Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Idling in the Ionian

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

Monday, 8 September 2008

A Saunter through the Sporades

The crew of Alexina give a big thumbs up for the Northern Sporades, though we had our doubts at first. August can be a tricky time for cruisers as you can experience crowded anchorages, strong winds, hot weather and even hotter tempers. Instead we've had a fantastic time with our chums on Maritea, visiting the Alonnisos National Park and finishing up in the Gulf of Volos. The anchorages have been memorable and the protection of the chain of islands gives wonderful swell free sailing.

So a bit more about this month.

The first 10 days of August were spent catching our breath at Neas Marmaris. The boat was cleaned from head to toe (not that you would know it now), the engine serviced, the lockers were filled with delicious food, Peter the wonder wizard mended our radar and I created clip on sun shades for our sunroof. For two days I deserted my family and popped back to the UK as Pippa, my best friend from school, was getting married in Bath.

By the 11th we were well rested and with itchy feet. Maritea met us at the harbour entrance and we had a good first day's sail in light winds. Why so good? We beat Maritea into port for the first time ever (not that we were racing!)

With the solar panels broken, we have to watch our energy consumption closely. This means no energy gobbling autopilot whilst under sail. The next day we had to motor the thirty odd miles to the Sporades. I was freed from steering duties as the engine provided lots of power and Tiger and I could settle down with a good book. Peter entertained himself by muttering darkly about the price of fuel.

We motored from a bumpy sea into Planitis, an enclosed bay at the top of the Pelagos.
At only 80 meters wide, the entrance to Planitis bay is spectacular and easy with little wind around. By 2pm we were anchored in serene surroundings with Maritea only a child's leap and swim away. Alexina was now in the Alonnisos National Park, created to protect the habitat of the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monarchus Monarchus) who breed in the caves around the islands.

The entrance to Planitis just cried out to be explored, so we packed biscuits, masks and snorkles and set off in Tommy Thumb (our dinghy). Suddenly a dark furry shape appeared about 50 metres ahead and splashed about in the water. To our delight we had spotted a rare Monk Seal. In fact it made so much splashing that we thought that there was more than one seal. Later we discussed our sighting with a Park Warden who revealed that the seals were creatures of solitary habits and thus the name '”Monk” Seal. We also learned that breeding starts in September so we were glad to have visited them without disturbing their breeding time.

Two days later we moved on, planning to take in the site of a lonely monastery on the way. However, once out of the anchorage the wind was up and it was pretty bouncy at the narrow entrance. Any viewing of the monastery would have to been done through binoculars, sails went up and off we went at a cracking pace. As we rounded the bottom of the island the Alexina managed 8 knots under reefed foresail alone. Maritea steamed past us at 10 knots with full sail up! (Not that we were racing.)

For a week we toured around the other islands in the Alonnisos National Park enjoying wonderful anchorages everywhere. Tiger, Damian and Juliette made many friends from two English charter boats and whisked them off to the beach to show them exactly how to handle sea urchins and catch jellyfish. Eventually lack of provisions drove us into Patitiri on the Island of Alonnisos but in the three hours we saw so many crossed anchors and arguments that we pulled out and went back to paradise, having stocked up on beer and sausages of course.

We were luck enough to bump into Ray and Hilary from Koala, last seen in Rome 2004. (When we say 'bumped into', we mean literally when our mooring went a little wrong!) They have been cruising for 25 years, raising kids on board who have long since gone onto grown up lives. Hilary was a great inspiration to me when Tiger was 4 and I was in panic mode about how to tackle the subject of school. I copied her sensible approach to educating kids on board.

Skopolos was the next stop in the itinerary and we were happy to see one of the English charter boats full of children moored right next door to us. There was a romantic story behind their trip. Some 18 years ago, Gary and Nicky had chartered a boat in the Sporades for their honeymoon and here they were back again for the second time with their two children. Gary recreated a photograph of Nicky perched on the bow of their boat in the same dress as18 years before. Ahhhhhh.

Dedicated followers of fashion that we are, at Skopolos we just had to do the 'in' thing and watch “Mamma Mia”. This was shown in the open air cinema on the island where it had been filmed. In my enthusiasm I managed to drag Tiger, all the crew of Maritea and Gary and Nicky, their children Christian and Elouise a long to it. Here is my happy band of dancing queens!

