Friday, 26 August 2016

Pelagia's final log of 2016. 50 shades of blue.

Once back in the Ionian Sea we had four weeks of gentle cruising. Brian and Valerie joined us for a week during which we sailed each day out of Spartachori. Being July it was getting very busy with charterers and getting spaces became increasingly difficult. We were to learn later that this was nothing compared to the crowds in August when the Italian holidays started.
We have reached an impasse about our time left in this old enclosed sea. So many memories are wonderful in sailing these turquoise seas with azure blue skies and the seascape will always be etched indelibly into our psyche. These once distant dreams suddenly become a reality and it was good. After leaving Athens with Pelagia in her 14 th season having voyaged over 30,000 miles she was soon in her stride eating up the miles slicing to windward around these Greek waters. 
We have enjoyed mooring up in front of tavernas and eating on shore but most of all we have enjoyed eating late in our cockpit when the fierce sun has set on calm balmy evenings under velvety black star studded skies. Many nights we have tried to trace the distant stars and planets in the canopy above us. Such dark skies are a joy to behold on this planet of glitzy bright lights in our modern world.
Pelagia this season has zigzagged through the Saronic gulf, the Kithera sea and back into the Ionian giving us a wealth of enduring adventures. She has yet again poked her bows into umpteen anchorages and harbours giving us a small snapshot of Grecian life. Greece is not a gourmet destination, it's food is simple and unsophisticated. However, if you find, as we have, a good taverna such as Spilia, the food is as good as anyone would want. Spilia is an example of good honest fresh simply cooked and appetising food with an exceptional ambience. The food is still cooked on an open fire and tastes divine. Our experience of wine has been from excellent to terrible, the red wine thin and undrinkable Sailing in 50 shades of Grecian blue in shorts and T shirts is a great experience. In the depths the sea is deep blue but on the edges of the islands the shallow area is a fringe of azure wrapping the rocky shore reminiscent of the Caribbean. All around dancing sunbeams glint on the water like a million diamonds and the swooping shearwaters with outstretched wings appear to be trying to capture them. Sunsets are stunning as the huge red ball dips below the waves staining the sky and sea with a rich rosy glow. Twelve hours later it will rise again heralding another cloudless drippingly hot day. Sunrise and sunset are much appreciated for it is the coolest part of the day and we raise a glass with a sundowner. 
Calm mornings are amazing and we often seem anchored on a huge mirror where everything is perfectly reflected and the faint tinkling of goat bells can be heard on the steep mountain slopes. All around, hanging in the morning air are the smells of mountain herbs growing wild and the sound of cicadas chirping away endlessly. These are the things you think of as quintessentially Greek. One day we heard a cicada whilst setting off for our sail and realised one had hitched a ride on our sail. We tried to get him to fly off and he eventually left us hopefully still flying and not trying to swim! Tragically Greece is becoming inundated with yachts coming from Turkey following draconian escalating costs for yachts there plus the political uncertainties of that country. Yacht charter companies have increased in Greece with people hoping to cash in on a growing industry but to the point where prices are being forced down and the good companies cannot compete. Meanwhile the pressure on berths and anchorages is huge. When you find a berth which you have to do early in the day you end up stuffed cheek by jowl with some unpleasant charterers behaving in a manner befitting of them with no consideration of the health or enjoyment of those alongside. One instance was the yacht with an overflowing toilet holding tank which gave rise to an incredible smell in the heat of the day. Although we could see the overflow down the hull he refused to admit a problem. Swimming in the normally crystal clear waters was no longer attractive to us. We ate out at the taverna that night and when we returned to our yacht the atrocious smell was accompanied by the familiar sound of toilet pumping. As we walked down our side decks we could see into the toilet compartment on their boat only to observe a full bowl of sludge actively being pumped into the sea but with difficulty because it was blocked. We remonstrated with her but she still denied it. A hot smelly night was spent on board and without a word spoken they slipped away early in the morning taking their embarrassment with them. Miriads of giant stinky super cruisers and small hire cruisers race past the anchorages raising a wash that would do any storm justice and makes eating and sleeping quite difficult. Yachts are getting bigger and you get two inexperienced people on huge yachts with the enormous wide sterns on them these days when the true sailors are on their modest smaller models. We had a German man on a 46 foot Bavaria charter boat, the model I call the big arsed Bavaria which is 20 feet wide at the stern. He was alone with his 8 year old son! He tied up the side of us on a quay thus overhanging our mere 36 feet by a long way. He then proceeded to tie his dinghy and surf board alongside such that we could not get down our stern ladder to swim. He grudgingly moved it when I asked. Later in the day he started his engine, the exhaust of which was near our stern, and went ashore to a cocktail bar. The light breeze from the stern wafted the fumes into our cockpit and open hatches until we were dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in the heat of the late afternoon. In the end I went on board and stopped it! It was never mentioned upon his return, but his feelings may have had something to do with the fact that that his child's chocolate ice cream was splattered across my deck the next morning. As well as the growth of larger wide stern yachts, there has been an escalation in the number of catamarans. These are three times the width of a normal yacht and just fill the quays and harbours. They rarely seem to sail but barge around intimidating smaller vessels with their sheer bulk. In our last weeks we tried to find bays that were quiet to anchor but frequently had to move late in the evening because charter flotillas had filled the bay and anchored dangerously in the often turbulent winds you get as the sun goes down. We had to remonstrate with the flotilla leaders more than once to get their anchors properly set and spaced. Many nights were broken by the sounds of anchor chains from yachts that had dragged trying to find new positions in the pitch dark. 

We did find a haven of peace in one of the Meganissi bays where we anchored and tied to a rock and having found our heaven we stayed there for four days. However even that was tainted when a 100 foot long stinky motor yacht prowled around looking to anchor close to us. He eventually tied to a tree some way from us and his equally massive catamaran friend joined him tied to the same tree. Where does the seamanship come in? Inevitably the catamaran dragged as the evening breeze set in and in the dark he had to reposition himself whilst we all prayed not to have our anchors disturbed. August in Greece is to be avoided at all costs. Whilst adding to this note the small German yacht next to us decided to leave as the wind was rising and in so doing he dragged our anchor up. We had to very quickly put engine on, lines off the shore and exit the bay ourselves even though unprepared. So much for our little heaven!
We decided to spend our last few days in the almost landlocked bay of Amvrakikos hoping to avoid the crowds, but all this has just confirmed that our Mediterranean experience will end and we will return to the U K over the next two years. These once beautiful waters and idyllic settings are being stretched to the limits by those with no concern for the environment and with too much money to bully those around them. The poor Greeks have to accept it to earn a decent living but can see what is happening to their World with regret. We did find an empty anchorage in Amvrakikos gulf where we saw turtles and dolphins to end our sailing trip this year.
We leave Pelagia in Greece for another winter having completed 915 miles this season and next year she will begin her long voyage home to the UK.

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