I left Preveza halfway through April. The successive gales had ceased and summer weather had made a tentative appearance so I made my way south through the Levkas Canal to anchor in Tranquil Bay, Nidri, which is an anchorage that I have used on many occasions. My main reason for going there was to replace all the windows on 'Salara' with a completely new set which had been sent from UK. I did not want to linger any longer in Preveza paying mooring fees and Tranquil Bay was a safe and secure anchorage where I could do the job with easy access to the shops and chandlery in Nidri town.
The renewal of these windows was long overdue as they were leaking badly when 'Salara' was returning across the Atlantic from the Caribbean in 2008. It was expensive to renew five pairs of windows, all different and requiring to be specially made so I kept shelving the job year by year until eventually it became urgent.
I worked hard for two weeks carefully removing the old windows, cleaning up and making good the apertures then installing the new ones. When all five pairs of windows were in place I was well pleased with the result. Now there was nothing to hold me back and I could now go sailing.
Since I returned to Greece I had been trying to make up my mind whether to leave Greek waters and head west for Siracusa, Sicily. It was a hard decision to make as I have grown to like Greece very much. The sailing is pleasant and there are numerous anchorages and small harbours to visit, mostly free of any charge. However all good things must come to an end so I reluctantly decided to leave.
I loaded 'Salara' with fuel, freshwater and food and at dawn on 8 May left the anchorage to cross the Ionion Sea to Siracusa, Sicily 280 miles to the west. It had been some years since I had made a trip of that duration and I wondered if I could still cope. In these cases the only way to find out is to do it.
The wind was blowing from the northwest at 15 knots which meant it was on 'Salara's beam with, of course, a beam sea as well which did not make for a comfortable ride. 'Salara' was being steered by the Hydrovane and I had even rigged the towed generator to provide power, a long time since I have done that but it was a long passage and I had time to play.
During the first night as I kept watch I was surprised at the lack of shipping, I saw none. What a lonely bit of sea this is, no problem having
' power naps' here.
'Salara' made good progress until the wind fell very light during the evening of the second day reducing her speed to two knots and she fell south of her course line for Siracusa. During the night she sailed ever so slowly in the general direction of Sicily and I just let her follow what little breeze there was.
In the morning she was almost becalmed so I started the engine and made directly for Siracusa which was 75 miles away. 'Salara' plodded along over a calm sea making 5 knots. After some time I noticed that the engine panel lights were telling me strange things from which I deduced that the main engine fuse had blown. That meant that if I stopped the engine I would not be able to restart it until I had rectified the fault, if any, and replaced the fuse. Something best tackled in harbour. As we approached the coast a light breeze began to blow from the south and so for the last couple of hours of the passage, closely accompanied by a welcoming pod of dolphins, 'Salara' motor sailed and entered Grand Harbour Siracusa just before dusk.
Once securely at anchor I stopped the engine manually as the engine stop button now had no power on it, I could find no actual fault but replaced the fuse and all was OK once more. Strange!
I cooked a meal, drank a beer and contemplated the fact that I am once again in Italy and felt rather glad that I had made the effort to move. New places, new adventures and huge motor yachts. I shall try to forget that 'Salara' has been here before. I have also proved to myself that I am not too old and doddery to cope with a long passage successfully.
It had been a cold and wet winter in Wales so I was happy to be returning to Greece aboard an Easyjet flight to Athens. The following morning I caught the early bus for the six hour trip to Preveza and the boatyard where 'Salara' had been laid up for the winter months.
It was the 1 March, St David's Day and the sun was shining as I clambered aboard. I connected up the mains electrical power, refilled the freshwater tanks and made myself a cup of tea. Things were returning to normal.
While in UK I had ordered a complete set of new windows for 'Salara'. They had arrived ahead of me so my first task was to check them out in case of damage. Thankfully they were all OK and I stowed them on board to be fitted later. The priority was to get the yacht ready to be lifted back into the water. After an unfortunate escapade with a reef last season in the Aegean there was some damage to repair on the keel before I could apply the antifouling paint. There were also some scars on the stem to be attended to which had occurred in Crete when the strong Meltemi wind had pushed her against the pontoon.
