The trip took 21 days; covered near enough 600 miles; took us to places we’ve talked about for so long but never visited; and left us wanting more…
If you were there … enjoy the memories. If you weren’t … maybe next time.
Thursday 6th / Friday 7th April – Methana
The tick list of jobs and the shopping list that vied with each other for length. Thankfully, we were able to borrow the car so shopping was relatively easy. The shopping in Galatas led to what has been, so far, Paul’s finest hour. He came up with the brilliant idea of having a cardboard box each for clothes so that the boat was kept in an orderly fashion. Genius.
Friday evening saw us meeting up with Ian and Wendy plus Roger and his sister and father. (Sadly, either we were never told Dad’s name or our memories are worse than we thought.) Dad had been to the dentist in Methana that day to have his false teeth altered to fit – all the way to a smelly town in Greece to get a better service than home in Doncaster… He kept apologising for his absence of teeth and his inability to eat anything requiring chewing.
Roger and co were delayed because Roger’s sister had managed to leave the apartment keys inside as Roger slammed the door. She presumed Roger had his keys; he presumed … well, you get the picture. At the end of a great evening (€40 for four of us for lots of good food and a kilo of wine) they headed off to break into their own apartment and we headed for bed once more.
Saturday 8th April – Methana to Korfos – 21miles
Finally, we’re off! After two days of job-doing, friends-meeting and, yes, the odd beer-drinking, we left Methana at 11:30 for the start of the trip.
From Methana we motored round past Agios Georgios and on to the gap down the western side of Agistri. Last time I had been there, with Dave, the wind had been so strong that we had the engine straining just to make some headway. Not today; today was flat calm. Going into the gap, we were surprised to see red swastikas painted on the rocks at various places. Even here on a small island, hate and the far right can rear their head…
From there onwards to Korfos, our overnight stop; turned out to be a very uneventful day with hardly a cloud in the sky and enough sun to warrant shirts off and the application of sun cream. Twenty-ish miles today – (the log recording didn’t work so accurate mileage wasn’t forthcoming – taking four and a half hours. Flat calm and only two other yachts seen all day. Coming in to Korfos, we chose to go alongside a small pier along with a couple of fishing boats. Two people fishing off the jetty not only took in their lines so we could come alongside, they even helped us tie up. Damn friendly these Greek fishermen!
And now, at nearly 10pm, we’ve had a walk around, had a meal of grilled shrimps and sardines and a nightcap of Metaxa and it’s time to turn in. Tomorrow, we pick up Dave and Graham and the adventure really begins.
Sunday 9th April – Korfos to The Corinth Canal – 18 miles
A slow day, killing time until we can set for the Canal and a rendezvous with the new crew. Both Tony and Paul commented on it being strange to have others onboard when it’s just been the two of them for a few days.
Thirty seconds off the jetty and it’s Man Over Board drill. Actually, Fender Over Board. A fender slipped from Paul’s hand whilst he was undoing a rope, sweeping the deck, making tea and generally being irreplaceable. All went well with the pick up and, with fender safely stowed, we headed off for the Canal.
Similar weather to yesterday: flat calm, no wind and blue skies. The only drama was created by a wayward chart plotter/autopilot. No matter what we did, the boat showed a mind of its own despite the helm being locked. From this moment on, seeds of doubt were sown when it came to electronic position fixes; so much so that Tony managed to fix a position by hand which was very accurate but nowhere near where we really were! Oh well, we survived.
Once we’d worked out where we were, we began searching for the Canal. Suddenly this amazing cleft appeared in the distance – The Canal! Suddenly, our trip was more real. We had talked about going through the Canal in the past but here we actually were, about to do just that.
As we motored towards the Canal trying to identify the Canal tower and offices, the sea started to get more than a little choppy. Nothing to worry about we thought; until, that is, we saw the high and very solid concrete wall we had come alongside and tie up to. Because of the height of the wall, we had to put the boat right up close to the wall so that Paul could get off the boat and up to tie off our mooring lines – no leisurely stepping off here! Thankfully, with a combination of luck and Paul’s athleticism we came alongside in one piece although the anchor hanging off the bow took a bit of a battering.
Hoping to get ahead of ourselves by booking and paying for tomorrow’s Canal passage, we were disappointed to be told we couldn’t; we had to pay tomorrow. All that was left to do was twiddle our thumbs for an hour and half waiting for Dave and Graham.
At last, a taxi. Graham and Dave stumbled out and our crew was complete.Once all aboard we headed off to find our anchorage for the night. The very choppy sea state had us all thinking of a night of bouncing and worrying about the anchor dragging. Sitting below in the warm glow of the oil lamp, eating the chilli and rice cooked earlier, Paul and Tony exchanged concerned glances – would the other two stay awake until 9 o’clock?
Thankfully, the wind died, the sea calmed and a quiet night was had by all.
Monday 10th April – Through The Canal and beyond – 25 miles
First the road bridge started to sink down and then the radio crackled into life: “Carpe Diem go now” and we were off, into the Corinth Canal. Looking ahead, the cutting we were to go through looked awfully narrow but, following a brief discussion about the size of ships that go through there, we thought we’d be okay. Just as we passed over the sunken road bridge, we heard it clunk into life – collective sphincter tightening and images of being stranded high and dry on the bridge! Once into the Canal cutting proper, the scale of the whole thing came home to us. We looked up to the bridge we’d stood on in the past and saw the tiny people watching us instead.
For most of the passage, we were looking and pointing but towards the end, all of us commented on the sense of anti-climax we felt. But, we’d done it and were on our way for sure.
