  But somehow its history enables it to rise above the annual mass invasion and retain its historic atmosphere.  It is that we find irresistible and a bike ride around the moat perfectly examples that.  The moat is now a beautifully tree lined and grass verged walk that enables one to gaze in awe at what our predecessors were capable of constructing before the days of modern building equipment.  Massive stone walls and battlements built of huge blocks of stone hewn from who knows where, riddled with secret passageways, some barely wide or high enough for a child to pass through, winding down steps cut into the rock bed foundations right through the walls, themselves several metres thick at their base.  It must have taken centuries to complete and now we ride round the moat on our bikes in half an hour, wondering about how it looked when the town was under its final attack in the early 1500’s and the moat was filled to the brim with a hundred thousand Turkish bodies before the Knights of St John finally surrendered.  On a lighter note, inside the walls, three quarters of the old town is still occupied as residential property separated by narrow cobbled streets and with the occasional beautifully maintained tree-covered squares; little parks really where the old locals sit and watch the modern world pass them by.

Whilst in Rhodes we took a local bus up to the Valley of the Butterflies where we walked up the steep cobbled paths and steps crossing and re-crossing the mountain stream that tumbles down the tree-covered gorge on bridges constructed from tree prunings and fir branches.  You could think yourself on Dartmoor.  The butterflies (they are Jersey Tiger Moths actually) congregate here in their thousands, not just from Rhodes but the nearby Turkish mainland as well, to escape the summer heat in the coolness of the gorge.  At times the air is so heavy with them, they almost completely cut out the light.  We were too late in the season to see that but we did find a few late leavers clinging to the bark of trees (see photo) and resting, breeding or trapped on the still waters of a reservoir pool half way down the gorge (see 2 photos).

We also spent an hour one evening at the Son et Lumiere that is held in a garden under the battlements of the old town.  The lighting was good but not inspiring and the story told a little limited in that it only dealt with a new knight being sworn in to the Order and the final battle against the Turks before the Order withdrew to Malta.  But, if you will excuse the pun, it was very enlightening.

Now it was time to head back west, first to Pialos, Symi’s main town and harbour.  A delightfully colourful place with the old houses spread up the steep hillsides on either side of the harbour, brightly painted in refreshingly gay colours and interspersed with numerous equally attractive churches and chapels.  Sunday morning lie-ins are difficult here as the churches compete with each other for worshippers by ringing their bells loudly and frequently from around 7am onwards.  Ding, dang, dong, pause, ding, dang, dong, pause; ding, dang, dong, ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, ding, dang, ding, dang dong.  A strange repetitive rhythm that one hears all over Greece but here they vary it, either because the Papas (priest) has no sense of rhythm or because Symi has its own style, we are not sure which.  It is a compulsive sound and rhythm, difficult to ignore but quite pleasing to the ear.

A return visit to Panormittis was a must and on arriving we were astounded to find Patrick and Sheila on Shecat.  We had last seen them in Gouvia (Corfu) in April 2005 knowing they were heading for Marmaris in Turkey where they intended to over-winter and base themselves for the foreseeable future.  How amazing that they should chose Tuesday the 10th of October to visit Greek waters, Panormittis in particular and that we should choose to return there so soon.  It was drinks on Shecat as soon as we arrived. That lasted several hours and the following day lunchtime drinks on CGIV, then in the evening eating ashore together at the only taverna in Panormittis.  We had learnt through Patrick and Shelia’s e-mails, Shecat was struck by lightening in Marmaris the previous year.  It was good to hear in detail of the experience and the traumas that followed in getting her back into a seaworthy condition.  That and other stories were exchanged with the usual nautical penchant for exchanging only ‘bad news’.  Storms, dragging anchors, expensive moorings et al were all recounted until we all ran out of new ones in the small hours of the next morning.  A real treat and pleasure to see them again after so long.

