Greece

Greece!

After eight months in Italy we were ready for a taste of something different... like moussaka, baklava, pastitsio... We departed the heel of Italy on April 23rd and enjoyed the best day of sailing since arriving in the Med. Winds were 8-12 knots at about 85 degrees apparent, so we put up our assymmetric spinnaker.  We made great time across the Ionian Sea scooting along at up to 7.4 knots.  Go, Liberty!  We made landfall at the island of Orthoni, northwest of Corfu.  We were surprised how high the small island was, and how green. We anchored off a small village on the south side and dinghied ashore. Within minutes of our arrival we were enjoying coffee and local unlabeled wine aboard a boat with Yanis and Helena, two Greeks from the mainland who were anxious to show us their charts with the spots not to be missed. We were quite happy to learn that most Greeks speak English.  Phew!

The next day we sailed on to the island of Corfu. The passage along the northeast coast of the island took us within one mile of the Albanian coast. In years past there was a problem with pirates attacking yachts.  Vessels are still advised to be alert, which we were, but we had no problems.

We celebrated our first night in Corfu with our first real Greek meal. Suzanne had taramasalata and lamb kebabs.  Ty had fried eggplant and chicken kebabs. We were amazed how much food came with the kebabs.  In Italy, the first course is usually a pasta dish.  After that, if you order, say, swordfish, you get exactly that and nothing else... a piece of swordfish that costs at least $10-$12 all by its lonesome in the center of the plate.

Zorbas Tavern

We had our first Greek meal at Zorba’s Taverna

Corfu overview

The west coast of Corfu

Check-in with customs and port authorities in Corfu was a breeze. We’d been told we could pay someone to do it for us for 20 euros. We decided to do it ourselves and go out to eat for the 20 euros. Turned out to be a great decision (and the meal was awesome).

Corfu island and Corfu town are beautiful. Buildings are well maintained, things are clean, and the people are very friendly.

The Ionian Islands are a wonderful change for us, in that there are many ports to choose from, and all are very close together.  We’re enjoying the short hops between anchorages, especially when the wind cooperates and we can actually sail.

Cruising Challenges

Cruiser/writer Beth Leonard is right when she says that “cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.” It seems that ever since we arrived in “exotic” Greece we’ve had our share of things to fix.  If you read our last update about Italy, you saw the photo of the anchor/mooring we snagged in Palinuro.  Well, immediately after freeing our anchor, our windlass sounded awful and seemed to be on its last legs -- operating very sluggishly. We felt sure we’d have to either replace it or have the motor rewound when we got to Greece. Both options sounded expensive and difficult to take care of in a foreign country.  On the sail from Italy to Greece, Ty went forward to start disassembling the motor.  He first checked the voltage to the motor and it was 13 volts.  Then he looked at the contacts where the leads are connected to the motor. 

 The surface was corroded. He figured if the upper surface was corroded, the lower surface was as well.He knew that corrosion would lead to poor electrical conductivity.  Thinking that perhaps the motor wasn’t getting full current, he removed the positive and negative contacts, filed them down to bare metal, and reconnected them.  We didn’t have a chance to test it under full load until we arrived in Greece.  We dropped the anchor while pierside in Corfu and crossed our fingers. Ty stepped on the windlass switch and it worked better than ever. He once again proved that you should always check the simplest thing first. Amazingly, it was just coincidence that it started acting up just after snagging that mooring in Palinuro.

corrosion

Corrosion is our enemy!  A simple fix.

Generator belt

Ty holds the generator gear -- finally!

Ty jokes that when he was the Commanding Officer of a destroyer, if something broke, he had 450 men to turn to, and ask them to fix it!  Not so when you’re cruising... The next challenge for Captain Ty occurred while anchored off Corfu. We were running our generator when we heard a “whack” and it stopped producing power. The main drive belt had broken.  Ty had a new belt on hand (no surprise!), and this would be an easy fix were the generator sitting in the middle of a workshop, but this is a boat we’re talking about. The belt had to go around two gears that were up against the engine room bulkhead. The gears just didn’t want to come off.  A friend suggested Ty remove the generator from its mounts to gain access. Ty decided to wait until

he could call the technicians in Florida for correct instructions on removing the gears. This required great patience, as the problem occurred on a Saturday. It turned out to be worth the wait.  Naturally, the gears were held on with bolts which he couldn’t see even with a mirror.  He removed them by feel, but the gear was still stuck. With a lot of prying, the thing finally fell off with a thunk -- a wonderful sound.  After that, it was a relatively simple matter of slipping on the belt and bolting everything back together -- far easier than moving the entire generator.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