We left the confines of the Canal Zone and headed out, away from land, heading for a bay and small village where we planned to anchor for the night. On the way, we found ourselves surrounded by a huge pod of small dolphins. Everywhere we looked, we could see fins and every now and then a dolphin entertained us with a show-off leap clear of the water.
There was no-one around in the anchorage and we headed for the most sheltered spot in the bay. Once Dave had got us safely anchored, we inflated the dinghy and rowed ashore to find somewhere for a beer. Realising he was out of cigarettes, Graham asked if he could buy some from the taverna owner. Reaching across, our host took Graham’s money then promptly pedalled off on his bike to go buy some! Ten minutes later he’s back full of apologies because the shop was closed.
Sitting on deck deck sipping wine and watching the sun go down over the mountains made it a special place.
Tuesday 11th April – Agio Saranda to Galaxhidhi – 26 miles
Weather wise, quite an uneventful day – flat calm, clear blue skies and plenty of sun. So far, a sail-free sailing trip. Just as yesterday gave us dolphins, today gave us turtles, five in all. The first one, which was a little way off the boat, stayed on the surface. The second one, this time much closer, must have been in a turtle-type world of its own because it suddenly seemed to come round with the sound of the boat and disappeared at a very un-turtle like rapid rate of knots.
Lunch was a bit of invention that turned into a pasta based Niçoise salad. It was at this point we discovered that Graham is not an egg lover – oh well, more for the rest of us. Whilst on refreshments, it’s worth noting that the whole crew is now sugar-free when it comes to drinks. Respect to Paul and Dave for giving it up.
Dave – formerly one of the least techy people living – has a new toy: an iPad-based navigation app that is quite amazing in both its simplicity and its complexity. Touch screens make adding waypoints a doddle compared to the five minute job on the old style chart plotter.
Our evening was spent in a great town called Galaxidhi. A popular spot, we saw more yachts there than we’d seen in the previous four days. Most of the yachts were part of a flotilla run by a very enterprising guy called Richard. He described his flotillas as virtual in that he owned no boats but rented them cheaply from sailing holiday companies that wanted boats delivering. Richard pulled together a fleet of boats then advertised for individuals or groups looking for mile-builder trip with training thrown in. We liked him so much, we invited him on board to share with us the first G&Ts of the trip. It’s great finding totally new places and meeting new people.
On a day of many high spots, the real low spot came for Paul when the only mozzie of the trip so far found the ‘fresh blood this way’ sign put on his door by Dave and Graham.
Wednesday 12th April – Galaxhidhi to Navpatra – 35 miles
Because we knew that Richard and his flotilla of nine boats were heading to the same overnight spot as us, we set alarms for 7:30 and got going pretty smartish. Still the agonising wait for the engine to start but eventually it did and we motored out of Galaxidhi into the, by now, standard mirror surface and blue skies. We really have hit a patch of settled weather.
A pattern has steadily evolved to our days: leave harbour, coffee on, decide what breakfast is going to be and then drift into a state of convivial inactivity featuring a little reading, much micky-taking and the odd serious sentence or two.
Home for the night was Navpaktos, a mixture of a town combining quaint walled harbour (tiny according to Tony who was on the helm for mooring) and hilltop castle with trendy boutiques and major shops. Weird. We found ourselves in a far from quaint bar where we kept getting plates of sausage and chips each time we ordered beers. Finishing our beers, the hand held radio we had with us crackled into life announcing the imminent arrival of Richard and his flotilla and a request for tying up assistance. This we duly did and then stood watching as he managed to organise nine boats into very little space. Impressive.
As night fell, the lights round the harbour walls came on and it became a special place. We declined the invitation to join in with Richard’s flotilla group who were having a food and drink sharing night. Instead, we sat above the harbour enjoying the sights (and the beer).
Thursday 13th April – Navpatra to Mesolonghi – 25 miles
We waited with baited breath as Richard and his mob slowly pulled up anchors and left; each time we thought they must surely lift our anchor but no mishaps.
Five miles out from Navpaktos, we came under the Rion bridge; an amazing suspension bridge spanning the water between the Peloponnese and the northern mainland. Even though we knew there was enough clearance, there was a collective ooer as we all stared up at the mast top…
After so many days of no wind or wind straight onto the bow of the boat, we finally managed a sail. Forty minutes or so of blissful quiet as the boat clipped along at a tidy, close-hauled four knots with both sails nicely filled.
Sadly, it was sails down as we looked to make the turn into the channel leading us up to Mesologhi, our stop for the night. The channel cuts through salt marshes and leads up to a large lollipop-shaped harbour. Either side we passed houses on stilts protruding gamely from the sea plus the remains of a few that didn’t make it.
Now we are sat tied up to an unromantic concrete wall having chomped our way through corned beef hash and beers. Apart from the attack of a squadron of mossies which targeted Dave’s legs, all is well. Tomorrow is a longer day so maybe an early night.
Friday 14th April – Mesolonghi to Vathi (Ithaca) – 44 miles
A long day today; all of it flat calm and shirt-off hot. We did our best to be entertained and to entertain but, really, it was a long day.
Our stop for the night was one of the many hundred Vathis to be found around Greek islands. This one was on the island of Ithaca, a luxuriant green, tree covered island and Vathi is a jewel of a place tucked in at the end of a long inlet. Coming into the inlet, we picked up a strengthening wind and Tony said a silent thank you that it was Dave’s turn to moor up the boat! A boat ahead of us tried several time to go in stern-to then gave up and went alongside leaving us nowhere to go. Thankfully, an English couple on a boat already moored up invited us to come alongside and Dave did so brilliantly.
