11/12/2013, Bay of Aqaba
Sometimes we get lucky and this was one of those years. Late April we got a call from Dooby, an old friend who was buying a boat in Croatia. He wanted to slowly sail her back to Israel during the summer. In fact he wanted to take three months to sail her home. Would we be interested in doing the Ionian leg with him?
Of course we were interested. This would be a way to combine business with pleasure, as Manny has been interested in spending some time in Levkas for several years. By June we were set to fly to Corfu where we would meet Dooby and Bay Spirit, his new Cyclades 39 sailboat.
We arrived in Gouvia Marina on the Island of Corfu midday Sunday at the beginning of July. We were tired because no matter how we plan it, the travel time spent getting to a distant boat is always the hardest part of the delivery. Grateful that we had time to rest before setting off, we happily unpacked our bags and readied ourselves for a few weeks of stress-free sailing.
The general plan was to sail south to the Peloponnese via Levkas and Zakintosh. The decision had already been made not to take the Corinth Canal but to round the Peloponnese into the Aegean. Along the way we would be at our leisure to choose anchorages either on one of the many islands or on the mainland.
Tuesday after a day of provisioning, one last load of laundry and filling water tanks, we cast off lines, raised sails and pointed Bay Spirit's bow south. A gentle breeze slowly filled in and by late afternoon we were making good speed towards Moutros where several good anchorages awaited us. Even though we arrived late in the day, we found a good spot tucked in between several charter boats. The bay was lovely with scrub pines and a little beach and only a short dinghy ride away from the town of Sivota. Our first night at anchor we chose to stay put and cook onboard. The next morning we got the dinghy out and visited Sivota, a quiet, pretty little place with upscale boutiques and cafes. There is a town quay with electricity and water. Fuel is available by truck. At the north end of the town there is a small grocery store and an unfinished harbour. Nobody seems to be tending the harbour and several boats were tied up there. It was a nice place to walk around but a little pricy for us. That afternoon Dooby dug out the hammock and we were in cruising mode. We spent the rest of the day swimming, reading, snoozing and exploring the coastline in the dinghy. We all agreed that while Moutros is a fairly busy spot, this was a very pleasant anchorage and we could have easily spent a few more days here.
Thursday we were underway in good time only to find no wind and so we motored. Dooby set course for Levkas and the hours passed peacefully. The islands in the Ionian are greener than those in the Aegean and have high mountains leading down to deep bays. Along the coast of the mainland we passed quiet bays and tiny villages nestled between the hills. After a few hours a breeze came in and we were able to raise sails. We sailed on a straight course for Lefkas making 5 knots. Ahh this was the life! Even the temperature was great - sunny but not too hot. Late afternoon, after searching the distant coast for the opening, we lined up Bay Spirit with the canal entrance which only becomes apparent at the last moment. To cap off a perfect day, we caught the very last seconds of the bridge opening and scooted through to a good spot on the town quay.
Mooring here is for free. Water is 5 Euros to fill your tank and wash your boat. If you are quick, you might be able to do a bucket of laundry too. Check the sign at the small hut for the number and call in advance. He's the water guy for the Levkas town dock and you need him to turn on the tap. There are a couple of electrical hookups but unless you get a spot right next to them you'll need a very long electrical cord. Of course Levkas also has a big marina with all the amenities for those who want more comfort.
Vilcho Bay Levkas
Levkas is a huge sailing center and a cruising sailor's delight. Several large charter companies and brokerages have bases here. There are at least four good chandleries, a wonderful second hand marine store, good yards for boat maintenance, and great anchorages. The town is pleasant with, many good shops for provisioning and finding parts. Vilcho Bay, perhaps the most well known anchorage in Levkas, has room for hundreds of boats. The Vlicho Yacht Club is not a private sailing club but rather a pub run by Ruairi & Vicky Bradley. The small pub has hot showers, a washing machine, the best book/ CD swap library that I've seen anywhere, WIFI, printer and copy services, a good notice board and ...oh good food and drinks. They also offer guardiage and many other boating services. If you want to know anything about Levkas or need something for your boat, just ask your waitress. She's bound to hook you up with the right person.
The Second Hand Marine Store levkas
It was hard to tear ourselves away from Levkas but Dooby needed to do a crew swap in Zakintosh in a few days. His son who had been with him since Croatia was leaving and a couple of mutual friends would be joining us for a week. So one morning we hauled in our gangway, untied our lines and motored down the salt canal. This is a narrow channel that runs through wide salt marshes between Levkas and the mainland. The scenery was pastoral with green hills and rocky shorelines. Later we motored by Onassis' island where a pretty anchorage awaits but we didn't stop there. The wind filled in from the south and we continued on to an anchorage at the southern tip of Levkas. We spent a quiet night at anchor eating onboard and going to bed early as the next day we had sixty miles to make to Zakintosh.
