Life Abroad Charlie Girl IV 2017 (6)

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Saturday September 30th to Tuesday October 17th

The perfect sailing day that was to come could never have been imagined though maybe guessed at for some of the best sails have often occurred on leaving the Gulf of Cornith for the Gulf of Patras.

The plan was to sail or motor the 30nms round the north coast of the Gulf to Navpaktos, anchor off there for the night before proceeding under the Rion bridge into the Gulf of Patras and on a further 25nms to Messalonghi; all this mainly because the forecast winds were North to North-East at F3 or less lasting through until Monday when we would cover the last few miles out of the Gulfs and into the Ionian. Aeolus had other ideas and within minutes of leaving Galaxidhi we were sailing along very smoothly with both sails deployed, 'full and by' as the sailors centuries ago described them, making around 7 knots in a brisk F4 Northerly breeze.

Some 30nms later and as we approached to within 5nms of the bridge three hours earlier than expected we decided to push on to Messalonghi. The mainsail was put away as the winds normally gather in strength substantially in its vicinity. Today they rose slightly to F5 whilst backing to Nor-Easterly increasing our speed to 8Knots plus some as we cleared our passage under the bridge by radio with Rion Traffic control and swept under the northern passage of this most beautiful example of architectural engineering, its cables shining bright white in the sunlight.

Unusually the wind maintained its strength until well into the late afternoon by which time we were passed the entrance to Messalonghi with hours of daylight left and the lessened breeze still pushing us along quite nicely. So we carried on east out of the Gulf of Patras and, on rounding Nisos Oxia and turning north, the wind finally died and we motored the last 8nms to Limin Petala, a deserted anchorage but firmly in the Ionian.

We had covered 74nms at an average speed a fraction under 7 knots, the majority of it under sail. Remarkable!

Little did we know it was to be our last such sail for several weeks.

Much as the Ionian remains the first love in so many ways, its enjoyment is now greatly marred by the shear number of yachts cruising its fairly limited area. It still has that one fundamental attraction though, which it was felt Jan would enjoy as a change; distances from spot to spot, port to port, tend to be measured in single digits not tens; seven miles not seventy.

Our last leg into its heart was of 26nms further north to reach the first of its gems to be visited, Little Vathi on Meganissi, 11nms of which we sailed in a brisk early morning easterly breeze under a rapidly clearing clear blue, sun-filled sky and, most important, a flat sea.

One night in the Little Vathi was enough and just a tad depressing as The Rose Garden, a favourite taverna, was not busy and the owners seemed down; certainly less cheerful than usual. Effy asked about Rod & Pat who they know well in a more forced than genuine interest manner. Thus after shopping for a few essentials in the morning we motored the 6nms due north to anchor off the beach in the peace and tranquillity of One Tree bay, as it is erroneously known as it has two oak trees, not just one. It was as charming and tranquil as it ever was, watching the sun fade and sink below the mountainous skyline of nearby Levkas to the west of the bay and then rise again the following morning over the majestic mountains of the mainland to the east of the bay (see sunrise photo).

We then motored round to and up the newly dredged and much widened Levkas canal, now and for the first time in its life, all properly marked out for its whole length with new, solar powered, port and starboard hand buoys. Mooring up on the town quay was achieved but not quite where preferred, being side-on to the prevailing North-Westerlies that blow most afternoons and have a tendency to pull anchors out of the incredibly soft mud of the canal.

A walk along the front passed Teo's Pirate bar to the veg shop to purchase some of their always excellent produce followed and then a continuance on to the top of the pedestrianised main street down which we sauntered until reaching the square where we took up residence in Indigo's, a taverna bar I know oh so well. First it was an excellent Nescafé frappé; then, an hour later, two glasses of wine were ordered. Jan was mystified as to why a glass with serviettes and two forks were delivered before the wine. I just grinned and proposed a toast to us as the waitress then brought a plate with meat, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumber and olives. In simple terms for the price of two glasses of wine, €3 each, we had lunch.