After mooring up, we did the done thing and passed a few beers to our new friends. Not wishing them to drink alone we cracked open cans of Alpha and sat watching the world blow by. As we were doing this, the Frenchman on the boat ahead of us moved his tender to the outside of his boat. Disparaging words were shared between Dave and Tony as they presumed he was doing so to make sure no-one could come alongside. Never has so much humble pie been consumed as they realised he was moving the tender so that he could, with the help of our own diplomatic attaché Paul, pull his boat along the quay to make room for us. Gawd love the French!
Eating was to be ashore tonight and we decided it would be a bit of a treat. Two beef stifados, one red stew (really stifado with the onions taken out) and one lamb from the oven – delicious! We made sure that the waiter knew how good the food was and were delighted to see him heading back in our direction with a tray bearing what looked very much like walnut cake. Wrong. “Is a local delicacy,” he said, “Halvas.” Never before have I seen two people (Paul and Dave) take such a strong dislike to a pudding. After the smallest of spoonfuls, Paul’s was wrapped in a serviette and in his his pocket before the rest of us could blink and Dave was choking and gagging and swearing at Paul for taking all the serviettes! Manfully, Graham and Tony quietly eat theirs with never a murmour. Dave tried to wrap his discreetly but, as Paul had nabbed all the serviettes, had to resort to taking serviettes from the next table to stop the chocolate sauce seeping into his trousers. It was hard to stifle the giggles as the waiter brought fresh serviettes!
During our initial walk round the town, we noticed that tapes had been put up between lampposts to stop cars parking; clearly something was planned for later. Our waiter told us that there was to be a procession so we headed to the main part of the town then followed the growing ‘crowd’. We stood around for a while getting chilled in the wind and wondering what was going to happen. As we stood, we became aware of a chant coming from down towards a church and the bell ringing increased. Slowly a small throng of people emerged from the side street and on to the main road. Leading was a band playing a very sombre and repetitive tune followed by a small white float bearing candles and carried by four men. Behind were the priests resplendent in their Orthodox finery. After a while, the music changed to a rhythmic drum beat that was both soporific and seductive. Still with no idea what this was all about, we followed at a slow steady pace until the procession arrived at the main square. At this point, beer called and we headed back to the boat.
Saturday 15th April – Vathi (Ithaca) to Sivota – 16 miles
First time ever, we filled up our water tanks from a small tanker lorry. Both novel and effective. Pausing briefly to allow for the usual hilarity as Dave took the micky out of Paul for his laborious calculations, we tidied up and headed for coffee and provisions.
With the tanks and the cupboards full, we headed out to sea again towards our new destination, Sivota on the island of Cephalonia. Dave – the man with the memory – says that he and Tony had been here many years ago on one of the first Greek sailing holidays. Tony – the man without the memory – didn’t remember a single thing about the place!
Uneventful trip across although Graham did progress from tea maker to navigator for the day. And very successful he was too – any discrepancies in position or course firmly being put down to the inability of the person on the helm to steer a straight line!
We moored up to the side of the harbour in what we all agreed was the most sheltered spot and went ashore for a beer. Fortunately, the chosen taverna was right behind the boat because suddenly the wind changed direction and began blowing the boat onto the wall. Drinks and iPads were abandoned as we all ran to sort it out. Several tugs on the chain and an extra long rope and we were back on shore finishing the beers.
Dave excelled in the galley, producing a sausage pasta dish that had us all licking the plate. Graham excelled in the taverna, buying never ending rounds of honey Metaxa which led to us all being quite raucous. Graham said it was his way of saying thank you for involving him in the trip. I doubt there’ll be much gratitude in the morning .
Sunday 16th April – Sivota to Efimia (Kefallinia) – 22 miles
After an uneventful night, at around nine, we left – with one or two fuzzy heads – to head for yet another island, this time Kefallinia and the port of Agio Efimia. Pretty soon we encountered the first real wind of the trip and a sprightly force 3 had us hauling sails and killing the engine. A few gusts kept us on our toes and the boat responded beautifully notching up six and a half knots which doesn’t sound much sitting on the land but boy was it fun!
Unfortunately, we had to turn south to run down the channel between Ithaca and Kefallinia and turning south put us smack into the wind. Sails down was a signal for breakfast and Paul produced yet another batch of a boat breakfast favourite: porridge. Seems strange to be in shorts eating porridge but, apart from the bacon and egg sandwiches, porridge has topped the breakfast charts.
We endured a very lumpy up and down two hours down that channel; Ithaca to our left with high hills covered in trees and Kefallinia to our right with high hills devoid of trees. Strange. A turn to the right brought us round to motor in to Ag Eufimia where we found a large and very empty harbour. Looked as though European funding had been involved.
It’s now late afternoon and the sound of Tony’s tap-tap typing is being matched by the gentle snores from two of the crew while the fourth, Paul, is maintaining the culture levels by immersing himself in his book.
Monday 17th April – Efimia to Zakinthos – 37 miles
Greeted this morning by grey skies as we went looking for coffee and wifi. Not only did we find both, they came with a small, soft tasty pastry.
The grey skies darkened as we left and the first spots of rain began to fall. By the time we had left the harbour, the rain worsened and waterproofs were sought. We waited with bated breath to see whether Graham’s waterproof jacket was indeed a jacket or the mystery bag actually contained trousers. Much to Graham’s relief, it was a very smart jacket.
At some point, Dave suggested that only two of us get wet while the others stay dry below. Without a moments hesitation, Paul was below and reading before the rest of us could blink. He stayed there for the next hour or so but, to his credit, coffee did appear at just the right time.
After a serious downpour, the rain finally eased giving way to increasingly steep waves and 25mph winds. We bashed on with a handkerchief mainsail and reeled jib. Tony on the helm discovered that Paul shared Dave’s skills for seeing a wave coming over the boat, ducking below the spray hood and then saying “Watch out!”. One sodden helm. Life jackets on.
