It's exceedingly strange to be sitting at the window of my mother's cottage in Cape Breton, writing about Ithaki. Is it really only four weeks since the storm in Vlicho Bay? It feels like half a lifetime.
Behind me, Kelly's mountain is ablaze in autumn colours. The wind is roaring out of the Great Bras d'Or, kicking up whitecaps on the blue waters at the mouth of the lake. It would be a perfect day to sail to St. Pierre, but heaven help the person who wants to sail upwind to Baddeck. Carey's Point at an outgoing tide could make the vortex of Charybdis seem like a millpond. I realize it has been too long since we have sailed in Nova Scotia and suddenly feel an intense longing to be out there, on familiar waters, surely the most beautiful sailing grounds of the world.
How much longer? Rick, who has remained behind in Halifax to deal with a roof repair, has spent a day weighing options. He sends me an email that is bursting with ideas. The Aeolian islands next spring and Croatia in summer? A winter in Rome? Seville? Morocco, Madeira, Cap Verde to the Caribbean, then the Panama Canal and the Galapagos? It is an alluring menu. Exploring the Adriatic would require us to turn back to the east, but it seems ridiculous to bring Aisling home without seeing it.
Originally, we had intended to spend three summers in the Med. Unbelievably, we have just completed our fifth. It is impossible to see it all, and we leave each country with a long list of places not visited and anchorages not explored. As we'd pushed eastward, I had reassured myself that we'd have a second chance on the westward journey. Travelling west, the departures are more difficult. "You never want to leave" says Rick. It's almost true, but when it's time to fly home, I'm always ready. Even though the transition is always a huge adjustment, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Does every traveler experience this tug-of-war between the urge to explore and the longing for home? We've met some cruisers who rarely return to their own countries, happily living aboard winter after winter in foreign lands. For a long list of reasons, that's not for us. Our Dutch neighbor at Marina di Ragusa agrees. "If I didn't go home for the winter" he said "I'd lose touch with my family and my friends. And if I had no one to tell my stories to, what would be the point of cruising?"
No, we're not selling Aisling (or at least, not yet). But we'd like to introduce you to Fairwyn, a lovely Sparkman and Stephens boat formerly owned by well-known Haligonian Charlie MacCulloch and winner of the Prince of Wales cup in 1959. We had the pleasure of meeting the current owners Nancy and Stephen when we anchored beside them in Syracuse harbour. We get pretty excited when we see a Canadian flag in a Mediterranean anchorage, let alone a boat that spent the first 25 years of its life in Halifax! Nancy and Stephen hail from Vancouver, but we're convinced they were Maritimers in another life. We benefited from their warm hospitality on two occasions (including an unforgettable party for eight in Fairwyn's cabin one stormy September night) and have had the chance to see firsthand what a lovely boat Fairwyn is.
Nancy and Stephen will be wintering in Malta on Fairwyn, but are ready for a change of pace. So, if you want to cruise the Med without the inconvenience of a making a transatlantic crossing, take a look at their listing!
Fairwyn Listing on Yacht World
In spite of its proximity to mainland Greece, Poros is an enchanting island. The waterfront of Poros town is crowded with the usual cafes, tavernas, souvenir stands and kiosks, but if you venture just a few meters behind into the back streets of the town, you will find the Greece that dreams (and movies) are made of. With architecture that in places appears neo-classical, in other places Cycladic, the narrow streets and whitewashed stairways are decked in a profusion of bougainvillea, trumpet vines and geraniums. Waking to the peals of church bells on Sunday morning adds to the magic. The town even has the rare gift of looking pretty on a Sunday.
With the busy holiday month of August drawing to a close, the streets of the town are quiet and cool. As we climb through the town, a woman is sweeping grains of rice and rose petals from the marble steps of a small chapel, while her husband calls to her from a balcony above. "Put the hose on it!" he seems to be saying, and eventually he takes matters in hand himself. The woman motions us inside the darkened interior of the chapel, where the rich silver of the icons and the colourful artwork glow softly. A romantic place for a wedding, but hopefully the guests were nimble-footed, since the rice makes the marble as slippery as a skating rink.
We climb to the cathedral and clock tower, take some photos of Aisling at anchor below, then make our way downhill, somehow magically emerging from the maze right at the threshold of a gyro shop Rick had spotted earlier in the afternoon. Gyros, in case you've never eaten one, are a bit like a Halifax donair....soft pita bread stuffed with shaved pork, tomatoes, tzatziki and usually a few french fries thrown in for good measure. After a lunch like that, a bit more exercise is in order, and we head off in the direction of Askeli, on the Kalavria side of the isthmus, where we'd heard reports of a supermarket that stays open "all day every day" (an unusual thing in Greece). The grocery store turns out to be a hot 2 km walk away . Of course, after buying the few things we need, we have to turn around and trudge through the even hotter 2 km return trip. Rick consoles himself with a "Magnum" butterscotch ice cream bar, but I can't have one, because the waistband on my shorts has already grown uncomfortable tight.
It would have been wiser to have gone ashore in the morning to buy our groceries in the town, but we'd been unable to leave the boat until 1 p.m. due to the fact that a large British yacht had come in on Saturday night and anchored "up close and personal". When we got up on Sunday morning, they were just a few feet from our port side. The skipper was properly apologetic, and assured us that they would be leaving soon anyway, right after they "nipped ashore for a bit". In fact, they were gone for nearly three hours and we didn't dare leave the boat unattended. Such are the trials of Greece's popular anchorages! There were more tribulations that evening, when a Greek boat pulled in, dropped anchor in front of us and drifted back almost on top of us. Rick paced and fumed, but fortunately "you're waaay too close to us" is fairly easy to communicate in sign language by holding one's hands 12" apart. The skipper shrugged his shoulders , waited and watched his vessel drift ever closer. When it was obvious, even to him, he finally moved, and Aisling's skipper could relax. A short while later, he emerged from the galley with a bottle of wine and a large platter of tiny pickled fishes in oil, salami, tomatoes, bread, and spicy cheese. Sometimes, cruising can be hard work, but on days like this I feel very lucky!