Sometime in the night Tiger's ABBA fever turned into real fever and by 4am I was sponging her down and administering paracetamol. Nicky, from next door, turned out to be a paedriatric nurse so was great to talk to for advise. Once leaving harbour you have to be pretty self sufficient so I bought half the chemist shop before setting off next day. Tiger would choose the hottest day of the year to be ill and there was absolutely no wind to cool her. I spent the trip navigating one minute and fanning my daughter the next.

Ever read Gates of the Wind by Michael Carroll? Well to me the book was about a sailor in search of the perfect anchorage. He discovered Panormous in the south west of Skopolos, put down a mooring buoy, built a beautiful house and perhaps never left (see right). That was some 50 years ago and I knew times had changed, but we had to go see for ourself. Our first turn into the approach revealed a beach swarming with hotels and gaily coloured beach umbrellas. Never a good sign. The final turn was into a narrow channel and we were there, just as he described. It was heaven on earth, clear water and green trees running down to the water's edge. Kingfisher's swooped from tree to tree. Poor fever riddled Tiger was able to sit in the shallows under a shady tree to cool down.

A couple of boats up from us was Thierry on his Bernard Moitissier Ketch, “Tamata Moa”, who supplemented his income by painting water colours of other people's boats. Having brought up 2 children himself on board, we felt immediately at home with him. For the next two nights Maritea, Alexina and Thierry wined and dined together while he sang and played the guitar or told stories of a life on the sea. Without us knowing, Eric and Celine commissioned him to paint our boat and then presented it to us. It will hang in pride of place.

Just in case you think it's all fun, picture us on that first morning at Panormou; 4.30am to be precise, when a strong north westerly wind came up. Standard procedure, take down tarpaulins and make boat ship shape. Non standard extra, wash up from last night's party and apply paracetomal to sick child. At 8am our anchor dragged. As we were moored stern to with long lines ashore there was a danger of running aground so we make a hasty exit to our back up anchorage, which turns out to have 30 knot winds and swell. Plan B, go back to Panormou and anchor at the head of the bay till the wind passes. Anchor sets second attempt, just in time for sick child to throw up over everything.

It was decided to skip Skiathos, the southern most island of the Sporades chain, as it was just too full of tourists and charter boats this time of year. Again the wind was kind and we sailed the 35 odd miles to the Gulf of Volos in good time, finishing off goose-winged doing a good 7.5 knots. Maritea, having left a little later, were struggling to catch up with us (not that we were racing!)

If you could describe your quintessential Mediterranean anchorage, our next anchorage had it all. Pithos on the wonderfully named Palaio Trikeri was lined with robust olive trees to tie our lines to, the water was crystal clear and aquamarine blue and, or course, the meltemi streamed past just out in the channel. Full Flight, Peter's old guitar practice friends from Yacht Marine, were tied up already. We'd not seen them since the Black Sea so caught up over a few Gin and Tonics. Full Flight will join our little flotilla down the Evia Channel.

No monthly update could be complete without a bit of equipment failure. Our next trip was an unchallenging 5 miles. However, ever vigilant Midshipman Tiger noticed a burning smell coming from under our chart table. One of Alexina's Split Diodes had started to leak oil and was overheating – thus the smell. The nearest replacement unit would have to come from Athens, some 200 miles away. My clever mechanic, Peter, managed to by-pass the unit temporarily. However now we must remember to twist a dial every time the engine starts or risk cooking our starter battery.

Our final resting place for the month is the friendly harbour of Orei on the island of Evia where the weather has broken and it's pouring with rain. The waterproof canopy has gone back on the cockpit. This means Autumn has officially started.

Monday, 4 August 2008

From the Island of Marmara to Nea Marmara*

Turkey was not quite ready to let go of us and tried several strategies to keep us there.

Ploy number one – get our anchor so tangled we could never leave.. No sooner had I returned from the internet cafe to post my June update, then chaos let loose in the anchorage. A Turkish boat had accidentally lifted our anchor, got it tangled with the next two boats in the row, dropped it again 50 metres from where he picked it up, then laid his anchor over the whole mess! All the boats were screaming at the offending captain, but Peter was as cool as a cucumber. Just by using Tommy Thumb (the dinghy), his mask, snorkle, flippers and a lot of strength he was able to sort it out, even manually re-laying the Turkish Boat's anchor. Georgeco, the Turkish boat's captain, said Peter was his hero (so he was immediately forgiven), then invited us round for cool beers to say thank-you. It turned out he was suffering that bad combination of inexperience, new boat, dodgy engine, broken windlass and being a retired Turkish Airlines Captain.