Finally, the helm master himself came out to play aka Paul. He did a sterling turn at the wheel steering along waves or up and over the big ones. Much to Tony’s annoyance, Paul never got wet. With no help from navigators Dave and Tony, Paul found the port of Zakinthos, our home for the night (the no help bit is Paul’s version – he thinks all the navigators do is sharpen pencils and press buttons… ).
Zakinthos has been a shock to the system with hundreds of cars and people milling about, scores of trendy shops and prices to reflect this. Zakinthos harbour is bigger than all the other places we had stayed put together. Ah well, back to sea tomorrow.
Tuesday 18th April – Zakinthos to Katakolon – 24 miles
Twenty seven miles of gentle rolling swell coming on to us from an angle onto the back of the boat. Graham described it as being like a rattle: you can put up with it for a bit but then it really gets on your nerves (he didn’t say nerves). The trip was fairly subdued and totally uneventful; an anti-climax after yesterday.
Coming in to moor in Katakolon caused some tension – mainly in Tony as he completely misjudged the wind and ended up yards and yards off-line from the anchor. Out we went again and this time opted for the easier option of putting it alongside. Success.
Immediate entertainment was afforded by the spectacle of a biggish yacht being craned off a trailer into the water. Given the size of the crane against the boat, it was always going to be hairy and they didn’t disappoint. With the crane on the verge of of tipping forward into the harbour, they slid the boat less than gracefully into the water. General consensus? Glad it wasn’t our boat!
Katakolon is a smallish place currently dominated by a very large cruise ship. We’re all waiting for the excitement of seeing it get out of here … such are the high spots of a sailing trip.
Corned beef hash again by request. Seemed to go down well again. Luxury dessert of tinned peaches and Noy Noy (that’s evaporated milk for the uninitiated). God, we know how to live!
Wednesday 19th April – Katakolon to Katakolon – 2 miles
Well, the cruise ship went out at five last night and we discovered that this town exists purely for the cruising tourists. Almost as soon as the ship had left the harbour, the town died. Shops closed, coaches left and people steadily evaporated leaving us to panic about the absence of beer outlets.
This morning it was even quieter with only one supermarket open and nothing else. The town may have been quiet but the weather certainly wasn’t. We’d all felt the wind picking up through the night at various times but we weren’t too worried as this is what the forecast said would happen. By the time bacon sandwiches and coffee had been consumed, the wind was really whistling through and waves were breaking in the gap leading out of the harbour. We had some difficulty getting off the wall with the wind doing its best to pin us but we made It eventually.
Leaving the ‘shelter’ of the harbour, we headed out into big seas and a lot of wind. Hurried glances were exchanged but we plugged on a little further, hoping to get beyond the breaking waves and away. After a hurried discussion about the sea, the wind and the distance we had to go bashing into both, Dave turned us back in. Sounds easy when it’s just words like that; sitting there watching and waiting for a flatter bit between waves and then making the turn took some nerve. With engine revving like mad, we made it round just before a big wave rolled round and then under us.
Having made it back into the relative calm of the harbour, we decided to go back where we had been the night before. With not too much drama, we tied alongside and then spent the next half hour jamming as many fenders as we could between the wall and the boat, doubling up ropes and generally marvelling at the pounding the fenders were taking without bursting.
Finally, enough was enough and we made the decision to leave this hellish spot and go back over to the relative calm of the commercial harbour. If they didn’t want us there, some poor bugger would have a long walk to come and tell us!
Leaving the wall was even more hazardous than the last time; the wind was really pinning us in. After much discussions about the best way to get off, we made it away without mishap – lots of adrenalin but no mishap. Although Dave had the worry of steering us and Tony got soaked on the front sorting out ropes and Graham was bounced all over the place as he sorted fenders, it was Paul who faired worst as he was left on shore and had to walk (and run!) all the way round to the other side of the harbour. He arrived more or less at the same time as the boat, manfully dismissing the start of the blister.
And that’s where we are now. Tucked in relative safety in the corner of the commercial harbour. The wind is still whistling through the rigging and waves are breaking over the top of a 20 foot wall but we are safe.
Plans have had to change. Because we are staying an extra night here, in the morning, Ian and Wendy will have to drive round from Kiparissia where they were due to meet us and the crew change will happen here. All they have to worry about is finding us – we have to worry about where we find tonight’s beer!
Thursday, 20th April – Katakolon to Kiparrisia- 30 miles
We woke in one piece having had a reasonable night. But the wind – as winds tend to do – had got up and swung round. Just as we were having the discussion about whether or not to move, a guy in a car stopped and told us a cruise ship was coming in. There was no ‘You’ll have to move. Now!”; he just wanted us to know that the cruise ship’s bow thrusters might bounce us around. Greek authority can be so laid back…
Just as we decided to move, the nearby tug lit the stove as Dave put it and a ginormous ship appeared above the harbour wall. Loads of revs and we were off! Not many minutes later, Tony and Dave were cruising towards the new resting place watching Paul and Graham legging it round the harbour to join them. Paul limped in with his worsening blistered heel and some unkind observations about the roles allocated to crew members…
Just as we had tied up, we spied the yacht that had been craned in yesterday also coming back to is original position. “Let’s be gents and go and take their lines,” said Graham so he and Tony walked over to offer helping hands. Very slowly, the boat came in and the crew member – ignoring Graham’s proffered hands – duly leaped ashore clutching a mess of rope and proceeded to try to halt the boat and pull it. For some inexplicable reason, he had tied the rope to the cleat in the middle of the boat and proceeded to make such a mess that the boat started to drift quickly away from the wall. Tony and the supper having sorted out the stern with minimal fuss were suddenly faced with the boat’s stern heading towards them at a rate of knots as the bow swung out to open water. Fortunately, Dave was at hand to rescue the numpty crew member and haul the boat back in. Chaos, absolute chaos!
