2003 – DARTMOUTH TO TURKEY
Chapter 3 - Towards CorinthThe sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right,
Went down into the sea.
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
We took some time cruising round Ibiza including a visit to the infamous San Antonio where I had spent my first honeymoon (it was very respectable then). Actually we quite liked the place even though a rascal tried to pick my pocket while intoning "Manchester, Manchester United………." I whipped my hand behind my back and it came up holding his wrist. Nothing in his grubby little paw fortunately, but I gave him one of my fiercest looks and he and his accomplice slunk off.
After a very good time on Ibiza we sailed to Palma de Mallorca, tying up at the Real Club Nautico where we had arranged to meet old friends Merril and Roger. Sailing into a place like Palma I realised the immense size of the Spanish boating industry. We had been sailing the coasts of Spain more or less since early May and had passed dozens of huge marinas and countless harbours crammed with boats, some of them magnificent. In particular there are numerous beautifully restored classic yachts the like of which you see only very occasionally in our waters.
Palma at night
We had a great little holiday within a cruise with our friends doing the usual things in delightful anchorages with good meals ashore and afloat, swimming off the stern and much excellent jaw jaw. In Puerto Colom we spotted the Royal Dart burgee and had a good time with fellow members, Ann and Brian See, who live in Kingswear but keep their Moody 336 in the north of the island. We also discovered one of those delightful little bars with shaded tables at the end of the jetty and a restaurant overlooking the harbour where the food was as good as anything near our homes in Devon and France. It was so good we went two nights running. Very unusual.
What a pleasure it is to swim in the warm Mediterranean sea
A nice creek for lunch and swimming
We put M and R ashore at Port Mahon, Menorca. With some difficulty because we were tied up to a mid-harbour "island" pontoon and the bottom was falling out of the Zodiac. Not completely yet but half a metre of glue had failed at the floor to tube joint. I had two goes at repairs but the little puncture repair outfits are pretty ineffective. Eventually I was able to buy a large tin of two part adhesive and made a passable job which held satisfactorily until the end of the season. In the meantime I had some difficulty keeping a calm demeanour as I explained that there was no problem about the water coming up to our calves and threatening the holiday luggage, "these inflatables can never actually sink, even fully loaded………I think……".
A beautiful evening at Mahon
We sailed overnight to southern Sardinia where our first port of call was Carloforte, a little holiday place on the island of San Pietro. This is a lovely spot where we shared with crowds of townsfolk the annual festival of the fishermen's co-operative. There was a three piece band (keyboard, guitar and vocals) and a most inspiring speech, I gather, from the President of the co-operative himself. There was dancing on the quay, food, drink and much merry-making late into the night. There was also a fun-fair with very good stalls and rides including two sets of bumper cars, one for very little kiddies and the other for bigger boys and girls. The grown up cars were excellent; fast, bumpy, lots of flashing lights and frequent puffs of frightening smoke. The young men running them were very charismatic; skilful and brave as they dashed in and out of the mayhem manoeuvring empty cars to the sides. I decided I wanted to be a bumper car man when I grew up.
We rather hurried past the rest of the south Sardinia coast. I suppose one of the few regrets we had in the whole trip is that our five month project meant that we had insufficient time to do more than scratch the surface of many beautiful and interesting parts.
We then sailed to a marina just outside Palermo in Sicily, over two hundred miles away. We remember from our first holiday in our previous boat that this is a very poor part of Europe. However, the prices are stupendous - 74 euros a night plus water and electricity, over 100 euros for a pretty ordinary facility. I am sure this marina must be owned by the Corleone family. Cruising in these waters has such a different atmosphere from places like the Balearics and Greece; interesting but not as easy.
Two days later we anchored off the pretty village of Cefalu and the following day sailed to Volcano in the Aeolian Islands. It was towards the end of July and very hot. The anchorages were busy and the water was dirty so we did not hang about long. After a night at anchor we passed between Scilla and Charybdis, through the Strait of Messina and tied up at the new marina just outside the commercial harbour. This was refreshingly less expensive than Palermo - only 40 euros a night all in so we stayed two days and watched the ferries and cruise ships piling in and out of the harbour.
Anchored off the pretty village of Cefalu
On leaving Messina, and needing fuel, we retraced our steps for a mile to the north where we found the concrete fuel jetty used by the strait pilots and swordfishing boats. The jetty stands out into one of the few tidal streams in the Mediterranean and extends from a petrol station on the shore. The young man in charge was happier serving Italian motorists. He shouted directions for tying up across the stream which I knew were not best practice but, faced with authority shouting loudly I complied. In the end it was an awful struggle heaving and winching on the warps but, no harm done and I vowed to have the courage of my own convictions in future.
The swordfishing boats are a local phenomenon. They have tall lattice masts with a crows nest for the skipper to spot fish and con the boat from and a huge bowsprit, up to 15 metres long, to allow the harpoon man to get close to the prey before he is frightened by the approaching boat (see photograph). According to Heikell the poor swordfish take a siesta like everything else in this part of the world and they are spotted and caught before they realize what's hit them. The boats charge about in an apparently random manner and one seems in imminent danger of receiving a bowsprit through a porthole.
