Whales and Wind 2000
26 March 2009 | Ionian/Aegean
Whales and Wind 2000
My Kelsall 39 tri Aqua Blue has been based at Preveza Marine on the Ionian coast of Greece for several years now. The west coast of Greece is really better suited to family sailing in the summer, when the strong Meltemi makes life aboard difficult in the Aegean.
However we periodically have time for a bit more of a challenge so last summer we decided to re-circumnavigate the Peloponnese (last completed four years before).
My nine year old daughter Louise and I stumbled off the early coach from Athens one afternoon in late July. And promptly started three days of rapid fitting out in the unaccustomed boatyard heat. We launched by the 24th and proceeded to Nidri on Levkas to complete the jobs at anchor, where swimming and socialising were easier. I also had a new sacrificial cloth for the genoa and a cover for the new Suzumar dinghy delivered by Sioux sails. Danny Keane on Moody Magic was helpful as always to visiting yachties, he can be contacted via the Athos Hotel.
By the end of the month Stella my partner and Louise' mum, and Humphrey my regular crew, were on board as well. On the 2nd August an Outremer 50 "Bagheera" arrived in Nidri with Rupert Kidd and his young family on board. We had both sailed out of Thorney Island in the eighties, although he had racing success while I was cruising Brittany. He had recently crossed from St Martin in the Caribbean to Flores in the Azores in 14 days, and was planning to return in the winter. I decided to do the ARC as soon as possible!!!
On the 3rd August we motored down the Meganisi channel and over to Cephallonia, where the afternoon breeze carried us down the Ithaca channel. I noticed the SOG on the GPS was much less variable, presumably due the the SA being recently switched off. Thankyou Mr Clinton and goodbye! We spent the night in Ay Eufemia which now has a Captain Corelli's bar! Apparently the real Captain is now 95 and not too impressed with the film. I'll still go to see it though!
Motoring down the east coast in the morning we were entertained by several near passes by flying boats picking up water to bomb fires behind Poros. The early summer had been a long heatwave and the countryside was tinder dry. After pausing for a swim at Ak Mounda (popular with nudists), the breeze allowed a broad reach across to spend the night in busy Zakynthos harbour. There's plenty of shallow water for multihulls but you have to hold your nose!
Up early for our longest day, we put up the 'trade wind rig" of twin headsails and ran southeast in a slowly building sea until by the early evening we had a reef in the main and were occasionally surfing. Stella still produced a fresh chicken dinner though and by 10pm we entered Pilos "marina", which has no more facilities now than four years ago but you can't get cheaper than free! In the town square the following morning we paid our respects at Admiral Codrington's statue. The Greeks were grateful for his liberal interpretation of his orders at the Battle of Navarinon during the War of Independence. We spent the rest of the day off Methoni beach. It's a great anchorage at the southwestern tip of the Peloponnese with a huge Venetian fort and Turkish tower on the sheltering headland.
We motored round Sapientza island in the morning, it's always being mentioned on the Navtex for faulty lights, and on past Skhiza which was being deafeningly bombed by the Greek air force to Louise' alarm. The wind curls round into the gulf of Messinia and it carried us up to Koroni, the second "eye of the Venetian republic", for a lazy afternoon off the northern beach where Louise was pleased to find a seahorse! In the slightly cooler evening we walked up to tour another Venetian castle, this one containing a small monastery, before dinner on the waterfront which becomes windy after dusk.
Stella wanted to visit Kardamila where the writer of The Mani, Patrick Leigh Fermor lives, so we crossed to the east side of the gulf for the afternoon but the rolly anchorage drove us north to Kitries bay in the evening. We were preparing to dine ashore when a fresh northerly arrived which forced us to return to Koroni, anchoring off the south side of the fort this time, which seems more sheltered overnight, there's a long beach too.
I was up early to quietly recover the anchor, I imagine I can slip away without waking the less keen sailors! I supose with an offshore breeze it is possible, but the battery appreciates a morning charge as the freezer goes back on. I still feel guilty slinking away from a good beach without Louise visiting it though.
