During our 2010 summer holidays, Emily and I spent a week near Galway, Ireland, re-enacting scenes from P.S. I love you. On a rare deviation from the script we went horse riding, something she had spent a lot of her childhood mastering. Something I had spent very little of my childhood mastering. Naturally I was saddled (I hate puns) with the old and greying but experienced horse. Our initial introductions were challenged by my falling off as I went to mount the loyal stead and this was followed by him ignoring my instructions at every turn, tracing the same route with which he was well versed. In the end he saved me from much further embarrassment and back at the stables we bonded over a pack of polos and excessive nose rubbing. At the time I genuinely believed he was sad to be led away and I had developed an affinity towards him. We probably both got over it pretty quickly.
Our first month of sailing has been a pendulum of nailing a stern-to mooring against heavy crosswinds in front of a crowded restaurant, to going aground in calm and regularly visited waters. I mentioned the grounding quietly in our last blog but here I highlight for all to see after we found out it was quite common and so far seems to have done no serious damage to the boat - hopefully. Our inexperience but hard work are showing through in their own ways. We're learning a lot, but when we fall short Hodja seems to pull up the slack, saving us embarrassment and has a way of surviving the tough times despite our inabilities. In return, the old girl takes some looking after, with constant attention to her engine and electrics, never ending maintenance and an ongoing puzzle as to how a boat can get so dirty when we’re surrounded by crystal clear water?
|Just fixing stuff. You know.|
Emily bought “Sea Breeze” scented cleaner...
But we have managed to keep on the move during our most recent leg through the Saronic islands. The longest we have stayed in one place between the Corinth Canal and the Cyclades was a second night in Poros, where we had to get a mechanic on board but fortunately just to confirm all was ok with our squealing prop shaft. Huh?
Korfos was our first anchorage of call – it was our second open water anchorage but near to a town where we could sample the local Aegean chandlery shops via tender; we were in the market for a filler to fix the crack sustained to the side of the boat in the unprotected ‘protected’ harbour of Corinth. I also bought some rope, just because.
We’re starting to see the same boats here and there which I hadn’t expected but is quite reassuring at times – especially as most of the yachts we meet have been going for a few years, with the accompanying experience. At one stop we were talking to a couple from Lymington who were delivering a yacht for a friend. They had done a lot of sailing all over the world including New Zealand and Australia. The next yacht that turns up, sailed by a Kiwi who hand built it himself, knew the Lymington couple. They had met in Australia after they sold him their second head sail three years earlier...
The second stop after anchoring in Korfos was intended to be the harbour town of Aegina on Aegina Island but room with sufficient depth for our two meter draft was lacking. We circled the harbour for ten minutes, shouted at a departing boat to find that they had grounded their Beneteau 44 ;-) and swiftly departed for an anchorage further up the island. The spot was ideal, well protected from the South Easterly wind and had a great little taverna for dinner and drinks - where we met a Dutch touring group who had pulled up next door shortly after our arrival. The very same group we sailed past three days later to much yahooing.
Our fondness of the anchorage soon deteriorated when we were rudely awoken at 3am by some unusually large wake. It felt like a speeding tanker had passed uncharacteristically close to the land. Except the wake didn’t stop. And when we investigated on deck found that the wind had veered and brought with it the largest seas we have seen to date. The next step in said experience was for the anchor to drag, duly obliged. So at 0.3m below the keel we fired the engines, lit the Nav lights and motored out to re-lay the anchor and hope for some bite on the patchy sea bed. We were lucky and only had to spend the next couple of hours monitoring as our Dutch friends were forced to do the same. No casualties that night – good times.
We sailed off anchor late the following morning after catching up on some sleep, headed onwards to the large but sufficiently quaint town of Poros. Most large Greek towns seem to have either suffered ruin post 2012 economic crises or a sizable earthquake between now and visually appealing architecture disappeared from the Mediterranean builder’s repertoire. So it was a pleasure to climb the steep slopes of the old town and sample the local Greek coffee, watching the ships come and go from a height. Hi German couple who helped us out in Corinth, sure we’ll take your lines for you.
After our two night stay we headed for the small but notoriously upmarket port of Idra (Idra island). On the way, we saw a rare Mediterannean Monk Seal as we squeezed between the mainland and close islands/rocks. One of only 500 left in the world due to selective habitat and low fish stocks. It was nice to see. We’ll call him Gunga Din.
Upon arrival the hill side town was everything you’d want from a backwater version of the south of France. Boutique shops, lots of tiny lanes and passages to get lost in, slightly more expensive beer/coffee and lacklustre chandlery shops. Quayside mooring was free though, in the absence of a port master, which may also help to explain the unusual rafted-stern-to mooring which we haven’t seen before or since and hope never to experience again – carnage.
The chartered boat next-door to us was frequented by a group headed by a chatty Kiwi, based in Lyon, with his French possy. We’ll call them group A.
The following day we left early, as places in the Saronic seemed to fill-up fast and we wanted to get a decent sport in the port of Spetses (you guessed it – on Spetses island) for the following night in response to weather forecasts. Good decision, as protected spaces were severly lacking due in most part to a resurgence in local fishing boats which rarely seem to leave the harbour. It was a ‘rough around the edges’ version of Idra with one of the last remaining working caique boat yards adding some genuine character above white walls and blue timberwork. Next-door to us was a British family of five, chartering for the week and skippered by the father. Circa 45 years old based on career and children but looking good for his age - he was a tank mechanic in the army for 25 years. Naturally we invited him over for a good look round Hodja’s Yanmar 29 and his musings were useful and surprisingly reassuring. Top man. We’ll call them group B.
The final stop before crossing to the Cyclades, the middle group of islands within the Aegean sea, was a quiet anchorage sandwiched between the mainland and two low lying islands/rocks near to the sea lion spotting grounds we passed not two days before. Naturally I put two and two together and lowered the tender, fishing rod in hand, under the assumption that the sea lion must be living off something. After two hours it transpires he is a better fisherman than I.
There were two other boats tucked into the cove where we lay, and the couple from one popped over in their tender on the assumption that had I been lucky with the rod that they would be duly invited for dinner. I broke the sad news but their conviction was unwavered, duly returning with substantial volumes of drink to console us, which worked a treat. This we call group C.
Group C were on their way back to Athens to return their charter boat. They had spent the night before at a similar anchorage four hours back in which they had helped and subsequently gotten to know a French group skippered by a Kiwi – group A. The night before that they were moored in Porto Kheli where they met a guy who fixed army tanks – group B. From memory of passage plans and in hope of a typical ‘world is small moment’ I have every certainty that Group A and B spent that night chatting about an American couple that helped them anchor and this weird English couple who were stupid enough to throw away their careers for an outrageous tan and never ending boat troubles. I gave the Kiwi details of the blog – I bet he threw them away. We’ll never know.
I use never ending boat troubles in good taste. Breakage and maintenance is an inevitability that we are slowing learning to embrace and appreciate that it’s at least forcing us to get to know Hodja well and learn about maintenance and repairs more generally. So far Hodja has been solid against everything we have thrown at her, both knowingly and through our stupidity. Refusing to dip her bow amid heavy seas at 3am. Holding her line on a gusty shore after some amateur moves by her crew. Keeping herself straight when astern at the time you most need her to – in front of the packed restaurant crowd. Everyone loves their own steed. Indeed, sailing around the Med there are many like her. But this one is ours.