Ploy number two. Make checking out of Turkey too complicated. With both the current and wind in our favour, Alexina flew down the Dardanelles under sail to Canakkale to check out of Turkey. Peter had gone through this process many times and knew every Port of Exit used a different procedure. We soon discovered the process for Canakkale was, in strict order:-
  1. Complete the exit part of the transit log. Go to the Harbour Master. Have sheets 1, 2 and 3 of the exit part of your transit log stamped at the Harbour Master.
  2. Have our passport's stamped at the Passport police and all details entered into a folder and on the computer. A stamp is placed on all three pages of the exit part of the transit log and the entry part, pages 1 and 3 are stamped. A photocopy is made of page three and the police keep page one.
  3. Have another form stamped at Customs and our details entered into a large, black book. Naturally the transit log, exit part is also stamped and a photocopy taken.
  4. Take all completed forms back to Harbour Master where he would check all the paperwork, supply a final stamp and ply Tiger with sweets and photographs of his children.

Easy. Now why did it take us 5 hours? The sting in the tail is that the Passport police are some 6km south at the commercial harbour. This would involve two sweaty bus rides and an hour's walk in the blazing sun.

5am the next morning saw us waving a fond farewell to Turkey and, helped by the current pouring out of the Dardanelles, we sailed furiously the 70 odd miles to Samothraki. Our average speed was well over six and half knots, with long parts at 7 knots. That's a lot for little Alexina and broke our day sailing record.

Peter loves Alexina with all his heart and soul, so it can be jolly difficult to persuade him to go sightseeing unless he is happy with Alexina's mooring arrangements. At Samothraki I thought we had hit gold when we found an alongside berth with water, electricity and the OK from the Harbour master. The island had been on my 'must go to' list for many years after reading that it was the home to the ancient Gods. Whilst visiting their sanctuary we must have done something to upset the Gods because next day bad luck descended on us. Standing at the bus stop ready for another day's adventures, we spotted a large yacht acting strangely right by Alexina. Peter ran to investigate and found that their dinghy had caught our lovely stainless steel starboard davit and bent it in half. After that even the sensational waterfalls of Samothraki could not raise our spirits and we will have to come back again some other time to fully enjoy it.

Hurrah for school holidays! Rest time for both mother and child, but the learning never stops. History lessons filled our time at the island of Thassos, our next stop. Here is a day's schedule that would delight the most diligent of history teachers. Start at the Thassos Harbour Museum and travel 60,000 years back in time to see tools used by prehistoric man to mine ochre, then stand in awe in front of the 800 BC Goat God Collossus (surely something made in Egypt not Greece). Next take a walk around Thassos itself to discover that under this smallish town was once a huge, prosperous city that existed from Ancient Greek times to beyond the Roman empire. Next, take a climb to the Medieval Forts on the hill. Hot and sweaty after all this? Finish with a cooling snorkle to explore the remains of the ancient Greek naval and commercial harbours, strewn with pieces of pottery and amphora.

Too much history? Then sail to the south of the island to the Bay of Aliki for sun and sand. But there's no escape here. At the end of the headland lies an ancient sunken marble quarry where you can dip your feet in the pools created by the quarrying activities and let the shrimps nibble away all that dead skin between your toes. The beach may be crowded but just take a look at that anchorage. Can you believe we had it to ourselves in the middle of July?. The crew of Alexina love the Northern Aegean (but don't tell anyone or all the boats will want to come here too.)

The plan was to pick a superb sailing wind to take us the final jump of this month to the Halkidiki peninsula but faced with the choice of no wind or a gale, the 'no wind' option won. After a glorious day on the beach at Aliki, we had supper, a swim, then pulled up anchor just as the sun was going down. No need for GPS that night, our path was lit by a huge moon that displayed our heading, the 2033m high Mount Athos, in perfect detail. We arrived at the foot of the mountain at dawn to gawp at the monasteries that festoon this peninsula, and then we broke the law. Can you believe in this day and age that NO WOMEN are allowed on the peninsula, nor even within a mile of the coast. So you can image me saying, “come on Peter, let's get a little closer....come on, closer still....just a little bit further”..........while I looked through the binoculars trying to decide which of these magnificent buildings will be mine when the revolution comes.