On our voyage west the next stop just had to be Nysiros the volcanic island we have mentioned before and visit most years.  Palon or Palos, which ever of its names suits best, is a tight little port and very shallow.  Running aground in here is all too easy.  Much to our surprise it was packed nearly to full capacity.  We managed to squeeze in at the shallow end and, despite the sandy bottom, took two attempts to get the anchor to hold adequately and that was after Richard swam out, dived on it and dug it in manually.  We are always cautious in here as, when it blows, the wind is generally right on the beam.  Just as well, as the wind came up in the night and blew fairly hard with squalls of rain all through the next day.  Not our favourite weather and a portent of what mid-October had in store for us.  On the second day the sun came out, so did the bikes and we peddled briskly off up the hill and down the other side to the main harbour of Madraki to draw out some money and check the weather and e-mails on the Internet.  It was Friday the 13th.  The ATM was out of action and we already owed the taverna for the previous night’s meal.  Hotmail was not performing so the e-mails were left unread.  The weather sites were performing but gave us a picture of worsening winds and weather further north and west, exactly where we intended to go.  It was time to got no further and head South for home (Aghios Nikolaos) instead.

That turned out to be easier said than done.  We headed back to Tilos where we spent a couple of days waiting for a window in the strong winds to run the 70nms south to Kassos.  The window came and we set off at a pace to motor round the bottom of the island to pick up the expected F5-6 north-westerly; strong but manageable it would give us a good turn of speed to run the big sea we guessed would come with it.  The sails went up and off we went at a good 7knts whilst still in the lee of the island but as we came out the lee the wind dropped to a lowly F4 whilst the sea we found was, to put it mildly, horrendous.  At five to six knots there was no way we could ride the waves or make Kassos during daylight.  The trip was aborted and we sailed, rather uncomfortably, the twenty odd miles to nearby Khalki, a lovely little port ideal in such weather and flat calm.  A two or three day stop was expected whilst the Meltemi blew itself out.  Aeolus had other ideas and the forecast that evening was for southerlies and easterlies; Khalki is untenable in either.  Early next morning all the local’s were out moving their boats from around us, not a good sign.  What did they know that we didn’t?  If they thought it was going to be that bad there was not a totally safe harbour we could run to without heading straight into the possible storm force winds; returning to Tilos was our only half-acceptable option.  And so it was we and Roger & Birgitta running from Panormittis, ended up riding out the worst storm we have ever encountered on the town quay on Tilos watching the sea flowing over the outer quay just 40m off our bows.  Even one of the large ferries had problems and was crashing so heavily against the wall they would not let any passengers board though a few did manage to get off and run the gauntlet of the water cascading over the quay.  When it finally gave up and left it was only to move out into the bay and anchor in the relative shelter afforded by the bay; a good indication of how much worse it was out at sea.  As the evening wore on, the storm intensified and thunder and lightening added to the drama.  We have never seen such lightening in our lives before; the flashes through the clouds were almost continuous, lighting up the sky, the harbour and the mountainsides in a moonlight type glow that shone threw the clouds and was interspersed with regular bolts striking the island all around the bay; quite frightening to see.  We subsequently learned the storm had caused such damage elsewhere and killed two people on Crete, it appeared on most European TV channels; Birgitta’s family were on the phone checking to see she and Roger were ok.

Enough is enough.  Our desire to return to our ‘home’ in Aghios Nikolaos intensified.  The next morning, a little late for the long stretch to Kassos, we set off only to find on rounding the bottom of Tilos the sea was untenable and the wind in the wrong direction, despite the forecast having said otherwise.  Back to Tilos.  Roger and Birgitta also decided to leave and headed off down to Khalki where they spent that night.  With a slightly better forecast for the next morning we packed up the bikes, shore power et al, ready for a start before dawn for our fourth attempt to get to Kassos.  Off we went at 0600 with Roger and Birgitta leaving Khalki about an hour later.   The sea was huge but with the wind coming in strongly abaft the mast CG charged along at between 8 and 9knts, making light of the seas, crashing through the crests and rushing off down their slopes in a show of disdain for their size.  The seas and winds slowly abated as the day went on and we drifted into Kassos harbour at less than 2knts in a flat calm sea having spent the last hour or so listening to Eugene Kissin’s renditions of Chopin’s Piano Concertos 1 & 2.  Bliss at last.

A trip to the internet café and a check on the weather told us another nasty looking double low was deepening over Corsica and Sicily and that would give us south-easterly winds for just one day, ideal to make it back to our home base and so it was that we made it back to Crete on October 21st, a lot earlier than planned.

Then Aeolus smiled and turned on the normal warm October weather.  More sailing?

