2022 Sailing again – beyond the frustrations and failures

Almost five years ago, to the day, the noble sailing yacht Carpe Diem suffered the indignities of being hustled around the Peloponnese by a sometimes less than sympathetic crew. Now she’s about to suffer again…

Join us for a diary of our trip. Mostly it’s accurate; sometimes there’s poetic licence. Hopefully it helps to share the fun. Enjoy.

Saturday 16 April

Anchored in Dhokos, sitting on the back of the boat supping G & Ts and nibbling crisps. It’s windy but the anchor is holding. A general air of relaxation and, apart from the football discussion taking place on the starboard side, all is well.

We left Methana around 12:30 after a leisurely breakfast and shop and motored most of the way. Poros Sound was chaotic with ferry boats, fast cat and Japanese tourist boat all appearing to add to the fun. After a stunning lunch on the move, courtesy of Paul, the foresail went up on the leg to Dhokos which added a bit of interest and 0.5 knots.

Apart from the joy of being on the boat and on the move, the highlights have been limited: a person on the island and Paul guessing the correct number of boats at anchor here on Dhokos. Chilli for tea and fingers crossed for the wind dropping.

Sunday 17 April

And now it’s Porto Kheli, early afternoon. Moored stern-to against the wall in the main harbour.

Left Dhokos this morning with grey skies, blustery winds and slate-grey, choppy sea. The foresail went up early and, combined with the engine, gave us a steady 4.5-5.0 knots. Heading through the gap towards Spetses, we had more than one eye on the weather. The wind started whirling round and the signs of rain in the distance became more evident.

There had been a few spots of rain but, as we turned the corner to head across the island of Spetses, the heavens opened. Being the bravehearts that we are, we had both sails out by now and for a while were cracking along at over 5 knots on sails alone. As the rain got heavier though and the seas got bigger, all enthusiasm for sailing evaporated and we reverted to good old diesel power. To be fair, it was the more senior crew that lacked enthusiasm; the most junior of the crew was all for battling on into the gloom but he was soon out voted.

And so, here we are, safely tucked up and scratching round for things to do so that we aren’t distracted into starting on the beer even earlier than usual… Joe’s distraction turned into a 6 mile walk around the town and surrounding countryside.

Monday 18 April

We woke to a grim, grey morning; a morning made even greyer by the fact that Dave was leaving us. For the last few days, Dave has been struggling with his back and finally decided that giving in to the pain was the only option. Ian and Wendy came to pick him up just as we were enjoying a bacon sandwich. Sad but sensible.

After a rather nice coffee in a brilliant coffee shop which sold super looking cakes, the fanciest of Easter eggs and sandwiches to die for, we left the wall. Managing to dodge a diver in the water who was trying to recover something from the bottom, we set off. At this point, the weather didn’t look too bad. Little did we know…

After a mile or two of following the coast north, we took the the decision to cut across the gulf to find the town of Astrous. For the next three hours there was nothing but sea and rain. Suddenly, a fin broke the water and a dolphin came briefly in to sight followed by a second and then a third. For an all-too-brief interlude, the monotony was broken by the playful aquatic gymnastics of three young dolphins rolling around the bow of our boat. Sadly, the dolphins disappeared as quickly as they had appeared and we resumed out wet plod across the waves.

Two miles from out destination, the little bit of coast that we could see disappeared behind a wall of rain and it became a game of staring into the rain and wind hoping to see what the pilot book described as a distinctive lighthouse on the headland. It might have been distinctive on a traditional sunny Greek day but in the murk that we were staring through we almost hit it before we saw it!

Astrous is a delight! A sheltered, secure harbour; a long, long beach; and Armonia, a brilliant taverna which served the best shrimp saganaki ever and also had a log fire. Never has the warmth of burning wood been so gratefully received. It’s quiet now but we could see tavernas starting to get ready for the forthcoming Easter celebrations.

Tuesday 19 April

Slow start ie coffee, coffee and, for those in the under 40 age group, work. Actually, most of the activity this morning centred around drying out from yesterday. Pretty soon, the boat was festooned with multi colours as jackets, over trousers and underpants adorned every available surface. Included in this mix was Tony’s waterproof jacket which had been peed on by the local feline heavy.

Our mornings are becoming tense because we are never sure that the engine will actually fire up and burst in to life. This morning was no different – lots of starting, farting and smoke followed by a “Thank God!”and another coffee.

Today’s plan was to motor (no wind) down the coast with Tyros as our destination. And surprise, surprise, that’s what we did albeit with a very enjoyable anchorage for lunch part way down. Highlight of the lunch stop was Joe braving the chilly waters to swim under the boat and scrub the depth sounder (we’ve been having problems with it reading random numbers or no numbers). Sadly Joe’s valiant efforts made not a jot of difference and we continued on in the ‘haven’t got a clue what the depth is’ style that we had adopted so far.