As we're learning, most small Greek ports allow free docking, but they don't have laid moorings in the water.  Boats are expected to drop their own anchor.  Our heaviest anchors are on the bow, with all chain attached, so it sinks down deep almost up to the boat.  We have a stern anchor, but it only has 30' of chain, with the rest rope.  This is when it would be preferable to back in, because you can use your best anchor and chain at the bow and back to the wall, but Liberty doesn’t back well AT ALL. We went to the port of Gaios, island of Paxos, and had to use our own anchor to Med moor for the first time.  Ty dropped the stern anchor and fed out the line while Suzanne drove the boat

Gaios

That’s Liberty on the far left tied to the sea wall in Gaios on the island of Paxos (at least for the FIRST half of the night)

bow-first to the sea wall along the waterfront.  It all went great and we were relieved. The entrance to the harbor was a narrow channel between two islands. It made us both a little nervous coming in.  The harbor filled up with other boats, including a fifty-one footer next to us with 7 German men on it (charterers).  They came in and immediately went ashore for dinner.  We barbecued steaks aboard and went to bed around 10:30. 

 We were sound asleep when the sound of a boat's motor woke Suzanne. Then she heard a strange whump-whump and knew immediately what had happened.  She jumped out of bed and yelled, "Ty, someone just ran over our anchor line." And that's exactly what happened.  By the time we got on deck, quite disoriented, it was a mess.  For some reason the 51 footer had decided to get underway at midnight.  They backed right over our line and hung up on it.  So the idiot at the wheel tried backing off it.  The wind had come up and it was blowing hard enough to make maneuvering very challenging.  That big boat came within inches of our stern.  We were screaming at him to power ahead, and he yelled, "I can't, I'm stuck.  And that became obvious as we looked down at our anchor line going straight under his boat.   

Luckily he moved away from us after a few VERY tense minutes, but he was out in the middle of the channel, hovering right over the spot where our anchor was.  Finally he moved off, but we looked forward and saw that he'd tripped our anchor enough that the wind was now blowing us sideways onto the wall!  We yelled for two guys walking by on the sidewalk to hold us off.  We started the engine and had to keep it in reverse while we figured out what to do.

 It was dark, howling, and quite tense.  After a bit of flailing, with both of us seeing disaster at any moment if we didn't do things right, a man came by in a dinghy and told us there was no wind around the bend.  So we decided to move.  That meant getting underway in the dark, making our way back out that narrow channel in howling wind, and somehow getting tied up again after only doing it once before with our own anchor. 

Muddy anchor fm Gaios

Our stern anchor didn’t like the mushy mud in Gaios harbor

So Ty took in the bow lines and while Suzanne took the wheel.  It took incredible teamwork to keep from hitting the wall and other boats around us.  With adrenaline and strength Ty got the anchor in as Suzanne revved the engine and backed us out of there.  We had to turn on the radar just to make our way down the channel safely. 

We rounded the corner where it was less windy, but still blowing enough to affect our maneuvering.  We picked out a spot that was free between two sailboats.  We had to go around in a circle to line up just right, then Ty tossed out the stern anchor and in we went.  The same Germans who had caused us all the trouble in the first place had tied up just down from where we were trying to go, so we yelled at them to grab out bow lines as we came in.  We got the boat secured, but the bottom was slippery mud and the anchor wouldn't hold.  Soon we were pinned against the poor little boat next to us -- and naturally woke HIM up from a deep sleep.  We both had plenty of fenders out, so that wasn't a problem.  It took a lot of muscle to fend us off as Ty backed us out, but we didn't snag anything.  So we floated around in the channel trying to come up with plan C.  Finally, we decided to drop our reliable bow anchor (a 66 lb. Bruce) in the middle of the channel.  The only blessing to having this all happen at midnight was that we didn't have to worry about traffic.  Once our bow anchor was set, Ty attached a rope to a stern cleat, got in the dinghy, and took the line to the shore on the island across from the sea wall.  Suzanne shined a spotlight on the shore while he attached the rope to a ring that

someone had imbedded in a rock.  When he came back aboard, we both heaved on the line and it pulled us out of the channel and perpendicular to the shore.  Being in the lee of the island, it was perfectly calm.