E’s from Aboard 2006/14

Season’s End

Always a time of mixed feelings; the disappointment of sailing adventures all done for the season versus the excitement of looking forward to seeing all our friends and family, a log fire and a bit of television, something we will not have done for eight months.  Also the declining weather and reducing daylight hours increase the desire to leave the warmth of the daytime Mediterranean sun.  Retiring below before 6pm as it gets dark and is relatively too cold to sit on deck is demoralising though plenty of folk on the marina do that all winter; many do not have a home available in the UK to return to.  A log fire, a bottle of wine, home cooked food and the company of family and good friends become an increasingly powerful magnet drawing us away from Crete.  The worst weather in Greece for 35 years (see below) increased that pull over our last weekend.

 CG has to be put to bed, her sails and all her ropes taken off, washed, dried, bagged and packed away down below.  Oil and water tanks filled and all her working parts such as batteries, battery charger, gas and oil lines, seacocks, checked so she can be left ticking over for four months.  A job list prepared for the chap who watches over her for us and to get those jobs done that Richard is not confident to do himself or that will quicken the preparatory process in the Spring.

On a day as good as a calm English summer’s day, we took CG out for one more overnight trip.  Spinalonga is a small, fortified island at the head of a delightful shallow, silver sand lagoon lying just eight miles north of the marina.  It is formed by a peninsula that is almost an island itself.  We sailed up there in a light 10 knot northerly breeze, tacking several times as the wind direction gently varied and giving us a 14 mile sail before we slid very slowly in the dying breeze into a quiet bay to join Roger & Birgitta on Bubbly Lady II at anchor.  They later joined us aboard CG for supper but not before we had our final swim of the season in a still temperate 22°C warm sea.  After a very peaceful night in absolutely flat calm, we spent a lazy morning reading the previous weekend’s Daily Telegraph before setting the sails for the return trip to our berth in the marina.  It took two hours to sail the first two miles to the head of the lagoon in the faintest puffs of wind from all points of the compass, after which the breeze settled down to give us a gentle broad-reach sail back to the marina.  A blissful 36 hours that we thought would be our last sail of the season but there was a short lull in the forecast strong winds that allowed us out just once more.

The last sail was a short one, four miles out across the bay and back in a gentle 6-knot breeze.  It would have been further but the wind across the bay was considerably more and the sails having been nicely washed by the recent rain, the possibility of salt on the sails was to be avoided.  The trip also enabled the grotty job of flushing out the holding tank, Richard having spent two hours that morning scraping **** and crusting from inside the loo pipes.

That left just eight days before our return to The Old Stables and we looked forward to completing the over-wintering tasks in the autumn sunshine.  It was not to be.  By the weekend the daytime temperatures had dropped to 11°C and at night to an amazing 6°C.  The thunderstorms got longer, stronger and more frequent culminating in snow falling on the lower mountain slopes behind the town (see photo).  Reportedly the total combination of adverse weather throughout Greece was the worst for at least 35 years, and that with Crete being the warmest place in the country!

Life on Pontoon B (and some of A & C)

About forty yachts over-winter in the water moored to the pontoons and around half of them remain occupied by their owners.  Some describe ‘Life on Pontoon B’ as being like that portrayed in Coronation Street or Eastenders; some find either reference offensive.  Perhaps it depends on whether you are from the north or south of England or see yourself as being above such lifestyles as the ‘Soaps’ portray.

Whilst most are newcomers each year, rudely described as intruders by a few of the longer-term residents, a village style community very quickly establishes itself.  In the mild and warm Cretan climate, every Sunday throughout the year a barbeque is held on the hard and that plays an important part in the growth of a community spirit and aids the helpful interplay between boat owners, essential to economic survival.  Many live on very limited budgets, most if not all on a budget that has limits.  Thus things like the book swap shelf in the shower block help to provide a constantly changing variety of books for all to freely enjoy, particularly as such items are not readily available in Greek bookshops.  The sharing of specialised tools needed for yacht maintenance is another benefit, widely used again saving otherwise large expenditure.

It also produces some real characters, one might say natural leaders except that is misleading in how they are perceived or perceive themselves and it would be wrong to mention names except perhaps just one.  Reliant Robin (see photo).  Like the famous car he is always there, available and willing to help anyone and is the principle organiser of walks.  He also has an almost complete engineering workshop on his yacht Flapjack; a veritable Aladdin’s cave of tools for any job that might arise on anyone’s yacht.

And just like all small communities, sometimes there is friction.  The frustration arising from having just one washing machine and tumble drier in the communal shower block between so many people occasionally leads to differences of opinion.  Loads are piled up in order next to the machines and should then be washed in the prescribed order but there are those who wont wait and those who forget to return and remove their load in time, resulting in friction and explosive exchanges taking place that ripple round the marina as today’s bit of scandal.  As the community is multi-racial, international incidents develop but so far Brussels has not had to intervene and none have been referred to the Court of Human Rights in the Hague.