What does a family cruise boat do when it needs a bit of a holiday? Find a nice quiet island, with soft sandy beaches and go camping. Our special island was Dhiaporos on the Halkhidiki peninsular. Tiger and I went to sleep watching a brilliant red moon rise up over Alexina in the anchorage and listened to the waves lapping at the shore. Peter was left to look after the boat and would give me 5 hoots on the horn if the wind got up in the night and the anchor dragged.

The one great disappointment of the last few months has been the lack of other family cruising boats; not even one since we left Maritea on Limnos! That said, Peter and I have enjoyed having Tiger to ourselves. Peter has been teaching her drawing and reading 'Swallows and Amazons' aloud. I've pulled the recorders out of deep storage and Tiger and I are both learning to read music together (while Peter hides on the bow with ear plugs in). We are just not any good at playing like an eight year old should. So we headed Alexina round the second finger of the Halkidiki peninsula and back towards the sailing yacht Maritea , Damian, Juliette and fun! Within an hour of arrival Tiger had jumped ship and we would not see her for 3 days.

The highlight of the month was a visit from Marlinde, our good friend from Brighton. She had been loyal to us in the days when our boat, Starfish, was an 80 years old Cornish lugger, wooden and in need of complete restoration. She would come for whole weekends to work side by side with us, painting and varnishing; her only reward being huge fry ups for breakfast and Peter's special curry for tea. This had earned her enough credit to be treated like a queen. Marlinde's only request was to go sailing every day. We just about managed this, even doing that strange thing I once read about in a RYA text book called 'tacking'.

The only other time we had been to sea with Marlinde was in our old boat when it broke down in entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, right in the path of a Royal Navy Destroyer. A nearby tug showed great kindness and towed us back in for no charge. Here we were 10 years later and able to return that favour, this time to a motor boat broken down in the entrance to the stunning natural harbour of Porto Koufo. Marlinde much preferred to tow than be towed! Out of interest, we later discovered that Porto Koufo had been used to pen German submarines during the Second World War.

*So, finally, a quick note on the title of this blog and a bit of history from the last century. In July 1923 the Greek and Turkish Governments agreed to a population exchange. Some 1.5 million ethnic Greeks had to leave their ancestral homes in Turkey and 400,000 ethnic Turks were forced to leave Greece. They left their houses, their friends and all their possessions. Some of the ethnic Greeks from Turkey were resettled in the Nea Marmara area forming a new town (this is where we have ended our month). Peter and I wonder, as the name of this town suggests, if these people came from the Sea of Marmara area of Turkey (where we started our journey this month). The few guide books I have read are remarkably coy on the subject. Certainly were not been surprised to see that Nea Marmara looks much more Turkish than Greek.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Black Sea for Softies

Keep it simple! That was our plan to explore the Black Sea. We would arrive at Istanbul at the beginning of June, once the stormy spring weather was over, pop up the Bosphorus, then head East for a couple of weeks hugging only the Turkish Coast to avoid all the bureaucracy of moving from country to country. Our research was little more than a few intense late night conversations in the Marmaris Yacht Marine bar during the winter with fellow cruisers who had already been there. One friend lent us a Black Sea pilot book, another passed on his charts......and we were off.

Rush hour at the Golden Horn is to be avoided!”, so said our wise local informant as we chatted at anchor in the Prince's Islands, just east of the entrance to the Bosphorus. Hundreds of ferries can cross the Bosphorus every minute, so forget your right of way, you must try to avoid them, a challenge with up to a 4 knot current against you. Rush hour lasts from 7 to 11, so at 11am we were at the foot of the Bosphorus. Even then there were ferries everywhere. Watching for a gap in the procession of cargo ships, we crossed over the shipping channel to the east by the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace to take advantage of the counter current there, but oh! what a view of the Palace and Istanbul we had.

The rest of the passage up the Bosphorus was straight forward. Crossing over to the east of the channel again, the view did not fail to astound, as we slowly went up we gazed at forts, silent witnesses to the armed struggles for this valuable stretch of water. We admired the picture perfect old wooden houses that line the waterfront with their shining power cruisers moored outside and tried to imagine how much these properties would cost. The palaces of the Ottoman empire and modern commerce vied for our attention whilst overhead the civil engineering masterpieces of the suspension bridges soared from side to side way above our heads (no need for tide planning for air draught here!).