Here the thus far successful trip nearly came to an end as, after showering and dressing we wandered towards the bottom end of the pedestrianised street with a view to having a drink and then supper in the main square. As I stepped off the pavement onto the road my ankle turned over dramatically with two loud cracks; I had forgotten about the curved edge to the tarmac some 200mm from the kerb that made a gully into which my foot had readily twisted. The agonising pain took some minutes to subside after which I was determined to continue into town. Jan thought otherwise, advising me to return to the yacht. We walked on, arguing, for 50 metres and then I admitted I could not carry on and we hobbled very slowly back to the yacht. Jan examined the ankle and was convinced we should head for casualty; I was having none of it and eventually we went to bed after a strong dose of Ibuprofen, some Paracetamol, a cold flannel over the foot supported by an additional pillow. I slept well. Jan did not, worrying about my ankle.

By the morning the whole of the foot, ankle and half way up my calf was severely swollen but, if not used, not painful; walking however was impossible. Much debate ensued as to x-rays, plaster casts or just managing it ourselves with Jan firmly in favour of a taxi to hospital. For various reasons I was not. The yacht was not in a safe place should the wind rise or change direction and both were forecast. Operating the yacht with one's foot in plaster is impractical and my instinct told me, unnecessary. Both my and Charlie's past experience of Greek casualty departments had been far less than acceptable and I was not about to volunteer for another such experience until it was absolutely unavoidable. We needed somewhere to 'hole up' that was safe, had the facilities we needed and from where a hospital could be accessed; Porto Spilia 11nms to the south fitted that bill even though to get to a hospital from there would involve a four mile ferry ride and a taxi. Jan went off to buy some bandages, some cooling cream and fresh veg after which we stowed the fenders on deck, left the passarelle attached, lifted the anchor very gingerly and motored back down the canal and out into and across the the inland sea, as it is called, to Porto Spilia where we were greeted and assisted in mooring up on a lazy line, myself having phoned ahead to arrange that.

A crutch was fashioned out of an upturned broom, covered with a small folded towel for padding and wrapped in a plastic bag to keep all in place (see photos). (Video of Crutch)

Nigel and Alison from Exmouth were moored next to us and kindly offered the use of one of there bikes for getting back and forth from the taverna as I had made the mistake of hobbling there on the first evening and afterwards seriously struggled to get back to the yacht. Jan's finger was metaphorically wagging and rightly so! I was pushing it.

There is little doubt the ligament damage is severe and that I have probably cracked a couple of the smaller bones adjacent to the ankle, the tarsals, or even a metatarsal bone running down to the toes, judging by the discomfort and points of pain, possibly both. But there is no grating or grinding of severed bones so they will readily heal if given time and rest. Time we have plenty of; rest does not come easy to me or when you have a boat to run.

All this finally got the bikes out of their locker when, two days later, we moved round to Sivota as severe winds and thunderstorms were forecast first from the south and then the north and in the knowledge that I could then ride from A to B, on the level which both gently exercised the ankle and saved it being loaded by walking. Riding the bike very positively affected the progress of repair and still does.

The arrival in Sivota early on Friday afternoon was fortuitous albeit planned. With such a forecast all flotillas that turn round there on a Saturday and Sunday would be brought in early and others would be told to run there for cover. And so it was. The place was already very busy but we managed to moor up very much where I wished to be and by sundown every square inch of quay and pontoon space had been taken up with well over a hundred yachts in the bay.

It was then the temperatures dropped. Never since I started keeping detailed records have I ever experienced such cold weather in the Ionian in early October; 11° at night and struggling to make 20-21° at the peak of the day. With the rain on the Saturday and the strong winds, the chill factor made it feel even colder; two nights running we ate below in the saloon and the tavernas ashore were dead. You might expect this in November but not early October.

The storm was severe and lasted through the weekend though little of it was felt in Sivota other than the heavy rain on Saturday morning and a few dragging anchors that were swiftly relayed or supplemented by the flotilla leaders. We were to discover later that others were less fortunate elsewhere.

