Sunday, 26 July 2015

Pelagia’s Greek Odyssey 2015 part one

Pelagia started her 2015 cruise in early May when launched from Preveza in the Ionian sea. All did not go smoothly as a dead starter battery slowed things down but was soon solved with the amazing chandlery at the boatyard which had a good selection of batteries. This was probably caused by a faulty battery charging system which I had already planned to replace. A seized pressurised water pump was the next thing to change and then we could finally get the boat ready for her voyage. We were making for Lefkas island and the smaller island of Meganissi for the first couple of weeks as Pat’s brother and his wife were joining us there to day sail with us whilst they stayed in a nearby hotel each night. A few days of gentle weather enabled us to re-commission everything and to get used to a new electric anchor winch that had been fitted. That proved a great benefit and much less strain on the Skippers arms and back!

We based ourselves in the small village of Spartachori for the visit of Brian and Valerie so we could take them back each day for their hotel on the nearby hill and we could eat mostly at the Taverna on the quay. The weather was largely benign that week except for a blip in the middle when rain and storms were forecast so we stayed on land that day exploring the village and using the facilities at Brian‘s hotel. We were able to take our visitors on four short sails to different bays where we could swim and then sail back on the afternoon breeze. The best winds were on the first day when we had been to Kalamos island and we had a brisk force four to five on our return. A good introduction to sailing for Brian and Valerie and they loved it. The other days were lighter winds but still enjoyable and we even managed a complete circumnavigation of Meganissi island. A very enjoyable week for us all.
Now at the end of May, Pat and I had to sail on to Cephalonia to meet Ann who was joining us to make our trip to Athens via the Corinth canal. We stopped overnight on route at Frikes on Ithaca and then went on down to Euphymia where Ann would join us. Just before Ann arrived, Pat and I were going for a shower at some facilities near the harbour when a loud bang was heard accompanied by the sound of many car alarms going off and many birds taking to the air. We were told that it was a small earthquake, not uncommon on this island which sits on a fault line. Ann was in her taxi from the airport and her driver confirmed he felt the car moving, a great welcome for her!

Our trip to Olympic marina near Athens was about 250 miles and we needed to get there both for Ann’s flight out in 12 days time and for our return to the UK two days later for a wedding. Our first day was a gentle sail down to Poros on the Cephalonia east side. It was a very hot day and we managed a swim when we got there but the afternoon breeze was bringing a swell into the harbour so we moved Pelagia to a more sheltered part of the harbour as she was bouncing and dragging her anchor out. The next day an early start for the longer trip into the Patras gulf on the mainland initially was light breeze motorsailing but by lunchtime we were able to sail downwind at good speed towards Mesolonghi . This town where Lord Byron died in the early 19thcentury is accessed down a narrow dredged channel through the salt marshes, still surrounded by fisherman’s houses on stilts in the water, similar in style to Asia rather than Greece . We anchored in the small harbour bay very well sheltered but not inspiring scenery and we decided not to go ashore that night.

The next day promised an upwind beat to Patras town in a forecast force 3 -4. It started off as such but rapidly became a force 7 with a short steep sea funnelled by the narrowing channel as we approached Patras and the Rion bridge across the gulf. We finally motor-sailed to get into Patras in what we hoped would be a sheltered harbour as indeed it turned out to be. The town of Patras, the third biggest town in Greece and a large ferry port turned out to be very poor, dilapidated and un-inspiring.

From here we had to motor under the Rion road bridge after seeking permission to transit the bridge and you are directed as to what span to use. Finally we could sail and we had a superb upwind beat in force 3 winds all the way to the small island of Trizonia. The harbour here was full of old derelict boats including one sunken ketch with masts sticking up out of the water and a collection of resident sailors taking advantage of the free mooring for their old decaying yachts many of which will never go to sea again. This harbour was however on a very attractive island with a clean and well maintained water front with charming Tavernas.
We had to set off the next day as time was pressing to get to the Corinth canal and we motored out into a flat sea with no wind. Only a mile or so out we lost drive although the engine continued to run if somewhat unevenly. I quickly stopped the engine allowing the boat to drift and dived in to check that I did still have a propeller! What a relief when it was still there, but it turned out that the ‘clamp on’ shaft coupling had slipped and worn so that it no longer turned the prop shaft. I managed to tighten the clamp with enormous effort enough to get it to run and we limped back to Trizonia harbour. Luckily with this design of boat the propeller shaft will not come out of the boat totally so we cannot lose it, but there is enough movement in it to completely remove the coupling without lifting the boat out of the water. The coupling was worn half a millimeter oversize and would no longer grip the shaft. With help from the Hallberg Rassy agents in the UK, I found that this part has been redesigned by Volvo and I got the new part number. Delivery would however take 4 days as there was not one in Greece at all. We had to move on if we were to get our flights home with still 100 miles to go and a canal to motor through so I had to find a temporary solution. I wound the shaft with aluminium cooking foil liberally coated with some Loctite thread sealant until I had built it up enough for the coupling to grip. After several hours in a hot engine room it worked!

After a two day delay we were on our way but lack of wind forced us to motor just when we would rather rest the engine and sail. For 2 days we motored, anchoring one night in a lovely bay on the north side of the Corinthikos channel , and the second day getting into the small yacht harbour in Corinth city itself. There was some vibration from the engine but it was still working. Early the next morning we obtained clearance to transit the Corinth canal together with a flotilla of other yachts. This canal built in 1881 is 3.5 miles long 28 metres wide and 79 meters high cut through the limestone cliffs. The trip is quite dramatic although the limestone walls are eroding fast and require much repairing to keep them safe. Entering over the hydraulic lowering road bridge we are herded by radio instructions to keep us close throughout the trip and minimise the opening time of the bridge at the other end. Our nerves were on edge hoping the engine would not let us down at this point or it could be very expensive to get towed out. We made it and having paid our not inexpensive dues at the other end we were in the Aegean sea. Wind allowed us to sail to our first chosen bay where we tied to a quay at a Taverna. Our obligation was to eat there that night and although the bay of Korfos was picturesque, the meal was one of the worst we had experienced so far.
A lovely sail the next day took us to an anchorage on the island or Aigina . A very impressive garden on the cliff top in the bay had a very lifelike scarecrow overlooking us and it was some time before we realised it was not on onlooker. Later that day a helicopter landed in the garden so it was owned by a wealthy person probably from Athens.
The final day to sail to Olympic marina started with light following winds but by half way it freshened to a head wind of force five. Ann took the helm and relished tacking towards our final destination where we arrived after a seven hour sail which clocked nearly 40 miles. Ann was able to catch her flight the next day and I set about getting our part delivered to fit before we had to leave. Given the state of Greek finances at the moment this was a challenge as Volvo would not release the part until they had the money in their hands. Thus I had to deposit the cash in a bank and immediately tell them so they could draw it out and then courier the part to me. The part arrived the next day and it took me 2 hours in the engine room in 36 degrees to fit it. They have changed the design considerably and maybe there have been problems with this part in the past so hopefully this one will work for a long time!
So our first period this year was stressful whilst still being interesting. We logged 450 nautical miles in the five weeks and we shall return to Athens in August to carry on the adventure in the Aegean.