Alexina completed one last bend in the Bosphorus and saw the Black Sea dead ahead. We'd had just about as much excitement as we could take for one day, so we stopped at Poyraz Harbour for a rest.

Northern Turkish Harbours are not always the cleanest of places. Poyraz is an exception, priding itself with its clean harbour and beaches. They send a boat round the harbour pulling any rubbish from the water, then collect rubbish from the boats too. It's a great place to lay anchor and watch the cargo ships go by. Perhaps if you are really lucky you might see a submarine plough up the Bosphorus. A stiff climb up the hill rewards you with great views and ruins to explore, then you can take Tiger off to the sandy beach for the late afternoon sunshine.

Our first taste of Black Sea hospitality was unforgettable. After a straight forward 20 mile passage, we were a little apprehensive of our arrival at Sile, our first Black Sea port, as the pilot book mentioned silting at the entrance and and lack of space. Instead a plentiful channel had been dredged parallel to the harbour wall, the quay was large and our reception committee even larger. Locals helped us moor then plied us with freshly caught mussels stuffed with rice, followed by water melon. With our tummy's full we were able to admire the harbour with it's walls that link and incorporate a number of small islands, each with a ruin of some kind. Sile is a large town, popular with tourists from Istanbul. It is well known for Sile Bilaz, a light cotton material, ideal for mediterranean boat wear and the captain now sports a new shirt (which he has promised not to wear whilst changing the oil.) Tiger choose a bright, green fabric to make new curtains for her heads. Here ın the photo Tıger and Tony and Pat from Full Flight help clean mussels on the waterfront.

The pilot book had warned us we were in an earthquake zone where the land and sea borders change continuously. As we approached our next port of call, Kefken Adasi, we checked our charts. Both our electronic and paper charts showed deep water all around the harbour and island, but our eyes could clearly see solid white water for the passage south of the harbour, a clear indication of rocks just under the surface. Seismic activity had pushed the land up so much it would be difficult for a dingy to pass through! So number one lesson for this area, do not trust your charts. We anchored in a large, empty man made harbour attached to the small island. By the way, Tiger loved exploring the little island as it was full of the largest variety of spiders we have ever encountered.

Approaching the small fishing harbour of Acakoca we saw what looked like an escapee from the 1960s Soviet Space program towering over the town. This was the mosque. Later that evening, whilst having drinks on board our friend's boat Full Flight, a visiting local explained that the mayor had visited Islamabad and had been inspired by the mosque there. Upon his return he built one in Acakoca.

The Turks are enormously proud of their flag, hanging it from everywhere and placing large flagpoles on every island and rock, sometimes 50m high. Peter and Tony from Full Flight were well onto their second glass of red wine when the harbour master came by and pointed out that our Turkish courtesy flag, veteran of two long years cruising in Turkey, was faded and beginning to fray a little at the edges. Full Flight's was no better. Though eight o'clock at night, the captains were duly escorted to the nearest shop to buy new ones. Did we mind? Not a bit. We have received such welcome in Turkey that perhaps we felt a little foolish for our thoughtlessness and lack of courtesy.

Zonguldak is a working harbour, dirty, smelly and full, but the fishermen welcomed us to their quay with typical Black Sea hospitality - as I passed them a mooring line they passed me a cay (glass of tea)! The quay was almost three times the height of Tiger so my first venture up the side took the combined efforts of Peter pushing up my bottom and a fisherman hauling me up. The fishermen had adopted a cat, and it's four kittens were frolicking all our the nets the fishermen were mending, with Tiger hard on their heels following them.

Our final destination in the Black Sea was the beautiful harbour of Amasra. For those English readers amongst you, try and imagine the beach at Weymouth on a rare sunny day with a backdrop of minarets and castles. There, you have it! School had just broken up and the beach was full to the brim with Turkish holiday makers. We anchored up for five days, enjoying the views and made a 90 km trip inland to see the Ottoman houses at the Unesco world heritage site of Saffronbolu. Tiger made friends with the local English teacher and his wonderful children and was made to feel completely at home. Peter impressed the local fishermen by whipping up a dish of Hamsi, fried anchovies, a Black Sea delicacy.