The ‘no wind’ part of today’s experience changed dramatically as we approached Tyros. It went from 0mph to 15+ in the space of a hiccup. All fine until we turned into the harbour at Tyros and tried to anchor. Anchoring is simple: line up, select reverse, drop the anchor, head to the wall, tie up, beer. Until the wind blows! Within seconds we were crabbing sideways and desperately trying to reach the security of the wall. Gamely, Joe leapt ashore clutching a rope between his teeth and then tried to hold nearly two tonnes of fibre glass while being screamed at by Tony at the helm. Realising that all was lost, Tony and Paul hauled in the anchor and headed out to catch their breath leaving Joe on the quayside wondering what the hell was going on. “Sideway on, that’s the answer!”. And so we did. And we tied so many ropes to every large metal object that Carpe was going nowhere.

After getting our breath back, we headed in to town and found the most expensive beer in the Peleponnese. On the way to, and from, the bar, Joe demonstrated his stone skimming prowess. Tony? Three to five. Paul? Similar. Joe? Fifteen! Dark mutterings about youth and wasted life…

And now we are back on the boat. Joe is cooking pasta with sausage sauce and trying to seduce Paul and Tony into an alcoholic stupor.

Wednesday 20 April

Kiparissi. Steely Dan. Curry. What a day!

Today was not set to be a rush day. Tea/coffee on board; leisurely stroll to the coffee shop; back to the boat for fried spam and beans. That sort of day.

We left around 11 o’clock and, in line with our experiences so far, it was windy. Every day it’s been windy leaving and windy getting in. Today was no exception: let the bow line off and wheeee out we went! Because we weren’t going too far down the coast we decided to use the wind and, wait for it … sail! We could have motored in a straight line and covered the miles easily but, no, we sailed. Proper sailing. Tacking. Bloody good fun!

After about two hours, though, the wind started to change and we realised that we were in danger of sailing back to where we had come from. Nothing for it: sails down; motor on. A long steady plod with only the sighting of a distant pod of dolphins, maybe 12 or more, to break the monotony.

And here we are tied up alongside the ‘town pier’ aka a large lump of concrete. Despite Paul’s doom-and-gloom recollections of Kiparissi, we love it. A typical Greek coastal village backed by high cliffs; small friendly tavernas and the best nuts and crisps so far. It has to be noted that Paul and Tony are struggling with Joe’s levels of energy. He walks. He swims. A week left to reign him in.

Thursday 21 April

Last night was not a comfortable one! Despite being securely tied on to the concrete town pier, we bounced. Even the smallest of waves rolling in caused problems: we lifted with the wave, we went slowly backwards with it, we dipped as it passed and the – boing! – we shot forwards as it came back off the beach. There were times when it seemed a rope would break but, thankfully, none did. Despite being in the front cabin, Joe proved how effective his earplugs are and slept through. Paul and Tony did not.

After a hurried cup of tea, we left. And that was the last of the excitement. Flat, flat calm and no wind. Lots of reading, knot practicing and lounging. Not a dolphin in sight. The stand out moment came as we turned in towards Monemvasia. “Are those clouds?”asked Joe pointing to the patches of white over the distant mountains. Out came the binoculars. “It’s snow!” And there they were, high, snow capped mountains. And us in tee-shirts and shorts.

Four hours later, we pottered into Monemvasia, our stop for the night. It’s an amazing place with a massive rock ‘island’ off the main town connected by a road and bridge. We joined the throngs heading up to the old walled town that sits on the side of the rock. Paul and Tony quickly realised that ‘big boy trousers’ (ie long) were not the most suitable attire; Joe in shorts tried hard not to be smug. Forcing ourselves out of the brief respite of shade afforded by the arched entrance through the town wall we came out in to the narrow street lined with shops, bars and hotels. Sounds horrendous but, actually, it’s lovely with the shops, etc, built into the old town houses.

There is a steep and winding stairway leading from the back of the town to the top of the rock where there are the ruins of the old fort and church. No prizes for guessing who went up and who didn’t…. “These trousers are too hot for walking,” was heard repeatedly.

The rest of the afternoon and evening passed in a pleasant haze involving kalamari, ouzo, beer, shrimp risotto, pork chop, wine and cabbage salad. The whole day was topped off with a quiet, stationery night.