So I worked hard for the next few days while the weather was favourable, as rain was forecast later in the week. I paid the balance of the marina fees as well as the fee for 'permission to launch' to the Port Police and 'Salara' was launched off the following Friday morning. I was glad to be afloat once more and motored her the short distance to tie up alongside in Preveza Dock and within easy walking distance of the town centre shops and supermarkets.
Some fresh food was very welcome as during my stay at the boatyard I had been forced to exist on tinned food from 'Salara's' stores.
I stayed in Preveza over the weekend and during that time fitted the sails and generally prepared her for sea. This also has the advantage of creating more space within the hull.
On Monday morning I paid my mooring fees and set off for the small harbour at Vonitsa a short distance away. When I arrived I was disappointed to find that a large trimaran and a large catamaran were taking up most of the available space and all the permanent mooring lines.
There was no one on board either and they had obviously been left there over the winter months. So 'Salara' was forced to berth alongside on the extreme west of the quay completely exposed to any north westerly winds.
I stayed for two nights, during which I fussed over the engine having discovered that the raw water pump had started to leak. Why these faults always manifest themselves after the winter lay-up I know not.
I had been monitoring the weather and a vicious system was approaching from the west with gale force south easterlies forecast. As this depression travelled through 'Salara' would become exposed the winds on its back edge. I decided to return to Preveza Dock without delay and arrived there just as the wind started to pick up. I chose a suitable berth and tied up using extra dock lines. The wind then howled for over 24 hours, at times gusting to over 40 knots and creating quite a surge in the harbour until it eventually veered into the northwest. Apart from a chafed dock line 'Salara' was unscathed.
Being once more in Preveza it was be less of a problem to remove the water pump and have new seals fitted as here there are more workshop facilities available. The pump was returned to me within 24 hours and I refitted it the following day pleased that 'Salara' once more had a fully functioning engine.
I did, in fact, change my plans slightly and stayed for some time in Preveza taking the opportunity to order some engine spares from UK and to carry out yet more work on 'Salara' while awaiting them.
'Salara' had been in the dock for about a week while I enjoyed the convenience of the nearby town which boasts two chandleries, numerous hardware shops and the all important ATM's. Yet another gale was forecast and when it arrived it really made it's presence felt, with wind speeds of over 60 knots from the south east which caused a bad surge in the dock. During one tremendous gust the vanes and hub of the Rutland wind charger on top of the mizzen mast just disintegrated. (As you can see above). Later the locals said that a few yachts had been blown over in one of the boatyards and it was the worst storm they had experienced this winter.
The next morning I visited the internet café in the town and ordered a new Rutland 914i wind charger unit. More expense and yet more mooring fees to pay while I waited for it to be delivered.
Some may question the wisdom of again purchasing a Rutland but the old unit had lived on top of the mizzen mast for over ten years surviving all that nature could throw at it and had crossed the Atlantic twice, so I think it was good value for money.
A few days later yet another gale crashed through again delivering gusts of 40 knots and some heavy rain. The ongoing forecast was still predicting strong winds and unsettled weather. I had to await my engine spares and new wind charger to arrive so it was just a case of being philosophical about the situation.
In due course I was contacted to tell me that both packages had arrived at Cleopatra Boatyard and would I collect them. The dinghy was ready and waiting so I endured a wet ride across the water to fetch them. The next morning, straight after breakfast, I climbed the mizzen mast, removed the old windcharger and replaced it with the shiny new one. Once again 'Salara' was back to normal and if it had not been for the fact that yet another gale was forecast I would have left Preveza the next day.
It was at the end of September that 'Salara' had arrived back in the Ionion and with a month to go before she was due to be hauled out for her winter
lay up I spent the time visiting some of my favourite anchorages among the islands. I had no fixed schedule and just sailed and anchored where the breeze and my fancy took me.