Poor Rudy the Sailing Wiener Dog was all a-twitter, worried why we were yelling and running around in the middle of the night.  We sat and petted him while we got our wits about us and calmed down with a glass of wine (us, not Rudy).

We woke up the next morning wondering if we’d both had the same bad dream... until we found a twig on Ty’s pillow that had gotten in his hair while tying the stern line.

And the Germans on the 51 footer?  Never even apologized or said a word.  Bah humbug.

 All's well that ends well, but we can do without that kind of excitement. No wonder we prefer to anchor out!

Retsina

Suzanne enjoys her first glass of REAL retsina

We’re finding that things are much less expensive in Greece than in Italy. Since we’re not paying to stay in marinas (we didn’t have much choice on Italy’s unprotected coast), we don’t mind spending a little to eat out or enjoy a drink at a waterside taverna.  We can eat a two course meal for under $25.

Suzanne finally got up the nerve to try Greek retsina. She remembered it from Greek-American restaurants as tasting like turpentine. It was a pleasant surprise to find that it tastes not just good, but great! So much so that Ty broke down and ordered a glass after swearing he’d never drink it.  Ty turn down a drink?  That’ll be the day!

Our experiences so far in Greece have been totally positive. We especially enjoy interacting with the friendly people.  One man gave us a ride around his town.  When Ty went to buckle his seat belt, the man asked, “Why you do that?  You no need that here. We very careful.”  Then thirty seconds later he said, “Greeks drive very badly.  Many accidents.”  And the whole time we were driving around, the seat belt alarm kept beeping.  You gotta laugh.

On that same ride, the man stopped to talk with everyone we passed.  We came to two men along the side of a dirt road. They were next to a pickup truck that had a recently slaughtered animal lying on a tarp in the back.  On closer observation we saw that one of the men was skinning a sheep’s head.  We knew that the taverna where we’d eaten dinner the night before caught their own fish and grew the vegetables they served.  As for the meat, sometimes it’s best not to know how or where it’s prepared...

Our plan is to continue exploring the Ionian islands until the end of May, then sail north in the Adriatic to Montenegro and Croatia for the month of June. Stop back and visit again for more updates and photos.

Priest

Moving on to the Aegean

Some people just can’t seem to get enough of boats. We fit that description, as does the man in the photo on the right. 

After a very difficult June (see Our Susan), we turned the calendar to July and pressed on.  July 1st found us back in the Ionian islands of Greece where many of the cruising friends we’d wintered over with in Italy had just arrived. We rendezvoused with three of the boats and caught up on all their travels. It was good to do some socializing and to speak English other than just between the two of us.  In all honesty, we’ve been disappointed how little interaction there is among the foreign cruising boats when not in marinas. Most boats are German, Italian, Austrian, or Swiss, and the language barrier and cultural differences keeps people from making the kind of contacts we’d grown used to in, say, the Bahamas. 

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Best Seat in the House... er, Boat

toys 1new

Note the mast...

toys 2 new

Not Too Shabby!

We checked back into Greece in Corfu, just as we had at the beginning of May. Then we spent a couple of days with our friends, Geoff & June on Concerto, anchored off the old fort at Corfu town. There we had the (dis)pleasure of having our hot water heater burst.  A boat is a rough environment for equipment, and ours must have simply corroded through. There was no fixing it, and there certainly aren’t any 110V units available in Europe. It’s been so hot that we’ve decided to do without hot showers until we can have a new one shipped to Turkey later in the year. (Read the sage of its delivery here)

While anchored off Corfu, we observed what appeared to be a sailboat and a megayacht anchored very close to one another, as you can see in the photo on the left.  After a while, however, we observed that the mast was not moving in relation to the motor yacht. When we got underway the next day and sailed down the port side of the vessel, we saw that the owner of this yacht has figured out how to have all his toys at once.  You’ll notice in the photo on the left the full-sized Oyster sailboat with no need for bottom paint.  What you can’t see in either photo is the equivalent sized power boat on deck on the starboard side!  We definitely did not invest as well as SOME people did.