During our research phase back a the bar in Marmaris, we had been assured there would be few other cruising boats in this region. Instead we were surprised to find quite a few, and even more surprised to find that we knew most of them. Here's the role call......Delicatus we first met in Mykinos, Crystelle Venture, Venus, Emocean I, Mary Hay, Joy, Sugulite, Tara Lee, Subeki all from last year's EMYR, Full Flight, Malua and Kelibek from Marmaris Yacht Marine, Radiance from Simi and Ocean Gem whom we have met regularly since Rome. Here we are enjoying cocktails on Mary Hay. Next day it would be Chocolate brownies on board Sugulite. Yum!

From Amasra we decided to sail a straight line back to the mouth of the Bosphorus, some 160 miles away. The passage took nearly two days and nights as the captain was determined to sail (have you seen the price of diesel these days?). This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the abundant marine live of this area. Cormorant, dolphins and Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus Puffinus). Here is Peter and Tıger provisioning the boat for the trıp.

The long running battle with our solar panels continues. Peter thought he had fixed them by changing their shape using a series of blocks, but they fail as soon as it get hot. Our temporary solution is a kitchen sponge on a string! You dunk the sponge in the sea then spread cold water over the solar panel. Within a minute the panels are cool enough to work. Great, except five minutes later you need to do the task again. Does anyone want to apply for the job?

Today we are in Port Marmara, on the island of Marmara, in the sea of Marmara! . We have had a great month exploring the Black Sea, so it feels very strange to be saying goodbye to Turkey. Now that we are moving on I keep trying to find excuses to stay a little longer. Once the boat is full of all those bits you can only buy in Turkey, we shall head back down the Dardanelles to the Aegean.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

From Lesvos to Istanbul

Panic is setting in. No high seas drama or dragging anchor this time. Mum and David are coming to stay and the boat is in a complete mess with six weeks worth of washing and a one inch layer of thick salt over everything! Better find a launderette double quick and get cleaning .

Entertaining the folks is always interesting because of their diverse interests. Mum came to Lesvos for the migratory birds, while David wanted to sail. Mum goes white with fear in anything above a force 2, whilst David's eyes glaze over after a morning's bird watching. What to do? A bit of both and hope for the best. We never found the rare Cinereous Bunting, but Queen Sofia of Spain saved the day by mooring her super yacht next to us. Mum contentedly ticked her off in her copy of the Field Guide to the European Royalty.

Every cruising boat boasts of having dolphins playing on their bow but for 4 long year they have stayed well away from us. Now something magical has happened and Alexina has become a dolphin magnet: they play on our bow, under our hull and all around us. So what has changed? Tiger, at the grand age of 8, has finally discovered that squealing with delight and yelling at the top of her voice“dolphins, dolphins” just frightens them away. Silent, awe-filled observation works so much better.

Tiger has had her ups and downs this month. On the plus side she had not one, but two parties to celebrate her 8th Birthday with lots of children at the first and Grandparents at the second. Grandma and Granddad were overweight on the flight to Lesvos bringing piles of presents! On the down side, our spring cruise of family boats was over. RM1200 headed west at the beginning of May. Maritea stayed another 2 weeks, visiting Evstratios Island and Limnos with us, but then our plans diverged. We will re-join them in two months. Tiger has taken a few weeks to acclimatise to just being with Mum and Dad (and that's putting it politely!)

Here ıs Alexina and Maritea anchored at Lımnos. We would head our dıfferent ways at dawn the next day.

Our next destination, the Dardanelles, needed a great deal of planning. A high level chart was purchased from the UK and we spent hours discussing what would be the perfect weather for the trip. Alexina is a slow boat by modern standards and we would have a current of up to 4 knots against us. So Plan A was to sail overnight to the foot of the Dardanelles, then use a rare southerly wind to help push us up the channel. I was a bit nervous at the thought of a night passage towards one of the busiest waterways in the world, so a few days before the trip I decided to switch on the radar and refresh my skills. The screen lit up but showed nothing at all, despite being in a harbour. Drat! With no radar, our overnight trip was abandoned in favour of 2 day long passages. The winds turned light and southerly and we motor-sailed over glassy waters with big ships to our port and dolphins to our starboard. The photo ıs taken from Alexina as we turn the corner ınto the Dardanelles and pass the Allied Gallipoli War Memorıals.