As the weather cooled down so the amount of tourists diminished and other yacht owners were putting their boats ashore. The end of another season's sailing was in sight and I had started to plan the work that I had to do on 'Salara' once she was ashore. The jobs list that I try so hard to minimise during the summer was once more growing in length. I was also beginning to purchase materials to use on these tasks once the time came.
A feature of this time of year in The Ionion are the frequent thunderstorms that occur, they are mostly short lived and cause little trouble but there are exceptions, one of which is worth relating.
In the middle of October I was sailing 'Salara' from Nisos Kalamos to Nidri on Nisos Levkas it was a lovely afternoon and I was having a pleasant sail but I could see clouds developing over the mountains of Levkas and hear the faint rumble of thunder in the distance. 'Nothing really to worry about' I thought as I prepared to anchor 'Salara' in Vlikho Bay that evening. However, I did take extra care to make sure the anchor was well dug in and I veered 50 metres of chain in the 7 metres of depth. I also put extra ties around the sail covers as a precaution because I knew that this anchorage was prone to gusts from the mountains in these conditions. I then settled down for the night feeling very self righteous.
The following morning at 0800hrs I made my routine entry in the Ships Logbook stating that wind conditions were 'still' but I continued to hear thunder in the mountains. At 0830hrs I was just about to prepare my breakfast while muttering darkly about a thunderstorm that had just started when suddenly I heard wind noise and went into the cockpit just in time to see 'Salara' engulfed by a solid wall of wind and rain and the visibility was reduced to nothing. 'Salara' heeled over until her side deck was almost in the water and as she fell back I waited for the anchor to pull her head around into the tempest but this did not happen and I realised that the anchor was dragging. Luckily I had the engine running to charge the batteries so I was able to power her head to wind to relieve the strain on the anchor but it continued to drag which I could tell by watching the GPS otherwise I could see very little. I knew that there was room downwind as we were dragging parallel to the shore but there were some other yachts at anchor or on moorings. 'Salara' came very close to one or two but I saw them at the last moment and managed to steer her clear. After the initial blast the visibility was slowly improving and I was aware that the inflatable dinghy was airborne and doing an impression of a headless chicken with its captive oars flapping like wings. My main concern was of fouling another yacht's anchor as in those conditions that would have been a nightmare.
The squall only lasted about ten minutes but in that time 'Salara' had dragged over 300 metres and when the wind had eased and the visibility had improved I was able to retrieve the anchor which had a huge ball of mud on its fluke, it had obviously been ripped out of the seabed at the first gust. I then motored over to the other side of the bay and dropped anchor again this time veering the maximum amount of chain available. I checked around on deck and no damage had been done and I still had a dinghy. Other yachts in the anchorage were not so lucky as I could see many a tattered genoa and ripped canvas cover. Later I learnt that wind speeds had been between 50 and 60 knots although I had only seen speeds in the upper 40's on 'Salara's' instruments, it was certainly strong enough for me. A short time later I was eating a late breakfast and the sun was shining.
In the midst of this mayhem I had managed to grab the camcorder and take some video, a frame of which you see above.
The rest of October passed without any undue excitement and I enjoyed some easy and relaxing sailing until it was time to head north through the Levkas Canal to Preveza and onward to Vonitsa in the Gulf of Amvrikakis.
In Vonitsa I removed the sails and packed them away as well as doing as much as possible in the way of maintenance. All that remained was to motor 'Salara' the short distance to Cleopatra Marina on the appropriate date for haul out and winter storage ashore.
After her arrival at Poros 'Salara' spent the first night at anchor but the following morning I moved her to moor bows to on the town quay and then cleared in with the Greek Coastguards. It was time to carry out an oil and filter change on the engine and to renew the heat exchanger anode. I also wanted to top up with diesel fuel and fresh water for the forthcoming trip through the Corinth Canal and onward into the Ionion Sea.
