09/28/2014, Eilat marina
Back in April, our summer plans had been made: a delivery from Eilat to the Med via the Suez Canal and a summer cruising the Aegean.
All through May, Manny and I prepared our neighbour's Gibsea 40.2 for the passages ahead. We cleaned water and fuel tanks, washed lines, overhauled bilge pumps, organized the galley and interior lockers and went over safety gear. Manny repaired the anchor winch and installed a bigger main anchor. He checked the self steering gear and the sails. The engine's filters were changed and hoses were checked.
With all the routine checks done, we began to watch the weather and check for a good window for a trial sail. The plan was to sail south about 40 miles, from Eilat to Dahab, and then turn around and sail back. This would give all of the boats systems enough time to run and for Manny to shake out any bugs. He also wanted to try sailing with some of the owner's friends who were eager to crew.
Everything was going like clockwork until the owner abruptly changed his mind. And just like that our summer plans were gone.
Of course there was always the option of taking Yofy to the Med, but then where would we live in Eilat once our sailing holiday was over? We explored the option of flying to Canada for a good visit, but flight fares were outrageously high. We looked at helping a friend deliver a newly purchased boat from Greece. And then war broke out.
As a child growing up in Canada, the closest thing I had to understanding war was Veteran's Remembrance Day. I used to wonder what it would be like living in a country that was being bombed. I always thought it would be very frightening but what I didn't know was how depressing it is. From the beginning of July and for the next 50 days, Israel and Gaza sat under a cloud of doom and black smoke.
Lucky for us Eilat was too far away from the center of action to be bombed frequently. But we did get hit a few times. Once the sirens went off in the middle of the night and Manny swung out of our Vberth faster than I've ever seen him get up. I was close behind. In seconds we were in the cockpit just in time to see the rocket's arc in the sky overhead. The loud explosion that followed told us that it had landed not far from us. After that we, were always ready wherever we were.
Horrible pictures came out of Gaza.
We called friends who live aboard in Ashkelon Marina, right next to Gaza. They were in the middle of all the action and finding it hard to cope. We asked them if they'd like to take a break and sail to Cyprus. Chen and Vered jumped at the opportunity and we set a date for mid August.
We arrived at Pachuli, Chen and Vered's boat, during the longest ceasefire. While summer winds remained light, the heat and humidity had increased considerably. The next two days were spent provisioning and organizing Pachuli amid news broadcasts and frequent dock-showers. Chen was stuck at his job right up to the last few hours before we left. Never had we seen two sailors more in need of some quiet time at sea.
On Thursday August 14th, late in the afternoon, we cleared out of Israel and finally we were underway. With last minute jitters adding to the tension, it would take several hours before the sea did its magic. Later, I lay down for a short rest before my night watch and found my thoughts racing from the stress of the weeks and days leading up to this vacation. Who would have thought that this was how we'd spend our summer? Nevertheless when I got up for my watch and stepped out into the night air, I felt a different person. Out here nothing mattered except the boat, the course and the wind.
Soon we all fell into the routine of meals, watches and resting. The next day with light winds, we stopped to swim and cool off from the intense heat. Back underway, just as we were discussing dinner plans, our fishing line went off and we reeled in a 3 kilo tuna. That evening, we ate a tasty dinner of fresh tuna steaks and salad. Chen announced that we were half way to Cyprus. We sat back with mugs of tea, and as if to round off a perfect day, dolphins joined us diving and playing in our bow wave.
Pachuli is a Moody 42 with a ketch rig. She's a boat that needs a fair bit of wind to make any headway under sail. While every day the winds would pick up for an hour or two allowing us to sail, this was a passage of light winds and so we motor-sailed most of the way. The course from Ashkelon to Cyprus means taking the swell on the beam, which is an uncomfortable movement for anyone with a tendency for seasickness. For our crew, however, nothing could break the relief of finally being underway.
Our last night at sea, we sighted oil rigs about 40 miles off of the coast of Cyprus. Far from land the sky was filled with thousands of stars and I stood transfixed by the display. Later we sighted some cruise ships. Manny came to change my night watch and I sat a little longer with him, taking one last look at the stars.
The next morning I was up early in anticipation of our arrival in Larnaca, Cyprus. The morning mist burned off as we approach the marina. By 07:30 on August 16th, we were tied up to the gas dock and waiting for clearance.
It had been a rough summer for everybody in Israel and Gaza. For now the ceasefire was holding and for those of us aboard Pachuli, we'd had a good passage to Cyprus. We all made quick calls home to say we had arrived and then turned our cell phones off. For the next week we would leave our troubles behind and enjoy the many surprises that this quiet island offered.
And I'll tell you that story in the next blog.
04/30/2014, Bay of Aqaba
Last September we returned to Eilat energized and ready to save enough money to sail again this year. When you buckle down for hard work, there isn't much opportunity for exciting adventures. Now and then we'd get an email or a call from someone wanting a delivery and we'd perk up, but within a week or two they'd change their minds and we'd be back to our routine jobs. Adventure wasn't on the menu this winter.