“Please Mum, can we go to Troy”, said 4 year old Tiger after reading her Greek Myths for the first time. Troy and the Dardanelles are inextricably linked. In ancient times, with no motors to help them, boats could be stuck for months on end waiting for the predominantly North winds to turn Southerly and allow them to sail up the channel. At the foot of the Dardanelles was a large bay to wait in and Troy was right by it, ideally positioned to look after those stranded sailors and profit from them. Situated in a large fertile plateau, it had everything going for it. Nine times Troy was destroyed and nine times it was rebuilt. This leads to a pretty confusing archaeological site that needs a bit of homework before visiting. The setting was exquisite with fields of corn and spring flowers all around, bee eaters flying in the air and well written explanations of the site. And what did Tiger enjoy the most? The climb inside the imitation Trojan Horse, of course!

The Sea of Marmara, separating the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus is some 120 miles wide and 40 miles long. We would need to cross it diagonally. Plenty of space for little Alexina, you would have thought. On the chart was marked a large exclusion zone around a Penal Colony to the South of the sea and the shipping channel dominates the North, complete with it's own roundabout. By the time we had marked, slap bang in the middle of chart, two areas of live firing exercise by the Turkish Navy, this left little Alexina with a 500 metre channel to go through.

The end of May finds us at in an anchorage at the south of Heybeliada, one of the Princes Islands. Heybeliada Island is an pine covered oasis of peace and calm where storks soar overhead and cars are banned. However, look from the North of the Island and the spreading metropolis of Istanbul stretches as far as the eye can see. It's presence is felt as Stamboulites bring their city habits to the island and cover it with an astounding amount of litter. Ever so often a large wake rolls in from cargo ships heading towards the Bosphorus. And what of our quiet anchorage today? We woke this morning to four cruising boats gently bobbing. This afternoon, a Saturday, there are 50 boats of every conceivable shape and size. Welcome to Istanbul.

Friday, 2 May 2008

May 2008 Update

Today is Mayday (1st May) here in Greece. Birdsong fills the air from all around the anchorage. Alexina is in a delightful little bay at the North Aegean Island of Lesvos in the company of many friends. However the start to the month was not so auspicious...........

It's 3 o'clock in the afternoon on 9th April and things are not good. Symi harbour has a swell rolling into it, pinning Alexina to the wall and making her buck up and down alarmingly. Tiger and I are both feeling sea sick. In Harbour? Never a good sign. One of stanchions has just broken due to the force of the fenders rubbing up and down the quay wall and our forward cleat has pulled clean out of the deck! Peter announces that it's time to leave.

Nich 38's are not easy to manoeuvre off a wall with the wind blowing you on but we had a trick up our sleeves. By placing a large fender right up forward and keeping the forward mooring rope tight the act of motoring forward pushes her stern out. We can then reverse off with ease. But where to go in such stormy weather and so late in the day? Find some calm water and go around in circles till the wind dies a little! Boring, tiring but safe. Then back to the quay again. Within a day handyman Peter had mended everything and we had glorious Symi Harbour to ourselves and the fishermen. Tiger became a pavement artist while we sorted ourselves out.

The boating community is a pretty small world. Last year, a chance conversation between two boats led to our reunion on Leros with old Brighton friends. Somehow we had lost contact with "No Limits"for 5 years. Thank you Sunset Sam for linking our common Shoreham origins and helping them get in touch with us. We spent two heavenly evenings talking 'old times'. The photo is of Elly and Mia from "No Limits" with Tiger in the middle.

We kept moving North through the wonderful Dodecanese but hurry on as this is old ground. At Patmos we met up with our old friends on "Maritea" and new French friends on "RM1200" (I bet you can just imagine me trying to call RM1200 on the VHF in French!) RM1200 had entered a sailing magazine competition and won. The prize was a brand new fully equipped boat for a year and a chance to live out their dream cruise. The crew was Christoph and Florence with their two children, Flora and Thomas. So now Tiger had 4 French children to play with. From time to time she found it a bit daunting but her French has improved enormously. She now talks in her sleep in French! We were to remain with Maritea and RM12200 as a little flotilla for the next two weeks as we travelled North , meeting up each evening for the compulsary 'Ouzo Hour'.

Fournoi, just north of Patmos, was our first new island this year. No sooner had our anchor touched ground then a port policeman began frantically blowing his whistle at us. Please could we move and anchor in the shallows for half an hour? Around the corner came a ferry almost as big as the small town it was servicing. Phew! Glad we moved so quickly. The ferry only comes in once a week. What timing!