We ran southeast again across the gulf of Messinia till after lunch Humphrey spotted fins among the white horses. We circled back and found no less than six sperm whales, one of them a calf. They did not seem to mind our quite close approach, I just cut the engine and drifted down on them. It justified the recent purchase of a digital video! The calf even swam over to us till it's mother called it back. A few dolphin and tuna were jumping too and we must have spent an hour closely observing these magnificent creatures, although we couldn't see what was attracting them all.
Later we were bouncing around in the reflected swells off the 800ft high cliffs at Capo Grosso. We still made good time to Cape Matapan which would be the most southerly point of mainland Europe if it were not for Tarifa in Spain. Turning north into the now fresh afternnon north westerly we shot up to Porto Kayio on the flat water in the lee of the Cape. We failed three times to get the normally trusty CQR to penetrate the weed, so tried the new Fortress for the first time and it worked well. A couple on a nearby Australian yacht, who were swimming with snorkels helpfully gave a running commentary on our anchors' behaviour.
In the calm and blisteringly hot morning we motored most of the way up to Yithion at the head of the gulf of Lakonika. We anchored for swimming off the small boatyard on the north side of Kranai island where Homer tells us Paris spent his first night with Helen! Later we bagged the last spot alongside the quay, although there were only two other yachts. A couple came up and asked us to join a race back to Kardamila the next day, we politely declined! We were up early to take the bus to Sparta and then a taxi to Mistra where we slowly walked down through the amazingly preserved Byzantine hill town, before returning to Yithion to get a hose on board Aqua Blue, an opportunity not to be missed in in southern Greece. Pandora, the huge alloy yacht in front of us, had been built by an English couple over ten years no less, while they worked in Germany. They were now enjoying a sabbatical with their two young children. Yithion is off the track of yachts rounding the Peloponnese, but it's worth making the detour.
The south westerly sea breeze arrived early in the morning and we had a fast close reach, despite full water tanks, down to Elafonisos island to anchor off one of the beautiful southern beaches for the rest of the day, in the company of Pandora again. The beach bar surprised me by playing gentle jazz into the early hours.
We left early to do battle with Cape Maleas, the windy entrance to the Aegean sea, and for the second time had a good beat up to the towering cape only for the wind to die, necessitating a tedious motor up to the anchorage just south of the causeway to Monemvasia. Ashore later for ice creams we found a small lorry full of friendly piglets on their way to become souvlaki.
In the calm morning Humphrey and I obtained two barrels of diesel from the station on the causeway, most convenient. By the time we had them back on board a fresh northerly had arrived. We put out, but very shortly we were reefing and making poor progress with up to 30knots on the nose, with the dinghy on the netting and the outboard on the float taking a battering. Louise was already occupying a nest of cushions on the floor below, so only slightly reluctantly I turned back and Aqua Blue spent the rest of the day swinging to two anchors. Humphrey and Stella climbed to the summit of Monemvasia while I stood anchor watch with Louise. The wind dropped by early evening and Humphrey suggested we leave immediately, but I wasn't sure about a night passage in a possible Meltemi so we stayed and ate ashore again.
By breakfast the wind returned even stronger and several yachts ran down to the anchorage, some with torn sails. There were frequent mini waterspouts spinning off the lee of the peninsula and I began to wonder how long we would be galebound. However after lunch and a siesta in the heat, the wind began to drop again. By mid afternoon the boat swung to a light southeasterly and this time I agreed with Humphrey and we rapidly recovered the two anchors and ventured out past the imposing headland. We motorsailed north over the sizable sea still running, but it soon started to decline. A light northeasterly returned south of Spetsai and Humphrey and I enjoyed a gentle beat round the island to sail very slowly into Porto Heli in the early hours.
I admired the huge sheltered harbour in the morning, where many yachts winter on buoys. The quay was bit quiet though, since apparently this is one of the Greek ports where harbour dues are collected. We left and sailed outside Dhokos island and inside Hydra in a rising wind, then finally through the Poros channel, dodging hydrofoils on the way, to anchor in Neorion bay, not far from the villa made famous by Henry Miller. After a good meal ashore we stumbled upon an extensively stocked supermarket hidden in the trees behind the beach. They had our favoured half bottles of Retsina (to fit in the fridge easily) and even olive pate whose flavour is not appreciated by all.