Friday 22 April

We left Monemvasia at around 2pm after a very leisurely start. We shopped; we coffee-ed; we blogged or worked. We even collected our laundry from a laundrette run by a wonderful Greek Australian woman (Greek parents, born in Melbourne, lived in France – fascinating) who proved to the font of all knowledge Monemvasia. We also topped up the water tanks and went round to pick up fuel from the most oddly located fuel station. Remember the rock island at Monemvasia which is joined to the main town by a narrow bridge? Well the fuel station is on the far side of the bridge from the town. Odd.

The journey from Monemvasia was uncomfortable due to metre high waves coming in from the starboard side so we were continually being rolled. Tedious.

We were aiming for Ieraki, a tiny village at the end of sort of Greek fjord. It’s beautiful – not easy to find but beautiful. Paul and Tony had been there before so, theoretically, knew what to look for. Wrong. They spent an hour saying “There it is!”; “No it’s not.” Finally we found the entrance to the fjord and pottered in. And that’s it really. We did blow up the dinghy with a view to rowing ashore but the wind put paid to that so we just sat spinning round the anchor hoping we would be in the same place as we started when the next circuit began. We cooked and eat pasta bolognese, drunk wine and played crib. It’s a hard life…

Saturday 23 April

The anchorage in the creek at Iereka was beautiful but boy did the wind blow through night. We spun round and round but, thankfully, stayed put. Not a restful night.

Leaving Ieraka, we tried to sail but the wind refused to play fair and the sail went back in. And thus began a long, long uneventful day. “Is this the most boring day’s sailing we’ve ever had ?” asked Tony. “Not sure,” said Paul, “but it must be up there.” No wind; flat calm; open sea; straight line course. Six hours of trying to find things to do. To be fair though, we never played I spy…

The day was saved as we came close to Ermioni where we planned to Moor for the next couple of nights. The wind steadied at 12-15 mph and the sails came out and Joe and Paul shared the helm. “It’s not all about speed,” said Paul but happily claimed the top speed record of just over six knots. 

Coming into Ermioni, we could see a strange floating object seemingly in the middle of the entrance channel. Getting closer, we saw what looked to be a person wearing an orange cape standing on an oil-drum raft, arms out and hopping from one foot to the other. Bizarre. Turned out to be scarecrow style figure and the hopping was just the movement of the raft. Talking to a taverna owner, we learned that the figure was Judas Iscariot and would be burned tomorrow evening as part of the Easter celebrations.

We wondered ashore for the obligatory post-mooring beer and panicked. Nowhere seemed to want to sell us beer! Most places were closed or setting up for a party. Finally, we found a great place which was serving both beer and food and we stayed put for the night. (For those who have sailed to Ermioni before, it’s the place with the bizarre toilet walls, the one with black splodges on the tiles; the place for ‘coffee’… ).

Sunday 24 April

Nothing really happened today … just as we had planned. We decided to stay two nights here in Ermioni so that we could be here for the Easter celebrations. And we weren’t disappointed. 

We did manage some exercise around lunchtime with a walk around the headland and a swim (for two out of three of us – the ex-lifeguard and water sports specialist choosing to watch rather than participate). An excellent lunch overlooking the sea and we were back to the boat to continue the ‘nothing really happened’.

Late afternoon saw banks of speakers being set up along the main road followed by bursts of loud music as the systems were tested. Worrying.

By six o’clock, the crowds had started to build and we wondered out. Standing on the edge of the jetty we watched the preparations and slowly realised that this was going to be a big event. Smoke canisters were dropped in the harbour and orange smoke drifted across our boat. We called in for a beer on the harbour front and soaked in the atmosphere as more and more people gathered and the music began. As the light faded there were speeches and the hillside opposite the town was lit by laser displays.

The tension continued to build and the light continued to fade. Suddenly a flotilla of small boats came into the harbour crowded with people holding flares. Smoke filled the harbour and still Judas was intact. There were hundreds of people lining the harbour walls, clambering for a good viewpoint. Paul tried to get a better view by climbing on to a plant trough but was immediately told off by the popcorn seller!

Finally, the moment came. Judas burst into flames and were treated to the most incredible firework display. It just went on and on. It’s hard to describe how amazing the display was. Hopefully the pictures will help…

Monday 25 April

After the festivities of last night Ermioni was very subdued this morning. A gentle stroll to the coffee shop with the best internet connection and then we set sail … sorry, motor. Again, no wind.

No rest for the crew though as they sloshed and scrubbed the decks to clear the firework debris from the night before. Dark mutterings about rank, captaincy, slavery and mutiny.

From Ermioni, it’s a straight line for 15 or so miles until a turning has to be made towards Poros. To be honest, the most interesting thing was the increase in the number of vessels materialising in that bit of sea.

We turned for Poros and, lo, the wind appeared. We got over excited, put full sails up, had fun for five minutes then regretted the amount of sail. We made a bit of a hash of turning, a bit more of a hash of reducing sail, even more hash of trying to sail towards Poros. And then gave up. Sails away and motor.