A swordfishing boat
From Messina we motored south to Taormina where nine years before we had had an unpleasant experience with swell and jellyfish. Calm, clear waters this time, thank goodness, and we spent a relaxing night before leaving Italy and heading off for Greece.
It took thirty-six hours to reach Argostoli on Cephalonia. During the evening we spotted a thunderstorm way off to port. We tracked its progress on the radar and, as it appeared to be passing ahead of us, altered course 20 degrees to avoid it. No good. It circled round, came at us from astern and subjected us to brilliant lightning, torrential rain and gusts of 35 knots. This was our first rain for three months.
There was no room on the yacht quay at Argostoli so we anchored off in shallow water. We were fortunate. The following day there was a fierce cross wind and several boats on the quay, including a 65ft Oyster, dragged and folded up on each other amidst considerable confusion. Much excitement and entertainment, and relief that it was not us who were causing it.
We spent several days in Argostoli and enjoyed it although it was forty-eight hours before we realised that we should have put our domestic clocks forward a further hour. We came to our senses when Mags missed a hair appointment. Then there was the ridiculous business of trying to get fuel through the local garage. Their tanker is not permitted to deliver to the yacht quay for fear of staining the new paving. It must call at the customs quay but this is busy and yachts are chased off after a while. Following three missed appointments when the tanker failed to turn up we were getting to the end of our tether. Righteous pique and arm waving at the garage procured most gratifying responses with profound apologies and definite promises for next time - but no diesel. In the end we spotted a tanker from another company, waylaid him, filled up and beetled off. As we motored out we saw our man arriving, one and a half hours late for another appointment. We kept our heads down below the coaming.
Fiskardo was where we had spent a very happy spring week in a villa the previous year with children and grandchildren. We were pleased to renew our acquaintance with this very pretty village despite the crowds of boats crammed into every available space in the harbour and around the bay in August. The gilt was taken off the gingerbread somewhat by the loss of my mobile phone, presumably by theft. The phones were invaluable during the trip for keeping in touch by voice and e-mail and for swift excursions on to the web for weather forecasts and so forth. We received staggering bills early in the trip through over-enthusiastic use but by the time we reached Greece we had things under control. We still had Margaret's phone but her French provider links through Vodaphone who, surprisingly, do not have a GPRS partner in Turkey. Having two phones is convenient and I greatly regretted my carelessness for the rest of the trip.
Having unravelled anchor cable knitting we sailed to Vathi on Ithaca where we anchored in the harbour. After a good night in a very pleasant spot we prepared to sail to Patras but on trying to start the engine discovered a total lack of response. It turned out to be caused by a loose nut and dislodged cable to the starter motor, so another problem overcome.
Patras is a large town at the western end of the Gulf of Corinth. There is not much to stimulate the traveller in the town but the marina staff were helpful, fellow yachtsmen were interesting and there was someone on hand to collect and return our laundry. The lady in the harbour office was quite the most positive, helpful and pleasant official we encountered. On the other hand our evening meal ashore was the worst.
On advice from friendly live-aboards we sailed towards the island of Trizonia, down the gulf. Four miles east of Patras we had to pass through a huge motorway bridge construction project. Shipping movements are strictly controlled, or are supposed to be, but a good proportion of pleasure boats appeared to have no idea about the rules or, indeed, that there were any. We observed several yachts sailing blithely through the central span while traffic control on VHF tried vainly to warn them not on any account to do so and inform them that in any case they were forbidden to pass through any part under sail. It seems that a pair of heavily armed gunboats might be necessary to discourage some people.
Bridge under construction
Trizonia is a most attractive island with a small village and partly developed marina. We found a place on the outer mole that was a bit exposed to the fresh afternoon breeze but we enjoyed a good meal ashore in a very simple taverna.
Galaxidi, some 20 miles to the east is rather more sophisticated but we had a bit of trouble with ballast just off the quay and had to climb ashore via Gold Lady, owned and sailed by a redoubtable Dutch woman.
Itea is less than 5 miles away, a plain sort of town and one of many Greek places with a part finished marina. We liked it there and noted the presence of Hosanna with Bill and Laurel Cooper the noted Sell up and Sail writers. We passed a very pleasant hour with our Dutch neighbour from Galaxidi and her friend who had come to join her for a holiday. These ladies have been keen hockey players most of their lives and one is still an active team member at 63. Margaret suffered a pang of regret that she no longer plays. They were delightful people but their energy was somewhat tiring. Apparently the boat was called Old Lady when our new friend bought her. We could well understand why she had changed the name.
Our next stop was in a quiet bay, Ormos Vathi, from where we made the short hop across the end of the gulf to Corinth. The town did not appear to have much going for it as a cruising destination but some South African yachtsmen were helpful and interesting.
Traversing the Corinth canal was an experience to be undertaken at least once. Shipping was subject to strict traffic management. Once again we were fortunate because we suffered very little delay before being given permission to take our place in the east going convoy whereas waits of two to three hours are not uncommon at busy times. We paid our dues in the control station at the east end of the canal where I am ashamed to say that I chickened out of telling the officials that they were flying the Union Flag upside down.
Traversing the Corinth canal