A late start from Poros meant we had to tack north to clear Methana in up to 24kts. Louise and Stella took to their bunks with good books while the grizzled crew reefed the main and genoa and set the staysail. This cutter rig although rather time consuming to get right does produce a light helm and plenty of power to drive Aqua Blue over the seas. In the late afternoon the wind dropped again and we drifted up to Palou Epidavros. There were only two yachts anchored in this quite stylish resort and we had a good meal ashore in Hotel Mike.
On our "day off" we took a taxi to Epidavros' huge theatre, the largest in the Graeco-roman world where we sat for some time in the impressive surroundings. It's still used, for modern and ancient drama.
Stella and Louise had a plane to catch so we headed east in the morning under the cutter rig again to the north side of Aegina where it blew up to 29kts for a while. Much reefed down we blasted across to Glyfada by 2.30pm doing 34mls in just over five hours, most uncomfortably over very short seas. In fact I overeefed since we were taking so much water over the deck and even through the closed hatches. Does anyone yet make waterproof ones (especially in Imperial sizes)? We spent the rest of the day in the slightly exposed anchorage right under the airport flight path, so vilified by Rod Heikell, but it's acceptable for one night. (The airport has moved miles north of Athens now). The wind had dropped conveniently, when I arose at 4.00am to ferry Louise and Stella to the airport for the early Easyjet flight to Luton. I was back on board by six, but despite Glyfada still buzzing and the lights flashing at the beachside disco, I attempted another two hours shuteye.
Humphrey and I struggled to raise the anchor from under a heavy steel cable and headed out into the still fresh northerly. By 11.30 we were passing the south tip of Salamis, a nice beach visible in the binos. Our speed progressively increased as we came in the lee of the mainland and after unreefing in the flatter water the old bus hit 10.8kts which is as fast as she'll go with a ton of cruising gear on board. After 35 miles in 5 hours again we arrived at Isthmia. You have to anchor off the beach to dinghy to the canal office where I was relieved of 37000 Drachmae (about £74). Surprisingly quickly we were instructed to motor through (on VHF Channel 11). Humphrey steered while I filmed (which I later found was illegal!). By 4.15pm we were tied to the wall in Corinth. A fast passage with the max gust 34kts. Within an hour we were pinned to the wall by gale force winds and burst a fender. Out came the tyre which I'm always threatening to chuck, every cruiser needs one though. The eventful day was finished with a good meal in the air conditioned restaurant "Neon". In fact it's less than two hours to Athens by bus and the previous year I had used Corinth to deliver crew to the airport from the west without transiting the canal.
Supplies in the morning included the Sunday Times so we were engrossed in English news as we motorsailed west in a light north westerly. Approaching Ak Pagkalos we passed a well reefed French cat heading east and shortly afterwards were rapidly reefing ourselves. This headland had produced 40kt gusts the year before when I had been singlehanded and I think in future I'll give it a wide berth. We already had the cutter rig up so I double reefed the mainsail and wound some rolls in the genoa, leaving the staysail. It worked well again and we were maintaining 8.5kts into 28kts over a fairly short sea with the boat surprisingly level. By 2.45pm we were only seven miles from Galaxhidi our original destination, so we turned left and ran west to Trizonia as the wind fell light again, anchoring off "Lizzie's yacht club" in the evening calm. The owner however had had a bad day and the restaurant was closed, but we ate well on the village waterfront. The "marina" was fairly full, some yachts being left unnattended, but it's a remote spot to winter. In fact I would now prefer Itea on the mainland.
Continuing in the morning we ran all day in a rising easterly, fairly rapidly transiting the narrows at Andirion where the future bridge is under construction in very deep water. Again we arrived off our original destination of Mesolongion by mid afternoon so continued, eventually motoring into a favourite anchorage north of Oxia island, off the beach at the mouth of the river Akheloos. It's shallow, ideal for a multi and little used except by the fishermen who take their boats through the shallows into the river. The water has an odd swirling appearance when swimming due to the mixing of fresh and salt water. In fact you can almost drink what you're swimming in! I was well pleased with our progress at only three days from Athens to the Ionian. Humphrey raided the galley and we ate under the occasional shooting star, although there were a few mosquitoes to fend off.
After a few days in Vliho where it had been very hot while we were bouncing round the Peloponnese, Aqua blue was once again hauled out by Nicos at friendly Preveza Marine.