By Sunday evening it had pretty well blown itself out and thoughts of moving on rapidly rose. Wrapped up in long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, jumper and fleecy coat taking Monday morning's breakfast at Yanna's Family Taverna the forecast was checked; moving on it would be. After carefully stowing all the gear, the anchor was equally carefully lifted and we motored the 12nms south in warming sunlight to an old favourite, perhaps at one time, the favourite, Kioni on Ithaka. For various reasons, some of them emotional and some because it looked depressingly quiet and closed up, we moved on and continued the 5nms round the coast and down into Ithaka's main harbour and town, Vathi. Mooring up on the north quay with a greeting of “I hope you are not staying more than one night as “I” want the quay for a flotilla tomorrow” plus a swarm of wasps making safe mooring a little difficult, somehow turned my mood black to such an extent I was giving thought to hastening our return to Aghios Nikolaos and flying home early. Ridiculous!

The bikes had been stowed on the rails, one each side, and were soon ashore so I suggested we ride the kilometre or so round the bay to the town centre and have a drink instead of sitting in the cockpit all afternoon. It was a good move and my mood rapidly lifted. On reflection it was probably the depressing view of Kioni countering the happy memories I have of buying Charlie silver jewellery there and all the fun we had in its bars and tavernas over many years that triggered the black mood; that and a very painful ankle.

After supper on CGIV Jan was persuaded to ride our light-less bikes back into town for a Metaxa which we did. The Metaxas were taken in a very locals bar in the back streets to keep out of the cool breeze but somehow we found ourselves again in the bar where we had enjoyed an excellent fresh lemon juice earlier, ordering a couple of crepes, and excellent they were too; thin, light and tasty with just the right amount of sugar and lemon for me and chocolate for Jan. By the time we returned to CGIV and bed, yours truly was back on a high.

We had not sailed for a week, principally as there had been no wind. It was hoped that would change when we headed for Poros on Kephalonia on Tuesday as the forecast was for a half decent breeze from the north which would have given us a nice, easy, downwind sail. It never materialised and a further 18nms was added to our motoring tally.

On entering Poros harbour we were shocked to see a 2003 model Bavaria 44, Gabriella, lying on her side against the inner breakwater rocks. After we had moored up we rode round to view the sad sight and learn more. She was badly holed and had effectively sunk but in very shallow water so was standing on her keel. Evidently four British ladies were aboard and their men ashore and away. In Saturday's storm she was thought to be dragging her anchor so they slipped her lines, quickly lost control of her and ran aground at the other end of the harbour. Fortunately all four managed to scramble ashore over the breakwater rocks unharmed but deeply shocked.

That afternoon, the whole of the following day and early Thursday morning we watched a couple of divers and a crane attempt to salvage her. The pictures probably tell the story as well as it could be told in words though it must be said we were amazed they managed to get her ashore at all as the crane could not get near to her and thus considerable additional damage was done in the process of dragging her across the shallows and breakwater rocks.

It is worth noting that, now, under International Maritime Law, all vessels must be recovered even if they are subsequently scrapped. After we left her mast was to be dropped, her loaded on to a low-loader truck and transported by ferry and road to Athens (see sequence of photos).

The owner and loss adjuster, to whom we spoke, were unsure whether she would be repaired or scrapped as there was uncertainty over her insured value. It was a sad and sobering sight; one small mistake and that is what can happen. It was avoidable; all they needed to do was start the engine and motor ahead, pulling on their stern mooring lines thereby keeping her off the quay until the wind died down and/or someone else could relay their anchor for them from a small boat or dinghy or provide other support. That is not intended as criticism; we all make mistakes and generally get away with them; they were not so lucky and have lost their pride and joy as a result.

Thursday's wind forecast was again favourable for a nice relaxing sail down to Zakinthos. That did not materialise either and yet another 24nms was added to the motoring tally.

Nonetheless two pleasant days were spent there, getting laundry done, shopping for provisions, cooking some meals and enjoying the town's atmosphere and charm plus a lot of bike riding which was exercising the damaged ankle without over-stressing it.

Saturday's forecast wind was perfect for an easy 25nm sail South and East to Katacolon and so it was. Yipee at last.