As we sat waiting for Ian and Wendy, we watched the antics around the cruise ship arrival. As the ship sat outside the harbour, we watched the Pilot boat go out. Ten minutes later, the Pilot boat returned, the tug switched off the fire, the coaches drove off the jetty and the cruise ship sailed away. Mystery. Turns out that the cause of the non-entry to harbour was the wind. “Big jessy,” someone from Sheffield was heard to mumble.
Wendy and Ian arrived a while later having had a dispute with their sat nav lady who first, steadfastly refused to acknowledge that their destination existed and then second, tried to take them back where they had come from!
The sadness of saying goodbye to Dave and Graham was tempered by the taking on board of a fruit and cherry cake and a Victoria sponge cooked and donated by Wendy.
Armed with said cakes, Tony, Paul and new crew member Ian set off. Not a bad journey all said and done. We ran for quite a while with main and jib out and the wind behind. On one hourly leg, we averaged 6.2 miles; probably a record. When we had pulled the jib out, we noticed that half a dozen turns of rope had jumped out of the furling drum and become wrapped the bottom of the forestay. Tony volunteered himself to go up front and sort it out. Unfortunately, he left his brain behind in the cockpit. Sorting out the wrapping by dragging the full length of rope forward and unwinding the offending wraps, he forgot that those wraps he was cleverly (he thought) getting rid of, came off the drum … and that’s where they should have gone back to. Stupid boy.
We had seen that there were big winds out to sea but they were not expected where we were. The big winds might not have been where we were but the seas they created certainly were! The wave height steadily increased as we pushed on towards Kiparissia and then the wind decided to join in as well. Time to lose sail and quickly! With a bit effort, the main came in; now for the jib … and the realisation of Tony’s error struck home. With not enough turns on the furling drum, there was no way to get the jib fully wrapped away. There we were, in a force 6 with big waves rolling onto us from behind and a foresail stuck with a third still out.
We tried various solution but there was no way that sail was going anywhere. To cope with the weather, the sail had to be wrapped away somehow. Accepting that it was partly his fault, Tony headed once more for the bow to try and to lash the sail down. This was a very different trip up front from the previous visit. Now the waves were much bigger and it was like a roller coaster ride as the boat first plunged into a trough and then rose steeply up the next wave. Heading into the wind and waves as we were, this was a hairy 10 minutes with Tony convinced that he was going to be buried by a big wave at any moment. Realising it was futile trying to contain the sail, Tony gave up and headed for the safety of the cockpit. There was no alternative but to turn and try to ignore the fogging foresail.
Unsure of where we were in relation to the harbour entrance, we searched in vain for the light we knew to be on the end of the breakwater signalling the entrance. We spent an agonising 15 or 20 minutes getting closer to the breakwater and all the time being thrown around by waves and the recalcitrant foresail. “Go towards the left hand end of the breakwater,” suggested Tony as he headed below to see whether the chart plotter could help. Almost immediately came the shout: “Got it! We can see the light.” Paul helmed us in at speed, glad to be heading to the safe shelter of the harbour; past the light which more resembled a light bulb on a scaffold pole than anything even remotely useful as a marker.
We managed to tie up and set about sorting out the jib which by now had wrapped itself every which way possible and was firmly stuck. Ian gamely teetered on the top rail at the front of the boat and undid the emergency lashing we had tried to fashion but the sail refused to unwrap. We had no alternative but to untie and head out into the open space in the harbour to try to use the wind. The next 15 minutes were spent motoring the boat in tight circles out in the harbour hoping the wind would undo what it had very firmly done up. Finally out perseverance paid off and the sail came free. With a great deal of effort and the help of a winch, we got the jib put away and headed thankfully to tie up again.
Our evening meal fell in to the ‘there’s bugger all to eat on shore’ emergency category and we scoffed spam bolognese and pasta. With the boast bouncing and slamming against the wall – who knew that fenders could take such a pounding and not burst? – we decided it would be prudent to take two hour watches, just in case. Tony began the first watch at 9pm while Ian and Paul tried to get some sleep. Paul woke to take over at 11pm and Tony retired to his sleeping bag. By 1am, Paul and Tony decided enough was enough and both turned in. None of us had much sleep that night.
Friday 21st April – Kiparrisia to Pilos – 31 miles
Kiparrisia, the dullest town in Greece as voted by the Carpe Crew. Ian and Wendy has stayed the night there before joining us so Ian was able to give us some idea of what to expect. Sadly, he couldn’t do justice to this back water: no sign of an open taverna anywhere near the harbour, no coffee shop to be seen and the super market was a mini. In fact, nothing happening.
We’d had a bad, bouncing night so this, combined with the dullness of the location, led us to a fairly early departure. Before leaving though, Paul did his usual trip for bread. “It’s not far,” said Ian, “turn up by the mini-market and it’s just up there.” Paul staggered back much later muttering dark thoughts in Ian’s general direction. He did, however, bring back a slice of pizza which went down well for lunch later.
Given our experience with the jib yesterday, it was agreed that the damn thing stayed firmly wrapped up and out of harms way. Despite the lack of a foresail, we had a pretty decent journey. We had stretches with the main full out and a following wind which pushed us along nicely.