It's been a pretty unpredictable winter weather-wise for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. In Eilat, winter got off to a cold start in November with snow across this region. For the first time in several years we could watch it snowing on the mountains of Jordan, across the bay.
The snow melted in a day or two, but high winds hounded the area for months on end. I remember summers in Canada when we'd count rainy weekends. This winter, in Eilat, we had weekend after weekend of strong winds. Just when we'd get a little time off and plan a day of sailing, we'd waken to 25 knots of wind and blowing sand.
We did get out for some good sails and the winds were a test of equipment and teamwork. Manny crewed on a couple of passages south to Egyptian waters and found sailing conditions to be pretty much the same there. Early this year, he picked up a handheld anemometer and has had fun checking windspeed readings. A couple of weekends we dodged the local sailing races and marveled at how the young kids adapted to the conditions.
While the wind blew we tackled a few jobs on Yofy, resealing the opening ports, beefing up our forward chocks to prevent chaffing, putting four more coats on all the brightwork, as well as our regular maintenance work. I began to go through all our lockers and look at what we could reduce. After a few years onboard, even on a small boat, it's amazing what you can collect.
We found an interesting website
that has an animated map of the current wind speeds around the globe. (Click on any wind currents and the windspeed is displayed.) While it was fun to check out areas that were suffering more wind than us, we think this could be an interesting addition for passage planning.
In January we had a couple of good rainsqualls that brought our year's rainfall in a couple of hours. The wind lingered and temperatures remained cool but we still hadn't had any real southern winds - the winter storms of Eilat. Then a couple of weeks ago, while we were up north for Passover holidays, we got a call from a friend. He reported black skies and very strong winds. "Is someone looking after Yofy?" he asked.
There is nothing worse than being far away and hearing about bad weather at your boat's berth. We know that the section of the Eilat marina where Yofy lies is well protected, but this sounded like a bad storm. We called marina neighbours and Dima who looks after Yofy for us. Everybody seemed to think it was just a line squall.
When we returned to Yofy, the next day we heard many stories of the storm. Wind speeds were clocked at over 50 knots in the gusts. Two boats suffered serious damage from surge in the outer basin. Others had ripped biminis and one of Yofy's newly replaced chocks had pulled out. We got off lightly but this is just another reminder to never take Mother Nature for granted.
With the arrival of May we are watching weather patterns more closely. We have some sea trials to do and then a delivery up through the Suez Canal. Before we know it, summer will be upon us and it will be time for another Mediterranean adventure.
12/29/2013, Gulf of Aqaba
Back in 1979, I was backpacking around Europe when I met Manny. Our paths crossed, a spark was lit and later that year I found myself visiting Israel for the first time. In our mid twenties, we both had similar dreams. We wanted to travel and slowly see the world. We were willing to work along the way. Manny wanted to live on a sailboat and I easily bought that dream.
In those days there weren't many Israelis who would understand two dreamers like us, but for a couple of years, we found kindred spirits with a group of friends. Nicknames were common then and Dove became Dooby, Meir became Butch and Manny... well he's always been Manny to me. As for me, Robyn was a strange enough name for an Israeli to pronounce, so it stayed as it was. We all spent many evenings pouring over copies of Cruising World magazines that my brother Hugh sent us. We schemed at making enough money to buy our first boats and some of us hitched our way north through Europe looking for that pot of gold.
In the end Dooby, Doron and Meir hitched up with another friend and were the first to buy a boat. They took off sailing and our ways parted. It was to be many years before Manny and I could rustle up the funds for our first boat, but we stand as the diehards being the only couple to actually liveaboard and still hold on to the dream. Recently we've reconnected with Dooby and as life would have it, his kids are grown, he's now with Osie and he's back to dreaming. This year he bought Bay Spirit, a Cyclades 38, in Croatia and sailed it back to Israel. We joined him for the Ionian leg. Last blog I wrote about the first part of our cruise. Now we continue with Meir and Sarah on board.
For their first night onboard our new guests wanted to eat out. It was Sarah's birthday and Meir invited us all to join them. We set out by foot walking by the tourists shops and further along the coast to a more residential area. We found a lovely, quiet place where tables and chairs were scattered under the trees across the street from a tiny taverna. In one corner table, an informal gathering of musicians sat strumming ballads into the summer night. It was the perfect spot. Over the next few hours we ordered wine and mezes. Then the owner brought a round of raki. The musicians continued to play. We ordered more wine and mezes and ended the evening weaving our way back to the boat and up the wobbly gangway to our berths.
The next day groggy from way too much alcohol we had a slow start. Late morning we cast off our lines and set out for Ormos A'y Nikolaos an anchorage at the northern tip of Zakintosh. We had a fast sail with good winds and anchored early in a bay alongside a few small tour boats. We all were happy to spend a quiet evening and turn in early.
Leaving Zakintosh island next morning, we passed the Blue Caves at the northern tip of the island. Winds were light and we had a quiet sail entering the bay of Vathi on Ithaca late afternoon. We med moored to the town quay and looked around at the pretty town. A string of colourful houses along the waterfront gave way to appealing shops and tavernas. Alleyways continued to wend their way up the mountainsides making for a steep climb in some places.