It was a weekend and the quayside was busy with yachts both large and small that arrive from the marinas close to Athens on the north side of The Saronic Gulf. No sign of the current austerity measures amongst these owners.
Poros is a pleasant town and the harbour is bustling with ferries and water taxis. I like it here and I am always tempted to stay longer than I planned.
However once all the jobs on 'Salara' had been done I cleared out with the Coastguard, they charged me 12.66 Euros in harbour dues, I was then on my way to the next stop at Epidavrus a small town further along the coast where I anchored 'Salara' for the night.
The following day I left early and headed directly for the Corinth Canal with the idea of anchoring outside for the night and then to transit the canal early in the morning. On the way I heard on the radio that there was going to be a general strike in Greece on the morrow so my plans were thrown into confusion. I decided to continue and hopefully get through late in the day. I was successful and after rushing through the official paperwork and paying the 130Euro fee 'Salara' was following a cargo ship westwards into the canal. I found that I had to keep 'Salara' a good 150 metres behind this ship because of the turbulence it produced in the narrow confines of the waterway.
At just after 1600 hours 'Salara' left the canal and entered the Gulf of Corinth. The breeze was from the west at 12 knots and 'Salara' motored into the choppy seas. I had anticipated this and had made up my mind to carry on into the night and get as far west as possible. I had also reasoned that the breeze would probably die down during the evening and for a short while it did and I began to think that 'Salara' would be able to make it as far as Trezonia by the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately the wind freshened again and progress became slow. I studied the chart and the pilot book and decided that 'Salara' could make it to Vidhavis just 12 miles short of Trezonia. Vidhavis is well sheltered from westerlies, it is easy to enter at night and the holding is good. At just after midnight 'Salara' was safely at anchor after motoring against the breeze and the choppy seas for 45 miles from the Corinth Canal.
Next day I awoke well rested and keen to leave and cover the remaining 12 miles to Trezonia but once 'Salara' was out into the gulf I knew that it was going to be a wet and wild slog to windward. The wind was still from the west but had increased in strength to between force 5 and 6. I pushed on but after tacking back and forth for some time for very little gain I was wishing that I had returned to Vidhavis. Finally I had to help 'Salara' out with the engine and she clawed her way into Trezonia to drop her anchor near the unfinished marina at 1500 hours. As I tidied up I reflected that today's trip had not been one of my better decisions.
The following morning I was wondering whether to continue westwards to Mesolongion in the Gulf of Patras but I was in a quandary as I had received no weather forecasts. The result of the general strike yesterday probably. The conditions seemed good to me and when two other yachts left and headed west I decided to go. My reasoning being that they no doubt had internet access for weather forecasts and all was OK.
So without any more hesitation I turned the key to start the engine. Nothing happened, it was totally dead. On investigation I discovered that the main engine fuse had blown. I replaced it with a spare and everything came back to life. Why it had blown I could not determine but 'Salara' was on her way with the minimum of delay.
There was only a very light westerly breeze, the sea was flat and I could see the massive structure of the Rion Bridge spanning the gulf fifteen miles away. 'Salara' made good time and I checked in with the bridge control by radio for permission to proceed. After passing under the bridge I set course for the entrance to Mesolongion a further twenty miles away. The breeze stayed very light and the sea flat and I enjoyed a lazy trip just sitting in the sun and keeping an eye on things. By mid afternoon I was steering 'Salara' up the long channel through the marshes to the basin at Mesolongion and soon afterwards she was safely at anchor.
That evening at dusk I barricaded myself below deck to escape the attentions of swarms of mosquitos and ruminated on the fact that the poet Lord Byron died of a fever in this place. No wonder!