Katacolon is a conveniently placed port that used to be at a narrow gauge railhead connecting it to the rest of the Pelloponese peninsular and even Athens via Pyrgos then Patras, a five and half hour journey away. Since that cargo trade died and the line closed the port's other convenience, its proximity to Olympia, has attracted massive investment in the port to accommodate the ever increasing market for cruise liners; it can now hold three of the largest liners and a smaller select liner at any one time though when we arrived, there were none. It is quite amazing to a sailor to watch these leviathans being manoeuvred at half a knot or less past the shallows lying just outside the harbour entrance, then entering this relatively small port and mooring up alongside without the assistance of the little classic old but beautifully maintained tug which stand's by, just in case.

Katacolon is funny little one-horse town with a main street and a front overlooking the harbour. When we arrived it was dead. The main street's shops were shut and the promenade's tavernas and bars that were open were close to deserted. How different it was the following morning when Cunard's Queen Elizabeth drifted slowly in to the harbour just as the first light of day broke the black darkness of the moonless night. By the time the sun rose the streets were buzzing and every shop was open with its wares displayed inside and out. (See QE photo).

Our plan was to take the 08.40 train from the reopened rail head (it had been shut for fifty years) to Olympia. It runs via Pyrgos there crossing what was the main line but now seems to be shut as it rails are rusted and overgrown; strange as it was still running trains five years ago.

The train's arrival was heralded by its almost constant hooting as it made its way, slowly, along the final mile or so of track that runs through the nearby community, their back gardens, their front porches and along their otherwise sand roads. On approaching the train its manager promptly told us they were to await passengers from the Queen Elizabeth which explained why it was two coaches long, not the usual one, and that he did not know exactly when his train might depart. The ticket clerk was extremely reluctant to sell us our return tickets without being able to tell us when the train would actually depart or return whilst we didn't really care as it was obviously going to go and return. They were to be disappointed and it finally departed, as one coach, at 10.00 with just ten passengers from the Queen Elizabeth and, of course, us. It was to be the first trial of any consequence for the damaged ankle.

A taxi was grabbed at Olympia station to take us to the site to save the ankle a kilometre of walking through the now largely pedestrianised small town, filled to the brim as it is with gift shops, jewellers, bars and tavernas, never a supermarket to be seen.

Being OAP's entrance was gained for €5.00 each and a testing walk began through its tree-lined avenues, taking advantage of the shade they provided to ease the power of the sun. Jan was pleasantly surprised, stunned even, by the magnitude of the buildings, the evident history and the sheer enormity of what our predecessors managed to build with little if any mechanical assistance. The site had been occupied since the early Bronze Age and it was the worship Zeus that brought the fame and eventually the Games of which we are now familiar (see Stadium photo).

Having managed the hour and a half walk or should I say hobble, around the archaeological site, the longish walk to the modern museum was tackled and painfully managed. Again Jan was amazed by the artefacts it contained whilst I was more attracted by the sign-posted bar spotted on the way in. Once each of the areas and rooms had been viewed and photographed we climbed the staircase to the loos and bar, finding the former a welcome relief and the latter shut!

On walking the pathway from of the museum to its separate entrance and car park, a bar was found and a cooling beer and typically poor Greek cheese and salad roll shared. Whilst musing over our chances of finding another taxi I noticed a building close by that looked very much like an old engine shed. It was! The circle we had walked had brought us back to within a 100m's of the station with just under an hour to spare before the only train of the day, the same train that had brought us, departed. It seemed only right to order and enjoy a slice of apple pie and a dollop of ice cream in celebration; with my foot up on a chair of course.

The morning train manager must have counted the passengers or the the afternoon guys were very naughty as the train left a good five minutes earlier than its scheduled 13.30. The journey back varied slightly in that the train stopped briefly at Pyrgos to pick up a staff member who was soon dropped off at one of the road crossings that still has a manually operated road barrier which he dropped to allow us to pass. Presumably they picked him up again on their return to Pyrgos.

The ankle hurt like hell but had survived the excursion. That is excellent news.

Back aboard CGIV, whilst resting the ankle and supping a welcome mug of tea, we watched the Queen Elizabeth gently and expertly extricate herself from her mooring and reverse ever so slowly out of the harbour before turning South to make her way towards Rhodes where she would arrive by the following morning.