Deciding to avoid the noisy night clubs (Malibu for those who have sailed there before) we went on through the sound and moored up outside the Yacht Club. It’s a small venue with large aspirations and an even larger set of speakers as we were to discover later that night. Today was the annual marker of Paul’s inexorable slide towards pensioner status so we decided to celebrate with a few drinks and dinner at Dimitri’s. For those in the know, Dimitri’s is a restaurant run by a butcher and, surprise surprise, there’s lots of meat on the menu (ask Dave Shaw about the pork chop with extension… ). We spent a great night munching on pork and lamb παιδάκια (cutlets to the rest of us) combined with an amazing spinach, sun dried tomatoes and Parmesan salad. Not so long ago, it was more or less Greek salad or nothing but recently, there has been an explosion of great salads combined with quality dressings. In most Greek tavernas, you get a free pudding at the end of the meal which range from yoghurt and something, sliced apple with cinnamon to walnut cake and ice cream. We got a free litre of wine. Oh dear.

Feeling full we wobbled downhill to the boat only to discover the aforementioned speakers at the Yacht Club. Actually, the volume wasn’t too bad – certainly not Malibu level – but, on the whole, the choice of music was dire. A great day. Happy Birthday Paul.

Tuesday 26 April

Poros to Methana is not very far but we were going to Aegina, the large island opposite Methana. Rather that take the normal clockwise route, we went anti-clockwise round the back of Poros island and headed off to Aegina.

You can probably guess by now what the wind conditions were like…

Nothing out of the ordinary happened between Moni and Aegina apart from the anxiety induced by being able to see the bottom ie around six metres of depth for a lot of the way. One of those situations where knowing it’s deep enough isn’t quite enough.

We set off to walk to the archeological temple site just out of the town but got there to discover it was closed on Tuesdays. Feeling a bit peeved, we headed back into town and discovered the delights of a town that exists on two levels: garish, noisy main street fronting on to the harbour backed by delightful second and third streets full of interesting shops, tavernas, markets and bars. We ended up eating fish pasta dishes and an amazing bowl of beetroot at a taverna outside the fish market. It’s amazing how you can learn to ignore a smell…

Wednesday 27 April

We spent the night in the harbour in Aegina sandwiched between two massive catamarans. Apart from both being at least 10’ longer than us, they towered over us. At least we had a sheltered night!

Walking back from our habitual coffee search, we watched from the other side of the harbour as the cat on the windward side set out to leave and rapidly slewed sideways, caught by the wind. Major panic ensued on the other cat as fenders were rushed to cushion the blow. Carpe sat nicely out of the way. Sometimes size isn’t everything.

Another motoring day heading from Aegina to Vathi, a small port on the west side of the Methana peninsula. For lunch we anchored in a small bay on the south end of the island of Angistri. With the depth sounder still not working, we had no way of knowing how deep it was where we were attempting to anchor. We had to rely on eyeballs and a lead line made from a length of rope and a few sockets from the tool box! To be absolutely sure, we ran out a line from the back of the boat and tied to a convenient rock on the sure. Joe, being the youngest and fittest, was delegated to swim the rope to the rock. We spent a peaceful lunch break watching the family on the big cruiser next to us playing with the various water toys onboard. Best toy by far was a foiling surf board with electric motor. Once up out of the water, it went surprisingly quickly and gave us much entertainment as the rider went from pose to crash in an instant!

Vathi was crowded as usual. We struggled a bit to get a decent slot and then spent the next couple of hours watching as the crews on a fleet of five or six RYA training boats were put through their paces learning how to ‘park’ stern-to. Much amusement for those on land.

For dinner, we went to Jimmy’s, a fish taverna run by Rula the wife of the now-deceased Jimmy. Great fish as usual followed by some kind of apple donut as the free desert. Mmmm mmmm.

Thursday 28 April

That’s it. Another sailing trip is over and we are back in Methana marina.

The marina is ‘managed’ by Marina who can switch from screaming to cackling in an instant. As we came in, we heard the tell-tale blast of a whistle indicating that Marina was on patrol. Very soon we spotted her on the quayside whistling and waving. “Go! Go out! Private! Go back!” Quickly Tony shouted our boat name. “Welcome! Welcome!”, came the reply followed by her Macbeth-worthy cackling as she chuckled her way back to the office. She is priceless.

And now we are in, settled and facing the usual range of jobs involved in putting a boat to bed. Despite the sadness of losing Captain Greybeard early on, it’s been a great trip. We’ve done some miles, ticked off lots of ports and anchorages and even enjoyed a couple of good sails. A shame the wind chose not to play for most of the time but, hey, that’s sailing!