In the morning I quickly weighed anchor and headed down the channel into the mosquito free open sea. I set a course for Vathi, Ithaca and once more I was blessed with a light breeze and flat seas. I considered myself lucky as the prevailing wind is normally westerly in this area, so in my view, the lighter it is the better. 'Salara' had used a lot of fuel but in the light of previous experience I was prepared for this and I had treated the whole trip from Poros as a push to return to The Ionion. So when 'Salara' dropped anchor in Vathi that evening she was well and truly back in The Ionion Sea after a round trip of the Peloponnese and the southern Aegean.
I left the island of Kos, where 'Salara' had been anchored off the town, early one morning and spent some pleasant hours tacking against the light northerly breeze to arrive at Ormos Zerokambos on the island of Leros.
I was lucky enough to find a vacant mooring close inshore and settled down to spend the rest of the day in glorious idleness. As the mooring belonged to one of the tavernas ashore I had an excuse to eat out for a change.
I stayed at Zerokambos for three very pleasant days, I had visited it before and like the place but all things come to an end and so I finally left for the town of Lakki just a short distance away on the west coast of Leros. There were two yachts anchored off the town, a lot less than when I was last there, so there was no problem finding sufficient swinging room for 'Salara'. While I was there I took the opportunity to top Salara up with diesel fuel as I do not like the level in the tank to get too low. I also got to know a couple of English yachties sailing a yacht called 'Spur' which turned into a good excuse for beer drinking and outrageous story telling.
Patmos was 'Salara's next destination and after a boisterous beat against the Meltemi she anchored in Ormos Agriolivadhion for two nights. I stayed on board during that time and caught up on some outstanding maintenance jobs. The 'jobs to do list' never seems to get any shorter.
I then sailed 'Salara' eastwards to the small island of Nisos Marathos which is part of a cluster of islands the largest being Nisos Arki. Again I picked up a taverna mooring so I was obliged to eat there and partake of a plate of their local goat chops. A bit chewy but quite tasty.
Pithagorion on Samos was the next stop and as far north as I intended to go. I moored 'Salara' bows to the town quay in the inner harbour after enjoying a good sail from Nisos Marathos. Once more I needed to buy provisions and top up with freshwater as I shall now be heading back across the Aegean to transit the Corinth Canal and return to the Ionion.
I spent a few days at Pithagorion chatting with other yachies and being entertained by the early morning dramas of crossed and tangled anchor cables as yachts tried to leave amid much shouting and arm waving.
The morning 'Salara' left I managed to get her away easily and then anchored again in the outer harbour to tidy up and have breakfast before setting sail for the Fournoi islands which I intended as my first stop on my way across the Aegean. Unfortunately the wind suddenly increased to force 6 from the northwest when 'Salara' was only five miles off so I decided to bear away and 'Salara' raced off heading for Patmos and our previous anchorage.
In the morning, well refreshed and encouraged by a favourable weather forecast on the Navtex, 'Salara' left Patmos for Nisos Naxos in The Cyclades fifty miles to the west, if 'Salara' could make Naxos port in the north of the island great, if it had to be the anchorage of Ormos Panormos in the south well that would also be OK. For the first few hours we made good progress for the north of the island but once more the wind increased from the northwest. So 'Salara' eventually ended up reaching towards the south of Naxos in 25 to 30 knots of wind and rough seas with one reef in the mainsail and several rolls in the No2 genoa. I must do something to stop those windows leaking!
After a safe arrival at Ormos Panormos I tidied up and mopped up down below then thankfully cooked my evening meal as I had not been able to make lunch, it had been a snacks only day.
The following day was gentler and I motored 'Salara' over flat seas to Naousa on the north of Nisos Paros. The forecast was for strong southerlies the next day so I headed for the SW corner of the large bay. As I motored in watching the depth readings and alternately checking for other vessels I suddenly saw the depth reduce drastically, I swung hard to port but bump, bump, bump, 'Salara' had just clipped an off lying rock. The sound was awful and as I looked overboard the bottom seemed very close in the clear water. She was in deep water again in seconds and I continued into the anchorage and dropped anchor. Once I was sure the anchor was holding I put on my mask and snorkel and dived under 'Salara' to check for damage but luckily none was apparent. I confess that the grounding was my fault entirely, that reef was clearly marked if only I had studied the harbour plan sufficiently. It was the old mistake of 'I have been here before'.