Pilos turned out to be a real treat, especially after the previous night spent in Greece’s dullest town. We found a space in the marina; not easy but we managed to squeeze in between a monster catamaran and a big gin palace. Talk about feeling small!
Not only did the guy on the cat come out to help us get in, he recommended a superb taverna and coffee shop as well as the location for the Coast Guard offices where we had to go to register our arrival. We agreed that Tony would go to register on his own while Ian and Paul set off in search of beers. Even though Paul pointed out the office location three times, Tony still couldn’t see the place – despite standing directly under it! Much mirth from the other two…
The officer who came forward was great. She spoke excellent English and had a sense of humour to go with it. Once more it was the ‘you need new papers’ – ‘but the boat’s only 10 metres long’ – ‘it doesn’t matter, new rules’ sketch. This time it looked as though there was no alternative but to shell out for new papers; that is until she realised that it was Friday and the banks were closed. Armed with a note explaining this and leaving a promise to do it at the next port, Tony scurried out to find the other two ensconced in the bar next door with beers at the ready.
Or evening meal was a good one. We went to the recommended taverna and weren’t disappointed. Really good food (moussaka for Ian, veal stew and chips for Tony and a pork chop and chips for Paul) at reasonable prices. Feeling well fed and content, we wandered back for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday 22nd April – Pilos to Koroni 28 miles
The day started in the aforementioned coffee shop where we had the best coffee so far by a mile. We headed back to the boat hoping to put our plan for sneaking water out of a tap behind the Coast Guard cutter that was moored up in one of the marina bays. The plan was to sneak alongside hoping no-one was on board and throw the hose over the cutter to fill out tanks. Ian went to check the tap was still on and he must have given off intimidating airs because the Coast Guards left in a hurry! Easy water then.
We left what was agreed to be one of the nicest places yet – and certainly one to come back to and spend time there – and headed out to do battle with the reluctant jib. After much thought and sail in and out manoeuvres, we finally felt confident we’d cracked it so set off for the next leg and the first of the three Peloponnese peninsulas.
A few days ago, Tony said that he hoped it rained some time so that he could try out his new oilskin trousers. Be careful what you wish for they say … it pissed down! We had a good hour of rain shared largely between Paul and Tony; Ian chose this moment to inform that he hadn’t been expecting rain so hadn’t brought waterproof trousers. Crafty bugger!
And now, we are sat at tranquil anchor outside Koroni. To one side, there is a massive hilltop fort; to the other, hilltop restaurants and houses. Tony waxed lyrical about the anchorage; Paul’s view? “Its alright I suppose; nice view of an enormous for sale sign and a digger.” No soul that man.
Sunday 23rd April – Koroni to Plitra – 65 miles
Not the best night. Like sleeping on a noisy water bed! Although the wind decreased slowly, the chop and roll of the sea did not. Bouncing up and down, rolling side to side. As a result, we were up and making tea before half six. Not a bad thing as it turned out; but more of that later…
The first few hours of the day were blissfully calm; just a long straight run down the length of the Mani peninsula. The contrast between the Mani and the first peninsula were marked. Now we were seeing big snow capped mountains and barren hillside with very little signs of population. Paul and Tony indulged themselves in the, by now, routine second breakfast: bacon and egg sandwich. Mmm mmmm.
Towards the bottom of the peninsula, we were watching a single, solitary fluffy white cloud hovering over a village. Suddenly there were significantly more fluffy clouds and the wind appeared out of nowhere. We were expecting a change around this time but a little warning would have been nice.
Within the space of a minute, we had gone from nothing to 20mph winds. No worries we thought, once we get round the tip of the Mani, we’ll be on the eastern side of the peninsula and protected from the westerly wind. Wrong. If anything, as we got round to the so-called protected side, the winds got stronger. They were still from the west (all part our plan) but now they were coming over the top and galloping down the hillside like a rampant cavalry charge (not part of our plan). “It’s okay,” came the cry, “we’ll soon be in that nice sheltered bay that Tony’s been telling us about; we’ll be safe there.” Oh how wrong we were!
By the time we got into the ‘sheltered’ inlet, the wind was whacking down off the hills and we were bouncing. To add to this problem, there were yachts already in and moored (not part of our plan) and they were swinging round their anchors quite dramatically. Each time we slowed down to look and think, the wind caught the boat and pushed us towards the shore. “Bugger this,” said Tony on the helm, “we’re not stopping here!” All well and good; sensible even; but that meant finding somewhere else to anchor and everywhere we considered looked to be in as bad a position as the inlet we had just left. In the end we decided the only sensible (?) thing to do was to set off across the gulf to find a small town with anchorages, a small harbour with space even and – most important of all – protection.
We set off across the gulf and, as the wind grew, so did the waves. By the time we had covered the 20 miles across the gulf being thrown around by waves and hanging on to our hats, it was getting dark. We’d come through crazy confused waves which, at time, seem to be coming from three directions at the same time. Being at the helm was hard work. You couldn’t relax for a minute and were constantly watching and waiting; waiting to see if the big wave would just roll under us or violently slew us round, broadside to the next one. With navigation lights on and fingers crossed we headed in to the bay.The strong wind continued as we motored down the inlet but, thankfully, the wild seas had died.