The next morning we were up bright and early to find that the wind had swung back around to the north and within two hours we were making five knots under sail. What with the perfect breeze, the sunny day and copious fresh air sometime later I found myself nodding off and headed below to my cabin for a siesta. An hour or so later I dreamt that I was rolling up a steep hill and woke up to find myself sliding up the bulkhead next to our berth. The wind had picked up and when I went back out to the cockpit, Bay Spirit was heeled well over and romping along at eight knots. Dooby, his son and Manny were all grinning like crazy kids.
Late afternoon, we entered Zakintosh harbour and tied up. Just as we reversed into our spot on the town quay, we were met by two men eager to take our lines. One was a man with a fuel truck who we promised we'd buy from later. The other was a man dressed in official clothes asking for our papers. Dooby handed over his transit log and answered questions as to our last port. He was told that the mooring and processing fees for the paperwork would be 50 Euros. Our jaws dropped and then I noticed a sign on the quay, right behind the official.
I tried to signal to Dooby to have a look, but it was too late. He had paid the official.
We've seen this before in Greece. It's one of the ugly sides to life in this country and frustrates the cruising sailor. Town quays in Greece have traditionally been free. Nowadays there may be a fee for electricity or water but the mooring is still normally free. Obviously there is a payoff going on somewhere in Zakintosh, but as a visitor to the country there's not much you can do. After a little discussion, we decided to chalk the experience up to newcomer's naivety. This was our first time in Zakintosh. However we would need to come back here in a week when we would drop off our guests. Next time we wouldn't be so naive. We'd do our own paperwork ourselves and save a bundle of money.
Zakintosh is a gruff sort of town. While you can find boulevards and quaint side streets if you are willing to venture afar, the near at hand waterfront has a grotty feel. It is however a very good place to take on crew with a local airport, excellent provisioning and laundry facilities. It also has a ferry dock with regular ferries to the mainland. We quickly did some laundry, topped up our provisions and welcomed Meir and Sarah who would join us for one week. We planned to head back north into the Ionian and explore a few more islands.
It was great to have more time to sail this beautiful sea. During the summer months the Ionian is hard to beat for sheer perfect conditions. Mornings are normally calm with a gentle breeze coming up around noon. By three or four that breeze fills in and winds will pick up to 20 or 25 knots till around nine in the evening when the wind dies down for a calm night. Daytime temperatures during July were 25C to 30C.
You can plan your day sails to suit your needs. Got small children onboard and don't want to heel to much? Then set out early in the day and plan to anchor by 3 PM. Want to shake out your sails and enjoy a good race? Spend the early morning relaxing and swimming and then set out around noon. You'll start off with light breezes but be prepared by 4 PM to tuck in a reef. The prevailing wind direction in July and August is NW to WNW and perfect for a north south cruise.
Next blog I'll introduce you to Osie, Meir and Sarah and tell you about sailing with old friends and some of our best moments in the Ionian.
© Robyn Coulter 2013
09/24/2013, Gulf of Aqaba
We step off the plane in Corfu and breathe in the pine scented air. The temperature here is even cooler than Athens where we had a nine hour layover between flights. We are bone tired after getting up in the middle of the night to fly out of Israel and then waiting so many hours for our connecting flight. We've done our best to keep our luggage light, but it still feels heavy and we're not finished yet. We've got to meet our taxi and drive down the coast to Benitses where I've reserved a room for us. For now, though, this breath of cool air is a balm after the crushing summer heat of Eilat.
It's the beginning of July and Manny and I are on our way to join a sailboat that is due to arrive in Corfu, in a few of days. Before we go sailing, we intend to kick back, relax for awhile and get to know Corfu a little. Benitses sounded like a good base for us and we aren't disappointed.
From the taxi that is waiting for us, to the friendly family that rents the studios we are hooked. Benitses is a great point to travel to Corfu town, Gouvia marina and points south. Our studio sits against the pine clad mountains and has a magnificent view of the little harbour and the sea. Every morning we weave our way through the alleys and down to the beach. Women sit in the shade of their doorsteps and we call out "kali mera" as we pass. Evenings, we puff our way back uphill and stop to exchange "kali nichta" with these same women, who are now enjoying the evening breeze.
Each day we check our email for a message from the boat's owner. He is sailing from Croatia where he has completed the purchase of this boat and has agreed to message us when he arrives. We are travelling with a small tablet and an android phone both which should allow us internet access. We don't have a phone plan and plan to rely on Skype for all our calls home, as we've always done. We haven't brought our laptop in order to cut back on weight, and hope that the tablet will work well with weather maps. These days with the internet everything is so much easier isn't it? Or maybe not.