Since all visitors must arrive by boat, this is a town that has welcomed sailors for centuries. The town dock was free and busy with cruising boats. While there is no electricity on the quay, Makis is your man for water on Ithaka. Call him at +30 6979 687862 and he will bring his tanker truck to your boat. We saw a sign advertising showers on one of the small houses and while we never used it, we heard that for a small fee you could have a good hot shower there. The town has a good hardware store and a small building supply store for basic plumbing or electrical fittings. There are a couple of good grocers and excellent vegetable shops as well as a bakery, tavernas, cafes and souvenir shops.
We passed two pleasant days in Vathi walking around town, eating out and sitting in the cockpit and enjoying the show of yachts as they entered and left the bay. The guys hiked up the mountain to the building supply store and found just the fitting to fix a leak in the head. The second morning we sailed around the corner from Vathi into the large bay and anchored off of a small beach in good holding. We spent a laidback day beach combing, swimming and lounging.
In a natural way the group split into two and the guys stayed on board the boat while Osie, Sara and I set out for the beach in the dinghy. I have spent so much time with all male crews that I have forgotten what a pleasure it is to spend time with women along the way. We easily fell into the conversations that women have - talking about families, aging, change and the choices we all have made along the way. It was a tranquil place where we easily could have spent several days enjoying the quiet.
Anchors hold well here but be aware of the weedy bottom!
We reluctantly said our farewells to Ithaka and set off on a reach for Meganisi the next day. All day winds were fickle changing from 16 knots on the beam to dead calm and then back to 16 knots again. The coast of Meganisi is much indented with finger-like coves offering good shelter. During July and August it is a popular destination for sailboats and if you arrive late, you may need to search for a space. We explored a bit and then quickly anchored before there was no room. Even though the anchorage was crowded, it was quiet enough and we spent a pleasant evening on the hook. After we all had gone to bed, Manny stepped out on deck and for the first time enjoyed a night sky full of stars. Far from city lights, finally we could see the constellations.
Next day we hauled anchor early and set south for Cephanlonia. After a short romp under full rig the wind dropped and we motored for several hours only to have the wind come up again to allow us to reach into Poros near the southern tip of the island. Although a great point for a short hop over to Zakintosh, this was a lousy choice for the night.
We entered under strong winds, with williwaws coming down off the mountains. Neighbouring yachties, who had come in earlier, jumped ashore to help with lines. It was a wild struggle under onshore winds but we finally secured a med mooring to the quay. Over the next hour or so, we joined hands to help with other arriving boats fending off and handing lines. Once the evening winds calmed a little Manny, and I set out to explore. It was a pretty spot with a good hike over a steep hill into a sleepy little town. Bare provisioning was available so later we ate a good diner at one of the local tavernas close to the down dock.
Leaving Cephalonia, we had a good sail to Zakintosh. We were back to drop off Meir and Sara who had a flight to catch. Along the way Sara moaned about going back to work. It had been a relaxing week and we had visited some wonderful islands. As we neared Zakintosh, Dooby began to think about his tactics for dealing with the local "agent" and the exorbitant fees he charged. (which I wrote about in part 1). He decided to opt to do his own paperwork at the port and save the 50 Euros.
We approached the town dock and a moped roared up with the same "agent". Dooby gently refused his offer to help and got quite the cold shoulder. The guy immediately called the port police and gave us until that evening to complete the paperwork. Dooby stood firm. Manny and I walked with him to the other side of the harbour where the Port Authority building stood. We waited while Dooby went in. After a long wait he returned. He had been told to come back later, the officials weren't in. We went for Gyros and then Dooby went back. The officials still weren't in. Then the office was closed and he couldn't get his stamp till the next day. The game was clear. This agent and the Port Authorities were on a scam together. As visiting sailors to Zakintosh there wasn't much we could do but pay the agent and avoid the town dock here again.
Sara and Meir said their goodbyes and we spent the next day catching up on laundry and making some Skype calls home at the internet café. The four of us were happy to leave Zakintosh and early morning we set sail for Katakalona a small town on the Peloponnese. This was to be our last sail on this trip and true to form it was perfect. A gentle breeze filled the sails and we made 5 knots while the autopilot steered. We lounged in the cockpit and talked about the last weeks. It had been a wonderful sailing vacation and we were grateful to Dooby and Osie for inviting us along.
Katakalon was a quiet and friendly port. We spent a couple of days packing and doing some organizing. From here we would rent a car and drive through the Peloponnese. Dooby and Osie planned to anchor out for a few days of R&R after a month of guests, and then continue to head south.
Greece is a country that has always welcomed sailors. The Ionian was no exception. Here you can find cheaper marinas and many free anchorages and town docks. In remote bays, family tavernas, grocery shops and bakeries service the cruising community. As I write this blog, news has come of a new tax
for visiting sailboats in Greece. Sailors are up in arms as the hefty fees may be prohibitive for many cruisers on small budgets. We will keep our eyes on the final outcome of this new law. While we are aware that the Greek economy is in crisis, we fear that cruising is fast becoming a lifestyle of the rich - if not famous.
© Robyn Coulter 2013