It's been a strange month for us, covering new ground at the start of the month then retracing our steps of two and half years ago; a novelty for us. For the first few weeks we travelled almost every day, down through the Evoikkos Channel, touching the Cyclades, through the Corinth to the our old haunt, the Ionian. We've had plenty of fast and furious sailing with Alexina being covered head to toe in spray and salt. By the 20th we were in the Ionian and could relax and idle about till we took up our winter mooring. For the first two weeks, Full Flight joined the Alexina/Maritea flotilla until they headed east back towards Marmaris, while we turned west. Above, Martiea leads our flotilla passed the combined chapel/lighthouse at the exit of Kios Harbour.
1st September means school starts again. Tiger is now in year 4 and has a pile of text books as tall as she is. This year, the focus will be spelling and hand writing and I've a brand new computer programme to help her spell called Workshark (thanks Gill) that's just brilliant. Tiger is also beginning to take on a few responsibilities around the boat, putting up the anchor ball, steering the boat from time to time and releasing one of the stern lines when leaving harbour. She also is very good at offering advice on the correct way to do things around the boat.
Tiger's first educational task was particularly complex. Half way down the channel between Evia and the mainland the water narrows to 40 meters wide at the Khalkis bridge. Forget the tideless Med here, at springs the tide may reach 6 to 7 knots and I swear the water runs uphill. Tiger was challenged to work out why there are such complex tides, but failed. Mind you Aristotle was said to have flung himself into the water when he could not explain what happens here.
The bridge at Khalkis only opens at night, during slack water. This can be any time between 10pm and 4am (ouch!). We were in luck and had a slot at about 11pm. The port police agreed to call us 10 minutes before to allow us preparation time, but this warning came in Greek and we would have missed our slot but for translation from the Greek yacht next to us. Even at slack water the channel behaved bizarrely. Motoring up to the bridge, Maritea was 30 m away from us going so slowly we had to put our boat in reverse to stop overtaking them. Later we discovered they were at full revs bucking a fierce tide, when we had experienced none.
Concentration at sea is always important but from time to time one gets distracted. The wind was pretty fierce as we crossed the channel between Kea and Kithnos, then it died away. So we took the sails down. Up comes the wind again, so up come the sails. During this time we had failed to spot a ferry coming up fast from behind. He passed less than 50m to our port, even before we could scramble for the VHF. It was jolly lucky Tiger was plugged into my Ipod as I yelled every rude word I knew at the silly captain. We would have been visible from miles away so he must have thought it funny to pass so close.
From Kithnos we were retracing old steps, speeding through the Corinth Canal like old hands and before we knew it we were at Trazonia, a small island in the Gulf of Patras with a fantastic, unfinished marina where you can moor for free. I'm sure if you stayed at Trazonia for years you would meet most Med cruisers, as so many pass through this spot. We had wonderful walks and the children made a little house out of bricks and rubble for the huge population of cats. Perhaps you can stay too long though. One long term resident of the marina took exception to the children's little cat house and demolished it! Time to move on. On one of our walks we spotted this gigantic flower from a cactus plant which is said to bloom only every 7-8 years. Anyone who can tell us the name of the cactus and what happens to the plant after it blooms wins a week's trip on a sailing boat in the Med!
The normal stream of westerly wind through the Gulf of Patras showed no sign of abating, so we opted for a night passage under the Bridge at Patras when there should be little wind about. It was touch and go for a short while when a thunderstorm near by created strong head winds. In the end the passage was straight forward. After watching the sunrise over Patras Bridge, Alexina motored up the narrow, dredged channel to Messalongi while Herons and Egrets watched our progress from metres away. Houses on stilts framed the edge of the channel.
By 10am we were securing Alexina to a pontoon in the middle of Messalonghi harbour, carefully mooring the boat so the forecast west winds would blow us comfortably off the quay. While Peter went by dinghy for bread, I put out all our fenders and doubled up the ropes – you can never be too careful with thunderstorms around. Lucky I did, as a thunderstorm hit almost immediately, but of course from the east. Little Alexina was pinned to the pontoon with her fenders threatening to pop! Peter couldn't even row the 20 meters back to the pontoon. Here is the yacht 'Will You' sharing the experience with us.
My birthday was celebrated at the wild anchorage of Pelatas, surrounded by stunning autumnal skies. Myself, Celine and the children left the men in charge while we explored a spooky cave used in spring by large birds, going by the size of the nests we found. At the entrance you could hear strange sounds in the air and we soon discovered an inner cave, dark as night and full of bats.
With strengthening winds Eric from Maritea was horrified to see a Nicholson 38 some 500m metres to his stern. Had Alexina dragged her anchor? No, it was her sister ship Sea Mogs, just arrived in the anchorage. So after the cave visit, all were invited for tea and cakes, including honoured guest Robert and Anne from Sea Mogs. Many happy hours were spent swapping Nich 38 ideas and stories. That evening we enjoyed yet another party on Maritea with Eric managing to get me drunk on quality French wine and champagne (how could I say “No”?).
Reality hit with a bang next day after my brother called with birthday wishes. A casual remark about the imminent collapse of Halifax Bank had us in complete panic, when I realised our life savings were in a subsidiary of the company. Good old David and Mum acted as financial advisers and calmed our fears. However, we do not come out of it unscathed. This winter we can take no income from our investments and will have to find work instead.
It seems weird to be retracing our steps across the Ionian. So how has it changed? It's just as beautiful as ever, just as wet, the seas seem even calmer but, by golly, it's busy for September with wonderful anchorages, like Meganisi, full to the brim. You now have to watch out for Sea Planes in the approaches to large harbours and the smaller harbours have shrunk! We had wanted to take Maritea to all our favourite places, but once we got there Eric would just laugh and say “You think you can get our 15 metre boat in there”?
Eric's parents joined Maritea for the Ionian cruise. Tiger was given a crash course in table manners and threatened with dire consequences if she practised any of her numerous rude French words on Eric's mum.
As the weather closed in we returned to that all round shelter and old home of Vlikho anchorage on Levkas. After a two and a half year gap, we've had a wonderful welcome back. Mike and Veda, ex of Sun Dancer fed us on roast lamb and gave a wine and cheese party. Sue and Barry from Sioux Sail toasted our return with gin and tonics and big licks from their dogs. Ken and Gini on Bouba (from our time in Rome) motored down from Levkas town to see us (and thank heavens offered non-alcoholic drinks). Last, but not least, Maria, at our old boat yard, greeted us with our post that she has kept for three years. In the picture my brave hunter gatherer returns through the pouring rain at Vliho with essential provisions.
Peter has discovered our GPS keeps a log of miles travelled. We installed it two seasons ago and it now shows 4400 miles, an average of 2200 miles per season. So now I'm in mood, here are some statistics that might interest you for 2008:-
Nautical miles travelled this year 2200
Seas sailed in 4 (Aegean, Black, Marmara and Ionian)
Turkish Islands visited 4
Greek Islands visited 28
Gales at sea 1
Arguments on board 52.5