The WIFI signal in our room isn't strong enough to receive email let alone to use Skype. We tried walking around the building, standing right under the antenna but still can't log on. This is new for us. We've always had no problems with WIFI on land, in Greece or anywhere else we've traveled for that matter. With no internet café in sight, this could be a major glitch. Finally, our last day in Benitses, we find a restaurant with a good signal and pick up our long awaited message.
Within twenty four hours we are sitting in the cockpit of Bay Spirit, the Cyclades 39 which has just arrived in Gouvia marina. The owner is an old friend of ours and we've got lots to catch up on. We meet his partner and his son and take a tour of the boat. Manny pokes his head into lockers, the bilge and looks at the engine. Later, we head out for last minute provisioning and finally dinner at a nearby taverna. Gouvia is a full service marina and the dockage fees include WIFI, but nobody on board is able to log on. The weather looks settled and we only have a short hop to the mainland planned for tomorrow, so we should be fine.
Surely the nicest part about this delivery is that the owner wants to take his time. He wants to gunkhole his way south through the Ionian where pleasant winds and abundant anchorages are the norm. We quickly settle into a routine. We start most days with an early morning swim and relax in the cockpit over coffee. Sometimes we like the anchorage so much that we stay put and spend the day lounging with books or exploring with the dinghy. Other times we go ashore to explore the nearby town and to find a café with WIFI.
In Sivota, our first anchorage after Corfu, Manny and I find a shop selling Wind SIM cards and buy one for our phone. Now we should have no problem getting internet, checking weather forecasts and using Skype. Pleased with ourselves we head back to the boat to get started. Within a couple of hours we find that while we can receive a signal, we can't get on the internet or call anyone on Skype. For an hour or so, we all sit around the cockpit trying to sort out the problem and give up. After all we didn't come here to sit over computers all day. We'll figure it out soon.
Over the next 3 weeks, we spend hours trying to make a Skype call, open an internet site and read our emails. We do succeed to message on Skype and to read and send emails through the phone, but we never are able to surf the net or get on the weather sites. The tablet is useless. We had two techies on board for part of the time and even they were stumped.
In Zakintosh we finally find an Internet café, one of a fading breed, as everyone these days has Iphones and WIFI availability increases. It is a dank, dark, hole of a place crowded with pimply, pubescent boys madly gaming away the morning hours. We are not sure if the lure is the high speed internet or the secrecy in which to smoke cigarettes. We gingery sit down and gape through the haze at the 10 year old boy chain smoking, across from us. Here, Skype is no problem and we quickly make a few important calls and check out the week's weather forecast.
Before the advent of computers or WIFI, we never considered the need to stay in touch. Now and then we'd find ourselves near an international phone booth and spend the good part of an afternoon lining up to call home. Our families didn't expect to hear from us regularly and we didn't have any business clients to correspond with. These days with aging parents and boat owners depending on Manny's service, things are different. For now, we need to get online from time to time.
At the end of July, we ushered Bay Spirit into a nice little town on the Peloponnese where she would wait for new crew. We rented a car and drove inland to explore a little. Everywhere we went we had the same problems with WIFI. Perhaps the problem in Greece, is a little like the problem in our marina in Eilat.
Here in Eilat, Yofy is tied to a dock surrounded by hotels. On any given weekend or holiday, the hotels are full. Iphones and androids are immensely popular in this country and often every family member has one and uses it all day long. So when the hotels fill up, the WIFI airwaves get clogged and we can't access the internet. It's a problem that all the liveaboards have here. We've changed providers and renewed modems but the only answer is to wait till all the guests go home.
So it seems that Greece is suffering from the same internet traffic problems. Their WIFI waves are jammed and nobody has the funds to fix it. Perhaps the tablet and phone we took were part of the problem too. Certainly next trip we'll try to take our laptop. Fortunately, this time we were sailing at a time and in an area where weather forecasts were not critical. And didn't we go away to do some sailing? Sure we did and next blog I'll tell you all about it.
06/11/2013, Gulf of Aqaba
This morning there is a light breeze playing over the water and temperatures have dropped a little. We can take a breather. All last week, temperatures hovered between 44C and 48C leaving everybody in this town reeling. Yofy's air conditioner worked full time and while every day I thanked my stars for having one, I became increasingly distressed about what was awaiting us this summer.
It was only May and did this mean that we were setting ourselves up for a record hot season?
Last evening we gathered up our beach gear and headed down the coast to our favourite spot. It had been a day of fierce heat and 25 knots of wind. We were just too exhausted to go sailing in all that wind and had spent most of the day hibernating inside with the AC on. But as late afternoon approached the water beckoned. It turned out to be one of those perfect evenings with a full moon rising over the mountains, and only a few people lingering on the beach.
