A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

Ionian Blog 2 (28 September 2020)

We became quite familiar with Platarias and Babas our harbour master friend. We sat out the Medicane, which was thankfully a non-event in Platarias. However, as it is with weather we never did quite know how we were to be affected and whether or not the Low would take a more northerly track. We were very thankful to be well north as in Cephalonia many boats broke loose and ended up on the beach and there were two memorable videos circulating amongst the sailors FaceBook groups as stark proof. One of absolute chaos and mayhem in Eufimia where boats were washed up on the beach, smashing against the wharf and one boat sunk with only a mast showing and another which was taken in Ormos Vlikho, near Nidri, in 50 knots plus from a galley window, showing fenders blowing horizontal and then a boat, clearly dragging, coming past them going toward the mud bank. Meantime in Platarias, some 60Nm north we experienced a few 15 to 20 knot gusts and a lot of light-ish rain. We spent 4 nights there, doing a bit of cycling, exploring town and doing boat jobs. The first mate was quite content and the feuds and competition between the harbour front restaurants, created intrigue and speculation. Of course the Covid year has made it particularly tough for everyone in Greece, being so dependant on tourism.

The weather cleared and the wind set NW again and we said our goodbyes to Babas and headed for Petriti on Corfu. As before we did not go into the harbour but anchored off the Panorama restaurant. It was a lee-shore when we arrived, so I stayed on the boat whilst Aidan and the First Mate went for lunch. This is a magical place, lush, dense, verdant and colourful vegetation, with paths and hidy-holes with sun loungers. Since our last visit a new bar and deck had been added. It was totally in keeping with rest of the place and a real enhancement to an already wonderful place. The wind dropped and I went ashore on the SUP for a beer or two whilst the crew swam and drank G&T.

After a bow party and a very peaceful night we had our morning swims and SUPs and then with no wind, headed north for Corfu. We stopped outside Mandraki, the ancient harbour under the castle walls while Veronica went ashore on the SUP to make a booking for the following night. In the meantime, Mr Grumpy, the harbourmaster, showed up on the outer mole and we managed to make an arrangement with him via the shouting channel. We headed on for Gouvia as we were considering anchoring off in the entrance to the bay. The engine start gremlin, raised its head again. Long story but it was a loose connection on one of the relays and what I think happened is when the guy serviced the engine and changed the alternator belt, the spanner slipped or something similar and knocked the wire out again. Luckily, I had seen this movie before so I could quickly push the wire back in and the engine started but not before a quite frenetic tack to get out of the bay. I thought I had sorted this but it raised its head again a few days later and I decided I could not risk it. I had a marine auto-electrician come around and he had all the right tools to replace the spade connectors and tighten them properly.

We ended up anchored in a bay just north of Gouvia, which had an Irish pub called "Dirty Nellies", famous for its happy hour cocktails. It did not disappoint for 7 Euro each the flow of cocktails was a little overwhelming, it was starting to get crowded and with the Covid thing going on, we bailed early for a dinner in a beachside fish restaurant. It was excellent and the tipsy rowers made their way back to the boat. It was Aidan's second last night so there was a bow party with 6 star Metaxa.

On Aidan's last day on the boat we headed up to Kalami (The Bay of the Durrells) and spent a very pleasant few hours at anchor swimming etc. We then headed for Mandraki, the ancient harbour nestled under the steep walls of the castle. We wandered the old town keeping Covid distance with some difficulty in the narrow and charming alleys. Thank you to Aidan for buying us a farewell dinner. There was no bow party but I think we did sneak a Metaxa nightcap down below.