Sunday's wind was forecast as NE'ly F2-3 then NNW'ly F3-4, perfect for a good sail the 50nms South to Pilos. Our pre-dawn departure was delayed, first by the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth's sister ship, the Queen Victoria and then by the arrival of Aida, a similar sized liner from a lesser company than Cunard (who said I was a snob?). To have attempted to circumvent either as they entered may have occasioned a few loud blasts on their hooters or a finger-wagging visit from the pilot cutter.

After motoring for an hour or so the wind came in, the sails were deployed and off we went at a good 7 knots, for a mile and half when the wind died and stayed died for the rest of the trip. The boredom and monotony of yet another motoring session was broken up by working our way through a whole draft of Podcasts of Desert Island Discs which I download for such occasions.

As expected Pilos's so called marina was full to the brim but one very short (10 metres) piece of quay projection right at the entrance was, as usual, free. We prepared and laid CGIV's 14m alongside that piece of quay. No problem.

The uninterrupted view from the cockpit out over the stern past the several hundred foot tree covered cliff to our right and the placid bay stretching out 2kms before us, enchanted Jan. That enchantment increased whilst supping our early evening wine as the sun went down behind us and the wildlife caught her attention. Kingfishers were seen rapidly skimming across the surface of the water to perch on the rocks 25 metres away seeking their supper. Pairs of wagtails wandered across the rocks at the end of the breakwater, our quay, searching for what ever it is they eat. A plover or two, some unrecognised sea bird of blackbird size and the cacophony of sound from the swarm of sparrows in a nearby tree all added to the atmosphere as did the brightly coloured small fishing boats popping out for an hour or so's fishing before supper. The only thing missing was the haunting call of the Scops Owl that used to frequent this area, now sadly missing.

We actually went for supper to the Scops Owl taverna, Koukos I think it is in Greek and a brilliant meal it was too in every respect. I had my first plate of lamb chops whilst Jan had 'Lamb in the oven'; we shared an accompanying dish of Briam, a sort of lightly cooked vegetable stew with a tomato and onion base, courgettes et al.

It was a little chilly by our standards so we ate inside rather than out on the terrace sat, as the two photos show, in front of a decorative log fire with a water driven spit roast assembly fitted to it. A shovel full of embers were taken into the kitchen to cook, bbq style, my lamb chops.

After taking breakfast the next morning, sat comfortably under the huge plane tree planted by a major at the beginning of the last century in celebration of his son having won a medal at the Olympics, we shopped for supplies and then rode up to the fortified headland that protected the bay of Naviron within which Pilos sits and where a British admiral, Codrington, commanding a combined fleet of 26 British and French warships sailed in to an evident pre-laid trap being a three-quarter circle of 89 Turkish and Egyptian ships carrying 2,450 guns to Codrington's 1,270. Codrington won the ensuing bloody battle proving our rate of fire was both three times faster and more accurate than the opposition. It was this battle that effectively and finally freed Greece from Turkish rule.

Pilos was bedecked with flags and bunting so when a Greek frigate turned up equally bedecked and followed shortly afterwards by a similar vessel flying an ensign I have never seen before, a blue diagonal cross on a white background, we guessed there was to be a celebration of the battle and sure enough it was set for the whole week.

Meanwhile, back at the fortified headland, I was amazed to see how much tasteful reconstruction and renovation had been done since my last visit. The church, which was in fact built initially as a mosque, was a ruin. It has recently had €1.4 million spent on it to restore it to its previous glory. Other buildings have been converted into a museum, a diving centre and displays of the Mediterranean's trading history gleaned from artefacts recovered from wrecks and a video display where the lady managing it on spotting my hobbling progress over the difficult ground, brought a chair into the little cinema for me to put my foot up whilst we watched the presentation. The photo taken from within the fort shows little of this but does show the gap in the bay's surrounding rocks and promontories through which we had entered Naviron bay.

The weather for October has been unusually benign and the pressure above 1020 for the past week or more since the devastating storm. However, a check on the long term pressure predictions shows this set to change and drop to 1002 by Tuesday October 24th. We need to be on Crete by the time that happens as there is an almost inevitable likelihood of storms, thunder and lightning and perhaps more important, a week or more of adverse and too strong a wind to sail.

It was time to make rapid progress further south and east to reach Crete by Monday night. But would we make it though?

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