The strong southerlies came and went to be replaced immediately by a short blast from the north which encouraged all the anchored yachts to charge up to the north of the bay and re-anchor.
'Salara' left Naousa as soon as the conditions had settled down calling at Livadhion on Serifos and Loutra on Kithnos. She then made a very enjoyable and trouble free crossing from Kithnos to Poros in the Saronic Gulf and dropped her anchor on the Galata side of the harbour. 'Salara' had once again successfully crossed the Aegean.
Due to the shambolic way that the UK Ship Registry operate 'Salara' was confined to port for almost two months. She had become a 'captive of officialdom' and could not 'clear out' until the new Ship Registration Certificate was to hand. How can that be in these days of computer systems? It was only the renewal of an existing certificate.
Meanwhile the Meltemi wind roared across the marina most days so maybe Aghios Nikolaos was the best place to be under the circumstances. The town was very pleasant to walk around but seemed to be suffering, like everywhere else, from a lack of tourists. The marina is adequate and reasonably priced with helpful staff and a good swimming beach adjoining it. I could have been delayed in far worse places. Never the less I was becoming more and more disgruntled as opportunities to leave passed us by.
Eventually with the help of my friend Wendy in UK I received the new certificate. It had been posted to the wrong address. The Ship Registry insisted that it had been posted to Greece of course!
Now I had the document to hand I immediately 'cleared out' and left early the following morning for the island of Astipalaia ninety miles to the NNE.
The forecast was the best that I could hope for during the Meltemi season and I was prepared for a long and arduous slog to windward. I was proved correct and in the later stages I had to motorsail to maintain the course line. The wind was NNW Force 5/6 on occasions. I hung on and let 'Salara' take the strain which is something she does very well. At 0200 hours she motored slowly into the Livadhi Bay anchorage beneath the castle at Skala and I anchored in eight metres of water.
After tidying up on deck I went thankfully to my bed. An eighteen hour single handed slog to windward tends to tire me these days.
The following morning I launched the dinghy and went ashore. I walked up the steep hill to the 'chora' and did some shopping. I had not been here for a couple of years but nothing had changed, the same old guys were still chatting over coffee as if time had stood still.
The next day I moved 'Salara' a few miles to the anchorage at Maltezana also on Astipalaia which is one of my favourite places. It is well protected from the Meltemi and has clear water, there are a couple of tavernas ashore as well as a minimarket and a bakery. A bus also runs into the main town.
After 'Salara' had been anchored there for a week and I had watched a succession of yachts pass through going either east or west across the Aegean, I felt that I should at least think about moving on. However the Meltemi had other plans and increased its strength to gale force for the next four days. Needless to say, 'Salara' stayed in the anchorage swinging comfortably to her 20kg CQR anchor and 50 metres of 10mm chain.
Early one morning, when the wind had eased and the forecast was for northerly force 5 to 6 over open waters, I prepared 'Salara' for sea. Several of the other yachts that had been sheltering in the anchorage were also leaving.
When I tried to lift the anchor I discovered that circumstances had once more conspired to keep 'Salara' port. Her anchor had fouled a large old ground chain on the bottom of the bay. The remedy was for me to don a mask and snorkel and dive down to fix a trip line to the anchor. After which it came free easily and 'Salara was on her way, bound for the island of Kos. The passage was uneventful apart from the fact that the wind fell very light for the last few hours despite the forecast and I anchored 'Salara' in Kamari Bay on the southern tip of Kos.
The following day I had a good sail along the south coast and then a boisterous beat around the headland to anchor off the town of Kos. I did not go ashore and after my evening meal I was visited by a Coastguard patrol boat. The crew were fully armed and grimly courteous. It was a ships document check which is not surprising as the coast of Turkey is only two or three miles away and the European Union ends here.