Much later after a long swim and a couple of beers we returned to Yofy feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. Along the dock we met up with some acquaintances that were looking at buying a bigger boat. We chatted about different boats for sale and then they asked us how much we had paid for Yofy. I found myself reminding them that the original price of a boat is not the full story. And so began a litany of all the upgrades and money that we have put into Yofy over the years.
On Yofy there is always a project on the go. Sometimes it's maintenance but many times the project will be an upgrade that makes life easier on board. Living off the beaten path, far from a boat chandlery or good hardware store, makes these projects interesting. Often we'll chew over an idea for months until Manny finds a good solution. Some ideas we have been thinking about for years and have waited until Manny has the spare time to begin.
One such project was our lazy pack. Yofy has a center cockpit and many years ago Manny built a boom gallows. The boom gallows has been really useful for reefing and lashing down the boom in high winds, but we still struggled with lowering and furling the mainsail.
We knew lazy jacks were the solution and when we needed a new mainsail cover, we decided to go for a lazy pack. Without a professional canvas man in town we needed to do the design work ourselves and then take it to a local shop to have the canvas stitched. It was trial and error with a few alterations but in the end we are pleased with the results. Now we happily raise the main in all conditions knowing that we can reef or lower the sail into the sack in moments.
One of the things we miss about not having a bigger boat is more accommodation. We often have friends aboard for day sails and sometimes we anchor out together. The problem is always where do the guests sleep? Inevitably they stretch out in the cockpit or in the salon. For years Manny has thought of making the salon table into a convertible berth. On inspection we found that the settee had a proper ledge for inserting a table to convert to a berth but somewhere along the way the table had been shortened. So two years ago when we redid Yofy's cabin sole, Manny ordered extra wood and built a new salon table too. Then he configured an adjustable arm for the table to allow it to be lowered for a berth, or raised to use as a table. A cushion from the opposite couch fills the gap and now we have a good, roomy double berth for guests!
Not only is the berth great but the table is bigger too. The arm of the table allows us to raise and lower it and also to swing the table to the side. This has made accessing the lockers under the seats around the settee area so much easier. All in all, this project has upgraded our onboard comfort in many ways.
Redoing Yofy's cabin sole was a huge project and along the way Manny decided to redo the battery locker. Our batteries are kept under the cabin sole aft of the main bilge. Manny wanted a separate watertight locker that would be big enough for 4 batteries. He glassed in higher walls and sealed the locker all around with glass. Now we have a solid, dry battery locker with a battery bank big enough to keep us off the grid while supported by our wind generator and solar panels.
At the same time he redid our shower sump. We don't often shower in Yofy's head, but we've always wanted to have the option should we be stuck without shower facilities in cool weather. The last pump stopped working and while he could have used the old original sump box, he decided to renew the whole system.
For a long time Manny has had his eye on Yofy's bowsprit. She never seemed to be strong enough for him and last spring he finally tackled the job. Manny took off the wide plate that sits over the sprit and gave it to me to sand and cetol. Then the bowsprit was exposed. He found some cracking on the outer end and on inspection decided that for now he could reinforce it with fiberglass. He sanded down the end and applied 6 layers of rove and matt soaked in fiberglass. Once that was dry, he sanded it all smooth and painted on white gel coat. The result is much stronger now and the gel coat doesn't detract from Yofy's smart appearance.
When he replaced the wide plate on top, Manny added several stainless supports to strengthen that area as well. Now we have a good strong bow sprit that will confidently stand the strain of the foresail and a heavy adult's weight standing there.
A few years ago we replaced Yofy's engine but we still had the old gear. In time Manny found a rebuilt gear to replace our old one. This year it was time to get a new transmission and we decided to order a new prop as well. The original prop had been reshaped by a previous owner and wasn't up to spec. Last month Manny installed the new transmission. During our heat wave last week, Manny spent several hours diving to remove and replace Yofy's prop. The difference is amazing. Not only is the engine quieter, but we can now make a maximum speed of 6.9 knots at 2500 RPMs something that is important here on the Red Sea with strong headwinds and waves.
In between doing major projects there is always something small to do. One example is the two new shelves that Manny built for our galley area. With such a tiny galley every new addition makes a great improvement. He built one shelf for our small wine/ ouzo glasses and another for my small tapas bowls that I bought in Sicily during Ellen's delivery
I like how the shelves are decorative as well as practical.
When I look back over all the improvements we've made in the past months, the list looks quite impressive. The truth is there is always something more to do on a boat. Between maintaining other people's boats and going sailing, there isn't always much time left, but every project we do makes a big difference. Every year, Yofy becomes easier to handle at sea and more comfortable to live aboard.
At this rate, in a couple more years and we'll be ship shape!