From Corfu we headed south toward the Corinth Canal, which would take us to the Aegean.  On the way we anchored near Nidri on the Island of Levkas.  There we met up with some British friends, Tony & Tessa, on Little Roundtop. Tony is an American history buff, and in honor of July 4th, he ran his dinghy in little circles around our boat while singing the Star Spangled Banner from start to finish. What a great serenade from good friends.

There are two ways to sail to the Aegean from the Ionian:  south around the Peloponnisos Peninsula, or you can sail (motor, actually)  through the Corinth Canal between the peninsula and the mainland (See “Follow Our Track”).  The latter is the most expensive canal per mile in the world, but it saves time and fuel. The canal was dug through the

limestone in the late 1800’s.  It’s 3.2 miles long and only 81 feet wide. The walls reach 250 feet at their highest point. Our cruising guide said that boats sometimes have to loiter (read:  circle) for up to 3 hours at the entrance to the canal to wait for permission to transit. We arrived just as a tour boat was entering and were able to tuck in behind it. It was a bit nerve-wracking to have the walls so close on each side (just ask Rudy), but an awesome experience, nonetheless. We were a bit unnerved by bungee jumpers bouncing down in front of us, but they were smart enough not to do as we passed directly underneath their launching pad. We tied up to the wall at the far end of the canal and Ty went to pay. Total cost:  $199 euros, or about $250.  We were pleased to see an entrepreneurial Greek man with a fuel truck, who pulled right up to our boat and filled our tanks with the lowest priced diesel we’ve found in the entire Med (except for Gib):  1 euro per liter. (The highest we’ve paid is 1.24 euros in Italy).

Canal and bungee02

The Corinth Canal and a Jumper

The port of Athens was just a short day’s sail from the Corinth Canal. We got a slip at a marina and visited the Acropolis in very high heat. It almost didn’t seem worth it, but how could we come this far and sail right past Athens?

Santorini retry new 1

The Greece Cruisers Dream Of

The next day, as we left the marina, the winds started out at 16 knots and increased steadily to 34.  We were experiencing our first taste of the meltemi, the infamous Aegean wind that blows strongest in July and August.  Unfortunately, our plans called for us to leave the boat in Turkey at the end of August, so we resigned ourselves to jumping from island to island whenever the winds allowed. 

After crossing the entire Atlantic Ocean with winds no higher than 23 knots (miraculous, we know), we did not get underway a single day all the way across the Aegean when the wind did not get into the thirties.  It was challenging, to say the least. We got in the habit of never leaving port without strapping the dinghy on deck and putting a double reef in the main.  Even if it seemed calm in an anchorage, it was a different story out in open water. Just as bad were the waves, which were not only steep, but very close together.

The payoff for dealing with such wet and wild conditions, of course, was the Cyclades and Dodecanese Islands.  The land itself is nothing special:  barren, treeless, and brown.  But those white towns!  Talk about picturesque, complete with

blue-domed churches and windmills. (Ok, so some of the windmills had TV antennas on them... they’re still quaint.) The towns on the smaller islands, like Serifos and Astipalaia, were more authentic, but nothing could compare with the island of Santorini.  The whitewashed houses clinging to the cliffs were spectacular enough, but most awesome was sailing through the caldera, or crater, of the volcano that created the island.  The towns of Thira and Oia offered a new photo opportunity at every turn.

One of the nice things about Thira was that it has several wineries.  Seems that volcanic soil is good for growing grapes.  We felt it was our solemn duty to check out a couple of the wineries’ best offerings.  Sipping on samples while sitting at the edge of the caldera watching the sunset offered an excellent “cruising moment.”

santorini 302
sludge02

In addition to the wines, we have enjoyed the many culinary delights of Greece. Yes, as the guidebooks say, the food is simple and maybe not so varied, but we love it.  We’ve been eating far more vegetables than normal with our daily ration of Greek salad drenched in the most fragrant olive oil we’ve ever tasted.  The coffee is also good, if you like it strong (as shown in the photo on the left).We both agree that Greece is the favorite of the countries we’ve cruised to in the Med. We would have been happy to leave our boat here while we return to the States for awhile, were it not for the huge tax the Greeks illegally impose on non-EU boats every 90 days.  And so, now we will explore Turkey, a country we’ve been looking forward to cruising.