The passage to Chios was interesting, to say the least. Before leaving harbour I checked the Poseidon weather forecast charts and saw only blue (meaning little or no wind.) Ha! The gale warning came too late and I had my first experience of sailing with near bare poles as wind speeds hit 45 knots and the waves grew to the size of double decker buses (or at least that's what they looked like to me!) . Our 40 year old auto-pilot decided he was far too old for this sort of game, so I steered with white knuckles for 8 hours and tried very hard not to look backwards! Alexina loved it, especially surfing down the waves at 12 knots!

The tiny island of Inoussa has been birth place to more than it's fair share of Shipping Magnates so we decided to try our luck mixing with the super rich. The harbour offered great protection, free electricity and water and the biggest ouzos ever served at the local bar. But no multi-millionaires to be seen. All the ladies on the quay saw in Greek Easter at the midnight mass along with the entire female population of the island. Where were the men? Outside the church throwing fireworks, bangers and perhaps the odd bit of dynamite that made the walls of the church shake. Happy Easter, Greek Style.

Here in the photo Thomas and Flora from RM1200 and Juliette, Celine and Leo (ship's dog) from Maritea explore the sea shore.
So May Day finds us still in our little Flotilla, planning to explore Lesvos inside and out.

Friday, 11 April 2008

April 2008 Update

It is 9.45 on the 7th April. My hands shake and my eyes are filled with tears. In front of me the pontoon is full of people, banging saucepans, shouting and waving. The mooring ropes are slipping off and it's time to leave Yacht Marine, Marmaris. We had tried to make our get away low profile but there was no escaping this one.

This has got to be the hardest departure yet. Yacht Marine has been a home from home with friends made that I hope to keep for a lifetime. OK, so the job list never seemed to go down much. Too many distractions, but we are not complaining.

The hardest goodbye of all was to Hobie Cat. We had looked after him for the winter and loved him as our own. Now his owners on the Catamaran Zia had returned and it was time to hand him back. How can a creature so small and furry fill the boat with so much life? Alexina seems empty now. We'll miss you, Hobie.

Every morning, like in other busy marinas, there is a morning net – a question and answer session held on the VHF radio to a set format. Peter was able to legitimise his obsession with the weather by taking on the weatherman slot all winter long. If there was a hint of rain not forecast, then our VHF would come alive with requests for how to get rain spots out of varnish!

The marina was fair bursting at the seams with children and the burden of school was shared out amongst a few willing boats. I did maths and had lots of fun thinking up new and weird games for them to play. Tiger loved her English on Storm Dodger and I don't think Tiger will ever forget Karen from Nisroc's time machine as she used drama to take them back to Celtic, Roman and Viking times in Britain. Kevin from Nisroc did a fair impersonation of the mad scientist for Science. Caroline from Meander thought she was teaching Tiger her French verbs but it was me that learnt the most!. In the afternoon the children ran around the marina like wild animals, making weapons, dens and generally ruining the gardener's day.

Peter spent the first few months building a brand new fibreglass watertank for Alexina under the floor in the saloon, as the old flexible tank had failed. The work went well, if slowly, until he had to fit supply pipes through the top. A quick discussion with my brother, the plumber, brought a solution. The technical term was a “running nipple”! This was fashioned out of a combination of a number of brass fittings and flexible hose and works well.

Our dinghy, Tommy Thumb, had been slowly melting under the Mediterranean sun. My challenge for the winter was to cover every inch of it with canvas. The job looked simple enough, but took months to achieve with the assistance of Claudia on Janette who knows everything there is to know about canvas work. Tommy Thumb now looks good as new.

OK, we have been pretty well based in the marina all winter. Last week we managed to escape and took an overnight bus ride to the middle of Turkey to visit the moon scape of Cappadocia, where soft volcanic tufa has been shaped by nature and man into spectacular “fairy chimneys”, “cathedrals” and huge underground cities. I had heard about the extreme weather conditions found there in spring and came prepared. Warm clothes for snow, waterproofs for rain, suntan lotion and sunglasses for heat. What did we get? A sand storm that turned the sky black and blinded us. This just added to the surreal feeling on the place.

So now we are back in Simi; as regular readers will know that we love it here. The normal vitalling of booze, diesel and bacon is required.