Some are great walkers and Crete has numerous long and short treks for those who wish to participate.  Some even involve overnight camping on the way up or down from a peak or gorge; most are for the very fit!  Greek lessons are another participant sport.  Each Autumn many newcomers gather with much enthusiasm and rush off to be ‘interviewed’ for suitability by the various available teachers.  Some fall by the wayside by Christmas, most by the first signs of homework for the Spring term.  The expression ‘It’s all Greek to me’ is well founded, it is an impossible language to learn easily; many of us have tried, most of us have largely failed.

Characters Met or Seen

An interesting evening was spent in one of the tavernas in Palon (Nysiros) where their menu will tell you they serve ‘Lamp Cops’ (Dixons’ for short presumably?) and ‘Cuddle Fish’ (we leave you to work the humour in that one).  It was a fairly rowdy meal.  The taverna was full of locals being cosseted by the opposition candidate in the elections for local mayor and, as he was buying the drinks it was good quality bottled wine being drunk not the usual barrelled ‘loose’ wine!  The traditional Greek music got louder and louder until eventually the clapping in time started and that is always a precursor to traditional dancing.  This night was no different except that one of the dancers was the taverna owners mother, a lovely white-haired smiley old lady dressed in the traditional black garb including head covering.  It was delight to watch and clearly a delight for her. She lives in a house not ten strides from the taverna on the harbour front, the house in which she was born and has lived all of her 91 years.  Those dancing with her gracefully adjusted the pace to respect her age and ability but she had lost none of the sense of rhythm needed to make the dance as erotic and romantic as it most certainly is and was when she was young.  Her feet, head and body moved as if she were 19 not 91 and her face showed the same spirit as it would have then.  It was a delight to watch and join in the clapping to add to her encouragement.  Unfortunately, we had not taken our camera!

Elsewhere we met an English couple that were straight out of Eastenders or Coronation Street; only their names have been appropriately changed to protect their innocence.  Sharon must have been from Essex as she perfectly reflected the character that has most unkindly become known as ‘Essex girl’.  Her high-pitched giggle at the end of everything she said was beyond belief and despite hours of practice Charlie was unable to replicate it.  She had somehow managed to seduce her middle-aged boss who subsequently left his wife, divorced her and married Sharon.  From our conversations with them, they had about us much in common as a piece of pork has with a synagogue.  Wilfred was a well-educated and successful businessman, brought up with sailing and loves it.  Sharon, being an Essex girl doesn’t understand sails (other than those held just after Christmas), so much so that after her first two week holiday on a yacht, she attempted to gain an RYA Day Skippers Certificate (a five day examination exercise on a yacht) and failed, so she told us ending her tale with the usual inane giggle.

Conclusion

So endeth the 2006 season.  No regrets but certainly not the best we have had.  It was a mistake to set ourselves such a challenging itinerary.  Had the weather been average for the year all would have been well.  Up to the end of May it was but after that the winds were unusually fierce and the frequency of thunderstorms, some really violent, almost unbelievable.  And the seasons end in Aghios Nikolaos was as different to last year as chalk is to cheese.

4,222 Nautical miles were covered, 2,200 of which we sailed, certainly a much better average than any previous year.  Croatia was a disappointment, its attitude on mooring fees doing little to encourage visiting yachts.  Italy was much as expected on the sailing front but its food produce really gave some extra pleasure to cooking on board.  Sicily was largely disappointing, excepting Syracuse and La Balata, both places we would re-visit.  Malta, whilst excessively hot, was a delight to visit and the restaurant meals we had there will hang long in our memories.   And Greece?  Well Greece is Greece and we love it but we shall not visit our beloved Ionian ever again in July or August, it is like hell on the M25.  Elsewhere the unpredictable strong winds severely limited return visits to old favourites.

As to health matters, Charlie’s tooth was an absolute pain (pun intended) and certainly spoilt part of her year.  Other than that, all was much as expected.  Arthritis was managed perhaps better than last year.  Otherwise there was just Richard’s (still) broken toe.  But we are brown, not as fit as in previous years through too many days holed-up avoiding storms and the weight is going to need serious attention whilst at home.  Weightwatchers here we come!!