“There it is!” Paul shouted above the wind. Amongst all the other street lights and taverna lights, he’d spotted the flashing green light on the end of the breakwater wall. We headed towards the wall hoping against all hopes that there would be a space around the corner that we could nose into and tie up alongside. Even if there had been space, going alongside was our only option as there were rocks 30 metres off the quay. Armed with our trusty Maglite (!), Paul gamely stood on the bow trying to illuminate our way in. Trying as best as we could to slow down to turn into the jetty wall without being blown round, Tony on the helm heard those immortal words: “Fishing boats!”. And there they were, occupying all the spaces we could have used. As much as we all love Greek fishermen, at this point our thoughts were dark…
Faced with no other option other than to anchor, we turned towards the other side of the bay where we knew the pilot book said we could anchor. We inched towards the shore when, suddenly, the depth reader went off and the wheel kicked violently. Thankfully, they both decided to behave quite quickly but nerves were becoming shredded. Finally, it was anchor down and hope. We drifted back with the strong wind and then dug the anchor in … and waited. Holding our breaths almost, we waited as the boat swung first one way and then round e the other. No-one said it but we all thought it: would the anchor hold? With a cheery “It’s in.”, Ian was the first to realise that we were, indeed, holding station. Safe. More than 60 miles behind us and not where we had planned to be, but safe.
There was no thought of fancy cooking. It was last night’s chilli reheated with chunks of bread to mop up – a simple meal that took on the status of a feast. And that was it. Hours of drama and tension, over. All we had to do was try to get some sleep and hope we woke up in the same place.
Monday 24th April – Plitra to Monemvasia – 48 miles
We woke early to a chilly, bright morning; thankfully, in exactly the same spot that we had gone to sleep in. Last night, we had agreed that we had had enough of anchoring; we were off to Monemvasia, some 40 miles away were we could tie up, sort ourselves out and drink beer on dry land.
All was going well until we came to pull the anchor up. The engine started relatively easy, the sun was rising and, as the anchor chain clonked into the anchor locker, we looked set for a fine day. And then the front of the boat dipped suddenly. Anchor stuck! For 15 minutes, we went forwards, backwards, sideways; anything that would free the anchor. Each time we seemed to be making progress, the bow would suddenly dip and the boat slew round. Then suddenly, the chain started to vibrate showing that it had come free and was dragging on the bottom. We’ll never know what was down there but we were glad to get away.
From then on, it seemed as though the weather gods had decided we’d had more than our fair share of excitement and they took pity on us. There was very little wind and the waves that had bashed and turned on us the day before had disappeared to leave us with a gentle rolling sea. The only thing to distract us was the increase in the number of commercial ships which seemed intent on sharing our bit of sea; fortunately, there was lots of it and we were well out of the way.
As we neared the last of the three fingers of the Peloponnese, the feared Cape Maleas, the wind picked up a bit and we became sailors once more (albeit motor sailors – we wanted to get round that Cape and not dawdle). Ahead of us, what had looked like two islands transformed into a tug towing an enormous working platform complete with crane and portakabins.
We dropped the sail and motored towards the Cape. Almost out of nowhere, we saw a boat coming towards us at speed. We speculated on the size and style of the boat then realised it was turning our way and slowing. Coast Guards! Were we about to be boarded? As they closed with us, we saw two officers on deck looking at us through binoculars. Coming straight towards us now there was no doubt they wanted to speak to us. There was mild amusement as we saw one officer indicating that we should slow down. “What”, said Paul, “frightened they can’t keep up?”. It was quite simple really: where were we going, how many people on board and what’s our nationality? and with a cheery “Have a nice day, they were off. We could have had 20 immigrants below, they would never have known.
Before we knew it, we were round the Cape. No wind, no drama; nothing but dramatic coastline and sun. And that was it. We were round the bottom and turning north; the circumnavigation almost complete.
Monemvasia has been a place on the ‘I want to go there sometime’ list and we all agreed it’s a great place. We found an easy alongside spot in the marina and wondered into town for a beer. We then decided to walk across on to the massive rock that sits opposite the town. Wow. Well worth the walk. There is a fortress on top of the rock which we had no intention of walking up to even if it was allowed. Nestling below the fortress is the most amazing old Byzantine village. The pilot book (Rod’s book) told us that the village was being brought back to life in a sympathetic way and he is so right. Yes there is the obligatory cobbled road with shops to tempt the tourist but above and below, there is a maze of narrow alleys and stone houses. We all agreed it would be a place – both the rock and the town – to come back to and spend a couple of days there. Definitely barged its way into The Top Five All Time Places On The Trip.
Tuesday 25th – Monemvasia to Kiparrisi – 25 miles
Last night, we eat onshore in a taverna hosted by a Canadian/Greek woman. When she knew we were sailing and heading north, she suggested we stop off at an inlet for a lunch break on the way. Twenty minutes she reckoned; 30 minutes by road but, in our boat, 20 minutes.
An hour later and no sign of the inlet we began to wonder which speed boat she thought we were in! But, when we did find it, wow. Unless someone had told you about it, you would never find it. We turned into what looked like a small rocky inlet and kept going. The inlet became wider and, turning right round some cliffs, the village appeared. Magical! Small and isolated, the village sat tucked in at the end of the inlet, perhaps half a mile from the entries and hidden from all but those in the know. We anchored close to a rocky shore but with no wind we were safe. Ian, hardened by five years of swimming in the Arctic waters of Agios Giorgios, decided it was time for a dip. Tony was tempted but declined; Paul disappeared below – couldn’t watch! (Actually, in fairness to Paul, he was knocking up yet another splendid Greek salad – lunches have become his speciality and he’s been doing us proud.)
After an hour of peace and tranquility, we set off towards Kiparrisi, our stop for the night. Despite being too close in name to the dullest town in Greece, it was somewhere new so off we went. This leg took us along yet more stunning coastline. Big mountains, verdant hillsides. And there, perched precariously on top of a ridge, a tiny white chapel and monastery.