The next morning, we had a bit of a rude awakening when the coast guard arrived to chase us, and several other boats, out of the anchorage. The officer was obviously in a Monday morning mood, scooting from boat to boat blowing her whistle and shouting "you must leave! NOW! NOW!NOW!" She continued to tweet and bellow as we struggled to pull in and flake 180 feet of chain, while the ferry captain threw in a few blasts of his horn for good measure. I guess we had anchored closer to the line than we'd thought!
Personally, I'd rather not start my day with that kind of adrenalin rush but in the end, this was a happy turn of events. We motored down to Russian Bay and dropped anchor in a spot that looked like it was straight out of the pages of a glossy sailing brochure. A sandy beach backed by ruins, a small chapel on a tiny island, turquoise water and good holding in depths that ranged from 20-60 feet. The one disadvantage was that there was no bus service. Since we had to top up our "Pay as you go" internet plan, we made a quick dinghy ride back to the town before the wind piped up. Within an hour, we were headed back to the anchorage, with me getting some much-needed undocking and driving tips from Rick along the way.
After a blissful afternoon spent reading, swimming and relaxing, we had barbecued sea bream in the cockpit and watched the sun set over the mountains. As usual, I wanted to spend just one more day in this newly-discovered paradise, but Rick wanted to make an early departure for Corinth the next morning., while we had a favourable weather window. A 6 a.m. wake up call and not a Tim's in sight! Nescafe, anyone?
Cruisers notes Poros and area:
Lots of space on the quay for med mooring bow to, but no laid lines. Water and electric on the town quay and fuel available by mini tanker. You do need to find someone to turn the water on, which we were not able to do. There is a reasonably well stocked chandlery, near the Cosmote shop one street back from the south quay near the fish market. Anchorage in Navy Bay (where we were chased away, see above) in 45-55' on rock and mud. Good holding eventually though we had to make two attempts. Don't get too close to the military base like we did.
Russian Bay is also deep in the 50-60' range except for the small bit just East of the small island with the chapel . Here it was 20' in mud with good holding. All of these are reasonably well protected from the north Meltemi winds.
Time for a short (I promise) update! After getting the boat hauled back out of the water in Kilada, Rick did a quick job of re-setting the max prop. As he suspected, it had been set to the wrong pitch, but in less than two hours he had it put to rights. I got the best of the deal, using the time ashore to take another run along the water, stopping at the chapel on the point to cool down a bit and listen to the cicadas. With a little more patience than usual, I was finally able to spot a cicada in a pine tree. (During the past four summers, I've stood under many trees trying in vain to see one, but have never had any success up to now. Of course, I rarely have my camera with me at exciting moments like this.) By the time I'd run back to the yard and had a luxuriously cool shower, Rick was just finishing up the work on the prop. Since the boys in the yard were by then just leaving for lunch, we followed their lead and had some calamari and salad in a little taverna down the road. At the table beside us, a large group of local men were having a huge gentlemen's lunch, and keeping the pretty waitress hopping as she ran back and forth to the table replenishing their beer and wine. As we finished our meal, we saw Aisling being rolled into position over the water, so we scampered back to the dock just on time to hop aboard. By 2.30 p.m., we were waving goodbye to Kilada yet again as we made our way toward Porto Heli. We really can't say enough good things about the Basimacoupoulis yard- they treated us very well and we would happily return there if the opportunity arises.
We'd had a great time in Porto Heli when we stopped there in late June, with Jim and Liz to socialize with and new things to explore ashore. This time though, we were on our own, and the scene ashore was not at all charming or relaxing. After Kilada's spectacularly beautiful anchorage, the view of the concrete jungle on shore was a big come-down, and the overflowing garbage bins along the waterfront added nothing to the ambiance. The peak-season traffic also made it difficult to even cross the street, let alone risk one's life by going for a run (narrow roads, no sidewalks or even shoulders, no visibility on the turns...no way!). Unfortunately, in spite of Porto Heli's lack of charm, Aisling's maintenance issues sometimes dictate our choice of destination, and we were still having problems with the refrigerator. It was a relief when the refrigeration technician recommended by Frank's Yacht Station was available to come to the boat the same day we called him. It took him less than on hour to get the freezer going, although, due to the language barrier, we are still not fully clear what the problem was.
Having had our fill of Porto Heli after only one more day, we decided to weigh anchor for Poros. Much of the journey would be an up-wind slog, but the forecast was calling for nothing stronger than Force 5 and we only had 30 miles to cover. We motor-sailed out into a rolly sea, and within two hours were hanging on tight in winds that were gusting up over 35 knots apparent at times. Fortunately, we got a better point of sail when we turned the corner toward Poros, and were able to turn the motor off until we approached the tricky entrance. With the high-speed ferries appearing and disappearing at a terrifying pace, we needed full manoeuvrability. Our arrival was blessedly uneventful, but we quickly decided not to tie up at the town dock. No need to get ourselves into this situation!
Finding a place to anchor proved easier said than done. The anchorages were full to bursting, and the depths of 40-60 feet made things even more challenging. We'd hoped to anchor in Russian Bay, but found it full. We finally squeezed in near the line of the restricted zone off the naval academy. The new view from our cockpit is much better! This is more like it.