Aidan headed for his ferry and we pottered off to Gouvia to do a touch and go to buy an air filter element €59 for a piece of foam sponge with Volvo branding. We then headed back to Kalami but realised that that was going to be open to the SE wind, so we headed further around the top of Corfu to Ormos Vroulias. It looked like a nice big, calm bay, and was then. But we went on around to the west into Kassiopi next door to see what the tiny harbour looked like. We declined the only berth left, the reasoning being that it was €40 a night and we were going to have to anchor stern to the quay at right angle to the wind. The wind was predicted SE all night, so we felt safe as we made the decision to sneak back around into O. Vroulias. It provided perfect shelter for SE winds, there were between 8 and 10 boats in there on anchor with pretty good spacing. It seemed a tranquil place. The warning sign however, was that the GRIB showed the CAPE at just over 1000 J/kg, which is not outrageous, we have seen that before and the weather has stayed relatively benign.

Well, O. Vroulias was nearly our undoing. In hindsight we perhaps should have played it safe as we came within a ball hair of running the boat aground that night. Actually, as I stood ankle deep in freezing water and floating hail, at the helm position with the boat on its ear, sheet rain and hail, so hard that the visibility was essentially zero, I had basically resigned myself to it.

So at 03:00 we woke to a big electric storm out west. The prevailing wind was SE, so out there the storm would stay.......wrong! Half an hour later it had become very electric and we were putting elecronics, handheld GPSs and phones into the microwave (Faraday cage). We and one other boat dragged, it calmed down and we reset the anchor in relative calm and we might actually have managed an hour's sleep. At 8am repeat but lighting much closer. All the boats were taut on anchor in a 15 knot SE. In the space of 10 minutes the wind did a 180 degree shift and we dragged again, this time toward the beach, Veronica went out in the torrent, with electricity and flashes of light all around and we motored off the beach while she pulled up the anchor. No sooner had I got around the catamaran next to us and started heading off the beach and out into the bay, the wind then went to 40 to 50 knots, straight onto the beach. The rain was so torrential, with hail, that the visibility was zero. I could not see any of the other boats or the sides of the bay. The chart was the only reference. I had the throttle full ahead and I could not get the bow through the wind. The boat was on its ear, I was screaming at the first mate to get the bimini and canvas down ASAP, which of course, under the conditions was impossible and probably positively dangerous for the First Mate. As we crabbed toward the edge of the bay on the chart (I could not actually see it), the bow would still not come through the wind. The only option was to go astern, full opposite helm. This brought the bow around but the boat lay flat and then started crabbing across to the other side of the bay, making little but some progress away from the beach. The cockpit is trying to drain but my one foot is in 10 cm of freezing water and floating hail. This had all happened so fast I am still in a swimming costume and tee-shirt, shivering. The first mate brings up the life jackets, we needed them a bit late through the fault of nobody. The wind abates and eventually switched back to SE. One boat held, one boat is on the beach and 8 boats dragged and managed to escape like us. How no boats hit each other in the zero visibility is nothing short of a miracle. The guy on the beach has called a Mayday. Later in the morning the cops arrive on the beach and a tug the size of the John Ross arrives to tow the beached boat off. This was, in 7 years, the closest call we have ever had.

As a bit of a post script to this, we went to Gouvia marina after that and gladly paid the €79 a night for 3 nights to sit out a few days of much lesser thunderstorms. The boat that held came into the berth next to us. The reason they had held was that they had two wraps of anchor chain around a rock. This not only stopped them dragging but when the wind switched 180 deg they were within metres of a rocky shore, they would have been on it had the scope of anchor chain not been shortened by the wraps around the rock. Also, a week later we bumped into the 50ft Catamaran that we narrowly missed as we pulled up anchor. He had instruments that record which showed a maximum wind strength of 68 knots that night! He also had a security camera in his cockpit and promised to email me the footage but we have not seen it yet.

After 3 days in Gouvia we had an exciting downwind sail to Sivota on the mainland. Unfortunately though the staysail furler jammed and we had to pull down a flogging staysail in 25 knots which did not impress Veronica. We spent two nights in the harbour at Sivota, just chilling and waiting for the rain to stop.

From here we head south to Lefkas to try and get a few boat jobs sorted.