So, Kiparissi. First impressions? … Shut! There was no sign of life whatsoever. But, following Paul’s intrepid lead, we found a tiny bar and ordered the customary ‘tria biera parakolo’. We shared the small outside area with a playpen housing the owner’s two small children whose father was feeding them ice cream scooped out of the tub with a round, sugar lollipop (went a long way to explain why both children were on the large size). While we were discussing our next move, we heard the owner telling someone, in English, that they could take the children for as long as she liked. When the child-taker replied in a soft Scottish accent we all turned with interest. Our new ‘friend’ turned out to be a Scots woman who had been coming to Kiparissi for 25 years and had decided to cut out the travelling and move there permanently. She was renting somewhere while she purchased land and had just received permission to build. A brave woman we thought. She told us that, when she told her boss that she was packing up and would be leaving, he told her that she could carry on with her job, just ‘work from home’. Must have good wifi there!
Our Scots guide gave us the lowdown on where and where not to eat so we were well prepared. She also told us the story behind the massive, ugly scar of a new road which stretched out around the coast from the village. Apparently a €30 million grant had been secured and the road built joining Kiparrisi to the next province. Unfortunately, the next province said they couldn’t afford to continue the road so it stopped on the boundary. A €30 million ugly scar leading nowhere. Apparently, there is a taverna owner at the end of it who still can’t work out why he is suddenly getting an influx of customers…
Wednesday 26th April – Kiparissi to Porto Kheli – 19 miles
The long days have given us the habit of early rising and today was no different. With nowhere on shore to get a coffee, we headed off into a millpond sea and cloudless sky. And that’s the way it stayed for most of the journey.
There were two major distractions: a mass of floating chipboard sheets that covered quite a large area; and Heinz beans on toast! Eating has become a distraction on these calm, motoring days – there is little else to do other than think of food. As the seas and wind have gone quiet, our waistlines have grown (well, certainly for Paul and Tony; Ian has been showing admirable restraint). Using the ‘it’s-never-been-bread’ bread and a toasting contraption that sits over the gas ring, we cooked up a real treat.
The wind got up a little as we rounded Spetzes but the vague suggestion of trying some sail was met with a general ‘let’s just get there’ response. We are feeling the strain of long days and sleepless nights and, for the first time on the trip, getting back to Methana has become a priority.
It was a beer on shore – chilli on boat – beer on shore evening and not a lot else happened. Apart that is from a biggish yacht nearly taking the front of Carpe Diem as the helm got it horribly wrong. Tony was sitting below while Ian and Paul had gone for a walk round the high spots of Porto Kheli. Something alerted Tony and sent him up top. His first view was of the big yacht more or less sideways just a few metres of Carpe’s bow. Thankfully, with a burst of engine and bow thruster, the yacht moved away – only to hook an anchor next boat down with their keel. A touch of reverse and an ineffective poke with the boat hook and they went out to try again. Although it wasn’t perfect, the second attempt saw them arriving in roughly the right direction although it did need the quick reactions of a crew more to avoid collision with the side of Carpe. After taking ropes and heaving and pulling on their lines, Tony was just settling down when a cold can of Mythos was proffered from our new neighbours with a heartfelt thank you. True to form, Ian and Paul sauntered back once all the drama was over.
Thursday 27th April – Porto Kheli to Ermioni – 16 miles
Once more, a day with no drama; just sun, blue skies and flat seas. We left Porto Kheli in the usual white cloud of diesel fumes from the exhaust, having warned our neighbours to cover their breakfast bowls. From then on, it was all auto-pilot and coffee. After three weeks, the coffee recipe has been honed to a fine art and the first cup on the move has become an anticipated ritual. We’ve also been forced to ration tea bags; in doing so, we’ve discovered we were being quite wasteful in the early days. With a bit of patience we can get three decent cups out of one bag. (The fact that all there is to write about is the coffee recipe and the number of tea bags to use aptly illustrates how the days have changed. No more rolling seas and epics; just pleasantly warm tedium.)
For a change, Ermioni was visible. The last couple of times that Paul and Tony have been there, it’s been in a storm and the coast has been heavily shrouded in rain; the only means to find the way in by chart plotter. The last time, we were treated to a spectacular show of lightening and great claps of thunder overhead. This time, it was flat calm with perfect visibility.
The only thing that spoiled this arrival was a big, fat catamaran moored sideways in the harbour, taking up the space that three Carpe Diems could have moored in stern to. All we were left with was a bit of a squeeze between the back of the cat and an expensive looking yacht. Fortunately, there was little or no wind and we slid in quite professionally. We were all so calm that Ian was able to rise above the urge to respond negatively to the person taking our lines. The guy’s terse command, “Not that one! Throw me the windward one first!” was met with a serene smile and a cheery, “Thank you.” … followed closely by a barely audible, “Windward? What flippin’ wind?”
Ermioni has hardly changed and we did it the honour of hardly changing our routine. A beer followed by a walk up over the top and round the headland and an evening meal in Ganossis restaurant on the end of the quay.
Friday 28th April – Ermioni to Methana – 28 miles
Possibly the flattest sea of the whole trip added to the mounting sense of anti-climax. Not that we were looking for big seas and winds – in fact, after things had quietened down a couple of days ago, Paul had quite clearly stated: “That’s my lot. Anything more than a 4 and I’m off!”. It was just that, well, the weather added to the flat feeling.
We did briefly manage a bit of sail once we had turned through the islands to run to Poros but a combination of location, dying wind and a rather impatient tourist boat meant we packed the sail away. And that was the end of sailing for us. No matter where we turned during the last couple of hours, the wind turned too and stayed steadfastly straight on to our bows.
Wendy and Hervec were waiting to greet us as we pulled into Methana marina.
Twenty days, nearly 600 miles, epics, scary moments, stories to tell; we were back; circumnavigation complete.